§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is their considered view that they profoundly disagree with the report of Lord Windlesham and Mr. Richard Rampton, QC, on the Thames Television programme "Death on the Rock".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the Question is to elicit information. I should like to say at this point that in putting down the Question I did not inform the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that I was doing so because I thought that he might try to dissuade me. There has been no collusion between us in this matter.
§ The television programme "Death on the Rock" is a matter of public interest. The Government's response to the announcement of the programme, their expressed wish that it be postponed, their response to its screening, the commissioning by 1086 Thames Television of an independent inquiry led by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, helped by Mr. Richard Rampton QC, and the Government's response to that report are all elements which increase the significance of the programme. That is particularly so when broadcasting, and in particular the future of television, is under discussion and When at the same time there is widespread debate in the country on the extent to which the freedom of the media and, more widely, our liberties are being eroded. All those factors make the way in which the programme was received and the way in which it has since been discussed matters of great public interest. It seems to me that the number of noble Lords who have expressed a determination to take part in this debate confirms that view.
§ There are two matters which are central to the issues that I propose to raise. The first is why it was necessary for Thames Television to set up an independent inquiry. That is a question which believe I can answer. The second question is why the Government felt that the Windlesham report required such an immediate and unqualified condemnation. That is a question which only the Government can answer.
Perhaps I may begin by recapitulating the sequence of events which led to this brouhaha. At 3.40 p.m. on 6th March 1988 three people, two men and one woman, were shot dead by British security forces in broad daylight on the streets of Gibraltar. At 4.45 p.m., one hour and five minutes later, on the same day the Ministry of Defence issued a statement:
A suspected bomb has been found in Gibraltar and three suspects have been shot by civilian police".
At 9 p.m. that statement was amended and expanded. It indicated that security forces were involved and:
military personnel dealt with a suspect bomb".
On 7th March at 9 a.m. a Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed:
A suspect bomb has been found
That sensational news was reported widely in the papers of 7th March. There was speculation as to whether the bomb was 400 lbs or 500 lbs. Some papers reported that those who were shot were armed, and all of the papers' sources appeared to be the same: quite clearly the Ministry of Defence or MI5.
§ That afternoon the unfortunate Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, had to report that there was no bomb and those shot were unarmed. On 8th March explosives were found in Spain. In the light of that sequence of events it is hardly surprising that questions were asked in Parliament, in the press and on television.
Two issues are involved. One concerns the circumstances under which the three people were shot. In that connection I shall simply give this clear summary:
I am astonished that the proposition should be put forward that because a person is suspected of preparing to commit a crime therefore he should be shot without trial".
Those are the words of Mr. Enoch Powell. The second issue concerns the misinformation put out by the Ministry of Defence and MI5 immediately and subsequently.
§ The next event was that, not altogether surprisingly, at the beginning of April Thames Television announced that it would be broadcasting a programme, "Death on the Rock", on 28th April. The Government's reaction was immediate. The Foreign Secretary asked for the programme to be postponed until after the inquest on the grounds that it would prejudice the inquest. Neither Thames Television nor the IBA felt able to agree to that request. In the event the inquest was postponed but not the programme.
§ Had Thames Television and the IBA agreed it would have meant that there was one rule for the Government and another for everyone else. For if the information gathered by Thames Television and given by the witnesses interviewed by Thames Television—none of whom had been interviewed by the Gibraltar police at that time—was prejudicial, one would have thought that the information put out by Sir Geoffrey Howe and the Ministry of Defence, even though contradictory in certain respects, was equally prejudicial.
When "Death on the Rock" was broadcast on 28th April it was greeted with howls of indignation from the Government, from the Prime Minister downwards. The Prime Minister said:
Trial by television or guilt by association is the day freedom dies".
We do not know whether the Prime Minister had seen the programme nor what she meant by "guilt by association" in this particular case.
§ The Downing Street press, led by the Sunday Times and the Sun, joined in the assault on Thames Television and all those associated with the programme or who had appeared in it. Aspersions were cast on their competence and in particular, on the competence of Mr. Roger Bolton, the producer, and on the morality of some witnesses, including Mrs. Proetta. Those accusations proved to be totally false. Libel damages have been paid. The source of much of that information was a freelance journalist; it was based on an anonymous telephone call in Gibraltar. That seems to most people very much like the work of MI5's dirty tricks department: ask any journalist who was involved in the matter.
§ In response to that "sustained black propaganda campaign"—the words are those of Max Hastings, the editor of the Daily Telegraph—and after Mr. Asquez, at the inquest, withdrew the statement which he had written in his own hand but not signed, Thames Television set up an inquiry by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and Mr. Richard Rampton QC, a man of undoubted probity and with the appropriate experience to look into a matter of that kind. I understand that the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was welcomed by some Members of the Government.
§ Their report concluded that, taken as a whole, "Death on the Rock" did not offend against the rules of impartiality required by the IBA or the Broadcasting Act 1981. However, they had two reservations, first with respect to the way in which the Asquez statement was presented and, secondly, as to whether or not a warning was given by the soldiers.
§ Once more the Government's response to the report when it was published was immediate. The 1088 report was denounced and, deplorably, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, found himself and his objectivity called into question. This debate offers the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, an opportunity, which I hope he will take to withdraw those totally unworthy aspersions.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I hope that the Minister will note the response to that suggestion.
We must ask ourselves why there was this intemperate response to a report which to anyone who reads it is most clearly, obviously and transparently meticulous, carefully researched and the work of industrious patience. What lies behind the Government's reflex reaction to certain criticisms which it may imply? I find it difficult to guess. I find it difficult to diagnose this extreme sensitivity in reacting to a matter of widespread public interest, but I suspect that it was prompted by the same kind of motives that lie behind the Official Secrets Bill, the Security Service Bill and the setting up of the Broadcasting Standards Council; namely, the broadcasting and terrorism motives.
The Government appear to believe that too much knowledge in the hands of the public is a dangerous thing and that it is their duty to decide when enough information is enough. The attack on Thames Television and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has much in common with the attack on the BBC in the "Real Lives" programme. At that time the BBC was the object of the Government's hostility. That hostility has now switched to the IBA. The Government's response to the "Real Lives" programme, "Death on the Rock", the BBC and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, are warning shots for broadcasters.
A number of questions which I should like to put to the House are prompted by this whole affair. First is it the job of government information departments, such as that of the Ministry of Defence, to engage in misinformation—because it was nothing less than misinformation? Secondly, is it the job of organs of government to engage in black propaganda—because it was nothing less than black propaganda? Thirdly, if you agree to the appointment of an umpire on a question of this sort—I do not say that the agreement was formal, but there was no sign that it was not—which was the position that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, took, accompanied by Mr. Rampton—
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)
Perhaps I may interrupt for a moment.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, perhaps I may just finish this sentence. If you agree with that umpire's decision, you should accept it. I happily give way.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. There was no question of the Government being involved with my noble friend's appointment to the inquiry to which the 1089 noble Lord has referred. The Government were not consulted and did not express a view.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I did not say that; I said that members of the Government indicated that they approved and that the Government certainly did not object. If they deny it, they deny it. That is not the information that is at my disposal.
The last thing that I should like to do is to thank the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and Mr. Rampton for undertaking a delicate and, as it has proved, an unpopular but important task and for carrying it out meticulously and in the public interest with both courage and integrity. They may have been the victims of brickbats rather than thanks from the Government. They deserve the thanks of the public for what they have done and we should bear in mind the lesson that the public interest and the Government's interest do not always coincide.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, perhaps I may say, as an ex-professional soldier with, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House is aware, some experience in these matters, that I would be the last person to suggest that in a civilised country like ours the activities of the armed forces should be generally cocooned from media comment or that they should ever be above the law and outside proper constitutional control. I also happen to believe that the freedom of the press, with all its irritations, is one of the essential guardians of our liberty. But I hardly need remind the House that, when it happens that our special forces are properly called in by the civil power (a request incidentally, that they cannot constitutionally refuse) it is invariably a matter of the highest delicacy and sensitivity with much at risk and much at stake; otherwise they would not have had the incident handed over to them in the first place. Happily in our system there is no freelancing of military forces.
It is therefore greatly in the national and public interest that such matters are dealt with successfully as well as within the rules of minimum force laid down under the existing law. Of course, noble Lords will appreciate only too well that what constitutes minimum force when the incident has been handed over—in this case in writing—to armed soldiers to deal with known terrorists, reasonably thought to be in the process of committing the most serious type of criminal offence imaginable, will differ significantly from that which would apply when apprehending a petty thief.
So it was that, under those particular circumstances of avoiding above all else the perpetration of a terrible crime against many innocent people and having heard all the evidence before a judge of first instance, the due process of law came to the clear conclusion that opening fire and killing the IRA's self-styled active service unit constituted a justifiable response within the rule of law. But the details of the shooting are not the main point that we are addressing this evening as a result of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham- 1090 Carter. What we are concerned with—or should be concerned with—is the validity of a private report and, by implication therefore, whether it was right for Thames Television to indulge in some pre-empting of the due legal process and some speculation in advance of the inquest: that the soliders concerned might not have acted in good faith and might have exceeded the restraints lawfully imposed upon them.
Here I do not believe that the key questions should he so much those primarily addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in his conscientious and painstaking report but much more whether the programme should ever have been made at all. The makers of the programme may in their own lights have acted in good faith, although they seem to be quick enough to suggest a lack of good faith in others and must have known that they were not in possession of all the facts. The programme may have contained an element of selective impartiality, although in the words of the report of the noble Lord:the tendency of the evidence presented was to suggest a possibility","a real possibility", as was pointed out subsequently,that the terrorists had been lawfully killed, perhaps murdered'".Again, I quote:Nor were alternative explanations canvassed in any depth".The programme may have been scrupulously researched, although again in the words of the report:the lapses in accuracy cannot be dismissed as insignificant".But by far the greatest question still remains, and that is whether our society—Thames Television operates in our society, for our society—should have allowed itself the indulgence, in advance of a properly conducted judicial process with, as I would always have urged, all the relevant witnesses present, of venting theories that might so easily (whatever the noble Lord's opinion) have affected the judicial process by contaminating evidence or by influencing jurors who would be bound, as they did, to get to hear of the programme by one means or another. We must also ask ourselves whether society should have allowed doubts to be cast in advance on the honour and integrity of certain carefully selected soldiers of the Queen who not only had a most difficult and possibly dangerous task to do at the time but who regularly lay their lives on the line on our behalf.
Finally and perhaps above all there is the question of whether our society should have allowed, or indeed would have wished, considerable encouragement and succour to be given to a terrorist movement that thrives on the oxygen of publicity and martyrdom and has engaged in a most pernicious campaign against us which it claims amounts to open warfare. Combating terrorism is difficult enough as it is in a free society. If we are to be serious in our resolve to do it successfully, not to be unduly and unacceptably influenced and compelled by it and determined to protect our people, the least that our security forces should be able to expect when undertaking such assignments in which so much is at stake and when the situation may change and deteriorate so rapidly—and when the adrenalin is flowing, as it always does when acute danger is at hand—is the understanding and support of the public whose civil power has taken the conscious decision to involve them in the first place and the full backing of 1091 the law within which they must operate and to which I can assure the House they unequivocally subscribe.
If there had been or should have been the slightest concern that in this instance these highly trained soldiers had somehow exceeded the power authorised to them, the correct forum for establishing or refuting that concern in the eyes and interests of the public was the prescribed and properly conducted, as it was, judicial process in Gibraltar—and through any further action, charges or review which might have flowed from it. Therefore I submit that there was no need at that stage for investigative journalism to look after the public interest on that score. Indeed, there was no reason at all to usurp that function other than perhaps some degree of human self-indulgence in the media world. By so doing they did not give the security forces the kind of support which, with everything de facto sub judice, they were entitled to expect from the public and without which continuing success in the struggle against terrorism cannot be expected, let alone guaranteed.
It it also highly undesirable to say the least that secret intelligence operations, co-operation with other countries' intelligence agencies and clandestine methods and techniques of surveillance should be explored so publicly and in such detail, albeit accidentally fairly inaccurately.
