HC Deb 28 January 1992 vol 202 cc835-61 4.45 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 8, leave out 'two' and insert 'six'.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

With this, it will be convenient to take the following: amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 9, leave out from 'prison' to end of line 14 and insert together use or threaten violence for the common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority in that prison.'. Government amendment No. 7.

Amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (3).

Government amendment No. 9.

Mr. Sheerman

It is with some pleasure that I rise to speak to the amendment, partly because the present Bill differs in important respect from that which entered the Standing Committee. Since the Bill came out of Committee, the Government have undergone something of a conversion to the views expressed by the Opposition in Committee and have conceded one of our main objections to the Bill on Second Reading.

The purpose of amendment No. 4 is simple. Under the Bill as drafted, the offence of prison mutiny can be committed by just two people. As I speak to the amendments, to which I shall refer by number, I shall be explaining that the Government have made an important concession. We do not underrate that concession but we remain unhappy with one or two aspects of the Bill and we hope to secure more changes in it before it completes its passage through Parliament. This is not the time to gloat but, being a politician, I feel that I must say that we told the Government that the Bill was imperfect and required important modifications. Our arguments were so persuasive that we attracted some allies from the Conservative Benches.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that not only Opposition Members were responsible for persuading the Government, and that I may have played my part in the changes? I have some cause to gloat.

Mr. Sheerman

I take that point. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) and I will both have a little gloat and then get on with discussing amendment No. 4, the purpose of which is to improve the Bill still further.

We left the Standing Committee thinking that, if the Government made a concession, the first concession that they were likely to make would be that embodied in amendment No. 4. In Committee, the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West argued persuasively that the number of people whose involvement constituted a prison disturbance or mutiny should be more than two. The Minister of State promised to think seriously about that. As the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West pointed out perceptively, if the figure is set at two, what two or three prisoners get up to in a cell could be construed as a riot under the Bill, and the 10-year penalty could be incurred. We were therefore somewhat surprised that the Government had not moved on the numbers question.

Today, we offer the Government an honest compromise of not 12 prisoners but six. It would be a very positive step if we could agree on six, which is a more sensible number than two. We argued in Committee that the number was too low and suggested that 12 would bring it into line with the offence of riot in the Public Order Act 1986, which also carries a 10-year prison sentence. The Minister was unable to accept that suggestion, but said that there had been forceful argument in favour of a lower number and that she would reconsider the matter. We have not heard the result of that reconsideration. Perhaps when the right hon. Lady gets to her feet she will give us some more positive news. Six seems to us to be the number that reasonable people trying to improve the Bill and to reach an accommodation could accept.

The reason behind the precise wording of the amendment is twofold. First, the notion that two people could commit such an offence in a prison seems far-fetched in the extreme. We have to pinch ourselves sometimes to remind ourselves that this Bill was considered necessary as a result of the Strangeways riot. The Government, again, got their response out of proportion to what had occurred. This was a crisis; a ghastly wave of prison riots and disturbances and the Government had every right to be concerned and to do something about it. But to do something about it in this particular way seems to us to resemble the personal imprint which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State seems to have imposed on the Home Department.

We have a domestic crisis—it may be dogs one day, a prison riot on another, political refugees on another, the number of offences of taking and driving away cars on another—and the Home Secretary thinks tip yet another piece of instant legislation that he can whip through the House of Commons, because we do not seem to have much of a legislative jam at the moment. We have a small, speedy piece of legislation to react to every ill.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sheerman

I will just finish my point; then I will give way.

A Bill comes to the House, goes to Committee, we get to Report, and in some cases deal with Lords amendments, and then the whole thrust of the legislation is changed. We saw it on the question of political refugees, with three major amendments, last week; we saw it in terms of the dog legislation; and we shall see it, I predict, in terms of the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill We have seen it now, with a glitzy piece of legislation to get the press headlines. When the Bill gets serious scrutiny here, it is shown to be what it is—a fancy, rather than a serious, piece of legislation.

Mr. Cash

I served on the Committee with the hon. Gentleman and, before he got to the Floor of the House where a bit more attention might be paid to what he was saying, he made a number of rather reasonable and constructive attempts to improve the Bill in his own way.

Now, however, he is just trying to make cheap political points. He is implying that there is no real need for these proposals. He acknowledged in Committee, by the way in which he approached the proceedings then, that the Bill was necessary. It really is not good enough for him to try to make cheap political points. There is no substance whatever in the line that he is taking.

Mr. Sheerman

You are long enough in the tooth in this place, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I am, to know that a cheap political point on one side is seen as a valuable political contribution on the other.

In Committee, our job as Her Majesty's Opposition, very soon to become Her Majesty's Government, is to take these matters extremely seriously. We try to fulfil our role very seriously indeed, as we will when we are Her Majesty's Government. I would not be doing my job as Opposition spokesman on this issue if I did not give the general context of our resistance to, and our pledge not to go in for, short, sharp bits of legislation in every crisis. This Bill has to be seen in that context. Our job as the Opposition is to try to improve this legislation. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West knows that. That is what we tried to do in Committee and what we will continue to do today. We do the work of transforming a nutty, ill-considered piece of legislation into something that does not disgrace the country or the Government.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman persists in saying that this legislation has been brought forward rather quickly. I remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's predecessor proposed that there should be such legislation. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is not a reaction to a situation which has grown in a very short space of time. It is a well considered and, as I hope he will admit, necessary piece of legislation to deal with the situation within prisons. Without it, we shall not be able to achieve some of the other reforms that we want.

Mr. Sheerman

I do not agree with a word of that. The legislation is ill considered. It was seen to be necessary to do something in terms of Strangeways. The right hon. Lady knows the argument, but I will rehearse it for her very briefly.

An intelligent and serious response to the Woolf commission report would have been a thorough look at the way in which our penal system, under her Government, has fallen to pieces. Instead, we get a cheap-jack piece of legislation that deals not with the real problems but only with the superficial situation. The Opposition deplore that kind of legislative response.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The hon. Gentleman is digging himself into a very deep hole. I must assist him, because it is cruelty to animals, almost. He has said that the Government have reacted irresponsibly in all these measures. We shall take the opportunity to remind the country, when the election comes, that the Opposition have tried to water down and reduce the impact of all the recent measures that we have introduced. He mentioned the Asylum Bill. His party voted against that Bill last week.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We have had some pleasant exchanges in the run-up to this amendment. We must now get back to the amendment before us.

Mr. Baker

I will restrain myself from reminding the House about the Asylum Bill and about how the Opposition voted against the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill, but I will remind the House that they have jibbed at the present Bill as well. They have always said that this measure is not necessary. I can assure the House that this measure is necessary to deal with unrest in our prisons, as my right hon. Friend will make clear in a few moments.

Mr. Sheerman

I have only one riposte, Madam Deputy Chairman—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been very tolerant. We are dealing with amendments. The amendment stands in the hon. Gentleman's name and I hope that he will continue to debate it.

Mr. Sheerman

I will say only that the reason why we are critical of the Government is that they have failed, on the question of law and order, to bring law and order to this country. We want substantial legislation and substantial action, not these bits and pieces of legislation. Our people want to live in peace. The Government will not allow them to do so.

We are interested in the Government accepting amendment No. 4 to improve this legislation. It would change the numbers. We have rehearsed the arguments reasonably well and we have been joined by members of the Committee on both sides in asking the Government to consider this. It does seem to be an absurdity that only two people need to be involved for an incident to be deemed a riot, and we shall be pressing the amendment very strongly indeed.

