I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
There is one matter on which almost the whole House will be in agreement, and that is the painstaking, careful and thorough manner in which Sir Edmund Compton has carried out his work. It is exactly what one would expect of him. Whatever one's conclusions about the Compton Committee's Report, it is possible to agree that the depth of his investigation shows what a thick cloud of fantasy has mushroomed from a handful of incidents, however important some of them may seem to be.
Let us look at what was asked of the troops in the early morning hours of 9th August this year. They were asked to pick up some 342 people, many of whom were living in remote areas, and many of whom were believed to be armed and capable of cold-blooded murder. This operation had to be conducted in secrecy and at speed so that one suspect could not warn another and before crowds could gather to hinder or actively oppose the task in hand. In the cities and towns such hindrance or opposition was a very real possibility.
Let us remember that, rightly or wrongly, many of the soldiers involved in the operation must have believed that among the suspects they were picking up were some at least who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the murder of their comrades, of policemen and of civilians, including members of the illegal organisations of which the suspects were thought to be members. They were thought, too, to be those who had led and used civilians in acts of petrol-bombing and stoning of troops and had also used children against troops; they were thought to be involved in bombing incidents, and so on.
In the light of bow few complaints were made, I can only conclude that the Home Secretary was right yesterday when he said that the record of events reflects great credit on our security forces who carried out a difficult and dangerous operation in adverse circumstances with commendable restraint and discipline. I would echo those words.
Turning to the interrogation, I wish to refer to paragraph 6 of the Home Secretary's preface to the report which states that the I.R.A. has three main aims: first, to intimidate; secondly, to inhibit normal political activity; and, thirdly, to cause the public in Great Britain to become sickened. It must be clear that any attempt to inhibit the activities of the security forces is a useful part of that campaign. These allegations about the treatment of internees must be put, at least in part, into this context. Every allegation is a potential hindrance in bringing terrorists to book and preventing the deaths of British soldiers and innocent civilians.
I have no intention of going now into the specific allegations against individuals or their acceptance or repudiation in the report before us. I feel that we should have before us this afternoon no fewer than three documents: first, the Compton Report, which we have; secondly, all the reports of allegations which have appeared in the media and which on some occasions have been repeated; and, thirdly, an account—and a good account—of the brutality, torture and, if I may use the word, barbarism that has been perpetrated by the I.R.A. against troops and against civilians. This is the contrast which we need.
There is one vital point that must be made about the interrogations. A clear distinction must be drawn between principles which guide those who conduct interrogations and the way in which this set of interrogations was handled. Sir Edmund, as I understand, is saying that this set of interrogations was conducted in accordance with principles as laid down. I thought that what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was saying yesterday and what the Privy Council Committee is all about is as to whether these principles are correctly drawn.
I wish to spend a moment or two in dealing with the sources of these allegations. I want to ask one specific question of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which I appreciate he may not be able to answer this afternoon. Paragraph 13 of the Committee's report refers to the Association for Legal Justice, which apparently was responsible for obtaining the written statements containing the allegations purporting to be signed by the complainants. Could the Home Secretary say something about the officers of this Association and its activities and aims? I suggest that information of this kind might be very revealing, and I hope I shall receive an answer on this matter in due course.
On the circulation of the allegations, no one would be more ready than I to recognise the appalling difficulties in which the media, the Press and television, find themselves in terms of the situation in Northern Ireland today. There is hardly any statement which does not offend someone or raise a charge of bias. I have myself been arguing one with the B.B.C.
Perhaps I might give a further example of the sort of difficulties which arise. Last night on B.B.C.'s television news at 9 o'clock a reporter in Dublin, a Mr. Martin Bell, gave what he alleged was the reaction of the Government in Dublin to the Compton Report. He said that the view held there was that the report was unsatisfactory and that material, presumably the material assembled by the Association for Legal Justice, was likely to be forwarded to the European Court of Human Rights.
On a point of order. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) made a statement to the effect that on the B.B.C.'s television news at 9 o'clock Mr. Martin Bell referred to what the Dublin Government may or may not think, and went on to say: "presumably on the evidence assembled by the Association for Legal Justice", or words to that effect. I saw that programme, and that is not so.
Order. The fact that other hon. Members do not agree with it does not lead to a point of order. It leads to a point of argument in a later speech. The Chair cannot allow points of that nature.
We are discussing a very serious matter. It is a matter upon which I, for one, do not wish to raise the temperature in any way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] As I go on, it may become apparent to hon. Members that when I used the words "presumably the material assembled by the Association for Legal Justice", I did so because this was said at 9 o'clock in the evening on a day when the Compton Report itself, which is 73 pages long, was first available in this House at 4 o'clock in the afternoon—
—so that a statement of this gravity could have been put out in time for the 9 o'clock news. That seems to be an example of the instant treatment of information and opinion, and it is one of the great difficulties that we face on sensitive questions of this kind.
In setting up the Privy Councillors' Committee, the Government have recognised that there are sensitive questions which must be looked at and which have been looked at previously. I think that perhaps the media themselves might at some point consider that where they are dealing with very sensitive matters they should look at the situation with a view to seeing whether they cannot lay down some kind of procedure in this sort of situation. If they fail to do that, one must hope that the public at large will learn to exercise a more critical discrimination about what they read and hear.
To illustrate the way in which the allegations have been used, perhaps I might refer to the document published by the Anti-Internment League which was prepared for a rally on 31st October. It said:
… detainees were beaten up and generally maltreated during the first 48 hours of their imprisonment. A smaller group was systematically tortured. The British police played a major role in this.
I ask hon. Members to use their influence to see that a message goes out from this House both to the troops and to the public at large saying that this kind of statement is a malicious falsehood.
There are other allegations which include disgusting suggestions about the handling of their genitals, walking them over glass, and so on. From some of the facts that Sir Edmund has revealed, one would think that climbing a mole hill would have been portrayed as at least a forced ascent of Ben Nevis in a blizzard.
I read it last night.
I heard the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) talking about the 1 per cent. who have transgressed. The hon. Gentleman was dealing with questions of ill-treatment. Even if we accept that 1 per cent. may have transgressed in that respect, that is far divorced from brutality or torture. Let us also remember that there has always been 1 per cent. in any force, however well disciplined, who have transgressed in some minor matters. There were such incidents in Aden under the Government of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I make no point about that except that it was made on television last night in an opposite sense. There were incidents in Malaya. There were similar 1 per cents. in the R.U.C. and the "B" Specials.
Why do we not think a little more about the 99 per cent. who are libelled and slandered by loose and foul accusations which some people seem to take delight in making and which organisations like Amnesty have made, alleging, without adequate investigation, that detainees have been tortured?
Here, I pay tribute to the courage of Mr. Marreco, who has resigned from Amnesty—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) makes allegations against respectable organisations, he must give way. He has a moral duty. Custom and practice rule that he must give way if he names an organisation and that organisation's representative sits in this House.
No. It is important, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said yesterday, that we should discuss how far a democratic assembly is
… entitled to sanction the ill-treatment of those committed to the custody of soldiers or police in order o save the lives of others."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 16th November, 1971, Vol. 826, c. 218.]
This is an important and fundamental question, and it is right to discuss it. To quote The Times, which was commenting on what the right hon. Gentleman said:
… it is … no easy matter to decide … at the height of a vicious and sustained campaign of terror, at what point legitimate pressure passes into physical ill-treatment. There is no rule of thumb, and there will probably always be a disputable zone.
It is not easy. It never has been. It was not in Malaya, and it was not in Aden, when the last Government were in charge.
In this connection, it was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) expressing his horror at British standards of interrogation. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite might care to note the hon. Gentleman's views in this connection on the procedures laid down by the Labour Government in 1965 and amended in 1967.
This report, whatever else it has done, has dismissed charges—
I should expect the hon. Gentleman to be present at a debate of such importance.
This report, whatever else it has done, has dismissed charges against the security forces of brutality and torture. It has shown evidence in some cases of ill-treatment, but we must set against that such incidents as the murder of three young soldiers in a country lane, the tarring and feathering of young girls, a young girl disfigured for life, falling masonry and trapped bodies when post office buildings and the like are bombed. A schoolchild was shot by the gunmen in my constituency even this afternoon. That is the background that we also have to remember, with what the right hon. Gentleman so rightly said yesterday, against which this report was written and against which these interrogations were conducted.
The Government welcome the opportunity of this debate. It is a matter of great importance and rightly arouses great concern and interest throughout the country. It is also wise that we should debate the matter as a specific issue, apart from the general debate on the whole tragedy of Northern Ireland which I believe we shall be having in the not-very-distant future.
I certainly join my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) in welcoming the report and paying sincere tribute to the thoroughness and impartiality with which the investigation was carried out by Sir Edmund Compton and his colleagues. I cannot think of any country in the world where such a standard of thoroughness and impartiality would have been maintained.
It is fair to say to some people in other countries who criticise Britain in this Northern Ireland situation—sometimes, I think, influenced by the propaganda of the I.R.A.—ask yourselves whether, if in your country similar accusations had been made against the security authorities in a similar desperate situation, you would have had an inquiry of this kind and of this character so thoroughly carried out.
Inevitably, there have been cries of "whitewash" from some quarters. One expected that. It was inevitable and expected that some people would say that this was a whitewash operation. I do not believe that any credence will be given to that by the House of Commons. Those of us who know Sir Edmund Compton and have read his report know that this was no whitewashing operation; it was a genuine operation designed to ascertain and make clear the facts. Indeed, the reception accorded to the report by the Press this morning very much confirms that judgment.
It is a matter for regret that the men concerned, with few or practically no exceptions, were not prepared to give evidence to Sir Edmund and his colleagues. There is no doubt that this was partly due to pressure upon them, which one can well understand. But it is surely also apparent now that the stories which have been put around by others on their behalf would not have stood up to investigation if the men themselves had come before Sir Edmund and his colleagues. The effect, therefore, of their non-participation in this inquiry is that the evidence given by the security authorities has been subject to the most rigorous cross-examination, whereas the evidence given by the people who are complaining has not been examined or investigated at all but rests still on mere supposition and third-party allegation.
In examining what Sir Edmund and his colleagues say in their report, we must bear in mind that those who gave evidence on behalf of the sccurity authorities were subject to rigorous cross-examination, whereas the allegations on the other side could not be similarly examined.
I should like clarification on the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman about cross-examination. One of the major complaints against the Compton Inquiry was the terms of reference within which it was held. People were not required, as recommended by the Royal Commission on Tribunals of Inquiry, to be heard in public and to give sworn evidence, and all testimony was not required to be open to cross-examination. I should like to ask who cross-examined these people on behalf of the security forces, who cross-examined the people giving evidence, and on whose behalf did they cross-examine them.
Cross-examination of the security authorities—the police and the Army—was carried out by Sir Edmund Compton and his colleagues. I must say to the hon. Lady, knowing well, as she does, the true situation in Northern Ireland, that to expect people to give evidence in public on these matters and keep their lives thereafter is expecting a great deal. One must recognise quite clearly that those who are identified as arresting the I.R.A. and, even more, those who are identified as giving information about the I.R.A. will suffer death thereafter. That is of fundamental importance. We cannot get away from that.
There were broadly two circumstances which Sir Edmund and his colleagues investigated, and they are separate, and should be kept separate: first, the circumstances of the arrest of those who were detained on 9th August, and, secondly, the different question of the interrogations of a small number of those who were detained. I will deal with both points separately.
