The Opposition have chosen as the subject for the debate today public safety and the decline in respect for the law.
I understand that it may be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Speaker, that in the debate reference may be made to the motion in the name of the Leader of the House on passes for Members and so on:
That Members and Officers of the House, the staff of the House and all persons who require to enter the precincts regularly on official duty or on the business of the House shall produce a photographic identification pass, provided by the authorities of the House, whenever so requested by the police officers or officials of either House responsible for security within the precincts or in the other parliamentary buildings in the vicinity; that the authorities of the House prepare and distribute such passes; and that the authorities of the House provide similar passes for Members' spouses, if so requested.
The Opposition would have no objection to that if it were the wish of the House.
The subject we have chosen is one that is deeply important to the public. I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak, so I shall seek to restrain my opening speech to a moderate length.
The first topic that must be covered is the protection of the public from normal crime. We are all, both in the House and in the country, conscious how fortunate we are in the standards and performance of our police forces. They are undermanned, they are overburdened, but they still seem to maintain extremely high standards in the face of every new task. They are suffering the worse wastage for 20 years, with most serious effects in the cities. The Opposition are determined—as we were last time in office—when we return to office to put the proper manning of the police force as one of our top priorities. We were making good progress last time, and we shall try to do even better next time.
We have the greatest respect for the work and the importance of the probation service and also for the difficult but essential task of those who work in the prison service.
The evidence of the latest reports on the police is that, given proper manning, the police can get on top of crime. For instance, there has been a sharp drop in the number of robberies, responding it seems to the particular attention given by the police to setting up specialist anti-robbery forces. But the aspect that leaps from all the recent reports is the mounting momentum of juvenile crime, in many cases linked to the phenomenon of truancy.
It would be idle for me to spend much time on this huge subject, which is worthy of a debate on its own, but the essence is the standards in the home of the child. If the standards are high, if a child knows that he will sacrifice the approval of his parents, there is some hope that there will be neither truancy nor juvenile delinquency, but if standards at home are low, society and the child will suffer. We have not made things easier by raising the school leaving age or by failing to provide the resources to give substance to the Children and Young Persons Act or indeed by our town planning arrangements.
I understand that in one area where a great deal of truancy was discovered recently one local comment was that it was not altogether surprising because in that area there were 187 public houses and not a blade of grass or any opportunity for play for the children. Without being romantic and believing that recreation will abolish juvenile delinquency, I think it may well be that recreation, which is justified for its own sake, has something to do with the reduction of juvenile delinquency.
The large volume of juvenile crime should lead to a re-examination by the education world and the employment world of their policies. The comfort is that most young offenders turn into law-abiding citizens, although they certainly darken the lives of millions of peaceful, quiet people during their years of rampage, and that brings us back to the question of police numbers.
There is in this country an even more insidious attack on the law than the crime we are experiencing—as no doubt there is in every country—and that is the pervasive attack upon the free society. Many separate and distinct trends are being experienced, some from outside, some from within. There are armed groups, some with specific purposes, some with apocalytic purposes. A wide range of political forces, using anything from subversion to ordinary lobbying, seek to swing our society away from freedom. Violence is condoned and is very near the surface. The far Left with totalitarian purpose is widely active in factories, schools, universities and communications. There are deliberate destroyers at large pursuing various ideologies to seek to provoke and discredit the police in order to advance their aim of eroding our liberties. These extreme movements can mobilise shifting but substantial support from the naive, and can, and do, exploit every sort of resentment, frustration and grievance.
In preparation for the debate I re-read the essay by George Orwell—I wish he were alive; he would spare no one of us—on the subject of what we would now call fanatical ideologies but which he called nationalisms. He wrote:
The world is tormented by innumerable delusions and hatreds".
In speaking of their origin he said:
It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies"—
that is, the worst follies of ideological fanaticism—
have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief.
Certainly, no nation can be healthy without the twin elements of patriotism and mutual respect.
Against this ramifying hydra-headed, sometimes plausible, sometime fashionable, alliance of destructive forces, we on both sides of the House proudly and deliberately have only the powers, and no more than the powers, given to the authorities by law. We abide by the rule of law. These fanatics do not respect the law because they do not respect the rule of law. They are mostly in favour of some form of dictatorship. It is a depressing picture.
But we should count our blessings. The police are held high in public esteem. Demonstrations have been allowed by Governments of both parties and with, alas, one exception recently, have passed off without serious casualties. The police have an enviable reputation. I believe all of us in the House and our constituents recognise that. What not all of our constituents recognise, what they do not understand, is why successive Governments do not do what seems obvious to them: why do not we ban the IRA? Why do we not ban demonstrations? Why do we not send constantly-demonstrating students away from universities?
We in this House know the answer, more or less. We know that to ban the IRA might simply lead to its re-emergence under 100 successive different names. We know, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) wrote in the Daily Telegraph recently, that there are security aspects of the decision whether to ban the IRA. It is important that we should explain to our constituents why we do not do what it seems obvious to them should be done. We know that to ban demonstrations would, first, be to eliminate a basic right and, secondly, might create violence instead of containing it. In explaining this problem to our constituents we need to explain that the disciplining of students on the university campus is for the university authorities, not for us.
If we are to retain the freedom of our society, we in this House must try to understand the many forces at work, the excessive permissiveness in some schools which has led to lack of self-discipline, the attitudes and the management at some secondary schools, the deliberate subversion that goes on at some schools, the exploitation and glamorisation of violence in many films and on television, and the licensed obscenities permitted, very wrongly, some years ago by the BBC. I am reminded of the poignant words of Caliban to Prospero:
You taught me language and my profit on't is I know how to curse.
That seems, alas, appropriate to some of our school children. Behind all these manifestations there is a mindless fashion for revolution.
But we in this House have our share of responsibility, too, for the climate. I believe there is a parallel between our economic and our moral and political problems. Just as there has been and is money inflation, so also we have contributed to bringing about expectation inflation, rights inflation and laws inflation. Neither party has been blameless. We have built up expectations and frustrated them. Socialist in particular have stressed rights.
It was not always so. As I understand it, original members of the Labour Party, emphasised the need to balance rights and duties as we Conservatives try to do; for rights have no meaning unless they are balanced by duties. But members of the Labour Party have prated of rights without ensuring that rights can be satisfied. They have peddled instant reform, often of age-old ills, and have failed. Many of those who orate about rights, then pass legislation which prevents rights from being exercised. So there is plenty of material for to exploit. Against this background the far Left and other extremists clamour their slogans and abuse the rights of free speech.
I am coming to the far Right. I do not think I am taking long to cover a great deal of ground.
The extremists claim that the imperfections of society justify anti-social behaviour and violence, but which society in this world is perfect? Which society does not contain injustices, and what have those who demonstrate most of the time done to make things better? Often those most strident in demanding rights contribute least to the pool of resources from which rights can be honoured.
Here is this country there is freedom and scope to try to make improvements. Yes, imperfect this society is, but free and with mechanism for change. Against this background the least politicians can do is to set an example of scrupulous respect for the law. I do not believe all Members of Her Majesty's present Government have shown that scrupulous respect. I have warned the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) that I felt it inevitable that in this debate I should refer to his remarks about a member of the judiciary. It is ironic that the right hon. Gentleman, who could spon- taneously, without any preparation, make a long and accurate speech about the struggle for judicial independence in the seventeenth century should so violate that independence by his words in this House recently. One must also refer to the behavious of the Lord President of the Council when he was in Opposition, in connection with the Clay Cross councillors, behaviour which I believe, to their credit, deeply embarrassed some of his colleagues in the present Government.
Next, there is the Home Secretary himself. I am not wishing to exaggerate at all. He is often robust in words and often in deeds; but he has made his contribution to the bad examples. On illegal immigration, on spouses for immigrant women, on which he has changed his mind on the risks of abuse, on Chilean permits, he has taken decisions with some reason I readily accept, but decisions which will attract most support from the Left at the expense perhaps of later damage to the people of this country, including the immigrant communities themselves.
The bulk of the people of this country look to successive Governments to guard a small number of certitudes—the rule of law, national identity, the value of the currency and freedom from fear. On all of these they have legitimate complaints, and we no doubt have answers. But to many of our constituents it looks as if the far Left, with its hatred of free society, have had it all their own way.
Take the hooligans who control the National Union of Students. They ban free speech. Some universities, honourably, have renounced them. Some Ministers—the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection—have denounced them. What have the National Union of Students now done? They have condescended to forgo violence but not to allow speakers of whom they disapprove to be heard.
The totalitarian antics of the far left, if not firmly handled by the Government of the day, produce a reaction in the far Right. I am a member of a minority with every reason to abominate the attitudes of the National Front. But I warn the House that if the excesses of the far Left are not curbed—of course, within the rule of law—we fuel the National Front; and the tragedy of that movement is that it contains not only some very nasty people but also some frustrated decent people, too, many of them trade unionists who see the far Left in action every day.
The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt trying to be fair and is itemising a large number of sources of violence and disrespect for the law but he has not said a word about the Rhodesia situation, which is one of the gravest breaches of the law.
One could speak of Rhodesia, South Africa, Russia, Chile, but these are not our responsibility. In this debate we are discussing the safety of the public and respect for the law in this country.
Finally, I turn to the subject of terrorism. In a free society it is difficult to stop the bomber. Plainly, the strength of the police is all-important, as is its intelligence service and the co-operation of overseas services.
Alas, terrorism is not a new experience since we have behind us years of the misery of Northern Ireland. In connection with Northern Ireland, there is an enormous political dimension to be taken into account when considering terrorism.
There seems to be a widespread feeling in the country that for terrorism there should be the death penalty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There are three main questions or clusters of questions that should be asked. First, is the death penalty thinkable for terrorism? Two reasons are generally advanced for the use of the death penalty. One is that it marks society's abhorrence of a particular outrage. We frustrate the public in a legitimate reaction if we forget or ignore this strand of the argument.
The second reason is to deter. So far the subject of whether there should or should not be the death penalty normally has been considered only in connection with murder. In that connection I am against capital punishment. I am an abolitionist, because I have never been convinced so far that capital punishment would be a deterrent to murder. If were so convinced, I would change my vote.
Murder is an act of violence against a person. In most cases murder is unplanned; in most cases it is the result of hot blood; in many cases it is carried out on a relative or friend.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that terrorist acts, such as the bomb on the plane from Belfast, are random attempts at mass murder? Does my right hon. Friend think that since there is the death penalty for arson in the Royal Dockyards and piracy on the high seas, it is possible to contemplate having the death penalty for terrorists who are prepared to engage in mass murder?
I shall pick up my hon. Friend's argument a little later. I was saying that most murders are unplanned, most are in hot blood, and many involve family or friends. The House tried on one occasion to distinguish between different types of murder. We tried to catch the systematic, near-deliberate or deliberate murderer in the Homicide Act 1957, but the classification broke down.
I believe that quite different considerations from those appropriate to murder apply to terrorism. Terrorism is deliberate. A terrorist systematically equips himself to do indiscriminate destruction to life and limb. Terrorism is an act of indiscriminate violence on the State, through an unknown number of persons. It is an act of war in time of peace.
The decision on the penalty is for individual Members of Parliament—as, in the ultimate are all decisions. I can only say, as a long-standing and still convinced opponent of capital punishment for murder, that I regard the death penalty for terrorism as a totally different question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I cannot speak for others. I am confident that there will be different opinions among abolitionists, but it seems to me that that is the first question.
Secondly, there is a highly specialised cluster of questions, which I shall not presume to try to answer, involving the definition and scope of capital punishment for terrorism. I understand that the Republic of Ireland introduced a definition in 1964 in its Criminal Justice Act. There are difficult questions involving the prerogative of mercy. These questions are not for me, but I refer to them for completeness.
Thirdly, and most difficult, is the following question. If capital punishment for terrorism is thinkable, and if it is definable, would it be in the public interest to introduce it? On the one hand, it would mark the sense of outrage which the country feels for such episodes as occurred at the White Tower. Perhaps it might deter some terrorists, and there are people who claim that the experience in 1938, when two executions led to the end of terrorism at that time, gives us some encouragement. On the other hand, there is the risk, as the Home Secretary has rightly emphasised, that the result of introducing capital punishment would be to escalate violence and would be an encouragement to the taking of hostages—in other words, that it would not deter terrorists who in many cases are obsessed enough to want to be martyrs. I would however remind the Home Secretary that there were hostages taken at Munich when no death penalty was involved but merely imprisonment.
There is also the difficult question for us to judge of how sympathy moves between crime and punishment. The newspapers recently have been full of haunting pictures of crippled children. What happens six months afterwards when the terrorist is caught, is tried and has appealed? What happens if the haunting pictures that then appear are of the terrorist himself or herself or of his or her family? We cannot tell where sympathy will lie. For today I only list some of the factors.
This is an important question of great interest to the public. I can only say, to bring the matter down to earth, that it is all an academic question because terrorists first have to be caught. That is difficult enough, and then there is the whole process of law and appeal. For my right hon. and hon. Friends, I can say that, whatever our views as individuals, it seems to us that we must approach the question with open minds. My right hon. Friends and I in office will study the implications of staying as we are or of changing.
My hon. Friends who want to make a change should not underestimate the difficult judgment as to where the public interest truly lies. The Home Secretary has said that in his view the public interest lies against capital punishment for terrorism. That is his conviction. My inclination is to agree with him personally that many terrorists would not be deterred. But that does not end the question. Even the Home Secretary's view is not enough when the country is faced with questions such as that. The House will want to know whether the Government have a view on this important matter. I hope the Home Secretary will give us the Government's view. We owe it to the public to consider thoroughly a point of view held by large numbers of people in the country and they should be told what is the Government's view.
I apologise if I have gone rather quickly through an immense range of subjects.
I have tried to set the background for the debate. The House will listen with great care to the Home Secretary's reply on the several worrying subjects covered by this important debate.
I welcome the debate, and I also welcome the major part of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and the tone in which he opened the debate. His speech at times was on a philosophical, almost remote, note but, none the less, he raised our thoughts to some broad considerations.
One minor reason for welcoming the debate is that it so happens that it gives me my first, perhaps my only, opportunity in this Parliament to make a speech. Nothing should be read into the fact that I suggest that it may be my only opportunity. I refer only to the fact that on many occasions I have made statements and have given answers to Private Notice Questions, but this is the only occasion on which I have made a speech of any substance.
That being so, before returning to the issue which the right hon. Gentleman raised in the latter part of his speech, perhaps I may begin by endeavouring to refute some of the more unnecessarily and unconvincingly controversial parts of his speech. I deplore any acts of violence and any violent demonstrations by the Left or by the Right. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman made a mistake in suggesting the whole time that it was the Left who were provoking the Right. The extreme Right can act in very provocative ways, and I do not believe that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman would wish to deny that.
The right hon. Gentleman then produced an extraordinary catalogue of reasons why he thought that I had flirted with illegality—I am not sure that that was his phrase, but I am sure that it was his intention. He listed three examples. The first was the amnesty. The amnesty was designed to repair a bit of retrospective legislation. I believe that retrospective legislation is fundamentally undesirable and at variance with the principles of the law, and we have heard enough about it from the Conservative benches in the recent past.
Secondly, and still more surprisingly, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that my decision to admit husbands in the same way as wives have been admitted so far was in some extraordinary way an illegal act. As he welcomed it when I announced it, I do not know what thoughts have gone on in his mind since. Whether the decision is welcome or not, there is manifestly not a trace of illegality about it. It is merely exercising the right which rests upon all Home Secretaries to make changes in our immigration laws. They have done so in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Certainly it was not illegal. I was trying to bring out the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had seen great risks of abuse when he first came to office and that he had decided to ignore them in making the change.
That does not begin to add up to the argument which the right hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to propound.
To complete dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's catalogue of examples, the third was that I had adopted a more generous attitude towards Chilean refugees. One of the best and oldest traditions of this country is the admission of those who are, or are likely to be, the victims of political oppression. If to continue that tradition is to act in an illegal way, words have lost their meaning.
More important than these controversial exchanges, and certainly more important than the fact that this debate gives me the opportunity to make my first speech in this Parliament, is that it is right that we should debate matters which cause, as they do, widespread public concern. Recently we have witnessed several further bomb incidents of the kind that we experienced in 1973 and in early 1974, leading to loss of life, serious injury and physical destruction, as well as some escapes from threats which perhaps were achieved by a mixture of skill and luck. I shall deal with the point which the right hon. Gentleman made at the end of his speech. However, I do not think that these terrorist threats or attacks provide any evidence of a general decline in respect for the law. On the contrary, the deep-seated and almost universal revulsion felt against those who engage in such attacks fortifies the appreciation by ordinary citizens of how essential is the rule of law to the preservation of our liberties and safety and how great is our dependence upon those services which endeavour often in very difficult circumstances to uphold them or to repair the damage when it is breached. The police and other services engaged in this task have, and will continue to have, my full support.
I should be more dismayed were there any sign that the people of this country accepted the recent outrages with indifference or reacted by believing that we should respond to the bombings by acceding to the political demands of those who use violence. Then it might be possible to argue that terrorist attacks represented a general deterioration in respect for the law. But that is far from being the case.
There is the separate but related issue, at least as far as this debate is concerned, of the long-term growth in what, for this purpose, may be described as non-politically-motivated crime. That has been with us for at least 20 years now. But its familiarity is not the slightest reason for complacency. However it is a reason for debating these matters without partisanship and without the delusion that the denunciation of crime or the proclamation of a tough law and order approach is the same as its solution.
I seem to recollect that at the famous—or notorious—Selsdon Park conference in 1970 law and order was made into one of the two main issues. I regret, however, that its elevation led to no change of trend. I wish it were otherwise. By 1972 recorded crime was up by 17 per cent over 1969. Violent offences against the person were up by 38 per cent. Robbery was up by 48 per cent. In 1973 there was the most welcome relief in the total of recorded crime, though not in violent offences against the person. I regret, further, that this relief was concentrated into the first half of 1973 and that the last quarter showed an increase of 11 per cent. in indictable crimes over the figure in the last quarter of 1972.
This remarkable fall of 0·3 per cent. has been announced four times already by the present Government and the previous Government. Can the Home Secretary relate to it the relevance of the footnote in page 13 of the Criminal Statistics, England and Wales, which explains that, due to a change in recording practice, offences of theft under £5 are excluded from the figures recorded as being known to the police? Can he say how this relates to the previous year's figures?
I am afraid that the simple answer is "No". If the hon. Gentleman cares to put down a Written Question—and there is still time for a priority Question—I shall answer it. He will be aware that I was endeavouring to give a general picture and that I made reference to the welcome change in the first half of 1973 so as not to overstate my case that there had been no change of trend following 1970. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's interruption was relevant.
If there has been a decline in respect for the law, whether measured by these general figures or by terrorist crimes, of which the two worst in terms of loss of life occurred in February 1972 and in February of this year, certainly it did not start on 4th March 1974. I say that so that we may approach this difficult subject in a suitable spirit of non-partisanship and without any claim to omniscience in any quarter of the House. No one has the basis for any such claim.
There are those who believe that a return to capital punishment would solve a large part of our troubles or at any rate assuage a large part of our feelings. I shall deal first with the general point, and then I shall take up in more detail what the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East said about its specific terrorist application, which, in view of his speech and in view of the current position, is the one which attracts most attention today.
As far as I am aware, no one suggests that in relation to crime generally capital punishment should be used, except for murder. On the most recent attempt to re-initiate it—notably the Ten-Minute Rule Bill which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) moved about 15 months ago and to which I replied—there was an attempt to differentiate largely along the lines of the Homicide Act 1957, unsatisfactory though that proved to be from almost any point of view.
The fact is, however, that of all major crimes, murder has proved the least subject to increase. In 1957, the last year of full capital punishment, the number of murders known to the police was 3·0 per million of the population in England and Wales. In 1964, the last effective year of the Homicide Act, it was 2·9 per million. In 1972 it was again 3·0 per million. There is no evidence from those figures of a unique deterrent effect.