Mr. Ashby

The hon. Gentleman knows that I argued for a larger number than two in Committee, but that was when there were subsections 2(a) and (b). Once (b) goes, we are left with this very strong offence indeed of overthrowing lawful authority. It is not just a minor matter; it is a very big matter. It is not the sort of thing that would be the result of just sitting in a cell; one does not conduct oneself in such a way as to overthrow lawful authority by just sitting in a cell. Prisoners would not just sit there saying. "Wouldn't we like to do this, wouldn't we like to do that?" What is required is unlawful conduct. In those circumstances, should not the number be as in the general law of conspiracy, where it is two or more for most offences? Because we have concentrated on a big offence, is it not time to drop the requirement for six, or four, or 12 and be content with two, given the enormous change of mind by the Government, which I gloat over because it was the result of my persuading?

5 pm

Mr. Sheerman

I thank the hon Gentleman for his intervention but cannot agree with him, because the small number is still a worrying aspect of the Bill. He put his finger on it extremely well in Committee, when he said that the Bill was a mish-mash. Sometimes one wonders about the Home Office. Obviously, the Home Secretary or Ministers asked for a Bill to serve a certain purpose. As we explored the Bill in classic fashion, what we found was a mish-mash between public order and the notion of riot.

The Bill takes from other legislation the offence of mutiny in the armed services. Every time the right hon. Lady got into a discussion on it, it became clear that the drafters of the legislation had never made up their minds whether the Bill was about prison mutiny or prison riot. In Committee, we tried to make it clear that the two were not the same. It might be applicable to say that two people in the armed services refusing to fire on the enemy as the enemy advanced were committing mutiny, because only two could be detrimental to good order in a regiment in a battle situation. That is understandable.

Can one imagine two prisoners running amok in a prison and causing a riot, whether they run amok in their cells or outside? That is the point on which the Minister failed to convince us. I still believe that the Bill could be improved in that regard.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

The hon. Gentleman is making a fair argument, but surely two prisoners engaging in a disturbance could quickly become four prisoners, then six and then eight. As we saw in the riots in Strangeways, these incidents escalate very quickly. Surely two is a sensible number.

Mr. Sheerman

Knowing his record on the Government Benches, I thought that the hon. Gentleman was intervening on the basis of being an expert on mutiny. He makes a fair point that two soon becomes four and then six. We say that the trigger number is probably more sensible at six, which can be identified more realistically.

We have had the concession from the Government in regard to two people doing something non-violent. On the other hand, two people acting even in an obstreperous way might fall under the legislation when their behaviour did not amount to riot, mayhem or disorder. We are trying to make a positive point.

The second reason for the amendment was given in Committee not just by the Opposition but by the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West. The number of people who can be guilty of mutiny must be higher than the number living in one cell. I hope that the right hon. Lady will come back on that. It would be wrong for behaviour in a cell to be caught by the legislation and to carry the maximum sentence of 10 years. Because of the cramped conditions in which three men may share a cell, difficulties can arise which should not fall foul of the legislation. We are offering a compromise in suggesting that the number be six. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment in the spirit that we are not tied to six, but think that two is too few.

Amendment No. 5 goes to the very heart of the difference between us on the Bill. We are trying to ensure that the offence of prison mutiny consists of actual violence or the threat of violence to overthrow lawful authority in a prison. It is a measure of the extent to which the Government have lost their way in the Bill that the Opposition should need to propose the amendment.

The Bill was conceived as a response to the appalling scenes which we witnessed at Strangeways and other prisons. No one denies that we should be protected from that mayhem and disorder and that public property should be protected from such damage. Those scenes were characterised by violent behaviour and enormous destruction.

It is such incidents which we are all concerned to eradicate and which concern the public. The original intention of the legislation was to tackle just such incidents. However, that intention seems to have got lost in drafting. In Committee we were told repeatedly by the Minister of State that the Bill was dealing not with riot, which was what we were all concerned about, but with mutiny. I can refer the right hon. Lady to her words if she wishes.

In introducing the concept of mutiny from legislation dealing with the armed forces, the Government have changed the whole purpose of the Bill. As originally drafted, the Bill would have encompassed a wide range of non-violent protest, for which the draconian penalty of 10 years' imprisonment would have been inappropriate.

The Government's decision to accept in Committee the Opposition amendment to remove subsection 2(b) was an enormously important change and removed the part of the Bill which we found most objectionable. I do not have to repeat my welcome for that, but that welcome change did not go far enough.

The offence of prison mutiny can still be committed where no violence, or threatened violence, has taken place. When we discussed the matter in Committee, both my colleagues and the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West continually pressed the Minister to give an example of behaviour which would warrant an offence of mutiny in which no violence or threat of violence took place. The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) may be interested to know that what we were trying to find w.as a non-violent offence that would fall into that category. I do not believe that anyone in Committee was convinced by the examples that the Minister gave.

The right hon. Lady found herself in enormous difficulty. We heard of improbable situations in which prisoners strolled into communications rooms and, completely peacefully, refused all attempts by prison staff to move them. We had examples of prisoners sitting down or not going back to their cells, or collectively sitting in a room because, according to the Minister, they were disgruntled, unhappy and wish not to undertake to obey the lawful order of the prison."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 19 December 1991; c. 41.] Those are incidents which occur frequently in prisons and which officers are trained to handle. That is their expertise. Such incidents are dealt with currently under rule 47.19 of the prison rules, which makes it a disciplinary offence for a prisoner to disobey any lawful order. Such behaviour does not warrant a 10-year sentence, nor is it behaviour about which the public is concerned.

As the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West said in Committee: We should not allow the sort of offences that are dealt with under rule 47.19 … to be included here. We must be sure to draw a clear line between those two sorts of offences so that we can deal with serious cases such as those that we have seen in the past 12 months. I am not sure that the clause is very helpful. In every serious case that we consider there is violence or the threat of violence."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 17 December 1991; c. 35–6.] It is absolutely necessary for the element of violence to be present.

It is the Opposition's view that legislation must be precisely phrased. Clause 1 is still open to abuse. It could be used for behaviour which is non-violent and simply does not warrant an offence carrying a 10-year maximum. Our amendment would ensure that the new offence was focused on the sort of behaviour about which we are all greatly concerned.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that we are not concerned purely with the precision of the Bill? Lord Justice Woolf was concerned that the prison system should be part of the system of justice and that prisons must be seen to be run justly. Will my hon. Friend confirm that we are principally concerned that the Bill would mean that prisoners were treated unjustly?

Mr. Sheerman

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for bringing me back to Lord Justice Woolf and the principles that underlie the arguments that we made in Committee. I was taking that for read and also saving it up for my Third Reading speech. However, I happily concede that point to my right hon. and learned Friend.

I am delighted that the Government have decided to accept amendment No. 7, which we moved in Committee. At that time we received a frosty response to it. Clause 1(2)(b), which the amendment removes, was the most worrying aspect of this badly drafted Bill. The wording was vague and the type of behaviour that it encompassed was so wide that it could have covered an enormous range of non-violent protest and disobedience. To take the point that my right hon. and learned Friend has just made, it would have led to a feeling of injustice if it had been used for such offences. Tragically, it would have led to a reaction that could, ironically, have produced the very behaviour to which the Bill intends to put an end. Therefore, the words collectively resist, impede or disobey any exercise of lawful authority in the prison in such circumstances as to make their conduct subversive of order in the prison. required no intent to overthrow lawful authority and could have covered a handful of prisoners protesting about prison food, refusing to work, or being involved in a peaceful protest about their innocence. I shall not labour the point but simply welcome the Government to the world of common sense.

