HC Deb 27 November 1980 vol 994 cc556-7
3. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current hunger strike being carried out by prisoners of Her Majesty's prison, Maze.

10. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland prisons.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

Seven prisoners in Maze prison commenced a hunger strike on Monday 27 October in support of the campaign for political status for certain convicted prisoners. They continue to refuse the food offered to them but are taking salt and water. On 6 November, the prisoners were moved from the cells which they had fouled to clean cells. They are medically examined daily and they have lost some weight, but their condition is not at present giving serious cause for concern.

The prisoners will continue to be kept under close medical surveillance and will be offered any medical treatment that may be necessary. This will be on the judgment of the doctors in charge, acting in accordance with the ethics of their profession. Medical treatment is not forced on a prisoner who refuses it.

The Government have repeatedly made it plain that they will not be blackmailed by this hunger strike or any other form of protest into conceding that the motives for which the protesters committed serious crimes entitle them to treatment different from that of other criminals.

Mr. Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I am grateful to him for his very full and detailed reply? However, has he noticed the early-day motion on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the Official Unionist Party, indicating that the House will not tolerate the authorisation of filming and televising people found guilty of very serious crimes?

Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the House whether it was on the authorisation of himself and his Department that Independent Television went into the Maze prison to interview one of the convicted people? Will be accept it from me that that it is a most intolerable situation and completely counter to the views expressed by the Prime Minister when she said that no political credibility would be given to those people?

Mr. Atkins

I can do no better than remind my hon. Friend of what the Prime Minister said in this House on Tuesday: the Government have absolutely nothing to hide about the Maze prison or about their attitude to those on hunger strike."—[Official Report, 25 November 1980; Vol. 994, c. 488.] The inside of the Maze prison and what has been going on there has been seen on television, and hon. Members and the public can judge for themselves. A number of newspapers, particularly in Northern Ireland, have commented that that has done no harm. It has brought to the notice of the public the nature of the claims that have been made by the prisoners. I believe that that is all to the good and supports the Government's case, which we have repeatedly stated in this House and elsewhere.

Mr. Winterton

But did my right hon. Friend authorise it?

Mr. Alton

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has the full support of Liberal Members in the House in his refusal to grant special status to political prisoners? However, is he satisfied that the families of prisoners in Northern Ireland are being allowed to visit their relatives in jail? Has the statement of Cardinal Basil Hume, which I am sure the whole House welcomes, been drawn to the attention of the prisoners on hunger strike?

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's expression of support for the Government's position. The families of prisoners are allowed access to their relatives who are in prison. I cannot tell him whether the statement of Cardinal Hume has been drawn to prisoners' attention individually, but I have no doubt that they know about it.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Further to the question from the Liberal Bench, may I ask whether Cardinal O'Fiaich has endorsed what Cardinal Hume said in his pastoral letter in condemnation of hunger striking? If so, is not that most welcome, because this is surely no time for equivocation?

Mr. Atkins

I am not responsible for what Cardinal O'Fiaich says or does, but I have seen reports that Cardinal O'Fiaich was aware of what Cardinal Hume intended to say in his pastoral letter and supported it

Mr. John

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I join him in emphasising that the political status of terrorists from both communities is not a possibility? As we do not want young men to throw away their lives by a campaign, however emotional, that will not achieve that aim, let us all join the right hon. Gentleman in pleading with those who are participating in the hunger strike to abandon it now.

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that expression of support on behalf of the Opposition. I think that everyone in the House realises that the claim for political status is one that no British Government, of whatever complexion, would accede to.

Mr. McNamara

That is not the point.

Mr. Atkins

Therefore, the violence in which they are engaged is pointless.