HL Deb 17 March 1980 vol 407 cc56-78

5.6 p.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Belstead) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February 1980, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved. The purpose of this order is to continue in operation for a further period of 12 months the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976, which will lapse, unless renewed, on 25th March.

I should first like to say something about the need for the Act. During 1979 terrorist action led to the loss of public figures, which saddened us all. One consequence was that the Irish National Liberation Army was proscribed throughout the United Kingdom, in Great Britain by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary exercising his powers under this legislation. These losses illustrate more clearly than any statistics the nature of the terrorist. He does not scruple to bomb and shoot the unwary and the unarmed, and does not care if his victims are children or bystanders, or friends and colleagues whom we have known and admired.

These tragedies were not the only examples of terrorist activity by the Provisional IRA or the Irish National Liberation Army. There were letter bombs in Birmingham in June which injured four people, and it is only through good luck and the vigilance of postal workers and those to whom they were addressed that the recipients of the letter bombs posted just before Christmas escaped serious injury. Ten days ago the Irish National Liberation Army admitted its responsibility for the placing of two bombs outside an Army barracks at Netheravon in Wiltshire; and, again, it was only by good fortune that no-one was killed. As it was, two servicemen were injured in the fire which resulted. The brunt of the terrorists' attacks is still of course borne by the security forces in Northern Ireland. Eighteen soldiers were murdered at Warrenpoint on the same day as Lord Mountbatten died. By its very scale, that outrage underlines the continuing need for temporary provisions to strengthen the law to prevent acts of terrorism.

I have mentioned these matters because it is the Government's duty, it is Parliament's duty, to protect our citizens against the attacks of terrorists, and this is where I believe that the Prevention of Terrorism legislation, which I am today asking the House to renew for a further year, plays an important part. First of all, there is, as your Lordships know, the power of arrest and detention under the Act. The police can detain a person for up to 48 hours on their own authority, and for a further five days if my right honourable friend agrees. This exceptional power, which has no equivalent in the powers available to the police to deal with crime generally, is necessary because of the nature of the problem with which we are faced.

This period of seven days gives the police time to question the arrested person, to test his or her story, to check fingerprints against those on record from the scenes of terrorist crimes, to discover if there arc any traces of explosives, and to establish identity and record. As a result of this extended period of detention, it may be possible for the police to charge the person concerned. In the past 12 months (between 1st March, 1979 and 29th February this year) 51 people have been charged following detention under the Act. A person who is not charged following detention may be excluded if the Home Secretary is satisfied that the person has been involved in terrorism or is trying to enter the country for the purpose of becoming so involved.

Finally, my Lords, may I turn to report on the use which has been made of the Act during the past year. One of the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his review of the operation of the Act, was that statistics about its use should be published on a regular basis. Thus, quarterly bulletins are now produced by the Home Office Statistical Department and I think all those concerned about the Act have found these statistics to he of value. In that period (1st March, 1979, to 29th February, 1980), 724 people were arrested and detained under the Act. One hundred and seventy applications for extensions of detention were approved and, of these, the vast majority were either excluded or charged. Only one application was refused. My right honourable friend made 54 exclusion orders and refused four applications from the police for exclusion. The Act provides that a person against whom an exclusion order is made may make representations against that order, and that such representations must be referred to an independent adviser appointed under the Act.

In the period in question, 14 made representations against exclusion orders, and these representations were considered by the two advisers who at the present time are my noble friend Lord Alport and Mr. John Newey, Q.C. The Home Secretary is most grateful to both advisers for the very valuable work that they do, and has decided to appoint a third adviser under the Act. The burden of work for advisers has increased during the last year and my right honourable friend has therefore asked the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, if he, too, will take on the responsibility of advising my right honourable friend on some of these cases. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that Lord Underhill has agreed to do this. Incidentally, five of those who made representations against their exclusion orders had their orders revoked.

A further recommendation which was made by Lord Shackleton was that there should be a review of exclusion orders. On 18th June last year in another place, my right honourable friend announced that those who indicated a willingness to have their exclusion orders reviewed would have them reviewed three years after their making. Up to 29th February, 83 people were eligible to have their orders reviewed, of whom 23 had indicated a willingness to have them so reviewed. Of these, 12 have been reviewed and, as a result, one order has been revoked. The balance, some 11 cases, are still under consideration. The decision to revoke an order is not an easy one to make; my right honouable friend needs to be satisfied that the person has ended his involvement in terrorist activities and that it would be safe to allow him free access to this country.

