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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 7, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 07 June 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Onshore Wind Energy (Community Benefit), Miners’ Strike (Impact of Policing on Communities), Hate Crime Legislation: Bracadale Review, Decision Time, Correction


Miners’ Strike (Impact of Policing on Communities)

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on the impact of policing on communities during the miners’ strike. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

I am pleased to come to Parliament to address members about the Government’s plans to initiate an independent review of the impact of policing on affected communities in Scotland during the miners’ strike.

Last September, in answer to an oral parliamentary question, I advised that the Scottish Government was addressing various issues around proposals for a review of policing of the miners’ strike of 1984-85. I committed to announcing my decision in due course. I know that this statement has been keenly awaited by interested parties, not least individuals and communities from our mining heartlands, and I thank them for their patience. I am also grateful for their role in getting to this point today.

It is generally understood that the 1980s represented an extremely turbulent and difficult time for many communities throughout Scotland, particularly mining communities. I know from the conversations that I have had that, although more than three decades have passed since the main miners’ dispute, the scars from the experience still run deep. In some areas of the country that were most heavily impacted, the sense of having been hurt and wronged remains corrosive and alienating. That is true of many who were caught up in the dispute and its aftermath: those employed in the mining industry at the time, of course, but also their wider families and communities. The miners’ strike was also a difficult period for the police, with many individual officers finding themselves in extremely challenging situations, and police and community relationships coming under unprecedented strain. Although things have moved on considerably in the decades that have followed, the question of how best to learn from this period remains. How best can we aid understanding, reconciliation and inclusion?

One approach is the “let sleeping dogs lie” approach; in other words, to do nothing. That is, some might say, the approach that has been adopted by various Governments in the past, but if the hope had been that the sense of injustice and division would heal naturally, without intervention, it seems to have been misplaced. Ignoring the issue does not make it go away.

I understand, therefore, the great disappointment that arose in October 2016 when the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, announced that the United Kingdom Government was ruling out an inquiry into events at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire—the battle of Orgreave, as it became known, which was one of the most notorious flashpoints in the miners’ strike. I made it clear at the time that I thought that that was the wrong decision, not least because it seems clear that key elements that were in the mix and that needed to be understood were the attitudes and perhaps actions of the then UK Government.

An alternative to the do nothing approach that was put to me strongly by campaigners is to honestly address some of the key issues through a focused investigation specifically into the policing of the miners’ strike in Scotland. When I met campaigners—including Neil Findlay, whose commitment to this matter I readily acknowledge—I agreed to explore that option as sympathetically as possible, within the constraints placed on ministers in this Parliament by the devolution settlement.

A key issue is what kind of review is possible and, crucially, what value would it add, given where we are today. It is important to recognise, for example, that there is already effective provision available for anyone who considers that they have experienced a miscarriage of justice in terms of a criminal conviction. The Scottish criminal justice system has established procedures to deal with alleged miscarriages of justice and, as I made clear to the campaigners, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is the appropriate route if anyone believes they have suffered in that particular way.

However, wrongful conviction is just one form of injustice. The question is how we might better address wider but equally distressing forms. That has come home to me in my dealings with campaigners. I have been struck, as I said, by the continuing deep feeling and sense of injustice: a sense that our fellow citizens feel they have been misrepresented and ill treated, and that they wish their side of the story to be told and wish that any appropriate lessons are learned, to avoid unnecessary division and distress in the future.

I have given that careful consideration. In particular, I have had to look closely at a significant number of technical challenges. I want to ensure that anything we do is robust, proportionate and fair. I have concluded that doing nothing is not an option. Although what I can do is limited by the powers devolved to Scottish Ministers, I am determined that the Scottish Government should do what it can to do right by those affected by the dispute.

Consequently, I can announce that John Scott QC has agreed to undertake an independent review of this matter. His remit will be to investigate and report on the impact of policing on affected communities in Scotland during the period of the miners’ strike, from March 1984 to March 1985.

I can also announce that John Scott will be assisted by an advisory panel, comprising our former colleague Dennis Canavan, former assistant chief constable Kate Thomson and Professor Jim Murdoch of the University of Glasgow. The group will bring real authority and a balanced insight into the issues raised.

