HL Deb 22 February 1979 vol 398 cc1914-6

11.7 a.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will apply the recommendations of the report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System on The Régime for Long-term Prisoners in Conditions of Maximum Security to prisons in Northern Ireland where maximum security prisoners are confined.


My Lords, the principal recommendations of the report related to the dispersal in England and Wales of a relatively small number of high-risk, long-term prisoners, the provision of maximum security for these prisoners and the type of régime which should be applied to them. The high proportion of such prisoners in Northern Ireland at the present time and the nature of the accommodation available makes dispersal within Northern Ireland impracticable.

Most high risk prisoners in Northern Ireland are held in Maze and Belfast prisons, and the security arrangements and the régimes within these prisons are generally in line with the recommendations made in the report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Although having no sympathy with the prisoners in Northern Ireland, who seek to blackmail by indecency and filth, is not the position in the Maze prison becoming humanly intolerable both to prison officers and to prisoners? Would not the extension of these recommendations—which are good in themselves—to Northern Ireland, do something to change that situation?


My Lords, I certainly agree with the first remarks made by my noble friend, and I am sure that what he said has the agreement of the whole House. In fact, to some extent conditions have improved slightly in the cell blocks where prisoners are protesting, because the introduction of steam cleaning, and now the greater regularity with which that is carried out has enabled the prison officers who are carrying out their duties in very difficult circumstances to keep the cells in rather better condition than was the case last year.

As I said in my original Answer, the fact of the matter is that the recommendations of this report which apply to the régimes within prisons, are already in force in Northern Ireland if prisoners wish to take advantage of that régime. If prisoners refuse to take advantage of the régime, there is very little that the Government, prison officers or anyone else can do about it.


My Lords, would not an acknowledgment of this be very valuable in meeting the very misleading propaganda which is now being undertaken in the United States of America?


Yes, my Lords. Indeed, I would go further and say that an acknowledgment of the fact that prison conditions in Northern Ireland are to some extent rather better than either the Radzinowicz Report recommended or the position in Great Britain, would be helpful. For example, prisoners can wear their own clothing during leisure periods; all sentenced prisoners receive a weekly visit; prisoners are allowed compassionate home leave for family matters and some prisoners are allowed it at Christmas. All prisoners receive a 50 per cent. remission on their sentences. All those things are available to prisoners in Northern Ireland, and are not generally available to prisoners in the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree with my noble friend that a rather wider recognition of those facts would be very helpful to all concerned.


My Lords, whatever sympathy we feel—and I saw the programme about United States' help to Northern Ireland—should we not hold on to the fact that these conditions are self-inflicted? That is what the Secretary of State made so clear when he spoke on television a few days ago.


My Lords, yes. It is also important to recognise the influence which some people outside the prison system have on those who are protesting inside the prison. It is not simply a question of convincing those inside the prison that the protest is completely without any hope, but also of persuading those with influence outside the prison, who have influence over the prisoners, that they should persuade them to abandon this completely hopeless protest.