asked the Attorney-General how many prosecutions arising out of the miners' strike have been instituted by the Director of Public Prosecutions since 13 March under section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875; how many cases have been before the courts; and how many convictions have been secured.
Proceedings under this section are instituted by the police and not by the director. Since 13 March, 251 people have been charged under this section. The offence does not have to be reported to the director, who therefore does not receive statistics on the progress of these cases.
I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for that answer. Is he aware that there is a widespread belief among the public that the leadership of the NUM is engaged in a nation-wide organised conspiracy, which is precisely what the 1875 Act was designed to deal with? Will he assure the House that the law enforcement agencies will be encouraged to search for the necessary evidence to bring the convictions which the public believe should be brought?
In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of those who administer the law, any union leader rates exactly the same as any other individual. If evidence justifying proceedings becomes available to chief constables, appropriate action will be taken. I have absolutely no reason to believe that chief constables are any less astute in seeking out evidence, where they believe this offence to have been committed, than they are in respect of any other criminal offence.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that there must be some evidence that the NUM leadership knows of this violence? As the NUM is paying the pickets out of union funds, when it can get its hands on the money, is that not tacit evidence that the leadership is condoning, if not encouraging, this violence on the picket lines?
There must be evidence of the commission of an offence, including a conspiracy, before there is any reasonable prospect of a conviction. Those who make up the massive crowds that we have experienced during this dispute are at best demonstrators and at worst rioters. As to cases already before the courts, whether any individual is guilty of any offence depends on the evidence against him personally.