HC Deb 10 November 1983 vol 48 cc399-400
6. Mr. Michael Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he expects to receive Sir James Hennessy's report on the breakout of prisoners from Her Majesty's prison, Maze.

9. Mr. McCusker

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about security at the Maze prison.

Mr. Prior

I understand from Sir James Hennessy that most of the evidence has been obtained and is now being analysed. However, further inquiries could be necessary. I know that Sir James and his team are continuing to give the inquiry the fullest priority but it is not possible to say for certain how long it will take. Until the report is available I cannot comment substantively on security at the Maze prison, except to assure the House that, as I indicated in my statement of 24 October, some improvements are being effected in the light of the experience gained on 25 September.

Mr. Brown

While I fully understand that my right hon. Friend cannot anticipate Sir James Hennessy's report and appreciate his assurance that some improvements in security measures have been implemented, is it possible for him to outline the nature of the security changes that have been made at the Maze prison?

Mr. Prior

There have been two improvements—one is to the locking devices for the main gate and the other is the further protection for prison officers in the main control room of H-block, where a man was shot during the last outbreak. Those are the two improvements to date, but it is early days.

Mr. Canavan

In his statement to the House on 24 October the Secretary of State described the Maze as the most secure prison in Northern Ireland. Which is the least secure?

Mr. Prior

They are all, I hope, more secure than they were.

Mr. Watson

What is the ratio between prisoners and prison officers in Northern Ireland, and how does that ratio compare with that for England and Wales?

Mr. Prior

There are 3,000 prison officers in Northern Ireland for 2,500 prisoners, and at the Maze there are 1,000 prison officers to 850 prisoners, which is more than a 1:1 ratio. This compares with one prison officer to 2.4 prisoners in England and Wales and, in maximum security prisons in England and Wales, to 1:1.3. There is no question of prisons being understaffed in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Maclennan

Since the Secretary of State refused in the House of Commons to accept political responsibility for the escape at the Maze, there has been a serious escape, that of Samuel Crowe from the Belfast city hospital. Does the right hon. Gentleman also propose to refuse to accept responsibility for that?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir, and I do not need any lessons in responsibility from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Peter Robinson

As well as the report from Sir James Hennessy, the Secretary of State requested reports from the Chief Constable and the GOC in Northern Ireland. Will any part of the findings of those reports be published?

Mr. Prior

So far I have received oral reports from both the GOC and the Chief Constable. Further discussions have taken place, and a number of these points will be relevant to the Security Committee of the Assembly when I next meet it.

Mr. McCusker

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the H-block system, as designed and intended to be run, would have made it the most secure prison system in western Europe? Does he also agree that it was only the demolition of the defensive mechanisms of the H-block, as a consequence of the concessions that the Government gave in the aftermath of the hunger strike, that enabled these people to escape?

Mr. Prior

I agree with the first of the hon. Gentleman's questions but he would not expect me to agree with the second. This matter is being examined by Sir James Hennessy, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman awaits the report.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Secretary of State trying to tell us that the Maze is as secure as Buckingham palace?

Mr. Prior

That is not a question that I have to answer.

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