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Imposing Conditions on Public Processions

Clause 12 – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 30th April 1986.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey 7:45 pm, 30th April 1986

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 7, line 35 leave out 'This section applies'.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 41, 42, 43, 44 and 45.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

Again these amendments respond to amendments moved in Committee, in particular the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). I agreed to bring forward amendments to provide that, where the chief officer of police gave directions imposing conditions in advance of an assembly, these should be given in writing. Amendment No. 45 makes good that commitment. Amendment No. 34 makes similar provision in respect of processions.

In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) tabled amendment No. 54, which would have had the effect that directions imposed by the police on an assembly could prescribe the place at which an assembly either might or might not be held. The intention behind the amendment was to ensure that, where an officer imposed conditions as to the place where an assembly might be held, he would not be obliged to specify an alternative site. He could simply say that the assembly could not take place there. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated that we would bring forward an amendment to give effect to this intention, and that is the effect of amendment No. 43.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

I am advised, by the tone of your voice in calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to speak very briefly. I hope to do so, as I have indeed done so far in this debate, as hon. Members who have been present throughout will testify.

My concern is with a constituency matter, namely the peace convoy which has been descending on my constituency and its vicinity from time to time. It has also moved from the place where it had settled down, on Cannock Chase, to invade parts of my constituency and to cause a great deal of harassment and concern.

The chief constable of Staffordshire has been extremely helpful in putting together a detailed case to illustrate the way in which the people in my area have been affected. The total cost incurred by the county council ratepayers is as much as £85,000, a considerable amount of money, and this expenditure has been caused by the disruption of the lawful enjoyment of Cannock Chase. These people were leaving Cannock Chase and were going into gardens arid other parts of my constituency, thereby causing a great deal of concern. I hope, therefore, that this provision, in conjunction with clause 5, will do the trick.

We have a serious situation on our hands. The peace convoy is rolling all over the country. It splits up into sections. I hope that the provisions of the clause will go some way towards helping to deal with this matter which is so worrying to my constituents.

That is all that I wish to say. I hope that I have gained your approval, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by the brevity of my speech. I beg to ask leave to sit down.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman has, in my view, rather spun it out. I trust that he will take warning from the way in which you called him, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should he deem it necessary to intervene again.

All that I would like to do is to thank the Minister for fulfilling the undertaking that he gave in Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 29, in page 8, line 5, leave out '(2) The senior police officer' and insert 'he'.

No. 30, in page 8, line 6, leave out 'any conditions which' and insert 'such conditions as'.

No. 31, in page 8, line 9, leave out 'prescribing' and insert 'as to'.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 8, line 10, at end insert—

'(2A) For the avoidance of doubt subsection (2) above shall not apply notwithstanding any conventions or regulation which may otherwise permit such procession to approach the close vicinity of the premises of any foreign mission provided that the senior police officer shall have reason to believe that the procession may lead to a disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity in accordance with Article 22, section 2 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1946).'. There is a printing error—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I should have pointed out the error to the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman is, I am sure, about to point out to the House that in line I the word "not" is a printer's error and should not be included. I apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I am grateful for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will proceed with the amendment as corrected.

I am concerned about processions to foreign embassies of the kind that resulted in the tragic death of WPC Fletcher on 17 April—

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

It was not a procession; it was an assembly.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

It was an assembly that was the conclusion of a procession of sorts, and it resulted in the tragic death of WPC Fletcher on 17 April 1984. I am concerned that such a tragedy should never be allowed to happen again. It happened because the police authorities, although the Foreign Office was apparently alerted to the likelihood of trouble from the Libyan people's bureau, allowed the movement towards the square—which to some degree was a procession, if not to a complete degree a procession—to take place close to the front of the Libyan people's bureau. Obviously the police authorities considered that either the threat was not serious enough or that the police did not have the power to stop such a procession.

I am delighted and relieved to see that clause 12(1) provides for such a general power to stop or limit processions, but I am not satisfied that it will be used to stop dangerous processions to embassies. My fear is caused by views expressed when the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs considered the abuse of diplomatic immunities and privileges that arose out of the St. James's square event on 17 April 1984. That Committee reported in December 1984. It was the view of witnesses, some officials and Ministers and also of the Committee, with the exception of myself—my proposal appears in the report and it was negatived—that it was so important that embassies should not be insulated from expressions of public opinion within the receiving state that, provided that work at the embassy could continue normally, there ought to be no restriction upon processions or demonstrations other than those that are already imposed by the existing laws. The tragedy of the existing laws is that they did not prevent the tragedy of WPC Fletcher, although trouble was expected.

If that view, arising from an interpretation of the Vienna convention, or of less official conventions and regulations, were to prevail in future, following the introduction of clause 12 of the Bill a senior police officer might be advised, when a procession approaches an embassy, not to restrict the procession, and it is possible that another police constable will then be shot. At any rate, if it were to happen that processions were to be more freely allowed to approach embassies, considerable danger might still exist in future, as it has existed in the past. It is to remove that potential limitation upon the powers of senior police officers, as set out in clause 12(2), that I move this amendment.

