HL Deb 21 June 1977 vol 384 cc553-62

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Brookeborough.)

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Marking of detonators]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


May I raise a point on Clause 1 of the Bill which perhaps ought to be the subject of an Amendment. I raise it on the Question whether the clause shall stand part because it gives me the opportunity to say a word or two on this first clause of what is an important Bill. The major point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, when he was replying for the Government on the Second Reading of this Bill was that the Bill was not really necessary. Although both the Government and the Opposition, and indeed all noble Lords in all parts of the House had the same desire to ensure that detonators were controlled as strictly as possible, none the less the Government's view was that the Bill was not necessary because powers to detect the origin of detonators already existed under other legislation.

I feel that a criticism really should be made of the attitude of the Government which was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Lord Harris first of all claimed that the existing marking system had been "very helpful" in producing evidence about the source of detonators used by terrorists in Great Britain. I accept that, but, as I understand it, when a terrorist detonator is recovered at the scene of a crime the process of discovering the origin of that detonator may take months rather than weeks and presumably must be pursued by going to the various distributors who have handled the detonator concerned.

I should have thought that the provisions of Clause 1, taken with Clause 2—because the two clauses are inextricably entwined—could tighten up and speed up the process of discovering how a detonator has fallen into terrorist hands. After all, the marking provisions (that is, Clause 1) will make it clear whether a detonator has been smuggled out of Great Britain into Northern Ireland or perhaps smuggled into Northern Ireland from abroad, and we shall not be left in the dark as to whether a detonator has been smuggled or is old stock.

Secondly, I conclude from the Second Reading debate that the recording provisions of Clause 2—if I may refer to that clause before we come to it—will, and certainly should, make it possible to discover whether a detonator has been lost or stolen and so has fallen into terrorist hands. I will return to Clause 2 when we reach it, but so far as Clause 1 is concerned I confine myself to making the single point that in my view Clause 1 is valuable because it will, or should, shed further light on finding out whether detonators have been smuggled. In that context I have one question for Lord Harris: if the Bill were to pass into law, would it not be necessary to delete the word "intended" from Clause 1(1), which states that manufacturers must mark detonators, … indicating whether the detonator is intended to be used or exported for use …

  1. (a) in Great Britain
  2. (b) in Northern Ireland
  3. (c) in the Republic of Ireland
  4. (d) elsewhere".
The noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton, pointed out on Second Reading that this provision should be tightened up to ensure that the detonator so marked was actually sent to the designated area. I apologise for using this single point as an excuse for making a short speech about the merits of Clause 1, but that is no bad thing, because the Second Reading was quite a long time ago. If the Government agree that the word "intended" should be deleted, then to achieve that I should like to table an Amendment on Report.

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

Attractive though it would be to repeat my Second Reading speech, I think the Committee would probably find it less so. On that occasion I explained why the Government did not consider the Bill to be necessary, although its objectives were admirable. I will gladly look into the point which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has made; he will realise that it is a drafting point which I shall have to look at, but after having done so I will write to him.


I welcome the points made by my noble friend Lord Belstead. As we are dealing with the clause stand part, I do not think it would be right to make a Third Reading speech on the subject. I appreciate what he said about the possible need for an Amendment, and I assure him that I should be delighted to consider it.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Records to be kept]:

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?


As I have said, Clause 2 is an important part of the Bill—indeed, I take the view that it is perhaps the more important of Clauses 1 and 2—and again, with respect, I do not think the Government have entirely taken on board the nature of the problem with which Clause 2, working in tandem with Clause 1, is intended to deal.

I am the first to admit that on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, made a convincing case when he said that existing powers cover the sale and use of explosives and detonators by authorised people. However, the problem is not the authorised person, but the unauthorised one; the problem is the terrorist. On Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Brookeborough told us how a batch of detonators had recently been discovered near his home, and, replying for the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, spoke of a very large number of detonators being "around", many of them manufactured a number of years ago. That means that terrorists are making inroads into old detonators which they may have laid their hands on a number of years ago. I am not disregarding that point, but the fact of the matter is, clearly from our Second Reading debate, that detonators can be and are being obtained and that they are being obtained unlawfully. Therefore, because by no means all the detonators come from the Republic, in my view Clause 2 is necessary.

