§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill which is today before this House is designed to enable the United Kingdom Government to ratify, without reservation, the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. The past 10 years have seen a most disturbing increase in acts of terrorism throughout the world. Let me take just a few examples. There was the brutal killing of the Israeli athletes in 927 Munich in 1972; the kidnapping in the Republic of Ireland of Dr. Herrema, in 1975; the train hijacking in the Netherlands in 1975 and 1977, and the even more recent kidnapping and murder of Herr Schluyer in Germany. And there have been the many acts of terrorism which we have suffered in this country. One element in common has been their international nature. The offenders have often committed their crimes in a country other than their own, and have then taken refuge in a third country.
The broad purpose of the convention—and thus of this Bill—is to ensure that when this occurs in a contracting State to the convention the offender can be brought to justice. The contracting States have confidence in each other's systems of justice, and the convention obliges them either to extradite terrorists to the appropriate contracting State for prosecution, or to prosecute them themselves. Extradition can often be frustrated where a terrorist claims that his crimes are simply political. Schedule 1 to the Bill lists what is the closest equivalent in United Kingdom laws of the offences which the contracting States have agreed shall not—as between themselves—be regarded as of a political character. I shall say more about this in a moment. But perhaps I should state at the outset that this Bill in no way affects our power to refuse extradition, where we believe that the request for extradition has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or that his position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons.
It may be helpful if at this stage I briefly give some of the background to this convention. The 1970 Hague Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft is aimed solely at the problem of hijacking. It embodies the principle of extradite or prosecute, as does the Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, concluded in 1971, which deals with other attacks against aircraft. The United Kingdom has ratified both of these conventions. The principle was extended in 1973 to attacks on diplomats and other internationally protected persons in the New York Convention on the Prevention and 928 Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents; a Bill to enable the New York convention to be ratified has recently been introduced in another place.
These three conventions are limited in their effectiveness in two important ways. First, they deal only with offences against aircraft and internationally protected persons, and these are not by any means the only objects of terrorist attacks. Second, they rely heavily for their force on the ability of a State successfully to prosecute a terrorist if he is not extradited. There are, of course, difficulties about prosecuting for offences committed outside a State's own territory, and these difficulties are particularly acute in relation to common law countries such as the United Kingdom which traditionally rely on the presence of witnesses to give oral evidence in criminal proceedings. It is the Government's view that extradition to the State where the offence was committed is generally preferable to prosecution here for an extra-territorial offence. If terrorists are to be prosecuted in the State where they commit their offences, then it follows that extradition must be facilitated.
It was particularly with the problem of extradition in mind that in 1974 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on international terrorism which drew particular attention to the need to ensure that the perpetrators of acts of terrorism did not escape justice by pleading that their acts had political motives. This resolution called on Member States of the Council of Europe, when they received any request for extradition in respect of an act of terrorism, to take into consideration the particularly serious nature of the offence, and if they did not extradite, then to consider prosecution. The text of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism was finally approved by the Committee of Ministers' Deputies of the Council of Europe in November 1976 and opened for signature on 27th January 1977. The United Kingdom participated fully in the negotiations which led to this convention, and signed it on the day that it was opened for signature.
The European convention aims to overcome the deficiences in the three 929 United Nations conventions to which I have already referred. It covers a much wider range of offences and eliminates or reduces the possibility of terrorists evading extradition by pleading that their crimes are political. This is undoubtedly the most radical aspect of the convention, for it requires contracting States to disregard, for the purposes of extradition among each other, the political element in certain specified offences. It also enables them to disregard it in relation to certain other offences.
Your Lordships will be well aware of the importance which has traditionally been attached to the general prohibition on extradition for political offences. So far, only one statutory exception has been made in the United Kingdom. The 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide provides that crimes of genocide shall not be considered as political crimes for the purposes of extradition, and effect was given to this in the Genocide Act 1969. It is only fair to say that it is significant that for many years successive United Kingdom Governments felt unable to accede to that convention. This traditional posture now has to be critically examined in the light of the alarming increase in the numbers of acts of terrorism and the tendency of terrorists to abuse the political safeguard in extradition procedures. The Member States of the Council of Europe, who negotiated the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, took the view that the concern for human rights which they all shared, and the mutual confidence which this created, justified removing the prohibition on extradition for offences of a political character. As a consequence, Article I of the convention requires contracting States not to consider certain specified offences as political offences, or as offences connected with political offences or as offences inspired by political motives.
These particular offences are those covered by the Hague and Montreal conventions on hijacking and other offences against aircraft, serious attacks on internationally protected persons, kidnapping and the taking of hostages, offences involving the use of bombs, grenades, rockets, automatic firearms or letter or parcel bombs, if this use endangers persons. Attempts to commit these offences and participation as an 930 accomplice are also covered. Article 2 of the convention provides contracting States with an option to treat certain additional offences in the same way as those in Article 1. These additional offences are any serious crimes involving an act of violence against a person, or one involving an act against property, which creates a collective danger for persons, or an attempt to commit these offences, or participation as an accomplice. These are all intrinsically serious offences, whatever the motive for which they were committed. In our law, their equivalents are the offences listed in Schedule 1 to this Bill.
Articles 1 and 2 are the nub of the convention. They represent a compromise between the view that, as between the Member States of the Council of Europe, it should be possible to eliminate the plea of a political offence and the argument that an absolute obligation to disregard the political nature of the offence in all cases of violence would be too rigid a solution. We have given very careful thought to the option provided in Article 2, and we have decided that in order to make the convention as effective as possible, we should exercise that option and treat the offences in Article 2 in the same way as those in Article 1. The offences in Article 1 do not by any means cover all the offences likely to be committed by terrorists, and we believe that it is essential to include the wider range of offences covered by Article 2. Clause 1 of the Bill makes the necessary provision.
