§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Garel-Jones]8.45 pm
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Little attention is given to many Adjournment debates; often they are of importance only to a single individual or a particular locality. On this occasion, while the matters to which I shall refer certainly have considerable relevance to my constituency, they are of more extensive interest and, perhaps, of a gravity that may be—and should be—of considerable national significance.
To some extent, the debate relates to the position and role of an hon. Member. Current fashion may suggest that the Executive has become more willing to disregard the representations of an individual Member. The conduct of the Home Secretary and his colleagues during recent months has revealed disdain—a disdain that has been a response not only to my representations but to those of a number of my colleagues who have made serious endeavours on behalf of what they and I believe to be a sane course in the interests of those whom we represent. That disdain during the past few months has approached serious negligence.
The present coal strike is serious. It could have been avoided, as could have been the bitterness that has developed in recent months. My colleagues and I thought to warn the Government of that — indeed, I did so during a debate on the coal industry last December. Our assessment has proved more than justified.
Then came the decision to cease production at Cortonwood colliery in my constituency. That brought out the Yorkshire coalfield in pledged, solid and predictable response. On Friday 9 March I addressed a large number of my constituents in the parish hall at Brampton Bierlow, close to Cortonwood colliery. I expressed sympathy with them and I shared their concern, but I urged them to ensure that their activities during the strike were entirely peaceful. The Cortonwood miners accepted that advice, they conducted themselves responsibly and they prepared a carefully presented leaflet that dealt with the facts—with no sedition and no call to arms; it was merely an argument. They decided to take that leaflet to other people in the mining industry who were still working.
For the first few days they were able to do that, but then came the day when they were prevented from handing out leaflets that presented a fair case. On 21 March I wrote what I believed to be a responsible and serious letter to the Home Secretary. It described how 12 Cortonwood miners were not allowed to give out leaflets at the three entrances to the Silverhills colliery near Mansfield. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) checked the facts, and I do not think that the Minister would disagree with them. The miners were prevented from handing out a responsible leaflet. They were told that they had to occupy a stretch of pavement and that if they stepped off the pavement they would be arrested. They were told that if they spoke to a Nottinghamshire miner they would be arrested. They were told that if they gave out their responsible leaflet they would be arrested.
There have been a number of decisions of that kind and they have bred the anger and bitterness in the coalfields. That sort of refusal accelerated trouble, to the point when, the day after I wrote to the Home Secretary, a young miner 784 in my constituency, a decent lad named Sean Webster, was arrested when walking away from the picket line, having decided that he had been on the line for long enough. When he asked what the charge would be, he was told, "For walking on the grass." His companion said, "I have not walked on any grass. What would the charge be against me?" He was told, "You could be arrested for walking on a crack in the pavement."
We are expected to urge our constituents to remain restrained. We have tried to do that, and will continue to do so, but anger has been caused by the sort of events that I have described and it is time that the Home Secretary began to perceive what is being felt. It was foolish of the Home Secretary to announce that all complaints against the police were lies or smears. That caused great difficulty. The Home Secretary may have been misreported; suffice it to say that in March he was reported as having made that statement.
It was obvious that the idea of road blocks—they stopped miners but they also held up others who had nothing to do with the mining industry—on the border between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire was bound to cause resentment. I urged in one of my several letters to the Home Secretary that he needed to defuse the situation and establish an impartial inquiry. I have maintained that view, which is incorporated in a motion which is now attracting the support of many hon. Members.
Since I wrote that letter of 21 March events have deteriorated. Many grim weeks have passed and, as was suggested at Question Time today, we may have spent on the coal strike £10 billion, money which this country could have used in better ways. The weeks have indeed been grim. I hoped, as I wrote to the Home Secretary in serious terms, that he would show a similar serious intent. I continue to seek his consideration as the result of a number of serious incidents affecting my constituent.
I am aware of the procedure for making complaints against the police. On a few occasions when I have notified the chief constable of south Yorkshire over certain incidents, I have received a swift response, and some of my constituents have expressed themselves as satisfied. I only wish that the Home Office had responded with anything like the despatch demonstrated by our local police.
Unfortunately, no response was forthcoming from the Department. More weeks passed, the situation deteriorated and the bitterness became even more intense. On 14 June I tabled several parliamentary questions to the Home Secretary for answer on 21 June—three calendar months after my first letter—to ask when I would be receiving replies to that and other letters that I had sent him. The reply was largely to the effect that he had referred the matters to the chief constable of Nottinghamshire.
My letter of 21 March had been referred to the chief constable. On 28 June I asked in another parliamentary question on what date the Home Secretary had referred my letter of 21 March to the chief constable of Nottinghamshire, and I was told in reply that it had been referred on 18 June. That was almost 13 weeks later. I hope that we never introduce the principle of surcharge which applies in local government to the central Administration of this country. If this dispute has cost £10 billion, it is clear that 13 weeks' delay of that sort demonstrates something shameful.
785 I have written other letters to the Home Secretary, and the response to all of them has not been good enough. Given the events of the last three months, that slow and inadequate response provides me with a reason for suggesting that there must be an impartial and serious inquiry into the dispute.
I propose to table a question later today asking how many people were arrested in the Brixton riots and how many have been arrested since the beginning of this strike in March. Brixton is only a stone's throw from this House. Many of my hon. Friends and I live even less than a stone's throw from where the dispute is taking place. Although the main areas of dispute may be 100 or 200 miles from this place, these matters are sufficiently serious to justify deliberate attention.
I am the last person to complain about the police, who have a job to do. Most police officers wish to do that job well. The negligence which has been displayed in the last three months and the insensitivity which has been shown to the mining areas—as we have seen the miners' strike policed from some corridor in Whitehall—has made the policing in many coalfield areas perilous. I trust that in future we shall see a more careful, intelligent and sensitive response than has been the case so far.
At Question Time last Thursday, the Home Secretary said that if only the miners had picketed in the small numbers which the law allowed things would have been better.
§ Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)
The civil and criminal law does not place any restriction on the number of pickets. There is merely a code of practice suggesting that six is a reasonable number, but it is not an offence for more than six pickets to be on duty at any one time.
§ Mr. Hardy
I accept that. My hon. Friend and I have discussed these serious matters on a number of occasions. Whatever the legal position may be, the Home Secretary said on Thursday that if the number of pickets at each place had been reduced to six neither policemen nor anybody else would have been injured. I agree to a large extent with the Home Secretary in that. What a dreadful pity that heed was not paid to the suggestion which some of us made, that the approach of the Cottonwood miners early in March should have been encouraged instead of being stopped. What a shame that the letter which I sent to the Home Secretary on this subject on 21 March did not secure his attention and understanding. If he had applied intelligence to the matter, fewer police and pickets would have been injured and much less money need have been spent.
