HL Deb 12 March 1992 vol 536 cc1435-7

3.21 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government the second Question standing in his name on the Order Paper:

Whether they are satisfied that the procedures for interviewing and interrogating arrested suspects in Northern Ireland comply fully with their obligations under international conventions.

The Paymaster General (Lord Belstead)

Yes, my Lords. Following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Brogan and others in 1988, the United Kingdom derogated from Article 5(3) of the European Convention on Human Rights, as Article 15 of the convention permits it to do; and also from the comparable provision, Article 4, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The derogation, however, relates to the system of reviewing prolonged detention under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and not to arrangements for the interview of suspects per se.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Does it not largely refer to matters dealing with detention for up to seven days? What response will the Government make to the representations already made by such bodies as Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland and the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, most of my Answer relates to detention of up to seven days. I believe that the safeguards we have as regards those procedures are effective and comprehensive.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, as regards the interrogation of suspects, does the Minister agree that the recommendations of his noble friend Lord Colville that interviews with suspects should be videotaped—as the Minister knows, that recommendation was supported recently by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights—should be reconsidered by the Government and taken seriously?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we take those recommendations seriously. However, I do not agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, although I am aware of his views on this matter. The position remains that set out in the report of the Bennett Commission of inquiry into interrogation procedures in Northern Ireland which recommended that closed circuit television should be installed in the holding centres under the supervision of a uniformed inspector or chief inspector, but that video recording should not be introduced.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, as regards the powers of arrest and detention, is not the Minister aware that a period of 48 hours is often too short? The RUC needs time for forensic tests to be carried out; hence the extension of detention. The Secretary of State must personally scrutinise every recommendation of the RUC before it is accepted. Is the Minister further aware that prisoners have often been trained to remain silent? If silence meant guilt, they might start to talk. We must consider that factor.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with both the points made by the noble Lord.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the oppression of suspects may well lead, and has been known to lead, to unreliable confessions?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I understand the question which the noble Lord asked. Earlier on in this exchange I was at pains to say that I believe the safeguards as regards holding those suspected of terrorist offences to be extensive and effective. However, I should add that under Section 61 of the Act that concerns emergency provisions the Government are now to introduce a new statutory code of practice on detention, treatment, questioning and identification of terrorist suspects in police custody. That will add a further safeguard. We have repeated several times our intention to appoint a new commissioner for the holding centres to monitor procedure there. I believe that will constitute an important additional safeguard in this complex and sensitive area of the enforcement of the law.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, the Minister's first reply was reassuring as far as it went. Can he go a little further, however, and assure the House that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the procedures at the holding centres fully comply with the provisions of the convention against torture and cruel treatment? The Minister has referred to an undertaking given last year that a commissioner would be appointed to monitor the procedures at the holding centres. The Minister has just referred to that appointment. When will that appointment be made? Will the Minister tell the House the terms of that appointment?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I hope that the appointment of the commissioner will be made as soon as possible. To repeat what I have already said: the commissioner will monitor procedures, both administrative and legislative, which apply to the holding centres. The noble Lord asked me whether the safeguards that are in place as regards the holding centres comply with the requirements of our international obligations. I can confirm that that is the case. The range of safeguards already in place is more than sufficient to permit the United Kingdom to fulfil its international obligations, not least those which the noble Lord specifically mentioned.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, given that in Northern Ireland scheduled offences are tried without a jury, can my noble friend tell me whether a judge trying such an offence nonetheless has to direct himself in accordance with the rule of English law; namely, that he must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that oppression, or the converse, enticement to confess, has not been used in any case where the confession is admissible?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not a lawyer. If I stand corrected, I shall immediately write to my noble and learned friend and place a copy of my reply in the Library of the House. However I am 99.9 per cent. certain that the answer to my noble and learned friend is yes.

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