HC Deb 16 November 1971 vol 826 cc215-24
Mr. Speaker

Mr. Maudling—statement.

Mr. John D. Grant

On a point of order. Is it sensible, Mr. Speaker, for this House to listen to a statement from the Home Secretary arising from a report which we cannot obtain until 4 o'clock this afternoon? Is it not time that this sort of stupid convention was changed?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend. Is it in order for such a statement to be made when the matters which the right hon. Gentleman intends to mention were all given in the Sunday newspapers? Could not the Home Secretary have circulated the Sunday Press after leaking the information?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

The report of the Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Edmund Compton which I set up to inquire into allegations against the security forces of physical brutality in Northern Ireland arising out of events on 9th August is being published today and copies will be available in the Vote Office at 4 p.m.

For completeness I should add that at my request Sir Edmund Compton himself also investigated allegations in respect of three persons named in the Sunday Times issue of 17th October who were arrested after 9th August. Copies of this supplementary report will also be available in the Vote Office at 4 p.m. The rest of my statement is concerned only with the main report.

The Government are grateful to the members of the Committee of Inquiry for the care and thoroughness with which they carried out their difficult task.

Following the precedent of the Bowen Report on Aden in 1966, the report is published with an introduction by myself as Minister appointing the Inquiry. The Government have not found it necessary to omit anything from the report on grounds of security and it is, therefore, published in full.

The Compton Committee found no evidence of physical brutality by the British Army or the R.U.C., still less of torture or brainwashing. In the course of the arrest of 342 men on 9th August a small number of them suffered what the Committee describe as a measure of ill-treatment or hardship. I think the House, on studying the report, will conclude that the operation, which was one of considerable difficulty and danger, was accomplished in a highly creditable manner.

I made it clear to the members of the Committee on the day they were appointed that their terms of reference included complaints of physical brutality in respect of a small number of men arrested on 9th August who were interrogated in depth after a detention order had been made against them. The purpose of this interrogation was to obtain vital information about the terrorist forces and their stocks of arms and explosives. In these cases also the Committee found no evidence of physical brutality or of torture or brain-washing. It did, however, conclude that some of the procedures involved physical ill-treatment. Full details are given in the report.

The principles applied in the interrogation of suspects in Northern Ireland and the methods employed are the same as those which have been used in other struggles against armed terrorists in which Britain has been involved in recent years. Her Majesty's Government consider, however, that it would be right now to review them. Very difficult issues are involved in judging what methods of interrogation are permissible in the protection of the lives of the civil population and the security forces against a ruthless and deliberate campaign of terror and murder.

After discussion with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has decided to set up a Committee of three Privy Councillors to consider whether, and if so in what respects, the procedures currently authorised for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism and for their custody while subject to interrogation require amendment.

Lord Parker of Waddington has accepted the chairmanship of this committee. The names of one Privy Councillor nominated by the Government and one by the Opposition will be announced shortly.

Mr. Callaghan

The Home Secretary has made a very serious statement.

On a point of procedure, perhaps he will tell the House why it was necessary to delay the publication of this report until 4 o'clock and whether it would not have been possible, particularly as so many accounts have appeared in the newspapers—I do not know if they have been accurate, but some of them have certainly been detailed—to have avoided our having to wait until then for the report. This clearly means that there will be a period during which we cannot comment on many aspects of this subject. Certainly we will need to give the report a great deal of study.

There are several points of substance that I can put to the right hon. Gentleman. If I understood his summary correctly, it bears out the evidence and allegations that have been reaching many hon. Members—namely, that while the bulk of the Army and R.U.C. have behaved with absolute correctness, there have been a number of cases in which they have fallen below that high standard.

Hon. Members


Mr. Callaghan

If that is not so, I do not see how Compton could have reached the conclusion that some of the procedures involved physical ill-treatment.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the methods which have been employed do not go beyond the joint directive on interrogation methods set down on 17th February, 1965, and published in the Bowen Report? This is an important question to which we should be given the answer.

Next, may I say how much I agree with him that very difficult issues are involved? The whole House will have to take a decision on this important and fundamental question: how far is a democratic assembly entitled to sanction the ill-treatment of those committed to the custody of soldiers or police in order to save the lives of others? There is no easy answer to this, but no democratic assembly can allow it to be thought that it is willing to sanction ill-treatment of this sort.