If the inquest had been held in this country I have little doubt that legal steps would have been taken and approved to prevent "Death on the Rock" being shown when it was shown, for the obvious reason that it might prejudice that inquest. With modern communications and media methods as they are, it is rather difficult to understand how the location in Gibraltar could have changed the situation all that much. Certainly the moral responsibility remained to be discreet about highly sensitive intelligence. Of course no one likes imposed censorship if it can possibly be avoided, but I believe that our future ability to keep terrorism under control may well depend on the media's own willingness to try to establish for themselves a code of conduct which, while protecting the true public interest, will not make dealing with terrorism more difficult than it is already and above all will not give succour and encouragement to those who are in open revolt against the United Kingdom Government and people.
The Government and the media getting together and being able to agree on a working relationship may be the crux of the whole matter. If they cannot agree, some restraint on reporting before a declared judicial process may become necessary.
So far as freedom of expression is concerned, even in a free society there are already many perfectly proper restraints which, if abused, could lead the perpetrators of that abuse into court. So asking for some imposed discipline in this special field, particularly as in most cases it would involve only timing rather than complete suppression, may not be so unreasonable.
It has been said with some justification—not surprisingly because of the nature of their business—that the media cannot report any news or carry out any investigation without making arbitrary 1092 judgments. That applies in particular to the more immediate and visual impact of television. That is why such programmes have to be so careful to see that in exceptional circumstances such as existed in Gibraltar such arbitrary judgments do not exacerbate the situation and even conflict with national interest. In this instance I believe that that could well have been the case.
I find fault with the Thames Television programme "Death on the Rock" in that it was angled toward an arbitrary judgment which was premature and as such both unnecessary and against the national interest. Incidentally, it may have done some service in highlighting the close link that invariably exists between the type and timing of media coverage and successful anti-terrorist operations. But taken in the round, the programme caused anguish to all those on whom we must rely most for our security and gave consolation and encouragement to those who seek to defeat us. As such, I submit that it would have been better if it had not been made. But that of course is the one point that the noble Lord's report hardly addressed at all. Therefore, and certainly to that extent, I for one emphatically disagree with it.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, I think it will be appreciated that this is not an easy debate for me, speaking from these Benches as I do. However, I have been fortified by the thought that neither is it likely to prove an easy assignment for my noble friend the Minister who is to reply at the end of the debate. I regret that the report by Mr. Rampton and myself has become something of a political football. Originally I had hoped to maintain the neutrality that is expected of a referee. That is why I said very little at the time of the publication of the report, although I have since been drawn into the controversy by the attacks made on my independence and integrity.
I do not want to take issue this afternoon, or indeed at all, on the disputed question of what happened on 6th March, nearly a year ago, when three members of the self-styled active service unit of the Provisional IRA were shot dead in the streets of Gibraltar. As we explain in our report and as we repeated throughout the inquiry, it was no part of our remit to investigate the shootings; nor should anything in the report be taken as putting a gloss on the proceedings of the subsequent inquest, or the verdict which was returned by the Gibraltar jury.
The task that was taken on by Mr. Rampton and myself—both of us with some knowledge of the workings of television and newspapers but neither having any previous connection with Thames Television—was to inquire into the making and screening of "Death on the Rock". It is not my purpose either to praise or condemn the programme in this debate but to explain how the inquiry was conducted.
First of all let us be clear, as has already been said, that this inquiry was set up by Thames after discussion with the Independent Broadcasting Authority; not by the Government. Naturally the Government, in the shape of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, were invited to give evidence and did so in writing and 1093 orally. We received full co-operation from the two departments both when we visited Gibraltar and in this country. At no time was there any suggestion that the form or the membership of the inquiry was likely to lead to a biased outcome.
Looking back and thinking it over as I have done many times in the past few weeks, I am inclined to conclude that one of the reasons why the Government's reaction to the report was so hostile was a tendency in some quarters to regard the inquiry as being in some ways more officially oriented than it was. The Foreign Office largely confined itself to a reiteration of Sir Geoffrey Howe's contention when he requested that the showing of the programme be postponed; namely, that its transmission risked prejudicing the inquest and contaminating the evidence which would be presented to that inquest. Both of these important aspects were considered at some length in the report, receiving a separate chapter each.
Even before the inquiry was set up the Ministry of Defence had assembled a list of detailed criticisms of the content of the programme, originally under 39 headings. Although selectively leaked to the press, we were told by the Ministry of Defence that the document was not an authorised one. A much shorter list contained in a letter addressed to me from the Second Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, which has since been published—it is a matter of public record—was submitted to us by way of written evidence instead.
I want the Government to realise that each of their criticisms was carefully considered and evaluated. We did so in the light of the evidence which we took from all of the other interested parties. To attempt to dismiss the report's findings by claiming that we had deliberately ignored or glossed over—those were the words used—the specific points that we were supposed to be investigating belittles the report and displays an unnecessarily partisan approach. Seriously as we treated the criticisms put to us by the Government, it would not have been right to allow them to set the agenda.
As the report shows, we obtained a mass of new information in the course of the inquiry. It included the full transcripts of the untransmitted portions of interviews with the eyewitnesses which had been filmed and recorded but not used. We also met, interviewed and indeed cross-examined most of those who had contributed to the film in various capacities, not least the programme makers themselves.
The Government's evidence, powerfully argued and effectively presented as it was, could naturally take account of none of this. Nor did it seem proper to us to rely on information which became available only at the inquest some four months after "Death on the Rock" had been screened. What we had to examine was the use made of such information as was available, or which could have been discovered, at the time the programme was made in March and April.
From the start we recognised that the Gibraltar shootings evoked strong feelings. It was evident that public attitudes were divided, deeply so. Some people believed that in countering the IRA's brutal 1094 campaign of violence, which in this instance would in all probability have resulted in many civilian as well as military casualties, the security forces were entitled to take whatever measures were necessary to protect the people of Gibraltar. Others, while similarly abhorring the IRA's objectives and tactics, were disturbed about the implications of any actions by the security forces falling outside the rule of law by which they were bound. Some of these reactions were inchoate and instinctive; others were forthright and passionate.
I suspect that we shall see these sentiments reflected, as they should be in Parliament, in the debate in this House today. It is entirely right that the police and the security forces should be supported in the dangerous and unpleasant duties that they are called upon to perform. I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, had the sympathy of the House with him when he spoke on those lines. But it is also right that any doubts prompted by conscience should be heard, unpopular though they may sometimes be.
I have no quarrel with those who assert that the programme was out of step with a substantial strand of public opinion on a contentious issue of high public importance. We accept as much in the report. But it does not follow from that, which is apparently the Foreign Secretary's present opinion, although not the case he put forward at the time he asked for postponement, that the programme should never have been made.
Unlike the relatively unrestricted press, it is important to recognise that there is a complex regulatory system to determine which programmes are and which programmes are not shown on Independent Television. Parliament has wisely left the last word on editorial controversies not with Ministers, or with the programme-makers or the managements to which they are responsible, but with the members of a statutory public body—the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The House as a whole will look forward to hearing later in the debate from the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, who was a member of the authority for some years. The IBA is charged to act impartially using its own best judgment of where the public interest lies.
It was far sighted of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and his colleagues to co-operate as fully as they did with our inquiries into their decision to allow "Death on the Rock" to be screened. Richard Rampton and myself believed it was important to scrutinise the IBA's role as well as that of the programme company if we were to produce a report that was comprehensive, thorough and fair.
At the outset, we obtained agreement that after the report had been delivered and considered it would be published in full without amendment in order that the general public might have the benefit of a dispassionate analysis of how this film was made and shown. It has been an unprecedented inquiry. There has never been so rigorous an examination of a single current affairs programme in the history of British television. The implications are far reaching, and I am confident that the significance of the report will endure long after the controversy which inspired it has been stilled. That indeed may be its justification.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for initiating this debate in his usual incisive fashion. We all give great weight to the views of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. Everyone here agrees with him on the absolute necessity of defeating the terrorists, though if I understood him correctly he said we must keep within the law. I believe I heard him say that. However, I shall not pursue the topic.
I come forward as an almost unqualified supporter of the Windlesham Report. I say "almost unqualified" because I have a reservation that I shall make later. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has long been admired in this House—as Minister of State at the Home Office, as Leader of the House and as chairman of the Parole Board. He has written an excellent book on the penal system and has been very successful in television, though not (as he himself told us this afternoon) in Thames. No doubt he will wish to share the credit—there is much credit for the report—with his legal colleagues. But I say without hesitation that this is his finest hour.
I was going to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, who are to speak ought to be proud to be sitting on the same Bench with him.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, sits at the other end of the House. My noble friend Lord Windlesham sits two Benches behind me and I am at this end of the House.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, we all have Carters. There is one Carter here, one there and we have one of our own. Now we are quits.
I was saying that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, should be proud to be sitting on the same Bench, as they usually do, with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. Under what pressures I know not he has been induced to retreat to the third row. I hope that it is not permanent and that he has not been expelled from the ex-ministerial Bench because he certainly deserves a better fate than that.
In a sense the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was on a hiding to nothing. If his report had pleased the Government he would have been accused of being a Conservative stooge. But if it happened to be more agreeable to the television company, people would say that he was biased in favour of that part of his life. That was his problem. However, we are not concerned primarily with personalities this afternoon.
There are two issues here. Should this programme ever have been made at all? That was mainly dealt with by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and in the event was a worthy production. I am not 1096 one of those who thinks that every programme which seems likely to arouse public interest ought to be made. A shocking film has appeared lately and a shocking programme connected with it which brings back the agonies of the story of Mr. Profumo, who has done such marvellous work in the past 25 years. If we have a debate on that film or programme I shall certainly join those who say that they find it detestable. I am not somebody who comes here biased in favour of television producers.
Let us look at this on its merits. The great argument seems to be that this programme would in some way prejudice the inquest. It is difficult to speak about that without warmth. From the beginning the Foreign Secretary made it plain that he thought the members of the SAS did a very good job. He suggested that in his first speech. As far as I know he has not said anything else since. That has been the attitude not only of the Government but of the government-inspired papers. I do not say that this was under inspiration, but some of the papers went to abominable lengths in reviling some of the witnesses. Plenty of prejudice was created, and the only question was whether the television people were the only ones who were supposed to keep quiet until the inquest followed six months later. Frankly I believe that that argument smacks of humbug. I am sorry to use a plain word, but at least it will be understood.
However, if we consider the programme itself, here I would introduce a reservation. I believe that the Windlesham Report is much too gentle to the company where it discusses the way in which Thames dealt with the evidence of the young bank clerk, Asquez. I am not blaming the young man, who disappeared from view ultimately. I do know whether he has reappeared since. I am not blaming him, but I believe that Thames, to say the least, was disingenous in the way his evidence was presented. I am not saying that this is a perfect report, but one would have had to wait a long time for a perfect report and there would never have been a television programme at all. With that one exception I applaud the integrity of the report as an honest job well done.
I have time to touch on only two of the witnesses: Mrs. Proetta and Colonel Styles. I am glad that such an expert as Colonel Styles was found to play his part in the programme, though he since has been under criticism from government sources. In the end he did not turn out to be quite so helpful as they might have expected. He was a former head of bomb disposal in Northern Ireland where he earned the George Cross for conspicuous bravery. He was present—and this is very much to the credit of the company—when this key witness, Mrs. Proetta, was interviewed. In the programme and elsewhere he has paid tribute to her integrity. I believe we must take her as a honest witness who was in a very good position to see everything that happened. With so many lawyers in the House I need not say that witnesses are not infallible even when they are honest and when they are in a position to know everything. But this witness delivered her evidence in the presence of Colonel Styles.
Colonel Styles took a view about the matter which has no doubt been held by large numbers of people. In the programme he is on record as saying that he 1097 looked on the piece as being two active service units waging war—there was an argument yesterday about whether we were waging war—and he said:Thank goodness our side won … so taking them out quickly, cleanly and without other people getting hurt—that seems to be the only way".That was the view of Colonel Styles. I shall not ask the noble Lord, Lord Bramall, to rise and agree or disagree with Colonel Styles, but that point of view is widely held by a great many people, in particularly those in public houses. That may be seen to be a plain man's response. Here were some people who were about to commit a frightful atrocity and the thing was to take them out quickly. That undoubtedly is a policy that would appeal to many people. However, the question arises whether they could have been arrested without being killed and that question is as obscure today as it was when the matter first came before the public.
