HC Deb 16 November 1972 vol 846 cc591-3
12. Mr. McNamara

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he expects to receive the report on the committee appointed to examine the Special Powers Act.

13. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he anticipates receiving the Report of the Commission on Imprisonment and Internment in Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Howell

I assume that hon. Members are referring to the commission chaired by Lord Diplock which is considering the administration of justice in connection with terrorism in Northern Ireland. The commission is proceeding with its work with great urgency; but it is too soon to say when its report will be received. My right hon. Friend is reviewing those parts of the Special Powers Act outside the commission's terms of reference.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his reply, but will he bear in mind that whatever procedure is employed—be it the detention of terrorists order or the old straight forward detention and internment order as existed under Unionist-controlled Stormont—the present method of dealing with people suspected of terrorism—and the Government have yet to define that term—is unsatisfactory? The general body of the public must be given the opportunity of weighing, judging and considering the evidence against those people who are interned. Until that is achieved this continuing sore will exist and cast into grave difficulties whatever hopes the Government have for a successful policy.

Mr. Howell

The ideal which the Government and everyone else would like would be the normal and effective processes of the workings of the law. I do not accept the hon. Member's coupling of internment with the present processes under the detention of terrorists order, which is to be debated here shortly, or with the new proposals which may emerge from the Diplock Commission. Under the detention of terrorists order legal representation is allowed, as are appeals. That is a definite improvement on the internment process, and one that should be welcomed.

Mr. Peter Archer

But surely the Minister would not equate the procedure under the detention of terrorists order with the normal working of the courts. Since it seems that we may have that order with us for some little time, will he say how many interim custody orders have been made under that procedure, and how many detention orders?

Mr. Howell

I certainly did not equate the two. My point was that they were distinct and different. The present number of those committed to interim custody is, I believe, six although I shall write to the hon. and learned Member if it is higher.

Mr. McMaster

Is my hon. Friend not aware that the ordinary processes of law cannot operate in a situation of carefully planned and deliberate violence and intimidation? Magistrates have been attacked and shot and Crown witnesses have been killed. In those circumstances the ordinary processes of law cannot work.

Mr. Howell

That is the difficulty about terrorist activity. But it must be recognised—and I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the development—that more and more people have shown themselves ready to come forward and give information or use the robot telephone, which has been very effective, thus providing evidence on which terrorists can be arrested.