HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc711-4
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I beg to move Amendment No. 61, in page 8, line 6, at end insert: 'if he acts in a violent way or a manner likely to provoke a breach of the peace'. The aim of Clause 9, which is concerned with trespassing on the premises of foreign missions, is to make peaceful occupations a criminal offence. The aim of the amendment is to take such action outside the area of criminal offence.

When foreign embassies are occupied it is invariably done by a group of quiet but desperate people who usually argue passionately but quietly as they go about the usually blood-stained tyrannies in their own countries. If such action were to be made a criminal offence, offenders would be transported back to their country of origin, with all that that means in a tyranny. I often fear that such a thing could happen in the Chilean situation. It certainly happened in the case of the Iranian Embassy in 1975. Often students, particularly those from Iran, have gone to demonstrations deliberately hooded so that nobody can recognise them, because they fear for their relatives in their home country.

One gets the impression from the clause that such occupations occur on a grand scale, but that is untrue. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) asked the Home Office on 21st June 1976 how many instances of trespass by more than one person on the premises of a foreign mission in the United Kingdom there had been in the last two years. The reply is worthy of note and is worth quoting in full as it shows that there is no necessity whatever for this offence: There have been six instances known to the police in London in the last two years involving the Embassies of Cuba, Iran, Bangladesh, Libya (twice) and Syria; no weapons were used or displayed; and there was no actual bodily injury. Figures outside London are not available."—[Official Report, 21st June 1976; Vol. 913, c. 318–19.] It can be seen that these occasions have been quiet and few and have been carried out by people of honourable intent in order to preserve life and to prevent the torture and often the death of relatives.

There are other occasions than these trespasses when being in a foreign embassy can lead to arrest and punishment. I was involved in one such incident some weeks ago. I led a delegation to the Chilean Embassy with a letter concerning 2,500 prisoners who had disappeared and of whom the Chilean Government claimed to know nothing. Some my right hon. and hon. Friends know what I am talking about.

The Chilean Government have adopted the attitude of saying that they do not know of any person about whom a family asks. We went to talk about a large number of such prisoners and about one in particular. We had a letter to be delivered to the embassy, and a good number of leading and powerful figures in the country had been trying to help to free these prisoners. When we arrived at the embassy we knocked at the door and were admitted by the porter, who was simply a man doing his job. He admitted us politely. Having allowed us inside, he found that somehow there had been a lack of communication and there were no arrangements—as we had been told there would be—for us to meet the ambassador.

We had been preparing for the meeting for many weeks with the help of Amnesty International. Some of the people involved were in despair about their relatives. One could see the feeling of despair creep over them. They were almost ready to stay there, in which case they could have been arrested had this legislation been in operation.

I was leading the deputation. I managed to quieten them and I asked to see the ambassador. I pleaded that we should see someone of importance since our arrangements had been made properly. We were able to see the ambassador's second-in-command and we put our case as well as possible and avoided what could have been an unseemly wrangle culminating in someone being arrested.

Such situations often occur because of communication failures. Many lives are at stake on such occasions and people feel deeply and passionately. They do not feel like going away without having achieved something. Indeed, we managed on that occasion mainly thanks to the courtesy of the porter at the embassy.

Such frustration happens on many other occasions—for instance, when someone goes for an important visa for a country which does not have the liberties that we have. When such a visa is not ready or forthcoming, frustration often builds up and there is always the chance of an arrest. This is an important issue in which delays and refusals can cause frustration and arrest. The punishments provided in the Bill are Draconian and wrong, and something should be done about them. There is a grave risk of being arrested for a criminal offence, when no such offence was remotely intended, if Clause 9 goes through as drafted. Those who go on peaceful protests should be less liable to arrest and prosecution provided they protest quietly and non-violently against some of the most dreadful things that occur in the world.

6.30 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

The reason for Clause 9 is simple. It is needed to discharge our international obligation to preserve the inviolability of such premises. The obligation would not be discharged if the offence were left out of the Bill or were limited to violent behaviour or behaviour threatening to cause a breach of the peace as my hon. Friend proposes.

We are required to guarantee to representatives of foreign and Commonwealth Governments—this is a strict liability under international convention—that they need not rid themselves of trespassers but should be able to call on the forces of law and order to do so on their behalf. Our own interests are also at stake, because we cannot expect our premises abroad to be treated better than the way we treat the premises of other Governments here.

I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no unwarranted prosections under Clause 9. The amendment that I moved earlier in response to the fears that he had expressed provides that no prosecution may be brought without the consent of the Attorney-General.

Miss Richardson

Can my hon. Friend remind the House of the date on which we were supposed to have fulfilled this obligation? If, as I recall, it was some time ago, can he tell us why it has taken so long to bring it into effect?

Mr. Davidson

I am sure that no one wishes to go back to the old position that we discussed at length in Committee. We have abolished the offence of conspiracy to trespass and I am sure that my hon. Friend would not wish to go back to that. Our obligation is laid on us under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. That required legislation, and it will now be enacted.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: No. 65, in page 8, line 44, leave out from 'both' to end of line 2 on page 9 and insert— '(5A) Proceedings for an offence under this section shall not be instituted against any person except by or with the consent of the Attorney General.'.

No. 69, in page 9, line 3, after 'constable', insert in uniform [Mr. Arthur Davidson.]

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