asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent representation he has received about conditions in the H-blocks at the Maze prison; and if he will make a statement.
Over recent months, I have received various representations from individuals and interested organisations about conditions in the cell blocks where the protest against the refusal of special category status for convicted prisoners is taking place.Some 330 prisoners are still fouling their cells as part of their protest. The cells are cleaned regularly but are promptly dirtied again. I must continue to make it clear that neither this bizarre protest in the prison, nor any other form of protest action, will deflect us from our determination to phase out special category status and to treat all convicted criminals alike.
In view of the representations which Members of this House have received, especially the allegations of maltreatment, including beatings and deprivation of adequate food, and the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to consider certain complaints, will my right hon. Friend conduct an urgent inquiry into this matter and allow an all-party delegation of Members of Parliament to visit the prison to see conditions for themselves? Failure to do so will lead to further allegations of a massive cover-up.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend thinks like that. He must understand from my original answer that the conditions referred to are self-imposed by the prisoners and could be put in the class of self-inflicted wounds. It is a propaganda exercise, not about the conditions in the cells but about the abandoning of our policy of ending special category status. I keep under review the question of visits to the prisons but at present, while this propaganda exercise is being perpetrated, I do not intend to give the prisoners concerned that satisfaction.
Will the Minister of State discourage even piecemeal attempts to extend any degree of special status to convicted criminals?
There is no piecemeal attempt. There is nothing piecemeal about this at all. I can only repeat, and shall go on repeating at every opportunity, that we are not going back to special category status. These prisoners are criminals, and will be treated as such.