HC Deb 23 June 1977 vol 933 cc1722-3
6. Mr. Win. Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now take steps to restore the death penalty for murders committed by terrorists in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mason

No, Sir.

Mr. Ross

Is not the Secretary of State aware that when members of the security forces are captured by the IRA in Northern Ireland they cannot look forward to a prison cell but only to the most cruel torture and eventual death? Will he also accept that people in Northern Ireland believe that terrorism will not be finally defeated until the sentences of the "godfathers" of terrorism are matched by society?

Mr. Mason

I am sure that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland would not want capital punishment to be brought back for conviction on a major charge. They are fully aware that such a course would bring back the full depth of sectarian hatred in Northern Ireland. The first man to hang on a rope, whether Protestant or Catholic, would set off once again the sectarian hatred which we are managing now to sink into the past. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will help to explain to his constituents that capital punishment has gone. That was decided by the House and, as far as we are concerned, it will not return.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that after all that has happened in the last few years in Northern Ireland, and even branching out further on occasions, it is very sad that he should have to answer such a sectarian question as that put by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross)?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that hanging or shooting anyone at this stage by the process of judicial murder would be bound to result in inflaming the difficult situation, so that the whole problem would hang round our necks even more than it does at the moment?

Mr. Mason

Hanging has been abolished in Northern Ireland since 1973. I am firmly convinced that if we brought it back the first man to be hanged would be declared a martyr. If he were a member of the Provisional IRA, it would give rise to a great deal of IRA propaganda and help its cause immensely.

Mr. Wells

Is the Secretary of State aware of the universal anxiety of prison officers and their families in all parts of the United Kingdom about their own safety? Will he consider the position of prison officers?

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman would appear to want me to go back on my statement step by step, through prison officers or policemen, on the way to the restoration of capital punishment. I am not prepared to do that. In the Irish Republic the Government still have that right, but I believe that there have been no hangings, even in the Republic, since 1954.

Mr. Craig

Did I understand the Secretary of State to say that the result of the judicial process can be sectarian?

Mr. Mason

The result of the judicial process as at present carried out in Northern Ireland is to treat all the terrorists as criminals, to charge them and, when they are convicted, put them in gaol, and for none of them to be a martyr and for none to be treated as a political prisoner who can get an amnesty.