I should like at this stage to draw your Lordships' attention to Article 13 of the convention because it raises an issue of principle. This article permits a reservation to Article 1 preserving a State's right to refuse extradition for an offence which the requested contracting State considers to be political. To date, Italy and Norway have made such reservations and Portugal has purported to make a reservation which may have similar effect. Sweden, which has ratified the convention, has also made a reservation under Article 13. The existence of this possibility for reservation raises the question whether the United Kingdom should retain this safeguard in relation to those States which have themselves made a reservation under Article 13 of the convention. We have thought very carefully about this, and have decided that although under the convention a 931 State which has made this reservation cannot claim the corresponding benefit in respect of its own requests for extradition, the United Kingdom should not insist on reciprocity. Quite simply, it would, in our judgment, impede the extradition of terrorists. The aim of the convention is to remove barriers to extradition because this is the most certain way of bringing terrorists to justice. It is for this reason that the United Kingdom has decided to ratify the convention without any reservations whatsoever.
I should emphasise that this forthcoming attitude on the part of the United Kingdom Government in no way derogates from our right to grant political asylum, nor does it in any sense affect our obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In the granting of political asylum to a person accused or convicted of crime overseas, it is not so much the offence itself that is significant, but the motive of the requesting State in asking for that person to be surrendered, and the treatment he is likely to get if the surrender does in fact take place. Article 5 of the convention expressly provides that the contracting State is not obliged to extradite a person if it has substantial grounds for believing that the request for extradition has been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing him on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or that his position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons. This principle, of course, is already reflected in the Fugitive Offender Act 1967 which governs our extradition arrangements with Commonwealth countries, and in relation to the offences covered by the convention Clause 2 of the Bill would incorporate it also in the Extradition Act 1870 under which our bilateral extradition treaties are made with foreign countries. It also makes provision for its incorporation in the Backing of Warrants (Republic of Ireland) Act 1965 which makes provision for the simplified procedures for the return of offenders from the United Kingdom to the Republic of Ireland.
I do not think that I need say anything more about the extradition aspects of the Bill, except to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 3 which, in order to give effect to Articles 3 and 4 of the 932 convention, makes extraditable all those offences covered by the convention which are not already extraditable under our present law.
§ Lord DUNCAN-SANDYS
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene before he leaves the question of extradition, is any policy contemplated to deal with what is really the crux of the problem, which is that the hijackers land in countries which have political sympathies with the purpose of the hijacking? Is any procedure being considered which would have the effect of, for example, cutting off air communications with a country which fails to return a hijacker for trial to the country of origin of the aircraft?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, raises a particularly important matter, which has received a great deal of attention in recent years. As I was pointing our earlier, this convention relates to members of the Council of Europe, and the situation is, as I think the noble Lord will agree, that no member of the Council of Europe is in the position of being a country which is likely to harbour or in any way encourage terrorists. The question he raises is, therefore, outside the terms of the present Bill. We can discuss it on some other occasion, or indeed if the noble Lord wishes to raise it in the course of this debate we will, of course, listen very carefully to what he says. But this is a Council of Europe convention and it is in those terms that I am now addressing the House. I would not want to go wider into the particular questions which the noble Lord raises, which are outside the ambit of this particular piece of legislation.
§ Lord DUNCAN-SANDYS
My Lords, if I may just make the point, what I was wondering was whether the countries of the Council of Europe could not themselves have a collective policy to deal with other countries which fail in their duty.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I am well aware of the point. I touched on some of these wider questions when, in speaking in the debate on the Address in reply to the gracious Speech, I drew attention to the various steps which members of the EEC were taking at Ministers of Interior level where some of 933 these issues had obviously arisen. But that, I must repeat, is outside the terms of the present Bill.
The convention, as I have said, is aimed principally at facilitating extradition, since this is the most effective way of ensuring that terrorists are brought to justice. But it also contains "back up" provisions requiring contracting States to consider prosecution in those cases where they do not extradite. These provisions are set out in Articles 6 and 7, which require contracting States to take jurisdiction over the offences in Article 1 in certain circumstances, and to consider prosecution. The circumstances are, first, that the alleged offender must be present in the contracting State's territory; second, that the contracting State must have received and refused a request for his extradition from another contracting State; and third, that the jurisdiction of the requesting State must be, to quote the convention:based on a rule of jurisdiction existing equally in the law of the requested State".This is designed to ensure that where the requesting State is seeking the extradition of one of its nationals for a crime committed outside its territory, the United Kingdom's obligation to consider prosecution—where it refuses to surrender the fugitive—arises only if it would have had corresponding jurisdiction if the offence had been committed by a United Kingdom national outside the United Kingdom.
Your Lordships will appreciate that these two articles embody complicated provisions which are certainly not easy to translate into United Kingdom law. In considering how to give effect to Article 6 in particular we have, in Clause 4 of the Bill, to some extent followed the precedents in the Hijacking Act 1971 and the Protection of Aircraft Act 1973, and have avoided making the extra-territorial jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts in any way dependent on either the receipt or refusal of a request for extradition. This prevents artificial barriers being raised to extra-territorial proceedings being instituted in the United Kingdom.
Apart from extradition and prosecution, the convention also deals, in Article 8, with the provision of mutual assistance in criminal proceedings. Such assistance may not be refused for proceedings relating to an offence in Articles 1 or 2 solely on the 934 grounds that the offence is political. But there is a safeguard relating to the motive for which a request for mutual assistance is made. There are statutory provisions in our law for the taking of evidence in the United Kingdom for use in criminal proceedings in another country. These Statutes contain a prohibition on the taking of evidence if the proceedings are of a political character. Clause 1, therefore, amends these provisions to give effect to the convention.
I should now like, if I may, to turn to a matter which is dealt with in this Bill but which does in fact go outside the terms of the convention. The convention itself is open only to Member States of the Council of Europe. It is right that the convention should be so restricted, resting as it does on the mutual confidence which membership of the Council of Europe brings. But there are other States outside the Council of Europe in whose political, legal and judicial systems we have equal confidence, and with which we might wish to enter into arrangements similar to those which are embodied in this convention. So we have provided in Clause 5 of the Bill that some or all of its provisions may be applied to non-contracting States to the convention. This would be done by means of an Order in Council subject to Affirmative Resolutions of both Houses, thus enabling Parliament to exercise full control.
