§ Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Neubert.]4.37 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
This afternoon we are considering the report of Sir James Hennessy, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, on the escape from the Maze prison on 25 September. When I made a statement to the House two weeks ago, at the time of its publication, I was able to refer only briefly to the main recommendations and to the analysis which lay behind them. I welcome the fact that, now that hon. Members have had a chance to read the report, the House has this opportunity to debate it in detail, and in so doing to look more widely at the situation in the Northern Ireland prisons.
The report on the escape is the product of over three months' concentrated work by Sir James and his colleagues in the prisons inspectorate. The inspectorate is used to making detailed professional examinations of the workings of prisons and to giving its findings to Ministers. It is made up of people who are not prepared to have the wool pulled over their eyes and they do not pull punches in reporting their conclusions. The report is painstakingly thorough both in its account of the escape and in its analysis of what lay behind it. It is also a comprehensive report, and must be read and taken as a whole. It is not possible for anyone to pick and choose. For my part, as the House knows, I have accepted it in its entirety and all its recommendations. The Government have full confidence in the professional judgment of the inspectorate.
In opening today's debate, I should like to follow the report by referring, first, to the situation in the Maze prison. Sir James points out that the Maze is a prison without parallel in the United Kingdom, unique in size, and in the continuity and tenacity of its protests and disturbances. The prison population is unique as well. I can do no better than to quote Sir James Hennessy's description: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.
The House should know, too, that the number of prisoners has increased quite without precedent—from 600 before the troubles to 2,500 now, 420 serving life sentences. Some 40 per cent. of the total would be described in England as category A, which is the most serious group of prisoners.
We are not, therefore, dealing here with an ordinary prison or with ordinary prisoners. As Sir James says, it is a singularly "difficult and dangerous task". It is, according to Sir James, made even more difficult bythe determination of the Government not to give in to the terrorists' political demands; the determination to treat terrorists like all other prisoners—with all that that implies in terms of regime and privileges; and the determination to avoid, in the wider interests of peace, those measures which, although beneficial in security terms, might provoke further destruction, further protest or further conflict and loss of life.
1042 I believe the House will agree that the determination of this Government and of their predecessors on these fronts is right and proper. That is our clearly stated policy, as it has been the policy of successive Governments.
There are those who, while they accept this policy, have nevertheless suggested that the circumstances of the escape demand ministerial resignation. I take that view seriously and have given it the most careful consideration. I share hon. Members' concern about the honour of public life and the maintenance of the highest standards. I said at the time of my statement to the House on 24 October, without any pre-knowledge of what Hennessy would find:It would be a matter for resignation if the report of the Hennessy inquiry showed that what happened was the result of some act of policy that was my responsibility, or that I failed to implement something that I had been asked to implement, or should have implemented. In that case, I should resign."—[Official Report, 24 October 1983, Vol. 47, c. 23–24.]
In putting the emphasis that I did on the issue of "policy", I was not seeking to map out some new doctrine of ministerial responsibility. I was responding to the accusations made at that time that it was policy decisions, reached at the end of the hunger strike, that made the escape possible.
Since the report was published, the nature of the charges levelled at my hon. Friend and myself has changed. It is now argued in some quarters that Ministers are responsible for everything that happens in their Departments and should resign if anything goes wrong. My position has not changed, and I want to make it quite clear that if there were any evidence in the Hennessy report that Ministers were to blame for the escape, I would not hesitate to accept that blame and act accordingly, and so I know, would my hon. Friend. However, I do not accept —and I do not think it right for the House to accept—that there is any constitutional or other principle that requires ministerial resignations in the face of failure, either by others to carry out orders or procedures or by their supervisors to ensure that staff carried out those orders. Let the House be clear: the Hennessy report finds that the escape would not have succeeded if orders and procedures had been properly carried out that Sunday afternoon.
Of course, I have looked carefully at the precedents. There are those who quote the Crichel Down case. I do not believe that it is a precedent or that it establishes a firm convention. It is the only case of its sort in the past 50 years, and constitutional lawyers have concluded that the resignation was not required by convention and was exceptional.
Whatever some may wish, there is no clear rule and no established convention. Rightly, it is a matter of judgment in the light of individual circumstances. I do not intend to review the judgments made by Ministers faced with the question whether to resign following failures in their Departments. Nor do I seek to justify my decision on the ground that there are many difficulties in Northern Ireland. There are, but that adds to rather than subtracts from the argument. The question that I have asked myself is whether on Sunday afternoon, 25 September, I was to blame for those prisoners escaping. The Hennessy report is quite explicit in its conclusion that, although there may have been weaknesses in the physical security of the prison and in the prisons department, the escape could not have taken place if the procedures laid down for the running of the prison had been followed.
1043 I turn now to Sir James's findings and to what may have contributed to the escape. I shall deal with some of the allegations made at that time and since. I want to take head-on a number of the allegations that have been made.
It has been said that the changes that were made at the end of the hunger strike were a contributory factor. Sir James in his report says that neither the issuing of civilian clothing, nor interwing association, which had been permitted at that time, contributed significantly. In fact, interwing association was not operating at the time of the escape, and therefore could have had no effect on it at all. That is borne out by the report.
Nor was there a shortage of resources. It is abundantly clear that the prison governor was never denied the resources that he needed. Again, it is clear that the amount of money available for the prison, capital expenditure and so on, was sufficient, and that the amount of money and the number of prison officers had increased over the years, although the prison population itself was stable. So there cannot be any doubt that sufficient resources were available.
There is the much more difficult problem of prison work. In assessing this question, it is important to understand the sequence of events. Republican prisoners went on with their protest after the ending of the hunger strike, and many of them did not end their protest until November 1982 — a year after the end of the hunger strike. They ended their protest when Loyalist prisoners started a protest.
In November 1982, Loyalist prisoners started to break up their cells, smear the walls with excreta and cause all sorts of trouble. As a result, they had to be moved out of their cells. Effectively, that meant that there was segregation. Of course, Republican prisoners immediately ceased their protest and returned to normal prison arrangements. Once they finished their protest they had to be found work. It is part of prison rules that when people come off protest they should be found work. Until that work was available, and until the prison rules were in operation, the remission that was granted at the end of the hunger strike for those who returned to normal work and normal behaviour was not available.
It was three months from the time that they came off protest—work had to be provided and the prison rules fully obeyed—before any loss of remission could have been paid back to them. So we gave an instruction—it was a political decision—that prisoners who came off protest should be given work. I believe it is a fundamental part of prison policy that prisoners should be made to work. Therefore, the governor was instructed to find work for those prisoners. It was his task to allocate work and to decide who would do what job.
§ Mr. Prior
Let me clear this point.
Of course, there were discussions as to what work was available and what work was suitable. The report is critical of the governor, because it says that he should not have given McFarlane, one of the most dangerous prisoners, work as an orderly. The prison governor had decided to give him work as an orderly because he felt that McFarlane was too dangerous a prisoner to be carted round the prison for prison industry work, vocational training, and so on.
I have looked carefully to see whether instructions were given by my Department as to what work individuals 1044 should have. I have examined the minutes of the meeting which took place on 14 December 1982. The minutes end by saying:After some discussion of the merits of various schemes it was agreed that all the ex-protesters would be sent to work within the three months limit and Prison Industries and the Governor would work out the actual mechanics of this as soon as possible.If it was only safe to give these men work as orderlies, which Hennessy says was wrong, or, if they should have been made to work in prison industries, the necessary supervision of that work should have been carried out. I do not believe that there was ever an instruction from the headquarters of the prison service to any other effect.
§ Mr. McCusker
I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the point where he said that, at the end of the hunger strike, the concession was that people who came off the protest at that time would be able to earn 50 per cent. of lost remission. Is he now saying that, despite the fact that some protesters went on protesting for another 12 months, they were still granted the facility one year later to earn 50 per cent. of lost remission?
§ Mr. Prior
For the period to the end of the hunger strike, a reduction of 50 per cent. in remission was granted to prisoners who came off hunger strike and off protest at that time or later. In the year after the ending of the hunger strike and before the Republican prisoners came off hunger strike, they got no increased remission for that period.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
It would be convenient if my right hon. Friend could dispose at once of the allegation that has been made that Loyalist prisoners who indulged in this unpleasant protest were treated less favourably than Republican prisoners with regard to remission.
§ Mr. Prior
From that point of view, everyone in the prison was treated alike. One of the points brought out clearly on the ending of the hunger strike, when the provisions in regard to the loss of the remission were, shall I say, changed, was that this affected both Loyalist and Republican prisoners.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
This is a very important point. Will the Secretary of State say yes or no to the question: is it a fact that, when the hunger strike finished, only those who were on hunger strike and came off it got the remission, or was it carried over to other prisoners who did not come off the protest until later?
§ Mr. Prior
It was available to all protesters who at the time of the hunger strike were on protest. When they came off in November 1982, provided they behaved normally for three months, they were granted a 50 per cent. payback of remission. That was the agreement that we made, and we stuck to that agreement the whole way through.
We have read in the Hennessy report and heard quite a bit since about the collapse of morale. We are well aware that the job of a prison officer is acutely difficult. It was well known all through last year that we were having difficulties over various issues with the Northern Ireland Prison Officers' Association. Hon. Gentlemen may not know that on last August bank holiday the prison officers abandoned the prison in support of a claim for travelling time allowance, leaving it to the police to man the prison. That illustrates the difficulties under which we have been operating. Undoubtedly, some prison officers were disaffected, but the vast majority were doing a dedicated job, as is brought out in the report.
1045 If morale had been as low as some people have since been trying to make out, we would not have seen such courage as was displayed by the prison officers during the escape, particularly at the gate, when one man gave his life and five were badly injured. We have to take into account that, although there had been some disaffection for some time among prison officers, generally speaking morale was reasonable.
Early last year visits to the prison were arranged for members of the Assembly. I have looked up some of the reports which emanated from those visits. At that time there was no question of reports being brought to me of a loss of morale. The security committee came to see me on one or two occasions. Neither then, nor at any other time before the break-out at the prison, did members of the committee talk to me about a loss of morale.
The next allegation is that the prison department of the Northern Ireland Office was deficient. There were deficiencies in security and in the operations division. That is brought out in the report, but the report goes on to acknowledge that there had been a considerable improvement since January 1982, which was when the former governor of the Maze took over. The report also refers to the fact that the governor said that he had never been without advice on urgent operational matters. So, again, for those reasons we can say that the prison was being reasonably, although not well, conducted, given the extremely difficult circumstances of conducting prisons in Northern Ireland.
I should like to remind the House of some of the report's main conclusions, and to deal more thoroughly than has so far been possible with the Government's response. I have already said that I readily accepted the report's analysis and all its 73 recommendations. I wished to act quickly to rectify any security deficiencies in the Maze. Although I certainly acknowledge that there have been shortcomings, deficiencies and operational mistakes, my main concern was to move forward to implement the Hennessy recommendations.
The House will know that there were three main aspects to Sir James's criticisms of the Maze — physical weaknesses, including the main gate; procedural weaknesses, including search arrangements; and, finally, deficiencies in management. We have taken action in all those areas.
As I said two weeks ago, 21 of the recommendations had already been put into effect when the report was published. The number is now 27. These included structural changes at the main gate, the tally lodge and the armoury and improved arrangements for searching prisoners, visitors, vehicles, and so on. A quick reaction force was established. Orderlies are now subject to closer supervision and their movements and location have been restricted. Arrangements to improve supervision and for more contact between senior management and the prison were introduced, and necessary immediate staff changes in the prison were made.
Since the report was published, action to implement its other recommendations has continued. This work is being supervised by a special team dedicated solely to the urgent implementation of the recommendations. The team will report regularly to me on progress. Preparatory steps have been taken to modify and increase the vehicle locks, and construction will start shortly; communications between 1046 the emergency control room and gate staff are being revised; a review of staff training is under way; revised governor's orders on the dangers of manipulation, orderly selection procedures and many other matters have been issued. An additional governor grade III has taken up post; new arrangements for chairing and improving the effectiveness of the local security committee are under way; the prisons department at the Northern Ireland Office has been strengthened; and a review of the management structure in that department is being carried out.
In addition, a number of reviews recommended by Sir James Hennessy have started, or will start shortly. These reviews include the structure of the visits complex, conditions for professional visits, the need for a separate dogs section, a review of the closed circuit television surveillance system and of the alarm and communications system in the emergency control room. Plans are being drawn up for a new search area and a new purpose-built main gate complex. There are other reviews: the role of the security forces, the types of hobbies and prisoners' work allowed in the prison, the concept of the segment system, the need for orderly posts in the H-blocks and the management structure of the prison.
I am well aware of the acute difficulties under which those in immediate command of the prison operate. I have already paid tribute to the dedication with which the then governor of the Maze carried out his 34 years' service in the prisons, and I do so again today. But, given the extent and nature of the security deficiencies within the Maze which the report highlighted — and considering Sir James's conclusion that the governor must carry ultimate responsibility for the state of the prison—I believe that it was right to accept his resignation.
The governor was close to retirement, and I have made arrangements so that he will not suffer as a result of his resignation from the point of view of his retirement. I believe that that is proper recognition of the way in which, in many ways, he held the poisoned chalice at the time of the escape, because this job in the Maze prison was a poisoned chalice. I cannot for one moment think that I was wrong to accept his resignation; but a man who has given honourable service in very difficult circumstances over a great period of time and is near to retirement should not be made to suffer unduly for what happened.
I am determined that the management shortcomings in the prison are rectified, and the present governor of the Maze has assured me that action has already been and will be taken to this end.
That is the Government's response to the main recommendations. I do not believe that any evidence has been produced so far that changes the conclusions reached in the report. If fresh evidence or information comes forward—and it would have to be fresh information or evidence—we shall, of course, look at it. So far, all the information that has come forward—from the articles in The Observer, from the governors' association report and from the Prison Officers' Association report—has been taken into account in what the report has produced and in what I have said about it today.
My responsibility now is to help the prison service in Northern Ireland to respond to the demands that will be placed on it. Running a prison requires more than just going by the book. It needs subtlety and imagination, motivation and high morale. It is also essential that leadership is sensitive to the changing situation and to 1047 attitudes among staff as well as prisoners. The report shows ways in which procedures can be improved and staff better managed. That guidance will be followed.
It must not be forgotten that, as well as describing the pressures on the system, the report emphasises the many qualities of the service and of the men and women who work in it — qualities of courage and of the highest professional standards. I attach great importance to the task that the prison service has to perform for the community in Northern Ireland—a task which it is the continuing aim of the terrorist always to seek to undermine. That must never be allowed to happen. Sir James says that the report of itself will not solve all the problems of the future. That serves to underline the need to instil confidence in and to demonstrate support for the prison service in its vital work.
I would not want the House to think that the work of the prison service can be taken in isolation from the community that it serves. The Maze is a product of the troubled history of Northern Ireland. It is a history of division and conflict as well as of resourcefulness and determination. It reflects a community which takes pride in its separate identities, but which shares, without always recognising it, a common heritage. This debate is about the Maze prison, but let us not forget that life in the Maze affects, and is influenced by, life outside the prison.
If the proper lessons are learned from the Maze escape —I am determined that they will be learned and acted on — we will go a long way to ensuring that such a catastrophe does not happen again. I hope that we can acknowledge the improvements that generally have been achieved in the security situation in Northern Ireland, although we have a long way to go, and that we can reaffirm the standards that we require of the prison service and our support for those who work in it in their difficult task.
I hope that we will also accept the duties and responsibilities that are on all who can influence the affairs of Northern Ireland. We can and must work to create structures in the Province which no longer spawn a prison establishment like the Maze and which no longer set the prison service such a daunting, difficult and dangerous task. I believe that in the months ahead we may have the opportunity. I, my hon. Friend and my other ministerial colleagues remain determined and dedicated to doing everything possible to take the opportunity, but we will need the support and understanding of this House and of the people of Northern Ireland.
I believe that the underlying lessons of the Maze escape can be learned by all of us, but particularly by those in Northern Ireland. I can only tell the House that they will certainly be learned by Ministers and the Government and put into operation at once.
§ 5.8 pm
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
The Secretary of State need have no fear on that score. The House is accustomed to judge of things said and done in the context in which they were said and done. In my experience it usually makes its judgments with sympathy and understanding.
It is, of course, true that the events which we are discussing took place in the context of a situation which was unique. There can rarely, if ever, have been a prison service which had to cope with so sudden and explosive an increase in the prison population. In 1969 the average 1048 daily prison population in Northern Ireland was 617— proportionate to its population, among the lowest in Europe—while in 1983 it was about 2,500, 75 per cent. of whom had been convicted of terrorist offences.
That staggering increase arose from the political situation in Northern Ireland, and of course we all agree with the Secretary of State that the events at the Maze cannot be considered in isolation from other events in Northern Ireland.
Those additional prisoners did not see themselves as criminals. However perversely, however confusedly and however deliberately, they were bent on self-deception, they were conditioned to see themselves as engaged in a war. Anyone who sees that simply as a deliberate pretence or facade has failed to understand the minds of the paramilitaries. That was how they justified their horrifying crimes, not merely to others, but to their own minds and consciences. They did not perceive themselves as criminals and so, unlike the vast majority of criminals elsewhere, did not resign themselves to serving their time. Instead, they set themselves, like the men of Colditz, to continuing the war on a daily basis within their prison.
In paragraph 1.15 the report says:They were quite unlike the population of any prison in England or Wales in their dangerousness, their 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.
The prisoners were unique in that way. That led to other respects in which the position was unique. They saw themselves as part of an army with its own command structure. Some hon. Members have visited the prison— indeed some of us visited it in the days when it was known as Long Kesh — and I can remember the Republican paramilitaries drawn up as though they were on parade under their commanders. The commanders decided which prisoners could speak to visitors, and I thought at the time that here was a ready-made staff college for terrorists.
Their leaders purported to negotiate with the authorities on behalf of them all. When prisoners demanded to see the governor—he was no doubt acting on instructions from above — he discussed their grievances with their commanders. Prison officers despaired of maintaining normal discipline. The discipline imposed by their commanders was more immediate and effective than any which was available to the prison staff.
Another consequence of the doctrine was that prisoners maintained effective links with people outside the prison —not just with their families and friends, as prisoners do elsewhere, but with at least two other categories of person. First, there were those who saw themselves as serving in the same army and, therefore, they could threaten prison officers and other prisoners that action would be taken against them outside the prison, or that something would happen to their families. The second link was with the community, whose attitude on this has been somewhat ambivalent. Neither community in Northern Ireland approves of violence and thuggery, but each community identifies its own paramilitaries as being, in a sense, on the same side in a war. Everyone who speaks of inter-community relations in Northern Ireland in terms of a war adds to that feeling.
Decisions and actions which could be represented as in any way unfair to prisoners could be made the subject of a campaign in the community, could be portrayed as further evidence of a conspiracy to deprive one side of its 1049 rights, and could be used to justify further atrocities and the escalation of the violence. That position could be manipulated by the prisoners themselves. They could deliberately bring about difficult situations so that the responses would be seen as unfair. That all adds up to a context in which a few determined and ruthless men could exploit every event and decision, and could orchestrate everything that happened to serve their own purpose.
There was a political dimension to every decision. In Great Britain interest in prison unrest may command the attention of the media, but it does not usually give rise to any major political backlash. In Northern Ireland, every incident and unguarded word is highly charged with political implications, which give rise to repercussions which are far outside the prison service. It creates a need to take account of matters with which the prison service is not usually concerned. Errors of judgment in what is said and done in those circumstances can cost lives—the lives of prison staff and of people outside the prison who may never have seen the prison.
Administration cannot be segregated into insulated compartments. Decisions about policing methods and criminal procedure had and have implications for the regime within the prison and vice versa. Some prisoners believed themselves to be wrongly convicted—that did not necessarily mean that they were innocent, but only that the authorities had not played according to the rules. That distinction, as every criminal lawyer knows, is always present in the minds of the criminal fraternity. Many prisoners then, and more now, were convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of accomplice informers, who have come to be called supergrasses. They perceive themselves and are perceived by the community as being convicted unfairly. Whether or not that is true, it is a factor in the position within the prison and it adds to resentment and the feeling that a political dimension exists by the fact that they are in prison.
Later, when we debate the report of Sir George Baker, we shall discuss factors which affect the attitude of the community to law and order and which affect the attitude to authority of those serving prison sentences. I mention that only as an illustration that every regulation, every policy decision, every change of practice, every ruling, and every word within the prison service has implications of a most sensitive political nature. In those circumstances, hon. Members will have sympathy and understanding for all those who live their lives day by day and hour by hour knowing that anything they do may explode in their faces — sometimes quite literally. Whatever decisions they make, and whichever way they resolve an issue, they will attract criticism, and be misrepresented and misunderstood. Whatever course they take, there will be a price to be paid.
For that reason I agree with the Secretary of State that the House will judge all those who took part in the matter against that background. But, for that very reason, those who must operate the system cannot, in fairness, be left to their own devices. Not only are they untrained to take highly sensitive political decisions, but it is necessary to take account of factors far outside the areas of activity which they understand. They do not know about them.
