§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers rose to move, That this House takes note of the directions given by the Home Secretary on 19th October last to the BBC and IBA to restrict the broadcasting of statements by Northern Ireland terrorist organisations and their apologists.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, on 19th October I repeated the Statement which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made in another place about the directions which he proposed to give to the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority requiring them to refrain from broadcasting statements by Northern Ireland terrorist organisations and their apologists.
§ I was particularly encouraged on that occasion by the support which was given towards those measures by the noble Lords, Lord Mason of Barnsley and Lord Fitt. Both noble Lords have had extensive experience of the circumstances of Northern Ireland—politically and personally. And they will be aware of the degree of widespread concern about the activities of terrorist organisations and their supporters in Northern Ireland, including the apparent freedom which is provided to those organisations to ventilate their views on the airwaves and to seek support for their so-called cause. But it is correct that Parliament should have the opportunity of discussing what are—and I readily admit it—controversial decisions. That is the reason for today's debate.
§ The imposition of any restrictions upon broadcasting—irrespective of the merits of the case—is a very serious step. It was taken only after long and careful consideration by the Government. In deciding to take this action, the Government wanted to go only so far as to restrict direct broadcast statements by terrorist organisations and their supporters. It was limited action on our part. We did not want to suppress the reporting of events in Northern Ireland. Nor did we wish to suppress the reporting of terrorist activities. Those matters—just as much as others—are the meat and drink of life. However much we may dislike them, they need to be reported. It is in the public's interest that the public should be aware of what is taking place.
As a result, the directions do not restrict the second-hand reporting of events. The activities of these organisations, and the words which their spokesmen utter, can still be reported, just as they are in the written press. One Irish newspaper said, at the time when the directions were being issued:
Sinn Fein are not being silenced . . . merely put in their place.
§ We should not, I think, be misled therefore by those who seek to make comparisons with the extensive restrictions—and even prevention—on reporting which exist in countries like South Africa. Those sorts of comparisons are in fact a distortion of the limited action which this Government are taking in order to protect the citizens of the United Kingdom from the intrusive and inflammatory voices of terrorism which some seek to convey by means of the broadcasting system.677
§ In arriving at the decision to impose these restrictions, the Government concluded that those who live by the bomb and the gun—and those who support them—cannot in all reasonable circumstances be accorded exactly the same rights as are accorded to the rest of the population. This is a principle which Parliament has endorsed on many occasions.
§ In the particular case of broadcasting, the Government's view is that those who practise and support terrorism and violence should not be allowed direct access to radio and television screens in the United Kingdom. This is the essence of the Government's action. The same conclusion was reached some years ago by the Republic of Ireland in imposing similar restrictions there, which continue to be in force.
§ We are not extending these restrictions to the press, because it is the immediacy both of radio and particularly of television which has its own peculiar and immediate impact. It is hard to justify—and indeed, I do not think that one wishes to justify—the sight of people inciting or defending terrorism being projected into the living rooms of people in this country. It is neither wanted nor right. To those who say that this is a curtailment of the freedom of expression, I would suggest that any freedom carries its obligations. No amount of freedom can justify terrorism. None can justify its perpetration.
§ Second-hand reports in the press, on the other hand, do not have the same impact. And no restrictions will be placed on the reporting of statements by representatives of these organisations in the broadcast media either.
§ Your Lordships may ask: "Why is it necessary to take these measures?" There can be no doubt that the appearances of these spokesmen on television cause widespread offence. In the case of those in Northern Ireland, who are closer to the problem, the offensiveness is all the greater.
§ That is not surprising. Members of the public do not want to have the comfort and the privacy of their homes invaded by a spokesman for terrorism attempting to justify yet another atrocity. Nor do they wish to be subjected, through the powerful and intrusive medium of broadcasting, to propaganda and threats from the voices of terrorism. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that this is not what television and radio is for. Nor can we really accept that it was ever intended that the precious—and privileged, let usremember—resources of broadcasting should be used for this purpose. I hope that your Lordships will also agree that we do not want to see the fine tradition and reputation of British broadcasting sullied by the advocation of violence and terrorism.
§ But the degree of offence which is caused to the viewer by the appearances of these spokesmen was not the only reason for the Government's action. By preventing the appearance of these organisations on television, we are denying them a publicity vehicle from which they have previously received some considerable advantage. And I do not believe that the people of the United Kingdom will feel that they are 678 any the poorer for not seeing on their television sets an IRA, Sinn Fein or UDA spokesman addressing a rally of their supporters. Appearances on television have an uncanny knack of lending some kind of spurious authority and respectability to those who happen to be featured.
§ I should explain the two exemptions from the directions. One is for parliamentary proceedings. The other is for statements which are made during an election period.
§ In relation to parliamentary proceedings, we were concerned not to take any measures which might affect parliamentary privilege. We have had to have regard to the position of broadcasters in relation to parliamentary matters. Under the licence and agreement, the BBC is charged with providing an impartial account, day by day, of proceedings in both Houses of Parliament. It might be difficult for the corporation to carry out this requirement, particularly in respect of debates relating to Northern Ireland, if the restrictions were to apply to our proceedings.
§ A similar point applies in the case of elections. Under the Broadcasting Act, the IBA has a statutory duty to treat impartially matters of political or industrial controversy or matters concerning current public policy. The BBC has undertaken, in the annex to its licence and agreement, to fulfil a similar responsibility. In the Government's view, it would be possible to carry out this requirement fully in everyday circumstances since the notices would not prevent the broadcasters from indirect reporting of the statements or activities of the organisations concerned.
§ At an election period, though, it is different. The ability of candidates and their supporters to make a personal appearance on radio or television is crucial to balancing the interests of political parties and is important in projecting the views--and even the sight—of those who are seeking election. It is, after all, the basis of the broadcasting requirements under the Representation of the People Act.
§ The application of the restrictions, during an election period, would face the broadcasters with an insurmountable conflict between their legal duty to implement the notice and the requirements of impartial treatment of political controversy. I think that such a position would raise substantial legal difficulties.
§ For those reasons, therefore, we decided that a candidate who represents one of the organisations concerned, and his supporters, should be free to make personal appearances on radio and television during election time, provided —and this is an important qualification—that their statements are made in support of the candidate and his constituency contest.
§ There are some who have suggested that the directions are complicated and confusing. I do not think that that is so. The terms of the directions were as clear as we could make them, and we have since provided the broadcasting authorities with guidance about them.
§ There will, of course, be occasions when the broadcasters, as they do now, will have to use their 679 judgment in deciding whether or not to include particular material in a programme. One such issue concerns the question of whether a person is representing a named organisation at the time when he appears on a programme. It is true that a member of an organisation cannot be held to represent it in all his daily activities.
§ The key to the issue is the word "represent". When a councillor is speaking in Northern Ireland, it is not the subject about which he is talking which will decide whether his speech can be broadcast directly, but whether he is talking on behalf of one of the named organisations. A Sinn Fein councillor, for example, who is talking about council matters on behalf of his group, will not be allowed direct access. There will be borderline cases where this distinction will require careful judgment—just as there are now—but in practice, in the vast majority of cases, I do not think that the decision will be too difficult.
§ Some have suggested that the measures are a major incursion into the rights of freedom of expression. I do not think that that is so since broadcasters remain free to report the activities of these organisations and free to report the actual words which are used by their representatives. It is only direct broadcast statements by these representatives which are being restricted.
§ Others have said that the measures do not go far enough. They would like the Government to go so far as proscribing Sinn Fein. But we believe that proscription is an appropriate measure only in respect of organisations who are actively and primarily involved in terrorism. In this context, the status of Sinn Fein and the Ulster Defence Association are kept carefully under review by the Government.
§ The argument has also been put that by depriving the terrorists of one weapon, namely, the ability to broadcast, we are giving them another—and a larger one—namely, the ability to claim that they have been singled out for peculiar and discriminating treatment.
§ It has been suggested that we are giving them a propaganda advantage across the world, which will outweigh the disadvantage of being excluded from our television screens. I am not persuaded that this is the case. An Irish American or an Irish Australian, who is already sympathetic to the IRA, will not have his opinion changed one way or the other by these measures. What we are doing is no different from the action which has been taken by Dublin governments, of various political complexions, for many years past.
§ Critics of the restrictions have said that the public should be able to see and to hear these spokesmen for what they are. But the public are well aware of what the terrorists and their fellow travellers stand for. Our contention is that it is simply not acceptable that the public platform of television and radio should be used—and abused—in a way which causes offence to the vast majority of people. It encourages violence; it disseminates unrest; and it is an abuse of public facility in a way which is both unacceptable and inappropriate.
§ Nor should terrorists be allowed to continue to draw support and sustenance as a result of having access to the radio and television, and to use these facilities in order to propagate terrorism.680
§ There is one further aspect of the matter which needs to be taken into account. It is not simply that people are affronted by the direct access of men of violence, and supporters of violence, to television and radio. The direct access to the broadcasting media gives those who use it a spurious authority and respectability. They have taken advantage of these opportunities, not just to persuade but to frighten. They expoit and manipulate the media in order to deliver indirect threats. We believe not only that this is wrong, but that people do not want it.
§ I hope therefore that your Lordships will appreciate that the measures that we have taken are not simply just to protect the viewer from the offensiveness of the appearance of these spokesmen. The measures will also deny an easy propaganda platform to the voices of violence. They will prevent terrorists and those who support them from using the broadcasting media in order to deliver threats direct into the homes of law-abiding people in the United Kingdom. It was clearly necessary for the Government to bring to an end the exploitation of the broadcasting media in this way. I hope that it will receive your Lordships' approval.
§ This decision is a serious one and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said that he intends to keep its operation under careful review. I hope nevertheless that your Lordships will understand the reasons for the Government's action and will endorse the measures which have been taken. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the directions given by the Home Secretary on 19th October last to the BBC and IBA to restrict the broadcasting of statements by Northern Ireland terrorist organisations and their apologists.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, perhaps I may start by saying that we on these Benches understand and wholly share the disgust and the outrage caused by the terrorist organisations and their odious supporters. We sympathise deeply with the grief and distress of the victims and their community. We would do anything to damage and curtail their murderous activities.
However, when we use the weapon of banning the broadcasting of interviews, I believe that it has to satisfy two tests. The Minister said that freedom does not justify terrorism. I entirely agree. The method that one uses has to be justified on two grounds. First, will it be effective? Secondly, what are the consequences to our freedom? If it could be shown that it is in the public interest to restrict the media and that it would be effective in this way, we would have to consider it seriously. However, the ban fails the tests both of practice and of principle. The Home Secretary claimed that the ban was necessary because appearances by representatives of terrorist organisations—and the Minister has drawn attention to the fact—had caused…offence to viewers and listeners". [Official Report, Commons 19/10/88; col. 885.]681 Yet I must point out that there is no real evidence, and no research has been done, to prove that such a draconian measure is merited. One cannot just go by either anecdotal evidence or the knowledge that people switching on television do not like or do not embrace what they see. There has to be something very much more before action like this is taken.
John Birt, the Deputy Director-General of the BBC, has reported that a recent programme which contained an interview with Gerry Adams—who was pressed very hard on this issue in the interview—was watched by over 2 million viewers and not a single complaint was registered by the BBC's duty office. Indeed, I am told by the BBC that more complaints are registered following the screening of IRA funerals in the news programmes which many people find repulsive.
My friends and I are opposed to the ban because we believe that in practice it simply will not achieve the ends that the Government have set for it. The Government obviously are trying in their own way to do the best they can in what they believe are difficult circumstances. But we, and I am sure other Members of your Lordships' House, do not believe that this is the right way to go about it; we believe that it is a dangerous way to go about it. In our view it represents a fundamental attack on the right to freedom of speech.
