HL Deb 15 March 1984 vol 449 cc941-62

9.11 p.m.

Lord Underhill rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what further actions they are proposing to take following the publication of the Hennessy Report on the Maze Prison (H.C. 203).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper gives us an opportunity to debate aspects of the Hennessy Report: a debate which I urged when the Statement on the publication of the report was made in your Lordships House on 26th January. There are a number of reasons for such a debate. The seriousness of the escape from the Maze cannot be underestimated; the more so as it followed the organised outbreak from the Belfast Crumlin Road prison only two years earlier. Moreover, the publication of the report aroused immediate widespread public concern, considerable media coverage and a strong reaction from the Prison Officers' Association. In addition, since the Question was tabled there have been the statements made following the funeral of the murdered assistant governor, William McConnell.

I urge that I do not intend to go into details of the escape. Nor do I expect the Minister to give any information that may endanger security. I fully appreciate the detailed inquiry carried out by Sir James Hennessy and his team and the comprehensive nature of the report, together with its many conclusions and 73 recommendations; but there appear to be some gaps and matters on which information is required, and also details of action being taken. The report reveals many deficiencies, most of which are mentioned in the conclusions in the report. These weaknesses were not all at the actual prison level. One aspect that seems to stand out is the confusion of accountability at various levels.

It must be put on record that the prison service in Northern Ireland has had to cope with a greatly increased number of prison inmates—an increase from 600 to over 2,500 within the period of 15 years from 1969—and with the consequential rapid increase in staff. There are further exceptional conditions which should be put on record. Paragraph 1.15 of the report states: The vast majority of the inmate population had been convicted of offences connected with terrorist activities. They were quite unlike the population of any prison in England or Wales in their dangerousness, there allegiance to a para-military organisation, their cohesiveness, their common determination to escape and their resistance to the efforts of the prison authorities to treat them as ordinary criminals". If I may quote another extract, paragraph 3.01 states: Once they have been convicted most prisoners settle down to serve their sentences and ask nothing better than to be left alone to do so. But the para-military prisoners of Northern Ireland are taught from the time they join up that if they are caught their first duty is to get out and rejoin the fight". In paragraphs 8.05 and 8.06 are set out the considerable pressures on staff and the threats and often personal attacks on them and their families or their homes.

Recently I have been given details of many threats and attacks made on a number of members of the staff since the publication of the Hennessy Report. We should keep in mind that 23 members of the prison service have been murdered. I think that everyone was moved by the recent murder of William McConnell, the deputy governor of the Maze, and the letter that he left giving a premonition of his possible death.

Paragraph 7 of the introduction to the report states: The Northern Ireland Office made available … all papers relevant". Paragraph 4 states that the inquiry team: interviewed 115 past or present members of staff". There is no reference to any formal meetings with the Prison Officers' Association or with the Prison Governors' Association, yet I am informed that Sir James met representatives of the POA who gave him minutes of their meetings with the Maze governor. Why is there no reference to these two matters?

The report stresses the prevalence of a military command structure operated in the prison by the paramilitaries and their influence in getting previous orderlies removed and the selection of their own men, including some who were very high risk. The Prison Officers' Association alleged that this was tolerated by the authorities, and although they voiced various complaints and apprehensions there is no reference to that in the report.

Your Lordships will recall that, when responding to the Minister's Statement, I referred to the problem of morale in the prison service, and this question comes out in various parts of the report. This has also been emphasised at meetings I have had with representatives of the Prison Officers' Association. Although the report comments favourably on the efficiency and conscientious work of many members of the staff, paragraph 8.03 states that others show little concern for their duty.

I am certain that all noble Lords will agree that breaches of duty cannot be condoned, but this may be linked to the emphasis in the report on the comparative inexperience of many of the staff and also the inadequate training. Paragraph 1.13 states that the Maze staff numbers about 1,000 but only 4 per cent.—that is some 40 officers—had 10 or more years' service and that almost 50 per cent, have served less than four years. Paragraph 8.10 refers unfavourably to the training given compared with that received by new entrants in Great Britain. I understand that following the report training is to be improved, but why was there this lack of adequate training? I appreciate that the Northern Ireland Office is a separate Department of State, but is there no check on such matters with the United Kingdom Inspectorate of Prisons? Are there no consultations between the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office prison service? There are criticisms in the report of faults in deployment and management of staff and of various security matters. Were there no consultations on these issues? Were there no visits to check on them? Who is it who talks to prison governors about these particular questions?

The Prison Officers' Association has expressed serious concern about what it considers to be political agreement reached on the five demands by the paramilitaries following the end of the blanket protests and hunger strikes. The report deals with this matter in paragraphs 1.08 to 1.10. I do not intend to comment on whether or not such an agreement may have been appropriate in the circumstances; but the Prison Officers' Association felt, and still feels, very strongly that it was in no way consulted. It was not taken into the authorities' confidence about something which in the absence of any such consultation looked to the prison officers like appeasement—yet they had to carry all the subsequent problems and stresses. This particular aspect of the change is dealt with in paragraph 9.27.

If I may, I shall just quote the last part of that paragraph. It concludes: the effect on staff morale was considerable. Many members of the staff spoke to us of this period of great bitterness, suggesting that thereafter there was no point in attempting to resist the prisoners' demand; the best policy was to appease them". It has been stressed to me that one of the essential aspects missing from the training of officers is the psychological one of how to handle pressures exerted by the prisoners.

The report refers to the selection of high-risk prisoners as orderlies and also to the allocation of work. Paragraph 3.10 states: The Security Department should also have advised on the selection of orderlies and monitored their selection and employment". Paragraph 3.11, which refers to the problems of providing employment for all prisoners, states: It would, in our view, have been prudent to have sought the advice of the Prison Department, who were unaware of the difficulties, before doing so".

The Prison Officers' Association states that concern on these two particular issues was stressed time and time again, but that instructions came from above. In fact, it is alleged that in the allocation of duties the prison officers had foisted on them a system which they had little power to control. That would appear to be borne out in paragraph 3.11, which states: the Governor had been instructed"— instructed, my Lords— at the end of the most recent hunger strike to provide employment for all prisoners ending their protest".

