§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I beg to move,That this House, mindful that the Prevention of Terrorism Act was intended as a temporary measure and that it provides wide ranging powers that should exist in a free society only if they are essential to the defeat of terrorism, calls upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department to set up an inquiry into the working of the Act and to instruct that inquiry to make recommendations on its future operations, including, if it thinks fit, amendments to the present Act.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt him at this stage? There is bound to be overlapping between the motion that the right hon. Gentleman has proposed and the order. They must be taken separately, because that is in the interests of the House, but I accept that there is bound to be some overlapping in the debate.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Although the Prevention of Terrorism Act is described in its official title as a temporary provision, it has been in continuous operation in Great Britain for the past six and a half years. Since its inception, the need for constant review has been accepted. A year after it came into operation—although legislatively unnecessary—a second Bill was introduced, debated and carried by this House with the specific intention of providing right hon. and hon. Members with a further opportunity to examine its provisions.
Three years ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees)—then Home Secretary—set up an inquiry into the operation of the Act. This evening, the Opposition ask only that that Act—which was originally temporary—should be re-examined, as it was in 1978, when Lord Shackleton was invited by my right hon. Friend to look at its provisions and operation. A debate that calls for such an inquiry must begin with a simple, three-sentence description of the Act's main provisions.
The Act proscribes specific organisations and makes it an offence to join, support or finance them. It entitles the Home Secretary to exclude from the United Kingdom or from Great Britain persons who are not normally resident in either of those States and who in his judgment are, or may be, terrorists. The Act allows the police to detain without trial for 48 hours men and women whom they suspect of terrorism and provides for the extension of that detention for up to seven days, on the Home Secretary's fiat.
I have summarised those provisions, not because I fear that the House needs to be reminded of them, but because it seems—to me at least— that it is necessary only to describe the powers that the Act contains in order to demonstrate the single point that I wish to make—that such powers are tolerable in a free society only if they are absolutely necessary, unquestionably effective and properly operated.
Had such powers been suggested to the House 10 years ago, when violence was already commonplace in Northern Ireland, I doubt whether they would have gained the support of 20 hon. Members. Yet what would have been literally intolerable in 1971 has now been tolerated for almost seven years. Of course those powers have been tolerated with the greatest reluctance. When Mr. Roy Jenkins introduced the original Bill, he said that it was 337justified only by a wholly exceptional situation".—[Official Report, 28 November 1974; Vol. 882, c. 635.]The Secretary of State for Energy, then an Opposition spokesman on home affairs, said in 1979 that he supported the continuation of the Act "with some unease". Last year, the present Home Secretary—with characteristic and admirable frankness—accepted that the Act included powers that "infringed civil liberties". The same libertarian point was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South in every debate in which he took part.
In short, nobody likes these powers, but for six years they have been retained, and we believe that for their continual retention it is necessary for them to be justified in an objective way. To justify them in an objective way requires the House to recall the circumstances in which this Act's predecessor was originally introduced.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act is essentially the product of the Birmingham pub bombings. On the night of 28 November 1974, 170 men and women were injured by explosions in two Birmingham bars. Twenty-one men and women, most of them in their late teens and early twenties, were killed. Five of the dead were my constituents.
Early the following morning, with the then Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), I visited both public houses, or what remained of both public houses. The horrors that we then saw will remain, I think, with all three of us for the rest of our lives. They were only surpassed by the later anguish of visiting hospitals and talking to bereaved parents and the main victims of those two atrocities.
I am very well aware—perhaps more than some hon. Members whose constituents were not murdered on that occasion—of the feeling of anger and outrage that those two atrocities produced. Although some people have expressed regret about the feeling of anger, I make no apology for saying that at the time it was not only inevitable; in my view, it was right.
The Act which followed those bombings was, I think, the products not so much of the anger but of a common determination to prevent the repetition of such murders. But while I understand the feelings that moved the House and the country the following week—and in some ways moved the Irish community more than any other—I have to say that none of those who voted for the Act dreamt for a moment that what we were passing on to the statute book would remain in force for six and a half years. It has remained in force for so long because successive Home Secretaries made the judgment that it was necessary to continue it in order to combat the original threat.
That, I suppose, will be the Home Secretary's judgment again today. I understand, of course, as the House understands, that he must base that judgment on information which he is obviously unable to give to the House. All that he was able to tell us last year—this is not a complaint, but a simple description—about the continuing threat was encompassed in a single Hansard column. That single column simply listed crimes which were public knowledge. That inability to tell the House how his judgment has been made is—I repeat—unavoidable and inevitable.
This year, if the Home Secretary gives similar evidence, mercifully the list of terrorist crimes will be shorter than it was 12 months ago. I have no doubt that, 338 despite the merciful reduction in incidents of murder and mayhem over the last year, terrorism and potential terrorism continue to be a danger in this country.
I suspect that the Home Secretary will argue that, had it not been for the Act, operated in its present way, the level of terrorism in this country might have been much greater and the catalogue of crimes much longer. But I mean no disrespect to the Home Secretary when I say that that ought not to justify the House in feeling that we can renew the Act almost as a matter of routine.
It is no criticism of the Home Secretary's judgment—certainly not of his integrity—to say that a matter of this sort ought to be debated on much better information than, by the nature of the problem, he can provide for the House on an evening such as this in a single debate. Indeed, the Act can be renewed with clear conscience and certainty only when we are sure of a number of things that only an inquiry can provide, and when we have the answer to a number of questions that only an inquiry can give.
The motion which I commend to the House does not even call for an inquiry into the necessity for an Act. It calls for an inquiry into the operation of the Act—the sort of inquiry that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Shackleton undertook in 1978. I repeat that such an inquiry into the Act's operation seems wholly reasonable to me, and I must express my surprise that the Home Secretary cannot accept an essentially modest proposal. I hope very much that when he replies he will not rule out for all this year the possibility of an inquiry at some point.
I know that these things, through the machinery of Government and other complications, often take some time to agree with colleagues and to announce in the way that a Minister feels it appropriate for them to be announced, but I hope that the Home Secretary will not rule it out completely because he cannot give his approval to the idea today. I think that he must understand that the more often he and his successors seek to renew the Act, the greater is the duty of the House—not its right but its duty—to question not simply the operation of the Act but eventually its entire propriety.
Last year, the Home Secretary said that the sooner we can do without the Act the better. None of us disagrees with that. We echo the sentiment in two senses. The sooner terrorism is ended the better, and the sooner civil liberties are fully restored the better.
Today we are not pursuing either of the fundamental questions. We are simply asking the Home Secretary to provide a mechanism by which we can feel some assurance that the operation of the Act is acceptable to those of us who believe that the preservation of fundamental civil liberties must always be at the forefront of the considerations of the House.
All we are asking for is to be able to say, with absolute conviction, "We are doing our best to protect society from the murderous mayhem of the IRA and its like and to preserve essential rights in a free society at the same time." If we appear careless or casual about those civil rights, nobody will benefit more than the IRA and its friends. They will benefit because of the use—some people would call it the misuse—of the figures describing what has happened since the Act became law.
Let me remind the House of the most up-to-date figures that I have been able to obtain. Since the Act became law, 5,061 men and women have been detained under its 339 powers, and 579 have been charged with indictable offences. That means that 4,482 innocent men and women have been held without charge.
I know that many hon. Members on the Government Benches—and perhaps some on the Opposition Benches—will regard the adjective "innocent" as wholly inappropriate to the 4,482 men and women who were detained but not charged, but innocent they were under the law. The police may have believed that they supported terrorism or, more likely, the police may have known that they associated with terrorists. But in a free society, men and women who are known to have broken the law but who cannot be convicted under the law are imprisoned only in the most extreme circumstances. When that is happening, as it is happening now, we are really entitled to ask the Home Secretary to demonstrate that those extreme circumstances persist and that the problem could not be remedied by any other technique or by any other sort of operation.
I repeat for the third time—if the Home Secretary is to respond to my plea, it is important that he has it absolutely clear in his mind—that tonight the request of the Opposition is for no more than an inquiry into the operation of the Act.
Let me offer the Home Secretary some of the questions that we believe such an inquiry should answer, so that he may see that our proposals are in all ways reasonable and moderate. I offer three possible questions, though some of my right hon. and hon. Friends no doubt could offer others.
The first question concerns the purposes of detention. Are arrests made to prevent the commission of terrorist acts by the apprehended persons, or are they made to obtain information about others who might carry out such acts? I do not minimise the importance of information gathering in the campaign against terrorism, but it is important to know whether in present circumstances the Act is intended to bear directly upon those who would act as terrorists and promote terrorism or whether it is intended to obtain information which will help in the general campaign against such people.
Secondly, a whole range of questions about the operation of exclusion similarly need a clear answer. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary carries out the duties that the section of the Act imposes on him with the greatest care and the greatest reluctance. But there are questions which it is hardly possible for him and him alone to answer. Until last year's debate, 220 exclusion orders had been made. From those orders 37 people who had been so treated eventually asked advisers who answer to the Home Secretary to investigate their cases and make a recommendation to the Home Secretary.
Of those 37 persons on whom the advisers adjudicated, 18 had their orders revoked. We are entitled to ask the Home Secretary for an inquiry which, though it cannot be specific on the operation of exclusion in individual cases, assures the House that the Home Secretary is protected against inadvertent mistakes—for inadvertent mistakes amount to the exclusion of innocent persons. I say that not least because of the Home Secretary's own words on this section of the Act last year. He said:exclusion is not an alternative to a prosecution; it is a supplement to it. If a prosecution can be brought, it will be brought".—[Official Report, 4 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 408.]340 Therefore, by definition, the men and women who are excluded are innocent before the law. In such circumstance our obligation—I put it at its lowest common denominator—is to make sure that no mistakes are made.
Thirdly, I believe that an inquiry should investigate the operation of proscription of specified organisations under part I. The proscription elements in the Act are the parts of that statute which worry me the least. The IRA is clearly not a political party but a band of terrorists. It is absurd and unacceptable to allow collections to be made on its behalf in the streets or for donations to be made towards its activities. We need to be assured that that section does not operate in a way that prohibits legitimate political activity, no matter how repugnant is the political activity thereby prohibited, and applies to all the Irish and semi-Irish organisations on which it should bear.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
Has the right hon. Gentleman any evidence to suggest that parts I and II bear oppressively upon any legitimate party?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman exactly touches the point that I am struggling to make. By the nature of the problem we cannot have evidence. If the hon. Gentleman takes his mind back to the opening paragraphs of my speech, he will remember that I said that I realised that most of these factors have to be kept within the closed files of the Home Secretary. That is the nature of the Act. That is why an inquiry is necessary to demonstrate in appropriately secure terms how the Act is operating. I emphasise that I am not calling on the Home Secretary to give chapter and verse to demonstrate the matter as he sees it because I do not believe that that is possible under such an Act. Many of us believe that an inquiry is necessary because the evidence cannot be presented openly.