It is not enough for a Minister to lay down general policies and then walk away and leave the machine to run itself. It is not enough even that senior officials supervise 1050 closely. Trained, competent administrators are not a substitute for political leaders. Ministers must be in there with their staff all the time. They must know everything that is happening, whether it is big or small. They must be veritable 20th century Metternichs. They must have eyes in the backs of their heads. Ministers for Northern Ireland should be judged with sympathy for the difficulty of a thankless task. Their decisions are not to be condemned simply because they went wrong, but they must be judged by the standard of involvement, which takes account of the minefield in which their staff are working.
We have read the report. I have spoken with representatives of the prison governors, of the Prison Officers Association, as other right hon. and hon. Members will have done, and with the prison officers themselves. Some factors, which cry out for attention to those who dig deeper, are not given great prominence in the report. The prison staff believed, and still believe, that there was no attempt to involve them in decision-making. They believe that they were not taken into the confidence of those who made political decisions and that there was no attempt even to explain to them why certain things were done.
As they saw it, they made one representation after another, they gave warning after warning but they felt that one plea after another fell on deaf ears. There may have been reasons for all the rulings and regulations, but no one took the trouble to explain them. Yet when things went wrong and Sir James Hennessy reported, they felt that they were exhibited as the ones who had failed to realise the seriousness of the position.
The report gives credit to some of the officers whose courage and resourcefulness far exceeded the requirements of their duties. But there are occasions in reading the report when one is in danger of losing sight of the fact that the prison officers were a body of men 22 of whose members were murdered while doing their jobs. They had striven to make known to their superiors the contents of a can of worms, but they were left to carry it. The least that the House can do today is to inquire what became of those representations. Who took the trouble to ask what they were saying, and who reflected on what they said?
As the Secretary of State reminded us, those engaged in the hunger strikes, or, more accurately, those who took upon themselves the right to speak for them, made five demands. The Government were understandably anxious to end the protest, and they discussed the terms on which it could be terminated. One demand was the concession of the right of inter-wing association. A consequence of that is dealt with in paragraph 1.09 of the report. The Loyalist prisoners were intimidated and demanded segregation. I had thought that that was conceded, but I think that the Secretary of State said that it had happened in practice for reasons which did not amount to a concession. However, I was under the impression that it was continuing. If I am wrong about that, I shall be put right. As I understood an answer given by the right hon. Gentleman when he made his first statement some days ago, he was not entirely clear about the position at the time. But I make no criticism of that.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
There are now seven integrated wings in the Maze prison. The Loyalists who, in protest, 1051 broke up their cells and dirtied them have been segregated, which has meant de facto an increase in the number of Republicans in segregated wings.
§ Mr. Archer
I should make it clear to the Minister that I do not mention this by way of criticism. I understand the sequence of events, but I thought that some wings, for whatever reason, still have an almost completely Republican population.
§ Mr. Scott
The imbalance of numbers in the Maze—there is a preponderance of Republican prisoners—and the need to ensure that there is an even balance between Republicans and Loyalists in the integrated wings, means that there will always be a number of wings which contain only Republican prisoners.
§ Mr. Archer
I did not wish to begin a discussion on this matter, but the moving of some Loyalist prisoners to Magilligan prison might have made the problem even more difficult. Again, that is not a criticism.
What matters is that at that time the Republican paramilitaries had decided who was to be in block H7. That means that there was less likelihood of anyone who did not sympathise with them hearing what was being said and learning of their plans. It also meant that the work to be done had to be allocated almost exclusively to those of the Republican persuasion.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The Hennessy report makes it clear that the escape was known only to a very few Republican prisoners until it took place. The argument that if there were Loyalist prisoners in that wing they would have turned informer and told the prison officers what was going on does not hold, because Hennessy—not some Loyalist body outside the prison—says that the escape was known only to the few Republicans who planned it.
§ Mr. Archer
I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. It is not central to what I wished to say, but it seems to have been present in the minds of those who planned the escape, that a preliminary step was to get rid of prisoners who might operate as spies. I do not know whether they were right or wrong about that, but it seems to have been very much in their minds.
I am more concerned with the effect of that upon the work schedules. We are told in the document "Regimes in Northern Ireland Prisons", which was circulated among prison officers, that orderlies were normally selected from about one third of the prisoners. It states:Those taking part are normally 'trusties' or low risk prisoners; a few may be serving long sentences but most are serving under four years.The document goes on to define "low risk" as meaning thatfrom the nature of a prisoner's offence and his behaviour in prison there is a low risk of his trying to escape or of becoming violent. It is a measure of his danger to the prison and to society outside.
Those who fell within that definition but who were unacceptable to the paramilitaries could not be used as orderlies. In effect, the paramilitaries decided who would be orderlies. Another factor, which was mentioned by the Secretary of State, was that it was a term of the conclusion of the protest that those who were prepared to work would regain half of their lost remission. Paragraph 3.11 of the report states that the governor was instructed to provide employment for all prisoners who ended their protest. That is understandable, because otherwise it would have been said that the Government had made it impossible to conform with the term which was part of the agreement.
1052 All those factors in combination led to the appointment as orderlies of some prisoners who could not possibly be described as low risks. One orderly at the time of the break-out was Brendan McFarlane, who was serving 25 years for murder and who was recognised as a commander of the Republican paramilitaries in the prison. Paragraph 3.09 of the report deals with that point by saying:The prisoners made it their business, therefore, to condition staff to accept as orderlies some of the most dangerous and subversive prisoners in H7.
In the next paragraph there is a recommendation that in future allocations should be made only after approval by the labour allocation board. That is puzzling, because it might be construed as meaning that orderlies were selected by prison officers in the block. In fact, selections were made by the labour allocation board. As I understand it, the board would usually accept, without much discussion, the recommendations of the governor; but those allocations were discussed at a meeting of the board on 17 November 1982. I have a copy of the minutes, which lists the prisoners with whom the board was dealing, along with their current occupations. Some were on a painting party, and others were horticultural orderlies. Against some names are the letters "NYA", which I understand mean "not yet allocated". In the next column we are told what they are doing. The name McFarlane appears there, and he is allocated to block orderly. That was the decision of the labour allocation board at the time, which I understand was presided over by a grade 3 governor.
I understand the reason for that allocation, and it has already been mentioned by the Secretary of State. If Brendan McFarlane had to be given work, the choice was between that and giving him work in a workshop, where he could have associated more freely with other prisoners outside the perimeter of the block, and where he might have had access to tools and weapons. I am a little puzzled by the criticism of that decision in the report, which does not say what the alternative should have been.
A copy of those minutes was sent to the Northern Ireland Office. Had any official there cast his eye over the minutes, he would have seen the name McFarlane. It is not likely that anyone would have overlooked it, because he played a leading part in the negotiations with the authorities. He had been taken outside the prison to meet a succession of VIPs. On several occasions he accompanied VIPs when they visited the prison. His name would have leapt out at anyone who took the trouble to read the minutes. Did anyone at the Northern Ireland Office read those minutes? It was known that they dealt with the highly sensitive subject of finding work for prisoners who were intent on recovering their lost remission. It was the subject on which the governors had received political directives, and it was known that the governors were anxious about it.
Did anyone in the security and operations division read them? If staff were so overworked that they did not have time to read the minutes, did Ministers know that they were so overworked? Did Ministers take any interest in the matter? Were they not interested in whether the Republican paramilitaries had established their own appointments procedure in the H blocks? Had any Minister read those minutes? It will not do to leave the matter, as paragraph 3.10 leaves it, as a mistake made without the involvement of anyone at a senior level. If senior officers were not involved, why were they not involved?
1053 I offer another example. Paragraph 3.19 of the report says that the staff in H7 had failed to be alerted to signs that "something was up". Is that a fair judgment? I have seen the minutes of a series of meetings between representatives of the Prison Officers Association and the prison governor. Paragraph 8 of the minutes of a meeting on 29 November 1982 states:Reduction in Numbers in H BlocksThe Committee expressed their concern at the high number of prisoners in certain Blocks, especially H7 and H8, and the resultant difficulties and pressures that this situation placed on Staff.
The minutes continue:Manning Levels:The Committee inquired if they could be supplied with the current Staffing figures, so that they could compare these with those figures mentioned in the Manpower Report.The Chief Officer pointed out the difficulties regarding this and stated he would examine the matter.
The minutes of another meeting on 26 January state:Riot Gear for Stand by Teams in Blocks.The Committee inquired regarding the possibility of providing this in 'H' Block 2 and 'H' Block 5. The Governor stated that this had been considered but it had been felt that the presence of riot gear might prove provocative.We should fully understand that that decision was obviously taken for political reasons. Was that decision shared with those who had expressed those anxieties?
The minutes were sent to the Northern Ireland Office, and it was clear that staff were concerned about security in the H blocks, especially H7. Authorities were weighing the normal reactions against the need to avoid provocation. Did anyone at the Northern Ireland Office read those minutes? If so, did people reflect on them? Did any Minister read those minutes? If so, did Ministers take an interest in what was happening? If those people read the minutes, how could they have been unaware of the anxieties of the staff? At the risk of wearying the House—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
What does my right hon. and learned Friend mean when he says that the decision was taken for "political" reasons and a few seconds later asks who read the article in the Castle? If it was a political decision, they would have known already.
§ Mr. Archer
I am suggesting that the decision was taken for political reasons in the sense that certain actions that would have been taken in most prisons ought not to be taken because they would be provocative in the context of this prison. I was using the word "political" not to describe who took the decision but to show why it was taken. I should imagine that the political sensitivity entailed in that decision was known, or should have been known, in the Castle. A meeting was held between the governor and representatives of the Prison Officers Association. Did anyone take the trouble to discover what was said at that meeting? That was my point.
Paragraph 5.02 of the report deals with the leakage of tools from workshops, a matter which had repercussions, as we know. That was one of the factors that lead to the allocation of highly dangerous men to alternative work as block orderlies. The report states:In short, the way in which tools were controlled at the Maze showed weaknesses. This reflects badly on those supervising the discipline and workshop staff, and on the oversight exercised by the Security Department. We recommend that all tools in the prison should be marked and more closely controlled.
1054 The minutes of a meeting on 24 September 1982 between the governor and representatives of the Prison Officers Association state:As handicraft tools had gone missing in Blocks staff felt that hobby facilities should be withdrawn from the Block concerned until the tools had been returned.That may have been the wrong prescription for the ill, but those minutes went to the Northen Ireland Office. Did anyone read them? If they were read, did anyone ask how the tools had gone missing? Were any of the procedures discussed?
Anyone who chose to read those minutes could not have believed that these matters had been kept a secret. And that meeting had been called to discuss industrial action by the Prison Officers Association. If time permitted I could mention more examples. In one set of minutes the committee states:Staff are requesting that more information be given by management in view of the current situation within the prison.
The Hennessy report emphasises the need for training. I have correspondence in which the Prison Officers Association asked for more in-service training. Last Sunday a reference was made in The Observer to a memorandum by an assistant governor to the governor warning that, now that the work required to regain the last lost remission had been completed, people were not working any more and discipline was virtually breaking down. We are told that it was asked that that memorandum should be forwarded to the Northern Ireland Office. Did it ever reach the Northern Ireland Office? Then is it surprising that staff, from the governor down, felt that their voices were being lost on the empty air? I am not suggesting that the staff were always right. Diagnosis is one thing, choosing the correct remedy is very different. But staff were left wondering whether anyone had listened. Where action had to be taken which did not accord with what they were asking, they felt that no one had explained why. Yet the staff feel that they are singled out in the report because they had not made known the problems within the prison.
It was vital, if staff who had to operate in those conditions were not to be isolated, that they should regularly see a Minister and witness that he had come to see for himself. It is vital that the Minister should talk to them, explaining difficulties, and that he should make it clear to them that their representations had been considered. We should have expected that Ministers would want to know and to see for themselves where the red lights were flashing in that highly charged political situation.
How frequently did Ministers visit the Maze? I am told —I should be the first to rejoice if I am told that this information is wrong—that between 15 October 1981, when Lord Gowrie visited the prison, and July 1983, nearly two years later, when the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland visited the prison, not one ministerial visit had taken place — at least not one which was known to the prison officers. That was at the time of the protests, the delicate negotiations, the changes in the rules and problems about segregation. Is that information true? When had a Minister last met officals of the Prison Officers Association prior to the break-out?
I was told that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) was the responsible Minister, he was a regular visitor to the prison. He was always looking over the officers' shoulders. Admittedly, 1055 that was when there was much building going on. Even making allowances for that, the officers say that he interested himself in their day-to-day problems and, if they had something to say, he was there for them to talk to. He did not always agree with them, but they could talk to him.
The purpose of the debate is not to ask for resignations. An easy way for a politician to attract press coverage is to react to every problem with demands for ministerial resignations. If the Opposition were looking for candidates for resignations, we would not be short of material among the Government. We have seen the shambling ineptitude of the Foreign Secretary over the handling of the GCHQ crisis—a crisis of his making—the bewildering changes by the Secretary of State for Social Services on housing benefit, and the appalling insensitivity of those within the Ministry of Defence who advised His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to visit Drummadd barracks. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Northern Ireland must have realised how provocative that would be to the local population. I am referring not to protests from outside Northern Ireland, but to the offence that that action would give to the local Catholic community.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the chairman of Armagh council was murdered by the IRA? He was a major in the UDR. To what better place should those responsible go to encourage those who gave their lives in the battle for peace than the place that was badly hit? When, on the other side of the water, members of the royal family visit victims of terrorism, will there be a distinction because Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain but is part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Archer
That is one possible view. I recognise it to be the sincere view of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and of some other right hon. and hon. Members. On any showing, the visit was very provocative to a substantial part of the local community.
If what we are told is true, the Northern Ireland Office was not even consulted. Its officers would have known the arguments and the implications for both communities. At least officers in the Department would have read the newspapers about what happened when the Prime Minister did the same thing six weeks earlier.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is considering only one half of the equation. What about the gravest offence that would have been caused to the soldiers of the Grenadier Guards if their colonel had been prevented from visiting them?
§ Mr. Archer
The Grenadier Guards could have had contact with their colonel without it occurring in that provocative context.
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
The lack of understanding on this issue is an example of why we have a problem in Ireland. If officers at a police station in Brixton had been charged with the murder of some of the black population and the Prime Minister chose to visit that police station rather than any other to wish them a happy Christmas, and that was followed by a visit from a member of the royal family, what would the feelings be on this side of the water?
§ Mr. Archer
The exchanges in the last few minutes underline three times in red ink the point with which I began—that everything said and everything done in this context is highly emotionally charged, politically.
I fear that I have strayed from order. We may have an opportunity to discuss these matters later. My argument is that if we are looking for material for resignations we do not have far to look in the present Government. If someone at the Ministry of Defence made that decision without consulting the Northern Ireland Office, we have another candidate for resignation.
We must consider whether Northern Ireland would benefit if a particular Minister resigned. I should not think it right to call for the resignation of the Secretary of State. First, I do not think that he could reasonably have been expected, personally, to read the minutes. I believe that he was badly served. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman may be embarrassed at this; but I cannot envisage him being replaced from among members of the present Administration by anyone more compassionate or more politically sensitive. I am not calling for the right hon. Gentleman's resignation.
The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) — the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—had held responsibility for only three months prior to the breakout. We can see today what a difficult and complicated situation existed. There was a multiplicity of complications. I do not seek to convict him. Lord Gowrie is in a different position. In the absence of any explanations today, it is difficult to see how he could justify remaining a member of the Government. That may no longer be germane to the future of Northern Ireland, and I am mindful that he is not here to answer the charge. Perhaps the report will be debated in another place, where he will speak for himself. But it is difficult to see what answer there can be.
I have been interrupted many times and many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate so I shall comment only briefly on the present and the future.
We are told that the position in Northern Ireland prisons is still serious. We have read of the attempt last week to explode a bomb in Magilligan. Fortunately, only the detonator exploded. I am told that orderly duties in the H blocks are still carried out by Republican paramilitaries. Perhaps the Minister can say whether that is true. I am told that the prison officers are unhappy about that.
I am told that the prison officers are worried about staff ratios. In prisons in Great Britain a category A prisoner hardly moves without being accompanied by at least one prison officer.
The Northern Ireland prison officers are troubled by a circular from the Home Office signed by Mr. Chilcot, the head of personnel and finance, in which he states:I do therefore urge you to approach all proposals for extra tasks to be performed in your establishment with the firm intention of avoiding any step which entails a demand for extra staff. The approach should be that anything calling for more staff ought to be ruled out unless absolutely unavoidable".The prison service in Northern Ireland is worried in case that is intended to extend to Northern Ireland. We should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister about that.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say something about the long hours of overtime worked in the prison service in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Archer
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was not going to embark upon the topic because my eyes are on the time. I have no doubt that it will be mentioned in the debate.
The political situation in Northern Ireland has given rise to the problems. As the Secretary of State said, it is still unresolved. For the immediate future at least we must remember that some wicked men see themselves as crusaders. They will continue to murder and to terrorise. Some will respond, probably in today's debate, by demanding measures which will ensure that inter-community relations become even more estranged. It will be easier to see what is happening as war. Ministers will in future have to take difficult decisions about that.
The prisoners, the staff, officers and governors will continue to operate in dangerous and difficult conditions where things are done for political reasons and decisions taken will have political repercussions.
I do not believe that the answer is necessarily dramatic. When, in June 1980, the European Commission on Human Rights ruled on the Maze prisoners' application, it said that the conditions of which they complained were brought about by their own actions. However, it added:No doubt the authorities consider that to make concessions to the applicants will result in strengthening their resolve to continue their protest to a successful conclusion. However, the Commission must express its concern at the inflexible approach of the State authorities which has been concerned more to punish offenders against prison discipline than to explore ways of resolving a serious deadlock.That was a gentle admonition in a judgment which generally cleared the authorities of malice. But it was the voice of wisdom.
Difficult questions will continue to arise. I believe that the prison staff will continue to do their jobs. They will make mistakes, as we all do, but I believe that they will continue to do their best. The major question is whether they will continue to feel that they are responding to signals from behind the line or whether those who take political decisions will be with them, treating them as part of a team. That is the message which should emerge from this House today.
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)
I followed with interest the long speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). It was longer than the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I agreed with most of the earlier part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, but towards the end he made some remarks which seemed to have nothing to do with the subject under discussion and which I suspect in years to come he will regret having made.
I accept the report by Sir James Hennessy. I do not believe that any of us is entitled to challenge what he said. He knows more about prisons and the prison service than anyone in the Chamber today.
My purpose, therefore, is not to challenge the report but to reinforce certain parts of it. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, I especially draw attention to chapter 1 of the report which deals with conditions in the prisons and the prison service in Northern Ireland. In making its judgments today the House must bear in mind that the situation in Northern Ireland is totally different from anything that we know on this side of the Irish sea.
1058 As Sir James points out, about 2,500 convicted persons are held in custody in prisons in Northern Ireland, of whom 75 per cent. —about 1,900 people—have been convicted of offences committed in the course of terrorist activities.
It is right to note in passing that the non-terrorist prison population in Northern Ireland—about 600 people—is a substantially lower proportion of the population than in Great Britain, showing that, apart from the terrorist activity which has been going on for far too long, the people of Northern Ireland are law-abiding. There are 35 times as many people in Great Britain as in Northern Ireland, but the non-terrorist prison population in Northern Ireland is about half the corresponding proportion in Great Britain.
In Northern Ireland, however, between 1,900 and 2,000 people are in custody for offences related to terrorism. Most of those people quite wrongly regard themselves, not as persons convicted through the legal processes, but as prisoners of war. Prisoners of war have a duty to try to escape and that, I fear, is how many people held in custody in Northern Ireland regard their situation. We all know that that is wrong, the whole House has been saying for years that it is wrong, but those prisoners have protested in support of their case, starting in 1976 with the blanket protest and escalating to the dirty protest and finally to the hunger strike. For eight years, a large number of those people have declined to accept that they are other than prisoners held by an Administration that it is their declared aim to destroy. That applies not just to the United Kingdom Administration but to that of the Republic. They are being prevented from carrying out that aim and they regard it as their business to do everything in their power to escape. I am no expert on prisons in Great Britain, but I do not believe that that situation is known to the prison service here.
In the face of that, what have the Government done? First, over the years they have sought to provide the most modern and physically secure prison system that they can. Any hon. Member who has visited the Maze or any of the other modern prisons in Northern Ireland will agree that that has been achieved. They are the most modern and secure prisons that I have ever seen.
Secondly, the Government have sought, as is their duty, to confine convicted prisoners in the most humane conditions possible. The House needs no reminding of the enormous pressure upon successive Governments from organisations in this and many other countries to provide the best possible conditions. That pressure continues to this day. Here again, anyone who has visited the Maze will agree that conditions there are as good and humane as any to be found in the United Kingdom. Some say that they are as good as, or better than, any provided anywhere in the world. I cannot confirm that personally as I have not visited prisons all over the world, but I can readily believe it.