In further support of my proposition, may I add that it was the view of Professor Draper, one of the United Kingdom's leading authorities on international law, when he gave evidence to the Select Committee that a receiving state owes a wider duty to a guest mission than to preserving the Queen's peace. He pointed out that the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 contains no special powers for police commissioners to prevent processions at or near diplomatic premises and that section 3 of the Public Order Act 1934 does not provide sufficient control, although in relation to other processions there is such control. In Professor Draper's view, article 22 of the Vienna convention, which was given the force of law in the United Kingdom by the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, places a greater, not a lesser, duty on the Government to protect embassies. That article imposes an additional obligation, as a special duty, to prevent "impairment of a mission's "dignity." Professor Draper's view to the Select Committee was that: allowing demonstrators to form up behind barriers placed for the purpose in the immediate frontage of the Libyan mission premises was such an impairment of dignity and therefore it was incompatible with article 22 of the convention.

Professor Draper's view, which I supported in the Committee, was rejected by the majority of the Committee—I believe with insufficient reason. The view prevailed in the Committee that embassies should not be insulated and that perhaps they should even be encouraged to be subjected to processions and demonstrations so that they could see and understand what feeling there is against the activities of another country in the host country. Therefore, it is sad to relate, WPC Fletcher died. That was not the fault of the British. The murder was by the Libyans, but the fact remains that it would not have happened if the procession and the demonstration had not been allowed to take place near the mission.

8.15 pm

I have tabled this amendment so that any temptation that there might be by the authorities to say, "Yes, the senior police officer has the power to say that the procession which will lead to a demonstration shall not be allowed to go as close as this, or shall not be allowed to go into St. James's square" shall not be restricted in any way by any argument advanced by any authority that, because it is a diplomatic mission, the caution that he would otherwise impose to restrict a procession shall not apply.

If my hon. Friend the Minister of State will assure me that, as far as the Home Office is concerned, no such advice will be given to a senior police officer that he should, at the margin, allow a procession to take place to an embassy, because it is an embassy, when he would have stopped it if it had been going anywhere else, I shall be satisfied. However, if he is not in a position to give such an assurance, I ask the House to consider the addition of amendment No. 32 in order to make sure that processions that look as though they may be dangerous and that are going in the direction of an embassy shall not be allowed where others would not be allowed, for the very simple reason that the last time that this happened somebody died and this House must make sure that that never happens again to any of our policemen or to any citizen of this country.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

In moving his amendment my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) deleted the negative which inadvertently appeared on the marshalled list, and I am grateful to him for doing so. As my hon. and learned Friend said, under article 22(2) of the Vienna convention the United Kingdom is under a duty: To protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity. I draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to the fact that the United Kingdom is under a duty to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or the impairment of its dignity. Over the years we have more than fully discharged that duty effectively in this capital city. Most of the credit for that, if not all of it, rests with the Metropolitan police, who have the onerous task of providing protection for the embassies in London.

As my hon. and learned Friend will appreciate, the Vienna convention does not ban demonstrations and marches outside embassies. That would be contrary to our traditional freedoms of assembly and demonstration, and would not be acceptable. On occasion—and we can all think of different occasions—it is right that our citizens should be able peacefully to demonstrate their views to the representatives of foreign Governments here. What the Vienna convention does do is to say that we should take all appropriate steps to prevent intrusion or damage or any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity. The police, and only the police, have the task of discharging that responsibility and they strive to do so without unduly infringing the right of peaceful protest and freedom of assembly. On occasion, no doubt, some of those in foreign missions would have wished the police to do more, and on occasions demonstrators and protestors would no doubt have wished them to do less, but in general they seem to have got the balance about right.

During our review of public order law we considered whether any special controls were necessary for demonstrations outside embassies. Paragraph 5.12 of the White Paper which preceded the Bill stated:

The police's existing statutory and common law powers, together with the new controls which are proposed in relation to static demonstrations, should provide the police with all the powers which they need to maintain order outside embassies, and to fulfil their special duty under the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964. The Bill contains provisions which may assist in three particular respects to ensure that our obligations under the Vienna convention can be carried out. First, the police will be able to impose conditions on static demonstrations as well as on processions. Secondly, the ability of the police to impose conditions will be extended from the present sole test of serious public disorder to cover demonstrations which threaten serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community or the intimidation of individuals. Thirdly, the offence of disorderly conduct in clause 5 can be deployed where the offending conduct is likely to harass, alarm or distress the people going to and from or working inside an embassy as well as any other person. My hon. and learned Friend will recognise that these are the conditions which are available in the Bill, which covers all citizens for all events of this character. Subject to the House passing the legislation, there is no change in the rules or conditions which will be imposed on citizens or any person.

There is no special arrangement in the conditions which apply to embassies. On the contrary, the conditions will be identical. Those imposed on demonstrations outside embassies will be the same as elsewhere. The use of the powers will depend on the circumstances. I certainly do not claim that they are likely to lead to a fundamental change in the policing of demonstrations outside embassies. In our view that would neither be right nor necessary to comply with the Vienna convention.

