HC Deb 16 March 1979 vol 964 cc961-84
Mr. Speaker

Mr. Secretary Mason—statement.

Mr. Fitt

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your guidance on what I regard as a serious and important matter? In a few moments the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be making a statement on the Bennett report. The deliberations of the Bennett committee and recent developments in Northern Ireland are allied to the case of Dr. Irwin, the police surgeon who alleged that there was brutality in the holding centre at Castlereagh in Northern Ireland.

Since Dr. Irwin made his original comments on television, he has been subjected to a particularly vicious smear campaign on the grounds of his qualifications, the state of his mental health and other matters. On the front page of The Daily Telegraph today a story carries the headline: Rape case bitterness denied by RUC critic. The story was written by Mr. Gerald Bartlett, in Belfast. The opening sentence begins: Suggestions, apparently by Government officials in Whitehall, that the police surgeon making brutality allegations…is ' bitter and angry ' because his wife was raped by two former members of the RUC. I regard that as a vicious smear, particularly if it emanated from the Northern Ireland Office.

Can this matter be debated today? If it cannot, may I give notice to you, Mr. Speaker, that I shall raise it at the earliest possible opportunity on Monday? I believe that the sinister way in which the story has appeared this morning is tied up with those who are in charge of and employed in the Northern Ireland Office.

Mr. Speaker

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's statement that he will seek to raise the matter at the earliest possible moment. But this morning we can deal only with the Secretary of State's statement.

Mr. Fitt

I give warning that I shall raise this under Standing Order No. 9 on Monday, which would be the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will need to send a written note to my office before 12 noon on Monday and I shall consider his application.

Mr. McNamara

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), but I should not like to think that it will stop the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from commenting on the various matters raised in the article in The Daily Telegraph. It has severe implications for the character of an individual who has been much in the news recently. It also has implications for the Northern Ireland Office which throw doubt upon the quality of what we might hear later. This is a serious matter. I hope that what you have said, Mr. Speaker, will not prevent the Secretary of State from making an adequate comment upon this terrible article.

Mr. Speaker

I expect that it would be of advantage to the House to hear the statement. Most of the hon. Member's remarks could probably be made during questions on the statement.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to ask for your guidance. Will it be out of order for the relevant matters which are under discussion in Northern Ireland to be referred to on the statement by the Secretary of State? These matters affect all sections of the community, not just one. I put it on record that Dr. Irwin happens to be a Protestant. In the interests of justice for everybody, the whole matter should be ventilated. There should be an opportunity for us to debate all matters which are relevant to the Bennett report.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that this matter could be raised during a debate next week. The business statement indicated yesterday that there would be a debate on Wednesday on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order. My inclination is that it will be in order to refer to these matters then. We cannot deal with the Secretary of State's statement until we have heard it.

Mr. Stallard

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the seriousness of the allegations contained in the newspaper article, and the fact that it is not directly related to the statement that the Secretary of State is about to make, could the Secretary of State be asked to make a further statement, following his statement on the Bennett report, about the allegations contained in the article and the very serious insinuations against this honourable man?

Mr. Kilfedder

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the very serious allegation made in The Daily Telegraph in respect of the Northern Ireland Office officials, surely the House is entitled to expect an immediate statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland denying this smear campaign against Dr. Irwin, bearing in mind that the Provisional IRA has engaged for the last 10 years in a smear campaign against the security forces and against the Northern Ireland Office.

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on anything else. We shall have to wait to see what is in the statement.

Mr. Fitt

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Unhelpful as it is, and arranged as it was, to have this debate on such an important issue on a Friday, when most Members have gone home, could you instruct the Secretary of State to make the Bennett report available to hon. Members so that they may know what we are talking about? Obviously he has an embargo on it in his office to prevent us from even looking at the document.

Mr. William Hamilton

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Secretary of State sought further information from his departmental officials and came to you at, say, 1 p.m. today, or at some convenient hour, would it then be possible for him to make a statement on this matter so that he might be cross-examined on it immediately?

Mr. Speaker

It is very difficult, when there is a Private Member's motion before the House, to take the time of a private Member for an issue on which other Members quite clearly feel very deeply. But I suggest to the House that our best course now is to hear the statement by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)

Before I make the statement, I should like, because of the questions which have been raised, to let the House know, first, that I am not responsible for rumours and speculation in the press. Secondly, I have been so perturbed about the allegations which have been made about Dr. Irwin that I have made an urgent check this morning, and I can assure the House that there is no trace at all of Northern Ireland Office involvement in this matter.

