HL Deb 14 March 1977 vol 380 cc1409-37

9.56 p.m.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH rose to move, That the draft Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order 1977, laid before the House on 24th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move, that the draft Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order 1977, be approved. The purpose of this Order is to renew the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 for a period of 12 months beginning on 25th March.

As the House will recall, it is now nearly 12 months since the 1976 Act was passed, the Act which repealed and re-enacted with Amendments the Act of a similar name passed in 1974 in the immediate aftermath of the Birmingham public house explosions. During these 12 months terrorist activity has continued, although I am glad to say that it has been at a much lower level than in 1975 and the early part of 1976. In all the circum stances, the most appropriate course would be for me to give a brief summary of the overt terrorist activity in Great Britain since the enactment of last year's Act.

Just under a year ago, on 27th March, soon after the 1976 Act was passed, an explosion occurred at the Ideal Home Exhibition in London. Eighty-five people were injured and one person subsequently died. As the House will recall, this was the last incident in a series of terrorist attacks on London and the Home Counties in the early months of 1976. Then, in May 1976, a series of eight letter bombs were sent to some well-known people and several civil servants. Fortunately, these attacks did not result in any casualties. After these attacks there were no more terrorist incidents in Great Britain for the rest of the year. But the lull ended suddenly early this year, when on 29th January some 14 devices exploded in shops and other premises in the Oxford Street area of London. No casualties resulted, but there was, as will be recalled, extensive damage to property.

Then, on 2nd February, an explosion occurred in a Department of Employment office in Liverpool, and in a subsequent search a quantity of material was found in a house in the city. This included over 10 lb. of high explosive, 17 incendiary devices assembled ready for use, seven electric detonators, other bomb-making material and a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver and 24 rounds of ammunition. Two men were detained after these discoveries and have since been charged in connection with them.

I turn now to the Act itself and the use which has been made of it. I think that noble Lords may find it useful if I go through the cumulative statistics of cases under the 1974 and 1976 Acts up to 1st March this year, and I shall note separately the cases dealt with under the 1976 Act. I will deal first with exclusion orders. As noble Lords know, an exclusion may be made against a person whom the Home Secretary is satisfied is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, or who is attempting or may attempt to enter the country for this purpose.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and his predecessor have made 95 exclusion orders in total, of which 20 have come under the 1976 Act. In addition, six orders in total (including two under the 1976 Act) have been made by the Lieutenant Governors of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, as they are empowered to do. Nineteen people in total (including two under the 1976 Act) against whom orders have been made have made representations against the order, and five of the orders in these cases, all under the 1974 Act, have been revoked. Four orders have been revoked for other reasons. Eighty-one people in total (including 20 under the 1976 Act) have been removed, 58 in total (including 14 under the 1976 Act) to Northern Ireland, and 23 in total (including six under the 1976 Act) to the Republic of Ireland. Eight orders in total have not been served. In five of these cases the person concerned was, and is believed still to be, outside the United Kingdom. In two other cases the persons concerned were charged with murder, and the then Home Secretary revoked the orders before they were served. In the remaining case the person concerned was returned to Northern Ireland on a warrant, and the order was revoked before it was served.

I turn next to the powers of detention, exercisable under Section 12 of the Act, which replaced Section 7 of the 1974 Act. This power enables the police to detain a person who is reasonably suspected, either of having committed an offence under the Act or of being concerned in terrorism. The period of detention must not exceed 48 hours, but can be extended by the Home Secretary for a further five days. The extended period enables the police to make comprehensive inquiries and to carry through forensic science tests. A total of 796 people, 253 of which were under the 1976 Act, have been detained under this power. In 250 cases, 49 of which have arisen under the 1976 Act, extensions of detention have been authorised. The Home Secretary personally sees all applications for extensions unless pressure of events makes this impossible, in which case the decisions are taken by me. Under the Act, people can also be detained at ports by examining officers, on arrival or departure. A total of 1,637 people, 765 under the 1976 Act, have been detained under this power.

The final statistics I am able to give the House are the charges which have been brought for offences under the Act. Three people were charged with offences arising out of the 1974 Act. A further 98 people in total (including 21 under the 1976 Act) have been charged with offences following detention under the Act. These 98 include eight charges of murder, three of attempted murder, 12 of conspiracy to cause explosions, seven of unlawful possession of explosives, six of conspiracy to possess or procure explosives with intent to endanger life and six offences under the Firearms Act 1968.

It has been argued by some of our critics that because only a small proportion of those detained under the Act are charged or excluded, the Act is therefore being abused by the police or, it is sometimes argued, is unnecessary. We reject this argument. The Act is intended to help the police in dealing with terrorists. The appropriate test is therefore not the number of charges but their nature and gravity. The list of charges I have given contain some of the most serious offences in the criminal law, including murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. This, in my view, is a clear indication that the Act is being properly directed and is making a significant contribution.

Charges themselves would not justify this Act. It is not designed to ensure that all those detained under it shall be charged with some offence, however trivial. The powers are to deal with and prevent terrorist activity, and should be judged in terms of their effectiveness in this respect. It would be absurd to say that every person detained under the Act and subsequently charged with a terrorist offence, could not have been detained without the Act. But the police consider that without these clear powers they might have been in difficulty as regards obtaining the necessary information in time, or indeed at all. One other point on charges. We have not so far made available information on the outcome of charges, for the reason that it is not held centrally and would have to be obtained by reference to each detailed case. My right honourable friend is well aware of the interest shown in the outcome of these charges, and is asking the police to see whether further information could be made available.