Paragraph 9.03 points out that, the Director of Operations makes it a practice to spend two or three days a week visiting establishments and this, together with his close personal knowledge of the Maze, should ensure that he is up-to-date with developments in the prison". I must ask: why, then, were all the many complaints made by the Prison Officers' Association apparently not given attention; or, if given attention, not acted upon?

It is also alleged that no Minister visited the Maze for a period of nearly two years, up to July 1983. Is that correct? If it is, one must ask: why?

In the period from July 1982 to June 1983, some 13 meetings took place between the governor and the Prison Officers' Association at which, it is claimed, 30 approaches were made by the POA with reference to manning levels and many aspects of security. It is also claimed that the staff were fully aware of the inherent dangers, and in consequence made management also aware of those dangers. It is alleged that repeated requests for standby reinforcements were met with the argument, allegedly supported by Home Office advisers, that deployment of additional officers would not ameliorate the situation, but could provoke the prisoners and be counter-productive.

I have seen summaries of issues raised at these meetings, and they show a wide range of important matters. Obviously, it is very encouraging to know that the governor held regular meetings with the Prison Officers' Association; and I understand that minutes of the meetings were agreed between the governor and the association, following which a copy was sent to the Northern Ireland Office after each meeting. So far as I can see, the Hennessy Report makes no reference whatever to those meetings, to the minutes or to the serious issues raised in them, nor to their submission to the Northern Ireland Office. Again, I must ask: why? I am assured that copies of the minutes were handed to Sir James when he met the Prison Officers' Association. What happens to such minutes when received at the Northern Ireland Office? Are they acted upon? If so, by whom, and how? I am not seeking to be an apologist for the Prison Officers' Association, but these various points need to be explained and clarified in the interests of restoring confidence and improving future proceedings.

A press notice, issued by the Northern Ireland Office, of a meeting of the Assembly Security and Home Affairs Committee with the Secretary of State on 28th February stated that 27 of the recommendations are being implemented and a further 46 are still under consideration. I would ask whether the Minister, without giving information that he should not give—I know that he would not—can comment on that statement and on the progress. In my view, what we must ensure in the context of the Hennessy Report is a good and humane prison system under the control of public scrutiny and enjoying respect and public confidence. It is in that spirit that I put the Question on the Order Paper.

9.25 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his very clear introduction. I should like to say how much I endorse everything that he has said and all the questions that he has asked. I hope that I will not repeat his questions and that I will deal with the report from a slightly different angle.

We have been through a very bad week in Ulster. Three people have been wounded. Two part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment have been murdered and one prison officer has been killed. Mr. Adams and his friends were, indeed, fortunate in that they were only wounded and I would like to condemn without reservation all attacks against whomever they may be. However. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a very pertinent remark when he said that Mr. Adams was now a casualty of his own war in which he is a fanatical believer.

The main subject of our worries—my worry and that of very many people in Northern Ireland—is that we believe that the Government have been grossly unfair to the prison service in the allocation of blame for this escape. The true gravity of the break-out is even now not fully realised. Nineteen men escaped, but between them they had committed many hundreds of crimes. One wonders how many more they will commit before they are apprehended again. There is no doubt, reading the report of Sir James Hennessy, that prison officers were to blame for the actual escape. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has stated, this is not the full story. There are many parts of the story that are not really mentioned even in the report, and I shall be interested to hear the answers to the questions that the noble Lord raised.

Political decisions have been taken by successive administrations over many years concerning the Maze. The resultant changes have been so great that I am surprised that we have such a fine body of dedicated men in the prison service. I salute them. They need our support. I wonder whether my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would consider recommending for a George Medal or some such decoration the prison officer who was killed in the course of duty. I believe that he deserves it. It would be an immense boost to the morale of the prison service were that done.

My right honourable friend and his team of Ministers have shown, like many teams before them, a dedication to the cause of Ulster, peace and prosperity. It therefore gives me no pleasure to speak in terms of criticism about his administration today. But when my right honourable friend arrived in Ulster his office issued a statement which said that the special, prime responsibility of the Secretary of State was to be "security and operation". The operation of the prison service must clearly be in that category.

The conditions in Northern Ireland are totally different from those in Great Britain. It would never have been right, in Northern Ireland terms, for the Secretary of State to have resigned, and I believe that he was quite wrong when he offered his resignation if policy decisions were wrong. Any decision to resign should only be taken if it would further peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. I do not believe, in this instance, that it would have done. The prison service of Northern Ireland is not like the police service. The police service is an independent arm of the law responsible to the law and to the police authority. The prison service is the administrative instrument of the Secretary of State. Over the years it has had to accept and administer a constant stream of political decisions about which, in our opinion, it was not consulted. Those decisions have made our prisons quite unlike those in Great Britain and it is well sometimes to recite the various changes which have occurred.

Up until 1972 there were internees in the prisons and what are called "ODCs" (ordinary decent criminals). After 1972, as a result of a decision by my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, there was an added category called "special category". In 1976 a very courageous decision was taken by the then Government; it was intended to phase out "special category". That produced the blanket protest, followed in 1978 to 1981 by the dirty protest. Then we had the hunger strike, and lastly we have had the post-hunger strike.

All those changes required political monitoring on a daily basis and the involvement of Ministers. Decisions were taken often in direct opposition to those of the governor and the prison staff. I am not criticising those decisions when they were taken in the light of the information that people had at their hand at that time. What I am saying is that in the light of subsequent actions sometimes they may not have been as right as they would have been. I am saying absolutely clearly that the Secretary of State and his Ministers were politically involved in decisions which had quite a lot to do with the escape in the long run. I shall give some instances of those decisions.

During the hunger strike the Government appeared to recognise the Provisional IRA high command structure. They ordered the staff at the prison to bring Mr. McFarlane, who was the IRA commander, from a cell in an H-block to meet the hunger striker McIlwee who was in hospital. That was a political decision. The Irish bishops were allowed to visit the hunger strikers in hospital. But when they arrived there they asked to see McFarlane. The governor refused, but he rang the Northern Ireland Office and his decision was overruled by a political decision. Finally, there was the fateful decision to allow the concession of limited association after the hunger strike. That decision was taken against the advice of the governor and it was this last decision which, as described in the Hennessy Report, allowed the conditions to develop to enable escape to happen and the guns to be smuggled in.

