HC Deb 27 November 1975 vol 901 cc1021-4
4. Mr Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the existing arrangements for co-operation between the police and security services in the hand ling of information received from the general public to combat terrorism.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Arnold

But it is not the case that outside the metropolitan area there is no formalised procedure? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a further extension of such co-operation to the regions would be in the public interest?

Mr. Jenkins

I have no reason to think that such co-operation is not equally good outside the metropolitan area and within it. The formalisation of relationships is not necessarily always a guarantee of their success, but I should not wish to go further, because I think that the hon. Gentleman and others will recognise that it has long been a practice for the House not to have detailed discussion of security matters.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we were very glad to hear the Under-Secretary of State say, last night, that chief officers of police would have all the necessary funds to reward those giving information about terrorism?

Mr. Jenkins

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. What chief officers of police think desirable here will be available to them. I should point out that the point of view taken by the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-North-wood (Mr. Crowder) is rejected strongly by nearly all chief officers of police.

5. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will bring forward legislation to reintroduce capital punishment for those who are found guilty of acts of terrorism.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

No, Sir.

Mr. Morrison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is respect for his personal point of view on this matter but that, due to the deterioration in the situa- tion in this country, the overwhelming majority of people, including erstwhile abolitionists, believe that a return to capital punishment for terrorism is not just desirable but essential?

Mr. Jenkins

It is in no way a question of my personal point of view. As it stands at the moment, it is a question of the decision of the House, taken, I believe, with great responsibility in the early aftermath of the worst of the incidents that we have had—the Birmingham incidents—and taken by a very large majority—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—that is undeniable—and taken, I believe, because the majority of the House took the view, as I still do, that this is not a matter in which one should allow old prejudices or traditional views to sway one. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I should have thought that that was a sensible point of view. I was putting the point of view against any view that I had previously held. I believe that in present circumstances one should consider, in the hardest and most objective way possible, whether the return of the death penalty would reduce the danger from terrorism. It is my judgment that it would not so do.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the recent quashing of the verdicts in the Confait case is an uncomfortable reminder that guilty murder verdicts in our courts do not always correspond to the truth and that this scandalous case should cause us to go slowly in returning to a penalty which is quite irreversible even if it is discovered that a mistake has been made?

Mr. Jenkins

I know that some hon. Members believe that particular considerations apply to terrorist charges, but in the two periods in which I have been Home Secretary I have certainly had to deal with an uncomfortably large number of capital decisions in which there was doubt, or in which doubt was shown to exist. This is bound to give one cause for doubt about such an ultimate penalty.

Mr. Fairbairn

Leaving aside the question of the death penalty, which involves immense difficulties regardless of the crime for which it is considered appropriate, will the right hon. Gentleman nevertheless give confidence to the public by invoking the fact that life imprisonment, which is the penalty prescribed under Section 3 of the Felony Treason Act 1848 as appropriate for these very crimes, shall be imposed in such cases and shall mean life imprisonment and nothing less?

Mr. Jenkins

I shall certainly reiterate the words that I used a year ago and say that, while no Home Secretary and no Parliament can bind their successors, is is certainly my view that anyone imprisoned for life or for a long term for terrorist offences, who believes that life will be nine years or anything like it, or that an early amnesty is in prospect, is gravely mistaken. In my view, people who commit such crimes should expect to serve very long periods indeed.

17. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the measures taken by his Department to combat terrorism.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Yes, Sir. The police are, of course, our main defence against terrorism, and they know that they have my fullest support in their efforts to combat terrorism and detect those responsible for terrorist outrages. As I said in the House yesterday, I am always willing to consider additional measures which are both practical and effective.

Mr. Gow

Is the Home Secretary aware that many of us who are convinced abolitionists in respect of non-terrorist murder believe that murder by terrorism is a uniquely evil crime that requires a unique punishment? Secondly, in view of the widespread respect in which the Home Secretary is held in the country, will he consider making a ministerial broadcast urging on all the people the importance of giving the police any information which may assist them in tracking down terrorists?

Mr. Jenkins

I note the views that the hon. Gentleman expressed in the first part of his question. He will know that he had an exchange on the matter earlier this afternoon. I do not think that there is anything that I can usefully add. As for the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I made a ministerial broadcast a year ago, in the circumstances then prevailing. I would certainly always consider making another ministerial broadcast if I were persuaded that it would be helpful. I will, of course, consider the hon. Gentleman's proposal.

Mr. Bates

Does not my right hon. Friend think that the use of capital punishment in these circumstances would simply turn miserable murderers into martyrs?

Mr. Jenkins

I deployed a whole variety of arguments to the House a year ago, and I shall deploy them to the House again, if necessary. My hon. Friend's point is, perhaps, one of the arguments which convinced me that we should exacerbate and not cure this problem by a resort to capital punishment.