HL Deb 16 January 1974 vol 348 cc1036-54

6.54 p.m.

LORD WIGG rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: Whether civilians have been interrogated and vehicles searched by members of the Armed Forces during the recent Heathrow exercise, and, if so, under what authority. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not need to elaborate on what happened at Heathrow, for it has received very considerable publicity both at home and overseas. First, I should like to sketch the background against which the Armed Forces of the Crown can be used in aid of the civil authority. The Regulations are now quite clear. At one time they were spread over a number of volumes but, following the work of the Select Committee on the Army Act which laboured for some two years, and of which I had the honour to be a member, an Army Act was produced which met with general approbation and it was eventually adopted by the Conservative Government of the day. One of the things which was asked was that the Manual of Military Law should be re-written so that it could be understood by officers who were called upon to act under the authority of its provisions. That has been done; indeed, more than that has been done.

Part I of the old Manual of Military Law had a considerable amount to say, but the principle now centres upon one sentence. Paragraph 2 in Chapter I of Part I of the Manual of Military Law lays down the doctrine upon which the Select Committee acted. It states: 2. A man who joins the Army, whether as an officer or as a soldier, does not cease to be a citizen. This is based upon a judgment given by Chief Justice Mansfield many years ago. He said: It is therefore highly important that the mistake should be corrected which supposes that an Englishman by taking upon him the additional character of a soldier puts off any of the rights or duties of an Englishman.

The Regulations themselves are now contained in Section V of Part II of the Manual of Military Law. The first sentence of paragraph 2 which is apposite is based upon the judgment of Chief Justice Mansfield. The words are not quite the same and I shall read them. The paragraph reads: 2. The common law, which governs soldiers and other citizens alike, imposes two main obligations in such cases, which are, first, that every citizen is bound to come to the aid of the civil power when the civil power requires his assistance to enforce law and order and, secondly, that to enforce law and order no one is allowed to use more force than is necessary. These obligations apply to everyone in every type of disturbance. 3. When called to the aid of the civil power soldiers in no way differ in the eyes of the law from other citizens, although, by reason of their organisation and equipment, there is always a danger that their employment in aid of the civil power may in itself constitute more force than is necessary. The law is clear that a soldier must come to the assistance of the civil authority where it is necessary for him to do so, but not otherwise. No excess of force or display must be used, and a soldier is guilty of an offence if he uses that excess".

The doctrine is quite clear and has come down to us over a period of 300 years. The principles which I have read were accepted by the Select Committee and the Regulations are crystal clear upon the point. Queen's Regulations lay down the method by which the Armed Forces can aid the Civil Power. The channel of communication must be the chief officer of police—in the case of Heathrow, the Commissioner of Police for the City of London or the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis.

Let me say at once that I have every confidence in the integrity, the ability and the efficiency of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Robert Mark. The allegations which have been made in journals published in Britain that there was a kind of plot, a demonstration of the use of force, to intimidate those who are now engaged in strike action is to my mind quite absurd. I do not believe a word of it. The conspiracy would have to be so wide. It would have to involve the Home Secretary, who is a liberal-minded man; it would have to involve the Chief Commissioner of Police; and it would have to involve senior officers in the Army, because Queen's Regulations make it clear that if the aid of the military is sought by a police officer the Ministry of Defence must know all about it. So what happened at Heathrow must have originated from a request by the Commissioner of Police and the Ministry of Defence must have known about it. To that extent I am quite satisfied. But I am not so satisfied about some of the things that happened.

I have been, I suppose naturally—(though perhaps it is not so natural), because of my service in the ranks of the Regular Army, my interest in the Army and the fact that I was associated with my noble friend Lord Shinwell in the War Office and the Ministry of Defence—the recipient of a number of communications which perhaps other Members of your Lordships' House did not see. So I was on this occasion, as I have been in the past, and I looked to see what happened.

