HC Deb 26 April 1976 vol 910 cc113-27

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Prevention of Terrorism (Supplemental Temporary Provisions) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 465), dated 25th March 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th March, be annulled. It is not my intention to do more than ask the Under-Secretary of State to explain and clarify the Order. Unless serious matters of obscurity or dissension arise, I do not intend to press the Prayer to a Division. Will the hon. Lady be kind enough to allow me to run through the articles of the Order so that I may ask one or two questions and receive her clarification upon them?

Article 5(1) (a) relats to the examination of persons arriving in or leaving Great Britain and reads as follows: whether any such person appears to be a person who is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism ". Why does the Order place upon the examining officer the task of deciding whether an individual "appears" to be such a person? It is a curious phrase, particularly in the light of the provision in the parent Act which governs the Order. Section 4 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 reads as follows: If the Secretary of State is satisfied that any person—

  1. (a) is or has been concerned (whether in Great Britain or elsewhere) in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts 114 of terrorism…the Secretary of State may make an order against that person prohibiting him from being in, or entering, Great Britain."
Whatever is the appearance, whatever the arguments for or against the contention that an individual may be concerned with the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, the governing sentence here is that if the Home Secretary is satisfied that any such person is likely to be so engaged he may make an order on that basis.

What happens if the examining officer comes to the conclusion that the person whom he is examining under Article 5 of the Order "appears" to be such a person? What is the legal, juridical or penal condition of appearing to be someone who is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism? Is the "appearance" of being a person the same as actually being that person? Is it a culpable condition to appear to be someone who is engaged in nefarious activities, and is that person distinguishable from a person who is actually engaged in those activities?

This may be a quibble, but we are concerned with the form of words in the Order and I am interested to know why the phrase appears to be a person is included in the article.

The last sentence of Article 5(1) reads as follows: The reference in this paragraph to persons who have arrived in Great Britain shall include a reference to transit passengers, members of the crew of the ship or aircraft and others not seeking to enter Great Britain. For the purpose of the operation of the Order, the fact that a person happens to be calling as a transit passenger at a port referred to in the Order is tantamount to that person's arriving in Great Britain. For the purpose of the examination procedures, a transit passenger is subject to examination and is treated as having arrived in Great Britain. I hope the hon. Lady will assure us that the fact that being in transit is tantamount to arriving will not make a person liable to prosecution under the exclusion order procedures of the parent Act.

A person excluded from the United Kingdom may in duty bound be returning to the port of origin, let us say in the United States. That person may embark in a Northern Ireland port and call en route at Liverpool. Under Article 5, that person is held to have arrived at Liverpool for the purposes of examination and may become guilty of having broken an exclusion order in the strict legal sense. I hope the hon. Lady will reassure us that persons in transit who have no intention of entering Britain will not, by accident, fall into the category of legally having contravened an exclusion order.

Article 6 is an important article which has to be considered in conjunction with Article 8. Article 6 gives details of the documentation which will be required under the Order for travellers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and to some extent between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

In passing, it is worth referring to the substantial amount of documentation that can be called for from travellers between parts of the United Kingdom. Passengers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will have to produce a valid passport with photograph. It is curious that the Order should specify a photograph. Most passports automatically carry photographs. The fact that photographs are specified suggests that the other documents referred to in Article 6(2) (a) —

some other document satisfactorily establishing his identity and nationality or citizenship"— must be at least as good as a passport photograph. Otherwise, why is it necessary to mention a passport with a photograph or some other document? Perhaps the hon. Lady will specify what she has in view in the phrase: some other document satisfactorily establishing his identity and nationality or citizenship". Has the "other document" to have a photographic embellishment? Is a driving licence adequate? What other documentation is considered to be apt?

I link this particularly with Article 8, although I shall have queries to raise on points occurring between Articles 6 and 8. Article 8 carries forward the theme of the necessary documentation by importing the concept of an embarkation or disembarkation card. I should be glad if the hon. Lady would spell out the embarkation card aspect. The terms of Article 8 relate to embarkation cards, although the article is permissive rather than mandatory. The words are: if so required by an examining officer". Those conditional words imply that the examining officer can insist on the production of an embarkation card. It is not plain whether henceforward this will be a requirement which will ordinarily be imposed upon all those travelling by ship or by aircraft between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.