I note in passing that just as I have to deal with some demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty, I also have to deal with a number of instances in which there is alleged uncertainty whether some convicted of murder, including two who were hanged, should have been so convicted. This confirms my view, particularly as there is no unique or necessary deterrent evidence, that the penalty is too final to be controlled by the frailty of human judgment.
I turn to the question whether different considerations should apply to terrorist offences. Since the exchanges in the House a week ago today, I have gone over in my mind most carefully whether in the present horrible and menacing circumstances capital punishment would in any way help to protect us from such a terrible incident as that which occurred at the Tower of London last Wednesday. I am fully aware of the strength of public reaction against that atrocity. I probably feel it at least as strongly as most people for I had the experience of seeing the victims in hospital. If I were convinced that it would so protect us, I believe that it would be my duty to set aside my deep-seated repugnance for the penalty. But I do not begin to be so convinced.
Let me say at once that my judgment is based upon no shred of sympathy for the perpetrators of such outrages. I shall put it with brutal frankness. If one or more of them were to be blown up by their own bombs I would think it a just end. I have no desire to preserve the lives of those who wantonly and ruthlessly sacrifice the lives of others. But I am sure that those who advocate capital punishment—maybe they do so from the best motives—make two errors. First, they fail to allow for the long passage of time which is inevitable in the process of judicial killing, and that public sympathy can be very fickle. The public see the present but not the future. Second, I believe—although none of us can speak with certainty on this matter—that they misunderstand the psychology, or the psychosis, and motivation of fanatical terrorism.
I am strongly fortified in my belief by having re-read in the course of my consideration what happened in this House on 14th May 1973. On that occasion the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who is widely respected in the House, moved a clause to abolish capital punishment in Northern Ireland where until then it had existed. I ask the House to note the date. The right hon. Gentleman did so after one of the worst atrocities in this country—namely, the Aldershot Officers' Mess Explosion—and after a period during which nearly 800 people had been killed in Northern Ireland, including more than 200 members of the security forces. It was also nearly two months after the bomb attacks at the Old Bailey and elsewhere in London.
I also ask the House to note the background and the previous views of the right hon. Gentleman. He had not been an abolitionist. In 1969, when the five-year experiment came to an end and the House had to vote whether it should be made permanent, the right hon. Gentleman voted for retention—
I shall complete this argument and then I shall give way. The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border is a man with perhaps more direct experience of terrorism on the spot than almost any other hon. Member. On that occasion he said:
… I have experienced at first hand the sort of emotional reactions which particular events provoke in Northern Ireland. I am therefore absolutely convinced, as a result of that experience, that in the days immediately before and after any proposed execution the police and the soldiers would be at increased risk.
In relation to this country I would add that that applies to the civilians as well. The right hon. Gentleman continued:
As a result, the effort to protect the lives of policemen and soldiers by making an example in the case of death which cannot be reprieved would be likely to provoke more shooting and more risk of death than to reduce it.
I cannot claim any greater wisdom than any other Member of the House on this point, and, of course, I may be wrong. I can only plead that Irish history is on my side and that the creation of martyrs in Ireland has certainly not helped to protect the lives of those trying to enforce law and order.
For all these reasons I have come to the conclusion, despite what I know to be the feelings of many people, that far from there being a particular reason for keeping the death penalty in Northern Ireland when it is abolished in the rest of the United Kingdom, the arguments are entirely the other way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 1029–1030.]
I regard that as a most powerful and entirely non-doctrinaire argument. If it were right to abolish the death penalty in relation to terrorists in Northern Ireland in 1973, it could hardly be sensible to reintroduce it here in relation to the same offence in 1974.
I was one of those who not only supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) but who spoke in the 1973 debate along the same lines. But there is a great degree of difference between taking one part of the United Kingdom and treating it uniquely and separately and treating the United Kingdom as a whole. The events that have happened over the last 14 months have made many of us, who sincerely supported my right hon. Friend in May 1973, think again and wonder whether it might be right to consider, as I said to the Secretary of State last week, calmly and quietly and over a period whether the time has come for a change.
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman held his views sincerely in 1973 and holds his different views equally sincerely today. I would not challenge that for a moment. What seems clear. and the point to which his right hon. Friend was addressing his mind then with his considerable experience, was not whether it was sensible to have a different penalty in one part of the United Kingdom than in another but the direct issue with which we are now confronted—namely, whether the death penalty would help to make people safer or put them in more danger in conditions of terrorist attack.
I would ask the House to note the point that I have made about martyrs. That is a point which was also used by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East. Terrorists love martyrs. When faced with a most ruthless enemy, as we certainly are with terrorists, I believe that there is a great deal to be said for not doing what he wants. I believe that if we were to restore the death penalty here it would be regarded not as a defeat or a deterrent but as a victory by the IRA terrorists. I am not going to have a hand in doing that.
What are the other methods by which we can combat the IRA? Two are frequently canvassed. First, why not ban the IRA? Secondly, why not erect passport or other controls within the common travel area?
I should stress that, in my view, the erection of such controls, which I will consider later, would involve controls between the two islands, not between the United Kingdom as a whole and the Republic of Ireland. It would have to be control between the two islands, splitting the common travel area. Both those measures were steadily rejected by the previous Government. I keep an open mind about them. So far I have maintained the previous position, partly because this has remained the advice of the chief officers of police and those most directly concerned with security matters. They believe—I see great force in this belief—that a ban would merely turn the IRA into fragmented underground organisations, still more difficult to deal with, and that travel control would not help at all.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask whether he agrees that it is not necessary to insist upon passports or travel documents from the North or the South of Ireland? All that needs to be done to control people is to insist on the filling in of embarkation cards from Dublin or Belfast. This was done between Belfast and Gatwick for a period of months, and it worked extremely effectively.
I do not know exactly on what the hon. Gentleman bases his view that it worked extremely effectively. I do not know whether he has any evidence to support that view. I am genuinely asking in a spirit of inquiry. I am sure that it worked in that people filled in the cards and that they were collected. But we need more evidence to show that it worked effectively. I agree that a variety of possible methods of control could be imposed.
The police have recently substantially increased their degree of surveillance over movements between the two islands, which I think is right in present circumstances. However, to impose restrictions which would have any meaningful impact would undoubtedly create considerable inconvenience for many innocent people. But that could be the price that we would have to pay.
If the considered view of the chief officers of police and those most concerned with dealing with these matters were to change, I do not think that in present circumstances I could or should reject that view without considering it very carefully and urgently, and I should certainly do that. But at present, on balance, and in view of the advice that I have received, I maintain the position that was adopted steadily and consistently by the previous administration.
At this point I should like to add a word about the so-called Anti-Imperialist Festival, sometimes referred to as the Terrorist Conference, which has been taking place in Dublin and part of which is to take place in Belfast. I never had any intention of letting people come through this country to attend it. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), who is not here today, got very excited last week at Question Time because I told her that I had refused no visas. I had refused none because none had been applied for. It is difficult to refuse the non-existent. There was no question of granting any, or of allowing nationals of countries who do not require visas to come through this country for that specific purpose. Fourteen were turned back at Dover last weekend and early this week. Orders were given that no one was to be allowed in for this purpose without reference to Ministers. Of course, I cannot guarantee that some may not have got through by giving false purposes for their journeys. I am not aware of any. I think it likely that there might have been more had I given advance notice of what I was proposing to do, thus encouraging people to give false reasons for their journeys. Action is sometimes better than words.
I turn back for a few moments to the general crime position.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the question of terrorists, may I ask whether he is aware that my constituents and many others are very concerned about the vulnerability of oil installations? I am not asking for an answer today, but does he realise that no fewer than 11 Government Departments are involved? Bearing in mind the recent blowing up of a pipeline in my constituency, may I ask whether he will undertake to ensure that some of the best minds in the Home Office and the Scottish Office turn their attention to the urgent issues involved?
I assure my hon. Friend that I am aware of the specific problem to which he referred and to the incidents which have taken place, particularly the one in his constituency. Certainly everything that can be done by way of security measures will be applied to the problem to which he has rightly drawn attention.
I turn back for a few moments to the general crime position. My view is that the best deterrents are the likelihood of detection and, when detection has taken place, of conviction. Fearsome punishments are certainly not effective if the offender thinks that he will get away with it and not be caught, let alone convicted.
Detection depends greatly on the strength, morale and efficiency of the police. Strength is not as yet as we would like it to be, particularly in the metropolis and in two or three other areas, but it is over 20 per cent. up on when I was previously Home Secretary. I take no credit for that. It happened mostly under the previous Government. But the police have just had a well-received pay settlement which has been directed particularly to the problem of constables with three to six years' service and to maintaining people in the police. Indeed, there is evidence that wastage, which has been strong for a little time, particularly in the metropolitan area, is at least flattening out. That is a slight improvement of the trend. I think that we are maintaining morale, and I certainly propose to do everything that I can to maintain it.
Efficiency is, to a considerable extent, a matter of technical equipment, though of training as well. We have seen a revolution here in the past eight years, with which I can claim to have had a little to do. When I became Home Secretary at the end of 1965 the pocket radio was a rarity and cars were largely confined to those on traffic patrol duties. We introduced a massive programme of equipment, which has since borne substantial fruit. The pocket radio in particular, now almost universal, has made a vast difference.
On convictions, perhaps I might remind the House of the history of majority jury verdicts in criminal cases which now attract practically no criticism and, over five years, account for about 8 per cent. of those found guilty on indictment of criminal charges. I am informed that that 8 per cent. includes many of the worst and most professional criminals.
Majority verdicts were proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill 1967. When we started out, the proposal attracted a lot of Conservative support. As we went on, most of it fell away, with the strong exception of the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, who was then the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone. He was staunch to the end. But in the crucial Division on Report he was able to take only 23 Conservative Members into the Aye Lobby with him. The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson) was a leading opponent and so were such notable and occasionally noisy upholders of law and order as the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. The right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) was a teller for the Noes.
I believe that on that occasion against a great deal of opposition—which those concerned no doubt felt was well-founded—we struck a greater blow for the conviction of the guilty than in almost any other recent measure. Without it a number of convictions of IRA terrorists might not have been secured.
Therefore, my approach to crime and terrorism has not been, is not, and will not be a soft one, but it will, I hope, be a rational one. Let us express our detestation of the acts of terrorism to which the country has been subjected. Let us recognise how dependent we are upon the protection and the efficiency of the police and the intelligence that they are able to uncover. Let us strive in every possible way to preserve the security of our people and buildings, but let us do so on the basis of properly argued and well-thought-out measures, not merely on emotional surges and generalised statements.
There are two matters upon which I very much agree with what the Home Secretary has said. First, nobody should show any omniscience about the problems we are discussing, and secondly, there is, as the Home Secretary admits, widespread public concern over the state of the law, the administration of the law, and the attacks upon society which are so general nowadays.
With regard to the first matter concerning Irish terrorism, at the time that I was Attorney-General for Northern Ireland I supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). At that time, in May 1973, there was much that my right hon. Friend and others were seeking to do in Ireland. There was this distinction between the law in Northern Ireland, and the law in England and Wales, and everything pointed at that time to doing that which my right hon. Friend did, and upon which we supported him. But the situation may have changed. The situation now is such that with all those initiatives having failed, we are approaching what is in my judgment—though the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may feel that they know better—a mobilisation of forces in Northern Ireland directed against Northern Ireland and against this country which may—I put it no higher—call for a complete rethink about the death penalty.
The Home Secretary's most valid point is about creating the martyr. That is a point which no one who has proposals to make affecting such matters can put aside lightly. It is a great matter of judgment whether one creates the martyr after the due processes of law have been observed under which a person is convicted of terrorism and suffers the death penalty. Does that create a martyr? Would such action create the sort of situation there was in 1916–17 and in 1921–22? Such a situation could be created.
But are we gaining much at present without having the death penalty? Is there not martyrdom in cases such as that of the Price sisters? They have created an aura of martyrdom. I remind the Home Secretary and the House that they did not go before a court and say that they did not recognise it and that they were patriots for Ireland. They went before the court and pleaded not guilty. They pretended that they had come to this country—they swore this on oath—to see the sights, including Buckingham Palace. They made allegations against police officers, of evidence having been planted, in order to discredit the officers. They did not show any noble signs of patriotism for Ireland, but simply tried to escape the consequences of what they did. Did they, in that attitude, make themselves into martyrs?
I fully accept the vaildity of the Home Secretary's point but a situation may have now developed in which we must say, "Martyr or no, there is only so much that we tolerate and we can go no further." There is a time when the public, in their emotional reaction, may know best. For we in this House are not the cleverest men in England nor do we always know best.
If the feeling of the country is basically that we must grasp the problem of men who devote their lives to, and are prepared to face death in, the use of explosives and by taking part in bombing and murders, then we must deal with it. It may indeed be felt that the State should be able to say to people who engage in terrorism that if they commit murder in the course of such actions they must die.
I had anxiety in the past about capital punishment and what might happen when it was removed. I thought about the risk of the increased use of firearms and explosives. My concern was not so much an increase in murders as an increase in the crimes of violence involving the use of firearms. But as the Home Secretary has pointed out, it is remarkable how wrong one can be.
I have found how wrong I was about juries. I do not pretend that I was right. He was right—I give that to him. He did a good service for the administration of justice in bringing forward the idea of majority verdicts. It alienated me when I thought about losing the principle of unanimity in serious cases. The right hon. Gentleman has rightly demonstrated that his idea was correct. He was justified in his belief. In many of the more serious crimes convictions are reached on a majority basis.
Anyone who approaches the problems which we are discussing—whoever he may be, whatever his experience—should do so with a humble attitude. We should not have a fixed idea that we are right, and we should not despise the genuine opinion of our constituents, who feel deeply about these matters.
I believe, although I do not think that the Home Secretary accepts this, that there has been a decline in the respect for the law. That decline relates not only to the administration of the law but also to the manner of making the law, the procedures adopted in this House. We in this House must accept considerable responsibility for the lack of respect, or the decline in respect, for the law. There is much which goes on in the House which creates disillusion and contempt about how the legislators, the makers of the law, proceed about their business.
We have had shouting matches across the Floor of the House. I have had my share of being shouted at. Many hon. Members, particularly those who have had Government responsibility, have had similar experiences. The House should not continue to proceed in this way. I now find myself a convert in favour of having television cameras in the House. If we had the cameras in I do not believe that the parliamentary thug or the parliamentary boor would be tolerated. Such Members do much to destroy the reputation of Parliament.
Therefore, I do believe that there has been a decline in the administration of the law. I do not instance just the Industrial Relations Act, the National Industrial Relations Court and the unions, although they have given a pointer. The unions have shown people who have to pay rates or taxes or who may be opposed to nationalisation how to go about it. They have given a lead. It is a dangerous and desperate lead. That is something which now may be in the past, but the decline in the respect for the law is due in great degree to conduct in this present Parliament and in those which immediately preceded it. I hope that there will be a change in Parliament in the manner of making of law which will thereby increase the actual obedience to the law.
I am glad that the Secretary of State said that there had been an increase in the morale of the police, particularly because of the pay settlement. But I hope that he will have a close look at the complaints of the Police Federation about the procedures for disciplinary action. The federation seems to complain that one of the new problems among the police is that when they submit an appeal to the Home Secretary on behalf of a constable, there are far too few oral hearings and the Home Secretary often refuses, as he has a right to do, to take into account evidence that was not available at the disciplinary hearing before the chief constable.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) seemed to be trying to convey that because we have a respect for law and order we should give up our critical faculties. That would be completely wrong. We should all be doing the nation a disservice unless we took a careful approach to the police force. In the past, the police have rightly enjoyed a reputation par excellence. Today, they are having to do an increasingly difficult job. No one who has seen demonstrations can doubt that. It is not always the Left who demonstrate. It was a tragedy that a demonstration by the National Front was allowed to coincide with a Left-wing demonstration in the same area. Such arrangements impose an impossible burden on the ordinary policeman on the beat.
There is a problem with demonstrations both by the Right and by the Left. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East did a disservice to this country by constantly emphasising that it was the Left whose demonstrations were unruly or violent. Demonstrations have been a feature of our way of life over the centuries and in many instances have achieved an objective which could have been achieved in no other way. We should be guardians of the rights of the individual to demonstrate in the proper way. We should be careful. I do not suggest that people exercising their democratic right to demonstrate should be allowed to do things which they could not normally do within the law. We have to strike a balance and to be certain to safeguard the right of people to demonstrate within the law.
One of the things that worry me—I pay absolute tribute to the police as a whole—is the increasing number of complaints that one receives about their conduct in many parts of the country. It would be unreal to imagine that 99·9 per cent. of the police were saints. There is bound to be one rotten apple in one barrel out of 10. But there are far too many complaints. If we are to establish confidence between the ordinary citizen and the police we should look carefully at these complaints and the procedures for investigating and determining them. Nothing is more likely to undermine people's confidence in the police than the present situation in which the police are the judge and jury in any complaint against a policeman.
I repeat and underline that it is a minority of policemen of whom I am talking. Like most other hon. Members, I have dealt with a whole series of allegations of police misconduct, and I do so in a number of ways. I sometimes send them to the superintendent of the area concerned. I sometimes send them to the Home Office, examine the reply I get and write back to the complainant to give him the reply and to say that I consider the case closed.
But some cases I pursue, solely because I believe, after investigation, that the character of the person for whom I am acting has been established and that there is reasonable doubt about the correctness of the police conduct. As an illustration, I recently raised in the House an example of the failure of investigative machinery to deal with complaints. The case concerned a man who was alleged to have been beaten up by two plainclothes constables on the streets of Bristol. When they got to the police station the sergeant refused to charge the man, who was alleged to have been drunk and disorderly. The man was eventually charged after I had raised the matter with the chief constable.
On the occasion on which I had to raise this matter as a breach of privilege I had to name the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset. I had to do that because of a change caused by the local government reorganisation which affected police administration. On that occasion I did not have the opportunity of explaining why I had to do that. However, the chief constable who was responsible was not the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset. because the action had occurred prior to the changeover. It was the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire who was responsible when the incident occurred.
I have now come to the conclusion that it is dangerous for Members of Parliament to raise matters involving complaints against the police until such time as it is virtually impossible for the police to take action in the courts, because I am now convinced that it is not in the interests of his constituent for a Member of Parliament to raise cases of this kind. One knows the period that had elapsed between the incident and my raising of it. It was five weeks after the incident and about two weeks after I had raised the matter with the Home Secretary before the summons was issued. This was a matter in which, normally, automatically a summons is issued at the time of the charge. I claimed that there had been some deliberate attempt to interfere with the activities of a Member of Parliament in that particular case.
I received a letter from the Home Office eventually. There were so many contradictions in it that it defied credulity. First, the sergeant went off duty sick. He was off duty for 10 days. Then he decided to refer the case to a superior officer. The chief superintendent in charge of the division was on leave. His deputy decided to wait until he returned. The whole matter went on.
It is true that the summons was issued after I had raised the matter with the Home Office, but allegedly before the Home Office had written to Bristol—although not necessarily before someone at the Home Office had telephoned Bristol and raised the matter. I mention that because I should like my hon. Friend the Minister of State to ask the Home Secretary to have a look at the duty rosters—as I suggested to the Minister of State who is not a Member of this House—to establish whether in fact the sergeant was off duty during that period and whether the superintendent was on holiday at that period.
It is the police who investigate complaints against themselves. That is where there is a failure. When a complaint is made against the police, there ought to be some machinery in which there is an element of independent investigation. I have yet to know of a case in which the complainants were satisfied about the method of investigation. At present the investigator is usually a superintendent from the local constabulary, and no one else assists him. In the particular case I have mentioned there was bitter resentment of the way in which Superintendent Challis conducted the interview, and it gives me great cause for concern. He was abusive and sarcastic, and he made out that it was a trivial matter.
