HC Deb 19 December 1974 vol 883 cc1787-94
3. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will recommend the release of the two imprisoned building workers' pickets before Christmas.

4. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will recommend the exercise of clemency in regard to the two Shrewsbury pickets, Desmond Warren and Eric Tomlinson, in time to ensure they are set free and at home with their families by Christmas.

12. Mr. Spriggs

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has given recent consideration to the representations made on behalf of Mr. Warren and Mr. Tomlinson against their continued imprisonment, and the possibility of recommending a free pardon, or the use of the Official Solicitor on the grounds of precedent.

13. Mr. Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what response he proposes to make to the request to him by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party that he should recommend the use of the Queen's Prerogative of mercy for Mr. Eric Tomlinson and Mr. Dennis Warren, who were convicted last year of conspiring to intimidate workers on building sites.

14. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what actions he proposes with regard to Mr. Des Warren and Mr. Eric Tomlinson; and if he will make a statement

15. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will respond to the request from the Labour Party and the TUC to release the Shrewsbury pickets.

16. Mr. Brittan

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has now decided on his response to requests to recommend the exercise of the Prerogative of mercy in the cases of Mr. Eric Tomlinson and Mr. Dennis Warren who were convicted in December 1973 of conspiring to intimidate workers on building sites at Shrewsbury and Telford.

25. Mrs. Colquhoun

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now recommend the exercise of the Royal Prerogative to release the Shrewsbury pickets.

26. Miss Richardson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now recommend the exercise of the Royal Prerogative to release the Shrewsbury pickets.

27. Mrs. Wise

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now recommend the exercise of the Royal Prerogative to release the Shrewsbury pickets.

30. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now prepared to exercise the prerogative of mercy in relation to the Shrewsbury pickets, Mr. Warren and Mr. Tomlinson, on the lines expressed to him by the General Secretary of the TUC and the Labour Party conference.

32. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will recommend the exercise of clemency in the cases of the two Shrewsbury pickets, Desmond Warren and Eric Tomlinson, in time for these men to be with their families for Christmas.

36. Mr. Loyden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will exercise his power to recommend mercy to pardon Messrs. Tomlinson and Warren, at present held in prison at Shrewsbury.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

No, Sir. The law and facts of this case were fully argued before the Court of Appeal and a judicial decision has been reached upon the merits of the sentences. I cannot usurp the functions of the courts and no new considerations have been put before me on which I could properly advise interference with the sentences by the exercise of the Prerogative.

Mr. Allaun

Does not my right hon. Friend think that the sentences were excessive, as no charges of violence were sustained? Secondly, is not the case unique, in that never before in British legal history has the law of conspiracy been applied to an industrial dispute, in sharp contrast with what happened to the Welsh farmers recently, who were guilty of violence and in respect of whom no such charge was brought?

Mr. Jenkins

On the first point, I would not presume—and I am sure that on reflection my hon. Friend would not wish me to presume—to make personal judgments about sentences. I am sure that my hon. Friend or I or anyone else could, if we looked around, find sentences some of which we thought excessive and some of which we thought were more lenient than they should be. That would not be difficult, and the whole of the time of the House could be occupied in discussing such matters. These are matters for the courts.

On the second part of the question, I am not fully aware of the history of the use of this law. I do not think that my hon. Friend's comparison with the Welsh farmers is relevant because no significant prosecutions have been brought, and prosecutions are not a matter for me; they are a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions, subject in his special capacity to the Attorney-General in major cases, and to the police in minor cases. I can, however, tell my hon. Friend, as I have indicated previously, that I am not wholly satisfied with the present position on the law of conspiracy and I am considering it urgently in relation to the work of the Law Commission on the matter. There are complications, and it will not be practicable for a change to be made in this Session of Parliament, though conceivably it may be in the next Session of Parliament. But that change would not bear directly upon the charges or convictions in this case.

Mr. Lawson

Will the Home Secretary accept the congratulations of almost the whole House on upholding the rule of law—[Interruption.] At least he will receive the congratulations of the whole of the House, with the exception of one section which is well known to the Government Chief Whip. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that any proposals he may subsequently bring forward for the amendment of the 1875 Act will not be applied retrospectively? Will he also confirm that what is at issue in this case was described by the court as a vicious intimidation of fellow workers? Does he not agree that conspiracy must, of itself, aggravate any criminal offence which occurs in the first instance?

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. Member asked a large number of supplementary questions. I do not look for congratulations from any part of the House in the discharge of what is always a difficult duty as to how one should or should not exercise the Royal Prerogative. I have indicated that in my view changes in the law of conspiracy might be appropriate in the future. They would not be retrospective. I do not believe in retrospectiive legislation. As for the merits of this case, it would be quite inappropriate for me, as Home Secretary, to pronounce upon them.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend take note that the plaudits from the Opposition to his initial monosyllabic answer—

Mr. Tomlinson

And from this side.

Mr. Flannery

—are not totally unexpected? Outside this House a large number of people think that it was not the pickets who intimidated anybody but the establishment—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House must take this Question quietly. I hope to call a great many hon. Members to put supplementary questions. If this sort of row goes on, I shall move on quickly to the next Question.

Mr. Flannery

The view is held outside the House that it is not the pickets who have intimidated anybody in any conspiracy but that picketing is in grave danger and that anybody who plans an honourable demonstration or an honourable picket will feel intimidated against doing so by the gaoling in such a Draconian manner of these two pickets. Will my right hon. Friend make a serious attempt—as he is duly paid to do—to see that these men are freed and sent home to their wives and families by Christmas?