Thirdly, the Government have sought vastly to increase the size of the prison service. In paragraph 1.13 of his report Sir James notes that the prison service in Northern Ireland has expandedfrom 300 to 3,000 in less than 15 years.That is to say, it has expanded tenfold. That in itself is a formidable task wherever it is attempted. Inevitably, it means that many prison officers currently serving are without long experience. According to the same 1059 paragraph, of some 920 officers serving at the Maze in September 1983 only 4 per cent. — fewer than 40 officers—had 10 years service or morewhile almost 50 per cent."—about 450 officers—had served for less than four years.That is an inevitable result of such a rapid expansion in the service — a rapid expansion which was absolutely necessary and unavoidable but which nevertheless created its own difficulties.
There is another factor. As everyone knows, it is difficult enough to recruit the right people to the prison service in Great Britain. Among other things, being a prison officer is not a socially popular job: In my constituency there is a remand centre staffed by a large number of members of the Great Britain prison service. Immediately outside the gates of the centre there is rather a nice pub. I know it quite well and the local inhabitants use it a great deal. The prison officers, however, do not use it, however thirsty they may be when they come off duty, because they feel—with some justification, I am sorry to say—that because they are prison officers they are not welcome in the pub. They therefore go home to pubs in their own areas some distance away where they are not known as prison officers. That is just one of the many difficulties in recruiting prison officers on the mainland.
In Northern Ireland the situation is infinitely more difficult. The report states that during the disturbances of recent years 22 prison officers have been murdered. We must not forget the one who was murdered during the escape which gave rise to the report. I know from experience, although this does not appear in any detail in the report, how many prison officers have been intimidated at home, outside the prisons and, indeed, inside the prisons. I also know—this, too, is not in the report—how many wives and children of prison officers have been threatened and intimidated. The job of a prison officer is infinitely more difficult in Northern Ireland than it is in Great Britain.
I shall be frank with the House. I do not know why anyone should join the prison service in Northern Ireland. I recognise very well the enormous difficulty of ensuring that enough of the right type of person with the right qualifications and the right attitude to the job are recruited. If I may say so, in general, the prison service in Northern Ireland has such people, something which reflects very well the public-spiritedness of the people of Northern Ireland. The fact remains, however, that the prison service has to do its best with what it has and what it can recruit at all levels. It is clear from the report that there were weaknesses and weak links in the prison service. Nevertheless, I ask whether any hon. Member can put his hand on his heart and say that he knows of any organisation operating under even remotely similar difficulties which has no weak links. I certainly cannot.
There remains in my mind the question of the Government, represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his actions. I have already described three areas where the Government had to act. They had to provide more and secure accommodation; they had to operate the most humane regime possible, entailing constant study of the regime and attention to what was needed; and they had to increase the size of the prison service.
The Government did all these things and, in addition, my right hon. Friend has successfully continued the work 1060 of persuading his Cabinet colleagues that, in spite of the need to curtail public expenditure, the needs of the prison service in Northern Ireland must have priority. During his term of office, the prison budget in Northern Ireland has risen in real terms and the size of the prison staff has increased, in spite of all the difficulties with which we are familiar. In my book, my right hon. Friend deserves credit rather than blame for what he has done. It is my belief, my hope, that he will stay in office and continue his work for some time to come. If anything that is said tonight causes my right hon. Friend to change his mind and resign, there can be no doubt in my mind whence will come the loudest cheers. They will come from the IRA.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The Secretary of State, from the beginning of his speech, recognised the central issue in this debate, that of ministerial responsibility, without which the House scarcely has a real function or any real service that it can perform for the people whom it represents. We are concerned with the nature of the responsibility, the ministerial responsibility, for an event which, even in isolation from its actual context, was a major disaster.
I want to begin by eliminating from this consideration the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), because references to him in this context have shown a gross misconception. There has been argument about how long the hon. Member has been in the branch of the Northern Ireland Office concerned with the prison service, as though that were in the least degree relevant. The fact is that the entire responsibility, whether or not it is delegated to a junior Minister, rests with the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has confirmed this to me in the past 24 hours, in another context, when I drew his attention to the reports to the fact that the Minister in charge of the environment had himself taken the decision to re-name the district of Londonderry. The right hon. Gentleman quite correctly said:In discharging his duties, my hon. Friend acts on my behalf." — [Official Report, 8 February 1984; Vol. 53, c. 623.]
There is a responsibility, of a different kind, obviously, on the part of every junior Minister towards his Ministry, but the responsibility for everything that he does or says or fails to do or say rests irrevocably with the Minister —the Secretary of State—and he alone is responsible to the House.
It is, therefore, a total misconception to imagine that any of the responsibility can be devolved to a junior Minister. A junior Minister may choose, if his chief resigns, to resign in solidarity with him; he may choose himself to resign for a variety of reasons. But there is no constitutional significance in acceptance by him of a responsibility which is not his. The locus of the responsibility is beyond challenge. It lies with the Secretary of State and, through him, with the Government as a whole.
As the Secretary of State reminded us this afternoon, even before the publication of the report he drew a distinction, which I believe to be invalid, between responsibility for policy and responsibility for administration. I believe that this is a wholly fallacious view of the nature of ministerial responsibility. I shall argue presently that there is a policy element in the event that we are 1061 considering and that it cannot be understood fully except in its policy framework. But even if all considerations of policy could be eliminated, the responsibility for the administration of a Department remains irrevocably with the Minister in charge. It is impossible for him to say to the House or to the country, "The policy was excellent and that was mine, but the execution was defective or disastrous and that has nothing to do with me." If that were to be the accepted position, there would be no political source to which the public could complain about administration or from which it could seek redress for failings of administration.
What happened was an immense administrative disaster. It was not a disaster in a peripheral area of the responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Department. It was a disaster that occurred in an area which was quite clearly central to the Department's responsibilities. If the responsibity for administration so central to a Department can be abjured by a Minister, a great deal of our proceedings in the House is a beating of the air because we are talking to people who, in the last resort, disclaim the responsibility for the administration.
I would put the question in this way to the right hon. Gentleman. If he had known on 24 September what we all know now about the state of affairs in the Maze prison, would he or would he not have taken urgent and drastic steps to correct it? Of course he would. But can he say —ought the House to permit him to say—that he was unaware of what he and we now know and that, therefore, he cannot be held responsible for what Sir James calls the malaise arising from the state of affairs of considerable duration which existed in that prison and which alone can explain what happened on 25 September last year?
A forthnight ago the Secretary of State said that he had been unaware of the defects in morale at the prison until a few months ago. It is the business of a Minister who is at the head of a branch of administration to have an instinct about, an insight into and a sense of what is happening in that branch of the administration. It is his business to know the state of morale throughout that service and he is not doing his duty as Minister if he can say truthfully that he is unaware of it and that "nobody told him". It is for him to know that he is not being told what he should be told and to find out enough to be aware whether there are deficiencies for which he should be held responsible. There is a remarkable phrase which occurs in the last sentence of the report:with inspired leadership and proper support, the prison should soon become again what it was always intended to be; the most secure prison in Northern Ireland."Inspired leadership"—I think that that is pitching the requirements on a departmental Minister a little high. It is a somewhat grandiose expression. At any rate, let us omit "inspired" and retain "leadership". Let us keep "leadership and … support".
Leadership and support was not being given during the months and years to the prison staff, which was undertaking one of the most important, sensitive and vital jobs in the whole of Northern Ireland. There may have been other responsibilities of the Secretary of State which were of equal importance, but it would be impossible to say that there was any other responsibility which was of greater importance than the prison upon which the 1062 Province depended as one of the bulwarks between itself and the enemies of order, peace and a chance of life and safety for men and women.
This was an administrative failure of the sort that goes from the bottom straight to the top. It was not an accident, an error which could be corrected; it was not something which might happen obscurely in an office or branch somewhere throughout the country. It was something which concerned the relationship between this crucial institution of a prison and the Northern Ireland Office, and which therefore concerned the personal responsibility of the Secretary of State. Even if there had been no policy involved — if the policy had merely been to keep the Maze prison secure — there was a failure of administration which could only be at ministerial level. But it would be a mistake to imagine that what happened on 25 September can be really understood, or the conditions, the state of morale and the attitude of the prison service which made it possible, outside the political and policy framework.
There are two frames, one within the other. There is the immediate frame and context of the successive protests and hunger strikes. There was the initial hunger strike at the end of 1980 and the major hunger strike which occupied the greater part of 1981. Both those protests, hunger strikes, were bought off. They were brought to a conclusion by an agreement. But they were not an operation on their own; they were not an operation in isolation. They had a direct relationship with two political events. The meeting between the Prime Minister in December 1980 and the Irish Premier followed immediately upon the cessation of the first hunger strike. There were only two or three days between the two events. Secondly, there was the meeting between the Prime Minister and the succeeding Premier of the Irish Republic, which was able to take place because in October 1981 the second and major hunger strike had been brought to an end.
The hunger strikes were orchestrated and controlled, and the Northern Ireland Office was in continuous communication with the organisers of the hunger strikes to ensure that the Prime Minister was brought to terms, as she was in December 1980 and November 1981, with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
Is it not proper to recall that 10 people died during the strike and that the Government of the United Kingdom did not give way?
§ Mr. Powell
That is quite true. I happen to believe, perhaps wrongly, that, because of the personal determination of the Prime Minister, the circumstances in which the second and longer hunger strike was brought to an end were much less damaging and discreditable than they might have been. I accept that entirely. However, both the hunger strikes were terminated upon terms, and those were terms which had been negotiated. I do not know how much the Ministers concerned knew about the negotiations between the Northern Ireland Office—the very people with whom the prison staff in the Maze were in communication and from whom they received their instructions—and the leaders of the national H block committee in Dublin. That was the inner framework of the state of morale in the Maze prison as it existed on 25 September 1983.
1063 It was a prison organisation which had been told, "These are the terms which the Government have agreed and these are the terms and the spirit of the terms with which, whatever you think will be the consequences for the security of the prison, you must comply." There was no doubt who was to be the master; the Northern Ireland Office was to be the master. It said, "We take responsibility for the politics of this and you, the prison service, will carry out the politics as it is our business to indicate them." But that is only the inner scene. The picture is framed by the policy from 1979 to 1983, which was pursued by the Government and which was followed from the moment that they came into office, when they reversed the policies upon which the Conservative party had been elected to govern.
§ Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman being somewhat unrealistic in imputing omnipresence and omnificence to a Minister of the Crown? Will he take into account what was said in the report at paragraph 9.03, which states:the Governor told us that he had never found himself without advice on any urgent operational matter?
§ Mr. Powell
I dare say that he received official advice—indeed, I am sure that he did. He probably received some official advice for which he did not ask. Sir James may be an expert on prisons and may know more than we know about them, but some of us know a little more about being a Minister than Sir James. I am prepared to say that it is possible for a Minister at the head of a great service to know what the state of morale in that service is, and to know what it is like at the important pressure points. It is not omnipotence or omnificence; it is what is requisite in a parliamentary democracy of a Secretary of State or a Minister at the head of a Department.
If any member of the prison service, like any ordinary member of the public in Northern Ireland, during these past four and a half years had watched the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government, had watched what they had done instead of the things which before they were elected they undertook to do, he would have reasonably concluded—I do not necessarily say that he would have been right so to conclude—that Her Majesty's Government were set upon making terms with the Irish Republic whereby some of the objectives—perish the methods—of the men imprisoned in the Maze for crimes would be achieved.
§ Mr. Prior
I shall not take issue with the first part of what the right hon. Gentleman said, because I have already made my views known to the House. However, I must take up the point that we were always giving way to the Irish Republic, with all that that entailed. Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government suffered all the indignity and the problems that arose from a hunger strike which involved the deaths of 10 people? Why does he think that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State was put through the hell that he suffered that summer if it was all some grand design to give way to the Republic of Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman must desist from building up conspiratorial theories that have no grounds of truth whatsoever.
§ Mr. Powell
It is not I who am in the dock for being unaware of what was going on.
I am confronting a right hon. Gentleman who had very little knowledge of what was going on in his own 1064 Department and in his own office; a right hon. Gentleman without communication with whom — that is my charitable assumption — the Northern Ireland Office behaved on occasions during the past four or five years, virtually as if it were a separate entity in the state. The right hon. Gentleman does not realise this. That is the disaster. That is the misfortune.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) had to live through the summer of 1981. I thought that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) came very close to pointing that out. Of course it was not the conscious will of Her Majesty's Government, of this Parliament or of this people to bring about the consequences that were the natural outcome—the visible, likely outcome, as seen by the people in the Province—of such events as the two meetings between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Prime Ministers of the Irish Republic. Hon. Members and I myself on this Bench would despair and die if we believed that that was so.
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins
The visible outcome in the Province of the two hunger strikes which took place when I happened to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was that the people there told me—I do not know what they told the right hon. Gentleman — that they were delighted that it had been established beyond doubt that there was no such thing as a political crime and that people who murdered other people in the Province, for whatever reason they committed the murder, would all be treated in the same way. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not also delighted.
§ Mr. Powell
We now have an opportunity to read in the Hennessy report the results of that in the Maze prison, how it worked out in practice when the terms were applied in the Maze, and the effect that it had on morale and in producing in the Maze the malaise—that is the word—which made September possible.
In a Department such as this and in the face of an event such as this, we cannot in the last resort distinguish Government policy from administration. I believe, despite my differences of perception and temperament from the Secretary of State, that it is his intention and his ambition to contribute to the public good by his administration in Northern Ireland. I have never doubted that for a moment. However, I ask him to review again the question that only he can answer. As it is incumbent upon those who take part in this debate to answer their own questions, I want to say to him that, being, as he is, a proud and sensitive man, I think that he will take the decision which will best serve both his honour and the Province for which I know he has come to have an affection if he recognises the principle of ministerial responsibility in the face of this event.
It is easy to say that we should make a Roman holiday for the IRA. It is easy to say that here is a Secretary of State who in many respects, we believe and hope, is taking a new grasp upon his responsibilities. It is easy to say that this is not the moment. It is always the moment, Mr. Speaker, for accepting what this House has a right to demand — the responsibility of Ministers for that for which only they can take responsibility to the people.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)
It was not my purpose, Mr. Speaker, when I asked you if I might take 1065 part in this debate, to speak upon the subject upon which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has just addressed us. I shall keep my promise to be brief, but I cannot forbear to make one or two comments on his remarks.
The right hon. Gentleman began by asking a series of theoretical questions about ministerial responsibility, and some questions which were practical. In making charges against my right hon. Friend, he did not refer to what was said in the Hennessy report. More significantly, if he thought that those questions were so crucial to the inquiry, it does not appear from the report that he addressed those questions to its author and asked for answers. The first part of the report describes the wide range of people who made submissions and asked for certain aspects of the affair to be considered. The right hon. Gentleman's name is not there. He is content to sit and brood and then to criticise when the report is published. I shall not follow him in the malevolent flight of fancy that has led him to the conclusion that the prisoners escaped from the Maze because two Prime Ministers of two sovereign states chose to have talks about their future relations. That allegation is so patently ludicrous as not to be worth discussing. I am sorry to have to say that, because I listened with the greatest care to most of what the right hon. Gentleman said.
In an attempt to look forward and be constructive, I shall concentrate on two aspects of the report and the difficulties within the Maze which caused it to be written. I have no great expertise, but I have been to the Maze. I was there before the new prison was built, I was there during the building of the new prison—thanks to the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who always gave us all the greatest possible co-operation—and I have been there since.
Sir James Hennessy points to two events without which the escape could not have taken place. He then considers whether or not there was ministerial responsibility. First, he says that the escape could not have taken place had the guns not got into the prison. Without guns, there would have been no escape. I note very carefully what Sir James says about visits, and his reference in page 21 paragraph 4.10, to the Council of Europe'sMemorandum on the Custody and Treatment of Dangerous Prisoners.That is something — this will offend the right hon. Member for Down, South—that the Government have had to consider.
I note, too, the dilemma that Sir James recognises about the humanitarian grounds for visits to convicted prisoners vis-a-vis the practical security requirements for preventing the possibility of materials being brought into the prison which would help to make an escape possible. I do not criticise what Sir James says, but my right hon. Friend should consider closely whether he should go further than Sir James's recommendation on this aspect.
Visitors to the Maze are unlike any of the range of visitors to prisons on the mainland. Priests are prepared to bring in contraband under the guise of visiting their flock. All types of people, such as lawyers, I regret to say—this is hard evidence, not hearsay—will bring in tools to help their clients escape. Such conditions simply do not exist in mainland Britain. 1066 Sir James concluded that the humanitarian arguments against closed visits for all prisoners at the Maze cannot be ignored. He said that while he wanted tightened procedures, he did not want to change the system. My right hon. Friend should think long and hard before he decides not to go further than that. The humanitarian considerations are important, but so are the practical ones. However, the overriding requirement is that there shall be no chance of guns being brought into that prison again in whatever guise. If that entails being less than humanitarian to the prisoners, it is a tough decision, but so be it. If the Government, when examining what Sir James has said, conclude that they must go further, they deserve the support of every right hon. and hon. Member in making that decision, however unpalatable it may be.
It gives me no pleasure to say that the prisoners could not have got out if the prison officers had done their job. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) made what I can only call an apologia for the prison officers, the governors and all who are associated with the management of the prison. Not once did he mention the serious, but so simple, dereliction of duty that took place. Such an approach does not help us to come to the correct conclusion on the arguments. Nor does the right hon. Member for Down, South in saying that it was simply a matter of morale. It is possible for parts of any organisation to have low morale, but nevertheless, even reluctantly, to do their duty.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West asked whether the Northern Ireland Office knew about McFarlane. That may be a fair question, but surely he should have asked, first, whether the prison officer who let him into the yard outside the block to sweep unaccompanied and then let him into the gate block knew about McFarlane. If he had simply stuck to the rules—that no prisoner comes out of an H block unescorted by a prison officer and no prisoner goes into the gate block unescorted by a prison officer—the seeds of the escape would have withered.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
My information is that an orderly in the prison has the right to go out into the yard alone and do jobs that he is appointed to do. It emerges from the report that the officer at the gate was not amazed. Indeed, he thought that McFarlane was doing a job that he was appointed to do.
§ Mr. Mates
I am trying to make the point not about what happened, but about what the rules demand should happen. McFarlane would not have got into that gate block unescorted if the rules had been followed. The hon. Member of Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) might know better than I, but the reason for the escape is that the rules were broken. The escape succeeded because there was a series of derelictions of duty. One asks ultimately whether Ministers are responsible. Ministers can be responsible only for the rules that their organisation creates. It is management's responsibility as to whether the rules are kept.
§ Mr. McCusker
If the hon. Gentleman does not accept the explanation given by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman or by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for the disastrous drop in morale, but accepts that the prison staff were prepared to endure four years of hell under the Labour Administration—22 of the 1067 staff being murdered does not imply that their natural reaction is to be derelict in their duty — what does he suggest is the real explanation for this performance?
§ Mr. Mates
I am coming to that point. I shall quote from the report. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's feelings about his countrymen in the prison service who have been killed. I do not attempt to detract in any way from the fact that most of them do their duty and do it well. However, there is no gainsaying what Sir James says. He said:staff who are careless and unconcerned cause the breaches in security which lead to failure.
§ Mr. Mates
Sir James continued:the Maze also harbours officers who show too little concern for their duty … it is clear that there are men in the Northern Ireland Prison Service now who lack the abilities required of a prison officer and the leadership qualities necessary … as well as men who are over-concerned with high earnings.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West criticised Ministers about the overtime argument and asked why, when more posts are requested, they are not granted. My hon. Friend the Minister who is to reply to the debate will tell me if I am wrong, but I remember, from conversations that I have had with Ministers, that when the prison service asks for more posts and Ministers say, "Right, here are 10 more men," the reply is, "We do not want 10 more men; we want the overtime." Extra men have been declined in favour of overtime payments.
Mr. CliveSoley (Hammersmith)
Uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the argument advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). He was picking up not merely the overtime issue. He dealt with the breakdown in confidence between prison officers and the leadership and the feeling, whether right or wrong, of prison officers that there had been a failure at political level and that they therefore did not know what to do.
§ Mr. Mates
That is a point that the hon. Gentleman can make in his speech. My point concerns the difficulties that Ministers have experienced because prison officers have had them over a barrel. At the heart of every Minister's responsibility has been the thought, "I had better not let it be said that I did not give the prison officers what they wanted, because in those circumstances they will be after my head."
I do not want to go on about the prison officers, but I should like a right hon. or hon. Member who represents a Northern Ireland constituency in which some of the prison officers live, or anyone else, to say, "My goodness, we have let ourselves and our high standards down and we must now do better." That would be helpful for the prison service in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Mates
Such an attitude would be far better than the one that we have had in the press in the past few days. It has been suggested that it is all someone else's fault. The truth remains that the escape, the report and this debate would never have occurred if the prison officers had done their job. I hope that they have learnt that lesson in the hardest possible way.
I know that if my right hon. Friend and his team had felt that they had let themselves or us down, they would 1068 have been the first to acknowledge that and resign. I also know—because it is confirmed in the report—that they have been specifically excluded from criticism. Sir James is extremely carefully about the level at which he makes criticism and where it stops in the prison service and in the Northern Ireland Office. He could not have been clearer. It would have been simple for him to have said, "Minister X or Minister Y, against whom allegations have been made, should have attended to this and might have done that." Even such criticism would have given my right hon. and hon. Friends much more cause for thought.
