HC Deb 22 November 1974 vol 881 cc1671-81
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

The House will be aware of last night's horrifying events in Birmingham. There is little further factual information I can add to that which has already been published. It is clear that the IRA is intensifying its campaign of indiscriminate murder. We are resolved to use all the available resources to assist the police and the security services in their determination to frustrate it and protect the innocent public.

I am considering urgently whether emergency legislation could assist in this task. As the House knows, I have so far accepted the view, which was accepted also by the previous administration, that the proscribing of organisations would not help and might actually hinder security operations. This aspect apart, however—which I shall reconsider urgently and rigorously—there are certain security measures which would, I believe, justify emergency legislation in the present circumstances. I propose to make a further and more detailed statement on Monday, with a view to asking Parliament to pass such legislation next week.

In the meantime, I express on behalf, I am sure, of the whole House, our deepest sympathy with those who have been involved in the most horrible of all the insensate killings which have been perpetrated upon our people.

Sir K. Joseph

My right hon. and hon. Friends wish to associate themselves with the right hon. Gentleman's expression of sympathy and horror, and, through the Birmingham Members in the House, including the right hon. Gentleman himself, special sympathy to those in the area. We welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance of a statement on Monday and of emergency legislation.

I have four brief questions to put. Does the Home Secretary agree that this country must not allow a victory for terrorism? Second, does he recognise that the Government's success against terrorism will depend upon their demonstrating in all their policies the will to win?

My last two questions relate to public reaction. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the public just will not understand a failure to ban the IRA? We know that there are finely balanced reasons on both sides, but if the Government decide not to ban the IRA there will be a heavy responsibility on the right hon. Gentleman to satisfy the public why that decision has been made. Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the public would be wrong to believe that the majority of the Irish in this country have sympathy with what is going on? Does he recognise that because of what is happening the majority of Irish here are as dismayed as we are, and perhaps even more frightened? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say something about that.

Mr. Jenkins

I can give the right hon. Gentleman simple affirmative answers to his first two questions. There is no question of our submitting to a victory for terrorism. Also, we are determined to demonstrate the will to win.

The right hon. Gentleman's remaining two questions require answers of a little greater length, if the House will bear with me. I recognise that it seems paradoxical and ridiculous to many people in this country that the IRA should be allowed to be a legal organisation, and I shall take that fully into account. It is a difficult decision, as members of the previous administration will certainly recognise, if the advice is firmly that by adopting the other course I should be to some extent endangering the security operation, or that it would be positively harmful from that point of view, but I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, that those who believe that a ban would not help now bear the onus of convincing me absolutely of that, and then, in so far as I can speak freely on these matters, the onus will be on me to endeavour to convince the House.

On the right hon. Gentleman's fourth question—perhaps the most important of the four—referring to relations between the whole Irish community in this country and the rest of the community here and the danger of a possible indiscriminate backlash, I think it vital that we apply our attention to that and give a lead from the House at this time.

I have represented for nearly 25 years the city of Birmingham, which has a large Irish community of about 100,000. During the whole of that period relations have been excellent between that community and the native-born population. It would be a tragedy if these relations were damaged by what has been done by a tiny majority. It is of great importance that we should recognise how utterly alien and repugnant to the overwhelming majority of the Irish is what is being done by a few totally unrepresentative fringe figures of their community.

How important it is that it should be made overwhelmingly clear that they offer no shelter to those who commit these crimes, and how important it is, too, that the community in this country does not allow its understandable feelings to be expressed in hostility or vengeance towards innocent Irish people here. If that were to take place the damage would be still greater and the victory for the extremists and the terrorists would also be great.

Mr. Hooson

May I, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, associate myself with the expressions of sympathy made by the Home Secretary for what is a dreadful crime against humanity? May I ask him, on his observations that the IRA is intensifying its efforts in this country, whether he agrees that we must be very careful that we do not progressively follow the steps which have been followed in Northern Ireland, and that if the IRA is trying to create that kind of atmosphere here we must take great care that in the heat of the moment we do not undertake steps which, though they may seem logical and certainly emotionally justifiable at the time, would lead to the kind of atmosphere which already exists in Northern Ireland coming into this country.