We have watched the situation deteriorate as the Government have seemed more concerned to win the battle of public support. The miners inflicted a defeat on the Government in 1972. That strike was avoidable. Those close to the industry know that if 50p a week more had been offered the 1972 strike would not have taken place. My hon. Friends with experience of the mining industry know that if the Government had not decided to try to win some mythical battle of public opinion in 1974, and defeat the miners by a specious wage offer designed to appeal to the public, that strike would not have happened. This strike need not have happened, and all that has happened since March might have been avoided if more intelligence had been used.
I wrote a number of other letters. One concerned a constituent of mine, whom I know well. He is an entirely 786 responsible individual. He came to my house immediately after his experience and he wrote to me soon after that. I passed his letter immediately to the Home Secretary, because I believed that it presented a serious problem. My constituent was less concerned about taking the matter through the various procedures of police investigation than that this incident should receive serious political consideration. This is what part of my constituent's letter says:We proceeded North at a pace of 10 to 20 miles per hour, on reaching a distance of approximately ½ mile from the Barlborough junction, the cars came to a halt. We stood on the motorway approximately 15 minutes. I was positioned in the centre lane third vehicle from the front, when 15 to 20 police arrived on foot from the direction of Barlborough junction. They proceeded to smash the offside window and windscreen of the car in front of me, and to my left in the nearside lane, they dragged the occupants out and the one I saw was dragged towards the hard shoulder, and 5 policemen proceeded to assault this man with truncheons and boots. I was greatly disturbed to see such a thing happen in this country. The whole thing was over in 3 minutes. We were told to proceed which I did, and returned back to Barnburgh Colliery.My constituent did not make this complaint to embarrass the police, but because he was disturbed to see that happen in this country. His letter, dated 30 March, I sent to the Home Secretary on 3 April. I had to ask questions in the House to find out what happened to my letter.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)
En the specific case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, has the individual to whom he is referring formally complained about the police behaviour?
§ Mr. Hardy
I do not know the name of the individual who was injured. I suspect that the solicitors of the NUM will be more competent to pursue the case than I am. I have read that letter to the House not to attack the police or to take sides in a matter that should be before the courts but because that incident, as Mr. Sanderson who wrote that letter believes, should be a matter for political consideration at the highest levels rather than being lost in the labyrinth of the necessary police complaints procedure.
More recently has come another letter and a visit to my surgery the other day that has considerably upset me. A young man, a colliery electrician, slight in build and timid in disposition, decided that he should go picketing as well. At approximately 11.45 am on Monday 9 April, he was standing at the roadside andcordially speaking to a police sergeant when the crowd of people 200 strong pushed from the back. The sheer weight of numbers pushed me through the police, and my glasses fell off. The sergeant I had been speaking to ran to the edge of the road where I had fallen and stopped a car coming towards me. He then lifted me to my feet and asked if I was OK. I replied to him 'Yes I'm OK' and bent down to pick up my glasses. As I did this 2 or 3 Metropolitan police officers ran up, punched and arrested me. I told them that I was just picking up my glasses. The met officer looked down saw my glasses, and stamped on them—breaking them—and I have not seen them since.I was then man-handled across the road and taken to a police van and transported to Mansfield Police station locked up for 10 hours put before a magistrate and charged with threatening behaviour. I must add that the Mansfield police were very. courteous and dealt with me very well and were astonished at what had happened".There is some confusion about the officer who arrested my constituent, Mr. Lockwood. At any rate, he was charged with threatening behaviour and brought to the court in May and given bail on the sort of conditions that seem, to many of our constituents, to be designed to prevent them from 787 even contacting their Member of Parliament for advice. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) and I, and other hon. Members, have made representations about that, and bail conditions were slightly amended the following month.
The following month my constituent again appeared and was granted bail. This month he has been back to court. This time he was charged not only with threatening behaviour but also with assaulting police officers. If the Minister could have been with Mt. Lockwood in my surgery the other day, he would have realised how sad and how shocking it was that such a different charge was made against him. I should like the Minister to meet Mr. Lockwood. Then he would understand why such a charge is almost contemptible.
I suggested in a letter to the Home Office the other day that the charge was altered after I had complained, but I am assured that, since my letter to the chief constable did not go to him until 18 June, that cannot be so because it was decided to change the charge before that date. That being so, the complaint that my letter represents is regarded as irrelevant. However, I hope that the legal advice and assistance that Mr. Lockwood will receive ensures that justice is done in the courts. It is a pity, perhaps, that it has not been done before.
I realise that such places as Brampton, Breilow, Thrybergh, Sunnyside and Swinton in south Yorkshire are very far from Whitehall corridors. But our people are citizens as well. The Minister must understand that over the past few years there has been a great deal of effort in such places in the metropolitan borough of Rotherham to build good police-public relationships. Individual officers have put a lot of effort into that. But a great deal of it is not merely imperilled but undoubtedly on a temporary basis brought to ruin, and I feel great distress and considerable frustration. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham and I have been involved in the divisional community-police liaison committee. We have sought to assist its development with a considerable amount of diligence and energy. I wonder whether the whole of that effort on our part and that of other well-meaning citizens will ever be justified.
My experience of delay is quite incredible but, as I say, it is not unusual. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), who cannot be here for this debate, has asked me to refer to questions that he sent to the Home Secretary on 26 March and 2 April. He had to ask a question in the House on 25 June to discover why the Home Secretary had not replied. Hon. Members with vast experience in the coal industry and other hon. Members who have long represented mining communities are frustrated and angry and understand the bitterness which has been bred in our constituents. If the Minister considers that, he may begin to understand why delay by the Home Office has been so embittering. Judging from ministerial responses at Question Time last Thursday, there is little evidence that Ministers have given any thought to our letters and the very serious words that they contain or that they have given any credence to the fact that some of my hon. Friends and I might be qualified to offer comment and suggestions. We have not had any sensible response.
Since our constituents are aware of our representations and realise that we have had no replies to them, the Home 788 Secretary and his colleagues have added to the bitterness and contributed to the grave problems affecting society in many parts of these islands.
