HC Deb 21 July 1977 vol 935 cc1831-3
9. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the prison population and building programme in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Concannon

The prison population is continuing to increase, but the rate of increase is less marked than during the early years of the civil disturbances. On 17th July 1977 the total number of prisoners, tried and untried, was 2,867. This compares with 2,483 at the same date in 1976 and 763 on 1st January 1970.

To meet the increase in population and to provide more satisfactory accommodation, a comprehensive building programme is under way. Six cell blocks, with 100 cells each, have been completed at Maze prison and two more will be ready later in the year. A new closed borstal is expected to be ready in October, a young offenders' centre with 300 places should be completed by mid-1978, and a start has been made on a new prison at Maghaberry, which I hope will be ready for occupation early in 1982.

Mr. Hardy

I am very grateful for that full information, but will my hon. Friend give the cost of the current prison building programme?

Mr. Concannon

The cost of the current building programme—I stress "current" programme—is nearly £38 million. The Maze cell blocks and ancillary accommodation amount to £11.8 million; the closed borstal, £13 million; the young offenders' centre, £5.6 million; and Maghaberry, £19 million. Those figures do not take account of the contents and furniture of cells.

Mr. Neave

Surely the completion of the new prison is urgent, since 1982 seems a long way away. Will the Minister also say something about remission policy? Is he aware that some of us have had reports from the security forces that they are concerned about the level of remission given to those convicted of terrorist offences? Does he recollect an answer given earlier this year, stating that between March 1976 and February 1977, 358 special category prisoners were released with remission? We supported the treatment of offenders legislation in 1976, but does the Minister think it wise to grant remission to those who consistently refuse to obey ordinary prison rules?

Mr. Concannon

Those who disobey prison rules do not get remission. Indeed, they lose remission for every day that they do not observe those rules. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the legislation in relation to this system was passed by the House. I assure the House that every "streaker" in Northern Ireland loses a day's remission for every day of disobedience. Indeed, some have lost nearly all their remission.

On the other point that was put to me, I would inform the hon. Gentleman that there is no parole system in Northern Ireland. We have a system in which half remission is allowed to those who obey prison rules and behave themselves. If they are caught misbehaving afterwards, and continue to do so after they have been let out, the courts can bring them back to justice and reimpose that amount of prison sentence. I understand, from the last batch of figures that we received, that only one of the people convicted of terrorist offences was brought back to be dealt with by the courts.

Mr. Freud

In view of the general determination not to create martyrs in Northern Ireland and in the light of the article inThe Guardianon 8th June, will the Minister have another look at the case of William Gallagher, who spent a year in prison in the period between arrest and conviction and who was convicted on disputed identification and an alleged verbal admission?

Mr. Concannon

The hon. Gentleman rightly draws that case to my attention, but it is only one of the many cases that arrive on my desk almost every week. I sometimes wonder whom I have got locked up in prison.

Miss Maynard

In view of the reply to the original Question and the information given about the new prison, detention centre and borstal, does my hon. Friend agree that the building of prisons is the only growth industry in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Concannon

Certainly not. I have the problem of keeping up with the successes of the security forces. Once they catch these criminals, I have to find places to put them in. So long as the police and the Army in Northern Ireland are so successful in their activities against this criminal element, I shall have to keep on building prison cells.

Mr. Farr

Can the Minister say whether the security of the prison officers has improved, and to what extent there is interchangeability between prison officers serving in Northern Ireland and those serving in Great Britain?

Mr. Concannon

The figure of prison officers on loan from Great Britain serving in Northern Ireland has dropped from 400 to less than 100. The morale of the prison officers is very high, despite the cowardly attacks made upon them. I do not think the hon. Gentleman would like me to spell out the security measures taken by the security authorities. I wish to pay tribute to the sterling work that they have done in the face of great intimidation.