HC Deb 26 July 1979 vol 971 cc872-3
14. Mr. Race

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will allow automatic access by solicitors to prisoners held in the United Kingdom under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, following the Government's acceptance of the Bennett report.

Mr. Whitelaw

I have no present plans to do so. The recommendations of the Bennett committee related to the interrogation of people suspected of offences listed in the schedule to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. The special provisions of that Act do not apply to Great Britain. The general question of access to solicitors is being examined by the Royal Commission on criminal procedure.

Mr. Race

Is it not the case that thousands of people who are arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in the United Kingdom, other than in Northern Ireland, are not able to see a solicitor for a long time after their arrest, and that the vast majority of these people are innocent of any crime and are subsequently released by the police? Is the Home Secretary aware of the widespread concern about the use of the Act—the way in which people are held in custody and their denial of access to a solicitor? Will he urge immediate action to rectify that dangerous precedent?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman has made wide accusations about the number of people who have been denied access. If he has such evidence, perhaps he will be good enough to let me have it. I have no such evidence. I have followed the procedures under the Prevention of Terrorism Act as carried out under my predecessor. That Act has done great good for the country, and it is carefully and sympathetically administered by Home Secretaries of all parties.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee access, even if there is not to be automatic access? We are in agreement across the Floor of the House over our concern that where there is denial of access to legal representatives for those under questioning difficulties do arise.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman has a considerable record of work in Northern Ireland and understands these problems. If he has any evidence, I shall be grateful to have it and will consider it most sympathetically.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the Secretary of State recognise that the change in practice in Northern Ireland is relevant to practice in England and Wales? In Scotland there is a statutory right of access to a solicitor under section 19 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act. In Northern Ireland there is a right of access by practice to a solicitor for terrorist arrestees, but not for others. In England and Wales there is no right of access to a solicitor. Will the Secretary of State refer the change of practice in Northern Ireland to the Royal Commission on pre-trial procedure so that it can take that into account along with the other factors when considering what changes in practice need to be adopted in England and Wales?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall certainly see that the exchanges in the House this afternoon are brought to the attention of the Royal Commission.

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