I suggest to the Minister of State that, while we were not afforded the courtesy of a ministerial approach through many grim and grave weeks and months, there is now an opportunity for a remedy to be put into effect. That is why I suggest that the Home Secretary and his colleagues should recognise that the terms of the motion that I tabled last Thursday are very serious. I believe that an inquiry of the type that I propose is necessary. If an inquiry is held, I trust that it will also investigate the awful delay that my hon. Friends and I have experienced this year. It is a degree of delay, a degree of disdain and a degree of contempt and arrogance which the House and the country cannot afford.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has been in this House almost as long as I have. He and I are friends. I take seriously what he has said tonight, and I hope very much that if there are any cases where there is prima facie evidence of the police using excessive force the hon. Gentleman will use his good offices to ensure that charges are brought. The courts will then determine the facts, and the proper verdict will be reached. That is the proper way to proceed. The hon. Gentleman, who has done much for relations between the police and the public in his area, must agree with me about that.
During the past tragic weeks, I have travelled to the coal mining areas on several occasions. I was born in a coal mining area. I have seen something — though perhaps not enough—of the picketing and the police response. Hon. Members on both sides of the House deeply regret what has happened, but no one regrets it more than the ordinary men and women of the police service themselves. I know of no police officer who has any desire to put on a plastic helmet and flameproof overalls—let alone to be pelted with bricks and bottles or to be involved in baton charges or the use of police horses.
However, the police have a job to do. If thousands of violent men, whatever their purpose or origins, seek by physical violence to prevent other citizens from going to work in peace — aided and abetted by hundreds of politically motivated hangers on—it is the duty of the police to protect the civil rights of anyone who is the target of such criminal attacks. And the police are bound to respond with whatever level of force is required to uphold the law. If the law can be brushed aside and violence can prevail, there is no civil liberty for anyone. Democracy is at risk. Liberty slides into anarchy.
The police are not, of course, entitled to over-react. If they use excessive force, they must answer to the criminal law, to which they are just as answerable as any picket. They are also responsible to the police complaints system and to their own disciplinary code. However, the world's least violent and most accountable police service is entitled to feel angry when its members are subjected to a barrage of bricks and bottles simply because they are doing their duty in upholding the Queen's peace. Members of the police service are even more entitled to resent being likened to the Gestapo and compared with the Polish or 789 South African police—especially when the author of such mendacities is a man who denies to his own union members the right to a secret ballot.
The machinery available to those who wish to complain against the police is well known. Whether or not it needs to be reformed is a matter for debate in proceedings on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. But if a citizen has a complaint, he has a duty to bring the matter to the notice of the local police. If it is well founded, it will be investigated; and, if there is sufficient evidence, the policeman concerned will be charged. Alternatively, the matter can be dealt with under the complaints system, which now has a strong independent element. Complaints can also be dealt with by the criminal or civil courts, through the local police authority or, ultimately, the Home Secretary. There are in fact five or six ways in which complaints against the police can be pursued.
I wish to identify four general complaints and to dispose of them. The first is that the police in south Yorkshire are enforcing a Tory Government's trade union laws. There is no truth in that allegation. The police have nothing to do with the Government's trade union laws. They are dealing with breaches of the criminal law, as they should.
The second complaint is that the police are engaged in paramilitary policing. Anyone who believes that should look at what happens in other countries where police have to deal with violence. They use water cannon, as in Switzerland and Japan; they use armoured fighting vehicles, as in Germany and France; they use riot guns and gas, as in the United States; they even use heavy weapons, as in the peace-loving democracies of eastern Europe. By contrast, the British police have placed their own bodies between the pickets and those who wish to go to work in peace. As a consequence, the police have suffered the most serious injuries. I know, too, from having discussed the matter with officers on the spot, that the police always seek to react with the minimum, not the maximum, force.
The third charge made against the police is that they are, as one hon. Member has claimed, systematically destroying civil liberties by tapping miners' telephones, imposing no-go areas, invading miners' homes and terrorising their families. No evidence to support this has been produced in the House, and when I have asked hon. Members for it they have ducked the question. If there is such evidence, let the inquiry take place in the courts, but in truth there is no evidence of the police systematically destroying civil liberties.
The fourth charge is that our police are engaged in national policing. That charge is based on the notion that the existence of the national reporting centre and the coordination of mutual aid by the current president of the Association of Chief Police Officers have turned our police into a national force. There is no basis for this charge. It is not true. If we did not have mutual aid, with the command being retained in each individual force, south Yorkshire—or any other area—would simply be overwhelmed because it does not have and could not afford the many more men that it would have to recruit to deal with any contingency.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
To which Minister is the head of the national reporting centre responsible?
§ Mr. Griffiths
He is not responsible to any Minister. We do not have police Ministers, and I hope that we never shall. If the Home Secretary broke the law, an ordinary constable could arrest him, and no doubt would do so.
The national reporting centre, which was set up under the previous Labour Government—if any Government were involved—is a simple mechanism for the exchange of requests for help. I invite the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) to go and see it. It is a coordinating arrangement so that information is provided by one force to another. And all mutual aid groups come under the local command of the chief officer of the receiving force concerned.
The hon. Member for Wentworth asks for an inquiry. I believe that there will be an inquiry into the way in which violence has been met during the recent troubles in the coal industry. It will take place in the House when we debate, during the next year, the public order legislation that lies ahead of us. There is bound to be an inquiry then. But the specific matters into which the hon. Gentleman seeks an inquiry tonight should be dealt with in the courts. The courts of law are the best place for that, and I hope that he will accept it.
§ Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)
There is a good expression to describe the speech made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I do not know whether it is a parliamentary expression, but the hon. Gentleman's speech was certainly a load of bullshit.
§ Mr. Redmond
I apologise, Mr. Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman shed a lot of crocodile tears, but despite all that he did not support the request for an investigation. That does not surprise me. As a new Member of Parliament, I have been appalled by the sniggering and sneering of Conservative Members whenever we ask any question about the mining dispute. We have asked numerous questions, highlighting certain activities by the police, but they have met with no response but with laughter and sniggering. I am appalled.
If there is nothing to hide, the Minister will no doubt agree to an investigation. If he adopts the other course of action, he will be condoning what is happening in the coalfields. Hon. Members have mentioned South Africa, but Conservative Members should try travelling to this House from Doncaster. They will find that on certain days police checkpoints will stop them going about their lawful business. If that is not a matter of concern to the Minister, he should say so now.