The ban prevents Northern Ireland terrorists or their supporters from making personal appearances on television or radio. The Home Secretary claimed that direct access gives those who use it an air and appearance of authority; and that was reinforced by the Minister just now. However, one can look at it the other way round. The ban does not prevent the opinions of terrorists' supporters being reported in the broadcast or print media. The Home Secretary went on to say that the ban represents a measure that can further help to protect a free democratic society from the evil of terrorism and its associations. Many of us feel that people are not so gullible. They do not need this protection. The truth is that the Government have allowed themselves to be manoeuvred into a position which permits the paramilitaries to claim that they are the victims—that they are the ones being denied access to the machinery of democracy. The appearance of authority has been firmly planted in the laps of terrorists who now claim that it is they who suffer from repression. That is the exact opposite of what any of us would like to happen.
Any pretence that this ban will be an effective weapon against terrorism is further undermined by the ambiguities and inconsistencies surrounding its implementation. Again the Minister drew attention to some of those. The ban will not apply during election periods. In other words, it will not apply when, following the Government's reasoning, I should have thought that it would matter most, and would therefore give an extra burst of publicity to such organisations during elections.
The Minister stated that the terms in which the guidelines for the elections are written will be as clear—these are his words—"as we can make them". 682 Obviously they cannot be very clear because the whole operation is rather confused. The ban applies to legal organisations as well as to illegal organisations. It could be said that this is perhaps its most illogical and undemocratic aspect. If the public are entitled to vote for a party—Sinn Fein is a legal party; it has not been proscribed—then surely they are entitled to hear that party's views broadcast.
I know that many of us find such views unpalatable, repugnant and indefensible, but we should allow them to be heard because freedom of belief and expression is the linchpin of our democracy. In interviews that have taken place in the past, though there have not been many, Sinn Fein either condemned themselves from their own mouths or they were pressed into virtual self-condemnation by the interviewers.
The terms of the ban are unclear. It seems that an interview with a member of Sinn Fein cannot be broadcast when the views of Sinn Fein are being represented, though, as was shown on the "Media Programme" recently, a picture of the interviewee can be shown with his lips moving and his words being spoken by an actor—even an actor with an Irish accent. If it were not so tragic, the situation would be high comedy.
At the same time, following clarification from the Government, it seems that Sinn Fein councillors can broadcast as local councillors as distinct from being members of Sinn Fein. Surely that is a piece of Irish schizophrenia if ever there was one. They therefore can be interviewed on purely local matters. The result is, as my right honourable friend Mr. Roy Hattersley said in another place:Sinn Fein will be allowed to represent itself as the caring guardian of local interests, but will not be cross-examined on its support for terrorism".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/88; col. 1087.]The Government appear to have shot themselves in the foot over this matter, giving those who support terrorism a propaganda coup but at the same time throwing the broadcasters into confusion. The anger about the whole matter on the part of the broadcasting organisations and broadcasters could perhaps have been mitigated had the Government, before imposing the ban, discussed it with the broadcasters so that a less clumsy and less repressive mode of broadcasting behaviour might be found. Instead of that, the BBC was informed, of the ban the evening before the announcement was made public and the IBA was told on the morning of the announcement.
The Home Secretary claimed that the ban implied no criticism of the authorities. He said that broadcasters had a dangerous and unenviable task in reporting events in Northern Ireland. This step is no criticism of them. Therefore the broadcasters are doing no wrong. Indeed, both authorities, the BBC and the IBA, have rigorous systems of self-regulation for transmitting material which is concerned with terrorist activities. In 1971 the BBC decided that interviews with banned groups,should only be filmed and transmitted after the most serious consideration, and that the BBC should be seen to be clearly opposed to the indiscriminate methods of the extremists".Commenting recently on the ban, David Nicholas, editor in chief of ITN, the independent news, said: 683Public opinion is more resolute than ever in its determination to defeat terrorism. This owes a lot to the full and free reporting of Northern Ireland, which has exposed terrorism for what it is.The truth is that the ban was adopted hastily without any real thought of the effect it would have. In their indecent haste to rush this through to show that something is being done, the Government have created an ill-thought-out and potentially dangerous measure.
It means that broadcasters are to be told what they can and cannot transmit and the public are to hear a sanitised version of the political realities in Northern Ireland. I do not know whether noble Lords are aware that this has further far-flung effects as well. For some years I was a governor of the British Film Institute. I have seen copies of correspondence between the Home Secretary and the chairman of the IBA about archive material. The British Film Institute has in its archives hundreds of hours of material dating back to 1981 relating to Sinn Fein. It also has innumerable newsreels going back to 1916.
At present there is a complete state of uncertainty about what can be shown. The correspondence with the chairman of the IBA makes it quite clear that the Home Office also has not come to any definite conclusion, but the Home Secretary, writing to Lord Thomson, said he had been advised by his officials that in many cases the material could not be used. We have reached this stage as well and I find it extremely worrying.
Next week we shall be debating the broadcasting White Paper, the government plan to deregulate broadcasting. In his statement on the White Paper the Home Secretary said:We aim to ensure that viewers and listeners have greater freedom of choice from a more varied output of programmes".—[Official Report, Commons, 7/11/88; col. 30.]What about the freedom of choice to hear all sides of a political argument? What about the freedom to challenge those who seek to justify terrorist activities? Why do the Government, who condemn the nanny state, judge people incapable of understanding the hypocrisy which lies behind terrorist explanations for the use of violence?
Causing offence is unpleasant, but it is not a satisfactory reason for imposing such draconian measures as this ban on broadcasters. Are we as a society to be protected from a knowledge of all that is unpleasant in this world? There are other very unpleasant things on radio and television showing great violence from which we are not, quite rightly, totally protected in case we may be offended or, worse still, in case we may be taken in by the supporters of terrorism. What if—we all pray that it will not happen—a more repressive government should take office in the future? The ground rules would have been laid down for censorship on a much wider scale than anything we have seen before.
The Minister pointed out that we should not make comparisons with, for example, South Africa. But I feel very uneasy about being applauded by South Africa and the ban used to justify measures in its own repressive regime. Those are not the kind of mates I want to be seen with or have agree with me.
The damage the ban has so far done to the World Service has received insufficient attention. The 684 reputation of the World Service for independence from the Government is internationally recognised and carefully cherished. The World Service has had battles in the past with other countries which are anxious that we should not give a hearing to the opposition in their countries, but always it has quite rightly stood firm. This reputation is now being undermined. Equally important is the encouragement the ban gives to those who support the IRA financially from abroad. Anyone with any understanding of American politics appreciates the passionate commitment to freedom of speech, mainly through the American devotion to the First Amendment. The ban has meant trenchant denunciation in the media there of what is seen by many commentators as being tantamount to Eastern European censorship. That applies not only to organisations which may support the IRA or Sinn Fein.
The pity is that there is now evidence that long-standing American support for IRA outrages has begun to diminish. By imposing the ban the Government have at a stroke rejuvenated pro-Irish sympathies in America and will almost certainly replenish the IRA's coffers. The ban is not only repressive; it is also short-sighted and self-defeating as an attempt to curb terrorism. Unfortunately the Government appear to believe that if they ignore the IRA in this rather lopsided way it will go away. More openness about Northern Ireland is needed—not less.
I find it insulting that we are deemed to be unfit to come to our own conclusions on the basis of uncensored information. We cannot afford to be represented as the enemy of the freedom that we are trying to defend all the time. I do not pretend that a solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland is easy to find, but I am positive that the ban is not the right solution. I am convinced that it will do more harm than good.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in her forthright and convincing condemnation of the notice issued by the Home Secretary on 19th October banning the broadcasting of terrorist and proscribed organisations on radio or television. I have little doubt that the notice was issued with this thought at the back of the mind of the Government: that under the circumstances which faced them something had to be done. That "something" proved to be the ban which I have no doubt had been considered on many occasions over many years in the Home Office and rejected on each occasion.
I share the noble Baroness's belief that underlying the measure there is an attitude towards the people of this country which is deeply patronising; which does not trust them to make up their own minds; and which believes that they cannot see through the reality of figures such as Mr. Gerry Adams and his colleagues and that they will be taken in by them. I do not share, and I do not believe that the noble Baroness shares, that patronising view.
As my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich has said, we on these Benches have given consistent 685 support to all measures against terrorism in Ulster and elsewhere which this and other governments have proposed. We oppose them only where we believe that the proposed measures are ill-conceived, as in this case.
The Home Secretary's notice of 19th October falls into that territory. I must confess that I find neither of the main arguments which he used to defend the measure, repreated today in one form or another by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to be convincing. The first argument is that to allow terrorists to appear on television causes widespread offence to listeners and viewers. The second argument is that terrorists draw sustenance from access to television.
I agree with the noble Baroness. I believe that in a democracy it is essential that the public be allowed to be offended by what is offensive. It is only by seeing what is offensive that they can judge the nature, extent and seriousness of the threats which face them. I remember that before the war there were those who profoundly objected to the publication in this country of Mein Kampf on the ground that it was offensive in almost every conceivable respect. If only more people had read Mein Kampf , and if only they had read it more carefully, perhaps we should have acted more wisely and resolutely.
To take another example, it is because Stalin managed the media so effectively and manipulated it so skilfully that the horrors of Stalinism were concealed from so many people for so long and deceived so many people for so long. That only reinforces the remark made in a brilliant essay in Survival by a former Regius Professor of History at Oxford, Sir Michael Howard, when writing about the position in the USSR. He states:Democracy is unworkable without a free flow of reliable information. Such information not only engenders debate but eliminates misunderstandings".However, it is argued—as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, argued this afternoon—that the censorship imposed by this notice is confined to interrupting the free flow of information only on radio and television. Why is it being confined to those two media? The noble Earl did not admit it in his speech but counted it to the credit of the Government. However, the fact is that the Government have no such powers over the press. They could not have imposed such a ban on the press. The reason given for imposing the ban on television and broadcasting is the idea that in some way they are magical and uniquely powerful with an ability somehow to persuade people in a way no other media can.
Precisely the same argument was used when the printing press was invented, revolutionising the means of conveying information to the public. It immediately aroused in the authorities of that time a fear that the information would be misunderstood and misused by the public. However, if broadcasting has such a unique power, if it is from broadcasting that people receive their news and views, then to censor it is a severe blow to the free flow of reliable information. No amount of argument put forward by the noble Earl can possibly gainsay that. It also means that Sir Michael's words must he taken most seriously indeed.
686 If it is not true—if that argument is not the case—and if by banning broadcasting and television one is not doing anything very important, why should there be all the fuss? Why should we have the notice in order to prevent the broadcast of eight minutes, including repeats, of film on "ITN News" over the past 12 months showing IRA people, terrorists, on the screen? That is what the ban would have achieved. It would have banned from broadcast on "ITN News" over the past 12 months eights minutes of film, including repeats. I wonder whether that is worth the dangers such a measure involves.
I well understand the feeling of those who believe that something must be done. I agree that the fight against terrorism must be relentless. However, it is equally important that the fight against terrorism is coupled with positive political initiatives. We are faced with an infinitely complex political and historical problem in which the support of public opinion—most certainly in Ulster but also in the Republic of Ireland and in the United States—is of considerable significance. It cannot be neglected.
The ban on broadcasting coupled with the Prime Minister's strident lectures to one and all about the extradition of Patrick Ryan can hardly have helped us to win the battle of people's minds. Nor is it a great tribute to the Government's diplomacy, public relations or call it what you will, that the chief supporters of the ban have been, as the noble Baroness pointed out, President Botha of South Africa and President Moi of Kenya. In the United States our ban has been greeted with dismay and bewilderment because, under its written constitution, it could not be brought in there.
