HC Deb 18 March 1985 vol 75 cc627-8
36. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Attorney-General how many cases have been heard by the courts and how many are outstanding in connection with the recent coal mining dispute to the latest available date.

37. Mr. Adley

asked the Attorney-General if he will update the information given to the hon. Member for Christchurch on 25 February, Official Report, column 13, concerning cases outstanding in the courts about offences alleged to have been committed in relation to the miners' strike.

The Attorney-General

During the period from 13 March 1984 to 5 March 1985, 7,917 persons were charged with a total of 10,372 offences alleged to have been committed during the course of the miners' dispute. Of these, 5,653 defendants had been dealt with by the end of that period and the cases of 2,262 remained to be heard.

Mr. Bruinvels

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that, although the miners' dispute is now over, the 2,262 cases waiting to be heard will be severely dealt with, that any amnesty for those people will not be considered until they have been convicted or acquitted and that the sentences will be properly and publicly detailed throughout the country?

The Attorney-General

I should make it clear at the outset that I have no responsibility of any kind for the sentences imposed by the courts, and at no time would I seek to influence or interfere with the decisions of the justices. On the question of amnesty, whether to proceed with a case must be a matter entirely for the chief constable of the area concerned, and again I would not seek in any way to influence the decision.

Mr. Hardy

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that in some coalfields men have been dismissed simply because they face a charge, not because they have been convicted? Does he agree that that is scarcely a helpful contribution from the NCB to the reconciliation that is needed in the industry?

The Attorney-General

That cannot be my responsibility. It must be a matter for the National Coal Board.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, with respect to him, not all of us share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on this? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree, however, that with all the demands for amnesty it would be most helpful if the NUM and leading members of the Labour party took a lead in ensuring that those making vicious and violent attacks on people who merely exercised their right to go to work in the absence of a ballot do not continue to hound those workers in a manner that gives affront to many millions of people?

The Attorney-General

I agree with my hon. Friend. I should have thought that the worst way of trying to persuade those considering whether to grant an amnesty would be to behave in the way that my hon. Friend has described.

Mr. Ryman

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assist by providing the facts to the NUM and the NCB when individual applications for reinstatement are being considered? Is he aware that at present a conviction ipso facto constitutes dismissal in the eyes of the NCB and that when cases are reviewed under the appeal procedure the NUM and the NCB put forward different versions of the facts? Does he agree that it would be helpful if a short précis of the facts of the case were available, either through the Attorney-General or through the Home Secretary, when the appeals take place?

The Attorney-General

Yes, I shall certainly arrange for that to be considered, but I would hope that the magistrates' clerk would have kept a sufficient note, which would be available to the appeal tribunal.

Mr. Madel

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that industrial tribunals are set up to deal with dismissal cases, and that the impartiality of those tribunals is guaranteed by existing employment law?

The Attorney-General

That is right, but I think that what the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) was suggesting was that there may be occasions when there is a conflict of evidence, when the tribunal's task will be assisted if there is an impartial note from, say, the magistrates' clerk.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

As one fifth of those arrested have never been charged and two-thirds of the offences involve relatively trivial matters such as obstructing the highway, and as the acquittal rate in Nottingham is running at about 38 per cent. of the cases that eventually come to court, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not feel that a conciliatory statement and intervention from himself would not only alleviate the present situation but would restore respect for law and order in mining communities which consider themselves to have been savagely treated by the forces of law and order over the past year?

The Attorney-General

The acquittal rate varies enormously. In one or two areas, it is nought. The hon. Gentleman has picked the largest one — Nottinghamshire. It is very important that Law Officers —indeed, Ministers of all kinds—should not be seen to intervene in any way in questions of conviction or sentence. Those are matters for the courts and perhaps subsequently for the NCB.