It has been recognised from the beginning that these powers entail a very real cost in terms of civil liberty. To some people this cost has always seemed too great, and I respect this view. Sometimes the suspicions of the police cannot be substantiated to the degree necessary to justify prosecution or an application for an exclusion order. However skilful the police may be in exercising their powers, there are bound to be difficult cases. The police cannot know when they begin their questioning what the results will be: if they could, the powers would not be necessary at all. But the Statute clearly lays down the kinds of cases for which these powers may be used. They relate only to terrorism, and only to reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorism. Anything else is improper and illegal. If, but only if, the police have information which leads them to this reasonable suspicion, they would be failing in their duty if they did not follow it up in accordance with the powers which Parliament has provided them.

We come now to the main question that faces us in the renewal of the Act. Is the degree of threat great enough to justify this course? As I said earlier, terrorist activity in Great Britain has been at a much lower level since the passing of the 1976 Act than in the preceding period. This could give rise to the view that preventive measures which were thought necessary when the threat was self-evident should be dismantled as soon as the threat ceases to be obvious. I think this view is misplaced. Some might have said a few weeks ago, after some eight months without a terrorist attack, that the threat had gone away. But this belief would have been ended by the events in London and Liverpool at the end of January. A quiet period may merely serve the terrorists as a cover under which to prepare their next attack, and to bring in people and explosives. My experience—and I have been concerned with these matters closely for over three years—is that a few months of calm can be just as full of danger as the times when bombs are going off. The terrorist hopes that the vigilance of our people will slacken. It is then that we need to keep these powers readily available, to act on any information that may come in. The judgment we have reached is that we must maintain our precautions at a high level, and that the powers under the Act remain necessary.

My Lords, in making that judgment, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has taken account not only of the extent of terrorist activity here but also of the continuing threat, based on his assessment of the continuing danger. He has had regard to the statements made by prominent members of the IRA who have made no secret of their intention to maintain their campaign of violence here. My right honourable friend has also taken account of the intelligence available to him. Moreover, it is necessary to stress that no Home Secretary, contemplating what powers might be necessary to deal with terrorism in Great Britain, can ignore the continuing tragedy in Northern Ireland. My right honourable friend has taken considered police advice on whether the Act should be continued. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Association of Chief Police Officers believe that the Act should be continued and that it has a major contribution to assist them in their efforts in dealing with terrorists. In view of this advice and my right honourable friend's own assessment of the current position, he has come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to allow the powers to lapse.

I should like briefly before finishing to draw noble Lords' attention to the draft Prevention of Terrorism (Supplemental Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Order 1977. This is a minor modification of the supplemental provisions which will make no difference to the controls operated at ports. It is intended merely to establish beyond doubt what was always the intention in the order. Under Article 13, an examining officer at a port has the power to make arrangements to control the embarkation and disembarkation of passengers to and from Ireland. Some doubt has been cast on whether these controls can be treated as standing arrangements, or whether they have effect only if invoked on every separate occasion that a ship or aircraft arrives from or leaves for Ireland, and the amendments merely establish that standing arrangements may be used.

The order I am moving today was approved in another place on Wednesday, 9th March. I hope noble Lords will take the same view and agree to the renewal of the powers. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order 1977, laid[...] before the House on 24th February, be approved.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

10.13 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to speak in support of this order. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that the conditions which operated in 1974 and 1976, when this Act was first introduced and then amended, are still the same. I agree that since the Security Forces consider that it has made a major contribution in the fight against terrorism, then it must be continued. I should like to say that so far as I am concerned the success that the Security Forces in this country have had in combating this particular variety of terrorism is a most satisfactory situation because they definitely suffered from a major attack.

In this Act the power that appears to worry most people is the power to detain for seven days those who are seriously suspected of being involved with terrorism. I should like to comment tonight on that issue. In a liberal society, if we are subject to an attack, we have temporarily to suspend certain freedoms. If they are suspended, then errors may occur if those liberalities were worth having in the first place. If the police have proper information, and if that information is accurate, then the chances of errors being made are more remote than otherwise they would be. It is for that reason that I believe the power of the seven days' detention is a vital part of our fight against terrorism.

At the same time as providing the police with these powers to detain, we in Parliament have separately protected the public from the abuse of these powers. We have provided the public with an ability to complain against police brutality, assault and even incivility. This Act covers Northern Ireland. I speak from experience about Northern Ireland, and I can say that the Royal Ulster Constabulary system is among the most vigorous in the United Kingdom for investigating complaints.

Since the police have the powers to detain for seven days to investigate and the public have the protection, we have to do our best to ensure that the climate of opinion must allow both to work freely within the context Parliament has decreed. Indeed, I feel there is a great danger at the present time in Northern Ireland that the machinery for the public to complain could result in frivolous complaints clogging up the work of the police and preventing their carrying out their main duty, which must be at all times to protect the innocent citizen.

It is in that context that protests have been made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my honourable friend Mr. Airey Neave in another place about the broadcast on BBC television. The BBC interviewed two complainants concerning alleged cases of brutality, serious assaults. During that interview, it was highlighted that these two were Roman Catholics and it appeared to be conveyed that because they were Roman Catholics they had been specially sought out and specially interrogated.