Amendment No. 8 seeks to remove clause 1(3), which provides that prisoners' intention and common purpose is to be inferred from their conduct. In other words, the mens rea or mental element of an offence does not have to be proved by the prosecution. I shall explain that provision under the watchful eye of my right hon. and learned Friend the Membet for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). In English law, it is usual for the prosecution to have to prove not only that the conduct took place but that the defendant intended it to occur or was at least reckless of the consequences. Under the Bill, there is no need to prove that a prisoner intended to overthrow lawful authority in a prison. That would be less important if the offence were limited to violence or the threat of violence, but the clause is still unsatisfactorily vague. It can still cover non-violent protest and, in those cases, the prisoners' intentions will be very important.

The amendments hang together, and their coherence is important. Our argument in Committee was a coherent response to the Bill. We said that, if that subsection remains in the Bill, other parts must be changed to compensate for the earlier mistake. By arguing that the non-violent aspect must be removed from the Bill, we argue that subsequent amendments must also be accepted. I hope that the Minister of State will see the clarity of purpose in our tabling of those amendments and wishing to hold them together.

5.15 pm

Although the problem would be less important if the offence were limited to violence or the threat of violence, the clause can still cover non-violent cases, in which case the prisoners' intention is not only important but it is vital that it should be known. Prisoners may simply be involved in a protest about conditions or alleged miscarriages of justice and the prosecution should have to prove that they intended to overthrow authority in the prison. To leave their intention to be inferred from their conduct is a recipe for miscarriages of justice.

Those are the main amendments that we have tabled. We feel some satisfaction that the Government have given way on a fundamental part of the Bill to which we objected. That is a major victory for common sense. If the Government would now see that the three other amendments are consequential to that major concession, we shall improve the Bill, if not this afternoon, by the time it returns from another place.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

I wish to do what little I can to help my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to get the Bill on to the statute book. I was interested in the points raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). I am confident that the Bill is not just window dressing.

Gartree prison is in my constituency and most of the prisoners there are lifers and even multiple-lifers. The Bill has limited relevance to such prisoners. Whether two or six prisoners are assembled, whether they use or threaten violence for the common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority in that prison". or whether we accept amendment No. 7 has little relevance to life prisoners.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has always been frank about such matters and I hope that she will recognise that the Bill is tailor made to deal with specific problems. I do not see how life prisoners will be affected by any of the amendments. Will my right hon. Friend deal with that point? She may say that the Bill should not apply to prisons such as Gartree, in which case I recognise that there is a need elsewhere. It would have been improper for me to allow the amendments to go through without making that brief comment.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Government's concession in amendment No. 7 seems to call into question the need for the Bill. It changes the Bill fundamentally, and gave rise to considerable concern among prison governors about the damage that the Bill might inflict on prison discipline. To impose such draconian penalties on those who merely disobey or impede the exercise of lawful authority in the prison makes the Bill an obstacle rather than an assistance to good order.

As the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, the fact that the Government have withdrawn that offensive and dangerous subsection is a triumph for common sense, but that raises the question of what is left in the Bill. The Bill relates to circumstances that are adequately covered by the existing law on conspiracy. I am at a loss to understand why public order offences, coupled with the charge of conspiracy, are not considered by the Government to be perfectly adequate to deal with outbreaks of violence or the threat of violence, which leads to the breakdown of order of the kind that was manifest at Strangeways.

I have been driven to the inevitable conclusion that, in introducing the Bill, the Government were seeking a cheap headline. That was their response to the disturbances at Brixton and Strangeways. The introduction of such little Bills is a form of boutique shopping.

Mrs. Rumbold

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many prisons that he has visited recently have just experienced disturbances?

Mr. Maclennan

I have not recently visited a prison that had experienced a disturbance. However, just as the Secretary of State for Education and Science did not think it necessary to visit a single primary school during the first six months he was in office to be able to pronounce on education, I did not consider it necessary to visit a prison, particularly as prison governors are perfectly capable of expressing their views. In any event, their views are much better informed than mine, which are formed on the basis of a casual, short visit to a prison where a disturbance has taken place. Perhaps, unlike the Minister, I listen to what the prison governors say.

On Second Reading, I specifically asked what representations had been made by the prison governors, but the Minister patently avoided answering me. She must know that the Bill is extremely unwelcome to the prison governors because they see it for what it is—a cheap attempt to grab the headlines in the tabloid press to suggest that the Government are doing something about prison disturbances.

Mr. Soames

I must take exception to the hon. Gentleman's ludicrous line of argument. If he really believes in his case, he should make a much better fist of it. It is just possible that the prison governors, who are a very fine body of men, may be wrong. For many years, since the Prison Officers Association virtually took over the running of prisons, the prison governors have not been in a position to exert the authority that they should. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that prison governors are not in favour of the Bill is plainly not true.

Mr. Maclennan

I took the trouble prior to Second Reading specifically to ask the Prison Governors Association whether it welcomed the Bill or had invited the Government to legislate. I was told that it neither welcomed the Bill nor had invited the Government to introduce it.

It is not a matter of asking me for my view. The Government have the results of the inquiry into prison disturbances under Lord Justice Woolf and we have also had the most authoritative prison survey in a decade from Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Judge Tumim. Not one line of that extensive report suggested that draconian measures of the kind contained in the Bill were necessary.

I do not expect Conservative Members to pay the slightest attention to what Opposition Members say, but I expect them to pay attention to what their own chief inspector of prisons and their own inquiry into prisons said. There is not a whisper of support for the Bill, which I would call friendless, from any quarter that is knowledgeable about prisons. That is scarcely surprising. The Government have introduced an amendment to remove the offensive part of the Bill dealing with a non-violent situation. It is clear that there is nothing left in the Bill that cannot adequately be dealt with by the present law on conspiracy or the public order legislation, which the Government recently went some way towards codifying.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Huddersfield refers to a pretty vacuous Bill, which is more print than substance. It is unlikely that the Bill will be used a great deal. One must accept that if troubles occur that lead to the possibility of lawful authority being overthrown, they might have come about as a result of the action of two prisoners, or of fewer than six. I cannot see the logic in the suggestion that six is the right number to include in the Bill. Whether a conspiracy, as I would call it, has the potential to overthrow lawful authority depends entirely on the resources that are available to the two people.

Mr. Sheerman

The answer to the general principle of the amendment is the classic one that "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do". I chose the figure six as a negotiating ploy. My view on that number is not hard and fast, nor would I be bitterly ideological about it. I am entirely pragmatic. We chose the figure six—we could have chosen another. The hon. Gentleman was not fortunate enough to serve on the Committee, but we had a general discussion and we chose that figure so that the Minister could go away and chew on it.

Mr. Maclennan

I, too, have a pragmatic turn of mind. The hon. Gentleman may allow the point that two prisoners could theoretically overthrow lawful authority in a prison, if they are provided with sufficient means of force. Two prisoners overthrew lawful authority when they escaped from Brixton. I take it that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it would not be proper to use the Bill in those circumstances. I do not think that it is necessary to use the Bill in those circumstances because there are common law and statutory law provisions which would allow those people to be prosecuted.

If the Bill is to make any sense—it makes precious little —it does not make sense to pluck a number out of the air, be it six, four or eight prisoners. Two prisoners must be necessary to establish common purpose and a figure of two or more seems to be right.

I agree with amendment No. 8 and I hope that the Government will accept it, for the reasons that the hon. Member for Huddersfield gave. I need not amplify them.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I spoke on Second Reading and I followed the progress of the Bill in Committee, even though I was not a member of it. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do". I shall vote for the Bill on Third Reading and I will not require any help from the Whips to persuade me to do so. There is a valid argument in favour of the Bill.

