HC Deb 25 April 1984 vol 58 cc739-52

4 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the events of the last week arising from the shooting incident in St. James's square.

At 10 am on 17 April, a peaceable demonstration was taking place outside the Libyan people's bureau. The police were fully in control and there were no problems of public order. Without any warning, shots were fired from an automatic weapon from a window on the first floor of the bureau. Twelve people were injured and were taken to hospital, including a woman police constable, Yvonne Fletcher, who, as the House knows, died shortly afterwards. I am sure that all hon. Members will wish to be associated with the message of deepest sympathy that I sent to Yvonne Fletcher's parents. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

The police acted immediately to cordon off the area and to evacuate nearby buildings. They have since maintained a protective watch on the bureau and controlled movements there. I should like to pay tribute to the police for the exemplary way in which they have handled this difficult position throughout, with great skill and patience.

I should add that at 8 pm on 20 April a bomb exploded in the luggage collection hall at Heathrow airport, injuring 25 people. Inquiries into that further incident are continuing. It is not yet clear whether it is connected with what happened in St. James's square.

The murder of WPC Fletcher from inside the Libyan people's bureau was a barbaric outrage. It was, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made clear in his announcement on 22 April, a wholly unacceptable and unprecedented breach of British law, international law and the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.

After the shooting took place, we immediately asked the Libyan authorities to instruct those inside the bureau to leave the building and to allow it to be searched for weapons and explosives. That request has been repeatedly refused by the Libyans.

In the face of that Libyan refusal, we proposed to the Libyan authorities three things as a basis for terminating diplomatic relations by agreement: first, that all current occupants of the people's bureau and all other Libyan diplomatic staff in the United Kingdom should leave the country in safety; secondly, that our own diplomatic staff should leave Libya in safety; and thirdly, that we should be satisfied that all weapons and explosives were removed from the Libyan people's bureau, and that its buildings in the United Kingdom were no longer capable of being used as a base for terrorist acts.

The Libyans did not accept those proposals. Instead, they in effect suggested that the outrage of 17 April should simply be put on one side. Colonel Gaddafi proposed a Libyan commission of inquiry, to come to the United Kingdom and inquire into the facts, and for any Libyan implicated to be put on trial in Libya. We regarded that response to the flagrant abuse of diplomatic immunity and the murderous attack on WPC Fletcher as wholly inadequate.

We therefore decided to break diplomatic relations forthwith with Libya, with effect from 6 pm on 22 April. We informed the Libyan authorities that all their diplomatic staff in London and anyone else in the Libyan people's bureau in St. James's square have until midnight on 29–30 April to vacate their premises and leave the country. They are free to leave at any time before then, if they wish, and we are making arrangements for their safe passage out of the country, but we will not permit them to remain beyond Sunday night. It is at that point that any diplomatic immunity expires.

The police will satisfy themselves that anyone emerging from the bureau is not carrying arms and explosives with them when they leave the premises, and then that the premises are safe and secure. I should add that the police view is that, without the co-operation of those in the bureau, it does not seem possible that evidence could be obtained that would sustain in court a criminal charge for the murder.

We have informed the Libyans that the staff of the British embassy will be withdrawn from Libya by midnight on 29–30 April, and we look to the authorities there to fulfil their obligation to guarantee their safe departure. We have also made it clear to the Libyan authorities that we hold them responsible for the safety of the British community in Libya, to which we have attached the highest importance throughout. We have exercised our right to designate a protecting power to look after their interests. We are most grateful to the Italian Government for agreeing to undertake that task, and the Libyan Government have agreed to that. In London, the embassy of Saudi Arabia will act in a similar way for the Libyans.

I should also inform the House of the action that I have taken on other Libyans in this country or who wish to travel here. I am looking carefully at any evidence that the presence of any individual here is against the national interest, and I am not hesitating to use my powers of removal where it is. Two Libyans have been deported since the shooting. Libyans who wish to travel here from Libya will, for the time being, have to apply for visas in neighbouring states. Their applications, and those from Libyans elsewhere in the world, will have to be referred to London, where they will be thoroughly and carefully examined. Applications for entry from those already holding extant visas will similarly be scrutinised with great care, and I would advise those people to reapply. Those measures will ensure that in the coming months only in the most exceptional circumstances will Libyan nationals be admitted to this country.

