HL Deb 17 May 1978 vol 392 cc396-406

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is designed to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents. It is non-controversial, I hope, and I therefore trust that it will be regarded as not inappropriate that the Second Reading should be moved from these Benches. By a happy coincidence it was sponsored in another place by someone with whom I was closely associated some time ago and he held the record—and I think it may be unique—in that place of being the last on the ballot and the first past the post; but he had a somewhat easier task than I have, since the Bill went through the other place "on the nod", and, while I trust we shall treat the matter less cursorily, I hope that we shall show equal unanimity in this House.

The Convention was adopted by the United Nations in December 1973 and signed by the United Kingdom in 1974; it is already in force and to date sonic 31 States are signatory parties. The purpose is to provide an international framework which will ensure that anyone who murders, kidnaps or seriously attacks an internationally protected person will not find a safe haven in the territory of any State party to the Convention. Internationally protected persons are defined as Heads of State, Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, representatives of States or international organisations; that is to say, all those who by virtue of their duties are peculiarly susceptible to terrorist attacks.

In the light of the grisly events of the last few weeks in Rome, no one needs reminding of the inhuman menace of terrorism; but it is not only a remote possibility affecting foreign countries, three members of our own Government Service having in recent years been victims of terrorism. The first and most tragic example was Christopher Ewart-Biggs, the Ambassador in Dublin, the second Sir Geoffrey Jackson who was kidnapped in Uraguay, and the third, James Cross who was kidnapped in Montreal in 1970. I knew all of them personally and the last-named is, indeed, a close friend of mine. Here in London only last year, the former Minister of he Yemen Arab Republic and his wife were murdered outside the Royal Lancaster Hotel. The Convention seeks to combat such terrorist attacks. The provisions of the Bill are, I hope, adequately set out in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill. I trust that noble Lords will not wish me to go into great details for some of them are of considerable legal complexity. I shall merely draw attention at this stage to what I consider are two important innovations in this legislation.

The first is that the Convention requires States to make punishable under their own law serious attacks on protected persons. All the offences covered in the Convention, with one exception, are already crimes under our law. One new offence is created and it is the only one; that is, the offence of threatening to commit one of the other offences. This is provided for in Clause 1(3). The Convention also requires States to establish extra-territorial jurisdiction over the offences it covers so that if an offender flees to their country he may be punished even though the crime may have been committed at the other end of the world.

The Convention requires States to consider prosecution of a fugitive offender if he is not extradited but at the same time States are required to make extraditable the offences covered. The principle therefore is one of "Extradite or prosecute!". That is a very important one because so often the crime is committed in a country other than that of the offender, who then seeks refuge in yet a third country. Clause 3(1) ensures that the new offence of threats is an extraditable crime under the Extradition Act 1870 and the Fugitive Offenders Act 1967. There is a further interesting point about extradition. This is that extradition may take place only when the United Kingdom has an extradition treaty with the State concerned. But the present Convention follows the precedent set in The Hague and Montreal Conventions on Air Piracy by providing that where no extradition treaty exists the Convention itself may be considered a treaty for the purpose of extradition for the offences named.

Consequently, Clause 3(2) of the Bill provides that, where no extradition treaty exists with a State party to the Convention, an Order in Council may be made under the Extradition Act applying that Act to the State concerned. This will enable the extradition to that State of a fugitive accused of an offence covered by the Convention. I should emphasise that the traditional safeguards governing the return of fugitive offenders will still apply; we are not binding ourselves to return a person to a State merely because that State asks for extradition in any circumstances. To the extent that I have already indicated, the Bill extends the opportunity for extradition but it does not change in any respect the procedures in our own courts with their attendant safeguards.

Finally, my Lords, there are perhaps two general observations that I may make. There are two questions which may well be asked. The first is this: Why should this legislation merely apply to diplomats; what about the ordinary member of the public? I think that the simple answer is that, as I have already explained, internationally protected persons are, by the very nature of their duties, in an exposed position. They are regarded as symbols of authority and, as recent events have shown only too cruelly, they are very obvious targets for terroristic attack. In any case, I understand that it would be a completely new departure to introduce extra-territorial jurisdiction for all acts of violence, and it would be quite impracticable to expect to receive international co-operation on that.

The second general question, which perhaps I might attempt to answer is this: Why cannot the problem of terrorism be tackled more comprehensively and in a more simplified way? After all, we had the 1970 Hague Convention on hijacking and the Montreal Convention the following year on other offences connected with aircraft. There is the Convention on the suppression of terrorism on which we have recently passed legislation in this House. That is confined to Member States of the Council of Europe. We know that there are additional discussions going on all the time in the United Nations, the EEC and in other fora. Now there is the present Bill. All I would say on this is that progress depends on the degree of cooperation that can be secured with all foreign countries, and that we have to tackle as much of the problem as we can and in the time available.

I am satisfied that all the efforts that are being made are directed to this one central aim of combating terrorism. I am quite sure we wish to play our part in this. The Bill forms part of the general structure and I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Garner.)

