It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey, and to follow my hon. Friend Ian Lavery.
I congratulate Owen Thompson on securing this incredibly important debate. Before the forced closure of the pits, mining once helped to sustain 30,000 jobs in my constituency of Barnsley East, and it formed the heart of many working-class communities across the coalfields. In dirty and dangerous conditions, miners risked their lives and their health to keep our lights on. Striking is always a last resort but, faced with the politically motivated destruction of their livelihoods and having been branded “the enemy within” by the Tory Government, many in Barnsley and beyond were forced to last for a year without income in order to stand up for their jobs.
I will focus my comments today on Orgreave. In keeping with the narrative that the miners were the enemy rather than workers simply defending their jobs, footage of this event is widely understood to have been reversed, portraying miners as having provoked the violence rather than having responded to police aggression. Indeed, although 95 miners were arrested at the time, all those charged were later acquitted as police evidence was discredited.
Since then, evidence of police intent to orchestrate the violence and pervert the course of justice afterwards by manufacturing statements has mounted. However, despite that, there has been a distinct refusal to investigate what really occurred. When South Yorkshire Police handed itself over to the Independent Police Complaints Commission after new evidence emerged, the IPCC took two long years to decide that allegations of assault and misconduct could not be pursued.
I would like to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend Louise Haigh for the work that she did in securing and sharing a meeting with the then Home Secretary, in which she called for an inquiry into Orgreave. Mrs May subsequently invited submissions to explain why an inquiry was needed, going on to express the importance of restoring public trust in our police, saying:
“We must never underestimate how the poison of decades-old misdeeds seeps down the years.”
Shortly afterwards, however, her successor as Home Secretary decided that there would be very few lessons learned from the events at Orgreave and that there were no deaths or wrongful convictions, and that an inquiry was therefore not needed. That decision was later revealed to be politically motivated, out of a will not to slur the memory of Thatcher.
However, people do not have to die for a deep injustice to have occurred. Those who suffered violence at the hands of the police, those wrongfully arrested and those whose reputations were publicly and politically tarnished still matter. It matters to all of us, too, because if we are to have trust in our institutions, we have to believe that wrongdoing and malpractice will be investigated and addressed.
Recent inquiries, such as the uncovering of the role of spy-cops, the Hillsborough review and the Scottish review of policing during the miners strike, have all demonstrated that, with vital lessons being learned and those affected being given a chance to be vindicated by the truth.
What action will the Minister’s Department take to bring to light all available evidence, including the full IPCC scoping report and the Association of Chief Police Officers files relating to Orgreave, which are embargoed until 2066? Will it consider all that new evidence in an inquiry to which all those with an interest and experience are invited to participate?
I pay tribute to all who have campaigned on this issue, including many of my colleagues, the NUM and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. I first called for justice for those at Orgreave in my maiden speech five years ago. Since then, many miners have sadly passed away. We cannot wait any longer. The Government should grant an inquiry now.