Labour and Conservatives clash over Shrewsbury builders' strike


The Commons was the scene of angry exchanges between Labour and Conservative MPs in a debate on papers relating to the 1972 Shrewsbury builders' strike.

Five months after the 1972 building workers' strike, 24 picketers were arrested and charged under the 1875 Conspiracy Act. Supporters of those convicted want to see papers relating to their prosecutions made public.

Labour's David Anderson opened the backbench business debate on 23 January 2014, saying: " We have a chance to set in train a process that should lead those in power to come to the view that is in the real public interest and clearly in the matter of national justice that the remaining papers are released."

When Daniel Kawczynski, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury, attempted to intervene on him for a second time, Mr Anderson told him to "sit there and listen".

Labour MPs were further angered by a speech from Sir Gerald Howarth, in which he said the debate demonstrated that "old Labour is still alive and well and in some respects seeking both to justify and to romanticise mob rule and violence and intimidation".

In the 1970s, the Conservative MP said: "People like me and my new wife were stocking up with provisions in case there was a shutdown."

Jeered by the opposite benches, he continued: "Ross McWhirter of the Guinness Book of Records and I were looking at ways that we might be able to produce a newspaper to put information out to the public when the newspapers had been shut down by trade union militants. That was the mood of the nation."

Conservative colleague Mr Kawczynski struck a more moderate tone, condemning some who he said "felt they had the right to intimidate and to use violence in order to get their political objectives", and concluding by calling for the papers to be released.


Dennis Skinner, a Labour MP since 1970, stormed: "I know it wasn't the age of social media and Twitter and God knows what else - if it had've been they'd've won! If they'd all had a mobile phone with a camera, they could've took some pictures."

Sir Bob Russell, from the Lib Dem benches, agreed that "we need to have all the relevant documents published".

Responding for the government, Justice Minister Simon Hughes told MPs the papers could not be released at present, but that a review could take place to determine if they could be made public in 2015.

The documents are currently covered by exemptions to the Public Records Act - which allows most government documents to be released after 30 years - on the grounds of national security.

Mr Hughes said the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is deciding whether to send the convictions to the Court of Appeal, will have access to all of the documents.

"The Ministry of Justice has no relevant information retained. I don't know whether any other departments have. I am not privy to that information but I am clear that there are four pieces of information which are clearly retained by the Cabinet Office and are open to review next year," he specified.

Labour later forced a division on the motion calling for the documents' release, which was passed by 120 votes to three.

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