I share the national sense of anger at the tragic death of a young policewoman and at the gross abuse of diplomatic immunities that caused it. We have made every effort to resolve matters peacefully and by mutual agreement. The attitude of the Libyan authorities has made it impossible for normal relations to continue. We shall continue, as we have throughout, to observe scrupulously our obligations under the Vienna convention, but what has occurred clearly raises serious questions as to the adequacy of the convention, its operation and enforceability. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will now review these matters and consider whether to put forward in the international community proposals for changes.

Hon. Members will appreciate that, until the Libyans who are going have gone and British embassy staff in Libya return home, the position remains delicate. But we could not conceivably countenance with equanimity the outrage that we witnessed in London last week. We are responding to it firmly, but in accordance with international law. Libya for its part must now accept its clear responsibility for the protection and safe return of our staff in the British embassy and their families.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I offer our deep sympathy to the family and fiancé of Yvonne Fletcher. She died on duty, and we pay tribute to her and to all the police who have been involved in the tense vigil at St. James's square. We offer our sympathy also to all the those injured in the St. James's square atrocity and in the bomb outrage at Heathrow airport last Friday.

The whole nation feels a bitter anger at the prospect that the murderer of Yvonne Fletcher will escape the justice that should properly await him. However, I believe that most people understand why that outcome seems inescapable. Faced with the calculated flouting of all standards of decency in international behaviour in their own territory, the British Government—above all others—must demonstrate the importance of upholding the rule of international law, even in the most repugnant circumstances. That means abiding strictly by the terms of the Vienna convention.

It is proper and necessary that, in their conduct in this odious position, the British Government must have the utmost concern for the repercussions of what they do upon the lives and safety of the British diplomatic mission in Tripoli, their families and the many thousands of other British nationals in Libya. Of course, we are especially concerned about the predicament of Mr. Douglas Ledingham and Mr. John Campbell, who have been held in Libya for several days without charge. Does the Home Secretary have any information about their safety and whereabouts?

The House may not wish to pursue certain matters at this sensitive time, when the position in St. James's square is still so fragile and before our mission in Tripoli has arrived home safely. However, after the weekend deadline has passed, hon. Members will require a further statement from the Home Secretary—certainly not later than next Tuesday. It is then that searching questions may most appropriately he put about whether this crisis could have been prevented or avoided, about how weapons of the sort used in the murder of Yvonne Fletcher found their way into the people's bureau and about the conduct of the negotiations with the Libyans.

One question that must be asked now is why, three days after the St. James's square shootings, was luggage allowed to be left for hours in the luggage reclamation area of terminal 2 at Heathrow airport, where luggage from a Libyan flight was known to be kept—and that after the recent bombings in London and Manchester? The security at Heathrow seems to have been negligent to the point of culpability, and there must be an urgent inquiry into it for the sake of all travellers.

There is one supreme matter on which the whole country is united. Britain will not tolerate warring factions from other lands using our cities as their private battlegrounds. Britain stands absolutely for upholding the rule of international law, which is the only safeguard for order in a dangerous world. It is because Libya has made an ugly mockery of the rule of law that everyone joins in condemnation of these unacceptable violations of civilised behaviour.

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentlemen for his expressions of sympathy and for his tributes to the police. I also entirely agree with him that the importance of upholding the rule of international law in these matters is paramount, and that we expect the Libyans to do that, just as we are doing it ourselves. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, in handling these matters, it is appropriate — and, indeed, essential — to take account of their repercussions in Tripoli.

We have protested vigorously to the Libyan authorities concerning Mr. Ledingham and Mr. Campbell, and we shall continue urgently to seek their release.

Extra precautions were taken at Heathrow after the incident in St. James's square, but the right hon. Gentleman would be mistaken if he believed it possible to cover all contingencies. Since the explosion, even further precautions have been put into operation in regard to the handling of baggage. The examination and consideration for which he has asked are taking place through the Department of Transport, the police, the British Airports Authority and the airlines.

I share the right hon. Gentleman's sentiment that warring factions cannot be allowed to fight out their battles in the streets of London.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

While I fully accept—as does the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—that no possible action could be taken other than that which was taken, will my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in relation to the proposed review of the Vienna convention, it is essential to distinguish between the necessary protection of diplomats of law-abiding countries throughout the world and the need at the same time to avoid the Vienna convention being used merely as a cover for terrorism or murder?