Opposition Members, especially on the Front Bench, have no doubt that terrorism remains a danger in our society. The real question that we are posing is not whether we should fight it, but how it can best be fought. I am conscious that anyone who expresses qualifications about what I call the accepted methods and established techniques which have now continued for six and a half years opens himself to the allegation that he is being soft on terrorism. I risk that allegation for three reasons.
First, I know with certainty that it is not true. Secondly, both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland we shall have a lasting victory over terrorism only if we demonstrate our unqualified devotion to a genuinely free society. That is a practical reason for showing our concern. We must be able to say to the people questioning our commitment to a free society that, even in the face of a terrorist threat, we do all that we can to ensure that it is preserved to the furthest degree that its preservation is possible. That is the pragmatic reason for the inquiry. There is also a reason of principle.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act is manifestly a denial of civil liberties. It is essential that the House does not review it lightly or as a matter of routine. Because of that, if the Home Secretary feels unable to accept an inquiry, we shall divide the House at Ten o'clock. But, for my part and for that of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, if our motion is defeated we shall not vote against the continuation of the Act.
Each year that the Act is renewed we shall accept its renewal with increased regret and apprehension. Both the regret and the apprehension could be allayed by the 341 acceptance of an inquiry. I ask the Home Secretary with all the power at my disposal not to turn the idea down but to maintain the principle which we want to see. Where exceptional powers are used, the House must be certain of their absolute necessity. An inquiry would help to convince us of that any for those reasons would be wholly desirable and in the interests of the policy which the Home Secretary wants to carry out.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I want to make perfectly clear one point about procedures. I regard the operation of the Act, and so any defence of the need for it, as personal to the Home Secretary of the day. I hope that the House will allow me, first, to respond to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and, briefly, before 10 o'clock to reply to some of the points made specifically on the subject of an inquiry. Thereafter, on the debate on the renewal of the Act, I shall reply at the end to points made. If I make my points now, I do not feel that it will be necessary for me at 10 o'clock to make yet another speech to propose the renewal of the Act. I shall do that formally. I hope that by making three speeches and by replying to every point that is made I shall emphasise the importance that I attach to the debate and to the anxieties of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
In one sense, the form of the debate takes us back to when I used to follow the opening speech from the Labour Party on the Act. This occasion is different from those earlier occasions, which in my case go back to 1976. The then Labour Minister who opened the debate asked the House to renew the Act. On this occasion the Government are being asked to set up an inquiry to review it. I have always seen strength in the fact that all parties in the House are united in their fight against terrorism, while sharing a proper regard for civil liberties. That is why I understand and respect the concern that lies behind the motion.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook for the way in which he put his case. I should like to say to him and to the whole House that it would never be any part of my argument to suggest that those who advocate the need for caring for civil liberties when discussing the Act were thereby soft on terrorism. That would be totally unworthy and unfair argument. I know some of those who have been resolute against terrorism, and, at the same time, rightly apprehensive about some parts of the Act.
No one wants the measures to stay on the statute book for a moment longer than is necessary. As the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, they infringe our shared concept of civil liberties. But that is the price which the House has always accepted must be paid for protecting the most fundamental liberty of all—the liberty not to be killed or maimed when going about one's lawful business. The right hon. Member referred to his experience in Birmingham before the Act was introduced. I have had similar experience over the years in seeing some horrific incidents. I entirely share the right hon. Gentleman's view.
I shall deal later, perhaps when renewing the Act, with some of the current threats from terrorism, but I should like to make one point now. No review of the Act, either in whole or in part, will diminish the threat that terrorism continues to pose to our most basic liberties. I do not believe that such a review at this time would have any 342 significant advantage. I have been in politics for too long—I want to go on quickly before anyone says "Yes"—to imagine that one is wise to rule out any action. Circumstances change and it is important to keep options open. Therefore, I do not rule out reviews, but I do not believe that a review would have a significant advantage at this time, and I shall explain why I take that view.
I mentioned earlier that the order of speeches takes us back in time. So does the motion. Hon. Members will recall that the powers in the Act and its subordinate legislation were examined exhaustively by the Shackleton committee only two and a half years ago. All but two of Lord Shackleton' s recommendations were accepted by the previous Administration and have been implemented by this Government. I find it hard to see what a fresh review of the Act's provisions so soon after the previous one would achieve. I hope that it will help the House if I illustrate what I mean by looking in detail at the provisions of the Act and describing the use made of them in the past year.
Part I makes it an offence to take part in the activities of a proscribed organisation or to collect funds for it. The only proscribed organisations are the IRA, including the Officials as well as the Provisionals, and the Irish National Liberation Army. I would not seek to argue that proscription of itself will necessarily deter hardened terrorists from operating, but it prevents those groups from publicly raising funds and from operating with any appearance of legality.
I emphasise strongly that the provisions are not intended to hamper the expression of political views about Northern Ireland. They have been, and can be, used only against those groups whose methods are violent and, therefore, unacceptable to the great mass of people throughout the United Kingdom.
Part II of the Act sets out the powers vested in me to make exclusion orders. I may do so only when. I am satisfied that someone is, or has been, concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or is attempting, or may attempt, to enter the country for that purpose. A total of 269 people were excluded between 29 November 1974 and the end of February this year, including 49 since last year's debate.
I—or, in my absence, another Secretary of State—consider personally each application for exclusion. The information available is not such as to make the process of exclusion suitable for judicial review, but the legislation lays down the strict test to which I have referred and by which I am bound. must always take account of the adverse consequences for the person concerned of preventing him from entering Great Britain or the United Kingdom and, if I make an exclusion order, I am bound to be satisfied both that the person concerned has been involved in terrorism and that the safety of this country requires his exclusion.
As hon. Members will know, there is provision in the Act for an excluded person to make representations, which are considered by one of my independent advisers. The adviser examines the case afresh and may interview the excluded person. He then reports to me and I reconsider the case. Altogether, 43 people who have had exclusion orders made against them have had their cases reviewed by an adviser. As a result, 14 orders have been revoked. The figures for the past year are six cases reviewed and two orders revoked.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that an exclusion order cannot be made against a person who is ordinarily resident in this country?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am subject to correction, but I believe that to be correct. I shall check and if I am wrong I shall inform the House at the end of the debate.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
The Home Secretary has given certain figures about exclusion orders during the past year. Can he say, now or later, how many people who are ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland have been excluded from entering Great Britain?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I undertake to answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman at the end of the debate. It is important that I should do so.
I should like to take the opportunity to express publicly my thanks to my two advisers, Lord Alport and Lord Underhill, for the speed and care with which they have dealt with cases referred to them. I also wish to express thanks to Mr. John Newey, QC, whose recent appointment as a circuit judge has obliged him to give up this task. I am pleased to announce that Mr. Hugh Carlisle, QC, has accepted my invitation to become an adviser.
The House will be aware that in March 1979 my predecessor announced that arrangements would be made to review all exclusion orders after a period in order to see whether they could safely be revoked. That was one of Lord Shackleton's recommendations. An order may be reviewed three years after it is made. It is for those eligible to ask for a review, though at the three-year point a letter is sent to their last known address informing them of their right.
Of the 105 people eligible to have their cases reviewed, 27 have asked for a review. As a result, I have revoked three orders and decided that 19 should remain in force. The rest are still being considered. In addition, six orders have been revoked for other reasons, making a total of 23 revocations since the 1974 Act came into force.
Part III of the Act creates, in section 10, the offences of contributing, receiving or soliciting contributions towards acts of terrorism and, in section 11, of withholding information about such acts. I recognise that section 11 is one of the most controversial provisions of the Act. It was Lord Shackleton's recommendation that it be allowed to lapse, which neither we nor the previous Government felt able to accept.
The House will wish to know the use to which section 11 has been put in the past year. After a bombing campaign carried out around Christmas 1978, for which the Provisional IRA said it was responsible, 25 people were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Eleven of them were charged with an offence under section 11 and some, also, with offences of dishonesty. One charge was later dropped. At the trials of the other 10 in September and December 1980, eight were found guilty of an offence under section 11 and sentenced to suspended terms of imprisonment. There can be no doubt that terrorists can be aided as much by the silence of such people as by more active help. I accept that criticisms can be levelled at section 11, but my view, like that of my predecessor, is that for the present it must remain.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The argument against section 11 is that it is not used in relation to any other criminal offence in this country. If the Home 344 Secretary's justification for section 11 is in relation to terrorism it could equally be taken into account in relation to other serious crimes. Surely the real argument against section 11 is that we do not find it necessary for other crimes but we have it for terrorism.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think that I agree with the hon. Gentleman's argument. I believe that the acts of terrorism and the conspiracies of those who seek to promote such acts are in a different category and, therefore, can and should be treated differently if we are seeking to prevent dangerous acts of terrorism. That would be my argument. I can see the hon. Gentleman's argument, but that is mine.
Part III of the Act also sets out the powers of the police, both inland and at the ports, to arrest people they suspect of involvement in terrorism. They can detain a person on their own authority for up to 48 hours. If they need further time for their inquiries they may apply to me or, in Scotland, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the period of detention may be extended by up to five days. These arrest and detention powers, particularly at ports, are wide, but it is clear that the responsible use of them by the police, whether or not resulting in a criminal charge or exclusion order, is an effective way of preventing terrorist activity in Great Britain. I should remind the House that the right to notify third parties and to apply for legal advice applies to anyone arrested under these powers as well as to anyone else.
It is some time since the House was told how applications from the police for extension of detention are handled, so it may be helpful if I explain them briefly. A small unit at New Scotland Yard, served jointly by officers of the Metropolitan Police and provincial forces, is solely concerned with handling matters arising under the Act. It has therefore developed considerable experience. This is important if consistent standards are to be set and maintained. It means that the police do not lightly put forward applications for detention. The applications are examined at a senior level by the police and are then carefully scrutinised in the Home Department before coming to me, or to one of my ministerial colleagues who personally decides on each application.
Since the 1974 Act came into force and up to the end of February this year, 5,101 people have been detained under its provisions, either inland or at the ports—515 in the past year. In 669 of those cases—120 in the past year—an extension of detention has been granted. To put these figures in context, I should point out——
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
How many of those cases of people detained were not connected specifically with Northern Irish affairs?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I shall seek to answer the hon. Gentleman's question at the end of the debate.
I should point out that of the many millions of people passing through the major ports in Great Britain in 1980 only 441 were detained under this Act. Of the total number detained in the past year, 30 were charged with criminal offences, including murder, attempted murder, explosives and firearms offences and offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I would not, however, seek to measure the success of these provisions by the number of charges that follow detention. The result of detention may be an application for exclusion rather than a criminal charge.