During that half-hour interview, the BBC made it quite clear that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been invited to comment upon the matter, but the complainants' complaints had already been referred to the Royal Ulster Constabulary organisation and were being investigated, and so the Royal Ulster Constabulary felt it was improper for them to appear. The two men who were interviewed were men from my own county and, indeed, from an area very close to me. Fermanagh is a very special county in that in all the years of violence the Royal Ulster Constabulary has remained totally in charge of security and of policing. At all times the Army in fact have been in aid of the civil power and have not taken a dominant role. In other words, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was totally in charge of internal security; and for any organisation—and especially the BBC, as part of the Establishment, if not part of the State—to show a religiously divisive programme for that length of time, knowing that what was said was not going to be rebutted, concerning two men from an area which had been shown quite clearly to be under the control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, so that by and large the impartiality of the Royal Ulster Constabulary was challenged, was, in my view, a very serious affair for our area, let alone the rest of the country.

The reason given was that the truth must be told. At this stage I should like to remind the House that the IRA are a tiny minority. They have been put before the ballot box time and time again and have been wiped out; and so they continue to try to use the bullet. Therefore, we have to ask the question: At what stage does a part of the State Establishment provide them with a plat form from which to give their view? I should like to ask the Government—and I have given the noble Lord the Minister notice of this through the Northern Ireland Office—the following question. Accepting that the BBC is independent and that it has now con descended to have another look at its guidelines, ought not the Government to take powers to see that when a case has been referred to those police investigatory procedures to which I have referred, comment should not be allowed? Because these reports which are made by the police investigatory procedure go automatically to the DPP. The moment they arrive on the DPP's table, they become sub judice. So although, technically, before that time they may not be sub judice, from the police point of view they are in an area where they should not comment.

Therefore, I believe that the Government should see to it that the moment a complaint of serious brutality or assault is officially lodged, it should be declared the equivalent of sub judice. I am not suggesting that the law should not be observed. I am not suggesting censorship. I am merely suggesting that the police should be judged by the courts and not by television.

We have all seen the most appalling examples of cases being judged on television. Everyone knows the effect—and I have seen it myself, time and time again—when somebody appears on television to take a certain stand, and the interviewer says, "We have asked the other side to comment, but no comment is forthcoming from them. They have refused to appear." This has a terrible effect on the viewers. They automatically feel, quite definitely, that the person who has not appeared is guilty. It does not matter if the BBC says that the Royal Ulster Constabulary can come forward at any stage. The case is already lost. You can never catch up on what has gone before. It is sheer hypocrisy for anybody to think that that is justice, and of course trial by television is never meant to be justice.

My honourable friend Mr. Airey Neave and the Police Federation—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Harris, heard the comment of the Police Federation in Northern Ireland tonight—said earlier that the television interview would provoke the IRA to murder. Tonight they issued a complete condemnation of that in very strong and forthright terms. Anyway, the warning which they both issued has sadly proved but too right and, as your Lordships all know, a policeman was murdered yesterday. Another policeman and a policewoman were injured. And today, as I left home—and I think that this is an accurate paraphrase of what they said—the IRA claimed that since the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been shown by the programme to be what they are, the IRA would step up their campaign against the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army.

The policeman who was killed was a young man who came from my local police station, and he looked after my district. The men who were interviewed came from my district. The bruises which they had on them—if they had any, and I do not necessarily accept that they did—will heal, but that young man is dead, from which there can be no recovery. The other policeman who was involved was very well-known to me, and if I speak almost with passion I am sure your Lordships will appreciate why. He was a very special friend. Both he and his father have always been friends of my family.

At this stage, I should like to pay a special tribute to the Lisnaskea team of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They really did distinguish themselves, and when the story is fully told I am sure that everybody in this House will salute them, as I salute them and as I salute the whole Constabulary. I do not believe that any police force has ever stood such a prolonged attack with such credit. They are very great men, and I should like to say great women as well, as the story will tell.

There is no doubt in my mind that at the moment there is a cleverly orchestrated campaign to try to discredit our Security Forces. This is a campaign which in the last years has come and gone like a tide, and we are now on a tide which is coming in very strongly. Some people contribute unwittingly to that—I hope that that is what happened in this programme—and some people contribute willingly, but there is no doubt that there is a concerted effort to discredit our forces at this moment, at a time when, in my view, they are doing extremely well and may be succeeding to a great extent. If the Government do not do all in their power to prevent this, we shall nullify what we are providing tonight by these extra powers.

It has been said that two battles are going on. One is the bombing and killing; the second is the propaganda battle. In conventional wars, armies capture territory but in guerrilla wars—and we are in the middle of a guerrilla war—they capture the minds of the people. It is that battle which we have to win. It is fair to say that the advent of television, with its immediate impact, is the one new factor which has made possible the prolongation of this particular campaign. Therefore it must be used with care but not censorship.

In ending, I should like to support my honourable friend. I am sure that we must change our approach. We must change our laws so as to enable the Security Forces to win. We must protect witnesses and give the Director of Public Prosecutions the power to schedule, in or out, all offences within Northern Ireland. Not so long ago we dealt with a transport problem in which the question of black taxis within Belfast was involved. I do not believe that during that period you could have obtained a conviction in front of a jury for any black taxi which was using red fuel. It is a terrorist-type of offence. In the battle of minds our present Secretary of State speaks with conviction and determination. If we could persuade him to do more to change the law, we should win more quickly. I support the order.

10.27 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Viscount in his remarks because, if I may say so without the smallest hostility, I cannot help feeling that some 95 per cent. of what he said had absolutely nothing to do with this order. I should also say that if any of us speak tonight against the provisions that this order would extend it does not for one moment indicate that we have any less feelings of abhorrence of the violence, in all its forms, than those who speak in favour of it.

