§ 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. 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 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. 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. 409 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.