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Suppression Of Terrorism Bill Lords

Volume 951: debated on Friday 9 June 1978

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As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.

There are no amendments on Consideration.

The Question is, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As many as are of that opinion say "Aye".

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was under the impression that the Minister of State, Home Office, wished to speak and to move formally the Third Reading of the Suppression of Terrorism Bill [Lords]. It was my intention to reply. This was a clear understanding that I had. Because of that understanding, I did not take the initiative of rising to speak. I am sure that the Minister of State will bear me out in this.

Perhaps I may say that the Minister moved as if to rise. I put the Question. I paused considerably when I put the Question. I gave the House a full opportunity. However, I do not want to deny the House the right of debate. We can be very disorderly if we are not careful. I paused when I put the Question, and the hon. and learned Gentleman was present.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was my clear understanding that the Minister would be making a few introductory remarks by way of introducing the Third Reading, and I was waiting upon him to rise so that he could have that opportunity.

It is quite clear that the hon. and learned Gentleman overlooked what was happening at the moment when I put the Question, although I put it quite slowly. If it is the will of the House—but only if it is the will of both sides of the House—I will go back.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

I think that it would be helpful to the House, Mr. Speaker, if you could waive the rules in order to ensure that no section of the House should feel that its rights have been infringed about the matter. Of course, we hope to proceed at reasonable speed, and I am sure that the House will take that into account. But I think that it would be for the convenience of everyone if you were prepared to take that action.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many of us in this House have been caught out by not being fully awake from time to time. I had always understood that it was a rule of the House that if such an eventuality occurred, one paid the penalty of one's lack of attention. It has happened to Back Benchers. I hope that if we bend the rules on this occasion for the Conservative Front Bench, some of us who may be asleep in the future on the Back Benches will be allowed to have the rule bent for us, too.

I have never known the hon. Gentleman to be asleep. At least, his eyes have been open.

However, I think that we must exercise common sense in this matter. Quite clearly the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) was not aware of what was happening, and I think that it is the will of both sides of the House that we delete the earlier proceedings. But hon. Members must not take it as a precedent. Let the whole House—including the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price)—remember that.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[ Mr. John.]

11.14 a.m.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and for the support I have received from the Government Front Bench. If it was my error, I am sorry for it. I was under a mistaken view of what in fact was happening at the time.

I am very grateful to have this opportunity to say that the Opposition support this measure because we see the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, which the Bill enables the United Kingdom to ratify as a signatory, as another necessary and welcome, if limited, step in the international fight against terrorism.

The Convention itself, as we know, was inspired by the terrible history of terrorism during the last decade in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland and in European countries. The Convention and the Bill both share the fundamental and common purpose of attempting to ensure that terrorists who commit their outrages in a European country which has ratified the Convention are not allowed to escape justice by pleading that their crimes were of a political character.

There were two anxieties which those of us, on both sides of the House, who looked at the Bill, had about the Convention. There were strong feelings—I recognise the strong interest and feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on this point, which he expressed in Committee—that by denying the terrorist the right to avoid extradition from one country to another on the grounds of the political nature of his acts, the Convention inevitably impinged upon the tradition to which our domestic law has long given effect—namely, that we do not return to the country of origin persons accused of political offences as such. The tradition goes back to the Napoleonic wars and was given statutory effect as long ago as 1870.

I have sympathy with, and, as I have already said, I share the anxiety that was felt about this aspect of the Bill. On the other hand, the Opposition now feel that it is justified to diminish the extradition rights in this way because of Clause 2 of the Bill, which clearly protects a fugitive terrorist against extradition if his position would be prejudiced by his political opinion on the other grounds that are set out in Clause 2.

We are equally satisfied that these provisions are justified because the contracting States to the Convention are democratic States with systems of justice upon which we believe we can rely.

Does not my hon. and learned Friend think it utterly deplorable that one of those democratic States, the Republic of Ireland, has not seen fit to sign this Convention and ratify it? If that State is not harbouring terrorists, why on earth does it not sign the Convention?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has anticipated a point with which I was going to conclude my speech.

The point that is of overwhelming cogency is the fact that it is in the exceptional nature of terrorism that exceptional steps should be taken and there arises an exceptional need to ensure that those who are responsible for these outrages should on no account escape justice.

The second anxiety, that which has just been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), is the limited jurisdiction of the Convention. This is not only because it relates to the States which have ratified the Convention but also because one of those States, the Republic of Ireland, has so far refused to sign or ratify it. One hardly needs to be reminded of the fact that some of the worst examples of modern terrorism have emanated from, or have been committed in, the Republic of Ireland.