When the 1974 Act came before your Lordships, in the very exceptional circumstances that existed at that time I was able to give it limited support, although I expressed reservations about the necessity for the use of exclusion orders. Since that time I have watched the operation of both the 1974 and the 1976 Acts with increasing concern and I now feel opposed to both of them and to the continuation of the 1976 Act under this order.

I am not particularly concerned about Part I which deals with proscribed organisations. Members of Loyalist paramilitary organisations have been excluded from Northern Ireland under the Act; therefore it would be possible to make a case for including certain of the Loyalist paramilitary organisations, such as the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Red Hand Commandos, among the organisations proscribed. But I under stand the argument that although those organisations are doing great mischief in the Six Counties and have been involved in terrorist activities in this country, by which I mean Great Britain, they have not caused death or damage to property.

However, Part II of this Act involves—and I do not think anyone has attempted to deny it—a most serious curtailment of basic democratic rights and principles. I ask your Lordships to consider what it must be like to be one of the men who have been detained under it, and let us remember that in 92 per cent. of cases the man was completely innocent. He is picked up, perhaps as he is returning from work; he is taken to the police station; he is not charged with any offence; he is not told what offence he has committed; at all stages he is denied any legal assistance, and no word is sent to his family or to those who are near him to say that he has been detained. His wife and his children at home just know that he has not come home, and it has been established that in many cases the family have been ringing up hospitals and making inquiries to find out what has happened. Of course they do not know, and they may not know for a week. In 250 cases—in 10 per cent. of the cases, and that was in every case where an extension was asked for—without exception the 48 hours was extended, and the old-fashioned, now forgotten, belief that a man is innocent until proved guilty has gone by the board.

A curious matter on which I hope the Minister may be able to comment is that, although those are the circumstances that exist in England and Wales, if under this Act a man is detained in Scotland, the circumstances are different. If he is detained in Scotland he is permitted to have legal assistance and his family is immediately notified. Why can this possibly be so? When a man is picked up like this, why cannot he be informed as to the reason? Why cannot he have legal assistance, and, above all, why cannot his family be notified? I can see no reason for not doing so. At least two of those courses are possible in Scotland. If they are possible in Scotland, why should they not be possible in England and Wales?

My feeling is that this Act could only be justified in extremely serious circumstances, and I do not believe that they exist today; and even if the Act is justified, then it has to be judged by its results. Looking at the figures—and the Minister has already given those that were quoted in another place a week ago—I wonder whether we can think that they are in fact justified. I may have made a few minor errors of arithmetic, although I do not think I have. Out of 2,433 men who have been detained under both Acts in 28 months, only 109 have been charged with offences, some of them very minor; 58 have been excluded to Northern Ireland, where they have been released and no charges brought against them; 23 have been excluded to the Republic of Ireland, and under the 1974 Act 15 have been returned to Northern Ireland and charged there, and three have been returned to the Republic of Ireland and charged there. That means, as I have indicated, that 92 per cent. were released and were completely innocent.

If we look at the average figures during that period, the average number in each category per month, we find that the situation is getting worse, not better. We find that more or less the same number are being detained in Great Britain every month, about 85, but whereas under the 1974 Act five a month were being charged with offences, now the figure is two and a half; and whereas under the former Act just under three were being excluded to Northern Ireland, now just over one is: and whereas one a month was being excluded to the Republic now one every two months is being excluded to the Republic. So although the numbers being detained remain much the same, the numbers who are being charged or excluded are well under half the figure per month.

Given figures like this, it is wry difficult to avoid reaching one of two possible conclusions: either the police force must be exceedingly incompetent because in so few cases is their reasonable suspicion justified, or if that is not the case, the Act must be being used to gather information from completely innocent people who have been detained solely because they have a connection with Ireland. What other explanation can there be? How can it happen that all these people are being detained and when their cases are looked into in 92 per cent. of the cases there is absolutely no reason for having detained them?

The Secretary of State told another place last week that neither he nor the police would claim that some of the serious charges which have been brought against those detained could not have been brought without the Act, and my noble friend said something along very similar lines a few minutes ago. I reach the conclusion that those who are charged with these offences—I am not talking about the ones who are excluded, because usually no action is taken when they get to Northern Ireland or the Republic—could have been charged anyway, because how does this Act help the police? What knowledge does this Act give the police to enable them to proffer these charges which they could not have acquired just as well if the Act did not exist? The only other suggestion is that the fact that these men can be detained without charge for a week and interrogated in whatever way the police use, means that admissions are secured that otherwise would not have been obtained.

I want to refer just briefly to Part III of the Act, which is the control of entry into Great Britain. One curious statistic is that out of these 2,433 who have been detained, 566—which is over one-fifth of the total—were detained on Merseyside. Of those, 16 were excluded and 43 were prosecuted for alleged offences. However, in every case the prosecution failed. So we have a situation on Merseyside where 97 per cent. of those who were detained were detained without any reason whatsoever.

Owing to the Aer Lingus strike, I happened to arrive in Liverpool last Saturday morning. I do not often take the boat and Saturday morning is a very bad time to take it because it is full of football supporters. The boat was packed with teenagers—15, 16 and 18-year olds—in their Everton and Manchester United colours. Everyone who was on board that boat had to establish his or her identity before he or she was allowed ashore. I mention that because it is curious that, although these precautions are taken at Liverpool, nothing comparable exists if one chooses to arrive at London Heathrow. The last time I came by plane, which was about two weeks ago, I was careful to be the first off the plane and watched everyone going through security. The security officers sought identification from only one passenger, and that was me.

