HL Deb 23 May 1974 vol 351 cc1540-1

11.16 a.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question of which I have given Private Notice, namely:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what treatment is being given to Dolours and Marion Price, who are on hunger strike in Brixton prison.


My Lords, I understand that honourable Members in another place are seeking information about this matter. I am not in a position at the moment to make a Statement, but I undertake to repeat in your Lordships' House any response which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary may make in another place.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer, in view of the fact that it is not certain that there will be a Statement in another place, may I ask him whether he is aware that these girls are on hunger strike, not to end their sentences, but to be transferred to a prison in Ireland where visits can be made more readily? Also, is it not the case that such permission has repeatedly been given to prisoners to transfer from one gaol to another in this country? May I further ask whether, when the Government consider this matter, as I know they will, they will bear this point in mind?


My Lords, I am aware of the considerations which the noble Lord has raised and will certainly pass on to my right honourable friend the general spirit of what he has said. I am sure that my noble friend will appreciate that at this stage I cannot go further than I have indicated.


My Lords, may I ask this question? While disagreeing profoundly with what these girls have done—and I have told him that—and while regarding hunger strikes as a form of "spiritual blackmail", do we not have to be pragmatic in this matter and realise that if anything happens to these girls the bad situation in Northern Ireland may be intensified? Further, may I ask whether the Government would even consider something which I agree is very disagreeable—the "cat and mouse treatment" which was given to suffragettes when they were on hunger strike?


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, are we not in danger of entering into a debate on this matter? We understand the strength of the noble Lord's feelings, but I am not sure whether or not this is a Private Notice Question which has been answered. I would hope that the noble Lord, the Acting Leader of the House, may perhaps be able to give us some guidance on this.


My Lords, there is strength in what the noble Lord says, and I would suggest to your Lordships that we leave the matter as it is for the time being.

Forward to