HC Deb 16 February 1977 vol 926 cc239-41W
Mr. Arthur Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many convicted prisoners there are in England and Wales whose offences were connected with Irish Republican organisations; and whether he will make a statement about their conduct and treatment.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

There are 93 prisoners connected with Irish Republican organisations serving prison sentences in England and Wales for terrorist offences. The offences committed by these prisoners include, murder, multiple murder, attempted murder and causing explosions. Seventy-five of the prisoners are in the highest security category, Category A.

As regards their treatment, allegations have been made from time to time—e.g., in an article in the Law Guardian of 24th November 1976–that Irish prisoners are discriminated against because of their political beliefs. These allegations are unfounded. Such prisoners are subject like all others to the Prison Rules and Home Office administrative directives, and are also subject to the same appropriate security procedures applied to all prisoners presenting a very high security risk. As with all other prisoners they may take advantage of the normal internal channels for ventilating complaints about their treatment and, once they have done so, are free to take legal action against the prison authorities if they wish.

The Category A prisoners and most of the others are held in the seven dispersal prisons. These were set up on the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Penal System in its report "The Régime for Long Term Prisoners in Conditions of Maximum Security" (the Radzinowicz Report). Category A prisoners form about 10 per cent. of the population of dispersal prisons and each dispersal prison has its share of terrorists. The aims of the dispersal system are the secure containment of the prison population and the establishment and maintenance of a humane and purposeful community within a very secure perimeter.

Some of the terrorists have sought to obtain special privileges such as wearing their own cloths or exemption from work claiming they are "political prisoners" We do not recognise that status and we will continue to reject any claims to it. Many of the terrorists have committed claiming they are political prisoners" mutiny and assaults on prison staff for which they have been punished. Some of them have sought to gain their own ends by going on hunger strike, by rooftop demonstrations and by causing disturbances at visits. Some have used even more objectionable provocations—such as throwing buckets of urine over prison staff —in order to provoke prison staff. This harassment of prison staff has included the making of allegations of ill-treatment followed by refusals to co-operate in any investigation of the complaints.

The Provisional IRA is deliberately setting about a campaign in our prisons to gather support for its argument that its adherents are different from other prisoners and that their acts of terrorism are justified because they are politically motivated. The view of the Government is clear. These men and women have been convicted and sentenced by the courts for criminal offences. They will serve their sentences in accordance with the law. Misbehaviour whilst doing so will continue to be dealt with firmly but fairly under the appropriate Prison Rules. There will be no amnesty.