Under the conditions prevailing in the Maze, how could Ministers not be fully involved on a daily basis? From the recent debate in another place it was clear that the Member for Mansfield, the right honourable John Concannon, was in touch daily and he was often in the prisons. I should like to contrast the decision by the right honourable Don Concannon to attend the funeral of Albert Myles, whom I knew, and the absence of Ministers at Mr. McConnell's funeral. At a time when the morale of the prison service was low, I do not think that that was the right decision. So it was political decisions which set the scene, and the Government should accept their share of the blame.

To compound this, I find it very difficult to understand that the Government were unaware of the low morale of the staff at the Maze. It was bound to be a major problem for the staff. The Government had given way; they had conceded. The prisoners constantly insulted the warders during the period immediately after the concession. As the report of Sir James makes clear, the Government have a duty, and had a duty, to give leadership. Leadership must be personal; it must be constant and it must be friendly. It cannot be achieved by passing messages down through civil servants to the staff. It must be a politically responsible presence; and it is here that I find the Government wanting.

In the critical period from September 1981 to August 1982, the Minister responsible—my noble friend Lord Gowrie (to whom I passed a message to say that I would mention his name)—visited the prison only three times, and the gap between the second visit and the third one was over 10 months, and this at a time when the staff had suffered what I might call a slap in the face. They watched the Government accept segregation, again. The whole purpose of the Maze was not to have segregation. They saw the Government apparently recognise the Provisional IRA command structure. That was the moment when they needed leadership. Instead of leadership and support, they have had to take all the blame for the escape. I do not believe that that is fair.

At the moment the level of tension is very high in Ulster. We require a period of calm. We need the assurance that there will be no new initiative further to heighten tension, and above all no pandering to Republican ideas bred from the Dublin forum.

9.37 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, because of all the circumstances attaching to this escape I do not think that anyone can exaggerate the concern that has existed since the outbreak from the prison and even up to the very moment. One would have thought that with the publication of the Hennessy Report and the subsequent debate in another place, something would have been said which would serve to have allayed the feelings of concern in Northern Ireland regarding this escape. The contrary has been the case because in both communities in Northern Ireland discussion is still taking place daily about the circumstances of this escape; what the Hennessy Report contains, and what is left out of it; and what was said and not said in another place. I certainly recognise that it might be better if this debate was not taking place here tonight. But knowing the concern and the suspicions that exist in Northern Ireland, I think it is right that any misgivings which are being felt should be spoken of here. I have no doubt that this debate in itself will not conclude by allaying the suspicions that we have had for so long in Northern Ireland.

I read this report on the day of its publication, and I read it again an hour ago. I find some strange contradictions in it. But most of all, I am taking part in this debate because of the very tragic death of the deputy prison governor, Bill McConnell, and the letter which he left behind. He was a man who knew that he was facing death and he had the courage to sit down and put this on paper. There are not many people around who, knowing that they will possibly be assassinated, can sit down and put their thoughts on paper. It is the thoughts which he put on that paper which motivate me and many others in Northern Ireland to call into question the conclusions of the Hennessy Report.

Prior to the Maze escape and the publication of the Hennessy Report, I think that I had spoken to one prison officer throughout all the years that I have lived in Northern Ireland. It is unfortunate that in the debate in another place—and I hope that it will not permeate this Chamber—if you took a particular point of view you were saying, either "Are you supporting the Government?" or, "Are you supporting the prison officers?" I am supporting neither. I certainly am not lending myself to the hysterical demands that were made on publication of this report calling for the resignation of the Secretary of State or his minister for prisons. I think that this Secretary of State and his minister for prisons are as good, or as bad, as any other set of ministers we have had since the onset of direct rule in Northern Ireland.

I know that the Secretary of State has gone out of his way to try to do what he can in the difficult situation we have had in Northern Ireland. Since 1972, when direct rule was imposed on Northern Ireland on the abolition of the Stormont Government, Northern Ireland then became the sole responsibility in every aspect of life of the Government of the United Kingdom. In fact, direct rule replaced, or put into effect in a different way, Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, which stated that all matters, persons, places and things were under the direct jurisdiction of the Westminster Government. If that were so, then the Maze prison, and every circumstance surrounding it, became the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government.

I find—and it is a roundabout way to go about it—something already referred to by my noble friend Lord Underhill when he spoke about staff training. It begins at page 44, paragraph 8.10. Halfway through, the paragraph states: Thirdly, there is a need for more training. At present an officer joining the Prison Service in Northern Ireland spends a two-week familiarisation period at a prison followed by a five-week residential course, before joining his establishment. This compares very unfavourably with the training received on joining by a new entrant in England, who spends four weeks at an establishment undergoing training, followed by an eight-week residential course. If the Hennessy Report could arrive at that conclusion, then certainly it must have been known by the Home Office. It must have been known by the Inspector of Prisons in 1972, and in 1974 when the new cellular block was being built at the Maze. It is too late, after a dangerous escape 10 years afterwards, to say, "Well, we realise now that adequate training was not given". It was not the fault of the prison staff, it was not the fault of the governors, if there was not the training given. That was the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. Take into consideration page 12, paragraph 2.28, what happened as a result of this escape. The conclusion of that paragraph states: Of the prison staff who had been on duty in the prison on 25th September one, Officer James Ferris, died. Four others were stabbed, two were shot, thirteen were kicked about and beaten, and forty-two were subsequently off work with nervous disorders. In view of the treatment that was given to the prison officers by that gang of very dangerous murderers, some of the criticism was totally unjustified, and even if it were justified it was said at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Those prison officers are dealing with a prison that is unique not only in the United Kingdom but indeed in all Europe. No other prison—not in Italy, where they had the Red Brigade; not in Germany, where they had the Baader-Meinhoff Gang; not in France, where they had their terrorists as well—in no other country in Europe had the same problem of so many dangerous men incarcerated in one place in such a small community as Northern Ireland, and the intolerable pressures under which those men were trying to carry out a job. One would have had to have been a prison officer to have understood.