First, on the circumstances of the arrests on 9th August, there have been widespread stories of brutality, of beating up, and even, I think, of throwing men out of helicopters. These stories have been given wide publicity by the I.R.A.'s propaganda machine, which is very effective indeed. I will look at the point raised by my hon. Friend, but I cannot give him an answer straight away. We must recognise that wild allegations were deliberately fostered by the I.R.A. and their supporters, and in case after case of these arrests the Compton Report exposes the falsity of the claims which were made.
The fact is that, as my hon. Friend said, 342 men were arrested that morning in very difficult circumstances. There was clearly a need for absolute secrecy so that they would not know what was to happen. The men concerned were likely to resist arrest, and many of them were likely to be armed. The arrests took place often in areas where police and civilians had been murdered within a few days before, and the danger of a riot situation developing was very grave indeed. In all these circumstances, I believe that the Army's performance in arresting these 342 men was highly creditable. No force but the minimum necessary was used to achieve arrest. There is no evidence whatever of deliberate brutality on the part of any of the Army forces involved.
I am very sensitive to the pressures on everybody in the House. Every word we utter is counted, and sometimes counted against lives. I say this advisedly. The troops went into areas where they suspected arms. I am not complaining about the way they acted or the reasons why they went in. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether any non-Catholic house was entered by the troops and whether any non-Catholic suspect was picked up and sent before the Compton Inquiry?
The people who were picked up—I think that was the hon. Gentleman's phrase—were those who were believed to be concerned in the I.R.A.'s campaign of murder and terrorism. Members of the I.R.A. are not drawn from the Protestant community. It is quite wrong to suggest in any way that the British Army is other than impartial in sectarian matters. We must establish that point. The Army's job is to deal with people who are involved in an armed terrorist campaign.
Looking at the criticisms made by Sir Edmund Compton and his colleagues, really only four remain. First is the forced participation in the deception operation which involved a helicopter. I do not fully accept the criticism made by Sir Edmund Compton on this point. I do not follow it. Sir Edmund adds that in this case also there was no physical damage to the men involved. I refer now to the "obstacle course" about which the most wild stories have been circulated. In this connection Sir Edmund says that there was a complete absence of any evidence of physical injury.
I come, thirdly, to the special exercises at Ballykinler. Here, too, there was no intention to hurt anyone. The most painstaking examination of 20 individual cases revealed two injured, one wholly by accident, and another who did not receive medical treatment for a cut arm as soon as he should have received it. But these are the only detailed complaints in the report of a process of arresting 342 people.
I do not think any of us believes that the Army was guilty of brutality. What concerns us all, accepting what the right hon. Gentleman has said, is that surely history proves that once one accepts this sort of standard it is not long before excesses occur which are approved. This is the great danger. Would the right hon. Gentleman say that it does not matter whether there was brutality or not? If it were mental torture, that was wrong.
The hon. Gentleman is on a different point, to which I shall come in a moment. The arrests which the Army was detailed to make were carried out with scrupulous regard for the principle of the minimum use of force. There is no reason to criticise the Army for the way in which it carried out this extremely difficult but necessary operation on the morning of 9th August.
I come next to the second and separate point, called, I think, interrogation in depth—this is not a good phrase, but it has been used. It is shown by Sir Edmund and his colleagues that in the course of interrogation various methods were used. Placing people against the wall; the use of hooding over a period; the sound; the frugal diet—all these are methods which were used and are detailed in the report. This is the major point to which the House ought to address itself. I must stress again that there was no permanent injury of either a physical or a mental nature to any of the men concerned. This is confirmed by the evidence of the medical authorities, and the Compton Report stresses particularly the faith that the Committee had in the medical officers who gave evidence.
The purpose of the methods described is twofold. First, they are designed to ensure the security of both those who are interrogating and those being interrogated. This is a very important point. In a situation where murder is rife, the identification of individual members of the security forces, and the identification, either in interrogation or possibly even in newspapers, of people who, under interrogation, have given information, may lead to their murder. That is a fact that we must not neglect. The second purpose of these methods is to create a feeling of fatigue, a sense of isolation, which is part of the process of interrogation to obtain the information which the security forces need for the battle they are fighting.
I want to deal with this question closely. What we have to consider is whether these methods are acceptable in the circumstances in which they were used. It is a perfectly proper point to consider. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) confirmed this yesterday. It involves difficult factors of judgment and other important matters. The interrogation yielded information of great value that would not otherwise have been available, either in the volume or in the time scale required—information about individuals concerned in the I.R.A. campaign. It yielded information about the command structure of the Official and Provisional I.R.A. and about the location of their arms dumps and weapons, information without which the security forces cannot possibly defend the ordinary civilian against the campaign of terror and murder. That is my first point—that the information received has been of great and growing value because all information leads to further information.
Secondly, it is right to recall the activities of the I.R.A. I am not going to argue—no rational person would—that it can in any circumstances be said that the ends justify totally the means. [Interruption.] I wish hon. Members would listen to my argument. It is a coherent argument.
It is fair to point out that this year there have been over 800 bomb explosions in Northern Ireland. In the hospitals of Northern Ireland nearly 600 victims of violence have been treated, more than 200 of them British soldiers. Almost two-thirds of the civilian casualties were women, including young girls maimed and disfigured for life in explosions in the offices in which they were working. In another explosion a young woman lost a leg and had to have 80 stitches in her other leg. In another incident a young mother making tea at a dance lost a leg and fingers of both hands in an explosion. One of the girl victims in the Londonderry tarring and feathering has had her sight affected. There are cases of women still suffering mental effects weeks after being injured.
These are the facts. These things have been done by the I.R.A. They are being done to prosecute the I.R.A. campaign, and the Provisional I.R.A. has openly acknowledged that it has committed these acts. It says that it is sorry for the injured, for women who have been injured, who are in hospital or who have been disfigured for life, but that it is doing it to further its political campaign. [Interruption.]
I am trying to make my consecutive argument on this very important point. First, the interrogation yielded information extremely valuable in the campaign against the I.R.A. Second, the nature of the I.R.A.s campaign is one that brings about suffering to a vast number of people. Therefore, we have as a House to recognise the moral problem to which the right hon. Gentleman referred yesterday. How far is it acceptable or permissible to go, in a democracy, in the defence of innocent people against terrorism of this kind? This is a real dilemma, a moral conflict of the kind which has already arisen in the matter of capital punishment. It is more difficult in this case because it is an argument of degree. If we are talking about capital punishment it is either capital punishment or not. In this case there is a wide range of degree between, at the one extreme, asking suspects whether they will give particular information and, at the other, torturing them. Torture is not acceptable, but merely asking people if they would be good enough to help in the investigation is equally not acceptable.
We must draw a line between these two extremes. This has been done in the past. Similar methods have been used in previous campaigns against terrorists, and the principles on which the security forces, the police and the Army are operating are principles laid down in the past and confirmed by the present Administration. The Government think that the right thing now is to consider whether these principles are right, whether a line is to be drawn—and a line must be drawn—between doing nothing and doing too much, and whether it should be drawn at a different point. One must also consider whether the definition of the line and the clarity of its definition is satisfactory for those who have to operate it in practice. For these purposes we thought it right to appoint a Committee of Privy Councillors presided over by Lord Parker of Waddington which will be able to help this House with advice and guidance over deciding future action.
The principles have been closely considered in the past, but I am not sure that the methods deriving from those principles have been so closely considered. Is it now the intention of the Government that the Parker Commission should consider the methods deriving from those principles, as the cases have been raised and the practices set out in the report?
What I was trying to say is that there are two points, one of principle and, secondly, whether the principles are closely enough drawn to give adequate guidance to those who have to carry them out These are the two points that have to be examined and should be examined by the Privy Councillor's Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that in 1965 an interdepartmental committee laid down a directive for interrogation, but it was concerned exclusively with certain prohibitions. It sought to set certain limits beyond which interrogators should not go, and I believe that it was the first attempt by any British Government to set such limits. There were no such rules established before 1965. The question on which we should like the right hon. Gentleman to give us guidance is whether it would be the intention specifically to authorise certain techniques, something which has never been done in the past. I must press this point. The directive in 1965 as amended in 1967 did not discuss any techniques of investigation whatever, including the five techniques of which Sir Edmund Compton complains in his report.
The directive of 1965 as amended in 1967 remains the ruling directive. There has been no change. The methods employed in practice were the same in Aden as in Northern Ireland. On the question of whether the directive should go into something positive rather than negative, that is one of the things that should be considered by Lord Parker and his colleagues.
Those are the two main issues brought out by the Compton Report—the arrests, where any charge of brutality has been totally demolished, and the issue of interrogation where big matters still remain to be resolved, and which I hope will be seriously considered on both sides of the House because they involve issues which in any democracy are very important. Where Sir Edmund has done great service is by disposing of the calumnies that have been put out against the Armed Forces of this country and the R.U.C. It is necessary to take vigorous measures to fight a ruthless enemy, a terrorist and murderous enemy. We must recognise them for what they are. They are criminals who wish to impose their will by violence and by terror, and their methods have been condemned by virtually everyone of any responsibility in the whole of Northern Ireland and in this House. They are opposed, front to front, with the Army and the police who are trying to maintain law and order. Battle is joined. Facts are sacred, even in a time of war, but no one can be impartial as between those who kill to destroy the law and those who die to defend it.
I wish to make only one short point. I hope that my hon. Friends will not think it impertinent of me if I offer them a word of advice. I understand that some of them want to force a Division on this Motion. I hope that they will not. This is not the Front Bench speaking, this is not the Whips Office. This is a back bencher, as obscure as any but whose name is not unknown in Ireland, and whose motives are, I hope, not in question.
I could give several reasons for offering this advice, but I will mention only one because I think it may appeal more than others. There has been very efficient Whipping on the other side of the House; there has been none on this side. Some of our friends are unavoidably absent, and so the majority on the other side of the House would be very large. This would give the impression in Northern Ireland that most of us do not care, but most of us do care.
Some of us have personal reasons for caring desperately, agonisingly. A vote tonight would do no good whatever to the men in Long Kesh, in Holywood and the Crumlin Road or on the prison ship. I understand how my hon. Friends feel. I appreciate their motives. Indeed I share them, but it is not our emotions about which we must be concerned today. We are concerned about those men who have been in prison for so long without trial.
I ask my hon. Friends not to press this question to a Division. We are shortly to have a full debate on Northern Ireland when I hope we will have a massive vote. We should let this Motion be disposed of "on the nod"—with a contemptuous nod perhaps—but we should let it go without a Division.
The House will accept from the reaction of the public to this report as well as from the course of our debate so far that the main issue of concern has been what has come to be known as the interrogation in depth, and I will return to this later. It is fair to point out that this aspect is only one area in which charges were made against the conduct of the Army. This point involves only one small and specialist sector of the Army. Where the Army was widely involved was in the arrests on the night of 9th August. Many charges of brutality and cruelty were made arising out of that. I understand, and perhaps my noble Friend will confirm this later, that the Army sought and was anxious for an inquiry to clear its reputation.
The House may feel, as I do, a sense of relief on learning the full extent to which the conduct of the Army in this operation has been exonerated by the report. It was faced in the early hours of the morning of 9th August with an extremely difficult and delicate operation involving the arrest of 342 people. It cannot have been an easy task. The report says that the operation was carried out swiftly and efficiently and, as the Home Secretary has emphasised, with the minimum of force. There were some accidental injuries no doubt, and the report does not conceal this, but of deliberate violence or cruelty there was no evidence.
This conclusion will be welcomed in almost every part of the House. Whatever happens in future, it is certain that in the course of these operations there will continue to be large numbers of our troops in close contact with the civil population. More searching will have to be done, more arrests will take place, and the activities of the Army in one of the most disagreeable types of operation known to soldiers deserve the support of this House. We can all admire the discipline and rsetraint it has shown and will show.
