HC Deb 15 May 1985 vol 79 cc320-2
43. Mr. Canavan

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many people were (a) arrested, (b) charged and (c) prosecuted as a result of incidents arising from the miners' strike; and, of those charged, how many the procurators fiscal have decided definitely not to prosecute.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

As at 8 May 1985, 1,504 persons had been arrested; 1,483 persons had been charged by the police and criminal proceedings had been instituted by procurators fiscal against 1,004 persons as a result of incidents related to the miners' strike. Procurators fiscal decided not to take criminal proceedings against 450 persons reported as a result of such incidents.

Mr. Canavan

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the principle that no one should be punished twice for the same offence? If so, will he appeal to Albert Wheeler to stop his witch hunt and to reinstate all sacked miners, given that the loss of a man's livelihood is in most cases a much more severe punishment than that meted out by the courts?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It is an essential principle of the criminal law in Scotland that no one should be subject to any double jeopardy. I have attempted to answer this question on at least three occasions. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that how the National Coal Board deals with matters such as industrial misconduct following criminal conviction is entirely a matter for the NCB. The hon. Gentleman would be very surprised if I sought in any way to interfere in that.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. and learned Gentleman, who is accountable to this House, surely cannot sidestep a question such as this—even the question of legality—given that he is a member of the Government. He must be aware that double jeopardy is involved in these cases, because a man is not only found guilty of the offence but loses his job. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that although the strike ended months ago, the number of victimised miners is increasing—initially it was slightly more than 200, and now it is more than 300?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

Industrial misconduct and possible dismissal arising from it is not a matter for me. If the NCB or any other employer has acted in breach of the law in dismissing these persons, a clearly defined remedy is available through the industrial tribunals. Miners who feel that they have been unfairly dismissed have the opportunity to take advantage of that. I am responsible for criminal convictions arising out of criminal offences. The hon. Gentleman will particularly appreciate that it would he quite wrong for me to seek to interfere with any decisions taken by the NCB in relation to employment and industrial misconduct.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, in relation to people arrested and later charged, it is common practice among procurators fiscal not to proceed for a variety of reasons? Consequently, the figures that emerge here are not dissimilar from what one would expect in other circumstances. There is nothing unusual about an individual being dismissed for conducting himself in a manner considered to constitute industrial misconduct. It happens to bus drivers, lorry drivers and others who are found guilty in the courts of offences that affect their jobs.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

My hon. Friend is quite right. There are a variety of reasons why, at the end of the day, procurators fiscal determine not to institute proceedings against individuals. A discretion is vested in those procurators fiscal, and on a number of occasions —not just arising out of the miner's strike, but more generally — they determine that there should be no proceedings, although prima facie, on the basis of the information available to them, there had been a breach of the law.

Mr. Dewar

Has the hon. and learned Gentleman noticed that out of the first 603 people prosecuted as a result of the miners' strike, only six were convicted of assault, five for carrying offensive weapons and 27 for vandalism—a total of 38? All the rest were charged with much more minor offences such as obstruction or breach of the peace. Does that square with the claim that all the miners who have been dismissed have been guilty of serious offences against other miners, their families or board property?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

As the hon. Gentleman appreciates all too well, in Scotland the offence of a breach of the peace covers a very wide range of conduct, and in some circumstances a breach of the peace can be a very serious matter. On the basis of the figures that the he has advanced, and those which he has extracted from all the figures that are available, I must repeat that it is for the NCB to determine what it considers to be industrial misconduct giving rise to dismissal. As the hon. Gentleman also appreciates, if the NCB is wrong, the industrial tribunals can reach a different determination.