Indeed, the effect on American opinion was expressed by the president of NBC News who announced on the television in this country that Britain is now the only Western democracy with broadcasting censorship. The fact that that is not true does not make it any less undesirable that that impression should be conveyed by a significant man who has powerful influence over what is broadcast in the United States.
As the noble Baroness pointed out, and I shall try to avoid repeating her, like all censorship this ban will lead to ludicrous consequences and a good deal of confusion. I do not know how many noble Lords have read the Scoble letter which was a letter from a senior official of the Home Office to the BBC interpreting the ambiguities of the Home Secretary's notice. In fact it requires a metaphysician to interpret Mr. Scoble's letter. For example, what is the status of that letter? It was sent to the BBC signed by Mr. Scoble, seen but not signed by the Home Office and a copy was sent to the IBA. What is its status and what is its standing in a court of law?
More important, the order in question forbids the broadcasting of any spoken words by the person who appears or is heard on the programme where—and this is rather important—(a) the person represents one of the proscribed organisations or (b) the words support or solicit or invite support for such an organisation. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to interpret that for me. The Scoble letter makes no reference to paragraph (b) and claims that the 687 restrictions only apply to direct statements and not to reported speech. That is not what the order says.
It is clear from paragraph (b) that what matters is whether the words solicit or support a proscribed organisation. Mr. Scoble argues that the order only applies to direct statements. If paragraph (b) says what it means, a reporter reporting words which support or solicit would be caught. If that is the case the order is far wider than we have been led to suppose. The fact is that the order should be examined in Committee word by word and sentence by sentence. I could go on asking other questions and, like the noble Baroness, I have been worried about the answer in the Home Secretary's letter about archival material and I shall come to that in a moment.
We are also told that genuine works of fiction are not within the scope of the notice. Who is to judge what is a genuine work of fiction? Was "Cathy come Home" a genuine work of fiction or was it not? Were the Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon a genuine work of fiction or were they not? What about the Lou Grant soap, which some of your Lordships may have seen? It takes place in Los Angeles and in one episode some IRA gun-runners play a significant part? Is that or is that not genuine fiction? Similarly, these problems arise with archival material. What about Robert Kee's series on Northern Ireland or Jeremy Isaacs' "The Troubles"; are they or are they not within the ban?
Perhaps I may take a statement which some of your Lordships will recognise. I ask the noble Earl how this would be handled. The statement reads as follows:There are things stronger than parliamentary majorities. If an attempt were made to deprive these men of their birthright, they would be justified in resisting, by all means in their power, including force".If that were said on radio or on television direct to camera and if those remarks were addressed to Irish people, would they fall within the ban? Perhaps because of the nature and standing of the person who spoke those words he should have been a member of a proscribed party. Mr. Andrew Bonar Law was the leader of the Conservative party when he made those remarks and I suspect that those remarks would have fallen within any such ban.
There are problems and questions which demand an answer. The Home Secretary's order cannot, as the noble Baroness said, simply be seen in connection with the tragedy in Ulster. It has far wider implications than that. I very much hope that those implications will be examined in a court of law because that will establish, first, whether freedom of expression, which has always been regarded as a residual right in this country, is a fundamental right, as it is under the Convention on Human Rights. Secondly, they will establish whether the courts would uphold a case on two grounds. One ground is that both the BBC and the IBA are under an obligation of impartiality. It could and should be argued—and I believe that it is a very plausible argument—that the order makes it impossible to carry out that impartiality for which they have a duty. That would establish for the first time the limits 688 and the extent to which a government can override the liberties of broadcasters. That seems to me very important.
I hope that judicial review proceedings will be taken and that if our courts do not uphold the case—and our judiciary on past record is unlikely to do that—I hope that an appeal will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. There, they will have a chance to decide for the first time the limits of governments' abilities to restrict the freedom of broadcasters and to establish that freedom of expression is a fundamental right in this country.
I hope that a case will be brought by the BBC, unless it has been too cowed. If it is not brought by the BBC then by the IBA, and if not by the IBA then by Channel 4. It would be best of all if such a case were brought by them all.
§ 4.8 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I believe that all of us will agree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that this is a very important issue and it is right that your Lordships' House should have an opportunity to debate it. The fundamental point of principle lying behind this is the matter is this: How far should a democratic society go in sacrificing its freedoms in order to fight terrorism?
I wish to concentrate on the point made by the noble Earl about the propaganda weapon which is said to have been handed to the IRA. I believe that he dismissed this far too lightly. I hope that when he sums up he will treat this matter much more seriously, especially in the light of some of the comments made by the previous two speakers.
It is well known that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Many of us in the Churches have had to wrestle seriously on whether all terrorism is the same or whether there are differences, with more justification for those who take arms in certain situations than in others. I think of the voices coming to us from Christian leaders in situations of massive injustice in parts of South America, Africa and Asia.
When this issue is raised my mind goes back to the Lambeth Conference and the discussions we had among the bishops at Lambeth as to how to respond to what some of the leaders from South Africa were saying to us about the situation there and in Namibia where already some people have taken up arms against the regime in that country of South Africa.
A resolution was produced which I had to move at the Lambeth Conference on our attitude to southern Africa. It was greatly misunderstood in many quarters. In fact, a disgraceful headline appeared in one popular paper stating, "Bishops Bless Terror". They did no such thing. What the resolution did—and it was very carefully drafted—was to express support for those who in the face of great provocation in southern Africa continue to pursue the path of non-violence. However, it also expressed understanding for those who, after all other means have been exhausted—I underline that—find themselves compelled to take the road of armed struggle and so become terrorists in one person's jargon and freedom fighters in another's.
The question was raised sharply at Lambeth: why should Northern Ireland and the situation there be 689 any different? It is no secret that my colleagues from Northern Ireland, the Irish bishops, were deeply concerned about this resolution, especially when they saw the press the following day. Yet I believe there is a profound difference between the situations in South Africa and Namibia, parts of Latin America and Asia where people have been driven to take up arms, and the situation in Northern Ireland today.
Why is there this difference? This comes to the real heart of this debate. It can only be regarded as different if the IRA and the Protestant paramilitaries have no justification for their acts of bloody violence—no moral justification for it—because there are other means of remedying oppression. Slogans appear on the walls of Republican areas:IRA—the voice of an oppressed people".It is important for all of us here in Britain to try to hear the voices of those who are oppressed, or who feel they are oppressed, in Northern Ireland today.
I share with your Lordships some words from the Financial Times which were published at the time the Home Secretary made his announcement:Despite the efforts that have been made since the civil rights marches in the late 1960s, the extent of the political and social alienation among Catholics, especially but by no means exclusively, in the working-class districts of Belfast, is still underestimated by the British authorities. The Government's decision to tinker with the way Northern Ireland is reported will strengthen the view … that British ministers see the Irish problem largely in terms of security—to the neglect of the political and social factors that contribute to the unrest".I believe that it is fundamental for us in the United Kingdom to see something of what those political and social factors are and the sense of injustice that still remains, however much greater it may have been in the past.
I do not for one moment wish to minimise the efforts which are being made in the fields of equal opportunities, employment and housing to remedy some of those injustices, but my main point is this. I do not believe that the IRA can really be considered the true voice of an oppressed people if there are other ways of bringing attention to these injustices and continuing the struggle for justice.
In Northern Ireland we have been able to say that there are indeed other ways forward. It is a part of the United Kingdom in which there is a high degree of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and where people from the Republican areas can be elected for Sinn Fein or, on the other side of this tragic divide, people can be elected to represent the voices of extreme Protestantism.
I conclude from that that all situations of terrorism are by no means the same. I think we all concede that. The extreme example which is always pointed out is that of the Nazis in occupied Europe and those people who rose in resistance in France and elsewhere against that terrible regime. Therefore many of us do not believe that, whatever justification there may be for the armed struggles in other parts of the world, there is any justification whatever for the methods of the IRA and the Protestant paramilitaries in Northern Ireland today. It is significant that the IRA receives no support whatever, officially, from the Roman Catholic Church.
690 However, we are only able to draw that distinction provided those liberties are maintained in Northern Ireland. This is where I come to the whole point about the propaganda advantage now being handed on an open plate to the IRA in particular. It was no surprise to me to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, say that already this is being used in the United States of America, and not only by those with Republican sympathies. After all, we are struggling for the middle ground in world opinion, and that is fundamental.
It is good that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, emphasised that the action is limited, but many actions begin by being limited and yet are significant steps—the thin end of the wedge—towards something that begins to erode certain important liberties. The point that worries me is that the action is being taken against organisations which are legal. The kinds of difficulties into which the Government are getting themselves in this regard were shown clearly by both the previous speakers when they referred to the problem of distinguishing between what happens at times of elections and what happens in the normal run of the month or year.
The Minister justified this step on the ground of the power of television. It is a powerful and intrusive medium coming right into our living rooms. However, I have always understood that part of the role of television is to convey as true art impression as is possible of the world in which we live. That puts heavy responsibilities on the programme makers. I can quite see that if we did not have a ban such as that proposed, Republican or Protestant paramilitary spokesmen could be used in badly made programmes which give a distorted view and are totally inappropriate. They should be subject to criticism for such programmes; not bullying, but criticism to make sure that people are able to see the true picture of what is happening in Northern Ireland.
A great deal depends in this debate—and it is, I suppose, similar to the arguments about pornography—on the point of view from which programmes are made. Therefore I conclude by saying that although I understand the reasons the Government feel driven to do something to counter the use made of the mass media by these organisations I am sure that this ban is the wrong way to go about it. I am afraid that it is tragically counterproductive. It gets dangerously near eroding the fundamental principles of liberty in our country and simply hands a propaganda weapon to those whom the Government wish to discourage and to fight against.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, the number of occasions upon which a government of either political party have found it necessary to issue a directive such as the one issued by this Government on 19th October are so limited that I find it extremely difficult to remember even one such case. In a very much lighter vein, I remember a directive instructing us not to advertise cigarettes on television, but that is in rather a different field.
I have tried to recall an occasion when programmes have been interfered with to the extent that this directive obviously does and is intended to 691 do. But it is a very different kind of directive with a very different purpose. Noble Lords will remember that both the BBC and the IBA have advisory committees. Those committees are themselves formed of governors of the BBC and members of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. If they do their job at all—and from the little experience that I had some years ago I am pretty sure that they do—issues of this kind must have come before them. They must have realised that there was an issue to be discussed. Whether or not they discussed it, we do not know. The directive is something rather different which could and perhaps should have fallen within the purview of the advisory committees and of the BBC governors and IBA members.
Over the years various governments in this country have been very anxious to explain and emphasise the importance of not interfering in any way with the programme content of broadcasting. It is generally known that the BBC under its charter and the IBA under respective Acts have to be absolutely impartial in dealing with political issues. They have to see that programmes are generally well balanced in every respect. They have to be sure that even the coverage of the news of the day is factual and accurate and that any comment must be limited to just sufficient added information to make the news items understandable without taking sides in one direction or another as regards the particular news item. One should not expect, and I hope that we never have, the personal views of any newscaster or the producer of any news programme infiltrating into the programme itself.
The BBC and the IBA already have the necessary authority to prevent the broadcasting of any matter which infringes the charter and the Acts. I can assure noble Lords that on occasions they take such action and it is to their credit that they do. In fiction this happens frequently. A programme that is too violent or has too much sex very often has something taken out and on one or two occasions programmes are banned. When one returns to this kind of issue where an apologist for murder and violence appears on the air, probably as the result of an interview, and himself advocates those views or, to be kind to him, simply apologises for them, one is in a very different position. That should have been seen and noticed by the people responsible; namely, the BBC governors and the IBA members.
