It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I congratulate Owen Thompson on securing this extremely important debate.
I have to declare an interest. I was one of those 11,000 miners arrested during the strike. I make no apologies for that. I am probably the only Member of Parliament now sitting who was part of the miners strike. I was on strike for the full year, for which I am again extremely proud.
Those were extremely difficult times. Miners are generally very hard-working, conscientious people. Very few miners had ever been in trouble with the police before. In communities up and down the UK, they were hard-working, hard-playing individuals who were the backbone of the nation. I will never forget what I experienced as a young lad. My hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones said it shaped her character; it definitely shaped mine, for better or worse. Some might say it is for worse, and some that it is for better.
My father, brothers, family and community were all out on strike to save the British coalmining industry. What we experienced was an absolute disgrace. There is an appetite for a public inquiry into what went on, whether we want to talk about the actions of the police, which have already been well documented by the previous two speakers, or about the actions of the courts, the magistrates and the Crown courts, or about the way miners suffered abuse, really, by the legal system through plea bargains—“Accept this and you’ll not go to prison,” or, “Accept this charge and you’ll not get a longer sentence,” when many of those people had not committed anything at all. They deserve justice, because those were hard-working, honest individuals, who, as has already been explained, were basically attacked by the police state, as it were, at the time.
I could recite a number of occurrences I was personally involved in, but I will not bore people to death with that, though they were significant. I had never been involved in anything with the police all my life till the miners strike, and I have never been involved with the police since. I am proud of my record; my record with the police is industrial and was to save communities. We could talk about a number of things, such as police infiltration and whether we had armed forces in the strike. We could talk about how an individual might have been picked off the picket line for no reason whatsoever, and might have lost their job and pension, and been blacklisted, never to get a job again. Some even ended up in prison. There needs to be an inquiry to sort that out.
Who was pulling the strings at the time? Recent documents show that it was the Thatcher Cabinet, if not Margaret Thatcher herself, that made a series of interventions. We want to know what happened. We need to understand and try to draw a line under what happened, which smashed our communities to smithereens.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign ran a marvellous campaign over many years, seeking an inquiry into what happened at Orgreave. That campaign was all well and good, and well deserved, and I congratulate everyone involved on their tenacity. But mining communities in south Wales, Scotland, the north-east, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire all suffered as a consequence of the miners strike, through some form of intervention by the police. This goes beyond Orgreave, but Orgreave was the worst of the worst. It is nearly 40 years, but we can look back and think, “Did that really happen in this country?” The BBC reversed the coverage to say that the miners attacked the police. How bizarre that that could be allowed to happen in the UK.
I am absolutely delighted that Scottish Parliament has decided to pardon the miners in the Scottish areas. Compensation is something that we need to discuss and debate, as has already been highlighted. However, there is an overwhelming appetite for a public inquiry. If the Scottish Parliament can unanimously agree to pardons, perhaps the Minister can explain why that cannot be achieved for the rest of the UK.
I could speak for hours on this subject but will wind up my contribution. The miners deserve to be able to be draw a line under this. Many miners went to the grave with criminal charges for fighting for their communities—picked off a picket line by police from 300 miles away, in order to serve a cause that we were terribly opposed to. I ask the Minister to not simply discount the idea of potentially having an inquiry—not just into the policing, but into the miners strike in its entirety—but instead take a lesson from the Shrewsbury 24 campaign. That campaign began in the 1970s, with a strike of building workers. They fought and fought and fought for justice, and they only just got recognised last year, through papers that had to be disclosed to the public by the Government, which outlined all the wrongdoings of the police. We will keep campaigning for this inquiry, because the miners, their families and their communities are still very raw about this, even though it was 40 years ago.