HC Deb 15 June 1976 vol 913 cc313-21

3.36 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make newspaper proprietors liable for prosecution in relation to the publication of advertisements for the recruitment of mercenaries for service outside the United Kingdom. Attempts are sometimes made to portray—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying to introduce his Ten-Minute Bill. I should be grateful for the courtesy of hon. Members leaving the House quietly.

Mr. Hughes

Attempts are sometimes made to portray the mercenary as a swashbuckling, adventurous and romantic figure. That is a gross distortion of the true nature of mercenaries. They are nothing more than hired killers who murder to order and for no other purpose than commercial gain.

A murderer in this country cannot plead as a defence that he was acting solely in the course of his employment. To do so in some far-flung part of the world does not diminish the offence, nor should it distract from the evil that is done.

I wish to end mercenary recruitment in this country wherever in the world the service is intended. I doubt whether anyone in this House is prepared to encourage the trade in mercenaries, but I suspect that some in this House would seek to excuse inaction by saying that control is too difficult. One of the important ways of prevention is to cut off the flow of information and to stop advertising by recruitment agencies.

Those who seek to further the mercenaries' cause are as bad as the mercenaries themselves. Indeed, the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, which makes it illegal to enlist in the service of a foreign Power at war with a friendly State, recognises that. Section 12 provides: Any person who aids, abets, counsels, or procures the commission of any offence against this Act shall be liable to be tried and punished as a principal offender. My Bill would update the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 in its definition of the prinicipal offence and make it clear that advertising satisfies the intention of Section 12.

Incidentally, before Second Reading there must be an examination of the rôle of the Press regarding the recruitment of mercenaries in Angola. It has been said that certain reporters, as a result of stories appearing in the Press, were giving telephone numbers to those who inquired for the purpose of recruitment.

I am particularly concerned about the recruitment of mercenaries for the Rhodesian Army, advertisements having appeared widely in the British Press—notably in the News of the World and the Sunday People. It is a matter of urgency to close a loophole in the Southern Rhodesia (United Nations Sanctions) (No. 2) Order 1968. Under Article 14 of that Order, it is an offence to publish or to be party to the publication of any advertisement which would solicit or encourage the taking up of employment or residence in Rhodesia.

There is, of course, a saving provision that a person is not guilty if he can prove that he could not have known or could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained that the advertisement or notice was of that character. In the particular case of a company called Southern Placement Services, Johannesburg, it was easily discovered that this was recruitment for employment in Rhodesia. Indeed, this was exposed in a Tribune publication on 12th December 1975. The fact that the employment was for mercenaries compounds the offence.

I was quite astonished when the Director of Public Prosecutions recently decided that there was no one within jurisdiction against whom he could proceed although an offence had clearly been committed. My Bill, therefore, will change the onus of proof from the negative to the positive. That is to say, a defendant would have to show that he had taken positive steps to ascertain that an offence was not being committed.

In the case of Rhodesia, where we have an illegal régime which is carrying out illegal trials and illegal hangings, the Press has a special rôle to play. We should not forget that Rhodesia is in rebellion against the Crown. The Press of this country rightly defends the freedoms that we hold dear, and I believe that it has a moral as well as a legal responsibility to do nothing to support a régime which rules by force and which denies freedom to the majority of its population.

The trade of mercenary is obscene. It reduces man to below the level of beasts, because animals do not kill without purpose and without reason, as the mercenary does. We in this House have a responsibility to end this despicable trade. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I wish to oppose the motion on three grounds—technically, politically and morally.

First, on the technical level, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would prefer to wait until the Diplock Commission has reported on this matter, as requested by his right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), the former Prime Minister. Second, on the technical level, I note that the hon. Gentleman is requiring the British Press to act as his policeman in stopping advertisements for mercenaries, but his Bill will in no way make it unlawful for British citizens to hire out to fight abroad. The Bill will not affect that at all, yet the hon. Gentleman seeks to require of the British Press that it should not advertise activities which, even if his Bill were to be passed, will remain perfectly legitimate under the law of this country.

I believe that this technical defect alone would lead the Government to advise the hon. Gentleman that this is a Bill which ought not to pass.

Secondly, I believe that the hon. Gentleman totally misconceives the not dishonourable rôle of the mercenary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] A mercenary is someone who follows the not ignoble profession of arms and sells his services for pay. He is by definition a volunteer, a volunteer who accepts a high reward but who frequently quite sincerely believes in the cause he is serving.

