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House of Commons

Thursday 9 March 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Associated British Ports (Hull) Bill

(By Order)

Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill

(By Order)

Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill

(By Order)

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

Wentworth Estate Bill

(By Order)

British Film Institute Southbank Bill

(By Order) City of London (Various Powers) Bill -- (By Order)

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill-- (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 16 March.

British Railways Bill

(By Order)

Bromley London Borough Council

(Crystal Palace) Bill-- (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 14 March at 7 o'clock.

Hythe Marina Village (Southampton) Wavescreen Bill

(By Order)

International Westminster Bank Bill

(By Order) Read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

Isle of Wight Bill

(By Order)

Read a Second time and committed.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Nurses (Regrading)

2. Mr. Beggs : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether a comparative study has been carried out into the grades awarded to nurses in each health board area in Northern Ireland ; and how many nurses have been regraded upwards after appeal and formal interview to date.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers) : Of the 15,400 nurses in Northern Ireland, some6,000 have requested informal reviews with their nurse managers. The number of reviews that have been completed is 4,280 ; 682 posts have been upgraded ; 2,574 cases are proceeding with formal appeals ; and in 26 of those cases, posts have so far been upgraded.

Mr. Beggs : I thank the Minister for the information. Hon. Members will note the very large number of nurses who were totally dissatisfied with their initial grading. I can assure the Minister that many of those nurses are quite disgusted with the appeal procedure that they went through. They felt that the procedure was phoney, and they are still not satisfied. Is the Minister aware that these nurses are now making comparisons not only with grades awarded under other boards but between grades allocated to nurses in hospitals within board areas? School nurses also feel that they have been very badly treated, with the low grades awarded to them. Night sisters reckon that no consideration has been given to the special service and back-up that they provide to staff nurses. Young nurses attempting to obtain higher qualifications for the benefit of their profession in general see no recognition for their extra qualifications. What action will the Minister take to remove this overall dissatisfaction and see that nurses in general are given decent pay awards?

Mr. Viggers : The hon. Gentleman's remarks are totally unjustified. It was always recognised by both staff and management representatives that such a massive exercise of regrading would lead to variations. For this reason, all staff who were dissatisfied were given the opportunity to request informal reviews with their nurse-managers. The fact is that over two-thirds of nurses were satisfied with their regrading, without any appeal at all.

Mr. Kilfedder : Will the Minister, who is very conscientious and caring, look at this matter again? Nurses, who deserve the support of the community, feel extremely dissatisfied. Because of their grave dissatisfaction will the Minister look into their complaint?

Mr. Viggers : Absolutely not. Nurses' pay has increased by more than one third in real terms since 1979, and the average increase this year for nurses was 17.4 per cent. That is a generous settlement which reflects the important work done by the nurses.

Mr. McGrady : In view of the Minister's reply, will he arrange to meet the senior management of the Down unit of management in order to remove the obvious injustices and anomalies which have arisen from the clinical

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regrading in that area? In view of the new regime, will he also arrange a meeting with that senior management to ensure that the grading of the various ward nurses is adequate? Great injustices and anomalies have arisen as a result of the regrading and the Minister must intervene to resolve the difficulties.

Mr. Viggers : I stand firm behind the general principle of the regrading, but if there is a particular problem I shall pass it on to my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) the Under- Secretary of State, who is responsible for health matters, who is currently on a visit overseas.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that this was the most generous settlement ever for the nurses--much more generous than the settlement at the time of the Ulster Unionist-Labour pact of the 1970s? Does he also agree that, looking further ahead at demographic factors, nurses' pay will have to rise significantly over the next decade if we are to have sufficient nurses?

Mr. Viggers : My hon. Friend is right. The agreement reached on regrading was in parity with a similar one reached in the nursing and midwifery joint negotiating council in Great Britain. But in Northern Ireland a further £32 million was made available in order to allow the regrading.