We have heard that so many facets of training were not available to the prison staff and that, in effect, led to a serious deterioration in the standards which one may have expected at that time and in that place. One of the main reasons why that escape took place—it has to be said; many people will not say it because of the possible consequences or because it may seem that they were anti-Government—was largely due to a political decision made at the ending of the hunger strike. That decision was the right of free association. Emanating from that political decision to grant free association to those dangerous men meant that they were able, in the words of the Hennessy Report, to take over complete control of an exercise yard, to take over complete control of two dining rooms and thereby to take over complete control of H-Block 7.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, may I just question the noble Lord? We want to get this right. I do not think that any right of free association was given. What was given was the right to segregation. I think that was a disaster, but it probably was inevitable. However, there was never any question that one block could have association with another block, which is what the noble Lord seems to be suggesting. If so, I withdraw, but I thought it was not.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, no, it was exactly the same block. It was the in-between bar of the H. They are different places; the two bars of the H and the in-between bar which allowed them association with the other leg of the H block. They were therefore able to take over and to work freely within the confines of that block.

One of the contradictions which I see is that on page 14, paragraph 3.07, is one of the most hurtful paragraphs in the whole Hennessy Report in which severe criticisms are made of the prison staff. Halfway down that paragraph we come to a sentence which, after going on about having interviewed prison officers, and so on, says: We believe that, while some of these claims may have been justified, a number of officers had been moved because of over-familiarity with prisoners, while others were transferred for over-zealousness". If those officers were transferred it means that there was a senior authority overseeing them which was able to see at first hand that they were being over-friendly and, on the other hand, which was able to see that they were being over-zealous. So there was supervision. There was someone looking at the actions and the everyday activities of those officers. Those officers cannot be blamed for the actions they took at that time because political decisions had been made.

I do not want to cause any rancour or ill-feeling, but I ask the Minister whether it is true that a Minister in Her Majesty's Government, at the conclusion of the hunger strike in 1981, said to certain prison officers, "We want to get the Maze off the front pages of the press"? But political considerations are taking priority over security decisons and, if that is so, then it was very wrong. Political considerations getting the Maze prison off the front pages were creating a security problem within that prison and a security problem for the prison officers. That was totally wrong.

And that problem still exists. Since the publication of the Hennessy Report six prison officers' cars have been burned outside their homes. They were burned, undoubtedly, by members of the Loyalist community.

I think this is accepted by the police authorities in Northern Ireland. The burning of a car outside a prison officer's home is a signal to that officer saying: "We can burn your car and if you don't play ball with us or with our prisoners in the prison then we will get you! You may be in the car next time". That is clear intimidation of the prison officer. The IRA does not go out of its way to warn prison officers of what it may or may not do. The IRA does it. And it has killed 23 prison officers.

The widow of Bill McConnell has said in the past week that she was very close to her husband. Her husband, in the letter which he wrote predicting his own demise, said that his wife had always been very supportive of him. Mrs. McConnell asks this question. What does a man living with a wife to whom he was deeply attached, and who was caught up in the maelstrom and aftermath of this prison escape, do in such circumstances? Is he to be denied the solace of talking to his wife? I do not think you could apply the Official Secrets Act to any man in those circumstances. The whole implication of Mrs. McConnell, the widow, is that her husband was seconded during the course of the Hennessy investigations to accompany Sir James Hennessy and others around the Maze Prison, to conduct them and to tell men to answer questions and to put the case as he saw it of what had been happening and what had probably led up to the escape. His wife is convinced of that and there are many people in Northern Ireland, not only from one community, who are convinced also that many of the recommendations, much of the advice, given by Mr. McConnell to the Hennessy investigation were completely ignored, absolutely ignored. Certainly none of them is reflected in this report—none. I think it is totally understandable and very human that Mrs. McConnell knowing the evidence which her husband gave to the Hennessy investigation, should feel very bitter indeed; because her husband has gone and he will not come back. And many of his colleagues are living in danger of murder at the present moment.

I only say this in relation to this report. I believe that any defects that there were in the training of the prison staff cannot be laid at the doors of the Prison Officers' Association in Northern Ireland. I believe it was the bounden duty of the Home Office and those who were in control of prisons and who had experience of prisons in other parts of the United Kingdom since 1972 to have been giving of their expertise and of their innermost knowledge of what was needed in such a prison. And perhaps it may be that that expertise was not even available in this part of the United Kingdom.

As I have already said, the Maze was a unique prison. In the United Kingdom you do not have that type of experience either because you do not have that type of prison. The few terrorists that you have here would not in any way give you any greater experience than that which they have in Northern Ireland. But if that is so, then the blame should have been accepted; we have all made mistakes. We did not have all the experience necessary. But it should not have been done in such an unfair way as to point the finger of guilt on the prison officers who were serving in Northern Ireland.

I want to say, with all the seriousness that I can command, that there are recommendations in this Hennessy Report: some of them have been implemented and some have not. At the present moment, contrary to what is contained in the Hennessy Report, segregation is a fact of life in the Maze cellular. The Loyalist paramilitaries are in control of their section of the prison while the IRA and the Provisional IRA are in control of their section of the prison.

I know that the Northern Ireland Office a few weeks ago tried to integrate these prisoners. They got some Loyalists and some Republicans and tried to put them together. They tried to implement one of the recommendations in the Hennessy Report but such a riot broke out among the prisoners that it was called off. It was tried again and called off for a second time. This tells us that if the prisoners riot and insist on having their own paramilitary command in the prison, they can get away with it because at the present moment in the Maze Prison, in the Republican section and in the Loyalist section, you have OCs, commanders and adjutants. They are in effect running that prison as it is at the moment. In what position does that put the members of the prison staff? The members of the prison staff know that it is wrong—

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, we all know that it is wrong.

Lord Fitt

—but there are members of the prison staff who live in the same districts as the families of the Loyalist prisoners and there are members of the prison staff who are well known to the Republican inmates of the Maze. There is a paragraph in Hennessy which says that the Government will give all the support that is necessary to prison staff who may feel that they are in danger. All I can say is that, since the publication of the Hennessy Report, that help and support has been sadly lacking. In fact, it has been noted by its nonexistence. So if the Government want to have an effective prison service in Northern Ireland they will have to give all the support that is necessary to a sincere and dedicated prison staff: otherwise we are going to have a continuation of the so-called military running of the prison.

I want to say this in conclusion, and it has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Underhill. The prisoners in that prison do not regard themselves as prisoners but as prisoners of war, as having fought for either a United Ireland or a United Ulster. But it is not how they perceive themselves to be that should matter; it is how the community, particularly in Ireland but also throughout the United Kingdom, see them to be. A bank robber does not regard himself as a thief but as someone engaged in bringing about a fairer distribution of wealth. It is not how they see themselves to be, but it is how the community see them.