Their work—which will begin with some preparatory activities over the summer—will include a review of the publicly available files held at the National Records of Scotland and the National Archives in London. It will also include gathering evidence from those directly affected by, or having knowledge of, the dispute, and reporting the findings. To allow effective engagement and consideration of the issues, I have asked for an interim report in early 2019. A final report, setting out lessons learned and making recommendations for any other action required, will follow by June 2019 and will be made publicly available.

I hope that my decision to establish this review underlines the importance that the Scottish Government attaches to this issue and our understanding that there are questions about the impact on communities that remain to be answered.

I am pleased to say that Nicky Wilson, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, gave his wholehearted backing to this approach when I spoke to him this morning. He said:

“Following the Justice Secretary’s earlier meetings with the NUM, I really welcome the leadership being demonstrated by the Scottish Government on this issue. Rather than a potentially costly and drawn-out public inquiry, we will have a time-limited and focused independent review which I hope will really get to the heart of the injustice experienced by mining communities at that time. We have good relations with the police and no wish to pursue a vendetta, but it is high time that what mining communities endured during the strike is properly understood.”

My expectation is that the process and outcome of the review will help to bring a degree of closure—crucially, of a positive kind—through openness, disclosure and understanding, in keeping with the truth and reconciliation approach that was suggested by the Scottish Police Federation.

Of course, that does not remove what I see as an obligation on the UK Government to fully explore the extent of any political interference by the UK Government at that time. I have therefore written to the new Home Secretary to renew my call—first made in November 2016—for the current UK Government to institute an inquiry. Although my earlier plea was rejected, I remain of the view that it would be better for all concerned if, in a spirit of transparency, justice and reconciliation, the UK Government now followed our example.

Through the independent review, Scotland will certainly lead the way in ensuring that the experiences of those affected by the dispute in the 1980s are properly recognised. Some of our communities have been blighted by the shadow of that time for too long. I hope that members will join with me in both encouraging those affected to engage with the review and welcoming the work of John Scott and the advisory panel as an opportunity to acknowledge those difficult times and truly learn from them.

The cabinet secretary will take questions on the issues that were raised in his statement. I intend to allow up to about 20 minutes for questions, after which we must move to the next item of business. Time is very tight.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. Where there are questions and issues that remain unresolved in the minds of the public and those who were directly involved in and affected by a dispute, it is always important that we look to understand and learn from the lessons of the past. Given the importance of the inquiry, people will be interested in the composition of the advisory panel. Can the cabinet secretary clearly detail what the selection criteria were for those members?

I note the cabinet secretary’s point that the miners’ strike was also a difficult period for the police, with many individual officers finding themselves in challenging situations. What guarantees can he offer to police officers, past and present, who might be concerned about the results of the review?

The panel has been put together for the purposes of the independent review to ensure that we have sufficient expertise. Jim Murdoch is a professor of law at the University of Glasgow, and his legal expertise will help to support the group in its work; Kate Thomson has policing expertise; and Dennis Canavan has a long-standing connection with mining communities across Scotland. Of course, John Scott has outstanding recognition with regard to his ability in relation to criminal matters and in the field of human rights. On that basis, I think that the membership of the advisory panel, working with John Scott, gives us the right balance.

As I said in my statement—and as Ricky Wilson stated—this is not a vendetta against the police, and the Scottish Police Federation believes that the truth and reconciliation approach will be helpful in addressing the underlying concerns.

The independent review that I am sanctioning will help to address some of the long-standing issues of trust that continue to exist. However, I hope that the member recognises the United Kingdom Government’s role in addressing the matter. I have written to the Home Secretary today to say that the UK Government needs to do more on the matter, and I ask the member today to show his support for that and to write to his party colleagues in the UK Government, asking them to do exactly the same thing.

I thank the justice secretary not just for sight of his statement, but for its content. I do not often praise ministers of this Government, but today I am delighted to make an exception.

Thirty-three years after the strike, following three decades of campaigning by a great many people who are far better than me, we now have an independent review, which is, I hope, the first step to a full UK-wide inquiry. Today’s announcement is significant in the fight for justice for so many individuals, families and communities across the former Scottish coalfield and I hope that it reverberates all the way to 10 Downing Street.

The release of the Cabinet papers under the 30-year rule and the fallout from the Hillsborough inquiry exposed how the police and judiciary acted under the centralised political direction of the then Thatcher Government and were instructed to defeat the strike, no matter the cost. Scottish miners suffered disproportionately from the impact of that policing strategy. Many lost not just their jobs, but their relationships, homes and mental and physical health. Many were blacklisted and others went to their graves as the victims of that miscarriage of justice.