My right honourable friend also considered whether to accept Lord Shackle-ton's recommendation that Section 11 of the Act which makes it an offence to withhold information about terrorism, should be dropped. Thirteen charges have been brought under the section since it was introduced in 1976, and the police believe that it is still of considerable use to them. My right honourable friend has therefore decided that Section 11 should be retained. This means that no changes are proposed in the substance of the Act.

However, my right honourable friend has approved a procedural change which will come into effect on 25th March. At present, the Prevention of Terrorism (Places of Detention) Direction 1976 provides that, prior to removal, a person subject to an exclusion order may be detained in police custody for a maximum of seven days from the time of his arrest. The new direction provides that an excluded person who consents to his removal can be held for a further 24 hours in police custody if arrangements are being made for his removal within that time. This does not affect the total time that a person can be detained; it simply deals with the place in which he is held and will avoid people having to be sent to prison while arrangements for their removal are being made. In recent weeks, we have had the attacks on servicemen in Germany, accompanied by IRA boasts that they will repeat this kind of attack wherever and whenever they can. The time for dispensing with this Act has not yet come, and I ask the House to agree to renew the Act for another year.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 19th February 1980, be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, this order, like the similar one that I happen to have moved from the position of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, last year, and the Act upon which it is based are distasteful and, indeed, obnoxious measures. They are objectionable because they infringe our civil liberties, but they are also repugnant because of the acts of those who have compelled us to resort to legislation of this kind—cowardly acts of terrorism in which innocent people have been brutally and callously murdered or maimed, fami- lies have suffered and property has been destroyed. What we have to do in considering this order is try to form a judgment on whether it is better somewhat to curtail civil liberties and human rights by passing it or to risk still further outrages, loss of life, tragedy for bereaved families, injuries and damage by refusing to pass it.

We last debated a similar order on Thursday, 22nd March last year, the very day on which our Ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Richard Sykes, was shot dead in The Hague. Little did we know that before the following week was out a murder would have taken place here in the Palace of Westminster, the monstrous murder of Mr Airey Neave on Friday, 30th March. Nor did we know that before the summer was out, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, also has reminded us, the horror of the 27th August would have taken place with the murder of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, members of his family and their young friend whilst on holiday in Ireland and, indeed, the other murders to which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred of 18 soldiers at Warren Point in Northern Ireland. And, of course, there have been other tragic happenings over the past year.

My Lords, if we felt unable last March to remove from the armoury of our forces of law and order the powers in this Act which help prevent terrorism becoming worse, it is hard to see how we can possibly deprive them of these powers this March.

I have no hesitation in urging your Lordships to accept this Motion. Even so, it is right that the Minister, Lord Belstead, and his right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place, should come to Parliament to justify the renewal of these powers. They are, indeed, harsh. I should like to thank the noble Lord for his thorough and comprehensive review of the working of the Act over the past year.

In his report the noble Lord has reminded us that on 3rd July 1979 the Irish National Liberation Army was added to the list of proscribed organisations under powers in Part I of the Act. I have no doubt that that decision was right. The benefits of proscription are always hard to evaluate precisely; but, quite apart from other considerations, in view of the activities (claimed or otherwise) of that particular body over the past year, many people would have found it odious not to have made it illegal. It has claimed responsibility, as we know, for a number of murders, including admission of guilt of shootings and bombing attacks in Northern Ireland in which members of the security forces were killed; and indeed the happening here in Westminster.

Proscription is useful in a variety of ways. Not only does it impose a legal bar on recruitment, on seeking publicity and on raising funds, but it should also help—and it is not without importance to stress this point, too—to make it perfectly plain to people outside the United Kingdom what we think of those organisations and of those associated with them: the revulsion and abhorrence with which people here regard them. That is important both because of the way these bodies have become active abroad in terrorism, as the noble Lord has mentioned, and to help to counter fund-raising activities abroad. The increased efforts in the United States to counter fund raising activities there are certainly encouraging.