I shall be amazed if the Government really come clean tonight and tell us the whole story as they see it. I am not being disrespectful in saying that because I am sure that they will tell me that security considerations of the kind mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, make it impossible to tell the whole story. In that sense they will never be able to produce their full defence. One explanation is that there was no desire whatever to kill these people, but the members of the SAS were misinformed. They believed that they were armed, which they were not. They believed that they had access to a bomb and were going to blow everyone up, which they were not. Owing to their misinformation they killed those people unnecessarily. That is one possible account of what occurred: in other words, it was a cock-up.
The "cock-up" theory is one way in which many people will view the matter: it was a mistake. However, because a terrible tragedy was averted no one will shed a great many tears for people who were about to commit an evil act. But if one is told that it was a planned execution, I am afraid that that is a less laudable explanation.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and his colleagues were not asked to pronounce on what happened. They were not asked to say whether the terrorists could have been arrested without being killed. They had a more limited task—to inquire into the programme. Was it an honest programme, carefully researched and carried out in a spirit of honesty and public service? They came to the conclusion that it was an honest, public spirited programme. In that I concur with their conclusion. I join with those—and I am sure that there will be many—who wish to salute the noble Lord and his colleagues for their work under very difficult circumstances.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Goodman
My Lords, my intervention will be brief. I have come here this afternoon for a limited purpose. What I have already heard makes it clear that the debate opens up issues of national and public importance. If we were to debate them fully we should be here all night and for the rest of the week.
I should like to make a number of preliminary observations. I concur with whoever said that it 1098 should be open to anyone to make any film about anything. That being a liberty possessed in this country, it behoves anyone who makes such a film to do so with a sense of personal responsibility, knowing that the law will not interfere. Any kind of film, play or newspaper which seeks to prejudge a forensic issue should not only be carefully avoided but regarded with the utmost reserve. There is no greater danger than preconceptions in such matters. Hence, I entirely concur with what has been said: that the right to make the film is absolute but it is one which should be enjoyed with discretion, responsibility and common sense.
In no way do I make any imputation about the film. However, it must be emphasised that all too often one sees on television and in newspapers matters which prejudge a judicial inquiry and which cannot be in the least helpful. It would be wrong if anyone who has practised the law for 50 years, as I have, did not hold those beliefs.
It would be difficult and wrong to quarrel with a single word spoken by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. However, the issue which he has addressed is not that with which I am concerned this afternoon. It appears to me that there are three issues. First, whether the film should have been made at all. On that question I am not competent to judge and I do not wish to make any observation. I appear to be about the only person living who does not know precisely what happened in Gibraltar on that dreadful day. Frankly, any contribution I have to make on the subject will be less than useless.
I do not believe that we are today discussing what happened in Gibraltar. We are discussing two issues. First, is it right that there should be a private inquiry into a public matter? In that regard I have some record and it is always nice to be able to quote one's recollection. Some years ago there arose an issue which today would seem idiotically trivial. An attack was made on Granada Television, a client of mine, which was about to be stigmatised because of the suggestion that it had rigged a game show. That anyone could take the issue seriously would be difficult to believe today but at the time it racked the nation. It was the issue of the day and was the matter about which everyone was uttering views and opinions.
I was consulted by the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, who unhappily is not here today. He asked me what to do. I suggested that, in the circumstances, it would be sensible to obtain someone of impeccable record and unarguable integrity to investigate the matter on behalf of the company. He should remain aloof from the investigations and provide the necessary facilities. I first telephoned the late Lord Birkett. He indicated a great willingness to participate but then recollected that he occasionally sat as a Member of the House of Lords. He did not believe that it would be proper for him to carry out the investigation.
I then telephoned the former Attorney-General, Sir Lionel Heald, and in doing so I had an exceptional piece of luck. His daughter answered the telephone and when she asked what I wanted I said, "I am anxious to ask your father whether he will engage in a television inquiry". She said, "Television, how 1099 attractive. He must do it". Within a few minutes Sir Lionel came to the telephone. He did it beautifully and impeccably. No one could have uttered a word of doubt about the integrity of his findings. It was discovered that there had been some rigging of the programme but that the company had had nothing to do with it. It was a highly satisfactory conclusion. In that case a private investigation was not only justifiable and proper but necessary, and it was so conducted.
I cannot readily think of any other private investigation. However, the notion that it is impossible for a private investigation or a television company to make an inquiry which is not proper or helpful can be contradicted. For instance, I recently saw a film relating to the alleged activities of the head of the security service, who, in my view, had been outrageously accused of being involved as a spy. It appeared that there has never been a shred of evidence to justify that accusation. I forget the name of the television company which made the film but the programme made that fact abundantly clear. No one can argue that it was not a sensible, virtuous and useful act.
In all such matters one must consider the situation involved. Whether it was right or wrong to make the programme referred to in the Question, I cannot judge. Perhaps my comment will not be popular, but I believe that, if an organisation which was not a commercial organisation had had such a decision to make, it might well have decided to defer the film until after the judicial process had been considered.
Whether that is so, the fact is that the film was made. I have no idea whether it was good or accurate but the fact is that it was made. I am not here to talk about that issue. I am here to talk about the fact that two gentlemen have been stigmatised in a thoroughly outrageous fashion. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made a dignified and appropriate speech. He is present in the House today to defend himself. Those noble Lords who have known him as a Member of this House for many years, and for some years previously, could not entertain the faintest suspicion that he would have entered into an inquiry from any ulterior, dubious or secondary motive.
§ Lord Goodman
That cannot be believed. However, Mr. Rampton is not present and in his regard I must make an admission. Some months ago, before the inquiry took place, I was telephoned by Sir Ian Trethowan, the chairman of the television company concerned. He asked whether I could suggest a leading counsel who might participate in the inquiry. I thought hard and long and finally suggested Mr. Rampton. It is perfectly clear that I rendered him no service and I should like to make a public apology to him.
Mr. Rampton is a Queen's Counsel whom I have known and used in a professional fashion for years. I cannot claim that he is a close friend but he is a man for whom I have the greatest respect. Any suggestion that he would have been engaged in the inquiry in 1100 such a fashion as to do anything but seek the total truth is outrageous. No one should make such a suggestion. I hope that during the course of the debate any such suggestion will be publicly and openly withdrawn. Mr. Rampton is not present to speak for himself, as is the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. However, having heard the suggestions and what has been said, it would be wrong if I did not this afternoon express my view that there could have been no better choice.
I do not know which other Members of the Bar should have carried out the inquiry. It is, however, somewhat surprising that at this moment a solicitor known to have adventurous notions about the reform of the law should be defending a barrister. It is probably the last occasion for many months on which that will happen. However, on this occasion I welcome the opportunity. I am very willing and anxious to do it. I have come here for that purpose alone. Having said what I want to say, I hope that we shall realise that this is not a political issue. It is not a question of whether the Government are right or wrong. This is a personal issue about how people should behave to other people. On that score, I believe that the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and Mr. Rampton have been treated, is inexcusable.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I wholly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said. I do not believe that any of your Lordships desire to cast the slightest personal reflection on either my noble friend Lord Windlesham, who I agree made a most dignified and impressive speech, or on Mr. Rampton who I, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, can claim as a fellow member of the Bar. Both are honourable men doing what they believe to be right, having been requested to do so.
I part company from the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in his reference to this inquiry. This was a private inquiry. As the noble Lord. Lord Goodman, said, there is no objection to that. There are examples which he gave of perfectly satisfactory private inquiries. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, was wrong to reproach the Government for questioning the views of the umpire. A private inquiry set up with most reputable members by an outside organisation is not, for any practical purpose, an umpire as regards the Government. The Government are perfectly entitled to say that they disagree with its findings.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I object to the Government questioning the integrity of the umpire.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord is right. I have no recollection of the Government questioning the integrity of either of the members of the inquiry. If the noble Lord believes that they do then he should say so now or withdraw his remark.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, the noble Lord will remember that the umpires were said to have 1101 produced a report by television for television which suggests that their interests were for television rather than for finding out exactly what happened.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, that is a gallant attempt to construct a fantasy but the noble Lord knows perfectly well that there is not a word there which challenges the integrity of the two distinguished people undertaking the inquiry. I am very sorry indeed that the noble Lord should have introduced this at this stage because I do not believe that he will carry with him anybody else in your Lordships' House on the matter.
I believe that it is normal in these debates to thank the opener of the debate. I do not propose to do so in this case because I do not believe that this debate is necessarily good. I believe that it has caused quite unnecessary embarrassment to my noble friend Lord Windlesham and, I have no doubt, to Mr. Rampton, and that, quite plainly, it is merely an attempt to make mischief between the inquiry and the Government.
I say at once that the Government are perfectly entitled to take a different view—as I do—from that taken by the inquiry. This is not a matter of honour or integrity but a matter of judgment on very complicated facts. My own study of the matter, having seen the film, does not confirm the view taken of it by the inquiry, honestly and well meaningfully as it was taken. However, my view happens to coincide with that of the Government. I believe that it is a pity that this film was made and I believe that it was tragic that it was shown at the time.
I believe that the television company owes us a good deal of explanation as to why it disregarded the request of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary at least to postpone the showing. We were dealing, as we were there, with a very tense and difficult situation in which human lives were at risk and in which there was the risk of a very serious tragedy to our fellow countrymen in Gibraltar as well as to very gallant members of the armed forces. In that situation I should have thought that any responsible citizen would pay great attention to the request made by a responsible Minister of the Crown. I believe that it was very irresponsible of the IBA to disregard that request.
As far as I know, no one argues, although it is a pity that the film was made, that the film should necessarily have been held up for ever. If the IBA wanted to produce a film of this sort no doubt on the general principles which have been adumbrated earlier, it should have been free to do so. However, on the timing, to disregard the specific request by a Minister of the Crown made at a moment of emergency was an utterly irresponsible act for which I believe it will take a long time for that company to clear itself. Certainly its reputation in my mind—and I had a great admiration for it until recently—has been sadly altered.
On the film itself—and no doubt most of your Lordships have seen it— it is perfectly plain that its whole drift and implication is that the soldiers shot down defenceless men. Indeed at one point it showed 1102 one soldier standing with his rifle shooting the man on the ground. That is the whole drift of it. That is a somewhat foul charge to make against very gallant soldiers of the Crown. I fully share the feelings of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who spoke a few moments ago that here soldiers were performing a dangerous task in defence of their fellow citizens and who are apparently shown on this film as acting in a way which is perhaps not very far short of murder. Therefore, I believe it was a bad film and on that point, with respect, I differ from my noble friend Lord Windlesham.
It is curious that we are having this debate. I believe that our foreign friends who think that we are rather an odd people will be confirmed in their view by this debate. There have been a number of tragic episodes in the campaign which the IRA has waged against us; namely, the sad loss of life at Enniskillen and the attack at the Shropshire barracks where there was no loss of life but that was only because of the skilful action of a sentry and half a dozen others. We have not discussed any of those. However, the one case in which no innocent civilian was hurt or wounded and the only people who were hurt were admitted terrorists is the one which your Lordships' House finds it necessary to discuss. I believe that our foreign friends may regard that as an amiable eccentricity and it is certainly a rather curious aspect of the matter.
I do not underrate and I share generally the views about freedom of expression and comment and freedom of the broadcasting agencies in general. However, as has already been said—and I only repeat it by way of emphasis—there are occasions when we are engaged in something like a war with the terrorists when restraint must be exercised in the interests of the safety of the realm, the armed forces and the national effort. This was surely one of those occasions. It is because of the failure of the television company in this respect that I feel that the report we are discussing has been far too kind to it, and I go along fully with the firm robust criticism made by Her Majesty's Government and which I am perfectly certain reflects the view of the great majority of the English people.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that, like other noble Lords, I have no intention of casting any doubt whatever upon the integrity and competence of my noble friend Lord Windlesham or of his colleague from the Bar? I am perfectly prepared to accept the view that they honestly came to: that this film, with one or two omissions or distortions which they refer to, was made fairly and was properly commissioned.
However, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, pointed out, we are not discussing a question of production of a television film; we are discussing an issue of major importance: whether a film of this kind should have been made and shown, and what—and I do not believe that this question has not so far been asked—could have been the motives for either making it or showing it.
One has been suggested, and no one who has seen this film could doubt that this was one of the 1103 possibilities in the minds of the makers. It is that it might influence the coming inquest. There I think I may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that to do anything of this kind before a judicial inquiry was in itself deplorable. Whether it happened to be in Gibraltar or in the United Kingdom is beside the point.
However, I think I would go further than that. It seems to me that not only does the film intend to cast doubt upon the conduct of the members of the armed forces involved and on the statements made in their defence by Her Majesty's Ministers and accepted by the coroner's inquest, but it also could have, and possibly was intended to have, the effect of encouraging the IRA to claim that these people who, on the film's own showing, were the vilest of thugs could enter the long catalogue of Irish martyrdom. We were in fact shown on the film the welcome which their coffins received from IRA sympathisers when they were flown home for burial.
If these were not the intentions of the film makers, what were their intentions? Certainly it was not a programme designed for entertainment. The violent death of three persons, however vile, is not a subject for family viewing. It is not an entertainment programme. Therefore one must assume that there was a purpose behind it, and the purpose which I have suggested is the only one that seems to me to come out of the film, even accepting as I do the words of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that this was a proper representation of the evidence available in that direction.
However, I think that the gap between what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—and I agree with him—to be the majority opinion in this country and the point of view of a noble Lord like the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, is even wider than that. I believe that there is here a difference of moral stance. It is generally felt in this country that the defence of the citizen againt violent death is overwhelmingly the most important of our civil liberties and that none of the other civil liberties measures up against it. If your are dead, you are dead. Therefore I think there is a feeling that where issues of life and death are involved it behoves the media—the press and, above all, television, whose influence we know to be much greater than that of the printed word—to be particularly scrupulous and careful.
It seems to me that in deciding to make and show a film of this kind we have an example of what I think many people regard—and perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, may reply to this when she comes to speak—as an increasing tendency among the media to think that they have a special role as the nation's conscience. What business is it of a young television producer to decide, and to be supported by his company and the IBA, that he has the right to cast doubt on what is going on because it does not seem to his tender conscience that justice has been done or that the law has been fully observed?
I believe that again and again there have been occasions in the media—and this is only the most flagrant example—when people whom nobody has 1104 elected and on whom no one has conferred any public responsibility, who I imagine have not even been members of a parish council, put themselves in a position not merely to tell the British public what to think on vital issues of life and death but use the powerful medium of television to persuade them that what they are being told is correct.
I think therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, should feel perfectly happy about today's debate. It is in no sense a criticism of his work or that of his colleague. It is simply an occasion on which, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, to make plain that the assumption of this role by television producers and television companies is deeply resented by the mass of the British people.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, conflicting views have been so eloquently expressed already that I feel my personal opinion of these matters must be of rather little account. But, first, I should like to praise the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and his colleague Mr. Rampton, for having taken on this very difficult and sensitive task and for having presented their views with such clarity and honesty. Of course one would expect nothing less from a Privy Counsellor and a very senior QC.
However, members of every profession carry with them that profession's own ethos, which inevitably shapes their views; and many people have said to me: "Would it not have been wiser for the choice of the most prominent author of this report to have been made from outside the television industry?" They argue that for the sake of appearances—and I repeat "for the sake of appearances"—it would have been preferable and indeed in the interests of the industry to have done that. I an inclined to that view myself, but I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to accept my complete assurance of the confidence that I have in his integrity.
Over the last two decades we have been made aware of the positive contribution that many investigative journalists have made to our national and international knowledge. But, while recognising and applauding this, one is entitled from experience sometimes to take a cautious and even cynical view of their stated intentions. I wonder sometimes whether in self-defence they attribute to themselves loftier motives than are in fact justified, and even attempt to assume a role which is inappropriate. Your Lordships will recall some expensive errors of judgment made in the recent past.
At the heart of the controversy is the question whether a programme should have been made and shown to 6 million persons at that particular time in advance of an inquest which the programme makers knew had to take place in the near future.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
It is surely indisputable that there was a high risk of prejudicing the verdict at the inquest, and that on its verdict very serious consequences for certain individuals could depend. I believe that the majority of fair-minded people would accept that the risk was real and should not have been 1105 incurred. We have seen the exchange of correspondence between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. I personally find the secretary of State's arguments more convincing, even allowing for the latter's fuller reference to Lord Salmon's report at the time of Aberfan. In the report it is argued that jurors would be unlikely to be affected by their knowledge of the views expressed in an advance programme. Much is made of the detachment of juries and distinguished legal opinion is quoted in support of that. I personally find that very hard to accept and so would the majority of people.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
Moreover, apart from anything else, one had to take into account the fact that Gibraltar, from which the jurors would be drawn, is a small community and the shooting was an event of the highest drama. A TV programme was likely to have a disproportionate impact. It is fair to say that in the event the inquest did not seem to have been prejudiced. but that could not have been confidently assumed in advance. The showing of the programme was an unjustified risk to justice and to the future lives of certain individuals.
I, like other noble Lords, have recently refreshed my memories of the programme. Like many others I believe it confirms the views of those who maintain that it went beyond its stated purpose of laying before the viewers certain evidence giving rise to questions best examined by a judicial inquiry. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, acknowledges that that was a tenable view. I believe that this view is confirmed by the fact that little or nothing was done to diminish the clear implication that the terrorists had been unlawfully killed. The selection of witnesses; the careful choice of quoted evidence and the skilful way in which questions were posed all contributed to that impression.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
Moreover, certain relevant facts were suppressed and others used to support implication. In particular, the handling of the evidence of Mr. Asquez and the failure to question his companions in the car with him support that view. To leave a significant number of viewers with the impression of unlawful killing shows how considerable was the potential danger of showing the programme. Of course it is argued that other branches of the media were giving space to these questions, but it is well known that the television programme makers find it convenient at these times to assume an unusual modesty and to downgrade their special and dominating influence. It may also be observed that the programme enabled the IRA to enlist undeserved sympathy and created in the Irish Republic a current of opinion that was later reflected in the Ryan case.
I wish to add one further thought with which I believe the whole House will agree. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this current controversy, it is a symptom of a wider and much more important 1106 problem. I refer to the deterioration of the relationship between the broadcasters and the Government. The blame for that is shared. It is an unhealthy state of affairs with unforeseeable consequences. I feel that every effort should be made to bring it to an end.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, I too wish to put on record that I hold my noble friend Lord Windlesham in the highest esteem. I cannot go so far as to profoundly disagree with his report. I find it more of a curate's egg—good in parts. For instance, I heartily agree with the quotation on page 14 of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. He said:Broadcasters … are often their own worst enemies. One of the cardinal temptations for them … is a certain arrogance, and an extraordinary sensitivity if anyone questions their freedom to do things exactly in their own way. Broadcasters, who spend their lives critically cross-examining Ministers and MPs, are curiously sensitive when it comes to being criticised themselves.".But I disagree with the main thrust of the report, which is that the IBA's decision to allow broadcasting of "Death on the Rock" was the right one; and that the programme stated that it was no more than one of several possibilities that the IRA terrorists were murdered by our troops; moreover, that this possibility was presented in a thorough and unbiased manner. Along with many other noble Lords I cannot go along with that. As evidence I wish to narrow-in on one facet only and that is the absence of a significant bomb in the white Renault parked by the ancient city wall.
The word "significant" has a peculiar fascination as it shows that how things are said on television is just as important as what is said. The word is first mentioned by the Thames' reporter, Julian Manyon. In quoting him I shall try to imitate his emphasis for it is all-important. Julian Manyon says:… according to an expert, … there was no significant bomb in it."—referring to the car.Immediately after Manyon that expert speaks, and he is Colonel Styles. I give his words their correct emphasis:I'm sure the (bomb disposal) man … would have quickly seen that it (the car) carried no significant weight of explosive … Agreed, there could have been a smaller bomb inside it, and I expect the bomb-disposal man anticipated such.".That is a different meaning. How small is a small bomb? Many noble Lords will have carried a few hand grenades during military service. They are light, yet each can kill up to 20 people. Indeed, I feel sure that 30 hand grenades would not have weighed down the car boot, particularly if the spare wheel and toolkit had been removed. Thirty hand grenades can kill hundreds of men, women and children. That is precisely why Colonel Styles in his interview stressed that word "significant".
Now I come to the reporter's summing-up at the programme end. Manyon says:… deeply disturbing … George Styles an acknowledged expert on bomb disposal, says that the security services should have known within minutes of examining the white Renault 5 that there was no significant bomb in the car.".Note the emphasis and almost the elision. Manyon leads the viewer to believe that it was immediately 1107 obvious to an expert that there was no bomb in the car at all. In fact Styles had not said that. He had said, and I repeat it:it carried no significant weight of explosive.".Thus I believe that a change of emphasis with the spoken word is as important as a change of content. The Windlesham report should have highlighted this rather important difference.
Worse still the "Death on the Rock" programme excluded altogether Colonel Styles' theory that the terrorists could easily have detonated another bomb in another car whose whereabouts on the Rock was not known. The programme makers excluded this expert opinion for the curious reason that there was insufficient evidence to support it. Again, my noble friend Lord Windlesham seems to support that reason as being a valid one.
I could go into other details. The fact that the Asquez statement was not signed has already been dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, also the inability of Bullock to see that no warning had been given. These are similar in slant to the "significant bomb". I do not hesitate to say that I found the programme itself reprehensible, particularly in its ending. This is Jonathan Dimbleby to camera:That report by Julian Manyon was made … without the co-operation of the British Government".Why did he not say "our government"? Jonathan Dimbleby was not working for a foreign power but for Thames Television. We had similar trouble in the Falklands War. The media referred to "British troops" and to "Argentinian troops"; never to "our troops" and "enemy troops". They were strongly criticised for that and I had hoped we had seen the end of it. But six years on, alas! we have not. It is important to distinguish between the programme and the report on it. No one could possibly call my noble friend's report wholly bad, for it sometimes criticises Thames Television. It has, as other noble Lords have said, no formal conclusion, but its final paragraph reads:Whatever view is taken of the state of public opinion and the legitimacy of Government intervention, the making and screening of 'Death on the Rock' proved that freedom of expression can prevail".If that type of freedom of expression can prevail, I would maintain that our country now has a lesser freedom overall; not a greater one.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, I would submit with due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that in asking this Unstarred Question on the report "Death on the Rock" by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and Mr. Rampton, QC, he is asking the Government, and in particular Sir Geoffrey Howe, QC, the Foreign Secretary, whether Sir Geoffrey was not profoundly wrong originally in refusing Thames Television his permission to broadcast the programme; and, secondly, he is saying that what is written in the report justifies Thames Television's decision to go ahead with its original television programme and to ignore the Foreign Secretary's requests that it should not do so. 1108 For this reason, and others which will follow, I hope that the Government will stick firm to their original decision that they were right to refuse permission to Thames Television to broadcast the programme, and that their decision will be in no way altered by what is written in the report. In what he said in his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, seemed completely incapable of giving consideration to the fact that the Foreign Secretary was prepared to postpone the television programme until after the inquest. That was reasonable enough, but no consideration has been given to the Foreign Secretary's agreement on that point.
Is it not a fact that on issues of this kind the British public are becoming increasingly fed up with, and concerned about, what they see on so many occasions in television broadcasts? The media so often appear as prosecutor, judge and jury in their own interest and in their own case. On this occasion, Thames Television, against strong advice from the Foreign Secretary that it should not make the broadcast, ignored that advice and indeed went further. I shall not cast aspersions on the part played by my noble friend Lord Windlesham in the matter, but the chairman of the IBA appointed a former director who served ATV in the years 1975 to 1981 to report on the Thames Television programme; on an issue basically of a disagreement of some substance and magnitude between the IBA and Government. While I in no way criticise the agreement of the appointee to making the report or his integrity, I wonder whether in a dispute of this kind it was really propitious of the chairman of the IBA to ask someone formerly connected with television to make the report. This detracts from the value of the report and from its general conclusions. As to the capability of the chairman of the IBA to adjudicate on severe problems that may face the country, surely the Foreign Secretary will normally be in possession of much more information than the chairman of the IBA. The Foreign Secretary has a national interest to consider. I have searched the report in order to find whether anything of substance is recorded as to why the Foreign Secretary came to his decision. This seemed to be fair, but the facts are that very little is recorded about this matter. What is seems to be of little relevance. I shall quote from the foreword by Sir Ian Trethowan, chairman of Thames Television:We were also influenced by the source of the Government's original initiative to stop the programme. Sir Geoffrey Howe has always been fair and reasonable in his dealings with the media, yet on this occasion it was he who led the Government's call for the programme to be postponed, and when the IBA turned down his request, he protested with unusual violence. As emerges from the report".I can find nothing in the report to suggest that Sir Geoffrey made a violent protest or protested with unusual violence.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, the noble Lord has now referred twice to violence. I have the report in front of me. The word is "vehemence".