I hope that the review avoids the errors of the mesh review, and that it is thorough and inclusive. It must provide an opportunity for those who were involved to come forward with their legal advisers to give evidence so that we can finally shine a light on that enormously important period in our country’s recent history. I hope that we leave the door open to a full public inquiry, if one is deemed necessary.

I thank all those people, some of whom are no longer with us, who have given me unstinting support in pursuing this campaign in Parliament, and I thank those who are in the public gallery today. More important, I put on the record my admiration for and thanks to those who, for more than 30 years, have never given up the fight for truth and justice. This is their victory. Now, after 33 years, let the truth be told. [Applause.]

I understand why those in the public area are applauding, but I say to them gently that applause by those in the public area is not permitted.

I welcome Neil Findlay’s comments and I recognise his long-standing interest in and commitment to pursuing the matter over an extended period of time.

Mr Findlay said that he wanted to ensure that the review is thorough and inclusive, and I assure him that that is the intention behind and the purpose of establishing the independent review. The individuals who have been appointed to the review are people of significant integrity and they will ensure that the matter is pursued in an open and transparent fashion.

I have discussed with John Scott QC the approach that could be taken to ensure that the affected communities have an opportunity to participate in the process. Some of the early work that the members of the review will undertake will be to engage with relevant stakeholders, including politicians who have an interest in the matter, to look at how they can frame their work to ensure that those who were and have been affected over many years by the dispute have an opportunity to engage in the review process. I was very encouraged by the discussion that I had with Nicky Wilson earlier today about the NUM’s commitment to supporting the work of the group in reviewing the matter.

I assure Neil Findlay that the review will be thorough and inclusive, and I hope that it will help to bring closure to these long-standing issues that have been left for far too long.

There are 10 members who wish to ask questions, but there are only 14 minutes before we must move to the next item of business, so please try to make your questions crisp.

I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the cabinet secretary.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston has a rich mining heritage, and that many of the former mining communities remain active, such as the community of Moodiesburn, home of the Auchengeich mining disaster. Will the cabinet secretary reiterate his assurance to those communities and the nation as a whole that the inquiry will be full and transparent?

It will be open and transparent and, as I have mentioned, its members have been appointed specifically to enable that. That is also why I have appointed the advisory panel to work alongside John Scott QC.

If it assists members to consider some of the work that John Scott has already conducted on behalf of the Scottish Government, one of the pieces of work that he undertook was on the issue of stop and search, and he had a very inclusive approach to allowing people to express their views and concerns on that matter. I expect that that will be the approach to be taken by the independent inquiry that he now leads.

The cabinet secretary spoke of significant technical challenges. Can he outline to members what those challenges are?

Ensuring that matters are within devolved competence.

Can the cabinet secretary explain why the review that he has announced will not look at wider-ranging issues?

There have been a number of significant disputes over many years across Scotland and the whole of the UK. However, the nature of the miners’ dispute meant that it affected communities right across the country in a significant way. In my view, the nature and scale of the miners’ dispute and the impact that it had on mining communities merit the independent inquiry being taken forward.

I commend the minister not just for this initiative but for the considered tone of his statement, which was very welcome indeed. Will the independent review have the power to compel witnesses, and will those who have been affected and their families have access to legal support should they wish to give evidence?

The review will not be in a position to compel witnesses, because it is not being undertaken as a public inquiry. However, I have no doubt that, if the independent review is taken forward appropriately, willing parties will be prepared to engage in that process. It is an opportunity to bring individuals together to explore and consider matters. Given the backgrounds of the members who have been appointed to the advisory panel and given the background of John Scott QC, I have no doubt that those who have an interest in the issue will engage with the review in a purposeful way that will support the work that the review will undertake in its investigation.

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for what is very good news. He alluded to a previous report by Mr Scott and will recall that he said that the police should be at the forefront of defending citizens’ rights. During the period that the review will look at, the special demonstration squad was active. Will the cabinet secretary write to the Home Secretary, seeking co-operation from the Pitchford inquiry to help the review to discover the extent of undercover policing from south of the border and—to use the cabinet secretary’s words—the “corrosive and alienating” impact that that might have had in aggravating what was already a difficult situation for mining communities?

The member will be aware of my view on the issues relating to the Pitchford inquiry and the reasons why I believe that it should be extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland, given the nature of the SDS’s work as part of the Metropolitan Police.