When we debated the order last March, we also discussed the immensely valuable report of my noble friend Lord Shackleton on his inquiry into the workings of the Acts. My right honourable friend the then Home Secretary, Mr. Rees, and I announced the Government's decisions on the recommendations of my noble friend, and we were able to accept all but two of his recommendations. One of those we felt unable to accept; the other we said that we wanted to look into further. The one which we found ourselves unable to accept was the suggestion that Section 11 of the Act should be dropped. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has explained, this is the one which makes it an offence to withhold information about terrorism. Noble Lords will no doubt recall that this was a section which was introduced as an amendment to the Bill in 1976 in another place as a result of being moved by one of my honourable friends; and, although the then Government did not at first think it was necessary, they were persuaded by the arguments that it was.

Last year we felt that it should be retained, that more time was needed to see how effective it really was, but we said that if the Act was renewed we would look at it again within the following year. I am pleased that the present Government took upon themselves the commitment that we had taken on to re-examine this section. The Minister has assured us that that re-examination has taken place, and he has given us the considerations why the Government have felt that it should remain in the Act. I have little doubt that we would have come to the same conclusion on this matter, for the time being at least.

I might just mention this point here. In our debate last year, in reply to a suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, I said that if your Lordships passed last year's order, the then Government might consider reintroducing the Act as a Bill this year. I am wondering whether the present Government gave any thought to that point. I should emphasise in fairness that we gave no absolute commitment but we said that we might consider the matter.

To return to Lord Shackleton's recommendations, apart from the Section 11 proposal, the only other suggestion that he made which has not been implemented is his recommendation that financial assistance should he considered for relatives and friends of excluded persons for the purpose of making visits. He particularly emphasised that exclusion could cause inconvenience and suffering to relatives. I had to admit to having doubts about providing financial help, and felt that it would not be possible to contemplate it for friends of excluded persons. However, we did recognise that the family of an excluded person could suffer hardship; but while help for visits might not be appropriate—partly because of the risk that by providing help for that purpose we might be in danger of encouraging members of the family to act as couriers—we did nevertheless feel that it might be of greater practical value to offer the family some financial help towards their removal costs. They could then join the excluded person in his new home, especially where he was the breadwinner. We announced that we were looking into this to see whether it was feasible.

The present Government also decided to examine this, as we know. I was pleased to see that they decided to do that. Eventually, they rejected the idea. We have, however, not been given any detailed explanation of the Government's reasons for turning down this proposal, only the very brief statements which have been made by Lord Belstead's right honourable friend in another place in a Written Answer on 3rd December last year, and again during a debate in another place on this order, saying that he had come to the conclusion that such a scheme could not be justified.

As I have already indicated, we had doubts ourselves about the idea and gave no undertaking to introduce a scheme, but were examining it to see what might be done. It would be helpful to know a little more about the thinking behind the Government's conclusion that it could not be justified. Perhaps I could add that I hope it will not be said that the only reason was simply on economic grounds, because that alone I do not think would meet this particular context. The powers in this Act—and, notably, the powers to exclude a citizen from part of his own country—are acknowledged on all sides to be extremely severe. It was in this context that my noble friend's recommendation had to be seen.

Before leaving my noble friend Lord Shackleton's report, there are two other matters I should like to mention: first, his recommendation that a system should be introduced to review all individual exclusion order cases to see whether any should be revoked once it was safe to do so. That was a recommendation which we accepted, and my right honourable friend and I announced the details of this in another place and here. I think I am right in saying that those details are in fact completely in line with the scheme which the present Government have themselves decided upon and announced. I was very pleased to see that they had decided to honour that commitment which we had entered into. I also welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said about advisers and the new appointment that he has just announced.

The only other matter that I should like to raise on my noble friend Lord Shackleton's report concerns the three recommendations aimed at improving the circumstances in which detained people are held in police custody. He noted that police cells were not designed to keep people for seven days, and suggest- ed that to relieve the obvious discomfort this caused special attention to be given to diet, exercise and comfort itself. He also said that there should be greater uniformity of practice in notifying detained people of their rights, and he suggested keeping the fullest possible records of interviews with people detained so as to help protect the police against allegations that questioning was in any way unfair, and indeed to reassure the person detained that if he were to make a complaint all the information would be available.

As a result of those recommendations, which we accepted, my right honourable friend decided to issue guidance to chief officers. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether any indication is available so far as to how this is working out in practice. The Minister has told your Lordships about the new directive which, if this order is passed, is proposed to come into effect on 25th March, providing that an excluded person may be detained in police custody for an extra 24 hours if arrangements are being made for his removal within that time. This is instead of his having to be removed to prison once the present maximum of seven days' detention in police custody has expired. I wonder whether the Minister will say how extensive this problem actually is. I know, from experience that it can be a great rush. It seems a little surprising that up to an extra 24 hours could make all the difference and I am wondering whether this is an extensive problem.