Following a report by Amnesty International last June, and a subsequent suggestion by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, I set up a committee under the chairmanship of His Honour Judge H. G. Bennett, QC, with the following terms of reference: To examine police procedures and practice in Northern Ireland relating to the interrogation of persons suspected of scheduled offences; to examine the operation of the present procedures for dealing with complaints relating to the conduct of police in the course of the process of interrogation; and to report and make recommendations. The committee's report is being published this morning as a Command Paper. I should like to express the thanks of the Government to Judge Bennett and his colleagues for the heavy burden of work they have undertaken and the valuable report they have produced.

I shall want to consult the Chief Constable, the Police Authority, the Police Complaints Board and other interested parties on the detailed implementation of the committee's recommendations. But, subject to that consultation, I can say at once that the Government accept the broad conclusions of the committee and endorse the approach it has adopted in framing its detailed recommendations.

The committee accepts the basic validity and importance of interrogation by police officers as a means of detecting crime.

The committee records that its own examination of medical evidence revealed cases in which injuries, whatever their precise cause, were not self-inflicted and were sustained in police custody. But there is no suggestion that this is indicative of a regular or widespread practice; and the committee acknowledges that it did not have the police officers' account in all the cases it examined.

Arrangements will be made for the committee's material in these cases to be considered by the independent Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ire-land. The House will, I am sure, share my own view that one case of ill treatment is one case too many. The RUC is required to operate strictly within the law, and neither I nor the Chief Constable will condone ill treatment in any form.

The committee's recommendations for improvement in the supervisory, medical and other arrangements relating to interrogation are designed to ensure as far as possible that ill treatment of prisoners cannot take place ". That must certainly be our aim.

On complaints procedure, the committee has made a number of important and useful recommendations about RUC practice and about the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, the Police Authority and the Police Complaints Board. In my consultations on complaints procedure, I hope to move forward generally with the committee's objectives in mind.

I aim to announce within two or three months the precise action which will be taken on all the committee's detailed recommendations.

I do, however, immediately accept the committee's recommendation that closed circuit television should be installed in interview rooms, and also the recommendation that terrorist suspects should have right of access to a solicitor after 48 hours and after each succeeding 48 hours in custody. I shall now look to the Chief Constable to examine how these and other detailed recommendations should be implemented.

The committee recognises that no other police force in the United Kingdom is called on to deal with so much violent crime in such unpromising circumstances as the Royal Ulster Constabulary; that the normal methods of crime detection are hampered by special difficulties; and that there is a co-ordinated and extensive campaign to discredit the RUC and its officers.

I pay tribute to the courage and dedication of the RUC and I am confident that action on the committee's recommendations will help to enhance the reputation and effectiveness of the force.

Mr. Neave

Is the Secretary of State aware that we join with him in thanking Judge Bennett for an important review of police procedures on interrogation, and that the Conservative Opposition hope to discuss the recommendations with the Chief Constable next week?

Is the Secretary of State also aware that we welcome his decision to refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions the evidence taken by the committee of injuries sustained during police detention? Although it seems likely that only a few officers could be involved in ill treatment, and remembering the provocation and danger to which the RUC is constantly exposed, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the ill treatment of suspects is totally indefensible and damages the prestige and effectiveness of the police as a whole?

Will the Secretary of State also tell the House what medical evidence Dr. Irwin gave to the Police Authority and to the committee, since there appears to be a dispute on the facts between him and the Chief Constable?

Finally, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we join with him in his tribute to the dedication and courage of the RUC, to whose achievements the people of Northern Ireland owe so much?

Mr. Mason

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I am sure that the RUC will appreciate the respect with which he regards it and its esteem and credibility in the Province. I agree with him absolutely and clearly that we cannot condone ill treatment, whether it be in Gough, Castlereagh or any other holding centre in Northern Ireland.

I reiterate that any information that Judge Bennett has in regard to which he has indicated that there may be cases in which persons have injuries, not self-inflicted, which have been obtained in custody should do to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The reason why I feel strongly about that is that the Bennett committee was set up as a result of the Amnesty International report. At the time, there were many unsubstantiated allegations against unnamed police officers, and I asked Amnesty International to furnish the Director of Public Prosecutions with witnesses' names and medical evidence so that the matter could be thoroughly investigated and, if necessary, a course of action taken against those responsible for the acts.