Ms. Mowlam : Does the Minister agree that the Government's handling of the nurses' pay award has been matched in its incompetency and unpopularity only by their handling of the NHS review? Therefore, will he explain to the House this afternoon why he will not risk a ballot for hospitals that want to opt out? If opting out is about self-government, why is it only he who has a vote?

Mr. Viggers : The hon. Lady's remarks are not justified. The criteria recommended by the nurses' pay review body were agreed nationally and accepted in full by the Government. The nationally agreed criteria were implemented by health and social services boards in Northern Ireland following agreement by staff and management representatives on the nurses and midwives joint staff councils, so there has been a broad consensus in the regrading and there is nothing for the Government to regret.

Short Brothers

3. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what response has been received to the offer by Her Majesty's Government to sell Short Brothers Ltd.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King) : I advised the House last week that six preliminary proposals for the purchase of Shorts had been received, and that two--Bombardier Inc. and GEC/Fokker-- were being asked to submit final proposals by 30 April. I also said that I was considering whether a further proposal should be included in the short- list. I can now inform the House that I met MBB yesterday and have agreed to add its name to the short-list.

Mr. Colvin : It would be wrong to ask my right hon. Friend to state a preference for any of those three bids, but will he note that of the three on the short-list MMB is busy with the takeover by Daimler-Benz? The GEC/Fokker

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consortium bid looks like a bit of a carve- up of the company, and only Bombardier can meet those requirements set out by the company for privatisation which have been endorsed by his Department. For the record, will my right hon. Friend refresh our memory on those requirements and give an undertaking that he will decide which bid is to be successful without any delay after the deadline date in order to remove the uncertainty hanging over the company.

Mr. King : To avoid any misunderstanding, it is MBB, not MMB, that is bidding--in case anyone thinks that the Milk Marketing Board is indulging in a rather unusual diversification.

My hon. Friend rightly said that I should not indulge in any advance speculation, and then he took the opportunity to do so. I do not intend to prejudge the matter. I invited each of those companies to put forward final proposals by 30 April because I judged each of them to be of substance and with an involvement in the industry to be able to make a substantial contribution to our objective--which is to see Shorts go into the private sector on a basis that offers the greatest benefit to the Northern Ireland economy and the best possible future for the people who work in the company.

Mr. Peter Robinson : The Secretary of State will recall that, when giving evidence to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, he paid particular attention to the importance of the three divisions of the company remaining intact. Do any or all of the three bidders envisage keeping together the company's three divisions, and do any or all of the three bidders intend to proceed with the FJX project?

Mr. King : Short Brothers plc does not yet know the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question and has not put forward any proposals. It wishes to go forward with the FJX. Everyone who has expressed an interest is absolutely aware that our preferred course is to return the company, as a single unit, to the private sector. These matters are being considered and --as the hon. Gentleman knows--each of the groups of companies that I described knows Short Brothers extremely well. Some are already partners with Shorts in different activities, and are well aware of the different divisions of Shorts and the way in which they contribute to the total enterprise.

Mr. John D. Taylor : Following the submission of the three proposals in April, how long does the Secretary of State require before he reaches his final decision?

Mr. King : I cannot give a specific answer, but I am anxious to reach the earliest possible decision and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will support me in that. It is clearly desirable to bring this period of uncertainty to an end and I am hopeful--from what I have already heard and discussions that I have had with the three groups concerned, and because there is also now an upturn in airliner activity and a considerable demand for aeroplanes--that there is a good opportunity for us to do so. I can certainly confirm that the Government are determined to do all that they can to bring the matter to a speedy and successful conclusion.

Mr. Jim Marshall : We appreciate that the Secretary of State has difficult decisions to make on this matter. However, I must press him further on the three bids. Will

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he give an assurance that, when considering the bids, he will favour the one that offers the best prospects for the survival of the three component parts of the present company when it is privatised?

Mr. King : I have made clear our preferred option, and that is the basis on which we invited bids. I must also make clear my determination to achieve the best possible outcome. This is one matter over which there is no doubt, and which nobody seriously challenges. I am grateful for the support of the Select Committee, composed of hon. Members from both sides of the House, on this. It is of the greatest importance to end public ownership of Shorts as soon as possible so that it can move into the private sector. Public ownership has not been a good friend of Short Brothers plc and the sooner it ends the better.

