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Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 13 February 1980

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3.49 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce measures for combating terrorism within the United Kingdom.
The war in Northern Ireland has been going on for over 10 years. That is twice as long as it took to subdue Hitler's Germany. There are almost as many troops and police in the Province as the Russians used in their initial invasion of the whole of Afghanistan.

The Six Counties are still suffering from a campaign of murder and violence, dominated by a hard core of 300 to 400 known thugs and hit men—men whose allegiance to their own self-interest, and to what Labour Members would call Fascism, is far greater than their commitment to Irish republicanism.

Last month, as many hon. Members before me have done, I visited the Province, and the visit left a very strong impression. For all our problems on this side of the mainland, the difference in Northern Ireland is very striking. Any person, as those hon. Members who have been there before me will know, following the road from the hills into Belfast feels that he could be approaching many similar industrial British cities. The difference is soon apparent when one perceives the desolate nature of the first terrace of stone houses with no curtains or glass in the windows but blind spaces, blocked up with breeze-block, their occupants having long since fled to safer areas. The buildings are bricked up to prevent vandalism and terrorist occupation.

As the road descends into the city, the similarities remind one that it could be Manchester or Cardiff. The differences are, therefore, vivid and chilling. Where there were shops, there are now crude car parks. Where there were pubs and warehouses, only fire-blackened and shuttered-off shells remain. The road is fairly wide, not unlike the main road in any of our major cities, with terraced houses on either side—houses but no streets. Where the streets end, there are now 15 ft walls of corrugated iron, built by the local authority to prevent the two communities tearing each other apart. It is as if the two halves of an urban precinct were opposing fortresses, glaring across at each other.

Further on, approaching the city centre, one comes to a fortified island in a sea of relative desolation, with 16 constantly manned "frontier" posts, where ordinary people, women and children, are frisked before entry.

In certain areas of the public imagination—and I would say areas of limited imagination—the IRA may stand for the ideal of a united Ireland. The reality is quite different. Years of violence have spawned anarchy. Legal authority has been replaced by a mafia of bullies. The way of power and influence in the Catholic ghettoes has been to join the IRA. That way people take notice. That way a young man can command the fastest cars, the girls and good living. Intimidation and protection rackets flourish. Local people are terrorised by the gun and blackmailed by the folklore of a united Ireland. Each enclave has its godfather whose tactics and legitimacy have more in common with the Gestapo than with the founding fathers of the Irish Republic.

The popular mass movement in the Catholic community in favour of republicanism has subsided. Less than half the Catholic population now want a united Ireland. They, too, are tired of the violence, poverty and serfdom imposed on them by a group of self-appointed gangsters. The IRA has already detached itself from its natural support, maintaining its domination only by the threat of violence and by the moral compulsion exerted by old loyalties.

These are our people and this is our country. For 10 years they have suffered. For 10 years inadequate Governments have not afforded them the protection and law enforcement to which they are entitled. In that time, 2,000 people, mostly innocent, have lost their lives. The intensity of killing is equivalent to 60,000 people being slaughtered on the mainland or 3,000 in a city the size of Birmingham.

In such circumstances, it is impossible to imagine that we should not adopt more realistic measures in suppressing the terror. Surely we should be as resolute in Ulster as we should certainly be on the mainland. Surely the separation of the two parts of the kingdom by water in no way absolves those in power from grasping the nettle that public opinion would force them to grasp were it growing on their own doorstep.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has grasped the political initiative. I am glad that, according to reports, it is meeting with success. I anticipate that, in association with the Irish Republic, we shall grasp the military nettle even more firmly.

This is a vile war, and we should not be squeamish. We should use all the weapons at our disposal. I should like to concentrate on one such weapon, which in the hands of the enemy has been of major effect—publicity and propaganda. Terrorism thrives on publicity. Why do terrorists claim responsibility for their gory crimes of which no one could possibly be proud, unless they think that it is to their benefit to do so? Terrorists surely want to be known about. They want credibility. They want credibility to justify their actions so that they can work on the weak-minded, such as the "Troops Out" movement. Why do they have a political branch? Why do they have Sinn Fein unless they want a political campaign to educate the public?