There is nothing in this frank and full report that points the finger at our Ministers. I can only echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) said. I say sincerely that the right hon. Member for Down, South should not have dismissed it as he did. Such criticism is what the prisoners are after most of all. It is also what the IRA is after. They want embarrassment and the resignation of Ministers of whatever party. I am sorry to say that that is also what some right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies are after. They should be ashamed.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Much has been said about the frankness of the Hennessy report. With regard to its factual content about the escape and the role of prison staff and escapees, one should not attempt to detract from the work of the investigating team. There was, however, a great weakness in the inquiry's terms of reference as set out in the preface. The Secretary of State was specific in his verbal briefing of 26 September and in his written brief of 28 September. He said that Sir James Hennessy wasto look at all aspects of security.
Sir James's interpretation of the brief is stated in his introduction, in paragraph 3:We have interpreted our terms of reference sufficiently broadly to enable us to examine all aspects of security at the prison which might have had a bearing on the planning or execution of the escape, … But we did extend our examination to include such aspects of the work of the Northern Ireland Office as were relevant to the escape.This interpretation clearly limited the investigation to the security direction given by the NIO and there was little or no cognisance given to the political aspect of the NIO's involvement in prison affairs, an involvement which went as deep as an NIO official, who had been used time and again, meeting McFarlane, the leader of the escapers, and having a conference with him on 8 July 1981.
It is understandable that Hennessy should have had difficulty in demonstrating in purely security terms the reason why the Maze escape occurred. I am not suggesting that he did not realise that the political ingredient was missing when he assembled his conclusions and recommendations, but it was inevitable that he should lapse, in the same way as one knows that Maze prison staff had done previously, into the twilight world of conditioned political expediency in line with NIO policy on prisons and terrorist prisoners.
Nowhere is the investigating team's dilemma more apparent than in that part of chapter 6 that deals with the segment gate. It concludes that the gate officer was clearly negligent in failing to admit the lorry into the gate lock and then to search it. Consideration should be given, it says, to whether disciplinary proceedings ought to be taken. Then we are told that, as the gate lock was not large 1069 enough to admit the lorry, it was not possible to follow the orders precisely. If they cannot be followed precisely, orders become nothing more than suggestions. Moreover, we are told in paragraph 6.03:had the segment gate officer attempted to search the vehicle, as he was required to do, it is unlikely that events would have turned out very differently. The officer was alone, had no alarm bell point, was not observed by CCTV cameras or by other staff and had to rely upon his radio for communication. The only way he could immobilise the gate was to deposit his keys in a secure box fitted to the wall in the vehicle lock. Had he opened the cab door or looked into the back of the lorry he would have been overcome by the armed prisoners before he could use his radio or dispose of his keys.These are shortcomings that can be attributed not to the gate officer or to the governor but rather to those alluded to in paragraph 10.14, which says:Over and above the Governor and his staff there are those who direct the affairs of the Prison Service in Northern Ireland. It is they who decide policy and it is they who should ensure that it is implemented, issuing such guidance and instructions as may be necessary, and inspecting establishments to see that instructions are carried out.
This is a road down which Hennessy dare not go. Should he have done so, he must inevitably have come to that division of the NIO prison department which is mentioned only once, and that fleetingly, in the report. I refer to the regimes division, which is accorded one brief sentence in paragraph 1.19. Herein lies the missing link, as it says in paragraph 10.14—those over and above the governor and the staff who direct the affairs of the prison service in Northern Ireland.
Let me conclude the saga of the segment gate and ask whether the governor was lax in not ensuring that it was reconstructed so that the gate officer could carry out his orders. The answer is to be found in paragraph 6.13, where the report deals with the even more critical problem of the main gate:Attention had first been drawn to weaknesses in the security of the gate by the RUC following a full security survey in 1978. We refer to this survey again in Chapter 8. For the present it is sufficient to note that no action on the gate followed. A Principal Officer at the Maze drew the attention of the Governor to some of the weaknesses in June 1981, following the escape from the Belfast prison. Proposals were put forward to Security and Operations Division in January 1982 for the construction of a small secure building from which the operation of the main gate and the pedestrian gate could be controlled. Amended plans were approved by Prison Department on 16 December 1982. In September 1983 the alterations were still some months from completion.
Can we view with less than utter scepticism that part of paragraph 10.12 which says:Nevertheless, the extent of the deficiencies in management and in the prison's physical defences amounted to a major failure in security for which the Governor must be held accountable. He should have been aware of the deficiencies and he should have taken action to remedy them. There were, of course, some areas, particularly those associated with the construction and design of the prison, that were beyond his authority and resources to correct, but he neither reported them nor sought authority to take the necessary remedial action. We have no doubt—and the Governor confirmed this—that had he done so, his request would have been sympathetically received and carefully considered.To wait from 1978 to 1984 for alterations to the main gate is the sort of sympathy and consideration that the governor could have done without. Why, I ask myself, is a governor with 34 years' exemplary service quoted only once in the report and on that occasion to damn himself out of his own mouth? 1070 When the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland spoke in the House on 26 January, he was at some pains to show that he had been vindicated because there was no criticism of his policy decisions, and he implied that he was not directly responsible for their implementation. As is illustrated in paragraph 10.14 this is an incorrect assumption.
I make it clear that my role is not to deal with the problem whether a Minister should have resigned. I do not think that the resignation of an Under-Secretary who has been in the job for only a couple of months is required. Whether, in the light of his role since the report was published, he has been able to do justice to the task of restoring a meaningful working relationship between the NIO and prison staff is another matter. What the Secretary of State does will be a matter for his own conscience and discretion. I am concerned with how the relationship between the regimes division of the prisons department of the NIO and any Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has functioned and will function in the future.
Let me draw the attention of the House to how prison governors have been supported by the Northern Ireland Office in the past week. About a fortnight ago, there was an explosion at Her Majesty's prison Magilligan, and the governor, according to the press, felt it necessary to carry out a mirror search of the prisoners. Here is an example of Northern Ireland Office equivocation on the issue:A Northern Ireland Office spokesman has confirmed that the prison governor requested official approval for the search which involved internal examination of inmates. Sources close to the prison last night claimed that the governor had received ministerial approval for the move which they say involved a policy change. The sources say that following an outcry about mirror searching which prisoners and their represenatives claimed was a breach of human rights the NIO quietly directed that they should be stopped. The move has been seen by the prison service as part of the continuing showdown between governors and the NIO over prison policy with governors trying to gain control of the system"—
§ Mr. Maginnis
I shall give way when I have finished the quotation—they claim was undermined by political considerations. However, the NIO spokesman denied that there had been any ministerial approval and added that there was no change of policy involved.Will the Secretary of State tell the House why, if there was no change of policy and, therefore, no ministerial approval required, it was necessary for the governor to seek what is called "official approval"? Is there not, and has there not always been, direct political interference in the running of prisons, and how can the Secretary of State explain this quibble where the regimes division, by its own tacit admission, assumes authority over governors, but governors alone have to accept the responsibility?
§ Mr. Scott
I rose to ask the hon. Gentleman from what document he was quoting. He seemed to be claiming to speak from an authoratative source. If there are to be widespread internal searches, it is right that Ministers should be approached. What is important surely is that, as soon as Ministers were approached, they immediately gave approval for those searches to go ahead.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I presume that the Northern Ireland Office peruses the statements that are issued, and would have corrected a report in the Sunday News of 5 February. I shall read the report. We do not believe statements coming from the Northern Ireland Office. 1071A Northern Ireland spokesman has confirmed"—
§ Mr. Maginnis
With that in mind, I am sure that the Northern Ireland Office will not leak half as much to the press as it has been leaking in the past six months.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House how, throughout the entire report, the investigating team was always able to justify, because of overworking or understaffing, the inadequacies of the Northern Ireland Office, yet the very same handicaps, plus the physical threats from paramilitaries applied to the prison staff, were not excused by Hennessy or, indeed, by the Secretary of State in confirmation today of his previous insinuations against them? Was it the Northern Ireland Office or the prison staff who were negligent in the case of Hylands, who had been a member of the PIRA, and yet was employed in Her Majesty's prison Maze as a probation officer, or was it that another prison officer employed was discovered to have a criminal record?
How has Sir James Hennessy been able to conclude that everything would have been put right if only the Northern Ireland Office had been asked? Was his team not made aware of meetings requested by the Prison Officers Association with the governor and of what was discussed there? Why did the Northern Ireland Office not trouble to inquire? How can anyone allege that the Northern Ireland Office was not made aware of the difficulties when one reads from its recommendation in November 1978 to the Maze inquiry which reported in October 1979:The present protest action by the 360 inmates in HM prison, Maze, should not hinder the department in thinking about ways and means of accommodating this inmate population within the wider context of the H block complex. At present, their protest action helps to disguise the fact that their conformity to prison rules would render the present working arrangements and timetables for inmates virtually unworkable. The prison governor urges that the Northern Ireland Office should consider these difficulties and resolve them to the satisfaction of all interested groups.
Referring to the prison regime at the Maze, it continues:Local management are charged with the responsibility of using the building and staff resources to contain and treat an anticipated prison population of 1,200 inmates. Unless priorities are established in terms of a workable timetable for staff and inmates and unless some consideration is given to the problems posed by the sheer size of the establishment, serious malfunctions will occur in the future. The responsibility for determining these priorities rests with headquarters Northern Ireland Office.It goes on to outline further difficulties.
It becomes apparent, when one reads between the lines and considers a mass of documents that have been circulated and sent to the Northern Ireland Office, that over the years the regimes division has been involved in covert operations to conceal the difficulties from the general public. It has been involved in political conditioning, and inevitably both staff and Hennessy have fallen into the trap. Had no one escaped, it would never have been known how the terrorists were undermining the system because, so long as there was no dirty protest and no hunger strike, the public could be kept in the dark.
Let us acknowledge that it is the prison officers who have to face the terrorists both on and off duty. The Northern Ireland Office must not continue to give the impression that it is these officers who decide to impose 1072 disciplinary measures, as they did during the Magilligan episode last week. The Northern Ireland office must give serious and sympathetic consideration to requests from the Prison Officers Association and the Prisoner Governors Association for support.
Among prison visitors are many laymen and clerics who are honourable people, but I wonder whether Fathers Faul and Murray should be included in their numbers. Let me read from an official document dated 19 October 1983 which was sent to the Northern Ireland Office:The Committee then commented on the attitudes of Rev. Dennis Faul, visiting RC priest.
In past years he had been caught smuggling, and he had been banned from the prison but subsequently re-admitted. His behaviour had now proved to staff that he was unacceptable as a man of the cloth particularly because of his recent statement concerning staff brutality of the prisoners and because of his threat to give the names of staff to the Press. It is felt that Father Faul should not be allowed into the prison as his presence is detrimental to staff—he should therefore be banned from the prison.
Father Murray is a chaplain in Her Majesty's prison Armagh, about whom Roman Catholic constituents of mine complained that he visited only Provos and had to be asked to visit the ODCs. In case no one knows what ODCs are, they are ordinary decent criminals. The Northern Ireland office must ensure that no one is employed in a prison or allowed into one as a visitor who might attempt to undermine the prison regime.
I dare not weary the House with the documented evidence that I have with me. I trust, as does every law-abiding citizen in Northern Ireland, that I shall never have reason to return here to make use of it in future. We are wearied by tragedy and political intrigue. Today more than 19 of the most dangerous and murderous criminals are still at large due to failures in the past.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am concluding my remarks, and will give way completely in about a minute's time. Failures that have unjustly been laid entirely at the door of those who are most vulnerable must not continue to be laid at that door. Reasonable men must be heeded. Those who peddle hate and deceit, just like those who commit acts of terrorism, must be shunned.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
Human nature being what it is, prisons are one of the most fundamental institutions on which society depends. Without them, there can be no rule of law; only lynch law. It is, therefore, essential to any civilised society that those prisons should be secure and effective.
If the Hennessy report had not been dealing with such a serious matter, it would have provided a wonderful scenario for a farce. The warders were not armed, but the prisoners were. The prisoners took the warders prisoner. They then undressed them and put on the warders' clothes. When they were eventually detected at the prison gate, and the prisoners dressed in warders' clothes were struggling with real warders, the soldiers guarding the perimeter could not make up their minds what to do. I suppose they assumed that it was an ordinary Sunday morning brawl between Irishmen.
How could this incident have happened? That is what we are trying to find out today. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has attributed most of the problem to 1073 administration. However, the line between administration and policy is very blurred. In any event, my right hon. Friend occupies a rather special position. Some Ministers—the Secretary of State for Education and Science springs to mind—are concerned with policy but do not control, for example, the schools. They are the province of the local authority. However, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is the Secretary of State and governor, or viceroy. He is the administrator and policymaker for what is admittedly a very complex area, although only about half the size of Yorkshire.
What is administration? It is the application of policy. What has the policy been on terrorist prisoners? At an earlier stage, there was "special category" status. The prisoners were treated virtually as prisoners of war and were allowed, under their own leaders, to organise their own camps. Then came the Gardiner report, and it was quite rightly decided that that could not go on. It was then decided—not entirely rightly—to treat them as ordinary criminals with the restraints and privileges that go with that.
The Provisional IRA resented that decision, put forward demands and embarked on a series of protests that amounted to a test of strength between it and the Government. There was the blanket protest and the dirty protest, which extended, I think, over three years. Finally, there was the hunger strike in which 10 prisoners starved to death. That amounted to four years of appalling tension for the prison staff during which 13 members of the prison service, including the deputy governor of the prison, were murdered, not at work but in their own homes. Three days after the hunger strike ended—regardless of whether the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is right about how it was brought to an end—the Government conceded a large part of the hunger strikers' demands. They did not concede entirely on the question of association, but agreed to partial association. The Government conceded on the recovery of remission that had been lost because of the agitation, on clothes and, indeed, on visits. Ironically, the Government also insisted that the strikers must return to work, which proved to be one of the reasons for the outbreak.
The Government did not capitulate to the hunger strikers' demands, but the warders must have seen it as a surrender on terms. It is easy to imagine the sneers that the warders must have suffered from the inmates. The warders must have asked themselves whether it had all been worth while. After all, there had been four years of tension, a dirty protest that must have been a filthy experience and a hunger strike with all that that implied, not only at work but at home, when they returned to the civilian community.
When thinking of the impact on morale, one must also ask how that concordat with the prisoners was applied in practice. We have been told something of the views of prison governors and others associated with them. My information is more limited, but I should like to share one piece of evidence which comes from a source which I believe to be sound. In the spring of last year a very senior prison officer—not at the Maze, but at another high security prison—discussed with the prison department the need to increase the severity of searching. He was told that the Secretary of State's likely view was that strip searching should be reduced to a level at which it might 1074 be described as exceptional rather than routine. There was no question of its being stopped altogether, but the governor would have considerable flexibility as to how that could be achieved. The official was told that the Secretary of State was fully aware of the added risk to the prison's security that taking such a step entailed, but he had nevertheless now decided that wider considerations outweighed the risks to security and that the change should be made.
The official concerned questioned that judgment and was told in reply that the prison department conceded that its advice went against his advice and that of the director of prison operations. The Department went on to say that it was well aware that he and the director of prison operations still considered the searches to be a sound security practice of general application, and necessary in view of the risks imposed by the prison population in question.
§ Mr. Amery
However, in view of the Secretary of State's decision, the official concerned was asked, together with the director of prison operations, to take such steps as seemed to him appropriate to put the Secretary of State's decision into effect.
That did not involve the Maze prison, and I do not know whether there were special circumstances in the prison to justify that advice. However, as the director of prison operations was also involved, it would seem to be of general application.
§ Mr. Prior
My right hon. Friend said that it was not at the Maze—which is a fact of some significance, for a start. I can tell him that it happened at the women's prison in Armagh. It is true that a great deal of strip searching of women went on at that prison, and it was thought wise, for a whole range of reasons, that, instead of making it a routine strip search of women, it should become a random strip search of women. I agreed to that, and I hold to that decision. It was absolutely right in the circumstances of that prison at that time.
§ Mr. Amery
I respect my right hon. Friend for accepting responsibility and for telling us that he knew about it, but in matters of terrorism the difference between the genders is not all that great. If this was the decision in that prison, taken against the advice of the prison officials and the director of prison operations, can we be surprised at the laxity which, according to the Hennessy report, characterised both search and visits in the Maze itself? We are told that the visits were so laxly supervised that even sexual intercourse took place between the visitors and the prisoners.
§ Mr. Amery
Even the possibility. Even allowing for the virility of young men, the time for unsupervised visits must have been extremely lengthy. All I can say is that the demoralising effect on the concordat itself, and the application of it, in the light of what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginninis) said, and the evidence that I shared with the House, would help to explain much of the demoralisation that took place. 1075 That demoralisation, for which the Government were partly responsible, should be seen against a wider background which, although hinted at in the Hennessy report, has not been fully taken into account in our debate. This is where I criticise the Gardiner report. Terrorist prisoners are not prisoners of war—I agree with that—but nor are they ordinary criminals. I am speaking not of the motivation that inspires them, but of the nature of the creature itself. The ordinary murderer is what one might call self-employed, or perhaps a small business man. He may have one or two accomplices, but he is working on his own account. Once he is behind bars, he has little support outside the prison. There are few people, except for his immediate family, to whom he can turn.
That is not true of the terrorist prisoner. He has a large organisation behind him. If he is not cut off from that organisation, if he is allowed visits in the ordinary way—as with ordinary criminals—he can ask his mates in the organisation to harass, intimidate, bribe or, indeed, to kill the warders whom he finds unhelpful. Twenty-two officers have been killed. I do not believe that it was just because they belonged to the prison service. They were pointed out by the inmates to their visitors as people who needed to be got rid of.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I follow the drift of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I hope that what he said a few moments ago will not be misunderstood in Northern Ireland. Terrorists are not different from anyone else who is sentenced in the courts. The moment the Provisional IRA or any of the paramilitaries believe that anybody is treating them in a different way, they have won a victory — the sort of victory that they have won tonight. I understand why the House is devoting a whole day—and rightly so—to what they did last year, but they will love every minute of it. They are not different. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not stick to his original premise.
§ Mr. Amery
I take what the right hon. Gentleman says. They are not different morally. Murder is murder. However—and this is where I think the Gardiner report is wrong — they cannot be considered in exactly the same category as the ordinary criminal as we know him in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. One could compare them to the Mafia criminal in Italy. They have behind them an organisation, and we have to take account of that fact. In our policy towards prisoners we have not taken sufficient account of that background.
We need a different policy from that which we apply to the ordinary criminal. In essence, that policy should be to segregate the terrorist prisoner, both from his fellow inmates in the prison and from the community outside. That presents problems. I myself would be in favour of making sure that the more dangerous prisoners were exported from the Province and brought to prisons on the mainland, where their access to visitors would not be so easy, and where they would not have the opportunity to conspire with one another. I want as much segregation as possible of prisoners, one from another.
§ Mr. Amery
Perhaps I can finish what I am saying, and then I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. This is the key. Unless we segregate prisoners from the community as a whole, they can denounce the warders to their fellows 1076 in the IRA, and thus bring intimidation and murder upon the warders. Unless prisoners are segregated from one another, they can plot their escape.
§ Mr. Ross
I am listening closely to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he realise that six IRA men in the prison at Albany — admittedly they were sentenced in this country—caused about £4 million worth of damage? If the right hon. Gentleman talked to the Prison Officers Association, it would tell him that the internal information among members of the IRA is extremely good, both in this country and in Northern Ireland. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is really saying that we need a high security prison to put them all in, but if they were put in all our prisons in this country it would be a very costly exercise.
§ Mr. Amery
I am no expert on penal organisation. I am only trying to express a principle, and that is that we should cut them off as much as we can from one another and from their own organisation so that their power to intimidate their warders is reduced as far as possible.
I shall probably be told that that would provoke great agitation. Indeed, I see in one of this morning's papers that the Provisional IRA has issued a statement saying that if there were any question of the transfer of high security prisoners to the mainland it would begin a massive agitation. My right hon. Friend has to decide whether political considerations outweigh security risks. If we think they do, we must expect that warders who are threatened in their homes, and who are asked to pursue a policy of what I might call kid-glove application of the post-hunger strike concordat, will not exercise the requisite vigilance; we shall have more outbreaks of this kind.
This is not the occasion to discuss my right hon. Friend's general policy towards Northern Ireland, but the relationship between the prisoners and the warders in the Maze reflects a great deal that is going on in the Province as a whole. Yes, the Government rule in the Province; but they rule within limits that are tacitly accepted by the Provisional IRA. Nobody can go through the Bogside, the Creggan or parts of Belfast without being aware of this. It diminishes the amount of violence and to that extent suits the Government. I suppose it suits the IRA because it gives it time to consolidate its hold on the minority community at the expense of more moderate elements. However, it naturally has a demoralising effect on the majority community, and it is from the majority community that most of the members of the police and the prison service come.