If we speak about Sinn Fein as a political party, but only as such, then it has as much right as any other political party. But if it uses that cover as an apology for murder, the position arises as to how it should be dealt with and in what way. We know that Sinn Fein is unquestionably—I am looking for the right word—associated perhaps, with the IRA and it fails in not denouncing murder and violence by the IRA. In some way or other it regards the IRA as part of its political activity for a legitimate political end; namely, a republic of the whole of Ireland. That is what it is after, and Sinn Fein may regard it as a legitimate political end. It is entitled to say so politically if it is only a political action. In my view what it is not entitled to do is to become an advocate for violence.
To report the news of terrorist activities and murder is the result of the way in which we cover 692 news items. I am not arguing with it or suggesting that it is wrong. It has to be done in a way to condone what is contained within the news items. The majority of the people of the United Kingdom, and I am sure also the people of the Republic of Ireland itself, are appalled and opposed to murder and violence. They are opposed to it from whatever side it comes. It is not only the IRA that has been concerned with violence.
I am extremely sorry that the Government have had to give this directive to the BBC and the IBA. I repeat that they had all the necessary authority to deal with the situation, and with all the advice that they have had they could have done so. It is very difficult for there to be any justification for giving terrorists the freedom of the air. Unless something is done, that is what we are going to do. Speaking for myself and my SDP colleagues on these Benches, despite our extreme dislike of censorship in any form, we feel that the Government have had to make this directive. At the same time we regret that the governors of the BBC and the members of the IBA have not taken action.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, I was disappointed with the unconstructive speeches of noble Lords from the Front Benches of the parties opposite in this very difficult situation. They seem to add nothing positive to the difficulties that we face. I fully support Her Majesty's Government in the actions they have taken and in the directive that the Home Secretary has given on their behalf. Of course it is not a complete solution; I wish it were as easy as that. It is a contribution in the right direction but it is no panacea. It seems that we must regard ourselves virtually in a state of war with those who are prepared to kill innocent people in pursuance of their objectives however strongly their views are held. In such circumstances surely it is entirely reasonable to give up to some small extent the freedom that we regard as fundamental to our way of life in normal circumstances.
If the sacrifice of a small amount of our freedom saves just a few lives, surely it is well worth while. I believe it is for Her Majesty's Government to decide what measures are needed to deal with this very difficult situation and how those measures are to be applied. They have, I am sure, balanced the public relations aspects—the pluses and the minuses—which have already been referred to in the debate. I believe that they have judged rightly.
In my view it is greatly preferable that the Home Secretary should come out clearly and give a directive, which he is empowered to do under Act of Parliament rather than that he should lean on the broadcasting authorities as was done on the BBC by the Home Secretary in 1985 at the time of the dispute over the Real Lives programme. That put the BBC in an extremely difficult position. It is much better that the Government should take responsibility and not in any way shove it on to the broadcasting authorities. That the Government have done. They have been firm and courageous. I welcome the action they have taken for that reason and because it makes a small 693 but useful contribution to this difficult and dangerous situation.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, made out as good a case as can be made for this measure. Television has a singular power over the emotions of the viewer. It confers status and glamour even on the participants in television programmes. It can raise millions of pounds overnight for charity. And in the shops one sees pathetic labels on goods, "As advertised on TV". So it is highly desirable that terrorist organisations and their sympathisers should not appear on television.
But how often do they appear on television? I wonder whether the noble Earl can give us some facts in this case. There seems to be quite a dispute between the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and his former noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. He suggested that the BBC and ITV had been remiss in their duties. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, spoke of terrorist sympathisers appearing for eight minutes only in a year.
If the terrorist sympathisers are precluded by this government edict, do not let us suppose that this moral gesture will have any visible effect on the incidence of terrorism. It will not stay the hand on the bomb fuse. If it could, one might be more sympathetic to this decree. There will be only a moral reward for this moral gesture and there will be an important moral loss. We have embarked on a measure of censorship. Who knows what the next step will be?
There is one immediate loss to be feared. The whole world is interested in the Irish question. Its best source of objective information is the World Service of the BBC. Over the years the BBC has established its reputation for being independent of government. Indeed it was only yesterday that it won a prize from the United Nations for the excellence of its reporting. But now the pure well has been slightly muddied. The world knows that the BBC is censored by the Government. Reasons can be found for this edict. There are always good reasons for censorship. However, there are always better reasons for fighting against censorship, for condemning censorship and for resisting censorship. I cannot support the Government, wholehearted though I am in the struggle against terrorism. Indeed I am one of those who believes that terrorism is never justified even in the worst conditions of oppression.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, some six years ago, when I was serving as High Commissioner in Canada, I saw a report that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which has a role in Canada very much like that of the BBC in this country, was planning to broadcast an interview with Gerry Adams. I immediately telephoned a senior man in the CBC to say that I had been greatly surprised to see this report, that I found it hard to believe, that if it was true I thought that perhaps those responsible could 694 not be aware of the position held by Gerry Adams in Sinn Fein/IRA and that I hoped very much that on reconsideration the CBC would decide not to broadcast that interview. The CBC thought it over and rang me back to tell me that they had decided not to broadcast it.
It was therefore something of a shock to me to learn soon after that at home the BBC did interview Gerry Adams and some of his associates. I thought that it was wrong then and I think now that it was wrong. My principal reason is that it is intolerable—I do not think that that is too strong a word—that the families of those who have been murdered by the IRA, whether they are soldiers, policemen or civilians, should have to see in their living-rooms the godfathers of that organisation giving specious justification of the terrible things that they have done.
In an ideal society those in charge of our great broadcasting institutions would not for a moment consider it right to broadcast interviews with terrorists. I am greatly surprised that the governors of the BBC and those in charge of the IBA have thought it right to do so. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said about this, which seemed to me to be right. If that had been so it would not have been necessary for the Government to act. But we have to face conditions as they are. The BBC and ITN appear to believe that broadcasters should be given a free hand in these matters. The broadcasters themselves clearly think—not without reason—that interviews with terrorists are on occasion good copy.
Another factor, which I have mentioned before in the House, is the slight degree of bias in BBC handling of the issue. I corresponded about this point in the spring with the chairman of the BBC. I said in one of my letters that I thought as an ordinary listener that there was a slight but noticeable slant towards the republican view in BBC reporting. I mentioned,constant air time given to IRA spokesmen (who are of course banned on RTE) and constant examples of biased editing—either in the selection of speakers or in the presentation of the news.I think therefore that in the present circumstances the action taken by the Home Secretary is justifiable and right. I only wish that it could have been taken 10 or 15 years ago.
I regret that it was not found possible to extend the restriction to all the media. At the moment it looks somewhat discriminatory to apply it only to television and radio. I wonder whether there is any way to close the loopholes which television at any rate used to try to get around this, some of which were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. I refer to the business of showing a still photograph and then printing the words on the screen in order to cheat and to dodge the ban. There have been restrictions of this kind in the Republic for a good many years, since as far back as 1960. They have worked well there. Indeed in The Times of 6th April there was a cogent and clearly argued article by Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, a former Minister in the Republic. He introduced an amendment to the regulations on this issue. He set out in that article as clearly as I have seen it expressed the case for restrictions of this kind. To any noble Lord who 695 doubts the propriety of the Home Secretary's action I strongly commend it.
The Canadian to whom I spoke—
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, am I to understand from what the noble Lord said that he believes that censorship should be extended to the press? If he thinks that it should be extended to the press, should it not be extended further than the press and to the spoken word?
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, what I said was that I regretted that it had not been found possible to extend it in that way.
When I spoke to my Canadian friend in the CBC, he could have said—although he did not—that surely Gerry Adams was an elected Member of the House of Commons and, therefore, how could the CBC be criticised for carrying an interview with him. That shows the illogicality to some extent of the Government's position.
After all, as I understand it, Ministers refuse—I think rightly—to talk to members of Sinn Fein, but we allow Sinn Fein to stand at elections, either for the House of Commons or for local councils. Indeed, it seems to me—as has been pointed out—that Sinn Fein could dodge this ban by putting up a multiplicity of candidates for elections and then they would be free, as they are taking part in the elections, to be interviewed and to put the IRA's case publicly. So I think that the logic must be that, despite what the Minister has said, we ought to consider seriously outlawing Sinn Fein.
We are concerned with two cases: our own case and that of the IRA, and how to get this across to people of open mind. The action which has been taken by the Home Secretary is of course negative action, shutting off a channel for all the terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland. It seems to me that we also need positive action to get the truth understood generally. I believe that we have had some success in the United States in doing this, but it appears to me that we have had less success in Europe.
It is a little difficult because the Continent of Europe is predominantly Catholic and there may be some predisposition there to think that there is some merit in the Republican case. It seems to me that the whole episode which we have just witnessed—namely, the affair of former Father Ryan—has demonstrated that we have not managed to get our case across effectively in Europe.
Three months ago I never could have imagined that the Belgian Government would fly a suspected IRA terrorist back to Dublin in a military aircraft, avoiding British airspace. It would have seemed to me to be wholly fantastic; but it has happened. I believe that it has happened against a background of misunderstanding in Europe of the British case. I think that we need to make a real effort—that is, Ministers, ambassadors and the whole of our information machine—to get our case, and the truth of the situation as we know it, across to European opinion.
One thing that the IRA knows is that to be effective you say something over and over again. Let us take 696 a simple example. It says, for instance, that an Irishman can get no justice in a British court. It does not matter if it is totally untrue; it says it again and again. As a propaganda weapon I think that it is effective because some of it sticks.
We never do that. For example, we have an extradition case like that of Evelyn Glenholmes, which is fairly scandalous, but we never mention it. Once it has happened it is all forgotten. I think that we should say again and again, "Where is Evelyn Glenholmes? Why hasn't she been produced to our authorities to stand trial?"
I think that Europeans and others find it difficult to understand what they sometimes see as our ambiguous attitude. We say on the one hand that we are fighting Sinn Fein and the IRA but, on the other hand, we allow Sinn Fein, as I said, to operate legally. By contrast the IRA's line is crude but consistent. It commits an outrage and then denounces the British Government, while all its friends in the United States and Europe, and in this country, do the same and speak with one voice.
I think that we need to make our attitude very clear. I hope that the current review of the Anglo-Irish Agreement will perhaps give us an opportunity to make our attitude clearer. I hope that we shall ask the Irish to take security matters more seriously and perhaps to make extradition automatic once the identity of the person concerned is established and, further, to allow their army to talk to ours—which, after all, it still cannot do three years after the agreement.
Therefore, I think that we are entitled to ask for far more determination to join in a joint effort to stamp out terrorism. I hope that we shall do that primarily in this context in order to make our attitude absolutely clear and understandable to those in Europe and elsewhere who do not at present understand it.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I should like to say a few words about freedom of speech, democracy and terrorism. However, before doing so, I should like to thank the media, especially the BBC, for their reaction to this government action. As noble Lords will be aware, they are now prefacing reports where they would have interviewed someone now supposedly banned with the remark, "This broadcast is coming to you under the broadcasting restrictions imposed by the Government". That effectively puts the scene into context alongside the problems that the BBC has in reporting the situation in South Africa.
Having said that, we must be most careful. One interesting aspect is that this afternoon we are not being asked to approve, or disapprove, of the Government's action; just to note it. I thank the Government for putting the Motion in that form. It enables us to have a sensible debate rather than a slanging match about the pros and cons. I think that some useful points are being made.
Freedom of speech is something British people hold in very high regard. It is a watchword of most politicians, I think, that we will defend the right of people to say what they like even though we disagree 697 with what they say. Some people may add, "to the death"; but that is a bit theatrical. However, freedom of speech is something about which we have high aspirations. It is unfortunate that that high regard is observed in the breach more often than it is in the adherence.
Going back hundreds of years and considering the attitude of the establishment to the emergence of newspapers, we can see how in their early days they were controlled and censored. We now have a situation—some time later of course—where it is very difficult for the government of the day to censor the written word, although they still keep trying. One only has to think of the Peter Wright affair to see how the Government still attempt to censor the written word.
