§ 6. Mr. Whitehead
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the present conditions at the Castlereagh interrogation centre.
§ Mr. Mason
The accommodation and other facilities for persons detained at RUC Castlereagh compare favourably with those at police stations elsewhere. As for the operational function of the centre, as was announced on 8th June, the Government, at the suggestion of the Chief Constable, are setting up an independent inquiry to consider present police practice and procedures relating to the interrogation of persons suspected of scheduled offences, whether at Castlereagh 1165 or at any other locations in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Amnesty report appears to substantiate many of the misgivings expressed in the Press and on television and in this House about some of the interrogation procedures at Castlereagh? Does he further accept that we are unlikely to beat the terrorists unless we can do so without double standards and without dirty hands, and that where there are reports of this kind, as has been true in this House for many years—certainly since the time of Hola Camp and beyond—it is right for the House of Commons to question what has gone on?
Therefore, will my right hon. Friend undertake, first, that the inquiry that takes place wil be a judicial inquiry, in which the actions and motives of all those involved in the Amnesty report can be subjected to cross-examination, and, secondly, that the report of the inquiry will be published?
§ Mr. Mason
I hope that my hon. Friend does not accuse me of double standards. Secondly, it will be a judicial inquiry. Thirdly, the report will be published.
But, again, I want the House to keep the matter in proper perspective. Amnesty International spent eight days in the Province. During the course of the first 11 months of 1977 3,444 people were questioned in Northern Ireland. Amnesty International examined 78 cases. Thirty-nine complainants made their views known, but they had no medical evidence. Twenty-six pieces of medical evidence, thereafter, were placed before Amnesty International, but Amnesty had no complainant. That left 13 cases. Of those 13—complainant and medical evidence—Amnesty International examined only five in detail. It is on that that Her Majesty's Government have decided to be forthcoming and open and to have a major independent private inquiry in order to look at the procedures that might cause this sort of allegation to arise.
I want to seek out the truth, but I want to discern the difference between truth and propaganda.
§ Mr. Neave
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition will give their 1166 full support to his proposal for an independent private inquiry in this case? Will it be chaired by a judge? I suggest that it should be. When will the right hon. Gentleman be able to announce the details of the inquiry?
Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the deliberate leaking of this report in advance of publication can only help the cause of those who wish deliberately to discredit the RUC—as some of the remarks of some Labour Members do—and prejudice an impartial inquiry?
§ Mr. Fitt
In view of the solemn and binding undertaking given by the British Labour Government to the European Court of Human Rights that ill-treatment and maltreatment would no longer be carried out in interrogation centres in Northern Ireland, is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole credibility of the Government and, indeed, of the Labour and trade union movement is at stake on this issue? Is he aware that the 78 people mentioned by Amnesty International—a respectable and respected organisation—have tried to take civil action in the courts against the detectives who beat them up in Castlereagh, and that the Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland have refused to give the names of those involved? Will he also take into account the fact that this House should have an opportunity to debate the Amnesty International report, when, by a series of questions and answers, we may get to the truth of the matter?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Amnesty International report is anonymous? It mentions no names and gives no evidence whatsoever about the lawyers, doctors and other people who make the accusations. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House today that when the judicial inquiry is set up, Amnesty International can be brought to it and made to put in the open the accusations that have been made? No one knows who are the people concerned or who has given the evidence that has been supplied in their cases.
§ Mr. Mason
It happens to be a fact that Amnesty International itself has kept the allegations anonymous. I am now asking whether it is prepared to reveal its information, to ask its witnesses and complainants to break the confidentiality rule but to give the information to the DPP, by whom the confidentiality would be maintained. Flowing from the DPP's examination, Amnesty International can go to the committee of inquiry, and we can ascertain the truth of the complaints.
The answer to the question of the inquiry's being public is this: if during the course of a public inquiry there were substantiated allegations against police officers, it would be difficult to proceed in such cases, because we must consider the immunity of all those who go before a public inquiry. If we keep the inquiry private and there are allegations, whether concerning matters of police discipline or of a criminal nature, it is possible to proceed in those cases. Otherwise, it will not be possible.
§ Mr. Heffer
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Labour Benches who are totally opposed to 1168 terrorism in Northern Ireland, or anywhere else, are nevertheless very perturbed by the Amnesty International report, primarily because we have accepted the Amnesty International reports in relation to Chile, Argentina, the Soviet Union and many other countries? Therefore, we cannot feel that Amnesty International has no case.
My right hon. Friend has made a powerful case that the inquiry should not be held in public, but there is a very good case for its being public and for our making clear once and for all that we in this country do not fight terrorism by methods which are totally opposed to the whole concept of democratic Government.
§ Mr. Mason
But my hon. Friend would certainly run into the sand of not being able to pursue the truth if the inquiry were in public. First, there would be a whole series of propaganda exercises, in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland. Secondly, we should have to consider granting immunity to everyone who appeared before a public inquiry. How could we proceed thereafter?
Therefore, I am advising the House, on the best knowledge of all the information available, that we can hold the inquiry properly and honestly, and that the public will recognise that. That is why I hope that hon. Members will accept, first, that there should be an independent private inquiry into the practices and procedures in Castlereagh and elsewhere; secondly, that the DPP should be furnished with Amnesty International's evidence, so that it can be properly examined by the independent person from the judiciary in Northern Ireland; and, thirdly, that the independent Police Complaints Board, chaired by a member of the minority community in Northern Ireland, shall also be given the job of examining the pattern of complaints to see whether there are any irregularities. I shall ask the Board to publish its report as well.
§ Mr. Goodhart
As Amnesty International's charges have had wide publicity, and as the judicial inquiry will necessarily take a considerable time to make its report, what opportunity will the RUC have to answer in public the grave charges that have been made against it?