I want to say a word on the personal issue which my right hon. Friend raised early in his speech. I see no obligation on him to resign. A failure of administration can be traced back to the failure of policy, but if he is prepared to correct the policy in the light of his experience, why should he not make the change? I have seen Ministers involved in just as serious matters as this, as in my experience at the Ministry of Aviation, and I see no particular obligation on my right hon. Friend to resign. I recognise, too, that if his silver hair was on the wall of the IRA it would make a splendid trophy. But there is a question which my right hon. Friend must ask himself. What impact have the breakdown of his overall policy on the Assembly and the break-out at the Maze had on the majority community on whom he depends? Does he still carry enough of their confidence to discharge his responsibility? He cannot do it without their confidence. 1077 We are debating this matter on the Adjournment so that we do not have to pass judgment tonight. My right hon. Friend is the only person who can take a decision on the matter.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
No one who has read the Hennessy report with care will doubt the unique and appallingly dangerous nature of the task of those who are involved in the management of the prison from which this catastrophic escape occurred on 25 September. The deaths of 22 members of the prison service are testimony to the selflessness of many people in endeavouring to uphold the law and protect the community from the men of violence who have been sentenced by our courts to imprisonment. Particular tribute should be paid to Officer Ferris, who showed heroism on 25 September, and to others who for other reasons cannot be named.
The Hennessy report, produced by the chief inspector of prisons, is a tale of almost unparalleled administrative incompetence and bungling. It is not possible to treat it, as the Secretary of State has done, as pointing the finger solely at those in positions junior to the level of governor. Certainly there were gross failures to carry out instructions and to follow the procedures laid down. Those failures were partly due, no doubt, to an induced sense of security.
There are in the report other criticisms of great seriousness to which the Secretary of State did not refer or with which he did not deal adequately. As he said, the report should be viewed in the round and considered as a whole, but that is precisely what I fear he has not done. He has not drawn attention, as he might have done, to the inadequacies in training. He did not touch at all upon the finding of the report that the lessons of the Belfast prison escape in 1981 had not been applied to the Maze. He did not allude directly to the criticism in the report that there was no system of regular inspections of the prison. He did not talk with awareness of the seriousness of the criticism that the divisions lacked sufficient senior staff.
It has been my impression from the first that the Secretary of State has been prepared to acknowledge—who could deny it?—that this was the most appalling occurrence, but the view that it must not be allowed to shake the position of the Ministers in charge has been given a priority which is misplaced. It is not merely a failure in the past of which one must complain; it is a continuing failure to understand the Hennessy report and its significance which makes the charge the more serious.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said that Ministers must be judged by the standard of their involvement in the prisons in Northern Ireland. On the basis of the evidence that the Secretary of State has given, it must be said that he has adopted an arm's length approach not only prior to the escape but subsequently. That approach has led him to fail to understand the thrust of the criticisms of Hennessy. He has said that he accepts Hennessy in its entirity, but he promptly qualifies it in such a way as to make it clear that he does not.
In answer to a question on 26 January about the morale of the prison officers, the right hon. Gentleman said: 1078The point about morale is interesting. I had received no suggestion that morale was bad. I do not believe that on the whole morale has been bad."—[Official Report, 26 January 1983; Vol. 52, c. 1060.]That is in direct conflict with the evidence of Hennessy, who states clearly that morale was bad. Morale was bad because of what happened after the end of the hunger strike.
It was bad because there was not, apparently, appreciation of what the Government's objectives were in making changes. If there was no appreciation of that, who is to blame, if not the Minister responsible, for the Government's policies which led to the changes? The fact that the Secretary of State not only appears to have been unaware of this, but still today is prepared to tell the House that there was no moral problem, shows that he is persisting in his failure to grasp the nature of the problem, and that must call into question his competence to preside over the prison system of Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
The report affirms that, in the view of the Hennessy team, those prison officers who claimed that the policy changes gave them reason to believe that they should be less strict and diligent had no legitimate basis for drawing that conclusion. That comes out in paragraphs 9.27 and 9.28. Whatever they may have thought—this goes to the point that was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire (Mr. Mates) — the report specifically says that they had no legitimate basis for doing so. Therefore, the point that the hon. Gentleman is now making in laying blame at the door of my right hon. Friend does not hold water.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not understood the point that I am making. I am not saying that the prison officers were justified in their belief. I am saying, as Hennessy says in the paragraphs to which the hon. Gentleman referred:We believe that it"—that is, the attitude of the prison officers—was based upon a poor appreciation of the situation and of the government's wider aims in seeking to end the protests.Why were they unaware, why was the Secretary of State not conscious of their unaware ness, and why were no steps taken to make them aware?
As has been said on a number of occasions in the debate, this is no ordinary prison. This is a political affair of the highest importance. It is a matter in which the Secretary of State must have daily involvement. I understand that one of his predecessors visited the place weekly. It cannot be conceived that this lack of morale was not appreciated by the right hon. Gentleman for any reason other than that he was derelict in his attention to what was going on.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West said in his interesting and forceful speech that Ministers should be judged by the standard of their involvement. It must be said that the present Secretary of State has not been adequately involved, and nothing that he has said in the debate shows any change of attitude which gives me confidence that he has a grasp of the situation.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech added little to what he had said on earlier occasions, such as on 24 October and when he addressed the House two weeks ago. He reiterated his intention to carry out the recommendations of Hennessy, and he could scarcely do less. But he failed, in 1079 my view, honestly to face the fact that the principal deficiencies which led to this appalling catastrophe, to use his words, were attributable, and attributed by Hennessy, not to the governor, on whom he has placed the principal burden of responsibility, but to the prison department for which he is particularly responsible.
Dealing with the physical deficiencies of the prison, the weaknesses at the main gate, paragraph 10.8 of the report says:Responsibility for these faults must lie in part with those who designed and built the prison, in part with the Northern Ireland Office and in part with successive Governors of the Maze".It is clear that the prison department is involved.
On the supervision of the security provisions, paragraph 10.15 sums it up when it says:the Security and Operations Division … did not, in our view, give sufficient direction, advice or guidance to the Governor; and there was a marked lack of awareness of the prison's security weaknesses.
These are serious charges, which the Secretary of State has not even attempted to rebut. He has not drawn attention, as he might have done, to the position of officials in his Department who are criticised by Hennessy. The director of operations is said to have appeared not to appreciate the extent of the many security weaknesses which the Hennessy team found at the Maze. To this extent at least, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman must be held responsible for some of the shortcomings at the Maze.
Criticism is made of the general responsibility of the security and operations division, and although the Undersecretary, at the top, is exculpated personally, he is described as "overworked and under-resourced". If that is so, whose fault is it, if not that of the Secretary of State? I do not take pleasure in drawing attention to what I regard as a failure of the Secretary of State, not only at the time, but today, to appreciate where the charges lie.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West did not draw the natural conclusion from his argument when he said that Ministers must be judged by the standard of their involvement. I believe that the Secretary of State has largely forfeited the confidence of those living in the Province who depend on him for their security. Security is a key issue in the Province, for the lack of security is the background against which political decisions about its future must be taken.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West that the Government are not so rich in talent that it is easy to find someone who can fulfil the job effectively, but I do not believe that anyone who has the right hon. Gentleman's track record can be said to be suitable for the task which he has been carrying out. Others whose policies have failed have moved to other Departments. I recall particularly the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) in 1967 who, when the pound was devalued, was moved from responsibility for the affairs of the Exchequer to the Home Office. It is a precedent which the right hon. Gentleman might have in mind, because we cannot make the political progress that we need in Northern Ireland on the elimination of violence if the security of the Province is in the hands of one who manifestly failed on the occasion of, and who has so little grasp of what led to, the breakout in September.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reflect on his position. I hope that his talents, which are undoubted, and his abilities, which few would wish to challenge, will be 1080 deployed in another sphere where his capacity for conciliation and his honourable attempts to edge policies forward might be more successful than he has been in the Province. That is a prerequisite to any political advance and any re-establishment of a sense of security in the Province.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Parliament has come a long way since the resignation of Austen Chamberlain or Sir Thomas Dugdale. The resignation of the Minister of Agriculture of the day over Crichel Down was regarded as quixotic. I behold and have heard the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I remember his tremendous speech on the Hola atrocity, which was another sort — perhaps the opposite sort — of prison scandal. The right hon. Gentleman fastened responsibility for what happened so terribly at Hola on the late Lord Boyd of Merton, who remained at the Colonial Office. Today the right hon. Gentleman fastened responsibility for the Maze escape on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
In 1971 a tribunal of inquiry examined the collapse of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company, which left 1 million policy holders uninsured. The tribunal found three civil servants — an under-secretary and two assistant secretaries — at the Board of Trade to have been negligent, but the Ministers were absolved.
Professor Finer has stated what appears to be the present constitutional position. He said that ministerial resignation would occur onlyif the minister is yielding, his Prime Minister unbending and his party out for blood.I do not detect those ingredients to be present here. I do not smell blood in the Chamber tonight.
Senior civil servants were understandably critical of the report of the tribunal of inquiry into the Vehicle and General Insurance Company, because they paid the price, not the Minister. In the same way, there is currently criticism in the public service in Northern Ireland of the findings of the Hennessy report and of the stand taken on it by my right hon. Friend and his colleagues. Mr. Ernest Whittington, who has given devoted service as a governor for 34 years and to whom my right hon. Friend paid tribute, resigned. He could do little else. Other officers of the Northern Ireland prison service have been moved or are being subjected to investigation.
Some hon. Members were given a written evaluation of the Hennessy report by the Northern Ireland Prison Governors Association, and also a statement on the link between ministerial policy and prison administration when the "no work" protest was coming to an end. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), who is not in the Chamber—I make no complaint about that — thought that the prison officers should be more penitent and say that they have disgraced themselves. That is exactly what is said in the document. The Prison Governors Association says:The Maze escape has been described as the greatest breach of prison security in penal history. We do not dissent from this hurtful judgment and are thereby conscious of having in some measure failed the community we are pledged to serve. The Governors Association expresses its regrets to the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland and gives a solemn assurance that its membership will take every possible step to ensure that such a disaster is not permitted to occur again. If we are to achieve 1081 our goals we are convinced that we must not shrink from a fearless examination of all the factors tangible and intangible which combined to make the Maze escape possible.I do not blame my hon. Friend for not being aware of those words, but it is obvious that the association makes no excuse for laxness and laziness where they occurred.
It appears to be believed in the Province, both inside and outside the prison service, that the policy laid down for it was weak and demoralising. I wish that the Secretary of State had not simply said that what the prison governors said was taken care of in the Hennessy report. Whatever importance he attaches to it, he should have said more about it. He is now responsible for restoring morale as well as discipline in the Northern Ireland prison service.
Rightly or wrongly, the policy of the Northern Ireland Office was perceived—I quote the words of Sir James Hennessy — "to appease paramilitary prisoners." Sir James satisfied himself that that view was mistaken, but, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Mclennan) asked, what was done from on high to disabuse those hard-pressed officers who had lost comrades to terrorist vengeance and who lived and worked in constant fear of death? What was done to give them a correct appreciation of Government intentions and policy? We know that it was Government policy to get prisoners who had abandoned the no-work protest speedily back to work. That was correct, because if work was not given to them, Republican propaganda would have said, "What sort of a Government are they who urge us to abandon the no-work protest and then, when we come forward for employment, give us none?" So it was that Brendan McFarlane became an orderly, with the opportunity for subversion and mischief.
The governor of the prison, according to the Prison Governors Association, wrote to the Northern Ireland Office in March 1983 informing it of the serious deterioration of conditions in the workshop after all the protest prisoners who were appointed to work were granted the return of 50 per cent. of their lost remission. The statement said:It was now clear that the republican dominated work force were determined to disrupt the operation of the entire prison.That passage appeared in more sensational form in The Observer of 5 February and in the Belfast Telegraph of 6 February.
The statement also said:The entire pace of the operation"—getting prisoners to work—was dictated by the Minister's policy, the speed of which produced its own effects.
Did Mr. Whittington write that? Who dealt with his information at the Northern Ireland Office? Was it the supervising assistant secretary or was it a Minister? I wish that the Secretary of State had not dismissed so lightly the views of and the statement published by the prison governors.
An examination of the dates in the sequence of events and in the shaping of policy shows that the trail of inquiry and responsibility leads back not so much to present Ministers as to former Ministers. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) referred to the failure of Ministers to visit the Maze. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) is no longer a member of the Administration, as he honourably resigned from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1082 circumstances that did him great credit. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West referred to Lord Gowrie who still holds office as a Minister of State. I hope that Lord Gowrie is searching his conscience and considering his position. I know what I would have done if I had been in his position.
The greatest escape was a dramatic and signal defeat of the forces of law and order. We are engaged in operation stable door. We must ensure that the stable door is properly shut from now on in accordance with the Hennessy report's valuable recommendations. Ministers will have their work cut out to restore morale and regain the confidence of the prison service. The resignation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or even my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State does not seem appropriate at present, although I am not a sufficiently expert reader of the psychology of the IRA to know its attitude to any ministerial change. It might depend on the Minister who follows in the portfolio.
I look forward to the day when closer legislative union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the consequent development of political parties or alliances throughout the United Kingdom will make it possible for Ulster men and women to answer in Westminster for the good government of the Province.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
I am stepping into the shoes of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Under-Secretary at the Home Office, who has been unable to take part in the debate. He was at the sharp end of the problems at Maze prison. He is no longer in the Chamber. We know that we often make our best speeches when we have not been called.
We could have done without this sad occasion. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that joy will be felt only by those whom none of us wishes to help. We must go through this occasion to be fair to those people in Northern Ireland who are bearing the brunt of the report. They believe that they are being unfairly treated. I have read and re-read the report. I was the responsible Minister at the time of the blanket protests, the building of the prison, the breaking up of the prison force and the dirty protests. I have been at the sharp end, and so feel involved in this matter and shocked at the report's contents.
The report shows that the Maze prison was in a shambles. When I left my portfolio in 1979, the prison was different.
Although the report has provided an historical and detailed account of what happened, it does not show sufficient understanding of three important areas, which have been mentioned in one guise or another: the general malaise in staff morale; segregation, which can affect morale; and ministerial responsibility, and I do not believe that any Northern Ireland Minister can dodge that issue.
Hennessy says that Maze is a unique prison, and it certainly is. It was built for a unique purpose and unique prisoners. Therefore, I should have thought that Hennessy would say that Maze carried unique ministerial responsibilities.
Maze prison was built to end the crazy system of special category status. The decision was made to end the compound status or the "university of terrorism", to which I have referred in previous debates. There was, therefore, a need for special accommodation for the prisoners. I 1083 discussed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South how we should do that. Following one of those night-time discussions, my right hon. Friend said to me, "Right, it's your job. Get on with it." That is how I got the job. I recognised how difficult it would be, and I insisted on collecting the right staff around me. People did not know why they were suddenly transferred within the Northern Ireland Office. I can now tell them the reason—because I asked for them to be with me on that important job.
The first problem was where to build the prison. We did not want to build the prison on the present site. We wanted to move from the old reasoning, but considerations of space and speed of building meant that we finished with the prison in the wrong place. The next problem involved how quickly the cells could be made ready and the staff provided. The date of 1 March 1976 was not plucked out of the sky, but was the date on which we could reasonably expect to have the first H block on beam. I remember that, two days before 1 March, I was in the first H block overseeing the fitting of the special doors for the cells.
I had no illusions about the difficulties involved in providing staff for the special categories. I knew that the job would not be easy. I vividly remember that on one of my many visits to the compound, the leaders of the six terrorist groups asked to see me as a joint deputation. People must understand that, in the prison service in Northern Ireland, once prisoners are in prison their enemies are the prison service and the British Government. That deputation consisted of the leaders of the PIRA, the UVF, the Official IRA, the UDA, the Red Hand Commanders and the then Marxist group the Irish Republican Socialist party. That meeting gave me a new meaning to the parliamentary phrase "A full and frank discussion took place." I gave as good as I got.
The gist of the meeting was that those groups wanted the special category to remain. They said that, if we tried not to have that category, I and everyone else connected with the prison would be put under pressure and that, as the Brits always give way under pressure, they would win. The groups even gave me details of the actions they would take, so I was not surprised at the protests that soon started and that are outlined in the Hennessy report. We made our plans accordingly and the protest died down.
The brunt of the protest was borne by the staff in the prisons. Many of them were new to the service, but they were bolstered in the early days by about 200 volunteers from the rest of the United Kingdom. I was thankful for them. As time went on, we were able to let them return to their normal duties, but, much to their credit, some of them opted to stay in the Northern Ireland prison service and many of them are still there.
As the report says, it was a rapidly expanding service with new recruits. We had a good nucleus of prison governors and officers. There was a new pace and a new prison and there were many difficulties. I made it my business to go to the training schools to give lectures on what I expected and what I would not tolerate. I went to the prisons and called the staff together to explain what I expected from them. Some of the staff never made it and others were weeded out early on. The rest knew our policy, what was expected of them and what their role was. What they lacked in experience they made up for in other ways. Their morale then was high.
That high morale was recognised by the prisons and the terrorist organisations outside the prisons. They set about 1084 trying to break the spirit and undermine the morale of prison officers and staff. Northern Ireland is a small place and when the prison officers leave work they have to live in the community. In Northern Ireland that means that prison officers' children go to the same schools as prisoners' children and their wives shop with prisoners' wives. Some prison officers' neighbours are prisoners.
The prison officers were vulnerable. No matter how we tried to help them, threats, intimidation and murderous attacks took place and 22 of them paid with their lives. We should never forget that. Many more were injured. As the Minister in charge, I was worried that the prison officers and staff would crack under the pressure. However, never once was I approached by the staff to change our policy. Exactly the opposite happened. Once they were convinced that we were sticking to our policy of no return to special category status, morale in the prison service continued to grow.
§ Mr. Hayes
I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) is sincere, but if everything was so hunky-dory between his Department and the various units under his control, can he explain why his Department and his Government totally ignored the recommendations on prison security by the RUC in 1978?
§ Mr. Concannon
Those recommendations were made at the end of 1978 and we went out of office early in 1979. No one who knows my work in Northern Ireland could doubt that if a report landed on my desk it would be worked on speedily.
I shall give three examples about what I mean by morale in the prison service. My private secretary had instructions to arrange for me to go into one prison every week. That was part of my duty. On one visit I spoke to a prison officer about the general situation. The next day I was informed that he had been badly beaten up and kicked on his way home. I visited him in hospital and I could not recognise him because he was so badly beaten up. Through his thick bruised lips he had only one message to give me. It was for me to carry on and not give in. When I left him, I went up two blocks of stairs to visit three more of my prison officers. I call them "my prison officers" because that was the relationship.
Between them the three officers had 16 bullets in them. When I walked into the hospital room they greeted me by saying, "We hope this lot is not in vain. You must carry on." The prison service was more worried about me cracking and my morale than I was about their morale going and them cracking.
The most distressing case concerned the seventh victim of the murderous gang, the deputy governor of the Maze, Mr. Albert Miles. I arrived quickly at the scene of the killing. It happened in his home in front of his wife. The gang shot over the wife's shoulder to kill the deputy governor. His wife told me that as long as she lived she would never forget the smile on the face of the gunman as he pulled the trigger. That gunman escaped. He was one of the escapers from the Maze. His wife also told me that if her husband's life had any meaning we must stick to our policy.
There was nothing wrong with morale in the prison service at that time. That was recognised by the then Opposition spokesman, Mr. Airey Neave, who said a few day before he was murdered:Any weakening would, above all, destroy the morale of the Province's 2,400 prison officers. This was pointed out to me 1085 yesterday by the Secretary of State's own Department. I was very much impressed by what was told to me in no uncertain terms by the officials to whom we spoke … I should like the Government—the Opposition will assist them—to declare their absolute determination to stand firm in the face of this blackmail, in order to convince the prison officials that their work has not been in vain. I know that this was the view of Mr. Albert Miles, the murdered deputy prison governor." — [Official Report, 6 December 1978; Vol. 959, c. 1510.]
Is it any wonder that I cannot equate that situation with the shambles of the Maze as outlined in the Hennessy report? Is it any wonder that I cannot accept that the prison governor, Ernest Whittington, OBE, should take the blame? I have known Mr. Whittington for a long time. As he came up through the service, he did his stint. He was an outstanding servant to Northern Ireland. He was an outstanding prison governor of long experience. We gave him an honour. I shall not quote all that he said on that occasion because that might embarrass me, but he did say:I fully realise that the award is also a recognition of the valuable contribution to the community by the Northern Ireland prison service and that has added to the pleasure of the award.
I simply do not believe that this man who stuck by our policies through thick and thin would allow a situation to develop at the Maze as described in Hennessy without some direction from elsewhere. I hope that something more will be done for this shattered man. It is not enough to say that we will look after him financially. I have not written to Mr. Whittington and he has not written to me. I have not contacted him. But, from what I hear from others, he is shattered by what has gone on and the fact that he has to take the rap.
Why has morale dropped? Like everyone else, I have received sheaves of letters, notes and minutes. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) did an excellent job in describing them. The reason for the fall in morale is segregation. The Maze was built to end the compound structure. I was given the job. It is hard to reverse things. It may be easy to start a policy, but it is hard to reverse one.
