HC Deb 04 February 1985 vol 72 cc606-8
50. Mr. Adley

asked the Attorney-General how many cases are still outstanding in the courts in relation to offences alleged to have been committed in relation to the miners' strike; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General

During the period from 14 March 1984 to 29 January 1985, 7,653 persons were charged with a total of 9,901 offences alleged to have been committed during the course of the current miners' dispute. Of these, 4,874 defendants have been dealt with and the cases of 2,779 remain to be heard.

Mr. Adley

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for those figures. Is it not a fact that had there been no foregathering of members of Arthur Scargill's private army at many of the coal mines, intent on intimidating those who merely wanted to work, there would have been no need for the police presence in the first place? Does he therefore agree with this morning's statement by the leader of the Social Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), that this sort of thuggery should have no part whatever in industrial relations organisations in this country?

The Attorney-General

I have no hesitation in agreeing with that. Picketing, as approved by the TUC and as part of the miners' own rules, is limited to six. If there are hundreds or, indeed, thousands of pickets, at best it is a demonstration and, at worst, a riot.

Mr. Barron

Will the Attorney-General tell the House how many of the 4,874 miners who have already been dealt with have been found not guilty? In Rotherham magistrates' court 75 per cent. of cases in which miners have been charged have been dismissed by the magistrates.

The Attorney-General

The total number acquitted by all the courts trying miners is 1,169.

Mr. Spencer

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that recent experience tends to show that those whose cases still remain to be dealt with will get a fair hearing by magistrates or juries, and that, if the evidence is sufficient, there will be a conviction and that otherwise there will be an acquittal? Does he agree that the criminal justice system is sufficiently resilient to deal with violent pressure put upon it, no matter who exerts the pressure?

The Attorney-General

I do not doubt the independence of the courts or the juries which try these cases. Many of the cases still awaiting trial will be heard in the Crown court.

Mr. Mason

Will the Attorney-General, in concert with the Home Secretary, call upon the chief constables in the coalfields to have the fingerprints and photographs of the 1,169 miners who were arrested and acquitted of all charges erased from police records, in order to clear the records, reputations and characters of those miners?

The Attorney-General

I shall make certain that that comment is passed on to my right hon. and learned Friend. It cannot be a matter for me.

Mr. Cash

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that, as the strike peters to an end, if and when violence increases in certain areas within the coal mining areas, the most vigorous action will be taken to ensure that the public are protected and that the cases that are brought before the courts are dealt with as quickly as possible?

The Attorney-General

Obviously, it is desirable that there should be the least possible delay. It is equally desirable that those who are awaiting trial on cases unconnected with the miners' dispute should not lose their place in the queue. This is a matter entirely for the chief constables, as they are absolutely independent of the Government.

Mr. John Morris

Without having to repeat to the House my view of 19 December, that everyone who breaks the law must be answerable for it, will the Attorney-General consult the Home Secretary about the extent of the damage that has been done to respect for the law in the mining communities, arising from the fact that breaches of the law have not been entirely one-sided, and arising from such things as the operation of restrictive bail conditions and the stopping of innocent travellers on their way to work, which has left considerable bitterness? Will the Government consider how they intend to rebuild confidence in the law in those areas, and will they encourage everyone within the Government to be particularly sensitive to that aspect in handling their legal responsibilities in mining areas?

The Attorney-General

I accept that there will be many wounds that will need healing. I suspect that there will be an equally large number of wounds that need healing between working and striking miners. If one considers the endless demonstrations, which amount to intimidation, and the various charges that have been brought, it seems ridiculous to put any blame for that on the police.

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