I should be glad if the hon. Lady would say something about the relationship between the identity documents called for by Article 6 and the embarkation cards which may or may not be called for regularly under Article 8. I link this query with yet another general query, which I shall elaborate under Article 8. It relates to the time lapse which may occur pending the decision to carry out an examination. Article 10 provides that pending examination there may be a period of detention, which can be for as long as seven days.

If a period of detention of seven days is authorised by the Order before any examination under Article 5 takes place, and if embarkation cards are to be a regular feature of the traffic between these places, the time lapse of seven days will enable the validity of embarkation card details to be verified and will make some sense of the practice of calling regularly for embarkation cards as a means of obtaining details about travellers.

If that is to be so, the fine sieve which we are establishing of passport, other equivalent documents or embarkation card regularly required for all travellers, and subject to searching scrutiny while the holder of the card may be in detention pending examination, suggests that this is a very effective and powerful sieve and method of scrutinising people travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is as rigorous and as complete a watertight system of checks as can be devised if the Order means what it appears to mean.

I stress that the system of examination and scrutiny between these two parts of the United Kingdom appears to be immeasurably more powerful, more watertight and more comprehensive than any system of checks that we impose on the entry of visitors—whether as immigrants or otherwise—from other parts of the world into the United Kingdom as a whole. It is a paradox that between these two parts of the United Kingdom we appear to have provided for a system of sieving and examination which is immeasurably more watertight, comprehensive and rigorous than the system operating at the external frontiers of the United Kingdom as a whole.

I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to explain the relationship between the identification documents referred to in Article 6 and the embarkation or disembarkation cards and the apparent provision for a time lapse of up to seven days before an examination has to be carried out under Article 5. If the system operates effectively, it will do much to enable a check to be made on suspicious characters.

I should particularly like to know why in Article 7(5) the hon. Lady has omitted in the Great Britain version of the Order the reference to "force" which is contained in the Northern Ireland equivalent. The Great Britain Order says: An examining officer may board any ship or aircraft for the purpose of exercising any of his functions under the Act or this Order. The Northern Ireland equivalent is: An examining officer may board any ship or aircraft or enter any vehicle, if need be by force, for the purpose of exercising any of his functions under the Act or this Order. The reference to "vehicle" in the Northern Ireland Order is obviously because of the possibility of using the land frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but why should it be held as necessary to use force to enter any ship, aircraft or vehicle in the context of entry into Northern Ireland but apparently not in the context of entry into Great Britain?

This is not a trivial point. There may well be small private ships plying an illegal immigrant trade between Great Britain and the Republic or Northern Ireland, and, therefore, forceful entry on to the ship would be at least as necessary in that context as is apparently the case in the Northern Ireland context.

Article 7(6) states: Where an examining officer has power to search under this Article, he may, instead, authorise the search to be carried out on his behalf by a person who is not an examining officer. What nominated or delegated individual have the Government in mind as being likely to be deputised—pressed into service as a deputy-sheriff, as it were—under this very far-reaching and substantial paragraph granting powers of search of ships and individuals? What sort of person is likely to be pressed into service by an examining officer to act as a deputy? Do the Government have in mind crew members, or perhaps the captain of the ship, any police officer or any honest citizen whom the examining officer may decide to press into service on the spot?

I turn to Article 10 in the context of the lapse of time to be provided before the examination referred to in Article 5 has to be carried out. Article 10 uses the word "pending" three times, and it is a word that implies a measurable, identifiable period of time.

The first use of the word "pending" is in the context of an examination. It is said that a person can be detained "pending his examination". Then, presumably after an examination has been carried out under Article 5, this is to be undertaken "pending consideration" of whether that examination merits the making of an exclusion order. The third use of the word "pending" is seen in Article 10(2): pending the giving of such directions "— in other words, pending the giving of a direction for an exclusion order to be carried out. In view of the three uses of the word "pending", it is not clear whether the period in Article 10(1) (a) —that is to say the period during which an individual may be detained—is cumulative or comprehensive.