I have said that I oppose this legislation. I should like to put to the Minister a question that has been asked in another place. Will he agree to set up an inquiry by a commission or by a group of qualified persons, into the working of both these Acts over the past two years? I think that there are grounds for serious disquiet and that such an inquiry is, in the circumstances, essential.

10.44 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that any Member of this House, with its toleration, will charge those of us who oppose this order with having any sympathy with violence in Northern Ireland. I take rather an extreme view of this. Without endorsing all that has been said by the noble Viscount on the Opposition Benches, I have deplored the fact that our media, including our television, have given prominence to those who were associated with violence, either on the side of the IRA or the paramilitary loyalist organisations. I am a journalist and I am in favour of the freedom of the media, but I regard the action of the media in interviewing those who are known to be associated with this violence, as an action which goes beyond toleration. Those they have interviewed have been sometimes associated with actual violence; if they were so associated then they were criminals under our law.

Having put that view very strongly, I want to say that I am deeply concerned about the repudiation of civil rights under this Act. I believe that personal liberties and personal privacy are at the very heart of democracy. One of the few reasons for the maintenance of the House of Lords as it is is the fact that on these issues of personal liberty this House has often taken a stand which has been a precedent for our legislation. It is entirely on those grounds of civil liberties and personal rights that I regret this order which maintains this Act.

I have read carefully the long debate on this issue which took place in another place. I want to admit at once that I could not follow in detail all the statistics which were given by my noble friend Lord Harris in his opening speech. But from what was said in another place I do not think that there is any doubt about the facts that under this Act 2,250 persons have been detained. They could be detained at police decision for 48 hours; they could be detained for five more days with the consent of the Home Secretary.

I was moved in reading the debate in another place, concerning how, when persons have been so detained, their families have often been left in absolute ignorance. Wives and children do not know the whereabouts of their husbands and fathers. I have also been impressed by the fact that often during that period of detention legal representation by solicitors has not been allowed. I regard that fact alone as a repudiation of personal and civil liberties in this country which we ought not to tolerate. But then one goes to the further extraordinary fact; that only 90 per cent. of the 2,250 persons who have been detained have actually been charged.


The noble Lord has it the wrong way round, my Lords.


My Lords, I should have said they have been charged with offences.


The noble Lord still has it the wrong way round, my Lords.


Am I expressing the figures wrongly?


My Lords, I think the noble Lord means that 8 per cent. have been charged while 92 per cent. have been discharged and therefore not charged.


I thought I said they had not been charged, my Lords; I thank the noble and learned Lord for putting me right. In any event, in my view this state of affairs is an absolute outrage from the civil liberties point of view. Not only is this vast majority not charged but of those who are charged very few are charged with any offence relating to violence in Northern Ireland; they are charged with other offences such as wrongful possession of motor vehicles, tax evasion, drug offences and other matters including wasting the time of the police. In other words, this Act against terrorism in Northern Ireland is being used for offences which could surely be dealt with irrespective of the Act.

Another fact concerning me about this Act is the power to exclude suspects in one part of the United Kingdom from another without trial or right to appeal. Noble Lords are aware that I have often taken up in this House cases of Commonwealth immigrants who have been excluded from our country. But they have greater rights than under this Act are allowed to British citizens. When one hears of a deportation at Heathrow and one telephones the Home Office, the deportation is immediately stopped until consideration has been given to the case one is putting forward. And after that, if the case goes against the immigrant, he has a right to appeal to a tribunal. That is not allowed to British citizens in this country who are ordered to be deported from one part of the United Kingdom to another.

Then there is the strange fact that whether they are deported to Northern Ireland or the Republic, in both cases they are absolutely free from action when they get there. One must seriously consider whether the advantages of the Act in preventing violence in Northern Ireland are not outweighed by the disadvantages to civil liberties and personal freedom in our own country.

I was disappointed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Harris in which he made no reference to the fact that in another place the Home Secretary himself had indicated that he was disturbed by certain aspects of this Act and promised an examination of it. In another place, my honourable friend Mr. Ian Mikardo suggested four conditions for such an investigation. The first was that it should be a thorough inquiry. The second was that it should be an independent inquiry, not limited to those connected with the Home Office or the Northern Ireland Office. The third suggestion was that there should be publication of the conclusions of the inquiry, and the fourth was that those conclusions should be considered in regard to the maintenance of this Act or some of its provisions.

I draw attention to the fact that the Home Secretary made some response to this proposal for an inquiry. He said first that it would not be another Gardiner investigation. He said secondly that he would look at certain aspects but that there was no question of a political decision by an outside committee. He said thirdly that he could not consider the terms of reference for such an inquiry without further investigation. Next, he said that he wished to provide reassurance and information about the working of the Act. Lastly, he said—and I regard this as of the greatest importance—that he fully understood that anything done would have to be done in an independent fashion. He promised to make a Statement to the House.

I ask that when a reply is made to this debate tonight there shall be a reaffirmation of the Home Secretary's acceptance that, in some aspects, this Act is so doubtful that there should be an investigation. I ask the Minister in his reply to say definitely that he will give an assurance upon these points. The reply of the Home Secretary that the inquiry should be in an independent fashion is rather vague. I ask Her Majesty's spokesman to say that an inquiry into the doubtful aspects of this Act shall be by an independent committee. The reply of the Home Secretary in another place was not adequate to satisfy many of those who are my friends, and I hope that the spokesman for the Home Office will be able tonight to make a statement that will satisfy those of us who are so critical of this Act.