I then asked Amnesty International to do exactly the same for the Bennett committee, via the DPP, but Amnesty International has not followed this through. I am therefore asking Judge Bennett, with the information that he may have at hand, to do what I requested initially of Amnesty International, and to place it before the DPP so that he can examine it. Then, if there are cases for prosecution, they will be pursued.

Regarding Dr. Irwin, I do not want to get involved in the squabbles which have been taking place between doctors in the Province. It is obvious that they can make varying numbers of allegations. If they have allegations to make, they should be submitted to the Chief Constable, who is bound to submit them to the DPP for investigation.

We should recognise that medical officers at Castlereagh examine prisoners, with their consent, when they go in and when they come out. When prisoners leave Castlereagh to go to a police station to be charged, a different doctor will examine them. En route from Castlereagh to the police station prisoners can inflict injuries upon themselves and a doctor can have a different record of allegations from those at Castlereagh.

In his report, Judge Bennett revealed that he had evidence that prisoners had inflicted injuries upon themselves en route from the holding centre to the place where they were to be charged. Indeed, the Chief Constable now has to ensure that there are cellular units inside the vans which convey prisoners to the police stations so that they cannot inflict injuries upon themselves. I do not want to get involved in the disputes about the numbers of allegations, because they will vary from doctor to doctor.

Judge Bennett examined 200 cases from four independent sources—forensic medical officers, Castlereagh medical offi- cers, medical officers at police stations and individual general practitioners. If there is any information which indicates ill treatment, I hope that it will be followed through.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend said that the Bennett committee was set up in response to the allegations that had been made by Amnesty International. At that time my own party—the SDLP—and other major political parties in Northern Ireland clearly stated that the committee's terms of reference were so restricted—indeed, the committee reports that its terms of reference were so restricted—as to prevent it from speaking to people who had made allegations that they were subjected to police brutality.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that according to a Belfast newspaper last night, we have arrived at the bizarre situation that the Police Authority in Northern Ireland, which is allegedly in control of the Chief Constable and police forces in the Province, has sent various reports of allegations of brutality to the Chief Constable and the police forces, that it got absolutely no response, and was actually thinking of making a report to Amnesty International so that some action might be taken?

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his defence of police procedures, tactics and personalities and his attempt to smear with scurrilous rumour and innuendo those who have reservations about the report will inflict more pain on himself and the Northern Ireland Office than could be caused by any Republican prisoner?

I should like to put a direct question to my right hon. Friend. We have had the Bennett report in our hands for only a few minutes. I know from other sources that it is full of damning indictments against police procedures. Hon. Members have not had time to read it. As we have had the report for only a few minutes, and in view of my total disbelief and that of many people in Northern Ireland of what is in the statement, will my right hon. Friend take the only course that is open to him now and arrange to have a full-scale debate on the Floor of the House next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, not when he knows that the House will be sparsely attended? The only thing which will satisfy people in Northern Ireland will be a full scale debate on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Mason

First, I am sorry that we have to make the statement on Friday.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend is not a bit sorry. He arranged it.

Mr. Mason

I am sorry that we have to make the statement—

Mr. Fitt

It could have been made yesterday.

Mr. Mason

—on Friday. But, due to the leak which took place during the week and the unbalanced presentation, I felt that the matter had to be rectified and a balanced picture put before the House, together with publication of the report as quickly as possible. I could not afford to wait a further three or four days until next week; I had to take the decision to bring it forward as fast as possible. We should recognise that many Government Departments are involved in a report of this kind. They all have a part to play. The Foreign Office, on human rights, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have to be consulted. We cannot rush publications and presentations as fast as people outside are led to believe.

I am sorry that the SDLP did not participate in providing evidence to the Bennett committee. I think that that would have helped considerably. Members of the SDLP can now see that there has been no cover-up. Judge Bennett has done a substantial, workmanlike job and has, indeed, looked at some of the allegations about which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has been concerned for so long. The Police Authority has been concerned, but it has given its evidence to the Bennett committee. Most of its references will be seen in the report.

I have never been and shall refuse to be involved in any smear of any people or organisations. I have never personalised in any previous job I have held in the House, and I shall not personalise in this job.

The committee was set up to look into and to report on improved procedures and practices of interrogation. If we accept the major proposals, which I have done today, and those which will flow from the examination in the next two months with the interested parties, I believe that we shall make it so difficult for ill treatment to occur that our system of interrogation will be in the forefront of systems of the world.