Few countries, the House will probably agree unanimously, are more involved in, more affected by or have stronger reason for an interest in, suppressing terrorism than the Government of the Republic of Ireland. Yet Mr. Lynch's Government have refused to ratify this Convention and one can only ask why. If there arises a suspicion of lack of good faith in Mr. Lynch and his Government, Mr. Lynch and his Government have only themselves to blame. In a speech that Mr. Lynch made on 27th April this year he gave a reason for his Government's refusal to sign or ratify this Convention. He said:
"This country"
—that is, the Republic of Ireland—
"has declined to sign that Convention, not because of any lack of determination to operate, to the full, the law against those who use violence for political ends, but quite simply because the Convention is against the spirit of our Constitution and of previous International Conventions."
One can only suppose that Mr. Lynch either forgot or overlooked or, I suppose more reasonably, rejected the views of his Foreign Minister, Mr. Michael O'Kennedy, as expressed in a speech last year to the point that the Irish Government ought to subscribe to international conventions against terrorism. According to a report the The Irish Times of 17th February last year, Mr. O'Kennedy, who was speaking in a debate at Trinity College, was arguing that, whatever reasons the Government had for not signing the European Convention,
"the constitution is not one of them."
He went on to say:
"Constitutional lawyers were amazed to hear the Govenment assert blandly that the Constitution prevented them from signing the European Convention against Terrorism recently."
He argued, rightly we believe, that, far from repudiating the obligation of the Republic of Ireland to maintain peaceful and orderly relations with other States, the constitution required that country to discharge such obligations.

Will the Minister use his best endeavours to see that the Government of the Republic are aware of the dismay and of something amounting to bewilderment at the failure to sign and ratify this Convention? Will he see whether the United Kingdom cannot reach some agreement with other contracting States to make certain that the Government of the Republic understands fully our desire that it should sign this Convention as soon as possible?

Would it not be fair to say also that if one singles out the Republic of Ireland one should also look at the legislation of other States which are contracting parties which have entered derogations against the Convention, although they have ratified and signed it?

I think that is right. Quite a number of countries have done this. They have recognised, as we in this House have recognised, the exceptional character of terrorism. Because of that and under the impact of their conviction that terrorism must be dealt with and that exceptional measures have to be taken to deal with it, they have signed and ratified the Convention. That is what we are asking the Republic of Ireland to do.

11.25 a.m.

I am glad to have the opportunity of sharing the welcome which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) has accorded this important Bill. I welcome it not only as a Member of Parliament who is profoundly disturbed, as we all are, by the problems of international terrorism, not only as a lawyer who sees in it an instrument for dealing with, meeting, and perhaps hopefully diminishing international terrorism but also as a delegate from this House to the Council of Europe. I think it is right that, on Third Reading, the role of the Council of Europe in initiating this international Convention, should be openly and publicly recognised.

The problem of terrorism has exercised the Council of Europe for many years increasingly, as international terrorism has increased. It has concerned the Legal Committee of the Council of Europe on which I have the honour to serve. It was in that Legal Committee that the terms of this Convention and other projects in a similar vein were discussed and thrashed out, went before the Assembly, then to the Committee of Ministers and finally resulted in the Convention to which this legislation is designed to give the force of law in this country.

In welcoming this further contribution of the Council of Europe to international comity and understanding and, we hope, to the progress of civilisation in Europe, one should remember that this is the latest of over 90 international European Conventions which have been the result of the work of the Council of Europe, produced by the Council of Europe, and which have been signed and ratified by most of the countries making up the Council of Europe. Obviously, the most important and best known is the International Convention on Human Rights, but there are many others. I am sure that the Minister, if he replies, will desire in his turn to pay a tribute to the important work—it is all too often ignored, perhaps because it goes so smoothly and is done so well—of the Council of Europe which alone can speak with the voice of all the 20 countries—there are not many more—which make up the free countries of Europe.

11.28 a.m.

This debate was made possible today by the intervention of the Leader of the House and the agreement of the Front Benches. As a Back Bencher, I think that it is only right that someone from Northern Ireland, a Province afflicted with the scourge of terrorism, should make a few remarks.

Hon. Members for Northern Ireland are more interested in the later business than in this debate, but I would like to remind the House that terrorism continues in Northern Ireland. Sometimes this House seems to think that because there has been some improvement in the situation, the terrorist problem in Northern Ireland is over. But the other evening, £5 million-worth of damage was inflicted in the City of Londonderry by a terrorist strike and many other acts of savagery, cruelty and murder have been committed in the past few days. Terrorism is far from over in Northern Ireland.