Mr. Brittan

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the review will need to take those aspects of the matter into account. But, as I made clear, one should focus not only on the convention and its provisions but on its enforceability.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

In his statement the Home Secretary used the phrase that diplomatic immunity would expire on Sunday night. Will he tell the House what happened after Mr Adem Kuwiri and his three colleagues accredited in the Libyan people's bureau were replaced by the so-called revolutionary student force on 19 February? Were any of those students subsequently given diplomatic accreditation and, if so, when and why? If not, is there any reason to believe that accredited diplomats were in the building at the time of the outrage?

Mr. Brittan

Since the so-called revolutionary committee took over, that have been no additions to the diplomatic list, and none of the people concerned has been accepted, so in no sense was that the case.

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to be asking about the presence of diplomats in the building. We do not know exactly who is in the building at the moment, so I cannot answer that question.

Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) in welcoming the Government's intention to review the Vienna convention. Is not one of the most important matters to be considered the rule which makes it impossible to verify whether diplomatic bags are carrying weapons? Will the Government consider raising that matter with our colleagues in the European Community, whose interests must be identical to ours, with a view to making proposals in a wider forum?

Mr. Brittan

My right hon. Friend has raised one matter which will no doubt be considered. At the moment, the Vienna convention—which, I remind the House, is not only an international obligation but is enshrined in our domestic law by the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964—states quite clearly that the diplomatic bag shall not be opened or retained.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

In view of the long-standing Libyan support for Irish terrorists, will the Home Secretary consider the desirability of further extending the scope of the prevention of terrorism legislation? Will he be good enough to invite his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to alert and explain to Irish-Americans the dangers of supporting any branch of international terrorism?

Mr. Brittan

We have, of course, comprehensively reviewed the prevention of terrorism legislation in the new legislation which has now reached the statute book. The House will, of course, be familiar with the fact that in introducing that legislation we made provision for the first time for its extension to international as opposed to Irish terrorism. I hope that the House will feel, in the light of what has occurred, that that was a wise provision.

Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)

The whole House would wish to associate itself with the tribute paid by my right hon. and learned Friend to the performance of my constituent, WPC Fletcher, and the warm expression that he has sent to her family. She died, performing her duty, as a result of an intolerable and gross crime. Does not that also bring to light the need to review, as quickly as possible, the whole question of diplomatic privileges and rights, which have frequently been abused in the recent past?

Mr. Brittan

The examination of the Vienna convention, its operation and its enforceability, will cover the matters that my hon. Friend has in mind.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

I warmly associate myself with all the tributes paid to the bravery shown by the police, to the parents of Yvonne Fletcher and her friends, and to those injured in the bomb outrage.

I fully accept the actions that the Home Secretary has felt it necessary to take, but will he agree that the real questions now have to be answered by the Foreign Secretary? Some very serious questions need to be asked, going right back to 2 September 1979, when the Libyan people's bureau was first established.

It has been well understood for some years that Colonel Gaddafi has been fostering terrorism worldwide. There have been disturbing reports, one of which occurs in today's Washington Post, about the Government having been informed that an attack was likely to take place. Those issues need serious investigation. I understand that the Home Secretary is not able to answer them today from the Dispatch Box, but can we have an assurance from the Government that there will be an independent inquiry into all events since 2 September 1979, and that as much as possible of the result will be published so that the House and the country can judge the conduct of affairs during the four years?

Mr. Brittan

I should make it clear to the House that I am speaking for the Government as a whole today and am ready to answer questions relating to all aspects of the matter — even questions which would in other circumstances be answered by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. As I know that the matter has been raised by the right hon. Gentleman and by others outside this House, may I say that the breaking off of diplomatic relations is a very serious step? Since the war, it has been taken by this country only in relation to Albania, Uganda and Argentina.

The House might like to bear in mind, when considering the allegation of tardiness in our response, that the United States embassy in Libya was burnt down in December 1979 and that it was not until 1981 that diplomatic relations between Libya and the United States were suspended, and not even broken. In Paris, two Iraqi agents from the embassy shot dead a police inspector. Those agents were expelled but the mission was allowed to continue. It is for those reasons that the international press today regards our response to what happened in the streets of London as a robust one.