It is a nonsense that investigations are conducted in this way. In a procedure where the results of the investigation are sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it is essential that there is some independent element in the investigation. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell me in how many cases the DPP has instructed prosecutions where complaints have been made, the investigation has been conducted by the local police and the papers have been sent to the DPP. There is a feeling that no matter what happens concerning the complaints procedure, even if the papers go to the DPP, nothing subsequently happens because the DPP always says that there is not sufficient evidence to deal with the matter.
I have used the particular case at Ravenhill to illustrate the difficulties of trying to establish in the mind of the public that there is fairness in the investigation of any complaint against the police. I have used this opportunity to raise this aspect of the problem because it is an important aspect of the whole debate. We shall be having an increasing number of incidents, particularly at demonstrations, if there is not the recognition, first, that all policemen are not perfect and, second, that we have to inculcate into the mind of the public that there is absolute fairness between themselves and the police. It is as important to establish confidence in the police force so that people know that if they have a complaint against the police they will get justice as it is to look at the various aspects of terrorism or anything else.
I have dealt with what I consider to be a fairly important aspect of the problem. I reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said about the death penalty in relation to terrorism. The problem with the death penalty, for any crime, is its finality. One can never guarantee that an innocent man does not go to the gallows. It is only those of us who have suffered the death of someone very close to us who appreciate the suffering of the relatives of someone who has been judicially hanged for a murder that he did not commit, or even possibly did not commit. That is something that Conservative Members must take on board before they advocate the return of hanging.
Like the Home Secretary, I am making a first speech, and having crossed the Floor I must be in the unique position of being able to state that the right hon. Gentleman's performance at the Dispatch Box is equally impressive whether viewed from in front or behind.
I begin by assuring the Home Secretary in his absence that his defence of his actions, for which he was criticised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). on the amnesty for immigrants, on the entry of husbands of immigrants and on the Chilean refugees, was for any reasonable person wholly convincing, and I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East should have categorised in the same group of offences or suspected offences against respect for the law the actions which the Home Secretary took in these three instances.
I think there is a great deal of agreement on both sides of the House about the basic problem. From the bombing of innocent children at one extreme to the smashing of street lighting at the other, violence and vandalism are at an entirely unacceptable level in our society today. The newspapers headline the spectacular crimes, but which of us here has not quite recently had a deputation in our constituencies of angry and sometimes frightened council tenants protesting about hooliganism on their estates? Over the whole spectrum of offences of violence the facts and figures are very disturbing, and now there is this new and ugly phenomenon of politically-motivated violence.
It is hard to realise that this is new. It is difficult to reflect back now and think how free from violence our politics were until quite recently. Of course, we have always had in our lifetime—and before—ugly riots and demonstrations from time to time. I remember taking part in one before the war, a demonstration in which nearly a quarter of a million of us stood in the streets of the East End of London to prevent Sir Oswald Mosley's black-shirts from marching through and insulting the Jewish people who lived there. It was an ugly enough demonstration, and I sustained some minor damage myself. But at that time there was no concerted physical attack upon the police. If there had been, the most extreme of the demonstrators would have been immensely shaken and shocked, and certainly would not have entertained any idea of pursuing their political convictions by bombing or by the use of firearms. I think that the right hon. Member for Leeds. North-East was in error here in an otherwise interesting speech.
He said that all the time political and ideological fanatics were growing more powerful, but he did not distinguish between two different things—the growth in the numbers of ideological fanatics, and the sharp downturn in their methods of political operation. I doubt very much whether there are more ideological fanatics in this country today than there were before the war. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the National Front, but to anyone who went through politics in the 1930s the National Front, though it could grow, is but a shadow of the Fascist menace which existed before the war. Equally, there were before the war a very large number of dedicated and active Stalinists, and they were more active then than their counterparts are today. There has been a growth not in the number of ideological fanatics but in the violence with which they pursue their aims, and, in the case of the IRA and the Arab terrorists, in the weapons which they use.
Large peaceful demonstrations such as we used to know have become far less common. Political objectives are pursued increasingly by demonstrations that are smaller, more vicious and more violent, and, of course, by hijacking, bombing, killing and injuring totally innocent people who have no connection with the political aim in view but who unfortunately happen to be on the spot at the time of the event. It may be that Ulster has rubbed off a bit on us in Britain, but this is an international phenomenon which we have to take with great seriousness. The first human reaction, which was so well expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson), is to increase the penalties, to reintroduce capital punishment for certain selected types of murder.
If it could be shown that it would help to lessen these atrocious crimes, many of us would warmly agree. But a careful examination of the facts shows—and here the Home Secretary produced statistics—that there is no evidence either that the abolition of capital punishment led to the increase in homicide since, or that the reintroduction of capital punishment would do anything to lessen it today. Quite apart from the convincing statistics quoted by the Home Secretary, there is, of course, the comparison between the increase in homicide, which is bad, with the increase in crimes of violence other than homicide which has been two, three or four times faster during this critical period. This is conclusive evidence against the introduction of capital punishment for terrorism or other actions of murder. Nor is there any evidence that countries which have retained capital punishment have fared any better than those which have abolished it.
It could be argued that terrorists are special, and we have heard some interesting statements on this from the Home Secretary and from the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East. It is certainly a very different kind of murder. It is murder that is not done on the spur of the moment or in a fit of rage. It is not done by someone who is mentally sick or, as so many murders are, by someone who will commit suicide afterwards. I believe it is therefore, in terms of justice, the most abominable kind of murder one can conceive, and in pure justice the case for capital punishment being reintroduced for it is very strong. I appreciate the Home Secretary's view that if a terrorist were found to have been blown up by his own bomb no one should shed a tear. That is of course true.
But we must ask what are the practical effects—and here I disagree with the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom and Ewell. He said there might be some deterrent effect, but I do not believe it. I believe this same fanaticism which prompts these criminals to their ghastly outrages makes them indifferent to their own fate. It makes them even glory in what they think to be a martyr's crown. Therefore, I cannot believe that this is an effective deterrent in any way for the terrorist type of murder.
As for its effects in other directions, there is no evidence that the execution of terrorists lessens terrorism or prevents it growing. On the contrary, we have many examples in history of precisely the opposite. The execution of Connolly did not stop IRA terrorism. In the American Civil War the executed John Brown was a considerable service to the South simply by lying a-mouldering in his grave. He was a martyr. His execution did nothing to stop the killing.
I am following the how Gentleman's argument very closely. Does not he agree that there were some exceptions? Does not he agree that the execution of the German war criminals at Nuremberg was one of the factors which helped staunch, if not entirely exterminate, Nazism in the post-war period?
That takes me a little wide. Jurists are entitled to feel some doubts about the basis of jurisprudence on which that was done.
One argument for executing terrorists that is often put forward, but has not been heard in this debate, is that merely to imprison a terrorist is to create the ground for terrorist action directed at getting him released from prison. We have had examples recently. However, this is muddled thinking. If we determined to reintroduce capital punishment for terrorists, we should not have them executed on the spot. They would be given a trial, which would not be completed for some months. The incentive for their fellow terrorists to face death, which they do in any case, in order to release them from a term of imprisonment will be 10 times stronger to release them from the prospect of execution. Therefore that argument does not hold water.
If stiffer penalties are no way forward, what are the answers? I was glad to hear the Home Secretary give encouraging news about the reduction of wastage in the police. They are under-manned and over-worked, and anything that can be done in that direction is helpful. No doubt many technical advances can be made in counter-terrorist security operations. In the United States promising advances have been made in the techniques of anti-hijacking security. They seem to be working, but the difficulty of protecting the public against the kind of indiscriminate terror we have been experiencing recently speaks for itself.
Therefore, we come back to the basic matter, which is to identify and if possible remove the causes of crimes of violence. This is a dangerous line of argument, because it is easy to think that when one has found an explanation of a crime one has found an excuse for it. It is easy to move from one frame of mind to the other.
I remember some years ago being able to visit a number of prisons and borstals and what were then approved schools. Before meeting offenders I would read their file, on the front of which one could always read details of the offence. One would read that, for example, a young offender had waited for a dark and foggy night and had then savagely attacked an old lady and robbed her, and how in court he was wholly unrepentant, arrogant and showed no remorse. One felt enraged at such monstrous conduct.
Then one read the file from the beginning, and perhaps saw that there was a history of mental instability in the family, that the young man had no father and a totally uncaring mother, or that as a young boy he had been physically assaulted by a step-father. By the time one ended the file one would be feeling that the young man had suffered all those things and at the end had knocked down and robbed only one old woman. That is the danger when one starts looking at the causes of the terrible outrages that there have been.
However, such examination of the causes must be made, because we can clearly see that if we had understood some of these problems a little earlier we might have been able to avoid the atrocious acts that followed. Nothing can excuse the atrocities at Lod airport or Maalot, but it is possible to see the outlines of an explanation. When I first visited Palestinian refugee camps in the early 1950s they were obvious breeding grounds for future acts of vengeance. Any people, however peaceable, subjected to such injustice and humiliation and treated with such indifference by the outside world, are likely to produce a crop of emotionally scarred and ruthless terrorists. If the world had understood the problem better and had acted earlier, the horror of Black September might never have happened. Therefore, we must today try to identify and eradicate the causes of future violence in our society.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East stated a whole number of danger points. He referred, for example, to excessive permissiveness in education and to the media. I believe that there are many danger points where action today could avoid violence tomorrow. For example, I would put racial discrimination in employment very high on the list of things which could be, so to speak, the Palestinian refugee camps of today in Britain—that is, the course of future violence.
At a different level, there are boring, inhuman, degrading work methods in some of our factories and lack of responsibility and power for the employees in our work places. There is also overcrowding in every form, not just in housing but in our classrooms, the streets, prisons and the wards of our special hospitals. This overcrowding constitutes another danger area where action now could avoid violence in the future.
I very much agree with what the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom and Ewell said. We in this House also have to set an example. We have not done too well recently by our own conduct in lessening the growing disrespect for law and authority. It would help a great deal if we could inject a little more vitality and relevance into our normal political processes. Fewer party games might help to establish a greater respect for law and authority.
Those are only a few of the fields in which action now could help to prevent violence tomorrow. I am sure that in the long run it is this constructive kind of action that will do most to overcome the appalling problem that faces us.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) went some way towards dealing with the problem. In my view, what we are dealing with is not a matter of deprived homes and a shortfall in recruitment to the police, important as they are.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), in a speech critical of the police, said that we should accept that the force is not composed 99·9 per cent. of saints. Whoever thought it was? The police force is drawn from the general public and will not achieve that percentage of saints until we, the general public, achieve it.
What we are dealing with is a climate. If anyone had forecast 20 or even 10 years ago the threat to public safety, the decline in the respect for law, which are now increasingly rampant, few would have believed that forecast. Fewer still would have believed that this climate would be accepted so passively and in some way dealt with so supinely by successive Governments.
We have brought this situation on ourselves. I believe that it can still be reversed. The so-called permissive society has done appalling damage and has been a factor in engineering this predicament. In debates in the past on attempts to reduce the shocking photographs outside cinemas in London—to take one quite small aspect of the problem—hon. Members have expressed their abhorrence of censorship, which is a worthy outlook. They have said that they are opposed to any censorship of books, films, television and stage plays, and so on. In certain areas no doubt in the past censorship has been overdone. But what these Members have been fighting for is not an extension of the frontiers of freedom; they have been acting unwittingly as the agents of the most base commercial greed.
I have often heard the Yorkshire expression, "Where there's muck there's brass". Purveyors of pornography have caught on to the fact that "where there's filth there's plenty of money", and people who assist them to sell their wares are not helping freedom but licensing human greed. The increasing attempts to bring Sunday trading and Sunday sport are made for exactly the same reason.
All this climate leads to the road to subversion of society. Some people of Right-wing persuasion talks about "Reds under the bed". No doubt a Communist régime would be repugnant to most, if not all, of us, but what is dangerous today is an element which does not seek to apply a Communist revolution—which would have some order, abhorrent though it might be—but which simply wants to pull down the pillars of society and to leave a vacuum of despair and distress.
When the religious basis of society is no longer in favour—I am sorry to say that that is the position today in this country—no yardstick of morality any longer exists. There are some restraints on persons when they feel that they are accountable at the end of the day to a higher tribunal. The decay in the preservation of public order is a direct consequence of the advance of the humanist philosophy.
Governments here and elsewhere are weakly wringing their hands in face of terrorists dealing death to innocent people. For these crimes, at least, the reinstatement of the death penalty is essential. Twenty years ago, I was an abolitionist, but I have come to see that society must take steps to defend itself. Furthermore, our police forces are entitled to this protection. They do not always get, I am sorry to say, from Governments, sometimes the public and sometimes even the courts, the support they should be able to look for in these times.
Had West Germany and Israel not abolished the death penalty, they might have escaped the disasters of Munich and Maalot, which follows the arrest and conviction of other terrorists. Had the latter been executed after their trial, at least the new atrocities would not have arisen through attempts to rescue them. The time factor involved in trials might be overcome. If terrorists are released after a short time, they are at liberty again to wreak their havoc on the public of some other country.
Voices have been raised, even today in the debate, to abolish prisons. This is the final and very dangerous absurdity. How are the law-abiding going to protect themselves? There is a certain spirit abroad. I heard it in this House when there was the question whether the Price sisters should be transferred to Northern Ireland. The preamble always is, "We detest what they did but would you mind acceding to what they want?" There is the feeling that the bill must never be presented. Everyone agrees that terrorism is wrong but the bill should not be presented. That is the attitude.
We must return to the standards of a better age. We should have more support for our police in this place, in society generally and in the courts. One vital principle should be paramount: we should have regard for the victims and the potential victims rather than concentrate on the welfare of the criminals.
I congratulate the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on a courageous speech. The wider scope of moral standards needed to be introduced into the debate. I and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House feel strongly that this is a very important part of what is wrong with our society today.
I turn again to the subject of capital punishment for terrorist crimes. I, too, was violently in favour of the abolition of capital punishment. I was not a Member of this House at the time, but as a member of the general public I sat in the other place, listening, on the night that the Bill to abolish capital punishment finally passed through to become the law of the land.
But I have since been convinced, by feelings of outrage, I agree, but also by logic, that while abolition was right for the crime dealt with then, we are now faced with a totally different sort of situation. I have been asked what the difference is between one murder and another. No doubt between many murders there is not much difference, but there is a very strong difference indeed in terrorist murders.
In the normal case, a murderer knows whom he is murdering. He sees his victim, even if he is not able to identify him at that moment. But the terrorist who plants the bomb often does not even know how many people will be killed. He certainly does not know who they are. When a man does not care to the extent that he can put a bomb in a place such as the Tower of London—where, for all he knows, even his own relations might be visiting that day—and let people die without knowing them, then we have a new crime. It is not a crime just against the person but a crime against humanity. It is because I believe that it is a crime against humanity that I agree that we have to draw a line somewhere. It is a step that we have to take.
For ordinary crimes of murder, I have never believed that capital punishment is the answer. I shall take advantage of the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is here to ask him whether the Government will not consider implementing the Emslie Report. For too long in Scotland we have been told that we have to wait for England to make up its mind as to penalties for murder.
I must declare my interest, since I practised at the Scottish Bar for three years before my election to this House. I believe that the penalties for murder whereby a murderer, if he does think before committing the crime, thinks in terms of eight years' imprisonment are not sufficient as a deterrent or as a punishment. I believe that we must give power to our judges to impose determinate sentences on murderers.
Generally, there is growing disregard for law in this country. I am not talking about the criminal law but about the loss of respect for the law, for the authority of Government and sometimes, I fear, for the authority of Parliament. Ordinary people in my constituency ask me what is happening when they see responsible bodies, or so-called responsible bodies, openly flouting the law and getting away with it. There are examples before us.
There is the example of the Clay Cross councillors, the Clydebank rent rebels and the attitude of certain groups towards the Industrial Relations Court. All of these examples may involve political motives and the attitudes struck by those people may have been justified according to their lights. The fact that political leaders were seen openly to support the flouting of the law possibly did more damage to law and order than anything else. Let us not forget that it is the political leaders who are the law-makers. If they are seen to be saying that the law does not matter, how can we expect others to accept the law?
Because of this disregard for the law we are seeing a disregard for authority which endangers our very democracy. Democracy is based upon the consent of people to accept the laws. Once that consent goes, once it can be seen that laws are being openly flouted, we endanger our whole democratic system. We would do well never to forget that the alternatives to democracy are dictatorship, totalitarianism and anarchy.
I do not propose to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Ancram) on many subjects, save perhaps to say by way of a preliminary comment that he has itemised a number of instances in respect of which he regards the conduct of various people as having helped to bring the law into contempt. I do not wholly agree with him, but I do not wholly dissent. It would be fairer to add that the example of the previous Government in flouting every convention of the constitution in the way in which they took this country into the Common Market is not a bad example of the way in which this House, even in the most peaceful way, can help bring the law into contempt.
Like the hon. Member, I suppose that I can declare a professional interest, in that I am a practising member of in criminal Bar in this country, and have been for some years. I formerly exercised judicial office overseas, and it is a macabre comment that the very first duty I had to perform as a very young cadet district commissioner in the Colonial Service in Ghana 23 years ago was to remand a man on a capital charge for which he was subsequently hanged. In the first week of my duties I had to remand three people, all of whom were ultimately executed.
When I turn to the subject of capital punishment it will be a sombre matter. I will not refer to that immediately, however, because there are one or two other pertinent matters with which I wish to deal. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) rather condemned himself by some nitpicking observations in an otherwise able speech. Intellectually he is the most able member of the Opposition Front Bench. His views on this subject are shared by most of us on the Labour benches. However, I thought that it was rather inappropriate of him to lump some of his comments together—although it was done partly because of a commendable desire to save time. He lumped together the question of ill-discipline in school and the idiocies of students, with far graver matters such as non-political crimes of great violence and terrorism. That seemed to be unhelpful and unconstructive.
One category of crime which has not so far been mentioned deserves a comment. Alongside the growth of crimes of violence over the past 20 years there has been a great increase in the number of crimes involving fraud, abuses by com pany directors, and so forth. One of the facts of crime statistics which tend to escape notice is that what can be termed as working-class crimes—theft, assault, burglary—are of an identifiable character, irrespective of whether the culprit is ultimately caught. If a house is burgled, a window is smashed or an assault takes place, it is a recorded statistic.
But unless there is a row within the boardroom, or the auditors are more vigilant than our company law sometimes seems to require them to be, many frauds are never noticed, let alone punished. Sometimes, when such frauds are punished, some of us may think the punishment to be ludicrously inadequate. A few years ago at the Central Criminal Court there was a trial concerning a banking fraud involving a total defalcation of about £13 million. This was a bucket-shop, set up as a fraud and perpetrated from start to finish as a fraud. At the end of the trial the persons concerned got only five years' imprisonment. I have reason to believe that the Lord Chief Justice had something to say to the judge concerned.
When that is compared with punishments for different kinds of crime it seems to be a singularly inappropriate penalty. I am not suggesting that that is in any way representative, but such things happen. In the last few years many crimes of a financial kind have come to light only as a result of squabbles, or people becoming bankrupt. The whole Poulson scheme of things has ripped aside and uncovered a range of crimes which many people suspected for a long time, although they had never realised the magnitude of them.
I come now to the question of violence and terrorism. I share the views of almost all my hon. Friends and many Conservative Members that it would not be right or seemly for the death penalty to be reintroduced for ordinary crimes of murder. At the same time, I feel profoundly uncertain about the situation confronting us as a nation and the world as a whole as a result of international terrorism. Let me take two examples which occurred outside this country but which we know are of a kind that could easily be reproduced in this country. Some of us may think that, in a sense, the ghastly business at the White Tower last week was in the same category, at least as to its nastiness, if not as to its magnitude.