Mr. Jenkins

My hon. Friend must surely be aware that I have already answered the last part of the question. On the other parts of the question, there is clearly a difference of view on my side of the House, which I accept and which has been expressed. I make two points arising from what my hon. Friend said. First, it would be a great mistake if he or any other of my hon. Friends were to assume, as a starting point, that in this situation Mr. Warren and Mr. Tomlinson were behaving as good trade unionists would normally behave. Secondly, my hon. Friend's view seems to be based on the fact that what is or is not guilt, or what is or is not an appropriate sentence, should be debated between him and me or some other hon. Member and me on the Floor of the House.

I do not believe that to be in accordance with the correct practice, and whatever some people outside may think, on this as on many other issues which we have to deal with here, I believe that the great majority of the people believe in the rule of law.

Mr. Spriggs

I am not asking my right hon. Friend to rejudge this case. My question relates to the cause of the affray and the fact that in this industry, which is one of the most fragmented in the country, things have been seriously at fault from the point of view of danger and filth. It is one of the most accident-prone industries in the world. The cause of bad industrial relations has existed for many years and no action has been taken by any Government to remove that cause. Will my right hon. Friend take a look at the bad industrial relations and consider why the real guilty parties—the faceless men on the Conservative benches who were in office at the time of the affray, and the bad employers—were not in the box to be judged at the same time?

Mr. Jenkins

I am sure that in this industry—perhaps particularly in this industry—and in some others we would all wish to see an improvement in industrial relations. We would certainly not wish to endorse the record of the Conservative Party on the subject. There is no dispute between my hon. Friends and me on that. That fact, however—and actions to deal with the "lump" have been proposed—does not alter the fact that in individual cases it must be the rôle of the courts and not of the executive to judge what has happened.

Mr. Carlisle

I fully appreciate the unwillingness of the Home Secretary to comment on individual cases. However, does he not think it would be helpful to make clear to certain people in the House and outside that these men were convicted not of unlawful picketing but of terrorising and intimidating fellow workmen by what I think was described in the courts as "a display of wanton violence".

Mr. Jenkins

These men were convicted of three offences, one of which was quashed on a technical ground on appeal. The other two, one of which was for conspiracy, were upheld by the Court of Appeal. It is much better that in replying to these questions I should endeavour to give the facts in as neutral a manner as possible. I do not propose to rejudge, and I do not wish to put myself in the position of rejudging, issues which have been before the courts. That means two things. First, I am not willing to put myself into conflict with the courts on individual cases. Secondly, I do not think it appropriate to use the Floor of the House to make pronouncements which might be prejudicial to the interests of the two people concerned.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend undertake an investigation into the conduct of the police, since they were present throughout the whole of the picketing which we have heard about today? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the war-time coalition Government released three miners imprisoned under the notorious Order 1305 in almost identical circumstances? Does my right hon. Friend accept that any violence in the building industry is due to the appalling lack of safety standards, often brought about by the use of the "lump", against which these UCATT members were organising a strike?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir. I would not propose to introduce an inquiry into the police in matters which happened two years ago. If complaints had been made they would have fallen to be investigated under the Section 49 procedure which, as the House probably knows, I do not regard as totally satisfactory and which we are, with the agreement of the whole House, endeavouring to reform. We have to apply the law as it stands at present.

I do not regard the precedent which my hon. Friend has cited from the wartime years, or other precedents which have been cited to me, as being relevant to this case. Nor can I regard—and this appeared to be the implication of the third part of his question—the many unsatisfactory features in this industry, which I deplore but which exist, as they exist in many other industries, as being an excuse for acts which are found to be violent and are dealt with as such by the courts.

Mr. Tomlinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Government side of the House are concerned about the length of the sentences and welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance that he will ensure that there is a review of the law on conspiracy, but that many Members on these benches as well as on the benches opposite would view with grave dismay any attempt by himself to intervene with the due process of law, especially when no new evidence was available between the time of the hearing in the Court of Appeal and any action proposed to him?

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his forthright statement. In my view, review of the sentences is a matter for the Parole Board to which the Lord Chief Justice, in his judgment in the Court of Appeal, specifically commended consideration of the matter. This is in accordance with the due process of law, and this is how I think we should proceed.

Mr. Evelyn King

However compassionate one may wish to be, does not the weakness of the questions lie in the suggestion that the men should be released because they are trade unionists? Are not all men equal before the law? Is it not a fact that, whether a man is a stockbroker or a trade unionist, it is repugnant to the concept of English law that any privilege should be accorded to a particular class of person?

Mr. Jenkins

With respect to the hon. Member, I think that he must have prepared that question before today's exchanges, because although, as he and the House are aware, I have not agreed with every nuance of some of my hon. Friends, I have not heard any of them say that these men should be treated specially because they are trade unionists and for no other reason. The arguments which I have not been able to accept have been much more specifically directed than that.

Mrs. Colquhoun

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is because many of us feel that the case of the Shrewsbury pickets is a travesty of British justice that we continue to press him on this issue? We very much regret his decision not to intervene. Is there anything further we can do to make him change his mind?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir. I am not against political campaigns; I have engaged in many of them myself. But I must tell my hon. Friend—and this will cause no surprise—that in my view there would be no worse basis for changing—which I have no intention of doing—a decision on a matter of this sort than in response to a political campaign.