I come to the operation which has become known as the interrogation in depth. It is misleading in discussing this operation to talk about "the Army" or "the Forces" as though there was any very wide involvement of large numbers of troops in this exercise. This was a specialist operation, conducted by a small number of highly trained men. Whether the interrogators were members of the Army I do not know, and I make no point about that. The operation was carried out within the ambit of the Army but it was a highly important and highly specialised kind of operation.
Those who were responsible for it acted under rules of procedure which were known to and approved by hon. Gentlemen opposite during their term of Government. Again, I make no particular point of that, except to say that, clearly, such rules have to exist, and that it was appropriate, when they were questioned in 1965 and 1967, that they should be studied and, where necessary modified.
I should like to get this clearly on the record. The 1965 directive was not concerned with techniques which should be used in interrogations. It was concerned, for the first time ever so far as any British Government were concerned, to establish certain limits beyond which interrogators should not go. It neither permitted nor forbade the five techniques of which Sir Edmund complains in his report.
I accept that from the right hon. Gentleman, who knows the position. The fact remains that it is summarised in the report before us, and it constituted a set of rules. It does not appear to me, on reading the report, that those responsible for this operation ever went beyond the spirit of the rules. It is a good thing that the account of what happened, given by Sir Edmund Compton, should have been published in full. We now know exactly what happened, and what was done. The report finds that there was no brutality, but it also finds that the methods used did involve some physical ill-treatment. The question is whether that was justified. On that the report does not comment, and it does not comment because it did not fall within the province of Sir Edmund Compton to give an opinion of that kind. It was not his responsibility to do so.
That is, I think, our responsibility, here in this House, and we should be prepared to face this question and to meet it. We should be prepared to take it off the Army's shoulders now that it has got to this stage, and this is the only point on which I disagree with the short intervention of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), because if there is a vote—I do not know whether there will be one, and I do not mind—we shall at any rate be assuming responsibility, one way or another, in the way in which, in the long run, it is right that the House of Commons should do.
It is pretty clear from the report what it is that these practices do to people, and what it is they are intended to do. They induce extreme fatigue, and a feeling of loneliness and isolation—in psychological jargon, they induce disorientation—and in the end people talk and give information. We all know—and my right hon. Friend emphasised this today—how vital this information is. It is vital to the operations of the security forces. It has to be acquired extremely quickly so that it may be used while it is fresh, and while its value is still live. It saves lives, and it protects society against the consequences of violence.
But, even given all that, and nobody in the House disputes it, the question is: are we prepared to authorise the doing of these things to human beings, however evil we know those human beings to be? We have to make up our minds on that. Yesterday I asked my right hon. Friend whether he could confirm that those who were subjected to these procedures were not now in any way suffering impairment, either in body or in mind, and he replied "Yes, certainly", and he repeated that in his speech this afternoon. For me, this is really the crucial point. If there were evidence that the bodies of captives had suffered damage, or that their minds had been deranged, or that their personalities had been permanently destroyed, that would be something which I should find it diffi- cult to condone in any circumstances. But there is no evidence whatever that that has happened.
There is, however, evidence—and evidence in abundance—of the consequences of the activities of these men and their fellows in the form of the toll of mounting casualties, both civilian and military, a toll which would be higher if what they were induced to reveal had not become known to the security forces. I agree with my right hon. Friend and others who have said that this is a very difficult equation which the House has to resolve; namely, the limits to which methods of this kind ought to go. I do not think that it is an equation which can be solved wholly on moral grounds, or by any other than practical men who are prepared to assume responsibility for their decisions.
I believe that the maintenance of public safety requires the upholding of the principles on which these interrogations were conducted. I believe that they may be necessary—modified or not by what the Privy Councillors have to say—as an indispensable adjunct of our security operations in the future.
I hope that the House will bear with me for a few moments if I begin by making two points very clear about my attitude to the Ireland situation and the Army's rôle in it.
The first is almost a declaration of emotional interest. Under the direction of the then Home Secretary, I was responsible for sending troops to the aid of the civil power in Belfast and Derry. From both sides of the House I have defended that decision as essential to preserve property and, more important, to preserve life in Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that that decision was right, and continues to be right.
Equally, I have said from both sides of the House that it was my belief that the Army would conduct itself in such a way that the House would be proud of the attitude and performance of the overwhelming majority of the soldiers in Northern Ireland, and I am proud to repeat today. I am sure that is the case and the essential truth of the Army's rôle in Northern Ireland.
My second point is, in a sense, contrary to that. There is developing an unfortunate tendency on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to respond to any criticism of the Government's policy in Northern Ireland with the suggestion that critics of it are the Army's enemies and friends of the gunmen. I insist that there is no one in the House who is more anxious than I am to see the suppression of terrorism in Northern Ireland. But I have to say, in criticism of the Government's policy—accepting, as I suspect the Government would that the Compton Report is not about the gunmen—that gunmen are not being suppressed as adequately as would be the case were the Government to fulfil their obligations more rationally.
Having said that, I turn to what the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Defence said on television yesterday about the Compton Report. He said that it was a general vindication of the Army. Of course it is. Nobody is surprised at that, least of all anyone who knows the Army. Nobody, not even the wildest and most intemperate critics, would suppose for a moment that any report on the Army's conduct in Northern Ireland would suggest that its general performance had been remotely deplorable. That is not what the report is about. It is not about the Army's general conduct but about a number of specific issues, and, frankly, the Home Secretary did not begin to deal with any of those specific issues.
I do not believe that we do the cause of peace in Northern Ireland or, for that matter, the cause of the Army's honour and good name, any good by pretending that the report does not bring to our attention a number of specific issues which are a legitimate cause for disquiet. I do not propose to labour the point this afternoon, or to weary the House by listing them. I propose only to give three examples of what I mean.
The first concerns the rescinding of the instruction of the Girdwood Barracks that every internee should be subject to medical examination on his arrival. That does not seem to me to be consistent with the best traditions of the British Army and is a matter for regret. That appears in paragraph 339 of the report.
The second is what has come to be called the helicopter incident, which appears in paragraph 119 of the report.
The third—I choose only one of the many examples of personal complaints, the case of Mr. Edward Eamon Campbell—is the most squalid and most pathetic of all the personal cases outlined in the report. What happened to Mr. Campbell does not seem to me to be something which we as general supporters of the integrity and honour of the Army can pretend did not exist and should not be subject to further examination.
I believe that it is deeply in the Army's own interests that in these specific instances more inquiries should be made and that the matter should be pursued a good deal further—perhaps pursued privately, perhaps pursued according to the regulations and rules that the Army has for governing these matters. I hope therefore—again, I stress, in the interests of the Army's own good name—that when the Minister of State replies he will say that these matters which are certainly subject to criticism in the report and those matters which are subject, quite properly, to concern in the House, will be inquired iuto further by the Army and that the Army will decide what it is best to do in the light of Compton's findings.
I say that it is in the interests of the Army itself and in the interests of peace in Northern Ireland for two reasons. First, when troops went into Belfast and Derry in the summer of 1969 the then Home Secretary and all those associated with the policy believed that they were going—
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman for more than a moment. He has referred to the case of Mr. Edward Eamon Campbell. The conclusions are these, in paragraph 208 of the report:
We are clear that Mr. Campbell suffered no ill-treatment, still less brutality. He was not shaved to punish or degrade him. On the contrary, the treatment was given him for his benefit and in accordance with the prescription professionally given at the time by not one but two medical officers for a condition which they independently diagnosed.
The Minister of State asked me to pursue the point. I do so with reluctance, but if he asks me I must. The report says that a corporal of the Royal Corps of Military Police shaved this man at the moment of his detention for medical reasons. That is a conclusion which will be greeted with some scepticism by people who have served in and know the Army. I should not have made that point had not the Minister of State asked me to pursue it. However, I confirm that that is my judgment and I believe that most people with military experience will be sceptical of the conclusion.
Then the Minister of State must make his stand one way or the other. I hope that as a corollary of his statement that he does not intend to pursue those matters about which Compton was not sceptical, he will say that he intends to pursue those matters about which the Compton Committee was specifically critical. What the Minister of State certainly cannot do is to say in the House that there is no cause for concern in the House because Compton says that it was all right and then say, as I fear that he will, that, even when Compton says that something is not all right, he will not pursue the matter. The Minister of State must make up his mind one way or the other.
Having dealt with that specific issue, I want to pursue the central issue of what the Compton Report reveals. This relates to the relationship between the Army and the civil population in Northern Ireland. Those of us who were concerned with the Army's presence in Northern Ireland originally in 1969 believed that the Army was going there basically—perhaps the description is grandiloquent, but we believed it—to help preserve the civilised values in Northern Ireland.
It is not possible to preserve the civilised values unless the preservers of those values are themselves free from criticism. It is essential that the Army is demonstrably on the side of law and order. Where there are issues which still have to be determined, where there are questions which still have to be answered, I do not believe that the Army can achieve the right relationship with the civil population, unless it is made clear that those areas of its conduct which are the subject of criticism by the Compton Report are to be investigated by the Army in its own way and that the Army's own procedures of discipline, should they prove to be appropriate, are to be followed.
The second reason why I think that the Army must pursue these matters further than they have been pursued up to now is that, if the Army is to succeed in its suppression of terrorism, it must secure once more the confidence of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. Some hon. Members opposite will say that the confidence is still there and that it is only people like me who erode that confidence by repeating the complaints which come from Northern Ireland. I believe that that attitude is essentially one of hiding one's head in the sand. There is no doubt that the Army's esteem amongst the minority population in Northern Ireland is not what it was two years ago. Indeed, it is not what it was one year ago.
I personally deplore that. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) that the crucial change in the attitude of the civilian population towards the Army occurred at the time of internment. That tragic decision—wrong in principle and wrong in practice—is perhaps too late to reverse.
However, it is not too late for the Government to make it clear that they are anxious to establish in the Catholic ghettos of Derry and Belfast that the Army is still basically on the side of the majority of the Catholic population who are on the side of law and order. To do that, I believe that the Army must be rigorous in its pursuit of those who according to the Compton Report are subject to criticism.
Surely the point is that the Army is in full support of all the people—of all the Catholics who are in support of law and order as well as of the Protestants? It is only those who are deliberately against law and order that the Army is there to control. The hon. Gentleman himself was responsible for sending people there to carry out those duties.
Let me try to explain to the hon. Gentleman exactly what I am seeking to say. It is possible—indeed, on a previous occasion in the House I felt it my duty to say so—that the Army is now behaving in a way which is more directed by Stormont than it was on previous occasions. I personally deplore that. Whether the control is that of Stormont or that of Westminster and whether the Army's control is politically biased is not essential to my point. My point is not one of debate but of fact. It is that a growing number of Catholics are losing the faith they once had in the Army's objectivity. Whether that loss of faith is justified is hardly the question. The question is that the faith must be restored. My contention is that it will not be restored if incidents like those reported in the Compton Report are left to go unchallenged or are swept under the carpet.
I believe that there is another essential question to be answered if the Compton Report is not to cause an enormous degree of disquiet in the Catholic ghettos of Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence has made very clear what I, and I suspect he, have checked to be the status of the criteria concerning interrogation, to which the Compton Report refers. Those are the limits to which interrogation—this is as regarded by this Government and their predecessors—should go. These are parameters.