I and other hon. Members went into Nottingham at the request of the Yorkshire area of the NUM because of allegations that were made. At one pit, no peaceful picketing was allowed. The police had herded about 50 lads to the other side of the road. According to the evidence, those lads had not been able to get near the entrance. We said that six of them would be sufficient to picket the lads going into work at that pit and that the rest would go home. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) will confirm that after five minutes it was then agreed that those six pickets could go across and peacefully picket. But then one of the thugs from down south—I cannot call him a police officer, 791 because he was a thug—came across and would not allow anyone to picket. Is it any wonder that people get riled?
It is asked why people do not complain about what happens. Often, the police do not wear identity numbers and have obviously removed them from their clothing. If a lad is manhandled by the police, his first concern is to protect himself. If he is guarding his head with his arms and hands against truncheon blows, the last thing that he will think of is to get the policeman's number. There are numerous cases of lads being injured but finding it impossible to identify the policeman concerned. That is why an investigation is important.
People who are charged with obstruction and are remanded on bail appear in court several weeks later—a similar delay as when hon. Members write asking for information. One of my constituents, Mr. Henderson, was charged with obstruction—but what happened when he appeared in front of the magistrates to ask, through a solicitor, for unconditional bail? Apparently he had a criminal record. It consisted of a six months jail sentence for actual bodily harm, a three months' sentence for theft, a three months' sentence for criminal damage, a supposed court appearance for excess alcohol in his blood —presumably drunk and disorderly — and a court appearance for breach of the peace.
§ Mr. Hardy
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to Mr. Henderson, whom I also know. I share my hon. Friend's view. When Mr. Henderson listened to that bogus record, one of my constituents, Mr. Kevin Heavey, went to court and discovered that he had a criminal record that showed that he had served 18 months in prison for armed robbery and had other convictions for theft. There is no evidence of Mr. Heavey having any criminal record. I know him quite well as he lives round the corner from my home in Wath upon Dearne.
§ Mr. Redmond
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. There is a conveyor belt system. There is all sorts of conniving to stop our lads getting unconditional bail. If the Minister is sincere and wants to uphold the law, he should agree to the request for an investigation.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), I have always regarded the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) as one of the most responsible and respected Members of the House. I do not doubt that he is right when he says that, in general, he is one of the last people who would wish to attack the police. I do not doubt that, in principle, he is one of those members of the Labour party who believe in the maintenance of law and order and a civilised society. However, although he might say that he wants law and order to be maintained, any debate such as this and any speech such as he made is bound to be taken as a general criticism of police behaviour during the miners' strike.
The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that he quoted examples of what he claimed was police over-reaction. He gave his credence to complaints about police behaviour and he criticised the police in a way that suggested and created the idea that the violence that we have seen has 792 been caused by the police rather than, as is the case, by violence on the picket lines to which the police are bound to react.
§ Mr. Hardy
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should understand that I sent letters describing what I read to the House today to Ministers three months ago, because I recognised that those events were serious. I believed that the problem should be solved and that Home Office Ministers bore a heavy responsibility that they needed to begin to exercise.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with the matter of the delay, if there has been one. That is a matter for him to consider.
The tone of the speeches of the hon. Members for Wentworth and for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) amounted to a clear attack on the police. Their remarks were a travesty of what has happened. The hon. Member for Don Valley talked about "our lads" being injured, but he did not say a word about the number of policemen being injured. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on this question: is it not an extraordinary fact that, if all this violence is created by the police, as the hon. Gentleman wishes us to believe, it is always the police who appear to have the greatest number of injuries at the end of the day? The police, whose task on behalf of society is to maintain law and order, are using the force they need to use—I believe no more than they feel is necessary—to ensure that their duty is done.
§ Mr. Redmond
I shall match my record before the strike started with that of any other hon. Member on the way in which we have attempted to bring about great cooperation between the police and the general public. I shall provide the right hon. and learned Gentleman with evidence of that co-operation after the debate, if he wishes. Numerous injuries are inflicted on the miners, but the miners are a breed of men who do not go running and crying.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I repeat a great many more policemen than others involved appear to have been injured. That is an extraordinary fact in view of the hon. Gentleman's statement about the violence coming from the police side.
If allegations have been made in certain places mentioned by the hon. Member for Wentworth that the police have acted in that way, there is a recognised complaints procedure. That procedure is supported by both sides of the House, and it includes an independent element to which people can complain. There is no such complaints procedure for those who have been the victims of violence, threats, terrorism or intimidation from those on the picket line. There is no method by which people can complain that their property has been damaged because of the action of those who support the miners on strike. I remind the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that people may use civil procedures. If people claim that they have been beaten up, they are free to sue the police in the civil courts. How many complaints have there been? How many actions have been taken in that way?
We have heard a totally one-sided description from the Opposition of what is happening. The police are doing not only their duty but what is required for society. They are ensuring that freedom is maintained by making sure that those who wish to work are able to get to work and are free 793 to work. By their actions, the police are upholding the values of a civilised society. It is those values, freedoms and rights that are under attack by some of the militants among the striking miners. The right to work is a fundamental right. The freedom of an individual to choose not to join a strike is just as important as his right to choose to join a strike. The freedom of those who wish to work in the mines must be preserved, and their ability to do that must be preserved. Only the existence of an adequate police force has enabled them to achieve that right.
Complaints have been made about the numbers of police that have been seen at some of the mines. The numbers are those required to deal with the threat of violence which otherwise exists. The interesting point is that, thanks to the police force, that vital freedom to work, and that additional right to keep open other industries, has been preserved against violent attack by some of the people on the picket lines.
If the right hon. Member for Gorton speaks in the debate, perhaps he will tell us what he has to say about the reports that we have heard today of windows being smashed by boulders being thrown at colliery buildings. Is that the sort of violence, which is supported by Mr. Scargill and Mr. McGahey and which his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition condones when he speaks on the platform alongside Mr. Scargill, that the right hon. Member for Gorton condones? We are seeing violence, intimidation and attacks on property of a nature that we have not seen before and which I hope we shall not see again. The only people who can preserve the freedom of individuals not to suffer from that intimidation, those threats and attempts to terrorise are members of an adequate police force.
Allowing that there is a complaints procedure and the right of any individual to sue the police authority if he believes that he has been damaged by police action, I do not believe that there is any need or justification for a Government inquiry. Whatever the hon. Member for Wentworth may say, we know that a Government inquiry lends support to the suggestion that police behaviour has been improper and wrong. I do not believe that to be so.
I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about delay. One of the worrying aspects of the matter is the delay in bringing cases before the courts. That, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said, is the right place for these matters to be decided. I ask my right hon. Friend what efforts the Government are making to persuade—that is all that they can do—the courts in the area to try to speed up the hearing of some of the many cases before them. It is a matter of anxiety that only 10 per cent., or less, of the cases brought have so far been dealt with by the courts. I say that irrespective of the outcome of those cases. Justice must be seen to be done, and done speedily.