There was the occasion when some unfortunate Olympic athletes were barricaded in for a whole week, and when the whole world stood by, seemingly helpless. Maalot is another example. Some of us on the Labour side of the House are occasionally accused of double standards. Let Inc take an example involving a case which I wholeheartedly support—revolution in South America. What conceivable excuse can there be for the wanton murder of the German diplomat in Guatemala? What conceivable excuse can there be for the cold-blooded murder of the American ambassador in Khartoum? These are things that ought to be said loud and clear by us all, whatever our views on these matters.
Let me offer what may be a solution. I do not say this without some anxiety, because I realise I may raise a storm. I measure my words carefully when I say that I do not think that the death penalty through the ordinary judicial process is appropriate in this case, simply because the opportunities for hi-jacking, hostage taking and other retaliatory action may render the situation even worse afterwards than it was before. What I am propounding is something which, obviously, no Government would lightly embark upon but which we ought to begin to consider as a possible necessity. I suggest that we might revive, in modern form, no doubt, the concept of outlawry in respect of certain categories of crime that are so outrageous as to be beyond the compass of humanity.
Hon. Members will recollect that among the four counts at Nuremberg there was the count of "crimes against humanity". I do not think it would be so difficult to define these. What I am really suggesting, tentatively, is that we may one day have to consider—if we continue both in this country and elsewhere to be seemingly impotent in the face of the events in Maalot, at Lod Airport, Khartoum, Guatemala and many other places—statutorily categorising certain kinds of crime for which the persons who commit them shall be stripped of the protection of the law and it shall be open to any individual to kill those persons.
This is a drastic thing to suggest. It is, in a sense, a confession of the weak ness of the law in the face of concerted lawlessness. Obviously, to express this statutorily is a very difficult concept. It would mean, among other things, the emendation of the law of murder so as to prevent its being used for any kind of feuding, or as a licence for any kind of murder which does not come into the said category. A person carrying out such a killing would have, as it were—this is shifting the burden of proof of the law of murder—to prove that he had a bona fide belief, on reasonable grounds, that the person he was killing was the kind of person who came within the compass of the categories that would be itemised.
The idea bristles with difficulties. I do not pretend for one moment that any Minister would lightly embark upon such a dangerous and daring departure from our ordinary concept of law. But at the moment, if we are honest with ourselves, whatever our views and politics—and I stand on the Left of my own party—is it not the case that all over the world countries and Governments are mute and helpless in the face of international terrorists? We just do not know how to deal with them. We certainly cannot at the moment find ways of dealing with them within the compass of the law.
I know there are a number of marginal things which one may be able to do to tighten up security. It is a matter of concern to me that the International Air Transport Authority has not insisted on much higher standards of protection—that cockpits of aircraft are not insulated from the main body of the aircraft, and that people are not, even now, submitted to the necessary degree of thorough examination before going on board an aircraft. I use that particular example because, of all the forms of terrorism, that which worries us most must be air terrorism. One of these days there will be a shoot-up in the air in a giant airliner leading to an aircraft crashing on the middle of a city and killing not just hundreds but thousands of people. That is an indication of the magnitude and the gravity of the problem that we have to face and that is why, albeit tentatively and with some misgiving, I cast out as food for thought the very drastic proposal that I have put before the House.
I am glad to speak immediately following the hon. and learned Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee). He and I have something in common, because, as I understood him, he reminded the House that early in his judicial career abroad he had to preside over a hearing which involved a murder charge. It was my misfortune, in my early days as a justice of the peace, to preside over a similar preliminary hearing. I noticed on that occasion that the accused was not legally represented. When I pointed this out to him and asked whether, in view of the gravity of the charge, he had better obtain the services of a good lawyer, he said "No, your worship. I do not want one. I am going to tell the truth."
I agree with the hon. and learned Member in another respect, namely, in respect of that section of his admirable speech in which he pointed out how helpless our civilisation is in the face of what he has quite rightly defined as air terrorism. At this point I want to comply with the custom of declaring one's interest. I have an interest in the matter of security, because I happened to be a passenger on British Airways Flight 6535 last Tuesday, on which a bomb was placed. I naturally have a vested interest in trying to prevent a repetition of that experience. There may even be a question of privilege, because I am not at all sure when I was making my exit through the emergency hatch I behaved with the deportment that befits a Member of this House—and for that I humbly apologise.
I wish to place on record the admiration felt by all the passengers on that aircraft for the courage and competence of the captain and his crew—both flight deck and cabin crew—who, in the full knowledge of the nature of the danger, performed their duties in a magnificent manner and, after our landing, made tremendous efforts to mitigate the effect of the hardship on the passengers in their charge.
It is to the subsequent security measures at Manchester Airport that I wish to draw the attention of the House. I freely concede that it must have taken a great deal of effort and time to assemble Special Branch officers, many of who were recalled from day leave, but it was very strange that three hours after the accident it was possible for those passengers who had managed to retrieve their baggage to continue their journey by other means. I imagine that they were just as innocent as the rest of us who remained and were detained for a good many hours and subjected to a double interrogation, but it was definitely a weakness in that operation. It is with the difficulties arising in this period of the security operation—a matter of perhaps seven or eight hours—that I wish to deal.
There was, first, the assembling of the passengers, who remained in one large room, where they were interrogated individually for periods of between 20 and 25 minutes by Special Branch officers—an enormous number of them, who milled around among the passengers and asked them repeatedly, "Have you been interviewed yet?" One wonders what the reply of the guilty person would have been if he had been asked that question.
Secondly, there was what I can only call the fiasco of the photographing of the passengers. For some extraordinary reason this could not be done as we were put through the interrogation mill; it had to wait until the interrogation was completed. Then, the cameraman seemed to be very unfamiliar with his camera, to the extent that he was unable to open it to reload. In fact, after three of his colleagues had tried to assist him, it was left to a passenger to put matters right and get the thing going again. That part of the operation was so poorly organised than when it came to hoarding it was discovered that only half the passengers had been photographed. The other half had been missed entirely.
Thirdly, there appeared to be a complete lack of liaison between the security authorities at the airport and the airline staff and managers. In my presence, the Manager of British Airways at Manchester came forward to obtain information about the possible duration of the delay. To my utter astonishment, he was asked first, who he was and, secondly, why he wanted the information. He replied that he had brought a relief aircraft to the airport two hours before, and mildly suggested that it might be for the convenience of the passengers if he were allowed to take them on to Heathrow. He got what I regard as a dusty answer.
While I fully appreciate the difficulty of mounting such an operation at short notice, I feel strongly that after eight hours had elapsed there could have been a much firmer grip, and better coordination. This kind of incident was bound to arise, and one wonders what the reaction would have been if an aircraft in the hands of hi-jackers had landed at the airport. In my opinion the travelling public will submit to a great deal of inconvenience provided that they are convinced that the measures are relevant and reasonably efficient. We, with the Secretary of State, all have a duty to ensure that that is so.
What is perhaps even more worrying is the question mark that hangs over the effectiveness of the recent operations by the Army and the police at Heathrow. We have doubts about the validity of the conclusions which have been reached from those operations.
Mention of Heathrow leads me to the unrealistic attitude of the British Airline Pilots Association to security at Aldergrove, Belfast Airport and its subsequent decision to impose niggling restrictions on the unfortunate passengers. I leave aside the hysterical threats of refusing to fly on the London-Belfast route. For some extraordinary reason such action always first affects the Glasgow-Belfast route. I am not entirely convinced that there is not some political motivation which might bear looking into.
Residing as I do on the boundary of Aldergrove Airport, and going through, on a weekly basis, the thorough double search procedure employed at the airport, I am convinced that security at that airport is all that could be desired. But I am afraid the situation is very different at Heathrow. I have had occasion, as have most of my hon. Friends who represent Northern Ireland constituencies, to receive complaints from constituents about pilfering from baggage at Heathrow. The authorities admit that this happens and they advise people not to leave valuables in baggage that goes into the hold. If it is possible to extract items from baggage, it is equally possible to insert lethal items into the baggage. There is room for considerable improvement here.
Finally, I respectfully suggest that the Home Secretary should consider the problem of terrorism in total and turn his thoughts to remedial measures to deal with a situation that has changed out of all recognition in the past three years. The Home Secretary has said little today about his thinking in this respect, but I trust that before the debate ends the Government will give an indication that they are aware of the peril and that they have the will and determination to deal with it.
I should like to touch on the vexed question of the penalty for the terrorist. I am not against the death penalty, although I am against reintroducing it in the manner in which it was conducted both before and after 1957. I am against a mandatory sentence and I am against any attempt to categorise murders. Both those defects were apparent in the death penalty as we knew it until its abolition, and both were largely responsible for the change of opinion about it in the country.
The mandatory sentence offended public opinion, and rightly so. The attempt at categorisation—that the man who shot could be hanged whereas the man who knifed could not—and the complication of the double murder, made the coils of LaocoOn as nothing compared to the complications into which the 1957 Act got the courts. Even the Lord Chief Justice at the time—not a noted abolitionist—said that abolition was better than that. If there is to be a question of the reintroduction of the death penalty, there should not be special categories, as most speakers, and certainly most of my hon. Friends, think there should be.
I cannot see that the gangster who is besieged in a building and is determined to shoot his way out regardless of innocent bystanders and regardless of the police is in a different category from that of the terrorist who is equally careless and oblivious of the lives he takes. Indeed, it is arguable that the terrorist is a superior moral being, in that he is acting not to save his own skin but for a cause—no doubt a misguided cause, but at least a cause other than the saving of his own skin. I am not particularly enamoured of the idea that the terrorist is any worse than the gangster who, with his gun, scatters death and destruction all round him on innocent people just as much as on those whose responsibility it is to enforce the law. That being so, I doubt whether it would be right to treat the terrorist in a special way, in the sense that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Ancram) thought he should be.
Murder is murder, and whatever the motive and whoever the victim, the same considerations apply. I would have no objection to the reintroduction of the death penalty for a particularly foul murder, whether or not committed by a terrorist, but the reintroduction of the death penalty, however it is administered and whether it be judicially decided or by use of the Prerogative, gives rise to an immense difficulty. It is not the difficulty of martyrdom and it is not included in the other difficulties that have been mentioned.
The difficulty is that with the modern jury, for which the Home Secretary himself was largely responsible—the jury of, as it were, universal suffrage, of all people of 18 and upwards—it would in present circumstances be extremely difficult—I advance this very tentatively, because I do not know the answer—to get a unanimous verdict; and in the case of murder and the death penalty the verdict would have to be unanimous, in spite of the Home Secretary's introduction of majority verdicts for other crimes. I believe it would be almost impossible to get such verdicts from the modern jury, bearing in mind that many jurymen and potential jurymen would find it against their conscience to have anything whatever to do with a process of law which might end in a process of what they would regard as judicial murder. All those who are in favour of bringing back the death penalty—and I am—must seriously consider whether it would not be, to use an abject phrase, counter-productive, in that those who would otherwise be convicted might well be acquitted by the conscience of one juryman who would have nothing to do with anything that might end with the death penalty.
I beg my hon. Friends and those hon. Members on the Government benches who, I believe, have not always thought this out, to consider most carefully whether paradoxically, the result might not be that the terrorists, gangsters or whoever they were, would be acquitted of the crime of murder for this reason. I know what my hon. Friend is going to say—that there would be other counts in the indictment, so that those persons would be convicted of serious wounding or some other charge for which they could be held for long periods in prison, so that the danger of their being acquitted would not be all that serious.
No, but could not that difficulty be overcome by allowing a system of relief from jury service for those to whom the whole process was obnoxious, much as now happens in the United States?
That is a possibility which might be explored, but there would be attempts by many jurymen—a high proportion of the panel—to escape from jury service in those circumstances. I may be wrong; that may be an answer, but it must be a factor which weighs with all those who on other grounds would wish to see what the country would undoubtedly wish to see—a reintroduction of the death penalty for acts of terrorism and—I would add, myself—acts of violence of the gangster type.
My hon. Friend will recall that he and I served on the Committee that dealt with the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Act of last year, which did away with the jury system for certain crimes and instituted the single judge. At that time there was a discussion whether a panel of judges might not be better in respect of the cases that would have to be considered. Has my hon. and learned Friend thought of this solution in place of the jury system?
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend and I urged upon my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson) in vain the view that there should always be three judges and not one in trials without jury. I still believe that we were right and he was wrong, but at the same time I do not contemplate the possibility of suspending the jury system in the United Kingdom as a whole for these crimes. For one thing, international and national terrorism will be with us for many years, and perhaps municipal terrorism will—who knows? I could not, in any imaginable circumstances, contemplate the idea that we should suspend the protection of the jury more or less indefinitely throughout the United Kingdom, so I am afraid my hon. Friend's solution of suspending the jury system is much too drastic, and is one which I could not accept.
Has the hon. and learned Gentleman fully understood his hon. Friend's suggestion, that in all murder cases, with the death penalty restored, these cases uniquely should be taken without a jury? That was his proposition—that this most final penalty should be arrived at uniquely, with a jury excluded for this purpose.
As I have said' I find difficulty in distinguishing these categories of murder, but even assuming one could, I do not consider it conceivable that one could for an indefinite period, or even for a definite period, entrust to a tribunal, even of three judges without a jury, the responsibility of finding the facts that would end in the death penalty. That seems to me to be something that would fly in the face of 300 or more years of our history, and I do not think it is right.
If there is anything in what I say it means that we have to proceed very cautiously on the reintroduction of the death penalty. It may well have to come back, in spite of the jury difficulty and in spite of the martyrdom point, and all the other very well known objections, but I venture to put forward another caution, because, as the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said, this is a debate in which we must not let our emotions get the better of our reason. So far, thank goodness, that precept has been followed. The other point that I wish to raise concerns the Metropolitan Police.
Before my hon. and learned Friend leaves the subject about which he has been speaking—I am disappointed at the line he has taken, which has hurt my personal views and argument very much—can he help a non-lawyer by thinking of a way of speeding up the process of law? One would want to see it changed so that terrorists can be tried and dealt with much more quickly than, say, the Price sisters were dealt with.
I shall leave that to my hon. and learned Friend who will conclude the debate for the Opposition. He has been, and will again be very shortly, responsible for the process of the criminal courts. My understanding is that the backlog in the criminal courts at the moment is less than it was only a few months ago. Certainly, it is true that at the Central Criminal Court cases come on much more quickly than they have been doing over the last six or seven years—and I believe that in the country it is quicker still. I am sorry that I have disappointed my hon. Friend who on a previous occasion helped me in the very Department that we see represented on the Front Bench opposite. I am not against the principle of reintroduction, but I believe there are many practical difficulties, of which the jury is one.
The point I have been trying to get to—I shall be brief—is the question of the Metropolitan Police. I wish to put a thought in the Home Secretary's mind. We have now one of the best commissioners we have ever had, and we have a force which the commissioner has rightly described as a noble service. That force is overstretched and, despite a slight amelioration of the manning position mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, is very undermanned. It must be dramatically increased. I should like to see it even more dramatically increased because I do not like the special police services that still exist.
I am glad that the Government abolished the special police services at London Airport. That was an extremely good and timely action, but there are other such services which suffer—though not perhaps to quite such a dramatic extent—from the same difficulties and failings. I refer, for example, to the railway police—an invention of the nineteenth century, when pilferage on the railways was so serious that it was thought that special policemen who knew all about trains could help to stop it.
Pilferage is still serious, but there are far more serious things which are now within the control of the railway police. For example, the London Underground is a very dangerous area at night for unaccompanied people. The muggings that take place in the London Underground at night, on the premises of railway stations—indeed, this happens both underground and overground—are getting worse. The writ of the Metropolitan Police does not run there. Members of the Metropolitan Police are firmly of the opinion, and I agree with them, that if their writ ran in railway stations, the enforcement of law on the railways, both underground and overground, would be infinitely superior.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the powers of the Metropolitan Police in respect of railway property under existing legislation are due to expire on Wednesday next week and that they would have been renewed by the British Railways Bill—a Private Bill—which has been trying to get through this House for many months. Is he aware that that process has been impeded by the virtuoso performance of his hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who was lauded for his efforts the other night in speaking for 3 hours and 16 minutes? Does the hon. and learned Member appreciate that the effect of that performance will mean that the powers of the transport police and other police forces on railway property will not be properly effective from next Wednesday when they are due to expire? Therefore, will the hon. and learned Gentleman support me and others in trying to persuade the hon. Member for Essex, South-East to remove his opposition to the Bill?
I hardly think that that question is relevant to the question of who, in the long run, should be the policing authority for the railways. That was the point with which I was attempting to deal. I am not particu larly concerned to preserve the present position. The whole burden of my argument was that the present position was bad and that the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police should be extended to look after railway property. The same goes for the docks and for other security organisations where the police have difficulty in obtaining access. I refer to Smithfield Market and Covent Garden Market where people are dressed like policemen but act, as it were, as private police forces in those areas. None of those forces can have the powers, the mobility, the large view, or the probity, of the Metropolitan Police. In those areas and in many other places it is time to take action on similar lines to that taken at Heathrow. Heathrow merely happened to be the worst example.
On the question of enforcement of the law, I very much agree with the Home Secretary that it is enforcement and detection rather than the size of penalty which is important, not only in enforcing the law but in gathering respect for it. The police force in London and in the big cities must be not under-manned but, if necessary, over-manned. Any Government who find themselves in office in October or November must, as a matter of priority, see that the necessary sinews of war are made available so that all the ills which we have been discussing today, and many more besides, are remedied in the only way possible.
The title of the debate is "Public Safety and the decline in Respect for the Law." The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, spread his remarks far and wide under that umbrella. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt more than adequately with the question of capital punishment and the arguments put forward by some for its reintroduction.
Unhappily, the remainder of the debate seems to have concentrated on the question whether we should now reintroduce capital punishment because of the incidence of violence and so on. It is unfortunate, in our present situation, that the only aspect of public safety and respect for the law that we consider to be worthy of our attention today is that of capital punishment.
We might legitimately ask the question, "To what law are we addressing ourselves?" The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), speaking on behalf of the Scottish National Party, attempted to introduce some divine law into our proceedings, and certainly his philosophy seemed to be based on that concept. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East made a pointed reference to religion and ideology. We might also ask what is meant by "ideology". It is a term that embraces a system of beliefs. Whenever we use the word about others and their beliefs we tend to use it in a derogatory sense. If we speak of other people's beliefs, we refer to them as "ideology" However, obviously when my right hon. Friend speaks it is the truth we are hearing, and not ideology.
I could make an equal claim, but do not do so because I freely admit that my views on this matter constitute a system of beliefs. The whole argument on this subject stems from a series of values which one either does or does not possess. The whole basis of our law in Britain is a system of values. What do we hold as valuable in our society?
When we talk about public safety, it is worth considering what we have in mind. Certainly it is worth considering what I have in mind. For example, who are the weak in Britain today? Certainly they include children, elderly people, the disabled, the blind and the socially deprived. They are the weak in our society.
In my view, there are certain safeties to which we should address ourselves. The first is safety from want. The Atlantic Charter uses some grandiose words about freedom from want. Have we provided that in Britain? Irrespective of the political complexion of Governments since 1945, have we really thought seriously about safety from want?
Then there is safety from fear. What has the law done in that connection? Then there is safety from exploitation. It seems to me that we live in a society which is structured fundamentally on the exploitation of one section of society by another. I shall return to that subject. I make no apology for raising it.
Then there is safety from discrimination. In recent months it has been plea sant to hear hon. Members condemning discrimination on sex grounds. But we have discrimination on racial grounds, on religious grounds and, clearly, on class grounds. How does the law prevent discrimination of that kind?