Republic of Ireland

4. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he will next meet representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland ; and what matters he will discuss.

Mr. Tom King : I shall meet representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland at the next meeting of the intergovernmental conference. I expect this to take place shortly, but no date has yet been set. The agenda for the meeting has not yet been drawn up.

Mr. Hunter : What discussions about 1992 does my right hon. Friend, or his officials, propose to have with Ministers of the Government of the Republic of Ireland? Will the opportunities of 1992 be maximised to the benefit of the economies of the Republic and Northern Ireland?

Mr. King : We certainly believe that 1992 could have significant benefits. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has already jointly chaired with the industry Minister of the Irish Republic a conference of the Irish Institute of European Affairs at Louvain, to talk about the implications of 1992. Further discussions and decisions will be necessary on harmonisation of tariffs, customs duties, monetary compensatory amounts and a number of other matters which will have considerable implications for the border. It is our ambition to eliminate any distortions and help to stimulate trade and reduce the opportunity for what is euphemistically called the import-export business.

Mr. William Ross : When the Secretary of State meets the Government of the Irish Republic, will he be perfectly truthful and straightforward with them and tell tham that they do not have a cat's chance of obtaining a power-sharing devolved Government? Will he also tell them that the Government accept that there is a need for an improved system of government in Northern Ireland, and that, as there is not a power-sharing devolved Government, other means must be found?

Mr. King : I am not sure whether the Irish Government are waiting on the edge of their seat to hear that announcement from me. They have made no proposals to me on such matters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are at present having discussions and inviting interested parties to let us have their views on what they consider the best way forward. I am glad to say that a number are responding, and I hope that all who care about the

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situation in the Province will make their contribution to the discussions. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, (Dr. Mawhinney) the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State-- whom I have asked to help me--will be very interested to hear any views that are expressed.

Mr. Gow : Does my right hon. Friend anticipate that Irish Ministers will complain to him at the next meeting that whereas the enormous benefits of the community charge are to be heaped on his constituency and mine, they are to be withheld from the people of Northern Ireland, whether they be nationalists or unionists?

Mr. King : I shall not respond to that question in any way. As I think that the main thrust falls elsewhere, I shall leave it to lie where it falls.

Mr. Ashdown : While we are on the subject of meeting

representatives of the Irish Republic, will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the moves to establish the parliamentary tier of the Anglo- Irish Agreement?

I fully recognise that the Secretary of State does not make decisions about who those representatives should be, but will he join me in hoping that they will be as broadly drawn as possible? In particular, may I ask him to suggest to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that there should be a representative of the alliance party in Northern Ireland in the Upper House?

Mr. King : I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I hope that the parliamentary tier will be as broadly based as possible. I hope that every party will take part in the recognition that this is a relationship between the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Parliament of the Irish Republic. If, as I understand, some unionists have reservations about taking part, some of us will be left wondering what on earth they are willing to take part in. They have reservations about the North-South relationship. If they have reservations about the east-west relationship as well, where are we?

Mr. Cash : In the context of the European Economic Community and the question of frontier controls, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is in the interests of neither the United Kingdom nor the Republic of Eire for us to abolish such controls, and that there is a good deal of misconception in the European Commission about the need to do so?

Mr. King : That will clearly require considerable discussion. It has major security implications, and we understand that very well. Indeed, it has a number of implications for important issues that affect both the island of Ireland and Great Britain--such as animal health, to which we all attach importance. There is no doubt that the economic distortions that have existed across the border have led to a significant smuggling industry, which I should like to see substantially reduced.