§ Lord Gridley
Yes, my Lords, it seemed a little odd. What distressed me personally about the programme were incidents which followed directly from the 1109 decision of the IBA to transmit the programme against the advice of the Foreign Secretary. I refer to the precautions necessary to protect the SAS who had volunteered to give evidence if requested to do so. I refer also to the portrayal of concealment on their arrival to give evidence. I am of the opinion that we should never place in danger those who protect us. I stress that they were placed in danger by the decision of the IBA to proceed against advice with the programme.
The IBA should not have refused the Foreign Secretary's advice not to broadcast this programme. The Government have no reason to take any action on the Question asked this evening. I hope that they will stick to their original decision.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, as the House has heard, the issues are complicated and several separate threads have been discussed. Those threads were lucidly and fairly analysed by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. However, I do not want directly to consider the report. I want instead simply to restate some of the facts, some of which have become a little confused, in so far as they have a hearing on the conduct of the IBA and its chairman, my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who cannot be present for the debate.
The IBA is coming under as much criticism from the Government as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. It would be just as well to put the record straight because in the last resort the responsibility for disregarding the strongly worded request to postpone the programme, and the decision to show it on the evening for which it was scheduled, rests squarely upon the Independent Broadcasting authority in whose name its chairman was acting.
The facts are that the programme was previewed the day before the transmission—that is, Wednesday 27th April—although the IBA staff had been in touch with the Thames Television company about the programme throughout the production process. They had required assurances from Thames that the programme would be legally vetted, particularly in the matter of possible contempt of court and the reliability of witnesses. Both those legal assurances were forthcoming. When the programme was previewed the IBA demanded certain changes in the script, especially in the summing up where the authority held that the reporter suggested too strongly that the inquest would not be able to determine the final truth of the matter. There were also one or two other changes made in the script.
I must emphasise that there have been occasions in the past, and in my own recollection during my seven years as a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, when at this very belated stage much more extensive changes in programmes have been demanded and, exceptionally, a programme has actually been refused transmission to the extreme displeasure of the companies. However, as we know, on this occasion that did not happen.
On the evening before the preview of the programme, that is 26th April, the Foreign and 1110 Commonwealth Secretary telephoned the chairman of the IBA to ask that the transmission be postponed for fear of prejudicing the inquest. The chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, replied that he would consider the case, and of course did so the next day when he had actually seen the programme. He then took further legal advice and was assured that there was no question either of contempt of court or of the contamination of witnesses.
It should be remembered that by this time—I think that this is something we need to remember—the case had been very widely reported in this country both in the national and international press and considerable doubts and questions had already been raised about the manner of the death of the terrorists, who had turned out to be unarmed and to have no bomb in their car, although no one doubted that their intentions were totally lethal.
After the advice of counsel had been received the chairmen and the director general decided that the transmission should go forward. All this time the company, Thames Television, which had made the programme, were completely unaware that any conversations had been taking place between the chairman of the IBA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. Therefore I think that it is quite inaccurate when people say that it was the company which decided to go ahead; the question had simply not arisen so far as the company was concerned and it was the Independent Broadcasting Authority which, after due consideration, decided to go ahead.
The authority made that decision because that is its task. The IBA must distance itself from the producing company so far as it can, and it must also stand between the producing company and the Government. I emphasise that point because the IBA is, according to the Act under which it operates, responsible for ensuring that that which is shown on the screen is only what is fit to be shown. However, it is not directly responsible for making or editing programmes. Moreover, although I think that I need hardly say so, it has absolutely no financial interest in the putting out of any particular television programme. Therefore all discussion with the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office was with the IBA, and not with the company.
So the question is: was the decision to transmit a proper or an improper decision when it was known that the Government wished the transmission to be postponed? It is on the answer to that question that the Government are understandably critical of the IBA. Parliament has not so far transferred the power to make such decisions—that is, to transmit or not to transmit—to Ministers, however eminent those Ministers may be; that power remains with the Independent Broadcasting Authority. All the proper steps had been taken in this case, including previewing and, most importantly, the seeking of counsel's opinion. Therefore, there seems to me to be no doubt whatever that the Independent Broadcasting Authority acted correctly so far as the law goes. There is no law which says that the Independent Broadcasting Authority must do what the Minister wants it to do in certain circumstances. 1111 The IBA was perfectly aware, through its chairman, that there might be a problem about prejudicing the inquest and that is why the chairman sought counsel's advice. Then, having sought counsel's opinion, and obtained it, he found that there was no such danger and subsequently took the responsibility upon himself, as it is his proper function to do. It is for him to exercise judgment for which the authority itself takes responsibility.
Of course there may be those who thought that his judgment was totally wrong. Indeed, there were many who, as a matter of fact, did not care at all whether the terrorists had been murdered or killed in what was regarded as the course of battle. Moreover, there were many people who commented that "They got what was coming to them" and who did not mind whether it was a killing in cold blood or whether it was a killing in a case where they might have had bombs. However, in a way that is irrelevant; the right to exercise judgment is unaffected by such considerations.
I believe that it is very depressing and disgraceful when a judgment has been properly made which turns out to be disagreeable to the Government of the day that that Government should have recourse to suggesting bias, even corruption, on the part of the authority or the persons who wrote the report about the judgment.
There was serious disagreement—that no one can possibly dispute—but the decision to transmit at the scheduled time was not taken carelessly, it was not taken in ignorance of the law and it was certainly not taken for commercial considerations by those who took it; namely, the chairman and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. It is therefore deplorable to suggest, as I think has been suggested, that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, had no legal right to make such a decision. But, worse than that, I think that it is deplorable to suppose that he and the IBA as a whole, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, were somehow submitting to commercial or other pressure and that their judgment was therefore in some way corrupt.
The independence of the broadcasting institutions, both the IBA and the BBC, has been something of which in the past we have been able to be proud and which indeed we have struggled through many ups and downs and many had times to preserve. I sincerely hope that this case will not mean that in future it can be assumed that that independence of the broadcasting institutions will now be able to be thrown away.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, asks a Question which is: "whether it is [Her Majesty's Government's] considered view that they 'profoundly disagree' with the report of Lord Windlesham and Mr. Richard Rampton, QC, on the Thames Television programme 'Death on the Rock"'.
I must express the hope that the answer to the Question is that the Government will stand to their guns and give an unequivocal affirmative answer that they stick to their opinion.
1112 I would say at this stage that I wholly agreed with everything that the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches, Lord Goodman, said about my noble friend Lord Windlesham. It would profoundly distress me if my noble friend thought for a moment that I was impugning either his independence or his integrity. He is a particularly valuable personal friend of mine. He has been a respected and admired colleague. He was Leader of the House at a time when I was a member of the Government. I believe that he won the complete confidence of the House. Whatever the answer, it must not be supposed for an instant that I am impugning the honour, integrity or independence of my noble friend.
I would say the same, but without the same degree of intimacy, about his learned junior, recommended as I understand it by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I would also add for good measure my complete confidence in the integrity of Sir Ian Trethowan and, for that matter, the chairman of the IBA. But having said that, I profoundly disagree with parts of the report. In the first place one asks the question which was asked by the noble and gallant Field Marshal on the Cross Benches: ought this programme to have been made at all?
I saw the programme. I have refreshed my memory with the convenient transcript contained in the report. My impression was that it ought not to have been made at all. To my mind it was profoundly biased. I believe that the report was much too kind to it when it said at paragraph 129:we do not consider that the programme asserted as a fact that the terrorists had been murdered. Rather its effect was to suggest that there was a real possibility that the terrorists had been unlawfully killed".I believe that the programme meant and was so understood to mean—it certainly was understood by the experienced reviewer Mr. Geoffrey Levy at page 76 of the report to mean—exactly what the report has said it did not mean. I shall quote Mr. Levy:A woefully one-sided look at the killings … Any reasonable viewer watching This Week would have been left in no doubt that the personal wishes and orders of Mrs. Thatcher were carried out to the letter when three IRA bombers were shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. Unimaginable, maybe, but that was the message".That was the effect that the programme had on me.
If anyone wishes to verify it, on page 39 of the report direct reference is made to the fact that the plot to commit murder and treason on the Rock must have been on the desk of Mrs. Thatcher a long time before the events in Gibraltar. It states:On the day of the bombing"—that is the bombing at Enniskillen, not the bombing at Gibraltar—"she" (that is Mrs. Thatcher),had declared that there should be no hiding place anywhere in the world for the men who did it. Now, she must have had on her desk the details of how an IRA unit had been detected in Spain. The question is: how much did the British already know about the terrorists' plans?It is absolutely naïve of the report to suggest that that passage does not contain the clear insinuation that the men were murdered deliberately, and murdered at the request of the British Government. That is unequivocal. For that reason alone, I should have profoundly disagreed with the report.
The naivety is compounded by the fact that, although it is fairly stated at the beginning that these 1113 were admitted terrorists, and despite the emptiness of the white Renault car, there was around the corner at Marbella another red car with 64 kilograms of Semtex explosive for the purpose of being used by those three terrorists; 64 kilograms is more than twice the amount of explosive let off at Enniskillen at the Remembrance Day Service at a rather similar parade. To say therefore that it is not a biased and irresponsible report, for which the responsibility must rest solely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has said, with Thames Television, seems to me to be entirely wrong, and I profoundly disagree with anyone who holds the opposite view.
The second point, which is a separate one, is whether the programme should have been postponed until after the inquest. There again I profoundly disagree with the view held in the report, and with what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has just said. My mind went back to the Aberfan Inquiry, which will be remembered by the noble and learned Lord opposite who has been listening patiently to the debate, when there was a good deal of argument to a similar question which gave rise to the Salmon Report. Paragraph 29 of the Salmon Report reads:The publication of interviews with prospective witnesses raises difficult problems. The Press, Television and Radio have always considered that once any type of tribunal has been appointed"—an inquest was of course in contemplation—it is inappropriate for them to conduct anything in the nature of a parallel inquiry and they have never done so. We regard it as of the utmost importance that this restraint should be continued to be exercised".What could be plainer than that? What could be plainer than that what was done by transmitting the programme in advance of the inquest is in flat contradiction of paragraph 29 of the Salmon Report after the Aberfan Inquiry?
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, seems to think that because the IBA has the legal right to say yes or no to the Foreign Secretary's request, that lets it off the hook. I suggest that it does nothing of the kind. The question is not whether the IBA has the legal right to be responsible but whether it was irresponsible in its judgment in deciding in the circumstances, and in the light of the flat declaration in the Salmon Report, that such a thing should not be done, and in failing to comply with the Foreign Secretary's request. The report clearly states—this is where I agree with my noble friend—that the Foreign Secretary is entitled to make the request.
There is one other thing that I should like to say about the next stage. What is the law which is applicable to a case like this? As the noble and gallant Field Marshal pointed out in the course of a very convincing speech from the point of view from which he was uttering it, soldiers are not above the law in time of peace. Of course there is a sense in which we know that matters analogous to military operations are in progress against the IRA, but it would concede the whole of the IRA's case if we were to admit that its members were legitimate warriors representing a government. One must obey the law; but the law was completely ignored in the programme. No one mentioned what the law was, and the report does not seem to have taken account of that point.