I realise that on Second Reading much time was spent on the merits or otherwise of clause 1(2)(b). The Government are right to delete that paragraph because that makes the Government's intention much clearer. It was not the Government's intention to involve minor disturbances which perhaps would have been dealt with as disciplinary offences within the prison. We must recognise that some riots, such as that at Strangeways, were not spontaneous but the result of a detailed plan. Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 8, tabled by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, would seriously undermine the Government's intentions as envisaged in the Bill. The real problem—

Mr. Sheerman


Mr. Greenway

If the hon. Gentleman listens to my argument, he will begin to understand.

The point about the Bill is that it does not refer to riots or to violence. We should attempt to deal with the problem that, behind the scenes, as few as two prisoners with a great deal of influence on many other prisoners may conspire and incite others to commit an act of mutiny and riot, even though they themselves may not engage in violence or "use or threaten violence"—the words that the Opposition amendment would introduce. Those words would be superfluous at best and at worst would undermine the purpose of tackling those who might incite a mutiny in a prison. We are interested in not only the violence, the destruction and the act of rioting but the initial conspiracy and incitement. I hope that my right hon. Friend will confirm that the Government intend to deal with those elements.

Clause 1 leaves us with a serious offence—the "overthrowing" of lawful authority, which I read as meaning a breakdown of control by prison staff over part or all of a prison. That is what happened at Strangeways; we have to tackle the planning of that sort of riot. That is why I believe that the Bill will strengthen the law on prison security. Opposition Members failed to point out the provisions of clause 2, which increase prison sentences for prison escapers as well.

5.30 pm
Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

In Committee and in this debate, hon. Members have expressed their anxiety about the lack of definitions and lack of clarification of detail in the Bill. In Committee for instance, we discovered that a prisoner found guilty of taking part in a mutiny could expect 10 years' imprisonment or could be fined, although the fine is not specified. Ten more years to a lifer or a fine for a prisoner with no income is fairly meaningless.

The same vague definition is used to describe the number of persons constituting a mutiny—"two or more". The Bill does not explain how that figure was arrived at. Reference to "The Concise Oxford Dictionary" only enlightened me to the extent that the number of such persons must be plural. It refers to a body of people in revolt, and to soldiers and sailors, although not to other members of the armed forces. Regrettably, the dictionary, like the Bill, does not provide an adequate explanation, and I am left none the wiser. I am sure, however, that if approached the compliers of "The Concise Oxford Dictionary" would compromise on the numbers constituting a mutiny. If they would be so willing, why are not the Government? How can we possibly decide how many prisoners constitute a mutiny or a riot?

Strangeways prison is in my constituency. As we all know, the biggest mutiny in British prison history took place there. The tabloid press informed us that more than 1,000 prisoners took part. Certainly, to judge by what I saw of its aftermath, two prisoners could not have done all that damage. How could we take all those prisoners to court? If they all got 10 years, that would mean 10,000 more years of imprisonment. In any case, how could we prove how many were responsible for inciting the mutiny?

I tend to agree with the Prison Officers Association that the Bill is irrelevant to attempts to end rioting. All in all, it will have little or no effect. I am not sure whether it extends to Operation Container, under which many prisoners are still held in prison cells in Greater Manchester—I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

The amendments introduce the idea of a threat of violence. Such a threat was used at Strangeways and, to a lesser degree, in the copycat riots elsewhere in the wake of Strangeways. The amendments attempt to define what would constitute a mutiny, in the shape of a threat of violence for the purpose of overthrowing lawful order in a prison. That puts some meat on the bare bones of what the Government are trying to do.

In Committee, the Minister of State claimed that prisoners might argue about, say, the colour of their bread. On 17 December, she said: It may be argued that it is unreasonable to say that a prison mutiny begins when people sit down and refuse to eat food; it only starts when the prison officer has said, 'Look here, Fred and George, it is high time you went back to your cell' and Fred and George have said, 'No, we're not going back, we're going to sit here for the rest of the night' … Does violence always have to be involved? A prison may be disrupted by a refusal to conform with the authority that is essential to control a prison."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 17 December 1991; c. 25.] Does arguing about the colour of bread or continuing to sit down constitute a mutiny? The Bill is vague on that point.

By making such comments, the Minister does a disservice to the governors and men and women who run our prisons. There are daily protests about bad food, clothing and conditions, and governors and staff become expert at quelling such problems. They use subtlety and persuasion to cajole prisoners into conforming. There are peaks and troughs in prisoners' emotional behaviour and the staff learn to understand them. Trust is built up. If a governor thought that refusal to eat brown bread were tantamount to mutiny and called in prison staff to give evidence, what would happen to the trust between prisoner and officer?

No governor would react in the way outlined by the Minister. The training and experience of governors allow them to find ways of dealing with tricky situations without reading the riot Act. It is our duty to protect staff from violence or the threat of violence, which is why I support the amendments.

Mrs. Rumbold

Amendment No. 9 is consequential on amendment No. 7.

I begin by explaining why my right hon. Friend and I are more than ever convinced of the need for this piece of legislation. It is not only we who are committed to it; the previous Home Secretary also gave a commitment, as did the White Paper, "Custody, Care and Justice", in which we sought to reiterate our commitment. We have not yet received any comments from either the Prison Governors Association or the Prison Officers Association. We shall certainly consider such comments as soon as we receive them, but I repeat that we have had absolutely no comments on the Bill from any of the people running our prisons.

I suspect that, if there had been the strength of feeling against the Bill that Opposition Members suggested, those who are allegedly against the legislation would have submitted written arguments. The only evidence that I can adduce in this regard comes from a visit that I paid in the last couple of weeks to a prison that has only recently been built with taxpayers' money and at vast expense. That prison was wilfully and disgracefully damaged by young people on remand, who came from the same part of the country as the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland). Both the Home Secretary and I found that behaviour thoroughly reprehensible, and it is in no way acceptable to the people of this country.

I have absolutely no doubt that this is an essential piece of legislation, and that the removal from it of part of clause 1 will focus the issue. We seek to remove the objection which the hon. Member for Huddersfield had about the legislation at one point—that the provisions might "capture" those people who are not as violent or difficult as the young people at Moorland who were responsible during the Christmas period for the behaviour to which I have just referred.

To that extent, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has welcomed our amendments. I did not expect him to be capable of resisting the usual "Yah-boo, I told you so" reaction. That is too much to expect from the hon. Member for Huddersfield and, as expected, he did not resist it. None the less, it is important that we have established a clear and convincing resolution.

The Bill is an excellent piece of legislation. It will ensure that we have some redress against those people who think that they can act so disgracefully in our prison establishments, especially those that are newly built and in which we have emphasised the importance of making them more humane. We have heard enough about the importance of such establishments being humane. If we are to provide the humane establishments that I should like to see and to allow those who are responsible for running our prisons to have the establishment and discipline they need, we need this legislation on the statute book. The framework provided by the Bill is exceedingly important. I commend our amendments to the House.

Mr. Sheerman

The right hon. Lady has been most interesting. I accept her point and the kind words that she briefly passed my way. I am interested in the visit to Moorland to which she referred. Can she say, in a little detail, whether this legislation would have been used at Moorland in the recent disturbances?

Mrs. Rumbold

It would be injudicious of me to say anything about such a matter, because that raises a question about legislation that is not yet on the statute book. I have every confidence that, as soon as the Bill is enacted, the type of behaviour that took place at Moorland, about which people across the country will have read, will be addressed. I refer to youngsters who wilfully destroyed public property that was provided at vast expense and to behaviour that very much disadvantaged the young people themselves.

