Miners Strike 1984-85: UK-wide Inquiry

Part of NDAs: Universities – in Westminster Hall at 5:03 pm on 29th June 2022.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 5:03 pm, 29th June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I congratulate my good friend and comrade, my hon. Friend Owen Thompson, on securing this debate. I say that not just because he is the Chief Whip of our group, but because he and I regularly found ourselves on the front pages of some of the more right-wing newspapers in Scotland, which condemned us for having the temerity to ask for a miners inquiry in Scotland. For many years, my hon. Friend, along with a number of others, has asked for a Scottish inquiry. It would be only right and fair to praise the efforts of a friend of mine, former Member of the Scottish Parliament Neil Findlay, who was one of the lead campaigners in ensuring a miners inquiry in Scotland. Neil is sadly missed in the Scottish Parliament, but I know he is continuing to do great work with trade unions in Scotland.

I congratulate all hon. Members who have spoken. I say to my friend, Ian Lavery, that he has nothing to apologise for at all. Events have maybe been for the better; they have certainly made him a very good Member of Parliament.

The Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill is an important and historic step towards reconciliation. It is going to help to heal some of the wounds in Scotland’s mining communities. It is groundbreaking legislation, which will restore dignity to those convicted, provide comfort to their families and, I hope, start to bring some closure on the sense of injustice that members of mining communities may continue to feel. We very much sympathise with the miners who lost out in redundancy payments and pension rights as a result of being sacked by the National Coal Board after being arrested or convicted for actions while participating in the strike.

I hope the legislation will end some of the demonisation of trade unions who take industrial action on behalf of their members. The demonisation we saw during the miners strike was very much in evidence last week towards the rail workers. I take the view that those who take industrial action are exercising their human rights; they have a human right to withdraw their labour from any employer.

Professor Jim Murdoch of the School of Law at the University of Glasgow, who worked with John Scott QC on the independent review, said:

“As members of the independent review, our task was primarily to listen: to show that those affected by the miners’ strike had a voice more than a third of a century later.

At each of the meetings we held, it was clear that the pain felt by former miners and their families was still raw.

The response to the miners’ strike at the time left a deep scar on too many communities. Their stories showed without doubt that the criminal justice system all too often reacted in an arbitrary and disproportionate manner.

Our task was to seek to promote a sense of reconciliation, and we are pleased that our report and its recommendation have received clear support today in the Scottish Parliament.”

The Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill pardons the offences of breach of the peace, obstructing a police officer, breach of bail and theft that occurred during the 1984-85 dispute. The legislation has been welcomed by the National Union of Mineworkers in Scotland.

That brings us on to why the UK Government should now launch a UK-wide inquiry. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, Keith Brown, put it rather well when he said:

“It is now right that the UK Government recognises the passing of this historic legislation and gives further consideration to a UK-wide public inquiry and the payment of compensation to former miners. I have written to the Home Secretary this week urging her to reconsider her position given the strong support for this landmark Bill.”

Will the Minister tell us if the Home Secretary has received that letter and when the Scottish Government will see a response?

Many of us who support an inquiry were surprised when the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said in October 2016 that the UK Government were ruling out an inquiry into the events at Orgreave in South Yorkshire, probably one of the most notorious flashpoints in the miners strike. I have also received an excellent briefing from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. It is correct to ask the UK Government to reconsider, because of new evidence that has come to light since October 2016, including the disclosure of documents that are embargoed until 2066—I do not think we should wait until then—as well as the existence of documents in the South Yorkshire archives. New evidence is also coming to light as a result of the ongoing undercover police inquiry, in which the National Union of Mineworkers is a core participant.

There is also—this is of most concern to me—the recent Daily Mirror article that exposed a conversation with Amber Rudd about the reasons not to hold an Orgreave inquiry, which were given as because it would “slur the memory of Thatcher” and upset party members. Protecting someone’s legacy is not a reason not to have the inquiry. That raises alarm bells with me, as I am sure it does with other Members.