As we have seen, the violent, brutal, terrorist activities this Act is designed to help to prevent have continued over the past year, with the savage examples we all know about. Perhaps we should note, too, that one of the most disturbing features has been the incidence of attacks on victims on the continent of Europe, particularly in Western Germany. Paradoxically, this may be in part a measure of the success of the use of powers under the Act in making it more difficult for the terrorists to get into this country and to get at the intended victims or targets in this country. I am sure we can be assured that there continues to be the closest co-operation between the authorities in all the countries concerned.

However, the powers in this Act alone could never prevent terrorism here; nor was it ever claimed that they could. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Shackle-ton pointed out in what has come to be regarded as the definitive view of the Act, it is not really possible to measure its effect precisely. As he said, much of its intended effect lies in the deterrent value of its provisions. What I believe is undoubtedly the case is that it has been, and is, a valuable part of the range of powers to counter this threat to life and property. I have no doubt that we have a duty to ensure that the police are provided with the powers necessary to protect civilised society. When one considers the difficulties and dangers the police and our other services face in tackling the threat from uncivilised and inhuman beings who terrorise innocent people, the remarkable thing is that the terrorists have not inflicted much greater harm than they have.

This time last year we were about to embark upon a General Election campaign. Few people, I suspect, thought after the killing of Airey Neave that we would go through that campaign without a whole series of tragedies. I believe it was a great achievement that the campaign passed off so peacefully; and that was due in a large measure to the vigilance of our forces of law and order. I am sure we all join in paying tribute to their courage, not only at that period but at other times. I include in that the Police Service throughout the United Kingdom, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Fire Service and other services, the bomb disposal officers and the rest of the security forces. I should like to feel that we could do without this Act, but to help preserve our most precious and basic civil liberties and human rights, the right to live and to live in freedom without fear, I am in absolutely no doubt that for the time being it is essential.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, may I also pay tribute to the heroism and skill of the Army and the police, both in this country and in Northern Ireland, in combating terrorist outrages. I should like in particular to praise the skill of the police in being able to clear up so many of the offences and in arresting so many of those responsible; for nothing could be easier or more cowardly than to leave an explosive device which is going to kill or maim scores of innocent people at a time when the person who has left it there may be hundreds of miles away, and the clearing up of offences on the scale it has been done is a great tribute to the way in which the police have been able to carry out their investigations.

I am also in no doubt that the police have been very much assisted in their successful activities by the terms of this Act. Although there is no question but that some provisions of the Act must offend against our concepts of civil liberties, it would be entirely irresponsible to seek to oppose the renewal of the Act for a further period. Whether all the parts of the Act are of equal use, I am not entirely sure. The power to proscribe, I suspect, is to some extent window-dressing. I doubt very much whether it serves any practical purpose other than to placate public opinion, to some extent.

The power of exclusion, I have no doubt, has proved of very great value. That clearly must be an administrative act: it cannot be a judicial process, and I have no doubt that the Home Secretary, aided by advisers, has done his best to operate that in as fair and wise a way as possible. The power of detention, which has been exercised, we are told, on at least 51 occasions, or which at least has led to the arrest and charging of 51 people in the last 12 months, again I have no doubt at all is entirely justified in present circumstances. Like many of my colleagues at the Bar, I have been involved in various cases in which it has been perfectly clear that people have been charged entirely as a result of the operation of these provisions as to detention.

I am not entirely convinced about the remaining provision, about which there has been some discussion; that is, the provision in Section 11 which makes it an offence to fail to give information about terrorism to the proper authorities. It has always seemed to me just a little unrealistic to expect people, particularly in the circumstances which prevail in Northern Ireland, to find that a duty which is very easy to perform. I know the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, told us today there had been 13 charges brought under that section since 1976. That is the same figure as was given by the Secretary of State last week during a debate in the other place. What the Secretary of State added on that occasion was that 12 of those 13 charges had taken place in one month—January 1979. I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, could inform me whether those 12 arose in one case, where the case was and what range of penalties was in due course imposed. It might help us to determine to what extent Section 11 of the principal Act is in fact a deterrent section.