The theme of the Bill is that we should bring the law relating to public order up to date and ensure that the police have the power to prevent and deal with disorder without infringing the right of peaceful protest. Even without our international obligations, it is right that those working in embassies should have the same protection as our own citizens. We continue to take the view, as we did in the White Paper, that additional specific controls are not required and that, with the existing law, the current Bill will confirm that the police have the powers that they need to ensure that our obligations under the Vienna convention are discharged.

The same criteria on public order will apply. The House will take note of the tragedy which occurred as a result of the assembly outside the Libyan people's bureau. I am convinced that the police, who have the right to impose conditions, will take note of that in ensuring that citizens of whatever country, at whatever place—certainly not just our own citizens—are not put at risk by any misapplication of the conditions pertaining to public order.

I trust that my hon. and learned Friend will accept that, in setting out the conditions in this way, the provisions for dealing with the matters which he rightly raised are adequately contained in the Bill. The powers that the police will have will ensure that the conditions are applied outside embassies as they are applied anywhere else.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said, and that no instructions will be given by the Home Office or anybody else. In the case of a procession to an embassy, any doubts concerning the dangers of the procession will be suspended because of the supreme importance of a demonstration appearing in front of an embassy. That being so, I am satisfied, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 33, in page 8, line 11, leave out 'this section' and insert 'subsection (1)'.

No. 34, in page 8, line 18, at end insert— '(3A) A direction given by a chief police officer by virtue of subsection (3)(b) shall be given in writing.'.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 8, line 29, after 'constable', insert 'in uniform'.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 39 and 46.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

In Committee I undertook to bring forward amendments to provide that the power of arrest in clauses 12 and 14 would be exercised only by a constable in uniform. That is the effect of these amendments.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I thank the Minister for fulfilling the undertaking that he gave in Committee. I am especially pleased that the Government are making this point in statute, in the light of the disquieting reports that come to us from Wapping.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 9, line 1, leave out subsection (11).

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 51, in clause 16, in page 11, line 35, leave out from 'highway' to 'and' in line 36.

No. 54, in clause 17, in page 12, line 5, leave out 'Great Britain' and insert 'England and Wales'.

No. 58, in clause 18, in page 12, line 27, leave out 'Great Britain' and insert 'England and Wales'.

No. 62, in clause 19, in page 13, line 11, leave out 'Great Britain' and insert 'England and Wales'.

No. 70, in clause 22, in page 13, line 40, leave out subsection (1).

No. 71, in page 14, line 7, leave out 'a sheriff or'.

No. 72, in page 14, line 10, leave out 'sheriff or'.

No. 73, in clause 23, in page 14, line 35, leave out subsection (3).

No. 78, in clause 24, in page 15, line 11, leave out from 'highway' to 'and' in line 12.

No. 83, in clause 33, in page 19, line 22, leave out from '1985' to 'shall' in line 23.

No. 84, in clause 35, in page 20, line 7, leave out subsection (1) and insert— '(1)This Act shall extend to England and Wales only.'

No. 85, in page 20, line 7, leave out '12, 14' and insert '17'.

No. 86, in page 20, line 3, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 89, in schedule 1, in page 24, line 11, leave out Part II.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

Amendment No. 36 and the large group of associated amendments are not as forbidding as they might appear. The only purpose of these amendments is to remove Scotland from the terms of the Bill.

I am sure the Solicitor-General has heard the arguments before. The Solicitor-General has failed to convince public opinion and the local authorities of Scotland—I am not sure whether he has convinced the police authorities—that there is a need for Scotland to be included in the Bill. There are two good reasons for that submission.

First, the Solicitor-General will be aware that we have sufficient powers under common law in Scotland. The Scottish position is radically different from the position in England and Wales. The Scottish common law covers any situation which may arise in England and Wales and which will be subsequently covered by legislation contained in the Bill. If the Solicitor-General is not convinced of that argument, he need look no further back than three weeks ago. In central Scotland there was a demonstration which had been properly organised and properly authorised. It certainly did not appear to have the portent of trouble. However, under Scottish common law, those organising the demonstration were persuaded not to go ahead with the demonstration in the interests of the community in which the demonstration was to be held.

That is a recent example of a demonstration being cancelled at the last minute without the existence of this proposed legislation. All those concerned were aware that there were sufficient powers in Scottish common law to deal with that situation.

The second good reason for excluding Scotland from the Bill is the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. That Act gave responsibility to regional councils and all-purpose island authorities to authorise any public assembly, a march or merely static demonstration. So great is that responsibility and so great is their authority that the regions and all-purpose island authorities can decide the route, the number of people who may attend and the duration of the demonstration. I should stress that the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 was put through largely with the agreement of my right hon. and hon. Friends and me. I would not want anybody to think that it was a party political Act. What makes the inclusion of Scotland in this Bill so surprising and unnecessary is the fact that we spent so much time in 1981–82 getting that Act right so that it would cover assemblies such as are addressed by the Bill.

We believe that people have a right to demonstrate within the law. Nobody is trying to justify unlawful assemblies. Our argument is that an organisation could have made all of the necessary arrangements with the regional council or island authority, only to turn up on the day to be confronted by the most senior police officer present and be told that it cannot go ahead.

