HL Deb 12 June 1972 vol 331 cc629-31

7.16 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM rose to move, That the Explosives (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Order, and the Regulations made under it, are aimed at limiting the availability of explosives. Bombs, indiscriminately used by terrorists in Northern Ireland have caused much loss of life, most of the personal injuries, and practically all the damage to property which have occurred during the present campaign of violence. Until recently, gelignite has been the basic explosive material used in the manufacture of I.R.A. bombs, but with the stringent controls now in force in Northern Ireland, backed up by the continuing constraint by the Army against persons bringing supplies of gelignite from the Republic of Ireland, there has been an increasing tendency over the past few months for the Provisionals to use alternative substances which, though not themselves explosives in the usual sense of the word, can unfortunately be converted into effective and very damaging explosives.

The two most commonly used substances are ammonium nitrate and sodium chlorate. Both have proper lawful applications: ammonium nitrate is normally used as a fertiliser, and sodium chlorate as a weedkiller. The explosive characteristics of these substances, however, are now being put to use by the I.R.A., and it is estimated that of the 20,000 lb. of explosives used by the terrorists in Northern Ireland so far this year more than two thirds consisted of one or other of them.

The Order which your Lordships are asked to approve gives my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, power to make Regulations to control these and other substances. It is necessary to make this Order because whilst Section 3 of the Explosives Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 enables Regulations to be made for the control of explosives the definition of the word "explosives" for the purposes of this Act is that set out in the Explosives Act 1875 and relates only to any substance used or manufactured with a view to produce a practical effect by explosion". This definition clearly does not include ammonium nitrate, sodium chlorate and certain other substances which, while not manufactured with a view to produce a practical effect by explosion, are capable of producing such an effect, either by themselves or when used in combination with other substances.

The Order extends the power to make Regulations to cover the control of any substance (including any liquid, article or thing) which is capable of being used, whether by itself or in combination with anything else, as an explosive, and which appears to the Minister of Home Affairs likely to be so used for unlawful purposes". I should explain at this point that because of the urgency of the need to meet this new threat to life and property in Northern Ireland, your Lordships are being asked to approve the Order on the basis of the urgent procedure which is contained in paragraph 4(1) of the Schedule of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act. The Order was in fact made on May 11 and was laid before the House on May 12. It was also forecast in a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place, and repeated in this House by my noble friend the Minister of State at the Home Office. Regulations have already been made under the Order for the control of ammonium nitrate mixtures and sodium chlorate, and these came into effect on June 1, 1972. From this date it was unlawful in Northern Ireland to manufacture, sell, purchase or acquire either substance as defined in the Regulations, except under a licence issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, since there are stocks of the two substances already in the hands of farmers and other purchasers it was considered reasonable to allow time for these stocks to be used or withdrawn. Accordingly it will only be after June 30 of this year that it will be an offence for any person without a licence to have in his possession or under his control or to use the two substances mentioned.

My Lords, I am afraid it is necessary to accept that some measure of inconvenience will be caused to hitherto legitimate users of these substances by the controls which have now been imposed. Unfortunately this is inevitable if attacks on life and property are to be prevented or curtailed. From discussions which have been held in Northern Ireland between the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and the trade interests involved, I am advised that suitable alternatives are being made available to the legitimate user, and that the agricultural and horticultural industries should not suffer undue or lasting hardship as a result of these measures. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Explosives (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, be approved.—(Lord Windlesham.)


My Lords, I indicated on May 11 when the noble Lord's friend made the statement relating to this Order, we should be very happy to cooperate and support it. I only hope that it will prove that with this definition there will be a more effective control of these substances. I should like to think that there will be an improvement in the situation resulting from this more effective control. I am bound to say that I am not all that optimistic; nevertheless, we accept the need for the Order and support it.