The question therefore arises: who actually took the decision that this form of interrogation was appropriate in these cases? For, after all, this interrogation was carried out on men who had not been charged in any court of law. Indeed, it was carried out on a number of men who within half-a-dozen days were released because there was no evidence against them. We are entitled to ask whether Ministers at Westminster knew that it was happening, whether they knew the details of what was happening, and whether they gave their specific approval to what was happening.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again. I find his argument very hard indeed to understand. The methods of interrogation have been used for many years. They were used specifically at the time of Aden and they were used in Malaysia and in Borneo. Is the hon. Gentleman honestly saying that in his belief the Minister at the time did not know the methods which were being used by their Department? I find this very hard to accept.
It is clear that the Minister of State has not followed me. I will put it in more simple language. The rules concerning interrogation do not say that all detainees held by the Army should be interrogated in this way. They say that this is the limit to which interrogation should go. What I want to know is whether the Army went to that limit without Ministerial approval or whether the Army went to that limit with the approval of, or indeed on the express instruction of, Ministers.
I go a great deal further. Were I holding the job which I once held and which the noble Lord now holds, I could not possibly have approved of that sort of interrogation in circumstances such as these. I repeat that all these men were not subject to any charge at law and many of them were subsequently proved to be innocent and were released.
I want the Minister of State to tell me whether it was his decision or whether it was taken in default of his knowledge.
I can only reply that I greatly doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends or I will regard that as an adequate answer to my question if the noble Lord has no more to say when he replies. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have a deepening suspicion that these crucial decisions in Northern Ireland, crucial in terms of civil liberties and crucial in terms of the preservation of peace, for which we all strive, are increasingly being taken in Belfast rather than in London, and that the decisions about this sort of interrogation were taken not by the Home Secretary here or by the Secretary of State for Defence but by the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland, Mr. Faulkner. For my part, I can only regard it as totally unacceptable that the British Army should be operating in this way on his instructions and according to his criteria.
Now, two points about the nature and quality of the report. It has been described by a number of biased and prejudiced people as "a whitewash job". I do not regard it as a whitewash job. In my view, the report is a remarkable document. It is a tribute to the integrity and dedication of Sir Edmund Compton; but, because of that integrity and dedication, the report has many inadequacies, inadequacies which, were it a whitewash job, would not have been revealed.
Some of those inadequacies are the direct result of the internees' refusal to participate in the inquiry, a refusal which I, like my hon. Friends, very much regret. I wish that they had given evidence. But the issue is not whether the blame for the inadequacies of the inquiry should be put at their door or the door of others. The issue is that the inquiry leaves many questions open, and we should be wrong were we not to repeat those open questions here today.
For example, paragraph 181 concludes:
We are unable to resolve the conflict
—that is, the conflict of evidence. In paragraph 190, again, the Compton Committee says that it is unable to make a finding. In paragraph after paragraph, there are questions left open in this way which are bound to cause disquiet unless the matter is pursued.
There is a second inadequacy in the report about which the Minister of State should comment. I regard the definition of brutality as opposed to physical ill treatment as, frankly, nonsensical. It is nonsensical because the report's definition of brutality is almost entirely concerned with the intentions in the mind of the people who were carrying out the interrogation, and intention is not something which is susceptible to the normal rules of evidence. What they actually did, on the other hand, is.
I feel, therefore, that many of the conclusions in the report fall because of the peculiar semantic division according not to what the men did but to the feelings which they held when doing it. In many ways, this is a matter of great regret. It must be a matter of supreme concern to all who believe that the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland can be won only if we stand up for democracy and the rule of law and liberty, and only if we ourselves fearlessly and constantly espouse the cause of democracy, the rule of law and liberty.
Those of us who believe, as the noble Lord does, I know—I am sure that he will reiterate it when he replies—in the absolute obligation on all of us to do nothing which can encourage the gunman or depress the Army have an obligation to say today that we want the Army's good name to be cleared. I want the overwhelmingly honourable position of the Army to be established, and I want those one or two occasions when the Compton Report recognises that there was a fall from grace to be pursued. I want that done not because we want the Army to suffer but because we want the Army to prosper in the pursuit of peace and liberty in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate because—if for no other reason—I have a garrison in the constituency which I am privileged to represent, and many of those who have served or are serving in Ulster have Colchester as their more permanent place of posting.
On three occasions since the latest troubles came upon Ulster, I have visited the Province, and after each visit my admiration for the courage, fortitude and forbearance of our men has been made the more profound. I do not believe that any other Army in the world would have shown the discipline and self-restraint which our men have displayed.
My reading of the report, as deep and detailed as time has so far permitted, in no way diminishes the great admiration which I have for our forces and for the R.U.C. as well. Indeed, a reading of the report enhances the high regard which I have for the work they have done and are doing.
The very fact that the inquiry was set up demonstrates the sort of Army we have, that is, an Army which prides itself on its good name and its reputation for humanity as much as it prides itself on its reputation for courage.
Allegations of brutality are all too easy to make, and it is often difficult for them to be refuted. That they have been refuted will come as no surprise to those who know our soldiers. No other Army in the world, at a time when allegations of brutality were made in the course of a bitter struggle against its adversaries—brutal and unscrupulous adversaries let it be said—would have asked that there should be an investigation of such allegations by independent civilians. It is a high tribute to the Army that it requested that the investigation be made.
The allegations have been investigated, and the Army's good name has been totally vindicated. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that there is any substantial residual complaint standing against the Army. I am surprised that he calls in aid a complaint concerning a Mr. Campbell. The conclusion of the relevant paragraph, as my noble Friend the Minister of State pointed out, firmly arrived at, is:
We are clear that Mr. Campbell suffered no ill-treament, still less brutality. He was not shaved to punish or degrade him. On the contrary, the treatment was given him for his benefit and in accordance with the prescription professionally given at the time by not one but two medical officers for a condition which they independently diagnosed.
Faced with a finding like that, how can the hon. Gentleman, a former Service Minister, say that there is something further which should be investigated? I do not understand it.
The hon. Gentleman is enjoying some support from his hon. Friends. If it is thought that it is shameful—that was one of the words used—that I should disagree with one of the conclusions in the report which exonerated the treatment, does the hon. Gentleman agree that those parts of the report which are specifically critical of the Army's conduct should equally be subject to no criticism?
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say what he wishes in the House, but he must live with his conscience, and I wonder whether his contributions here will help the morale of our Armed Forces. He has chosen to take issue with the Compton Report on one of the matters on which it came to a clear conclusion accepting the opinion which not one but two doctors had given. I can only express surprise—I am putting it mildly, I hope—that the hon. Gentleman, a former Service Minister, should have chosen some such paragraph in order, it seems to me, to raise a case against the Army's conduct. I am surprised, and a little disappointed.
What the hon. Gentleman has said is an indication of what critics of the Army are reduced to. In the context of what we all know is happening in Northern Ireland today, they are reduced to criticism about a man being shaved, or something like that. We were well reminded today by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) of the circumstances on 9th August. The Army was charged with bringing into custody no fewer than 342 men, the large majority of whom I believe to be dedicated terrorists. They seem to pride themselves on their membership of the Irish Republican Army. At Long Kesh, when I went there, they were paraded. Is it suggested that they were paraded by any other than one of the branches of the Irish Republican Army? The men being brought into custody, in my opinion, were—or the vast majority were—brutal men, men trained to kill, and men dedicated to attain their own political ends by assassination and the wanton destruction of property. We were reminded today of the casualty list, of those who are in hospital because of their brutality.
I regard it as nothing short of fantastic that so many men of that calibre should have been brought in without one of them being significantly ill-treated We are considering black eyes and things like that. It is fantastic that under those circumstances there was so little—
The hon. Gentleman and I visited Long Kesh internment camp. Is he trying to tell the House that every single human being there was, as he described, an I.R.A. terrorist? Is he also trying to say that none of the physical ill-treatment found by the Compton Committee was visited upon people who were not in fact in the I.R.A.?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I believe that a person should be judged on his own standards. It ill befits the hon. Gentleman to slander people against whom no charges have been brought, people held in a camp whom the hon. Gentleman has called dedicated killers. He does not know that of people against whom no charges have been brought.
I am not against the official I.R.A., its objectives or activities. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is not talking about the dedicated killing or organised brutalities carried out by people in the British Army, and I am not talking about people going to excesses but the brutalities carried out by order of people on the Government Front Bench.
I will express quietly my great disappointment that the hon. Lady should not have condemned the activities of the I.R.A. but should have confirmed on the Floor of the House her support for one of the branches of that organisation. I will not rub it in, but I find it bitterly disappointing, though perhaps not surprising.
I stated quite clearly my views about the men who are interned. It is true that I cannot prove them, because those who would otherwise give evidence are terrified to do so because of the pressures put upon them by the organisations which the hon. Lady has now expressed herself as supporting. That is why it is not possible to prove them in a court of law, and the hon. Lady knows that very well.
I am talking not about the internees in Long Kesh but about the people who might give evidence against them. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman, as a lawyer, knows full well the difficulty of bringing cases against them. It is the difficulty of getting people to give evidence, because of their fear that if they do give evidence against the men in Long Kesh, the ones who are the most brutal there, they will be killed or maimed. I think that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that proposition. I do not think that many of the internees were terrorised, because I think that they were birds of a feather, in the main working in co-ordination. What other explanation can there be for what the hon. Gentleman and I saw, namely, a substantial number of internees in Long Kesh parading and each carrying a letter spelling out "British concentration camp" or some such under the discipline of people who were behaving like N.C.O.s? We know very well that they are members of the I.R.A., and some of them appear to be proud of it, just as the hon. Lady seems to be proud of her support of one wing of that organisation, though it comes as a shock to hear that expressed in this House.
The second part of the Compton Report deals with matters relating to the system of interrogation in depth. This applies only to a very small number of those who were brought into custody on the occasion concerned.
It is right that there should have been an investigation of this type, but it would have been better if the report had been not to the House or the public but, say, to an all-party Committee of Privy Councillors, because now the methods of interrogation used by the British Forces have been fully displayed. I cannot think that that is a very healthy thing. It creates difficulties for those who are fighting the brutal people in Northern Ireland today. I have no doubt that if the report had been to a Committee of Privy Councillors from both sides there would have been, similarly, the establishment of the Parker Commission to give further guidance in the very difficult matter of where the line should be drawn between proper, robust interrogation and ill-treatment. It is right that our Forces should be given additional assistance on that matter.
Is my hon. Friend aware that all the techniques of interrogation mentioned in the Compton Report have been used over a number of years not merely in emergencies such as Malaysia, Aden and so on but in training exercises by British military interrogators on British troops?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that interesting intervention. It seems to me that the point is that there is no evidence that they were harmed.
I commend the way in which the Press and news media as a whole have reported on the report, but there have been some exceptions. I should like to record my disappointment that at the start of the "24 Hours" programme in which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and I took part last night there was shown a televised film of interviews with men who, it appeared to me, as we watched on a monitor screen in the studio, where in some cases making allegations of the type which had been found by Compton to have no foundation. That was another disappointment to me, but not a particular surprise.
We want fair reporting of matters in Northern Ireland, but if there is to be partiality it should show a preference for those who are supporting law and order rather than those carrying on this disreputable war of terrorism and bloodshed. All that we can do now is to show our pride in and satisfaction at the conduct of those who are bearing the brunt of the situation in Northern Ireland, people from all communities and all classes of the community, of all political persuasions and all religions. We should express our satisfaction at the fortitude being shown by so many of them, and ask now that Lord Parker and the two people who will work with him should deal expeditiously with the difficult matters referred to them, so that the Forces can have clear guidance as to their future conduct of the matters in question.
I have promised to be brief and I intend to keep my word.
I must at the outset comment on some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) who cast doubts on an organisation known as the Association for Legal Justice. He asked the Home Secretary to give information about this body.