The Bill is therefore an essential piece of legislation. Even if it is not necessary to use the legislation, the very fact that it is on the statute book will prove an exceedingly important deterrent, because it clearly outlines the penalties that those who undertake such behaviour run the risk of incurring.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be quite wrong for an hon. Member—let alone a Minister—to express a view on whether an offence should be charged in respect of the recent disturbances at Moorland or any other prison, given that clause 1(5) requires that no proceedings can be brought except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

5.45 pm
Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I had not expected that I would necessarily be asked a sensible question by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. I was simply expressing a view that I know is widely held across the country about the exhibitions that we have witnessed not only recently but in previous years, when there was a disastrous series of demonstrations by inmates who showed scant regard for public property and for whether they were to be held responsible. Even if people are in prison, they have some responsibility for the way in which they conduct themselves.

Mr. Sheerman

The Minister is right. It is disgraceful that people committed to our prisons should then proceed to act in that way, whether at Moorland or at Strangeways. The Opposition are totally against such behaviour and the destruction of property. Such occurrences are dreadful, and we seek the most effective way of stopping them.

However, we also want to stop the other dreadful things that have happened in prisons under this Government. I refer to the two prisoners who left Brixton, almost by courtesy and through the back door. Only today we have heard that a mafia boss who was sent to Springfield prison for five years and who has drug connections at the highest level has walked out of there. We want such things to be stopped and for the Government to do that effectively.

Mrs. Rumbold

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of the Bill. That is the clearest declaration that I have heard to the effect that the Opposition deplore such behaviour and believe that some form of legislation is necessary. This is what we propose, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have no difficulty in accepting the Bill and that he will vote in favour of it when the time comes.

Mr. Soames

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the Labour party were to vote against the Bill, that would show what the people in the country already know—that Opposition Members are soft on law and order?

Several hon. Members


Madame Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I refer hon. Members to the amendments that we are considering. This knockabout is all very amusing, but we are dealing with detailed amendments, which hon. Members should now address.

Mrs. Rumbold

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I turn now to amendment No. 4.

Mr. Maclennan

I should be most grateful if the right hon. Lady could amplify Government amendment No. 7. When apparently answering the question about the circumstances in which the Bill might be used, the right hon. Lady said that she had seen malicious damage that had been carried out by prisoners on remand. Are we to take it that malicious damage by prisoners on remand is to be considered an offence that may haul down the penalties for mutiny? If not, why did she even mention that? What is its relevance to the debate?

Mrs. Rumbold

I do not think that the hon. Member knows a tremendous amount about what happens in our prison system. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) gave a perfectly sensible answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

I turn now to amendment No. 4, on which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and I happen to agree. It relates to the minimum number of people who could be regarded as committing the specified crime. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Huddersfield later said that the number that he had selected—six—is arbitrary—

Mr. Sheerman

It is a negotiating number.

Mrs. Rumbold

I see that we are going to play with words. It is a negotiating number. The hon. Gentleman gave as his reason for this the fact that a man has to do what a man has to do.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) asked me why it was that Oppositions tabled amendments, and I said quite honestly that procedures make us behave in this way. We table amendments because that is the way to improve a Bill. That is what a man, or a woman, has to do.

Mrs. Rumbold

I cannot resist it, Madam Deputy Speaker. You and I know that a woman has to do what a woman has to do. I can adduce one or two arguments for believing that it is not necessary for us to accept the amendment taking the figure above two.

Mr. Sheerman

Perhaps the Minister should go away and think about it.

Mrs. Rumbold

I did go away and think about it. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I recalled that, in Committee, I had said that I would go away and think about this and other related matters. I did indeed do so, and I decided that introducing amendment No. 7 would be infinitely preferable to accepting a change of number. I did this because it is possible to believe that an officer might have difficulty in quelling trouble created by more than two people. He would probably have difficulty in quelling six or even five. We have to choose a number, and, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland made clear, going above the number of two does not make a great deal of sense. Therefore, I am not particularly attracted to the amendment.

A second and more fundamental objection is that raising the minimum to six would make it a great deal harder to prove a common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority, which is the crux of the matter. It is a stringent test to prove that two people had a common purpose, and an infinitely more stringent test to prove that a greater number than two had a common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, this was a negotiating point, but I am afraid that I am not able to accept his offer of negotiation on this point.

Amendment No. 5 not only deletes paragraph (b) but further restricts paragraph (a) by requiring the use or threat of violence before a charge of mutiny may be brought. When we discussed this in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), who sadly is not here now but who made a useful contribution at the beginning of the debate, was particularly concerned to limit the offence of mutiny to incidents involving the use or threat of violence.

Let me say immediately that I am almost certain, given my knowledge of what happens in prisons, that there will be an element of violence in the serious disturbances at which the Bill is aimed. In resisting this amendment, I am taking into account the fact that it can be very difficult to prove particular acts of violence against particular inmates in a prison and behind locked doors.

An incident may occur within a building where many inmates have barricaded themselves in. If, in spite of the evidence of widespread damage, it is not possible to prove the use or threat of violence against a particular inmate, this amendment would prevent any of those involved being successfully prosecuted for mutiny. I think that this is not what the hon. Member for Huddersfield intended.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale was anxious to establish the point that we are seeking to ensure that this serious offence is caught in future. A further point is that the ringleaders in the disturbance—those who instigate or orchestrate it—may not themselves participate in acts of violence. Therefore, it is important that they, who are as culpable as others, are not let off the hook. It is for that reason that I wish to resist the amendment tabled by the Opposition.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Central was particularly concerned about the number of prisoners held in Manchester in a container situation. There are now 200 people in the police cells in Operation Container. That is not satisfactory, and the hon. Gentleman knows that we are doing everything we can to reduce the number, particularly as this is both expensive and an unsatisfactory solution, given that we feel strongly that the prison service should contain such prisoners.

I understand only too well the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). A prison such as Gartree contains lifers—people condemned to prison for a long time—and it is less likely that they will be impressed by an offence of prison mutiny that attracts a fairly long sentence. As he rightly says, those people are already in prison for a long time, so the deterrent effect of this measure may not be as great for such people. That is no reason for not introducing this measure so as to catch people on shorter sentences who commit an offence of this nature. I am sure that he will agree that it would be foolish not to pursue the Bill.

Mr. Litherland

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Rumbold

I should like to finish, because I have to deal with amendment No. 8, which would remove clause 1(3).

The first part of clause 1(3) provides that the intentions and common purposes of prisoners may be inferred from their conduct. This is similar to a provision in the Public Order Act 1986 in relation to the offence of riot. That too, as the House will be aware, requires a common purpose, and that common purpose may be inferred from conduct, as we propose here. It is not clear how prisoners' common purpose is to be proved if not by inferring it from their conduct. In the absence of an admission by the prisoners Concerned, there may be no evidence of the formation of a plan to overthrow lawful authority, other than the conduct of the prisoners being consistent with such a plan. For that reason, we should be unhappy to see the first part of clause 1(3) removed.

The second part of clause 1(3) provides that the conduct of different prisoners may take a different form. For example, prisoners may act together in one part of the prison to overthrow an officer, while in another case, others may be in different situations doing different things, but acting in unison. Clause 1(3) as it stands provides that, in both situations, a common purpose may be inferred from the conduct of the prisoners.

I have looked carefully at the amendments tabled by the Opposition—Nos. 4, 5 and 8—but I cannot accept them. I hope that they will accept my reasoning and not press the amendments to a vote. However, it is rare for an amendment to he tabled in the name of both a Secretary of State and his Opposition shadow, as amendment No. 7 is tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Therefore, I commend that amendment to the House.

Mr. Sheerman

I felt discomfort when I first saw this remarkable juxtaposition of the Home Secretary's name with that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). We believe that this is a major success. We have persuaded the Government of the error of their ways, so they have accepted amendment No. 7. It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and others who spoke about the amendments never referred to that fact in all the clone-like speeches that they made on Second Reading. There was no criticism in that debate, but now they accept an amendment that drives a coach and horses through the Bill that we debated on Second Reading.