When we talk about violence—I speak here with some feeling—we ought to consider what violence means to the man with a family who is told that his services are no longer required, that he is redundant, and that he is to be sacked. In my view that is an act of violence against that man and his family. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) may laugh. For my part, that is a fundamental characteristic of our society. It happens all the time in various parts of the country. Does the law prevent it? Is there anywhere enshrined in our law a provision about man's right to work'? There is not.
As for bureaucracy in our society, I am sure that we can all tell stories about the way that it functions and about its impersonality. Max Weber and others wrote about it in the early days. They described the ways in which those who were weak and humble could be subjected to violence by the bureaucracy in our huge organisations. The State itself is guilty of violence. It is guilty of violence when it decides that there may be a prima facie case against a widow who takes a lodger. The State seeks to discover whether the lodger is co-habiting with the widow. If there is any suggestion that that may be the case, the bureaucrats deprive her of benefits to which she may otherwise be entitled.
The police are not free from this violence, as recent events in London have shown. However, without getting into that argument I want to tell the simple story of a constituent of mine who only last weekend faced a major problem.
The problem is landlordism. It is a common one. As it is structured at present, does the law protect people against landlords? It may be thought that, in general, it does. My constituent telephoned me to say that his electricity supply had been cut off. He is the tenant of furnished accommodation. Two or three months ago he had been to see me because he had received notice to quit. His landlord had become aware that a Rent Bill was going through the House which would give his tenant security of tenure. He wanted to jump the gun by getting his tenant out before the Bill became law, so that he could put in another tenant who was capable of paying a few pounds more in rent. In other words, he wanted to exploit his property and his interests.
Happily, the rent tribunal refused to evict my constituent. It gave him security of tenure until November of this year. But, not to be outdone, the landlord tried other means. He attempted to change the tenancy from a weekly one to a monthly one. He refused to accept any rent the following week when it was offered to him, and said that the tenancy was now a monthly one. Then he took my constituent back to the rent tribunal because of alleged rent arrears. Again the tribunal refused to accept the landlord's case and again, happily, it repeated the six months' security of tenure which my constituent had been given.
Next, the landlord decided to increase the charge for electricity, and then he cut it off. I appealed to the agent, who told me that he could not help because the landlord was in Spain and did not often come to this country. He has not even a telephone here. He owns a number of properties, but he does not live here. The agent said that he could not turn on the electricity until he obtained the landlord's permission.
I then turned to the law. I contacted the police. The police saw the agent, but thereafter they could take no action. As a result, my constituent spent two or three days without electricity
When we talk about public safety, is it not time that we considered tightening up the various loopholes in the law which permit landlords and others who have some control over other people to utilise their privileged positions in order to exploit deprivation of one sort or another by means of business techniques?
I could deal with this wide subject at length. For example, subliminal advertising goes on all the time. There are supposed to be laws protecting the public against it. Profiteering is an area in which the Conservative Party would not be prepared to countenance laws of any description. Profit is almost holy in our society. That is what it is all about—the making of profit. Sir Denys Lowson can make his £6 million. One day we may be able to take him to court. We may be able to take some action. If and when we do, I shall have a beer to celebrate. It seems that it will take a very long time to introduce the sort of laws that will throttle the Sir Denys Lowsons of this country.
No, I will not give way. I have only just begun. It seems time that we in this House addressed ourselves, as people outside do, to the values that buttress our society. The protection of people is what law is all about, and not the protection of property. Let us consider the example of an hon. Member going into a shop next week and stealing a packet of cigarettes. That involves private property. It would virtually mean the end of an hon. Member's political career. It would be on the front page of the national Press—"Denis Skinner Whips a Packet of Fags".
We all know what would happen to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). What about the motorist who is found drunk in charge of a car, who is taken to court and who is found to be a Member of this House? It is almost as if a person has arrived when convicted of being drunk in charge of a car. Such a charge establishes that a person has lived. That is the morality of our society. All sorts of moral questions arise when private property is involved—for example, a packet of fags stolen as a result of shoplifting—but it seems that being drunk in charge of a lethal weapon, in circumstances which could result in the loss of life, is not immoral. When someone has two or three endorsements on his driving licence the only matter that perturbs him is the thought that the licence may be taken away. Those are the values that we must consider when we are talking about respect for the law.
It seems that what I have listened to since I was elected in February—it has been said constantly from the Opposition benches—is a demand for conformity. Conservative Members say, "Those are the values that we have set for you. We have socialised you over your life into accepting them. We have methods involving the use of social controls to see that you accept them." We are told that we may improve society only within the framework of that system of social control. Conservative hon. Members are perturbed about the growing number of young people who refuse to accept their values and refuse to conform to the values that have been set for society. It is for the people who refuse to accept such values that Conservative Members seek better and more efficient means of social control.
The spokesman for the Opposition—the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East—talked about permissiveness in our society. I think that it is a terrible society that permits 100,000 people to be unemployed. It is a terrible society that allows old-age pensioners to live on the measly sum that they now receive.
It may be increasing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighly (Mr. Cryer) suggests—I am only too pleased to hear it—but he is kidding himself if he believes that we have now established an adequate pension for old people. We shall do that only when old people are able to provide themselves with the necessary means of life in common with others—in other words, and in the immediate sense, when we adjust their pensions on the basis of average earnings. When we have done that there may be some prospect that pensioners in our society will lead reasonable lives.
It seems—I may have gone on too long already—that our laws mirror the nature of the society in which we live. For me it is a capitalist society. It is a society that is divided into classes, in which one class exploits the other and the minority oppresses the majority. Our laws are meant to perpetuate that state of affairs. I serve notice on the Opposition—as many of my hon. Friends have done over the years in this House—that their time is running out. We are having this debate because when the class struggle sharpens the Opposition sharpen their knives in terms of postulating how they can make the people conform, protect their privileged position and continue to rule. It seems to me that that is what it is all
about. It is precisely because of that that it is necessary for us to change this society. We must establish new laws that will mirror a society in which we can live on the basis of the precept,
From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs
which will free us from the violence of our present society.
I declare a financial interest as I practise at the criminal bar when my parliamentary and constituency duties allow. I take a simplistic view about the issues of law and order. There are two prime, fundamental, overriding requirements of the State and of Government—namely, to protect the State for external and internal attack. Internal security for the State is every bit as important as external security. It is the function of Government to provide that security.
In some countries internal security is achieved by an oppressive police. In our society it has been achieved by a relatively unobtrusive police force and with the voluntary wish of the people to be bound to certain restraints. That has always been the real social contract between law-abiding people and a law-abiding Government. Unhappily, like other social contracts, it is now beginning to break down. People who should know better are withdrawing their support from the law-abiding activities of the State.
What is to blame for this state of affairs? I shall not rehearse the speeches that have already been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I believe that the climate of general public opinion, of the permissive society, is substantially to blame; but so are Governments. There is an ever-lengthening list of pieces breaking away from the fabric of our ordered society. If we give the State too much responsibility that must mean that responsibility is taken away from the individual. The individual will inevitably become less responsible in the home and will care less for old people and children. If we put children into schools too big to provide personal contact between teacher and pupil, if we appoint teachers who do not believe in discipline, and if we abolish uniforms that evoke some respect, we will undermine, deep down, the fabric of our society.
Those are long-term causes, but there are more immediate acts and defaults of Government which affect the current climate of disorder—namely, what a Government do about television that shows too much violence or obscenity; what they do when they have to deal with individuals like the Clay Cross councillors; how they react when one of their members attacks the judiciary, how they react to demands for the retrospective payment of money; how they react to the request that illegal immigrants be made legal, not because the act is illegal but because it provides an encouragement to others who might take part in the illegality in the hope that at some other time a soft Government may excuse them; how they react to the demands of those who want to destroy the Industrial Relations Act by non-democratic means; how they react to those who would force a separation of private practice from the National Health Service; and how they react to large powerful units which, in our community, wish to go against the rule and the control of a democratically elected Government.
Public anger is great in my constituency and that, in a mass form repeated all over the country, is not conducive to respect or obedience. The social contract is frayed, and it is further torn by even more Government action. We had the recent experience in this Parliament of rates, with otherwise law-abiding respectable people refusing to pay, which is an illegal act.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Clay Cross business. He will know that local councillors who undertake illegal expenditure can be required under the law to pay out of their own pockets for that illegal expenditure. I wonder whether he would agree that if a Minister of the Crown is responsible for an illegal action he, too, should be required to pay out of his own pocket any costs that may arise.
That is an interesting suggestion. I do not need to go that far. My point simply is that it is wrong for any Government to be seen to condone clearly illegal acts, because it not only encourages others to perform illegal acts in the expectation that they may get away with them, but lessens respect for the Government and the very institution of government. I think that that, by general consent, certainly on this side of the House, is the current opinion.
What is to be done about it? What can this, or the next Government, whom I hope we shall have in October, do about this problem? The containment of public disorder must depend upon four factors: a sufficiency of laws to stigmatise the wrongdoing; an adequacy of the police force to apprehend the wrongdoer; an efficient process of criminal trial to make sure that the guilty are convicted; and sentences severe enough to deter others and to protect the public.
Are out present laws adequate? Broadly, I think that they are; but public order legislation is in a mess and is vitally in need of simplification, explanation and consolidation. The law needs strengthening in certain parts.
People are very distressed when they see IRA collections being made in public houses, and they were extremely distressed when we had that exhibition of IRA members wearing uniforms in public at a funeral. The root of the matter concerns what can be done about the IRA. The Public Order Act takes care of these manifestations, but the problem is what can or should be done about the IRA. I will not spend time going into that problem. I ask the Government—if not the present Government, the next Government—urgently to consider making the IRA illegal in this country.
The police may object, but, with the best will in the world, we cannot expect the British police force to do other when they are understaffed and underpaid. If they are to be involved in a massive amount of extra work, of course they will object. If they were adequately staffed, would their objections be so strong?
I noticed—this point is important, but not so important as the IRA point—some confusion on the part of the Home Secretary over the Red Lion Square riots. I suggest that we should look again at the law on processions. Perhaps there should be a requirement of prior notification to the police of a procession so that the police may lay down conditions. I understand that at present there is no requirement that the police be informed in advance of processions.
The first question is: are the laws adequate? Broadly, yes; but there are important areas of concern.
Secondly, is the police force adequate? The answer is "No"—nothing like adequate. There is a shortfall in manpower of 7,000 men outside London and of 5,000 in the Metropolitan Police. That is on establishment. It may be that the establishment figures are wrong to deal with this new surge of public disorder. It means that there are fewer police officers to detect crime, to apprehend the villains and for crowd control when people exercise their rights. It is vital, at a time of the threatened breakdown of law and order in this country, for the strength of the police force to be increased. Therefore, I suggest that there should be an immediate reallocation of priorities. Just as the defence of the realm from outside comes high on the level of the State's priorities, so should the defence of the realm from within assume a much higher priority up the scale than hitherto. Perhaps with that we can have a more detailed consideration of mechanical aids, special constables, and so on.
Is the process of criminal trial adequate? It has been made speedier and more efficient under the Courts Act 1971. However, I express caution about the proposals to curtail the right, available to the individual, to be tried by a jury. They are being looked into. If 50 per cent. of those who are tried by jury are acquitted, how efficient is the system?
Yes. It means that they have either been wrongly acquitted or wrongly charged. It cannot mean anything else. If 50 per cent. of those who are tried by jury are acquitted, they have either been wrongly charged or wrongly acquitted.
Even if it is 50 per cent.—that is doubtful—of those who plead not guilty, it is a small proportion of those who are charged with criminal offences. No system either of detection or of criminal trial can be absolutely perfect. There must be some mistakes. It is only right that a criminal trial should find them out.
Yes, but it is also a large proportion of those who are charged with serious crimes, plead not guilty, and are tried before a jury. I am not suggesting that we can have a perfect system, but that we should look for ways of improving it. I suggest that the Minister might immediately go about improving the system of criminal trials by setting up an inquiry into the feasibility of making oral confessions admissible only if they are corroborated by a tape recording. In my experience, too many people who are acquitted would not be acquitted if juries were not faced with doubt about the veracity of the evidence of those who say that oral admissions had been made.
Are sentences adequate to deter and to protect the public? Again, they have been reviewed and increased for many public order offences, particularly those for the possession of firearms and crimes of vandalism. However, there is no machinery for automatic review subject to parliamentary approval. I submit that a body should be set up to deal with such a regular review.
The subject of terrorism has properly taken up a lot of the time of this debate. There is a tremendous amount of public feeling throughout the country that capital punishment did and would deter. We ignore that public feeling at our peril. If a sufficiently large number of people have that strong feeling we in this place merely give some sort of acceptability to criticism that Parliament is not truly representative or expressive of the wishes of the people if we do not take note of that feeling. I do not want to take the concept too far, but if enough people feel strongly about this issue we ought to take substantial regard of their feelings.
Are people right to say that capital punishment deters? I do not know. But equally we cannot prove—nobody can prove—that they are wrong. When we are faced with civil disorder of the sort we have at present we as a Parliament should be prepared to reconsider the situation. I do not suggest to Members on the Government side that this matter should be dealt with by way of a referendum.
The Home Secretary raised the objection that people of the sort we have been discussing would in certain circumstances be considered to be martyrs and that that would be a victory for the IRA. That assumes that they are not already martyrs if they receive lengthy sentences of, say 20 or 30 years. It is to assume that the Price sisters were not martyrs when they were subjected to forced feeding. We are talking about comparative martyrdom, not the presence or absence of martyrdom.
I turn now to finality. Society may believe that to produce a final act on one person may save a final act being committed on two or three people, or even on 10, 20 or 30. This is justifiable in time of war. We do not use the finality argument in time of war when we drop bombs. Yet this is a time of war, not an external war but an internal war, and an internal war is every bit as important as an external war.
The Home Secretary carries much respect in this country but is generally thought to be soft on law and order. In his speech this afternoon he showed some concern for the rule of law at home, but I noticed that he did not succeed in persuading his party that the rule of law at home was a necessary part of its election manifesto. That matter did not appear in the manifesto. I wonder how many hon. Members on the Government side go along with the Home Secretary when he shows this concern for law and order.
The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) said that the Opposition did not have any regard for values. He spoke against a man not convicted, not tried, not even charged, on the assumption that he is guilty. What sort of value for the freedom of the individual is that?
At present our democracy is under attack from within by powerful forces of disorder and might is fast becoming right. The country is demanding a Government who will produce a determined defence against this internal attack on our democracy and ensure that might, as well as right, is wielded in future by the State.
I wish to express disagreement with the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) in his view that if 50 per cent. of people charged in the criminal courts are acquitted it must mean either that something is wrong with the processes of trial or that they were wrongly charged. Unless we have a system in which the police take decisions whether a person is guilty, and that is regarded as the end of it, there are bound to be a number of cases in which there are adequate grounds for putting the matter to a court although the court may decide that the accused is innocent or that it is not satisfied sufficiently that he is guilty. The hon. Gentleman is surely falling into the same error as that of Sir Robert Mark in his notorious speech of over a year ago. I have great respect for Sir Robert's leadership of the Metropolitan Police, but he said something along the same lines as the hon. Member.
There is nothing wrong in people being acquitted in court. It would be a serious reflection on our legal system if the vast majority of people who appeared before courts were convicted. That could only mean that the courts were taking the view that if the police thought that an accused was guilty, and thought so sufficiently strongly to bring him to court, then he must certainly be guilty.
I shall now explain to the hon. Gentleman the background, at which he could not be expected to guess, to the question which I put when I intervened in his speech. I asked him whether he thought that a Minister of the Crown who undertook illegal acts should be obliged to make recompense in some way. Earlier in the debate the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) suggested that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had encouraged illegality in a number of ways. To hear some Members of the Opposition talk, one would think that never had any Conservative Member—certainly no Conservative Minister—had anything to do with any illegal actions.
The hon. Member for Burton was not a Member of the House in the last Parliament, but he knows quite well that three years ago it was revealed that British forces in Northern Ireland, under the direction of and with the full knowledge of Ministers, were undertaking torture of IRA prisoners.
The facts on this were brought out—when many people, including myself, did not at first believe them—in a report by Sir Edmund Compton. Some hon. Members appeared to consider that the instances might have been regrettable but that there was nothing illegal. But there have been a number of cases in which the British Government have recognised that actions were illegal and have therefore had an obligation to pay compensation.
According to an Answer which I received today from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, compensation has been paid so far in three cases to the people concerned. The compensation does not amount to much. It seems that one does not get much for torture. One is paid much more if one's property is damaged. The compensation so far totals only £25,000.
Lord Carrington and the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Lord Balniel) knew that those illegal actions were taking place. They encouraged that illegality, and the fact that it was intended to deal with people who themselves were guilty of gross illegalities is no defence of it. I raise this point so as to plead that we do not engage in this debate in throwing charges from one side of the House to the other about encouraging illegality. I do not think that any significant proportion of the 635 Members of the House encourage illegality. We shall distract ourselves from what needs our attention if we indulge in throwing brickbats from one side to the other—
I accept the last part of the hon. Gentleman's argument but I do not agree with what he said about torture. Is it not the case that the British Government are defending this allegation in the International Court? Surely this makes it clear that the British Government do not believe what the hon. Gentleman alleges.
The hon. Member must find his own word for it. The facts are known and accepted by this House. To their credit, when the facts became known, the previous Government decided that that must never be done again—
If depriving a man of food over a prolonged period, requiring him to stand up against a wall in an unbearable position and having in the room a noise machine purely and solely intended to deprive a person of the input of his senses are not torture in the hon. Member's opinion, I would suggest that he consult those who have undergone the experience of those techniques over a considerable time. This is a matter of judgment and if the hon. Gentleman does not like to call that torture, that is his decision. In my book, that is most certainly torture.
What matters to the point that I am making is that it certainly was illegal, otherwise the Government would not be paying out compensation—and that was done by a Conservative Government, not a Labour Government.
Surely the hon. Gentleman has demolished his own argument. He has told the House, correctly, that as soon as the Government realised that the acts to which he referred were wrong, they immediately ensured that they would not be repeated and compensation has been paid. He will acknowledge, surely, that there is a vast difference between that and the Labour Party in opposition openly encouraging the councillors of Clay Cross to defy an Act of Parliament, in the full knowledge that that would be an illegality.
I do not support what the councillors of Clay Cross did, and that is all I intend to say about that. The hon. Gentleman also was not a Member in the last Parliament. Ministers were aware—he can look up the record if he wishes—of the actions of which I am complaining. It is not the case that once they found out what was happening they stopped it. They had to wait for two reports, one making the facts public and the second saying in its minority report that these things should not continue. I invite him to look up the record on this matter. It is not creditable to the British House of Commons, which tended to ignore the point for far too long, and it certainly is not creditable to the Conservative Government of the time.
I should like to go on in a less provocative spirit, because this important subject requires a bipartisan and impartial approach. It seems to me that we are in for a prolonged period—at least 50 years—in which terrorist activity is likely to be with us. There seems little chance of eradicating it in the short run. Who knows why this is the case? It may be that, because we have not had wars for some time, the natural element of violence in people's make-up is manifested in internal violence. But whatever the reason, we shall have this prolonged period of inclination towards violence, and, more seriously, a tolerance of violence by those who do not themselves commit it. It is that tolerance of crime by those who do not themselves commit it which is the most serious thing and which we need to try to eradicate.
When this kind of subject is debated, one lot of Members say, "There are lots of complaints against the police and this must be put right", while another lot say, "We must support the police and the other security institutions and not press too hard any complaints against them." If we are to deal with a period of at least half a century of sustained violence of this new kind, we shall have to have a two-handed policy. We shall have to be extremely tough with abuses by the police and other security authorities and at the same time we shall have to support the police when they are doing what they should do. We shall have to put up with measures which in the past we have not been prepared to tolerate in order to catch, identify and keep in jail—not just get them there—those who commit these offences.
