HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc582-4
6. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army are currently held in Her Majesty's prison Long Lartin; and how many are allowed private visits.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)

The hon. Gentleman is more right than usual, Mr. Speaker.

There are 11 prisoners at Long Lartin who are regarded as members of the IRA. Private visits are not normally permitted for any prisoner.

Mr. Banks

I should be grateful if the Minister could answer this queston seriously without cheap and snide comments.

Will he confirm, or deny, that John Walker, who was one of those convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings, and who was described at his trial as a brigadier in the IRA, receives visits at Long Lartin alongside ordinary criminal prisoners? Is it not a fact that he does so, as do others convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings, because the Government and the prison authorities know that a great miscarriage of justice has taken place? When does the Minister intend to announce an inquiry into that trial and the convictions?

Mr. Mellor

What the hon. Gentleman says about visiting arrangements is right. The assumption that he seeks to draw from it is wrong. My right hon. Friend is considering whether there should be any reference to the Court of Appeal of the convictions in those cases, having regard to further submissions which have been made and which are under active consideration.

Mr. Benn

Is the Minister aware that in the book "Error of Judgment" recently written by Mr. Chris Mullin, there is incontrovertible evidence that undermines, quite clinically, the prosecution evidence against the six men, undoubted evidence of maltreatment of the prisoners before they went to court, and a clear indication as to who else committed that bombing? There is a widespread view among people who have no interest, other than that justice should be done, that the matter should be properly examined. There is a widespread belief that six innocent people have been imprisoned for 10 years for an offence they did not commit.

Mr. Mellor

I note the right hon. Gentleman's confident assertion, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will give it such weight as he thinks appropriate in making his difficult decision.

Mr. Duffy

It is nearly a year since the Home Secretary ordered a Home Office investigation, following the Granada programme on the Birmingham six, and since the Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald, said that the case was being dealt with "very urgently". What evidence do we have that the Home Secretary has demonstrated any urgency in recent months on this case?

Mr. Mellor

The case is being thoroughly investigated. The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) should get together to be clear about what they are saying before they start putting different questions to us. The book upon which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield relies was published only three weeks ago, and that matter is being looked at. These are difficult decisions with which not only this Home Secretary but previous Home Secretaries have had to grapple. I see that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) confirms that. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) would do the subject a little more credit if he recognised how difficult these matters are and how carefully they need to be explored.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The Under-Secretary of State is correct to say that they are difficult decisions to take. Whatever else, doubts are cast on the decisions taken in that case. Given those doubts—I say no more than that—what procedures must now be followed? I think that if those procedures were understood some of the concern would be quietened.

Mr. Mellor

As ever the right hon. Gentleman is most helpful and I will tell him. The matters under investigation relate to a wide range of pieces of evidence canvassed at the trial. Much of that work is at an advanced stage. The publication of the book by Chris Mullin raised fresh points, especially the contention that certain individuals — allegedly known to Mullin, although not named, thereby making our position rather difficult — have committed these offences. As a result, the West Midlands police were asked to carry out further investigations. When the results are to hand, they will be consolidated with the other material. When the examination is completed, an announcement will be made. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has no interest in prolonging these matters, nor does he believe that pressure of the type which one or two hon. Members— not the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South—are seeking to exert is at all helpful in arriving at the objective quasi-judicial decision which my right hon. Friend much reach before deciding whether the matter should be referred to the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Soley

Does the Minister accept that the House faces an extremely difficult decision? There is considerable anxiety on both sides of the House, in the House of Lords and in the country generally, that the convictions in the Birmingham pub bombing case, and in the Guildford and Maguire cases may be wrongful convictions. If so, not only are innocent people in prison, but guilty people are still free, with all that that implies for offences of this type. In view of that, and of the fact that no hon. Member or person outside the House can have any interest in seeing innocent people in prison and guilty people going free, will the hon. Gentleman consider ordering a retrial in all three cases?

Mr. Mellor

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is charged with the responsibility of deciding whether there are matters capable of being regarded as fresh evidence of a kind which, under examination by the Court of Appeal, might cast doubt on a jury's findings in this or any other case. That is always a difficult issue, especially in a case such as the Birmingham bombing case, which has been considered frequently by appellate courts in the context of civil and criminal proceedings. My right hon. Friend will discharge his duties in this respect with as much care as possible. That is the proper basis on which it will be done.

I assure the House that no one has any interest in prolonging these matters. We recognise that there is a double public interest in this—in ensuring that people are not wrongly convicted and, equally, in ensuring that, if people are rightly convicted, orchestrated campaigns should not undermine the integrity of those convictions.