In any case, as with the Act's other provisions, these powers serve an important preventive purpose. This is one 345 of the answers that I should like to give to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. I believe strongly—and the police are also firmly of this view—that the likelihood of being apprehended and detained at a port of entry acts as a powerful deterrent to those who might otherwise come here to commit acts of terrorism.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
Would the Home Secretary care to elaborate on the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry) on 9 March? Unfortunately, my hon. Friend, who has consistently voted against the renewal of the Act, is unable to be present tonight because of illness. Why did the Home Secretary tell my hon. Friend that a central record is kept of the fingerprints taken of persons arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act even when, later, these people have been released without any charges being made? What possible justification exists for such a gross infringement of the civil liberties of about 5,000 people? I always thought that one of the basic principles of British justice was that we assume a person innocent until he is proven guilty.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It is fair to say, when we are dealing with terrorist incidents, that fingerprints may be valuable in examining various terrorism acts and various implications of them in the future. I consider that to be important. It is not something that should be lightly given away. Of course, I understand the feelings, but it is surely a matter of balancing civil liberties with the need to prevent acts of terrorism. Many of the people detained are released again. At the same time, we are entitled to take these provisions if we are in earnest in dealing with very dangerous terrorists and actions that can cause a great deal of damage and loss of innocent lives. I freely accept that it is a balance. [Interruption.] I do not find the matter funny. Innocent lives are an important matter. I am sure that this is accepted.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
The right hon. Gentleman is being helpful, but the point is that the people who are released are innocent. There is no question of guilt. The Home Secretary is saying that, on the judgment of the police, without any trial and conviction in a court, he has decided that they are guilty of an offence and, therefore, that their fingerprints should be retained. That seems to me wrong and contrary to the tenets of British justice.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think that I am doing what the hon. Gentleman says I am doing. In view of the point that he raised, I shall give a more considered reply at the end of the debate. The matter justifies a reply, but I believe that it is reasonable to retain fingerprints only for comparison with unidentified fingerprints from terrorist incidents. Any Government seeking to deal with this issue is entitled to make that comparison. It is important. I should have thought that keeping fingerprints only for that purpose was, on the whole, reasonable.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I shall give way, but it should be remembered every time I do so that insufficient time may remain for those hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate.
§ Mr. Flannery
The NCCL has naturally sent hon. Members a brief on this matter. It gives facts and figures. Does the Home Secretary know, for instance, that of 208 346 people excluded in Northern Ireland only one has been arrested and charged with an offence? In other words, the Act is so wildly astray that only one person out of 208 has been charged with an offence in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not know quite as much as I know about the conditions and problems in Northern Ireland. If he did, he would not find the figures quite as surprising as he suggests they are. If he knew what happened on the spot, he would come to a different conclusion.
I hope that I have made it clear that the powers in the Act are exercised with care and restraint. I do not take these powers for granted simply because, annually, we have voted to continue them for over six years. The safeguards for individual liberty in the Act are real, and not cosmetic. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman in this connection. I certainly never suggested that they were, and considering the nature of the Act, a lot of trouble has been taken to make sure that there are safeguards. The independence of my advisers is effective. A decision to exclude must pass a strict test, and where a person is eligible and applies cases are reviewed, with great care. As the results show, I have no wish to keep someone excluded for bureaucratic convenience when he can demonstrate that he has turned away from terrorism.
The final responsibility rests with the House. I confirm that this is a temporary measure and, whatever Opposition Members may say about its becoming permanent, it is for Parliament to decide each year whether it should be renewed for a further year. No review body can take decisions under the Act. I accept, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that any amendments proposed by a review body would have to be considered by the House. But the task of making decisions is for me, and I am accountable to the House. No review body can take decisions about the need for the Act, nor is that proposed. No Home Secretary can decide; only Parliament can do so. The very fact that we are all here today discussing the Act shows that. I firmly believe that the powers in this legislation are both appropriate and necessary, and I hope that later tonight the House will support me in approving the continuation of the Act for a further year. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the view that the Opposition Front Bench will take in that connection.
I share the concern that the powers should not remain in force for any longer than is necessary and that they should be exercised with care and restraint. I am, therefore, willing to receive any submissions that Members of the House or members of the public may make to me about the powers contained in the Act, and any suggestions that they may have as to how, while the threat of terrorism remains, we should fight it. I shall consider all such submissions carefully. However, I say frankly that, in view of what I have said about the working of the Act and my clear offer to consider all representations, I cannot see what would be the purpose of another inquiry so soon after the last one.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I support the motion standing in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. My claim to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, arises in part from the fact that when the 1974 Bill was in the process of being formulated, and later when it was before 347 the House, I, as Attorney-General, not unnaturally played a substantial part in the consideration of the decision to initiate the legislation. Later, with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and the then Home Secretary, I sat on the Government Front Bench for the major part of the 17 hours of continuous discussion of the Bill before it became law. Like—I am quite certain—my hon. Friend the Member for York, I did so in many ways, with a very heavy heart. Indeed, there were parts of that Bill that I should have preferred, even then, not to support, in particular, the exclusion provisions. I believed that those provisions were quite unprecendented in peace time, unless one went back a couple of centuries. They seemed to me an extraordinary kind of sentence of banishment from one part of the United Kingdom to another.
They were not the only parts of the Bill that I found distasteful I accept, of course, that something was necessary in the circumstances, and that is why I supported the Bill, but my hon. Friend the Member for York, myself and others on the Back Benches, including a notable contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) were not alone, because the then Home Secretary said on Second Reading:It cannot be without reluctance that we contemplate powers of the kind proposed in the Bill, involving as they must some encroachment—limited but real—on the liberties of individual citizens.He went on—and I may have had something to do with the authorship of the next sentence:Few things would provide a more gratifying victory to the terrorists than for this country to undermine its traditional freedoms in the very process of countering the enemies of those freedoms.He ended his speech by saying:I do not think that anyone would wish these exceptional powers to remain in force a moment longer than is necessary."—[Official Report, 28 November 1974; Vol. 882, c. 634–42.]He then explained that for that reason the Bill would expire in six months unless it was renewed by an affirmative order.
I said that I supported all that with a very heavy heart. I did so because of the situation to which my right hon. Friend refers—the carnage in Birmingham and other major incidents of a similar character which unhappily followed and with which we are all only too familiar. At that time there was a real fear and threat that that which we had unhappily become used to in Northern Ireland would spread further and further across the sea into this part of the United Kingdom. Those considerations led us, however much we deprecated the encroachments on civil liberties, to support the Bill, and no doubt led the House to give it an unopposed Second Reading. I have said that these exclusion provisions are provisions which, in peace time, have no precedent for a couple of centuries.
The other part of the Act which I find particularly distasteful is that containing provisions which give a much extended power to detain people on suspicion of being terrorists.
I have the gravest doubts about whether these provisions are consistent with our obligations under article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, except when war or public emergency threatens the life of the 348 nation. Such circumstances existed when the measure was passed. I have grave doubts whether such circumstances still exist.
The effect of the provisions, however humanely and sympathetically the Home Secretary administers them, is that people may be detained not merely for 48 hours or 72 hours—which could be justified in the context of trying to discover whether a person entering the country is known as a terrorist—but for seven days. Such a period must be justified before one can argue that it should continue. The longer the period involved the greater the risk of infringing article 5.
I have described the major issues in the legislation. It was passed in the course of a night in 1974, on the basis of bringing it to an end as rapidly as possible. Then it could last not more than six months. In 1976 we extended the period to 12 months. We have brought it into effect again at regular 12-monthly intervals.
Six years have passed since the inception of the legislation in the wake of the Birmingham carnage. Now we must ask ourselves whether we can still justify legislation brought in on that temporary basis in respect of a special situation which then existed, and if so, for how long we can continue to justify it.
I put a question to the Home Secretary for his consideration. Let us suppose that no such legislation was on the statute book. Let us suppose that the Home Secretary today had to consider whether putting such legislation on the statute book could be justified. He must consider that without the background of the Birmingham bombings and all the events of that time, including IRA active service units coming to this country to kill, maim and cause explosions, with economic, political and prestigious objectives. He must consider the position as it exists today. Could he possibly come before the House and say that there would be justification for introducing a Bill on the lines of the Act that is to be renewed? If he cannot say that in present circumstances, what can he say to justify the renewal of this temporary Act, passed in 1974 and renewed in 1976?
One talks about driving the thin edge of the wedge into civil liberties. Every time that we diminish and erode human rights and civil liberties, by however little, we drive a wedge into liberties and rights. When the wedge is left there it does not necessarily grow larger, but it sticks where it is so that it cannot be dislodged. The more often this legislation is renewed, and the longer it remains on the statute book, the easier it will be to say "Well, after all it has served a purpose. It has not done any great harm. Why do we not let it stay?" I am sure that that is not in the Home Secretary's mind when he says that an inquiry so soon after the Shackleton inquiry has to be justified.
Each year one must examine the position as it is and ask "Do the circumstances justify the renewal of that which was put forward on a wholly temporary basis in circumstances which are totally different from today's circumstances?"
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is against renewing the Act, rather than in favour of setting up an inquiry. He is departing from the position of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not agree. My argument is clear and plain and I had hoped that it would be understood. If the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) does not understand, it must be my fault rather than his.
I am saying that when the Government come each year to seek to persuade the House to renew legislation of this character they must provide adequate justification for it. If the circumstances as they appear to be are wholly different from the circumstances in which the original legislation was passed, that justification must be particularly strong. I am not saying, and I could not say because I do not have the knowledge, that that justification does not exist. I am saying that there should be a sufficient inquiry to demonstrate that such a justification exists. For that reason I support the motion.
Not long after the Government of which I was a member took office we decided, for that reason, to set up the Gardiner committee to review the circumstances in Northern Ireland in relation to the emergency legislation. That committee performed an extremely valuable task. It proposed amendments which were accepted. From its experience, from the evidence that it took, and from looking at the position in Northern Ireland it was able to justify certain matters about which we might have had doubts in the context of human rights and civil liberties. Thereafter we were able, with a much strengthened approach and with a less heavy heart, to continue to accept in Northern Ireland derogations from human rights and civil liberties which otherwise might have shocked us. That is the reply to the question posed by the hon. Member for Grantham.
For that reason I hope that the House will support the motion for an inquiry. I hope that that inquiry will go further than merely into the procedural workings of the legislation. The Home Secretary, from a recumbent position, is commenting on my remarks. I am entitled to express my views, and I am doing so. Whatever my Front Bench may say, I am entitled to express my views. That is one of the privileges of the House, and I am exercising it.
The necessity for this legislation must be established. I want an inquiry on the lines of those conducted by Gardiner and Bennett, to delve deeply into these matters and establish—if it can be established—that, all these years after the Birmingham bombings and the other terrible events that gave rise to the legislation, we are still justified, year by year, in continuing it.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) that we must be satisfied that what have been called the draconian powers of the Act are justified. I do not doubt that everyone who has examined the provisions of the Act has done so with great concern. Clearly, the liberties of the individual are diminished by the powers contained in the Act. I regard the motion on the Order Paper as both serious and important, as I am sure the whole House does. Before dealing with the question raised by, and central to, the motion—namely, whether there should be an inquiry into the workings of the Act—I want to deal with the view expressed in the motion that the Act is temporary and that its wide-ranging powers should be exercised only if we are satisfied that they are essential to the defeat of terrorism.
The meaning of the word "temporary", although it may not accord with everybody's views, in the context of the 350 debate must mean that the Act should remain on the statute book for as long as the threat of terrorism hangs over the United Kingdom—and not for a day longer. No one can possibly argue that we are free from that threat, or that because—thank goodness—there have been fewer acts of terrorism we can be satisfied that it is no longer the threat that it was.