This has been an instructive process, because, after we asked and persuaded the Government, at the very last minute they are accepting a major amendment that changes the Bill's whole complexion. We shall push to Division amendment No. 5, but we are pleased to have converted the Government to common sense in respect of amendment No. 7, and we will not press the related amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 4.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 5, in page 1, line 9, leave out from 'prison' to end of line 14 and insert

'together use or threaten violence for the common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority in that prison.'.—[Mr. Sheerman.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 157, Noes 211.

Division No. 57] [6 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Bell, Stuart
Alton, David Bellotti, David
Anderson, Donald Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Benton, Joseph
Ashton, Joe Blunkett, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Boateng, Paul
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Bray, Dr Jeremy
Barron, Kevin Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Battle, John Callaghan, Jim
Beckett, Margaret Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Beggs, Roy Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. McCartney, Ian
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) McFall, John
Cartwright, John McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McKelvey, William
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) McLeish, Henry
Clelland, David Maclennan, Robert
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McMaster, Gordon
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Madden, Max
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Crowther, Stan Marek, Dr John
Cryer, Bob Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cummings, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dalyell, Tam Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Darling, Alistair Martlew, Eric
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Maxton, John
Dixon, Don Meale, Alan
Doran, Frank Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Moonie, Dr Lewis
Eadie, Alexander Morgan, Rhodri
Enright, Derek Morley, Elliot
Evans, John (St Helens N) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Mowlam, Marjorie
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Mullin, Chris
Fatchett, Derek Murphy, Paul
Faulds, Andrew O'Brien, William
Fearn, Ronald O'Hara, Edward
Fisher, Mark O'Neill, Martin
Flannery, Martin Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Flynn, Paul Patchett, Terry
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Pendry, Tom
Foster, Derek Primarolo, Dawn
Foulkes, George Quin, Ms Joyce
Fyfe, Maria Radice, Giles
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Redmond, Martin
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
George, Bruce Robertson, George
Golding, Mrs Llin Robinson, Geoffrey
Gordon, Mildred Rooker, Jeff
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Rooney, Terence
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Ruddock, Joan
Hardy, Peter Sheerman, Barry
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Skinner, Dennis
Henderson, Doug Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hinchliffe, David Smith, C. (lsl'ton & F'bury)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Snape, Peter
Hood, Jimmy Spearing, Nigel
Howells, Geraint Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Stephen, Nicol
Hoyle, Doug Strang, Gavin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Ingram, Adam Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Trimble, David
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Turner, Dennis
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Vaz, Keith
Kirkwood, Archy Walley, Joan
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Lamond, James Wigley, Dafydd
Leadbitter, Ted Wilson, Brian
Leighton, Ron Winnick, David
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Lewis, Terry Worthington, Tony
Litherland, Robert
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Tellers for the Ayes:
Loyden, Eddie Mr. Frank Haynes and
McAllion, John Mr. Ken Eastham.
McAvoy, Thomas
Adley, Robert Atkinson, David
Alexander, Richard Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Amess, David Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Amos, Alan Batiste, Spencer
Arbuthnot, James Bellingham, Henry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Ashby, David Bevan, David Gilroy
Aspinwall, Jack Biffen, Rt Hon John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Irvine, Michael
Boswell, Tim Irving, Sir Charles
Bottomley, Peter Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Bowis, John Kilfedder, James
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Knapman, Roger
Brazier, Julian Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bright, Graham Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Knowles, Michael
Buck, Sir Antony Knox, David
Burt, Alistair Lang, Rt Hon lan
Butler, Chris Lightbown, David
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Carttiss, Michael Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Cash, William Lord, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Chope, Christopher McCrea, Rev William
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Conway, Derek Maclean, David
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) McLoughlin, Patrick
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Malins, Humfrey
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Mans, Keith
Couchman, James Maples, John
Cran, James Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Mates, Michael
Day, Stephen Maude, Hon Francis
Devlin, Tim Mellor, Rt Hon David
Dickens, Geoffrey Meyer, Sir Anthony
Dicks, Terry Mills, lain
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dover, Den Mitchell, Sir David
Durant, Sir Anthony Moate, Roger
Dykes, Hugh Monro, Sir Hector
Eggar, Tim Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Emery, Sir Peter Morrison, Sir Charles
Evennett, David Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Fallon, Michael Moss, Malcolm
Farr, Sir John Moynihan, Hon Colin
Favell, Tony Mudd, David
Fenner, Dame Peggy Needham, Richard
Field, Barry (lsle of Wight) Neubert, Sir Michael
Fishburn, John Dudley Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Fookes, Dame Janet Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Norris, Steve
Fox, Sir Marcus Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Franks, Cecil Oppenheim, Phillip
Freeman, Roger Page, Richard
French, Douglas Paice, James
Fry, Peter Paisley, Rev lan
Gale, Roger Patnick, Irvine
Gardiner, Sir George Pawsey, James
Gill, Christopher Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir lan Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Porter, David (Waveney)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Portillo, Michael
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Powell, William (Corby)
Gorst, John Price, Sir David
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Raffan, Keith
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Redwood, John
Gregory, Conal Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Riddick, Graham
Ground, Patrick Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hague, William Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Hannam, Sir John Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Haselhurst, Alan Sayeed, Jonathan
Hayes, Jerry Shaw, David (Dover)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hayward, Robert Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Shersby, Michael
Hill, James Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hind, Kenneth Soames, Hon Nicholas
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Speller, Tony
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Stevens, Lewis Waller, Gary
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Ward, John
Summerson, Hugo Warren, Kenneth
Tapsell, Sir Peter Watts, John
Taylor, lan (Esher) Wheeler, Sir John
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Whitney, Ray
Taylor, Sir Teddy Wiggin, Jerry
Temple-Morris, Peter Wilkinson, John
Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly) Wilshire, David
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thorne, Neil Winterton, Nicholas
Thurnham, Peter Wood, Timothy
Townend, John (Bridlington) Yeo, Tim
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Trippier, David
Twinn, Dr lan Tellers for the Noes:
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Mr. Tom Sackville and
Walker, Bill (T'side North) Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 7, in page 1, line 11, leave out from 'prison' to end of line 14.

No. 9, in page 1, line 18, leave out 'paragraph (a) or (b) of,—[Mrs. Rumbold.]

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 3, at end insert 'or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland under the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953.'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 22, at end insert— '(4) In section 33 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953 (offence of assisting escape by conveying things into prisons) after the word "prisoner", in the second place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words "sends anything (by post or otherwise) into a prison or to a prisoner" and for the words "seven years" there shall be substituted the words "ten years". (5) In section 30 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953 (offence of rescue or assisting other prisoners) for the words "five years" there shall be substituted the words "ten years".'. No. 3, in clause 3, page 2, line 28, leave out 'and Wales only' and add ', Wales and Northern Ireland'.

Mr. Trimble

On Second Reading, I asked why a measure that had been described as important and necessary, given the situation that had arisen in prisons in England and Wales, should not be extended to Northern Ireland, where the situation is equally serious. I asked the same question in Committee; on neither occasion was I given an answer.