I have here a copy of the Evening Standard for the night of January 7, and in it there is a photograph of a soldier with an automatic weapon stopping a young woman in a car. I have here the original of that photograph. Of course, it may have been "blown up"; it may not be true. But the caption to the picture is: Gun-carrying soldier stops and questions a woman driver at Heathrow today". If that picture does not depict accurately what happened, then I believe it was the duty of the Home Secretary, or of some member of the Government, to contradict it. That is not all. Inside the paper there is a picture of three soldiers, armed with automatic weapons, in a position, one may say, of alert. I remind your Lordships that the Manual of Military Law makes it quite clear that there must not be a display of force and that there must not be an excessive use of force. To my mind, to stop a lady in a car in that way contravenes that Regulation.

But there is further evidence, my Lords. The Daily Telegraph is, I am sure, accepted by the majority, at least, of noble Lords on the other side of the House, although some of us on this side of the House may not accept its authority with the same alacrity. It reminds me, if I may say so, of the old Morning Post in the extreme views it expresses, although I must say that it is not written with the same style as the old Morning Post, which was always a delight to read although its views were, on the whole, almost as much nonsense as the views of this paper. What does the Daily Telegraph say? It says: An Army machinegunner, lying concealed in a position on the western side, was asked what would happen if cars did not stop at the control point he was overlooking. The soldier, a veteran of Northern Ireland, replied grimly, 'They'd stop'". The inference from that is quite clear: if they did not stop he would open fire.

Let me say at once that it may well be that, as they stand, the Regulations are out of date. Certainly when we examined the Army Act some 20 years ago over a period of two years (again we worked during the Recesses) we found that a number of provisions of the old Army Act, which stemmed from the Articles of War, needed to be looked at again. They were looked at again, and they were brought up to date. It may well be that the Regulations as they now stand do not take into account the possibility of criminally minded men using bazookas. If the available powers are not sufficient, it is not good enough for the Army to take the law into its own hands. The job of the Government is to recognise that fact and to come to Parliament and ask for additional powers. This, I should have thought, was very important at a time when the Government, so we are told, are contemplating an Election on the issue of the rule of law. If the provisions of Parliament are not satisfactory, if they do not meet the challenge of the times, then the job of the Government as the executive power is to come to Parliament and renew those provisions.

Of course, the damage that was done at Heathrow goes beyond our shores. Again I rely on the somewhat doubtful authority of the Daily Telegraph. Mr. William Buckley was writing in the Daily Telegraph on January 11—a few days ago. The Daily Telegraph thought it sufficiently important to publish Mr. Buckley's photograph and to print his words in black type. He was forecasting a military coup in Great Britain! Just as I think that the statements made by Mr. Gollan at the Communist Congress at the weekend, that this was part of action by the Government to intimidate the strikers, were nonsense, I equally think that Mr. Buckley is talking the most arrant nonsense. Yet it is perfectly cleat on all the evidence that the doctrine upon which the Armed Forces can be used in support of the Civil Power requires that throughout the operation the police shall remain in charge, in complete control, and that the magistrate, the civil authorities, shall up to a point be the judges and must accept responsibility—responsibility which of course they share with the senior Army officers—about the use of force and the display of force. It means that right the way through the doctrine the Civil Authority Act is paramount. It is upon this that our liberties depend.

May I here interpose this thought? If ever it appears that a trade union is acting in a way which is an infringement of the law, the letters to The Times From Law Lords or ex-Law Lords, from Lord Shawcross or somebody else, simply storm in. But on this subject, when on the clearest possible evidence this matter has been allowed to get out of hand, there is not a word, not a note. I am quite sure that if the positions had been reversed Lord Shawcross would have been here: but not to-day. There have been no letters to The Times—not a single word. Again I repeat: so far as I am concerned, I do not believe in the plot theory. What I do believe is that after the event, if not before it, the Government behaved with that incompetence which one now comes to regard as being normal part of their behaviour. That is normal. The Home Office have no control. They would have been informed.