The Maze was built to end the compound structure, whereby a university of terrorism had been set up, with a command structure under which one was told who was to talk to whom, and if one wanted to meet anyone else one had to go with permission. In the future, convicted prisoners were to go to the prison for the crimes that they had committed, not because they were Protestant or Catholic. There would be no difference between a Catholic and a Protestant murderer. We knew at that time that the eyes of the world would be on us. That is why the Maze prison was built to such high standards, recognised by the May report on United Kingdom prisons in 1979 which said that Northern Ireland's prisons were an example to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Those high standards were also recognised in the Hennessy report. The last sentence is due recognition:But with inspired leadership and proper support, the prison should soon become again what it was always intended to be; the most secure prison in Northern Ireland.
The report also states at paragraph 3.05:The physical security at the Maze is, with two exceptions, generally very good, particularly in the H Blocks, so there was little prospect that the prisoners would be able to breach the barriers undetected by staff. They had, therefore, to plan on breaking down the human contribution to security.Paragraph 10.08 adds:as H7 contained only a cohesive group of Provisional IRA prisoners, little or no information became available. However, 1086 even when there is no warning, a maximum security prison like the Maze with its system of self-contained H Blocks, segment fences, gates and a perimeter guarded by the Army, should be proof against the kind of breakout that took place on 25 September.I believe that H7 was taken over not on Sunday 25 September but when complete segregation was achieved. The IRA took control of the block, and ran it under the old command structure. One has only to read paragraph 1.16, in which Hennessy lists the inmates, to wonder why so much money, time and planning were given to the Maze. We might as well have put the H7 inmates back into the original compounds. The purpose of building a prison such as the Maze was defeated by having all those people in the same H block at the same time.
I do not accept that it is necessary to have equality of numbers in the H blocks. Each block is built with four "legs", so there can be a judicious mixing of prisoners. It is not necessary to put together 10 Protestant and 10 Catholic prisoners in each part of the prison. If the right couple is put in one leg of the prison, it will save trouble in the other three areas. It is as simple as that.
The rest of the sorry story is well documented in the report. It has pained me to read it. It contains one sorry chapter of human failure after another and it reads at times like a James Bond thriller gone wrong.
We can all give examples of prison officers who did not do what they should have done that day. Many of them did what they should, and probably more, for which we must be thankful. For the prison officers involved in the breakout the problem was not what happened to them on that day, but what had happened to them in the previous two years, when the general malaise was setting in.
My third point concerns ministerial responsibility. As I have said, and as the report intimates, the Maze is a unique prison for a unique purpose with unique prisoners. Paragraph 1.20 states:This expansion reflects the increasing complexity of the Northern Ireland prison system, the heavy burden imposed by the troubles in the prisons themselves, and the interest taken in prison matters by Parliament, the media and international opinion, all of which have combined to make the work unusually demanding, politically sensitive, and prone to serious crises.When we started out, we all knew that this would be a difficult path to tread. Political sensitivity had to be watched continually. Decisions were needed daily, as well as guidance to the governor. It was not an ordinary prison that could be run by an ordinary governor, calling in the Minister only when things went wrong. The Minister had to be involved and sensitive to the political issues.
That unique ministerial responsibility is exercised by a junior Minister on behalf of the Secretary of State. Here I differ with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). When I went to Northern Ireland as Under-Secretary of State I was told on my first day there to get up the hill and take over. The Executive had just fallen and 18 Departments had to be dealt with by two Under-Secretaries of State. We split them between us, amalgamating some, and had virtually a free hand in running them. We also had areas of special responsibility. Those that I collected mostly related to security. In other words, there is rather more to the responsibilities of a junior Minister in Northern Ireland than to those of a junior Minister in education, defence or the like.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I take it that the right hon. Gentleman does not deny that full overall responsibility remains undiminished with the Secretary of State. 1087 Otherwise, the Secretary of State could devolve all his reponsibilities to three or four junior Ministers and walk away scot free.
§ Mr. Concannon
I was about to explain the situation as I knew it then. From 1975 until 1979 I had that area of responsibility and all that went with it — the blanket protest, the dirty protest, the hunger strike and the intimidation. Let no one be under any illusion about that. Any Northern Ireland Minister, his family and others are subject to continual intimidation, and when one is responsible for the prison service there is even more of it. We knew that, we accepted it and we joined in. My right hon. Friends the Members for Morley and Leeds, South and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) appreciated the political sensitivity of my responsibilities and took a keen interest in my stewardship. I also kept them very well informed of what was happening.
The Minister in charge was involved in the day-to-day affairs of the prison and worked hand in glove with the Governor and staff, being on hand and sharing the trouble. One was there in the midst of the trouble and accessible to all who asked. During the dirty protest I insisted on holding discussions with prison officers in the dirtiest cell of all, up to my ankles in filth, to show that we were involved and shared the problems with the staff.
The situation described in the report could not possibly have developed without my two right hon. Friends becoming aware of it. I am sorry that they are not present to hear me say that. We messed together, we travelled together, we slept in adjoining rooms in the same quarters, and so on. We constantly met to discuss not only this but all the issues. Creeping segregation and a clear drop in the morale of the prison service could not have been kept from my two right hon. Friends even if I had wished to do so.
The House will appreciate my surprise, therefore, that on this to me most sensitive and vital issue the present Secretary of State could say on 24 October 1983:I personally think that segregation is wrong. Those who go to prison should be treated as prisoners, regardless of whether they are Loyalists or Republicans. It is a mistake to try to differentiate between the two. I want to place that firmly on the record."—[Official Report, 24 October 1983; Vol. 47, c. 25.]The whole purpose of building the prison was to stop segregation of prisoners.
On another sensitive issue, the Secretary of State said on 26 January:I was not aware that following the hunger strike there was the decline in morale to which the report gives substance."—[Official Report, 26 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 1056.]These two things are of vital importance. If the Secretary of State did not know about segregation creeping into the prisons and about the low morale and the lack of leadership, I can only conclude that he was badly served and badly informed by his junior Minister in charge of prisons.
As I said on 26 January, I am not speaking about the present junior Minister, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). That would be grossly unfair. The problems detailed in Hennessy existed long before he took charge. Nevertheless, he now has the onerous task of reversing some of the decisions, and I am sure that he will soon find out—if he has not already done so—how involved he will become in the affairs of daily life in prison in Northern Ireland. I wish him well in his task. He will receive my support on this issue if he requires it.
The Secretary of State will have to sort out for himself why he was so ill informed about such vital issues as the 1088 prison service. If it helps him, I can only conclude from the report and from what the Secretary of State has said that he was badly served by the previous junior Minister in charge of prisons. He must surely understand—and I am certain that he does—that if the previous Minister had still been in charge of prisons on the fateful day he would have had no option but to resign. If he had not offered to do so, I am sure that the Secretary of State would have demanded it; if he had not, I would have demanded it today. I do not think that I could have let this general malaise creep into the prison and its staff, but if, by some unfortunate chance, it had done so I can assure the House that nobody else would have carried the can for this report. It would not have been the governor, Mr. Whittington; it would have been me.
I hope that, in winding up, the Minister will say a little more about Ernest Whittington. For him and the staff of the prison to bear virtually the entire onus of this report is grossly unfair to the individuals concerned and to the prison service in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
Perhaps the right hon. Member would mention Mr. Whittington's predecessor, now, I think, back in charge of the prison, Mr. Hilditch. He went through a difficult time and deserves some praise too.
§ Mr. Concannon
Mr. Hilditch spent a long period in charge of the prison. I knew the previous governor as well. He was also a very fine man. I knew them all. Mr. Hilditch moved elsewhere after certain things had happened in the prison, because he deserved a rest. I do not know if going to Crumlin from the Maze constitutes a rest.
I used to call the governors "the big five". There were five of them, and we moved them round a great deal. They all deserve the respect of the House for the work that they have done.
I hope that after this debate we can put this sorry saga behind us. A lot of lessons have, I hope, been learned. From what I have heard of the speeches today, I sincerely trust that they have. It is all part of "the Irish problem" and, as the Secretary of State says, there is always something happening in Northern Ireland. We have to seek continually a peaceful political solution. Then there will be less need for such places as the Maze prison.
I did not come into politics to run prisons or to do what I did in Northern Ireland between 1975 and 1979. The Secretary of State has worked hard on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland and what he has done has not always been appreciated. Sometimes I have been here all through the night when seemingly his only friends have been my then ministerial colleagues and me. Understanding and sympathy can always be found among people who have been through these particular offices, which constitute a very onerous task. If there has to be a Tory Administration, I am happy for the Secretary of State to remain in office. I have to take account of my own morale and when I look at some of the people who might be sent to look after the affairs of Northern Ireland it does not help my morale at all.
This is a sorry occasion. I am sorry that I have spoken for so long, but I was in this from the beginning, although I had not looked for work of this nature. It will be worth while if out of this comes the realisation that we have to tackle this problem, a problem which can be dealt with and solved only on a political basis. What we must avoid is to give a fillip to any terrorist organisation in Northern 1089 Ireland. We must make sure that they know that when they go back into the Maze it is once again, as Hennessy says, the most secure prison in the United Kingdom and that they will remain there to serve out their sentences.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
This debate needed the intervention of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), because of his experience with prisons in Northern Ireland. I am sure that he will not mind if I do not follow him closely.
At the beginning of this debate we had what occurs in all these debates. The Secretary of State read a homily and told the Northern Ireland people that they had something to learn. This was echoed by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who is now the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland. I was surprised when he stood at the Dispatch Box, described in graphic manner the situation at the Maze prison and the special category system and told the House that he was amazed to see these men regimented under officers, able to see visitors only when their commanding officer allowed it. The right hon. Member for Mansfield confirmed that when he went to the prison he had a roundtable discussion with the five commanders-in-chief.
Will the House not learn that it was this House that set up that system? No voice from Northern Ireland in any debate lent any support whatsoever to that system. At that time, the Unionist family sat as the UUUC. They are on record, as are all of us, as saying that the system was disastrous. How did it come about? It came about through the capitulation of the then Secretary of State, now Lord Whitelaw, who decided that he would get rid of a difficult problem that was developing in the Crumlin road, that he would bow the knee and bring in special categories.
What the present Secretary of State did not tell the House was that the same Secretary of State gave the right to the commanding officers to say which of their men were acceptable in those special category compounds. When, therefore, a prisoner was brought before the court, tried and found guilty, or when he was interned, he got into a compound only through the good graces of the commanding officer of the particular terrorist organisation with which he wanted to associate. That was with the connivance of the Secretary of State, and the House approved it. The people of Northern Ireland are asking whether the House will learn something from the debate; they hope that it will do so.
I have despaired as I have listened to some of those who have contributed to the debate. The Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West said that it was wrong for the Prime Minister to go to Armagh, and wrong for the Duke of Edinburgh similarly to do so. But in Armagh the chairman of the council was murdered by the IRA. He served as an officer in the UDR. If the Government or the House adopt such an attitude I shall despair, and so will the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Archer
As I have already said, I accept that that is a point of view which the hon. Gentleman holds sincerely, but will he accept that someone else might hold a different point of view equally sincerely?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am not at one with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the holding of sincere views. Even the members of the IRA hold sincere views. I merely ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to remember where the opposition came from. It came from a foreign state which has no jurisdiction over the United Kingdom. It was Dublin that was making the protest. Everyone, from the monkey to the organ grinder, joined in the furore in Northern Ireland. I have heard it said that the Northern Ireland Office has claimed — I have heard no denial from it—that it would have advised against it. Perhaps the Minister will put that right when he replies, or perhaps he will make it more wrong at the end of the day.
The right hon. Member for Mansfield talked about a political solution. The Maze prison problem will not be solved by politics. If anyone believes that, he is taking leave of his senses. The Maze prison problem will not be solved by any political solution. What would happen if there were a political solution? Is it being suggested that there should be an amnesty and that all the Maze prisoners should be released?
§ Mr. Concannon
The hon. Gentleman knows me a little better than that. He knows what I have experienced and he knows also that there will not be an amnesty. I did not say that a political solution would solve the Maze prison problem. I said, however, that such a solution might go some way to stopping the terrorism and everything connected with it that takes place in Northern Ireland, which does not of itself necessitate having a prison such as the Maze and for that institution to be used as it is.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I cannot accept that reasoning. I know the people who are in the Maze. I was the first Member of Parliament to visit a dirty cell. I was accompanied by two of my constituents who are out-and-out Republicans. I was locked in with them and the governor said, "If they kill you, it is your own business." I know all about the prison. I am an ex-prisoner myself; I know a little about prisons and I know what I am talking about. I am not apoligising for having been made a prisoner, and I realise that I might be made a prisoner again. Uncorroborated evidence can put anyone away, and who knows what will happen in Northern Ireland? There are some in this place who might think that that would be a good way of getting me away. I have no illusions about that.
The House decided that special category prisoners would receive 50 per cent. remission of their sentences. Why did it do that? Will the House never learn? If someone commits a crime in Northern Ireland, he knows that no matter what sentence the judge passes he will be out by the time he has served half of it. The judges are not allowed to take that fact into consideration when they pass sentence.
That is the policy that the House supports. If it continues to do so, we shall have more and more difficulties. I trust that the House will learn something. We in Northern Ireland have learnt—we heard this from an ex-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—that it is the Government's duty to make the Maze the most secure prison in the United Kingdom. The Government failed to do so.
There are those who have responsibility — for example, the prison officers. There are those who wish to tell us that all the representatives of Northern Ireland 1091 completely exonerated the prison officers, following the breakout. I was the first to say that there must have been collusion, but having done so I was hammered by many people, including the head of the prison officers. However, it is evident from reading the Hennessy report that it is quite likely that someone on the staff brought in the guns. It is clear from reading the report that the best way of getting them in was through the staff. The staff were not even searched. Some of the female staff were asked only to open their handbags and then immediately to close them. That was the only search that took place.
Representations were made by various Northern Ireland Members when the breakout took place. We were told by the Minister with responsibility for the prisons that they were exaggerated or that they even amounted to lies. There were screams of laughter from the Conservative Benches when I talked about dummies in sentry boxes. When that report was put to Sir James Hennessy in the form of a question, he did not reply. I have a list of the questions that he did not answer. When the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) attended the Assembly, he was Chairman of the Security and Home Affairs Committee. That Committee sent Sir James a series of questions. The questions that should have been answered were not, and one of them was directed to dummies in sentry boxes. It is all very well to laugh about that now, and there would be some laughs in the Hennessy report if the subject matter were not so tragic.
For example, the second segment gate was so constructed that the meal lorry was too large to pass through it. Instead of the officer on duty being able to open one gate, admit the lorry and close the gate before opening the second one, a different system had to be employed. That was inevitable because the lorry was too large. That is an example of good planning by the Northern Ireland officials. If any group needs to be cleaned out, it is the Northern Ireland officials who are responsible for prisoners. The men who were responsible for the measurements could not even measure correctly the second gate. If anyone from Northern Ireland had made such a decision in the old days, he would have been run off the campus. However, the official who is responsible for that error has been kept on. Indeed, he has never been mentioned.
It is stated in the Hennessy report that the gate officer was clearly negligent. It is recommended that consideration should be given to investigating his actions to ascertain whether disciplinary proceedings should be taken. That gives the impression that the man was to be picked out. However, at the end of the paragraph it is suggested that the officer could not undertake his duty properly because the capacity of the second sector was too small to accommodate the lorry. Why should that officer be picked out? Why should he be disciplined? He could not do what he was supposed to do because of inaccurate measurements. It would be ridiculous to say, "We shall discipline the officer." That would be nonsense in the circumstances.
We learn from reading paragraph 5.09 of the report that in H7 at 2.40 pm only nine of the 16 officers came on duty. They were responsible for a cell which contained notable IRA men, but only nine officers appeared. Four officers were in the staff tea room enjoying their tea. Three others were in the staff lavatories. It appears that they all had the 1092 call of nature together. In a prison wing like that one, officers must come on duty on time, but they did not do so.
Nobody in Northern Ireland is trying to exonerate those officers. If they have failed in their duties they should be disciplined, but they should not be disciplined for not doing what they could not do, and they should not be disciplined for a decision taken by the Northern Ireland Office for reasons of political expediency in order to placate the Republicans in that prison set-up. I must say that loud and clear. So much for the prison officers.
What about the prison governors? What is their responsibility? Why should one prison governor be singled out? As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has pointed out, there is only one quotation from that governor in the report, and that quotation is there in order to indict him. If ever a man was unfairly treated in a report, that prison governor is the man. He was not allowed to put his case in writing, but he has to go.
I am glad that the Secretary of State is to ensure that he will not be at a loss financially. He is not a guilty man. He was told to carry out certain duties, and I believe that he carried out those duties as well as he could. If we believe what they say, the prison governors were making representations and pleas to the Northern Ireland Office, but it did not listen to those pleas and so the prison governors found themselves in difficulty. Must we let the matter rest there? Must we blame the prison officers and the prison governors, while the Ministers and the officials in the Northern Ireland Office go scot-free? It is not fair to condemn some of those who had responsibility and not go further up the line. The Secretary of State has said on every occasion that he takes full responsibility and is not trying to pass responsibility on to the junior Minister. I think that that is right.
We have heard attacks on Lord Gowrie today, but whether Lord Gowrie or any other Minister was involved, it is the Secretary of State who must take full responsibility. He cannot wash his hands of that responsibility and assume that he can carry on while the prison governor has to go. The first thing that the responsible Minister said when he heard of the gaol break was that he had every confidence in that governor. That is on the record. Yet that governor has been sacrificed.
The Secretary of State must face that issue, and so must some of his officials. I am amazed at what I read in the report about the person responsible for the security and operations division. Paragraphs 10.15 and 10.16 make it plain that some action should be taken at that level.
There are some interesting questions which were never answered. Why were they not answered? What is the security vetting procedure for regular visitors engaged in the servicing of the prison, for example delivery men and contractors? There is no record of an answer to that, but paragraph 4.04 states that precautions were not taken against outside suppliers. There was no vetting of outside suppliers coming into the prison, even though this was supposed to be a top rank security prison.
How and where was the searching equipment serviced? Which staff were trained in its use? What reports were forwarded from the workshops on the condition of that equipment, and what action was taken in the light of these reports? The answer is nil. There was no investigation of those matters.
What evidence was there of intimidation or inducement of prison officers and their families by extremist terrorist 1093 organisations? Sir James Hennessy swept that under the carpet, yet the former Secretary of State has told us today that he knew that that was happening. Why was it not exposed in the report?
What was done to prevent prisoners obtaining detailed knowledge of the day-to-day operation of the prison? The IRA man McFarlane was made a trustie. He was trusted by the prison authorities. The question has been asked why the prison officer at the gate did not take action when he saw McFarlane outside in the yard. According to the Hennessy report, that was nothing unusual. They were used to seeing McFarlane in the yard. He had been there on many occasions. When he approached the gate, that was not unusual either.
There is another question which goes to the heart of the matter. How adversely had financial stringency affected the remuneration and conditions of service of the prison staff, industrial relations and staff morale? We have heard much about staff morale today.
I salute the memory of prison officer Ferris. We should hold in high regard the memory of that prison officer who gave his life. I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Mansfield say that when he had responsibility for prisons in Northern Ireland he used to visit the prison officers and their families. The Northern Ireland Office has treated the widow of Officer Ferris shamefully. She has not been visited or helped in her trouble. She telephoned me the other day and told me so. I know the family very well. I hope that that will be put right and that care will be taken of that woman and others.
The report says that 42 prison officers had gone off duty because of nerves. If 42 prison officers had nervous breakdowns, morale cannot have been high. That shows how serious the situation was.
What special training was there for the quick reaction force? We know that there was no such force. That is made plain in the report. Why was there no quick reaction force in this top security prison? Was there a silent alarm facility within the prison? That question, too, was swept under the carpet. Had the recent prison officers' strike undermined the level of security? During the strike, did procedures lapse? Why were those questions not dealt with?
During the strike, were standards relaxed? Did procedures differ, and in what way? How many staff were on duty in each wing, and in the circle in the block concerned, on the afternoon of the gaolbreak? Sir James Hennessy investigated that matter, and we know that there was a slackening of control. Officers who should have been there did not turn up for duty, and those who were there were not in their proper places.
Were the authorities satisfied that no more firearms were available to prisoners in the Maze prison and in other prisons such as Magilligan, where bullets and explosives had recently been discovered? Sir James Hennessy made no effort to deal with that issue.
Why was there no bullet-proofing on the control room window? How many guns were used in the escape? We know how many were discovered, but we do not know how many were used. Strange to relate, one of the guns that was discovered had previously been used in a gaolbreak out of Crumlin road prison. That gun is doing the rounds. Perhaps it will turn up in Magilligan next time.
What precautions are now being taken to ensure that no more firearms, weapons and explosives are available? 1094 Those are more unanswered questions. What other gates, including the segment gate within the prison, were open on that occasion? That question has not been handled.
How many prisoners gained access to the yard, and why was a prisoner allowed to clean the yard without supervision? What work was done on the prison yard and the compounds surrounding the block? Hennessy had to admit that it was quite usual for a trustie — an IRA murderer—to be out.