1114 I shall quote from a textbook on the subject. I should declare a modest interest. It is to be found in paragraph 1179 of volume 11 of Halsbury's Laws of England:A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime or in effecting the lawful arrest of offenders or persons unlawfully at large; no criminal liability is incurred even though the use of such force results in the death of another … In determining whether the force used was reasonable, the court will take into account all the circumstances of the case, including the nature and degree of force used, the seriousness of the evil to be prevented and the possibility of preventing it by other means … The circumstances in which it can be considered reasonable to kill another in the prevention of crime must be of an extreme kind; they could probably arise only in the case of an attack against the person … and where killing the attacker is the only practicable means of preventing the harm".If letting off 64 kilograms of Semtex in a crowded place near the convent in Gibraltar does not come within that, I should like to know what possibly could. Of course it is true that in the event it turned out that what was apparently a dry run or a reconnaissance by the terrorists was in fact mistaken for the real thing. But there again—and now I shall quote again from the law as set out in the textbook:The ordinary rules relating to mistake of fact are applicable, so that where the force used is reasonable having regard to the facts as the defendant supposed them to have been, the defendant commits no offence although the force used is excessive having regard to the facts as they were … The reasonableness of the force must be assessed in relation to facts which the defendant knew or 'believed to have existed".This programme was promulgated despite the request of the Foreign Secretary. It was previously prepared at a time when those responsible for the transmission had not got the evidence of the soldiers at all. In other words, we are asked by those who support the transmission of the programme to say, with the duchess in Alice in Wonderland, "Sentence first, verdict afterwards". They made the programme without having heard half the evidence and could not have had it available. I say without doubt that my belief is that the IBA behaved irresponsibly in refusing the request of the Foreign Secretary to postpone the transmission. Thames was irresponsible in making the programme and then in transmitting it. I hope that the Government will stick to their guns and say that this is something which ought never to have been done and ought never to have happened.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I apologise for intervening. I shall take up only two or three minutes but I did not receive a copy of the report until last night. I had not finished reading it by the time the deadline came for putting down my name to speak today.
I myself found it a model report. I thought that the television people did not come out of it all that badly. Investigative journalism is paved with moral and professional traps and those people escaped almost all of them. They looked hard for the truth and did not use their cheque book to find it.
All the time I was reading the report I was asking myself, "Should the programme have been made at all?" I think we were all in that position. Five or six pages before the end I found a paragraph which 1115 expressed my own views better than I could have done at short notice. It is in Lord Thomson's letter to the Foreign Secretary. Before I quote from the letter, I wish to mention that Lord Thomson took a different view of the Salmon Report from that which has been expressed by the noble and learned Lord. The Salmon Committee said it did not accept what it called the extreme view that once a tribunal had been appointed it should be a contempt to publish any interviews with potential witnesses.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I never said that this was a contempt, and nor did the Salmon Report depend upon it. The passage I quoted simply said that it was a bad thing to do. I stick to that and that was what the Salmon Report said.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I know better than to engage in a legal tangle with the noble and learned Lord! However, I must add that the committee did not accept the view that once a tribunal had been appointed it should be a contempt to publish any interviews with potential witnesses. Any interviews with potential witnesses could be regarded by some people as conducting a trial.
Now I wish to quote Lord Thomson's letter to the Foreign Secretary:Apart from the importance of avoiding contempt, the issues as we see them relate to free speech and free inquiry which underpin individual liberty in a democracy. The right of broadcasters and the press to examine events of major public concern is well established and should be preserved".It is well established, but it is less firmly established today than it needs to be. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, had very little sympathy with that point of view and when he comes to read Hansard tomorrow he will perhaps be surprised at exactly what he said, particularly since he was dealing with young broadcasters, young journalists. They not only have the disability of being young, but like us, they are not elected. It was their unelected nature of which he was complaining.
This principle is, as I said, less firmly established than it needs to be. We dwell so much on the iniquities of the press and the audacities of television that we forget their essential service to our democratic system. Lord Thomson reminds us of the great usefulness shown by the press and television in the year ending in May 1988:The enquiries of the media and their interviews with eye-witnesses have helped to inform the public about the circumstances surrounding such events as the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, the King's Cross fire, the shootings at Hungerford, the Remembrance Day massacre at Enniskillen, and the brutal murders at the Andersonstown funeral—all of them controversial. In all these cases inquests have been held and in some cases public inquiries have also been set up without any suggestion that previous interviews with witnesses on television or in the press have interfered with the course of justice.I found that very convincing.
If I have to find fault with the report, it is that only on the third page from the end is there mention of,the vividness with which the programme was presented".It was that that made "Death on the Rock" a lightning conductor for the intense feelings that the Gibraltar shootings evoked in the minds of the 1116 British public. It is that vividness of the medium which those engaged in television journalism must continually be aware of. It is not the words alone that matter: they might make no impact on a printed page. Nor do the pictures themselves make all that much impact. It is the special impact of words, pictures and the small screen in the domestic environment. As Marshall McLuhan told us in the 1960s, "The medium is the message". I myself was taught that lesson and I had to learn it—it was not obvious to me—when I wrote a leader for the Daily Herald newspaper gently critical of the Labour Party. Not for the last time in its history the party was failing to make progress although the Conservative Government of the day was losing popularity. I headed the article:A Nation in Search of a Party".I thought it might lead to a fruitful, quiet discussion. Lord Cudlipp came in for a drink, read it and said, "Fine. Why not put it on page 1?" I agreed. "Something like this", said Hugh and he started to draw. He made a plan to devote the entire front page to it and to use the type used for Queen Victoria's funeral. The parliamentary Labour Party went mad. Hugh Gaitskell was distraught and demanded a right of reply. He engaged a slim, dark-haired young man to do that. That same young man is to follow me in this debate; it was the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. The noble Lord wrote a piece entitled A Party in Search of a Newspaper.
That was my great lesson—the medium is the message. Televised investigative journalism must sometimes take care to tone things down a little so that a question which is asked does not sound like an accusation, nor a statement like a charge.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I think we would all agree that the debate this evening has been fairly unusual. I can recall no occasion on which a television programme broadcast in this country has been subjected to an independent inquiry of the character of that presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, where programme-makers and others, including senior civil servants, have been required to give evidence or to answer questions, as far as those from television were concerned, about their motives and their conduct.
Given the fact that this inquiry was of a most unusual character, and given the importance of all the issues raised by it, it is appropriate that we are debating this matter in the House this evening. I have no doubt at all that Thames Television was absolutely right to set up the inquiry. The programme undoubtedly caused widespread debate and argument. I believe it raised major questions of principle affecting the television industry of this country. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, made that point when he spoke and I very much agreed with that part of his speech.
Let me say at the outset that there is absolutely no doubt that if the three terrorists had succeeded in their enterprise there would have been substantial loss of life in Gibraltar both among members of the Royal Anglian Regiment and also among many 1117 innocent citizens. That the three terrorists were prevented from carrying out this outrage represented a major success for our security forces.
I propose to discuss, first, the character of the operation in Gibraltar, because I think for a number of reasons that that is highly relevant and, secondly, the response of the media to what happened there and the issue of the possible prejudice to the coroner's investigation as a result of the reports that were published. In doing that I shall do my very best to keep out of an argument with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. Finally, I shall deal with the criticism to which the report of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has been subjected since it was published.
I turn to the incident itself. I believe that there were two objectives for our security forces in Gibraltar. They had first to prevent the IRA from killing both troops and civilians. That was wholly successful. There was of course a second objective, which was that those concerned should be arrested and brought to trial. In that respect we did not succeed. For reasons set out at the coroner's inquest, the members of the SAS considered that they had no choice but to shoot the terrorists.
I do not propose to argue the merits of what was done on that occasion. Each of the soldiers concerned faced, in my view, an extremely difficult decision. Nothing would be more foolish than to say in the safety and security of this building what in our judgment they should have done in the circumstances that faced them on that day. The situation was special for a different reason. If this terrorist threat had arisen in Great Britain and not in Gibraltar the position would have been different. The chief officer of police in the area concerned would have been wholly in charge. He would probably have decided to rely exclusively on his own firearms unit. Certainly in some cases involving terrorists, as the House will recall, the SAS has in the past been asked to help the police. But in all the cases of which I have direct personal knowledge the SAS was asked to do this only when hostages had been taken.
I should add that in the three cases in which I was involved with the SAS, I formed the highest regard for the professionalism of both officers and men of that unit who were brought to London. I do not believe that any other Western democracy has a force of superior quality to the SAS. But of course in Gibraltar the situation was entirely different. There was a small police force in Gibraltar which, in my judgment, could not have tackled this problem unaided. That police force would not have had enough experience to do that.
In the special circumstances of the episode in Gibraltar, a significant number of other organisations and individuals were involved. There was the Governor, who was of course the Commander in Chief. There was the Gibraltar garrison itself. There was the Gibraltar police, the Spanish police, the Spanish security service, MI5 and MI6; there was the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the SAS. As I have already indicated, that was a radically different 1118 situation to that which would have existed in this country if there had been a similar threat. There was also, as I think all of us who have been involved in these matters in the past would recognise, a direct involvement of Ministers in a way which again probably would not have arisen if the situation had developed in Great Britain. In all the circumstances it may inevitably be some years before we find out the full story of what happened. But we know that it was established that those who were shot were not carrying arms, that the parked car believed to be loaded with explosives was not, and that these explosives, together with the detonating equipment, were found by the Spanish police two days later in Marbella. In such a situation it was obvious, in my view—I think that this view would almost certainly be shared in other parts of the House—that there would be immense speculation about what had happened by the British press and British television, and also by the international press and in particular by the American press.
Within hours, as many of us will recall, long and detailed reports appeared throughout the British media on what had happened. Press officers gave their accounts of the incidents and these were widely published. As my noble friend indicated, some of them were fairly speedily contradicted. Many of the newspapers concerned where the speculation was published were of course available to be read in Gibraltar by potential jurors. I am bound to say that I can recall no statement being made at the time by a law officer or anyone else which appealed to the press and television to withhold comment because of the risk that the inquest jury might be influenced by what it read. The idea that the jury is only influenced by television is, in my view, entirely absurd. Television is a very powerful medium, but the idea that newspapers have no influence with potential members of a jury is going altogether too far. It is hardly surprising that no such injunction was made by law officers in this particular case. I cannot recall such an appeal being made in the many cases which have arisen in this country in the past six, seven or eight years in which it has been alleged that the police or other members of the security forces have caused unnecessary loss of life. One has only to remember recent events in Northern Ireland in the last decade or more to appreciate that such warnings would almost certainly have been futile even if delivered. They were not delivered.
Similarly, there was the case of the Waldorf shooting in London. Here again the gravest allegations were made against the Metropolitan Police. Again no suggestion was made by anyone at the time that that was wholly improper because there was to be an inquest. On that occasion and others some of the officers who had been involved in the shootings were identified by name—as the members of the SAS, very properly, were not—and were subjected to substantial harassment as a result. The Waldorf case is just one illustration; I can assure the House that there are many others.
I therefore find it hard to accept that, following the advice received from senior members of the Bar, the IBA and Thames Television were wrong not to have 1119 suppressed "Death on the Rock" on those grounds alone.
The second charge made against the programme was that it was not merely ill-timed but that it was unfair and grossly biased. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and Mr. Rampton interrogated the various parties involved. On that issue they found (in paragraph 175 of the report) that:The content of the programme was demonstrably unsympathetic towards the IRA".However they recognised that:'Death on the Rock' was out of step with a substantial body of national opinion".I have no doubt at all that that was entirely right and that the overwhelming majority of those who saw the programme and formed a view on the dispute came to the conclusion that it should not have been transmitted.
However, I very much value the fact that we live in a liberal democracy in which people are prepared both to write articles in newspapers and to transmit television programmes which may generate a substantial amount of ill will. That is what a liberal democracy is all about. A liberal democracy is about the capacity, the ability and the determination to publish something because one believes it to be right. It may be that some failure of judgment is involved, but I very much welcome the fact that we live in a country where that is permitted.