We have also taken the opportunity in Clause 6 of this Bill, to make a minor amendment to the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975, which is quite unrelated to the convention, and which deals with the return from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland of a person accused of an extra-territorial offence.
The European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism has been signed by all the Member States of the Council of Europe except Malta and the Republic of Ireland, and of course Spain, which has only just joined the Council of Europe. It has been ratified so far by Austria and Sweden, and a number of other States are making progress towards ratification in the near future.
I think that this is the most important instrument to be negotiated in recent years to deal with the problem of international terrorism. The United Kingdom has 935 itself been subject to a substantial number of terrorist incidents, and we must ensure that the fight against international terrorism is intensified. I hope your Lordships will agree that in order to demonstrate our commitment to this struggle we should, by means of this Bill, ratify the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, we are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for introducing and explaining with his usual clarity the contents of what he himself has said is a very important Bill to which we on these Benches give our support. There is urgent need for international co-operation effectively to combat the inhuman and, sometimes indeed, outrageous terrorist activities of individuals and organisations which now operate on an international scale.
The development of weapon technology, the ease of communications, particularly in democratic countries, and the ready—sometimes all too ready—availability of the mass media make democratic countries very much more open to attack than countries with totalitarian régimes. The international aspects of the terrorist organisations themselves and the backing of foreign Governments with weapons, training facilities, cash and arms to those groups which are in some ways linked together, demand an international response from Governments whose peoples are indiscriminately threatened.
It is, indeed, the indiscrimate effect of terrorist tactics which contributes to creating fear, as does the non-recognition of any rules to guide their conduct. It needs very few terrorists to succeed in inflicting enormous harm on innocent civilians, women and children, chance victims of attack. The increasing number, variety, complexity and sophistication of terrorist activities consequently demand strong measures if Governments are to fulfil their constitutional task of protecting the lives of their people. The united action through international conventions—the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, 936 has mentioned the conventions of The Hague and Montreal—on offences concerning aircraft, already show the concern of States for the safety of their people. The IALPA rightly put pressure on the United Nations to consider the danger to the lives of pilots and passengers. All Member States of the United Nations should be urged to show their respect for the rule of law by ratifying these conventions.
The British Airline Pilots' Association has, in fact, expressed some concern about the operation of the current convention we are now debating in your Lordships' House, its firm belief, from experience, being that terrorists should find no haven. It is in that connection that I welcome the latter remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, concerning orders which will be made under Clause 5 of the Bill which in some way, perhaps, go towards answering the question raised by my noble friend Lord Duncan Sandys. If the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is able to tell us we should like to know at some time the countries in relation to which orders extending the provisions of the Bill will be made, or whether that is something that will be considered in the future, presumably on a reciprocal basis where possible.
Whatever the motives of terrorist organisations in forcing or attempting to force democracies to take tyrannical measures and in forcing Governments to introduce legislation which will deprive citizens of their expected rights and liberties, it can only be by consensus of the people that Governments can take collective measures effectively and firmly to fight terrorism and at the same time maintain the maximum liberty of individuals.
The Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism adopted by the Council of Europe and opened for signature in January 1977, I believe, constitutes an expression of the united will of Member States of the Council of Europe to take certain steps to deprive the terrorist criminal of the right of sanctuary in clearly specified circumstances by the united will of all those States which have signed the convention. Significantly, however, as the noble Lord has reminded your Lordships, these do not include the Republic of Ireland.
937 The Irish Government should accept their international responsibilities by refusing to harbour terrorists in precisely the same way as all the other European States which, with the exception of Malta and, of course, Spain, have signed the convention. The Republic of Ireland should not be seen as a haven for terrorists. The fact that Ireland has not signed is somewhat surprising, since after the adoption of the convention, early in January last year all the political groups in the European Parliament unanimously supported a resolution that all the Governments of the Nine Member States should ratify that convention. Presumably, among those political parties which unanimously gave their support to the proposal that the EEC Conference should ratify that convention, there must have been members from the Irish Parliament. It is, therefore, surprising indeed that the Irish Government have not taken the opportunity to sign the convention.
There is one matter in connection with the EEC Member States that I should like to raise at this point and I have given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that I should like to raise it. In the penultimate paragraph of the reservation made by France on signature, there is reference to a text being prepared by the European Commission on the subject of suppression of terrorism. I can find no evidence for the existence of this text and wonder, indeed, whether there will be one or whether that was merely something that was discussed at the European Council in 1976 and which has, in fact, not come to fruition. I should be grateful for information on that particular issue.
One can understand French reluctance as regards certain aspects, but where those who live in freedom abuse that freedom there is an overwhelming desire and temptation to retaliate with the denial of freedom. We must obviously resist that temptation and find ways, while protecting the rights of everyone, to be seen to remain an open and free society. The need for democratic States not to be driven into taking undemocratic measures in the name of freedom has led to the introduction of Article 5 of the convention, which is represented by Clause 2 in the Bill.
938 While, under Clause 1, individuals will not, in certain circumstances, be able to evade extradition for an offence on grounds of the political character of that offence, under Clause 2 of the Bill the fugitive may now be protected on certain grounds which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has already read out. It would appear on the face of it that, where the law has been strengthened by Clause 1, it may have been weakened by Clause 2. Considering the great difficulty there has always been in defining what is a political offence or an offence of a political character, I believe that it would be even more difficult for a court in seeking evidence before extradition, to consider whether prejudice would be shown on grounds of political opinion. The shift in the convention from the offence to the offender follows the development in the protection of the human rights of individuals over the last decades, but it certainly does not make the matter any easier to resolve. As I see it there is, indeed, a danger that each convention country will interpret this clause in the light of its own standards.
The solution found in the convention that, in the ultimate resort, the fugitive offender must be tried in the State where he has sought asylum is, I believe, the right one. He will not be in danger of prejudice on account of the listed grounds in Clause 2, but is nevertheless triable in the requested State for a major criminal offence listed in Schedule 1 to the Bill. In fact, there may well be something to be said for a proposal which I believe was put forward quite recently by the French President that European Community Member States should have reciprocal jurisdiction for certain crimes, particularly those crimes which are the basis of terrorist activities.