I can tell him that the highly respected members of this organisation include, from Dungannon, Father Faul, who has done the useful job of collecting much of the material that has appeared in the Sunday Times and other publications. He is only one of the main people concerned with this organisation.
The hon. Member for Londonderry called in aid the fact that the methods of interrogation being used in Northern Ireland were similar to those practised by the Army in Malaysia, Aden and elsewhere. He did not—nor did any hon. Gentleman opposite—mention the rôle of the Army in Cyprus, where 34 cases of brutality out of 37 were proved at Strasbourg.
The Home Secretary has already annoyed good Unionists in Londonderry by referring to his hon. Friend as the representative of "Derry" when he should have used the word "Londonderry". He has said that the reason why the inquiry was not held in public was the fear of witnesses being intimidated. The same excuse has been used about internment.
If that is the reason, may we be told why at this time in practically every court in Northern Ireland people who are supposed to be members of the I.R.A. are being prosecuted on arms charges? What will happen to the witnesses in those cases? To my knowledge no witness in any of those cases has been shot. I trust that I have demolished once and for all the nonsense that is talked about witnesses being intimidated.
There was a former Home Secretary who became notorious in respect of Ireland. His name was Hamar Greenwood, and he gave his name to a description of something; I need not go into that. The present Home Secretary is in danger of lending another name to the English language by his continuous defence of the British Army. He is trying to persuade this House that we are not dealing with an Army trained to fight and kill but with a bunch of angels sent from heaven.
I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Srarkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) described as biased and misguided those who call the Compton Corn-mission a whitewashing operation. I regard it as a whitewashing operation from start to finish, and I can prove it.
Brian Faulkner conned, or persuaded by some means or other, the British Government into perpetrating the awful crime of internment against the minority in Northern Ireland. There was an outcry throughout the world and England was disgraced in world opinion—[Interruption.]—but the Government were not worried. "The forces of tyranny will win through. We will send one Minister to America and one somewhere else, and some more elsewhere if necessary to explain British policy. The faithful will rally if we make enough misleading statements often enough". [Interruption.] As Goebbels once said, "If you tell a lie often enough, the British public will be convinced."
But stories of brutality began to filter through and there was an even greater outcry. The British Government realised that they were in a serious position over world opinion. They had to do something. It was difficult for them to admit everything, but something had to be done. Then somebody in the Government had a bright idea. I do not accuse the Home Secretary because I do not think he has had one for a long time. Nor do I accuse the Prime Minister because it is commonly held that he has never had such a thing. Nevertheless, a Minister somewhere had the bright idea of holding an inquiry.
The idea came out in this way: "Let us get a civil servant with a reputation for fairness and instruct him to bring in a report which will be favourable to the Government." [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say that that is an exaggeration—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and for once they agree with me about something, but let us examine exactly what happened. The Compton Commission was set up, but it broke all the rules laid down by the Royal Commission headed by Lord Justice Salmon. For example, it was held in private, it was not given authority to summon witnesses and internees were not given legal aid or advice.
The Government leaned heavily on the reputation of Sir Edmund Compton. One is bound to say, therefore, that his reputation must arise in our consideration of this matter. He should not have been put in this position, but he was, and his reputation thereby arises. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] The Government have forced people to reflect on his reputation, so let us do that.
The first thing to be remembered is that Sir Edmund Compton is a paid civil servant, so that his first loyalty is to his employer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgusting."] That is so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Sir Edmund rightly gained an enormous reputation as an ombudsman. Everybody grants him that. But this was not just another job for an ombudsman. This was an entirely different business. His reports and deliberations were likely to have serious repercussions for Britain's good name in the world and in Anglo-Irish relations. He was a civil servant given responsibility for a major political development which might have serious lasting effects on Anglo-Irish relations.
Although his hands were tied, although he talked to only one internee, although he had no power to summon witnesses—and as a result had to depend entirely on what witnesses the police and Army decided to send him—and although there was no confrontation between accuser and accused, his report reveals that all the allegations have been founded on fact. [Interruption.] Of the five groups of accusations, three have been upheld and two have been left open.
Allegations about hooding and starvation, about the helicopter incident and about standing people against the wall for hours on end have been upheld. So have those about the obstacle course, except that instead of broken glass the material used might have been broken stones or something similar. There has been an attempt to explain away what cannot be denied. Semantics have been brought in. The nicer word "ill-treatment" has been substituted for "brutality", but nobody is foooled.
A man who has a hood placed over his head is suffering, no matter whether the man who placed it there did it as a matter of course or enjoyed doing it. A man who is made to stand against a wall for 43½ hours over six or seven days suffers whether or not the man making him do it is enjoying the exercise or does it as a matter of course. The same applies to a man who is terrified in a helicopter or a man who is subjected to incessant noise. What about the man whose testicles are systematically squeezed? In relation to any or all of these allegations, people suffer whether or not those perpetrating the torture enjoy doing it. It amounts to brutality and, call it what one likes from now till doomsday, it is brutality.
Let us come to the question why the internees did not co-operate and why only one approached Sir Edmund Compton. Would any hon. Member, even on the benches opposite, go to a tribunal in the certain knowledge that one cannot have a solicitor or cross-examine the person who has been ill-treating one?
Would any hon. Gentleman opposite stand before Sir Edmund, make a statement or allegation and then turn and walk back to one's prison ship or internment camp? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think so, but I do not believe that they would be prepared to take part in a game when, for example, the opposition were already in 90 per cent. possession of the field, when one could not challenge any members of the opposing team and when the referee had been appointed without prior consent. Only mad people would take part in such a game, and the internees are not mad. They are intelligent men.
Attempts have been made to justify the methods. Some Government Ministers will go to any lengths to justify them, as the Secretary of State for Defence did last night on television. He said in reply to a question that those who received the special tough treatment, which narrows the number down to a relatively few people, were directly or indirectly responsible for murder. He was accusing a relatively small group of men of murder. That is an outrageous allegation for anybody to make, and the Secretary of State should be removed from office forthwith.
While the hon. Gentleman is addressing the House on methods of brutality, will he take the opportunity to make his own position absolutely clear? Does he totally reject the methods of murdering innocent women, children and other civilians which have been pursued in Ulster in recent months?
In all my public life I have been non-violent, and I advocate non-violence. However, I will say this for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman—it will probably prove to be unpopular, but it needs to be said. For hundreds of years Irishmen have been described in this House as terrorists, but they have been regarded as freedom fighters by the majority of the minority population in Northern Ireland. They are not terrorists in the eyes of the majority of the minority; they are freedom fighters fighting against a brutal invading army. That is the position, whether the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) likes it or not, and I challenge any hon. Member opposite to disprove it.
I apologise for having been side-tracked from discussing the Compton Report, but I wished to answer certain questions. The violence in Northern Ireland flows, as I hope to show, not from the I.R.A. but directly from British Government policy in Northern Ireland over 50 years. It flows from the establishment of an unnatural entity, an unnatural creation in part of Ireland against the wishes of the people of Ireland. That unnatural entity—call it Stormont in Northern Ireland—was born out of force. It has been maintained by force. It has been maintained by every conceivable form of oppression, intimidation and discrimination.
Do right hon. and hon. Members opposite still throw their hands piously to Heaven and wonder why there is violence in Northern Ireland? The miracle is that, after 50 years of domination, suppression and intimidation, there is not much more terror in Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook said, the British Army came to Northern Ireland two years ago. It was accepted initially as a peacemaker, but as everybody in Northern Ireland well knows it is not fulfilling a peacekeeping rôle. It is being used as the instrument of the Stormont Government and consequently it has lost the faith of the entire community.
I have given way several times.
I was speaking about the Secretary of State for Defence when I was interrupted. This man has made allegations of murder against men who cannot even raise a voice in their defence. They cannot even say, "I am not guilty of that allegation", because they are held in a cage without trial. There is a legal riposte and we intend to pursue it.
If the Government wish to retain any semblance of honour in the eyes of Irishmen and of the world, they will continue where the Compton Inquiry so inadequately left off. They will establish a proper inquiry manned by people of international repute who are bound to be impartial which will not only investigate the selected area which Sir Edmund Compton was forced to inquire into but inquire into all the allegations of physical and mental brutality and torture made since internment was introduced. If the Government do not do this, Amnesty International will probably do it. The Dublin Government will shortly wake from their lethargy and bring a case at Strasbourg.
Either or both of those inquiries will undoubtedly prove serious charges of brutality against the British Army. When that happens, the Government will look about for scapegoats, as the Americans did in the My Lai case. But it is not right and fair that ordinary soldiers, no matter how brutal they may have been, should be made responsible for the greater sins of those who gave them their orders. The Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister of State are the people with ultimate responsibility, and they should bear the brunt of that responsibility.
If the British Government have the honour and courage to set up an inquiry, that inquiry should also inquire into the fact that since July, 1970, 27 civilians have been shot by the British Army. A great many people in Northern Ireland—the majority of the minority—believe that these people were innocent.
I cannot give way. I did not intend to speak so long.
If right hon. and hon. Members say that those people were not innocent and that they were armed, I refer them to yesterday's findings at Strabane at an inquest on the deaf mute, Davitt. The inquest held that the Army believed that he was armed but that the young man was unarmed and was shot down. That is one reason why the minority in Northern Ireland have lost confidence completely. The one-time confidence has been replaced by a bitter hatred, because, among other things, since July, 1970, which is when the British Government took office, 27 civilians have been shot by the British Army and no inquiry, outside the usual official inquiry, has been held.
No. I propose to finish now by commenting on another tribunal which is sitting at this moment, the Brown Tribunal, which, like the Compton Inquiry, is inquiring into the question of the internees and their conditions. I will shortly be in a position to give the Home Secretary evidence of the fact that at least 20 men have signed statements to the effect that Mr. Justice Brown asked them questions about everything under the sun except their political affiliations and notions and then sent them back, saying, "We have to keep you."
That is the sort of face-saving farce that is discrediting the British Government and the British Army and everyone connected with them in Northern Ireland. Inquiries into specific allegations are necessary but they in themselves do not prove or solve anything. An inquiry must be undertaken without delay by the British Government into their whole policy on Northern Ireland.
If that policy is carried out with any degree of intelligence, it must force the Government to three or four brief conclusions: first, that the partition experiment has failed; secondly, that Stormont, after 50 years of intimidation, repression and discrimination, has made the condition of Northern Ireland, not better, but unspeakably worse; thirdly, that the Stormont Government are now discrediting the British Army by using it as their own instrument of repression; and, finally, that, since the present system has failed so miserably, there is no hope in its continuance and that if the Government wish to exonerate the British Army and themselves over Irish affairs they should seriously consider ways and means by which they can withdraw both their Army and their presence from Ireland so that all Irishmen can live together in peace and prosperity.
I hesitate to intervene on the subject of Northern Ireland. I have never spoken on it in this House before. I do so now with great diffidence. Many hon. Members, I suspect, have had a somewhat rushed job in reading the Compton Committee's Report in time for this debate. I have had a very rushed job to read it. In fact, I was unable to read it yesterday because of pressure of work in this House and outside it, and did not get to the report until between 5 and 7 o'clock this morning.
However, I think any of us would wonder, having heard the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus), whether the report had ever been made, or at least whether he had read it. The allegations which he has trotted out in his speech make one wonder whether he has even bothered to read the report. He says it is a whitewash exercise. Of course, he has done what some hon. Members are apt from time to time to do in this place—I have done it myself: rush to a false premise and then argue logically forward from that, so that the further one argues the bigger sillinesses one utters.
I cannot give way at the moment. I am going to give way in due course, but I have nothing like finished with the hon. Member yet.
