HC Deb 22 April 1986 vol 96 cc171-5 3.30 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the decision announced to the press today to expel a number of Libyan nationals from this country.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

Twenty one Libyan nationals have today been served with notices of intention to deport on the ground that their deportation is conducive to the public good in the interests of national security. I took this decision in the light of the latest information about the active involvement of those concerned in organising Libyan student activity in the United Kingdom in support of the Gaddafi regime. I have authorised their detention while arrangements for their deportation are made. The House will understand that, in a matter affecting national security, it would not be right for me to disclose further details of the information available to me on which I took the decision to initiate deportation action. I shall not hesitate to use my powers under the Immigration Act 1971 to deport other Libyan nationals if evidence is received of their involvement in activities which might endanger security.

Mr. Kaufman

Mr. Speaker, may I first thank you for granting this private notice question following the failure of the Home Secretary to volunteer a statement on a matter about which his Department has saturated the media for the past seven hours.

I do not question the reasons for these deportations. I do ask about the timing, and must ask the plain question: why now? How long has the Home Office had the evidence on which the Home Secretary acted? Did it obtain it before, or after, the United States bombing of Libya?

On 1 May 1984, following the murder of Woman Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher, I asked the Home Secretary's predecessor about Libyans being trained by our armed forces, whose training was described by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces as being compatible with British defence interests. Since then, have further Libyans been admitted for training at Oxford airport flying school?

Two years ago I asked about 280 Libyan nationals being trained by British Airways and other airlines, most of them near Heathrow, and within close proximity to that airport, with all that that might imply. Two hundred and fifty are still being trained at Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports. The Government have said that they have issued guidelines about security risks. Is that all that they intend to do?

Was the Home Secretary consulted in advance about the internal security implications for this country of the decision to allow the use of British bases for the bombing of Libya? If so, did he say that it was in the British interest?

Is it not a fact that it can be easier for certain overseas nationals to enter Britain to commit acts of terrorism than for an Indian grandmother to enter Britain to attend a family wedding—[Interruption.] It is true.

After two years of complacency following the death of WPC Fletcher, why have the Government suddenly acted with such speed? Have they at last realised, following approaches from the Opposition two years old, that some potential terrorists are at large in this country? Or does it follow the outcry against the Prime Minister's collusion over the American bombing of Libya? Is this simply a cosmetic exercise to cover up the unacceptable face of Thatcherism?

Mr. Hurd

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, the operation had to be timed exactly, as it involved 11 police forces. I was anxious that a short, factual statement should be made publicly as soon as we had received information that the first stage had been completed. I did not want there to be any misunderstanding, in Libya or elsewhere, even in the short term, about the purpose of the operation. I am ready to keep the House informed where the scale or sensitivity of the operation requires that.

Steps are being taken to ensure that pilots and engineers being trained in this country can do no harm either at the airports or in the aircraft. There are some legal and practical complications about further action, but the Departments concerned are reviewing the matter urgently.

Of course I was consulted, and I certainly support the Government's decision, which has frequently been defended and explained in the House. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the powers that I exercised in this case are serious ones, which are defined clearly in law. Student activity in support of a foreign Government need not in itself harm national security, which is the test. However, I judged that, following the threats last week, in this case there was a threat to national security. Therefore, the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question is that I reviewed the position last week in the light of the latest information and decided that the criteria within which I must exercise my powers were met and that the presence of those 21 students in this country was no longer conducive to national security.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Did my right hon. Friend see the press reports last week suggesting that two of the Libyans arrested following demonstrations were in this country on visas which expired months ago? What check is made on such visas? If there is a genuine check, will my right hon. Friend ensure that such people do not stay in this country' after their visas have expired?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, I saw the report. The answer to my right hon. Friend's question is yes.

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

Is the student who went on radio and offered to undertake a suicide mission among those to be deported? Why was he not deported earlier? Is willingness to take part in organised student activity the only relevant criterion, or will the Home Secretary consider others? Will he take special account of the position of those Libyans in this country who are opponents of Colonel Gaddafi and who would be at risk if they returned to Libya, and may even be at risk in this country?

Mr. Hurd

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. The person concerned has not, for some time, been in a position to act in the way that the hon. Gentleman described. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is also yes. I am aware that by no means all the Libyans in this country are friendly towards, or supporters of, Colonel Gaddafi.

Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)

Do aliens who have been served with notices of intention to deport have any right of appeal?

