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Billy Wright Inquiry

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 4 November 2010

On 14 September 2010 I made a statement to this House, publishing the report of the Billy Wright inquiry. The report made three specific recommendations that should be applied to the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS).

In my statement of 14 September, I informed the House that I intended to meet with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, in the week following the publication of the inquiry’s report to discuss the recommendations made by Lord MacLean and his panel. In addition to this meeting I have also discussed the matter with the Justice Minister more recently. Although prisons issues are now, in the main, a devolved matter, it is right that I keep the House informed of progress in regard to the report’s recommendations.

I have now received correspondence from the Justice Minister updating me on progress made in relation to the recommendations and providing me with documentation relating to NIPS’ response to the recommendations made in the inquiry’s report. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

To summarise, in response to the first recommendation relating to the retention of records by NIPS, I am advised that steps have been taken in recent years to provide assurances regarding the retention and disposal of hard copy and electronic files. Details can be found in annex B of the documentation placed in the Library of the House. I am content that this recommendation has been satisfactorily complied with, as I believe is the Justice Minister.

In response to the second recommendation requiring NIPS to satisfy themselves that any relevant lessons from HMP Maze have been learned for HMP Maghaberry, the summary of a recent audit undertaken by the NIPS, and the steps being taken as a result, can be found at annex C of the documentation placed in the Library of the House. Remedial activities will include both physical infrastructure, where it is operationally required, and updating of certain policies and guidance.

The third recommendation invites the Justice Minister to consider whether a process similar to the Patten Commission on policing for Northern Ireland might pave the way for radical change in the way NIPS is managed and how its industrial relations are conducted. I am informed by the Justice Minister that his statement to the Assembly on 21 June 2010—the text of which can be found at annex D of the documentation placed in the Library of the House—relating to a fundamental review of the conditions of detention, management and oversight of all prisons, carried out by an independent team, fulfils the panel’s third recommendation. The Justice Minister also advises me that a strategic efficiency and effectiveness programme is being taken forward by the senior management of NIPS in consultation with the three staff associations. Annex E of the documentation placed in the Library of the House summarises the remit of this programme.

I am grateful to the Justice Minister and the Northern Ireland Prison Service for providing me with this information and I commend their promptness in addressing these important recommendations.