With regard to the events in this country since 1979, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the House might like to know that in 1980 three Libyan dissidents were murdered on the streets of London, but at that time there was no proof of the involvement of the bureau. None the less, its secretary and two other members were declared persona non grata and had to leave the country. No clear link was established between last month's bombings and the Libyan people's bureau. None the less, apart from the four people who have been charged and whose trials have yet to take place, I have ordered the deportation of six Libyans. What has now occurred is different in kind, amounting to a wholly unprecedented outrage and requiring this response.

Dr. Owen

Is the Home Secretary now prepared to answer——

Mr. Speaker

Order. In fairness to the House, I think that one question is sufficient.

Dr. Owen

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will take points of order afterwards, in fairness to the whole House, as many right hon. and hon. Members wish to ask questions.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Did the Foreign Office pass to the Metropolitan police the advance warning received that there could be a violent reaction if the original protest march went ahead? Was it a police decision or a political decision that the "wait and wear down" strategy should be terminated without result when it had so often worked in the past?

How will the police satisfy themselves that no arms are taken out of the mission if they may not examine the bags? Is my right hon. and learned Friend now prepared to allow the police, if in future they suspect that similar murder weapons are being brought into this country in diplomatic bags, to impound the bags at the port of entry pending application to a magistrates court for a search warrant?

Finally, in view of the Libyans' undoubted connection with the IRA, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it plain that the murderer of that British police officer will be expected to face justice elsewhere if not in this country?

Mr. Brittan

I am afraid that I could not commend to the House the change in the law suggested by my hon. Friend, as it would be in breach of the Vienna convention and, in the absence of international agreement, would not be possible.

With regard to an advance warning, Libyans came to the Foreign Office protesting about the demonstration to take place the following day and speaking in terms of not being responsible for the consequences. My hon. Friend and the House should know, however, that such language has been repeatedly used by the Libyans in that context. The House should also know that what was envisaged was not a march but a demonstration. In a free society, I do not have power to ban demonstrations. That, too, is a factor that the House will wish to take into account.

As for whether the decision to end the "wait and wear down" strategy was a police decision, all decisions taken have been co-ordinated. I remind my hon. Friend of my statement that it is the view of the police that, without the co-operation of the people in the bureau, which has been in no way evident, it does not seem possible that evidence could be obtained which could sustain a criminal charge in court for the murder.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Does the Home Secretary accept that it is an abuse of the Vienna declaration and the rules of diplomatic immunity to use the diplomatic bag for the import or export of weapons? I accept that he cannot order diplomatic bags to be opened, but will he give an assurance that, through X-raying or other means not involving opening the bags, he will ensure that no weapons are imported in diplomatic bags, as he well knows occurs, and that no weapons are now exported to Libya in that way?

Mr. Brittan

The legality of X-raying is in question and the overwhelming majority of states have not adopted such practices. Clearly, that is one of the questions that will be raised in the review. It is certainly an abuse of the Vienna convention to use the diplomatic bag for the purposes to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers, but it is a feature of the convention to provide that various forms of behaviour are breaches of the convention but not to provide any way to prevent such behaviour or to deal with it when it has occurred. In addition to the doubtful legality of X-raying diplomatic bags and the fact that it would be contrary to the practice of the overwhelming majority of states, I am advised that any such scanning without opening or detaining the bag, which is plainly not permitted, would be likely to be of very limited value in determining their contents.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in the review of the matter that he will be conducting later, the right of foreign nationals, warring or not, to demonstrate in our streets should be considered?

Mr. Brittan

I am not sure that that is a matter for the review of the Vienna convention, but those who, in the context of recent events, have doubts about the rights of foreign nationals to demonstrate in our cities may wish to consider whether they would have regarded it as appropriate to ban dissidents from eastern Europe from demonstrating outside the Soviet embassy when Afghanistan was invaded.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

As every effort must be made to prevent further bloodshed, why was the Libyan political attaché prevented from meeting two hon. Members on Saturday—myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart)? Is the Home Secretary aware that it has been alleged that the Foreign Office took the view that it would simply muddy the waters if Back Benchers became involved? Is that the case?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken in suggesting that the gentleman concerned was prevented from seeing the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend. That would indeed be a breach of the Vienna convention and we should not be a party to that. What happened was that the Libyan diplomat concerned and the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend were advised that, as we were engaged in extremely delicate negotiation at that stage in an attempt to resolve the matter peacefully, it was not felt that a meeting of that kind would be conducive to the resolution of the matter.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