The House was shocked, as the world was shocked, with the awful La Mon Hotel massacre. It is now well known in Northern Ireland that the police know the people responsible for that massacre but that those people are safe in the Republic of Ireland. I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) on the attitude of the Republican Government to this matter. As long as there is any place in the Island of Ireland where a terrorist can hide from the law, we shall be unable to put down terrorism. There must be no safe hiding place for terrorists in any part of these Islands.

I therefore welcome the Bill, and I trust that the South of Ireland will, even at this late stage, take cognisance of what has been and will be done by the various States making up the Council of Europe and realise that in this matter the South is seriously out of step. We are constantly told by the Dublin Government that they want to be friendly to the North of Ireland. The best way for them to demonstrate the sincerity of those oft-repeated affirmations would be to fall in line with the other States in the Council of Europe and endorse the Convention.

11.31 a.m.

I add my congratulations to the Government on bringing in the Bill. There are, I think, two categories of problem here. First, of the 19 States, two have not signed, and I gather that of the other 17 we shall be the third country to bring forward a change in domestic legislation. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that until this matter is dealt with by the Republic of Ireland and legislation is passed by the other European States, there will be harbours for terrorists in too many areas. One has but to look at the record. In spite of the signatures applied to the Convention, the fact remains that, because domestic legislation has not been passed, it is still possible for terrorists to get away.

I therefore congratulate the Government on being the third European Government, so I understand—Sweden and West Germany being the other two—to make changes in domestic legislation, and I trust that this example will be followed by the other European States.

I trust also that this matter will be raised not just in the Council of Europe but in the Nine, because I believe that this could be the best way to move the Republic of Ireland. Undoubtedly, there is a division of opinion there, and I feel that in that way we could move opinion in the Republic firmly in the direction indicated by the Irish Foreign Minister. If all the other countries of the EEC passed the appropriate legislation, it would, I believe, be much easier for the Irish Government to come into line. On this occasion at least, Brussels could be of great use to this country if it could bring about the passage of legislation as part of the legislation of the European Community as a whole.

One recognises, of course, that such legislation is not 100 per cent. effective. Great problems remain. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction, and I hope that by our example in this Parliament other European Parliaments—and, one day, the Irish Parliament—can be encouraged to take similar steps.

11.33 a.m.

I support those of my hon. Friends who have passed strictures upon the Republic of Ireland for its failure hitherto to sign the convention. Many friends of the Republic will have been shocked to hear its Prime Minister's reason for not doing so. Surely, it sounds like the hollowest of excuses, especially in the light of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) reminded us about Mr. O'Kennedy's explanation that there is no constitutional reason for the Republic of Ireland not to sign the European Convention.

The Republic should remember that most people in this country look towards it as being on our side in the war against terrorism. There does not appear to be any excuse, if it is not harbouring terrorists, for its Government not to sign the Convention.

We know, of course, that the IRA would not like the Convention to be signed since its terrorists would wish to keep the opportunity to find haven within the Republic's borders. This, therefore, raises the question just how frightened, concerned or affected by the views of the IRA the Government of the Republic are, how much they are influenced by the IRA, and how much the IRA itself is influenced by pressure from international terrorists.

These questions are asked, but they are asked in a spirit of concern and friendship by those who are anxious to remain the close friends we always have been, with the Republic. Therefore, anything that goes out from this debate to bring home to the Government of the Republic of Ireland the concern which we feel will be well merited.

I wish, finally, to remind the House of some words of Solzhenitsyn which, I believe, were last quoted in 1975 in our debate on capital punishment for terrorist killings. They are most apt to the point which we are, I believe, all making:
"Hijackings and other forms of terrorism have been spreading tenfold precisely because everyone is ready to capitulate before them. But as soon as some firmness is shown, terrorism can be smashed for ever."
The only way we can ensure that international terrorism is smashed is by all the Governments of the West agreeing together to take those steps which are necessary, and one of the most necessary steps which can be taken at this point is the signing of the Convention and the putting into effect of all its articles.

11.35 a.m.

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity of this short debate. I join the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) in paying tribute to the work of the Council of Europe in initiating the Convention to which we are now to give our assent on the Third Reading of the Bill.