In this particular case, it happens that as the Commissioner of Police is involved the Home Secretary has some direct responsibility. But the situation having arisen, I believe that the Commissioner, in the exercise of his authority—and I again pay tribute to him—asked for help, help came and then, as a public relations exercise, it got completely out of hand and no effort was made to check it. This is damaging. It is damaging to the reputation of this country; it exacerbates feelings at a time when the reverse needs to happen; and it creates alarmist reports abroad. I do not know what Mr. Buckley's authority is in the United States, but it may even encourage some of the Gnomes of Zurich or the tycoons in New York to sell sterling short, on the grounds that before very long there is going to be a military coup. But this is not all. I have had two communications in which I am assured that this was not planned in Britain at all; that this stems from the Common Market; that there is power, under the Common Market Regulations, without Parliament being consulted, for some regulations to be made in Brussels. Where does it end?

I have every confidence in the Army. I have every confidence in the common sense of officers and other ranks alike. But is there really a serious threat? Is it possible that before we know where we are some regulations would be made and we would have the Guardia Civile coming in? This is where rumour can go unless it is checked. I do not believe a single word of it. I put down this Unstarred Question and used the procedures of your Lordships' House because there ought to be a categorical answer from the Government. If, in actual fact, it really did get out of hand; if instead of the civil authorities asking the Army for help it eventually turned out that the Army had taken control over and beyond the police—if that happened, let us have an admission. Let us have an assurance that it will never happen again. On the other hand, if the situation did arise so that the steps that were taken were necessary; that the Army and the police authority found it necessary to act in the way they did, including people armed with automatic weapons stopping young women driving cars; if it were necessary and the law is not sufficiently strong, do not let us do it this way. Let us come to the Houses of Parliament, the Commons and the Lords, and seek additional powers. I await with considerable interest the Answer of the Government.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has presented his case (I hope he will not mind my saying so) with his usual clarity and with enormous and unaccustomed moderation. I do not know that at this hour I have very much to add to what he has said. He and I were together in another place for a long time, and among his many avocations the noble Lord was always the spokesman for the private soldier, or for the whole of the Army. But I think that he had a very justifiable preference for those who had less chance to speak for themselves. As one who was a private soldier in the Army long after he was, I share that view. I do not think, in theory, that the Army should ever have been sent to Northern Ireland. In legal terminology the only justification, perhaps the only possible justification, was that in the circumstances there was no alternative.

I could wish sometimes that those of us who know pacifism could recruit a pacifist constructive force of people prepared to risk their lives, and give their lives without compensation, and to take part in reconstruction. It may be, looking back, that that was one of the situations in which, with no solution, such a thing might have happened. For myself, I always took the defence of the village "Bobby", particularly the policeman on the beat; the man against whom there was always a slightly historic antipathy on the part of the Labour Party on the simple and absolutely certain proposition that wherever there was a conflict between Fascists and Socialists it was the Socialist heads that were broken and not the Fascist heads. The same thing happened, unfortunately, between the Fascists and the Jews. It was the Jews who were attacked and beaten up. That was because the Police Force is necessarily in the service of the Establishment, and, the Establishment at the time was a very Right Wing one.

My Lords, I do not think that there has ever been an occasion when we owed more thanks to the Army than for the way they have conducted themselves in Northern Ireland; with lads of 18 and 19 years of age facing an ordeal which I should have thought would after some time have broken down the morale of the sturdiest and of the strongest. To-day the police are facing a situation almost unprecedented in peace time, and they have shown a skill, an assiduity, a courage and speed of organisation for which all of us owe them a very real debt of thanks. The noble Lord will know that there always has been a deep-rooted antipathy to the conjunction of the military force and the protective force at the same time for the same object. It is a sort of operation which can be justified only in times of exceptional emergency. I agree, and perhaps I would put it more strongly even than did the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that there should at once have been a report on this matter to Parliament.