Even within the weeks that have elapsed since the publication of this report there has been the killing of five people in Belfast or elsewhere in Northern Ireland—over the last ten days: brutal murders and slayings are going on. I believe that people who commit such heinous crimes should be treated as the criminals they are. I also believe that the prison officers should be given every support in dealing with such men, who are the dregs of humanity.

10 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, the last sentence of the speech of my noble friend Lord Fitt is one with which nobody in this Chamber (few as we are) would entirely disagree. There are other sentences about which I am less certain. I was afraid that this debate would do more harm than good, and in my opinion it has. It is fair to say that my noble friend Lord Fitt interests us, and we all have the greatest affection for him, but what does his story about Mr. McConnell and his wife mean? To me, it means nothing. I do not understand why Mr. McConnell was shot by the IRA, which I am sure he was. But if he was shot by the IRA. I cannot see what, from the point of view of the Protestant side, is wrong with that. The whole thing is absolutely mysterious.

Mr. McConnell was murdered in the ordinary way that the IRA murder people who they think are dangerous because he had been round talking intimately in the areas of the prison and, in my opinion, had found out things which the IRA did not want repeated. I may be quite wrong; but my noble friend has not suggested anything else, and I just do not understand the significance of that. Clearly, it is a mystery. Nobody can understand why the IRA should have shot McConnell, but it is one of the normal tragedies which we have the whole time in Northern Ireland. I cannot get the sort of innuendo which I think was behind what my noble friend was saying, but I do not understand it.

It is no good saying that prison officers are being attacked. I am probably more in favour of the governors and prison officers of the prisons in Northern Ireland than anybody in this House. I knew them all personally eight years ago. I admired them enormously, visited them frequently and talked to them often. I think they are as good a lot as you will ever get anywhere. But the facts are that in this escape a number of derelictions of duty of rather a small kind occurred, and if they had not the escape could have been stopped about half-way through. The least anybody can do is to say: "Well, in these circumstances, however good these people are, and whatever appalling conditions they live under"—and they certainly do—"we must take disciplinary action against somebody who does not do what he is supposed to do and who, instead of opening the back doors of the van, waves it through and says 'OK'. We cannot accept this sort of thing".

So it is very hard to suggest that this report is anti-prison officer. I do not think it is in the least anti-prison officer. It exposes a certain number of weaknesses, of which most of us would probably have been equally guilty. Having gone on, day after day, searching for the same thing, you become careless. But this sort of thing is not an attack on the prison officers. It is an ordinary disciplinary action against people who failed in the way that most of us would have failed. I always thought that this would be a damaging debate, and I think it has been. I shall do what I can to raise it slightly above the sort of mutual criticisms of everybody that have been going on.

It seems to me that when your enemy has a resounding success it is much better to say as little about it as you can, which is one of the reasons why I thought it was the greatest pity to have this debate.

Chapter 2 makes it clear that the operation was most carefully and efficiently carried out. But it could never have come off without the guns and the absolute knowledge of everyone on both sides that they would be used without hesitation, as indeed they were. Officer James Ferris was killed, four prison officers were stabbed, two were shot and 13 were kicked and beaten. The only rather unattractive feature of the report is the fact that when the senior officer at the gate lodge called upon the group of staff outside the main gate to give chase only three responded. As I say, that is a rather unattractive feature, but by that time I should think that all of us would have been suffering from pretty severe shock. Therefore I can excuse it. On the other side, the report commends eight officers, including Officer Ferris, for courageous behaviour. And the report is right to do so. The crucial factor in the escape was the guns. Without the guns the escape would certainly have failed. The report deals very' thoroughly with this problem in Chapter 4. The only good which is likely to come out of this discussion will be the assurance, which I am now asking the noble Lord for, that the recommendations in Chapter 4—paragraphs 4.07 to 4.09 and paragraphs 4.22 to 4.34, the paragraphs dealing with the delivery of goods and lorries to the prison—have already been introduced. Having read the report, it seems to me to be clear that the most likely way the guns got into the prison was with goods.

This reminds me to turn to a slightly lighter side of this distressing story. I do not know how many noble Lords have read a splendid book, written some years ago, entitled My Six Convicts. It contains the story of a lorry loaded with steel planks which went into an American prison every day and which came out of that prison every day. A little space close to the driver was reserved for a delightful lady who came in every day with the planks and who went out every day with the planks unnoticed, until one dreadful day the load shifted and she was killed, much to the distress of the six convicts. It simply shows that, with the collusion of the driver and the loaders, a great deal can be done when loading.

My own interpretation of what happened is that this is probably where it went wrong. The essential feature must be the guns. My own view is that there were faults of, on the whole, a venal kind by certain prison officers in the course of the escape, which must, in the end, be laid at the door of the governor, who should know the strength of his men. He is the captain of the ship. I believe it is right that he should have taken the can. He is a man who has given yeoman service to the country for, I believe, 34 years, in the most difficult and harassing conditions, and I hope very much that he can be re-employed in a suitable way. But when the captain of a ship has a disaster it is right, I believe, that he should be the man to resign. I do not believe that this applies to the First Lord of the Admiralty, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough.

The report makes it clear—which to me is rather a nasty side—that this practice was encouraged by what appeared to be the development of better relations between officers and prisoners in H-block. The report concludes that this was deliberately brought about on orders from the leaders to become more docile so as to put the minds of the officers at ease and make them less careful. It is very hard to get over this problem because, wherever men are unwillingly detained for a long time an equilibrium has to be achieved between guard and guarded, who have to live together, day in, day out, and who, after all, are human beings. In ordinary prisons this balance is very valuable and can lead to much help for the prisoners and some satisfaction for the prison officers. In terrorist prisons it is, as we see, very dangerous. This makes the prison officers' work in the Maze much more disagreeable apart from being much more dangerous than over here, and we must make allowances which I think every noble Lord who has spoken has, in fact. made. I am perfectly clear that the job they are trying to do is very nearly impossible. I am also perfectly clear that there will always be slip-ups in the future one way or another.