The difficulties faced by nations discussing the Draft on Territorial Asylum are evidence of the difficulty which conies when we deal with the problem of asylum. I should like to raise this point; I know that it is not directly in the Bill but, nevertheless, it is a subject which arises as a result of the Bill and, I think, as a result of a headline in today's issue of The Times, which could be misinterpreted by many people who are themselves political refugees in this country.
The position of the political asylee 939 needs defining, as many people have been led to believe that the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism is removing from individuals fundamental rights recognised in recent international conventions, in particular concerning political asylum. I believe that there is some misunderstanding on this matter. The non-extradition of political offenders is not a general principle of international law, but it is left to the practice and municipal law of States. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will confirm that. The individual has the right to request asylum and, once in the territory legitimately, he cannot be returned to his State of origin if his life or liberty are in danger. The Convention on the Status of Refugees and, of course, its protocols, carries out this principle. Of course, the United Kingdom is party to this convention. I know that the Minister has already referred to this convention, but I should be grateful if, when winding up, he would confirm that the provisions of the Bill do not affect Article 33 of the convention regarding our obligation to refugees; perhaps he would give an assurance that the long-standing tradition of this country as a haven against unlawful persecution will remain.
Other guarantees of protection of the individual reside in the practice—in the United Kingdom at any rate—of the need to establish a prima facie case in court before extradition, with a remedy of a writ of habeas corpus; and, secondly, by the fact that the convention is being restricted to Member States of the Council of Europe, all of which have ratified, or will have ratified, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. I believe that, in fact, a further safeguard against injustice would be the encouragement of all signatories to this convention to make a declaration giving recognition to Article 25 of the convention and giving individuals the right of petition, if the provisions of the convention have been violated with regard to procedures.
While seeking to protect the rights of individuals, it is perhaps not untimely to say that we forget all too easily the protection of those whose lives are in danger and those who have been victims of terrorism as well as the potential 940 victims who, after all, are the public at large. Too often we forget when we just see the figures what, in fact, they mean in terms of human life, human misery and unhappiness for the families who have suffered as a result of terrorist activities.
On this side of the House we agree with the underlying policy of the convention, and, consequently, of the Bill, that terrorists are no longer to be protected at any rate in the convention countries on grounds of political offence, and that where a convention-requested State prohibits the extradition of a fugitive, that State must try him for the offence. So, effectively, those countries that ratify the convention contribute to the denial of refuge for terrorists so that they can be brought to trial. We are pleased to hear that the Government will be ratifying the convention on behalf of the United Kingdom and hope that this example from the United Kingdom will be followed by the other Member States.
We must always remember that the delicate balance to be maintained between the protection of life and rights is put to some strain when it comes to reservations by Governments. Here again, we are grateful for the information given by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that Her Majesty's Government will not be making any reservation under Article 13 of the convention. The aim and objective must surely be, as I have said, to encourage other Member States to ratify the convention so that the whole territory covered by the States of the Council of Europe will no longer provide sanctuary for those who murder and who, by violent action, create fear by threatening further violence and seek to destroy the rule of law respected and upheld by our democratic countries. It is for those reasons that we support the Bill and are grateful to the noble Lord for the action that Her Majesty's Government are taking in this matter.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, on 30th May 1972, at Lod Airport in Israel a group of Japanese terrorists acting on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine slaughtered 25 Roman Catholic pilgrims who had come from Puerto Rico. Subsequent investigation showed that those Japanese terrorists 941 had met up in Beirut, that they had trained at a camp in the Lebanon and were then taken to Paris where they were provided, by another terrorist group, with their air tickets. They had then flown to Frankfurt where another group provided them with forged passports. They had then flown to Rome where they were provided, by yet another group, with automatic rifles, which had been obtained by yet another group from Czechoslovakia.
The only reason I recount those well-known facts is, perhaps, because it is a dramatic illustration of the now well-documented truth that terrorist groups in all parts of the world, fighting ostensibly for different causes, very often are closely linked in their activities. Therefore, it is clear that this is a transnational problem and can be dealt with only on a trans-national basis.
It is for that reason that we on these Benches welcome the Bill as being an indication of the co-operation between a number of countries in the Council of Europe in dealing with what is an international problem. We welcome it as being a major step forward, although I do not think it would be appropriate to go further than that and describe it as being a decisive step forward. It is a major step forward that some 18 countries in the Council of Europe have signed the convention and are, therefore, now prepared to adopt measures similar to those in the Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has rightly indicated, the nub of this Bill is in the first two clauses. The first clause relates to the list of serious crimes in Schedule 1 and enacts that the fact that such crimes may be of a political character is not to be a bar to extradition. I entirely agree with that and accept it for two reasons: First, because the motive for which a crime is committed is never directly relevant to the guilt or innocence of the person alleged to have committed it; secondly, because I think the political character of many of the crimes committed by terrorists is often exaggerated.
I have had the misfortune to be involved professionally in a number of cases involving people who have committed terrorist acts. It has been clear that many of the ringleaders are people who are political fanatics of one kind or another, but it has been equally clear that 942 many of the followers—the people who do the actual physical acts of destruction—have very little idea of any political object. They simply gloat over pure destruction; they revel in seeing human beings or property being blown up; very often they do not have a single political thought in their heads. I believe that to allege that such crimes are crimes of a political character is very often to take an artificial, rather romantic view of behaviour which ought to be regarded as totally despicable.
It is unhappy that we have to recognise at this stage that the two countries that have not so far signed the convention are the Republic of Ireland and Malta. It may be that the Republic of Ireland will want to reflect upon the rather strange company in which it finds itself. As I understand it, that means that the enactment by this country—and, indeed, by the other countries in the Council of Europe—of legislation of this nature will be of no assistance at all in seeking to ensure that terrorists who have committed grave offences in this country and fled to the Irish Republic will be dealt with. If steps are to be taken to deal with the problem, it seems to be essential that the Republic of Ireland should be persuaded to adhere to this convention. I would not expect that Government necessarily to accede to pressure from this country, but it might be that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, could indicate that countries in the Council of Europe are willing to attempt to persuade those countries who have not so far adhered to the convention to do so in future.