I want to touch on some aspects, first, of respects in which there is legitimate concern about activities by the police or the authorities of the State. The position is getting worse. My experience is that one encounters more often than in the past cases in which, although one cannot be certain of the facts, one feels in one's own mind that there is probably a just cause for complaint.
On New Year's Eve last year, I was walking through Piccadilly Circus. That is not perhaps a wise thing to do, but it enabled me to witness a member of the public being arrested. I did not see what led up to the arrest, but he was arrested by several policemen. When I saw the incident he was already firmly and literally in the policemen's hands. He was being held on the ground face down, and two policemen were standing one on each of his legs. The man was incapable of moving.
If it is right to hold a man, no doubt this is the best way to do it—on the ground in those circumstances. But in the middle of Piccadilly Circus—this is the point that I stress—it reflects on our society that two constables can stand on the legs of someone they are arresting. If those constables did that up a back alley, people might say that it was worse. No, I do not think so, because of what it reflects about our society. If they do it up a back alley, they are afraid of public opinion, of someone passing. In this case they were not afraid of anyone who might pass, and that reflects something very serious.
A complaint was made and the evidence was insufficient. There is no more reason why the authorities should believe a Member of Parliament than anyone else: that would be quite a non-judicial approach. Those policemen were not prosecuted and no disciplinary proceedings were taken against them. I make no complaint about that. I think that the evidence was insufficient. But I draw the attention of the House to the fact that when that sort of thing can happen in a packed public place, then the police feel too secure and we need to look into these things more carefully.
A second change is long overdue. We are dealing in part with the complaint raised by people who might have been charged improperly, wrongly, unnecessarily, or on insufficient grounds. It is high time that we got around to the system which applies in almost every other part of the world and prevented the police from bringing prosecutions.
In Scotland the police exist to find the facts and not to bring the prosecutions. That is left to the procurator fiscal. In most countries it is up to a public prosecutor to decide whether a charge should be brought, what charge should be brought and so on. That is an important protection because it brings a quasi-judicial, certainly an independent, view to bear on whether the facts are sufficient to take the case to court. The public prosecutor or procurator fiscal would normally be a barrister or solicitor of some standing and could be expected not to bring a prosecution which did not look likely to stand up in court.
More important, perhaps, such a person would not, as the police sometimes do, choose the charge in order to fit the evidence. I can recall seeing a couple of cars collide in my constituency. One of those cars was being driven dangerously; and probably they both were. The one which I was sure was being driven dangerously was discovered afterwards to be a police car but the charge that the police brought against the other driver made it irrelevant whether the police car had been driven dangerously or not. Had they brought a charge of careless driving against the other driver, the behaviour of the police driver would have been relevant in court, but the charge they chose made it not relevant. I do not believe that the procurator fiscal in Scotland or a public prosecutor, if we introduced such a thing, in England, would be free to make that choice. Such a public prosecutor would also be the natural independent element to introduce into the examination of complaints against the police. I think that most people are increasingly persuaded that that independent element ought to be introduced.
There is also the matter of access to solicitors by people who have been arrested, and all the other content of the judges' rules. It is high time that this House decided whether the judges' rules are law or not. If they are as important as they are said to be, they ought to be in a statute. They ought not to be laid down by the judges without the authority of Parliament. If that were done, they would be tidied up in ways in which they need to be tidied up—and have needed for a long time. I do not think that we shall be able to give the police the backing and support they will need in dealing with the situation over the next 50 years unless we have complete confidence in their integrity, and that means the removal of complaints of the kind that I have just mentioned.
It would also help if the judges—I mean magistrates as well as judges proper—could restrain themselves from the various rude remarks they are inclined to make from the bench. It would be conducive to the judicial atmosphere of courts and a feeling of fairness on the part of defendants if the judges could just take their decisions and give their reasons without delivering a sermon at the same time. The more they are inclined to give a sermon, the more likely it is that the sermon will have absolutely no effect. Some of the rude remarks made by judges at defendants, who can of course make no reply, call in question the judicial nature of our courts. If it were the practice in this country—not laid down in statute or anywhere else—that judges never did that sort of thing in England—"They might do it in other countries but not in England, no"—we should boast of that practice throughout the world. We cannot boast of it because our practices are exactly opposite.
On the other side, we need to recognise that the enemy is the criminal and not the police, and that the police are there to protect us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] The reaction of hon. Members of the Opposition illustrates the point I am making. These two things must go hand in hand. It is not right that one person should represent one side of the case and another the other side of the case. We must have both at the same time, because people will not be prepared to give the police that trust which they need if these abuses are not corrected—and they are real abuses at present.
It is high time that the police got better protection with respect to disciplinary proceedings. It is not uncommon for a policeman to be subjected to disciplinary proceedings in respect of actions which, if done, certainly constitute a criminal offence, but which have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions to see whether a prosecution should take place, and the DPP has said that a prosecution should not take place. It is not uncommon that upon the same facts disciplinary proceedings are taken. This is not supposed to happen. The Home Office is quite clear on the point of principle that if the DPP says that the evidence is not strong enough for a criminal prosecution, disciplinary proceedings should not be taken.
In practice, however, that principle is evaded, because the words used by the DPP in transmitting his decision to the chief constable are such as to leave an element of vagueness whether he is saying that he is not satisfied that the action constituted a crime, that he is not satisfied that it constituted a sufficiently serious crime, or that he is not satisfied that the evidence would stand up in a court of law. Sometimes he uses those latter words, but he does not always have to do so, and the element of doubt which is left in some decisions by the DPP leaves it open for people to be subjected to disciplinary proceedings on the same facts as might have been involved in a court of law. That has been a complaint by the Police Federation for some time, and the Home Office has done precious little about it.
On general crime—not terrorist activity—there is a tendency in the lower courts, in magistrates' courts, for our magistrates to be so aged that they have forgotten the value of money these days. Some magistrates impose penalties of £2, £5 and so on, which have absolutely no effect upon the person penalised. It would be a good thing if magistrates were told that they might as well not bother if they are not intending to fine someone £20 or more. Of course, in very special circumstances they could fix a smaller fine than £20, or whichever figure we chose. But they ought to have some indication of what makes it worth while imposing a fine at all.
The courts are also extremely lackadaisical about getting money out of people. This is partly because they do not have a separate service for doing exactly that job. The probation officers sometimes—to their great chagrin—are landed with the task of getting money out of people. It is not their job. The courts should have available to them some independent service to which they can turn for doing the collection of money and the examination of the offender's means other than the Department of Health and Social Security.
Turning to the matter of terrorist activity, I think that we all recognise a feeling of considerable helplessness. One thing is certain: the penalty that is imposed is not the main deterrent. I happen to be one of those Members who—in the spring of last year I think it was—voted for the retention of the death penalty in Northern Ireland, in the special circum stances of Northern Ireland. I did that because this is supposed to be a United Kingdom and I was prepared to see the death penalty for terrorist activities restored in Great Britain in order not to have a distinction.
I confess that I was not at all sure that I was right. Many of my colleagues were absolutely certain that I was wrong, and told me so in no uncertain terms. But one thing is surely undeniable—that the penalty is meaningless if, as the Home Secretary said, we are not catching the terrorists. The important thing, therefore, is to turn to means, if we can think of them—this is where one feels the helplessness—of creating a better chance of catching them.
There is a tendency, perhaps particularly among progressive parties, to feel that the activities of the Special Branch and what used to be called MI5 should not be expanded in a modern society. With the new dangers that face us, I do not think we shall be able to do without expanded activity by the security services and the Special Branch. We must get used to the fact that activities such as those which have been alleged against the Special Air Service in Northern Ireland are an essential ingredient if one is dealing with an internal security problem. Plain clothes activity is the only way of dealing with that situation.
I also think that in the end we shall have to get round to having identity cards. I can see no reason why we should not go back to the war-time situation, in which people had identity cards and did not regard that as an intrusion into their privacy at all. We have at present everyone identified in a maze of Government institutions under a totally different series of numbers. One has a national insurance number, a medical number and an income tax number. It is time that people had one identity number which could be used for all public purposes and which would also be useful on identity cards when required.
We also need to accept that in modern conditions the Army will be a fall-back weapon for internal security purposes. It is a pity if it has to be deployed at Heathrow Airport, but we are facing such dangers that we ought not to regard that as a temporary event which will end as soon as possible.
Finally, we need to take sterner measures on the control of explosive materials. Most people who work in the construction industry can get their hands on explosive materials. These materials are supposed to be locked up carefully, but they tend to be locked up in little shacks on construction sites, and, as we all know, the vast majority of the workers on those sites come from a certain part of the British Isles. I cannot believe that a good amount of the explosive material that has been used here and in Northern Ireland has derived from other sources. I should like to see a Committee of the House or some similar body investigating these points and others and considering a tightening up of the processes for catching criminals.
This has been an extremely important and somewhat dramatic debate. I am grateful that the Home Secretary has come back into the Chamber, obviously having heard that I was going to be called next. It is a dramatic debate, because the attitudes of both Front Benches, reflected in the speeches that were presented today, are quite different from those adopted in previous debates on home affairs, particularly with respect to terrorism.
About six weeks ago the Home Secretary gave me a rather cold brush-off at Question Time about the reintroduction of capital punishment. About a week ago his attitude was different, and today he clearly stated that if he were persuaded that it would be effective and was necessary he would be prepared to recommend the reintroduction of capital punishment for acts of terrorism. That is a brave step forward and a much more definite statement than we have had on this issue from any other Home Secretary.
I come now to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). It was a most thoughtful, distinguished and intellectually courageous speech, and it contained two important statements. First, my right hon. Friend distinguished death by terrorist activities from ordinary crimes of murder and said, if I am not paraphrasing him too tightly, that he felt they fell into different categories. For someone who had previously been a convinced abolitionist, and for a man of his distinction, that was an important statement.
He made a commitment that the next Conservative Government would set in train an inquiry to examine the efficacy of the death penalty as a penalty or deterrent for terrorism. That, again, is important. I only wish that Conservative Ministers had taken that step two years or even one year ago.
The last speech of major importance was from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson). He has unparalleled experience in dealing with the detail of terrorist crimes, and his was a memorable and important speech which pointed out the way in which I hope the body of opinion in this House will move to come into line much more with the body of opinion in the country. I was very close to Trafalgar Square when the Whitehall bomb went off. I was shocked and am still shocked by the memory of the smoke and the empty roads, with the ambulances and fire engines rushing along them with sirens wailing. I said then that we must not allow such incidents to be an accepted part of our way of life.
Ever since that day my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather)—whose experience dates back further than mine because of his knowledge in Northern Ireland—and I have sought to persuade successive Home Secretaries to take more drastic action to show the unacceptability of terrorist crimes in this country. Unfortunately they have fallen for the Home Office line that the greatest danger is the danger of over-reaction, and that the best approach is to play it cool and keep a low profile.
I believe that the recent incidents of the bomb in the Tower of London and the bomb in the aeroplane happened because we succumbed to the warnings about over-reaction. We suffered from the much greater danger of under-reaction. Members of Parliament are representatives of their constituencies, not delegates, and from time to time it is our duty, our privilege and our right to try to lead public opinion, even if that appears to conflict with the views of the general public. Nothing is more dangerous than for this House and for any Government to be totally out of line with the current thinking of the people. I do not know what democracy is supposed to be, but it is surely more than just a method of election. We have been in danger of losing the sympathy and the trust of ordinary people because they feel that we do not understand their beliefs and their emotions.
I have had many letters about the whole business of terrorism and the activities of the IRA. They have all said that there is not a sufficient reaction. The time has come for a new look at the whole question of terrorism—and by terrorism I mean the crimes of hijacking, kidnapping and causing, or attempting to cause, an explosion. That will be the subject of a Ten-Minute Bill to be introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher next week if the House is still sitting. We have to take steps to show the country that the Home Secretary, the Home Office and the Government are not complacent and are not sitting with folded hands saying that everything possible that could be done is being done.
The Home Secretary itemised three measures which I think should be taken immediately to deal with acts of terrorism—first, the banning of the IRA; secondly, the introduction of passports or some kind of travel document between this country and Northern Ireland; and, thirdly, capital punishment for terrorist crimes.
We are told that the police have mixed feelings about the banning of the IRA. We are told that they are afraid that the IRA would go underground and that they might lose some of their sources of information and intelligence. It would be wrong to brush those arguments aside, but I must say that up to now those sources of intelligence have not been very fruitful. I think that because the IRA is not banned, we are not putting the full pressures of public opinion on the side of the police and the Government against the activities of the IRA and other terrorists. While collecting boxes are still allowed in the pubs of London and other cities, how is anyone to feel that the Government are taking the IRA threat seriously?
On the question of passports or travel documents, I agreed with the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) more than I did with the former part. He said that he did not feel that carrying identity cards in this country would be particularly obnoxious. If it were pointed out to the people that by carrying identity cards they would be safeguarding their country and their families against the activities of terrorists, I believe they would be willing and eager to do it. Indeed, I believe that the very announcement of the necessity for identity cards would bring home to the general public the true situation. If, in this country, we had identity cards similar to those used in Ulster, the whole of the business of the passage between Ulster and this county would be simplified.
As the Home Secretary said, something should be done about the border. This is not the time to discuss it, but I should like to see British troops gradually withdrawn from Belfast and the cities and put on the border. That is where they should be.
I turn to the issue of capital punishment for terrorism. There is much agreement this evening that the reintroduction of capital punishment for terrorism need not interfere with the attitudes of people who would not accept the reintroduction of capital punishment for other kinds of murder. Terrorism and killing by indiscriminate bombing are acts of war. The only people who can conscientiously refuse to accept the death penalty for bombing are those who would conscientiously object to the killing of an enemy by an armed soldier. That is a proper intellectual stand to take.
The question of martyrdom has been dealt with in other speeches, so I will not rehearse it. The weight of this argument has been reduced ever since the incident of the Price sisters and the death of the terrorist who killed himself by refusing to eat when in prison. He found his own martyrdom, and so the plinth of the martyr's memorial does not only have to be the steps of the gallows.
On the question of martyrdom, there is the allied danger of the taking of hostages and other terrorist activities during the time of a trial. It was this aspect of the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) about which I was sorrowful, because I had hoped that he would suggest a way to speed up the trials of terrorists. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers)—who is to reply to the debate for the Opposition—and the Solicitor-General will consider how that can be done, by the trials being heard without a jury, but with three judges, or by some other means. We had an important intervention by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee)—a lawyer, and, as he said, a Left-wing supporter of the Labour Party—who felt that such action would be acceptable to him.
When we had a debate on capital punishment soon after I entered the House, a dear friend of mine who was a convinced abolitionist said, "You're not going to vote for retention, are you?" When I replied "Yes", he looked at me and said, "You're doing it for revenge." I was startled by that. I have tried to analyse my thoughts in making this speech to see whether an aspect of revenge, which I think would be inappropriate, helped me to make up my mind.
I believe that if I were the father of a boy who had had his face smashed in by the bomb at the Tower, or lost an arm and a leg, I would search for revenge. I would want to seek out the bomber who did that damage and inflict some physical harm on him if I could. But, thank God, I am not the father of those little children.
I do not believe that my judgment is coloured by revenge or emotion. I believe that it is impossible for anyone to say that capital punishment cannot be an added deterrent. Unless the Home Secretary and hon. Members are convinced that it could not do any good in deterring the terrorist, the House should wholeheartedly press the Government to take action to reintroduce capital punishment.
We are grateful to the Opposition at least for presenting us with this subject for debate. It was interesting to hear the views of Conservative Members on various aspects of the topic. For example, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) talked about revenge, with some suggestion that it might be an emotion that had approval.
Another hon. Member said that if the Government condone a breach of the law they are discredited. That comes ill from people who have supported Governments of both political parties which have relied on either the first-strike or retaliatory use of the most horrible weapons mankind has produced. Apparently, the photograph of one small child on the front page of a tabloid newspaper strikes an emotional chord, but weapons that can obliterate, destroy and maim millions of men, women and children are part of a national tactical situation, and are not to be criticised.
When the present Government wisely decided to set out on a review of some of these horrific weapons, they met with universal condemnation from the Opposition, who are prepared to take an emotional attitude—quite rightly—over one boy but not when such weapons are to be used in a situation where millions of little boys will be involved. Governments and their attitude towards law and respect for the law are brought into discredit when they do nothing but acquiesce in the bloodiest and most horrible war which has ever taken place—the war in Vietman. Because it was distant, because the people involved had different ideologies, it was not condemned. But when terror comes close to home and small numbers are involved, it becomes a matter of emotion.
It has been suggested that a demonstration is somehow a canker in our society, an infiltration from within. But when horrific things occur, whether they be committed by a Government prepared to use mass slaughter to pursue their policy, either by direct threat or by implication, or in any other way, then men of conscience have the right to demonstrate. They have the right to march in the streets and to show that they do not wish to support such policies. They can write to The Times and see their Members of Parliament. They can do all these things.
In a free society it is an important right of the people to demonstrate against something which in some instances is a general matter of consent between the major parties. Indeed, if we did not have the right to demonstrate against the law, and to make breaches of it, we would not have achieved some of the advances in our society, I share Lord Devlin's view that a person has the right conscientiously to break the law, provided always that he is prepared to accept the consequences of that breach. If that were not so, of course, the Suffragettes would never have gained the status they ultimately gained. They would never have been able to draw attention to the inferior position of women.
There are similar examples of men and women of good conscience who have been prepared to break a law which they did not consider to be respectable, and as a result have brought about its improvement. We must make a clear distinction between a conscious intellectual decision because of some burning issue and a blind stupid breach of the law. That distinction has not been made by hon. Members opposite.
But Governments themselves are not excluded from criticism. People talk about a diminution in respect of the law, but even, turning aside from large issues to the precise criminal aspects of the law, I think that the Opposition have tended to make exaggerated claims about lack of respect for the law. Far and away the vast majority of our people respect the law. Indeed, today's Daily Express reports the first drop in crime figures for years. That is surely a matter for celebration.
Respect for the law is by no means diminished to the extent that hon. Members opposite suggest. However, respect for the law means respect for the judiciary and the people of the law. It has been suggested that somehow or other the judiciary should be above criticism, that we should not have the right to criticise. But in any society one cannot take away the right to criticise because the very clash of ideas and critical reviews bring improvements. The judiciary is the basis of the administration of the law and I think that it could do with some improvement.
For example, the magistracy, the volunteer section of the judiciary, does a great deal of work. It deals with about 97 per cent. of all cases, doling out more punishments and decisions than any other section of judiciary. It does much good work. But the basis of entry to the magistracy could be broadened.
I suggest that the secrecy, the shroud, the lack of known criteria for admission to the magistracy, does harm to that body and does not invoke the confidence and respect of certain sections of the population. If people are to make judicial decisions they ought to be chosen openly and the criteria for the choice should be known. The higher judiciary should have a proper basis of entry, by which I mean that the restrictions on the training of solicitors and barristers should be done away with. To the people outside the profession, the division between solicitors and barristers is an absurdity in itself. The business of eating dinners in Inns of Court and the wiggery and the gownery are patent absurdities.
These are the people who administer our law. Many of them are eminent. But it is not the wiggery and gownery which produces respect, it is the decisions and the integrity of those people. There are good grounds for claiming, certainly historically—I know that it is breaking down today, thank goodness—that the members of the legal profession were drawn from a small section of society which was associated with ownership of property and the ruling of society.
The Solicitors (Amendment) Bill which has been through this House would, hopefully, end or at least ameliorate some of the criticisms I have made. Let me remind the House that people are not enamoured of the law when they face high conveyancing charges and when those who set out to do conveyancing work, perfectly properly, are subsequently prosecuted by the Law Society. A case of such a prosecution was reported in the Yorkshire Post of 9th February 1973. The report said:
Three officers of the National House Owners' Society … were told yesterday that cut-price land conveyancing was illegal. Magistrates in Harrow, Middlesex, decided that the men were guilty under the 1957 Solicitors Act.
