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Gardiner Report

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 13 February 1975

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11.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement about the implementation of the report of the Gardiner Committee on civil liberties in Northern Ireland.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about his attitude to the Gardiner Committee's report on civil liberties, human rights and measures to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland.

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) on 30th January and to what he told the House on 11th February.—[Vol. 885, c. 287–8, Vol. 886, c. 212–13.] The Government are examining the committee's recommendations and the effect on the Emergency Provisions Act and my right hon. Friend will be making a statement in due course giving the Government's views.

Has the Minister noted the powerful criticism of the continuation of special category status for convicted prisoners which is contained in this most valuable report? The special category status was introduced in 1972 in a vain attempt to win a lasting cease-fire. Would it not be right to reconsider the continuation of special category status if the present cease-fire should unhappily break down?

My right hon. Friend will be replying to one of the cardinal points in the Gardiner Report. It was much easier to start than to stop this. One of the major problems that the Government must face, apart from political considerations, is the physical issue of accommodation. We are now dealing with about 1,100 special category status convicted prisoners in Northern Ireland. I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to take that factor into account.

The Gardiner Committee said that the policy, pursued by both Governments, of holding detainees as political hostages was contrary to social justice. What comments has my right hon. Friend to make on that matter?

We noted what the Gardiner Committee's report stated. The Government will want to consider that matter. But the Gardiner Committee also said that detention was a matter for political decision. My right hon. Friend looks forward to a sustained cessation of violence which will end detention.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his statement on Tuesday about the cease-fire the Secretary of State said that he would sign no more interim custody orders? Does not that mean, or may I make the assumption, that he is disregarding the proposal in the Gardiner Report for revised detention procedures?

My right hon. Friend said that he would not do so if there were a continued, sustained and genuine ceasefire. My right hon. Friend is judging the matter against the current situation. The longer-term views of the Government on the Gardiner Report will depend on the outcome of the current situation.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the more positive proposals in the Gardiner Report relates to the implementation of a Bill of Rights for everyone in Northern Ireland? Is it the Government's intention to try to implement that recommendation as speedily as possible?

Bearing in mind the Gardiner Committee's proposals, the legacy of inadequate prison buildings and the compound system in particular, what is the Minister's view on the assertion that it will be possible to evacuate existing Government premises and start building quickly, possibly within a few days?

One of the problems is obtaining planning permission for creating new accommodation. No Government can ride roughshod over people and land. Inquiries have to be held. The normal procedure must be gone through. Apart from the cost, this logistic problem faces the Government.

Does the Minister agree that this report is of considerable importance in both the short and the long term? Will he urge his right hon. Friend to arrange an early opportunity for this House to debate it?

We will certainly facilitate that suggestion, because we understand the importance of the report, but we would like to have a debate within the context of an improving situation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as the person who was fairly criticised in the Gardiner Report for a decision that I took at the time, but in different circumstances, I accept that criticism? I realise the difficulties facing the right hon. Gentleman in the present situation. However, I should like the House to know that I fully understand the new position and hope that we can debate it and help to achieve a new situation.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. It is only fair to point out that at the time he introduced the special category status my right hon. Friend and I, from the Opposition Front Bench, supported his action because we believed that they were politically necessary. We are now moving into a new situation. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said.