Freedom of speech is important; it is an essential adjunct to democracy. As other speakers have said, it is impossible to have democracy without freedom of expression and freedom to communicate ideas and ideals. One of the problems with this government action is that it has been taken with an almost complete disregard of democracy. There was no public consultation. We have heard that it was dictated to the IBA and the BBC at an hour's notice. There was no prior discussion either here or in the other place. Unfortunately the Government denied themselves the opportunity to garner, through discussion and contributions reflecting other aspects of thought, how the action might be received and what the problems might be. As other noble Lords have said, we are faced with some very grave anomalies in the interpretation of the government diktat. But we are also faced with the practical reality that the cause of the IRA has been succoured in countries outside the United Kingdom, particularly in the United States.
This is one of the problems facing us with this Government. They have the "little England" mentality that anything we do as little Englanders is right and that we do not need to listen to anyone else. They will not even listen to the Scots and the Welsh, far less the Irish, and certainly not to anyone in the United States, Belgium or Australia. I hope it will be noted that I say "listen". Listening is very important. The ability to listen is predetermined by the ability of people to express themselves freely and to explain their point of view. This Government not only seek not to listen; they are now attempting to deny people the ability to express themselves. The fundamental problem here is that the Government are effectively denying the very concept of democracy.
I should like to say a little about terrorists. Terrorism can take many forms. My wife is terrorised by telephone calls in the middle of the night from people who will not give their names and who accuse me of being sympathetic to the IRA. In 1981 I saw grown men shaking with fear because of the threat of redundancy. Terror has been employed by the British Government at various times and in various circumstances. Towards the end of the last century the Boers in South Africa were terrorised and forced into concentration camps by the British establishment with the resultant inculcation of the 698 Broederbond, the introverted mentality of the Boers, which has led to so many problems in South Africa. Therefore, there is a very wide historical perspective.
Having said that, one might think that I was opposed to terrorism. However, there are occasions when I can appreciate that terrorism, the threat and use of physical violence, is sometimes neccesary. We only recall the recent (in historical terms) South Atlantic campaign to retake the Falklands, to realise that the use of terror and physical violence is sometimes required to achieve the ends that are being sought. I am sure that during the psychological warfare of the Falklands campaign, the Government were trying to employ the arts of terrorism to frighten the Argentinian troops into surrender. The white flag flying over Stanley suggests that they were in some measure successful. Some people would applaud that situation. We should recognise that the loss of life in that conflict was much less than it might have been. There are occasions when the use of physical violence and terror is sanctioned and accepted by this Government.
There is one thing in the context of Northern Ireland that we must appreciate. When Merlyn Rees was Home Secretary, he tried with some success to criminalise the activities of those people who were employing physical violence and terror in Northern Ireland. I say that he had limited success. But that is a very potent way of dealing with some of the problems we have had in Northern Ireland.
To talk continually about IRA terrorism feeds the political element of the problem. It gives propaganda advantage to Irish Republicans. One of the problems is that Parliament and the Government are always faced with the need to be seen to be doing something. Sometimes it is better for us to say that we will stay our hand as parliamentarians and legislators because it is a problem which must be dealt with by the professionals involved. I should like to see the Government change tack and say that many of the problems of Northern Ireland that spill into the mainland fall within the province of the criminal law, and that ordinary police methods should be used to deal with them.
One thing that frightens me is the Government continually saying: We know such and such has committed a terrorist attack; we know so-and-so is a terrorist; we have taken action to exclude them. How can they say that? What confidence can we have in the word of the Government when we look back at the situation in Gibraltar? We were advised by the government spokesmen that at least three people shot in the streets in Gibraltar were armed and had a big bomb that they were about to explode. The truth came out later: not only were they not armed, but there was no bomb. The problem that faces us is the credibility of the Government. This is where truth and freedom of speech arise. When freedom of speech is denied, disillusionment is created together with an environment where probably quite truthful statements by the Government can be pointed to as being probable lies. The Government has been indulging in distortions of the truth and being economical with the truth on so many occasions.
699 I make a plea to the Government: please be more open and more truthful. It can only rebound to the advantage of the Government and all of us.
§ Lord Monson
I wonder whether the noble Lord can answer one question. He appears to be in favour of the broadcasting media being allowed to do whatever they wish without censorship of any sort. Logically, therefore, the noble Lord should be in favour of the BBC and ITV being free to transmit hard-core pornography and incitement to racial hatred. Is that really what the noble Lord wants?
§ Lord Monkswell
I think that there is a wide measure of agreement that the publication and the broadcasting of matters which tend to be racially inflammatory or pornographic is not permitted. However, in this instance we are talking about the elected representatives of the people of a valid political party that contests elections and, in the case of Sinn Fein, has over 100,000 supporters who are prepared to put their tick on the ballot paper. Are we going to say that their spokesmen should be denied any say?
§ 5 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I regret that I missed my turn to speak, for which I apologise. However, it has kindly been arranged that I can now say a few words.
The remarkable thing about the debate is that very few of the people associated with Ireland appear to have spoken in it. That seems rather astounding. With great respect, I think that one or two speakers went off the subject. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, even brought in Stalin. He said words to the effect that the reason no one knew about the 30 million people murdered by Stalin was that there was press censorship. That may have been part of the reason, but I think it was not popular with our press. How was it then that in this House, pretty well ever since I have been here—1956—I was drawing attention the whole time to the brutalities of Stalin and to the appalling murders? The censorship cannot have been very strong.
There are one or two other matters that I wish to raise. If I had not missed my turn I should have spoken at far greater length, so perhaps your Lordships are rather lucky.
We have heard a great deal about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not a licence to kill. A lot of things have been said about the IRA. People seem to think that the IRA is an enormous organisation. The number of terrorists who commit these appalling crimes—and some are protestant—is very small. There is another matter about which I have been told, although it may not have been right. When members of the IRA are captured, they are all very young, and none of them knows the history of Ireland. I understand that they are completely brainwashed, and some may even be drugged.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, brought in the question of what he called the alienation of the Catholics. With due respect, that is nonsense. As a young man I was brought up in Ireland. I know it very well. My family was prominent in the North and 700 in the South. My father was the king mason of Ireland. We employed Catholics, and Catholic priests came to my father's funeral. To say that everyone in the North of Ireland is anti-Catholic is absolute nonsense. If a referendum were held in the North of Ireland today, I am sure that the great majority of Catholics would vote to remain in the United Kingdom. Therefore there has been a great deal of exaggeration in the debate by noble Lords—I say this again, with respect—who do not really understand Ireland.
I should like to emphasise that in my opinion the debate has to a great extent been all theory. We were told, for instance—it is quite right —that the BBC has impartiality, and of course it always must have. I remember, although I do not want to go too far back, the time of the Rhodesian crisis. I remember that the African nationalists were always put on television, but the moderate Africans were never put on. I brought this up in the House, and I was told, "You must remember that the BBC is impartial". There you are: one can have it both ways.
I thank your Lordships for allowing me to speak. I support the Government strongly in regard to what is being called censorship; and I suppose that it is a form of censorship. I am chairman of a television company, a public cmpany. It came on the market only about three months ago. I had been a director of this company as a private company for a long time. I do not hold with all the arguments that have been used to the effect that this is a law that will destroy freedom of speech. I think that is an utterly nonsensical argument.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Jakobovits
My Lords, this debate with its exceedingly wide range of conflicting arguments to my mind has clearly shown that we are dealing here with issues of the most profound consequence and of fundamental principle far beyond the immediate concerns of the Home Secretary's order, and that we cannot isolate the specific situation in Northern Ireland from the wider issue of international terrorism, of which it is an integral part. It is therefore to those basic issues that I should like to address myself in a few remarks.
Let me admit at once that in any conflict between life and civil liberties I am on the side of life. The first duty of any government is to ensure the safety of their citizens. There may be a political or ideological debate on whether the state owes a living to its citizens, but there can be no question that it owes to every citizen the defence of life, the most precious of all.
Much has been said here and elsewhere about the threat to the freedom of speech and the erosion of civil liberties. To my mind this argument is based on a moral fallacy and a grave misjudgment. When I am about to board an air flight, as I do fairly frequently, and I am subjected to a thorough search, perhaps even including frisking my body, I readily tolerate and indeed welcome this infringement of my liberties for I feel safer on the flight.
To allow violence to be publicly justified or excused not only gives offence to relatives of victims 701 or to maimed survivors; such defence of murder should outrage every citizen. It diminishes our humanity; it heapens our decency; it affronts our morality and it erodes our civilisation.
Much more is at stake here. The normal process of the law, with all its safeguards, may be adequate to cope with even the worse kinds of offenders, murderers, rapists and hideous child abusers, who act out of passion, lust or greed for personal gain; but in a totally different category are acts of terror calculated to subvert the rule of law itself, to hold governments to ransom and to incite violence by inflammatory rhetoric. The defence against this menace can no more rely on traditional methods of fighting crime than one could prevail against nuclear or chemical warfare with bows and arrows.
A 2,000 year-old saying in the Jewish Ethics of the Fathers proclaims:Pray for the peace, for the welfare, of the Government. Since but for the fear thereof, men would swallow each other alive".If ever society allows men of violence to impose their will on our rulers, nations will become ungovernable. We would reduce them to the anarchy and agony of Lebanon.
The role of the media is all important, for they not only reflect, but control, condition and manipulate public opinion which can either make or break the chances for terrorism to succeed. It is sheer hypocrisy for those who deny and undermine the law guarding society to seek for themselves the protection of the law; to claim the benefit of liberty in order to deprive others of it.
What kind of warped and irrational consistency demands, as has been argued, that because some governments may at one time or another have been soft on terrorism, they should not be firm in the future? I urge only one variation in the Home Office's proposed directions. Reference has been made to ambiguities and confusion as to what may be broadcast. To my mind, it matters not who speaks on the media; what matters is what they say.
By all means let members of any organisation be free to present their political thoughts and aspirations as they see fit. What ought never to be tolerated in the media, including the press, is their use to advocate or justify acts of violence; to encourage anything illegal, or to incite intercommunal hatred, prejudice or discrimination. Such promotion of subversion should be made into a criminal offence for speaker and media alike, whether committed by a member of a terrorist organisation or not.
It is indefensible for the law-abiding 95 per cent. of the population to make their media available to the tiny fraction of law breakers so that they can amplify the voice of lawlessness. The conflict between security and freedom of speech has still wider ramifications. With every air traveller now being a possible hijack victim, and with hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens being at risk from terrorist bombings, international terrorism potentially threatens far more lives than drugs, AIDS or any other single scourge.
Often that evil exists only because it relies upon the media to carry its message. If hijackers knew that by 702 international agreement under no circumstances would their so-called demands ever be broadcast, and that they would invariably be returned for trial to the country against which they acted, as in the textbook treatment of last week's Soviet hijackers who were returned by Israel to the Soviet Union within 24 hours—if they knew those two inescapable consequences in advance—there would be no hijacks in the first place.
I hope that Britain, with such an enviable record in its resolute resistance to terrorism, will press for effective international action to those ends to ensure, above all, that the media everywhere will never be permitted to make terrorism a worthwhile propaganda tool for gangs of ruthless killers. Terror will be suppressed if it no longer pays publicity dividends.