At least in the last words of his speech the hon. Member has expressed the hope that there would be peace in Northern Ireland, but I wonder very much whether, if he studies his own speech later, he will think that his speech contributed much to that end. It was full of inaccuracies. He suggested, I think, that no referee, no legal representation, was allowed to some of these witnesses, but in paragraph 18 of his report Sir Edmund Compton says:
In accordance with the modification in our procedure made by the Home Secretary on the 3rd September, legal representation of the witnesses before us was permitted.
I do not want to go into the minutiæ of this report or of individual cases, but I do bitterly resent—and it is this for which I criticise the hon. Member most—his foul calumnies against Sir Edmund Compton. We who in this House had the privilege of taking up cases with him when he was the Parliamentary Commissioner over here know the immense, dedicated work he did on behalf of our individual constituents when they or we suspected that they were being unfairly treated. To suggest that this man could lend himself to the sort of exercises of which the hon. Member accused him is absolutely outrageous.
Before the hon. Member bursts a blood vessel, I think I had better reply to some of his ugly misinterpretations of what I said. He said that I made outrageous accusations against Sir Edmund Compton. I did nothing of the sort. I said the ombudsman gained an enormous reputation, but I said, as the hon. Member would have heard if he had listened, that findings against a particular Ministry are one thing and findings as between countries are a completely different thing. I did not say Sir Edmund Compton's rôle was that of a politician. There were one or two other things the hon. Member said. He praised the last part of my speech when I said I hoped there would be peace in Northern Ireland. I would reply simply to him that if he spent less time praising the Army and more time examining the real issues in Northern Ireland the sooner and the closer we would get to peace.
I think that some of us assume from time to time that some Irish memories are rather too long. If I may say so, the hon. Member's memory has been too short about this. If he will look up what he said about Sir Edmund Compton he will see that I was correct in saying that he imputed to Sir Edmund Compton the sorts of things which Sir Edmund Compton was inquiring into and about which the hon. Member complains. It was a monstrous thing for the hon. Member to say. May I leave the hon. Member. I am rather tired of him.
Those of us who have served in the Army as regular soldiers or as wartime ones or as conscript soldiers after the war know that the sorts of things which have been bandied about about British troops in Northern Ireland simply do not add up in our recollections of the way in which the British Army behaves.
Heaven forbid that there should be censorship over these things. I loathe that word "censorship" more than any other word in the English language. One of the most distasteful tasks I have ever had to engage in was that of reading letters written home by men under my command and censoring them in time of war. It is a most horrible thing to have to do. I am not suggesting for a moment that there should be any form of censorship, but I would address a point to the Press and to editors. I am a rather dangerous person to speak on this subject because my grandfather once horsewhipped an editor who wrote and published a foul libel against my great-grandfather. I will not go into what happened after that. [Laughter.]
On a point of order. May I respectfully, Mr. Speaker, point out to this House that the matter which we are discussing depends to a large extent upon, will be determined to a large extent by, the mental climate not only in Northern Ireland, and that we are not the slightest bit interested in the hon. Member's grandfather or great-grandfather?
I did not suspect for one moment that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) would enjoy a speech by me on a subject which she has consistently misrepresented in this House and everywhere else she goes. How she can say she is not against the I.R.A. and take the line she took when she first came into this place is something I do not understand.
However, the only reason I mentioned this business was that I do think there is one thing on which we British people cannot honourably be impartial, and that is the upholding of law and order. One is either for it or one is against it. I should have thought that nobody, whether on the B.B.C. or the I.T.V. or the Press, who is interviewing people who are supporting, or who are actually themselves taking part in, activities which are upsetting law and order, can be neutral.
I am not going to give way again. I am already taking too long.
I do not think it is honourable for British people to be impartial about the upholding of law and order. I am only suggesting to all concerned in these sorts of matters that it really is very important that we do at least recognise some obligations to back up those who are trying to restore and maintain law and order, and it is this consideration which, I hope, particularly will come out of this valuable report by Sir Edmund Compton and his fellow commissioners.
I am sorry; I cannot give way again. I have sat through the debate from the beginning and I want to make one or two more observations before sitting down.
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), in a speech which commanded the great respect of the House, said that our main concern here is with those who are interned without trial. That was the major concern which he expressed.
I accept that; I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman for saying it. That is what the report is about. It is a report concerned with the complaints of those who have been interned. We should recognise the limitations of the report. It is dealing with a narrow subject, but, if we are not careful, it can give the impression that the whole of the British Army in Northern Ireland has been involved in this part of the exercise. It has not. Only a select few members of the Armed Forces and the military police were involved in this. This is a job which requires highly trained people. The ordinary British soldier who is trying to maintain law and order on the streets of Belfast has not been involved in the examination in depth of people who have been arrested. The report deals with a sophisticated form of military service—those who are involved in the examinations. It may not always be soldiers who are doing this. It may be the Special Branch. I do not know, and I do not want to know. It is not our duty to know all aspects of the activities of the Special Branch.
That security and information and intelligence for our troops to act are essential in Northern Ireland I have no doubt. I have some recollection of what happened in Southern Ireland at the end of the First World War, although credit is always given to the Black and Tans for their gallantry. Without the military intelligence service behind the Armed Forces we shall never get on top of the situation in Northern Ireland. Military intelligence is absolutely vital to this exercise. One reason why so many troops are in Ireland today is the absence of intelligence at the beginning. Yet, with more than 12,000 troops in Northern Ireland, there is still only this tiny collection of complaints. When we think of the horrors of the bombing and destruction there, we in the House, and the whole country, should be proud of the men who serve Her Majesty.
I am proud of the men who serve Her Majesty, and that is why I revere their good name. I want to see the British Army respected, because I was one of those who urged my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary to send troops into Derry. I said that the Army had a rôle to carry out in separating the warring factions and a job to do in seeing that the principles which we accept in this House are accepted in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday I used the phrase "methods of barbarism" and I was called upon to withdraw it. I did not do so then and I do not do so now.
I shall try to tell the House the principles which apply not only to the situation in Northern Ireland but universally. They concern the values which we hold dear in Western democracies and the attitude we must adopt towards men, whether they be evil-doers or good men. It is difficult to say that evil men should have the benefit of our standards, but that is what this House is all about. The principles for which we in the House and our predecessors all through the centuries have fought are these: freedom from arbitrary arrest; the right to habeas corpus; the presumed innocence of any man accused of an offence until evidence is produced and that man is convicted; no arbitrary imprisonment; equality before the law; no ill-treatment of prisoners; free debate; liberty of the Press and criticism. All these are in peril.
The first five of those principles, for which this House has fought, have all been flouted in Northern Ireland and are shown to have been by the Compton Report. The sixth, the liberty of the Press and criticism of the standards of reporting, is under severe pressure from hon. Gentlemen opposite. As one who has thought that the leaders in his favourite paper, The Guardian, have not always been favourable to my point of view and have not always drawn the conclusions on Northern Ireland that I would draw, I nevertheless think it would be an evil and wicked thing if The Guardian were to be stopped from printing those views and remedies. I apply this equally to the Protestant Telegraph, the Irish Independent, the B.B.C., I.T.V. and all other media, because we need them.
On my first principle, freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, paragraph 33 of the Compton Report states simply and rather horribly what it means to be a member of the minority in the Bogside, the Creggan, the Falls Road or the Ardoyne when a knock comes at one's door and one hears:
I am arresting you under the powers conferred by the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922.
That is a lot of information, and one may think, "What have I done?", to which the reply is, "We do not know what you have done, we are arresting you under the powers conferred by the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922." That is arbitrary arrest.
If a person questions the arrest, he is told:
I am not required to give any further explanation. I warn you that if you resist arrest you may have committed an offence.
From that it appears that a person may have or may not have committed an offence if he resists arrest.
In Chapter VIII the Committee reach its conclusions, conclusions based on hearsay evidence, and damning conclusions they are:
We consider that the following actions constitute physical ill-treatment; posture on the wall, hooding, noise, deprivation of sleep, diet of bread and water.
On the helicopter incident, the conclusion is:
We criticise the action taken to force the complainants to take part in this deception operation and consider that the physical experience of these men constitutes a measure of ill-treatment.
On the "obstacle course", the Committee states:
We conclude that the men concerned may have suffered some measure of unintended hardship.
They suffered hardship, unintended or otherwise. On the late releases from Girdwood there is a conflict of evidence.
This is damning, and the people who are being damned are not the security forces, those few people involved in these incidents, but the Government of the day, because these things are done on the instructions of the Government of the day. The Treasury Bench, and in particular the Home Secretary, have failed to keep abreast of affairs in Northern Ireland, and have allowed the situation so to drift that every important principle of which I spoke has been violated.
We have a brutal situation, and there is a real danger that the whole of our society, not only in Northern Ireland but in the country as a whole, will be brutalised by events taking place over there. Our liberty, our quality of life and the values we hold dear will all suffer as a result of the Government's policy. The inheritance that the right hon. Gentleman is leaving in Northern Ireland and the stupidities of his policy are alienating 40 per cent. of the population and making almost impossible a political solution.
This is the legacy of methods of barbarism, of internment, of the search in the Falls Road. It is why the Army is seen by the minority to be used as an instrument of repression by the Stormont Government and by a Home Secretary who has failed to keep abreast of the situation.
I should like from the noble Lord in his reply a number of assurances. First, that at last we shall properly grasp the nettle so that the Government accept responsibility for security in Northern Ireland, and so that in controlling this situation there will not be this division between Stormont and Westminster, and between the R.U.C. and the Army.
Secondly, we want from the noble Lord a statement that machinery should be set up to examine every allegation. These complaints did not just stop on 9th August. They are being continuously made and should be fully and properly investigated. This must be done for the good name of our troops and will go some way to restoring the confidence among the minority.
Thirdly, we should try to get away from a situation in which it is said, as the Secretary of State said yesterday, that all these internees are murderers. They may be and, if they are, they deserve to be interned. But we have to see the evidence on which such allegations are being made. This is the key to the situation and one will not get a political solution until one can be shown to be acting in an impartial way.
I do not always agree with what I read in The Times, but I felt that today's leading article contained a good deal of sound advice about which the Government should think carefully. It said:
Yet an open and humane society cannot sanction the physical ill-treatment of people deprived by constituted authority of freedom and power to resist. If it does it divides itself, risks loss of self-respect, exposes itself to censure of outside opinion, and, in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, makes less attainable the indispensable achievement of ultimate reconciliation of the minority community.
I am sorry, but I gave an undertaking to Mr. Speaker that I should be only 10 minutes. I have about 30 seconds in which to conclude on this point. The ultimate reconciliation of the minority community mentioned by The Times should be the aim of this House and the present Government. It is something which internment, the Compton Report and the allegations it substantiates, and the conduct of the Home Secretary, are failing to bring about.
Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell:
I respect the views of many of the preceding speakers, although I find it difficult to understand some of them. The Compton Report can only be viewed in the distasteful context of terrorism used as a political weapon. That is what the I.R.A. is doing today in Ireland. There is involved a moral dilemma which I personally have never fully resolved, having had some 25 years' experience of counter-terrorism and having taken part in many of the types of incident described in this excellent report. Therefore, I make no apology to the House for saying something which may be considered to be slightly off the normal political line.
I appreciate the disquiet of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who have led sheltered lives of mainly verbal ferocity, but having read this report I am satisfied that it confirms the great restraint and high standard of discipline of the British Army, to which I was proud to belong.
The operation of bringing in internees and detainees has been professionally very well handled. It had to be handled in a reasonably tough manner because dealing with the I.R.A. is not like dealing with boy scouts. The situation has been handled with great fairness and without, so far as I can see, the brutality some people inferred.