8.30 pm

All of the briefing notes and other literature that has been provided refers to a sergeant being the most senior officer present, but I am sure that the Solicitor-General for Scotland will concede that there are remote areas of Scotland where the only police officer present could well be a constable. A constable, albeit in uniform, might cancel all of the arrangements that have been authorised by the regional council or island authority. The police officer might be acting with the best possible intentions. I am not criticising the police—I am criticising the Solicitor-General and his Scottish Office colleagues for putting Scottish police forces in a difficult, if not impossible, position.

The regional councils and island authorities are responsible for administering the 1982 Act and are the police authorities. Central regional council could authorise a demonstration which was cancelled by one of its employees at the last minute. That is ludicrous, but police officers are ultimately employees of the regional police authorities. By including Scotland in the Bill, the Government are putting Scottish police forces in an impossible position. I have yet to hear any justification for including Scotland.

I do not see the need for a review of the legislation, but that does not mean that no need exists. If it is necessary to consider the 1982 Act and common law on demonstrations, however, this is not the way in which to go about it. We should be much more thorough than include a small section—with major implications—on Scotland in a United Kingdom Bill. I must plead with the Solicitor-General to exclude Scotland. If a review is needed, we should have properly thought-out and structured legislation which meets our needs. I am sure that the House agrees with that proposition, bearing in mind the differences between English and Scottish law. Our needs and circumstances are often different. I hope that the Solicitor-General will respond positively.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

I must endorse much of what the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) said. Those of us who represent Scottish constituencies are generally anxious about how Scottish reforms are dealt with. Many of us would prefer that these debates took place in a devolved Scottish parliament.

This is another example of Scots legislation being tacked on to a substantially English Bill. Much the same happened in 1982, when there was an English Criminal Justice Bill with one or two Scottish speckles. Lord McCluskey described it as somewhat akin to a Yorkshire pudding with porridge oats in it. The Bill does not have regard to the long and separate traditions of the Scottish common law.

Scotland also has very different statutory provisions, especially as regards the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. That Act puts emphasis on the regional council or island authority to determine whether processions should take place. It empowers them to specify the date and time of a procession, its route, the number of people who can take part, arrangements for its control and to impose certain conditions on it. An applicant for a procession who believes that the council has not fulfilled its statutory duties can appeal to the sheriff. The Bill, however, gives power to a police officer to stop a procession. It is unlikely but, as has been said, that police officer could be a constable. He might overturn provisions that have been considered by a local authority and been subject to considerable debate.

There is one matter on which I take small issue with the hon. Member for Falkirk, East. He referred to processions and assemblies. It is my understanding that the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 does not cover assemblies. In fact, what we have is a totally new provision in relation to assemblies. Therefore, we shall have an entirely separate means of controlling and dealing with assemblies compared with processions. That is illustrative of the anomalous position one can get into by such piecemeal legislation.

Although I was not a member of the Standing Committee, it is my understanding that on at least one occasion hon. Members suggested a Scottish-type solution for some of the English problems. They were told that that was not appropriate because conditions, circumstances and the tradition of law are different in Scotland. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. Because this legislation is thought appropriate for England, it does not follow that it is appropriate for Scotland.

Reference was made to the fact that the Bill brings the police into circumstances where they might not wish to become too deeply involved. If the Government are to make a case for this legislation applying to Scotland they should show that there are circumstances in Scotland which are crying out for this type of reform. They should show that there are circumstances in which there is an absence of the law as it stands in England.

I am advised from a reasonably reliable authority that on one day in December of last year there were a series of incidents in Glasgow. One of them involved the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who had gone to Glasgow to address a rally. On the same day there was a protest march against strip searching in Armagh gaol. There was a counter-march by Ulster loyalists, who sought to intercept those who were protesting against strip searches. That protest was taking place in the City halls. The Loyalists were milling around George square in Glasgow. Those who know the geography of Glasgow will know that Buchanan street underground station is not far away and the National Front was holding a rally there. The Strathclyde community relations council held a multiracial festival in the City chambers and the Scottish Asian advisory committee was involved in another demonstration nearby. That demonstration was held at short notice and the committee was given permission to waive the necessary 24 hours notice. The National Front attempted to disrupt that demonstration.

I am told by someone who observed all of that that the police handled it brilliantly and that they coped particularly well. That is because they had to use the common law tools available to them. They had to show their policing skills and they did so. The amount of trouble involved was minimal. I fear that if the police have the powers that will be available under this Bill it would not encourage the best policing. There would, perhaps, be an early resort to using the powers and that would lead to lax policing and could cause trouble where, at the moment, more sensitive policing has managed to avoid it.

I do not think that there have been incidents in Scotland which would have given rise to these powers being given to officers of as low a rank as constable. For those reasons I ask the Solicitor-General for Scotland to consider whether Scotland needs the legislation. It will not put a hole through the Government's legislative programme or substantially diminish the effect of the Bill if, even at this late stage, he was to reconsider the position and take out the provisions relating to Scotland. If he feels that there is a need for a broad overhaul and review of the law in Scotland relating to public order and mobbing and rioting that could take place, we would be prepared to consider that if it was brought forward in a specifically Scottish Bill. Once again, law reform for Scotland in this halfhearted, piecemeal and tacked-on fashion is not in the best interest of Scottish law or the Scottish people.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East 8:45 pm, 30th April 1986

I support this series of amendments. I am sorry that I was not able to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing). I had understood that the debate would take place later. Nevertheless, without having heard the hon. Gentleman, my views on this matter are fairly clear.