The one thing which is really important is that this should not involve the arrival of guns within the prison. Without guns nothing irremediable happens. When I was in charge of the prisons some years ago—this was not the new H-blocks but the compounds—the IRA broke down the wire fence outside their compound one day. They broke out and set fire to everything that they could see and rushed round the prison. But the prison officers were extremely well led (having been collected from their beds all over the place), and they formed themselves into a line, took up what they could get hold of, charged the prisoners and swept them back into the compound. As a result, nobody escaped.

This is the kind of reaction you get from the prison officers on an occasion where they have not got a man pointing a gun at their heads saying, "If you do it, I will shoot", and he knows perfectly well that he will. There is nobody who does not accept that point of view. If somebody say to you, "Do this, or I will shoot", you have to make a quick calculation—will he, or will he not? If you say, "He will" you do it. This is the position these men were in.

I think—as most noble Lords who spoke today realise—that it is worth remembering that the conditions are absolutely different from conditions in any other prison: not only here, but I should think anywhere. I do not know about certain revolutionary areas where there may be similar circumstances; but here they are absolutely special. There will be other attempts but none will succeed without firearms, and I think the? Secretary of State must take personal interest, with the security officers under the governor, to make absolutely sure that all the loopholes recorded in chapter 4 are closed. This is the important part of the whole report in my opinion. Each time will be different but none, in my opinion will be as serious as this unless firearms are involved.

I am not interested in attributing blame. No one blamed me when the Maze was set on fire; but then no prisoners escaped due to the gallantry of the prison officers. It is easy enough to question morale, but it is hard to keep it up under the constant and very nasty pressures on prison officers and their families: and yet, to their credit, they do keep it up even though 23 of them have given their lives.

The reality of imprisoning 700 or 800 terrorists all with long sentences—many with life sentences—killers to a man, is, in fact, insoluble. There is no way of achieving 100 per cent, security. The nearest would be the Mountbatten scheme referred to at the end of the conclusions of the report, which I have always favoured, but it is too late to do that in Northern Ireland now. I suppose we could try to alter Maghaberry, which is a new prison not yet finished. Curiously enough, we thought of the H-blocks as a pretty impregnable prison system and a very well designed one. I saw the plans, I saw the designs I saw the building, I went round it when it was finished and I left office before it was occupied. Nothing but a gun would have got anybody out of that. That, once again is the main problem.

The lesson is that we have an impossible task which we have to carry out somehow. The prison officers and governors have the most difficult and disagreeable task of any of our front line troops, but they carry on magnificently in spite of murder and intimidation and in spite of constant criticism and harassment. Some individual failures made the escapes possible. There will always be individual failures, but let us never cease to thank and admire the prison governors and their staff for cheerfully performing their essential and almost impossible job of steadily and cheerfully keeping the lid on.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I stand at this Dispatch Box only because of the illness of my noble friend Lord Mansfield. I know your Lordships will sympathise with my noble friend, and will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery and an early return to his ministerial duties, when your Lordships will get better answers than this evening by reason of his greater expertise. May I dispel one possible misapprehension which might arise from my standing here. Although the Home Office inspectorate does inspect prisons in Northern Ireland, its reports go to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland prison service is no part of the responsibilities of the Home Office; and that has a bearing on one or two of the questions I was asked during the debate.

September 25th last has been aptly described as the blackest day in the troubled history of the Northern Ireland prison service. Nobody can underestimate the gravity of the events of that day. The 38 terrorists who escaped from Her Majesty's Prison Maze were all hardened terrorists, and 19 of them are still at large. I can assure noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government are taking all possible steps to ensure that they are recaptured.

Before I deal with the points raised I should like to remind the House of what Maze Prison is like. Sir James Hennessy pointed out that it is a prison without parallel in the United Kingdom. It is unique in both size and continuity and tenacity of its protests and disturbances. As his report says: It consists almost entirely of prisoners convicted of offences connected with terrorist activities, united in their determination to be treated as political prisoners, resisting prison discipline, even if it means starving themselves to death, and retaining their paramilitary structure and allegiances even when inside. Bent on escape and ready to murder to achieve their ends… they are able to manipulate staff and enlist the support of paramilitary organisations in the process of intimidation. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough gave an account of some of its history; and your Lordships should bear in mind that the number of prisoners in Northern Ireland has dramatically increased, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, without precedent, from 600 in the 1960s to 2.500 now. Of those 2,500, 420 are serving life sentences. Some 40 per cent, out of the total would be described in England as category A, the most dangerous group of prisoners of all. A significant number of those are in HM Prison Maze.

The report on the security arrangements at Maze which Sir James Hennessy has presented is a comprehensive and critical document. It highlights weaknesses at what should be one of the most secure prisons in the United Kingdom: weaknesses in physical security; weaknesses in security procedures; weaknesses in management, both at the prison and in the Prison Department of the Northern Ireland Office; weaknesses in training and discipline; and failures by individuals who were negligent or who did not carry out their duty.

It also draws attention to the careful planning of a small group of prisoners and to the outside help they received, particularly through the smuggling in of five guns. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, was absolutely right in focussing attention on that critical factor. The report shows the ruthlessness of the prisoners, who stabbed one officer to death and seriously injured five others. It is, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, aptly said, in no way an anti-prison officer report.

Perhaps I should at this point comment on the allegations that there has been too much interference in the running of prisons. The Secretary of State is responsible for policy decisions on prison administration, for the prison rules which set out the framework within which governors operate and for prison resources. He is responsible for all that to Parliament. He is accountable to Parliament on all prison matters. Governors are responsible for the execution of policies, the implementation of prison rules and local management generally. In their work governors have a measure of discretion, but it is essential that there be close and continuing dialogue between those responsible for manning the establishments and those responsible for the wider policy and resource questions. To suggest that the involvement of Ministers and their officials is political interference is to suggest that governors and prison staff—who are, let us be clear, also public servants—should be independent of Government. Such a position would not be acceptable.

It has also been suggested that the changes in regime introduced in 1981 were in some way the result of a bargain or negotiations with the Provisional IRA. I was glad to notice that the noble Lord. Lord Underhill, distanced himself from that suggestion but none the less said that it was current elsewhere. I welcome this debate if only for one reason. It enables me categorically to deny that any such bargain was entered into or any such negotiations held. Why then, your Lordships may ask, were the announcements of these changes made so soon after the end of the second hunger strike? The answer is simple. Had they been made during the strike, the conclusion would have been inescapable that they were in some way bound up in it and that they did result from some sort of negotiation. There was, I repeat, no negotiation.

