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Written Statements

Volume 491: debated on Monday 20 April 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 20 April 2009


EU Co-operation Agreements (Tobacco Manufacturers)

Today the United Kingdom signed: (1) the anti-contraband and anti-counterfeit agreement and general release between the European Community, the member states and the Philip Morris group of companies; and (2) the co-operation agreement between the European Community, the member states and the Japan Tobacco International group of companies. The texts of the agreements are published on the website of the European Commission Anti-Fraud Office.

Home Department

Consultation Documents

On Friday 17 April I published a consultation paper entitled “Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Consolidating Orders and Codes of Practice”. Today I have published consultations on “Working Together to Protect Crowded Places” and “Safer Places: A Counter Terrorism Supplement”.

I will make copies of each of these consultations available in the Vote Office and place copies in the Library of the House.

Language Analysis (Race Relations Act 1976)

I have made an authorisation under section 19D of the Race Relations Act 1976 as amended, to enable the Secretary of State to request that asylum applicants claiming to be nationals of Afghanistan submit to language analysis.

Language analysis carried out for some Afghan asylum applicants demonstrates that significant proportions of those tested have claimed to be of a nationality, or from a region or grouping, that is not their own in order to try to gain residence in this country. This authorisation will assist the Secretary of State to make decisions in individual Afghan cases, and to ascertain the extent of abuse within this nationality.

The Secretary of State may take a refusal to submit to testing into account when determining whether an applicant has assisted in establishing the facts of his case or her case.

The authorisation will remain in place for 12 months (until April 2010), at which point we will review whether it is still necessary and appropriate.

I am placing copies of the authorisation in the Libraries of both Houses.


HMP Ashwell

A serious disturbance involving over 400 prisoners took place at HMP Ashwell, near Oakham in Rutland on Saturday 11 April. HMP Ashwell is a category C training prison. HMP Ashwell was originally an open prison fenced to upgrade it to category C in the 1980s. The older part of the prison held 425 prisoners in non-cellular; the rooms the prisoners were held in do not have bars or grille gates to secure them. The newer part of the prison held 194 prisoners in cellular accommodation. The disturbance was entirely within the insecure old prison site. The cellular accommodation was not damaged and is still in use.

The disturbance began at 01.00 am and ended at 10.45 pm on the same day. The Silver Command suite at the prison and the Gold Command suite at NOMS HQ in London, which can quickly call on national resources to handle serious incidents, was swiftly opened, and Ministers were informed.

The incident started with a young prisoner, aged 22 serving a three-year sentence, confronting staff and when ordered to return to his room refusing and beginning to cause damage and being joined by others. This quickly escalated. Staff initially secured the office and then evacuated from the old part of the prison. No member of staff was injured or directly attacked. Once staff had withdrawn, the damage continued with fires lit and fittings and fabric smashed and damaged.

Riot trained prison officers were called out and the police very promptly secured the perimeter. Intervention did not take place because there was no available accommodation in which to secure the perpetrators. Instead escort vans were directed to the prison and a planned removal of 424 prisoners to 26 other prisons took place during the afternoon and evening of Saturday 11 April. This was a well executed operation with a final sweep of the prison by riot trained officers identifying and removing the three remaining prisoners who had not come forward to be evacuated.

The incident finished at around 10.30 pm when all prisoners were accounted for. No staff were injured or directly attacked and there were minor injuries to only three prisoners.

The damage done to three of the old wings appears to be substantial although the rest of the prison is either undamaged or sustained superficial damage.

The Gold Command suite at NOMS headquarters in London remained open until 2.30 am on 12 April to double check that all named individual prisoners transferred out were accounted for and to verify that the roll at Ashwell, as confirmed by the Governor at 10.30 pm, was correct.

The events at Ashwell are now the subject of a police investigation and a large proportion of the site remains a crime scene. There is a continuing prison service investigation, which will be scrutinised by a committee of the corporate management board of the Ministry of Justice and by Ministers, who will consider what further action needs to be taken. I will make the findings of the investigation and our conclusions on it available to the House in due course.

At the time of the disturbance Ashwell held 611 prisoners against its operational capacity of 619.