I am against Scotland being included in the Bill—for two reasons. The first is that to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has already referred. We are dealing with Scottish provisions tacked on to an English measure. I am told that Scotland is included because the Bill was produced in panic by the Government and the police in England because during the miners' strike and on other occasions they found that the English legal system was not capable, in their view, of dealing with some of the difficulties which ensued. Even if there were a case for action in relation to Scotland, it is wholly wrong that the Government should have produced this Bill with Scottish provisions tacked on.

I believe that the Committee had only one or two Scottish members—I do not know the exact composition—and I would not be pleased to have legislation changing Scottish law in a major way in relation to demonstrations and assemblies from a Committee largely composed of members representing constituencies in England and Wales. There is no way in which Scottish Members could hope to give any input from our Scottish experience in that context. Therefore, I reiterate the case which has been made within Scotland on many occasions by the Law Society and many others, that where a substantial change in Scottish law is called for, it should be done by separate legislation. I cannot see any reason why there should not have been a separate Bill for Scotland if it is argued that the changes are justifiable.

I now move from my first objection, which is one of principle, to my second objection. I am not convinced that any real change is required in the arrangements for dealing with public assembly, demonstrations and processions in Scotland. Despite all the difficult factors which can arise—the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) referred to an intelligent system operating in Glasgow—we have not had many inflammable situations which have not been dealt with by the police using common sense, and the laws as they already exist in Scotland.

It is for the Government to persuade the House that Scotland should be included in the Bill. I await the arguments, but I think that the Solicitor-General for Scotland may be hard pressed to produce arguments which will be acceptable to me. I agree with many of the arguments adopted by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and I do not intend to go over the same ground again. However, as a matter of general principle it should be for the local authority—the democratically elected body—to have a say in these matters as we have now.

It seems strange that, only a few years after the Government produced the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, we have to have such a major reshaping of the arrangements for dealing with processions and assemblies. I do not know what has conditioned the Government to do it, but it seems that they have joined the stampede in favour of a change in the law, without having done their homework. A major change of this kind, which takes responsibility from a democratically elected authority and gives it to the police, should not be done within a time span of two or three years.

An element of civil liberty is involved. It is always easier to erode civil liberties than to establish them. By taking responsibility from the elected authorities and giving it to the police, the Government are not helping either civil liberties in Scotland or, I suspect, the police themselves. The police will look askance at the powers that they have been given. When they take decisions on their own authority, they will become involved in political activity, which is wrong. The police should be shielded from that wherever possible, in the interests not just of the citizens but of the police themselves.

Respect for the police comes from the way in which they enforce the law, but that is not so if people suspect that politcal bias might creep in. I am not saying that the police would adopt a politically biased attitude, but if a demonstration or assembly is stopped or interfered with under the Act, the blame will be placed on the police, when they may not be guilty of anything. It is much better that the responsibility for such decisions is taken by elected politicians who have, in turn, to answer to their electorate for the way in which the powers of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act are enforced.

Photo of Mr Peter Fraser Mr Peter Fraser , Angus East

This debate is about the disapplication of the Bill to Scotland. The objective of the official Opposition is to disapply all the provisions of the Bill. I am a little surprised that there is not an amendment on the Scottish provisions in schedule 2, which amends the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. I think that the basic intention of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) is that it is wrong to legislate for Scotland in what he sees as an English and Welsh Bill.

While I understand that argument—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that I am making a cheap political point—I am to some extent surprised that it was only in Committee that, for the first time, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) advanced the argument. No Scottish Labour Member spoke on Second Reading. While the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland spoke, I understand that he did so in his capacity as law and order spokesman for the alliance, and he made no specific reference to the disapplication to Scotland.

This matter was not suddenly sprung on Scottish Members of Parliament. As hon. Members who are interested in these areas of the law will appreciate, in the White Paper of May 1985, we set out in a paragraph that related solely to Scotland exactly what is now included in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East wishes to disapply the whole Bill. As I understand it, the objective of the amendment tabled by the alliance is more limited. It is to disapply only clauses 12 and 14. It is identical to the amendment introduced by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland in Committee.

It might be useful if I looked at the effect of the group of amendments tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I am concerned that, although the broad point of opposition has been stated, some of the consequences of what is proposed might not be appreciated. Most particularly, although the hon. Member for Falkirk, East did not include this in his remarks, what concerns me is that part III of the Bill would be disapplied to Scotland. The measures in that part of the Bill are essentially a modernisation of the present law on racial hatred, now contained in section 5A of the Public Order Act 1936, which was inserted by section 70 of the Race Relations Act 1976, at a time when the hon. Member for Falkirk, East was a member of the Government.

Section 5A of the 1936 Act applies both north and south of the border. I see no reason why this attempt to update and extend the statutory protection offered by the new measures should not do so. Indeed, if the measures did not apply in Scotland, following the repeal of section 5A we would be left without statutory powers in that area, where we cannot confidently rely on the adequacy of Scots common law to come to our aid in every instance involving incitement to racial hatred.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

The Solicitor-General is making a valid point, which I accept. In the spirit of negotiation and good will that we are now enjoying, I am prepared to drop the amendments in exchange for the hon. and learned Gentleman accepting the rest of my amendments.