What procedures exist for visits to duty general practitioners? Many prisoners are allowed to wait to see GPs, and that is when they make their contact with people from other blocks. I see that the right hon. Member for Mansfield knows what I am talking about. Hennessy forgot all about that. Where are the prisoners held when waiting? Why are they brought out of the wings in advance of the doctor's arrival so that they have time to make their arrangements? What arrangements are made for their supervision while they are waiting to see the doctor? How many prisoners are admitted to the circle at one time? Those are questions to which Hennessy ought to have applied himself, but they are put under the carpet.
Were the watchtowers manned? How many watchtowers are there? How many are manned as a matter of routine? How many were manned at the time of the breakout? There is no answer to those questions. What communications are there between the watchtowers and the prison headquarters? Have dummies been used to convey the impression that the watchtowers are manned? All of that has been forgotten by Hennessy. The House is expected to forget it too.
The most amazing statement of all is that the boundary fence of the prison serves only to mark where the prison property ends. That is the greatest joke of all. How much did it cost to erect that perimeter fence? Why, when it was originally erected, was it not made as the second line of defence so that if a prisoner escaped he could not get away easily? Even Hennessy has to say that the perimeter fence should be such a barrier. If it had been in a decent state of repair and the prisoners had not been able to get through it, many of the 16 men who are now loose could have been captured. These are matters to which the House must pay attention. They are elementary, but vital.
In Northern Ireland we are deeply disturbed about terrorism. To date, 2,350 people have been killed by terrorist activity and 26,099 seriously injured. On the same percentage the figures for Great Britain as a whole would be 82,320 dead and 912,345 wounded. That is the extent of our problem. What are we told? We are told, "Well, things are really not so bad in regard to that prison." I say it is a shambles.
What relationship can now exist between Ministers, prison officers and prison governors? The prison governors have released pamphlets and statements, copies of which have been received by right hon. and hon. Members. They have dealt with the integrity of the Northern Ireland Office. They have said that the Northern Ireland Office has not played the game and that it has not been prepared to put their side of the story. The prison officers are saying the same. What relationship can now exist in those circumstances?
I suggest that the right hon. Member for Mansfield was able to implement policy decisions — with which I agreed — because he had a good relationship with the prison officers and the prison governors. That has now broken down. How will the Secretary of State mend the 1095 fences? Will the prison officers and governors have any trust in him and his junior Minister after they have said in the press that they do not agree with the report because it has put the blame only on them. They admit that they are partly to blame, as honourable men should, but they are not the only people who are to blame. I do not know how they will regain morale and co-operation in the prisons. That is extremely unfortunate. I trust that in his winding-up speech the Under-Secretary of State will tell us how he will achieve it.
The gate has been mentioned. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us what progress has been made. For two years they have been trying to get the gate fixed. I wonder whether it is fixed now. My information from the Maze is that it is still being worked on after all this time. Perhaps it will be another year before it is completed. These matters worry us all. They also worry the people who live around the Maze prison. They had a terrifying experience. Some of them are aged and lonely people. Suddenly, through the gates of the prison came those murderers and gunmen. How do those people feel when they go to bed at night and close their doors? They too, must be considered.
I must tell the Secretary of State that I do not believe that he can mend the fences. I do not believe that he can get the good will of the prison governors and officers. I must stick to my original statement. I was the first to say it and I repeat it. I feel strongly that the Minister responsible — he says that he is responsible — has no option but to bow out of this task.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, the House will wish to know that the winding-up speeches are expected to begin at about 9.20 pm. There are still hon. Members on both sides of the House who have waited a long time and hope to speak. I appeal for short speeches.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) for giving a detailed history of affairs at the H-block section of the Maze prison when he was in charge. I decided when the escape occurred to look for a more official history. I did not go to the Sunday News or another newspaper but referred to the reports on the Administration of the Prison Service in Northern Ireland for 1980, 1981 and 1982. They are official reports which are presented to the House by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have to believe them.
The most recent one was published after the escape. It was ordered by the House to be printed on 26 October 1983 —one month after the escape. The reports commented as follows about one of the major issues under discussion today. The 1980 report was published during the first hunger strike. It says at paragraph 1.7:Despite these further cowardly attempts at intimidation by violence and the continuation of the dirty protest culminating in the hunger strike, prison staff continued to carry out their duties in a highly professional way.Paragraph 3.10 says:Throughout this period prison staff have, with courage and quiet dedication, continued to perform their duties in the same disciplined and impartial manner which has always been the proud tradition of the Prison Service.Paragraph 5.10 says: 1096the hunger strike apart, the prisons functioned quietly and normally during the year under review.
For 1982, the year of the second hunger strike the report says at paragraph 1.2:It is however appropriate to pay tribute in this introduction to the manner in which the hunger strike and all its consequences within the prison were handled by the prison Governor and the medical and other staff. All showed qualities of humanity, resilience, dedication and resourcefulness of a very high order.In the 1982 report, paragraph 1.5 on page 1 says:The staff of the prisons once again faced a whole range of difficult problems with dedication and resourcefulness and it is appropriate to take the opportunity of this report to pay warm tribute to the manner in which all members of staff at their different levels have carried out their work.
On page 6, paragraph 3.16 says:The Department would like to take this opportunity to place on record its appreciation of the work of Prison Staff.These are the official reports of the Northern Ireland Office presented to the House and ordered by the House to be published.
What is Sir James Hennessy's view of the same circumstances? He describes the staff as having taken a policy of appeasing prisoners, in paragraph 9.27 and of adopting a "laissez-faire attitude" to prisoners in paragraph 10.05. He alleges that this was caused by resentment at the concessions granted by Government to the protesters. He states that the staff were suffering from a general malaise of complacency and "laxity, carelessness and negligence" and that the faults and lazy practices were glaring. This is covered in paragraphs 10.10, 10.11 and 10.12. He alleges that this condition was caused by deficiency in management and the acquiescence of senior personnel.
How does the House reconcile these two diferent appraisals of the same circumstances? Which is correct? It would be too easy to say Hennessy. It depends on one's perspective which one says is correct and on whose eyes one is looking through. The Northern Ireland Office wanted to see it as it is in its reports, and it still does. That is why the Secretary of State made the comments quoted by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). He said:I was not aware that following the hunger strike there was the decline in morale".In answer to me, he said:The point about morale is interesting. I had received no suggestion that morale was bad." — [Official Report, 26 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 1056–60.]Despite the facts contained in the Hennessy report, the Secretary of State, while saying on the one hand that he accepted the report, was rejecting its major conclusion. Sometimes he is able to separate morale from performance of duty, but one cannot do that. Morale affects one's performance in one's jobs.
We are witnessing the Northern Ireland Office version of the fairy tale about the king's new clothes. The Northern Ireland Office Ministers saw what they wanted to see. The Northern Ireland Office officials saw what they were told to see. That is what it amounts to. The king was told that everything in the garden was rosy and he believed it. By the time that he had found out that he was wrong, the weaver had flitted. No doubt he would be known as the knave of hearts in the present circumstances.
How did Hennessy see the circumstances? For "quiet dedication" he saw "a laissez-faire attitude". "Humanity" becomes "laxity", "resilience" becomes "negligence", compassionate behaviour becomes "appeasement", "discipline" becomes "complacency", "highly 1097 professional" behaviour is exemplified by lazy practices and acquiescence. Conditioning was not of officers by prisoners—officers were being conditined by officials, politicians and circumstances. That is why I believe that the deplorable situation that existed in the Maze was the result of the virtual collapse in morale of the staff, which developed as a result of Government action and political interference during and after the hunger strike. Hennessy discounts this in a few sentences and fails to acknowledge the extent of political involvement and where it exists he says that it was based on poor appreciation of the situation and the Government's wider aims in seeking an end to the protest.
I believe that Hennessy was wrong, but even if he were correct, this is a damning indictment, as others have said. The Northern Ireland Office not only failed to correct this poor appreciation but for almost two years allowed the situation to deteriorate to the level that it did. If we are to believe its reports, as I presume that we are, it did not even recognise the worst manifestations.
As I read the report, one of the things that disappointed me most was that although Hennessy had recognised the collapse in morale, he had made no serious attempt to diagnose its cause, except in the manner to which I have referred. He should have reviewed in detail the history of the protest, particularly the period after that report referred to by the right hon. Member for Mansfield. He should have seen the protest in the context of the international propaganda war, of the political turmoil surrounding all the events in the prison and the intervention of such bodies as the International Red Cross, the European Commission of Human Rights, the Commission for International Justice and Peace, the papal emissaries and cardinals, political pressures from various countries in Europe and the EEC, from the Republic of Ireland and the USA. He would also have noticed the continual shifting of ground by the Northern Ireland Office with the offer of concessions and the enlargement under pressure of those concessions.
There were concessions, and the two classic examples are clothing and lost remission. In 1981 clothing had to be of a civilian type. By 1981 it was their own clothing. Originally, there was to be no earning of lost remission. In 1980, 20 per cent. of lost remission could be earned; in 1981, 50 per cent. of lost remission could be earned. It was discovered that 50 per cent. remission was granted for the years before the hunger strike even to people who did not come off protest but continued protesting for another year.
Is it any wonder that prison officers and staff asked where the line was to be held? The right hon. Gentleman put his finger on it. He got the support of these men, who I believe were dedicated and whose morale was high, because they believed they were supporting the Government who had a policy, and were prepared to stand by the policy, and the men who were implementing the policy for them. Suddenly these men were confronted by a so-called law and order Government with none of those objectives. They found themselves deserted, having held the line for three or four years, and having had 22 of their colleagues murdered. How were they expected to react in this situation? Did Sir James Hennessy really expect them 1098 to interpret the Government's actions as simply removing as many points of friction as possible, without compromise of principle?
How did Hennessy expect them to interpret the Government's approach to Mr. McFarlane who features so widely in the report? I wonder whether the House realises that McFarlane was virtually taken by the hand by the Government of the day in the period July-August 1981. One could list the number of occasions on which McFarlane was taken out of his prison cell and brought to the prison hospital to meet international bodies and others to negotiate conditions over the hunger strike. We are told that there was no surrender or special category status, and that they were not recognised as political prisoners. Her Majesty's Government were recognising Mr. McFarlane as a commander-in-chief and a negotiator who could be called upon, when required, to articulate the views of the prisoners, yet Sir James Hennessy expects us to believe that the prisoners have interpretted this simply as removing some of the points of friction. I do not believe it. I believe that the Northern Ireland Office's share of direct responsibility for the escape can be traced even closer to the events of 25 September.
In paragraph 3.05 to paragraph 3.12 of the report, Sir James Hennessy described what he considered to be mutual contributory factors to the success of the breakout. The first was the conditioning of the staff in H7, and the second was the selection of orderlies. I do not doubt that some conditioning of staff by prisoners occurred. However, as I have shown, even greater conditioning of staff by the Northern Ireland Office had already occurred. The attitude was, "Don't rock the boat." In this regard, it should be noted that those who resisted conditioning, and who tried to exercise control, were accused of over-zealousness, and were transferred. That is reported in paragraph 3.07—"Don't rock the boat." Anybody who did rock the boat was taken out, and put to another job.
On specific instances of conditioning, the report states in paragraph 3.10:In H7 it seems clear that inmates were able to manipulate the selection process in such a way that their nominees were appointed.Paragraph 3.09 says:The prisoners made it their business, therefore, to condition staff to accept as orderlies some of the most dangerous and subversive prisoners in H7. McFarlane and Storey for instance".But these statements are factually wrong. McFarlane and McAllister were orderlies by 17 November 1982, a few weeks after they came off protest, Kelly was an orderly by December and Storey and Mead were orderlies by March. McGlinchey was an orderly even before they came off protest, because he was one of the ones who came off protest at the hunger strike. There simply was not time to condition anyone. These appointments came about because of intolerable pressure, as I believe the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) admitted today, from the Northern Ireland Office, to get the prisoners back to work after the protest ended.
It would be instructive to examine in detail the circumstances surrounding the ending of the no-work protest that occurred approximately one year after the hunger strike. On 1 November 1982, 185 protesters came off protest by making themselves available for work. However, they then had to be put to work as quickly as possible, and had to be rewarded. They had to earn money and their 50 per cent. remission. The House should bear in mind that once they came off protest on 1 November 1099 they were earning remission and money, although they were not working. They were in the category referred to as "not yet allocated".
One can understand the pressure from the Northern Ireland office to get those men back to work. Pressure was brought to bear on the prison staff to allocate work to those men at all costs. It is suggested that there was plenty of work for the men to do. However, the Maze has always been blessed to a degree by the fact that one section or another of the prisoners has been on protest. If jobs ever had to be found for all the prisoners, it would prove impossible. Indeed, there certainly would not be jobs for them all if the criteria suggested by Sir James Hennessy were used. The men were going to be rewarded for ending their protest despite the difficulties.
The success of that aspect of Northern Ireland policy can be seen in the parliamentary answer that I received last week. Out of 102 prisoners who qualified to earn lost remission from 1 November, regardless of whether they were working, 99 had earned their full allocation of remission by 1 February, exactly three months after the protest had ended. Therefore, the problem lay in the fact that there was an insufficient number of jobs. I am being charitable when I suggest that it was naive of Sir James Hennessy to state in his report:It would in our view have been prudent for the governor to have sought the advice of the Prison Department who were unaware of the difficulties.
Sir James Hennessy must be aware that that is nonsense. The Northern Ireland Office and the officials involved knew that the jobs did not exist. There is not time now, but we could debate the mess of the labour allocaton board. Almost 200 allocations were made at one meeting. Extra meetings were held that not only allocated jobs but mentioned the necessity for tight security and warned of the difficult times ahead. Twenty-nine orderlies in H block 8 were appointed at the same time. Security officers queried the work force at the lower end of the workshops and pointed out the number of hard-liners, and so on.
The staff were in an impossible position. They could not satisfy their own criteria; that was alluded to by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West. The staff knew the criteria and are not fools, as the right hon. Member for Mansfield knows. However, they were put in an intolerable position. They could not satisfy their own criteria and the demands of the Northern Ireland Office at the same time. Therefore, as has happened so often in the past, they did what they were told.
Some idea of the pressure that the staff came under can be seen from the fact that they were prepared to allocate orderly jobs to men whom they knew to be dangerous and who had murdered their own colleagues. Normally, work would have been allocated in the following order. First would come the kitchen and laundry. Trustees were given those jobs. Those suitably qualified went to the workshops. Those who could benefit went to vocational training, and block orderlies had to be chosen from the remainder, who were the real villains.
In paragraph 15 of the introduction, Hennessy said that he did his best to avoid using hindsight, but he did just that when, in paragraph 3.10, he stated:It was also argued that certain dangerous prisoners pose a lower security risk working in the Block. … There are some such benefits to be derived from retaining dangerous, high risk prisoners in the Block, but these were more than outweighed by … events on 25 September".
1100 Hon. Members can imagine what Sir James would have said if the situation had been reversed and if the outbreak had occurred in the workshops. He would have said that it was dangerous to send such men to the workshops and that the staff should have been aware of the dangers, because tools and equipment were available to them. He would have said that it would have been better if the men had stayed on the blocks. The officers were put in an intolerable position and so did what they had been doing over the years in similar circumstances.
The real responsibility for the conditions in H block 7 lies at the Government's feet. They conditioned the staff and created the circumstances which allowed McFarlane and company to take over the block and mount the escape. It was for that reason that I believe there should have been an acknowledgement of a shared responsibility by the politicians in the aftermath of the escape and in the aftermath of the report. However, that has not happened. No doubt it has been made more difficult by the fact that the guilty bird had flown.
We are left with an unhappy situation. How is the prison service to be restored to something resembling its former self, as described by the right hon. Member for Mansfield? I do not believe that it can be achieved by politicians, who are perceived by the prison staff as having abandoned them, allowing them to be castigated and branded as incompetents, while washing their own hands of responsibility. If the honourable thing is not to be done, I hope that the Government will at least be realistic and practical enough to recognise the truth of what I have just said, because it is true. I have never yet heard of a general who abandoned his troops on the battlefield and was able to come back and lead them to other victories. Changes of personnel are required at the political top of the prison service in Northern Ireland. Someone must be found who is untainted by the events of past years, and the sooner that appointment is made, the better for all of us.
I am sorry that I have taken so much time and that I have rushed what I said, but this is a serious matter. I have raised issues that I would have liked to have spent more time on, and I hope that I shall receive answers to them. I hope that the Secretary of State can tell me now whether I can consign his reports to the wastepaper basket. If I cannot do that, how does he explain his perception of the situation in the Maze and that of Sir James Hennessy? I hope that he will explain clearly to the House how he expected prison officers to allocate dangerous men to jobs when there were no jobs there for them, and how he expected them to behave in the circumstances in which they found themselves.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
By virtue of necessity, I shall have to truncate considerably what I wanted to say. I blame no one for that.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) put his finger on an issue that had not been clarified in the debate until he spoke — what the House means by morale. Everyone used the word to bolster the predetermined position that they had come to. If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman did so also. This report has been used to defend a particular viewpoint that was arrived at independently, before the report was ever read. That has happened on both sides of the House. I take issue with the hon. Gentleman when he says that morale and the 1101 performance of one's duty are virtually synonymous. I do not think that that is true, although that assumption lay at the heart of what he said.
I do not have time to rehearse what Hennessy said. It is a comprehensive report, yet the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked a number of questions that are not covered in the report. I hope that the answers to the questions that he raised, which have application for the future, will be given and acted upon.
I want to devote the few minutes at my disposal to the future, and to say three things. Maze prison is a unique prison, not only in terms of what has been said in this debate, but in that it is close to a border across which terrorists can find sanctuary. That adds an extra degree of pressure. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) pointed out that the Province of Northern Ireland was very small. Those of us who were brought up there know that when we meet someone from Northern Ireland it is only a minute or two before we find a friend in common. That constitutes a pressure on the prison service, as does the border, and we must see the work of the prison service in that context.
First, I hope that arising out of the report there will be closer liaison between the prison service and the security forces outside the prison so that the pressure on the prison service is not as great and the rewards of sanctuary across the border are not as enticing as they appear to be.
Secondly, I hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of a matter that was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins)—the relative inexperience of the staff in the Maze prison, with only 4 per cent. of them having served for more than 10 years and almost half of them for fewer than four years. Even if it means the expenditure of public money, my hon. Friend should ensure that the training programme is stepped up for the staff so that they are given as much training and encouragement in training as possible. Paragraph 8.12 recommends the setting up of a training committee. Whatever has gone before, let us learn from this and move forward. Training and encouragement in training for the staff are essential.
Thirdly, whatever the circumstances were before—I do not believe that there is ministerial responsibility— they have changed by virtue of the escape. Whatever was the role of the prison service and the governor of the prison in the overall security discussions before this event, I hope it will be changed. I hope that the governor of the prison will be viewed alongside the GOC and the chief constable as someone who is at the forefront of the security battle. Along with the other measures and sensitivities which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend bring to bear in the difficult task which they have to discharge, I hope that they will use this to help build up again the standing of the prison service in its own eyes, in the eyes of the community and in the eyes of the country at large.
As the right hon. Member for Mansfield said, I hope that, instead of the debate bringing joy to the IRA, we will learn from it, put into practice the lessons that we have learnt and come out with a stronger and more united service, so that the debate will cause the IRA gloom rather than joy.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
Everyone has accepted that this has been an important debate on an important issue on an important prison. However, all of us should remember that the Maze and the escape from the Maze are symptoms of the problem of Northern Ireland and not the problem itself. In my view, Secretaries of State should not normally be expected to resign on such issues. If they were expected to resign, the paramilitaries on both sides, Loyalist and Republican, would know how to get rid of them. They would find an incident which was suitable to publicise and use it in such a way as to achieve the resignation of the Secretary of State.
That does not mean that there is no ministerial responsibility at some level. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) pointed out that we have many candidates for resignation, if we want them, in this Government. There is the Foreign Secretary; or, if we want to go back in history, the Secretary of State for Defence at the time of the Falklands would have been a good candidate, if we are to pick on individual policy issues for resignation. That is not what the debate should be about in the first instance. We are concerned about something deeper and more long-lasting.
The thread of importance that has run throughout the debate connects policy, management and morale. That is a thread that leads to some extent to the Northern Ireland Office. The escape needs to be seen in the context of the dirty protest, followed by the hunger strike. Few people can underestimate the impact of that and, indeed, Hennessy does not because in paragraph 9.27 he tells us:When the hunger strike ended, the changes introduced by the Government were seen by many members of staff as concessions and as a surrender to the prisoners' demands. Thus the effect on staff morale was considerable. Many members of the staff spoke to us of this period with great bitterness, suggesting that thereafter there was no point in attempting to resist the prisoners' demands; the best policy was to appease them.He believes that view to be mistaken. The important point is that the view was there.
I recall, at the time of the dirty protest and in the early stages of the hunger strike, paying a number of visits to that prison, and I was aware of the pressure that was being put on the staff there as a result of those activites. I am also aware—reference has been made to this in the debate; it is relevant—that, in effect, negotiations were going on. Indeed, I should have been surprised if they were not.
I recall a statement by a member of the Commission for International Justice and Peace in Dublin when I was there to discuss the way in which a similar situation had been handled at Port Laiose prison. I was told by one of the representatives there who had seen the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), that he had asked the Minister, "Do we have agreement, then?" and the Minister had replied, "Not yet. We must remember that there is a lady's face behind the mask." That quotation should go down in history.