I do not pretend that that is the whole answer, and that is why I welcome the proposal to set up a committee to review these procedures. Is the Home Secretary aware that we shall need to return to this matter at a very early date and that the Opposition will consider sympathetically the nomination of a Privy Councillor to assist in this review?

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said in the last part of that supplementary question, and I am glad that the Opposition will join in this study of what is, as he rightly described, a very difficult issue to settle in any democracy.

The publication procedure has been normal for cases of this kind. On individual cases, it is not a matter in which any individual is regarded as having gone beyond what were his instructions. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's final question is that I am entirely satisfied that the methods used have not gone beyond the rules laid down in 1965, as amended in 1967.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

On a point of order. Would it be in order at this point to beg leave to move the Adjournment of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Not at this point.

Mr. McMaster

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a cunning and deliberately misleading propaganda campaign has been mounted by enemies of this country, which is misleading many organs of the Press and other media? Will he take steps to see that the Government's and this country's case does not go by default?

Mr. Maudling

Certainly, many wild statements have been made. This very thorough investigation by Sir Edmund Compton and the publication of the report in full will, I think, dispose of them fully.

Mr. Delargy

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about the allegations made concerning men who were arrested on 9th August. Does not he recall that he assured the House that the terms of reference of the Compton Committee had been extended by him to cover allegations of brutality from 9th August until now? His statement is recorded in HANSARD. He said it in answer to me. He told me that he had sent a personal letter to Sir Edmund Compton asking him to invesigate all allegations of brutality. Has the investigation which the right hon. Gentleman requested taken place?

Mr. Maudling

There is no question of Sir Edmund Compton carrying out a permanent continuing inquiry. There may have been a misunderstanding on the part of the hon. Gentleman. I invite him to look again at what I have said. What I have announced today is 100 per cent. in line with what I have said before.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

I think that the House is at a disadvantage in not having the Compton Report before it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But I ask my right hon. Friend to make clear whether the report applies merely to interrogations at the time of arrest or to the continuing interrogations which were pursued afterwards. This was not wholly clear from his statement.

Mr. Maudling

That is exactly the point. The Compton Committee was asked to inquire into what happened to people who were arrested on 9th August. I asked Sir Edmund also to inquire into reports about the interrogation of these people subsequent to their being detained.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have important business later on and we have had time taken up by the Home Secretary in making a statement when in fact every word he has said is contained in this newspaper I have in my hand, with the exception of the name of the judge presiding. Is not this a contempt on the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there has been a contempt of the House, then there is a time and place for him to raise the point. What he cannot do is to wave a newspaper at me now.

Mr. Lewis

Then will you inform me, Mr. Speaker, when it is in order to raise the matter?

Mr. McNamara

The whole House will regret that there have been occasions when some members of the security forces have descended to methods of barbarism—[Interruption.]—in obtaining information from people against whom no charge has been levied—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—and against whom no evidence has been produced. Will the right hon. Gentleman now give an assurance that these procedures will stop, in the event of any other persons being arrested under the Special Powers Act, until Her Majesty's Government assume their proper responsibility for the control of these men? They are being arrested by our soldiers, who themselves are being shot, but the Government accept no responsibility for their treatment after arrest. Is this not a disgrace to the whole purpose and procedures of the rule of law?

Mr. Maudling

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says about members of the security forces. The interrogations of which we are talking resulted in the obtaining by the security forces of information about the I.R.A., its activities, its command structure, and its arms, on a very large scale, and I think that it is a good thing that people should know where these arms are and who these men are who are killing civilians.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are hon. Members throughout the House who welcome the fact that the irresponsible charges of brutality and torture made against the British Army have been refuted in the report? Can he say, pending the report of the Committee of Privy Councillors, what will be the policy in regard to the rules of interrogation?

Mr. Maudling

Interrogation cannot be stopped altogether, obviously, because interrogation and intelligence are fundamental to the fight against the gunmen. But clearly the findings of the Compton Committee and the fact of the setting up of Lord Parker's Committee will be taken into account.

Mr. Bidwell

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the division between physical ill-treatment, as described by the Compton Committee, and torture is very narrow and that inevitably from a policy of internment physical ill-treatment will arise? Does not he accept that there can be no solution to the problem while the policy of internment continues?

Mr. Maudling

These are very difficult issues for any democracy, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said. The battle against murder and terrorism has to be pursued in the interests of all parties. On the other hand, there are methods which are unacceptable. It is precisely because the House must judge on the issues involved here that we have proposed setting up the Committee of Privy Councillors to consider the matter.