Is the Act essential to the defeat of terrorism? I believe that it is. We cannot avoid or dispense with it. We must examine its purpose, which is to prevent and detect terrorism in the United Kingdom, and to protect the innocent public against terrorism. In 1974 Mr. Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary, and after the pub bombings to which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred, in which 21 people died and nearly 180 were injured, he described the powers as unprecedented in peace time and draconian. That was a proper and correct description. But he also said that it was right—it was right then, and is right now—that the main protection against terrorism should be the police.
The Government have a duty to provide the police with the powers that they require to deal with the exceptional and terrible problem of terrorism. The danger is that we can be so easily misled about the Act, and we must question whether it is working. We cannot test or judge its efficacy by mere statistics. Flow many people alive today might have died in acts of terrorism had it not been for that protective legislation? How many people have been saved from serious injury who might have been maimed in terrorist attacks if it had not been for the Act? That is speculation. One cannot answer those questions with any precision. No one can doubt that, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the Act is valuable in its deterrent effect upon those who might have come to Britain and been the nucleus of a terrorist brigade.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
The rhetorical questions posed by the hon. and learned Gentleman are precisely those that need to be answered. Does he not agree that that is why we cannot assume the answers, as he and the Home Secretary appear to do? We must ensure that the necessary information, whatever is available, is made available to an impartial inquiry, which would be able to express a view about it.
§ Mr. Gardner
How does one give a precise answer to a speculative question? If all the information available was before us we could not possibly look back and say that we had saved 24 people in Birmingham and 100 in London from injury or death. That is absurd. Is it being suggested that if the information were before us we could examine the Act more easily and determine whether it was working well or badly? Lord Shackleton did that in 1978. He made a thorough if not exhaustive review of the workings of the Act. The terms of reference given to him by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) were that he should have particular regard to the effectiveness of the legislation and its effect on the liberties of the subject.
No doubt hon. Members and others have read Lord Shackleton's excellent report. It expresses only the view expressed by previous people, including Home Secretaries, who had reached the conclusion—with the knowledge that they had, which was no doubt denied to the House—that such legislation was essential and could not be dispensed with.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this legislation is temporary? Surely an inquiry that took place over two years ago is irrevelant. The Act has to be renewed each year and that means that it is temporary. We should be asking ourselves what is happening now and not what was found in an inquiry that took place two or three years ago.
§ Mr. Gardner
What is there in the circumstances of today—the threat of terrorism—that has changed since 1978, 1976 or 1974? The threat is still with us. I have tried to answer the question, "What is the meaning of temporary?" by saying that it covers period during which the threat of terrorism exists. Once that threat goes and we no longer have to live under the fear of terrorism, we can dispense with the provisions of the Act, but not before.
§ Mr. Freeson
If the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is sound and if, regrettably, we are to assume that the threat of terrorism in and from Northern Ireland is to continue indefinitely, are we to assume that the legislation will remain on the statute book while the continued general threat remains? That is not temporary legislation. It is not the existence of terrorism but the circumstances within a terrorist situation that gave rise to the Act.
§ Mr. Gardner
If the United Kingdom and its people are to be threatened, as they are now, by acts of terrorism, I think that I am expressing the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends when I say that the Act is essential. That does not mean that it will remain on the statute book indefinitely—one prays that some day the threat of terrorism will be lifted—but we are dealing with what is happening now. If the Northern Ireland problem were to be resolved—if one can imagine that happening within a short time—we could dispense with the legislation. Until it is resolved and until there is an end to the threat, we must be able to look for the protection that the Act provides.
There is the clearest distinction between ordinary crime, however serious, and terrorism. If the police seek to bring a prosecution, they must have evidence that will stand up in a court of law. It will not do for the police to act on suspicion and suspicion alone. Let it be conceded that suspicion, however grave, does not amount to proof.
When there is suspicion and we are dealing with terrorist activity—such a situation presents exceptional dangers and concealments that would not be present in ordinary crime—we and the police must have the type of powers contained in the Act. It is a matter not of proving people guilty of a particular offence but of protecting the British people from terrorists who are out to injure them. As a result, we need these powers.
It would be positively harmful and not beneficial if, as the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) appeared to suggest, we were to have an inquiry into the workings of the Act every time it came before Parliament to be renewed. I am happy to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that in the present circumstances an inquiry is not justified. I heartily agree.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The attitude of my party is not very different from that which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) stated on behalf of the official Opposition. We shall support the renewal of the Act in the Lobby, but we, too, have certain reservations.
The right hon. Member did the House a service in explaining that the Opposition motion was seeking not a root and branch review of the legislation—I appreciate that some of his right hon. and hon. Friends take a slightly different view—but a review of the operation of the legislation. Although that was stated in the wording of the motion, it was useful that the right hon. Member spelt out the meaning of the motion, because it had not been clearly understood in the House or outside the House.
As the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) reminded us, in a way we are debating the meaning of the word "temporary". I have in mind another "temporary", with which the Home Secretary will be familiar. That is the temporary direct rule arrangements which have been continuing for some time. As those are not irrelevant to this matter, and as we are approaching the tenth birthday of that other temporary legislation, I hope that the Home Secretary, who undoubtedly has much influence in those matters, will ensure that we do not go beyond the 10-year mark. This legislation must be retained until the need for it has passed and it is clearly seen that the threat to the United Kingdom has been removed. The threat has long since disappeared—if it ever existed—which gave rise to that other temporary legislation in 1972. It would do a great deal for realism if Parliament could be induced to dispense with it.
Like the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, we have no criticism of the Home Secretary and those who advise him when we say that we should not automatically perpetuate legislation of this nature. Otherwise, we would never make progress. It cannot be denied that strides towards normality have been made. My party has often taken the lead in advocating courses of action which were not clearly understood at the time and which were often not approved of, but we have made progress in Northern Ireland. We should continue to strive towards normality. If there is one thing which terrorists fear more than anything it is a restoration of normal, settled conditions. It has been proved over and over again in Northern Ireland that that means that people must work much harder if they are to disrupt society.
We co-operated, for example, with Lord Shackleton when he reviewed the operation of the legislation. We made our submission. I like to think that we did something to improve the lot of—I was about to say "our fellow travellers", but that might be misunderstood—the thousands of innocent people who have to travel in the course of duty or otherwise between the two parts of the United Kingdom. Notice was taken of our suggestions. We shall continue to keep the situation under review and will not hesitate to suggest changes where desirable.
We do not, therefore, object to an inquiry, as suggested by the official Opposition. We would be prepared to support the extension of a review to the whole of the United Kingdom and, for that matter, to other emergency legislation in operation in the United Kingdom.
The right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) reminded us that Lord Gardiner carried out what 353 I believe to be a piecemeal review of certain emergency legislation. Some good resulted, but there is much to be said for a comprehensive review of all the legislation in one operation in the not too distant future.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I rise briefly to support my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He said that if one were strong for civil liberty and the right of the subject it did not mean that one was weak against terrorism. I am glad that we are debating these powers at some length. Parliament has entrusted my right hon. Friend with terrible powers. We should give their renewal careful consideration.
The fight against terrorism is a fight in defence of the rule of law, so we must be scrupulous to ensure that the sword of justice is not tarnished. I see that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is in his place. My right hon. Friend will remember that we have been pestering him about a prisoner, now dead, who was convicted by an English court of a terrorist offence. We believe him to be innocent. If we can produce new material, as we are trying to do, we shall be pestering him again. I hope that he will not mind.
I served on the Standing Committee that considered the original Bill in 1974. Like other members of the Committee, I expressed anxiety at its undoubted abridgement of civil liberty. I believe that I have been present at every subsequent debate on this subject. Sometimes, there is a tendency to think that those who, like my right hon. Friend, have to bring forward such measures and have the unpalatable task of exercising powers under them are somehow less anxious for the liberty of the subject than Opposition Members, who do not have his responsibilities. Not all those who have been less than warm in supporting Home Secretaries and who apparently wish to divide the House have been regular in their attendance at the yearly debates on the review of temporary powers accorded to the Home Secretary. I was not aware that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), who heads the list of signatories to the amendment—although he has been associated in the public mind with zeal for civil liberties—took part in any of our regular debates.
I was impressed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), and I found myself agreeing with almost everything that he said, particularly when he said that we must not slip into a practice of renewing these powers as a matter of routine.
Lord Shackleton himself said in his report:It is not sufficient merely to enact powers of this kind: they need to be subject to a continuing analysis.I think that what is between us is the question of the best way to ensure that there is a continuing analysis. Lord Shackleton acknowledged thatthe struggle to eradicate terrorism in this country might not be a short one".The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) said that the terrorist problem might continue for a very long time and asked how we could go on re-enacting on a temporary basis a statute which has been found necessary for so long. That is an interesting point, but surely it is better that we have a temporary measure and that we review it regularly in the House. That is surely a good thing. Just because terrorism continues, we should not 354 allow this to become a permanent measure on the statute book. I therefore did not find his argument persuasive. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Perhaps the right hon. Member will be able to explain later exactly what the point was.
The question is how the continuing analysis is to be carried out. It is no small thing to mount an inquiry of this kind. The inquiry presented to Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's predecessor in August 1978 was of considerable weight. It is not the kind of inquiry that one sets in motion every day. There may be a case for a larger inquiry somewhat later, but at the moment I am persuaded by the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it is too soon after the Shackleton inquiry for another inquiry to be held.
I am very glad that, as I understand it, there is to be no Division on the renewal of the temporary powers. I regret that there should be a Division on the question whether there should now be a new inquiry. My regret is simply that some comfort may be given to terrorists if the House is divided tonight. Terrorists exist on the hope that they will get their way and that they will weaken the will of the democratic authority that they are determined to destroy.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)
I understand well the point on which the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) concluded his remarks.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) indicated, there is a risk of misinterpretation by the community at large and particularly by terrorists and their supporters in any debate of this kind which logically and inherently carries at least the risk of there being a Division in the House. It is in the nature of the place. But that is not a sufficient case to argue against having such a Division if need be.
I said in a sedentary interruption that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) had not clearly understood the point which I made in an intervention to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). The hon. and learned Gentleman's argument seemed to have the support of the Home Secretary, who nodded assent. That was the argument for introducing in 1969 the equivalent of a war-time emergency Bill.
§ Mr. Freeson
If the hon. Gentleman allows me to make this point, I shall gladly give way.
We did not introduce this legislation at the outbreak of the spate of terrorism which started in 1969. We did not introduce it under a general threat of terrorism hanging over the United Kingdom. We combated terrorism, and rightly so, as vigorously as we could, and we should continue to do so, from whatever quarter it comes. We introduced this Act, as was eloquently and clearly argued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), in the light of particular circumstances some 355 years later. The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) shakes his head, but that is a matter of historic fact, not argument.