Photo of Mr Peter Fraser Mr Peter Fraser , Angus East

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity. I appreciate that he sees the importance of having the provisions in Scotland. However, the interesting thing about the argument is that his Government, when he was a member of it, saw that some parts of public order should be legislated for on a United Kingdom basis. After the Race Relations Act 1976, the process of legislation was to bring that into the Public Order Act 1936, which applied on a Great Britain basis. Therefore, the idea that for the first time we are legislating on public order on a Great Britain basis, when previously we had done it separately for England and Wales and Scotland, is not true.

I do not need to labour that point. I am relieved, as I am sure every other hon. Member is, that in Scotland we have had fewer racial hatred problems than elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman seems to appreciate that it would be wrong to give a signal to any racial minority, wherever it was in Great Britain, that it is not to enjoy the statutory protection of the law.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

It would be a little disingenuous to imply that that was the main problem. The Solicitor-General will remember that more than once in Committee I raised the fact that the system in Scotland, leaving aside the racial hatred part of the Bill, was working very well. Time and again, I challenged the Government to say why they felt it necessary to impose on Scotland something which we felt in England and Wales was not necessary. The Solicitor-General never answered that point in Committee, and he is not answering Scottish Members tonight.

Photo of Mr Peter Fraser Mr Peter Fraser , Angus East

I am still dealing with part III and racial hatred. I understood that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East recognised what I was trying to say.

The substance of both sets of amendments concerns processions, covered in part II of the Bill. Both the official Opposition and the alliance seek to remove clause 12(11) from the Bill. I remind hon. Members of the purpose of the clause. It is to give the police at the scene the power to impose conditions on a procession—provided the statutory criteria are met—when the procession is in progress or when the marchers are assembling. It is essentially an on-the-spot power for the police.

This point was picked up by the hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson). The hon. Member for Falkirk, East referred to the powers under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act. However, the difference is this. We have to deal with circumstances that may emerge after the local authority, given the regulatory power that it has under the 1982 Act, has taken its decision. The 1982 Act establishes that regulatory framework, allowing for the imposition of conditions in advance of the march taking place.

Having introduced the measure with the agreement of all parties in Scotland, I would be the first to recognise that it has worked well. Apart from the minor changes in schedule 2, I have no desire to change it. As the hon. Member for Falkirk, East will appreciate, when we introduced the 1982 Act, the powers at present contained in section 3 of the 1936 Act and which continue to give the police power on the spot in relation to processions in Scotland were still in being. They apply with equal force north and south of the border.

9 pm

During the debate on the Queen's Speech last year, the hon. Member for Garscadden argued for the need to withdraw section 3 of the 1936 Act from Scotland, on the basis that the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 was sufficient to deal with all the problems that might arise. I am surprised at that stance and at the line that is being followed by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East. Hon. Members will recollect that two years ago I was regularly questioned about the way in which the police were exercising their common law powers in relation to the unhappy circumstances of the miners' dispute. At that time, the hon. Member for Garscadden expressed his concern about what he called the extraordinary wide use of powers under the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, and asked of me: Is the hon. and learned Gentleman not worried … that … the police will be able to ban any rally, demonstration or meeting without recourse to public order legislation? Is that now wrong?"—[Official Report, 16 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 360.] It is precisely because we think that it is important for police powers in relation to processions to be expressly defined that clause 12(11) has been inserted in the Bill. Its removal would give rise to the very fears that the hon. Gentleman expressed then.

I find it curious that in Strathclyde, which includes more than half the population of Scotland, the regional authority imposed conditions on allowing exemption from the notification requirements under section 62 of the 1982 Act. One of its standard conditions is that police instructions shall be obeyed. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East would have thought that that power was not clearly defined. If, for example, that were to be the Bill's provision for the way in which those participating in a procession should act, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and others would undoubtedly say that it wholly lacked any specification.

I am puzzled why the hon. Member for Falkirk, East takes such exception to setting out clearly in Scotland, subject to the stern criteria of serious public disorder, serious damage to property or intimidation, the powers of the police on the spot to regulate the circumstances. He made some play of the fact that the police have common law powers in Scotland, and I do not dissent from that observation. However, I remember equally well that during the miners' dispute he and some of his colleagues went to see the Secretary of State, and openly and clearly expressed their anxiety that the police were resorting to common law powers in those difficult and delicate circumstances. What is wrong with taking the opportunity to set out clearly, subject to those stern criteria, how the police should be able to impose their conditions on a procession or assembly, instead of leaving it to the less clearly defined powers of common law which the police have?

The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that it is undesirable for the police to be intimately involved when members of the public are exercising their democratic right either to assemble or to engage in a procession. I hope that the circumstances of such assemblies or processions are such that the powers under clauses 12 to 14 would rarely be used. Indeed, I would consider the management of our affairs in Scotland a success, if the powers were never relied on. Essentially, these powers are to be held in reserve.