Let us assume, ex-hypothesi (I do not ask the noble Viscount to confirm or deny it), the particular fact or theory that settled down after a time: that this operation was arranged partly because the defences of London Airport have quite clearly been exposed as inadequate; partly because, despite the metal tests and various specialist devices, arms were getting through; and partly also because there were doubts about the efficiency of London Airport's own police, and its own secrecy. There was also the suggestion that there was a Sam 7 wandering around Europe, which had passed through the airport at Brussels and which might have passed through the airport at Rome, which would not have got into the luggage box at the Swiss station referred to as a deposit of arms. Another possible reason for the operation was that we were told these things were taking place all over Europe, and, quite possibly, the immediate necessity of taking protective measures against the possible use of such a weapon, even of a single weapon, against aircraft flying away from London Airport. That has been said so often that to repeat it certainly can do no harm; and I shall well understand if the noble Viscount who is to reply does not feel it appropriate to give us today the military and secret details about the operation.

If the situation was as I have suggested, the operation is understandable. One cannot tell—we are not in a position to know—how far it was necessary to use the military; how far it was wise; how far it could have been an experiment in the face of a possible future emergency. Certainly the alarm and dismay to the public must have been very considerable. The dislocation must have been considerable. It is of course the fact that news about the operation was being broadcast into every house in the country shortly after it commenced; and if the object really was to place a single bazooka in the back of a car one would have thought that the second day's operation was a somewhat unnecessary procedure.

But, my Lords, let us confess that the situation is serious. It is serious if we are told that one of the richest nations in the East is helping to finance terrorist activities all over Europe and in particular, directly or indirectly, the Irish Republican Army. One of the reasons, perhaps one of the results, is that there has been too much idle speculation; too many rumours which the Press has a tendency to exaggerate. I did not quite catch a single word that the noble Viscount uttered—I think he intended it to be heard—when my noble friend produced his photograph. I think he said, "Forged". He made a comment which I thought suggested—


My Lords, what I said under my breath was "Order!", because I did not think one was allowed to produce photographs in the House. Of course, it is not a very serious point.


My Lords, that is quite clearly what I took it to be. We all know what happens: an enterprising Press photographer wants to produce a dramatic photograph and he persuades the soldiers to stand outside a car and the occupants co-operate—something like that.


No, my Lords, is was nothing to do with the photograph as such. I was saying that I thought there was a rule that photographs could not be produced in the House.


I am sorry, my Lords; but I have seen the photograph and it is alarming. It might well be the only explanation, and the noble Lord may well have been justified in producing a photograph. If this was the sort of thing seen in London early in the morning by people travelling around London Airport, then it becomes a very serious matter. What I really wanted to say was this. The police at the moment are gravely overstretched and gravely under strength. They are suffering wastage, as they always have done. I was a member of the Royal Commission on the Police for four years and I remember we had the same problem at that time. I do not know how far the Home Office is directly responsible for the Metropolitan Police and not for the provincial police, as the position was then. We made recommendations and most of them were adopted. I do not recall the details of the various recommendations that we put forward.