Many people outside the House are worried. They see cases of violence on the television during the evening. They hear that so many arrests have been made, but they never hear that those cases have come before the court. It is not adequate that those matters should be dealt with three or six months later. I know that it is a matter not for the Government, but for the courts. The local courts should see that cases are disposed of quickly in the interests of the parties so that allegations and counter-allegations can be properly investigated.
794 One must, of course, regret that the strike has gone on for this length of time. But one must regret much more the attitude of Mr. Scargill, on television, on Channel 4, when he said of the miners:we have no intention of abiding by laws, be they civil or criminal, which restrict our ability as a trade union to fight for the rights of our members".That is a direct attack on parliamentary democracy and on the rule of law, and a direct attack on the basis of our freedoms. That is the sort of direct attack that neither side of this House can afford to allow to succeed. We have to look to the police to see that it does not.
§ Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)
The whole House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) for initiating the debate. I congratulate him and thank him for his efforts.
When I entered the Chamber to try to take part in the debate I was determined to stick to the motion on the Order Paper—the subject of correspondence with the Home Office regarding policing of the miners' dispute".Ever since the dispute started, the Home Secretary has consistently ignored letters and anything that has been said to him about police activities and what has been happening on the picket lines. He appears to have adopted the first part of the Yorkshireman's motto—Hear all, see all, say nowt'.We are not getting a dicky bird from the Home Office. My hon. Friend and I and others have sent letters to him but there has been no reply from the Home Office. I have records of letters which have been sent since last March.
I should like to tell the House about some of the events which took place in the third week of March, the third week of the dispute. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) and myself, after we had received complaints from Yorkshire about the attitude of the police on the Nottinghamshire picket lines —to which my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) referred—sought a meeting with the Home Secretary. I give credit where it is due. The Home Secretary immediately agreed to meet us. He gave us 20 minutes. I am convinced that, if it had not been for my right hon. Friend, I would still have been waiting to see the Home Secretary. It appears that anyone with "r h" in front of his name carries a bit of weight.
We met the Home Secretary for 20 minutes. We outlined to him what we had been told was happening to Yorkshiremen going on to the picket lines in Nottinghamshire. The Home Secretary looked at us and smiled, as he usually does. He nodded and said, "It is not a matter for me. I must leave the matter in the hands of the police." He has been doing that ever since. He does not give a damn. There have already been three deaths on the picket lines, apart from the 4,000 injuries to police and miners. He does not seem to bother.
What perturbs me is not so much that the Home Secretary ignores my letters but that he ignores letters from people in positions of responsibility. I have here a letter dated 28 June 1984 which was sent to the Home Secretary by the chairman and deputy chairman of the police authority of West Yorkshire metropolitan county council. I should like to read two passages from it. In the fourth paragraph they say:There is evidence which we believe shows that the wider interests of the community are being neglected and undermined 795 by disproportionate attention to one manifestation of a temporary civil disorder. (It may be that the very size of the police involvement is not helping in the disorder). In certain parts of the country there is what some describe as a state of civil war, which amongst other effects is seriously damaging present and future police-community confidence, and this in areas far removed from the immediate point of conflict.In the next paragraph, the chairman and deputy chairman say:We see, as a matter of grave urgency, a need to restore the Queen's peace and goodwill between the Police and the other parties concerned who are deeply committed in this dispute.That letter has still not been acknowledged. It is from two responsible county councillors, Ron Darrington, chairman, and Harold Best, deputy chairman, of the police authority of the West Yorkshire metropolitan county council. They have not even received a card acknowledging receipt of their letter.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned four things and in his intervention just now referred to the bottles and stones that have been thrown at the police, and asked what they were to do about it. What happened last week in my constituency leaves a lot to be desired from the police. No sticks, stones, or bottles were thrown, but the police went to question a man. What happened there was diabolical. I interviewed five of my constituents a week ago yesterday morning. They had all been at the receiving end of the police special action group.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the accusation of paramilitary tactics by the police, which he did not try to deny. He just went on to mention what had happened in other countries. Let me tell him what happened to Mr. Alan Hurst, in this country. He was walking home in Fitzwilliam a week last Monday night. He saw a disturbance, in which a young man was having his head bashed on the pavement by police. He went up to them and recognised the young man as his own nephew. After they had given the nephew's head several bangs on the pavement, Mr. Hurst said, "Hold on a bit. You have given him enough. Just stop it, will you?" The next thing, he was grabbed and handcuffed to a lamp post.
The police continued to knock his nephew about. When they had finished with his nephew, they set about him. A week yesterday morning, Mr. Hurst took off his shirt to let me have a look at his back. It was like the back of a zebra. He is an innocent, 43-year-old, law-abiding citizen, who was just going home. He tried to admonish the police and tell them that he thought they were doing wrong.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Has the hon. Gentleman put the evidence before the police complaints board, and if not, why not?
§ Mr. Woodall
The evidence has been given to it. I had correspondence this morning from the deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire metropolitan police. He has written to Mr. Alan Hurst, and to the others involved. I went to see the chief constable last Monday. All those involved have been invited to make their statements to a special police—I stress "police"—inquiry.
I am satisfied with that as far as it goes, until I see the end product of the inquiry. If the outcome is not suitable, I shall support, as I do now, the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth that an inquiry should be held. The inquiry should not be held into the police — the 796 motion is not about their activities, as they are bound to be involved—but about our concern at what they are not doing. They do not give a damn. It is about time that the Home Secretary pulled his finger out.
I want to mention Cortonwood. I wanted to stick to the wording of the Adjournment motion, but it is difficult in this situation. My hon. Friend was right. The dispute started last November with an overtime ban. The union policy, declared by Mr. Arthur Scargill, was specific. He wanted an overtime ban, and nothing more. The ban started on 1 November last year and went on until March this year, when the Cortonwood colliery closure was engineered by Her Majesty's Government, to cause a strike. The Government caused the strike, not the miners.
Eighty four per cent of Yorkshire miners voted in 1981 for the motion,Are you in favour of taking strike action if any colliery is closed other than by means of seam exhaustion?There was not seam exhaustion at Cortonwood. Men had just been transferred there from nearby Elsecar colliery to keep Cortonwood going for the next five years. There is still 1 million tonnes of good coking coal avaialble at Cortonwood. Men from Elsecar were promised work for the next five years.