As I read the Order, detention could last for as long as three weeks. Each use of the word "pending" carries with it the notional time of up to seven days. There could be a period of seven days during which a person is detained pending which the examining officer decides whether to carry out an examination. At the end of seven days he carries out his examination and possibly checks and verifies the material provided on the embarkation card. Following the examination, he is allowed a further period of seven days during which he decides whether the examination warrants the making of an exclusion order. At the end of the second seven days—in other words, at the end of a fortnight—there is apparently to be yet a third period of seven days' detention between the decision that there should be an exclusion order and the giving of directions as to the place to which the person concerned should be removed. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House whether the period "not exceeding seven days" will be cumulative or inclusive.

I have spelt out those points somewhat exhaustively, and I hope that the hon. Lady has had time to note those queries. I am sorry that I was unable to give her more notice. However, I think that they are relatively simple queries, but they are certainly relevant and important. We need clarity concerning the Order since it will affect many travellers, a great many of whom will be innocent but who may well, as a result of the Order, be subject to some quite arbitrary hazards, not least the possibility of extended detention. We want to be certain that the Government have thought through the matter in detail and that the Order will have the intended effect.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I was rather hoping that I should hear the Minister's speech before I launched into my brief speech. I intend to ask a number of somewhat philosophical questions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) and I, over a period of about four years, have been asking for provision to be made for the examination of people travelling between this country and Northern Ireland and the Republic. We were told time and again that any extension of the powers were considered to be unnecessary, secondly, that they would be ineffective, and, thirdly, that they were not desired by the police or the immigration services. Will the hon. Lady say what has suddenly given rise to the view that what we have felt to be sensible for a long time is now considered by the Home Department to be sensible at this time?

My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) said that a large percentage of travellers affected by the Order are perfectly innocent. They will now have to submit themselves to new checks and examinations and face the possibility of being detained during examination. I believe that it is the wish of the people of this country that every step should be taken to prevent terrorism. Provided that the procedures arc carried out with care and dignity, I do not believe any of my constituents will refuse to submit themselves for examination. I have undertaken a good deal of travelling over the Easter period and I have not heard one word of complaint from travellers about searches made, X-ray examination of articles, packages and all the rest of it. Indeed, I believe that a proper search procedure is welcome.

In regard to Article 7(4) it appears that we have a case of sex discrimination. It reads: A woman shall not be searched under this Article except by a woman. Why is it not stipulated that a man should not be searched except by a man —unless it is considered to be an extra privilege to be searched by a woman, as happened to me the day before yesterday? Perhaps we may be given some explanation on that matter.

Is the use of landing and embarkation cards to be brought into operation in all cases, or is it only an occasional procedure to be instituted by an examining officer at a particular time? I accept that this might be clear to me if I had had more time to study the matter. I and my constituents welcome any steps that can be taken to reduce the dangers of terrorism.

8.10 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

In view of the number of detailed questions that I have been asked, I was hoping to speak at the end of the debate so that I could deal with all the queries at one time. If there is another hon. Member who wishes to speak, perhaps he would so indicate, because I should find it much better to go through each article in turn. I have been asked 15 or 16 different questions. I shall now proceed to answer as many as possible.

Mr. Alison

If the hon. Lady would like me to make my speech again, I shall be happy to do so, if that is in order. That would give her a chance to reflect on the questions. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends could make interjections if she wants time to ponder. If she really feels that she is not able to deal with these queries here and now, we must find some other means of having the points dealt with, because this is our only opportunity.

Dr. Summerskill

It was not time for which I was asking. It was to do with convenience, so that I could deal with everyone's points at the same time.

I will proceed to the questions asked by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and I hope that in doing so I shall be able to refer to the points raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page). I shall try to deal with the questions in the order that they were raised as far as I can.

The Order provides the basis of powers for the selective control at ports which is already operated. The control could be more or less selectively worked and it remains the position of the police that the application of control measures to all travellers is not necessary or desirable for the purpose of preventing terrorism. I shall enlarge on that when I deal with embarkation cards.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash dealt with Article 5(1) (a). He was worried about the words: appears to be a person He admitted that this was a quibble but I shall attempt to deal with it.