The arresting of detainees is a difficult but not impossible task. When I arrested the late Moshe Shertok of the Jewish agency, who was the Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs for the on-coming Israeli Government, I apologised to him for the circumstances of his arrest. He was extremely polite to me and we corresponded for years afterwards. But the fact remains that I was torn apart by the Palestine Post, the local Press. I was hauled before my commanding officer three times and had to make a written statement on what I had done that was almost as long as the Compton Report.
The Ulster situation is a test of will as much as a trial of strength. When I visited the detainees and internees in early October, I heard first hand similar accounts to those we have heard reported today. The only difference was that there were banners suggesting that I should go home and should not visit the detainees. I asked various of the detainees "Did anyone ask you whether you belonged to the I.R.A.?" That seemed to be the intelligent question to ask a man who was being interrogated. But none would reply. They said, "It is none of your business" and refused to answer me. I drew from that a conclusion, as will many other hon. Members of the House. I concluded at the end of our visit that there was an inevitable escalation from this internment which was bound to create an unsavoury spin-off which the I.R.A. would exploit. This, in my view, is what is happening tonight.
The real question for the House in this debate is whether we uphold the morale of the forces of order or induce the "climate of collapse" which is the aim of urban terrorist activity. The strategy of the I.R.A. is well documented and hon. Members may have read the mini-manual on the urban guerilla. It is a scenario for civil war. It can succeed only if the political crisis engendered by the terrorists cripples our own Government or if the loyalty of the security forces is in doubt. In the latter case this cannot arise because we have the best, most loyal and humane Army in the world for handling internal security problems. The former could arise unless we express a firm vote of confidence in the methods and conduct of these reported-upon operations.
I will not deny the corrupting effects of violence. I believe we are fortunate to have a humane Army and that the suspects are fortunate to be alive in some cases. If one has seen the conditions in which many prisoners or suspects have been arrested and detained in other countries, as I have, one will know that in many cases these Irishmen are lucky to be alive, and are only alive because they are in the hands of the British Army. There is no cant or humbug or emotional insincerity in this House which weakens my 100 per cent. support of our soldiers who have been reported on in this document.
There is one point that is not to be lost sight of in the instruction in the mini-manual of the urban guerrilla about imprisonment. The instruction is as follows:
The imprisoned urban guerrilla views jail as a terrain he must dominate and understand. There is no prison that is impregnable to the slyness, the cleverness and the potential of the revolutionaries.
There it is, in one. Tactically, we are taking part now in this facet of urban guerrilla warfare. We are acting out the parts, in the same way as people acted out their parts in the helicopter incident, which the Compton Report criticised. What are we doing now but acting out the parts of parliamentarians who, perhaps unwittingly, are supporting the terrorists?
I ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept that I am not trying to be deliberately objectionable. I speak from personal experience in Palestine, Cyprus, East Africa, including Kenya, Borneo, Malaysia and Aden.
It is immaterial to me who was responsible for stabbing me in the back in Aden. It is this report which matters tonight, and, if anyone reads it without being convinced that the operation was carried out professionally and with the minimum of violence, what is the point of trying to explain anything?
I agree with the hon. Member opposite who pointed out earlier that interrogations must be carried out by experts. One cannot have every loose Jock interrogating prisoners, and this has not happened. The implication that interrogations have been carried out by the Army at large must be corrected. They have been carried out by the Special Branch, whose officers are properly trained in interrogation methods.
One must have interrogation methods, because without them it is impossible to obtain information. Without information, one cannot conduct operations and protect lives and property. When the interrogation techniques drawn up in 1965 or 1967 are examined by the Privy Councillors' Committee, let us hope that that will be done not necessarily from the standpoint of taking them away but from that of increasing them, if necessary, possibly by more subtle methods, and certainly bearing in mind the fact that interrogation is a necessary part of the conduct of internal security operations.
What are the alternatives? What are the options open if the forces of law and order are not provided with some way of obtaining information? The alternatives are that they take the law into their own hands, which has happened many times in the past, or that they cease to take quite as many prisoners as they did on this occasion. That is a terrible thing to have to say. It is part of the campaign to break down the feeling of responsibility and discipline in the Army.
The mini-manual of the urban guerrilla discusses the war of nerves. It says:
The object of the war of nerves is to misinform, spreading lies among the authorities, in which everyone can participate, thus creating an air of nervousness, discredit, insecurity, uncertainty, and concern on the part of the government.
I have that pamphlet in my possession. I shall put it in the Library.
The Compton Report contributes nothing to solving the Ulster situation, except by highlighting the vulnerability of a free society to terrorist methods. I believe that the British Army can rest assured that it has been seen to do its duty and that it is fully supported by those who have an understanding of the nature of insurgency.
The issue before us in this debate is not, as the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell) has said, what the Armed Forces should do or not do. It is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government for the conduct of affairs by all the security forces in Northern Ireland today, and by that I mean the Army, the R.U.C. and the police.
Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) is not in his place at the moment, although he has been present throughout most of the debate. It is a matter of great regret that he made a false allegation involving the Government of the Republic of Ireland which must be put right. Martin Bell reported from Dublin on the B.B.C.'s television news last night that, in view of the Compton Report, the Government of the Republic of Ireland were considering whether they should submit assembled evidence to an international authority. However, that is all that Mr. Bell said. He did not mention the Committee for Legal Action. The hon. Gentleman deliberately brought in a reference to that body, having first sought to discredit it. However, there was no reference to it in the B.B.C. report. In honour, the hon. Gentleman should withdraw his allegation against the Government of the Republic and the B.B.C.'s reporter.
I turn now to the main issue in the debate. We are told in paragraph 62 of the Compton Report:
It was confirmed that detainees attempting to rest or sleep by propping their heads against the wall were prevented from doing so. If a detainee collapsed on the floor, he was picked up by the armpits and placed against the wall to resume the approved posture.
We are told in paragraph 64 the number of hours that people were kept without sleep. In one case it was 43½ hours, in another it was 40 hours, and so on. We are told that starvation methods were applied. People were each given a piece of bread and some water every six hours. No matter what semantics the Government may use and no matter what semantics any defenders of these activities may use, this is brutality of a very bad kind. No other language will serve to describe it.
This debate is very important. It gives this House a rare opportunity to judge on behalf of all the people whether these are methods which Parliament wants to give the Government authority to use. It is no use anyone trying to make clever distinctions between one set of language and another. Nor is it relevant to inquire whether there were evil intentions in the minds of those who committed these acts.
I was a member of a commission which went to Northern Ireland after the events of August 1969. I came back with complete conviction that it had been right to send the Army there. I have said so many times since, and I repeat today that many people in the Civil Rights Movement and similar movements told me that their lives had been saved by the arrival of the Army. I came back fully convinced that it was essential that this position should be maintained.
In my view, whichever Government are in office the political base of the Government's operations is to maintain confidence in the conduct of all our forces and other representatives in Northern Ireland. It is the duty of the Minister of State for Defence and, above all, of the Home Secretary to maintain continuous control of those activities.
These acts need further investigation. It is wholly irrelevant to say, as the Home Secretary said today, that they have produced evidence. That is the argument that the O.A.S. used in Algeria. It is the argument used by some East German representatives who parade themselves in Western Europe as the representatives of a new type of democracy. If one presses them about their methods of interrogation, they reply, "Yes, but they produce results." The Prime Minister knows that we do not accept that kind of argument from anyone else. We cannot accept it from the Government of the only real and representative democracy in the world today. The Home Secretary cannot deduce as justification the fact that it produces results. As The Guardian stated in a leading article this morning, not at all hostile to the Government, terror works. Of course it does. That is the term which has to be used. But the fact that terror works is no justification for a Government in a democratic country sanctioning its use.
If Parliament does not now say that there is a case to answer, that the Government must investigate the cases quoted in the report, and that we must, at the end of the debate, send out an assurance from the responsible Minister that this will be done, then the Government are beginning to see their way clear, if we do not get that assurance, towards sanctioning such activities in future.
It is not enough to say that the Privy Councillors will report. The Executive must assume responsibility at the end of the debate and say to the House that, as the Government, they respect the Compton Report. I respect Sir Edmund Compton and any work in which he is involved. He has reported a number of cases which give rise to grave concern. The Government must investigate them and come back to the House with the results of their investigations.
Although this is not the subject of debate today, the political future of Northern Ireland is also involved. It is clear that the Government are contemplating a number of moves. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition returns, we shall hope to put before the House policy proposals for a possible political solution of this tragic situation. As an earnest of the Government's assurance to the House and the country that cases of physical ill-treatment do not have the stamp of their authority either in the past or in the future, they should tell us this afternoon that those cases which have been mentioned will be fully investigated. They should also make it quite clear that control over such methods of interrogation rest with the Government in London, and even with the Prime Minister personally because his attitude is involved. Nothing can be more serious than the good name of all the authorities in this country. It can only be tested against real events. The Government have a duty to the House and the country to give that assurance today.
Before the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat; this is not a matter of semantics. We are at war with the I.R.A. Why do the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends below the Gangway insist on showing themselves to the country as being allied to and in support of the enemies of this country?
I do not want to take up that particular allegation at this hour. I rest in the secure confidence, speaking for myself and my hon. Friends who normally share my views, that neither the Home Secretary nor the Minister of State would make that allegation against any one of us. I have consistently supported both Governments in supporting the work of the Army in trying to make peace. The Prime Minister knows that I have always been con- sistent in my view. That is a wholly unworthy allegation.
If we are agreed that it is important to keep up the reputation of all who represent us here, the Government must pursue an investigation into the cases which I have mentioned.
The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Nigel Fisher) is quite wrong about the attitude of my hon. Friends. I do not wholly agree with them in their assessment of the situation, but it is absolutely unfair and would be quite untrue to suggest that they have in any way helped or condoned the activities of those whom he described as the enemies of this country. If the hon. Gentleman had studied the approach of some of my hon. Friends to this matter, he would not have made that allegation.
We are dealing with a limited but very important aspect of the whole problem of Northern Ireland, but it cannot be considered in isolation without regard to the background. That is why we shall hope, on a Supply Day very soon, to return to the broader political aspects of this matter which need consideration. I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition returns, we shall be able to put some proposals before the House.
Among many good speeches today, the two which seem to illustrate our dilemma most closely were those of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) and the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell). I thought that hon. Members opposite were wrong to shout "Sit down" to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. They may not have liked what he said—I did not agree with it—but, in showing their impatience, they were displaying the incomprehension of the English when faced with an Irish situation. They must be ready to listen to this view, although they may not agree with it and may think it unworthy of consideration. But if that view is held by a substantial number of people in Ireland, then those who have to settle the problem must listen to and take it into account. Therefore, I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, although I utterly disagreed with it, was one which should be carefully listened to and weighed for every accent.
Regarding the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West, we in Parliament sent him on many occasions to do our work for us. Therefore, we should listen to everything that he has to say on this matter. I hope that he will forgive me for saying that, however diligently and with however a divided conscience he may have sought to do his work and to put the questions which he put to us, I thought that his approach, and, indeed, the history of the work which we have sent him to do and for which we must take responsibility, has shown the inadequacy, taken by themselves, of the methods in which he has had to engage in the past. But the two speeches to which I have referred illustrate the nature of the dilemma which we have to face in considering the Compton Report.
The background to these events cannot be forgotten. They have been referred to more than once. I merely say in passing that there is a background of explosions, gelignite, bombs, the murder of soldiers and policemen, and the indifference of the I.R.A. Provisionals to the ordinary canons of human decency and behaviour and their complete absence of pity.
