HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc606-8
14. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many letters he has recently received on the matter of Mr. Des Warren's imprisonment.

15. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many days imprisonment Mr Des Warren, shop steward and member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians has now served; and what is the average time served prior to parole by a first offender sentenced to a deterrent sentence of three years.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I have received 60 letters since the beginning of October. Mr. Warren has served a total of 647 days of his sentence. The other information requested is not available.

Mr. Skinner

I wonder, however, whether my right hon. Friend can tell me what has happened to the argument that was put forward by a majority of Labour Members 12 months ago, to the effect that the sentence was very excessive. Is it possible for my right hon. Friend to display a little bit of that much flaunted liberalism with which he is credited by the trendy media and get Warren out, or is it that political prisoners abroad are the only ones about whom he is concerned?

Mr. Jenkins

As I have made clear time and again, I do not recognise, any more than the British law does, the existence of political prisoners in this country. My hon. Friend's recollection of the view taken by a majority of Labour Members at the end of last year is somewhat different from my own. The view taken, I think, by the majority, at a meeting, was that verdicts and sentences should be determined by the courts and not by the Executive, in the person of the Home Secretary. That has been and remains my position.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend recollect, however, that Mr. Warren's sentence was for conspiracy to intimidate? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of lawyers—some leading lawyers—now suspect the validity of that sentence under the terms of conspiracy to intimidate? As the appeal judge himself remarked upon the excessive nature of the sentence, does it not seem to my right hon. Friend to be almost vindictiveness to say that Mr. Warren must serve beyond the 604 days which my right hon. Friend has now announced?

Mr. Jenkins

The figure was 647 days. No, I think that my hon. Friend will recognise that there are a number of lawyers who can be found to sustain almost any proposition. If I were to intervene in every case in which a number of lawyers took a view different from that of the court which reached the decision, I would indeed be on very shifting sands, while also having a very busy time. I do not think that my hon. Friend's description of the remarks of the judge in the Court of Appeal were entirely correct, because the Court of Appeal, of course, upheld the sentence.

Mr. Lawrence

Is the Home Secretary aware that if the law on conspiracy were changed, and if the law were changed to the degree that someone who committed the offences of which Des Warren was convicted and to a degree that required the sentence which was imposed upon him, if the law did nothing to provide an offence which would cover that eventuality, the law would indeed be an ass?

Mr. Jenkins

That sounds like a hypothetical as well as a convoluted question.