Perhaps I may conclude on a personal note. I was a 12-year-old youth in Berlin when Hitler came to power. For three years, I lived under his tyranny. He came to power, and remained in power, through perfectly democratic elections. All he did was to use his rabble-rousing skills on the media to turn what had been a highly cultured and civilised people into millions of mass murderers and silent accomplices. I well recall the chilling dread which seized us every time that evil man appeared on the radio to mesmerise the masses into mindless savages. No doubt there were then also people who would have opposed any ban on Hitler using the press and radio to propagate his incitement to terror as a denial of civil liberties and freedom of speech, or who would have argued that such a ban would be counter-productive and would drive the movement under ground. Had it been driven under ground, the world would have been spared its greatest ordeal which cost tens of millions of lives and from which we have not entirely recovered.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said that if more people had only read Mein Kampf there would have been more opposition. My memory and experience tell me that if that work had been suppressed and had not been allowed to be publicised, there would have been no Hitler and there would have been none of the consequences that we endured.
The human mind, infinitely wonderful as it is, is a fragile organ of the greatest delicacy, easily prone to be corrupted by unscrupulous appeals to the brute and the vile in man. Even more important than protecting our physical environment from ecological pollution is preventing the pollution of our channels of mass communication from poisoning millions of minds; from turning the mass media, meant to serve as a meaningful mentor, into a menace as a lethal tormentor.
There should be non-partisan support for the determination to keep our national home clean from such moral pollution which seeks to confer the insult of legitimacy upon violence and law breaking and add it to the injury of destroying defences protecting life, limb and decency.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he take the opportunity 703 to assure your Lordships that his strong denunciation of terrorism in all circumstances applies also to governments in various parts of the world who employ methods of violence and terror against their own people?
§ Lord Jakobovits
My Lords, I am not a pacifist. I do not reject recourse to force and violence by a nation against evils such as those we saw rise with Hitler. I have dealt with the juxtaposition of freedom of speech and civil liberties with the rights of individuals to the protection of their lives by governments appointed to do so.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, I wish to express my appreciation of what the previous speaker said. I hope that there may be many other occasions when we shall hear the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, speak in the future.
I wish to say something about the overseas broadcasts of the BBC which have received so much acclaim this evening. I wish to make it perfectly clear that I listened to those broadcasts during the war. One reason why they received the acclaim which they did then, and which they do today, was that they told the truth. At that time some people overseas were subjected to a foreign power which had taken over their country. They were subjected to tortures and they were told that if they listened to the BBC they would be executed. They came to believe what the BBC said because the BBC told the truth.
What the BBC told people overseas was that at the beginning Britain was losing that war as a result of the defeats that it was suffering, but that it hoped to pull through in the future. Then, when victory came and the tide was turned, listeners heard that story too. People overseas believed that no country would tell stories of that kind unless they were the truth. That was the reason why the overseas broadcasts of the BBC at that time acquired renown. That renown has remained with the BBC.
Today some people say that the BBC should adopt the same policy with regard to broadcasting throughout this country. But today the position is entirely different. We are not suffering defeats in the sense of war, and there is not that population overseas who are interested in our situation. They were interested during the war as regards our situation because of their own feelings, and as a result of what they suffered under oppression. They were interested to hear when victory would come. The circumstances now are entirely different.
If the BBC wants to re-establish its reputation, it must have another think as regards what it wants to do with its overseas broadcasts. That is my opinion. I want to be quick because the speeches have taken quite a long time in this debate tonight. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made a remark that the Government, by imposing restrictions, were denying freedom to the people. What the Government are doing is to impose restrictions against a certain section of the community; that is, certain broadcasts of the BBC. It is not a widespread denial of freedom. That is all that the Government are doing.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, this is the problem that we are trying to address. The noble Lord says that only a small number of people is involved. But when one starts eroding freedom one stops either a small or a large number of people having access to certain interviews, speeches and other things. If one places it on a much larger scale, one advances the situation a long way. With great respect, I do not think one can argue in that way.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, I would answer the noble Baroness by saying that if the broadcasts about the terrorism that took place in Gibraltar were a fair expression of the facts that occurred in that island, that situation would require further consideration. There is no doubt that a tremendous amount of agitation took place against the security forces and the Government for the action they took in Gibraltar. That, in its turn, washed off against the brave men who were finally forced to go to that island and give evidence as regards how they carried out their attacks.
The agitation was so bad— it was fostered by what the broadcasting authorities had done because they broadcast everything— that it was necessary for the men to give their evidence in such a way that they were hidden from view. The reason for that was simply that there was a danger that they would suffer death at the hands of the terrorists if their identity was disclosed. That is all fact. The Government are absolutely justified in asking us to take note of the minor law which is now on the statute book.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me if I intervene at this point because I telephoned too late to get my name included in the debate. The noble Earl may remember that when he made his Statement some weeks ago on this matter in this House, I asked him what the situation was in the Republic of Ireland. He said that the Sinn Fein party was banned and that RTE was forbidden to broadcast its activities. The Republic of Ireland has of course a long memory on these matters.
In 1922 when the Irish Free State was proclaimed, the Prime Minister at that time, Mr. Michael Collins, was assassinated by the IRA shortly after the state was proclaimed. The Irish Free State was faced with the possibility that it would be overthrown by terrorism. Therefore it decided to take the most drastic measures possible. In six months it shot more Irishmen than the British had shot in six years. That fine novelist, Erskine Childers, was found with a revolver in his house. He was taken out into his garden and shot. That is why the IRA was then defeated and that is the memory of the Republic of Ireland of terrorism in its own country. That is why I ask the noble Earl, when he told the House that there were certain measures which the Government had under review, whether among those measures they had in mind the banning of Sinn Fein as a political party in Northern Ireland.
It seems to me that the Government have got themselves into an illogical state of mind. I think it is very difficult for broadcasters to observe what the Government are asking them to do, not so much as 705 regards broadcasts in this country but broadcasts in Northern Ireland itself. In Northern Ireland there is a legal party which supports terrorism yet the Government also say that in local elections broadcasters must not report what that party says. Therefore, I ask the noble Earl whether it is not the case that, if the ban is to be meaningful, we must face the fact that the party to which Mr. Gerry Adams belongs should not be permitted to exist unless its members sign a declaration, which everyone who stands for Parliament in Northern Ireland should have to sign, that they are unequivocally against violence, terrorism and all illegal methods of imposing their will upon the United Kingdom.
That was something in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that I agreed with. I did not agree with a great deal of what he said, but I think that if this ban is to be meaningful it can only really be meaningful if Sinn Fein is made illegal as a party. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that otherwise it is an unwise thing to have done. It is unwise because of the international repercussions that it has had. I do not think it is so much unwise as regards the broadcasters because they must learn to live with it. But I think it has had a bad propaganda effect abroad, unhappy though that may be and unwilling as we may be to recognise it. I detect in the Government's policy too great a readiness to leap into action on comparatively small issues of this kind. I am thinking of Clause 28 and a number of other things, for example the insistence in universities upon free speech. I do not know whether the clause that was added to the education legislation at that time has done much to remedy the situation.
It is understandable that the Government should have wished to give some reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland that they were taking the recrudescence of IRA activity very seriously indeed. However, I am afraid that I think that it would have been much more effective and they would have been much more convincing if they had moved to that further political act which I believe we shall have to accept.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I think it is generally agreed that we have debated today an issue of the highest public importance. It relates to the freedom of broadcasters, and broadcasters alone, to report fairly and honestly the terrorist situation in Northern Ireland and the activities of their apologists both there and in the rest of the United Kingdom, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has just observed, to cover the activities of a lawful political party. I hope very much that the noble Earl will come back to that point because he passed over it rather briskly in his speech and it seems to me central to the discussion we have had today.
Having had in the past some direct responsibility both for dealing with the terrorist threat in England and Wales and for broadcasting policy in the United Kingdom, I should like to raise three issues. First, I should like to deal with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone; that is, the question of 706 the number of directions which have been made by governments of different political parties under the BBC licence agreement. Until this one, there have been four. The first was in 1927 when the original licence was granted to the BBC and directed it not to broadcast its own opinion on current affairs or on matters of public policy. That is the only direction which is now in force.
There was a second direction in 1927 when the BBC was directed not to broadcast matters of political, industrial or religious controversy. That has been withdrawn. In 1955 the BBC was directed to refrain from broadcasting statements or discussions on matters during the fortnight before they were debated in Parliament. That was withdrawn. Also in 1955 the BBC was directed to refrain at all times from broadcasting controversial party political broadcasts other than those arranged in agreement with the leading political parties. That alio has been withdrawn.
I think that that makes the importance of the issue we are debating today abundantly clear. Only one such direction is in existence and that was issued 61 years ago.
What then is the case for this action by the Government? I can do no better than to quote the Prime Minister in her speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet when she said:We do sometimes have to sacrifice a little of the freedom we cherish in order to defend ourselves from those whose aim is to destroy that freedom altogether and that is a decision which we should not be afraid to take, because in the battle against terrorism we shall never give in".I do not think that any of us have any disagreement with the Prime Minister concerning the latter part of that proposition. But does it even begin to explain or give credence to the position the Government have adopted on this matter?
In seeking to justify the decision the Prime Minister has referred to the oxygen of publicity. But does anyone really believe that to prevent Mr. Gerry Adams, an elected Member of the House of Commons, being questioned in a television programme or an elected Sinn Fein councillor being cross-examined on television will reduce the level of violence in Northern Ireland? I listened carefully to the noble Earl in case he sought to make the point. Of course, being an entirely sensible mart, he made no such attempt.
I listened with respect, as I think we all did, to the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, in his speech a few moments ago. All of us listened with great sysmpathy to a man who had an immensely difficult childhood in the hideous situation in Berlin at that time. However, I am bound to say that I am in profound disagreement with a very large proportion of what he said. What he was really arguing for was some form of full-scale military censorship. That was the logic of his position. If he will forgive me for saying so, I found it hard to believe that to have banned Mein Kampf and to have prevented Hitler and his supporters receiving coverage in the German press would have prevented Hitler gaining power in Germany. I think that that is a very far-fetched proposition, if he will forgive me for saying so.
707 More recently, a second argument has been used to justify the Government's decision. It was produced in another place, where it was said that the relatives of those killed or injured find it deeply offensive to hear the apologists for violence speaking on radio or television. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, made exactly that point an hour or so ago. I am sure that that is entirely true, but if that is the argument on which the Government base their case they have to answer a rather different question. That is: if the ban is justified on those grounds why have they applied the ban only to the broadcasting organisations? Why are the press excluded?
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said in his speech that it was necessary to protect citizens from inflammatory voices. However, every day the press of Northern Ireland is filled with statements and interviews with the leaders of the paramilitary organisations justifying the activities of the men of violence. Yet that apparently is not a matter on which the Government choose to act. Why, I wonder, is there that distinction?
It is even more odd when one looks again at the speech made by the Prime Minister at the Guildhall, because she quoted a letter she had received from the mother of a young servicemen who had been murdered by the IRA. That woman said:'Where is the freedom of the press, I hear them cry. Where is my son's freedom?' she said".I can understand the anger of that mother, but that quotation from the Prime Minister is directed precisely at the people not affected by the ban, because only the broadcasting organisations are apparently to be dealt with in that particular way. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could address himself to that paradox.
I come now to the terms of the government notice and the letter of clarification which was issued to broadcasters to explain the full meaning of the notice. Words or statements by terrorists and their supporters can be reported, as has been made clear in the debate today, but not the actuality of their speeches. But again, if we consider the anguish of the bereaved, is it seriously suggested that the statements of Mr. Gerry Adams reported faithfully on the BBC or independent television will not cause those people precisely the same degree of anguish? I am sure it is clear that it will.