§ Mr. Mates
Yes, but there was no requirement for such an Act in mainland Britain in 1969 because there was no perceived threat in mainland Britain at that time. When that threat was perceived and seen to be actual in 1974 it was necessary to make quite different provisions from the emergency provisions which had already been made to cover Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Freeson
The point has been clearly put, but the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. With respect, I was in this place and was interested and involved in Northern Ireland affairs, even though, as a member of the previous Administration, I was unable to speak freely on the subject. We are all aware that from the outset there was a perceived threat. At the time, I spoke to people in various cities. I have lived in an area where people have not been without conversation on this subject, even within London. There was a perceived threat and there was always a risk——
§ Mr. Freeson
Yes, from 1969 onwards, just as there was in 1938 and 1939. There were bomb outrages in London in those years. There was always a perceived threat and risk once there was a breakdown of law and order in the Province. That was understood in many parts of the country. It was understood in this place and it was understood within the then Government, just as I am sure it was understood by the then Opposition. There was a threat which broke out in those disastrous and terrible events in Birmingham, Aldershot and elsewhere.
Without going into detail on record, from time to time during those years certain hon. Members were advised to act in a certain way in the light of that generalised threat. As we know, only a few years ago one of our own Members tragically lost his life in terrible circumstances within the precincts of Parliament.
From 1969, a threat of terrorism was hanging over the United Kingdom. Tragically, it looks as if it may continue—we hope at a lower key—for some time to come. When I said "indefinitely" in an earlier intervention, it was in that spirit that I did so. It is not that I expect or want it to happen, but there is a possibility of its happening.
As the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde said, it does not follow that we should persist in this legislation simply in relation to a general threat of terrorism, any more than we thought it right to introduce it for that reason when violence first broke out in 1969.
The call for an inquiry into the operation of the Act is a constructive step forward, which the Government should have accepted in a positive spirit. It seems that the only argument that one could see from the Home Secretary's speech, supported by other Conservative Members, is that it is too soon after the last review of 1978. But to take that line is to assume that the fresh inquiry would concern itself simply with the administration of the Act and not, additionally, with the question of the existence of the Act. It is not the only question, but it is the most fundamental question that arises every year—whether the Act should be continued.
356 Frankly, I would have wished that we could go further than the Opposition's motion and oppose the continuation of the Act. I shall support the motion, but I intend to vote against the extension of the Act if an opportunity presents itself at the end of our proceedings tonight.
The Act should be repealed. It is illiberal. It undermines our civil liberties. I do not believe that the case has been made tonight—I do not think that it was made on the previous occasion, from my reading of the proceedings—that it serves a useful purpose in trapping terrorists. Other powers could equally or more effectively be used in combating the crimes that are threatened or actually committed by the terrorists concerned.
I listened with care to the reference to prosecutions some time ago which the Home Secretary adduced in support of continuing the Act. At first sight—this matter obviously requires more examination and probing, and again, an inquiry, if agreed to, could help—I should have assumed, listening to the Home Secretary's remarks, that the crimes for which those people were being prosecuted and of which they were found guilty and for which they were sentenced could have been dealt with under other legislation, under other police and State powers, rather than under this Act.
If I am wrong, that could be established only by probing the nature of the powers that were used and what alternatives were available to the authorities at the time. On the basis of what I have seen and read, I believe that other powers could have been used without the continuation of this Act.
I believe that this Act, if anything, in some circumstances at least could be counter-productive in the campaign against terrorism, in that after their experiences innocent people detained under the Act might well adopt a stance against police attempts to combat terrorism on behalf of the community at large.
The Acts run counter to the normal rights of individuals in law, even amidst a continuing terrorist campaign. Successive Governments have argued that the legislation is essential—not just desirable or helpful, but essential—in order to detect or deter terrorism. Not wishing to give succour to terrorists, the House has gone along with this year after year. Frankly, it is as much a fear—the hon. Member for Epping Forest came very near to saying this—of the general reaction that would set in if we now withdrew from the position taken up in support of this legislation in the past six or seven years, as much a general fear of how people would react to it, as a belief in the effectiveness of the Act, which has led us, year after year, to continue to pass it through Parliament. I believe that that is the position of even the most well-meaning of Ministers.
I do not disagree with the suggestion that the Home Secretary, on these matters is, as liberal as any of us here. That is not at issue. But in all situations such as this we are all at risk—the police and other authorities, the people in the Home Department and the Ministers concerned, and we in the House—of becoming institutionalised in our practices. Practices are begun and we find it easier and more convenient to continue them than to risk disturbing the pattern. I fear that we have got ourselves into that position.
I have no wish to give succour to these terrorists. The Provisional IRA are not simply and euphemistically nationalists, although some have described them as such. They are not "nationalists" fighting a just cause against imperialism—I almost quote the words that they 357 use—maintained by sectarian rule. Whatever may have been the case a long time ago, that is not true today. Many of the terrorists would be just as much at home, both politically and psychologically, in authoritarian Fascist movements. As anyone who has read or experienced their history will know, Irish politics has a history of such elements.
I hope that I have made my position clear, both politically and in terms of my general objection to murderous crimes. Whatever may have been the case in the wake of the horrific bombing murders and woundings in 1974, this legislation, far from helping, damages our efforts. Having studied the recent records, I see no evidence that the Acts prevent terrorism, deter those who would engage in violence or enable the police to capture such criminals more easily than under the normal processes of law and order. It fails to ensnare the guilty, but it endangers the civil liberties of innocent citizens.
It is a serious prospect that this "temporary" legislation looks as though it will become permanent in practice, no matter what language is used in defence of libertarian principles during our annual debates on this matter. The powers of arrest and detention are dangerously wide. As a result, the police have only reasonably to suspect someone in order to act. According to figures published a few months ago by the Secretary of State, in 1980 the total number of detentions was 537. Only 11 out of the 537 detained were charged with offences under the Acts. Since 1974, over 5,000 people have been detained under the Acts but only 70—as far as I have been able to establish—have been charged with offences under the Acts. Indeed, up to December 1980, 185 persons detained had been convicted of offences under other legislation—many of them charged with conspiracy to commit offences under the Acts.
Equally worrying is the power to make exclusion orders against those detained. The Home Secretary acts arbitrarily. The persons concerned have no recourse to the usual civil rights in law in this country. The Home Secretary—I speak not of his person but of his office—has too many arbitrary powers. Parliament should not allow any further extension of them.
One of the most disturbing arbitrary powers that the Home Secretary has concerns the tapping of telephones. Last year's White Paper and the recent, quite inadequate Diplock report did not even cover Northern Ireland. The Home Secretary told the House that tapping, in relation to Northern Ireland, was done under the "same conditions and safeguards" as applied in this country. Those conditions and safeguards are totally inadequate. The Home Secretary said that they were subject only to the overriding requirements for dealing with terrorism. In effect, that means that there are no safeguards for liberty or privacy.
I hope that the House will agree to the holding of an inquiry into the Acts. Such an inquiry should also cover the use of telephone tapping. As in the rest of the United Kingdom, telephone tapping lacks any parliamentary control or provision for accountability. Parliament should insist that there is express legal authority for such action, which should specify the criteria for the issue of warrants. A detailed annual report should be given to Parliament showing the number of telephone taps authorised in the previous year, commenting on the effectiveness of the 358 interceptions and detailing any changes in policy or procedure. That sort of approach should also be covered in any inquiry.
The arbitrary power of the Home Secretary in relation to tapping and exclusion orders under these Acts is an infringement of civil liberties. So is the power to detain people. These powers should no longer be allowed. The Acts do not stop terrorists, and such laws never will stop terrorists, whatever the necessity may have been in the special circumstances following the 1974 outrage.
Terrorism emerges from the political, social and economic circumstances in Northern Ireland, and only political, social and economic solutions there will ensure that the terrorists are defeated, as has already been said, although I would put a different interpretation on some of the points that were made. I should like to see a return to normality, but under somewhat different political circumstances.
The Government should concentrate on finding a political solution and not on continuing these Acts. The constitutional problems of Northern Ireland were horn of political action by a British Government and Parliament, and to resolve them will require political action by us again. To achieve this we must first intimate our ultimate intention to relinquish sole sovereignty over the Six Counties and to embark on a planned, constructive disengagement from the Province. When that proposition is accepted, discussions such as we are having tonight, and many others, will take a different turn.
That will mean discussion on setting up the kind of political conditions which will allow Irishmen—North and South, Protestant and Catholic—and others to work out a decent future. Any solution which does not start by recognising this is unreal. Until we give a commitment to this end, and the Republic also acts accordingly, there wall be no framework and no structure in which we can move away from the present position.
That is what we should be talking about ultimately, although at present we have to deal with this temporary legislation. What else are we to look forward to except a continuation of terrorism, a continuation of communal division, hatred and combat of one kind or another, and continued anti-libertarian legislation such as we have been considering tonight? The Act does not stop terrorism. In terms of civil liberties its continuation into semi-permanence is a dangerous development for all of us, and not just the Irish people.
This House, above all else, cares for democracy and civil liberties. Let it look at the facts of these Acts, and not our general fear about withdrawal of the legislation and the political reaction that it might produce. Let us look at the facts of the Acts, conceived as they were after the terrible bombings in Birmingham in 1974. The legislation was expedient then, but it has failed in more recent times in its avowed intention, and we should not allow it to remain in force. Let us have the inquiry by all means, but I hope that I have made it perfectly clear that my opinion is that we have a sufficient case for repealing the legislation now.
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
I am very pleased indeed to be able to follow the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), because although it is my pleasure to pay tribute to his evident devotion to libertarianism I find it breathtaking that he has managed 359 so far to ignore the reality and history not only of the last 10 years but of the last 800 years as to try to convince the House that a pious hope will resolve the difficulties that have confronted Englishmen, Irishmen and others for far longer than he said.
When I looked at the motion on the Order Paper it seemed to me that many of the sentiments expressed in it were eminently reasonable. Indeed, the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) did nothing to disabuse me of that impression.
Everyone realises the great reluctance with which hon. Members—the right hon. Gentleman has been preeminent on the Opposition Benches—contemplate legislation of this sort. It is against the best traditions of our parliamentary life. Restrictions of liberties of the kind that the House has brought in with the introduction of the 1974 and the 1976 Acts run counter to everything that we all regard as essential to the democratic parliamentary life that is crucial to the future political health of the country. That is common to everyone who has spoken and to everyone who will speak hereafter.
Since the inception of the legislation all the evidence that has piled up from inquiries, from expressions of view by Ministers from both sides of the House and from both sides of the political divide, has shown how innately repugnant the legislation is to all of us. We were, nevertheless, forced to pass it in 1974 and to amend it in 1976, simply by force of circumstance. The force of circumstance we all know, but I suggest that what perhaps has not been given sufficient attention is why we were forced to do it.
There are many reasons. I shall pick out two of them. The first is the nature of terrorism. We are not talking, as some hon. Gentlemen have suggested, about the sort of crimes that are perpetrated daily in the streets of London and other cities, or even about violent crime—the sort of gangsterism that is increasingly prevalent in the streets of London. We are discussing a vicious, determined, political campaign waged by terrorist experts who have contacts throughout the world among their fellows, often encouraged and armed by the Soviet Union. This is not merely a gang of criminals; it is an army dedicated to the destruction of British rule in Ulster as expressed by the will of the elected majority of the inhabitants of Ulster.
