Call for miners’ strike statements by Thatcher government to be investigated

Arthur Scargill in Easington  during the miners' strike
Arthur Scargill in Easington during the miners' strike

SPEAKER of the House of Commons John Bercow is to consider reviewing government statements made during the 1984/85 miners’ strike to test whether they match up with revelations made in newly released records.

Veteran Labour left winger Dennis Skinner said the publications, made in recent days under the 30-year rule, showed ministers in the Thatcher government had been “untrue” in their statements made from the Despatch Box.

The Bolsover MP implored Mr Bercow to use his “adventurous spirit” and compare the records of Commons debates of the time to what has now been published.

Government records were released last week that showed ministers considered bringing in troops during the strike and there were also plans to shut 75 mines and cut 64,000 jobs over three years, while the Government and National Coal Board publicly said they wanted to close 20 pits.

The Speaker said he would consider the request - but warned his enthusiasm for pushing at the boundaries may not extend to what Mr Skinner was asking for.

Raising a point of order in the Commons, Mr Skinner said: “We are not talking here about a day or two. We’re talking about the sentiments, the point of view, that was expressed over a long period of time in this House by ministers.

“Therefore it gets to the heart of Parliament. The fact that those statements made over a year-long period were shaping the views of all people, including the judiciary, because they learn what they want to know about the nature of the strike based upon ministerial statements - on a continuing basis.

“And that’s why it’s important retrospectively. You’ve heard the Prime Minister apologise for some incidents of governments from way back several times - previous prime ministers, including this one. And so I think it’s the duty of you, an adventurous Speaker, to use your good offices... to check all the statements that were made in this House in violation of what we now know as a result of the release of the papers.

“If you do that we will then be able to see how the course of events in that year-long strike were shaped, resulting in the judiciary taking action - on sequestration, on the imprisonment of people, on blacklisting and all those events that flowed from the mouths of those that were there on that Treasury bench uttering statements we now know to be untrue.

“This is a Parliamentary issue, not just one that is broadly political.”

Mr Bercow replied: “I have listened to you while you fully make your point. I would say two things in response. First, rather than give an instant response, I would like to reflect on what he said.

“Secondly, while noting your observations about my spirit of adventure, it may be that what you seek on this occasion could conceivably be beyond my spirit of adventure - I do not know.

“I will consider the matter and if I think it necessary to revert to the House, I shall do so.”

Earlier on a previous point of order, Labour MP Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) told Mr Bercow: “Last week the Cabinet Office released confidential documents to the National Archives related to the then-government covert intervention in the 1984/85 miners’ strike confirming what the National Union of Mineworkers and the Labour movement fully suspected at that time.

“However, many people in the mining communities and the UK as a whole were alarmed to learn that senior ministers and indeed (then prime minister Margaret Thatcher) deliberately misled the people of this country.

“Can you say whether or not you’ve been approached by the present Government wishing to apologise and wishing to put the record straight with regards to the government’s real intentions back in 1984/85, which was to close 75 pits and not 20 pits which they insisted upon?

“And if not would you be able to advise this House how this injustice can be rectified by this House?”

Mr Bercow replied: “The short answer is no, I have received no such approach.”

The Speaker added Mr Lavery could seek to hold an adjournment debate on the issue. If approved, the debate would take place as the final piece of business on a particular day and run for at least 30 minutes.