Why, then, ignoring the new procedure, did the National Coal Board announce the closure of Cortonwood, without any consultation whatsoever? It was engineered. The Government wanted a showdown. They have got it. Now that they have the result of the showdown, they do not like it. They see all, they hear all, and they sit there and say nowt. It is about time that they got their finger out.
I appeal to the Home Secretary to answer the letters and listen to the advice that has been given to him and the pleas that are being made, particularly by Opposition Members, and to intervene, because the damage has been done. I am law-abiding. I have always supported the police until the present incidents. When one hears these reports about the police, it is time for an inquiry to be held. That is why I support my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call anybody else, I should mention that the Minister wishes to reply to the debate at 10.15 pm and four other hon. Members wish to take part before then.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
I shall be brief because we have referred to this matter time and again. It is no use going over the same old ground because I am sure that the Secretary of State and other hon. Members know about the situation.
I should like to examine why this situation has developed. The story of the strike is sad. It never needed to come about. Cortonwood, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), is on the borders of my constituency. Also, I worked for 21 years at Elsecar colliery, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall). I think that I know every person and all the families of those who work at those two collieries. I have lived in that area all my life. We have to live with the strike day after day. At the weekends, we spend all the time with our constituents listening to their complaints. It may seem one-sided, because it is our constituents who are doing the complaining. The police have never yet come to us with a complaint.
797 We know the people who are concerned. I am not saying that action on the picket line does not cause problems—it does. However, one must ask oneself why the problems were caused in the first place. I take Orgreave as an example. What were the pickets to think when the police escorted lorries through their lines at 60 mph? The police did not deny that when they were asked about it. Why were the lorries not allowed to stop so that the pickets could do their picketing? Why has an agreement on picketing not been reached? When 300 or 400 people are standing there shouting, no harm is done. Many times the pickets have asked for six of their members to be given permission to stop people going through the lines so that they can talk to them and put their case, but it has been refused. Because of that, the pickets have had to resort to the tactics that we have seen. When they do so, the police naturally react, and when that happens the pickets also react. It goes on and on, and gets bigger and bigger. However, no one has sat down and thought about talking about it, as happened in Wales when there were problems on the picket lines. We could put a stop to the problems on the picket lines if we used some sense instead of the direct approach.
I have disagreed with my constituents about some aspects of picketing and told them why. It is significant that when we had problems in Toxteth a Minister went there after two days to see for himself. After the problems in Brixton, there was the Scarman report. All that we are asking for is that, after 20 weeks of incidents, there should be a public inquiry. I support a public inquiry because after the strike has ended policing in the areas affected must carry on. The strike will eventually come to an end and people will eventually go back to work. What will not be forgotten are the incidents at the picket line and the policing. We are not talking about the police themselves. We are saying that there is a different approach to policing methods that we have never come across before.
After their defeats in 1972 and 1974, in 1981 when the Prime Minister backed down on the proposed 20 colliery closures, after Saltley and all the other incidents, the Conservatives said that it would never happen again. The reason for the vast police presence on the picket lines is the Prime Minister's determination that there should not be another Saltley. That has been the cause of the trouble, but there is no need for another Saltley if industrial relations are handled properly.
I support the call for a public inquiry because of the aftermath. I have spoken to the police about this. They know what is bound to come. The local police know that once all the extras go back to London they will have to take on the whole burden themselves. Many of us sit on police liaison committees. A great deal has been achieved in the past five or six years. It will be sad indeed to see all that effort lost and the whole job having to be started again. The only way to achieve a base on which to build is to have a public inquiry into the events on the picket lines. Let us have all the information on the table so that we can see what has gone wrong and decide how to proceed in the future.
There is nothing anti-police in our request for a public inquiry. The results of such an inquiry are essential for the future policing of our areas. If there is no inquiry, there will be more problems than the Government can imagine. Throughout the dispute, I have warned the Government of what was about to happen and how to prevent it, but they have not acted on my advice. I make it clear to them now 798 that we need a public inquiry to provide a basis for the future policing of our areas. People in the south of England know nothing about the north. We who live in the north know all about it because we have to. If policing is to come right in the future we must have a public inquiry. Let us have the truth on the table so that we can discuss it.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) for not being present at the start of the debate, but I had not expected it to start so soon.
Much correspondence and debate has arisen out of the events at Orgreave. As the House knows, the object of the Orgreave run was to ensure that the steelworks in Scunthorpe could continue to operate. From my conversations with both miners and police, and having witnessed some of the worst incidents at Orgreave, I have no doubt that if the police had not been present in such force the steelworks in my constituency would have had to close. It is all very well to criticise the police and their tactics, but the people of Scunthorpe owe a great deal to the police who stood on the picket line at Orgreave, thus ensuring that coke was delivered to the steelworks at a critical time when the blast furnaces were in a very dangerous condition.
Scunthorpe was also invaded by large numbers of pickets—as many as 3,000 on one occasion. But for the police operation on the M180 to stop pickets entering Scunthorpe, I am convinced that the steelworks would have been brought to a halt. I remind hon. Members of the threats to drivers. They had to be protected. A serious law and order dispute occurred.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Major.]
§ Mr. Hickmet
If the president of the NUM says that there is only one law in an industrial dispute—that no one crosses a picket line—are not the incidents in recent weeks bound to occur? The police, in difficult circumstances, have behaved in a well-disciplined and well-controlled manner.
§ 10.1 pm
§ Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North)
On one occasion 16 loads which were not necessary in Scunthorpe went from Orgreave. Some of our lads' heads were split open by policemen who charged amongst them. I think that that was wrong. Some may say that the police acted properly, but I say that they acted wrongly when they charged amongst the men on that occasion.
The Home Secretary should reply to all letters from Members of Parliament. It is unacceptable for hon. Members to be told when they write to the Home Secretary that they should take the issue to a chief constable. The Home Secretary may think that that is correct, but he is a Minister of the Crown. If the Home Secretary will not reply to Her Majesty's Members of Parliament, hon. Members must be allowed to write to the monarch, whether one likes that or not. I realise that I must be careful how I express myself.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Vale of Glamorgan)
Surely it is impossible for the Home Secretary to reply if an issue 799 is pending trial in a court of law. It would be wrong for the Home Secretary to attempt to reply to a question about a case which is about to be tried.
§ Mr. Welsh
That might be a point, but the Home Secretary could reply by saying no. The Home Secretary belittles the House if he does not reply to hon. Members within a reasonable time. Ministers must reply under rules of the House—and they do. I see no reason why the Home Secretary should not do the same.