Mr. McNamara : Whether or not we see a reduction in the smuggling industry--which I think we would all welcome--it is surely in the greatest interests of the island of Ireland as a whole that the parts of the island that are capable of co-operating on an industrial and economic ro le should be able to do so, in the interests of both the people of the North and the South and the relationship between the two communities.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that the greatest thing about the interparliamentary tier is that people come from two sovereign Parliaments, and that those who are prepared to go abroad on Inter-Parliamentary Union delegations should be prepared if necessary to use an IPU umbrella to partake in a relationship between two sovereign Parliaments which will not in any way impinge on the integrity or status of those taking part, but could do a great deal to heal wounds in Ireland and bring a degree of peace to the North?

Mr. King : I think that that is right. My understanding is that, unless the position has changed, every party in the House is in favour of talks, and of meeting and co-operating on matters in respect of which it is beneficial to do so. That is true of all the democratic parties in Northern Ireland, which have never tried to argue against economic co-operation, contacts and discussion. This proposal--which is separate and is being discussed, under the auspices of the IPU, between the sovereign Parliaments of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland-- seems to me to be a very sensible one to which all parties should subscribe.

Mr. Temple-Morris : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and myself, and all those who have been conducting these talks, which are now in a stage of advanced discussion, are very grateful for the support of my right hon. Friend, Her Majesty's Government and the House? My right hon. Friend should be left in no doubt that whenever we see hon. Members from the Unionist party, they are very welcome.

Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His leadership in the matter is much appreciated. I recognise the depth of ignorance and misunderstanding that exists between our two countries in so many areas and I welcome the prospect that hon. Members of the House of Commons and hon. Members of the Parliament in the Irish Republic will have opportunities to talk and meet together. We may not agree, but I hope that it will be helpful in clearing up many of the misunderstandings and the distrust that can exist.

Students (Benefits)

5. Mr. Mallon : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received concerning full-time students who can not avail themselves of social security benefit because of their full-time status.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : From 1 September 1988 to 28 February 1989, 1representations had been received, mainly from hon. Members of this House.

Mr. Mallon : Is the Minister aware of the growing number of young people who are students who have no visible means of support because they do not qualify for educational maintenance allowance or income support and if, in addition, their parents are on income support, those parents will lose the dependent child premium? The problem is made worse by the fact that many colleges deem people to be full-time students when, in effect, they are part-time students, as a result of which they cannot receive income support. Will the Minister assure the House that

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his Department and the Department of Social Security will look on the plight of those approximately 2,000 people and see what can be done, as a matter of urgency?

Dr. Mawhinney : I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern. It is my understanding that if the students' course is under 21 hours and they satisfy other relevant conditions, income support is then payable. If they are attending for more than 21 hours, they may apply to their local education and library boards for a discretionary award which, if awarded, could cover tuition fees and, subject to means testing, a maintenance grant.

Mr. William Ross : Will the Minister confirm that most of the concerns that hon. Members have put to him in the communications that he has received refer to the very point raised by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)? In the light of that, will he look at the question put to him and his answer because he is not quite right in what he said? Will he and the Northern Ireland Office also consider that this question highlights a real problem, in that the only remedy would appear to lie at United Kingdom level, yet we find ourselves having to ask the question of a Minister of the Northern Ireland Office, when it should go to the relevant Minister of the Department of Social Security in the United Kingdom?

Dr. Mawhinney : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I based my answer on the best advice available to me. I recognise that there is concern and I recognise the United Kingdom dimension of that concern. There is, of course, nothing to preclude the hon. Gentleman from drawing his concern to the attention of Ministers at the Department of Social Security as well.


6. Mr. Rathbone : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he is taking to dissuade young people in the Province from becoming involved in drug misuse or drug trafficking.

Dr. Mawhinney : The incidence of drug misuse in Northern Ireland is relatively small compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. Government policy is, therefore, aimed at preventing young people from becoming involved in the drug scene. The main emphasis is placed on health education in schools and on youth organisations.

Mr. Rathbone : All hon. Members will welcome that beneficial comparison between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, sad though it is for the rest of the United Kingdom. Will my hon. Friend endorse the role of drug education co-ordinators in Northern Ireland and confirm that there will be continued central Government funding for them?

Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The fact that the incidence of drug misuse in Northern Ireland is lower than in other parts of the United Kingdom is due to a number of factors. However, my hon. Friend correctly highlights the important role of health education and drug education in the schools. We provide extra materials for such courses and we also provide training courses for teachers, to help them in developing teaching about drugs within the health education programme in schools. My

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hon. Friend will know that under our education reform proposals, health education will become a compulsory cross -curricular theme.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister agree that there could be a tendency to be complacent when comparing the incidence of drug abuse in Northern Ireland with that in the rest of the Kingdom? Is not the lower incidence of drug abuse in Northern Ireland to a large extent due to the success of the drug operations unit of the RUC, which only recently has uncovered drug supplies?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman is right on both counts. We are not complacent, and we must guard against any chance of becoming complacent because our incidence of drug misuse is lower than that in the United Kingdom as a whole. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to that fact and I endorse his appreciation of the RUC drugs squad, which is very effective and makes a significant contribution to the low incidence of drug misuse in Northern Ireland.

Anglo-Irish Agreement

7. Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will publish a consultation paper on his review of the working of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. Tom King : I invited members of the public, political parties, and other interested groups and bodies to submit their views on the working of the intergovernmental conference. A number of representations have been received and these are being carefully considered, together with the most appropriate way to publish our conclusions.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that one of the major shortcomings of the present agreement is that it contains no allowance to enable Northern Ireland politicians to make an input into the meetings of the conference? Does he agree that if the Anglo-Irish Agreement is to be an effective piece of political machinery, it should seek to improve relationships not just between London and Dublin, but between London, Dublin and Belfast?

Mr. King : My hon. Friend's question gives me the opportunity to explain the position. His first assertion is not true. I want to make it clear that there is every opportunity for input into the conference--for advice and consultation in advance of it and for discussions afterwards about its outcome. Representatives of other parties have come to see me to discuss the conference, and I am always willing to discuss with the parties and with hon. Members ways in which their input might be increased.

Mr. Duffy : Will the Secretary of State take into account in his review the rejection by the Home Secretary of political solutions on the BBC "Today" programme, as reported in today's edition of the Evening Standard? Do the Home Secretary's remarks represent a shift in Government policy, and did he have discussions with the Secretary of State before he made those remarks?

Mr. King : I have not seen the newspaper to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I heard the interview. My right hon. Friend was on his way to the conference of the Trevi Ministers, who co-ordinate the response to terrorism

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across Europe. His comments seem to me to be manifest good sense. I was not aware that my right hon. Friend's remarks contained a startling new announcement of Government policy.

Mr. Stanbrook : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Home Secretary's words were refreshingly welcome? Will the Government seek again --this time, we hope successfully--the co-operation of the Irish Government in the matter of extradition?

Mr. King : We have discussed these matters and the Irish Government are aware--we have recently let them have our views on the matter--of the problems that exist under the present extradition system. I shall not comment further because, as my hon. Friend will know, there are at the moment three cases on which judgment is reserved. Everyone knows the importance that the British Government attach to effective extradition arrangements between our two countries.

Kincora Boys' Home

8. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what compensation payments have been made to ex-residents of the Kincora boys' home.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ian Stewart) : A number of claims for compensation have been received by health and social services boards from ex-residents of Kincora boys' home. To date, settlements in respect of three of the claims, amounting to £22,500 plus costs, have been agreed between the parties.

Mr. Livingstone : As we now seem to be getting out-of-court settlements shortly before a court case is due to be heard and the matter is, therefore, not being debated in open court, and as the Terry inquiry report has never been published, will the Minister consider an open inquiry into the events at the Kincora boys' home, especially in the light of the disturbing information that five of the key witnesses interviewed by the RUC have met violent deaths--three were murdered and two allegedly died by their own hand? Even by the standards of violence that we have become used to hearing about in Northern Ireland, that is far too much to be a coincidence.