When the immediate aftermath is over and the thugs who perpetrated this outrage are gone from our shores, will my right hon. and learned Friend return to the House and give us full details of the ammunition and the weapons, which must surely be found, used in the murder of WPC Fletcher? Is he aware that some of us will wish to speak more fully when the time is ripe not only about the searching of persons? Will he give an absolute assurance that nothing will leave the Libyan people's bureau which could have been used to perpetrate that outrage?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend combine that——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Mates

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. This is a very important matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Of course it is important, but other hon. Members wish to take part.

Mr. Mates

Finally, will my right hon. and learned Friend, in concert with his colleagues, ensure that action taken pending the review of the Vienna convention, which will take many months if not years to amend, will be concerted, allied action to show that, convention or not, behaviour of this kind simply cannot be tolerated by democratic people?

Mr. Brittan

On the last point, I welcome the opportunity to make it clear to the House that we have raised this matter with our friends in the international community and that in response to our points many of them have expressed their support for the action that we have taken and their horror at what occurred. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has sent personal messages to certain Heads of Government. Action most certainly has been and will be taken in the international forum.

With regard to the more specific assurance sought by my hon. Friend, he will appreciate that the Vienna convention applies and is currently part of our domestic law. Therefore, to my deep personal regret, I cannot give the assurance in the form that he seeks.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the Home Secretary comment on press reports that there were warnings from intelligence sources about the possibility of such an incident at the Libyan people's bureau? Was any such warning given and, if so, what action did the Government take?

Mr. Brittan

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not the practice to give details of intelligence matters of that kind. I will say, however, that no specific information that would lead us to believe that such an incident would occur when it did was in our hands before the event.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his handling of the affair throughout. Is he at all concerned that there may be incendiary or explosive devices within the building, timed to explode after the Libyans have left?

Mr. Brittan

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind personal remarks. The point that he has raised is one which the police have well in mind.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consult the Secretary of State for Education and Science with a view to ensuring that Libyan students in this country are genuine students?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. As I have mentioned, those who are here will find that we reserve the right to consider the question of their status.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Four years ago, some of us raised during Question Time the issue of the abuse of diplomatic bags. We were informed that the use of electronic scanners was being considered. Where does the Home Secretary get the information that scanners are no good at discovering whether the bags contain ammunition and guns? I grant that it may be less easy to find out about other matters, but surely guns and ammunition show up on modern electronic scanners?

Mr. Brittan

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I spoke not lightly but on advice when I said that without opening the bag or detaining it—which is not permitted under the convention—such scanning is likely to be of very limited value in determining the contents.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I deplore diplomatic terrorism, but does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that most of the middle east-related disturbances on our streets are caused by students from certain middle eastern countries? Does my right hon. and learned Friend have plans to screen the Libyan students who are still here, with a view to removing those who have close connections with Colonel Gaddafi's regime?

Mr. Brittan

Removing students who are here would have to be done in a responsible way. I have outlined what I believe to be the right approach. I am considering carefully any evidence that the presence of any individual in this country—whether whether or not he is a student—is against the national interest. Where I have reason to believe that it is, I shall not hesitate to use my powers of removal.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Was the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) deliberately evasive? Is it not true that an American satellite monitored a transmission between Libya and London requiring those at the people's bureau not to react passively to any demonstration? Was that information communicated to the Government before the demonstration took place?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman may call my reply evasive, but he knows perfectly well that in replying as I did I was following the practice of Ministers in all Governments on such matters.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

Many of us welcome the news that Britain may pursue some revision of the Vienna convention, but will my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we must be realistic about this matter? Some 140 or 150 countries are involved, and the process may take not months or years but a decade. What are we to do meanwhile? Urgent collective action on a European basis is required. This is a matter for political will rather than for negotiation among 140 countries over a decade in the hope of improvements.