When a person arrives at a port, an examining officer may have grounds for suspicion. He is empowered to detain a person for seven days. The discretion is entirely with the examining officer. He must check his suspicions. The Secretary of State needs to be satisfied of the involvement in terrorism before an exclusion order may be signed, after the inquiries and at a much later stage in the process.

This article is about the powers of the examining officer. It is not for him to determine whether someone is a person concerned in terrorism. It is for him to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for thinking that he should be detained so that others may make inquiries as to whether he is such a person.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

in those circumstances why not use the phrase: reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person has been concerned in "? That makes it absolutely clear. There is no ambiguity as occurs with these words "appears to be" which are little, if ever, used in legislation. The words I suggest put the matter beyond argument while accommodating the point the hon. Lady is making.

Dr. Summerskill

I know that there is a case for always using the same words in legislation. The words used here may be different, but as I read them they express the required meaning perfectly satisfactorily.

Mr. Alison

The problem about the form of words used here is that the conclusion as to whether a person appears to be…a person is subsequent to the examination. The phrase is: an examining officer may examine any persons…for the purpose of determining whether they appear to be such a person. It cannot be the purpose of an examination to discover whether there are grounds for suspicion alone when the subsequent part of the article makes it clear that there is a substantive power to reach a definitive conclusion about exclusion orders and so on. It seems curious that the officer should be examining a person, not detaining him pending examination, which is what I think the hon. Lady said, to discover whether that person is a suspicious person. Surely persons are detained on suspicion and then examined to reach a definitive conclusion. This is why I thought it a curious phrase.

Dr. Summerskill

Perhaps the expression "examining officer" is not the one which the hon. Gentleman would choose. It is the duty of the officer, if he has grounds for suspicion, to detain a person for seven days. It is within his discretion and he must check his suspicions. As I read it, the meaning of the phrase is clear even if the exact wording is not the same as in all other legislation.

I was asked about the phrase "in transit". That means what we generally mean by "transit", that is, not seeking to enter Great Britain permanently. It is stated at the end of the article: members of the crew of the ship or aircraft and others not seeking to enter Great Britain. I am sure that, as this is worded, people in transit cannot be included in the category of those who have illegally broken an exclusion order.

Article 6(2) (a) relates to documents. The choice of documents is left to the discretion of the examining officer who has to be satisfied about identity. It depends on the officer whether he is satisfied if a passport is produced or some other document which would satisfactorily establish identity. There are examples—a driving licence would do—of different forms of identification. There are no hard and fast rules.

The hon. Member asked why the words: if need be by force are in Article 7(6) of the Northern Ireland Order and not in this one. The Great Britain Order does not refer to a vehicle, only to a ship or aircraft. It was felt that there was no need to contemplate the use of force to enter a ship or aircraft. The need resides only in respect of vehicles and that arises only as between Northern Ireland and the Republic over the land border. On the border it might be necessary for security forces to be able to use force to enter a car.

The next point which was raised related to Article 7(6). Where an examining officer has power to search under this article, he may instead authorise the search to be carried out on his behalf by a person who is not an examining officer. The people chosen for delegated powers of search will very much depend on the staff available, but they will be given only specific tasks by the examining officer and will always be subject to his supervision and control, except in Scotland where people may be appointed for the purpose.

Article 10(1) concerns the periods involved. The two periods are alternatives, with a maximum of seven days. But Article 10(2) enables another period to elapse in which directions for removal may be given, but this is after an exclusion order has been made. It is there- fore in addition to the period of seven days under Article 10(1) (a), and Article 10(1) (a) arises at a much earlier stage in the process.

Mr. Alison

I am much obliged to the hon. Lady for the information which she has given. Although, as she has said, the periods are alternatives, will she confirm that under paragraphs (a) and (b) of Article 10(1) it is envisaged that seven days will elapse before a formal examination under Article 5 is carried out? It seems that there can be a period of detention before a formal examination is carried out under Article 5. If seven days can elapse in which a person is kept in limbo before an examination is carried out, what does the hon. Lady envisage happening in the seven days up to the point when the examination is carried out?

