HL Deb 25 May 1978 vol 392 cc1056-7

The Earl of LONGFORD asked Her Majesty's Government:

  1. (i) What are the present rules governing visits from Members of the House of Commons and Members of the House of Lords to the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland;
  2. (ii) how do those rules differ, if at all, from those governing similar visits to:
    1. (a) other prisons in Northern Ireland; and
    2. (b) prisons in England and Wales.
  3. (iii) since 1st January 1978, how many visits have been paid to the Maze Prison by:
    1. (a) MPs with a Northern Ireland connection;
    2. (b) other MPs and Peers; and
    3. (c) other persons apart from official prison visitors, others with official business, members of prisoners' families and personal friends.

Lord MELCHETT: It has been the practice for some time to allow representative groups of Members of the House of Commons to make annual general interest visits to prison establishments in Northern Ireland. It is normal for the timing of these visits to be arranged in consultation with prison governors. In addition, Members of the House of Commons may visit their constituents in Northern Ireland prisons, and such visits do not count against a prisoner's entitlement. Any Member may also visit a prisoner who is not a constituent if the prisoner requests him to do so; such a visit, or a visit by a Member of the House of Lords, would count against the normal entitlement. These visits take place in the visiting areas of the prisons.

I am informed by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary that, generally speaking, Members of both Houses of Parliament may visit prisons in England and Wales on request. Maze Prison, which accommodates some 1,800 prisoners, is the focus of a propaganda campaign for political status for terrorists; it is therefore attracting more attention than the other establishments in Northern Ireland or, indeed, in the rest of the United Kingdom. The number of requests for visits by public figures has made necessary the imposition of the present restrictions.

From 1st January to 17th May 1978 four Members of Parliament representing constituencies in Northern Ireland have visited Maze Prison on general interest visits. Two others have made constituency visits. Seven Conservative Members of the House of Commons visited the prison on 14th April. These visits were made under the arrangements described in the reply to the first part of the Question. The only other visits, apart from those by persons in the categories mentioned in the noble Earl's Question, were parochial visits made by the Archbishop O'Fiaich and Bishop Daly on 5th January and 19th April respectively.