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12.19 am

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): I shall be brief. My speech is prompted by Mr. Rowe's report. I should like to ask the Minister a question, but before I do, I offer him my compliments. In my dealings with him, he has always responded in a most courteous and helpful way, and I know that I will receive a courteous response this evening. As one who hopes to return to this place in a few weeks' time, I would like him to know that he may have gone but he will not be forgotten.

My view has always been that those convicted in our courts of acts of violence should receive condign punishment. Not so very long ago, at the High Court in Glasgow, I think--the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) might correct me on this--a loyalist terrorist was found guilty, rightly and properly, and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for arms trafficking. He was attempting to run arms across to Northern Ireland. A few years ago, when I was on the review committee of a prison in Scotland, twice in about seven months I interviewed two prisoners, both of whom were under assessment for release under licence and had been sentenced to very long terms of imprisonment for running arms across to Northern Ireland, so I have a little experience of these matters.

I remind the Minister that he quoted from paragraph 2, page 5, of Mr. Rowe's report, which says:

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    The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to a young woman who is detained in a London prison, and said that an MEP had claimed that this young woman had been subjected to torture. That is an absurd claim, I believe that the circumstances surrounding her detention leave much to be desired. In my view, when a person suspected of acts of terrorism is arrested and detained, they should be treated in a way that does not infringe their basic human rights.

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that, in Cornton Vale prison in Scotland, when a pregnant woman prisoner has her baby, she is certainly not manacled at any time before, during or after the birth. She is allowed, if she has the wherewithal psychologically and physically, to take care of her child for 12 months. At the end of that period, for understandable reasons, the child is sent to carefully chosen foster parents--and I mean carefully chosen--or to the family of the detained woman. I say to all hon. Members, including the Minister, that that treatment should be afforded to Roisin McAliskey in Holloway prison. It know that it is outwith the Minister's terms of reference, but I hope that he will bring my remarks to the attention of his right hon. Friends.

Mr. William Ross: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Godman: I shall give way in a minute.

I have no truck with those involved in such dastardly activities. That young woman is a remand prisoner. In a Scottish prison, such as Cornton Vale, she would be treated differently. I have written to Mr. Richard Tilt telling him that. I have also written to The Irish Times, because one of its journalists, in a recent article on Ms McAliskey's unsuccessful bail application, thrice referred to the British prison system. I pointed out to the editor of The Irish Times that his journalist should have referred to the English prison system, because there is an important different between the two systems. A pregnant woman would be treated differently in Cornton Vale prison, irrespective of the crime of which she is suspected or convicted.

It is in the interests of the child that he or she should not be separated from the mother, whatever she has done. As long as the child's safety is regarded by everyone as paramount--I need hardly say that to this audience--a woman remand prisoner or a woman prisoner who has been convicted in a court of law should be afforded the same treatment as would be afforded to one of my constituents who may have committed a heinous crime.

I am making no excuses for this young woman, but her treatment, as it is portrayed in the international media, gives valuable ammunition to primitive republicans everywhere. I was talking to someone in Australia.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. The House knows that I do not mind passing references to matters that go slightly wide of the issue under consideration, but the hon. Gentleman is dwelling on this point, and it goes beyond the scope of our considerations.

Dr. Godman: I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Godman: May I finish my apologies to Madam Deputy Speaker? I have said before that you are renowned

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for your gentle strictures, and I shall not risk another one so close to the end of this Parliament. I just want to say that in my view this young woman should be transferred to the prison in Northern Ireland that has mother-child facilities.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), but I hope that he does not get me into trouble with you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because he is a terrible man.

Rev. Ian Paisley: The prisons in Northern Ireland and their treatment of prisoners are excellent. I have acted as a prison chaplain, and I have also been a prisoner, so I should know. I was passing no strictures on the circumstances of the case. I was simply saying that a southern Ireland MEP said that the treatment was virtually torture, which was completely and totally untrue.

Dr. Godman: I know of the hon. Gentleman's prison career. I am not sure that he was ever incarcerated in a woman's prison, which would have been grossly unfair on women prisoners.

Mr. Ross: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Godman: Just let me say that I did not impugn the hon. Member for North Antrim. I said that he had referred to an MEP who had made that wild allegation.

Mr. Ross: The hon. Gentleman referred to the possibility of a person who is held on an extradition warrant being transferred to a prison in Northern Ireland. I inquired about that, and my understanding is that that is not possible. The individual has to be held in either a Scottish or an English prison, such as Holloway, and cannot be held elsewhere in the United Kingdom. There is certainly no place in the system in Northern Ireland for such a prisoner. Surely the hon. Gentleman's strictures on the holding of pregnant women in prison apply to all such prisoners in English prisons. That is the understanding that we have been given by the Minister of State, Home Office.

