HC Deb 03 August 1972 vol 842 cc932-4
1. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he can now announce when he proposes to terminate internment in Northern Ireland.

5. Mr. Stallard

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he proposes to consider further the release of all persons now interned; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)

Internment will end as soon as the security situation permits.

Mr. Archer

I wish the Secretary of State well in the steps he has taken, but does he agree that if internment is to continue it can no longer be applied only to one side but must be applied to suspected terrorists whatever their persuasion?

Mr. Whitelaw

I certainly accept that. I am most anxious, as I have made clear, that we should reach a position in which internment can end. I must accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition.

Mr. Stallard

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many men are still incarcerated in Long Kesh who were lifted last August following the disastrous decision which, in my opinion, has been the cause of much that has happened since? Is he aware that his gyrations in the past few weeks over the question of internment are clearly seen as an attempt to use these men as hostages for the good behaviour of the rest of the Catholic population? Will the right hon. Gentleman announce a date for the end of internment and imprisonment without trial in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is a later Question on the first point and I think that in fairness to the hon. Member who tabled it, but who is not present, I must delay giving the figures until it is reached. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about hostages. I agree that I must have regard to the security situation on the ground, but I must stick to the point which I have always made.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is the Secretary of State aware that what we on this side have always been concerned about is internment without trial, and that we support the detention of all those against whom charges are brought? For the rest, taking into account the problems involved, their release would do much to help the forthcoming political talks.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. I am most anxious that in all cases in which charges can be brought they should be brought. I continually urge that on the security forces. Like, I think, everyone in Northern Ireland, I am most anxious to ensure that as many people as possible who may be guilty of, or who can be charged with, offences are brought before the courts, which is the proper way of proceeding.

15. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many of those interned and detained without trial on 9th August, 1971, are currently interned and detained; and at what places.

Mr. Whitelaw

Of the 245 persons detained on 9th August, 1971, 61 are still held at Long Kesh as internees.

Mr. Bidwell

While the retention of the 61 raises important questions—and I know the right hon. Gentleman's broadminded attitude—will he not now in retrospect accept that the wholesale internment policy of the Stormont Gov- ernment on 9th August was an unmitigated disaster? As we are coming near to the first anniversary of the event, does he realise that if he can bring himself to say so it would go a long way towards developing harmonisation in the Province?

Mr. Whitelaw

What I must put to the hon. Gentleman is that I have enough problems on hand at present without looking forward to any or dealing with any in retrospect.

Mr. Winterton

According to the Press today, my right hon. Friend has signed papers to release 14 members of the IRA from internment. Does he feel that this will help the Prime Minister of the Republic to clamp down on the activities of the IRA which one of his Ministers has described as "a scourge"?

Mr. Whitelaw

I should make it clear to my hon. Friend that, as perhaps he saw in the Press, the people whom I released were members of the official IRA, who have been operating a cease-fire for a considerable time. That is rather different from the position of the Provisionals in the Republic.