HC Deb 05 June 1986 vol 98 cc1069-72
1. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his recent discussions in the United States of America concerning the proposed extradition treaty covering those facing terrorism charges in the United Kingdom and taking refuge in the United States of America.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

My purpose in visiting the United States was to meet leading Americans who take a close interest in Northern Ireland affairs. Among the matters discussed were the supplementary extradition treaty, the MacBride principles and the international fund. I am satisfied that the many Senators, Congressmen and others I met recognise the importance of achieving early ratification of a satisfactory treaty, and I hope that that will be achieved.

Mr. Adley

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, has he noticed that the opposition of Senators and Congressmen is argued strongly on constitutional grounds? Does he agree that that may be humbug when considered alongside the behaviour of the same Senators and Congressmen in responding to requests for extradition by the Israeli Government for alleged terrorists? Will he tell those with whom he is in contact that this form of vote-grubbing, ethnic politics, when considered with tourist cancellations and the behaviour meted out to Mark Thatcher, which was announced this morning, is generating a dangerous level of anti-American feeling in this country?

Mr. King

I tried to convey some of the feelings that my hon. Friend has conveyed robustly to the House in the context of the importance that we attach to working closely with the United States Government in the joint fight against terrorism. I made it clear that that was vital. After the Toyko summit, where President Reagan and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stood closely together in agreement on the importance of improving arrangements in the fight against international terrorism, and specifically mentioned the importance of effective extradition, it would be tragic if the two leaders of the Western world in this respect were unable to reach agreement.

Mr. Mason

Is the Secretary of State aware that if America means business in tackling terrorism, the supplementary extradition treaty should be ratified as he proposes? What aspects of Noraid have been outlawed in the United States, and what progress did the Secretary of State make on that? Is it not time that the President told his people to stop cowering at home, chicken-hearted as they are in the face of terrorism, and to get out into the world and especially visit Britain, which is a safer haven than America?

Mr. King

Without commenting on the right hon. Gentleman's last point, I must say that there are some muddled ideas in the United States about the risks that are involved in terrorism. One American told me that Americans thought that Europe was too dangerous to visit this year but they might come to Ireland instead. I sought to correct the Americans' problems with their perception of terrorism, and I tried to emphasise once again the safety and security of the United Kingdom and how welcome they would be as visitors.

I also raised the matter of fund raising. I was grateful for the extremely robust approach of the Administration and the President's latest press conference and broadcast to the nation, which made clear his commitment to supporting the United Kingdom on extradition. I was also very grateful for the clear support for responsible fund raising, and I emphasised the importance of that. It is significant that Speaker O'Neill is the leader of the alternative fund, and that is encouraging funds to go through responsible organisations and not through terrorist organisations.

Sir Adam Butler

I am sure that my right hon. Friend argued the British case on the extradition treaty very strongly, but I want to emphasise the points that have already been made about the strength of feeling on this matter. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the treaty were rejected by the Senate it would have immense consequences for the Anglo-American relationship, and, in view of the support that we gave to the Americans in the Libyan crisis and in the light of the Tokyo conference, to which he has already referred, it would, to quote the American ambassador, reek of selfishness and hypocrisy if that treaty were rejected? May we have a message from the House of Commons on behalf of the British people that they will not readily understand nor easily forgive those Senators who vote against the measure, and that even the best of friendships has a price?

Mr. King

I should like to report to my hon. Friend and to the House that that was very much the message that I sought to deliver during my visit to Washington. I should like to feel that it was very generally received, and I respect that, along with the support that we had. I pay tribute to the President, and I include Ambassador Price in my remarks. He has given clear and unequivocal leadership in this issue, which we appreciate. As my hon. Friend rightly says, it simply would not be understood, when it is perceived that the first asset of any terrorist is a passport, if we were to allow that facility between two of the leading nations of the Western world so that terrorists can thumb their noses and escape scot free.

Ms. Clare Short

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he had to say while he was in the United States about the MacBride principles? I understand that the Government are opposed to them, yet their aim is surely to encourage American firms in Northern Ireland to move against discrimination, which is far too high in employment? Why are the British Government opposed to the MacBride principles if they are in favour——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is this to do with extradition?

Ms. Short

The Secretary of State mentioned the MacBride principles in his main answer.

If the Government are in favour of eliminating discrimination, why are they against the MacBride principles?

Mr. King

The British Government are committed to the elimination of discrimination in employment. The Fair Employment Agency was set up by the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 to achieve exactly those objectives. The problem about the MacBride principles is that in certain respects they are in conflict with our legislation. Our legal advice is that they will lead to legal actions, which will lead to problems for the companies concerned. The problem now is that the threat behind the MacBride principles is disinvestment. That is the sanction that is to be applied. I genuinely believe that, far from helping employment for the minority community, they are a threat to all employment in Northern Ireland. They will discourage investment and will penalise the employment not only of Protestants—the majority community—but of Catholics. If the hon. Lady talks to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the Irish Government, who have been vocal advocates of fair employment, she will find that they are equally opposed to the application of the MacBride principles.

Mr. Stanbrook

Before the treaty was signed, what consideration was given to the chances of getting this through Congress, bearing in mind that Congress alone has the power of ratification of treaties in the United States and that the treaty's provisions go far further than do most extradition treaties? Were we not asking the Americans too much?

Mr. King

I am appalled at my hon. Friend's contribution. I am not sure in what respect he would propose amendments to the treaty that we have. There have been suggestions that people who murder by rifle, not machine gun, or by explosion, but not machine gun, might somehow be exempted. I do not know in what respect my hon. Friend suggests amendment. Those amendments are unacceptable to me. I said clearly in the United States that murder is murder and that those who commit terrorist offences should be brought back. That should be the pattern for future extradition treaties. Of course it cannot be guaranteed in advance that the Senate will advise and consent to ratification, but I very much hope that it will on this occasion.

Mr. Archer

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the argument is said to arise from a reluctance to extradite for political offences? First, will he confirm that the House unanimously rejects any suggestion that gangsterism in any cause is a political activity? Can he or his colleagues in the Government help the international community to formulate a criterion which will recognise the legitimate limits of political asylum while ensuring that the civilised world contains no hiding place for those who live by the gun?

Mr. King

I should like to feel that this House is as good a bastion as either of the Houses of Government in the United States for the genuine rights of political asylum. We are distinguishing between those who hold genuine political beliefs and those who use terrorist methods in the pursuit of certain activities. Those are the people whom we cannot tolerate in a civilised society.