Since then an answer has arrived, in the form of a letter from the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. I received the letter yesterday afternoon; I believe that other hon. Members who served on the Committee with me received copies earlier this afternoon. I feel that I should put on record the reasons given by the Minister for not extending the legislation to Northern Ireland. The letter states: When the issue was raised with us last June, Peter Brooke and John Belstead gave very careful consideration to the possibility of extension but concluded that, while there were arguments in favour of the introduction of a similar offence (among which was that of the difficulty of sustaining prosecutions for some offences committed during a mutiny or an escape attempt) extension of the Bill to Northern Ireland was neither necessary nor desirable. We have not, of course, faced a similar situation to that experienced in some English prisons in the early 1990s and Peter Brooke further believed that to introduce such a provision without that background would do nothing to enhance public support for the NI Prison Service and confidence in the strategy for the service which had been launched at that time. I have noted your reference to the paramilitary campaign for segregation in HM Prison, Belfast and to the explosion which resulted in the deaths of two prisoners. Tragic as this last incident was I have to say that I do not accept that it could be considered as mutiny. But even if it could, those involved would almost certainly be charged with murder and other very serious offences for which the penalties exceed that provided for mutiny in the Prison Security Bill. Similarly, it is our view that Prison rules and the criminal law already provide adequate sanctions for the other offences which have been committed in the Prison.

6.15 pm

The Minister says that the murder of two prisoners in the Crumlin road prison was not mutiny. That may be true of the specific event, but the specific event marked the end of a series of events which undoubtedly involved an intention to overthrow lawful authority within the prison.

I was interested to hear the Minister of State, Home Office mention recent disturbances in Moorland in a previous debate, and cite the scant regard for the public property that those disturbances involved as a reason for the legislation. Let me remind her that the campaign in Crumlin road prison also involved considerable destruction of public property.

That prison may not yet have experienced a riot on the scale of the Strangeways disturbances; but the wrecking of the dining hall a few months ago is just one of many incidents there that demonstrate a clear disregard for public property. I had the doubtful pleasure of touring the Crumlin road prison last Monday, and I saw plenty of evidence of that. I do not think that we have been given sufficient ground for deeming Northern Ireland's circumstances to be different.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office made a significant concession in his letter when he referred to the difficulty of sustaining prosecutions for some offences committed during a mutiny or an escape attempt". That is surely an argument in favour of extending the legislation. We are left with the contrary argument that to intoduce such a provision … would do nothing to enhance public support for the … Prison Service. That is an argument based on expediency.

The present truce in the Crumlin road prison will last until Lord Colville reports, but it will not endure beyond then. After the report, there is likely to be further trouble, perhaps on a substantial scale: there are plenty of scores still to be settled in that prison. During the current lull before the storm, one wonders what impression the Government's present conduct will make. They say that the Bill is necessary to deal with the situation in England; the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland says, "It may be necessary, but I am scared of the effect that it will have on some sections of opinion in Northern Ireland."

What message will such a weak-kneed approach send to terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland? In the present circumstances, it is likely to lead them to believe that they can plan their mutinies with relative impunity.

Amendment No. 2 deals with quite a narrow point. Clause 2 of the Bill plugs a gap in section 39 of the Prison Act 1952, to ensure that items sent to a prison by post—

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Or otherwise.

Mr. Trimble

I thank the hon. Gentleman. The aim is to ensure that items sent to a prison by post or otherwise will fall within the definition of assisting a prisoner to escape. That is clearly based on events in Brixton prison.

The point was made in Committee—notably by the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr)—that it was illogical that the Bill should not cover Northern Ireland, especially when one realises that a prisoner in London receiving a parcel from Belfast would be covered by the Bill but that the sender would not. Therefore, it is illogical to extend section 39 of the Prison Act 1952 while not making an equivalent extension to the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) Act 1953.

The Northern Ireland Office said in its letter: So far as the point about the posting into a prison of a parcel in relation to clause 2(1)(a) is concerned, the particular problem does not arise because of the wording of the parallel offence in section 33 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953. I shall deal with that point in detail.

Section 39 of the English Act states: Any person who aids any prisoner in escaping or attempting to escape from a prison or who, with intent to facilitate the escape of any prisoner, conveys any thing into a prison or to a prisoner or places any thing anywhere outside a prison with a view to its coming into the possession of the prisoner, shall be guilty". The existing section refers to "conveying" and "placing". It is evident that the Home Office believed that conveying and placing did not include posting. That is a reasonable view, and it is why the Government are amending section 39 so that it includes posting.

The Northern Ireland Office says that the different wording of section 33 of the Northern Ireland Act obviates the need for a similar amendment, but let us consider section 33 of that Act: Any person who, with intent to facilitate the escape of any prisoner, conveys or throws or causes to be conveyed or thrown any thing into any prison or to a prisoner or places or throws or causes to be placed or thrown any thing anywhere inside or outside a prison with a view to its coming into the possession of a prisoner shall be guilty". The section of the Northern Ireland Act also refers to "conveys" as does section 39 of the English Act, but the only thing that it adds to section 39 is "throwing". Is throwing posting? I suppose that one throws things into letter boxes but throwing cannot be regarded as posting.

Therefore, if section 39 of the English Act does not include posting, which seems reasonable, section 33 of the Northern Ireland Act certainly does not include posting. If section 39 is amended to make express reference to posting as the Government propose, any court considering that is bound to say that Parliament has clearly expressed the opinion that the words "conveying" and "placing" in section 39 do not include posting, and, if "conveying" and "placing" in section 39 do not include posting, then conveying, placing and throwing in section 33 cannot include posting. There is a clear gap, and the obvious way to remedy it is to accept amendment No. 2.

I fear that the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office has been poorly advised about the wording of the legislation. When it is examined, it is clear that the Northern Ireland Office's argument does not hold water. I hope that the amendment will be accepted. If not, I shall divide the House, and I advise Conservative hon. Members that, if they vote against the amendment, they will be voting against the clause in the Bill.

Sir John Farr

I support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and congratulate him on his initiative and on his perseverance. As he said, he raised this issue—very ably—in Committee, and, like me, on Second Reading.

For many years, there has been an unfortunate habit, which seems to be dying, of having separate legislation for the mainland, thus separating the needs of Northern Ireland, instead of dealing with them all under United Kingdom legislation. We have increasingly given way to the temptation to have legislation that deals only with Great Britain.

As hon. Members will be aware, this is not the first time that matters of such gravity have been discussed in relation to Northern Ireland. I have heard hon. Members of all parties repeat that there are many reasons why we should move towards legislation covering the whole of the United Kingdom—in other words, Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

One reason is the common-sense reason which, I have found, never appeals to Governments. Apart from that reason, there was a case last summer which involved trainers sent in a parcel from Belfast to a London prison —Wandsworth, I think. Unbelievably, the parcel contained a firearm which was used seriously to injure a prison officer. Even more importantly, it enabled two vicious IRA killers to escape. If only common sense had applied in the past. I am not saying that it would have affected that incident but I should have thought that, faced with that glaring example, some of my hon. Friends, although they may have been reluctant to accept it, would have seen the common-sense solution which is crying out to be adopted in the Bill.

The three amendments which go together are a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has gone. Nevertheless, if we can persuade the Government to accept them as a group, it would make it more difficult for anyone attempting to send a parcel of, for example, trainers from Belfast to the mainland to do so without being caught, because the legislation would be tighter.

As I said, the hon. Member for Upper Bann and I raised the issue on Second Reading and in Committee. I also had access—I dare say that the hon. Gentleman had similar access—to the Home Office. I asked how we could ensure that the common-sense amendments were accepted. The advice that I received through the official channels was that getting sensible amendments accepted in this case—I am talking about United Kingdom legislation, not merely Great Britain or Northern Ireland legislation—had nothing to do with the Home Secretary, but apparently the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland held a different view.

I was advised by the authorities to table questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which I have done unsucessfully. Since the introduction of the Bill, I have not been reached in the ballot on Northern Ireland questions. The written replies that I received are wholly ineffective, because they say that the suggestion is not appropriate.