Dr. Godman: I am not saying that special privileges should be given to a specific prisoner who has been detained under these measures. I think that, if Scottish female prisoners are treated in such a way--rightly and properly, in my view--female prisoners south of the border should be treated in like manner. I remind the Minister, who is a decent, fair-minded man, of what he said in his speech, and of the direct quotation that he offered from Mr. Rowe's report:

I have dwelt on the point for far too long, and I apologise for that. In this case, however, I think that there has been an infringement of basic human rights, which has provided propaganda for primitive republicans and their supporters not just in the United Kingdom, but throughout the world. As I said, I spoke to someone in Australia who expressed concern.

Of course it is right and proper for the security forces to pursue such persons with the utmost vigour, but when persons are detained they must be treated fairly and

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properly in our prison systems. I believe that, whatever the technical difficulties, the best course would be to transfer Roisin McAliskey to a prison in Northern Ireland so that her child can be born there and mother and child can be together. That is the plea that I make to the Minister.

12.31 am

Sir John Wheeler: I shall endeavour to be brief in replying to this important debate, but it would be churlish of me not acknowledge the kind references made to me by all who have spoken. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington). I have enjoyed responding to his numerous detailed questions over many hours in the Committee Room and elsewhere during our service on opposing Benches. I am also grateful to the hon. Members for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and, of course, to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). It has been a great privilege to serve the people of Northern Ireland, and the House, in my present capacity, and I am sorry that I am to be the first and last Member of Parliament for Westminster, North.

As I have said, this has been an important debate. All the issues that have been raised are serious. In particular, the remarks of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie gave notice to Northern Ireland Office officials of the answers that they would need to have ready should he find himself in Stormont castle in six weeks' time. What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that I very much agree with him about the Lloyd review and its importance to the anti-terrorist law, and the procedures that the House should consider in the next Parliament. There are indeed elements that must be considered very carefully when the next Parliament comes to consider the basis of that legislation--but that is for the future and not for this evening.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie asked about the certifying in of scheduled offences. Parliament has decided with good reason that, because of the situation that has existed in Northern Ireland, certain cases need to be scheduled. The Attorney-General, indeed successive Attorney-Generals, may certify out certain offences on the recommendation of the Director of Public Prosecutions if a particular case has no connection with the emergency situation. It would be invidious for the Attorney-General, who is responsible for prosecutions, to be given powers to confer a restrictive mode of trial in particular cases instead of relieving it, as he may do at present with those cases not associated with terrorism.

A year ago, the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie and I exchanged our thinking about that matter in Committee. The statistical change to which he referred reflects the fact of the ceasefires. I am sure that he will be reassured that that has been the case, and it does not change the basic argument in favour of certifying out.

The hon. Gentleman asked about silent video recording. Responses to the recently concluded consultation exercise on codes of practice governing such recording are being assessed. Tests on the necessary equipment are well advanced, and I assure him that that project is being taken forward with real purpose. I am confident that his points will also be taken into account in assessing that.

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Remand waiting times will require some detailed research, but it is still within my gift to undertake it, and should the hon. Gentleman be interested in the outcome during the general election campaign, I shall ensure that he has some additional reading.

As the House knows, the decision to introduce silent video recording was based on the Chief Constable's advice and it represents a compromise in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland but, as with all these things, it is certainly kept under review.

With regard to military complaints, the increase in the number of informal complaints is partly due to the Army implementing recommendations made by Mr. Hewitt at paragraph 4.3 of his current report. That is the basis for the change in those statistics.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow raised an issue that is not, perhaps, really the subject of the debate or within the order, but I hope that I may be allowed to comment on it briefly as he raised a matter of humanitarian importance. The Government believe that prisoners held on remand, who are innocent until proven guilty, are subject to all the proper medical care and treatment. I understand that the remand prisoner in question will be allowed to keep her baby while in prison and that proper facilities are available, but she is facing grave charges, which are accountable in Germany. That is why she must remain in Holloway prison unless a court of law determines otherwise.

Elsewhere in the debate, the hon. Member for North Antrim touched on the appearance of a Mr. Martin McGuinness in a television programme. May I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is never inhibited from investigating crimes and allegations, certainly not by this Minister or by Her Majesty's Government, but bases its investigation on the facts and, alas, the House will be surprised to know, not all television programmes are precisely accurate.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry made many profound remarks about terrorism and its on-going character. I greatly appreciate and agree with what he said. He made an important point about the Diplock courts, which protect jurors as well as witnesses. That is why it is essential that that procedure must continue in the present circumstances in Northern Ireland, in view of the odious list of punishment attacks that occur every 24 hours.

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East in that nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to say to the House, "The legislation is not necessary any more, and we can do without it." It is right that we should constantly examine the need for such legislation; that is why the House of Commons exists.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. It has been an important one.

Question put and agreed to.


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