Mr. Ramsden

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was right to the extent that it will be for the House to decide, after studying the report, whether the methods used in these interrogations are according to the rules, which, I understand, are of long standing, and can be endorsed by the House. Meanwhile, can my right hon. Friend answer this? Can he confirm that those who were subjected to these procedures are not now in any way suffering impairment either in body or in mind, unlike some of their intended victims?

Mr. Mandling

Yes, Sir, certainly.

Mr. Peter Archer

The Home Secretary having equated interrogation in depth with physical ill-treatment, is he really saying that this conduct was authorised? Would he now agree that, as in the case of the Bowen Report, the very limited allegations contained in the Amnesty Report have been found accurate?

Mr. Maudling

I thought that the Amnesty Report had transpired to be highly inaccurate. I did not equate interrogation in depth with physical ill-treatment. I said that Sir Edmund Compton had found that interrogation in depth—his phrase—had involved in some instances what he describes as physical ill-treatment.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and urgent matter of public importance, namely, The Compton Report and the need to refute, in the interests of the morale of the security forces and, indeed, in the interests of the safety of my constituents, with the maximum publicity, the disgusting and in some cases obscene allegations against soldiers and police in Northern Ireland, which many may feel are answered in this report. The House will I am sure, wish to discuss these matters before some of the less reputable media, some of whom were in the first place so deeply concerned with disseminating these allegations, now indulge in an orgy of self-congratulation which might sap the morale of the security forces. While agree with some of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I suggest that the House must make its own judgment as to whether the security forces have behaved like "savage animals"—which has been alleged—whether they have conducted torture chambers or whether they have been temporarily the victims of one of the cleverest propaganda campaigns ever mounted in this country—a campaign which has already succeeded in damaging the morale of two police forces and duping—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make the speech he would make if he succeeded in getting a debate.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I shall not do so, Mr. Speaker. I conclude by saying that in my view what the House must decide, and with the maximum dispatch, is whether it really believes that its soldiers and police are bestial or whether they have been the victims of a gross smear.

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman bring his submission to the Chair?

The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, The Compton Report and the need to refute, in the interests of the morale of the security force and the safety of his constituents, with maximum publicity, the allegations against soldiers and police in Northern Ireland which many feel are answered in this Report. The hon. Gentleman gave me notice some time ago of his intention to seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House on this matter, and an hon. Member on the other side of the House similarly expressed his intention to do so, and so I have considered the matter. It is a matter for me. I have to have regard to a number of factors, which I am not allowed to enumerate. I think that the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 9. Does the hon. Gentleman have the leave of the House?

The leave of the House having been given—

Mr. Speaker

The Motion for the Adjournment of the House will now stand over until the commencement of public business tomorrow, when a debate on the matter will take place for three hours under Standing Order 9(2).

The Motion stood over under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) until the commencement of public business Tomorrow.

Mr. Thorpe

Further to that point of order. You have just ruled, Mr. Speaker, that these are matters proper to be debated. I am not certain whether it is a point of order for you, or a matter of which the Leader of the House might take note, but would it not considerably enhance the rights of the House if it were possible to raise these matters on the basis of a report which had actually been seen by hon. Members? It would not be a bad thing if, when we were discussing these reports, the House of Commons were able actually to see them and if we were not treated as though they were some sort of category of official secrets which ought to be kept from hon. Members. We hope that in future Ministers will be considerably more co-operative than was the case on this occasion.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's point will have been noted.

Mr. Heffer

Further to that point of order. I am sorry to delay the House, but we have now decided that the House should have a debate about a report which, apparently, only one or two hon. Members have seen.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

And the Press.

Mr. Heffer

It is a remarkable situation. How can the House agree to debate a report which we have never seen? Is it not time that we dealt with this nonsense and had such reports presented to the House so that the House could decide whether there should be a debate?

Mr. Speaker

That is very much the same as the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I am in a difficult situation in these matters. I have to decide: it is my decision. I felt, quite without regard to any of the inflexions which have entered into the discussion this afternoon, that if an application were made, it would be proper to have a debate on the matter, but the issue of the publication of the report is not for me.

Mr. Ridsdale

Further to that point of order. As tomorrow's debate on the Local Government Bill will be curtained, may we have a statement from the Leader of the House about tomorrow's business?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

As has the rest of the House, I have just heard that there is to be a Standing Order No. 9 debate tomorrow. I am perfectly prepared to have discussions through the usual channels about whether there should be an extension tomorrow night on the Local Government Bill.

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