That is a special circumstance. That army does not pursue its objectives by the use of methods that ordinary criminals use. It is highly organised. It uses cell systems and methods that need special measures to counter them. Compared with what the right hon. member for Brent, East suggested, those special measures can only be measures that are not covered by the legislation that we normally pass to counter criminal acts. The nature of the IRA ensures that special measures are required to ensure that we can defeat it.
If we investigate the record since 1976 and the Birmingham outrages, we find that it shows that the legislation has had some fairly startling effects. We have begun to see a decline in the amount of violence in Ulster, as the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) suggested and, thank God, the virtual elimination of violence on the mainland of Great Britain.
Let it not be forgotten that, despite what Labour Members have tried to claim, the threat of violence still exists. Surely I do not need to remind them that only 360 recently one man, Tuite, escaped from prison in this country and set off an anti-terrorist hunt, which is still going on. If that does not represent a threat, and if the authorities do not believe that such a threat exists, why were such panic measures taken? That is the first reason why I believe that we need such legislation.
The second reason is the threat to life and limb. I yield to no one in my support of the civil liberties guaranteed by Parliament, but the extraordinary measures that we have needed to put into operation to counter terrorism are necessary to protect potential victims of IRA outrages. Surely it is not up to the House to be so devoted to civil liberties that it cannot ignore their temporary suspension, in as small a measure as possible, in order to protect people who have been shown by the outrages at Birmingham, Aldershot and elsewhere to be at risk. If only because of the threat to life and limb, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has an awesome responsibility to take whatever measures he can to ensure that as few people as possible are maimed or killed by the IRA and the other banned organisations. That is justification enough for the Act.
On the face of it, the proposal in the motion for an inquiry seems eminently reasonable. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook made a persuasive case for it and, in the normal course of events, I should be tempted to agree with it. However, there is an increasing volume of sound coming from the Labour Back Benches, especially below the Gangway, and from some outside the House demanding the withdrawal of our troops from Northern Ireland. Joined with that demand is an extraordinary campaign of vilification against the probity and compassion of the security forces.
An inquiry would cause an increase in that volume of sound. It would be used by the Troops Out movement and others who seem to want to override the expressed desire of the inhabitants of Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom. For that reason, the Home Secretary is right to resist the idea of an inquiry and it will be my pleasure to support him in the Lobby.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
It came as no surprise to me to hear the Home Secretary say that he was not persuaded that it was right to set up an inquiry or to allow the Act to fall. It is much easier to take such powers than to get rid of them.
The Act has always been justified as a temporary power. In answer to the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), I maintain that if the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, had argued at the time that the likely period was six months, and for that reason it was introduced for only six months, it was clearly never intended to last for as long as there was a possible threat of terrorism. It was always inconceivable that the Northern Irish situation would be resolved in anything like six months after the bombing episode in Birmingham.
My reply to the interjection by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) is that before the Birmingham bombings, there were a substantial number of bombings in this country. There was the serious bombing at the Army barracks at Aldershot, where there was a danger to life, and certainly a danger to property. There were the Guildford bombings. On a number of occasions the Government of the day—not only the Labour Government but the preceding Conservative Government—had considered whether a measure of this kind should be 361 introduced. I release no secret by saying that this measure was prepared by the preceding Conservative Government and was in existence, ready in case it was ever thought desirable to bring it in. Therefore, the argument that it was justified as soon as the first bombing arose, or that it could not be forgone until the last bomb had been exploded, falls to the ground.
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman reinforces my point. I was arguing against the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), who said that if it was needed in 1974, why was it not needed in 1969? My point was that it was not needed in Britain in 1969. It became increasingly perceived to be needed with the preparations to which the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) refers. Birmingham was the final straw that made it essential. That is what one does when, as my right hon. Friend said, one is introducing a measure that is deeply repugnant in terms of the normal civil law of this country. We are not talking of normal times.
§ Mr. Lyon
The hon. Gentleman argues against his case. He argues that so long as there is any perceived threat from terrorism we need this measure. What I am saying, and what is argued by the facts, is that neither Government thought that we needed it just because there were some terrorist outbreaks in this country. It was only the peculiar circumstances of the Birmingham bombing that convinced the Government that it had to be brought in.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) indicated that I was a member of that Government. I was, indeed, the junior Minister who spoke in the debate on the introduction of the Bill. I am bound to tell the House that I felt the same degree of regret as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich. More than that, I knew then—and I know today—that it was not the will of the police, as the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde suggested, that brought about the Bill. It was the reaction to the anxiety of the public that was generated by the Birmingham bombings. It was thought that this was the only possible response that could be made to allay that anxiety. I well remember the police advising us before we introduced the Bill that they did not think that it was necessary in order to counter terrorism. They may have changed that judgment since. Once one has the power it is too easy to go on to try to justify it. I doubt very much whether it is even now necessary to have these powers in order to counter terrorism.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) referred, so far as I can recollect, to the only incident of bombing in the last 12 months, thought to have been caused by the escaped prisoner Tuite. Tuite could be arrested under the general law. He is already an escaped prisoner. There is no reason to have these powers in order to deal with Tuite. That is where we need the balance.
The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde said that any attempt in a report to suggest that these powers were no longer necessary would be speculative. Equally, it is right to say that any attempt to try to justify these powers on the basis of possible terrorist activity that has not taken place must also be speculative. In the nature of things, it must be speculative either way. What the House has to do is to exercise a judgment. For myself, I do not think that I need some distinguished gentleman to come along with a report to tell me what my judgment should be. I have not voted against the retention of this Act in any year since it 362 was introduced. However, intend to vote against it tonight, because there has to be a stop to a temporary Act. There has to be an end, and in my opinion the end is now.
Three powers are involved. I am content that power should be retained to proscribe the IRA, although I doubt whether the power does much good. The other two powers concern me more. During the past six years 4,000 people have been detained, and no charge has been made against them. It is all very well for some hon. Gentlemen to argue that that does not mean that they were not guilty of anything, but there is no evidence to suggest that they were guilty of anything. If a person is not convicted by a court, he is innocent. That is not just a technical legal rule. It is a provision of our law precisely because if a person has not been convicted no one can be sure whether the person is guilty, apart from the person himself.
Such people are not proceeded against because there is not sufficient evidence to do so. To shrug off those 4,000 people as if it were some light matter, saying that they must be implicated in some sort of terrorism, is to fail to understand the degree of injustice that is caused to a man who is not guilty but is arrested and detained for a period. If the Home Secretary were locked up for seven days by the police because they suspected him of terrorism, and then released, I suggest that the Bill would not last a day longer. It would immediately be repealed.
We are putting away a number of people—about 12 people a week—for periods, varying from two days to seven days, so that the police can obtain some information—to take fingerprints, or perhaps for some other reason—and not because they have been convicted of a criminal offence. With that magnitude of discrepancy between those who are charged and those who are not, the House has a right to say that the balance has fallen too heavily against civil liberties. We have to balance the threat against the intrusion into civil liberties. In my judgment the balance falls heavily in favour of getting rid of the Act because it is an abuse of civil liberties and does not do much to safeguard people against terrorism.
§ Mr. Lyon
The change lies in the successive number of years in which this kind of discrepancy between the arrest of people who have been convicted and those who have not been convicted has gone on. It may be justified for one or two years, but it cannot be justified for six years, when the number of terrorist incidents has fallen considerably. If we accept the hon. Gentleman's view, the Act will go on until Ireland is at peace and there have been no bombings for 10 years. Then it will be possible to say that there is no threat. I do not want to minimise the sacrifice of civil liberties in that way.
Only in the case of the power to arrest can one make the kind of judgment that I have just made. Under the power to arrest, the police must either charge or release. The discrepancy, therefore, becomes visible. But in exclusion orders it is not possible to do that. There one relies entirely on the judgment of the Home Secretary—or one of his advisers. It is for him to say whether he thinks it desirable that the person should be excluded. Nobody else and no court has the right to judge. Nevertheless, 10 per cent. of requests for exclusion orders have been refused. The exclusion order has not itself led to a prosecution either here or in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Flannery
Does my hon. Friend agree that if no bombs were exploded for 10 years the people who want the Act renewed would still want to renew it? Their argument would be that it had been such a success that we should continue to renew it.
§ Mr. Lyon
I intended to make that point at the end of my speech. The justification for the exclusion is based upon intelligence gathering. Lord Shackleton made an interesting comment about intelligence gathering in paragraph 41 of his report, which states:The intelligence material has certain strengths and weaknesses, as the police recognise. Some of them reflect limitations inherent to intelligence material generally … The police often find that the person concerned will say nothing at all to them. They realise that there can be several reasons for this and indeed the person concerned is not bound to say anything. But the police cannot rule out the possibility that he has been trained in what might be called 'anti-interrogation' techniques and that this may be an indication of involvement in a terrorist organisation.If one exercises one's rights under the Judges' Rules and does not say anything, one can be suspected of being a terrorist because one has been trained in anti-terrorist interrogation. Such a dubious use of material is difficult to assess in relation to exclusion orders.
I had some experience in the Home Office of reading information provided by the security services in relation to particular types of responsibility. It is extremely difficult for a Minister to decide how he should evaluate the evidence. One does not know where it was collected, the strength of the witnesses who gave the information to the security services or whether it was based upon any bias. If one is using the judgment mentioned in Lord Shackleton's report, a case for exclusion could be made when it was totally groundless. In such circumstances, we must be extremely careful in deciding whether such a power is justified.
The real argument against the Act is that the longer we have this type of dubious legislation on the statute book, the more it becomes possible to justify intrusion into civil liberties in other areas. Northern Ireland has stained the good name of Britain throughout the world in relation to the maintenance of law and the pursuit of justice
When I go to the United States and talk about South Africa, for instance, people throw at me the legislation that we have found it necessary to introduce for Northern Ireland. People say that it indicates that we have forgone some of the requirements of the due process of law which hitherto we have maintained. This is one part of that total process. It is dangerous to keep the legislation on the statute book because it will be used as an argument to justify the extension of powers over a wider area.
The power allows an arrest for questioning for two days under the immediate warrant, or seven days with the authority of the Home Secretary. The Royal Commission on criminal procedure recommends that such power should be limited to 24 hours at the most, save in the most exceptional circumstances. If the Act is renewed year by year, somebody—possibly in the Home office—will argue that it is silly to limit the general power to 24 hours and that for serious criminal offences, as in the case of terrorism, it should be 48 hours. There will be an attempt to unify the two periods for the general purposes of serious crime.
The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde said that terrorism was so different from the general category of crime that it would always justify the retention and use of 364 excessive powers. I do not think that that is true. Obvious offences, such as the Birmingham bombings, are unique in their horror, but there are many cases of robbery with violence, murder and gang warfare that are immensely more serious than some of the allegations against those who have been locked up for terrorism. Not all of them are locked up for committing murder, but some are locked up on suspicion of having committed other offences. It is arguable that some of the normal criminal offences are at least as serious. An argument can be advanced that excessive power is required to deal with that.