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. and learned Member is right to remind us that even at moments of shock and emotion as great as that of the present time it is important that we should remain rational and calm, and not respond too hastily. Certainly, one of the main objects of our policies must be to prevent any spread into this island on any significant scale, of conditions such as, unfortunately, have persisted in Northern Ireland for some time. However, under present circumstances one would be justified in enabling the police and others to take certain exceptional measures in order to protect our people from further indiscriminate killing.

Mr. Silverman

May I, as one of the Birmingham Members, express my sympathy and condolence not only with the dead but with their relatives in Birmingham? The whole House will agree that after this terrible massacre in Birmingham things cannot be the same again, and quite clearly some measures will have to be taken by the Home Secretary not only to meet the very powerful public opinion which exists but also to deal with the situation itself. I am sure, therefore, that we all welcome the Home Secretary's announcement, and I hope that the measures which he will propose on Monday will be relevant and well-considered to deal with the very dangerous situation.

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman), who is the senior Member for the city, for having expressed so succinctly and effectively what is, I believe, the feeling of the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Birmingham.

Mr. Heath

The House today joins the whole nation's outright condemnation of the appalling outrages last night in Birmingham. We welcome the Home Secretary's statement today. If he decides to bring in special emergency arrangements to deal with security and announces them in his statement on Monday, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will certainly do everything possible to facilitate the introduction of this legislation and to help in its passage through the House. It is naturally right that the House always wants to look carefully at any emergency measures, but we would certainly be prepared to rearrange business in order to help the Home Secretary in dealing with this emergency legislation.

At the same time, it is evident from the voices raised in the country as well as in the House that the House would like to have a debate in order to express its views to the Home Secretary at the earliest possible moment about the situation as a whole. He has announced that he proposes to take certain measures, but the time has come when the House would like to discuss every aspect of the situation which, as we all know—many of us from our past experience—is linked with the situation on the other side of the Irish Channel.

I hope that the Home Secretary—and, I may say, the Government, since the Prime Minister is present—will not restrict consideration of these matters solely to the questions raised by the Home Secretary in his statement. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise after the O'Connell interview on television the other night that there has been a change in the situation as it affects this side of the Irish Channel, and this should be an opportunity for the Government to make a radical reappraisal of every aspect now affecting the scene in Northern Ireland as well as here.

The Home Secretary took the decision —in our view absolutely rightly—that the police should be given authority to deal with any question of marches or processions yesterday. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not feel that last night's terrible events were his responsibility because of the decisions he took. We believe those decisions were absolutely right and we are appalled at the tragedy which has followed.

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he will facilitate the legislation. I take note, and so, no doubt, do my colleagues, of his desire for a wider-ranging debate. The actual passage of the legislation, which will, I hope, be speedy, although not, of course, entirely perfunctory, will provide an opportunity for debate on the security measures I shall be proposing in this country. However, he may envisage something going a little wider than that.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said at the end of his statement. I believe that it was right to accede to the request for a ban on funeral marches. Naturally, when one got the news last night one asked oneself a question. I think I answered it by saying that I still believe my decision was right, and there can be no absolute certainly, in the curious psychosis with which one is dealing, what is the cause and relationship between different events. Indeed, there has been a series of events on successive Thursdays in Birmingham. Last night's was by far the worst. But I do not think that one can or should deal with this situation by appeasement.

Mr. Carter

As another city Member my constituents in Northfield would wish to add their sympathies to all those that have already been made to the bereaved and those who suffered in last night's tragic incidents. Does the Home Secretary accept that in a city such as Birmingham, which has done so much in the sphere of race and religion in the past, in such a humane and civilised way, the vast majority of the people regard last night's incidents as barbarous and alien to all but the very smallest minorities in the city?