These people were apparently investigated by Which?, the consumers' magazine. They were not inefficient. They did make some errors according to the report.
They were pursued by the Law Society and duly prosecuted, to put them out of business. It may be argued that that was perfectly proper. To the ordinary people it gives rise to the suspicion that lawyers are a tightly-knit group of people organising themselves to maintain a lucrative source of income. If people are to maintain respect for the law this sort of appearance has to be eroded. The law has to be made more open. It might help if solicitors did conveyancing work at half price.
My hon. Friend was fair enough to say that there appeared to have been some errors made by the people in question. He will recognise that such errors could be very costly for the ordinary members of the public whom they affected.
I accept my hon. and learned Friend's remarks. I do not say that conveyancing work should not be supervised. What I suggest is that the way in which the legal profession is organised gives rise to doubt in people's minds. It would be unfair not to point out that many solicitors recognise these deficiences and are remedying a situation in which in some areas there are no solicitors' offices.
In my view, in order to broaden the profession it is an important element that people should not feel diffident and intimidated when going to solicitors. This is an important thing which only a section of the legal profession recognises.
I want to say a few brief words about the difference between our attitude to the law for property and the law for people. This has been elaborated by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) so I will not go into it in too much detail. But I would draw attention to the fervour with which hon. Members opposite want to ensure that breaches of criminal law are pursued with fervour and efficiency. They also want to pursue breaches of trade union law with fervour and efficiency. I want to point out to them that under our factory laws maiming and injury of enormous proportions go on year in year out, yet the number of prosecutions which are undertaken is pathetically small in comparison. If we are to have respect for the law, then the law should apply equally to both the employer classes of society and the employees.
I will mention briefly some of the statistics. Over the past five years to June this year there were about 10,000 accidents every year in which an eye injury was caused which lost the person concerned three days or more in time off work. Yet in those same five years only 15 prosecutions were instituted. In evidence to the Robens Committee the Factory Inspectorate said that each visit by a factory inspector revealed a breach of the law. Some 250,000—a quarter of a million—visits are made every year yet the average number of prosecutions is about 1,000. They rarely, if ever, go to indictment: they are nearly always dealt with in courts of summary jurisdiction. And this is against a background in which 1,000 people are killed every year in industry and 20 million working days are lost.
We have heard a good deal about Northern Ireland. Let me remind the House, as I have before, that in the period between 1968 and the beginning of 1974 there were approximately 1,000 people killed—the same number as are killed every year in factories and on construction sites throughout the land. That is the sort of situation that exists in industry, yet our Factory Inspectorate, backed, alas, by the Government, pursues a policy of persuasion.
If an attitude of zeal towards the criminal classes is necessary on the one hand, on the other hand an attitude of zeal is necessary towards the employing classes who are in breach of the law. I deliberately divided the House over an amendment of mine on the Health and Safety at Work Bill which involves persuasion rather than prosecution. I noticed that hon. Members opposite who are so zealous in their pursuit of the law trooped into the "Aye" Lobby in order to defeat the amendment. They must be careful not to be too loose-worded in their pursuit of respect for the law.
Lastly, I want to say a few words about the police. I have every respect and admiration for the police. They are a force that does without arms, by and large, and that is a very great virtue. I hope the day will never come when our police either request or seek, or we acquiesce in a request for, the carrying of arms. On the other hand, there is no doubt that our police force is not composed of universal Dixons of Dock Green and there are a number of instances which demonstrate that.
The police have greater powers than has the average person. We must, therefore, make sure that the police force is democratically controlled. When complaints are made about the police they should be investigated not internally by the police but by an external body or person so that the investigation can be seen to be impartial. For those who apply the law as for those who are brought before the law, the maxim must hold that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done.
No one in the House underestimates the gravity of the situation that confronts us. It is a source of constant concern not only to us but also to our constituents. Judging by the plethora of letters I have received it is certainly in the forefront of their minds. The Home Secretary's task is not an easy one and, perhaps because of the emotions involved, his is the hottest chair at the Cabinet table and in Whitehall.
I shall not bore the House by too lengthy a review of the last two decades, but we might just consider the kind of society and world we have fashioned for someone who is 20 years old today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said that family influence and external pressures are of paramount importance for the stability of the nation. By the time our 20-year-old has begun to take notice of what is happening in the world, he will have become conditioned to the death and destruction that occurred in Vietnam—war by television, as it seemed to be. He will have seen the growing violence throughout the 1960s—the combination of hijacking, hostage-taking, bombing and genocide in Africa and Asia—and he will have had a growing awareness that it was creeping closer to the shores of the British Isles. This 20-year old would have witnessed several political assassinations—the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, and others. He would have witnessed the senseless slaying of diplomats in Africa, and many other events. In the late 1960s he would have seen the development of violence in Ulster.
While it is true that we are not the only generation to have witnessed violence and lawlessness, the fact remains that it is now projected as a way of life into everyone's home, and this may well create an attitude of indifference to violence in our way of life. Over the last 20 years or so we have become totally aware of regular violence and we are becoming completely immune to positive reaction to it. It is dangerous for us to accept with a shrug of the shoulders regular reading about the loss of human life. I fear that that happens because of the frequency with which we witness violent events. We are making people totally impervious to the type of society we want in this country, which has hitherto been the envy of so many other civilisations.
We are now confronted by the forces of political anarchy which are presenting to us a crisis point the like of which we have not seen. I firmly hold the view that Westminster is not listening to the plea that is being made by the majority of citizens, who are alarmed at the lack of positive action. Many positive steps have been suggested during the debate, and if some of these steps were taken a crumb of comfort would be given to the citizen who feels that he is under seige.
I have spoken in my constituency—as I have no doubt many hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken in theirs—to mothers who are now afraid to bring their children to London because of the tragic disaster that occurred at the White Tower last week. I certainly openly declare that I want to see the reintroduction of capital punishment in cases where citizens have been killed by terrorists, by bombing, or in furtherance of a crime.
One of the problems is that in the mid-1960s capital punishment was abolished and a vacuum was created—because it was not replaced by anything, such as a longer term of imprisonment. When some weeks ago, I asked the Home Secretary how many murderers had been released, having served less than 10 years of their prison sentence, since 1955 the answer was in excess of 150, and the average sentence served was between eight and a half and nine years. Can we wonder that there is concern and consternation in the country when people read such figures?
I am certain hon. Members can understand why there is widespread concern in our constituencies. Very often in this debate I have heard the phrase, "the public". These people are not "the public"—they are our constituents. We represent them, and I do not think we are giving a sufficiently positive lead for the protection they expect us to give. Too often and for too long there has been vacillation. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) accused the Home Secretary of having been soft on law and order. Quite honestly, I do not believe that over the last decades he is alone in that. Certainly, I hope we can encourage him in his very difficult task. Holding the balance must be an enormous responsibility, and we all respect and understand the difficulties which are there.
Unless, however, we react firmly and positively, I fear that the worst is yet to come. For far too long we have not really had an effective deterrent. We have not even had a partial deterrent. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) made some sensible suggestions towards the end of his speech—as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) had already done earlier—referring to the issue of embarkation cards. That is a highly sensible suggestion, and a positive step. The issue of identity cards would be another positive step—and the provision of passports for everybody in these home waters who wants to visit this country may be long overdue. That, again, is a further positive step.
Whether or not it is the Home Secretary representing a Labour Government of the day matters not; it is Westminster which is seen to be failing to take positive action. Police recruitment needs to be stepped up, as does their pay, and they are entitled to expect more support from magistrates' courts throughout the length and breadth of the country. The detection rate must be improved. I can only commend the tremendous resolution and speed of action after the bombings at the Old Bailey last year, when a gang of criminals were caught before they took off from London Airport. That was a masterpiece of speedy reaction and resolution by the police. Heaven knows how many lives the police saved in Ulster and in this country as a result of that tremendous speed and reaction. They probably saved dozens of lives here and in Ulster.
The outrages at the Old Bailey, Aldershot and the Tower were not really caused by dedicated patriots. I believe that they were the actions of cowards. It was wanton slaying. While recognising the argument that has been repeated throughout today's debate—that martyrdom can be created—I believe that the vast proportion of bombers, anarchists, terrorists, call them what one may, will think again if they know that the penalty is death.
If we are to ensure that the public safety—and we must remember that we in this Chamber are responsible for it—is to be maintained, positive steps have to be taken. We have heard possible positive steps mentioned today. It is imperative that a firm lead should be given from this House by the Government of the day, because it is expected by the nation—never more so than at this moment. If we fail now, the fabric of society that we have held dear for so long will be at stake.
This debate combines a discussion of public safety with the consideration of the decline in respect for the law. When the two major historic sights of our capital city, the Palace of Westminster and the Tower of London, can be subject to terrorist outrages within a matter of weeks, nobody can doubt that there should be genuine concern for public safety.
But the signs of decline in respect for the rule of law are no less dramatic. The readiness of respectable citizens to withhold their rate payments is a vivid example. The preparedness of small sections of the community to use industrial power for political ends, such as the abolition of private beds in National Health Service hospitals, is another example. In a different sphere a third illustration is provided by the refusal of students to allow views with which they do not agree to be expressed at their universities.
Is there any connection between growing concern of public safety and the decline in the respect for law. What are the causes? What can we do about them? I believe that there is a connection between the two phenomena. As human society has developed, civilisation and order have first been imposed by brute force—and only later has the law been regarded as something which one is not merely obliged to obey but which one is right to obey, and is deserving of respect. This process can all too easily be reversed. If we lose respect for the law, we create a climate in which physical law enforcement becomes a virtual impossibility. That is a slippery slope, and we are already well beyond the first steps on it.
There are a variety of reasons for this situation. International political disputes which spread to this country, and the realisation of latent power by groups who are able to hold up the life of the nation, are but two of the main factors. Some of these factors we can do little about, but the most potentially dangerous factor of all is one which can and must be tackled by us. It is a factor which has not so far been mentioned in this debate. I refer to inflation. Its economic effects are well known. Buts its social effects are even more insidious.
By destroying confidence in money, inflation shatters people's feelings of stability, and that has a profoundly disruptive effect on behaviour and attitudes. Nothing could be more conducive to the growth of disorder than the growth of inflation. The best illustration of this is the readiness of decent people to break the law by withholding rates. Those rate increases occurred partly as a result of specific governmental policies, partly as a result of local government reorganisation, but largely through the pressures of inflation. If inflation is allowed to continue, the mild threats of rate protest groups we have heard so far will seem like harmless vicarage chatter in comparison with the social disorder and disruption that will follow. If we want to restore respect for the law, one of the most important steps we should take is to put at the forefront the fight against inflation.
Absolutely not. I am warning. I am pointing out that this is the consequence of not paying sufficient attention to the fight against inflation. We have social disruption leading people who previously have been respectable citizens to be ready to take action against the law which otherwise they would not take. I deplore it. I am saying that to prevent it growing and spreading we must tackle the cause, which in this case is inflation.
Another vital step to which reference has been made is for the Government to support the law and not to undermine it. It is easy to make cheap political capital with jibes about trigger-happy members of the judiciary, and it may be expedient for the Labour Party to be silent when the unions hold the nation to ransom. But no Government who behave in that way can be surprised when their negative example is copied and exceeded by those whose business it is to undermine the law and to disrupt public safety.
Inevitably, however, there will be those who, understandably enough, will wish to concentrate on the direct action which can be taken to combat disorder as well as the long-term problems of dealing with its root causes. It is in this context that we hear the growing calls of capital punishment for certain crimes and today, above all, for terrorism. We must respect the arguments on both sides, but surely the point which should be stressed is that, whether it is right or wrong to bring back hanging, it will, one way or the other, have only a very small impact on the problem. The danger of the debate about capital punishment is that for supporters and opponents alike that debate could provide a distraction and a substitute for a consideration of the real problems facing our society. In practical terms far more will be achieved by strengthening the police, not only by paying them more but also by giving them every possible support when they come under attack.
It is also essential for us to deal effectively with terrorism not only on a domestic but also on an international scale. We should take the lead in seeking an international agreement to refuse refuge to terrorists and, if we cannot achieve this universally, we should at least encourage and participate in a boycott by airlines of those countries which give refuge to terrorists within their shores. We should also make it clear that no terrorist caught committing a crime in this country will be allowed to escape to refuge overseas just because it may be politically embarrassing to hold him or her in this country. We should be firm in our resolve not to surrender to blackmail, whether it is the physical blackmail or the terrorist holding a hostage or the moral blackmail of the hunger striker.
There is an even more unattractive fact that we must face. Terrorism has already been so successful that in combatting it we may have to submit to policies which normally would be unacceptable. In a sense, that is a victory for the terrorist, but it may be necessary to recognise that limited victory so far if the ultimate victory is to be ours.
There are, for example, arguments both ways about one of the matters which have been raised in the debate—the value of identity cards—and there are arguments both ways about the value in this respect of spot searches in the fight against terrorism. But we can no longer afford to reject these weapons out of hand and on principle, however distasteful they may be.
Society, as we know it, is fighting for its survival. To win that fight we must remove the basic ills which have led to the malaise, such as inflation, and thereby restore respect for the law. But we must at the same time fight the physical battle ruthlessly. If we do not do so, rest assured that our enemies will. A society that does not tackle its basic problems cannot survive, but a society that has not the self-confidence to hit back at its enemies does not deserve to endure.
It is a matter of some sadness that England, our own country, is no longer the peaceful place that it used to be and that it had the reputation of being for so many centuries. We have always been proud of the Queen's Peace. Responsibility for keeping the peace had been laid down since far-off Saxon times. Every Sunday we pray in church that we may be godly and quietly governed. What has gone wrong? We have heard a great deal about that this afternoon.
Two things have gone wrong. First, there has been a fundamental change in the moral climate of the country. Secondly, successive Governments have been too weak. It is a Government's prime responsibility to keep the peace and to guard our shores. The Government should also help to mould the social and moral climate. It was most unfortunate that some years ago the present Secretary of State for the Home Department expressed himself so fervently as being in favour of the permissive society, which at that time he equated with the civilised society. I do not know whether he holds to that view, but I believe that the permissive society is a wretched concept that is getting out of hand. It is responsible for much unhappiness, particularly among young people who long for some guidelines of behaviour.
I find the whole attitude of the Home Office, with its accent on permissiveness, to be completely out of touch with the strong feelings of our constituents. The majority of people want a return to capital punishment for IRA bombings and other terrorist activities such as hijacking and the murder of policemen and soldiers. Yet, far from listening to that strongly expressed demand, the Secretary of State for the Home Department implies that he has some kind of moral superiority in his opposition to the death penalty. That is an attitude that I find obnoxious.
The country does not want a weak Home Office; it wants one with a bit of backbone. There is already burning resentment against the Home Office and against Parliament over immigration. Weakness over law and order only widens the gap between politicians and the public. In the old days in England, and as part of our Christian heritage, there was great respect for the person, for life and limb and for private property, which was the guardian of liberty. That respect is less today. In my view it has been lessened by television and the other media.
The curse of public life today is the desire to be thought at all costs to be liberal, trendy, progressive, and to want change simply for the sake of change. What is the earthly use of trying to codify women's rights in some immensely complicated Bill and creating a new bureaucracy when women can be mugged, robbed or assaulted in our streets more than at any time in our history?
As for the violence of the IRA and of foreigners in England, it is, in my view, a matter of national will. Either our State has the will to survive or it has not. At the moment we are showing signs of losing the battle. The violence amongst our own people is partly the result of the decline in religion and morality and partly the lack of discipline and authority in the home, at school and at university.
It is significant that never, perhaps, in our history have the Armed Forces been so respected as they are now. The Cyprus incident proves my point. Yet we would do well to remember that the Services are highly disciplined and trained forces. I believe that in many homes parents are weak and lack the confidence to lay down what is right or wrong for their children. Violence in schools is reaching new levels, and is highly disturbing. Worse still, in the universities many of the staff are supine, and utterly fail to lead and guide their students. No wonder that a number of young men and women leave the universities to take up their first jobs bewildered from the life they have led for three or four years in an atmosphere of chaos and anarchy.
We have seen violence get into the trade unions. We saw it start at the Saltley Coke Depot a few years ago. A mood is growing in the country that to be successful any public protest must have violent means. The media have a great responsibility here. Too often those who damage property at universities, or who terrorise their fellow trade unionists, get off scot-free, and the recent attempt to influence a judge and jury in a court of law by a mob outside is something new in our long history.
Today, from hon. Members of the Government side we have heard attacks on the police and the Special Branch. These attacks are growing in intensity and must be resisted. After all, the police are protecting us, the ordinary public. Surely they are on our side, and we must support them. There are various extreme Left-wing organisations which wish to undermine our society by creating disorder and chaos. Law and order is vital for society. This is obvious and elemental, but it still has to be stated. Besides law and order there must be certain standards of conduct, as well as good manners. Civilisation, as we have developed it in this island over the centuries, shows definite signs of breaking up. We must, as a country, get back on the rails. It is up to the House to give a lead before it is too late.
The second part of the debate has been concerned with the decline in respect for the law. It is worth considering for a moment what is meant by respect for the law. To me it means acceptance by the public of our laws and, even further. of our rules of conduct which may not be subject to the sanction of the law. This operates only because as a nation we work by consent. Our courts could be brought to a standstill instantly if prison officers refused to bring prisoners to the courts, if jurors refused to be sworn and if witnesses refused to give evidence. It would be impossible to deal with this action by contempt of court or any other way which would effectively restore the operation of the courts.
This Chamber works by consent and a few hon. Members could soon bring our proceedings to a standstill and cause total disarray. Schools operate by consent. There are not enough teachers, or sanctions, to impose the rules if all the pupils decided not to observe them. The same sort of thing could happen in a university, in a bus queue or in a doctor's surgery where those who arrive first expect to be seen by the doctor ahead of the latecomers.
The other side of the coin of consent to the rule of law is that those who have suffered or whose families have suffered—for example, the father of a daughter who has been violently raped—do not take the law into their own hands. That father is prepared to let the law take its legitimate course, the rapist, if found, to be arrested, tried and perhaps convicted. Even if he is acquitted, although that parent may feel that the acquittal was totally unjust, he accepts the decision and does not take the law into his own hands.
That is what respect for the law means, and it includes respect for the system. It must mean that that system must operate successfully. It follows automatically, as so many hon. Members have said, that for the system to operate successfully the police must be effective and strong and their morale high. One hopes that the Home Secretary's words today will prove justified by the future success of the police forces.
Greater safety, which has also concerned us in this debate, can be arrived at by greater security, but it is important to remember what greater security may mean. It will never be possible to make anywhere bomb-proof, but if protection is sought, inconvenience to the public could become almost intolerable. If this building is to be made bomb-proof, it would mean that no one could be admitted without a close search and in certain cases that the identities of those seeking admission would have to be checked. That would be intolerable not only to those who seek to see Members but to Members themselves.
The various checks now made in a major airport such as Heathrow are generally accepted. Very few people complain about delays caused by the fact that their hand baggage and persons are searched, and those who do complain are usually treated with some justifiable abuse by other passengers who set their safety higher than any inconvenience. But if we are to make every aircraft bomb-proof so far as we can, every bag in the luggage hold will also have to be closely checked. In the end it will again have to be a decision between making the system as perfect as possible and how much grave inconvenience can be suffered.
On this point—little has been said of this today but I understand that Mr. Speaker has ruled that it can be referred to in this debate—the provision of passes for Members, their spouses and secretaries and others who have to come here, is right, in order to provide that measure of protection. But when that is accepted, it must follow that strangers will have to accept that there may be some delay and inconvenience when they seek to gain admission to this building.
As one could have forecast when the terms of the debate were published, a great deal of time has been taken up with the question of capital punishment, not only for murder but for terrorist offences. It might assist the House if I describe my own views and speak of personal experience.