The visits to which my noble friend Lord Brookeborough referred in this context to the prisoner McIlwee and to McFarlane—these and other visits to hunger strikers were approved by Minsters in the hope that the hunger strikers might be persuaded of the futility of their action and the hunger strike be ended without loss of life. Such visits were not for the purpose of negotiation. I think that had my right honourable friend decided to deny those visits and the possibility of saving life in order to avoid the possibility of a charge such as that which has been made this evening, that would in fact have been inhumane and a wrong decision.

It would be regrettable indeed if the staff of the Maze and other prisons in Northern Ireland were to be left under an impression that there was negotiation. I should tell noble Lords that both my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my noble friend who was at that time a Minister of State in Northern Ireland met representatives of the Prison Officers' Association for Northern Ireland, with officials of the Northern Ireland Office, to explain matters to them, and no fewer than five detailed public statements were made about the ending of the hunger strike and the changes in the regime that eventually took place. Copies of all these statements were sent in quantity to the prisons in Northern Ireland so that the staff should be fully informed of them before the prisoners were aware of their contents or of the impending changes.

Let me repeat what is said at paragaph 9.26 of the Hennessy Report: We must conclude that none of the changes which were introduced need have affected the security of the prison in any significant way or in a way which made the escape of 25 September easier to accomplish". Indeed, the report goes further and makes it quite clear that if the rules laid down for the running of HMP Maze had been strictly observed, the escape could not have taken place.

The report also makes clear that in terms of financial and staff resources, the prison service has been reasonably well treated. Furthermore, it makes clear that whatever the criticisms made of the prison department, the governor at the Maze never found himself without advice on any important operational matter. However, the report goes on to expose the flaws in the system, and provides 73 recommendations, the implementation of which should considerably improve the security of HMP Maze Cellular and provide safeguards against any future escape attempt.

Her Majesty's Government have accepted all the 73 recommendations, and already a great deal of work has been done, and continues to be done, to take these forward. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that so far 32 of the recommendations have been fully implemented, and a special team has been set up in the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that those remaining are implemented as quickly and as effectively as possible. This team will also examine how the lessons learned from the Maze escape can be applied to the other prisons in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps I should outline some of the action that has already been taken in the Maze and at headquarters. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, will be glad to know that interim remedial work to improve the security of the tally lodge, the main gate and the armoury has been completed. An extensive programme of work is in hand to improve the security of the communications room in each H block. Reviews of the closed circuit television surveillance system and of the siting of alarm buttons have been undertaken, and an appropriate installation programme will commence shortly.

Various other physical modifications have been, or shortly will be, made to a number of the internal gates, to the visits complex, and to the vehicle search area. Planning work to construct a new purpose-built main gate complex has already begun. The governor has issued a number of orders which enforce the procedures for the searching of goods, prisoners, visitors, and staff and which warn staff against the danger of manipulation and conditioning by prisoners. Other procedural changes have been made, and changes in the visits system are under consideration.

A full-scale review of the management structure and system in the prison is under way, and an additional governor-grade post has been introduced. The governor at the time of the escape resigned when the report was published and a new governor took up post immediately. Several staff were redeployed as recommended by Sir James in his report. An investigation team under a governor from headquarters is currently conducting inquiries into the actions of individual staff on the day of the escape, and despite a refusal of co-opertion by the Prison Officers' Asociation, these inquiries are continuing. When they are complete, any appropriate disciplinary action will be taken. The initial training programme for prison officers has been extended and consideration is being given to developing a locally-based training programme. I think that I shall return in a moment to the question of training.

In addition, an internal management review of the structure and staffing of the Prison Department of the Northern Ireland Office is proceeding and that department has already been strengthened by the allocation of additional staff.

I shall, if I may, try to pick my way through a few of the points which were raised in profusion during the debate. The order in which I shall respond may appear to cofrespend not to any order of either logic or what your Lordships have said, but to the state that my papers had reached at the moment when the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, sat down—which was a moment too soon for me.

My noble friend Lord Brookborough made a suggestion about a decoration for one of the members of the staff, and of course I shall draw that to my right honourable friend's attention. I think that my noble friend seems to be under a misapprehsion about what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said after the escape. He said that if Sir James Hennessy found that policy decisions had contributed to the escape, then he would resign. That was a proper thing to say, and Sir James Hennessy properly found that political decisions did not so contribute, and therefore there was no question of my right honourable friend being in a position even to have to refuse to resign.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was concerned about the minutes of meetings. He mentioned them twice in his speech. On the first occasion he said that there were minutes of meetings agreed between the governor and the Prisoner Officers' Association, which were were given to Sir James Hennessy. On the second occasion the noble Lord referred to the minutes also being sent to the Northern Ireland Office. The views of prison officers are always welcome and often extremely helpful. We know that the governor regularly meets representatives from the POA to discuss all aspects of work at their establishments. But it is ultimately the governor who must recommend what should be done to improve security in the prisons. Here, Hennessy makes the point that, The Governor told us that he had never been refused any reasonable request for capital expenditure, nor were we able to identify any request for expenditue on security grounds which had not been met". Hennessy also points out: In terms of manpower and other resources the Northern Ireland Prison Service has been reasonably well treated". We know that Sir James had the opportunity to gather information from a number of sources and we have no reason to believe that the views expressed by prison staff were not taken fully into account in the writing of his report. But the decision as to what was relevant and the decision as to which were the recommendations that he ought to embody in his report and those which were of less merit must rest with the writer of the report and not with those who did not take part in drafting it.

The noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Fitt, showed an interest in the question of the training of staff. This is a matter of great interest to anyone concerned with the prison service, as I am in another embodiment. There are principal officers in each establishment in Northern Ireland responsible for training. They oversee the work of new entrants to the service and, where staff are available, run short courses on specific subjects. They also nominate and monitor attendance at courses at the prison service college and at the Home Office training establishments. This is another way in which the expertise of the Home Office is available to the service. We accept that the induction course for new recruits is shorter in the Province than in England and Wales. But it was lengthened by a week recently and arrangements had already been made for it to be increased by a further week during 1984. We are satisfied that the course covers all necessary subjects; but in view of the recommendations of the report, the length of the new recruits' course is being re-examined. A very large number of courses are held, including development courses for staff in post, courses for newly promoted staff and courses covering specialist duties. There are also seminars on specific subjects, and in addition governors and specialist staff attend Home Office courses. Nonetheless, as I say, the length of the new recruits' course is under consideration.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough—I come to him, as it were, by accident in the sequence of papers before me—made a number of allegations including allegations about my noble friend Lord Gowrie. I think that I should ask him to get the record straight. My noble friend visited the Maze on 17th September and 14th October 1981, and on 12th January, 1st February, 12th August and 31st December 1982. It really is not easy to argue on the one hand that there should be no ministerial interference in prisons and on the other that Ministers should be there more often than my noble friend was.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I think that my noble friend has slightly misunderstood. First of all, I apologise for doing an injustice to my noble friend. I have been given wrong information which I genuinely believed to be true. Secondly, I have not been arguing that it was wrong for the Secretary of State to be involved in political decisions. I have been totally in favour of it. But the impression that has got round and that has left the prison staff and Ulster believing that the prison staff were taking all the blame is that there was no political interference in the Maze. There has to be political interference in the running of the prison, and I entirely accept it. But what appears to have happened so far as the general public is concerned is that the Secretary of State has dissociated himself from those political decisions which were the scene from which the escape occurred.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend accepts that it is for Ministers to formulate policy and for civil servants to execute it. Of course, there is an interface between them. I can readily assure my noble friend that there is no barrier set between the prison service on the one hand and Ministers on the other. Like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, I see great dangers in this debate. One thing that I would not wish to arise from it is the impression that these do not have the confidence of each other or to encourage a weakening of the confidence between them. I am grateful to my noble friend for that acknowledgement which has enabled us to set the matter right as to the attendance of my other noble friend at HMP Maze.

I turn now to some points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. The right of free association was not granted to prisoners. Association in the evening between adjacent wings of each block was permitted under controlled conditions. This had nothing to do with the escape, and it had been stopped more than a year before the escape. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships again about the distance between the Home Office and the Prison Service of Northern Ireland. As regards inspections, I would say that there is a connection between the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Prison Service, to which I actually referred in my opening sentences. Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales carries out inspections in Northern Ireland. He has already inspected the young offenders' centre. He was diverted from a planned inspection at Magilligan to carry out the inquiry into the Maze escape. These inspections will continue.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, raised the question of what had been said after the ending of the first hunger strike. He feels that one of my right honourable or honourable friends may have said that it would be a good thing to get the Maze off the front page of the newspapers. They may well have said such a thing; I know not. But it does not follow from that, that it is necessary to generate a security problem. It is the aim of Government to maintain security and to reduce conflict between prisoners and prison staff, and the result of that, of course, will eventually be a retreat of the Maze from the front pages.

As Chapter 1 of the report explains, the present situation in which certain wings are wholly occupied by Republican prisoners, was brought about because of action taken by Loyalist prisoners in the summer and autumn of 1982. We have noted that the report concludes, first, that the fact that H-7 was occupied entirely by Republican prisoners facilitated the planning and execution of the escape; and, secondly, that prisoners in segregated blocks are generally better able to plan and execute subversive activities of all kinds, than others. That is a necessary conclusion.

These conclusions bear out the approach which the Government have consistently taken on the issue of segregation, and we shall naturally bear them in mind in future decisions about the distribution of inmates. However, if prisoners react by dirtying their cells, it is difficult for the authorities not to move those concerned elsewhere so that inmates not taking part in the action do not have to put up with unpleasant conditions which they themselves have played no part in creating.

There have always been paramilitary command structures in the Maze Prison. It is the duty of the prison staff to maintain control, and frustrate the efforts of paramilitarists trying to take over control. The danger to individual prison officers outside the prison and in it is well recognised; and while absolute protection cannot be guaranteed, every effort is made to help prison officers to protect themselves when outside the prison.

Those may not be very robust words of comfort to those who stand in peril from day to day—and I do have some familiarity with the Province. But noble Lords who have familiarity with the Province will realise that there is a limit to the number of people who can be individually protected. I hope that your Lordships will accept that Her Majesty's Government are taking urgent and effective action to implement Sir James Hennessy's recommendations as thoroughly and as efficiently as possible. Some of them, like the planning and building of a new purpose-built main gate complex or the introduction of a revised attendance system for prison officers, cannot be effected overnight. But all the recommendations will remain a top priority of the prison department, and I can assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and other Ministers are maintaining a close interest in progress and are receiving regular reports.

I cannot conclude without another word of my own about the work of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Let our view of them not be entirely coloured by this dreadful event. They have an extraordinarily difficult job to do, and we must not ignore the impact of their work on their daily lives. Twenty-three members of the service have lost their lives. As your Lordships will be aware, the most recent member of the service to be murdered was gunned down early last week, when assistant governor McConnell was callously shot dead in front of his wife and child as he was saying goodbye to them on his way to work. May I add my own note of condolence at that tragic death. At his funeral the Secretary of State was represented by the head of the Prison Department. Nothing that I can say will bring him back; nothing that I can say will comfort his family. But he was a member of a gallant service, and I would not like the small failures which contributed to a great defeat of that service to tarnish your Lordships' opinion of it.

Many members of the service have been threatened and many of their families have been intimidated. I can assure your Lordships that everything practicable is done to counter that threat. No civilised society can tolerate the use of violence to achieve political change. That is recognised more clearly and, I think, more instinctively in these islands than it is in any part of the world. Terrorist violence therefore defeats its own end. That is why there is so much sick tragedy in the murders that have become the stock-in-trade of the IRA and other terrorist organisations concerned with Northern Ireland. Every coffin that they fill puts them further from what they say they want to achieve. The people of every community threatened by them can only benefit from those who are convicted being securely held to serve the sentences justly passed on them.

In spite of great difficulty, the vast majority of members of the prison service carry out their difficult task with thoroughness, determination and no small degree of courage, whether they are governors or prison officers. So I take this opportunity to repeat for the Government the tribute to them, and to assure them and noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government stand ready to give them every support in maintaining the highest standards of performance, which must be in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before eleven o'clock.