Mr. Jenkins

I do indeed, and I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said on the matter.

Mr. Eyre

May I be associated with the expressions of sympathy to those bereaved or injured as a result of these acts of unspeakable wickedness? Is the Home Secretary aware that undoubtedly the Birmingham Roman Catholic Archbishop Dwyer spoke for the overwhelming mass of the people of Irish origin in the city when he condemned terrorist activities by refusing funeral rites to those involved in bombing outrages? Is the Home Secretary further aware that the feeling of revulsion on the part of the people in the city is so great that the imposition of nothing less than the death penalty will be accepted by them as appropriate for wanton acts of terrorism of this kind?

Mr. Jenkins

On the first part of the question, I did indeed express on Tuesday my great appreciation of the forthright statement which the Archbishop of Birmingham made. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's view represents the view of the great part of his community, and it is important that this should be realised. I understand how in Birmingham and elsewhere there are bound to be strong feelings of the sort the hon. Gentleman described—very strong feelings—and anyone who did not understand them would be behaving in a most insensitive way.

At the same time, what I and all other responsible Members must consider is whether the restoration of the death penalty would in any way help to prevent the spread of further acts of terrorism or, given the attitude of mind of those concerned, whether it might not positively encourage them in the future. If I were convinced that the death penalty, long-lasting and deep-seated though my repugnance for it is, would protect innocent lives, I think I should have to change my mind about the view I have taken previously. But I am not so convinced, nor, I believe, are those on both sides of the House who have been most closely concerned with dealing with terrorism both here and, where it has been present on a greater scale, in Northern Ireland. I drew the attention of the House yesterday to the remarkable statement of the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) on this issue 15 months ago. I understand people's feelings, but our object must be not merely to deal with feelings but to give to the best of our belief the best protection we can in the future.

Mr. Michael Stewart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that both the content and the tone of all that he said will command well-nigh universal support? Does he feel that it would help the police if the population as a whole were prepared to do what hon. Members do; namely, carry identity cards?

Mr. Jenkins

I shall consider my right hon. Friend's suggestion and take advice on the matter. It is one of a range of issues which it would be reasonable to consider, but on which one should not reach too hasty a decision in present circumstances.

Mr. Powell

Is it not right to recognise that this event is another act in the ruthless war of aggression which is being waged against the United Kingdom and its integrity, a war of which the brunt has mainly been borne for over five years past by our fellow subjects in Northern Ireland? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that they will be grateful for, and will echo from the heart, the renunciation of any response in terms of appeasement?

Mr. Jenkins

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. John Mendelson

While the feeling of deep emotion and shock is bound to be the first thing that anyone can express, will my right hon. Friend accept that cold reason leads one to support him in his desire to introduce emergency legislation, and that it would not be an emotional reaction to give support to such proposals? With reference to the television broadcast to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, in which a policy was deliberately announced in cold blood that war will be waged against ordinary people, and these instructions were transmitted deliberately, will my right hon. Friend consider making representations through my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to the Government of the Republic of Ireland as to whether it is tolerable for people of that kind to remain free, and whether there is not good ground for their being detained as the organisers of this murderous, warlike campaign against the people of this country?

Mr. Jenkins

I re-echo what my hon. Friend said at the beginning. We want a rational response, and I believe that the response I am giving, whilst an urgent response, is also rational. As to my hon. Friend's other point, about somebody being at large to deliver such threats of a terrorist war, I shall consider representations with my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Is the Home Secretary aware that my constituency of Sutton Coldfield is the newest part of Birmingham, and that we should also like to express our shock and horror at what has happened and our great appreciation of what has been done by the police and medical services in Birmingham? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the people of the West Midlands are both reasonable and moderate, but that following this outrage they will want Parliament to re-examine not only the methods of preventing and detecting terrorism but the punishment for terrorism, and that Parliament must take note of that public opinion?