There was a full complement of night staff on duty. There have been no recent reductions in operational staffing levels or reductions to regime.

There has been speculation that the prison held prisoners other than category C. This was not the case. All the prisoners in Ashwell were assessed as category C prisoners.

This disturbance was brought to a conclusion by the skill and courage of a wide range of committed professionals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already publicly thanked not only the National Offender Management Service staff at Ashwell, at the establishments who provided “Tornado” (riot trained prison officers) support and those prisons who received prisoners at short notice, but also national resources, escort services and colleagues who staffed the Gold and Silver Command suites. Thanks have also gone to the local Police and Fire Services and to staff at Leicester Royal Infirmary. My noble Friend Lord Bach visited the site on Saturday evening and I visited HMP Ashwell on Sunday 12 April. We were both most impressed with the work already under way to deal with the impact of the incident.

The public should be re-assured that on the rare occasions when incidents such as this happen, there are such professional and dedicated staff from many agencies acting to protect them. The incident at HMP Ashwell was well managed and the public were not put at risk; no prisoners escaped and no staff were injured.

Prime Minister

NATO Summit

I attended the Summit meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government in Strasbourg and Kehl from 3 to 4 April 2009, accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary.

The Summit marked the 60th anniversary of the Alliance. Leaders welcomed President Sarkozy’s decision to bring France back into NATO’s military structures and welcomed Croatia and Albania as new members of the Alliance. We unanimously appointed former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next Secretary-General.

Sixty years on from the signature of the North Atlantic Treaty, the defining security issue of our time for NATO, and the biggest endeavour in which NATO is engaged, is Afghanistan. Leaders paid tribute to the courage, dedication and professionalism of our forces, serving on behalf of their country and the Alliance in difficult and dangerous conditions. We reaffirmed their commitment to establishing security in Afghanistan—vital to the stability of the region as well as to our national security of NATO members—and to working with the Afghan Government to build a stable, democratic Afghanistan for the future. With presidential elections due in the next few months, Allies committed to strengthen our efforts on security in this crucial period. I reaffirmed the UK’s continued commitment to Afghanistan where we will remain the second largest troop contributor. I made clear that we are prepared to send additional troops to Afghanistan as part of the wider NATO effort to strengthen security over the elections as well as to ensure that our forces are properly protected from the growing threat from roadside bombs. Many other nations agreed to provide additional support: Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Poland, Turkey and Croatia all committed to increase their contributions, demonstrating that burden-sharing over the critical electoral period will be a reality.

Allies also committed to a series of new initiatives to continue the gradual shift of focus of our military effort towards training and mentoring the Afghan security forces, including a new NATO training mission in Afghanistan and deployment of additional trainers and mentors for the Afghan police. Leaders welcomed President Obama’s decision to deploy an extra 4,000 troops to Afghanistan dedicated to training. The UK will also contribute to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund and make a further contribution to the UK-France helicopter initiative which is set to increase the numbers of NATO helicopters in Afghanistan over the next two years.

As the UK has made clear previously and as was emphasised in the bold new vision for Afghanistan and Pakistan set out by President Obama at the Summit, success cannot be delivered by military force alone. We must also strengthen our civilian efforts, working with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance at national, provincial, and district level, and to provide the support necessary for economic development. We look to President Karzai’s Government to continue and enhance its work to tackle corruption and the drugs trade.

Leaders also discussed the future of the Alliance and set out a radical plan to transform NATO to reflect the security challenges of the 21st Century. The Declaration on Alliance Security agreed at the Summit will initiate work to revise NATO’s strategic concept. This will be a crucial opportunity to drive forward the reform and modernisation of NATO and its capabilities, building on the progress achieved at the London Ministerial on reform hosted by the UK last year. I also set out a British proposal to establish a new Alliance Solidarity Force, which will be a multinational force approximately 1,500 strong, drawn from the existing NATO response forces, capable of being deployed more rapidly than current response forces on operations involving territorial defence and overseas crisis management.

The new Secretary-General will have a critical role in driving forward this agenda for change. The UK will work closely with him, and with all our Allies between now and the next Summit, which will be held in Portugal, to ensure that NATO continues to deliver security at home and operational success overseas.