I am not a legal man, but a village lad—and proud of it. If the Home Secretary has no desire to reply within a reasonable time to a question about someone walking or riding on Her Majesty's highways an hon. Member must go above the House of Commons and write to Her Majesty to see whether she will give permission for her citizens to travel on her highways.
§ 10.5 pm
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
This has been an important debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) on obtaining it. I also congratulate my hon. Friends on their contributions from their personal and constituency experiences. I regret that the Home Secretary has not seen fit to attend the debate. The allegations that have been made by my hon. Friends about months passing without replies from the Home Office are very serious and show a great discourtesy to the House.
§ Mr. Woodall
The Home Secretary believes in the second part of the Yorkshireman's motto, "Eat all, sup all, pay nowt."
§ Mr. Kaufman
The Home Secretary, at least momentarily, can be seen in the House, so he may have heard what my hon. Friend said.
The Opposition repeat their sympathy with the police who have been injured during duties that they would have much preferred not to have carried out. However, we are constantly receiving information—and my hon. Friends have referred to some of it—of incidents on the picket lines, in the coal mining areas and on the highways——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
That is not a matter on which I can help the hon. Gentleman. I have no control over these matters.
§ Mr. Kaufman
That was the Home Secretary that was.
Information comes in all the time about incidents that show that some members of the police force have behaved with excessive force, have exceeded their powers and have seriously infringed civil liberties. Of course, they are in the minority—just as those who have been violent on the picket lines or elsewhere are acknowledged by the chief constable of south Yorkshire to be in the minority. I say quite firmly, so that it can be clearly understood in this House, that the Opposition unequivocally condemn such violence. Violence is alien to the trade union movement in Britain, and hon. Members should be aware of that.
However, it must be said that the minority who have been violent on the picket lines have been depicted by the 800 Prime Minister and the Home Secretary as being typical of the whole mining community. At the same time, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the whole sorry gang of the Government reject any implication that there might at any time have been any excessive use of police powers.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) denied that the national reporting centre had become the base for a national police force. I have visited the centre and I believe that that is precisely what it has become, and it has happened in a most disquieting manner. In that room in New Scotland Yard are links to all the 45 police forces of England and Wales, subject to the command of the president pro tern of the Association of Chief Police Officers, a man who is literally accountable to no one; not this House, nor to the Home Secretary —and and we are glad of that — nor to any of the elected police authorities. Police forces are deployed by the centre, often against the will of the elected police authorities, but at the expense of the ratepayers who finance those elected authorities.
During the past few days, the nation has been subjected to an extraordinary and repulsive barrage of vituperation by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government, which has been carefully orchestrated by Downing street. This almost unprecedented propaganda campaign will backfire. While people in Britain wish to, and should, support the police in the proper discharge of their duties, they equally wish to be sure that the police are carrying out their duties in an acceptable manner.
The police must be given trust and support, but in a democratic society they must never be regarded as being above criticism because once we elevate the police above criticism—once they are placed above the rest of the population—we are headed for a police state, and I am sure that the police themselves would never wish us to go down that road.
The allegations that have been voiced in this debate and on other occasions, in this House and elsewhere, are too serious and numerous to be dismissed in the cavalier manner in which the Home Secretary has repeatedly reacted to them. My hon. Friends who have voiced these allegations tonight and on other occasions are serious, responsible and respected Members of the House not lightly given to making allegations of the validity of which they are not convinced.
It is now essential that an impartial public inquiry be held into allegations about the behaviour of certain of the police during the strike. When it is said that the complaints procedure should be resorted to, I must reply that the complaints procedure is not satisfactory in the circumstances. It is not sufficient, nor is it trusted.
As I say, we require an impartial inquiry. If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds really believes, as I am sure he does, that the police have a satisfactory story to tell, he should be as eager for an inquiry as we are. Miners are basically law-abiding men. Unless the air is cleared, there could be a serious, possibly a permanent, breakdown of confidence between the police and many in the mining communities, and that could extend much more widely. Confidence between the police and public is essential in the fight against the desperately serious crime wave that the nation is experiencing.
It is in the interests of the police that such an inquiry should be held, and we calle on the Government to institute one. Further, I recommend, through the hon.
801 Member for Bury St. Edmunds, to the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers that they should join us in seeking an independent inquiry.
If the Government will not agree to such an inquiry, we shall have to consider whether one can be set up by a Labour Government when we take office. However, before the election, time will have passed and it is far better for an inquiry to take place while memories in all quarters are fresh and while those involved, among the miners and the police, can be questioned properly by impartial people.
§ Mr. Kaufman
There are far too many allegations and, as the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) pointed out, the courts are jammed and proceedings are not taking place in the way that they should. What is more, it is not simply a question of individual incidents, important through they are. There is also the question, which is leading to great misgiving in the country, of the nature of policing as it is developing in Britain, in regard to the national reporting centre and of the almost total breakdown in accountability between chief police officers and elected police authorities in many of the areas that have been affected.
Therefore, I call on the Government to abandon their shrill and partisan attitude to this matter. I call on the Government to help to heal the wounds that have been caused during these long 20 weeks, and not only to bring about an inquiry into these allegations so that all involved should be satisfied at the end but, above all, to take definite, conciliatory, urgent action to bring this sorry dispute to an end.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) began by criticising the handling of his letters to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. He did not say that he had recently received a reply to his letters, which I hope that he will regard as reasonably full. It is wrong that hon. Members should have to wait so long for replies to their letters. Those concerned in the Home Office, working under great pressure, were anxious to bring together the points raised in different letters from different hon. Members and to put them together to the police officers concerned. Looking back, that was not an adequate reason for the delay, and I regret, as the hon. Gentleman knows because I have already told him, the delay in his case, and other delays that may have occurred. We have taken steps to ensure that letters to hon. Members are dealt with more swiftly in future.
However, I must reject the hon. Gentleman's accusations of disdain and arrogance. There is a crucial distinction between issues of policy and complaints against individual actions by police officers. The first are matters for the Government and for the House. As to the second, Parliament has laid down a procedure, in the Police Acts of 1964 and 1976. Complaints about actions of the police have to be investigated, and the outcome is necessarily subject to the independent scrutiny of the Director of Public Prosecutions on criminal aspects and of the independent Police Complaints Board on disciplinary action.