The other clause that is of importance is Clause 2 of the Bill which, as has been indicated, makes it not proper to surrender someone if it appears that that person might:be prejudiced at his trial or punished, detained or restricted in his personal liberty by reason of his race, religion, nationality or political opinions:".Some of your Lordships may have read an article in The Times this morning by a contributor who is no doubt of very great distinction but who, perhaps for personal reasons, was unable to disclose his identity. The article appeared to suggest that this Bill struck at the whole principle of political asylum. If that is so, we on these Benches would be the first to oppose it; but I believe that the author of that article has failed to appreciate that this 943 is an agreement between 18 civilised countries in the Council of Europe who all respect elementary human rights. I believe that that fact, combined with the protection given in Clause 2 of this Bill, means that the author's fears that this is an end to the days when this country would generously grant political asylum to refugees are groundless and based on a misunderstanding of the Bill.
The Bill deals with co-operation on a legal basis between the various 18 countries. Your Lordships will no doubt agree that that ought to be supplemented, and it may be is being supplemented, by cooperation on a governmental basis to deal with the problems of terrorism. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, again could indicate what steps are being taken between those countries to ensure the greatest possible co-operation in matters of intelligence as to the movement of terrorism, and in matters of police techniques in order to deal with any terrorist activities.
When I said that this was a substantial step forward without being a decisive step forward, I had in mind the sort of consideration raised at an earlier stage by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys. Clearly, if the problem of terrorism is eventually to be disposed of effectively it would have to be on a very much wider basis than that of the Council of Europe, encouraging though that is as a start. The problem can be expressed dramatically and very simply in the latest figures which I have, which show that between July 1968 and February 1975 of 204 terrorists arrested and sentenced for very grave crimes indeed, in February 1975 precisely three were still in prison. They were in prison in Irsael. The average sentence that had been passed on people who, as I say, had committed the most serious crimes during those seven years had been 18 months' imprisonment. It is an indication, first, of the international nature of the problem and, secondly, of the fact that the problem will eventually be solved only if pressure can be brought to bear on those countries which are havens for terrorists, to which they know they can escape freely—countries such as Algeria, Cuba, Libya, the Yemen and one or two others.
944 It is not helpful to look towards the United Nations to solve this problem because those countries, and many others that from time to time behave in a similar way, are members of the United Nations. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, was right when he indicated that the only way in which we can get full protection throughout the world against terrorist outrage is if those countries who wish to do so are prepared to take direct measures of sanctions against countries that are prepared to provide a haven for the terrorist—sanctions in the way of providing full airport security, of ensuring that British planes and planes from other countries who wish to see this convention enforced will not serve those countries still prepared to act as a refuge for people who behave in this way. It might be that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, again would be able to indicate that if British Airlines were prepared to co-operate with other airlines in the Council of Europe and other friendly States in taking such steps, the British Government would be prepared to give them active support. My Lords, as I say, we from these Benches welcome this Bill and look forward to its speedy passage through Parliament.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord GRIDLEY
My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships have been greatly interested in the speech that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. He seems to have covered the activities of terrorism over a very wide aspect and has given your Lordships the benefit of his opinions. I am in complete agreement with many of the points which the noble Lord made, but I speak on this subject as a layman and the speeches which we have had hitherto have, to a large extent, dealt with and covered the provisions legally and lawfully of the Suppression of Terrorism Bill. May I say that although I welcome the necessity for and give my support to the Bill, I have felt that something was missing from it. I felt it covered most of the aspects dealing with the extradition of people wanted in one country or another for a terrorist offence. In that connection I felt that it was not sufficient in itself and that part of the nuts and bolts of what might be necessary to deal with terrorism was missing.
945 I do not, and never could, believe that extradition in itself is sufficient to succeed, in the suppression of terrorism, but tomorrow I shall read with great care what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said in his opening speech. It was not easy to assimilate when one heard it for the first time. If there are any points which seem necessary to your Lordships to assist Her Majesty's Government in the strengthening of this Bill, I feel we shall be in a position to deal with them at the Committee stage.
There is one point which I do not understand. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill states:It however safeguards … a fugitive against surrender if his position would be prejudiced by reason of his political opinions …".Who is to be the arbiter of a "political opinion"? Do not most terrorists, through the use of terror, endeavour to achieve their political ends?
As regards the event of terrorism itself as we now know it, I felt a few days ago that the contribution I ought to make to your Lordships on this Second Reading concerned an experience of one aspect of terrorism which I had many years ago in Malaysia. This occurred when I was present at the interrogation of a Chinese accused of the offence of supplying rice to Communist terrorists. What happened was this. At the dead of night, at the point of the gun, Communists entered the accused's house, terrified his wife and family, and threatened them all with death unless—and this is the point—on the following day the accused left near to a jungle sacks of rice to be collected by the Communists.
That small example of what happened some years ago has been expanded into the international communism that we have around us today. I never thought, from my experience at that time, that I should live to see the extent and the extension of this practice, and that we should see it being applied at an international level with modern technology over countries in this world, so that large sums of money are paid before the release has been achieved of a person seized—and this in Europe of all places: in civilised countries such as Germany, France and Italy.
At the same time, I feel it to be a sad commentary on our affairs that when we 946 claim that over the past 200 years we have advanced in a civilised way, we have only to remember that in 1792 we kept law and order in this country without any police force at all. This at the time of William Pitt, who was then Prime Minister. Some of the things which faced him are comparable with some of the difficulties which face us in this country today. So it would seem that in some respects we have over the years gone back in our ability to maintain law and order. Hence the necessity for this Bill, which is now to operate in an international sense. While I support the necessity for this Bill—and, as I said, I shall read carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, says—I wonder whether it is adequate to deal with international terrorism as it exists.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, I join in the welcome that has been expressed for the Bill today. I should particularly like to welcome the Bill's attempt to continue the British tradition of asylum for peaceful dissidents, for the victims of persecution, and for non-violent political offenders. I very much hope that the fears which may exist among refugees, and which were mentioned by my noble friend Lady Elles and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, are not substantial, and if they are substantial that they can be promptly allayed. I welcome, also, the intention in the Bill of providing for trial in receiving countries of people who are unlikely to be given a fair hearing in their place of origin.
