HC Deb 23 February 1984 vol 54 cc963-4
7. Mr. William Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further steps he has taken and what further advice he has given to staff of the prison service to prevent firearms, ammunition and explosives being smuggled into Her Majesty's prison, Magilligan.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

The governor of Her Majesty's prison Magilligan has, under the direction of the Northern Ireland Office, carried out a thorough review of security and procedures at all levels within the prison. Special attention has been paid to search methods and the general supervision of inmates by staff, and revised arrangements have been introduced for controlling and supervising visitors.

Mr. Ross

Is the Minister aware that he told me on 10 November 1983 that all that was humanly possible was being done to ensure that no illicit material was getting into the prison? Shortly thereafter a firearm was found, and since then there has been an explosion, which was clearly designed to kill. Against that background, why should the people in the area believe that the present measures are any more successful than those that have been employed in the past? What assurance can the Minister give the local people? Is he making available to the prison officers at Magilligan prison copies of the Hennessy report and, possibly, the report of the debate in the House on that report?

Mr. Scott

I said I would ensure that all that was humanly possible would be done at Magilligan prison. I have always made it clear that no guarantee can be given for any prison that there will be no smuggling of contraband articles. Smuggling takes place in prisons in Britain and in Northern Ireland, but all that is humanly possible will be done.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Would it not be a good idea for a number of the prison officers to have a restricted length of service at Magilligan prison — for example, three months' service, followed by three months off? In that way, they could continue to be alert all the time.

Mr. Scott

With the greatest possible respect, I think that prison officers should spend sufficient time in any prison, but not an excessive time, to be able to gain experience of the inmates and the conditions within the prison.

Mr. Maginnis

Has the regimes division of the Northern Ireland prison department advised the Minister to accord to Loyalist prisoners who have recently stopped their protest the same return of remission as he accorded to Republican prisoners who came off hunger strikes?

Mr. Scott

I was pleased to see the statement on behalf of Loyalist prisoners that they have ceased their protest. If that turns out to be the position, we shall for the first time since 1976 be without a protest in Northern Ireland's prisons. We shall judge the behaviour of the prisoners concerned. If they turn out to be fully conforming prisoners, the return of remission will be considered.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Is the Minister not in a position to confirm that the protest has ended?

Mr. Scott

I have seen statements, but whether prisoners are on protest is judged by behaviour rather than statements.

Rev. Martin Smyth

What standards of judgment were excercised for conforming Republican prisoners?

Mr. Scott

Conforming prisoners are those who are willing to take directions from the governor on accommodation and work.

Mr. Soley

Will the Minister explain why body-scanning techniques cannot be introduced in the Northern Ireland prison system, including Magillan prison, to prevent the unnecessary use of strip-searching techniques, which are highly undesirable? Is there any truth in the suggestion that scanning techniques cannot be introduced because far more prison staff would be required to implement them? If that is true, does the Minister accept that that is an entirely unacceptable reason?

Mr. Scott

That is untrue. Strip searching is used in prisons throughout the United Kingdom and is thought to be necessary in all our prisons. There is continuous review of the technical facilities, which might one day obviate the necessity for strip searching, which must be unpleasant for prisoners and prison officers alike.

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