HC Deb 27 February 1992 vol 204 cc1104-5
6. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received calling for the introduction of internment without trial; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke

The Government have received a number of representations calling for the reintroduction of executive detention. They have also received representations from those opposed to such a step.

The power to introduce executive detention remains on the statute book and is capable of being exercised by the Government. I shall not comment further, except to say that the consequences of such a step would need to be very carefully weighed.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Secretary of State agree that the re-imposition of internment without trial would deepen and intensify an already terribly difficult situation? Does he recall that last time this occurred there was an immediate leap forward in terms of killing? We would face that again. Those who are asking for that—many voices, including important voices, in Northern Ireland are asking for it—would create a situation for everybody in Northern Ireland that would be far worse than it is now and, God knows, it is bad enough at present.

Mr. Brooke

The fact that the Government retained executive detention on the statute book by a free act last year is an indication that the Government believe it to be important that the instrument should be available. The hon. Gentleman referred to the last time it occurred. There are occasions—perhaps the only occasions when I feel a mild sense of despair in dealing with the affairs of Northern Ireland—when I fear that others assume that all events in Irish history will always repeat themselves exactly. That is not the case—and it is because it is not the case that we are making progress in the way that we are.

Sir John Farr

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will discard no weapon at all in the fight against terrorism—including internment, if necessary? Should it unfortunately prove necessary, will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for it possibly to be introduced without notice and simultaneously after consultation with the Government of the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Brooke

By definition, the weapon has not been discarded, as it will remain on the statute book, with the renewal of the order, in terms of the life of the statute. Clearly and patently, if it were to be introduced, it would be introduced without notice. There have been commentators who have said that if it were introduced, it would be much more effective if it were introduced throughout the island.

Mr. McNamara

Has the Secretary of State discussed the matter with the Government of the Republic of Ireland? Does he accept that internment would be the height of folly and would have no support at all from the Labour party? Will he also point out to those advocating such a foolish policy that they are merely diverting attention from the villainous crimes of the terrorists and, perhaps more importantly, from the enormous successes of the security forces and thus undermining confidence in the rule of law? The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out in the House that nearly 50 per cent. of people convicted of terrorist offences had no previous intelligence tracings in terms of involvement with terrorist organisations. Does he agree that always the best thing to do is to arrest, produce evidence, convict and put terrorists behind bars?

Mr. Brooke

The only matters that I discuss with Irish Ministers in intergovernmental conferences under the Anglo-Irish Agreement are those which can be discussed under the rules of the agreement. It would be a mistake, however, to think that we do not cover extensively all the ground and territory that is available within those limits. As to the rest of the hon. Gentleman's question, I said at the beginning that I thought the less said the better.

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