If we are to take all factors into account, we must also consider what the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West referred to as the spin-off which comes from internment. I doubt whether this factor was sufficiently weighed in taking the decision on internment—a situation which is built, readymade for exploitation.
I understand, although I do not accept, why some of the detainees would not appear before Compton, but they were ready to go on television last night and put their cases. It is true, and we must accept—I certainly do not deny it—that there is a propaganda war going on here which will be exploited for all it is worth. That should be weighed in the balance when we are considering whether it was a wise policy to detain and intern some 900 men, of whom 500 were later released. This is a factor to which we shall have to return next week.
Whilst the battle against the I.R.A. must go on—I have no doubt about that—the question is, how do we win it and what weapons do we employ in winning it? There is lawlessness and terrorism in many parts of Belfast. From my own correspondence—I venture to claim that every day I have more letters from Northern Ireland than any other Member in this House—I know that it sickens the people who live there.
I think even more than my hon. Friend. Anyway we will talk about it afterwards.
I know from the correspondence which reaches me that most people want to find a way out of the trap in which they have been caught. The propaganda of the I.R.A. has over-reached itself in this country, but it has only partially overreached itself in Ireland.
The minority are very ambivalent in their attitude towards the I.R.A., and the actions which are performed in our name and by our agents there can affect the attitude of the minority substantially. But, despite the indignation and horror with which most of us regard the actions of the Provisionals, we must not allow our policy to be dictated by revenge or by passion. If we do, we shall not only behave in an immoral way; we shall lose the battle.
We cannot justify any lowering of our standards by reference to the evils practised on our troops, for that kind of behaviour is self-perpetuating and leads only downwards, step by step, to more excesses on both sides. This is, I fear—and I must say this to the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West—where the Parliamentarian must differ, and where the supremacy of Parliament must be asserted. Already we have gone some way down the slippery slope in Northern Ireland. First, there is violence by the Provisionals, and murder. That is followed by internment. Then we take another step downwards when we put these men into custody and employ methods of interrogation that involve physical ill-treatment. Now Conservative Members are calling for censorship of the Press and television. This is one more step on the downward path into the miasma. Every new measure leads us one step nearer the pit. These methods, this action by itself will not suffice. We must return to discussions round the table and find political solutions at the earliest possible moment.
The Minister of State for Defence behaved quite improperly when he referred to these men as thugs and murderers. They have been neither tried nor convicted. Even on my limited examination of the names in the Compton Report this morning, I observed that one of those he described as thugs and murderers—Mr. Patrick Shivers—has been recommended for release by the Commission. The Minister of State for Defence has a responsibility not to inflame matters in this way. When I criticise what is happening, and there are some criticisms that I want to make, I repeat that the responsibility for these happenings lies in this House and not with the Army. It is we who have sent these men to do the job for us. It does not belong to the soldiers, but to us, as it is on our behalf that they have so acted.
As far as I can see from the Compton Report, there are only relatively minor ways in which the soldiers have exceeded the instructions on which they were acting. These are serious and we should take note of them. I would refer to some of them. Under the rules, action can be taken from which we would in normal circumstances recoil. For example, there is the question of hooding as outlined in paragraph 78. How does a man who is under a hood for several hours indicate that he needs to relieve himself, without getting into the position where it may be thought—he is, after all, unable to indicate—that he is trying to break down the position in which he has been put? This is a real dilemma. It may not appear important, but it is in the consideration of these matters.
Then there is the question in paragraphs 48 and 57(c) of men being propped up against the wall. Paragraph 48 says that they are to be propped up in a position where they are not under stress. I tried it myself: if one puts one's hands in a certain way it is relatively easy to hold the position for some time. Paragraph 57(c) says that they were put with their hands high above their heads. Again, hon. Members may say that they do not think this is important. I would suggest that they try standing in that position for several hours and then ask themselves where ill-treatment descends into brutality. It is this matter which the Parker Commission will have to look at.
One other criticism is the inadequacy of the medical arrangements, especially at Girdwood Park. It is surely wrong that a daily medical examination was not laid down specifically in the instructions issued. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) raised a question which I want to put to the Minister of State, on interrogation. Was the interrogation done after reference to him, or on the authority of those who conducted it, and no more? If it was the second, should it not be the case that these methods of interrogation, which, as is admitted, involve physical ill-treatment, should be specifically authorised by the Minister on every occasion on which they are undertaken? Is that not the least we can expect if this kind of method is employed?
We do not know whether the report is balanced, because of the refusal of internees to appear before Compton. It is my view, and I share it with others in the House, that Compton has done the best possible job and has probably got pretty close to the truth.
There are accounts in the Press that the methods will be changed in advance of the Parker Report. Is this so? What is the policy to be? I suggest that the Parker Commission should, as the Home Secretary said, now consider not only the directive but also the methods to be employed. It should not brood in isolation. It ought to consult people skilled in this matter who may have had to conduct it on past occasions, distasteful though it may be. It should consult medical practitioners, the police, psychiatrists and all concerned. I take it that there is agreement in this House on the principle that we cannot yield upon the matter of physical ill-treatment as a means of securing information. That is where we must all stand; that is where I stand on this particular matter.
It is, I know, easier to say what should not be done than to define what should be done. I have tried to think about legitimate forms of pressure. At what point does hostile questioning take on a cruel tinge? These are the difficult issues which this Commission will have to settle. It is not enough to win the battle against the I.R.A. if we lose the battle to reconcile the minority and the majority.
If we look back two years, it will be seen that the Army then had the confidence of the minority and the acquiescience of the majority. Today it has the confidence of the majority and the hostility of the minority. That does not solve anything. It transfers the weight of the problem from one foot to another Reconciliation may seem hopeless at present. I do not believe it need be, and it is to this matter that the House must address its attention next week when we return to this subject. It must continue to do so until peace is restored and majority and minority are reconciled. This will be done in the end not by the methods employed here, but by political discussion and decision.
We have been discussing very serious and grave matters. It is right to look at the actions of the security forces against a realistic examination of part of what is going on in Northern Ireland today.
The aim of the I.R.A. is so to terrorise the population that co-operation with the Government becomes impossible. It aims to destroy the normal political processes. It aims so to terrorise witnesses that the courts of law are unable to operate, so that its own members can act with impunity. It aims through bloodshed to establish its own rules and its own authority instead of the laws of the country. Its methods are brutal, callous, barbaric. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Mitchell) said that we are engaged in a test of will. The I.R.A. now knows that the troops will not give way before gunpower—but it hopes to sap the will-power of ordinary men and women in this country, so that sickened with the horror of what is going on, we shall despair.
Many allegations have been made of brutality against the security forces—allegations about both the period of arrest and the period immediately following that when the arrested persons remained in custody. These have been repeated in different media and so appear to be numerous but they are based upon a handful of statements made by men to the Association of Legal Justice and they were not corroborated by any other evidence. I am sure that the great majority of the public who have watched the Army on television month after month, going about its extremely difficult task, have found many of these allegations totally unconvincing. As a Government we could not brush them aside and ignore them. Some people might have believed the allegations, however unlikely they sounded. Some people probably had no idea what to believe. It was for this reason, at the request of the Army, rightly concerned for its good name, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) said, that the impartial inquiry was set up by the Home Secretary. The allegations which were examined by the Committee fall broadly into two classes—
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order to point out that, while it is not my deliberate intention to try to disrupt the House, the question I wish to ask is of major importance? I have not been given an opportunity to speak in the debate and it is my avowed intention to remain on my feet until I am permitted to ask a question.
I did make it perfectly clear that I was not deliberately trying to prevent the Minister replying but I have an important question which should be asked of the hon. Gentleman at this juncture. Why is it that he is afraid of one simple question? It would have taken much less time if I had been allowed to ask it. If he decides that he does not wish to answer it at this stage, let him say so, but I would ask him to give way and hear the question.
I now have five minutes in which to reply to a debate which has proceeded for three hours. As I was making clear, in the two or three cases during the process of arrest, out of a total of 342 arrests, the Committee found that the arrested man did suffer some hardship but this was never deliberately inflicted.
I have in mind the case of Mr. Cummings, who was hooded and bound as a military precaution. The hardship he suffered was a grazed chin when he fell—hardship far removed from the allegation of being beaten and urinated on, being kneed in the groin and struck in the face.
I also have in mind the case of Mr. Gilmore, who was hit by accident, and the case of Mr. Moore, the one person who was prepared to substantiate his allegations. I hope that those who are so quick to believe the allegations against the security forces and to condemn the Army will now be just as quick to accept that the findings of the inquiry show that the Army conducted itself with credit.
I come now to that part of the report dealing with allegations of brutality against detainees during interrogation. These allegations have received a great deal of publicity but they relate to only a very small number of persons, 14 out of 1,000 who have been arrested. The fact that the number is small does not, of course, in any way diminish the importance of the matter.
The Committee was given full access to evidence and was able to talk to the security forces. Again it found no evidence of physical brutality, still less of torture or brain-washing. It did find that certain aspects of the application of the general rules governing the interrogation constituted physical ill-treatment. But this does not mean that any of the men suffered any physical or mental injury.
In its report the Committee refers to the evidence of the medical officer stationed at the centre. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen would listen. The medical officer said, according to the Committee:
He told us that those in charge of the centre had impressed him with their concern to avoid physical injury to their charges and had given him every support in allowing him to exercise his professional duties. We put on record that both in his actions as recorded and by his evidence given to us, this officer satisfied us as having maintained the standards of the medical profession to which he belongs.
An examination of the exit medical records, and I have personally examined every single one of them, shows that the general state of health of each of the individuals interrogated is recorded as
being "Fit". The basic fact is that there was no brutality, no torture, no brainwashing, no physical injury, no mental injury.
If we are to end the bloodshed, if we are to save the lives of civilians and of police and troops, if we are to end this odious campaign of murder and violence which has caused the death of so many innocent civilians, we must have good intelligence. Polite and leisurely questioning of suspected terrorists will not provide this information.
I should like to try very briefly to answer the point made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). The formal authorisation to remove certain detainees to the interrogation centre was necessarily given by the Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs, with the knowledge and concurrence of Her Majesty's Government. Ministers knew that the interrogation would be conducted within the guidelines laid down in 1965 and 1967 and that the methods would be the same as have been used on numerous occasions in the past. Their detailed application was necessarily a matter for the judgment of those immediately responsible.
The Government of course have taken note of the Committee's findings. However, the Committee's job was simply to establish the facts, and it did not have the difficult task of deciding what methods could be militarily justified. It did not have the task of balancing the intensity of the interrogation of people strongly suspected of being deeply implicated in terrorism against the possibility of obtaining information which would save lives. It is an incredibly difficult judgment to make. It necessarily arises when intensity of interrogation has to be weighed against the desperate need to save lives and end the bloodshed. Because it is such a difficult subject, we have thought it right to refer the subject to a committee of Privy Councillors to examine the procedures. The information which has been obtained from interrogation—
The information obtained from interrogation has been invaluable. I am sure that the House will understand that I cannot be specific. Were I to be specific, the lives of those who gave the information would immediately be put at risk; and we have seen enough of what I.R.A. vengeance means. On the very day when this matter was raised in the House of Commons, a man was tarred and feathered and shot through the legs. We have only to look at other examples of I.R.A. vengeance—men bound, gagged, shot through the mouth. John Kavanagh, Albert Bell and Robert McFarland—to all those whom the I.R.A. suspects of having given information it will give no mercy whatever.
It being three hours alter the commencement of the Proceedings, Mr. SPEAKER interrupted the Proceedings pursuant to Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration); and the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.