HL Deb 11 September 1972 vol 335 cc10-7

2.55 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of the horrific massacre committed at the Olympic Games in Munich, what steps they propose to take in conjunction with other Governments to prevent the harbouring by any State of terrorist assassins and those who plan the murders and train the murderers, and to deal with those criminals generally.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have made it clear how deeply they deplore acts of indiscriminate violence. Together with other Governments we are considering various methods to prevent terrorism and to ensure that terrorists are brought to justice.


My Lords. in view of the ghastly massacre and the quite certain fact that these men were killed in a most callous manner while they were bound, may I, first of all, ask the noble Baroness whether she will see to it that since Egypt has declared that she condones—indeed, commends—the action, the Egyptian Foreign Minister will not be invited to this country, particularly in view of public anxiety about the matter?

Secondly, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she will now see that some method is adopted whereby such organisations as the Palestine Liberation Organisation and indeed Fatah, whose offices in Beirut are being used by the Black September group who committed this action, will be prevented from coming here or opening offices?

Thirdly, may I ask why Her Majesty's Government saw fit to attack Israel, when all that Israel was doing was trying to exterminate centres from which these activities emanate? It is vitally important, not only to Israel but to the world as a whole, that these centres should be destroyed, and States which allow such centres in their countries should not receive such facilities as civilisation affords to other nations.


My Lords, I perfectly understand the noble Lord's concern, but I do not think that we can hope to achieve peace in the Middle East if we deny a visit to this country of the Egyptian Foreign Minister. Therefore that will go on, and it is expected to be on about September 18, although it has not been finally confirmed.

So far as the P.L.O. office and other offices of that nature are concerned, I am sure the noble Lord knows that under the laws of this country we cannot refuse permission for an organisation to set up an office. But we have very strict laws under which we can refuse persons whom we have any reason to think are likely to commit terrorist activities in this country.

On the third question, I would say that the United Kingdom delegation in the Security Council fought hard to have inserted in the resolution something which also condemned what happened at Munich. We were not successful, and therefore we voted for the resolution which condemned attacks in the Middle East as it stood. because we did not think to do otherwise would help the cause which Israel has at heart.


My Lords, I am certain that the whole House will share my noble friend's great horror at the episode at Munich last week. I have a feeling that the House will agree with me if I suggest to the noble Earl the Leader of the House—since we are the only House of this Parliament which is now sitting—that perhaps means could be found to express to the Government and people of Israel our very deep regret and great sympathy at what occurred in Munich last week.

The noble Baroness referred to the position of Her Majesty's Government under the law in regard to the offices of these various organisations. I believe that she undertook to look into this. I presume, in view of what she has said, that it is still being considered, and I hope she can confirm that.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness could also say something about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government at the conference last week in America on hijacking and terrorism, since it is all part and parcel of the same problem. I understand that the Americans proposed that there should be a convention about the return of hijackers and terrorists. In that particular case the British Government, I understand, did not agree with the United States and have made their own proposals. I wonder whether the noble Baroness, to-day or perhaps while we are sitting, would make a Statement on this matter?


My Lords, I would say at once that of course Her Majesty's Government, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, instantly expressed very great concern and regret at the killings in Munich.

In reply to the second question as to the P.L.O. office, there is, as I understand it, no intention at the moment to set up such an office. The question was examined. It would need legislation, and it would be extremely difficult to draft legislation through which there could not be a great number of loopholes. But under the law of this country we have power to act and will act against individuals, which is much the most important.

On the third question, at the conference of the ICAO in the United States the Americans tabled an outline draft providing for a procedure first of all for deciding when a State was in default in relation to hijacking or sabotage against aircraft, and secondly for agreement among States on the form of concerted action they could take. A number of members, I understand, found it very difficult to accept these proposals. Therefore the United Kingdom put forward alternative proposals designed to be more acceptable, and those are now under consideration.


My Lords, in view of the great escalation of terror that has been going on, is it not urgent that the Government should consider legislation against terrorists, particularly in view of the reply of the noble Baroness to my noble friend Lord Brockway, which made it seem likely that terrorists could be harboured here and sent back to their own country to be let off and not to be punished?


My Lords, the noble Baroness's supplementary question was rather in contrast with that of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. Quite apart from the question of offices in this country, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will discuss this week with his European colleagues, the Foreign and Finance Ministers, in Rome, the whole question of the harbouring of terrorists and methods of preventing terrorism.


My Lords, would not the noble Baroness agree that, great as may be the drafting and legal difficulties, it is an anomaly that no powers exist to exclude organisations in the same way as we now can exclude individuals? Would she not agree that the principles of a free society, difficult as they may be to translate into legislation, do not involve acquiescence in being suckers?


My Lords, I would entirely agree with the noble Lord in that respect, but it is also a fact (is it not?) that any terrorist organisation could assume a perfectly innocent name, and therefore that it is more effective to have in the legal system a power to act against individuals.


My Lords, is it not the recognition of the ordinary legal and moral duty to co-operate against crime which belongs to the citizens and institutions of any civilised State? That principle was put to the Jewish National Council by Her Majesty's Government in 1947 following the murder of 40 British soldiers by a Jewish organisation. The Jewish National Council refused to accept the principle on the ground that it conflicted with Jewish political interests.