Mr. Craig

I join in the congratulations to Judge Bennett and his colleagues. I also congratulate the Secretary of State on the prompt publication of this report in the difficult situation which developed. If he had failed to bring it out today, there would have been continued speculation of a very unbalanced nature which could only have been harmful to the whole situation.

I listened to the statement with the greatest interest. Though not having had the advantage of studying the report, I feel encouraged by the Secretary of State's approach. We need time to study the report and I hope that we shall be given time to study it. I am relieved that the Government do not propose to rush into hasty decisions. The importance of interrogation is rightly recognised as a means of detecting crime. We must not do anything which would undermine that useful weapon.

I have for some time felt that the right of access to solicitors needed consideration. Looking at the matter from a lawyer's point of view, I think that 48 hours is a reasonable interval. But, having expressed my own opinion, I must also say that experts in interrogation may wonder whether that interval is satisfactory.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he was called to ask a question, not to make a speech on this matter, because we are not debating it now.

Mr. Craig

I was going on to ask the Secretary of State whether, having undertaken to introduce the 48-hour period, he would keep it under review, bearing in mind that other experts on the legal situation, even here in London, think that a five-day period would be justifiable in England. Therefore, I ask him to keep the matter under review.

Regarding the use of television cameras and knowing that that suggestion was made on the initiative of the Chief Constable, will the Secretary of State nevertheless ensure that they are used in a very professional way? The television cameras must be capable of giving a complete picture of the entire interview period.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the statement in the report that there were cases where it was evident that injuries were not self-inflected does not mean that those injuries were improperly inflicted on prisoners by the police? There are circumstances, such as a rumpus, where the police have to use force to restore order.

In any consideration that the Secretary of State gives to the matter, will he put first and foremost in his mind the need for the law to protect the citizen from the criminal, particularly the terrorist criminal, and for the police to have the support of the entire community? In this respect, the decision to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions is to be welcomed. May we expect prompt action by the DPP?

Mr. Mason

Once the information available to Judge Bennett is provided to the DPP, I must leave it in his hands. I shall certainly watch closely the operation of the suggestion about the admissibility of solicitors in interview rooms when we start the cycle of every 48 hours.

As for closed circuit television, that idea was mooted by the Chief Constable at the outset of the Bennett report. Since then the Chief Constable has had a working party looking at how the technical and operational procedures might be carried out and to what extent he would want extra uniformed personnel to watch the operations. As soon as the Chief Constable has considered this report, I hope that we shall make good progress on the question of closed circuit television.

In regard to the protection of the civilian, what we must try to prove to the nation, and to people abroad, is that as far as possible there cannot be ill treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland. That is the aim, and by adopting these procedures we shall go as far as is humanly possible to prove that ill treatment cannot happen. By doing that, we shall kill and defeat the Provisionals' propaganda campaign of allegations of ill treatment in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Freud

We join all parties in the House in praising the Royal Ulster Constabulary's courage and dedication in an operation where one side has to be seen to be humane while the other side is not handicapped by that sort of directive.

I should like to ask the Secretary of State four questions. First, has he thought of co-ordinating the human rights organisations in Northern Ireland?

Secondly, the Police Complaints Board would appear to have completed its first year of working in August 1978, and I wonder whether the Secretary of State could explain when we might get a report on that first year's work.

Thirdly, as the Bennett report has been out for some time, can the right hon. Gentleman explain how democracy or parliamentary efficiency is served by ordering the Vote Office to sit on the report, so that Members who came in at 10.30 this morning were told, rather shamefacedly, that the report was in the Vote Office but that it was not to be given to Members until after the statement had been made?

Finally, in view of what the Secretary of State has said about no blame attaching to any member of the Northern Ireland Office in regard to the disgraceful article in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph, what action does the right hon Gentleman propose to take against The Daily Telegraph for publishing what it did publish?

Mr. Mason

I shall have to peruse the article with care to see whether there is any action that I can take. What I can say is that there is no inkling whatsoever from my Department—especially the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast—that it was involved in this. I should be hurt and ashamed if anyone in the Department had been.

I have despatched a copy of the report to the chairman and secretary of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, and I hope that they will be involved in the discussions that will flow from the recommendations. The Policy Authority, the Police Complaints Board and the DPP are the main people involved. I do not know offhand when the Police Complaints Board will be issuing its report, but I shall certainly look into that matter, and if it can be speeded up I shall do that.