I should like to make two observations about the role of the media in relation to terrorism, because that matter has arisen in the course of the last 12 months. I should like first to suggest to your Lordships that the Press and the television companies are entirely within their rights. in investigating fully the phenomenon of terrorism and in analysing the motives of the terrorists, their background and why it is they have come to take up the sort of activities they now espouse. It may be that that from time to time involves interviewing terrorists. I would hope, although I would regard it as not in any way improper in itself, that the media would recognise that, in the first place, they must in no circumstances give any assistance to a terrorist in the course of carrying out those investigations. Secondly, I feel they should be particularly careful, in the course of any programme they present, not to glorify the activities of terrorists, or make them appear to be heroes. I do not believe that this is a matter for Government intervention. I think it is perhaps a matter in which one could appeal to the media to exercise their sense of responsibility. Indeed, we have seen in the last 24 hours in relation to events in Sardinia how, if they wish to exercise such a sense of responsibility, they can do so most effectively.

The other observation I wanted to make about the media concerns a small point, but I find it particularly niggling. After each outrage—each worse than the previous one—it is the custom for some terrorist organisation to notify the media that it is their activities which have caused the damage. For some reason, the phrase is always used that a particular body has"claimed responsibility "—which seems to me to give an air of pride and respectability to the activity. What the organisation is in fact doing is admitting its guilt, and I personally wish that phrase were used rather more often than the somewhat offensive one, as I see it, that is used on so many occasions.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, reminded your Lordships that this time last year I suggested that perhaps the time was coming when, instead of renewing this Act en bloc each year, we should take a long, cool look at it by way of a new Bill which could be gone through line by line in both Houses in the ordinary way. The case for that has, perhaps, been rather strengthened in the last 12 months. We have now had the report by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, we have had the Bennett Report, we have the experience of operating the principal Act for some four years, we have seen the extension of terrorist activities to Western Europe and we have rather more experience of the links, internationally, between various terrorist organisations.

I hope that the Government might consider next year, which will be the fifth anniversary of this Act, that the proper course to pursue would be not to invite us either to take it or leave it, which is really the choice that your Lordships have on this occasion, but to produce a new Bill which will take account of the developments of the last five years, and will enable us to make sure that we are putting the fullest possible effective powers at the disposal of the police and the Army in dealing with terrorism; and, at the same time, also ensure that we are not encroaching upon civil liberties any more than is necessary. I need hardly say that, of course, we on these Benches do not oppose the continuance of this order this year.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this order, but the Official Report of the debate in another place on 4th March on the renewal of the Act, which I read over the weekend, made me think again. I have never been in the slightest doubt that the 1976 Act and the annual renewal orders, which have naturally ensued, are a regrettable necessity, in view of the almost genocidal ferocity of the terrorist organisations against which the Act is aimed, with their bombing attacks upon civilians in bus stations, in restaurants and in public houses, and with their cowardly assassinations, or attempted assassinations, of unarmed servicemen and servicewomen, of policemen and policewomen and of police reservists. Nothing that was said in the Commons debate has made me change my mind about the general desirability—indeed, the necessity—of renewing this Act.

However, it was just a little disquieting to read of the surprisingly high proportion of individuals who were detained under the Act and then released, without any charge being preferred against them. The honourable Member for Belfast, West, Mr. Fitt, gave a figure of 91 per cent. No doubt some of these were only technically innocent—the case against them was not proven, as the Scots would put it. But, by the nature of things, there must have been others who were wholly innocent in every respect.

Could not the latter be offered some kind of financial compensation, for the wages or salaries forgone as a result of their detention, as was suggested by the honourable Member for Southampton, Itchen, Mr. Mitchell? Mr. Mitchell, it should be noted, was one of the Labour Members present who, in all other respects, were strongly in favour of the continuance of the Act for a further year.

Again, the Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland, Mr. Ross, the honourable Member for the Isle of Wight, drew attention to the fact that, under the provisions of the Act, somebody could be detained for up to seven days without access to a solicitor, and occasionally was, in fact, so detained incommunicado. We have recently in this House had plenty of controversy—justifiable controversy—about the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which permit people to be detained without access to a solicitor for only six hours. How much more unease one feels at the possibility of someone being detained for six days or more, without access to a solicitor.