Mr. Brittan

I did not say that it was. I said that we would look not only at the question of the adequacy of the convention but also — this is relevant to my hon. Friend's question—at its operation and enforceability. When that has been reviewed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will consider whether to put forward proposals for changes in the international community. The way of proceeding which my hon. Friend—with his experience in these matters—has suggested will be one of the possibilities which my right hon. and learned Friend will wish to consider.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The tragedy of the killing of the young policewoman took place at a time when 10,000 policemen and policewomen were being used in our coal fields to arrest nearly 1,000 miners for a breach of the peace——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Skinner

I am coming to the point.

Mr. Speaker

But it is wide of the subject.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Home Secretary bear in mind that when this tragic death occurred, Libyan demonstrators were being escorted to the picket line by a few policemen and policewomen at a time when every man and dog in the country seemed to know that a breach of the peace was likely to occur? Is the Home Secretary aware that many people in my constituency believe that the Government are operating double standards and have different priorities for different sets of people?

Mr. Brittan

I think that the vast majority of people in the country as well as of hon. Members will regard the hon. Gentleman's remark as not only irrelevant but distasteful.

The truth is that what occurred——

Mr. Skinner

It could have been avoided.

Mr. Brittan

The demonstration was wholly peaceful, and the policing of it presented no problems whatsoever until the unprovoked shooting took place.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have a duty to protect the further business of the House, which is an Opposition day. I propose to let questions on the statement run for a further seven minutes before I call the Front Bench spokesman. I hope that during that time, if questions are brief, I may be able to call all those hon. Members who have been rising.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I fully commend and support the actions of the Government and of my right hon. and learned Friend, and the bravery and courage of the police. Would my right hon. and learned Friend tell us what support we have had from the EEC and the Commonwealth for our action against Libya, and what action the rest of the civilised world will take to ostracise Colonel Gaddafi and his dreadful regime?

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend will appreciate that responses are not always immediate, especially when a tragic event occurs during a holiday weekend. We have received expressions of support from the United States—very strongly—and from Australia, Canada, Belgium and Norway.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm reports that, for many years, Libyan representatives in this country have flatly refused to adhere to diplomatic protocol — for instance, by not having an embassy or an ambassador, and strongly resenting having diplomats? If that is so, why must we extend diplomatic immunity to the Libyans?

Mr. Brittan

The position is not entirely as my hon. Friend has outlined. The Libyan embassy began to call itself a people's bureau in 1979. Discussions with the Libyan authorities made it clear that the essential functions of the mission would remain unchanged. The same thing happened in many other countries, which took the same view as the United Kingdom of the essence of what was going on.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

We have already heard Colonel Gaddafi threaten the safety of British citizens in Libya in retaliation for any steps that the Government may wish to take in this country. What can the Government do to ensure that such blackmail will be less effective in future than it may have appeared to be in the past?

Mr. Brittan

As long as we maintain international relations, and as long as substantial numbers of our fellow countrymen — for good and proper business or other reasons — live in other countries, there can be no guarantee that events of this kind will not occur. Fortunately, they have been extremely rare. The international community has invariably condemned them, and appropriate action has been taken. However, if my hon. Friend thinks that any guarantee can be provided—unless everyone stays at home—I am afraid that he is mistaken.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

While the whole House must endorse the Government's action and understand the inhibitions on what the Home Secretary has said this afternoon, does my right hon. and learned Friend not think that the concern shown, both nationally and in the Chamber this afternoon, suggests that it would be helpful to the Government if Parliament could be fully involved in the investigation of what has happened in this dreadful case? Specifically, will he consider the desirability of setting up a special Select Committee to report on what might be done?

Mr. Brittan

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will note that suggestion.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that in 1896 the London police did not hesitate to enter the Chinese embassy, there to rescue Sun Yat-Sen, who had been kidnapped and held there against his will. That being the case, many people are deeply disturbed about why the British Government have failed to take action against this so-called embassy for so long when it appears to be a place for terrorist operations and is now a haven for a murderer, which murderer will go scot free. As none of this was envisaged by the framers of the convention, why is it so sacrosanct?

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend has asked why it is sacrosanct. One reason which he as a lawyer would, I should have thought, respect is that it happens to be part of our domestic law.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, while many British people welcome the contribution to academic life that genuine foreign students make they are heartily sick of the activities of those who are not? Many of them seem to have as their primary purpose political activity, some of it subversive and, as we have now seen, some of it downright murderous. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making it a condition of entry for foreign students that they confine their activities to the pursuit of their academic studies? Will he make it a condition that they be expelled if they involve themselves in political activity?