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman and the House have felt offended about the release of the report. I am merely carrying out the usual custom and practice. I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House if it was available at 11 o'clock and he said"Yes ". I thought that was the agreed procedure.

Mr. McNamara

With regard to the article in The Daily Telegraph, it is important that my right hon. Friend should ensure that a full inquiry is made into how it came to be in the press, whether it was from his office or not, because serious allegations are made about Government officials.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing the question of the Bennett report before the House today, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has said. This is surely in response to the pressures that were put on my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on Monday. That the matter should have been brought forward so quickly is to be appreciated.

However, there are some matters arising out of the report which are of considerable seriousness. My right hon. Friend must accept that some of the conclusions of the report are a serious reflection upon the RUC and some of its members. To that extent, they represent a justification for some of the things that have been said about the RUC and the interrogation procedures in Castlereagh. To call it a victory for purveyors of violence would be putting it too strongly, but to a certain extent it gives substance to what they are saying.

I refer my right hon. Friend to appendix I of the Bennett report, where we find that of the 2,814 people detained under the emergency provisions Act only 35 per cent. had charges preferred against them. In Castlereagh 37 per cent. of about 1,500 people who were detained had charges preferred against them. This shows a degree of police surveillance and harassment, I suggest, that supports many of the allegations about the use of these powers in Northern Ireland.

Many of the people who have been convicted have been convicted as a result of their own confessions. Some of them may be people who were detained and who are being investigated as a result of Judge Bennett's report and my right hon. Friend's decision to refer them to the DPP. But it is important to ensure that it is appreciated that there has been a psychological advantage to the forces of violence. My right hon. Friend must move swiftly to examine all these allegations and to consider the position of people who have had confessions used against them in this way. All their cases should be re-examined very carefully indeed to see whether these people should be behind bars.

Mr. Mason

Yes, of course I shall. I reiterate that I am disturbed about The Daily Telegraph article, and I shall certainly look into it.

It is quite clear that the figures in the appendix show that there are large numbers of people going through Castlereagh custody centre. It is the main holding centre for prisoners in Northern Ireland. Consequently, that is bound to be highlighted in the report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) touched on the question of confessions. When people go to the Diplock court, usually the main core of the prosecution's case is based upon a confession. If it can be proved that a confession has been extracted under duress, or that there may have been ill treatment involved in extracting the confession, the core of the case fails. Twenty-five such cases have not been admitted in the courts and those concerned have then had the right to take civil action against the police.

I do not want my hon. Friend to get the report out of balance. I draw the attention of hon. Members, when they have time to read the report, to paragraph 163, which mentions five categories of complaint. First, it mentions complaints of ill treatment where there was no physical evidence. The second category is fabrications. The third category refers to self-inflicted injuries, and the fourth to marks on bodies that could have been made by others or self-inflicted. The fifth category in the report refers to injuries which were inflicted by someone other than the prisoner himself. That is the one paragraph out of more than 400 that mentions that particular point. It says where"the evidence indicates "—that is all.

The report stresses that these cases have not been tested or elucidated by cross-examination. Judge Bennett also states that prisoners may lawfully have to be physically restrained or…officers may have to defend themselves. But no doubt, in this class of case, the injuries were not self-inflicted but were sustained during detention. Those are the cases that are worthy of examination.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Secretary of State accept from me that all those who have been bereaved in Northern Ireland or have been mutilated as a result of obscene atrocities committed over the past 10 years would wish me to convey through the Secretary of State their tribute to the RUC, which, apart from some isolated cases of misconduct, has brought down on its head the full anger of the Provisional IRA because of the success of police investigations?

As there is this systematic attempt by the Provisional IRA to smear and discredit the RUC and other forces of law and order in Northern Ireland, and as the courts and the Bennett committee confirm that there have been cases of self-inflicted injury by Provisional IRA prisoners, will the right hon. Gentleman accept from me that the sooner the report's recommendations are implemented, the better, in order to refute the Provisional IRA propaganda?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also accept my thanks to Judge Bennett and his committee for the excellent work which seemingly they have done? Not having been able to read the report in full, I can make no other comment.

Mr. Mason:

I must convey the thanks of the hon. Gentleman and those whom he represents in Northern Ireland to the members of the RUC. I do so because the Bennett report, and indeed the Amnesty International report, did not tarnish or besmirch the uniformed members of the RUC. They come out of this report absolutely clean in every way.

