§ Mr. George Cunningham
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 important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the refusal of the Secretary of State for Defence to allow a Member of Parliament to see and hear the electronic noise machine which the Compton Report found had been used in forcing information out of internees in Northern Ireland".Much as the House wants to move on to the debate which is to follow, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you and the House will give this matter most serious consideration. Whatever may be one's views about the general situation in Northern Ireland, this is a grave matter not only in relation to our prison practices but in relation to the rights of the House.
I do not believe that there can be any precedent for the matter which I am now raising, Mr. Speaker, for not in his deepest nightmares could Erskine May ever have imagined that the question of torture by British officials would ever be raised, or would ever need to be raised, in this way. The kind of machine to which I refer is that mentioned in paragraphs 60 and 94 of the Compton Report. In paragraph 60 the machine was described as one whichsubjected"—the internees—to a continuous hissing noise, or electronic 'mush', loud enough to mask extraneous sounds and prevent effective oral communication between detainees.The finding of the Committee was that the machine subjected the internees tocontinuous and monotonous noise of a volume calculated to isolate them from communication …".It concluded that this was a form of physical ill-treatment.
I believe that these actions constitute illegal acts under the law of this country and of Northern Ireland. I have no intention of going into the merits of the case. I am only trying to make a case for the House and you, Sir, to decide that it is a matter which needs to be considered now. Those acts certainly constitute torture by anyone's normal definition, particularly when sustained for the very long hours mentioned in the 1143 report. The use of the machine on those occasions was not required for keeping internal order in the establishment.
On Friday I made a telephone request to the Secretary of State's office for permission to see and hear such a machine. I received no reply. I repeated the request on Monday morning and again was given no reply. I pressed the matter again this morning and insisted upon a reply. The reply I was given, on the authority of the Minister of State, was, first, that I could not see and hear the machine. It was a categorical, "No". Second, I was told that the machine was in existence and that one example was in a security establishment in this country, access to which was available only on a need-to-know basis. Third, I was told that the Committee of Privy Councillors when set up would be able to see and hear anything of that kind that it wanted.
There are two reasons in particular why the matter is urgent enough for the House and you, Mr. Speaker, to consider it now. First, on Thursday we shall be debating the Irish situation, including points in the Compton Report, no doubt—[HON. MEMBERS: "Exactly."]—Perhaps there are hon. Members opposite who do not want to know the nature of the machine which was in use. But I certainly want to know before the debate on Thursday begins.
Second, there is the following cause for urgency—[Interruption.] The gravity of this point, whatever one's opinion about 1144 it, must surely be accepted, and the case does not deserve to be interrupted in that way. The second reason for urgency is that I was informed by the Minister's office that one example of the machine is in current use in this country, particularly for training. That this machine of torture is in current use is a grave matter. If we are to subject prisoners in this country to ill-treatment, I for one want to see and hear the implements of torture, and I want you, Mr. Speaker, and the House now to make an opportunity for the Minister's decision on the matter to be reversed by the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the refusal of the Secretary of State for Defence to allow a Member of Parliament to see and hear the electronic noise machine which the Compton Report found had been used in forcing information out of internees in Northern Ireland.I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to make this application. I have considered the matter and listened carefully to what he said. The only decision I have to make is whether the matter should be given precedence over the business already set down so that there can be an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 9. I am afraid that I cannot grant the hon. Gentleman's application.