HL Deb 17 December 1975 vol 366 cc1430-2

2.39 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 whether they will introduce a system of commendation or awards for members of the public whose initiative or actions lead to the arrest and conviction of terrorists.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, we believe that existing arrangements for according recognition to members of the public whose actions lead to the arrest of offenders—whether terrorists or not—are adequate.


My Lords, terrorism has today become a ruthless and diabolical outrage against humanity. Would it not help to stamp it out if acts of courage or alertness leading to the crushing of the criminal gangs concerned were specially recognised and commended? The police are to be warmly congratulated on a very successful operation ending in the Balcombe Street surrender and in finding bomb factories—another one is reported today. But will the Minister confirm that initiatives by the public in taking swift action and providing information are of the greatest help in closing the net?


Yes, my Lords; I agree with the latter point which has been made by the noble Lord. It is obviously most important that we receive the maximum possible assistance from members of the public and we have certainly received such assistance. But I am by no means convinced, nor is my right honourable friend, that the offering of rewards of this character would necessarily accelerate this process. Having said that, may I join the noble Lord in congratulating the Commissioner of Police and all the officers working with him on the successful outcome of the Balcombe Street siege? It was a remarkable triumph and I think we should acknowledge that fact today.


My Lords, will my noble friend bring to the notice of his right honourable friend the Home Secretary the brave action of two police officers last Thursday night in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which led to the arrest of the "Black Panther"?


My Lords, I am certainly well aware of this incident, but as the matter is sub judice I had better be a little cautious in responding to the point which my noble friend has raised.

Viscount ST. DAVIDS

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that there is value in the point that the IRA is split into many and strange factions, many of which are quite prepared to tell on each other? If they knew that all their various friends were able to be handed large sums of money, would it not encourage the IRA to look over their shoulder even more and distrust their friends?


My Lords, that would be a persuasive point but for one reason: that such a scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland but withdrawn a year ago because it was then decided that it had not achieved the purpose which had been set out when it was introduced.


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that one of the great successes in breaking the Communist terrorist activities in Malaya was the result of information and the generous rewards given to those who provided it which led to the detection, arrest, conviction and eventually the defeat of that menace? Therefore, would not the noble Lord consider most carefully whether the points which have been put by my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench are worthy of reconsideration, in view of the grave danger now existing in our midst?


My Lords, the minds of my right honourable friend and myself are not by any means closed to any proposition which may be advanced in this matter. Our objective is to smash IRA terrorism and we shall take whatever action is necessary to do that. At the moment, however, we are not convinced that this is necessary. Indeed, the point made by the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench made this absolutely clear. We have achieved a remarkable triumph in the last week without the offer of rewards of this character.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that my proposal applies to terrorists of all kinds and that unfortunately there are other terrorists in the world who could still be successful? Will the Government also keep their mind open to the question of commendation, if not awards, as this could be voluntary if the persons concerned did not wish to be identified?


My Lords, certainly that will be kept in mind. As the noble Lord will recognise, the police in England and Wales—and I am sure that the same is true of the police in Scotland—are able to make monetary payments in appropriate cases. That applies just as much to terrorist cases as to any other kind.