I suggest to the Minister for earnest consideration that Her Majesty's Government should undertake a study with her Defence partners on the nature of modern society in relation to acts of war and the use of guerilla forces. For the world may now be facing a phenomenon which perhaps has its origins in the Book of Isaiah. But to-day the urban guerrilla is the ultra-modern manifestation of an emergency problem which we may have to accept as part of our lives.

What happened at Munich is shocking and deplorable and can find no sanction in the minds of civilised men and women. But Her Majesty's Government will realise that the same thing is happening every day in Ulster and Vietnam and the problem must be looked at as a world problem and a continuing moral, political and defence problem that may continue and grow.


My Lords, I would agree that the urban guerilla is one of the most formidable and difficult problems civilised countries have to face and it is for that reason that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is consulting with his colleagues in Rome. It is also a fact that it has been brought into the United Nations General Assembly by the proposal of the United Nations Secretary-General to inscribe an item on measures to prevent terrorism, and this, of course, will be debated in this coming Session.


My Lords, while recognising that two wrongs do not make a right, is it not a fact, as the noble Lord has pointed out, that post-war terrorism started in 1946–47 with the brutal murders by the Irgun Zvi Leumi and the Stern Gang`"Referring to the Orange Grove murders and the blowing up of the King David Hotel did not Ben Hecht write: I have a song in my heart every time a British soldier is killed. As a soldier who served in Palestine at that time and lost a very close friend, and as the father of a soldier now on his third turn of duty in the Creggan and Bogside, may I ask the Government to make certain that the media give adequate coverage to the funeral this week of three or four, or it may be five, British soldiers killed in Northern Ireland, as they did to the Munich catastrophe? After all, the unfortunate soldier was only doing then what he is doing now, trying to stop two barbaric tribes murdering each other.


My Lords, while I absolutely understand the noble Lord's feeling, I am afraid the Government have no power to influence the media on what they report or how they report it. I would suggest that if we do want to have a settlement in the Middle East me should as far as possible contain the many things no doubt many of us would like to say.


My Lords, those of us, and there are many, who have friends in both Israel and Egypt deeply regret that Egypt did not condemn the crimes of Munich, and when the Egyptian Minister comes to Britain will Her Majesty's Government convey to the Egyptians that crimes of this nature hinder everything that Egypt has in mind?


My Lords, I think we would all agree with the last part of the noble Lord's Statement. The first part of his question I will certainly draw to the attention of my right honourable friend.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether, having had raised again this question of the P.L.O. and similar organisations, she will inquire of the FATAII what they have been doing in this matter for many years? Similar organisations should, by legislation if necessary, be prevented from having centres in this country from which centres go forth instructions, directly or indirectly, to this kind of gang. Secondly, may I ask her to realise that what happened at the Olympic Games indicates that there is a cancerous growth which tends to destroy civilisation if it is not cut out at once? Will she see to it that the strongest measures as far as are humanly possible, are taken to prevent this kind of action continuing?


My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord said "as far as are humanly possible", because I think that sums up the whole question. We have for some time taken measures to strengthen our security arrangements here, and of course we are trying to cooperate with other governments in the international field. To reveal exactly what these arrangements are would mean that they would be useless, but I certainly take the point of the great seriousness of this matter.


My Lords, pending any further action, could the Government let it be known to the Governments of the Arab States, particularly during the forthcoming visit of the Egyptian Foreign Minister, that the presence of these terrorists, or any of their associates, would be highly unwelcome in this country?


My Lords, I think it is well known throughout the Middle East that we very much deplore the harbouring of terrorists of this nature.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness—


My Lords, although the questioning has gone very wide and some of it has not been in an interrogative form, I have hesitated to intervene in this discussion because of the seriousness of the issues raised in the last two Questions and because Parliament has not had a chance to ventilate these issues. But I would suggest to your Lordships, with all deference to my noble friend, that it would be right for us now to move on to the rest of our business.


My Lords, in supporting the noble Earl perhaps I may say that I was about to rise to ask whether, while he was on holiday and I was on holiday—and, of course, we all ought still to be on holiday—there had been a change in Standing Orders which allowed a debate to take place based on a Question; but in view of the extreme tolerance which I think the House has shown on a matter on which, equally, as the noble Earl makes clear, there is such deep feeling, I think he was probably right to let it run as far as he did. May I, however, ask one question? Would the noble Baroness consider what has been the result of the consideration which her colleague, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, undertook to give to the possibility of taking powers to deal with the setting up of organisations?


My Lords, I know, of course, that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is a good Parliamentarian, but at the end of his remarks to the effect that this debate should come to a close he has somehow managed to insert a question, which I feel is not entirely fair to my noble friend, sitting on this side, who had risen to his feet. Therefore, unless the noble Earl the Leader of the House asks me to go further I would say only that I did answer the noble Lord's question earlier on.


My Lords, the noble Baroness is so courteous and so fair. She heard what I said.