We need a realistic recognition of the fact that we were facing a unique situation and that we needed a unique and clear way of handling it, and that meant a determined and skilful way of handling it. That should not be underestimated. Above all, we should not under-estimate the effect on the morale of the prison officers at that time. As for the morale of groups, particularly the morale of prison officers, if one wants to build up the morale of a group of people who have had their morale destroyed, the last thing one should do is kick them when they are down.
1103 During today's debate — and on other occasions — There have been complaints about the prison officers, some of them justified and some of them not. I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) to reiterate what had been said about the feeling on the part of prison officers and governors that the balance of the report was not quite right in terms of responsibility, as it were, through the scale. They accepted—they have said publicly that they accept—their part in the escape. They have said that they are ashamed of it — they have used that word — and therefore it is not right to say that they are not aware of that aspect of the matter.
I recall debates—I have taken part in some of them — on other issues, such as on the May report on the prison service in the United Kingdom generally. When we debated that report Conservative Members praised prison officers to the skies; they were responsible, marvellous people of whom society should be proud, they said. Some months later, when the prison officers were involved in industrial action, many Conservative Members then criticised them as being grossly irresponsible people who should not be in the job if they were not prepared to work under all circumstances.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) said that prison officers were intimidated in Northern Ireland, and of course he was right to say that; the figure of 22 killed is one that we should never forget. That demoralisation needs a response, one that perhaps has not yet been given fairly. If the prison officers—at governor and prison officer level—accept some of the blame, we must also say in more detail where the blame lies in the Northern Ireland Office.
If I were being critical of the Hennessy report, I would say that it was thin in that and similar areas and that perhaps it did not give enough emphasis to what the prison officers and governors themselves asked for but which now appears as part of the recommendations of the report. I am referring to things for which they had been asking not just for a short while but for many years, and I shall say more about that later.
I feel that I can take the line that I have taken on the prison officers not least because I have had much contact with them since 1970, having been a probation officer and having worked for a short time in prison. It is not only that that causes me to make these remarks but also the fact that I am aware that the Prisons Officers Association can be a difficult group with which to deal. I make no bones about saying that; I have had my fair share of rows with the association.
However, they are a group of people who prefer to have stated clearly what the policies are so that they fully understand them, and then to have a discussion about how those policies are to be applied, at the same time considering whether those policies are right or wrong. In other words, they want to know where they stand. It is clear that they did not know where they stood. Rightly or wrongly, the prison staff felt that the Government had given in and that their job was to appease the prisoners. Feeling that, they began to behave accordingly. That was one of the biggest single dangers that the report highlighted. Therefore, the onus was on the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministers involved at least to pick up that failure of morale and to respond to it. The very least that is needed is the spelling out in considerable detail of 1104 the reasons for which policies are changed, undertaken, enforced or carried out consistently over the years. The link there seems to have been weak.
When I read the report, I came to the conclusion that we had resorted to what is not uncommon in public life, and which is perhaps unfair — we chose the most obvious person, the governor, as the scapegoat. The governor is obviously culpable of some major failings. It said that in the report and it also said that he accepted it. But many other people, both above and below him, were culpable. We have ended by saying that the governor's head will roll because he is the head of the organisation, and as the Secretary of State said this afternoon, if the policies had been carried out as they were supposed to have been, the escape would not have taken place. Technically that is probably correct, but it entirely ignores the point made by hon. Members on both sides of the House about morale, which is a critical issue.
On page 16 of the report, paragraph 3.11 states:Because the capacity of the workshops and training courses was insufficient to provide employment for all, the Governor felt there was no alternative but to create additional orderly posts in the H Blocks. 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.It would have been prudent for the Northern Ireland Office to ask what work the prisoners had been given.
On page 18 of the report, paragraph 3.19, which is both important and interesting, deals with the way in which the prisons and prison officers build up relationships. It is important to have some people outside that relationship, who gather information to make judgments about what is happening. In the prison it was felt that that gathering of information was not sufficiently important to bother about. The report states:In our view, this seriously underestimates the importance of monitoring information concerning the pattern of prisoner behaviour, their groupings and confederates, and the identity of their visitors. Such information should be regularly collected and assessed, and can be expected to produce considerable dividends. A system of this kind is in operation in every dispersal prison in England.There must be culpability in the Northern Ireland Office, whether at ministerial or civil servant level, because the question why such a system was not operating was not asked.
Those who know that building relationships is necessary and unavoidable in a closed institution also know that it is a double-edged weapon. That is clear from the report. Both prisoners and staff begin to form an affinity towards each other. That does not mean that it is love, love, love, all the way — far from it. A strange relationship builds up in those circumstances which enables one to have greater insight into another individual, who may be either the gaoler or prisoner, and also to have blind spots to the other individual.
A relevant and pertinent analogy from general social work is the well known identifying symptoms of a person who is likely to batter a baby. They can be numbered from 1 to 10, and listed. If one examines them consistently and coherently, one can make a reasonably good prognostication about whether battering will take place. A problem that often affects child battering cases is that the social worker develops such a good relationship with his client that he begins not to see things. He begins to make excuses for the person's behaviour which, in other circumstances, would be identified as a warning symptom.
1105 The same thing happens in the prison service, with a subtle relationship that blinds one but at the same time enables one to see better. That is why an independent assessment body is so important, as the Hennessy report said. It also strongly emphasised the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office to pick up those points and work on them.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
Is not the hon. Gentleman saying that in many cases prison officers are resourceful and do their jobs well, while at the same time the Hennessy report can highlight the difficulties? That also resolves the problem of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker).
§ Mr. Soley
I do not wish to pursue that matter, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's point.
Perhaps one of the greatest services that we could perform for the prison officers and governors of Northern Ireland would be to act properly on the report's recommendations on training. I have lost count of the number of times that I stood up in the House, before I had Front Bench responsibility for Northern Ireland, and asked the Home Secretary to introduce better training for prison officers. I want better pre-job training and in-service training. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, East also made that criticism, and for years the prison officers themselves have asked for better training.
At present seven weeks training is given before an officer is put into a prison such as the Maze and asked to deal with problems there. As many hon. Members have said, prison officers are also subjected to a barrage of propaganda, especially during the hunger strike, and they and their families are shot at and initimidated. If we ask people to do that job, we should live up to our promises to provide more resources. It is not enough to throw money at the problem; we must be serious about training, as the May report recommended some years ago.
Although I have been critical of prison officers—I have had battles with their association at Wormwood Scrubs prison and elsewhere—it has always supported me 100 per cent. on training, which I believe is the long-term key. It is insulting to ask people to do such an extremely difficult job with only seven weeks training. The majority of people in the House would not be prepared to do it. We must ask ourselves how young prison officers, after only seven weeks training, can be expected to deal with other young, intelligent and determined people who are locked up, in many cases for life. Is it not unreal to expect so much of prison officers? Why can we not be genuine and deliver the goods?
§ Sir Humphrey Atkins
I do not disagree with what the hon. Gentleman says. We should try to give prison officers - more training. However, does he accept that during the past 10 or 12 years in Northern Ireland there has been an enormous expansion in the number of prisoners, and that it has been impossible to provide the extended training that he recommends and that I support?
§ Mr. Soley
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's latter remarks. This problem is not new. For years the Prison Officers Association and the Prison Governors Association have asked for extended training, and the May report, which dealt with the entire United Kingdom, recommended it. We have ignored it and have 1106 not made a serious start to resolve the problem. If the Secretary of State says, "We have made a start and we are now making progress", I would say, "Yes, we have learnt the lesson of a couple of years ago." But we have not learnt the lesson. Since the Brixton riots the police have managed to double their training period. I should have thought that that was a fairly comparable example. Training is still inadequate.
This is an especially important matter. We cannot just sit back and assume that we have done our job unless we are seen to deliver on the recommendations, including those on security within the prison. Many of those recommendations are self-evident, and we can go through them at will. If we are to take the prison staff with us, we must make a greater effort to meet their needs, however much we might disagree with the way that they handle particular circumstances. The walk-out shortly before the escape is a classic example of demoralisation and the last thing one should do is put the boot in.
We could continue to discuss this matter at considerable length, but I am sure that many hon. Members are waiting to hear the Under-Secretary's reply. I shall not delay the House further. I urge the House to take seriously its responsibility to the prison officers in terms of training, because only in that way will we have a humane prison system, not just in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom. The House has ducked that issue for too long.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
We have had, as one would have expected on this occasion, a wide-ranging debate, and I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who contributed to it. We face an extremely important issue. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the outset of the debate, the escape was a most serious setback to law and order in the Province, and the deficiencies revealed by the Hennessy report have caused everyone deep anxiety.
We have heard a great deal of criticism, and rightly so. There has also been understanding in most quarters of the House about the special difficulties of Northern Ireland's prisons and the pressures on those who work within them. Hard things have been said, but that is for the good. Matters have been comprehensively examined and a considerable measure of understanding has been shown. I shall deal as fully as I can with the points raised in the context of looking forward to learn from what went wrong on 25 September and in the period leading up to it, and equipping the prison service as best we can to face the undoubted problems it will encounter.
The escape on 25 September would not have taken place had existing prison rules been followed. The fact that now, in the aftermath, a comprehensive examination of security at the prison has said that rules could be improved, staff better managed and the prison better constructed, is important. It is vital for the future, but it does not absolve those who broke the rules on 25 September from failing to obey them.
I shall refer to as many individual contributions as I can cope with in the time available. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) recognised immediately that we are in a unique position in Nothern Ireland and that the prisons in Northern Ireland, perhaps more than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, reflect 1107 the pattern of society and the tensions that exist outside. His particular point about orderlies was mentioned by other hon. Members. I must make it clear that orderlies in Northern Ireland are not trusties. They are not especially trusted prisoners. They have no special privileges and are supposed to be watched and controlled as carefully as any other prisoners.
It must have been right, at the end of the no-work protest, to leave it to the governor and those responsible for supervising these matters in the prison to weigh the balance as to how the dangerous men, as they gave up their protest, should be put to work. I am certain that, had we not put them to work, that would have been regarded as a substantial propaganda victory for the IRA and would have been exploited as such. We have every right to expect that those who are appointed as orderlies or to any other type of work inside the prisons are subjected to proper control.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) and other hon. Members mentioned the importance of training in the prison. To get that training right is almost the key to the future of Northern Ireland prisons.
I was sad that the Prison Officers Association in Northern Ireland prevented officers from taking part in training for well over a year in pursuance of a claim for extra payment. That built up a substantial backlog of training with which we are only now beginning to cope. I hope that nothing like that will happen in the future. We have a relatively inexperienced force of prison officers in Northern Ireland, so we must get on with training to the high standards that are essential for the future.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West reported a feeling rather than a judgment when he said that the governor and the Prison Officers Association thought that their voices were lost on the air. I do not believe that that argument can be sustained. We have seen the reports in the Hennessy document. It says:The governor told us he had never been refused any reasonable request for capital expenditure, nor were we able to identify any request for expenditure on security grounds that had not be met …The governor told us he had never found himself without advice on any urgent operational matter. In this respect the security operations division provides a good service.I do not believe that the governor could make the claim attributed to him by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West; nor indeed has he done so. The Prison Officers Association has frequent and regular meetings with the director of personnel of the Northern Ireland prison service and with other more senior members of the prison service. The last pre-escape meeting of the Prison Officers Association with the Minister took place about one month before the escape when I endeavoured to persuade them not to withdraw their labour from the Maze prison as, I regret to say, they decided to do on 29 August.
Despite what the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, I hope that I shall have many productive meetings with the Prison Officers Association in Northern Ireland. I shall certainly do my part to build that relationship and to make it work. I hope that the association is prepared to respond.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) did two things. First, he outlined a constitutional convention which he might wish existed, which perhaps once did exist, but which, frankly, has not existed in politics in this country for many years. The decisions made 1108 and attitudes struck about ministerial responsibility should reflect what the modern position is and has been acknowledged to be since the end of the second world war.
I recognise that the right hon. Member for Down, South is right about my position. It was explained to me in succinct terms when I took up my post that I was a mere emanation of the Secretary of State and that of course he was the person who really bore responsibility for these matters. If I had felt that there was any policy decision, attitude about resources or support for the prison service in Northern Ireland that I had taken I should have offered my resignation.
The right hon. Member for Down, South then treated us to one of his familiar bouts of conspiratorial fantasy. I totally reject any suggestion that the two hunger strikes were ended by agreement or by negotiation. The hunger strikes were called off as a result of the Government's firmness of purpose. They were a defeat for the IRA and in no sense whatsoever were they conducted by negotiation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) made a constructive contribution to the debate. He drew attention to the industrial relations problems and severely attacked some members of the Prison Officers Association for their role in the industrial relations failure at the Maze prison. I hope that we shall be able in the near future to regard those industrial relations problems as things of the past. I shall do my best to see that they are.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East made a particular point about searching. The ability of men and women to introduce into prisons the smallest amounts of explosives and the small elements of technology necessary to make explosives, or worse, are extremely advanced. To cope with that entirely would mean either a total turn to closed visits — screens between all visitors and all prisoners when visits take place—or the most intimate and rigorous searching of every person every time they enter the prison. The House and the prison service would expect me to take a balanced view of searching and to try to maximise security while preserving the dignity of the prisoners and those who come to visit them.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) raised particularly the question of the probation officer who had been, so it transpired, a member of the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s. That was the responsibility of the probation service rather than the prison service, but one must accept that there was human error in vetting the probation officer. The result of that failure is being appraised. We must remember that, as it turned out, that affair had nothing to do with the escape from the Maze on 25 September 1983.
§ Mr. Scott
I shall give way briefly when I have said this to the hon. Gentleman. The Maze prison was visited by representatives of the Official Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party early in 1983. Subsequently the Secretary of State and I met the security committee and talked about all sorts of security matters. If the failure of morale in the Maze had been to anything like the degree suggested in the debate, some suggestion of that would have come through in the report. In the aftermath of those visits, those concerned were given every opportunity to come to us and say that they had detected failures of security or morale. No such approach was made.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Does the Minister agree that a visit lasting less than a day can give only a poor idea of morale in the prison service? One might have expected that the annual reports on the prison would mention the extent to which morale was flagging.
Will the hon. Gentleman also challenge me to name the civil servant from the Northern Ireland Office who made one of the 11 visits that were used, involving McFarlane, to negotiate the end of the hunger strike? Indeed, on 3 October 1981, were not the inmates seen by Mr. McFarlane before the hunger strike finished?
§ Mr. Scott
I do not believe what the hon. Gentleman says about any sort of negotiation on those matters. If the prisons were bubbling with discontent and poor morale, as alleged in the debate, the hon. Gentleman, with his experience of such matters, should have been able to detect it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) asked about information given to prison staff at the end of the hunger strike to assure them of the terms on which it was ended and the way in which it was pursued. After the hunger strike ended in October 1981, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my noble Friend Lord Gowrie met representatives of the Prison Officers Association and Northern Ireland Office officials to explain the policy to them.
Five separate statements were made about the ending of the hunger strike and the changes in regime that eventually took place. Copies of all those statements were sent in sufficient quantities to the prisons in Northern Ireland so that members of staff could appraise themselves of their contents well before information was given to the prisoners.
I want to mention two or three other contributions. Unfortunately I shall have to do so rather briefly. I have to say to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that he has a fair cheek to come to the House and criticise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for lack of grasp of the situation in Northern Ireland and its prisons when the hon. Gentleman represents a party that has not yet developed a policy on Northern Ireland.
I shall make two points in reply to the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). First, I pay the warmest tribute to Ernest Whittington, who served the Northern Ireland prison service for so long and in such a distinguished way. Many people have said that he perhaps had the bad luck to be governor of the Maze prison when the breakout occurred, but Sir James Hennessy made it clear that ultimate responsibility for the state of affairs that led to the escape had to rest with the governor, who had to accept that responsibility. Ernest Whittington, being the man that he is, accepted that responsibility and offered his resignation and I do not believe that the Government had any alternative but to accept it. He deserves a warm tribute from all Ministers ever responsible for prisons in Northern Ireland for the work that he has done in very difficult circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be chiding me or perhaps my noble Friend for allowing segregation to be introduced into the Maze prison. There has been segregation of one kind or another in Her Majesty's prison Maze ever since 1976. Some measure of segregation is the only way to cope with protests such as the blanket protest and the dirty protest. Segregation did not suddenly occur when the Conservatives came to office, still less when my 1110 noble Friend took responsibility for the prisons. We do not want segregation, but until both Republican and Loyalist prisoners are prepared to accept orders to work, to be accommodated under governor's orders and to give up their protests, some measure of segregation will unfortunately be necessary.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made one especially disgraceful suggestion when he suggested that the widow of Officer Ferris had not been visited by the Northern Ireland Office after the death of her husband and had been treated very shabbily by us. In the immediate aftermath of the escape and Officer Ferris's death, I wrote personally to Mrs. Ferris to express my sympathy and no fewer than seven visits were made to her by civil servants of the Northern Ireland prison department and the welfare department following the tragic loss of her husband. No one can accuse the Northern Ireland Office of not being sympathetic.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am merely repeating what the widow, Mrs. Ferris, said to me. [Interruption.] If the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) who has served in Northern Ireland and changed the name of Londonderry to Derry wishes to heckle, let him do so, but I challenge him to come and meet the widow face to face. I am merely repeating what she said to me on the telephone.
§ Mr. Scott
I suppose that I have to believe the hon. Gentleman, but having heard in the immediate aftermath of the escape some of the "cast-iron" allegations about dummies in watchtowers and other nonsensical things which proved utterly wrong, I beg leave to wait until I do meet Mrs. Ferris before I decide.
Finally, as is right and proper in a debate of this kind, the points made have been divided between those looking back and those looking forward to see what lessons can be learned from this terrible experience and to do everything humanly possible to ensure that it does not happen again. It is on the latter note that I wish to end my remarks.
When presented with a report of this kind it is easy merely to highlight the deficiencies, shortcomings and failings of individuals and groups. I hope that that will not blind us to the notable report of the Northern Ireland prison service in coping with the unique pressures of its task—pressures which, as we have been reminded today, have included assassination, violence and intimidation to officers and their families. There are 80 times as many serious risk prisoners per capita as in the British prison system. Three-quarters of the prisoners are in custody for terrorist-type offences. Many are young and face long sentences and are consequently far more difficult to control. A high percentage are still strongly committed to their paramilitary organisations and intent on bending the prison system to their will. There have been the pressures of coping with the blanket and dirty protests, the hunger strike and the campaign for segregation. The Northern Ireland prison service has had to be rapidly expanded to meet the needs and pressures of the troubles and, as a result, is much less experienced than other comparable services. But I want today to pay tribute to the courage, dedication and commitment of the vast majority of prison officers in Northern Ireland. In his report Sir James has already paid tribute to the action of the officers who sought bravely to halt the escape. The House will remember, 1111 particularly in the light of the intervention of the hon. Gentleman, that Officer Ferris paid with his life for his dogged bravery. Others were—
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That this House do now adjourn:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 13, Noes 154.1112
|Division No. 158]||[10 pm|
|Beggs, Roy||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|McCusker, Harold||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Maginnis, Ken||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Nicholson, J.||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Mr. William Ross and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Mr. Clifford Forsyth.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Chope, Christopher|
|Alexander, Richard||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Amess, David||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Arnold, Tom||Conway, Derek|
|Ashby, David||Coombs, Simon|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Cope, John|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Couchman, James|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Dicks, Terry|
|Baldry, Anthony||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bellingham, Henry||Dover, Denshore|
|Benyon, William||Eggar, Tim|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Body, Richard||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fallon, Michael|
|Bottomley, Peter||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Forth, Eric|
|Burt, Alistair||Fox, Marcus|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Butterfill, John||Freeman, Roger|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Galley, Roy|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Chapman, Sydney||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Gow, Ian||Merchant, Piers|
|Gregory, Conal||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Ground, Patrick||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Moate, Roger|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Harris, David||Needham, Richard|
|Harvey, Robert||Neubert, Michael|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Newton, Tony|
|Hawksley, Warren||Norris, Steven|
|Hayes, J.||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hayward, Robert||Osborn, Sir John|
|Heddle, John||Ottaway, Richard|
|Henderson, Barry||Page, John (Harrow W)|
|Hickmet, Richard||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Holt, Richard||Pollock, Alexander|
|Howard, Michael||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Powley, John|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Hunter, Andrew||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Jackson, Robert||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Raffan, Keith|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Key, Robert||Rhodes James, Robert|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Knowles, Michael||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Latham, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Scott, Nicholas|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Silvester, Fred|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Sims, Roger|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lightbown, David||Speed, Keith|
|Lilley, Peter||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Luce, Richard||Sumberg, David|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Maclean, David John.||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Madel, David||Thurnham, Peter|
|Major, John||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Malins, Humfrey||Wilkinson, John|
|Maples, John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Marland, Paul||Wood, Timothy|
|Mates, Michael||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Maude, Francis||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Mr. Douglas Hogg and|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Mr. Ian Lang.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.