HL Deb 11 March 1980 vol 406 cc726-8

2.48 p.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 extend the Barlinnie Prison Special Unit system for offenders guilty of violence to all prisons with such offenders, including the Maze Prison, Belfast.


My Lords, we have no specific plans to introduce in England and Wales a unit similar to the Special Unit at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. I understand that there are no plans to establish such a unit in Northern Ireland or to set up additional units on similar lines in Scotland. We are taking a close interest in the Barlinnie experiment and have arranged for senior Home Office officials to visit Barlinnie shortly.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will he not agree that the present treatment of violent offenders generally is proving a failure, and that there is no rehabilitation? However, is not the liberal treatment at Barlinnie proving successful, not only in the well-publicised case of Mr. Boyle, but in others? Are discussions taking place about the extension of the Barlinnie system, and, if so, would it not be to the benefit of the officers at the Maze Prison if it were applied there, and thus undermine the IRA propaganda about the H Block, which is probably their most effective instrument to influence others?


My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord that the handling and treatment of long-term and violent prisoners is not successful in this country. In England and Wales we have the dispersal system;the prison at Grendon has its therapeutic regime;there is C wing at Parkhurst which exists as a structured regime for prisoners who suffer from mental disorders, and of course there are a number of prison hospital annexes. In addition to that, the noble Lord referred to the rehabilitation of prisoners in the community. This is what the parole system and the pre-release employment scheme are all about. The visit of officials from my right honourable friend's department is precisely to meet the second point which the noble Lord put to us.

We are genuinely going to see what we think it might be feasible and practic-able to take from the Scottish system to put into the system in England and Wales. This is taking into account the fact that the system at Barlinnie is a heavy commitment on staffing resources. As to the final point of the noble Lord, that is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister a question that I asked a year or so ago, about the Maze Prison? Is it still true that what the prisoners in the Maze Prison are doing is self-inflicted? It makes a great difference whether the conditions under which they are living are self-inflicted or are not self-inflicted.


My Lords, so far as I know—and this falls slightly but not completely outside the question the noble Lord is asking—what the noble Baroness is saying is correct.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in pursuing attempts at rehabilitation of violent offenders to make them non-violent, I hope we do not get into the position of being such "good-doers "that we let violent men return to our population to continue the crimes for which they have previously been imprisoned?


My Lords, I shall certainly take into account what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, does the noble Lord's department take the view that the propaganda of the IRA as to the appalling conditions in prison serves the useful purpose of discouraging people from going there?


My Lords, I am delighted to say to the noble Lord that that question falls very far wide of the original Question


My Lords, despite what the Minister has said, do not the recidivist statistics prove the absolute failure of our present prison system to deal with violent offenders? Is not the result of the more progressive treatment of Barlinnie an indication that rehabilitation can take place? If it were applied in Northern Ireland, would it not destroy the IRA propaganda which is proving so effective?


My Lords, I do not agree with what the noble Lord said to begin with, and I should like to make that crystal clear. So far as the subsequent remarks of the noble Lord are concerned, may I repeat that, although the Barlinnie experiment is, so far as we know—and there is no research on the subject—a very interesting one, it involves a very heavy commitment, so far as resources are concerned, for the Prison Service. The Prison Service in Scotland is in better shape, so far as numbers of prison officers is concerned, than in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is for that reason that I had to say to the noble Lord in my first reply that this is a matter finally for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to decide.


My Lords, would the Minister agree that there is a very basic difference between recidivist offenders referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and violent offenders in general, which is the subject of this Question?


Yes, my Lords, indeed I would.

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