Why help them to do it? It gives them a kick and boosts their morale when their actions are blazed across the newspapers of the world. Will it not be disheartening, if, after an energetic campaign, they are confronted with blank screens? Do they not want to enlarge their presence by banner headlines throughout the nation about future bombing campaigns? It does not matter whether they take place; they have had the publicity and gained the benefit.

Why set up mock ambushes for gullible enthusiasts from the BBC if no benefit will accrue? Why parade to the cameras and claim with pride the murder of such noble people as Airey Neave unless they felt there was a useful purpose in doing so? Why do we play their games? Why, as is often the case in newspaper coverage, are IRA apologists given space equal to that of the legal authorities? To take an example, I have here an IRA statement that describes the reactions of politicians as sickening and hypocritical. It says that it is their collective activity, in collaboration with the British Forces, which prolongs the war and the misery that it creates. It offers to all bereaved families deepest and heartfelt sympathy. That appeared in a major newspaper. Why do we give money to such publications as this through the Arts Council of Great Britain?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I hesitate to interrupt a speech on a Ten-Minute Bill but it is usual for the House to be provided with details of the legislation sequired. The 10 minutes are virtually up, and the hon. Gentleman does not have much time to do that.

Order. There are two minutes left. Some hon. Members take longer than others before telling the House why they should be allowed to have their Ten-Minute Bill, and I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would get round to it.

My suggestion is that it should be an offence for any person knowingly to publish or distribute written material or to broadcast material that is likely to assist any organisation or person engaged in or contemplating acts of terrorism. That would be put forward as a reserve power. It would be brought into use only on an affirmative vote of both Houses of Parliament. In that way, it would be on the shelf and unlikely to be used.

I have no intention or desire to suppress facts. Facts should always be presented but in such a way at least not to help terrorists.

I fully appreciate the problems of definition in such a Bill, but they are not insuperable and no doubt could be dealt with in Committee. The cry of "Censorship" will go up. At present we have libel laws. I am asking for self-censorship and for a law that would be on the shelf. It would be a law that could be used, but I doubt whether it would ever need to be. It would be a law that would reflect the will of the people, outraged as they are by some of things that they have seen on their television screens.

It would be a law passed through the Parliament of this land to change attitudes and counterbalance the other imperatives found in the media—the imperative to get a scoop where possible—

Order. I invite the hon. Gentleman to come to his conclusion in one sentence.

This is a small but effective measure. If it is passed, it will have its effect without ever being called into use.

4.1 pm

I shall put my opposition to the Bill very briefly. It has a great many charms, but it has one defect. It contravenes one of the basic canons of British criminal law. It is a general principle of English law that a person should not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that person intended the prohibited act. In other words, there must be a criminal intention and that element is built into English law in order to protect innocent people from unfair conviction.

There are a number of exceptions to that general proposition. There are the exceptions of absolute liability, and strict liability and there are also classes of offence where the court will assume that people intend the consequences of their actions. But these are exceptions to a general proposition that people should not be found guilty of a criminal offence unless they intend the prohibited act.

This House should be very careful not to extend that basic proposition unless there is a clear and compelling reason to do so. I am bound to say that I do

Division No. 178]


[4.4 pm

Aitken, JonathanGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Proctor, K. Harvey
Alexander, RichardHawksiey, WarrenRees-Davies, W. R.
Aspinwall, JackIrvine, Charles (Cheltenham)Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Bell, Sir RonaldLawrence, IvanSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Bevan, David GilroyLoveridge, JohnSpeller, Tony
Blackburn, JohnMcCusker, H.Stainton, Keith
Braine, Sir BernardMarland, PaulStanbrook, Ivor
Brotherton, MichaelMarlow, TonyStokes, John
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Mills, Iain (Meriden)Thompson, Donald
Budgen, NickMoate, RogerThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Cockeram, EricMolyneaux, JamesThornton, Malcolm
Colvin, MichaelMontgomery, FergusWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Dickens, GeoffreyMyles, DavidWheeler, John
Dover, DenshoreNeedham, RichardWinterton, Nicholas
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Osborn, JohnWolfson, Mark
Farr, JohnPage, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Fell, AnthonyPawsey, JamesTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Garel-Jones, TristanPorter, GeorgeMr. D. A. Trippier and
Gorst, JohnPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)Mr. Gerry Neale.