I reinforce what the hon. Member for Upper Bann said. It is not a case of treating Northern Ireland citizens as second-class citizens or anything so silly, but for years some of us have been saying that the more we can associate mainland legislation with United Kingdom legislation—including Northern Ireland—the more sensible it is likely to be in the first place. That applies to this Bill, which would be more likely to be generally acceptable to the public if the amendment were adopted. I have pleasure in supporting what the hon. Member for Upper Bann has said.

6.30 pm
Mr. Dickens

I do not wish to detain the House for very long, as hon. Members will want to hear the Minister's reply. However, I must congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) on the way in which he moved this amendment. I suspect that the Minister of State has a duty to see that the Bill goes through unamended, but I have tremendous sympathy for the Northern Ireland Members who have brought this amendment forward.

Those who say that a few people in Northern Ireland will be upset if we increase the sentence from seven years to 10 for the purpose of achieving even-handedness vis-a-vis England and Wales do not have a very good argument. The people of Northern Ireland have had their hearts torn out. They must have cried a million tears. The graveyards are full. I do not want to be too emotional, but I must say that what is proposed would not cause any great alarm. I do not think that the people of Northern Ireland would be too fussy about it. In fact, they would be very pleased indeed if the British Parliament—they are as British as we are—were to demonstrate even-handedness between Northern Ireland and England and Wales. That would be a sensible course of action.

However, the Minister of State replying to this debate is not a Northern Ireland Minister and may therefore be in a difficult position. That I understand, but it would be very nice if she were to go at least as far as to say that the matter will be given further very serious consideration, with a view to achieving even handedness. If such an assurance were given, the Northern Ireland Members might consider not forcing the matter to a Division.

I have sympathy with their argument. I do not see the situation from the point of view of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as expressed in the letter from which the hon. Gentleman quoted. I congratulate the Northern Ireland Members and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) on tabling such a sensible and reasonable amendment, which would not upset many people in Northern Ireland and would please most of them.

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has reiterated his view that the provisions of this Bill should apply to establishments in Northern Ireland in exactly the same way as they are intended to apply to establishments in England and Wales. I was very interested in the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens). I am quite sure that those contributions, as well as that of the hon. Member for Upper Bann, will be read carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has already considered the amendments tabled by the hon. Gentleman, and his view, which I share, is that the provisions of the Bill should not extend to Northern Ireland.

As the hon. Member for Upper Bann has explained, this Bill dealing with the situation in England and Wales was introduced as a direct response to the disturbances that we witnessed in 1990 and to the more recent ones at Moorland and Brinsford at the end of last year. For whatever reason, a number of prisoners in England and Wales have been determined—and have demonstrated their determination—to cause very great destruction. The Bill is aimed directly at such behaviour.

We heard that the hon. Member for Upper Bann had recently visited Her Majesty's prison, Belfast and had seen disturbances there. He said that he had seen evidence of behaviour similar to that which we have witnessed in prisons in this country. I am informed that the disturbances and incidents that took place in Belfast prison consisted of assaults, either by individual prisoners or by small groups of prisoners, on other prisoners or on staff. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does not accept that these incidents constitute mutiny or have the common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

I have not made a speech, but, in the main, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens). The House will understand my hon. Friend's point. The assumption seems to be that, as these events occurred in Great Britain, there is a need for this law in Great Britain but that, as such events have not yet occurred in Northern Ireland, there is not yet a need for it in Northern Ireland. I am grateful for the courtesy that the Minister of State has shown to the House, but I have to say that it would make sense if the Government were to reconsider this matter before the Bill is debated in another place. The introduction of a provision of this sort should not come after a mutiny.

Mrs. Rumbold

I am well aware of the constitutional point that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) sensibly makes. I am sure he will understand that there has been considerable consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I am sure that the report of this debate will be drawn to my right hon. Friend's attention.

However, my right hon. Friend advises me that a situation similar to the current situation in this country —which is the reason for our introduction of this legislation—does not exist in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members will say that there have been some serious incidents in Northern Ireland, but, in the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, there is no evidence that prisons there are in a state of mutiny, as some of ours undoubtedly have been in the past two years.

I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Upper Bann that, while such a situation has not arisen, it could arise in the future, however, at present there is no need to introduce in Northern Ireland a criminal offence of mutiny. To do so without a background of disturbances would apparently only damage the community's confidence in the prison system in the Province.

Mutiny is already a disciplinary offence under the Northern Ireland prison rules, and carries a maximum penalty of 180 days' loss of remission, or the equivalent of a 12-month sentence. That is a penalty to which we do not have access in respect of the prisons in England and Wales.

With regard to escape-related offences, there are already many differences between the Northern Ireland legislation and the legislation that applies in England and Wales. Some offences under the Northern Ireland prisons legislation do not appear in the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

If this is a united Kingdom, the law in Northern Ireland should be the same as that in England and Wales, whatever the consequences. I realise that there are reasons for the approach that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is adopting, but I hope that she will convey the feelings of hon. Members, including many on the Government side, to her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Rumbold

Again, I fully understand the constitutional point that my hon. Friend makes, but, in respect of legislation and administration, there are a number of differences between Northern Ireland on the one hand and England and Wales on the other. These are accepted and respected on all sides of the House. There are many differences in respect of penalties. For example, in England and Wales, offences of escape, rescue and prison breach are dealt with under common law, and there is therefore no maximum penalty. In Northern Ireland, those are statutory offences, carrying fixed maximum penalties of three, seven and seven years respectively. It would not be right in this Bill to make piecemeal amendments to the Northern Ireland legislation.

If amendment No. 2 were accepted, the hon. Member for Upper Bann would have created a far greater and odder discrepancy in sentencing powers that those of which he complains today. There would be a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment for assisting the escape of a prisoner serving a term of less than life imprisonment but a maximum of only seven years for assisting the escape of a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment. That cannot be sensible.

I note the views of the hon. Member for Upper Bann on amendment No. 2. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is not convinced that such an amendment is needed to make sending a gun into a prison in Northern Ireland by post an offence. Section 33 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953, which is different from legislation on the comparable offence in England and Wales, uses the words: Any person who, with intent to facilitate the escape of any prisoner, conveys or throws or causes to be conveyed". We believe that "causes to be conveyed" are the essential and relevant words which include the matter of posting. We are therefore not convinced that there is a need to bring the penalties for escape-related offences in Northern Ireland in line with the proposed new penalties in England and Wales. We do not consider that amendment No. 2 is necessary. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in this instance. With respect, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Trimble

I thank Conservative Members who have spoken in support of the amendments, which I very much appreciate. Their support for the amendments is a recognition that the amendments are sensible. I am sorry that the Minister has had to speak from a brief with which the Northern Ireland Office has supplied her. Her suggestion that the circumstances at Her Majesty's prison in Crumlin road do not fall within the concept of prison mutiny is unsustainable. I wish that there was more time available to elaborate on that point. The advice that the Minister has received from the Northern Ireland Office leaves one with the conviction that the Northern Ireland Office is not in Belfast, but in cloud cuckoo land.

The Minister will recall that I set out in detail the terms of section 39 of the Prison Act 1952 and of section 33 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953. I clearly demonstrated the close similarity between the two. The Northern Ireland Office claims that section 33 of the Northern Ireland Act is different. I was amused to hear that the phrase that the Northern Ireland Office picks on as different is the phrase "causes to be conveyed". It says that "conveyed" in the Northern Ireland legislation includes posting. If that is so, what does the Northern Ireland Office say about the word "conveys" in the English legislation? In the view of the Home Office, that clearly does not include posting, because it would not otherwise have included clause 2 in the Bill. The argument does not hold water.

I intend to press amendment No. 2 to a Division. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 1.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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