§ 8. Mr. Biggs-Davison
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on detention in relation to violence.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The Government's policy on detention is related to the level and nature of violence prevailing. Since 22nd December 1974, the date of the original cease-fire by the Provisional IRA, I have released 276 detainees and a further 25 detainees have been released by the commissioners. Further releases will depend on the situation as it develops.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Is the Secretary of State aware that the House is united with him in detestation of the revolting gangsterism, which he characterised as internecine, interfactional and sectarian in reply to an earlier question, and that we all applaud the successful efforts of the RUC and all the security forces against this abomination? Is he also aware, however, that after the admitted IRA bombing at Bessbrook there were eight releases 649 from detention and that some anxious surprise has been occasioned by that?
§ Mr. Rees
Yes. I am extremely grateful for that remark about gangsterism. However, the nature of detention and the law under which I operate must be understood. In the course of last year, while the IRA campaign was still on, the commissioners released 97 people, because they were carrying out the law. I am not in business to keep people in detention as hostages for something which might happen outside. They were arrested. An interim custody order was signed by me in most cases—in large numbers. I dealt with each case on the basis of what it was alleged had been carried out, on information which was put before me but which could not be put before the courts. I must deal with detention on the merits of the case. However, what is for sure is that I have to take into account the fact that people who are released might easily return to violence. Overall I have to take into account the existing situation in deciding on the speed at which to release them.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In contrast to the alleged anxious surprise, is my right hon. Friend aware that some hon. Members back him through thick and thin in the policies he is now pursuing?
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I say to all hon. Members, whatever their views on this matter, that these are not easy decisions to take. The longer I go on, the more difficult the decisions become. I have to take into account the role of the security forces in Northern Ireland. I am not in business to put the life of one member of the security forces at risk for a political quirk. It is a fundamental belief that the best way in which to deal with the trouble in Northern Ireland is by policing and by people going through the courts. That is what I hope the cease-fire will give me a chance to do.