I believe the clause is necessary for two reasons. First, it is surely necessary to discover whether detonators manufactured for use in Great Britain are smuggled out for use in Northern Ireland. This may not happen very much, and Lord Harris suggested on Second Reading that the major problem was smuggling in from the Republic. Secondly, if the noble Lord was correct in saying that, then if we are to have a comprehensive records system, which is what the Bill would produce, this would be a persuasive argument for convincing the Government of the Republic—a new Government, by the way, at this moment—that their control of detonators needs to be improved because, as the Government spokesman said at the previous stage of the Bill, it is from the Republic that we believe that most of the detonators used in Northern Ireland come.

I would follow that with a question in relation to Clause 2, and it arises from a point which the noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton, made on Second Reading. I wonder whether a provision should be inserted in Clause 2 to ensure that the last legitimate owner of a detonator used it for a legitimate purpose? On Second Reading, I suggested that one way by which a terrorist could lay his hands on a detonator was by persuading another person using explosives to pass some on while pretending that the detonator had been used. As Lord Harris said at that stage, in Northern Ireland only licensed shot-firers may use detonators, and then only under direct police supervision, and unused detonators must be destroyed on the spot with any losses reported to the police.

That is admirable, but it is not the procedure in Great Britain. I am not suggesting that it should be the procedure in Great Britain, but I am suggesting that Clause 2 might be improved by inserting a requirement that the detonator owner must show in his records that the detonator has been lawfully used. The Government may say that this is covered by the regulation-making powers of Clause 2(2), but perhaps it should he spelled out in the text of the Bill. I think that to do so would improve Clause 2 and, if the Government were to agree with me about that, I should like to table an Amendment on Report.


If the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, does not intend to comment on this point, perhaps I may say that I find it difficult to accept the Government attitude to it, because some 600 detonators were recovered and were unmarked, detonators which had been made either for Great Britain or the rest of the world. It would have been helpful, had they been marked and accounted for, if even one of them could have been identified as coming from Great Britain. The insinuation by the Government that they are old stock is not borne out to me by those who analyse and who are directly involved.

Nor is it borne out by the facts. The first fact is that, in September 1971, when the order for marking detonators going to the Irish Republic and to Northern Ireland was made, the first detonator was recovered some four months later. If the terrorists had an ample supply of old stock, the last thing that they would do would be to use stock that was marked, and clearly marked. I have a safe detonator in my pocket and, if noble Lords like, they could see it. Your Lordships will agree that no terrorist would use a marked detonator if he could get unmarked detonators.

All the people I know who are directly involved in this matter are quite satisfied that a large proportion of the detonators at present used by terrorists are of modern manufacture. It merely means that we should perhaps have to go further and have additional marking in a chemical way, which is not a very difficult matter. I agree with my noble friend that this is a very modest Bill. I felt that we should keep it modest in order to try to persuade the Government to do something about a very important matter. It is the first detonator that goes off that matters to the man who is killed, not the others.


I wonder whether we can perhaps persuade the Government spokesman to his feet. It would be helpful. We are in Committee and I believe that, when the Bill had its Second Reading, some of us—myself included—realised that there were difficulties about the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, made a very thorough speech pointing out the legislative provisions that exist which led him to conclude that the Bill was not necessary. I have not risen to my feet to speak on Clauses 1 and 2 for the sake of hearing my own voice and, with regard to Clause 2, I believe that there is quite a serious point which also washes over into Clause 1; that is, the question of smuggling.

When he made his speech on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made the perfectly valid point—for which we are grateful because the Government have the up-to-date information, whereas we have not—that the majority of detonators coming into Northern Ireland come from the Republic. Of course, I accept that. The point that I am trying to get across to the Government is that, although that may be true and although it is possible to see whether a detonator which has been destined by the manufacturers for Southern Ireland has come into Northern Ireland because it has a Southern Ireland mark, I can only assume that the Security Forces would also wish to know, if there appear other detonators which are unmarked, how they have entered Northern Ireland. Have they been smuggled out of Great Britain? If so, have they been smuggled directly to Northern Ireland or have they been smuggled out of Great Britain and on to the Continent, and then have they come back? If that is the case, have they come back from the Continent through Southern Ireland or have they come back directly?