I ask those who have adopted a particularly censorious view of those who have made such a decision to look at what happened in France during the Algerian war and the effect of Ministers' actions in forbidding programmes to be transmitted by French television. The price paid by French democracy was high indeed. Over the past 20 years or more we have all experienced a substantial terrorist threat from the Provisional IRA. In that period there have been many disputes between broadcasters and the press and Ministers about the reporting of terrorist activities. I was involved in a fairly major dispute with the Independent Broadcasting Authority when I was a Home Office Minister. However, 1 accepted the verdict of the IBA. Looking back I suspect that I was over-concerned about the transmission of that particular programme. Certainly I should be deeply alarmed were we to move to a situation in which the expression of a ministerial view was enough to ban a television programme. I believe that the central question which we have to face in regard to the report is whether there was honesty on the part of the programme-makers. As has already been observed, there were two criticisms in the report. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said in paragraph 174:The programme-makers were experienced, painstaking and persistent. They did not bribe, bully or misrepresent those who took part. The programme was trenchant and avoided triviality. Despite the various criticisms which we have noted in our report, we accept that those who made it were acting in good faith and without ulterior motives".With those comments I should have hoped that the matter would have been allowed to rest. That was not to be. Within minutes of the publication of the report 1120 of the noble Lord and Mr. Rampton both were being denounced in the most vitriolic terms. No epithet was too strong for the tabloid press. However, the nastiest attack of all on a former ministerial colleague came from the lips of the Foreign Secretary. It was, he said:a report of television. by television, for television".I believe that those were shameful words. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said on that question. Those words amount to a direct attack upon the integrity of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and they cannot possibly be construed in any other way. If Sir Geoffrey Howe, when he heard on the ministerial grapevine, through ministerial private offices, that the noble Lord was to be invited to preside over the inquiry, had grave doubts about the desirability of that appointment because of his former association with television he could have made those doubts very clear indeed to the Independent Broadcasting Authority through the Home Office. As we all know, that is the way things are done in Whitehall if Ministers want to transmit their views quickly to parties outside government. He chose not to do so. Instead, when the verdict went against him, he abused the author of the report.
I believe that in many ways this has been a sad and dismal business. It has reflected credit on remarkably few people. One of the few exceptions is the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, when I first saw the Unstarred Question put down on the Order Paper by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, my immediate reaction was that it was a pity that he had not left well alone. We had heard a great deal about the subject and I also felt that it would result in more stress for the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. However, the debate tonight has convinced me that the noble Lord was absolutely right to air the subject.
Listening to every speech, it has been noticeable that whenever a noble Lord opposite has said anything against the report or the programme there have been a great many "Hear, hears" in support. I noticed the reception given to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, which, whether one agreed with him or not, was an excellent exposition of his own position—very fair, very dignified and very cool: but there was not one murmur.
Earlier today someone from the Benches opposite, who assured me that he was a great friend of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. remarked how upset he was about the matter. So I said, "Why don't you join in the debate that we are going to have? He replied, "No, I couldn't do that. That would be against the Government". That is true. I was upset more in sorrow than in anger. To me, it was a shameful way to behave, given that the whole country is concerned and that we must all consider what is right and wrong and the meaning of freedom. When the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, gave a factual description of the way things were at the moment as regards the IBA, the Government and the independent companies, there was a constant buzz of dissent. Obviously the people who disagree—I do not say that that disagreement must be 100 per 1121 cent.—simply do not want to hear the facts. What the noble Baroness said was absolutely correct. That was also pointed out earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, when he explained the way that the regulatory system works in this country; namely, that Ministers can object but that the chairman of the IBA does not have to listen to them. In the final resort that is true: a Home Secretary can forbid a programme, but we have not reached that stage. Our present regulatory system works but, unfortunately, we may not have it for too long. On the whole, although there may be programmes that some noble Lords feel should not have been shown, there are always a great many more programmes that it was absolutely right to show.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, explained succinctly and clearly how it came about that the whole question was raised. It is logical and makes common sense for the Foreign Secretary, when making his first report to Parliament, which had to be done very speedily, to mention those three main points: that the bomb was in the car, the terrorists were armed and, in answer to a specific question, that they had been challenged. I am certain that, at that moment, he believed it implicitly. When that turned out not to be so, it would have seemed strange if a newspaper or television company had not started to think that that was something that should be looked into—and they were absolutely right to do so.
As regards the programme, I simply confirm that strong views are held on both sides. That is quite right, and I do not criticise anyone who says that he did not like the programme or that he thinks that it should not have been shown. I criticise when people want to get off the route that has been so carefully worked out and say that, because the Foreign Secretary 'phoned the chairman of the IBA and later wrote him a letter, the programme should not have been shown. That is quite wrong, and it goes against both the legislation and the way that we operate in this country.
At one point, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, was quoted in the Daily Telegraph of 28th December. When referring to the dispute between himself and the Foreign Secretary, he said: "He is doing his job and I am doing mine". In other words, he felt that it should not he shown but after great consultation, as we have heard, he decided that the programme should be shown. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who has been referred to as a man of great integrity and scrupulous honesty—he has done a great many other jobs, although he is not all that old even now—was a distinctive Leader of this House and a member of the Cabinet. Nevertheless, I was impressed how speaker after speaker, particularly those with the strongest criticisms to make of his report, always prefaced their remarks with the comment, "There is nothing personal in this".
Only two people conducted the report—the noble Lord and the barrister. As the shots and the knives came out against the report, it was impossible to distinguish completely in a detailed way between the objective facts and criticism of the noble Lord. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on this 1122 point. When the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was announced as the person who was to take the chair at the inquiry, I went to the Library to get the press cuttings. No comments were made when his name was announced; it was simply stated that "Lord Windlesham is to chair the Committee". It was just a short news item.
However, as we know and as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has pointed out, it was only when the report came out and the conclusions were seen that the Foreign Secretary made the unfortunate remark that it wasnot surprising that this trial of television, by television, for television, reached a conclusion which is not in line with what most people think".I am bound to say, like the other noble Lord, that I was taken aback by what I consider to be the uncharacteristic behaviour of Sir Geoffrey Howe, for whom I have always had great regard and admiration. If he had raised the matter before then, the point could have been made with equal validity and a great deal more credibility. There is nothing wrong in the Foreign Secretary saying, "I don't think this is such a good idea after all. We know him and trust him, but Lord Windlesham has a television past"—if I may put it that way. But nothing was said. He has always been a very loyal member of his party. I have known him for many years and, so far as I have seen, he has never shown any sign of being a maverick or of rebellious instincts. I believe that the Government were absolutely amazed. They thought that he must come down on the other side and, when he did not, the sheer shock of it led to this campaign involving the Foreign Secretary which, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said, was conducted in the press. It went on like that—bang, bang, hang. I shall not delay the House by reading out some of the press comments which had the unhealthy appearance of constituting a concerted effort. It was a ruthless attempt, not only at undermining the message, but also the messenger. Then, of course, those well-known, unattributed Whitehall sources got into the act and were quoted in The Times of 27th January as saying:Even when the report concedes mistakes were made, it bends over backwards to explain away errors of judgment".I believe that we must consider this incident not simply in isolation, but in a broader context. It has occurred in the midst of a major debate on the forthcoming changes in broadcasting and, in particular, on the future of investigative journalism on television. There is mounting concern that, as a new television era evolves, good investigative journalism, particularly on ITV, will be gradually eroded. I believe that it is vital that broadcasters should not be inhibited from making challenging and important current affairs programmes on controversial topics while at the same time maintaining the highest standards of accuracy and integrity. If they are inhibited in that way it will be a great loss to us all and to the quality of life in this country.
It is true that in this case some regrettable inaccuracies have been recognised. I agree with some of the remarks made by my noble friend Lord 1123 Longford, and in particular his observation about the bank clerk's evidence. But those inaccuracies were not sufficient to warrant a concerted rubbishing campaign whose effect could be to make broadcasters hesitate to deal with difficult and controversial issues, the discussion of which is essential to democratic debate in a free society.
There will always be some errors. One has had to accept that errors occur in every field that we can think of. It is the price that we have to pay for a free society which allows people the freedom to express themselves. I hope that when the Minister replies he will not disagree with that premise. I believe that the converse proposition leads down the road of authoritarianism.
Finally, most worrying to me in this affair are not the political implications but the human ones. We have seen incidents in the distant as well as more recent past in which individuals have been hounded with either implicit or explicit governmental encouragement. Whatever the merits or demerits of the programme itself—and feelings run high on both sides, as I have said—nothing can excuse the ruthlessness with which one individual has been vilified. In the past there have been men and women who unfortunately were less robust emotionally and who have been unable to stand up to the full force of such onslaughts.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, appreciates that many people inside this House and beyond it are grateful to him not only for the conscientious work that he, with his colleague Mr. Richard Rampton, put into the report, but for his fearlessness in pursuing the truth in a jungle of confusions. During the very difficult time that he must be going through I hope too that he realises that as a result of his efforts, his considerable reputation, far from being diminished, has been enhanced.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are familiar with the events of 6th March last year, but I hope the House will bear with me if I give a short account of them once again. It is important that our debate tonight should not lose sight of the key issue: that on that sunny day in Gibraltar dangerous and unscrupulous terrorists were planning a "spectacular"—to use their own terminology—an obscene act which would have led to the deaths or injury of a large number of servicemen and civilians.
I do not propose to go into any detail of the events prior to 6th March. Suffice it to say that there was reason to believe that the Provisional IRA had planned a terrible atrocity in Gibraltar, the target being the band and the changing of the guard on Tuesday, 8th March. It was believed that the operation would be carried out by a three-man so-called active service unit (I prefer to call them a murder squad). It was further believed this squad would comprise Daniel McCann, Sean Savage, and a third individual later identified as Mairead Farrell. McCann and Farrell had both served sentences for terrorist activities, and all three were known as very active, dangerous terrorists. Finally, it was believed 1124 that the operation would be by means of a large car bomb designed to kill as many soldiers as possible.
I should like to digress here for one moment and make a point to which I shall return later. All this information was in the event proven to be highly accurate. Much has been made of those areas where our intelligence was not accurate—where it was believed, for example, that the provisional IRA would use a remote control detonator to avoid causing another Enniskillen. Yes, we were wrong to think that the IRA would try to avoid the deaths of civilian bystanders. They clearly had no such inhibitions.
It was against this background that the Gibraltar police were placed on high alert, and the police commissioner asked for military assistance in the light of his assessment of the threat and the ability of his police to deal with dangerous, highly trained terrorists who would almost certainly be armed. That was the state of knowledge on 6th March, and the backdrop against which the rest of the events of that day unfolded. The first positive indication that the terrorists had entered Gibraltar was just before 1 p.m. on 6th March, when a man later identified as Sean Savage was sighted parking a white Renault car near Inces Hall, where the band for the guard-mounting ceremony assembles. The car was therefore ideally placed for killing troops who would he forming up in that area on 8th March. Furthermore, it was also ideal for causing extensive damage and injury to the buildings and inhabitants of the school and old people's home nearby.
Before leaving the car Savage (whose identification had not at that stage been confirmed) was reported to have spent several minutes fiddling with something in the front of the vehicle. He then got out and walked away. An hour and half later there was an unconfirmed sighting of McCann and Farrell crossing the border into Gibraltar on foot. At this point I should like firmly to put on record the fact that there was no surveillance on the Spanish side of the border that day. Though the terrorists had been seen arriving in Malaga on 4th March. their subsequent movements were not known to us nor to the Spanish authorities. Shortly before 3 p.m. the three terrorists had joined up and were positvely identified. They were studying the assembly area, and in particular the white Renault car. It was at that point that the watchers were able to confirm that it had indeed been Savage who had parked the car. These actions appeared highly suspicious and consideration was given to arresting the three. However, they then moved away in a southerly direction, away from the Spanish border.
Their intentions were not at this stage entirely clear. They did not appear to be abandoning the vehicle and heading towards Spain, and it was therefore decided to keep them under surveillance. About half an hour later, at 3.30 p.m. the three terrorists returned to the Inces Hall area and again appeared to study it and the car. They then moved off towards the Spanish border. Given the belief that the terrorists would employ a car bomb, and the suspicious way in which the three had been behaving 1125 towards the car, there was every reason to believe that it contained the bomb intended for the guard mounting ceremony On 8th March. A rapid visual examination of the car by the bomb disposal adviser who was part of the military team found no reason to dispel suspicions that the car contained a bomb. Indeed, the presence of an old aerial on a new car served only to reinforce the belief that the suspect car contained a radio-controlled bomb. Much has been made of Colonel Styles's view that, had the car contained a bomb this would have been obvious from its posture. Noble Lords will appreciate that Colonel Styles retired a number of years ago and is perhaps not fully up to date with the latest terrorist equipment and techniques. Would that it were so easy to detect the presence of a bomb these days.
