HC Deb 08 May 1975 vol 891 cc1599-603
9. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has yet received a parole report on the release of the Shrewsbury trade unionists.

14. Mr. Loyden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the date of his last meeting with the TUC on the question of Messrs. Warren and Tomlinson.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The Parole Board has considered these cases and decided not to recommend parole from 15th May, the earliest possible date. Apart from any other considerations, I have no power to override such a decision. In view of the recently changed attitude in prison of the two men, however, I have directed that their cases should be specially reviewed in due course. Mr. Tomlinson's review will be earlier than that of Mr. Warren.

I last discussed the case with representatives of the TUC on 19th March.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be widespread disappointment at the answer he gave today? Does he not also recollect the sequence of deputations, which he personally met, from the TUC, the trade unions and the Parliamentary Labour Party? Does he not also accept that when he met those deputations the impression was left with them that he would personally look into the possibilities of early release? He also underlined the fact that he thought at that time that the Parole Board would no doubt sympathetically consider early release when the time came. Does he not recognise that, in view of the answer he gave today, he may be accused of political malice. having seemingly gone back upon the promise which was left with those deputations that the early release of these persons would be considered in the light of the situation as it then existed?

Mr. Jenkins

I do not accept my hon. Friend's—no doubt, as he thinks, impartial—account of what I said about meetings at which he was not present.

Mr. Atkinson

I was present at two of them.

Mr. Jenkins

The indication which I gave was that this was a matter to be considered by the Parole Board. I left nobody in any doubt—indeed, nobody who knows the statute could be in any doubt—that I have no power to override a negative recommendation of the Parole Board. I indicated that if the behaviour of the two men in prison improved as quickly as possible—and, indeed, if it had not deteriorated—the prospects would be better. I regret to say that the fact that their behaviour was far from good until fairly recently has obviously been, in my view, an adverse factor. However, their behaviour has improved substantially. Indeed, it is wholly satisfactory at present. For that reason I ordered the two special reviews. I have no doubt that the improved behaviour of the two men will be taken into account when the reviews are made.

Mr. Carlisle

Will the Home Secretary confirm for the benefit of some of his hon. Friends that the Parole Board is an independent board of the highest standing and that the Home Secretary has no possible alternative but to accept its recommendation when it refuse parole? Will he also confirm that in referring a case for early review—which I understand he says he is doing—he is acting in exactly the same way as he would act in any other case involving any other prisoner imprisoned in this country for normal criminal offences?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes. I well recollect that when setting up the Parole Board under the Criminal Justice Act 1967 I originally—I now think mistakenly—thought that the board should be advisory and that the Home Secretary of the day should retain the ultimate decision one way or the other. However, as a result of strong representations from both sides of the Committee I decided—I believe I was right—to give the Parole Board much greater authority than this and to remove the power of the Home Secretary to enforce a positive recommendation on the board. That was the statutory position, by the desire of both sides of the House, when parole was introduced.

As regards the last part of the question, I confirm that there is nothing exceptional about ordering a special review in circumstances like these.

Mr. Loyden

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the question of the conspiracy laws has been involved in this case from the outset and that there is a feeling among Government supporters that that should be a consideration as regards the Warren and Tomlinson cases? Does my right hon. Friend not also agree that if this hard line attitude was adopted it would justifiably be read outside as meaning that positive dis- crimination was being exercised against Tomlinson and Warren, and that they were being deprived of justice in that sense?

Mr. Jenkins

I think that my hon. Friend would be wrong and would not be serving the cause of the two men, or the causes which I believe he has at heart, by suggesting that.

The difficulty about answering all these questions is that I may be led into making remarks which I would, perhaps, sooner not make. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but if the questions are asked by my hon. Friends they must be answered.

I would think it very difficult to find a precedent for the Parole Board's recommending a release at the earliest possible date where the men concerned had been involved in disciplinary offences in the prisons until recently.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be wholly improper and, indeed, a misuse of his office to accede to the kind of suggestion that has been made by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) that he should, as Home Secretary, try in some way to influence the decision of the Parole Board in this or any other case?

Mr. Jenkins

I think that the House will take the view that what I have endeavoured to do in dealing with this case is, in a quiet way, to uphold the rule of law and do what I believe to be my duty as Home Secretary.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that while welcoming the fact of the improved conduct of Messrs. Warren and Tomlinson, which has led him to direct that a special review take place, many of his right hon. and hon. Friends will be glad to hear that he has not sought to intervene with the due process of law?

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the point of view he has expressed so forthrightly on this and on previous occasions.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Referring to the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the last supplementary question but one, will he say what were the special circumstances which led him to ask for a special review?

Mr. Jenkins

The special circumstances were that the Lord Chief Justice or one of the other justices sitting in the Court of Appeal, in delivering his judgment. specifically referred to certain matters as being appropriate for the Parole Board rather than the Court of Appeal. Secondly, the behaviour of the two men in prison, which led me to remove them from an open prison, changed markedly in the course of the past six weeks.