HC Deb 14 May 1987 vol 116 cc407-9
14. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on cross-border security co-operation between the United Kingdom and Eire.

Mr. Scott

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to a question by my hon. Friend, the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) earlier today.

Mr. Ross

I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his kind remarks about me and I wish him well in his continuing job in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Scott

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dickens

Does the Minister appreciate that when we have successful security operations, such as the most recent, or when terrorists are apprehended, it is often found that the criminals are among those who escaped from the Maze prison? What recent steps have been taken to ensure that we never have a repetition of terrorists escaping from the Maze prison and then being able to kill people as a consequence?

Mr. Scott

It would be a bold Minister who stood at the Dispatch Box and guaranteed the total security of any prison establishment anywhere in the United Kingdom. Following the escape from the Maze in 1983, Sir James Hennessy produced a report with many recommendations, which have been implemented progressively. There is no doubt that security has been substantially enhanced at Her Majesty's prison Maze and the lessons have been applied to other prisons in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Cash

With reference to the question tabled by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) on discrimination against Catholics——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is wide of the question.

Mr. Cash

With reference to this question, does my hon. Friend agree that as we come up to the general election this is a time for requesting those who take part in political activities in Northern Ireland, on cross-border security or other related matters, to ensure that there is no unnecessary hostility on the basis of religious bigotry? This is a time for people to consider the political situation, not racial or religious prejudice.

Mr. Scott

I endorse what my hon. Friend implies in his question. I assure him that within the security forces in Northern Ireland, whether in recruitment, promotion or training procedures, there is no discrimination whatsoever against Catholics. Steps have been taken to ensure that that is so.

Mr. Stanbrook

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), is it not a fact that recidivism among those convicted of terrorist offences is vey high? Therefore, should we not consider introducing powers to enable the courts of Northern Ireland to sentence offenders convicted of terrorist crimes to imprisonment for the duration of the emergency?

Mr. Scott

We are conducting a study at the moment into the degree of re-involvement in terrorist activity of those who have been convicted of terrorist-type offences. There is some superficial evidence that re-involvement exists to a certain extent, but, unless my hon. Friend has evidence to show that it is particularly high, I advise him not to jump to too many conclusions on that front. I would be most reluctant to consider a procedure which moved away from treating those who have been convicted of terrorist-type offences as criminals within Northern Ireland and dealing with them according to the law. The IRA and its supporters whould love us to treat those convicted of terrorist-type offences as some sort of prisoners of war. We will not do that. They are criminals. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, a crime is a crime is a crime, and those who commit those crimes should be treated accordingly.