7.12 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, I know that the House will wish me to thank the noble Lord, Lord Garner, for introducing this Bill so clearly and so lucidly, particularly since the Bill went through "on the nod" in another place and we had no other guidance as to its meaning, intentions and effects. So we are particularly grateful to the noble Lord who has taken so much trouble in explaining the provisions of the Bill.

It puts into effect in domestic law obligations which have been undertaken by the United Kingdom in ratifying recent conventions such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Convention on Consular Relations and the New York Convention on Special Missions. So this Bill is very welcome. The provisions for co-operation with other States ratifying the Convention are of course particularly welcome because, as the noble Lord has pointed out, it is quite clear that one is only able to combat international terrorism by international measures and by exchange of information, though all of this is subject to certain practical limitations which are only too obvious.

The noble Lord has referred to the principle of "extradition or prosecute". Obviously, we will not be debating that now because it was debated when the Suppression of Terrorism Act was going through your Lordships' House. It is worth pointing out that there is no reference in the Bill or the Convention to the right of political asylum in so far as it is a right. This is of course questionable; it is certainly not a general principle of international law, as some countries such as the Republic of Ireland from time to time claim that it is.

In the Bill there is no reference to political asylum, but I assume from the wording of the Convention that an alleged offender would not be able to claim that the offence he had committed is a political crime and therefore that he should not be returned. Article 7 in the Convention speaks of a State party not extraditing an alleged offender, "without exception whatsoever and without undue delay". I presume that this means that an offender would be prosecuted in this country if he claimed that the crime was a political one.

There are two points I should like to raise which perhaps are Committee matters, but I am sure the noble Lord will want the Bill to go through easily and quickly. I have mentioned these issues to him and, with the permission of the House, I shall refer to them now. The first is on the meaning of the word "intentional" which is referred to in the first line of Article 2 of the Convention. The intentional commission of an act, I understand, implies that the offender knew the status of the person whom he was attacking; whereas, in Clause 1(4) it says: For the purposes of the preceding subsections it is immaterial whether a person knows that another person is a protected person". In the International Law Commission's report of 1972 this point is stressed on page 95. I shall not take up the time of the House now in reading the relevant paragraph, but if this matter is raised in Committee I shall of course give the necessary reference. This is a matter which should be considered.

The second issue is the definition of "United Kingdom or elsewhere". "Elsewhere" seems to be a rather cryptic term to cover aircraft, ships, hovercraft and so on, which are referred to specifically in the Convention and which are spelt out in the Suppression of Terrorism Act. I wonder whether "elsewhere" is a sufficient definition to cover all these various places where an alleged offender could in fact be apprehended. Anybody who has been involved in drafting these documents—particularly at United Nations level—will know how extremely difficult it is to find sufficiently technical terms to cover the meaning intended by the members of various delegations—in this instance, of course, it is the Six Committee—which can also be transferred and translated into the many systems of the United Nations. Nevertheless, I thought that these two points were worth raising. I feel that these matters, on the face of it, do not interpret in the Bill the intention, as I understood it, of the Convention.

Regarding extradition, the principle contained in the Bill is a departure from the established one that one does not extradite anybody to a requesting State unless there is an existing arrangement. The noble Lord has very rightly drawn attention to this new departure in the Bill. However, from the point of view of practicality I am not sure that this procedure is very satisfactory. If ratification of the Convention will itself constitute an extradition arrangement in regard to crimes contained in Clause 1 of the Bill, nevertheless, there is a necessity under the Bill to have an Order in Council before extradition can be effected. I do not think an Order in Council can be effected from day to day; it takes time to get through both Houses. This would mean, therefore, that if somebody were apprehended they would presumably have to wait until these procedures are gone through. I wonder whether this is a very satisfactory way of dealing with this problem.

It is worth recalling that in Clause 1(5)(b) there is reference to a person's entitlement under international law to special protection from attack. These are not idle words. They are a specific undertaking by Governments ratifying this Convention that they recognise and accept their obligations to internationally protected persons. They therefore show the need for appropriate and effective measures for the protection and prevention of the type of crime covered by the Bill.

It is not however, either by international law, by municipal law, by ratification of treaties or the passing of legislation in our domestic law—although they indicate a climate of consensus that we wish to co-operate—which will successfully combat national or international terrorism. It is only by having a strong, effective efficient police force, with wages commensurate to their tasks and with the risks that they are daily having to face, to say nothing of the physical harm that our police force and other police forces are having to suffer in the normal course of their duties. It is therefore idle for us to pretend that this Bill is going to do anything unless the Government will at the same time undertake to look seriously at our police force in this country. With the present situation of the police force, I do not think the Government will be able to implement the provisions of the Bill.