There was never a time when the fullest co-operation and confidence between the public and the police was more necessary than it is now. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that it is not so long that when there was a motor accident the witnesses disappeared the moment the police arrived. They did not want to be involved. I remember one of the daftest things the Liberal Party ever did: they tried, through legislation, to get the use of identity cards abolished. This was hailed as a great triumph. I am told that a liberal lady in California is now fighting for the freedom not to give her fingerprints. Members of the public are willing to co-operate now. Noble Liberal Lords hand in their identity cards without the slightest protest and yet we leave the police in the situation in which they have to take 90,000 fingerprints in a single town in order to trace the person who committed one of the gravest of crimes. A little more co-operation, understanding and praise is a very necessary thing.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, gave the Government a cleaner bill than I would, because there is a possibility of confrontation. People are concerned about this growing possibility—I hope to God it will never happen! There is a growing concern about what forces may be used in the case of civil unrest and strife. That is why perhaps some papers have been publishing articles of a very alarmist nature. The noble Lord referred to the Daily Telegraph; and even the Guardian—which nobody could accuse of being very excitable—was talking about the rapid development of the Home Defence and Assistance Corps in London as if it were something sinister. The Times comes out on the front page to-day with the simple statement that the Germans had armaments depots in Westmorland of all places—whatever for I do not know, because one would have thought that a retreating German Army could not have set foot in Westmorland without some considerable difficulty. There are these rumours. The noble Lord says he does not believe them, and I agree to a certain extent, apart from the possibility of civil confrontation. But I would ask your Lordships to remember that a Statement should have been made in this House, and it ought to have been made already. It should, at least, be made quite clear that the Government feel that the co-operation of military, para-military and police forces is to be resorted to only in a very special emergency—and such an emergency I do not think has occurred in this country in peace time for a very long time indeed.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wigg was justified in placing on the Order Paper his Unstarred Question if only because, so far as I am aware, no explanation has been offered by any Department of the Government (I presume this is something which primarily concerns the Home Office) for the fact that the Army has been taking part in the exercise at Heathrow. I have always been under the impression that before the Army can come to the aid of the police there must be something in the nature of a Proclamation. I recall that before the First World War, when there was some trouble arising from an industrial dispute in South Wales, the then Prime Minister, (Mr. Asquith), ordered the troops to South Wales to deal with the situation. My impression at that time was that there had to be some Statement made by the Government in this connection—perhaps a Proclamation of some kind. No doubt the noble Viscount will be able to correct me if I am wrong.

I am reminded of another occasion in 1919 when the rather speedy demobilisation of Servicemen led to excessive unemployment in the West of Scotland and other industrial centres. The notion was conceived by some of my colleagues and myself that we might assist in absorbing many of the unemployed by reducing the hours of labour. It was known as "the 40 hours strike"—of course it was not a strike but a demonstration. I can recall an occasion when the Riot Act was read in Glasgow, in George Square, when the Sheriff, various magistrates and others associated with the event were engaged in the operation. Then the military entered the fray. Tanks appeared on the street and soldiers were placed on the roofs of buildings for some reason which was unaccountable to us at the time. But the Riot Act was read, and I can understand it.

In this particular instance, so far as I know, there was no Proclamation and no explanation has been given by the Government. I can understand that if, because of their shortage of manpower, the Police need help in dealing with security matters, it is for the Government to decide to what extent help may be given by the Forces. But I should like to make it quite clear that while we expect the Government to provide what measure of security resides in our Forces other than the police or the military—I make no complaint; it is understandable—some explanation should have been offered by the Government. So far as I know, none has been offered. There have been references in the Press to this matter, and I think the Government might have offered some explanation without my noble friend having raised the issue. It is possible that there is a notion in the minds of some people that the military is required to be used against the civil population in the event of an industrial strike, or something of that sort. I do not believe there is any conspiracy of that kind, but one never can tell. It would, however, allay anything in the nature of suspicion, disquiet or misunderstanding if we had an explanation from the noble Viscount. That is the purpose behind this short debate.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said and offer what I hope will be an explanation. I am glad, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has given us an opportunity of doing this. May I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Hale, that although some of his remarks may—if I could respectfully put it like this—go a little wide of the subject matter of this Question, perhaps I may be forgiven for not answering all of them. He was very perspicacious and wise in putting this matter into a setting, a perspective, and I should just like to fill out some of the background that he touched upon. I believe that it is necessary to do so in order properly to understand what has happened on this particular occasion.

I do not think that your Lordships needed to be reminded that in recent times there has been a considerable increase in terrorist activities in Europe, and indeed elsewhere too. On December 17, Arab terrorists attacked and partially destroyed a Pan Am Boeing 707 at Rome airport, killing 30 people and wounding many more. They then seized a number of hostages and a Lufthansa Boeing 727 and flew to Athens, where they negotiated without success for the release of two Arabs arrested in Athens following an earlier attack there on August 5, 1973. Subsequently they flew to Kuwait, where the hostages were released. In France, two Palestinians connected with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (the P.F.L.P.), together with 10 Turks and an Algerian, were arrested on December 20 for being in possession of arms and explosives. Then there have been persistent reports, and this has been mentioned already, of SA-7 surface to air missiles being in the hands of terrorists at large in Europe. In September, five Arabs were arrested in Rome for being in possession of two of these missiles.