11 p.m.


My Lords, I have just returned from Belfast late this afternoon, having spent a week visiting many parts of Northern Ireland, engaged in completely non-political work. I went there because I was invited to go on behalf of a charity of which I have been chairman for a good many years. In the circumstances, I feel that I ought not to let this opportunity pass without paying my own humble tribute to the work of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is being carried out under the most appallingly difficult conditions.

It would not be fair to detain the House at this late hour; but while all the impressions of my visit are still fresh in the mind, I would earnestly ask my noble friends on this side of the House (many of them dear friends of many years standing) how far some degree of restriction of individual liberties is necessary where there are at stake innocent and very valuable human lives, which are in no way involved in any of the horrors that are occurring today in Northern Ireland. These regulations may be instrumental not only in saving these innocent lives but also in bringing sooner an end to the horrors that have to be endured, day in, day out, by our fellow countrymen in Northern Ireland.

I do not wish to influence my noble friends. I do not ask them to change their own very strongly-held principles of individual liberty. We respect them, we admire them for it. All I ask is that they weigh very carefully, at this appalling stage which the affairs of Northern Ireland has reached, how far they ought to do anything that will hinder the saving of very valuable innocent lives. Even at this late hour, I am impelled to say that I feel very largely with my noble friends in the sentiments they have expressed; but I also feel very strongly that these have to be set in proper perspective, in view of the tragedies that are happening at this very moment in Northern Ireland.

11.3 p.m.


My Lords, I need take only a few minutes to express my opposition to the continuance of the order, following the speeches of my noble friends. I speak as one who cherishes human rights and civil liberties both abroad as well as within these shores, and experience abroad and within these shores shows us that the worse the crisis which besets society and the worse the attacks upon it, the more vigilant we need to be to uphold the rights of the individual, and not to be stampeded by the crisis of events into curtailing and abusing those rights.

Experience abroad as well as within these shores also suggests that the more draconian the emergency legislation that is passed, the more it is abused and the more bitterness is created among those who are the victims of its abuse. In answer to my noble friend Lord Segal, I should like to say that my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich in his speech did not give us any evidence that this Act was saving lives. The powers to arrest and detain under the Act are powers to arrest on the reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorism, and those powers exist under the ordinary law. My Lords, what I ask, in common with my noble friends, is; do the Government care about the 2,300 people who have been detained, to no avail, under this Act; whose lives, and the lives of their families, have for short periods been shattered, and whose reputations have suffered? Do we care? Are we to institute any kind of inquiry into the uses and abuses of this Act in the past three years? Those are the questions I ask. I oppose this order.

11.5 p.m.


My Lords, I would not have intervened at this very late hour but for the fact that I think it is right that, late as it is, the views of those on these Benches should be taken into account because we represent a very great number of people in the country. Whether or not we represent a majority I will not venture to say, but I feel that even at this late hour I have a right to speak for them and a duty to speak for them. At the same time, I must say this to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I again protest at the mismanagement of Government business today, that these two long debates should have taken place after the Committee stage of the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. This is perhaps in some ways the most important of all, although the Criminal Law Bill was of great importance, too. I must ask the Government, on a Monday, not to put business of this kind at the end of the evening, because it is not fair to the House and it is a frivolous approach to important issues which have to be discussed.

Having said that, my Lords, I must say to the Government that I think they would have been failing in their duty had they not prolonged this unpleasant Act. I say it because, although I recognise, of course, that until recently there has been a lull in IRA activity in Great Britain, I am personally persuaded that that lull is only temporary; and I accept the view which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that both the statements of the IRA and their political supporters and the events of January indicate that that view is the correct one. I must of course dispute with the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, and others who have spoken from what I might call the mountain below the Gangway, the view that this Act is primarily concerned with the prevention of terrorism in Northern Ireland. That may be important; but the Act is also concerned with the prevention of terrorism over here. Indeed, this, I think, was, in its origin, its primary purpose.

I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, that it is all very well, from the safety of his family seat in the Republic, for him to come over here to tell us that our legislation is unnecessary. I think he must face the fact that we are the objects of attack, and he is speaking from a safe position; and it ill-becomes him to lecture us on the measures which we think necessary for the protection of our country here, either in Northern Ireland or in Great Britain. I believe I speak for the immense majority of people in this country when I tell him that his intervention on this matter is greatly resented.


My Lords, I have great appreciation of the noble and learned Lord, but I feel that on reflection he will very much regret that intervention in reference to Lord Kilbracken.


My Lords, I certainly do not regret it, and I shall not regret it on even greater reflection. This is not the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has completely misunderstood the feelings of this country, and, in my opinion, abused the position which he holds as a resident of the Republic, telling us what we ought to do and insinuating that we are doing wrong. I do not like to be lectured by him and I do not like to see even this Government lectured by him. Having said that, let us go on a little further.


May I reply to that, my Lords? First, I certainly appreciate fully that this Act has its principal application in Britain, and not in Northern Ireland. May I further say that if he thinks I am living in perfect safety eight miles from the Border, he is mistaken.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will be living in perfect safety. There is nothing I less desire than any insecurity on the part of the noble Lord; but I must say that he comes from the safe side of the Border, as anyone living on the Northern side will clearly realise.