I believe that the Bill will take us forward. Of course, no legislation will of itself transform any situation. Legislation always needs to be supplemented by political will in any society, which I take to have been the point made by the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). I thought that the hon. Gentleman was rather gloomy in quoting Solzhenitsyn, for I believe that in both the international and the domestic scene there is a growing awareness of what must be done and a greater determination to stand up to terrorism, if I may so put it, recognising that, unless democratic countries are able to resist it, it will remain the most overt threat to democracy that can possibly exist.

The Bill will bring about major changes in our extra-territorial jurisdiction as well as in our traditional extradition procedures. I feel that the speed with which both the Standing Committee and the House have managed to transact the business is a recognition of the importance with which our Parliament views the matter.

At present, the Convention has been ratified by three member States of the Council of Europe—Austria, Sweden and the Federal Republic of Germany—and it comes into force on 4th August this year. We shall be the fourth member to ratify.

Once Royal Assent has been given, a number of orders will have to be laid, but we expect that all this will be completed within a few months, enabling us to ratify the Convention by this autumn. I believe that by so doing we shall give a clear example to other countries and a positive demonstration of the way in which the United Kingdom views the best interests of all.

It is fair to say—I am sure that the Minister would wish to say it—that we have led the countries of Europe in the extent to which we have signed and ratified the conventions to which we have been party.

I was just coming to that very point. We propose to ratify the Convention without reservation because we believe that extradition is the most effective way of dealing with fugitive terrorists. We shall not cease to urge upon the other members of the Council of Europe our belief—the Government of the Republic of Ireland are well aware of it—that extradition—and therefore this Convention—is the most effective way of countering terrorism.

As hon. Members will have seen, we have made appropriate provision in the Bill to enable it to be applied to the Republic of Ireland should it wish to ratify the Convention and indeed—

I am about to come to a point which I think will help my hon. Friend. Should the Republic of Ireland wish to act outside the Convention—perhaps on similar lines but outside it—we have made provision in the Bill for that. Discussions are going on at the moment within the Nine about the possibility of this happening.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comment on that point, which I intended to raise with him. There was a second point that I wanted to make. I am sure that he will agree that legislation exists, both in this country and in the Republic of Ireland, for extradition if evidence is produced which will stand up in court. If the Government felt that matters of the sort to which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred, existed, and they had the evidence, they would use this legislation.

Hon. Members are doing very well this morning in anticipating the next point in my speech. I was about to point out that legislation of a reciprocal nature, which is embodied in the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975, enables courts in the Republic to try offenders for crimes committed in Northern Ireland, and vice versa. That extends to some offences connected with explosives committed in Great Britain. But it affects only crimes or offences committed after 1st June 1976.

I take my hon. Friend's point about derogations and about reservations concerning the Convention, but I make the general point that we shall ratify the Convention without reservation and encourage all other signatory countries to the Convention to do so, because we believe that that is the most effective way of countering this very serious menace.

The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde mentioned the anxiety relating to the political offence. It is certain that there is some diminution, but I should not like that word to be used in any qualitative sense, as though there were some significant erosion of liberty implied. Certainly it is true that there has been a diminution in regard to the horrific crimes listed in the Bill. But there are at least three major sources of safeguard which still remain to the fugitive who genuinely seeks political sylum. The first is the democratic nature of the member countries of the Council of Europe. Indeed, should any one of them cease to be democratic, it would also cease to be a member of the Council, and therefore cease to be a country to which the Convention would apply.

Secondly, in terms of Article 5, which is enshrined in Clause 2 of the Bill, it would still be open to a court, if it found that a proscution wereaimed at persecuting someone on the ground of race, religion, nationality or political views, to refuse extradition upon such ground.

Thirdly, the Home Secretary still has his residual power—I hope that this will reassure those acedemics who talk on the radio about the safeguards for political offences having been removed entirely from the Convention—to refuse extradition where he believes that the motive in so doing is not punishment for one of these offences but persecution on the ground of political views. I think that there remains an adequate safeguard for those who are oppressed, without making it the fig leaf by which almost every bandit or murdered can escape his crime by claiming that there was some political motive behind it.

Inevitably, we have to draw a line in the modern world between safeguarding people from oppression and punishing offences which everyone feels to be abhorrent. I believe that the Bill has drawn that balance pretty well. I think the Convention also drew it pretty well. By ratifying it as we are, I hope that we are giving an example to those countries which have not signed. I should prefer to encourage rather than to criticise publicly. I hope that all of them will feel able to join us as quickly as possible, thereby helping to stamp out this vicious and evil development in modern society. By their so doing, life in the democratic countries which are members of the Council of Europe will be the richer.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.