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when he comes to reply, could give some reassurance upon those two points, because I believe that if some action were taken here it would take some of the sting out of the Act, in so far as it affects innocent individuals, while in no way weakening its effectiveness against genuine terrorists.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to speak only briefly in this debate this evening. I thought it right to do so, as I was the Minister responsible for the passage of the original Bill through this House in 1974. It seemed to me even more desirable to speak, given the fact that, in the debate to which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has just referred in another place on 4th March, a number of Members of my own party chose to speak against the renewal order which was introduced by the Home Secretary.

As many Members of the House will recall, the original Bill was introduced only days after the IRA's attacks on public houses in Birmingham in November, 1974. It goes without saying that in no conceivable sense could those public houses be described as military targets. When the bombings took place, they were filled with ordinary working men and women. The IRA's motive was clear and unambiguous—to create a sense of terror in this country, to cause panic among the British people and to undermine their resolve to stand firm in Northern Ireland.

Of course, that campaign failed. I do not believe that these tactics ever stood the slightest chance of proving to be successful. The IRA miscalculated, in exactly the same way as the Baader Meinhof terrorists miscalculated in West Germany. Stable democracies do not collapse, do not capitulate to the demands of dedicated fanatics, simply because of a wave of terrorist attacks.

But the price of resistance can, of course, be an exceptionally heavy one. Many scores of innocent men and women can be slaughtered, as indeed they have been in this country and in Germany; and, of course, by the Red Brigade in Italy. Although we are debating today an order which relates solely to our problems in Northern Ireland, we must recognise that this issue of terrorism is one which affects many states in the industrialised West. In the European Community, to take the obvious example, only Denmark and Luxembourg can be said to have escaped altogether the effects of terrorist action.

We live in an age in which minorities of extremists, whose views are unacceptable to their fellow citizens, withdraw from political activity and resort to the bullet and the bomb in an attempt to compel democratic governments to bow to their will. Their record of success so far has been extremely limited, but that does not seem, as yet, to have in any way diminished the violence of their attacks. I am afraid that we have to accept the certainty that for the rest of this decade, and possibly even longer, we will be subject to attacks of this character. In such a situation, we have to ask ourselves: How should we react?

Today I should like to discuss only two elements of our response, the one which is dealt with in the order before us, the legislative; and the second, which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder—the responsibility of the media. The legislative response in this country to the challenge of the IRA has, of course, been the Prevention of Terrorism Acts of 1974 and 1976. The present Act, as the noble Lord the Parliamentary Under-Secretary reminded us today, confers special and unusual powers upon the police. In particular, as he pointed out, it gives the Secretary of State power to exclude a person from Great Britain and to return him either to the Republic of Ireland or to Northern Ireland, if he is satisfied that the person concerned has been, or may be, involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Secondly, they also gave the police power to detain a suspected person for a period of up to 48 hours and, with the consent of a Minister of the Crown, for a further five days.

Given the character of these powers, it seems to me altogether right that Parliament should be invited to consider every 12 months whether they should be prolonged. Of course, the power to exclude a person from Great Britain confers an enormous power on the executive. Two hundred and twenty of these orders have been made, and some, I am sure, have led to considerable hardship to some of those concerned. But, having accepted that, it is also our duty to consider what would be the consequences if the Home Secretary and the police did not have these powers. I must tell the House, on the basis of the four years during which I saw these powers exercised when I was a Home Office Minister, that without these powers many men and women now walking the streets of this country would have been dead. This legislation, I believe, played a crucially important part in defeating terrorist attacks on our cities.

In the majority of the exclusion cases which I examined as a Minister, there was little or no doubt that the person concerned was a terrorist, but the evidence fell rather short of that which would be required to ensure a conviction in a court of law. If the Home Secretary in such cases was satisfied on the basis of the evidence put before him that the case was made out for exclusion, then the person concerned was removed from this country. But if, of course, the critics now have their way—and there are critics, though not in this House but outside it—Ministers would lose this power. The consequences would, I believe, be very serious indeed. I can think of nothing more likely to encourage a new and prolonged IRA assault upon our cities. For the terrorists would return, knowing—this confirms a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder—that one of the most damaging in the armoury of weapons in the hands of the police had been removed. Even with these powers, there is always the risk of a new burst of IRA activity in this country; without them, the likelihood of attacks would increase appreciably. Therefore, I believe that the House should accept this continuation order.

