HL Deb 14 January 1985 vol 458 cc773-4

3 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what instructions have been given to troops guarding nuclear sites in case civilians attempt to occupy these installations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, these instructions are classified, but all servicemen are required to act in accordance with the law of the land and the doctrine of minimum force.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether it is the case that his Ministry, the Ministry of Defence, has issued rules of engagement to those of the armed forces guarding nuclear sites which give them authority to shoot protesters if those protesters may be occupying or may intend to occupy nuclear installations? In view of his original Answer to me, is it not the case that there may be a conflict of legal interest between those regulations and Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, which lays down what authority may be given for the use of force in such circumstances? I should like to have had a ruling or an opinion on this from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. In answering my supplementary question, would the noble Lord the Minister consult with his noble and learned friend on the Woolsack as to whether there is not a potential conflict of legal interest between the rules of engagement as issued to the armed forces by his Ministry and Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the use of firearms by servicemen is governed by rules of engagement designed to ensure that shots are fired only as a last resort in accordance, as I said earlier, with the law of the land and the doctrine of minimum force necessary to protect life and vital installations. May I add that peaceful demonstrators who are behaving in a responsible and lawful manner have nothing to fear.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that sabotage of any defence installation is one of the most serious offences in our criminal calendar and that the invasion of such installations can cause very serious disruption to their working? Will he therefore bear in mind that there must be occasions when members of the armed forces should do everything possible to defend them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I quite agree with my noble friend. That is why we have the rules of engagement to which I have referred.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister not take this opportunity categorically to deny the story which appeared in the New Statesman on 14th December, which said quite clearly that British and American troops are authorised to shoot unarmed, non-violent and peaceful demonstrators even if the demonstrators' clear intention is only to stage peaceful and temporary protests? Does the Minister not also agree that the British public is gravely concerned that the American troops seem to have even wider powers than that, in that they can shoot unarmed protesters who seek to interfere with non-nuclear equipment and installations?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the article to which the noble Lord refers gave a number of false impressions and contained a number of errors. I invite the noble Lord to disregard it.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

Surely, my Lords, if the noble Lord is asking us to disregard the revelations in this article, can he not answer the supplementary question put by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton and state categorically that British troops have not been given authority to shoot unarmed protesters? Furthermore, can he not add to that the intention of the Government to modify the Visiting Forces Act in such a way that American troops guarding such installations come under British law and are not given authority to shoot protesters who may be attempting not to damage life but to occupy installations?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can confirm that United States personnel involved in these duties are governed by exactly the same law as United Kingdom personnel. As for going further into detail on the rules of engagement, as I have said they are classified, and I am afraid that the noble Lord is not authorised to receive that information.