I should like to speak on behalf of the ordinary fare-paying air travellers who face murder, injury, starvation, abduction, and other risks from international terrorists who have been falsely glamourised as hijackers. These innocent passengers accept such things as armed searches and the consequent delays; they cheerfully pay the extra costs of ground and air security, and they are delighted to know that in Britain, West Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, and no doubt other countries there are highly-trained teams capable of rescuing passengers from terrorist blackmail, and one hopes also able to forestall many attacks and attempts. Nevertheless, despite what has been done, despite the Hijacking Act, despite the Protection of Aircraft Act, despite this 947 Bill, and despite various international conventions, there is a strong opinion, and a quite widespread one, that Governments, including our own, have not yet done enough, or indeed as much as they can and should do, to prevent terrorism, and particularly airborne terrorism.
There was a news item in today's Times which describes how a Czech engineer aged 24 diverted by force a plane carrying 46 passengers from East Berlin to Frankfurt in West Germany. On arrival he asked for political asylum. He will face trail, I am glad to say, but I believe he may, if convicted, receive no more than five years' imprisonment. This may be considered to be a mild, or even benign, type of offence, in that the passengers on the plane were unharmed and the offender escaped from tyranny into what one might call freedom. But I believe that leniency in such cases only encourages ruthless terrorists of the type who will demand, let us say, £5 million in ransom, or the release of dozens of already convicted criminals, and perhaps go on to ask for safe conduct to some country misguided enough to receive them.
I should like at this point to pay tribute to the campaign conducted over several years by the noble Lord, Lord Janner,—whom I am glad to see in his place against terrorism and against hijacking. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, mentioned the question of sentencing policy and pointed out that it had not been anything like sufficiently severe. My noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys also touched on some of the extra measures going beyond this Bill which are clearly necessary.
I feel that many Governments should take much more determined action against those Governments who have failed to ratify the international conventions, against those Governments who have paid ransoms and who still harbour and help terrorists. Action is also needed against Governments who permit inadequate precautions at their airports, and, worse still, who allow the training of hijackers on their territory. I feel that the message that should go forth from this debate—and I hope the Government will support it—is that in no circumstances will Danegeld be paid, and that all that hijackers can and should expect is trial and the most severe sentences.
948 It is evident that persuasion has so far not been nearly effective enough. If steps were taken to withhold landing rights from offending countries, and if international airlines refused to carry the citizens of offending countries, these would be powerful incentives indeed. These should—I am sure we all agree—be applied in concert, but if no agreement on this matter can be reached within a reasonable time, surely there is a strong case for applying them unilaterally. Since this country is very much at the hub of world air traffic, I believe it could give a most useful lead. Hijacking is an offence and an evil no longer to be tolerated.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Lord BESWICK
My Lords, before my noble friend replies to this debate, may I support what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The real crux of this matter does not lie within the territories of those countries which are prepared to sign this convention; the real difficulty that arises in the world lies within those territories of countries that are unlikely to sign the convention. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, it would be a good thing if from this House some message could go out to the world so far as our future action is concerned with regard to those other countries. If my noble friend could give some indication that some effort would be made by the United Kingdom Government for action to get some sanctions against those countries which harbour terrorists of this kind, that would probably give much more encouragement than the actual terms of this Bill.
§ 3.52 p.m.
My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this stage without having given notice of my intention to speak; I came out of hospital a few days ago and was not sure whether I would be able to attend today. I wish briefly to endorse some of the remarks that have been made and to say at the outset that I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the basis of terrorism throughout the world comes from the opportunity that is given to terrorists to be trained by various countries, and the protection that is given to them when hijacking has taken place and when other terrorist actions have been perpetrated. I cannot imagine that anybody 949 anywhere doubts that the activities of terrorists have been supported by so-called, or apparently, civilised countries, and that unless and until sanctions are taken against those countries which harbour terrorists, allow the training of terrorists or permit them to have air travel facilities, this problem will not be overcome.
The variety of terrorist activities is, I am sure, well known. Surely it is impossible for civilisation to tolerate the sort of actions that are taking place and which are so frequently covered by the plea that such actions are taken for political purposes, irrespective of whom they kill and injure and irrespective of the tactics that are adopted, even, as we know, the use of poison. We would be well advised, even as an example to the rest of the world—there have been many occasions when we have set an example to the rest of the world—to introduce in this Bill, or in other very early legislation, provisions which show that we will not tolerate air facilities being given to any country which allows the type of action to which I have referred.
Your Lordships have heard me on many occasions raise questions about terrorist organisations having representation in this country. This is an extremely serious matter and I should like to know whether my noble friend is prepared to investigate it and, in the event of discovering that there are branches of such organisations in this country, take such action as may be necessary so that they are no longer allowed to remain here to carry out their activities. We know there is a very close connection among many organisations throughout the world and that, if they are not directly concerned, they have affiliations with terrorist organisations. If the world is to retain a civilised state, the representatives of organisations which are prepared to affiliate with or make constant contact with such organisations, even if they are not themselves directly concerned with them, should not be allowed in civilised countries like our own to carry out the type of actions they are doing.
I should like to say much more on this subject but, not having given notice of my intention to speak, it would be an intrusion on my part. I hope my noble friend will take these matters into consideration. We have an enemy within our 950 gates and some examples of terrorism can be traced to bodies which are affiliated through branches in this country and which openly declare that they are the perpetrators of certain actions. I thank my noble friend for having introduced the Bill. It is an important and advanced step, but it needs expanding in the directions which some noble Lords have pointed to and which I strongly support.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, before the Minister replies I must comment on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, because if his speech is to be regarded as respectable, then when the Bill is in Committee it will have to be made to contain a clause explaining at what point in time terrorism becomes respectable. I can remember—I can never forget—the acts of terrorism which were conducted by members of the present Israeli Government. I think particularly of the murder of two British NCOs, Sergeants Martin and Paice, who were hanged in an orange grove and whose bodies and the area around them were then mined. I cannot forget the blowing up of the King David Hotel. In those days they were regarded as acts of terrorism. Either they were or they were not. Judging by the speech of Lord Janner and those with whom he is associated, those actions have now become respectable.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, knows very well that when acts of that description were perpetrated I spoke against them in another place. To try 30 years later to bring home anti-Israel points, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, does so frequently in this House, is just absurd and has nothing at all to do with the position we are facing at present. But they direct a tremendous amount of terrorism, which no doubt the noble Lord would try to justify, against Israel.