There is a long and honourable tradition of mercenary soldiers serving the cause of freedom and democracy. Among the best-known mercenaries are those Swiss who, over the centuries, have served as what the hon. Gentleman might describe as the "killer elite" of the Vatican's Papal Guard. More recently, our own country has made good use of the most effective and gallant mercenary soldiers the world has ever seen—the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Gurkhas have won endless awards for gallantry while serving this country for pay, and from time to time they are recruited by way of advertisements in Nepal, which at present are the responsibility of the Labour Secretary of State for Defence, who, I am glad to say, has been persuaded to keep the mercenary Gurkha Brigade.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

A cross we have to bear.

Mr. Griffiths

Apart from the mercenaries that Britain engages to help to preserve our freedom, tens of thousands of young British soldiers, out of a love of adventure as well as for pay, have regularly hired themselves out as mercenaries abroad. Some of our fathers fought for pay on behalf of Hailie Selassie against Mussolini's Fascists. Others fought, for pay, against the Red Army in Siberia. Hundreds of members of the Labour Party fought, to their credit, in the Spanish Civil War. I recall Mr. Jack Jones boasting about how he and many others of the International Brigade went off to kill Spanish Falangists. Of course, they were volunteers and they believed in their cause, but I have no doubt that Mr. Jones not only expected but got the going rate for the job at the time.

My third objection is to the double standards contained in the hon. Gentleman's proposals, paricularly his description, on the BBC this morning, of the mercenaries as "hired killers".[An HON. MEMBER: "They are."] He made the distinction between "hired killers" and what he described as "freedom fighters" who—in the mythology of the Left—are supposed to kill only from conviction.

But what is the reality? All professional soldiers are hired, in the ultimate, to kill and to risk being killed. That goes for the paid Soviet mercenaries who are now actively assisting the paid professional gunmen who daily murder and mutilate fellow Africans as well as white settlers on the borders of Rhodesia. It goes, too, for the paid professional killers among the Palestine Liberation Organisation and, indeed, some of their opponents, in the blood-spattered city of Beirut.

It applies, in my judgment, to the mercenary army of Cubans who were hired by the Soviet Union to wage war which caused the deaths of infinitely more Africans than any European mercenaries may have injured in Angola. It could be applied with equal force to scores of so-called liberation movements, where the poor bloody infantry may well be provided by the peasants of Vietnam, Cambodia, Biafra or many another country but where the sophisticated staff, the bazookamen, the tactical commanders and those who handle the missiles are paid professional mercenaries from the Soviet Union and China.

Mr. Flannary

What about the South Africans?

Mr. Griffiths

The point about professional mercenaries, over the whole world, is that one should judge them more by the cause they serve than by their motivation in serving it.

I want to conclude by putting to the hon. Gentleman two questions. I hope that if he does not do so here he will answer them elsewhere. The first is this. Let us suppose that a group of young Socialists, tiring of unemployment in the hon. Member's constituency, to follow his advice and the advice of many of his hon. Friends and band together to go to Chile to fight against what they have been told is an illegal Fascist régime. Would the hon. Gentleman take the view that they were hired professional killers? Would he seek to prevent them undertaking that activity?

Secondly, in respect of the Budapest revolution—where I, among others, was taken prisoner by the Russian Army—let us suppose that a number of young men in this country, responding to the appeal of the oppressed Hungarian people, had banded together and gone to Budapest to seek to resist the Red Army's tanks. Would the hon. Gentleman have regarded their activities as disgraceful or their persons—as he put it—as lower than beasts?

The hon. Gentleman's proposals are founded on double standards. His proposal, like so many others that hon. Members have made, ought to be rejected by the House—for a particular reason. By choosing this day of all days to mount his attack on mercenaries, I believe that the hon. Gentleman may seriously have prejudiced the chances of the dozen or so of our fellow citizens—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."]—who are now on trial for their lives in Angola.

The hon. Member may well have imagined that by hanging this motion on to the headlines he would gain additional publicity, as no doubt he will. But I wonder what effect this motion will have on the Angola show trial if by its vote today the House of Commons adds its voice to condemning, in advance and not on the evidence, all these young men who could be facing the death penalty in a foreign land.

I believe that the House should treat this motion with the contempt it deserves and throw it out.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nominations of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business) :

The House divided: Ayes 184, Noes 89.