Mr. Fitt

They do.

Mr. Mason

But, in fairness to those in the Province, Judge Bennett makes it clear, and states quite emphatically, that the para-militaries in Northern Ireland are bent on destroying the existing constitution and order of society by violent means. There is abundant evidence of a major campaign to discredit the police both at home and abroad—and mainly on allegations, not proof.

Mr. Stallard

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have not read the report yet, but I keenly await it. I shall reserve comment and judgment on it until such time as we have a debate.

Is my right hon. Friend aware—he must be—that I certainly do not have to defend the Social Democratic and Labour Party in this Chamber? It has a Member who is perfectly capable of doing that for himself. However, I should like to bring to my right hon. Friend's attention the SDLP's long-standing commitments, shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, to the establishment of a police force in Northern Ireland that will attract the support and confidence of the entire population of the Six Counties. That matter has been raised many times.

Is my right hon. Friend further aware—I must say this, because I do not have the impression that he is—of the difficulties of people, certainly from the minority community, in coming forward with evidence on allegations and so on? In my judgment, and with my knowledge of the situation, that might account for some of the difficulties of the SDLP and Amnesty International in providing the kind of evidence that he complains he has not had.

Finally, will my right hon. Friend make available to the House—I return to the original point of order raised this morning—the proof that he says he has that there has been no leak from the Northern Ireland Office, as outlined in the article in this morning's edition of The Daily Telegraph?

Mr. Mason

I cannot keep going on about The Daily Telegraph. I have already stated quite clearly what I think about it. My hon. Friend and members of the SDLP must now recognise that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is an impartial force. It has risen in esteem and credibility throughout the Province. The way that it dealt with the Action Council strike and the Shankill butchers, and the way in which it is dealing with the IRA, must lead everyone who is objective about this matter to the conclusion that the RUC is doing a job as good as any police force in the world can do in the present circumstances. It is doing it magnificently well, and it is gathering the support of the whole Province.

I must remind my hon. Friend, as indeed I must remind many others who take on the campaign of allegations, that they are talking about allegations. There is a major campaign by the Provisional IRA based on allegations. I want the evidence, and so does the DPP. Amnesty International did not furnish it. Therefore, I hope that if Judge Bennett has any evidence it can be properly, imparitally and independently examined by the DPP.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the Secretary of State recognise that our interrogators in Northern Ireland already have to cope with more restrictions on such matters as time available to question suspects and so on than are imposed on interrogators in most other liberal democracies, such as Holland? We are all anxious to eliminate all cases of physical violence, but will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that it is not his intention to tilt the balance still further against the many skilful and sympathetic interrogators who are trying to protect the community as a whole?

Mr. Mason

I recognise that Northern Ireland is ahead of many of the prison systems in the world. Indeed, every prisoner who goes to Castlereagh or any of the holding centres is entitled to a medical examination at the outset and a medical examination when he leaves. Uniquely, all prisoners are entitled to call for their own general practitioner for a medical examination, although I must say that regularly 40 per cent. of them refuse to have a medical examination at all. There are obvious reasons why.

Judge Bennett is suggesting tightening the procedures of interrogation. Indeed, he suggests a code of conduct for the interrogators: how many officers should be involved in the interrogation process, the length of time in any one interview, the suggestion that the officers themselves should be recognised, and so on. Therefore, in fact, following up the detailed recommendations, the procedures will be tightened.

Mr. Litterick

Notwithstanding the revolting attempt to impugn Dr. Irwin's integrity and blacken his name, has my right hon. Friend taken note of the fact that on Monday his Minister of State advised the House that Dr. Irwin had made a number of reports of what he regarded as at least suspect cases of violence inflicted on prisoners over a period which went back as far as 1975? Have any charges against police officers resulted from those reports submitted by Dr. Irwin? Have there been any convictions in those cases?

Mr. Mason

I do not know whether they refer to the Dr. Irwin allegations and the examination by the Chief Constable and then the DPP. But there have been prosecutions of police officers—if my memory serves me right, 15 of them—and damages have been paid where the complainant has felt that there has been reason for that to be done.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Secretary of State take it from me that it is generally welcomed in Northern Ireland today that there has been a statement at the first possible opportunity? However, it is to be regretted that the report was not available to hon. Members before his statement. But we understand the procedures of the House.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the press lobby in Great Britain was given prior copies of the report but that they were refused to the press lobby for Northern Ireland, with the result that hon. Members from Northern Ireland could not be informed what was in it? Does he not think that when it is released to the press lobby of Great Britain it should also be made available to the press lobby of Northern Ireland, as it really concerns Northern Ireland?