I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in acknowledging our debt to our colleague the noble Lord, Lord Alport. He has served as one of the Home Secretary's advisers on exclusion order cases since the introduction of this legislation nearly six years ago. Having read a number of his reports, I know with what degree of devotion he has addressed himself to this responsibility. I think that it is only fitting on an occasion such as this to pay tribute to his work, which goes unsung and unhonoured but which, nevertheless, is of great importance to the safety of the State.

I wish now to turn to the second matter I wish to discuss, a matter which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and that is the responsibilities of the media. In doing so, I suppose I should declare an interest in that I began my career as a journalist and I am now a non-executive director of an independent television company. It has often been argued that at a time of serious public concern about terrorism the media should accept some form of censorship; that a free Press is all very well in normal circumstances, but that in the special situation created by terrorist attacks, a totally different approach is required. I do not agree with this view. Nothing, in my opinion, would give terrorists a greater sense of satisfaction than to compel a democracy to suspend the right of the Press—and television—to report freely.

In this country I believe that it would be virtually unthinkable that we should adopt any such approach. The same is true, I am sure, of most of our friends in Western Europe. But having said that, I think that it is also important that the Press, and television in particular, accept that they too have obligations. They have to recognise that terrorists are common criminals. We must sweep away all this nonsense of so-called"officers"in the IRA, and so-called"courts"used by other terrorist groups to justify murder. These people, I repeat, are ordinary criminals. They are not in some mysterious way analogous to some form of political party, with certain rights under the BBC Charter or the Independent Broadcasting Act.

There have been a number of occasions on which spokesmen of some of these groups have been allowed to address a mass audience on television. The excuse of the broadcaster concerned is generally the same; it is all being done to"inform"the electorate. I am afraid I must say, as one who has spent a great deal of his career as a journalist, that I do not believe that is in any sense a satisfactory defence. Terrorist groups crave attention and status. That is true of the IRA, and it is also true of the criminals who burn down holiday homes in Wales. I believe that, unless television organisations behave with a proper sense of responsibility, they can do a great deal to boost the morale of these organisations. There is, in my view, no case in a political democracy for treating these people other than as criminals; no case for conferring some form of political status upon them; no case for treating them as other than they are—as men and women of violence, determined to punish a free society for refusing to surrender to their blackmailing demands.

In this country there is at the moment a lull in the terrorist attacks. Yet, quite apart from the heavy toll in Northern Ireland itself, as my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham has reminded us this evening, our Ambassador to the Netherlands was murdered by the IRA less than a year ago, so was Mr. Airey Neave, so was Lord Mountbatten and members of his family, and more recently, there have been the foul attacks made on British servicemen in Germany. At any stage as I have indicated, we face the risk that there may be a renewal of IRA attacks activity in Great Britain. I think that it is essential to give the Government these powers again.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it can be said too often that the order before us is an exceptional measure, and it is right that it should not be renewed without critical scrutiny. It has certainly been given that scrutiny by noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham said it is a repugnant measure in many ways in a free country, but it deals with acts which are repugnant to a free society. I thank the noble Lord for reaching the same conclusion as the Government and indeed all your Lordships have reached, which is that, however reluctantly we do so, this legislation should be renewed for a further year. Let us remember that in a free society we lay upon ourselves the responsibility to have to come back to Parliament to review and renew this legislation from year to year.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked me whether compensation could be paid to persons who are detained under the Act. He also expressed the hope that access to legal advice could be extended to those who are detained. There is no provision for the payment of compensation to persons detained for questioning by the police. When one bears in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, reminded us of; namely, the cruel nature of terrorism and the threat that terrorism intends to the very existence of our free society, then I think it would be wrong for persons detained under this legislation to be treated more favourably than persons detained under other powers.


My Lords, I referred soley to innocent persons—that is to say, to the 91 per cent. who arc detained and not charged and who are detained for a considerable period of time, unlike those ordinarily detained at a police station for lesser crimes.


My Lords, people ordinarily detained at a police station can also in the end be found to be innocent of any charge brought against them. The point I am making to the noble Lord is that compensation cannot be paid in those cases.

So far as legal advice is concerned, it might be helpful if I remind your Lordships that a person arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act has exactly the same rights as any other person arrested under other powers. But the general question of access to solicitors is being examined by the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, and I am sure that the House would wish to wait to see what the Royal Commission has got to say on that and on other subjects.