Over the Christmas period there were positive indications that terrorists were turning their attention to this country. The shocking attempt on the life of Mr. Sieff—which we are all thankful was unsuccessful—was made on December 30. The P.F.L.P. has claimed responsibility for this attack, although the police have not yet identified the man responsible. Between Christmas Day and December 29, four Arabs were detained at Heathrow. It appeared that the men had links with terrorist organisations, and they were sent back to the Middle East. Then there was a series of events which began on December 29 with the arrival of an American girl at London Airport and which led to the girl and two men being charged with conspiracy in relation to the possession of firearms. Finally in this chapter, the Government obtained some general information which, taken with the information that I have mentioned, indicated an increased threat to Heathrow which could not be ignored. The information was built up from a number of sources and assessments which I am afraid I cannot publicly reveal, but it was plain that against the background which I have just described, that information had to be taken seriously.

Now we have had the operation about which this Question has been asked and I am glad to provide for the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, the reason for it. With this background in mind the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis—and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, for his tribute to Sir Robert—sought the Government's authority to put into operation the contingency plan for the use of police and troops to defend Heathrow against terrorist attack. This plan, which is one of a number of contingency plans against terrorism and which was drawn up by the police and the military with the Government's approval, has been in existence for some time.

The plan is aimed at prevention and deterrence, and that would support the claim of everybody. It is clearly desirable as a general principle that plans of this kind should be exercised; but equally, a decision to mount an exercise on this scale cannot be taken lightly. In the light of the threat which I have described it was right that the plan should be put into operation, not only for the sake of the exercise itself but also as a preventive and deterrent measure. We think that it would have been wrong not to exercise the plan when the Government believed that there might be a need for it. I believe that most people are glad that the Government acted as they did; and I believe that the public has generally welcomed this example of the Government's determination to take all the steps we can to prevent and deter terrorist acts.

May I just say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, for dispelling from his mind—and I hope from everybody else's mind—any suggestion that there was here a conspiracy; that the "gnomes of Zurich" were involved; that the operation had something to do with the E.E.C. Regulations; or anything else of that nature. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. I am trying to set the background and to put it rather more realistically and factually than any of those rather more far-fetched matters. The fact that this operation—so alien to our tradition in this country—was necessary at all is one that every noble Lord will regret. I read in the Guardian what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, was forecast as being about to say, and I must emphasise that it was not an exercise that was put on solely—in the words ascribed to the noble Lord—"to see how it would go". There was a real need to carry out this plan.

Your Lordships will have noted that the threat against which the exercise is directed came from outside this country. There is no ground whatsoever for any sort of apprehension that this is the thin end of the wedge and that the Army is encroaching upon the field of police duty. I do not know what Mr. Buckley is on about in the quotations that were given from him. Where the Army is called upon to aid the civil power on this scale, it is perfectly plain—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and others said this—that the request in the first instance comes from the police. It is for the Government to decide whether to accede to such a request, and in this case the Government decided, for the reasons that I have given, that it would be right to do so.

I should say in passing to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who was talking about proclamations and riots, the Riot Act—which I believe has been repealed—and other matters of that sort which are involved, that if he cares to study Section 5 of the Manual of Military Law to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has referred, he will see the position very clearly set out. In fact, those particular matters and the circumstances which the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, had in mind, are rather different from the ones that we are dealing with here. But the position is just as clearly described in the rules laid down in the Manual as it is for the present circumstances. I would refer him to the rules; he might be quite interested to see what they are.

It is right that we should take stock and consider carefully what lessons are to be learned from the operation that we have undertaken. After all, the essence of contingency plans of this kind is that they should be capable of being put into effect at short notice. Once the decision had been taken—and in this case, one had to be taken—the troops and the police were in position within a matter of hours and I think we shall all agree that they are to be congratulated upon the speed and efficiency with which they acted.