Will the Secretary of State also make clear to the House that the vast majority of decent people, Protestant or Roman Catholic, support the security forces and do not wish to see those forces discredited? Will he also make clear that Members of Parliament and public representatives have a duty when allegations are made to ensure that those allegations are brought to the proper quarter and are investigated so that the credibility of the RUC can be maintained?

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the way this matter has been handled—namely, by the Chief Constable making an ex parte statement on television and refusing to be questioned about it, and also inviting Dr. Irwin to a cup of tea and then tape recording what was said without asking him to produce the file—is the proper way to investigate this subject?

We welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has assured the House that the Northern Ireland Office has had no part in this scurrilous campaign. Will he assure the House that he will investigate the matter? There has been an allegation that an SAS non-commissioned officer raped Dr. Irwin's wife. These are serious allegations and must be investigated so that this campaign may be laid to rest once and for all.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be a full inquiry into this whole matter of allegation and counter-allegation so that the matter may be brought into the open to enable the people of Northern Ireland to know where the truth lies?

Mr. Mason

The object of the Bennett inquiry is to ensure that such allegations will rapidly reduce in number. Once closed circuit television is installed, those concerned can be observed at any time, and that will remove the possibility of ill treatment. That is particularly relevant if the recommendation suggesting that a senior uniformed officer should be in the holding centre able to make observations is adopted. The prime aim of Bennett is to kill completely the allegation campaign by tightening these procedures and by ensuring that ill treatment cannot take place. I repeat that I shall look into the question of the smear in The Daily Telegraph.

Let me turn to the subject of press releases. This matter is not within my province. I understand that the normal lobby system operated and that releases were made. Correspondents in the House who represent the press of Northern Ireland are involved in that system. I repeat that this is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the custom and practice of the House, and I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to what has been said.

Mrs. Wise

Does the Secretary of State accept that the best recruiting help which can be given to the Provisional IRA is for there to be a system of interrogation by the security forces such as those described by Dr. Irwin and set out in the report? Why does my right hon. Friend appear to understate the importance of other categories as well as category 5, mentioned in paragraph 163? As I was called to speak in this exchange a little late, I have had the opportunity to read a little of this report which had been withheld from us. Does my right hon. Friend accept that category 4 is also important, being the category in which injuries may either have been self-inflicted or inflicted by others? The report says that there are cases in which it was clear to experienced forensic officers that injuries had been inflicted by others. Why did my right hon. Friend mention only category 5?

Will my right hon. Friend deal with the matter of confessions, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara)? In his reply, the Secretary of State dealt only with those cases which fell when they were dealt with in the courts. My hon. Friend was referring to those people who had actually been put behind bars on the basis of confessions extracted as a result of interrogation.

Will my right hon. Friend also explain why the Police Complaints Board, set up on 1 September 1977, has been able to deal only recently with interrogation matters, apparently because of the requirements relating to the security of documents? What does that mean?

Mr. Mason

I doubt whether I shall be able to get through all the points raised by my hon. Friend.

The paragraph relating to category 4 indicates that such cases are doubtful and not easily proven. Category 5 means that injuries could be self-inflicted, or that they were not self-inflicted while people were in custody and should be examined. Judge Bennett is putting that point fairly to the public. I remind my hon. Friend that the Provisional IRA receives a boost as a result of many allegations, but we must ensure that those allegations are put to the test and that they have to be proven. The problem is that many of these allegations never go through the due processes to prove whether they are valid.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the three hon. Gentlemen who have been rising to their feet.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Does the Secretary of State agree that perhaps the most worrying aspect of this matter is that we had to have the Amnesty International report, plus allegations in the media, before the Bennett inquiry was set up? Does not this suggest that the police investigation of complaints machinery has not worked as effectively as it should? I think I am right in saying that Judge Bennett makes that point. Will the right hon. Gentleman implement that part of the report as a matter of great urgency?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that in future no interrogation will take place unless the closed circuit television system, once installed, is working?

When the right hon. Gentleman said that we must wait two to three months for him to give the House his attitude to these recommendations, may I ask whether he was referring to the implementation of those recommendations or to a further Government statement on the report?