The hon. Gentleman said that the regional authority in Scotland was the police authority. He made the fair point that it might seem slightly odd that if that authority gave a group of people permission to process, it might find that a police officer wanted to impose conditions on the exercise of that right. I recognise that possible difficulty, but the criteria are stern. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's Labour colleagues on Central region would be somewhat alarmed if police officers employed by them, under the direction of the chief constable, would not take the necessary action if there was serious public disorder, intimidation or serious damage to property.

I hope that we will not have another miners' strike in Scotland. But the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) will certainly remember that at the time of the strike, several people came up from south of the border to express their views about the dispute. There is a good argument for saying that the powers that the police can take to themselves in such circumstances are widely known and that if they are widely known on a Great Britain basis that is all the more to the good.

My final point may prove unnecessary. The amendment to disapply would also disapply several changes made in the Bill in relation to alcohol at sporting events, as contained in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East seemed to address his remarks primarily to part II and not to any changes that might be included in relation to alcohol at football grounds. But, as he knows, those measures have operated successfully in Scotland for more than five years. I hope that he will accept that the law could be updated and improved, just as it will be elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Although the argument for disapplying has been put, the Government believe that we are talking about desirable reserve powers that fall into the pattern that has existed successully in Scotland for some time. Although anxieties have been expressed, those powers are not in any way at variance with what is contained in the civic government code. They merely provide useful complementary provisions where on-the-spot difficulties might arise.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate. I accept what the Solicitor-General says about the safety of sports grounds and the provision of alcohol there.

But on the whole the Solicitor-General's argument is based on the fact that the amendment will somehow damage the Bill. He has singularly failed to convince me and my right hon. and hon. Friends of that. The Government will have an opportunity in the other place to reinsert anything taken out of the Bill, and so I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the amendment so that the Bill is disapplied in the case of Scotland.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

One thing missing from the Solicitor-General's speech on the proposed disapplication of the public order provisions was any justification, based on evidence, that the law in Scotland does not work. When we debated the subject in Committee, he relied on arguments of tidiness and on ex hypothesi arguments that carried no weight with the Committee. He dismissed the views of the Law Society of Scotland, which complained that the Scottish Office had dreamt up this matter, hanging on to the coat tails of the Home Office.

The arguments have been well made about the procedural objections to reforming the law of Scotland via a side wind. I realise that some hon. Members from Labour constituencies in England are not concerned about this measure. Fortunately, they do not represent the views of the majority of the Opposition. [Interruption.] Hon. Members would be wise not to provoke me. If they do, I cannot guarantee that this important matter will be dealt with expeditiously.

The arguments which the Solicitor-General deployed were the best that could be made. He made the typically persuasive speech of an advocate. The fact remains that there is no mischief to be remedied. The law in Scotland is working well. We are being dragged along for reasons of tidiness alone. I regret that the Solicitor-General has seen fit to kowtow to the Home Office. He would be better advised in future to make major changes in Scots law by means of a Scottish Bill. The participation of Scottish Members would therefore be greater at all stages than it has been during this legislation. It is highly unsatisfactory that it is possible only at the concluding stages of the Bill for Labour Members to define their arguments. They are, for understandable reasons, terribly anxious to do so. We cannot proceed in that way.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 168, Noes 229.

