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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debates at various stages of the Bill. I thank in particular those who have supported the Government on crucial issues. I do not wish to speak at length, but I say briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, that the talks are not falling apart. We always expected that there would be difficulties in the final stages, but we do not believe that the talks are falling apart. I do not share the noble Lord's pessimism about the outcome and I appreciate his comments in support of certain of the Prime Minister's endeavours.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked me a number of questions about the report by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper published last Friday on the holding centres. It is not normal for the Government to respond quickly. We regard such reports as important and wish to consider them. We would wish to discuss some of the proposals with the RUC and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the points that he raised.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:
"On 10th December, PIRA prisoner, Liam Averill, escaped from the Maze prison. On the following day, we commissioned an independent inquiry to be undertaken by Martin Narey, the Director of Regimes in the Prison Service for England and Wales. He was asked to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the escape.
"On 27th December, LVF prisoner, Billy Wright, was killed within the Maze prison. We immediately asked Martin Narey to extend the scope of his inquiry to include the circumstances surrounding the murder. In addition, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, was asked immediately to bring forward a full inspection of the Maze.
"Before going on to consider important aspects of the report, I would like to comment on the third serious incident that has occurred in the Maze--the brutal and savage murder of David Keys who was found dead in LVF accommodation on the morning of Sunday, 15th March.
"I very much regret any incident which leads to the loss of life within prison. I am committed to taking all viable steps to prevent a recurrence. But I must be honest and say emphatically that even with the most rigorous and severe prison regimes it is impossible to guarantee that serious incidents will not happen.
"Mr Keys' murder is of course the subject of an RUC investigation and an internal investigation by the Prison Service. However, although Martin Narey had the safety of prisoners continually in mind, the murder raises issues that go beyond the scope of Martin Narey's inquiry. I have therefore asked Sir David Ramsbotham, whose inspection of the Maze began on Monday, 23rd March, to look specifically at the way in which the regime at the Maze impacts on the safety of individual prisoners and to make recommendations.
"As a result of information received during the RUC's investigation, the governor has decided to place LVF prisoners under Prison Rule 32 for the maintenance of good order and discipline. This is not a punishment, but does mean that prisoners are kept in cell for up to 23 hours of the day and have restricted association and privileges. Even this reasonable measure resulted in a number of prisoners refusing prison food and threats to prison staff in an effort to overturn the governor's decision.
"It is important to bear in mind that Mr Keys applied to be transferred to the Maze in full knowledge of the conditions there. However, in future remand prisoners will not move immediately to the Maze but will be held for a longer period in Maghaberry for assessment. This will give the prison authorities more time to be assured about the safety of such a move.
'The Maze contains more than 500 paramilitary prisoners, from five different factions, some violently opposed to one another, living in segregated accommodation and enjoying the support of significant communities outside the prison. It is staffed by prison officers who live in the same communities'.
"Given the small size of Northern Ireland and its small prison estate, the dispersal of paramilitary prisoners is not possible. Instead, the only prudent option is to hold them in one place. Although the concentration of prisoners has many security advantages, there is a price to be paid. It gives the prisoners the opportunity to take concerted action within prison, including against staff.
"I know of no other prison which operates under such difficult circumstances, nor where staff are under such continual threat and pressure. I share Martin Narey's admiration for those who work at the Maze. Despite the difficulties and dangers, for 14 years until December of last year they had contained a difficult population without a single escape.
"Martin Narey has also drawn attention to the support which paramilitary prisoners have outside prison. One important consequence of this has been faced by me and my predecessors. This is the danger that actions taken inside prison, for perfectly sound and defensible penological reasons, may result in disruption and unrest outside prison. Against this background, I am aware that staff and management at the Maze have created conditions of safety and humanity which compare favourably with any other prison in this country and beyond and have been entirely open to impartial observers from outside such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"In the aftermath of the escape and the murders, I am required to make decisions about the security of prisons and prisoners. But, like all my predecessors, I must make decisions which balance the security of custody with the safety of our staff. I must also make decisions which balance the requirements of imprisonment with the wider requirements of public order and public safety.
"In fact, this Government have already taken significant steps to improve security at the Maze prison. In March 1997, a tunnel was found in H Block 7. It was the subject of an inquiry by the previous government carried out by John Steele in the Northern Ireland Office. Following the election of this Government, we have pursued the implementation of the Steele recommendations: specifically morning and evening headcounts are being taken; each day five randomly selected cells per block are being given a fabric check; full block searches are now a weekly feature, one block being searched each Thursday; material coming from stores is now exchanged on a 'new for old' basis. There is now an accurate picture of the amount and nature of these supplies in the blocks; shadow-boards are now in place in each block for handicraft tools and excess tools are removed during searches; all prisoners on inter-block movement are being searched. In addition, there is a programme of physical security measures which has been included in the existing block refurbishment programme. Five blocks have been upgraded to date and work on the remainder is due for completion by mid-August.
"As Martin Narey indicated in his report, changes have already been made. In particular, the governor has taken the initiative to put in place regular full block searches on a random basis; regular security checks of all H-blocks fences; new arrangements for weekend coverage of staffing shortfalls on visits; new arrangements for searching prisoners on visits and for x-raying their parcels; new arrangements for counting visitors at parties.
"As to the remaining recommendations, there are others that will be taken forward immediately now that the report has been published. Other recommendations require an element of detailed consideration and the necessary project teams are being put in place; for example, to look at security of the roofs of the buildings and improved processes for dealing with visitors.