My Lords, I must go on to say this. It is all very well to talk about vigilance and civil liberties. I think that both the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and I can claim to be as keen on civil liberties as are the three noble Lords who have spoken against this Motion. We are, but I think we must get our priorities right. I can remember, not very many years ago, the explosion at Aldershot. I think that that was a little before the legislation which we are discussing today, There was a little boy of eight whose mother worked in an Army barracks and got blown up by a bomb. I wrote to the aunt who was looking after the little boy after his mother had been blown up and killed. "He doesn't understand," said the aunt. Nor did I; because I think it is useless to talk of preserving the peripheries of civil liberty when the heart and of civil liberty, which is the right to live, is being challenged by those against whom this legislation is aimed.

I quite agree that a number of people, completely innocent, have been detained in one way or another, but I think that they are under a duty to their fellow citizens to put up with it during this present crisis so long as we are being made the victims of this wicked conspiracy and attack. I certainly do not resent the limitation on my own liberties which, curiously enough, have been quite considerable when I have chosen to travel across St. George's Channel. I do not mind being searched. This is a gross intrusion on my privacy, but I do not mind it because I like to think that these precautions are being taken for the preservation of the life and liberties of my fellow subjects.

My Lords, I think we have got our priorities right and they have got their priorities wrong. The idea that you will preserve liberties in this country by making it more difficult for the Executive Government in a situation like the present is, I think, an entirely mistaken one.

I should like to add this. I ventured to say when the last Statement on Northern Ireland was being made—and this is too late an hour to go into it in detail—that I think the situation there and here is likely to deteriorate. I think that before long the Government must make a move. It may have been true that for months they were justified in letting the situation drift along and prosecuting under the law the people who were found guilty under the law, so that they could be shown to be upholding the rule of law and getting a large number of people convicted. But I think the political situation now demands, if they do not wish the political situation to deteriorate both here and there, some fresh initiative on the part of the Government. In giving my whole-hearted consent to this disagreeable measure, which I believe to be necessary, I ask the Government to carry back some of the disquiet which some of us feel on this side of the House about the absence of movement in this field.

My Lords, I do not want to say more than a word about the speech of my noble friend behind me, because what we are discussing today is, of course, not the BBC but the continuance of the Act for another 12 months. But I should like to say this for the consideration of those who are responsible for broadcasting. It is absolutely right that they should be independent of Parliament and independent of the Government in the judgments they make about what should be put on the air and what should not. But they, just as much as Parliament, Government and Opposition, are public figures and must be a little less sensitive when they are criticised because they are just as much legitimate targets as we are. We are entitled to say what we think about them, no less than they are entitled to say what they think about us.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? Does that apply to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, whom I think it has been suggested should have no right to lecture us as we have been lectured tonight—much too strongly? I only ask that for information.


My Lords, I was not talking about the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, at that stage; I was talking about the BBC. I had left the noble Lord opposite, attractive as the subject of discussing him has always been to me. The BBC must be a little less sensitive. If it be the case—and this is what I was about to say when the noble Lord from the Liberal Benches interrupted me—that the BBC put on the air allegations against the RUC before they had been investigated, and while those complaints are being investigated, and, therefore, to which a reply cannot be made, I think they were guilty both of a great error of judgment and a considerable injustice to the RUC.

I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway—and I am glad to acknowledge his wisdom in saying it—that it is a great mistake to put yourself in the position of interviewing those who are expressly associating themselves with illegal activities. There comes a time when inevitably not only is this undesirable but, in the end, illegality will take place as a result of those associations. I think that they are very unwise indeed to pursue some of the activities which they have, and I am entitled to say it without any accusation of wanting to censor them. They are legitimate targets of criticism just as much as I am and just as much as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is. My Lords, I have taken up too much time of the House; I only intervened to say that the Conservative Party, at any rate, will support the noble Lord in what he proposes.

11.17 p.m.


My Lords, let me begin on the point on which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, ended; namely, the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the comments made by my noble friend Lord Brockway, and what the noble and learned Lord said about the programme on the BBC. All three noble Lords have expressed their views unambiguously. The Home Office has a responsibility for the appointment of governors to the BBC and the appointment of members of the Board of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. In so far as any Government Department is charged with any clear responsibility so far as broadcasting policy is concerned, it is the Home Office. That being so, I do not think it is appropriate to comment. Nor would I, if I were speaking for another Department, make a comment so far as Government are concerned on a matter of this sort. This is clearly a matter for the governors of the BBC.

All three noble Lords have expressed their views, and I agree with the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. The BBC and the independent programme companies are in the arena just as we are. If people feel that there has been a grave error of judgment—as clearly some feel that there has been in this particular episode—it is for them to raise the matter publicly and argue it out, and that has been done in this House. I am quite sure that the BBC will take note of what has been said. I repeat, I do not think it is appropriate in this or any other matter for members of the Government to make comments about particular programmes. I think that there is a real risk of politicians becoming involved in day-to-day matters of broadcasting policy. I think that most noble Lords will agree that it is wise for Ministers to stay away from this.

The report of the Annan Committee will be produced in the fairly near future, and although I do not know what particular recommendations it will be making, one point which I know has been a matter of debate while the Committee has been sitting has been the question of complaints. It may well be that the Annan Committee will make some recommendations in this matter which may be of some assistance to the noble Viscount, Lord Brooke-borough.