Mr. Mason

I shall try to report to the House at the end of the two or three months which it will take to go through the whole list of detailed recommendations made by Judge Bennett and his committee. Obviously there will have to be consultations with the DPP, the Police Authority, the Police Complaints Board, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights and others.

In regard to Amnesty International, I hope the hon. Gentleman appreciates that when the organisation went in 1977 to the Province it was in the wake of a major allegation campaign. Yet at the end of that investigation Amnesty International did not produce to the DPP one witness, plus medical evidence, to prove that the allegations were valid and that ill treatment had occurred. In the light of Amnesty International's report, the Chief Constable called for the setting up of the Bennett committee and I established that body. Therefore, the police have been willing throughout to have allegations examined.

We shall have to see how the closed circuit television system operates. The Bennett committee contains recommendations proposing that interrogations should not take place during the night. The recommendations seek to limit the hours during which interrogation can take place. That will have a bearing on whether television is used.

Mr. Tebbit

Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to dispose once and for all of the Dr. Irwin aspect is for the doctor to be reminded that he has recourse to law against The Daily Telegraph if his reputation has been smeared, and that this is not a matter in which the right hon. Gentleman should become involved?

Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is no police force anywhere in the world that has the support of the criminals against whom it operates or of the political allies who tag along with them?

Thirdly, does he agree that, although the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) is excited about the fact that only 35 per cent. of those taken to Castlereagh were subsequently charged, he would have been even more excited if 100 per cent. of those taken to that place had been charged? It would be interesting to know what would be the right figure in that respect.

Finally, will the Secretary of State, for the benefit of those who will only read reports of these proceedings and who will not perhaps see the full Bennett report, say a little more about paragraph 163 and define the types of injuries about which he has spoken? There is an impression that there are only self-inflicted injuries and injuries improperly inflicted by the police. Will he refer to the other categories—such as those inflicted by other prisoners and those properly inflicted by the police in the course of restraining the violent criminals with whom they have to deal?

Mr. Mason

I was concerned about The Daily Telegraph report relating to Dr. Irwin although the Northern Ireland Office was not mentioned in it. Secondly, I recognise that the RUC operates in difficult circumstances. The regular campaign to undermine the stability, effectiveness and efficiency of the RUC has stretched over three years. It has so far failed. Amnesty International and the Bennett report leave the reputation of the RUC uniformed branch completely untarnished. There are cases of fabrication and self-inflicted injury amongst the categories of complaint, and they make up by far the largest number of complaints against the police.

Mrs. Wise

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before raising this matter, I allowed my right hon. Friend to answer the question for the sake of clarity. But when the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) referred to criminals and their political allies, did you notice, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) waved to the Labour Benches and said"They are "? I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether that is a proper reference to these Benches. Through you, I suggest that the hon. Member for Petersfield repeats that allegation outside the House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) did not make a specific reference. He said"and their political allies ". They may be anywhere. If the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) made any gesture or comment, I did not see or hear him.

Mrs. Wise

He did.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That might be his opinion, but it is not for me to rule on that.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Will the Secretary of State tell his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that it is not the proper way to conduct our affairs if in the middle of his statement we have to rush out to the Vote Office to collect a report? Secondly, as the Bennett report found abundant evidence of a co-ordinated and extensive campaign to discredit the police and destroy their reputation at home and abroad, did he say that that would be further investigated by the Government? Will his Department and the Government as a whole investigate the extent of that co-ordination in countries outside Northern Ireland, and keep the House fully informed?

Mr. Mason

The major campaign of the past three years against the RUC has also tried to impair its operational efficiency. That has been part of the Provisional IRA's task. Evidence has been given to Bennett that the political bosses of the Provisional IRA have specifically instructed their people on how to register complaints in order to try to bog down the machinery. I do not know to what extent that has come from or spread abroad. On the report, I shall see that my right hon. Friend is informed.

Mr. Fitt

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the commencement of this morning's proceedings, I raised a point of order on the report in The Daily Telegraph. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has since denied on two or three occasions his involvement in the smear tactics that have been used against Dr. Irwin. Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, and is the Secretary of State aware, that senior officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are in the courts this morning speaking to senior members of the Bar and other counsel and calling into question the mental state of Dr. Irwin? What action can be taken to instruct my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to get the RUC to desist from that?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that I cannot help the hon. Member.

Back to