We have always tried to keep the balance clear. Power should be given to the police only when it is justified to deal with existing danger. We should not give carte blanche powers to the police, because they will use them to deal with crime generally. If we were to give such widespread powers, it could allow the whole population to be fingerprinted. We came close to that today. The Home Secretary almost justified the collection of fingerprints to be used in future. He said that that would be justified on the ground that, at some stage, we might be able to prevent terrorist outbreaks. On that basis, we could prevent murder and robbery with violence.
Why do we not fingerprint the whole population? The Home Secretary appears to think that it is ludicrous that that practice does not exist already. If we were to introduce a Fingerprints (Temporary Provisions) Bill, the Home Secretary would justify it, it would become part of the law, and each successive Home Secretary would justify it for ever more. Because we did the unthinkable in 1974 the legislation is still on the statute book. We should do the thinkable now and get rid of it tonight.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
As always, I listened with considerable interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon). I profoundly disagree with the assumption from which his whole argument flows—namely, that in many cases terrorism is no more serious than other classes of crime. I wholly and entirely reject that proposition. Terrorism is more serious and much more dangerous than any other class of crime, most particularly because it exposes many innocent people to substantial danger of death or maiming. To suppose that that is true of other criminal offences is to harbour an illusion.
The hon. Member rightly said that the time must come when the Act should no longer be continued. He said that he thought that the time had come now. I could not help asking myself whether we would be having the debate in these terms if the hunger strikers in the Maze had died and if as a consequence there had been a massive bombing programme in these islands.
That goes to the essential nature of the problem. True it is for the moment that violence in Britain has died down, but true it is also that violence in Northern Ireland has not wholly abated. There are those in Northern Ireland who are anxious and willing to extend their campaign into Britain. So long as that remains so, to argue that the level of violence poses no threat because it is now so low is a total illusion. The danger could blow up suddenly. We could have one or two violent actions in Northern Ireland which would spill over into our great cities. If that happened, we should have to say to the House, "We need a Bill and we 365 need it fast". If that happened, I should blame Labour Members for countenancing arguments that have been advanced in the debate.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Act stops terrorism. It enables us to banish people from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. At present there are far fewer acts of violence in Great Britain than in Northern Ireland. If the Act is working here, why do we not banish people from Northern Ireland to Great Britain?
§ Mr. Hogg
I have never suggested anything so silly as that the Act prevents violence or terrorism. It does nothing of the sort. However, it gives the authorities, the Government and the security forces a useful instrument to combat terrorism. Of course, it cannot stop terrorism. Bloody-minded men will do bloody-minded things whatever law we have on the statute book. However, the Act is a useful instrument which we should be slow to lay down.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
The hon. Gentleman suggested a moment ago that if at any time the special powers in the Act were allowed to lapse it would be necessary to bring in a new Bill to revive them. With respect, he is mistaken. It is perfectly possible to allow the special powers to lapse but to retain in the Act the power that allows them to be revived again if there were a further outbreak of terrorism.
§ Mr. Hogg
That strikes me as a dilatory process of getting measures back into action in the event of an emergency. There is no case for not renewing the Act and no case for seeking an inquiry into the workings of the Act.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) says—I understand the perfectly honourable motive that underlies his argument—that the Act is a serious derogation from civil liberties and that accordingly we should now mount an inquiry to establish the need for it. I do not agree with that approach. The hazard against which the Act is directed is so plain that it is for Labour Members to establish the need for an inquiry. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he had any evidence that any group was being oppressed by the terms of the Act. The effect of his flatulent answer was "No". I listened to speeches made by other Labour Members. I have heard no evidence that the Act's provisions are being abused.
§ Mr. Hogg
I shall wait for the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he will speak at great length. I have great experience of the hon. Gentleman and I know that in the end his argument and his evidence will amount to nothing and that we shall pass on no wiser as a result of his contribution to the debate.
§ Mr. Hogg
I make judgments on the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) that are based on considerable experience. We never cease to hear his views, be they expressed on the radio, on the television, on the Floor of the House or in the Members' Lobby. I have considerable evidence on which to form a judgment, and I find him wanting.
Let us consider what we are being asked to inquire into. Questions are being raised on sections 1 and 2, which 366 proscribe certain associations. They provide that money must not be collected for certain associations. The sections provide that such associations must not be supported. The associations in question are the Irish National Liberation Army and the IRA. Why in God's name should the Government and this Parliament not prohibit such associations? They do not pursue democratic or legitimate activity. I do not see why people's associations with those two bodies should not be fettered.
Labour Members are silly enough to suggest that the objection to part I of the Act is that it enables the 'Minister to include in the schedule other organisations and that legitimate expression will thus be undermined. Although that may be a residual power within the Act, it cannot be used without the authority of the House. The House retains a supervisory function over who is or is not included in the schedule. Therefore, that is not a reasonable or proper objection.
I agree that, in principle, the exclusion orders are a matter of concern because they deny people a right of entry. The House must bear in mind the gravity of the threat. I do not believe that Opposition Members would care to underestimate the gravity of that threat; if they do, they will be rejected by their constituents. More important, an exclusion order can be made only in fairly narrowly defined circumstances. The Minister responsible for those decisions is the Home Secretary. I have great respect for my right hon. Friend. It is likely that I shall have respect for most Home Secretaries exercising those powers, which are exercised at the highest level and only in narrowly defined circumstances. On the whole, when I consider the threat, I am content with that.
The review procedure appears to be working fairly efficiently. Generally speaking—this has not been dwelt on at length by any hon. Member—the power cannot be used against British citizens ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom. I am well aware that there are qualifications of that general statement.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The hon. Member should read the Act before he calls us silly. It can be used against a British citizen ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, if he has not been resident here for more than 20 years.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Member would do better, before he makes such interventions, to read the Act more carefully. It also deals with people born in this country, who have resided here ordinarily ever since, for whatever period. The hon. Member should do better than that. Generally speaking—that is all I suggested; the hon. Member should pay attention—the power cannot be used against British citizens ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom.
I am aware also that in a number of cases the power might be used against people who, in some sense, have their home in the United Kingdom. That would be a matter for concern. I was hoping that Opposition Members would be able to point to circumstances in which that had arisen. I expected them to to say, as a result of correspondence with constituents, that Mr. So-and-So, who had been resident in the United Kingdom for 15 years or so, had been denied entry. I expected that, and had it happened it would have been a matter for concern. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would have considered it. However, we have had no such evidence.
367 In the end, that was the general tenor of the speeches by Opposition Members. They speak in liberal terms and generalities. In the end, we have had no evidence that the Act is being used in an oppressive or restrictive manner. That being so, there can be no case for an inquiry.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I understand that the Front Bench speakers have been kind enough to agree to delay the winding-up speeches until 9.45 pm. Therefore, I am prepared to call one other speaker.
§ Mr. David Alton: (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I disagree with the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) on a number of points. I fully accept what he said about acts of terrorism. He echoed the words of the Home Secretary, who rightly said that all hon. Members were concerned and alarmed about the use of terrorist methods by any organisation. Organisations such as the IRA should continue to be proscribed because of the methods which they use in this country and because of the deaths of innocent people which they have brought about.
However, the hon. Gentleman will agree that the measures were introduced in an emergency, after the terrible bombings in Birmingham in 1974, in response to an immediate danger. It was as the result of an act of revulsion that in a short time the House pushed through the measure. However, the Act should not consequently remain on the statute book for ever. The Official Secrets Act was rushed through in similar circumstances before the First World War. As the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) warned about this Act, the Official Secrets Act has remained on the statute book ever since. Many of us have grave misgivings about that.
Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) stated:there is a suspicion … that the powers of arrest and detention are used in practice when there is no reason to suspect that a person is involved in terrorism."—[Official Report, 4 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 428–29.]The Home Secretary stated that balances and judgments had to be made. Last year my hon. Friend made the judgment to advise his right hon. and hon. Friends to abstain on the renewal of the legislation, but he did so with a heavy heart.
We have considered the matter further. This year we support the attempt of the official Opposition to have the legislation reviewed. It should be reviewed in the cold light of day and a considered judgment should be reached on the evidence. However, failing that, we shall be forced to vote against renewal of the legislation, with a heavy heart and reluctantly, if the call for a review is not heeded.
The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) said that Northern Ireland's problems needed long-term solutions. Continuing the legislation and leaving the military in Northern Ireland is not the long-term answer. Rather than perpetuating the legislation, we should study long-term solutions.
The Act has set up a system of informal exile in the United Kingdom, as arbitrary as that maintained in Tsarist Russia or, indeed, in the Soviet Union today. The Home Secretary has been given the right to impose arbitrary, executive punishment on the basis of secret evidence. The 368 suspect has no right to know or to challenge the evidence against him and no right to a court hearing. People have been subject to nightmares that make the works of Franz Kafka seem like sober documentaries.
Nowhere has the Act been used more heavily than on Merseyside. Of 5,061 detentions authorised under the Act between November 1974 and the end of December 1980, 1,221—nearly one-quarter—were on Merseyside. In only 71 cases were extensions of detention granted, a much lower proportion than in either the Metropolitan Police area or Dumfries, the two other areas where the provision is most used. In fact, only 6.8 per cent. of the people detained throughout the United Kingdom have subsequently been charged with a criminal offence.
The hon. Member for Grantham asked for evidence. Hugh Leekey arrived in Liverpool on 15 November 1979. He was due to sign an eight-month contract of work with the Ocean Fleet line. He was detained for 24 hours, lost the work and had to return to Belfast without compensation or apology. In a subsequent incident in Liverpool, three men who arrived from Dublin in February 1977 were detained for 45 hours without proper reason and, in two cases, without the chance to contact their wives. The case is before the European Commission of Human Rights, which has accepted that there is no domestic remedy for abuse of the powers.
It is arguable that the Act infringes the European Convention on Human Rights, for example, in article 5, the right to liberty, article 6, the right to a fair hearing, article 8, respect for private and family life, articles 10 and 11, freedom of expression and assembly and article 14, prohibiting discrimination in the protection of those rights on the ground of national origin.
My noble Friend Lord Wade recently tried to introduce a Bill of Rights in the other place. The hon. Member for Grantham will be aware of the support for that Bill from a member of his family. The legislation would have incorporated the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and removed the necessity for much of the legislation that we are dealing with tonight.
The Act needs to be reviewed. There is need for stiffer resolve from the House not to allow self-styled emergency and temporary provisions to become permanent. In introducing the measure in 1974, Roy Jenkins said that we all wanted to see an end to the measure as quickly as possible. However, every year an ill-attended, 90-minute debate is sufficient to prolong it.
Of course, we must oppose terrorism in all its manifestations, but legislation against terrorism cannot be allowed to act as a cloak for general infringements of the liberty of the subject. The way in which society treats minorities—whether they be black or old, disabled or Northern Irish—is the touchstone of its claim to be civilised. The accountability of the institutions that it establishes for their protection is the key. An annual 90-minute, or three-hour, debate is inadequate accountability. We need an inquiry. We need in future to be allowed to re-approve the Act section by section, rather than having to take it or leave it.
