HC Deb 06 February 1984 vol 53 cc608-11 3.50 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a short statement.

I deeply regret to have to tell the House that Mr. R. H. Mhatre, an assistant commissioner in the Birmingham office of the Indian high commission, was found dead at about 10 pm yesterday near Hinckley in Leicestershire. It is clear from the circumstances and the nature of his injuries that he was murdered. Mr. Mhatre had been kidnapped close to his home in Birmingham at about 6 pm on Friday 3 February.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing sympathy to Mr. Mhatre's family. The Prime Minister has sent a message of sympathy to Mrs. Gandhi, and I have sent a similar message to the high commissioner.

An organisation calling itself the Kashmir Liberation Army claimed to have kidnapped an Indian diplomat. It made demands for the release of prisoners in India and for the payment of money. It threatened to kill the diplomat if its demands were not met.

The chief constable of the West Midlands police has been in charge of the case from the beginning. I have been in close touch with him throughout and have given every assistance I can. The police have given the case the highest priority and are making every effort to bring those responsible to justice. I shall, of course, give the police any further assistance that they require in the investigation. Arrangements have been made to enhance the protection given to Indian diplomatic staff.

The seriousness with which this matter is being pursued and the fact that I have reported to the House at the earliest opportunity underlines the Government's determination to stand firm against terrorists and their violence. There can be no place whatsoever for either in this country.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

We in the Opposition express our profound sympathy to Mr. Mhatre's family. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has sent a message of sympathy to Mrs. Gandhi. The Kashmiris in Britain have the reputation of being some of the most law-abiding people in our community and I am sure that they, too, condemn this brutal murder.

Did the Government or the police have any advance warning of the possibility of terrorist action by this group? If so, was information about such dangers communicated to the West Midlands police? Will the Government review carefully the arrangements for protecting diplomatic staff? While it is impossible to prevent all such grievous occurrences, it is important that special efforts are made to safeguard those particularly at risk. We in the Opposition utterly condemn such terrorist outrages. They are totally unacceptable in Britain. Every effort must be made to ensure that those involved are brought to justice.

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his words of sympathy and condemnation.

The Government had no advance warning of any such threats. Indeed, we are not aware of any threats to Indian diplomats in the past. Of course there will be a review of the arrangements for the security of diplomats in the light of what has occurred, but I remind the House that in the Indian high commission alone there are 72 people with full diplomatic status. The police have to make their professional assessment for each collection of diplomats as to what measures can and should be taken. As I have already said, their assessment has led to enhanced protection for Indian diplomats in the light of this event.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the chairman of the Indo-British parliamentary group, my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), who at the moment is on duty in a Select Committee, has already written on behalf of many right hon. and hon. Members in the group to express the sympathy and sorrow that we feel at this dreadful and tragic event? Will my right hon. and learned Friend leave no stone unturned to bring to justice the perpetrators of this terrible crime? Does he think that the West Midlands police have sufficient resources? He spoke of offering further assistance. Has he considered offering support from the Metropolitan police?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for informing me of that further message of sympathy. I spoke to the chief constable of the West Midlands only yesterday, and contact has been maintained throughout. I am satisfied that he has the resources that are necessary. I remain ready to give any further assistance, should it be required.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Will the Home Secretary extend the sympathies of my right hon. and hon. Friends about this outrage and accept our condemnation of this appalling terrorist act? In the review of the protection of the diplomatic corps which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has undertaken to conduct, will he bear in mind the fact that primary responsibility for such protection in Britain has fallen upon the Metropolitan police, who are answerable to him, and that special advice might be necessary to police forces which are answerable to local police authorities?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his expression of sympathy. I should not want the House to think that any formal review has been instituted as a result of this event. Circumstances vary a great deal from embassy to embassy. However, the protection that is required for diplomats at each embassy must be kept under continuous review. It is obvious that the circumstances of what so tragically occurred yesterday will have to be taken into account.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that those of us who represent the city of Birmingham think that it is appropriate that this appalling act should be made the subject of a special statement today? Mr. Mhatre was well known to many of us in the city of Birmingham for his humanity and good will. What he brought to Indo-British relations in Birmingham and the rest of the West Midlands will be hard to replace. It is a small but sad relief that his death was caused by the extremism of an organisation from the Indian subcontinent and not from at home, where Mr. Mhatre contributed a great deal to the relationship between the Indian and British communities. He will be difficult to replace.

Mr. Brittan

I am sure that my hon. Friend's personal and local observations about Mr. Mhatre will be appreciated by his family and by the Indian Government. I am glad that the House has had the opportunity to hear them.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Is the Home Secretary aware that everyone in the city of Birmingham wishes to be associated with the expressions of sympathy for the family of Mr. Mhatre and that this appalling murder is condemned by everyone, including all those who want to see a free, independent and democratic Kashmir which is established by peaceful means?

Mr. Brittan

I am glad to hear what the hon. Gentleman said and the stress that he put on peaceful means. I should like to make it clear that throughout this incident the Government have been in close touch with the Indian high commission and the Indian Government. They have made it clear throughout that they share our determination not to give in to terrorist demands.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend re-emphasise our sorrow at the tragic death of Mr. Mhatre? In doing so, however, in view of the re-emergence of the so-called Kashmir Front, following the call in the autumn of last year for Eelam in Sri Lanka, will he re-emphasise the need for the Government to make it clear to all Governments in the Indian sub-continent that we shall not countenance any terrorism or sub-terrorism in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Brittan

Our opposition to terrorism, even when it emanates from causes which are quite unrelated to domestic affairs, is shown by the inclusion of clause 12 in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, which will give the police power to arrest and detain without warrant persons whom they reasonably suspect of involvement in acts of terrorism connected with international affairs, not just those connected with Northern Irish affairs. I hope that, even now, in the light of this incident, those who have opposed the inclusion of clause 12 will think again.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

May I underline the fact that the sense of shock and outrage is shared by everyone in the city of Birmingham, not just the ethnic communities? Will the Home Secretary now pay special attention to the protection offered to diplomats who are stationed outside the capital and ensure that everything possible is done to enable them to go about their business in security?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's first remarks. The question of the proper level of protection for diplomats outside London is just as important as for those inside London, and I am glad to have the opportunity to reaffirm that.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

May I, as a fellow member of the all-party Indo-British group, associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel)? May I, through the Home Secretary, say that, of all the embassies and high commissions in London, it is with the Indian high commission that the Opposition Back Benches have perhaps the closest attachment and the closest association; and therefore not only the Government and the leadership of the Front Bench, but the whole House, extend sympathy to the family?

Mr. Brittan

I know that what the hon. Gentleman has said will be much appreciated.