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Works Meetings (Impositionof Monetary Penalties)

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1966

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asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on his inquiry into the conduct of work's meetings which claim the right by voice voting to impose monetary penalties on persons employed in the same undertaking.

I have conducted no inquiry into these matters, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so. The Director of Public Prosecutions consulted me about the alleged intimidation at a works meeting at the B.M.C. Works at Cowley on 4th March, and I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to my Answer of 27th April to Questions asked by my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) and Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden).

Does the Attorney-General agree that there was prima facie evidence of intimidation by the threat of personal violence but that the Law Officers considered that there was insufficient evidence against any of the individuals who had been accused of having arranged this? Would it not have been more appropriate for the evidence against these persons to have been evaluated in a court of law? What steps is the Attorney-General taking to give guidance to chief constables in the event of there being any recurrence of this sort of thing?

The decision whether to prosecute or not rests upon the Director of Public Prosecutions and myself. It is an important decision which involves, I hope, an objective and quasi-judicial approach to the matter. We decided that, on the facts available to the public authorities, there was no evidence against any identifiable individual sufficient to justify bringing a prosecution. The business of bringing a prosecution against a citizen is a grave and important step and I hope that the House will not press me unduly into particular matters.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that works meetings are not the only places where monetary penalties are imposed? Does he recall that last week I sent him evidence that a branch of the Showmen's Guild had fined one of its members £200, for a breach of one of the rules? Has he any evidence of the number of organisations which claim the right to impose such penalties?

I have none, but I recollect that recently my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) drew attention to certain practices at an ancient school, which I think is known as Eton College, in regard to this matter.

While appreciating that diversion, may I ask the Attorney-General to confirm that, while there was a prima facie case, it was only the difficulty in identifying persons which prevented any form of prosecution?