Dr. Summerskill

In Article 10(1) detention for seven days pending examination means detention while examination proceeds. The person would not be left for seven days with nothing happening.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West referred to Article 7(4). Under this Article, a woman shall not be searched except by a woman. It does not contravene the spirit of the sex discrimination Act. It is well precedented that women are not searched except by women, and plainly that is sensible and desirable. We cannot change the wording to provide that "A person shall not be searched under this article except by a person", but I shall have another look at this problem. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's complaint was that he was searched by a woman.

Mr. John Page

I should not like the hon. Lady to spend too much time over the matter.

Dr. Summerskill

Article 8 plainly is important. There is no requirement to complete landing and embarkation cards. Some ports find them useful, others find them not so useful. No form of card has yet been prescribed by the Secretary of State. He will examine this power if necessary. Again, this is a discretionary power depending upon the methods most appropriate at each port.

The hon. Members for Harrow, West and Barkston Ash referred to the general principle of embarkation cards. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out that the control powers at ports already available in the Act were deliberately designed to be selective. Their object, and the object of the corresponding controls under the 1976 Act, is to facilitate the detection of terrorists, not to institute extensive regulatory checks on the travelling public as a whole. Provisions of the kind sought by the advocates of the amendments which were proposed to the Bill could well have hindered efforts to identify terrorists by diverting scarce and specialised resources from the real purpose of the controls towards a different, regulatory function which was not appropriate to the police, and was intended for quite a different purpose from the controls on persons travelling from outside the common travel area, where the immigration function is the main control, the police acting selectively in addition to that.

The House will recall the Home Secretary saying: If I believed that full passport control would make a significant contribution to defeating terrorism without having a number of disadvantages, I would be prepared to set aside all those considerations to introduce it. However, I am not prepared to introduce it as a gesture to demonstrate toughness when those in positions of responsibility —that is, the police— advise me that it would not help."—[Official Report, 28th January 1976 ; Vol. 904, c. 570.] Of course, the Home Secretary was aware that the advice he received might change. He went on to say that if it did he would take careful notice of it. But it may be of interest to the House if I take this opportunity to say that the advice has not changed since the last time the House discussed these matters, and the Home Secretary sees no reason to change his views.

Mr. John Page

Will the examining officer say to a person, or group of persons, "Before passing through, would you be good enough to fill in this card?", or will all the members of a party or group of people on an aircraft or ship or coach leaving a ship be expected to fill in a card? I do not see the point of a card being used selectively after the decision to examine has been made because clearly when a decision to examine has been made an appropriate form will be filled out. I was wondering how much of a colander the card system will be and how it will be instituted.

Dr. Summerskill

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to give him the details. My right hon. Friend has not yet prescribed a card. The question of the form of card, collective or otherwise, has not yet arisen, but one would presumably not use a card selectively.

I think that I have covered the points that have been raised. If further points arise in subsequent discussion, I shall be pleased to try to reply.

Mr. John Page

How the card will be used is a matter of great importance. I shall greatly appreciate receiving a letter, which I am sure will receive wider publicity, but can the hon. Lady tell me now at what stage and under whose direction the card will be put into use? Am I right in saying that the Home Secretary must approve the form of the card? Will it then be up to the examining officer to decide where, why and at what stage the card shall be used?

I see the point, although I do not necessarily agree with it, that we do not want the kind of general card so often used for aliens and others entering this country and have it as a general form, but the House should know soon at what stage the card will be introduced and how it will be used.

Dr. Summerskill

I shall let the hon. Gentleman know as soon as we have more details. The Order says that the card can be required by an examining officer and that it must be completed and produced to that officer. The officer has discretion, but the card will be in such form as the Secretary of State may direct". If a card were to be prescribed, it would be in standard form, but it would still be up to the examining officer whether to use it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The Question is, That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Prevention of Terrorism (Supplemental Temporary Provisions) Order, 1976 (S.I. 1976, No. 465), dated 25th March 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th March, be annulled.

Dr. Summerskill

Aye. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As there appears to be some misunderstanding, I shall put the Question again.

Question put and negatived.