Division No. 182.] AYES [3.51 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Clemitson, Ivor
Archer, Peter Bray, Dr Jeremy Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)
Ashton, Joe Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Cohen, Stanley
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Buchan, Norman Coleman, Donald
Atkinson, Norman Buchanan, Richard Colquhoun, Ms Maureen
Bain, Mrs Margaret Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)
Bates, Alf Campbell, Ian Crawford, Douglas
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Canavan, Dennis Crawshaw, Richard
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Cant, R. B. Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)
Bidwell, Sydney Carmichael, Neil Davidson, Arthur
Blenkinsop, Arthur Cartwright, John Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Selby, Harry
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lambie, David Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Dempsey, James Lamborn, Harry Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Doig, Peter Lamond, James Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dormand, J. D. Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Sillars, James
Dunn, James A. Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Silverman, Julius
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lipton, Marcus Skinner, Dennis
Eadie, Alex Litterick, Tom Small, William
Edge, Geoff Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McCartney, Hugh Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) MacCormick, Iain Snape, Peter
English, Michael McElhone, Frank Spearing, Nigel
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) MacFarquhar, Roderick Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Mackenzie, Gregor Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Evans, John (Newton) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Stoddart, David
Ewing Harry (Stirling) McNamara, Kevin Strauss, Rt Hn G. R.
Faulds, Andrew Madden, Max Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mahon, Simon Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Marks, Kenneth Thompson, George
Flannery, Martin Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maynard, Miss Joan Tierney, Sydney
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mikardo, Ian Torney, Tom
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Millan, Bruce Tuck, Raphael
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Moonman, Eric Urwin, T. W.
George, Bruce Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Golding, John Newens, Stanley Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Gould, Bryan Noble, Mike Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Oakes, Gordon Watkins, David
Grocott, Bruce Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Watkinson, John
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Ovenden, John Weetch, Ken
Hardy, Peter Palmer, Arthur Welsh, Andrew
Harper, Joseph Park, George White, Frank R. (Bury)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Parry, Robert White, James (Pollok)
Hatton, Frank Pavitt, Laurie Whitehead, Phillip
Hayman, Mrs Helene Peart, Rt Hon Fred Whitlock, William
Hooson, Emlyn Penhaligon, David Wigley, Dafydd
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Phipps, Dr Colin Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Price, C. (Lewisham W) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Price, William (Rugby) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Radice, Giles Wise, Mrs Audrey
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Reid, George Woodall, Alec
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Richardson, Miss Jo Woof, Robert
Janner, Greville Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Robertson, John (Paisley) Young, David (Bolton E)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Robinson, Geoffrey
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Roderick, Caerwyn TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roper, John Mr. Bob Cryer and
Kelley, Richard Sandelson, Neville Mr. George Rodgers.
Kerr, Russell Sedgemore, Brian
Adley, Robert Hannam, John Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Banks, Robert Hicks, Robert Mudd, David
Beith, A. J. Holland, Philip Nelson, Anthony
Biggs-Davison, John Hunt, David (Wirral) Neubert, Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Hutchison, Michael Clark Nott, John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Pardoe, John
Bradford, Rev Robert James, David Pattie, Geoffrey
Braine, Sir Bernard Jessel, Toby Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Brotherton, Michael Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Rathbone, Tim
Clark, William (Croydon S) Kimball, Marcus Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lawson, Nigel Rees-Davies, W. R.
Cope, John Loveridge, John Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Luce, Richard Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Drayson, Burnaby McCrindle, Robert Rifkind, Malcolm
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Macfarlane, Neil Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Eyre, Reginald Ross, William (Londonderry)
Farr, John MacGregor, John Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Fell, Anthony Marten, Neil Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Forman, Nigel Mates, Michael Sims, Roger
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Skeet, T. H. H.
Freud, Clement Meyer, Sir Anthony Spence, John
Goodhart, Philip Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Stainton, Keith
Goodhew, Victor Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Tapsell, Peter
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Moate, Roger Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Gray, Hamish Monro, Hector Tebbit, Norman
Grylls, Michael Montgomery, Fergus Townsend, Cyril D.
Hampson, Dr Keith More, Jasper (Ludlow) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Wakeham, John Winterton, Nicholas TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wall, Patrick Wood, Rt Hon Richard Mr. Eldon Griffiths and
Walters, Dennis Younger, Hon George Mr. Jerry Wiggin.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Hughes, Mrs. Judith Hart, Miss Joan Lestor, Mr. Ioan Evans, Mr. Frank Allaun, Mr. Gwilym Roberts, Mr. Frank Hooley, Mr. Andrew Faulds, Mr. Bob Cryer, and Mr. Stanley Newens.