HC Deb 09 March 1989 vol 148 cc1025-6
9. Mr. Maginnis

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he intends to place further restrictions on visits to prisoners in Northern Ireland's prisons; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ian Stewart

We have no current plans to restrict either the number of visits or their duration in prisons in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Minister assure me that abolishing Monday visits is not under consideration, or that if it is under consideration, such a decision will not be taken? The Minister must realise that prison officers have a difficult enough job already without his Department creating further disruption in the prisons due to changes in visiting. Will he also tell us why 1.25 million worth of machinery bought from the prison budget for workshops in Maghaberry was transferred, free of charge, to a Scottish Department?

Mr. Stewart

I require notice of the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but on his main point about changes in visiting arrangements, several measures have been under consideration at official level to try to establish better ways of reducing delays for visitors to prisons and to introduce better visiting conditions. No proposals have been put to me about that and discussions are at a purely consultative stage. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no such decisions have been taken.

Mr. Alton

While the Minister is considering the question of visits to the Maze and other prisons in Northern Ireland, will he say whether he has considered the proposals put to him by the Campaign for Lifers? In particular, will he say whether he will improve ease of access for visits to prisoners in the mixed wings, and look at ways of weaning people away from the paramilitary wings and into the mixed wings of prisons like the Maze?

Mr. Stewart

As the hon. Gentleman may know, the regime at Maghaberry prison is designed for exactly that purpose. The life sentence review boards have already established release dates for prisoners in well over 100 cases. The board is working satisfactorily in that respect. I am aware that certain representations have been made for changes, but I am not convinced of their merits under the present circumstances.

Mr. Molyneaux

Can the Minister explain the background to another type of visit, which was made last Sunday to Maghaberry prison in my constituency and took the form of a march by 150-plus Republicans, led by Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey, complete with the starry plough flag and all the rest of it? Can the Minister say whether the required notice was given to the police and, more important, whether the Northern Ireland Office authorised the use of the prison grounds for the march and the protest meeting at the prison gates?

Mr. Stewart

I shall investigate the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman and reply as soon as I can.