The Liberal Party will vote tonight with the Opposition for a review of the Act. If that vote is lost, reluctantly we shall have to vote against renewal of the Act.
§ Mr. Hattersley
With the leave of the House, I wish to make a further brief contribution. I understand that at 369 10 o'clock there will be what might in another context be called a natural break in our proceedings. I wish first to assure the House that I shall not attempt to intrude again in the debate when we resume, as resume we must, after the Division.
I wish to say just two things in response to the Home Secretary's speech, which was made two hours ago. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) will, I hope, forgive me if, in so doing, I do not follow him, except to say with what pleasure I noted that his speech returned the debate to the calm accuracy that had characterised our discussion before the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) made his contribution. I put that aside, however, and make one point to the Home Secretary, for one point it is.
If the Home Secretary cannot accept the Opposition motion, as I fear from his earlier speech is the case, I make a simple request of him. When he returns to the Home Office I hope that he will consider with great care the arguments for coming to the House at some subsequent date with proposals of his own for the kind of inquiry that we have proposed. I urge that upon him for three reasons.
First, nobody who has heard the debate or who may subsequently read it could imagine for a moment that the call for an inquiry reflects any moderation of the Opposition's attitude towards, and detestation of, terrorism.
Secondly, the House has shown a unanimous view that the prosecution of the war against terrorism must be continued as effectively as possible.
Thirdly, however, throughout the debate there has been an equally obvious and almost unanimous concern about the denial of civil liberties which every hon. Member who has spoken has agreed is involved in the continuation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
What the Opposition wish to see, and what I think sensible Members on both sides of the House wish to see, is a reconciliation of both necessities—the war against terrorism and the support and protection of traditional liberties.
As the matter stands, the House is presented with a stark choice. It may vote for or against the continuation of the order. I do not believe that it is in anybody's interest that that should be the only choice on this subject presented to the House tonight—or, more importantly, in a year's time.
Rather than asking the House to choose for or against continuing the provisions, it would be much more sensible from every point of view—and particularly, if I may say so without being patronising, from the Home Secretary's point of view—to offer the House the opportunity to make its own judgment about the possibilities of reconciling what is necessary to defeat terrorism with what is necessary to protect our proper liberties.
If we are not offered the chance to judge whether that reconciliation is possible, inevitably—and, I think, properly—the House will slowly turn towards the outright choice of rejecting renewal. I think that that is right and in the best traditions of the House and its proper role of protecting the liberties of the individual subject. I therefore say again to the Home Secretary that the best course for him is, to some degree, to blur the choice between the two necessities and to give the House the chance to evaluate the two needs to see whether they cannot be reconciled.
That is why my final word in this brief speech is like my first. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot agree with this motion tonight, I hope that he will consider whether he 370 cannot agree with it in the future—if not within days or weeks, then in months—and certainly before next year, when the House will have to choose whether or not we should continue with the PTA.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I shall seek to respond to the right hon. Gentleman at once. I should like to put that response in the context of some of the other things that have been said during the debate, because they are important to the attitude that I shall take.
I wish to make it clear once more, that at this stage I do not feel that a review, so soon after Lord Shackleton's, would be profitable. But of course I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. I shall consider whether it would be right to put forward proposals of my own for another year. I am prepared to do that. I make that perfectly clear to the right hon. Gentleman because he has been totally consistent in his view, a consistency that I have not found elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman does not wish to vote against the renewal of the Act now, but wishes a review to be undertaken of how it works to see whether it can be improved.
I understand and respect that point of view. The right hon. Gentleman will be the first to realise that some hon. Members who have spoken tonight will not be satisfied by such a review, because they have already made up their minds about what they will do. They are determined to vote against the renewal of the Act. It is partly for that reason that it is important to make it clear that at this stage I could not accept a review. I shall consider it and respond positively. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a definite undertaking, but I shall do just that.
I now turn to a different point of view, which was put by many right hon. and hon. Members. I wish to answer some of the points that they made. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) was quite plain, as always, and I respect him for that. He said that I do not need a distinguished man to tell me what my judgment should be. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman, but that view was reported to me, and I do not think that I have quoted it inaccurately. Therefore, no review will be any good to the hon. Gentleman, because he does not want it. He has made up his mind and has decided that we should not continue with the Act.
The right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) explained why he cannot be present. He said that the Act was passed in circumstances that were totally different from those of today.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying "Hear, hear" from his normally sedentary position. Perhaps he has forgotten certain incidents that occurred only three months ago. Would the hon. Gentleman be saying "Hear, hear" if, for example, the bombs at RAF Uxbridge had caused the casualties which they well might have done had it not been for distinguished action on the part of those concerned? He would not be saying "Hear, hear" had that happened. The circumstances would then not be so different.
§ Mr. Kerr
I have consistently supported an almost identical point of view to that of the Home Secretary. Therefore, he is being a little naughty in upbraiding me. I am sorry if I have offended him. I am very much in favour of the general line that he is pursuing, but I am 371 totally against the indefinite renewal of these powers. On those grounds, I intend to vote against the right hon. Gentleman tonight.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Fair enough. I think that I understand what the hon. Gentleman has said. However, had it not been for distinguished and excellent action, there might have been a considerable disaster at Uxbridge. Had that been the case, I do not think that the former Attorney-General—the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich—could have said that the circumstances were so very different from what they are today. Frankly, they would not have been.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I shall not give way again. The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) has a perfectly simple answer to the proposition. He wishes to pull out of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Very well. If the right hon. Gentleman did not say that, I apologise to him at once. But he is perfectly plain and clear in saying that he does not believe that the Act should be renewed under any circumstances.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly clear that the Act should not be renewed under any circumstances, and I must accept his view that he does not believe that it will in any way be valuable.
I must return to the important matter about which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) spoke. He talked dismissively about a 90-minute debate. I made certain—I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for giving it—that there was considerable extra time for this debate.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Yes, I know—it was time that the Opposition owed to the Government. I happen to know that. I have been a Chief Whip, and I understand the facts of the case, so I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can say it in that way. The extra time has been given, and the hon. Member for Edge Hill dismisses it.
The hon. Gentleman is in a curious situation. He wants a renewal, but if he cannot get a renewal he says that he must vote against the Act. I cannot understand the logic behind what he is saying. Perhaps he can understand it. I do not see the logic. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) says that he wants a renewal and wants an inquiry, but if he cannot have that he is prepared to renew the Act. The hon. Gentleman says that he is against terrorism, but if he does not get the inquiry he is still against renewing the Act.
If the hon. Gentleman is against renewing the Act, I must tell him that he is taking great risks in the context of terrorism, 372 and I think that he must accept that point of view. If he does not accept it, I must return to the point about Uxbridge, which I think is fair, and about Hammersmith, and to many of the acts that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Iain Paisley) mentioned in raising various points about the temporary provisions legislation, which I understand. After all, I had some part in introducing it, though it was not quite, I think, on all fours with what we were discussing tonight.
Many actions have taken place in Northern Ireland—for example, the murder of the late Speaker in Northern Ireland, Sir Norman Stronge, which horrified many people, including all of us who knew him. These are actions by people who have said that they are determined to come to the mainland to proceed with their particular campaigns of terror. That is what they have said. There has been very little reason over the years not to believe them when they have said that they are determined to pursue various acts of terrorism.
If I am asked whether I believe that this Act helps to prevent terrorism from coming back to this country at a difficult time, when there are still many acts in Northern Ireland and some in this country, I must say that I do so believe, because I believe that the powers in this Act are a considerable deterrent to those who would seek to come, as some do, to pursue their acts of terrorism in this country. If the Act does that, it is a very important Act to have on the statute book.
I have made clear my worries about the Act. I have responded to the right hon. Gentleman. But if I am finally asked, at this moment, bearing in mind what is happening in Northern Ireland and what has been threatened in this country, to take away from the police and from the people of this country, by an act of this House—that is if the House were to take it away—[Interruption.] I am talking to those who do not wish to renew the Act. I have accepted the point of view of people such as the right hon. Gentleman and others who want to renew the Act. I am talking to those who do not want to renew the Act. I am entitled to do that, and I shall do it again, because I cannot believe that such action would be in the best interests of protecting the people of this country.
I have responded and said that I will consider again the possibility of an inquiry, but if I were to concede it now, so soon after that of Lord Shackleton, I believe that I would be acting against the best interests of the people of this country. That is why I have decided that I could not have an inquiry at present.
§ Question put:
§ The House divided: Ayes 141, Noes 189.373
|Division No. 109]||[10.00 pm|
|Alton, David||Dalyell, Tam|
|Ashton, Joe||Davis, Clinton(Hackney C)|
|Atkinson, N. (H'gey,)||Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Deakins, Eric|
|Beith.A.J.||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)|
|Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)||Dempsey, James|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Dixon, Donald|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Dobson, Frank|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Dormand, Jack|
|Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Canavan, Denníis||Eadie, Alex|
|Carmichael, Neil||Eastham, Ken|
|Cartwright, John||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||English, Michael|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M (B'stol S)||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J.D.||Evans, John(Newton)|
|Cowans, Harry||Field, Frank|
|Cryer, Bob||Fitt, Gerard|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Flannery, Martin|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Pendry, Tom|
|Foster, Derek||Penhaligon, David|
|Foulkes, George||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Race, Reg|
|Freud, Clement||Radice, Giles|
|George, Bruce||Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)|
|Golding, John||Richardson, Jo|
|Graham, Ted||Robertson, George|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Rooker, J.W.|
|Hamilton, James(Bothwell)||Roper, John|
|Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Haynes, Frank||Rowlands, Ted|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Sandelson, Neville|
|Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Home Robertson, John||Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)|
|Homewood, William||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Hooley, Frank||Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)|
|Horam, John||Snape, Peter|
|Howells, Geraint||Soley, Clive|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|John, Brynmor||Stoddart, David|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Kerr, Russell||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Lamond, James||Tilley, John|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Tinn, James|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)||Urwin, Rt Hon Tom|
|McCusker, H.||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Watkins, David|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Welsh, Michael|
|McKelvey, William||White, Frank R.|
|Maclennan, Robert||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)||Whitlock, William|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Maxton, John||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Williams, Sir T. (W'ton)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Winnick, David|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Mitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Molyneaux, James||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Newens, Stanley||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Mr. George Morton and Mr. Hugh McCartney.|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Alexander, Richard||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Alison, Michael||Butler, Hon Adam|
|Ancram, Michael||Carlisle, John (Luton West)|
|Arnold, Tom||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Chapman, Sydney|
|Atkins, Robert(Preston N)||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Bendall, Vivian||Cockeram, Eric|
|Benyon, Thomas(A'don)||Colvin, Michael|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Cope, John|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Costain, Sir Albert|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Blackburn, John||Critchley, Julian|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Crouch, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Bright, Graham||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Dover, Denshore|
|Brown, Michael(Brig & Sc'n,)||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Browne, John(Winchester)||Dunlop, John|
|Buck, Antony||Dunn, Robert(Dartford)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.