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