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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I want to raise a point of order. Through the Leader of the House I ask the Front Bench speaker on the Conservative side to apologise to Roisin McAliskey for calling her a terrorist.
Lord Richard: My Lords, we all know that this is a House without a Speaker and therefore without anyone who can make a ruling. It therefore follows that no one in the House can rule whether a point of order is or is not a point of order. My noble friend has made his point. I hope that he will be satisfied and leave it there. Perhaps we can then get on with the rest of the questions on the Statement.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, noble Lords will be grateful to the noble Baroness for coming to the House to make this important Statement on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office. For that reason I shall direct my two brief points to the Government in general and not necessarily to the Minister. Are Her Majesty's Government now prepared to recognise that the prison regime in Northern Ireland has deteriorated alarmingly over the past year by reason of what are called "confidence-building measures" but which in reality are concessions to various terrorist organisations to persuade them to do us all the honour of remaining in
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the concern expressed by the noble Lord is well known to Her Majesty's Government. We believe that it would be inappropriate to make judgments about the current set of circumstances in HMP Maze prior to the Narey Report and the full inspection which is due to be carried out as a matter of urgency. I believe that we would all agree with the noble Lord that confidence has to be felt across the entire community. Government policy is directed to seek that end.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, in an interview on Radio 4 this morning, the chairman of the Prison Officers Association of Northern Ireland said that he would not ask, and did not expect, his members in the Maze to enforce discipline because of the danger to their lives. Do the Government accept that situation?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I did not hear the interview to which the noble Lord refers. Obviously, it is difficult for me to answer in detail. The Maze is the only prison in the world facing the kinds of difficulties that it does. The prison has to accommodate over 500 dedicated terrorists affiliated to and maintaining active links with five different terrorist organisations. The regime at the Maze has to cope with the attendant security and control problems balanced against the need to maintain a humanitarian regime. That is an extremely complex and difficult task. The regime at the Maze therefore represents and reflects a pragmatic solution to the difficulties of operating the system. It is difficult. Obviously, the regime in the Maze will come under close scrutiny during the inspection.
Lord Blease: My Lords, perhaps I may endeavour to express again to the noble Baroness the sentiments conveyed by the other noble Lord from Northern Ireland, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, who sympathised with the noble Baroness in presenting this problem to the House. It is very difficult for someone who does not live in Northern Ireland to understand the situation. Like other Members of this House who know what is happening there and who experience it day by day and who often have to sit by quietly because of our families and others who live there, perhaps I may say that we can understand the reservations of the noble Baroness at this time. However, does not the noble Baroness agree that recent incidents--not this latest incident, but other such incidents--are among many which call into serious question the whole system of control, management, regime and authority at the Maze Prison? Is there not now a need for an urgent, full, judicial review of the penal system which has given rise to such concern and alarm among peaceable citizens in the Province?
I can assure the noble Baroness and the House that those Members of this House who live in Northern Ireland understand the full consequences of what happened yesterday morning when they woke up and heard that broadcast. It shook Northern Ireland to the timbers after what has happened recently. I hope that the Narey inquiry and the appointment of the chief inspector will help to explain some of those things but, like others, I feel that a full judicial inquiry is necessary in this instance.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the police are undertaking a full investigation into the deaths which have occurred in HMP Maze. In addition, the Narey report will look into the escape of Mr. Averill. It would not be appropriate to consider a full judicial inquiry at this stage. We await the outcome of the Narey report. We await the outcome of the forthcoming inspection of the Maze. We shall then be able to make judgments. Even if a full judicial inquiry were to be authorised at this stage, it would have to await the outcome of the police inquiry into the murders in order to be able to make a judgment about proceedings. So, it is not an event that could take place quickly. The Government are taking the appropriate steps.
Lord McConnell: My Lords, the situation in the Maze Prison has been scandalous for a considerable time and it is getting worse if people are being murdered while in prison. We have heard a lot about inquiries. What is needed is immediate firm action and no further concessions to terrorists. We cannot afford to sit and wait for various inquiries to report. Undoubtedly we shall take--at least, I hope that the Government will take--considerable notice of them, but in the meantime let us get on with the job and improve security in the Maze Prison.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I sought to explain--I apologise to the House if I was not clear--that following the escape there was an immediate investigation and measures to improve security against escape are now being put in place. I am sure that we all understand the noble Lord's impatience for action and results, but it is essential that the police are allowed to carry out their full inquiry into the murder. There can be no quicker way of looking at the issues of security and the running of the prison than to await the inquiry and report from Mr. Narey and the inspection by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that however much time may need to be taken--I recognise that there are many problems--in reviewing the situation inside the prison, there seems very little doubt that there is a threat to the lives of the families of the officials and warders who work in the prison? Does the noble Baroness agree that that is fairly generally accepted? Could not something be done at once about that because it leaves everything else open and may be of great reassurance to the officers working there?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sure that the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness are well known to the Prison Service and that everything is being done to protect families from the sort of risk to which she refers. If I am made aware later of any further detailed plans, I shall write to the noble Baroness.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the present conditions in the Maze were instituted in 1982 after the hunger strike and that since then there has been a gradual erosion of control in that prison? The noble Baroness said that there had been a deterioration recently and mentioned a number of cases. In 1983, 33 prisoners escaped from the Maze Prison--and that was under the aegis of a Conservative Government, so I do not think that the present Government can be totally blamed for the awful conditions that exist in the Maze at present. As has been said, there is undoubtedly a risk to the lives of the warders and prison officers if any attempt is made to take away the concessions that have been made to those prisoners over the years. One need only reflect on what we saw on our television screens recently when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland went into the Maze Prison. We saw the most horrific consequences of those concessions.
Yesterday morning, when the announcement of the death of the prisoner was first made, the Catholic population were in absolute fear because they thought that it was a repetition of the Billy Wright murder, but it is now rumoured in Northern Ireland that this victim was murdered by his own colleagues. Can the noble Baroness make representations to bring about an early inquest into this awful death--and it is a tragedy for his family, however one may see it--so that the people of Northern Ireland will know exactly what happened to bring about that death? I ask the Minister--I do not believe that she can give an answer--can any of those concessions that were made by the Conservative Government over a period of 18 years to murderers and thugs (on both sides of the political and religious divide) who are now in the Maze be taken away without endangering the lives of warders, prison officers, police and members of the Army?
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