not think that at this time there is any such clear and compelling reason. Judged against these criteria, what we know of my hon. Friend's Bill fails—and we know remarkably little because he did not trouble us with it at any great length. Clause 1 fails because it makes certain acts an offence if they are likely to have certain consequences. There is no requirement that the accused person should contemplate these consequences or that he should have foreseen them. Far less is there a requirement that the accused person should have intended these consequences.

I have been searching for parallels and precedents and I have found a precedent that will probably amuse my hon. Friends. It is contained in the Race Relations Act 1976. The nearest language that I have been able to find—that certain acts are likely to have certain consequences—is in the offence created by the Race Relations Act of incitement to racial discord. I suggest that that is not a statutory proposition which will attract the wholehearted support of many of my hon. Friends.

The point is that in this case the Bill is likely to imperil rather than preserve freedom. On that basis, I am against it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 ( Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business:

The House divided: Ayes 53, Noes 158.


Adams, AllenFlannery, MartinMulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Adley, RobertFoot, Rt Hon MichaelNewens, Stanley
Allaun, FrankForrester, johnOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Anderson, DonaldFoster, DerekO'Halloran, Michael
Ashton, JoeFraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)O'Neill, Martin
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Parry, Robert
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldPavitt, Laurie
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Garrett, John (Norwich S)Penhaligon, David
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyGeorge, BrucePollock, Alexander
Beith, A. J.Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Graham, TedPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertGrant, George (Morpeth)Race, Reg
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Grimond, Rt Hon J.Radice, Giles
Bray, Dr JeremyHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Rathbone, Tim
Brinton, TimHarrison, Rt Hon WalterRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Hattersiey, Rt Hon RoyRichardson, Jo
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Haynes, FrankRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Buchan, NormanHicks, RobertRobertson, George
Burden, F. A.Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Rooker, J. W.
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Home Robertson, JohnRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Canavan, DennisHomewood, WilliamRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Cant, R. B.Hooson, TomRowlands, Ted
Carmichael, NeilHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Sandelson, Neville
Carter-Jones, LewisHughes, Roy (Newport)Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Cartwright, JohnJohnson, James (Hull West)Short, Mrs Renée
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Soley, Clive
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSteel, Rt Hon David
Cohen, StanleyKinnock, NeilStewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Lamborn, HarryStrang, Gavin
Cowans, HarryLamond, JamesStraw, Jack
Crowther, J. S.Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Cryer, BobLitherland, RobertTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Lyon, Alexander (York)Temple-Morris, Peter
Dalyeil, TamMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Davies, lfor (Gower)McElhone, FrankThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Deakins, EricMcKelvey, WilliamWells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)McMahon, AndrewWelsh, Michael
Dixon, DonaldMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Whitehead, Phillip
Dormand, JackMcNally, ThomasWhitlock, William
Dubs, AlfredMagee, BryanWigley, Dafydd
Duffy, A. E. P.Marks, KennethWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Eadie, AlexMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Eastham, KenMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)Winnick, David
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Mason, Rt Hon RoyWrigglesworth, Ian
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Mawhinney, Dr BrianWright, Sheila
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Maxton, JohnYoung, David (Bolton East)
English, MichaelMeacher, MichaelYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Ewing, HarryMikardo, IanTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Field, FrankMiller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Mr. Kevin McNamara and Mr. Russell Kerr.
Fitt GerardMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)

Question accordingly negatived.