Mr. Stewart : As others have said to the hon. Gentleman from this Dispatch Box, if he has evidence of wrongdoing I hope that he will put it to the appropriate authorities. The House is not much impressed by those who make allegations but do not substantiate them. Out-of-court settlements are a normal part of compensation claims and it is to the great advantage of all parties concerned if such settlements can be reached.

Mr. Flannery : Is it really in order for the Minister to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) to produce evidence when he has asked for an inquiry-- [Interruption.] If you could shut up for a moment and let me say--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not referring to me.

Mr. Flannery : Thank you for your help, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the Minister again what my hon. Friend asked him. Will he institute an inquiry into that group of deaths and into the background of what happened at Kincora

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boys' home? Many of us would like to know the facts but cannot get at them and we have a right as Members of Parliament to know them.

Mr. Stewart : Thorough inquiries were carried out a few years ago by Sir George Terry and Judge Hughes who found no evidence to suggest that the matter should be taken further or reopened.

Mr. McNamara : The Minister cannot get away with that reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)-- [Interruption.] Well, he should not get away with it. It is one thing for the Minister to say offhandedly that inquiries have been held, but it is another for him to admit that £22,000 has been paid in out-of-court compensations. If the Terry and Hughes inquiries have found nothing to be worried about, why have those large sums been paid in compensation? Who is being asked to keep quiet by not going to court?

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman has got the whole thing wrong. Everybody knows that three staff at the Kincora boys' home were convicted of serious sexual offences in 1981 and were given sentences of several years. Nobody has denied that there was wrongdoing at that time. However, the other allegations relating to claimants or former residents of the Kincora boys' home are not substantiated, and, unless there is some basis on which they can be followed through, I accept the evidence of the investigations that were carried out by an eminent chief constable and an eminent judge a few years ago to establish the position.

Prison Visits

9. Mr. Maginnis : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he intends to place further restrictions on visits to prisoners in Northern Ireland's prisons ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ian Stewart : We have no current plans to restrict either the number of visits or their duration in prisons in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Maginnis : Will the Minister assure me that abolishing Monday visits is not under consideration, or that if it is under consideration, such a decision will not be taken? The Minister must realise that prison officers have a difficult enough job already without his Department creating further disruption in the prisons due to changes in visiting. Will he also tell us why £1.25 million worth of machinery bought from the prison budget for workshops in Maghaberry was transferred, free of charge, to a Scottish Department?

Mr. Stewart : I require notice of the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but on his main point about changes in visiting arrangements, several measures have been under consideration at official level to try to establish better ways of reducing delays for visitors to prisons and to introduce better visiting conditions. No proposals have been put to me about that and discussions are at a purely consultative stage. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no such decisions have been taken.

Mr. Alton : While the Minister is considering the question of visits to the Maze and other prisons in Northern Ireland, will he say whether he has considered

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the proposals put to him by the Campaign for Lifers? In particular, will he say whether he will improve ease of access for visits to prisoners in the mixed wings, and look at ways of weaning people away from the paramilitary wings and into the mixed wings of prisons like the Maze?

Mr. Stewart : As the hon. Gentleman may know, the regime at Maghaberry prison is designed for exactly that purpose. The life sentence review boards have already established release dates for prisoners in well over 100 cases. The board is working satisfactorily in that respect. I am aware that certain representations have been made for changes, but I am not convinced of their merits under the present circumstances.

Mr. Molyneaux : Can the Minister explain the background to another type of visit, which was made last Sunday to Maghaberry prison in my constituency and took the form of a march by 150-plus Republicans, led by Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey, complete with the starry plough flag and all the rest of it? Can the Minister say whether the required notice was given to the police and, more important, whether the Northern Ireland Office authorised the use of the prison grounds for the march and the protest meeting at the prison gates?

Mr. Stewart : I shall investigate the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman and reply as soon as I can.

Local Government

11. Mr. Gow : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals he has made to provide for the restoration of local government in Northern Ireland.

Mr. King : I have no current plans for changes to the existing structure of local government in Northern Ireland.

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