The noble Lord also expressed unease—which indeed I have heard before—that the majority of people arrested and detained under the Act are released without charge and without being excluded. I think it is as well to remember that the purpose of the Act is to prevent acts of terrorism. I would suggest that rather than look at the test of effectiveness as being how many people following arrest and detention are charged, one should look at the figures of terrorist incidents, deaths and injuries in Great Britain, before and after the coming into force of the Act. This legislation was brought in when Mr. Roy Jenkins was the Home Secretary and when the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was his Minster of State.

If I may say so, the noble Lord had every right in his speech to say that, without these powers, many people who are alive today would otherwise he dead. In the two years of terrorist activity prior to the coming into force of the 1974 Act, 44 people died and 758 were injured in 203 incidents. In the five years since that Act was passed, 14 people have died and 414 have been injured in 136 incidents. Those figures, though tragic, are some encouragement that the work of the police, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and other noble Lords drew attention, is having its effect. But the police antiterrorist work needs the powers which the House is being asked to renew today.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, asked me several questions of which he very kindly gave me notice. The first one which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, also questioned the Government about, related to Section 11. The noble Lord was good enough to say that after looking closely at it, he felt the Opposition would have reached the same conclusion as the Government had done; namely, that Section 11 should continue to stand. All I would add is that, as I said in my speech, the police have said to my right honourable friend that they found the section to be of real value in reminding potential witnesses, who may be on the periphery of a terrorist conspiracy, of their duty to tell what they know about terrorist activity. Perhaps it is worth recalling that as a result of police investigations into the Provisional IRA bombing incidents in December 1978, 11 people were charged with offences under Section 11. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, asked me about these cases. There are, in fact, 12 cases now under Section 11, initiated in January 1979. Those cases are still before the courts. The charges indeed arose in connection with the bombings which took place the previous December, but as the cases are sub judice perhaps the noble Lord will understand that I feel I ought to say no more.

Both noble Lords also asked me about the reintroduction next year of the Act as a Bill. Of course, this legislation was last fully debated as a Bill in 1976 when it was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. The suggestion which noble Lords have made on this will certainly be very carefully considered before the legislation comes before Parliament again in a year's time.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, also asked about the provision of financial assistance to the families of excluded persons and asked if l would give reasons as to why my right honourable friend had said that such a scheme could not be justified. The Home Secretary has considered this matter carefully and he reached his conclusions, I think it is fair to say, for three reasons. The first is that the family of an excluded person are eligible for social security benefits if they stay in the United Kingdom. Secondly, of course, an excluded person can send money to his family here. Thirdly, I really do feel bound to say that there are higher priorities for new Government expenditure than the provision of assistance to those families who, as I say, can draw public assistance in the same way as other people living in this country.

The noble Lord also asked me some more detailed questions about the improvement in circumstances of people who are detained in custody. Of course, it is a fact that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, recommended that more thought should be given to improvements in the diet, exercise and comfort of detained persons. He also recommended that the fullest possible records should be kept of interviews with people detained under the Act and that there should be greater uniformity of practice in the way in which people are informed of their rights when taken into custody. Advice on each of these three points was given to chief officers of police in June of last year. Their attention was drawn to the benefits of a varied and adequate diet, the provision of exercise facilities and the cleaning of cells. Officers were advised to take full notes during interviews with detained persons and to write up a full record immediately after-wards. They were also advised to inform detained persons of their rights as soon as they arrive at the police station, and Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary have been asked to bear all these points in mind in making their inspections.

Finally the noble Lord asked me about the extent of the problem to which the making of the direction, to which I referred at the end of my speech, has been addressed. It is not, as we understand it, an extensive problem, but the odd case from time to time occurs, has been brought to our attention and has led us to make this change. As I sought to explain, the change does not in any way extend the length of time that a man or a woman can he kept in detention. It simply means that for the last 24 hours, instead of having to go to prison if they are then going to be excluded and removed from the United Kingdom, they can be kept in police custody; and I am advised that in many cases an extra 24 hours is very often sufficient for this purpose.

If your Lordships will forgive me for not doing so, I will not add anything to the remarks which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made about broadcasting, except to say that I think their words were well chosen. I am sure that I speak for all your Lordships, having listened to the speeches, when I say that I wish we could dispense altogether with this legislation, but as I indicated earlier the Government do not believe that the time has come. While acts of terrorism continue to take place in this country, we must give the police the support they need to catch the perpetrators or, better still, to detect them before they have a chance to act. I ask your Lordships to join me therefore in approving this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.