"The issues to be considered vary in their complexity. However, as an assurance of our determination to act upon the recommendations and to tighten security, I undertake to make available to Parliament in three months' time a progress report on implementation. In addition, and going beyond the recommendations, we have set up a security audit team which will begin to work immediately and which will provide the chief executive of the Prison Service with the necessary assurance that changes have been made and are working effectively.
"Finally, I would like to turn to questions about the on-going management of the Maze. Martin Narey has recorded not only a number of lapses in security but has also dealt with wider matters to do with the safe and secure running of the prison. These centre on improving the quality of general management and enhancing staff morale and confidence.
"The report suggests that the shortcomings cannot be attributed to individuals but are instead the result of a slow but long-running deterioration caused by staff fears of the consequences of managing paramilitary prisoners and by the absence of effective middle management. The shortcomings have also emerged because there is no easy way of dealing with the Maze and the difficult prisoners that it contains. The simple truth that Martin Narey acknowledges is that the Maze is different and the policies operated by successive governments--and that we have inherited--have reflected this fact.
"The options open to me are to continue with the status quo, which is unacceptable, or to turn the clock back at the Maze and to reassert the sort of regime which operated during the 1980s. However turning the clock back would be at a price within the prison and within the community that I believe no reasonable person would be prepared to pay. Certainly no previous government have taken a different view.
'the challenge of the Maze is greater than that of any other establishment in the United Kingdom'.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, following the very serious incidents, in the brief time that I have had to glance at the report, it seems to be extremely useful from a senior member of the Prison Service of England and Wales on the more technical aspects, as it were, of the problems. I shall be grateful if the Minister will convey the gratitude of us all to Mr. Narey and his team.
As the Statement said, we all recognise that the Maze is special. It has a special regime. There are no political prisoners in the United Kingdom. All those in the Maze are either convicted of or charged with the most serious offences that it is possible to imagine. But the regime cannot be normal because of the nature of those prisoners. Will the Minister also accept that we all recognise too the influence that the views of Maze prisoners have on opinion outside, although that was considerably built up in importance by the Secretary of State's visit?
However, this is the first of two reports. We await also the Ramsbotham Report on the later incident and death and wider aspects which he will examine. Will the Ramsbotham Report be published, so far as security considerations will allow?
I should tell the Minister that I remember very well some of the very serious threats that were made to prison officers, the deaths of prison officers and the immense courage of all the members of the Northern Ireland Prison Service in carrying out their duties and, indeed, in being prepared to take on the duties which they undertake, particularly at the Maze but throughout the service.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Narey for this report and I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in that respect. His report is full of sensible recommendations. As the Minister said when he read the Statement, there are 59 recommendations. In particular, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State feels that she should report back to us in three months' time on how those recommendations are being implemented.
However, we must face the fact in Parliament that the Maze has been deteriorating over years and that was probably accelerated by the decision in 1994 to withdraw patrols from residential areas. We have a prison which has been moving out of any normal definition of control over a long period. Therefore, that succession of horrifying incidents in the last year cannot be a total surprise and to some extent should be seen as symptoms of a profoundly disordered situation at the Maze.
In the Statement the Secretary of State said that such things happen even in the most severe and rigorous prison regimes. So they do, but no one in the world would describe the Maze as having the most severe and rigorous prison regime. Essentially, it is a place where the prisoners have been determining to far too great an extent how they shall be guarded and supervised. As the Statement rightly says, that has not happened all at once. It has happened over many years.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that being a prison officer at the Maze is a terrible job. The people who do that job deserve our sympathy, as he said. I also have great admiration for their courage, given the threats which they face both inside the Maze and in their communities at home. But that admiration for the staff does not mean that the regime and system operating in the Maze is one in which we can have any confidence whatever. Therefore, I await anxiously the wisdom of Sir David Ramsbotham on what is to be done with the Maze. Will the Minister let us know when it is anticipated that Sir David will report?
Finally--and again I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cope--when is it intended that a new permanent governor will be appointed? However experienced Mr. Mogg is, this cannot be a time for uncertainty in the prison. It needs its own governor on a long-time basis. I see that the report recommends advertising on the mainland. I should have thought that action more urgent than advertising is needed. What about some head hunting? There cannot be that many people in the British Isles capable of being an effective governor of the Maze. It would be nice to believe that there were some urgency in that regard.
Perhaps I may now refer to the Secretary of State's visit to the Maze, which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, mentioned. The Secretary of State did not go there to negotiate; she went there to give some clear facts to the prisoners in the Maze and she did so because she wanted to preserve the peace process. I do not believe that the visit in any way increased the influence of prisoners in the Maze. However, I concede as a general proposition that prisoners in the Maze do have links with their respective groupings or communities and that this is a factor which clearly has to be taken into account. We expect the Ramsbotham report to be published and made available in approximately two months' time. Sir David has moved pretty quickly in his work in Northern Ireland.
As regards what will happen eventually about a new governor for the Maze Prison, I can tell the House that arrangements are in place to recruit a governor and the post has been advertised. However, I am not yet able to give a firm date by which an appointment is likely. Nevertheless, the process has already started. I believe that I have covered all the questions put to me thus far.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is right to acknowledge that the Maze Prison presents to the authorities uniquely difficult challenges, not least because of the ruthless and unceasing attempts to intimidate prison officers that are carried out by highly dangerous and politically driven prisoners? Indeed, in her Statement, the Secretary of State alluded to that fact.
Nevertheless, does the Minister accept that it is of overriding importance that the primary purposes of this prison--namely, to keep prisoners inside, as well, of course, as alive--must be reliably secured by lawful policies, whether those are orthodox or, possibly, unorthodox? That must be the baseline from which the Government assess all policy options that are open to them, not to mention whatever representations may be made to them in the name of the political process. For myself, I never refer to the peace process.
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