Division No. 164][9.13 pm
AYES
Abse, LeoBrown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Alton, DavidBrown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Anderson, DonaldBuchan, Norman
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCaborn, Richard
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCallaghan, Rt Hon J.
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Campbell, Ian
Barnett, GuyCampbell-Savours, Dale
Barron, KevinCanavan, Dennis
Beckett, Mrs MargaretCarlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Beith, A. J.Carter-Jones, Lewis
Bell, StuartClark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Clay, Robert
Bermingham, GeraldClelland, David Gordon
Bidwell, SydneyClwyd, Mrs Ann
Boyes, RolandCocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)
Bray, Dr JeremyColeman, Donald
Conlan, BernardMarek, Dr John
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Martin, Michael
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Corbyn, JeremyMaxton, John
Craigen, J. M.Maynard, Miss Joan
Crowther, StanMeacher, Michael
Cunliffe, LawrenceMeadowcroft, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Michie, William
Deakins, EricMikardo, Ian
Dixon, DonaldMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dormand, JackMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Douglas, DickMoore, Rt Hon John
Duffy, A. E. P.Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Nellist, David
Eadie, AlexO'Brien, William
Eastham, KenO'Neill, Martin
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Park, George
Ewing, HarryParry, Robert
Faulds, AndrewPavitt, Laurie
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Pendry, Tom
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Penhaligon, David
Fisher, MarkPike, Peter
Flannery, MartinPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Forrester, JohnPrescott, John
Foster, DerekRandall, Stuart
Foulkes, GeorgeRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldRichardson, Ms Jo
Freud, ClementRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Garrett, W. E.Robertson, George
George, BruceRogers, Allan
Godman, Dr NormanRooker, J. W.
Golding, JohnRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Gould, BryanRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Gourlay, HarryRowlands, Ted
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Sedgemore, Brian
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)Sheerman, Barry
Hancock, MichaelSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterShore, Rt Hon Peter
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Haynes, FrankSilkin, Rt Hon J.
Heffer, Eric S.Skinner, Dennis
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Home Robertson, JohnSnape, Peter
Howells, GeraintSoley, Clive
Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Steel, Rt Hon David
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)Stott, Roger
Janner, Hon GrevilleStraw, Jack
John, BrynmorThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Kennedy, CharlesThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertThorne, Stan (Preston)
Kirkwood, ArchyTinn, James
Lambie, DavidTorney, Tom
Lamond, JamesWallace, James
Leighton, RonaldWareing, Robert
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Weetch, Ken
Litherland, RobertWhite, James
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Wigley, Dafydd
Lofthouse, GeoffreyWilliams, Rt Hon A.
McCartney, HughWilson, Gordon
McDonald, Dr OonaghWoodall, Alec
McKelvey, WilliamYoung, David (Bolton SE)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Maclennan, RobertTellers for the Ayes:
McTaggart, RobertMr. John McWilliam and
Madden, MaxMr. Allen McKay.
NOES
Aitken, JonathanBanks, Robert (Harrogate)
Alexander, RichardBellingham, Henry
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBest, Keith
Amess, DavidBiggs-Davison, Sir John
Ancram, MichaelBody, Sir Richard
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Bright, Graham
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Brinton, Tim
Baldry, TonyBrown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Buck, Sir AntonyKey, Robert
Budgen, NickKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Burt, AlistairKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Butterfill, JohnKnowles, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Knox, David
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)Lang, Ian
Carttiss, MichaelLatham, Michael
Cash, WilliamLawler, Geoffrey
Chapman, SydneyLawrence, Ivan
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Clegg, Sir WalterLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Coombs, SimonLightbown, David
Cope, JohnLilley, Peter
Couchman, JamesLloyd, Ian (Havant)
Critchley, JulianLord, Michael
Crouch, DavidLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Dicks, TerryLyell, Nicholas
Dorrell, StephenMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Macfarlane, Neil
Durant, TonyMacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Evennett, DavidMaclean, David John
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fookes, Miss JanetMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Forman, NigelMcQuarrie, Albert
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Madel, David
Forth, EricMajor, John
Fox, MarcusMalins, Humfrey
Franks, CecilMalone, Gerald
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Maples, John
Fry, PeterMarland, Paul
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Marlow, Antony
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)Mates, Michael
Garel-Jones, TristanMather, Carol
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMaude, Hon Francis
Glyn, Dr AlanMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Goodlad, AlastairMayhew, Sir Patrick
Gow, IanMellor, David
Gower, Sir RaymondMerchant, Piers
Greenway, HarryMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Gregory, ConalMills, Iain (Meriden)
Griffiths, Sir EldonMiscampbell, Norman
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Ground, PatrickMonro, Sir Hector
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hanley, JeremyMoynihan, Hon C.
Hannam, JohnMudd, David
Hargreaves, KennethNeale, Gerrard
Harris, DavidNeedham, Richard
Harvey, RobertNelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, AlanNewton, Tony
Hawksley, WarrenNicholls, Patrick
Hayes, J.Onslow, Cranley
Hayhoe, Rt Hon BarneyOppenheim, Phillip
Hayward, RobertPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPatten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Heddle, JohnPattie, Geoffrey
Henderson, BarryPawsey, James
Hickmet, RichardPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, RobertPollock, Alexander
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Porter, Barry
Hind, KennethPowell, William (Corby)
Hirst, MichaelPowley, John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Price, Sir David
Holt, RichardProctor, K. Harvey
Howard, MichaelRaffan, Keith
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Rathbone, Tim
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hubbard-Miles, PeterRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hunter, AndrewRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasRoe, Mrs Marion
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickRost, Peter
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRowe, Andrew
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Jones, Robert (Herts W)Ryder, Richard
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineSackville, Hon Thomas
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTwinn, Dr Ian
Sayeed, Jonathanvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Viggers, Peter
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Waddington, David
Silvester, FredWalden, George
Sims, RogerWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Skeet, Sir TrevorWaller, Gary
Soames, Hon NicholasWard, John
Speed, KeithWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Spencer, DerekWatson, John
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)Watts, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Squire, RobinWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stanbrook, IvorWheeler, John
Stanley, Rt Hon JohnWhitney, Raymond
Stern, MichaelWinterton, Mrs Ann
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Wolfson, Mark
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Wood, Timothy
Sumberg, DavidWoodcock, Michael
Taylor, John (Solihull)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Younger, Rt Hon George
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Temple-Morris, PeterTellers for the Noes:
Terlezki, StefanMr. Donald Thompson and
Thornton, MalcolmMr. Michael Neubert.
Townend, John (Bridlington)

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that tonight there has been a riot at Northeye prison near Bexhill, that the prison is on fire, that a number of prisoners have escaped and that what has happened may well have been partly caused by the problems arising from the prison officers' dispute. I ask that the Home Secretary or a relevant Home Office Minister should come to the House tonight to make a statement on what has happened at Northeye prison, which appears to be extremely serious and ought to be dealt with urgently.

Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Subject to the proceedings and courtesies of the House, I understand that my right hon. Friend intends to make a statement at 10 o'clock.