In relation to the specific points that the member makes regarding the review that will be undertaken by John Scott QC and the advisory group, if there are issues in the six-month report that I receive from them that demonstrate that there is a requirement for greater co-operation from the UK Government, or if such issues are flagged up to me at an earlier stage, I will certainly make representations to the UK Government to request that co-operation.

I was a teenager when my community was affected by the issues in question and I vividly remember the Government-manufactured social tension between miners, steelworkers and the police. Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is essential that we learn from what has happened to ensure that such failures are never replicated and that no trade union faces an attack from the Government such as was experienced at that time?

I was at school when the dispute took place, and I can still remember scenes from the miners’ strike during that period. Although I was brought up in the south of Glasgow, the miners’ strike reached even into our community through those who had family and friends who were affected by it and through the trucks that were going to Ravenscraig passing through our local area during the dispute.

I agree with the member that there are real issues of concern around how the UK Government acted to undermine trade unions at that point and the impact that that had on local communities. I hope that, through the instigation of this independent review and the greater transparency that is provided by the work that is undertaken over the year, we will get a greater understanding of how the Government’s actions impacted on mining communities right across Scotland.\

I, too, pay tribute to Neil Findlay for his efforts on the matter and thank the cabinet secretary for his statement, which I very much welcome. Indeed, the fact that John Scott is chairing the review is good news. His work not only on stop and search but on biometrics should offer some reassurance to the mining communities and the police that he will be thorough and even handed.

The cabinet secretary referred to procedures for dealing with alleged miscarriages of justice. Is he aware of any such cases being brought or of steps being taken to build such a case?

I am not aware of any such individual cases. However, there is a legal mechanism for anyone who believes there to have been a miscarriage of justice. Subject to legal advice from their own legal agent, they can lodge a request with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission if they believe that they have a miscarriage of justice case. I always advise any individual who is considering using that legal mechanism to take legal advice first, before they make an application, so that they make best use of the mechanism.

Will the cabinet secretary explain why the independent review will not consider political interference?

One of the technical challenges that I mentioned is the nature of the responsibility for the issues. Our ability in the area is limited because of the UK Government’s involvement and the fact that, because the Scottish Parliament was not established at the time of the dispute, the policing of the dispute was the UK Government’s responsibility. That limits our scope for considering the matter. Even if we were to establish a public inquiry under specific legislation, we would be extremely curtailed in what we could consider, given the nature of reserved and devolved matters.

Notwithstanding that, I have no doubt that the independent review that we are establishing will consider matters thoroughly and in detail and that it will listen to evidence from affected communities on the impact that they believe the dispute had on them and how political interference may have happened at that point.

In welcoming the statement, I reflect that even those of us who were supportive of the miners were, at the time, led to believe that there was widespread criminality in the mining communities. That was an absolutely shocking use of the power of the state.

Given the recent history of independent reviews such as the one into the use of mesh implants, which failed completely to secure the victims’ confidence, what steps is the cabinet secretary taking to secure the review’s independence? Will he confirm that the review has the authority to go wherever the evidence takes it? It would be helpful if he could confirm that he is not absolutely ruling out holding a full public inquiry, if necessary, when the review reports.

I have just mentioned the reasons why there would be limited—if any—difference between a public inquiry in Scotland and the independent review. We will wait to see the outcome of the review first.

Johann Lamont makes a good point about the injustices that are felt by the communities that were affected by the dispute. I confirm that the review, acting independently, will be able to follow the line of evidence and engage with communities and individuals as it considers appropriate in carrying out its inquiry over the coming months.

John Scott has said that he is

“keen to listen to individuals and communities directly affected.”

Can the cabinet secretary assure us that there will be a wide variety of ways for people who have been affected by the dispute to have their views heard?

In the discussions that I had with John Scott when I approached him to take on the role, he reassured me that he would seek a range of ways in which to engage with communities, whether through individual meetings, public meetings or other community-based approaches. He is keen that as many people as possible who are interested in expressing their views are facilitated to tell their stories in the evidence taking on the matter. I have no doubt that engagement with a range of stakeholders from the NUM and its members will shape the approach that the review takes to allowing as many people as possible to express their views and tell their stories when it takes evidence in different parts of the country in the coming months.

That concludes questions to the minister. I thank all members for the way in which they asked their questions, as we managed to get every question in.