Why were troops used? I think this is part of the underlying worry that is in the minds of noble Lords. The police in this country are neither equipped nor trained to deal with terrorists armed with sophisticated weapons. As is known, the terrorists who have recently been operating in Europe have been equipped with such weapons and there was a possibility that such weapons might have been encountered in the operation at Heathrow. It was therefore thought necessary to have troops in support of the police. In addition, one of the objects of the operation was to carry out extensive preventive patrolling. The military are experts in this field, and their contribution in manpower available at short notice was of great value to the police who are, of course, heavily committed by their other duties and their other responsibilities, as the noble Lord, Lord Hale, has mentioned.

These factors—that troops might be needed to counter a threat of sophisticated weapons and to provide additional manpower—were fully recognised in the contingency plan and were indeed the basis of that plan. Both infantry and armoured reconnaissance units took part in the operation. The reconnaissance unit which was allocated to the task was equipped with Scorpions, which are tracked light reconnaissance vehicles, and with Saracens, which are armoured troop carriers. The unit's communications were in these vehicles, and for obvious reasons the unit did not delay in order to change vehicles. This change was made later when the opportunity occurred, and the troops then operated in Land-rovers and the like. They had the heavier vehicles with their radios in them.

Now I think I should come to the powers and the legal situation which concerned, and rightly concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and indeed the specific Question which he has asked. My Lords, I hope that the House will conclude at the end of my speech on this matter that this matter did not get out of hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, suggested; and I will try and deal with that point. Of course it is right that reassurance should be sought. There is, and there was, no question of the mili- tary having replaced the civil power. In operations of this sort, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has said, the police are in overall control; and they were on this occasion. They specify the task which they wish the military to perform and the military commander then directs his troops to carry it out. In this case the military assisted the police at road blocks and check points and by undertaking general patrols. Their presence at the road blocks and check points was essentially a back-up to the police in the event of trouble, but some of the troops engaged in the operation did question drivers and search vehicles. When they did so they were, as I say, acting in support of the police, and there would generally have been a police officer on the scene.

The troops—and this again has been made perfectly clear by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in his quotations from the Manual, have no special powers beyond those belonging to the ordinary citizen. The good sense and co-operation of members of the public may generally be relied upon, I am glad to say, in operations of this kind. Co-operation was in fact forthcoming in the operation at Heathrow, and I know of no case in which a member of the public refused to have his or her car searched by the military or the police, or to answer questions. Had anyone done so, the soldier would have referred the matter to the police. There is thus no question of the troops having acted illegally. The use of force—and I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg: it is a very old concept of common law—must be confined to what is reasonable and necessary; but in fact it was not necessary to use any force on this occasion. In case that bit of paragraph 3 of Section 5 of the Military Manual may enter some people's heads (and I find nothing wrong with this statement in the Manual) and it is suggested that the mere presence of armed troops constitutes a use of force, then I would say that this armed presence was eminently reasonable and justified by the nature of the threat to which I referred at the beginning of my speech. That is the way I put that.

After all, I do not have to go over I again the incidents at Rome and the arrest of terrorists, and all the other things which were involved in the background of this whole operation. My Lords, that, I hope, deals adequately with the background, with the operation itself and with the vitally important question of the legality and the method by which the troops were brought in and the way in which their powers were used. I would say, in conclusion, that the scale of the military presence at Heathrow will of course be reduced or increased in future, as may be necessary in the light of our continuing assessment of the risks. But let it be quite clear that the Government will not hesitate to take whatever steps they consider necessary to protect the lives of innocent people in this sort of way or any other.


My Lords, I have no right of reply, but perhaps the House will permit me to say that I find the noble Viscount's reply entirely satisfactory. I would back up any efforts which the Government may make to inquire into the lessons that need to be learned and, if necessary, to strengthen the law. I would say only one thing: I wish what he has said tonight had been said several days ago.


My Lords, since the noble Lord, in order to keep within the Rules of Order, will have made that remark before I sat down, may I just say I am very grateful to him indeed.

House adjourned at twelve minutes before eight o'clock.