The Government notice then forbids the reporting of the actuality of a foreign leader or politician supporting Sinn Fein or the Ulster Defence Association. But if a foreign leader is sufficiently stupid to do either should the British people not have the opportunity—indeed, the right—to hear him say so? What conceivably is the argument against that? The noble Earl told us that he drew some comfort from the fact that any speech made in Parliament can be reported faithfully and the actuality of the voice can be reproduced; but not in the European Parliament for some strange reason, although of course we elect Members of the European Parliament. Again, can the noble Earl help us? Why is it right to allow speeches in this House and another place to be reported but wholly wrong to allow the reporting of speeches in the European Parliament? It 708 seems slightly strange, if the noble Earl will forgive my saying so. Earlier this year, in a particularly impressive "Panorama" programme—
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. I would not have wished to do so, but it is in order to put him out of his misery. The BBC has a parliamentary obligation to record and report the views of Parliament, which it does not have in respect of the European Parliament.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
With great respect, my Lords, that does not begin to answer the point that I have just made. The noble Earl should address himself to that issue. In my view, quite rightly the Government have chosen not to try to ban the reporting of speeches made in either House of Parliament. The question remains: why is the ban being directed at the European Parliament and not at the House of Commons or the House of Lords? The intervention of the noble Earl, if he will forgive me for saying so, does not begin to answer that point.
Returning to the matter that I was just about to raise, I think that many noble Lords may have seen earlier this year a rather impressive programme on BBC television in which a substantial number of Irish Americans were addressed at a NORAID fund raising dinner by Mr. Seamus Twomey, who was urging them to back the IRA. I believe it is not only right but highly desirable that we should have the opportunity to see our enemies at work and to appreciate why otherwise rational Americans are apparently prepared to finance an organisation whose funds are used to purchase arms for the purpose of killing members of our security forces and many innocent men, women and children. How can banning such a programme help us in our struggle against IRA terrorism? It seems to me to be an extraordinary proposition.
In his article in the Independent on 21st November Mr. Birt asked the pertinent question—and it is a point that was made by the noble Baroness in her speech this afternoon—how will the British public be made aware by television and radio of such events as the long series of discussions which took place this summer between the Social and Democratic Labour Party in Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein? As the noble Baroness said, the BBC programme "On the Record" analysed the position of the two sides and during that programme Mr. Adams was pressed quite aggressively to answer a number of questions which had been put to him by Mr. Hume. As the noble Baroness said, the programme was watched by 2.5 million people and there was not a single complaint received from a member of the public.
Yet the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in justifying the ban said that the case for the direction was the widespread offence caused by such broadcasts. I should like to put another question to him. As I am sure he will accept, on that occasion there were no complaints, yet, as the noble Baroness rightly said, a number of noble Lords at various times have had anguished letters from members of the public complaining about IRA funerals, which in fact become large-scale demonstrations.
709 If we are endeavouring to stop widespread public offence, to use the words of the noble Earl, why do the Government in terms of logic direct this ban to statements made by Mr. Adams and people like him and not to activities of this kind which cause such public anger?
I turn now, if I may, to the second issue to which I wish to refer; namely, the effect that this measure will have on the reputation of British broadcasting. That again is an issue that was touched on by the noble Baroness. When I have in the past attended international conferences on broadcasting I have been struck by the quite extraordinary respect with which our television and radio systems were viewed by the international broadcasting community, by representatives of the American networks, our colleagues in the European Community and broadcasters in the third world. I think that we have acquired this reputation for a number of reasons: because of the quality of our programmes, our reputation for integrity and, sometimes, the courage of many of our programme makers. Above all, I think it is because of the sturdy independence of public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom.
But it is not just broadcasters who have this view. I remember very clearly hearing the then Prime Minister of Sweden and a number of leaders of the German Social Democratic Party speaking with equal warmth of the quality of the BBC World Service. Indeed, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, was with me on that occasion. The reason they held that view was the reputation of our World Service, which is prepared to report the truth even when that truth may be deeply uncomfortable for the British Government of the day.
I believe that that hard-won reputation for integrity is now at risk. Because of the Government's ill-judged action their conduct is now being cited by a large number of enemies of free speech as an attractive precedent. There is President Botha demanding that South Africa's media (I quote him):Black out the propaganda of the tyrants".He states explicitly that if they refuse to do so they should not complain if his government introduce similar measures to those of the British Government. That must cause deep embarrassment and distress to many members of the present Government.
There is the Government of Kenya asking how the Foreign Office can any longer pretend that the British Government have no control over the BBC. As we all know, there have been a number of disputes between the Kenyan Government and the British High Commissioner in Nairobi; that government have applied pressure to ensure that the views of Kenyan exiles in this country should not be reported in the World Service. The high commissioner has said that he cannot do anything as the British Government are not responsible for the BBC. Not surprisingly, in the light of what our Government have now done, the Government of Kenya believe that the British Government can take action.
Then there are the Somalis, protesting that the terrorists are (in their words),being given full access to the British media".710 There are also the Ugandans, demanding that our Government should ban appearances in the World Service of what they describe as Ugandan subversives. And so it continues. It is a thoroughly nasty mess. I doubt whether this Government ever considered properly the full implications of what they were doing.
That brings me to my third and final point. No one who has any experience of dealing with Irish terrorism can fail to recall his emotions when he was told of a new senseless and wicked act of murder perpetrated by the psychopathic killers in Northern Ireland and sometimes about their activities on this side of the Irish Channel. Of course similar emotions have been experienced by German Ministers when confronted with a new act of slaughter by the Bader-Meinhoff gang, by Italian Ministers when told of an assassination by the Red Brigade and by Spanish Ministers when told of a another car bombing by Basque terrorists.
The purpose of terrorism is to destabilise democratic governments. If we over-react—as, in an altogether different situation the French did in Algeria—we can do immense damage to the principles of democracy itself. There is only one method of dealing with terrorists that has any prospect of success and that is by strengthening our security forces and by working patiently with the rest of the international community, in particular our colleagues in the European Community and the United States, to strengthen our co-operation. I believe that a great deal has been achieved already, but, as we are all well aware, it will be many years before there is a realistic prospect of success. All one can say on a day like this is that the decision of the Government which we have been debating is little more than a futile gesture.
I have little doubt that the paramilitaries will discover quite quickly how to evade this measure and I believe that it will make both broadcasters and government look equally silly. I think that it has been a foolish error.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Birk explained clearly at the beginning of the debate our essential concerns about the Home Secretary's directions to the broadcasting authorities on 19th October last. My noble friend showed why the official Opposition are taking a different view from that of the Government. She foreshadowed criticisms which have been powerfully voiced by other speakers, in particular by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, and the noble Lords, Lord Bonham-Carter and Lord Harris of Greenwich.
The restrictions imposed on 19th October represent a serious and important matter. And that has been admitted by Government Ministers. Up until the last few months, apart from the abandonment of jury trials for scheduled offences, and sometimes undue delay in bringing accused persons to trial, the Government had been careful not to be tempted by the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland into chipping away and eroding the institutions and principles of a free society which we, 711 who have been brought up in a democracy, believe in deeply. That was the Government's position as defined two years ago by Mr. Nicholas Scott, the then Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, when he delivered an important speech at the Institute of Foreign Relations in Munich. I should like to read a very short extract from his speech of 18th November 1986:If I start from the basis that we have in Northern Ireland a democracy and that it is a liberal democracy, then I believe we are entitled to defend it, but I believe democracies have to be careful in seeking to defend their democracy by not adopting means which play into the hands of the terrorists, and therefore I think we should seek to derogate as little as possible from the normal standards of justice and government which we would normally apply".We would heartily adopt that passage.
The Government justify this important derogation from normal broadcasting standards on two grounds. They have already been mentioned by almost all the speakers in the course of the debate. I hope that what I have to say will not weary your Lordships. We are told that occasional—to use the word of the Home Secretary—appearances of representatives of the paramilitaries cause widespread offence to viewers. Perhaps the Minister will answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Ardwick: how much television time was taken up over the past 12 months with appearances by representatives of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland? May we have the answer to that question, please?
The Minister refers to the widespread offence caused to viewers and listeners. When the Minister winds up the debate, perhaps he will enlighten the House as to how many relevant complaints have been received by the broadcasting authorities, the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office over the past 12 months. Collectively, have they received thousands of complaints, hundreds, or less than 100. Perhaps the Minister does not know the answer? If the answer is not known, or if the total number is small, I suggest that this should not have been one of the reasons put forward as grounds for the decision.
With the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I can understand that many people are angered and affronted by the funeral scenes; but those scenes will not be affected by the ban. We should like to know the explanation.
The Government justify the ban partly on the grounds that the terrorists themselves draw support and sustenance from having direct access to radio and television. Although this is a subjective belief, I should have thought that there is precious little evidence of that. Indeed, it is my impression that when paramilitary representatives occasionally appear on TV programmes, they usually lose support for their cause. Many of us can recall cases where representatives have appeared on the box and have been effectively cross-examined and pinned down. However, to the Government, the decision is clear cut and represents common sense. That would also appear to be the view of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. But it raises profound issues, patiently and clearly raised by my noble friend Lady Birk, by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Manchester, and by the noble Lords, Lord Bonham-Carter and Lord Harris of Greenwich.
712 There are in Northern Ireland about 60 Sinn Fein elected councillors. Sinn Fein is a lawful, political party. And that is a substantial number of councillors. However, as I understand it—and the Minister will correct me if I have not understood the directions correctly—a Sinn Fein councillor is no longer able to appear in a television or radio programme to represent the views of Sinn Fein on any subject. Although a councillor, he or she would be banned from appearing in a programme to give his or her party's view on a domestic issue such as the closure of a maternity hospital. Is that fair? Is that reasonable?
So far as I am aware, there is no precedent in the history of broadcasting in the United Kingdom in peace time when Home Office directions have been issued which prohibit a member of a particular group from appearing on television or radio to represent the group's view on any subject. In that belief, I am supported by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. When the Minister winds up, will he confirm that in this decision the Government are not guided by any United Kingdom precedent? In other words, this direction is unique in the history of the United Kingdom.
If the Minister again draws our attention to the precedent to be found in the Irish legislation, we reflect that it is seldom that this Government are willing to take a lesson from the Irish Government or from Irish legislation. Indeed, given the background to the Irish legislation, which has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I doubt whether it is a fair parallel. Moreover, the Irish legislation is at least authorised by an Act of Parliament.
Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 expresses the abstract but important principle of the right of freedom of speech in these terms:Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority".As I understand the convention, only the most pressing grounds—which are listed in the article—will justify a derogation from Article 10. We would be interested to learn from the Minister how the Government reconcile the ban with Article 10. Do the Government accept the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote that we are in a state of war with the IRA, with all that that implies? Is that view accepted by the Government?
We have been reminded by a number of speakers—although we do not need to be reminded—of the burden shouldered by the security forces, and of the threat that is posed to human life in Northern Ireland. We are only too conscious of the difficulties in the path of the security forces and those who defend law and order. But whether the measure we are discussing this evening will in practice result in any real help for the security forces and to the defenders of law and order is very much in issue.
This brings me to the last major point. It was made by my noble friend Lady Birk and it underlies so much of what we have been discussing. Whether or not the decision is defensible in principle, what effect 713 will it have on the political situation in Northern Ireland? What can be achieved is almost as important as the issue of principle.
I accept that by this decision and the earlier decision we debated in your Lordships' House a couple of weeks ago to weaken the alleged offender's rights to silence, the Government appear to be signalling that they are stepping up their campaign against the men of violence in Northern Ireland. That may have some attractions for some people provided it does not lead them to believe that there are shortcuts to solving terrorist problems. But that advantage, if it be an advantage, has to be weighed against a substantial disadvantage which flows from the decision.
Our fear is that by this intervention the Government have fallen for one of the well-known techniques of paramilitary organisations for achieving their own political ends and indeed for weakening the democratic system; that is, attack the government in such a way that they will be provoked into creating another issue, another cause and another grievance which the paramilitaries can exploit and so gain sympathy world wide. In Northern Ireland there is a long and ancient consciousness of grievances.