Mr. Jenkins

I reiterate what the hon. Gentleman said about the work done by the police and the other services. It was a very heavy day yesterday for the West Midlands police, but they discharged their differing duties throughout the day with great devotion and skill, and dealt with the position in the late evening as far as it could be dealt with.

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question follows on from what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) said, and he will have noted my reply to that.

Mr. Faulds

May I press my right hon. Friend to accept that there is a growing feeling throughout the country, and perhaps particularly in Birmingham, that the proscription of the organisation responsible for these crimes must be introduced as a matter of urgency? Will my right hon. Friend consider—not in the immediate aftermath of this inhuman and desperate crime, but when tempers have cooled a little—that the House should be given an opportunity to consider rationally the reintroduction of capital punishment for crimes of this nature?

Mr. Jenkins

I note what my hon. Friend says about the feeling concerning proscription. I have indicated that that was a consideration substantially present in my mind. I note my hon. Friend's latter point. I have no doubt that the House will wish to debate the wider and difficult issue of punishment. I think that my hon. Friend is right to say that it will want to do so when a little time has gone by—not too much—and people can consider the matter calmly, in so far as that is appropriate.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the Home Secretary recognise that the Special Branch and intelligence services are the front line of our defence against terrorism? Will he resist any attempt to cut these services or to impose any fresh restrictions on their activities at home and abroad?

Mr. Jenkins

I am well aware of the importance of these services, particularly at the present time. There is no proposal to cut them. As I have made clear in the past, they will receive my full support in the discharge of all their proper functions.

Mr. Tomlinson

May I, on behalf of my constituents in Meriden, many of whom live, work and find their recrea- tion in the city of Birmingham, express my sympathy not only with the relatives of those who died but with the many people dreadfully mutilated by the outrage yesterday?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of my constituents who have already been in touch with me are outraged by the fact that a body which is illegal in the Republic of Ireland should be free to operate in this country, and that they will welcome the reassessment he is to make of this matter? Is he also aware that many of my constituents feel that the time has come when serious consideration must be given to emergency legislation, and that they look forward with interest to hearing his statement on Monday so that this outrageous terrorism will be combated? We will never be bombed into a false surrender to terrorism.

Mr. Jenkins

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Stokes

As another West Midlands Member, I should like to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy to the injured and the bereaved in last night's horrible incidents.

Is the Home Secretary aware that one of the chief concerns of the police is the control of entry into this country from both Northern Ireland and the Republic? I support what the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) said about the introduction of identity cards. There is no doubt that the overwhelming feeling of the country is that consideration should be given as soon as possible to the reintroduction of capital punishment for crimes of terrorism.

Mr. Jenkins

Naturally I take note of everything that the hon. Gentleman says, but in particular his reference to control of entry and the support that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart).

Mr. Abse

May I put an unpopular view? Do not these appalling events, as the notorious strike of the Protestant workers, emphasise that the well-intentioned vanity of successive Governments in seeking to continue to cajole and coax the people of Northern Ireland into a settlement is an illusion that we shall have to face? [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Is it not high time—I am convinced that this is the wish of the overwhelming majority of British people —that we saved further blows falling upon innocent people, upon the Army, upon the police and upon our precarious economy by unequivocally announcing that we must have a phased withdrawal of the British presence so as to leave the people of Northern Ireland, as we shall have to do in the end, to determine their own tragic, self-inflicted destiny? [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]

Mr. Jenkins

My hon. Friend is fully entitled to put forward an unpopular view. It often requires courage to do so. I think that my hon. Friend will recognise that it did not command the support of the House.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this has now become essentially a battle of wills between the community and a group which has determined to disrupt it by limitless militancy? Further, does he recognise that ruthless will on one side can be successfully met only by ruthless will on the other? Does he accept that it may even be necessary, because of the vulnerability of the community to attack of this kind, to adopt whatever is the peacetime equivalent to counter-attack?

Mr. Jenkins

I am not quite sure what the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind. I can assure him that the will, determination and resolve will be present on our part.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State for the Home Department will make a further statement on Monday. We must now move on.

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