HL Deb 07 August 1972 vol 334 cc742-4

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps have been taken to prevent the use of an office in Great Britain by any of the bodies affiliated to the Palestine Liberation Organisation who have as their declared policy the harbouring, training and otherwise encouraging of persons who hi-jack planes, and the killing of the innocent men, women and children involved in the hi-jacking.


My Lords, my right honourable friend made clear in replies given in another place on July 27 that, while there is no power to prevent an organisation from setting up an office, he would not hesitate to use to the full his powers to keep out or expel any alien likely to engage in acts of violence or to encourage or incite such acts. My right honourable friend also said that the courts had ample powers to deal with any breach of the criminal law.


My Lords, while appreciating the points that have been made by the noble Viscount, might I ask him whether he is not aware that the organisations which are affiliated to the P.L.O. have declared that they are proposing, as they have done in the past, to hi-jack planes, to commit crimes and to continue to train people for that purpose? Is the noble Viscount saying that if that kind of action is tolerated by an organisation the individuals who run that organisation are not liable to criminal proceedings? If so, does he say that if an organisation were set up for the purpose of committing murders in this country nothing could be done about the setting up of that organisation?


Yes, my Lords; as to the setting up of that organisation the noble Lord is quite right. But the noble Lord has a very great experience of criminal law. He has put to me a number of hypothetical situations which he knows well would or could in this country be capable of being dealt with under the criminal law. If there were any question of anybody seeking to come in from outside to take part in these activities my right honourable friend has already explained, and in no mean firmness of terms, what he can and would do about the situation.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount to realise that there is considerable anxiety about this set-up, and that, it is known that in all probability any such organisation will be used as a cover for connections with individuals and other organisations abroad and for the purpose of committing murder? This is exactly what it means. With his ingenuity and ability, is the noble Viscount not in a position to advise that some steps might be taken to prevent an organisation of that description opening an office, or that some steps should be taken to make it illegal for such an organisation to open offices in this country?


My Lords, the anxiety is not only well known to me but must be apparent to those who have listened to the Questions on this subject which have been asked both here and in another place. Yes, with ingenuity, with difficulty, with time, with a good deal of controversy and with dubious results it would be possible to pass legislation which would deal with the organisations as such. At the moment there is none. The anxiety is instant, and I have told the noble Lord and the House on past occasions what we can do. I have also told the noble Lord and the House, as my right honourable friend has done in another place, of the urgency and seriousness with which we take this matter and the degree of firmness with which we propose to use our powers.


My Lords, if such an office were set up it would presumably have a staff, if only a doorkeeper, and some sort of financial administration to enable it to pay its rent. Would it be possible to charge that office with the cost of police protection for the Jordanian Ambassador who was very nearly assassinated at the end of my street?


My Lords, this is a hypothetical question of the greatest complexity. In the first place, before one can seek to charge any body one must discover whether it is an organisation which is accepted as "a legal person" in this country. I do not know what the legal set-up would be in relation to this organisation. If there was none—and I would think this is likely—one would have recourse against only individuals. What they are worth is something I simply cannot speculate on.


My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell us whether Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that they will anticipate crime in this matter as well as they will be able to prosecute after the crime is committed?


My Lords, this is an exceedinely important aspect of the matter. I do not suppose that one would ever be wholly satisfied about one's powers to anticipate crime. What I can tell the House is that we are not badly equipped, and that we propose to use our resources to the best possible effect in the direction the noble Lord suggests.