Mr. Brittan

There is a difference between political activities and violent activities. I assure the House that, if there was any suspicion that students were engaged in violent or subversive activity, they would not be admitted and that if there were any reason to believe that they were admitted without such suspicion and such suspicion subsequently arose, they would be required to leave.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the fact that, next Sunday, when the Libyans emerge from the bureau, there will be two categories of people—those with diplomatic immunity and those with none? Is there any reason why he could not instruct the Metropolitan Police to investigate, search and question those who do not have diplomatic immunity?

Mr. Skinner

They would if they were miners.

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend will recall what I have said about the police's view of the prospect of sustaining a criminal charge. He will take account of the overriding need to get rid of a dangerous presence in the country and, above all, he will take account of the important and essential aim of securing the safe return of our diplomats and their families in Libya when pursuing that suggestion.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the sensible way in which he has handled this extraordinarily delicate situation? Does he believe that there is a case, in the longer term, for amending the Public Order Act 1963 to give him and the Commissioner the same powers to control static demonstrations as to control marches?

Mr. Brittan

We are examining that. As my hon. Friend, with his knowledge of these matters, knows there is a review of public order legislation and the issue of the control and regulation of static demonstrations is certainly one of the aspects of that review.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the calm, determined and responsible manner in which he has carried out negotiations? Can he assure us that, on the expiry of diplomatic immunity, no precipitate action will be taken by the Government so as to make it certain that our nationals in Libya are not imperilled?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind personal observations. I deeply hope that this matter can be ended peacefully and that no more problems of that type arise. I am anxious that the people in the bureau and other Libyan diplomats should leave the country, that our people should return safely from Libya and that it is possible to ensure that the premises are safe. Those are our objectives. We shall continue to try to achieve them in a calm and measured way.

Mr. Speaker

Point of order, Dr. Owen.

Dr. Owen

My point of order is more related to the procedure of the House. I wish to ask another question of the Home Secretary, if he would not mind, as he has widened the statement to cover the responsibilities——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will fully accept that to use a point of order as a method of asking an additional question is very unfair to other hon. Members.

Dr. Owen


Mr. Speaker

I am very sorry, but I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to do that.

Dr. Owen

Further to that, if the Home Secretary comes to the House to answer questions relating to his handling of the siege, I do not think it unreasonable to expect that he would not answer detailed questions relating to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. He then implied, generously, that he was prepared to do so, and it is reasonable that we should be able to probe him on some of those matters. He has already widened his statement to the issues to which I have referred but did not ask about in detail. My request is legitimate in that, when you, Mr. Speaker, intend to ask the spokesman for the Labour party to speak again, it is not unreasonable on some of these issues that some of us may be asked—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I judge from the reaction of the House that this is not a doctrine that would be generally acceptable.

Dr. Owen

Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced Member of Parliament, please do not abuse points of order by seeking to raise a second question, which, I think the whole House would agree, he has no right to do. He has the same rights as any other Back Bencher and I cannot allow any further points of order on this matter.

Dr. Owen

Further to your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It must be on a different point of order; I shall not allow the right hon. Gentleman to raise a further point of order on this matter.

Dr. Owen

I am just questioning the extent of your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Is the extent of your ruling that no second questions should be asked by anyone other than those speaking from the Labour Opposition Front Bench? If that is so, we should have it clarified.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that what I said has been a convention of the House for very many years and that that is the present position.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

You have just said, Mr. Speaker, that it has been a convention of the House for many years that on no occasion will a second question be taken from anyone other than the Opposition Front Bench. There are cases, which could be cited, of your predecessors doing precisely that for my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), the Leader of the Liberal party, for the Leader of the Social Democratic party and for others. As to the matter of fact, I hope that you will define your ruling in such a way as not to deny what has happened for many years and has been seen widely reasonably to reflect the existence of other groups in the House with points of view to put forward.

Mr. Skinner

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. No.

Mr. Skinner

I was going to give you some help.

Mr. Speaker

I can deal with it—I do not need any help. Very frequently right hon. and hon. Members disagree with the answers that they have received or, having heard the answers, would like to expand on the questions. If I were to accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) I should have to accede to it for the leader of every other minority party in the House; I think that that would be utterly unacceptable to Back Benchers.