Turning now to the order, the noble and learned Lord described it as a disagreeable measure; and I would agree with him. Also, in my view, it is an essential measure because, with great respect to my noble friends who have spoken this evening, quite rightly emphasising their anxiety in this matter, I believe that one really has to look at the other side of the balance sheet, Over 60 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives as a result of attacks by the IRA in British cities. I do not wish to take an unfair advantage over anybody, but I can still remember going down to Kensington Church Street the evening that Captain Goad was killed while defusing a bomb which somebody had left outside a shop in the hope that it might maim some innocent passer-by. When we are faced with men and women who are capable of acts of that sort, I think it behoves the Government of the day to recommend powers to Parliament to deal with them. My noble friend Lord Gifford referred to "cherishing human rights". The most supreme human right is the maintenance of human life itself, and it is indeed the objective behind this legislation which we have before us.

I will deal in passing with a number of the points that have been made, but the central question between my noble friends and myself is the estimation of the threat which this country is facing. I have indicated the level of casualties which we have had in the past, beginning with the 21 people who were killed in the public house bombings in Birmingham, where bombs were left in the hope that they would kill the largest number of people. As a result of that, the 1974 Bill was passed through Parliament in a matter of days. The question may be asked: would it have made any difference if we had not had a Bill in 1974? I can only answer my noble friends by saying this—and I accept in advance that they will not find the answer a satisfactory one, but I must speak from my own personal knowledge of the matter. For the last three years, I have been dealing with this question in the Home Office; that is, the attacks made by the IRA on this side of the Channel. All I would say to my noble friends is that it is my view—and, what is rather more important, it is the view of every senior police officer I know and for whose professional judgment I have a high regard—that without the powers which are conferred in this Statute, there would have been substantially heavier loss of life in British cities.

Of course, my noble friends may complain that it is easy for me, speaking from this Box, and may ask how I can possibly establish that. All I can say to that is that we are faced with a clearly defined threat. In the last two and a half to three years, the police—far from being incompetent, if I may say so, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, suggested—have in my view achieved more remarkable success than any other police force in the developed world, at a time when they were facing the kind of problems they have. In many cases, for example in the cases of the Metropolitan and Merseyside police, criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken—forces with substantial manpower shortages, which have had to deploy large numbers of men at very short notice indeed to deal with this grave terrorist threat—those forces feel that, without the legislation which Parliament has thought it right to give them, the terrorist threat would have been a great deal more difficult to contain than they have found it.

My noble friend Lord Brockway said that it was indeed a serious matter—and I entirely agree with him—to exclude a person from one part of the United Kingdom to another. He is quite right, and it is indeed a serious matter. Neither the noble and learned Lord nor I have suggested for a moment that there is not an infringement of civil liberties here. Of course there is. It would be an absurdity to pretend that there is not an invasion of human rights here. The question, however, is a different one and it is this. With fewer than 100 exclusion orders made in the period since the end of 1974—I come back to this again—it is our view that without these people being excluded there would have been substantially heavier loss of life than there has been. I can say this on the basis of my personal knowledge of these people. That is a fact which the House must take into account.

It would be a most serious matter if Parliament wished to withdraw the exclusion powers conferred by this Statute. It would, for instance, mean that if the power were withdrawn tonight, or in the next few days, all the people who had been excluded would, of course, return to this country, and I wonder very much how many of our fellow citizens in this country would regard that as a sensible and responsible position to take in the Legislature.


My Lords, could the Minister explain this? The great majority of these desperadoes have been sent to another part of the United Kingdom; namely, Northern Ireland. How do the people in Northern Ireland feel about having these murderers running loose in the country?


My Lords, they probably find it particularly disagreeable, but the position is that, as a result of a complaint made by, I think, Mr. Powell in another place on the occasion of the last Act going through Parliament, it was decided that there would be a reverse exclusion process so far as Northern Ireland itself was concerned. We conceded that point, and a number of these people have been excluded to Northern Ireland where many of them have their homes, while others have been excluded to the Republic of Ireland. The fact of the matter is that the provisional active service units which have been operating in this country have come either from the Republic of Ireland or from Northern Ireland. That is a simple fact. Whether or not that is true, is not a matter for debate. All the evidence which has appeared in public print demonstrates where provisional active service units come from, and it is right for us to return those people from whence they came, because by doing so people in Great Britain do not get killed. That is the simple fact which Parliament must recognise, so far as the existence of these powers is concerned.

My noble friends Lord Kilbracken and Lord Brockway raised a question about the Home Secretary's speech in the House of Commons, when they discussed these powers a few days ago. It is absolutely true that my right honourable friend then stated that he wants to consider ways of looking at the working of this Act, before corning to Parliament again in a year's time if a further renewal then proves necessary. This is in recognition of the fact that the powers in this Act—however necessary and well justified they may be—inevitably, as I have already indicated, involve a measure of infringement of our civil liberties, and should therefore be scrutinised with the utmost care. It does not in any way—and I must make this clear—imply any criticism of the general way in which the police have operated these powers; nor, of course, does it imply any weakening of the Government's resolve to provide for the full powers and support which may be necessary to deal with terrorism.

In conclusion, I must assure the House that the request for the renewal of the Act is not in any way an automatic action on the part of the Government, but a carefully considered decision. It is with regret that I moved this Motion, a regret which I know will be shared by all those in the House, but it is not yet time to dispense with this Act. I believe that it has helped, and will continue to help, in the fight against terrorism, and I hope that noble Lords will feel able to accord it their full support today.

11.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?


My Lords, Tellers for the Not-Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50. A Division therefore cannot take place and I declare that the Contents have it.