Once the Gibraltar Commissioner of Police had satisfied himself as to the identities of the terrorists, and that they appeared to he abandoning the car and heading hack over the border to Spain, he asked the military to effect the arrest of the three before they left Gibraltar. Very shortly after, McCann and Farrell were approaching the Shell petrol station on the cast side of Winston Churchill Avenue, a dual-carriageway leading northwards to Spain, and were walking along the pavement towards the border. Savage, who had been accompanying them, had turned hack and was heading towards the centre of Gibraltar.
Just as two of the soldiers were moving up to McCann and Farrell to effect the arrest, it would appear that the unexpected sounding of a police siren alerted McCann. He looked hack over his shoulder and made eye contact with one of the soldiers. He suddenly seemed alerted and alarmed. Despite a challenge given by one of the soldiers both terrorists then made movements which appeared to the soldiers as threatening moves towards a radio transmitter or a gun. Believing that the terrorists were about to commit an act which would endanger possibly dozens of lives, the soldiers fired at the terrorists.
It would seem that these shots alerted Savage, who was making his way hack towards the Landport Ditch. As he turned towards the two soldiers following him, one of them shouted a challenge. Disregarding this warning, Savage adopted a crouching stance as if' to draw a weapon or reach for a device. The two soldiers believed they had no option hut to open fire.
At this stage I should like to pause and pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of the soldiers. Not only did they carry out their duty believing that these unscrupulous and dangerous terrorists would he armed and would have no hesitation in using their weapons. But more than that—and this has particular relevance for what I shall come on to discuss—the soldiers volunteered to give evidence at the inquest. And this despite the fact that sections of the media, not least this so-called investigative programme "Death on the Rock", had already in effect branded them as murderers. The soldiers did not have to attend to give evidence at the inquest. They could not he compelled. They chose to do so of their own free will: a decision which we fully 1126 supported. Perhaps I may quote the words of Soldier D:We were not told: we were not press-ganged into coming here. We came here because we wanted to come here and because we wanted to give our evidence and because we wanted to get the story right".Your Lordships may think, as I do, that the action of the soldiers on 6th March and their subsequent demeanour is worthy only of the highest praise.
Nor should we forget the part played by the security service. It was due to their patience, dedication and effort that so much was learnt about this cowardly plot to detonate a bomb in the peaceful streets of Gibraltar, and the IRA's murderous endeavour foiled. I mentioned earlier that the intelligence provided by the security service was absolutely correct in the main particulars. All too often the security service is criticised because it does not get things 100 per cent. right. How sadly symptomatic of that trend it was to see during the inquest a newspaper headline "MIS blunders in Gibraltar". Your Lordships may care to speculate on how that newspaper would have reported a failure by the security service to acquire the intelligence that pre-empted the I RA's wicked intentions. The security service, like the rest ails, is not infallible. But it does a first class job protecting the public from terrorist outrages. I am glad to have this opportunity—and I hope I have the support of the whole House$of paying tribute to all those brave men and women who took part in this operation, and thereby prevented the loss of many innocent lives in Gibraltar last March. I should also like warmly to thank the Spanish authorities for the co-operation we received from them.
On the day following the events I have just described, my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary, as was appropriate, made a short statement in Parliament describing in brief terms what had occurred. The Government took the view that thereafter the proper forum for detailed consideration of the circumstances surrounding the shootings was the inquest in Gibraltar, which it was known would take place in due course.
When therefore it became known that Thames Television was about to transmit a programme that purported to investigate the circumstances of the shootings, my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary represented to the then chairman of the IBA, the noble Lord, Lord 'Thomson of Monifieth, that the programme should be postponed until after the inquest. The grounds for this request were the risk of prejudice to the inquest and of contaminating the evidence to be given in court, points to which I shall return in a moment. Regrettably the IBA declined to accede to the Government's request and the programme was transmitted. Its contents fully justified the Government's concern. In addition it contained a number of serious and damaging inaccuracies and presentational flaws. The Government therefore believe that the Independent Broadcasting Authority made a serious error of judgment in authorising the transmission of "Death on the Rock".
Following the inquest, when it had become apparent that Thames TV had got the facts so badly wrong and had relied heavily on an anonymous and 1127 unsigned statement that was disowned in court, Thames TV set up an inquiry into the programme and invited my noble friend Lord Windlesham and Mr. Richard Rampton Q.C. to conduct it. As your Lordships know, their report in effect gave Thames TV a clean bill of health. The Government profoundly disagree with this conclusion, for reasons which I shall now seek to explain. However, I wish to emphasise that neither I nor any Member of the Government would wish to cast the slightest aspersion on my noble friend's integrity or indeed that of his colleague Mr. Rampton.
I should first like to make two observations about the approach adopted by the authors of the report which I believe are fundamental to an understanding of the difference of view between us. First, there is the question of the programme's message. The report's view is that the programme did not conclude that the terrorists had been unlawfully killed, but simply pointed to this as one possible explanation. I know that many of your Lordships have now seen the: programme. Having seen it myself more than once, I must say that I find that conclusion insupportable. The ordinary viewer could not have gained any other impression than that an accusation of murder was being made. The centrepiece of the programme was Kenneth Asquez's evidence, which the report itself describes as "a dramatic account of a deliberate act of murder". Other evidence was adduced to support this and, as the report acknowledges, no alternative explanation was canvassed in any depth. Indeed the reactions of the popular press showed clearly that it thought an accusation of murder had been made. The report seeks to excuse Thames TV by saying that it was not their fault if the media received the wrong message. In that case whose fault was it?
I make no judgment as to whether Thames Television set out deliberately to make a programme that accused the security forces of murder. But I draw your Lordships' attention to the view of Thames's director of news and current affairs that by 8th March there was in his own words,a growing suspicion that the three terrorists had been virtually executed and that the security services had acted outside the law".On that basis he agreed that work should go ahead on the programme. Your Lordships may draw your own conclusions.
My second general observation concerns the report's approach as to what actually happened in Gibraltar on 6th March. I quote:We do not see ourselves as adjudicating upon the controversial issues of fact to which the shootings gave rise. We express no opinion on the validity of the differing explanations that have been put forward.Your Lordships may share my incredulity that equal weight should thus be placed on the tendentious and one-sided theories of an investigative television programme, and on the outcome of a meticulously conducted inquest at which all relevant evidence was weighed and evaluated. Is it any wonder that the report is as flawed as the programme it examines?
I turn now to specific criticisms of the programme. The first concerns the risk of prejudice to the inquest. The concern here is the vulnerability of jurors, as laymen, to the possibility of forming preconceived 1128 views and coming with them to the inquest. The programme was of course broadcast in the UK while the inquest was to be held in Gibraltar. But the report acknowledges that the likelihood of some seepage into Gibraltar was foreseeable; and this did in fact happen, with an extract shown on television, comments in imported English newspapers and private video recordings in circulation. But the report takes the view that the programme did not risk prejudicing the inquest because juries are sufficiently robust to ignore prior publicity and concentrate on the facts presented to them in court. While that may be a view shared by some, it calls into question the whole basis of contempt of court in this field. I doubt for example whether "Death on the Rock" could have been transmitted if the inquest had been held in this country. It was a view that was definitely not shared by the Attorney General of Gibraltar or by the High Court of Gibraltar, which granted him an injunction against the local press and broadcasting media preventing them repeating or reporting any part of the programme. Is it not puzzling that my noble friend—and in particular his learned colleague—should regard themselves as better placed to make a judgment on this issue than the local judiciary?
The second criticism concerns the risk of contaminating the evidence to be given in court. This can arise either when a witness feels obliged in court to stand by evidence previously given to the media, even though he has realised it was wrong; or when a witness changes his story with the effect that his true evidence in court is discredited because he had previously given different evidence. In the case of evidence given on television the dangers of contamination are particularly acute because of the dramatic nature and the unforensic way in which evidence is sought. The report concludes that there was in this case no real risk of contamination. I do not agree. Who can tell to what extent witnesses, consciously or not, felt constrained by the evidence they had already given to Thames? In the case of Asquez, his true evidence in court was manifestly discredited by his earlier unsworn evidence on television since the coroner invited the jury to choose between them. The report excuses Thames by saying that it could not have been expected to foresee that Asquez would change his story. But whether it was reasonable for Thames to have foreseen actual contamination is not the issue. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has made so clear, what matters is the risk that contamination might take place, as indeed in the case of Asquez it did.
The third point of criticism is simply the fact that many of the assertions and supporting passages of the programme were shown by the inquest to have been, quite simply, untrue. I will not rehearse these inaccuracies again. They are summarised in a three-and-a-half-page document submitted to my noble friend and his colleague which is available in the Library. The effect of these serious and damaging inaccuracies was to support directly the thesis that the terrorists were unlawfully killed. This criticism is very largely ignored in the report. Your Lordships may share my mystification as to why the report dismisses these grave matters which were specifically drawn to its attention. There are, I suggest, two 1129 possible explanations which do not, I fear, reflect much credit on my noble friend and his colleague. First, despite the outcome of the inquest the report appears to take a neutral stance between fact and fiction, even when subsequent information clarified matters beyond peradventure. Secondly, the report deliberately overlooks information which came to light after the programme was prepared and concentrates on evidence which was or could reasonably have been available to Thames. Even if one accepts this latter approach, it is, I would submit, an indictment of the programme that it made so many serious mistakes. And it vividly illustrates the dangers of transmitting an investigative programme of this kind before the inquest.
My final criticism concerns Thames's failure to present fairly the information available to it. In short, in a number of important particulars it failed to pursue the truth, to clarify the facts or to present evidence impartially. The case of Asquez is a prime example of what I have in mind. As I said earlier, his evidence was the centrepiece of the programme, in effect an accusation of murder. It was described as a detailed statement given to a lawyer representing Thames, and was presented graphically and convincingly. What was not made clear was that the statement was unsigned and unsworn and that Asquez had in fact refused to sign it. Nor did Thames mention that there were other witnesses in Asquez's car who had not been interviewed, though their identity could have been discovered, and who would have denied Asquez's claims.
In his report my noble friend rightly, but surprisingly mildly, criticises Thames for the manner in which this evidence was presented, which gave it a spurious credibility. But he says that it was reasonable for them to place some reliance on Asquez's statement. There is a world of difference between placing some reliance on the statement and making it the centrepiece of the programme. Moreover my noble friend acknowledged in his report that it would have been quite wrong to use the statement as support for an accusation of murder. But as your Lordships have seen, the programme did just that.
The presentation of evidence from other witnesses was also flawed. The programme asserted that four key witnesses said that the soldiers opened fire without warning and that none of them saw the terrorists make any threatening movements. This assertion is simply untrue as it stands and indeed the report accepts that it contains three errors. But my noble friend concludes that these lapses, although they cannot be dismissed as insignificant, need to be weighed against the programme overall, which sought to obtain a wide range of evidence and to present it as fairly and accurately as possible. That conclusion sits oddly with the view earlier in the report that the programme was mainly devoted to one possible explanation and to that extent could be regarded as one-sided. Nor can I accept that these lapses, which after all were in a passage that was fundamental to the murder thesis, can be regarded as somehow excusable.
I hope that I have said enough to demonstrate the real and serious concerns I feel about "Death on the 1130 Rock". There is of course a place for investigative journalism. But the freedom of the press is not to be treated as a licence to distort. It carries with it a duty to act with responsibility. Thames Television did not in my judgment live up to that duty.
We have read the report with great care. But the Government believe that the authors have singularly failed to draw the proper conclusions from the evidence submitted. In addition it seems to me to have leaned over backwards to give Thames the benefit of the doubt. Coming from one with so much experience in the television industry, the report strikes me as a sad commentary on the standards now expected of the media.
"Death on the Rock" was a flawed programme which cast a shameful slur upon the reputation of those brave men who guard our safety and our freedom. It is a great pity that my noble friend's report so singularly failed to expose its shortcomings.
§ House adjourned at three minutes before nine o'clock.