Mr. Hurd

My decision was taken in the interests of national security under section 15(3) of the Immigration Act 1971. As my hon. and learned Friend knows, in those circumstances there is no right of appeal to the immigration appellate authorities. Those concerned have a non-statutory right to make representations to a panel of three advisers, and they have been informed of that right. Some have already indicated that they do not wish to exercise it.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Can the Home Secretary advise us of the number of Libyan students resident in the United Kingdom? Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what substantial body of information about the harmful activities embarked upon by the 21 students was available post-14 April?

Mr. Hurd

About 1,800 Libyan students are in this country, but, as I have said, many of them must be reckoned as critics or opponents of the Gaddafi regime. The 21 to whom I have referred today are organisers of activity in support of the Gaddafi regime. Such activity is not in all circumstances harmful to national security. I reviewed the information about their organising activity after the events of last week and decided that the presence of these 21 people in this country in the present circumstances was no longer conducive to national security, so I took the action I have announced.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

Why have only 21 Libyans been deported? Why not deport all Libyans now in this country, as that is what the vast majority of people in the country want?

Mr. Hurd

Because my powers are limited in the way I have said, and I have exercised these powers in the interests of national security. I shall not hesitate to exercise those powers again when it seems to me that the criteria that I have been describing are met.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Is not the failure of the Government to do anything meaningful about the training of Libyan pilots and engineers supine and passive, and does that not therefore make the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's reply less than helpful and less than relevant?

Mr. Hurd

I have already answered that question. Steps have been taken to ensure that these people, whether the small number of pilots or the small number of engineers, can do no harm at the airports or in aircraft. We are considering further measures that will be necessary.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this action. Is he looking equally closely at other nationals in this country whose Governments have been known to sponsor and support terrorism? In particular, if the evidence which has been reported is correct that Syrians might have been involved in the preparation of the bomb that nearly got to the El Al airliner, will he not flinch from taking equally robust action against Syrians, whether or not they have diplomatic immunity?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend will not expect me to comment on that particular example, but the general point that he makes is right. My concern has to be not just with Libyans but with any of those whose presence in this country is not condusive to the national security.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Is not the expulsion of 21 individuals a crude, blatant attempt to whip up anti-Libyan hysteria in the country, remembering that the Government are very unpopular, and is it not also an attempt to justify further attacks against civilians in Libya?

Mr. Hurd

No, this is a measured and considered response to the organising activity in this country of those particular 21 people.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement this afternoon and dissociating all Conservative Members from the pathetic utterances of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), may I ask my right hon. Friend whether these measures are not totally inadequate? In the late 1930s the appeasers had their way, and history will prove our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to be one of the most stalwart defenders of civilisation and freedom in the world.

Mr. Hurd

I have taken the measures that lie within my power and responsibility. Other measures have been taken. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, in our view further measures are still needed by our partners and ourselves.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Does the Home Secretary agree that the vast majority of the British people will support strong, non-violent action against people when there is evidence to suggest that they are involved in any way in terrorism? Is this why the Government have taken this action? Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that the British people overwhelmingly reject violent retaliation against civilians who have not been engaged in terrorism?

Mr. Hurd

I have a strong feeling that opinion is shifting on the latter point made by the hon. Gentleman. As the facts are more clearly deployed, there is a much better understanding than there was a few days ago of the strength of the arguments which led the Government to take the decision that they took.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

How large is the Libyan community in Britain, and have any limitations been placed on Libyans seeking entry?

Mr. Hurd

Of course there are limitations. That is why the remark of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was so mischievous. He knows that ever since the St. James's square disaster particular care has been taken to scrutinise the entry of Libyans, under arrangements which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) announced at the time. Those arrangements have been in force ever since. I am informed that there are about 7,000 Libyans in this country subject to immigration control.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Is the Home Secretary aware that a significant number of Libyans, who may not have been a security risk in this country last week, are likely to be a security risk now that the Government have authorised the bombing of their homes?

Mr. Hurd

I have to look at the situation from time to time to see whether the evidence available to me justifies the use of my powers. That is what I have recently done, and shall continue to do.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that for some years Libyans have been undergoing engineering training in my constituency. He will also be aware that during that time they have given no trouble and that the criteria he has used are acceptable to those Libyans as well as to my constituents. Anyone found acting against the best interests of this nation should be expelled under our rules. That also applies to those students now undergoing training in Perthshire.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Today is an Opposition day and we have already had an extension of Question Time. We must now move on.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I shall not take it if it is a continuation of the private notice question.

Mr. Faulds

No, it is not, Sir. Not at all. In the matter of priority of parliamentary consideration, how comes it that this private notice question on the deportation of Libyans was granted today, when the much more important matter of the use of British bases by the United States Government was not permitted on Monday, when the Foreign Office wished to make a statement but was overruled by No. 10? Why was that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not know anything about that.