I cannot help pointing out that we were recently reminded in a book review of the wise words written by the late Sir Wilfrid Spender, Cabinet Secretary of the Stormont Parliament for the first two decades of its history. After acknowledging that Northern Ireland could properly claim to have the biggest ropeworks in the world, the biggest linenworks in the world and the biggest tobacco factory in the world, Sir Wilfrid went on to confide to his diary that there was,one other factory in which we could probably claim that we or the Free State are the largest manufacturers—namely the factory of grievances".Alas, only the factory of grievances remains. Here are the Government with another issue which will finish up as a full-blown grievance. Grievances are a recipe for trouble and offer no real hope of stability and reconciliation.
The Home Secretary's statement of 19th October fills us with concern. What we have sought to do from these Benches is to emphasise that we are dismayed with the Government's action in the hope that they will take seriously what we have said and that they will not be tempted to go further down this road which leads to instability.
§ 6.4 p.m.
My Lords, this has been a debate of some considerable seriousness and it is not surprising that your Lordships have taken that view considering the matter under discussion and considering the matter to which it all refers; namely, terrorism. It is important not to forget the background to this decision. The Government are steadfast in their determination to defeat terrorism. It is a threat, as all noble Lords have appreciated. It is a threat to the stability and the fabric of our society. Not one noble Lord who has spoken of whom I am aware has taken 714 a contrary view to that. But it will be defeated, not by military means alone but by the determined efforts of the security forces backed up by the firm resolve of the whole community in Northern Ireland.
Various measures are being introduced by the Government to ensure that terrorism does not succeed. It is against that background that it makes no sense, in our view, to continue to provide the vioices of terrorism with the publicity and the propaganda opportunites of television and radio. This was made more acute when it became clear that these opportunites were being used not only to persuade but also to frighten. To stand by and allow spokesmen to issue threats to law-abiding citizens would, we believe, be an unacceptable lapse on the part of the Government.
Nor did we believe that it was proper to place the onus of responsibility for denying access to the airwaves on to the broadcasting authorities. They have a difficult enough task, but the circumstances were such that it was necessary for the Government to take responsibility for this decision. That is what we have done. That is the reason we had this debate where the Government's responsibility for that can either be supported or questioned. It was satisfying to find that so many of your Lordships supported the decision.
The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said he was sorry that it had to come to a ban, but he said he thought that the Government were right. He has had considerable experience in the broadcasting industry. My noble friend Lord Caldecote, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, my noble friends Lord Massereene and Lord Gridley, all supported the principle. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, with his considerable experience of the media, gave me the courtesy of saying that one had made a good case. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that because I realise that he is concerned about the ability of the media to retain those benefits which they have already had.
The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, made what I thought was a remarkable speech. He said that when life and civil liberties were concerned he was on the side of life. He spoke about the freedom of speech and the erosion of civil liberties, which some people feel this is, as a fundamental misconception. If I may say so, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. His personal knowledge is considerable.
I should not care to get involved with the argument which he had with the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Bonham-Carter, about Mein Kampf. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, had good reasons for taking the views he did. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, may disagree with that, but over one matter the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, made a great mistake. With the greatest of respect to him, he said that if only more people had read Mein Kampf they would be better informed and maybe that which happened would not have come about.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I said that if only more people, speaking of people in this country, had read Mein Kampf more carefully, we might have acted more wisely and more resolutely.
My Lords, if I misinterpreted the noble Lord, of course I apologise. But the point I wish to make is that there is nothing to prevent that happening now. All these measures do is to say that the person concerned cannot appear in person on television or on the radio for those purposes. It has nothing to do with the curtailment of the freedom of speech, to which several noble Lords referred: that continues. It is in the mode of dissemination where there is the curtailment.
Noble Lords may believe that that is unreasonable or that it is a form of censorship, but I do not believe that it is. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, shrugs his shoulders. Everything that those people wish to say can be reported in all the various forms in the media, the press and television. Only their actual selves cannot be shown making the speeches, for the reasons that I have given.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked why this stance has been taken against the television authorities and not the press. He knows full well the reason. It is because of the immediacy of the impact of television and radio. I was disappointed by the noble Lord's speech. He is entitled to his views, but, speaking as someone with the responsibilities which I have for my department and answering for it, I was disappointed, to say the least, that he described the action as a futile gesture and a foolish error.
What is the futile gesture? It is preventing people who are promoting terrorism from being actively projected into the houses of law-abiding citizens by means of television and broadcasting. I do not believe that that is a futile gesture or a foolish error. I believe that it is less worthy of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, than his speeches normally are that he should say that.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, governments of different political persuasions, including the noble Earl's own, have turned down the ban which the Government have now introduced. What I said today is entirely consistent with the view shared by a substantial number of people with ministerial experience of terrorism and broadcasting.
My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to his view, as I have conceded. I merely expressed the view that I was disappointed that he should have held it in the way in which he did.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred to the freedom of speech and said that we are giving the terrorists a propaganda coup. Several noble Lords put forward the argument that we are giving the terrorists the opportunity of stating that they have been denied certain advantages which they have previously held and that others will not understand the Government's action. We are doing what the Irish Republic has been doing for several years. It may be considered that those in the United States will not understand it but there are those who do not believe that our action is manifestly wrong or fundamentally flawed. We did not expect our action to meet with universal approval throughout the United States or elsewhere.
The noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Prys-Davies, asked what the evidence is for taking this 716 action and how many people have telephoned to complain. It is the view of members of the public—approximately 69 per cent. said so in a recent poll—that terrorist organisations should not be allowed to express their views on television. It has been grossly offensive for listeners and viewers to put up with the voices of terrorists using the broadcasting media for propaganda purposes. Therefore it is not without reason that we should take such action.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I asked the noble Earl a question, perhaps in an oblique way, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. We asked to be told the number of complaints which have been received from the BBC and the IBA and the poll to which the Minister referred.
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness the answers to the questions but they are not necessarily so important. The important point is whether terrorists should be permitted to advance their causes via the radio and television media. Of course it is an important and controversial action to restrict that, but governments must take controversial decisions and that is why it was done.
I listened with interest to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. He said that he was surprised and somewhat wounded by headlines about the Church's reaction to South Africa. I do not wish to become involved in that issue, but I must say that I was disappointed by the right reverend Prelate's comments. He said that it is important to hear the views of those who believe themselves to be repressed in Northern Ireland. Nothing that we have done will prevent those views being put forward. He said that injustice still remains in Northern Ireland. Maybe it does; that is a view to which the right reverend Prelate is entitled. However, there are perfectly good, democratic, legal ways of expressing those views and abhorrence—if it is abhorrence.
When the right reverend Prelate implied that he was concerned because the people who promote terrorism will be restricted by the action, I wished only that in its pronouncements the Church would be a little more specific. When it must take an unpleasant decision the Church is anxious to be seen not to be taking it against the minority. However, it is a little like Humpty Dumpty and it does not make too clear on which side of the fence it is falling. I hope that the right reverend Prelate, as I am sure he intended, will denounce terrorism in all its forms, particularly and especially when projected into homes.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. The Churches have made clear their abhorrence of terrorism. However, surely the point is that at the moment Sinn Fein is a legal organisation for which a large number of people have voted. Therefore, it enters into the picture of those who are able to present the injustices faced by their people, especially as these occur in the minds of many people in the United States.
My Lords, it may be a perfectly legal party, but if it supports and incites terrorism it is for that reason the restrictions have been proposed.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, referred to freedom of speech. That has not been curtailed. He said that it was an essential adjunct to democracy. That is right. The noble Lord has delivered himself of his speech and left the Chamber. I am sorry. The serried ranks of noble Lords opposite have filled up so remarkably that I missed the noble Lord who had removed himself and placed himself elsewhere. He should not regard this as, a "little Englander" mentality. I have tried to explain the reasons why the decision was taken, controversial though it may be. It was not because of any "little Englander" mentality but because we do not believe that it is right for the advocates of terrorism to portray themselves in such a way.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, asked whether a particular statement might or might not be permitted. It is not for me to answer hypothetical questions on how the restrictions might operate in specific circumstances. Directions have been issued to the BBC and IBA and guidance has also been issued in the letter to which the noble Lord referred. Whether that has authority in a court of law will be up to the courts of law to decide. I have no reason to suppose that there is anything in that letter which is other than helpful in trying to explain how the regulations should be carried out.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said that this was undemocratic. In my view it is not undemocratic. The decision over this matter is an action taken under the licensing agreement of the BBC. Section 13 (4) states:The Secretary of State may from time to time by notice in writing require the corporation to refrain at any specified time or at all times from sending any matter or matter of any class specified in such notice".That was agreed by Parliament, and Parliament gave the Home Secretary authority to do it. Therefore, the Home Secretary has acted wholly democratically and now seeks your Lordships' approval of that.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, perhaps I may clarify my remarks. At no stage did I say that the Government did not have the legal right to do what they have done. I was trying to point out that by doing it within the legal framework without any prior public consultation—and I consider that consultation to be part of the democratic process—they have left themselves in a situation where, not having had advice from the public and other political parties, they have gone ahead with an action which will be counter-productive.
My Lords, I see what the noble Lord is driving at.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the proscription of Sinn Fein and asked whether the Government are considering that. The possibility of proscribing Sinn Fein or the UDA is kept under close and continuing review. But it has to be remembered that people should be made answerable to the law for the actions which they take or incite, and not for the opinions they hold or the political parties they 718 support. Although some members of Sinn Fein and the UDA are undoubtedly involved in terrorism, many are not. As a whole the organisations are not actively and primarily involved in the commission of terrorist acts. As such they can be distinguished from the IRA and the UDF which are proscribed.
The noble Lord also referred to a declaration against terrorism which people have to sign before becoming elected. The declaration against terrorism is part of the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Bill which received a Second Reading in another place last week. The declaration, which has long been mooted, is designed to inhibit councillors and members of the assembly from expressing support for, or approval of, proscribed organisations or acts of terrorism and is a response to the difficulties which face local government in Northern Ireland. Your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate that in due time.
We have discussed an important matter today and I should like to reinforce the point that our action to restrict access to the broadcasting media by terrorists and those who go with them is not a criticism of the broadcasters. They always have a difficult and demanding task in the reporting of events in Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, in issuing the notices we felt that this was an action for which the Government, and not the broadcasters, should shoulder the responsibility.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example. Let us consider for a moment what might have happened if the notices had not been in force a few weeks ago when an IRA bomb killed a grandfather and his granddaughter who were nothing other than innocent passers-by. It is quite likely that a spokesman on behalf of the IRA would have appeared on television shortly after the outrage claiming responsibility for it. It is also likely that he would have attempted to explain away the deaths of these innocent victims by reference to the IRA campaign and that it was the Government's fault because of their presence in Northern Ireland. We might well take a few seconds to imagine the distress and the gross offence which such a broadcasting appearance would cause, not only to the relatives of the victims but to all law-abiding people.
I am sure that your Lordships do not believe that it was ever intended that the privilege of broadcasting and the airwaves should be abused in such a manner. The Government took the view that it was clearly wrong that such abuse should be allowed to continue. Nonetheless, I accept that democratic governments need to consider long and hard before introducing measures of this kind, even when they are dealing with the enemies of democracy. Of course we have. That is why it has taken so long to bring these matters forward. We knew that there would be criticism such as your Lordships have expressed this afternoon. However, on balance we thought it right to do so.
We have given considerable thought to these matters. Our conclusion is that we cannot justify giving terrorists and their associates complete freedom of access to broadcasting in order to promote their campaign of violence and tragedy and to sow fear in the minds of ordinary viewers and listeners at home. We have, therefore, taken steps to 719 limit that freedom. Let us remember that freedom also carries its obligations and when those obligations are abused, freedom is inevitably endangered. I hope that in taking note of the Motion before your Lordships the House approves the measures taken by the Government.
On Question, Motion agreed to.