Published: Tuesday 28th October 2014 by The News Editor
MPs have accepted a motion which said Margaret Thatcher’s government “misled the public” about pit closure plans during the 1984 miners’ strike.
The motion, tabled by the Labour Party for an Opposition Day debate in the Commons, was not opposed by Government MPs when Speaker John Bercow called it to a vote at 7pm.
It meant the Commons accepted the terms of the motion, which also said the government of the day had sought to “influence police tactics”, without a division of MPs.
The claims are made on the basis of Cabinet papers released under the 30 year rule earlier this year and on which Labour MPs had previously claimed demonstrated untruths.
Cabinet papers from the 1980s released by the National Archives indicated the late Baroness Thatcher’s government had secret plans to close 75 pits and considered sending in troops to break the 1984/85 strike.
During today’s debate, Labour said Parliament must face up to the failures of the miners’ strike in the same way as Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough.
Then home secretary Leon Brittan was also put under significant pressure to step up police measures against striking miners while ministers were prepared to ensure magistrates’ courts dealt quickly with cases from the dispute, MPs were told.
Opening the debate, shadow cabinet office minister Michael Dugher also insisted the Government should launch an independent review into the so-called Battle of Orgreave of July 18, 1984, if the Independent Police Complaints Commission does not get “its act together”.
Mr Dugher told MPs: “Earlier this year, Labour launched our Justice for Coalfields campaign.
“This is about ensuring we do have proper transparency, about properly acknowledging what happened in the past and about getting to the truth.
“Without the truth there can be no justice, without justice there can be no reconciliation, and the first step is for this House to acknowledge what the 1984 Cabinet papers actually spell out.
“Just like Saville and Hillsborough, we must face up to the failures of the past, we must acknowledge the truth and we must learn from what happened.”
Conservative Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) told Mr Dugher: “Is this not one of the most desperate motions to come forward from the official Oppositon – to attack a prime minister who is 18 months dead and cannot defend herself.
“Isn’t this motion not about the events of 30 years ago, it’s about trying to unite the Labour Party behind the desperate leadership of (Ed Miliband)?”
Mr Dugher said the Cabinet papers dismissed the “nonsense assertion” from the period that ministers were neutral bystanders.
He said: “The fact is the Government of the day saw the strike very much on political terms. Far from ministers being interventionists, they were in fact the micro-managers of this dispute.”
He went on: “In a paper prepared by Mrs Thatcher’s Downing Street head of policy (now Tory MP for Wokingham, John Redwood), he said that miners had ‘a revolutionary strategy’ and he urged the prime minister to turn to her original plan of encouraging a war of attrition against the miners.
“This completely reinforces the view at the time that the government of the day regarded the striking miners, to use that most infamous of phrases, as the enemy within.”
Business Minister Matthew Hancock said Labour had 13 years in power to do all the things they were asking for, adding: “All that they will do is complain about what happened in the 1980s.”
He also said he would not take lectures from Labour MPs, insisting he was from “Nottinghamshire coal mining stock”.
Mr Hancock said: “This is a debate that I want to concentrate on the future and Labour only seem interested in talking about the past.”
Two of Britain’s three remaining deep-pit mines – the UK Coal-operated sites of Kellingley in North Yorkshire and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire – are set to close next year.
Asked to issue a clear statement of intent to prevent the closures by Labour’s Grahame Morris (Easington), Mr Hancock said: “I have already worked hard to make sure we get the funding necessary.
“I’m grateful to the work the (National Union of Mineworkers) has done to support one of the three collieries and support it financially.
“I was determined that we do this on a commercial basis to keep open the option of further support and now I and officials in the business department are working with the company to prepare a case that might go before the European Union on exactly that point.”
Tory Mr Redwood later intervened on Mr Hancock, telling MPs: “(Mr Dugher) said the Government was considering the army in the dispute.
“Can I reassure my honourable friend that when I advised the prime minister the army should on no account be involved in the dispute, she said, ‘Of course, it won’t be’, and it wasn’t.”
Mr Hancock continued: “It is such a pity this motion is so focused on reliving the battles of the past. It shows the Labour Party at its worst, totally uninterested in the future.”
He said unemployment was now falling in all coal mining communities but admitted they had been hit hard by the “great recession”.
Tory MP Mark Spencer (Sherwood) said his constituency was now home to the last coal mine in Britain.
He said: ” I’m saddened I think this is more about trying to draw together the groundswell of the Labour Party to try and get that support to the ballot box than actually genuinely solve the challenges we face.”
Labour MP Ian Lavery said former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her ministers had “lied” at the Government Despatch Box.
The Wansbeck MP said: “We want to see justice, we want to see fairness for what happened all those years ago.
“I was a young man at the time, I honestly believed the Government of the day regardless of political persuasion actually went to the Despatch Box and told the truth.
“What was released in the Cabinet papers earlier this year was quite the opposite.”
In full, the motion said: “That this House acknowledges the economic legacy of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities across the United Kingdom; notes that the recent release of the relevant 1984 Cabinet papers showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics; recognises the regeneration of former coalfield areas over the last 15 years, the good work of organisations such as the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, and the largest industrial injury settlement in legal history secured by the previous government for former miners suffering from bronchitis and emphysema; further recognises the ongoing problems highlighted recently by the report produced by Sheffield Hallam University on The State of the Coalfields, which revealed that there are still significant problems for the majority of Britain’s coalfield communities, such as fewer jobs, lower business formation rates, higher unemployment rates, more people with serious health issues, higher numbers in receipt of welfare benefits and a struggling voluntary and community sector; and therefore calls for the continued regeneration and much needed support for coalfield communities as part of a wider programme to boost growth in Britain’s regions.”
Published: Tuesday 28th October 2014 by The News Editor