Probably because of a somewhat conventional upbringing, I was strongly in favour of capital punishment when I was called to the Bar just after the war. In the 10 years that followed, leading up to the 1957 Act, I was engaged in more than a score of murder cases which involved the death penalty if the accused were convicted.
Over those 10 years, my views changed. They changed probably for illogical reasons—because of the effect on the court generally which resulted from the man in the dock facing the death penalty. I have no doubt that it affected witnesses. I saw it happen time after time. I know that it affected juries. I suspect that it affected judges, or most of them. It certainly affected those counsel with whom I discussed it during the course of the case. Indeed, nicotine stains on my fingers existed only once, during a particularly long and difficult murder trial. It affected ushers and everyone concerned. One could see people walk into court and peer at the man in the dock in a way that never happens in a murder trial now. One suspected, in a macabre sort of way, that one could see them imagining the rope around his neck as he sat in the dock.
Partly for those reasons and partly because I began to feel that there was no deterrent effect because of the death penalty, I became a devoted anti-hanger. I remained as such until March of last year, when a photograph of a particular friend of mine appeared on the front pages of the newspapers as a man who suffered gravely as a result of the bomb outside the Old Bailey. I began to wonder then, and I have been wondering since, whether a distinction can or cannot be drawn between ordinary murder and terrorist offences. I began also to think about this matter because of the feeling in my constituency. I say at once that my constituents would be overwhelmingly in favour of capital punishment, and in spite of that they have selected me. But I know what their views are, and I am beginning to wonder whether we should not begin to recognise the feeling that exists in the country. Members, newspapers, spokesmen on this subject, all use words such as "revulsion", "horror", and "shock". But whatever words or descriptions are used, the reaction is that members of the public seek something which will make it possible for this most terrible crime to be marked as such.
In looking at how murder ordinarily operates, I think that it can be fairly divided into two categories. There is the category in which one has the death of the intended victim, whether the motive be hatred, greed, envy, lust, sudden loss of temper or, more and more now, a mental state of mind. The other roughly divided category is that in which the death of the victim is incidental to the crime—for example, in the course of a bank robbery, killing to escape arrest or something of that kind. Certainly the great train robbery was described as a crime against the State. I believe that that was an exaggeration. It certainly was not intended as such by the robbers. Their intention was to rob for their own gain, though the consequences might have been described as a crime against the State.
Terrorist activities seem to me to be quite different, because those are genuine crimes against the State. The terrorists intend, as part of their plan to force the State to accept what they want—for example, a united Ireland or the release of political prisoners—that innocent and wholly unselected victims should be injured or killed. Equally serious in my mind, they intend as an alternative that the general public should be put in fear of such injury or death. That is part of the deliberate campaign they conduct.
If there is such a distinction, as I believe there may be, perhaps there should equally be a distinction between punishment in the case of terrorist offences and punishment for ordinary murder. I do not know. I am quite unable at present, speaking solely for myself, to make up my mind about it. I want to think about it and to discuss it. I should like a public discussion about it.
I see and have great sympathy with the objections raised by the Home Secretary. They are objections, as he will appreciate, which are going through my mind, too. Is it a deterrent? 'What are the risks of martyrdom? What are the consequences if there are more bombings before and after the death sentences are carried out and, most dreadful of all, what are the risks of hostages?
I merely say this: I should like at least a debate, and a public debate, upon this matter and, eventually, perhaps a debate in the House about it. For myself, my mind on this subject at present—as I say, once a devout antihanger—is now completely open, and I should like to be able to discuss the matter as much as possible.
I believe that there is a theory abroad that those who at the moment are sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, particularly for terrorist or political offences, are likely to be granted an amnesty within a few years. As far as I know the previous administration certainly gave no sort of undertaking and would give no sort of undertaking of that nature, and there is nothing of which I know that justifies any sort of allegation being made against the present Government that any such amnesty has been or will be contemplated. I am sure that I shall get an assurance to that effect from the Solicitor-General, but it is worth having that worry removed from peoples' minds.
Quite apart from the problems or the risks of capital punishment, we must recognise that many people in this country have strong views about the enforcement of the rule of law and about sentencing and punishment generally. It is so easy to brush them aside as the "hanging brigade" or the "law and order lot" or the "typical Tory ladies". Those who seek to do that are deceiving themselves, because those views are not limited to these few groups. There is a general uneasiness in the country which goes across all classes or geographic boundaries. This unease is not just because of terrorism or crime generally, or vandalism and hooliganism. I suspect that people are now beginning to sense that the generally accepted rules of conduct are being deliberately flouted either for selfish reasons or because it is becoming fashionable to ridicule previously accepted standards and to encourage people in schools or universities, or elsewhere in adult societies, in action or behaviour which pays no regard to the duties owed to the community as a whole.
There have been one or two speeches today referring rather contemptuously to this side of the House wanting to impose rules or to make others conform. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said in opening the debate, rights involve duties. A man cannot accept the rights of membership of a society without accepting the duties that go with it. There is a feeling that too many are now saying, or are thought to be saying, that they have the right to do this or that but that they owe nothing in return. That feeling is causing anxiety amongst our constituents. Let us face it, and every hon. Member should, because it is in our constituencies that this is being felt.
Frustration is a very unhappy feeling. We have all experienced it in a minor way while queueing up at traffic lights in the correct lane waiting to turn right. The lights do not change long enough to let many cars filter right, and a couple of drivers come down the inside lane and cut across causing us to miss the lights. We are cross about it because we are frustrated in the same way as when people jump the queue for the bus. How much more frustrated are people, particularly when there is nothing they can do about it, when they see others taking unfair advantage of their power or their strength or showing a complete disregard for any sort of consideration for the rest of the community?
I suppose one is then put in the position of asking how to establish a greater respect for the law. Many suggestions have been made and I do not consider that those I put forward are the only ones or necessarily the right ones. They are worth consideration, however. Firstly, those in authority, either in politics such as in this House, or in Government, or in any position of authority—even a sister in a hospital—must use their power responsibly. Secondly, there must be no support from those in authority for those who act illegally. If a man or a group act illegally, there must be no sitting on the fence, no speaking with two voices, but an immediate and proper condemnation or that illegal action.
Thirdly, those who flout the law, whether by fraud—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) said that the rate of fraud was increasing—or mugging on the Underground, of which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) spoke, must be made more afraid of prosecution and conviction. Even the minor offence—the pickpocketing, the pushing about, the shoplifting in a shop where there is not a big turnover—can cause enormous distress and harm. All hon. Members are agreed that we must have a better and more efficient police force and a better Fraud Squad. The Fraud Squad is extremely efficient but is grossly understaffed and has far to much work to do. It is a part of the Metropolitan Police and the City Police for which I have had the greatest admiration in my professional capacity.
Fourthly—it is certainly not my last suggestion, but it is the last one about which I wish to tell the House tonight—those who are about to act impetuously or selfishly for their own purposes should pause and think how their intended action will affect their neighbour. They must realise that their neighbour is also the community. We used to think about this. Politicians always claim that they do. If we could restore the idea that before one took an action that appeared to be right for oneself, because one was cross or felt let down or for some other reason, one stopped and thought how it would affect one's neighbour and everyone else, that might well have a dramatic effect on re-establishing respect for the law.
Respect for the law must be re-established, because if we do not re-establish it, if it is eventually lost, so is our way of life, and eventually the worst consequence of all will follow—democracy will be lost.
Irrespective of the quality of the debate, I believe that debates of this kind can be valuable—that is, debates in which we discuss not one specific matter but a whole spectrum of matters, because it is suggested that they conform with a general pattern, and so we are led to examine what characteristics they have in common, as a guide to formulating a consistent policy applicable to a number of situations.
But it is a method which calls for care and self-discipline. It can lead to broad generalisations that are wholly unsupported by evidence or experience. It can lead to misleading analogies and somewhat doctrinaire pronouncements. To point out that two situations are similar in a particular respect may be unhelpful if the differences outweigh the similarities. We have heard such examples in this debate. To suggest, as I think the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) did, that the deliberate planting of a bomb to kill or maim innocent bystanders, including children, is similar in kind to refusing to implement the Housing Finance Act, or to being ill-mannered, is to display a distorted perspective.
The debate has fallen into three parts, which I believe are separate—the concept of respect for the law, the question of indiscriminate terrorism, and the other specific matters raised during the debate. I shall deal with the three parts in reverse order.
It was suggested that one part of this general syndrome is violent demonstrations. I say at once that there is no sympathy on this side of the House for the use of violence to make a case, or for any action to endanger police or participants or non-participating members of the public. We believe that it is not only wrong but counter-productive, because it loses the sympathy of the public. It is right to pay tribute to the restraint and good temper normally shown by the police on occasions when this kind of incident has taken place.
But let us beware lest we allow our reaction to violence to extend to the right to demonstrate itself. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), in a thoughtful speech, pointed out that there is a right to state a case forcefully and to take reasonable and lawful steps to draw attention to what one is saying. That right is precious in this country and we should be careful lest, in the name of public order, we silence arguments of which we happen to disapprove. It is significant that the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East referred constantly to the "far Left". I deplore violence whether it comes from Left or Right. I uphold the right lawfully to make a case whether it be from the Right or the Left.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) spoke of the police disciplinary procedure. This is perhaps another example of the way we have to maintain a balance. The police need powers to combat crime. They need our support, our understanding and our sympathy. They need our recognition, and the tributes paid to them today are well merited. But to carry the argument to its illogical conclusion would be to replace an escalation in crime with a police State.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury pointed out that there are occasions when the conduct of the police is open to criticism. We must not appear to fall over ourselves to accept evidence against one group, while closing our minds to any allegations against the other. Neither of my hon. Friends will expect me to comment on the particular cases they cited. But if we appear not to recognise the fact that there can be mistakes on both sides we shall leave a sense of grievance among groups which might otherwise play a part in the enforcement of law and order.
The third general matter was mentioned by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). He spoke of the need for a return to moral standards. I echo that, and I try to implement it, on occasion, by appearing in Methodist pulpits, but I hope that he was not suggesting that it can be achieved substantially by legislation. I hope that we shall never see a "Ministry of Moral Regeneration". The hon. Gentleman's speech bears out the distinction between what can be achieved by governmental action, and what ought not even to be attempted.
On that subject I think that the right hon. Member for Leeds. North-East blamed juvenile delinquency as such on bad homes. Of course, sometimes a bad home is a factor. But it would be unfair to suggest that every parent whose child ever committed an offence had provided a bad home. There is no one reason for juvenile delinquency. There is no one reason why people commit crimes.
I turn now to the second part of the debate—the incidence of indiscriminate violence. On one matter there is no dispute among us. We are all horrified at the kind of outrage such as the recent incident at the Tower of London. It was both wicked and pointless. It bore no relation to any objective which the perpetrators may wish to achieve. It will not make us any more ready to find a political solution to the problems of Ireland. We are already desperately anxious to do that. If the prospect of finding a political solution depended upon dedicated anxiety to find one, it would have been found long ago. This kind of action at the Tower of London will merely lead to an escalation of the hatred and intolerance which afflicts that unhappy country.
So we agree on the premise. What is not self-evident is that any one conclusion follows in relation to penal policy. Of course we are all anxious, when we read of such outrages, to make helpful suggestions, and when none springs to mind it is natural to call on a substitute for a constructive suggestion by demanding the harshest punishment for the perpetrators that human imagination can devise. The arguments on capital punishment have been fully rehearsed in the debate. I do not propose to repeat them all. It may be that on some other occasion we shall have a debate entirely devoted to that subject.
It is an emotional subject, and both sides of the House recognise that it is not enough to say that a demand for criminal blood is a natural reaction. What is important is to make a diagnosis and to consider an effective answer. The hon. Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) and Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) said that they were speaking for their constituents, and claimed to tell us what they were saying. They might have represented them more helpfully—admittedly they had to get their remarks into a speech dealing with other subjects—if they had explained the reasons why their constituents were saying this.
It is not enough, as the hon. Member for Harrow, West said, to suggest that if we had lost a close friend or relative we would react in that way. Probably we would. What is required of us is the saving of life and limb in the future. It is not enough to say that making that kind of demand makes us feel better. We are here to protect the victims of possible future outrages by establishing a connection between what we propose and the results we seek to achieve. It is not self-evident that the answer to mindless violence is more mindless violence. The hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) asked for an assurance that at least while the question of a possible return to capital punishment remains in its present state there is no question of an amnesty for any class of terrorist. I give that assurance without any reservations.
Obviously there are a number of suggestions for other effective action. One such way would be by increasing the detection rate, and the security precautions. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) cited a case where it appears that the security precautions left something to be desired. I cannot comment on that case, not having shared the hon. Member's disturbing experience. But the Government have taken a step to deal with this already because we have introduced the Policing of Airports Bill, which would give to the Secretary of State the power to designate airports so that security would be in the hands of the regular police force in place of private forces. Manchester has not yet been designated, but this is clearly a step in the right direction.
Another constructive suggestion made by many hon. Members involved the speeding up of terrorist trials. The most effective method of doing this is to provide more courtrooms. It is hoped that by the end of next year 14 more criminal courtrooms will be provided in London. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon, who said that a means of providing additional security could be the issuing of passes for Members, though on the converse side of the coin there would be the inconvenience which certain people would suffer in consequence.
If the hon. Gentleman means that the trials themselves are taking too long, I must say that I doubt very much whether that is a serious public mischief. It is certainly not one which in my view would justify the abolition of jury trials, particularly for such serious offences and particularly if the hon. Gentleman is suggesting a return to capital punishment for such offences.
I will not rehearse the arguments for and against treating terrorism as a special category, except to say that if ever it is so treated, I hope that the definition will not include an element of political offences. It would be wrong to involve a court in an inquiry into the political motivation of some act. But I will comment on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) who spoke of treating international terrorism as a special category and for the particular purposes which he mentioned.
First, I agree with what my hon. Friend said, that all of us have an obligation to denounce terrorism without the introduction of double standards. Terrorism by those whose causes we approve is as deplorable as terrorism by our political opponents, and that goes for all of us. But as to my hon. Friend's suggestion of outlawry, as a possible solution I think that would require a great deal of very careful thought. I understand that the proposal was for international outlawry, but I would hesitate to approve what would amount to a licence to kill and in certain circumstances could introduce lynch law. There are converse arguments, of course, which we can deploy more fully on another occasion.
Shortly after the war there were serious international discussions for an international criminal court, and perhaps we ought to recognise that the international community acting in concert is possibly the only entity which can produce an effective answer to international terrorism of this kind.
That was what was being suggested in the years immediately following the war. Of course, there are countries where terrorism and contempt for the law come not from protestors but from the Government, and there we can see what everyone in this House accepts, I think—that enforcement of the law is the ordinary person's safeguard against tyranny. I rejoice with the people of Greece, who have reason to know who suffers when the law is reduced to silence.
I now turn to the question of respect for the law. This is another topic on which dogmatism is perhaps a trap where any of us may regret generalisations which go too wide. If I may introduce a partisan element, in 1969, when local education authorities were required to submit schemes for comprehensive education, my recollection is that it was not from Conservative Members that we were lectured on the importance of local authorities respecting the law. As the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon pointed out, this is a field in which, whoever is in government, a great deal depends upon consent. I doubt whether any hon. Member would maintain that the obligation to respect the law necessarily overrides every other moral obligation in all circumstances. If it did, the case would have been established that the war criminals at Nuremburg committed their atrocities according to the Nazi legal system.
What was required was the submission of schemes for comprehensive schools, and there were certainly pronouncements from a number of local authorities, which simply said that whatever the law might ordain they would not comply. But I think we are really spending too much time on this. On another occasion I shall be quite prepared to debate this at some length with hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Certainly the hon. Gentleman must recollect occasions when a number of members of local authorities—I can recollect some in my own area—were saying that whatever the law might require they would not comply, and I did not hear corresponding denunciations from the opposite benches.
To return to what I was saying, I was privileged to hold office for many years in Amnesty International. More than one of the persons adopted by that movement had admittedly transgressed the law of their State because they believed it was their moral duty to do so. In the particular circumstances of those cases, I do not believe that any hon. Member would have condemned them. But, of course, that is an argument which should be used only with circumspection and much heart-searching. I refer to it only to show that there is no simple dogmatic principle which governs every case.
Surely there is an enormous distinction between a lawbreaker in a dictatorship and a lawbreaker in a democracy? Most of those good and noble souls whom the hon. and learned Gentleman has been looking after have been suffering from tyranny.
Had the hon. and learned Gentleman permitted me another moment, he would have realised that he had anticipated what I proposed to say. Incidentally, I hope that the expression "good and noble souls" was not intended other than sincerely. Those are people for whom we have great admiration.
It is true that one important element in making the decision whether one is under an obligation to comply with the law is the question of the way in which that law is made and what procedures are available for altering it. Of course I accept that, and I would make that point again and again. It is an important element, but I do not believe that it is conclusive in all circumstances. If a democratically elected assembly were to pass a statute requiring me to practise human sacrifice, I would not regard it as incumbent upon me to comply, and I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would join me. I agree that the circumstances in which that applies are few and exceptional.
We are not, on the Government side of the House, likely to underestimate the importance of respect for the law. I joined the Labour movement because I was sickened by the rat race I saw around me, commercial, industrial and social. The philosophy seemed to be, "They should take who have the power, and they should keep who can". Always it was the little guy who lost out. The alternative was a system of priorities on the basis of a rational consideration of need. Law is the opposite of a jungle. For me, law and Socialism are on the same side. When it is said that we should encourage people to respect the law, no one could agree more enthusiastically than I do, and I believe that my hon. Friends join me in that.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said a moment ago that if he disagreed with the law he would not feel bound by it. Is he seriously suggesting that if Opposition Members do not like a law which is passed by his Government they need not obey that law, and vice versa?
I was saying only that there is not one simple dogma that applies to every situation. If the law required the hon. Gentleman to practise human sacrifice, I doubt whether he would take so simple a view as he appears to be taking.
I have said that we on the Government side accept as fully as anyone the importance of respect for the law. I agree that one consequence is that we should watch carefully what we say in case our words may be taken, in or out of context, to encourage anyone to doubt that. Two other consequences also follow. First, any Government are unwise if they impose upon a substantial proportion of the public restrictions or burdens which they not only resent, but which they sincerely believe they have a right to resent. The problems of the Industrial Relations Act and the Clay Cross situation are the direct consequences of the previous Government's disdain for that principle. The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) referred to people who had previously been law-abiding citizens feeling driven to break the law. That is precisely the situation which was brought about.
Secondly, many ordinary people see the law as a series of prohibitions which impinge upon what they might otherwise wish to do, and which no one troubles to explain to them. If they could think of the law and lawyers as instruments for protecting them from unjust landlords, from unfair traders, from officials who sometimes make mistakes in calculating social welfare benefits, if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said, they felt that they could have ready access to legal advice, and if they felt that the law was sometimes on their side, they might be less tempted to think in terms of confrontation. We are concerned that that should happen within the foreseeable future, and I know we have the support of the legal profession generally.
Reference was made to the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill. We are grateful for the co-operation we received from the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon and his colleagues on that Bill. It is an important step towards making ordinary people feel that the legal system which we are asking them to respect is their legal system.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) pointed out, law and order cannot be insulated from social policy. They are all part of the same process. In maintaining law and order, in combating terrorism and in conducting the day-to-day business of the courts, any authority must rely on the co-operation of the public, in reporting any suspicions to the police, in responding to programmes like "Police 5", in coming forward as witnesses and in being prepared to spend sometimes long weeks serving on juries. If that co-operation is to be encouraged people must believe the laws are fair; help tendered to the police must be welcomed and seen to be welcomed. Witnesses appearing in court must be treated with courtesy. The law must be seen as a social service and the people must believe that it is their legal system.
I believe that the ordinary people of this country are basically law-abiding. I believe that they want to respect the law and that they will respect the law if they believe that the law respects them.