§ Lord WIGG
Not at all, my Lords. I accept the Bill and the purpose behind it. I merely want to point out that the terrorist of today becomes the national hero of tomorrow. In this process there must be a certain amount of humbug. In my view, if one wants to get the world right and put paid to terrorism as a means of redressing political grievances, one should at least try to get rid of the 951 humbug—and a great deal of humbug is spoken on this subject.
I repeat that I do not forget what happened as a result of actions by present members of the Israeli Government. They were terrorists. They won, which perhaps indicates that the test is this: if you lose you are a terrorist, if you win you are a national hero. If that is so, then I will accept that. But at least say so and do not hide behind the idea that the actions are altered merely by the process of time.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord HANKEY
My Lords, I hope I may make just two points before the Minister replies. First of all, I should like to say that I hope we can avoid dragging up more of this controversy, amusing as it is and much as I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. However, my first point is to make an urgent plea to the House to support my noble friend Lord Beswick in what he said, because it really is a very important point that the nations which combined together to sign and put into force this Convention should somehow co-operate in showing the countries which give harbour and comfort, and landing rights, to these terrorists that they are not going to get away with it but will suffer for what they are doing in a very destructive cause.
All these terrorists are not on the same footing. I am sure a lot of your Lordships saw the interesting BBC broadcast one or two Mondays ago which seemed to me to show that the terrorists, generally speaking, had no useful ideology to offer the world. These are not progressive people. They believe in destruction for the sake of destruction. They say they are in favour of international socialism, whatever that is. I think it is meaningless. By the time they have destroyed the civilisation we belong to because we have been too feeble-minded and fatheaded to keep them in good order, there will not be any useful wealth, progress or even civilisation for those people to develop. Neither would they be capable of developing any of it, because what comes out of the muzzle of a gun—I am speaking as a diplomat now—is certainly not justice or truth or mercy.
952 The second point I want to make is that in this connection I think I have noticed a good deal of what I call feeble-minded mention of human rights. The other day somebody in your Lordships' House mentioned the Argentine in a very disparaging way. I should like to say that the terrorists in the Argentine got themselves into a position in which they were not only powerful in the towns but powerful in the country. They were almost in the position to take on the Argentine Army. According to a very good source of information I have in the Foreign Office, they had bank balances of 40 million dollars which they had acquired by kidnapping head after head of important companies, some of them British. These people have nothing to offer the country. So far as I can make out, they also believe in destruction; and if the only means of combatting them is to take them on at their own game, as has been found to be the case also in Brazil and Uruguay, then I think it is not sensible to grumble because human rights are being destroyed and offended against.
What about the human rights of a man like Sir Geoffrey Jackson, who was kept in durance vile in a hole underneath a public lavatory for six months just because he was the British Ambassador? Is that the infringement of human rights? What right have the people who did that to claim the protection of human rights themselves? It is absolute nonsense. The same goes for a lot of the things which have been said about goings on in Brazil and the Argentine. This is not very closely connected with the Bill we have before us except in so far as terrorism seems to be a world-wide phenomenon these days, but I think we should be careful what we say about human rights. Coming very much nearer home, and not wishing to be too controversial, I think it is quite ridiculous that the Irish Government should take us to the International Court of Human Rights when Eire themselves have certainly been harbouring people who blow up men when they are drinking their beer peacefully in pubs, and so on, in Belfast. They should not really be allowed to have it both ways.
So I invite your Lordships to be firm on this question. Looking back to the time when footpads and highway robbers were a nuisance in our own country, one recalls that they were deprived of the protection 953 of the law. They were declared outlaw, and anybody who could have a go at them was free to do so. I do not know whether there could not be a form of outlawry so far as the protection of human rights is concerned. I am not a lawyer and I can see the difficulties as plain as a pikestaff, but if anybody can embroider that theme I hope they will do so.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, let me begin by expressing my gratitude to all those who have spoken in this debate for having given what I think has been a unanimous welcome to the Bill which is before the House today. I do not think it is ever easy to translate this kind of convention into law, dealing, as it does, with some extremely complicated areas of our own criminal law. It was inevitable that a convention which is as radical as this one and which had been negotiated by 19 States should have involved some compromises. That was quite inevitable. But proof that these compromises were worth while can be seen in the fact that, of the 19 States which negotiated the convention, only two declined to sign it—and reference has been made to those two, Malta and the Republic of Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, referred to Spain, but I think she would agree with me that this is a rather special case given the fact that Spain joined the Council of Europe only in November, after the convention had in fact been opened for signature. Obviously, we very much hope that Spain will in fact join the rest of us in this matter.
Before coming to the particular questions which have been put to me, let me deal with one particular issue of considerable importance raised by my noble friend Lord Danner, my noble friend Lord Beswick and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. That is the question of what action can be taken against States which harbour hijackers and people of this sort. Clearly—let me begin by stating the obvious—this is a problem which is outside the confines of this particular measure. It is a matter of high importance to which we have devoted a great deal of attention, as, no doubt, did our predecessors as well. It is not an easy matter. I hestitate slightly to welcome the idea that it would necessarily be appropriate for us to take unilateral 954 action. I am by no means convinced that unilateral action would be particularly effective action: it would be, I suspect, rather more of a gesture than anything else. What I think we have to do is to get the widest possible measure of international agreement in dealing with this very real problem. One particular group of countries with which we cal discuss this matter is that of our partners in the European Community, and, as I pointed out in answer to a question which was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, we have been having very detailed discussions within the European Community, at the level of Ministers of the Interior, on a number of problems relating to international terrorism. I think it is in this forum that discussions of this sort can be carried further.