I am raising this matter on the Question, That the Clause stand part and I made a particular point. If the noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not feel that he wants to reply to the particular point which I made and which I said could lead to an Amendment, I believe that it would be helpful if he would take our discussions a stage further and if he would respond to the points which I have now made for the second time about the question of smuggling. I believe that it is germane to the merits not of this Bill only but of existing legislation.


The noble Lord raised a particular question relating to the contents of Clause 2. I gave the Promoter of the Bill, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the opportunity to reply, which seemed to be reasonable, for it is of course the noble Viscount's Bill, not a Government Bill. If the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is asking me to consider this particular point, I shall of course gladly do so and shall write to him. However, as he will realise, it is very difficult to deal with particular points of this sort without notice upon a measure which I must repeat is not a Government Bill.

Of course, there is a real problem here. There is no doubt that there is real difficulty as far as the control of detonators is concerned. There is no argument about that. The question is whether it is sensible to proceed by way of this Bill. I explained to the House on Second Reading why we did not think that it was and why we took the view, having received the advice of all our advisers, that it was not appropriate to proceed in this particular manner. I also explained that, if we wished to arm ourselves with further powers, other pieces of legislation could be used. That remains our position. However, the noble Lord has asked me to look into this particular point and I shall gladly do so at the same time as I deal with the other point.


Do I understand that the noble Lord is saying that he will arrive by other means at the same destination as my noble friend is suggesting? Is he suggesting that the particular terms of the Bill are not acceptable but that the general idea is acceptable and that he has it in mind speedily to produce a Bill that can meet the technical points? Is he saying that? I was interested in the reluctance of the noble Lord to give a Government view today on the basis that he did not want to repeat his Second Reading speech of 8th February. That is very commendable and right but some weeks have passed since 8th February. Has the noble Lord not had any representations from any source since 8th February to cause him to change his mind about the desirability of this?

I ask that question because I have received such representations. Since we had the Second Reading debate—and one of the objects of a Second Reading debate is to excite interest among people who are in a position to give some guidance—I have met within the precincts of the Palace people with a great deal of experience and authority in these matters who have assured me that the aims of this Bill are desirable. They went so far as to say that they were essential, as well as rather urgent. Has that been the experience of the noble Lord or has it simply been confined to me?


The noble Lord will not be astonished to know that that has not been my experience. I am quite sure that there are those who take the view that this Bill would be helpful. The noble Viscount who has promoted the Bill clearly takes that view and so, as I understand it, does the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. What I am saying is not that the Government are contemplating bringing in a Bill of their own but, if the noble Lord will forgive me for drawing his attention to what I said on Second Reading, that, if we wish to take further powers to deal with this problem, there are various pieces of legislation on the Statute Book under which we can act.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Inspection of records]:

3.59 p.m.

Viscount BROOKEBOROUGH moved Amendments Nos. 1 and 2: Page 2, line 31, after ("also") insert (",subject to subsection (2A) of this section,")

Page 2, line 37, at end insert— ("(2A) Any detonator or consignment of detonators carried by sea as part of a ship's cargo shall not be liable to inspection under the provisions of this section while on board the ship or during the loading or unloading thereof.")

The noble Viscount said: In its unamended form, the Bill would have placed onerous obligations on shipowners who are already obliged to keep records to comply with the Department of Trade's requirements for the carriage of dangerous goods. These two Amendments are designed to mitigate the offence without affecting the thrust of the Bill. I beg to move.


Certainly, we see no objection in principle to the Amendments, but they imply that detonators are open to inspection where-ever they may be. That also implies that anyone authorised to inspect detonators has a right of entry to premises, but the Bill makes no such provision. I think that I should draw that to the attention of the noble Viscount.


I should like to proceed with the Amendments and see how they can be repaired at Report stage.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

Viscount BROOKEBOROUGH moved Amendment No. 3: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

Carriage of detonators by sea

.Nothing in this Act shall apply to the carriage of detonators by sea where the port of shipment and the port of discharge are outside the United Kingdom.

The noble Viscount said: The effect of the Amendment is to ensure that the British shipowner carrying detonators from, say, Australia to Japan is not obliged to comply with the Bill. If not amended, shipowners would be placed in considerable difficulties without in any way serving the purpose of the Bill.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.