I should like, if I may, to spend just one minute on what has been happening in Italy, as the noble Lord so rightly reminded us. There was a very important article in an Italian newspaper about a year ago, referring to the unfair and deprecatory attacks on the police force in the Press, in the media, by demonstrations, by word of mouth and by leaflets over five years. There was a crescendo of these attacks until about two years ago. There was a graph plotted of the number of attacks on the police on television and in broadcasts. I mention this advisedly, because we have recently suffered the same thing—a very unfair attack on the police made on television, which is perhaps just a warning shot across our bows. This series of attacks against the police went in a crescendo until about two or three years ago, when they suddenly descended. It was perfectly clear why they had descended—because the police in Italy had become demoralised, they had become inefficient and they had been subverted. To my mind, this was a very serious lesson to Western democratic States that if we sign these Conventions and if we undertake to protect not only our own citizens but internationally protected persons, we must see that our police forces are adequate for the task. With those comments, my Lords, I beg to support the Bill.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Garner, avails himself of the advantages of replying to this debate, may I join with the noble Baroness in expressing our grateful thanks to him for moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and for doing so with such cogency and clarity. I rise merely to say that, of course, the Government are determined to play their part in the fight against international terrorism.

The noble Baroness, and indeed the noble Lord, instanced the various international instruments to which we are parties and in the formation of which we were frequently leaders. The Hague and Montreal Conventions are very good examples, dealing with hijackings and other attacks on aircraft. We are currently co-operating with other countries in practical steps to counter terrorism. A recent example was the co-operation between this country and the Federal German authorities in the Lufthansa hijacking incident. Again with the Federal Republic of Germany, we are in discussion about the Convention which they have drafted on the taking of hostages, which is another dreadful aspect of the crime of terrorism that was discussed in a United Nations committee in February this year. We are giving full support to the Federal German initiative and, indeed, I believe we have been able to make useful suggestions to those who are primarily concerned with that Convention.

This Convention—the Convention which this Bill will enable us to ratify—is an addition to that system of counter- terrorism. It does not do it all, any more than its predecessors did it all, but it is an invaluable addition to the armoury of counter-terrorism. Of course, in enforcing the intentions of this Bill, as of any other Act, the Government are determined to ensure that there is an adequate and properly treated police force. I should have thought that the noble Baroness, in making that point, would also agree that it is necessary to have adequate and properly treated police forces and to apply the full force of all Acts of Parliament to which Parliament and Her Majesty have given their consent.

This Bill, as I said, joins other enactments, for instance, the Bill which enabled us to ratify the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, as the noble Baroness mentioned. The Bill does not create any new offences in the United Kingdom, except that of threatening to commit one of the specified offences against a protected person. It will, however, extend the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts so that the offences covered by the Convention will be triable in the United Kingdom, even though they have been committed outside this country. It will also supplement existing provisions of our extradition legislation, as we have just heard, in respect of the offences covered.

The point was raised about the specification of this Bill to diplomats. The term "diplomats" was, of course, used to include heads of State, Ministers, diplomats in the narrower sense of the word, and comparable persons who are engaged in the service of inter-governmental commissions and organisations and are therefore cognate with the categories I have just mentioned. The reason why there has been a Convention already ratified or adhered to by 31 countries is that that kind of person is, by virtue of his duty and activity, peculiarly susceptible to the attentions of the demented people who operate all over the world in the terrorist sense. Therefore they need specific protection.

One would hope, of course, that in the light of the experience of the application of this and other provisions which build up the general provision to counter terrorism, we may be able again in the future to expand these measures, either by extending the categories to be protected in this way or by adding certain functional provisions in the manner we have done in the past 10 years or so. I hope therefore that your Lordships will agree that by means of this Bill the United Kingdom will agree that by means of this Bill the United Kingdom should be enabled to ratify the Convention and demonstrate once more our total commitment to take all possible measures to stamp out all forms of terrorism.

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for their kind remarks to me personally and for the general support which they have given to the provisions of the Bill. I do not think I wish to make any general comments. The noble Baroness has been answered to a large extent by the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench. She was, however, good enough to give me notice of some of the points—she called them Committee points—which she raised. Perhaps I might deal with some of them very briefly.

The first concerned the inclusion of the word "intentional" in committing the offence. I understand that the reason why there was no reference to "intentional commission" was that these offences are already offences under the laws of the United Kingdom and therefore it seemed superfluous to qualify these offences by including in Clause 1 a reference to "intent", since criminal intent is already an element in these offences. The purpose of the Bill is to give as much practical protection as possible to internationally protected persons, so the offence provision in Clause 1 would to a large degree be unworkable if the prosecution had to establish in each case that the defendant knew that his victim was an internationally protected person.

The second point raised by the noble Baroness referred to the Order in Council. The provision there is based on previous legislation and, so far as I know, there has been no particular difficulty over it. I am afraid I have forgotten the third point—

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, it was in relation to the word "elsewhere"; whether that covered aircraft and ships.


My Lords, I think the reason for the insertion of the word "elsewhere" in this Bill is that it is regarded as completely comprehensive and covering everything. Therefore, there was no need to specify in particular, as was done in the case of the Suppression of Terrorism Act which related only to the area covered by the States' Members in Europe. I am very ready to discuss these points further with the noble Baroness and, if necessary, to suggest Amendments at a later stage, but I hope that those answers have satisfied her. I renew my thanks to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.