My Lords, will my noble friend permit me to interrupt him? This matter has been raised year after year. In addition to the Council of Europe, is it not possible to get a number of other civilised nations to come together and, instead of this being a unilateral action—I am talking, of course, about the point which my noble friend is raising now—to make it an action which civilised nations are prepared to take against those who pretend to be civilised?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I shall gladly draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to what my noble friend Lord Janner has just said, but clearly this is a problem which falls a little outside the responsibilities of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Nevertheless, it is a matter which I think a number of Government Departments, my own included, undoubtedly have been examining. I will ensure that my right honourable friend is made aware of what ray noble friend Lord Janner has said. I would say this to him. This conference of the Ministers of the Interior to which I have referred is not a Council of Europe conference; it is a European Community conference. The distinction is quite important.
May I deal with a number of questions which have been raised during the debate. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, raised the question of the attitude of the French Government. She asked whether it was right that France had indicated its 955 intention not to ratify the convention until the work of the European Communities in the same field had been completed. The situation so far as this particular question is concerned is this. There have been discussions between the Nine Members of the Community as to the possibility of evolving a separate Instrument for the extradition and prosecution of terrorists. These discussions are continuing. However, it is the view of the United Kingdom Government that these discussions need not impede ratification of the convention and that it would be a valuable step forward if all the Member States of the European Communities ratified as early as possible the convention that we have been discussing today.
The noble Baroness raised a second question—and this particular matter has been touched upon by one or two others who have spoken. That is the question raised in an article, by a suitably anonymous author, which appeared in The Times today as to whether there were adequate safeguards under the Bill to prevent the extradition of political refugees. I touched on this particular matter when I spoke earlier when moving the Second Reading of the Bill. Perhaps I could deal with it again as the noble Baroness has asked me to comment on this question. Certainly I do not accept for one moment the view expressed by this gentleman in The Times today that the convention presents a serious threat to the practice of asylum. I do not accept that. On the contrary, Article 5 of the convention gives a contracting State full discretion to refuse to extradite a fugitive if it has substantial grounds for believing that the fugitive, if returned, would be prosecuted or punished on the grounds of race, religion, nationality or political opinion. That is provided for. I made that clear. It is right that it should be there. This particular safeguard already exists in the Fugitive Offenders Act 1967 which enables both the courts and the Home Secretary to refuse to surrender a fugitive on these particular grounds. Clause 2 of the Bill makes provision for the incorporation of this safeguard in the Extradition Act 1870 and the Backing of Warrants (Republic of Ireland) Act 1965.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and others, 956 raised a particular question concerning the Republic of Ireland and I should like to say a few words on this. Certainly we hope very much that the Republic of Ireland will become a party to this convention. We have made our view on this absolutely clear to the present Government of the Republic of Ireland. We have made it clear that we disagree with the views that customary international law does not allow the extradition of political offenders. As the House will see, we have, in the Bill made appropriate provisions to enable it to be applied to the Republic as soon as the Republic ratifies the convention. We also have provided for the application of some of the Bill's provisions to the Republic of Ireland even if the Republic is not a party to the Convention, in case the Republic were willing to participate in an agreement outside the convention but on similar lines to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said that it would be an overstatement to say that this Bill, once it is on the Statute Book, would make a decisive change in the struggle against international terrorism. I would agree that "decisive" would be an overstatement, but it would nevertheless be a significant one. I think that the noble Lord would agree with me on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, asked whether it was enough. The answer is that of course it is not enough. I do not think anybody can say that by the passage of this Bill the situation will be transformed overnight. That would be an absurd overstatement. It is, however, a very important step to obtain this degree of international co-operation. For the first time we have got 17 like-minded nations to move together to deal with a problem which they all recognise as one which poses a great threat to the stability of Western society. We should all welcome that co-operation.
There is one particular area—and I give this merely as a means of illustration—where we have been devoting a great deal of attention. It is to the various working groups established by the European Community Ministers of the Interior. The House will recall that this conference was brought into being as the result of an initiative by the British Government, which came to the conclusion that it was highly desirable to bring together the nine Ministers of the Interior to 957 discuss some of the problems raised by the clear threat provided by international terrorists. Two of these conferences have already taken place and a number of particular working groups have been created to discuss particular areas of anxiety. As a result of the discussions which have taken place, there is now on a continuing basis a rapid exchange of information about terrorist activities and experience of dealing with terrorist incidents.
I myself can testify, having been to some extent involved in this issue, to the high degree of co-operation which now exists between the Member States of the European Communities. As I said when speaking on this matter during the Address in reply to the gracious Speech, although we sometimes spend substantial amounts of time discussing all the problems of getting closer European collaboration, it is right today to express some pleasure that there has been such a substantial move forward within the European Communities in this area, which is of absolutely crucial importance to the lives of many of our fellow citizens.
§ Lord BESWICK
My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether at any of these working groups the question has been considered of simple sanctions being taken against a country which goes contrary to the letter and spirit of the convention that we are now discussing? I have in mind, for example, the simple sanction of refusing landing rights to any country which may harbour a hijacker. Has thought been given to such a possibility?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I should not wish to answer the question in precisely the terms put by my noble friend. I would not wish to mislead him. Certainly the particular area of hijacking has been one where there has been a great deal of discussion and debate. As I have indicated earlier, we want to move forward in this particular area. We recognise that, until we obtain some degree of international agreement in this important area, there will be a very substantial gap in our defences against people who hijack aircraft. I have given this simply as an illustration of the other steps which are being taken by the British Government and their partners in dealing 958 with this particular problem. I repeat that this Bill marks a substantial move forward. I think that that has been widely recognised by all those who have spoken in this debate. I think that it is accepted that this Bill deals with an issue of utmost importance to us all, and I think that it is most desirable that this country should be among those countries who are going to be in a position to be the first to ratify the convention. I am glad of the welcome that the Bill has received and I hope that it will make rapid progress on to the Statute Book.
On Question, Bill reads 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.