Parliament to debate more help for North East pit communities

The truth must come out about the miners' strike and whether the Tories misled the nation over pit closure plans

The last day of Ellington Colliery..... David Bentley who has been a miner for 25 years at Ellington Colliery which has now closed
The last day of Ellington Colliery..... David Bentley who has been a miner for 25 years at Ellington Colliery which has now closed

Parliament will today hold an historic vote on whether Margaret Thatcher’s Government misled the nation over plans to close pits.

And MPs will debate calls for more support to regenerate coalfield communities - which are still suffering the effects of closures more than a quarter of a century on.

It follows the release earlier this year of Cabinet papers which showed that senior ministers, including Margaret Thatcher, her Chancellor, the Energy Secretary and the Employment Secretary discussed the National Coal Board’s plan to shut 75 pits and cut 64,000 jobs.

This contradicted what the Government was saying at the time of the dispute. Arthur Scargill, the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, insisted there was a secret plan to close 70 pits - but the National Coal Board said it intended to close just 20.

The papers also reveal that the government briefly considered calling a state of emergency and getting troops to move coal, after dock workers also went out on strike.

North East MPs such as Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, have been pushing for a full inquiry to establish the full facts behind the year-long strike, which began in March 1984.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery
 

The Labour front bench is to lead today’s debate backing what is called the “Justice for the Coalfields” campaign.

A motion to be debated will call on Members of Parliament to acknowledge that the Cabinet papers show that the government at the time misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics.

The motion also highlights the economic legacy of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities across the UK and calls for continued regeneration and support for coalfield communities as part of a wider programme to boost growth in Britain’s regions.

Mr Lavery, a former President of the National Union of Mineworkers, said: “Addressing the on-going problems in the former coalfield communities is essential.

“That includes lack of employment, lack of new businesses, and youth unemployment. The opportunities aren’t there like they were in the past.

“And we need to look at how Margaret Thatcher’s Government was part of the miners’ strike.

Margaret Thatcher at the Nissan factory in the late 80s
Margaret Thatcher at the Nissan factory in the late 80s
 

“It was really a political dispute, not just an industrial dispute.

“If the Government at that time lied to us then we demand to know why it happened and we demand an apology.”

Michael Dugher, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “This will be an historic debate and vote in the House of Commons.

“Recently released Cabinet papers from the Thatcher years confirmed that the government at the time not only misled the public about the extent of the pit closure programme, but that it also sought to influence police tactics during the strike.

“It is now only right that Parliament recognises just how badly ministers at the time treated the coalfield communities and acknowledges the full scale of the economic legacy of the pit closure programme.

“The debate comes too late for so many of the miners and families who saw their lives and their communities decimated after the Strike, but that sense of injustice endures today across those coalfield communities who are still dealing with the devastating consequences of what happened.”

Earlier this year, a report warned the employment rate in coalfield areas is still lower than elsewhere.

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