Let me clear up two points that are not clear in the minds of the hon. Members for Doncaster, North (Mr. 802 Welsh) and for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall). There is no role for my right hon. and learned Friend the Horne Secretary in the procedure for handling complaints against the police. In the legislation of 1964 and 1976—I draw attention to those dates—Parliament gave him no role. The only role that my right hon. and learned Friend has is that, at the end of the day, he receives and decides appeals in disciplinary cases against individual police officers. It follows that my right hon. and learned Friend has no power and right to involve himself in the investigation of complaints against individual police officers. What we can do—and do is to pass on to chief officers who have that responsibility the complaints that we have received from hon. Members and others so that they can be registered officially and investigated.
§ Mr. Welsh
The Minister must get many letters from citizens complaining about different things, and in a liberal society we all agree with that. However, when a complaint comes from a Member of Parliament, the Minister should pass that on to the chief constable even if he does not intervene. He should not return it and tell the Member to send the complaint to the chief constable. I am not saying that, as a Member of Parliament, I am better or greater than my fellow citizens, but I am a Member of Parliament and therefore entitled to send complaints to a Minister and hope that, in an open society, the Minister will convey that complaint to the necessary place or person—even if it is a chief constable.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have answered the hon. Gentleman's point by saying that that is precisely what we can do, and do. However, my right hon. and learned Friend has no power or right to involve himself in the investigation.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) asked how many complaints had been received. Our latest figures are 205 complaints, 20 of which have been withdrawn, and 778 letters of appreciation.
My right hon. and learned Friend also touched, as he has done before, on delays in bringing cases to court. This is always a matter of concern, and the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary are very ready to consider what help or advice might be given to any court finding itself with an exceptionally heavy load of cases. In particular, the Lord Chancellor is prepared to meet requests from courts for the assistance of stipendiary magistrates.
I turn to policy, which is a different matter and which is of concern not just to individual hon. Members, but to the House and to the Government. No one can accuse the Government of failing to answer points made in the House, to answer questions on many occasions, and to reply to debates. A large number of opportunities are open to the Opposition, they have been taken, and we have responded to them in detail.
I say a word or two on a subject of particular concern which has been raised several times in the debate. I refer to the state of the law as regards the powers of the police to forestall and deal with breaches of the peace.
The legal basis of that power was described to the House on 16 March by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. It is for the courts to decide whether, in any instance, the police went beyond their power in this respect. But I disagree fundamentally with the hon. Member for 'Wentworth, who implied that the police were wrong to exercise that power. We have all 803 been cruelly conscious of the scenes of violence brought about by the numbers of pickets mobilised at particular points and by the tactics which they have employed.
If the power, which several Opposition Members have criticised, to forestall breaches of the peace had not been used, the numbers outside collieries and in other places would have been far greater. That point was made succinctly by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet).
§ Mr. Hardy
The basic point of my speech and the principal reason for my concern is that I wrote to the Home Secretary on 21 March because 12 Cortonwood miners were refused permission to picket at three entrances at the Silverhills colliery. I was pointing out that if that permission had been forthcoming and if smaller scale picketing had been allowed in the first place, all the scenes that hon. Members deplore would probably not have occurred. Does not the Minister of State understand that when in the House last Thursday the Home Secretary appeared to be recommending six pickets, not four, some of us were entitled to be concerned?
§ Mr. Hurd
My right hon. and learned Friend has always made it clear that peaceful persuasion by pickets is permitted by law, and there can be no difficulty about that. Instead, we have the considered decision by those managing the strike to run it on the basis of large numbers, with all the intimidation which follows. If the police had not used the power, which is now criticised, the force of numbers of which I am speaking might have closed a pit, a coking plant or the steel mill at Scunthorpe.
What would have been the situation then? The constituents of hon. Members who had listened to the arguments and decided to work would have been prevented from doing so not by a ballot in which they had been outvoted and not by peaceful persuasion on the picket line, but by force.
Whatever may be the view of a few hon. Members—not in the House at the moment—about that, I cannot think that the hon. Member for Wentworth would have been proud of that outcome, and I think that most of us and the country would have been deeply ashamed. Yet that is what could and probably would have happened if this police power to forestall breaches of the peace, which is consistently criticised by the Opposition, had not been used.
Lamentably, this has been a long and inevitably controversial operation. In those circumstances, incidents are inevitable, and from time to time there are bound to be different versions of what occurred. That is why, from the very beginning, my right hon. and learned Friend has said that all complaints against the police arising out of this operation should be investigated and dealt with.
However, we must be clear about how these incidents and this situation have arisen. The deciding factor is not the existence of the strike. We are all familiar with strikes.
804 Most strikes run their course without any need for police operations such as this. The root of the problem has been the decision to run this strike on the basis of mass picketing and intimidation.
Sadly, the casualty figures have to be updated from time to time. Between 14 March and 17 July, 512 police officers were injured in performing their duties in connection with the dispute, and 33 of the injuries were serious. It is not only the police who suffer. Last night, at half-past eleven, 40 men attacked the house of a working miner in Shirebrook in Derbyshire. Stones were thrown. The single policeman who was first on the scene was attacked, and three arrests were made after further police arrived. That is the latest in a series of incidents with which those who have to read these reports day by day are sadly familiar.
I have listened to the argument for an inquiry, but I do not believe that it has been made out. One of the items in the early-day motion refers to complaints about police behaviour. There is a complaints procedure laid down by Parliament, and it is being used to the extent that I have described. On the other hand, if we are talking about the police having exceeded the powers granted to them by Paliament or derived from the common law, such complaints can be tested in the courts. If what is in question is Government policy, that policy has been tested, argued and justified in the House.
I take seriously what I believe to be the main driving force behind the proposal. The hon. Member for Wentworth has referred to the poison which is seeping into relations between the police and his constituents. I agree that that poison exists. However, the source of that poison is no secret. It is the attempt to run this strike by violent means.
I regret some of the things that the hon. Gentleman has said, but I have no complaint to make about his action in bringing the grievances of his constituents before the House. We all have a right to do that. However, I hope that he and the Opposition Front Bench will understand that they have no monopoly of indignation. Hon. Members on the Government Benches feel increasingly strongly about what has happened, what we see and what we are told about by eye witnesses. I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks from experience and with sincerity on these matters. However, if he and the Opposition Front Bench are to carry conviction in their appeal about relations between the police and the public, they must use their influence with the leaders of the strike and persuade them to change their bullying and undemocratic tactics. There is the taint. There is the poison. The whole House must agree about that. For heaven's sake, let us try to drain the poison out of the situation. That can happen only if those who took the fatal decision to run the dispute on the basis of violence are brought to reverse that decision.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o' clock.