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Written Answers

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 24 February 1999

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Written Answers

Wednesday, 24th February 1999.

Coalfield Communities

asked Her Majesty's Government:What steps they have taken to regenerate the coalfield communities; at what cost; and what further measures are in hand to complete this task. [HL1068]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Lord Whitty)

On 1 December 1998 at the Coalfield Conference in Peterlee, County Durham, the Deputy Prime Minister announced a ten year programme to regenerate coalfield communities with an investment package of £354 million over three years. A fuller breakdown of this investment and the further steps to be taken are set out in Making the Difference—A New Start for England's Coalfield Communities: The Government's Response to the Coalfield Task Force Report. Copies of this document have been placed in the Library of the House.

Victim Support

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish their plans to improve services for victims of crime and for witnesses. [HL1226]

The Government are committed to improving the position of victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system. We are increasing very substantially our annual grant to Victim Support to enable them to establish in magistrates' courts a support service for victims, witnesses and other court users to complement the highly successful service they have already established at all Crown Court centres. Up to an additional £2.8 million a year will be provided for this purpose in 1999–2000, rising to up to £4.5 million in 2001–02.We shall also be providing an additional £1.8 million a year from 1999–2000 onwards to enable Victim Support further to develop their community based schemes and the support services provided at the Crown Court.By 2001–02, therefore, our grant to Victim Support will have risen to some £19 million a year, an increase of 50 per cent. over the current figure of £12.7 million. This substantial injection of new money will enable Victim Support to provide a more complete and seamless service for victims and witnesses, from the reporting of the offence through to the conclusion of the case in the courts and, as appropriate, beyond.

Hm Prison Coldingley

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish the report on the internal audit of the contract between the Home Office and Wackenhut (UK) Ltd for the operation of industrial functions at Her Majesty's Prison Coldingley; and whether any disciplinary or criminal proceedings are to he taken against any individuals as a result of this audit. [HL1061]

The report by Prison Service Internal Audit on this matter is an internal management document, concerning actions which are the subject of a disciplinary investigation as well as issues which are subject to discussion with the contractor. It is not intended to publish it. The disciplinary investigation is being conducted by the Director of Dispersal Prisons, who will report back to the Director General of the Prison Service.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether, in the light of experience at Her Majesty's Prison Coldingley, they still believe that contracting out industrial functions is the best way of getting over the rigidity of public sector rules on finance and personnel or whether those rules could be amended so as to allow capital to be raised for investment in plant, stocks, marketing and product development, whilst keeping operations under the control of the Prison Service. [HL1062]

Before contracting out, the industrial operation at Coldingley prison had operated at a significant loss. It was hoped that through contracting out management of the workshops, the contractor would be better placed to win additional external contracts and so move the operation into profit, which would have been shared with the Prison Service. During the contract the contractor was required to bear the losses. The contractor was unable to sustain the losses incurred, and terminated the contract, as it was entitled to do. The Prison Service has contracted out many other operations successfully, and will continue to look for opportunities to contract out, or enter into partnerships with the private sector, where this offers better value than the alternative.

Women Offenders: Sentencing

asked Her Majesty's Government:To what they attribute the rise in the women's prison population between December 1992 when it was 1,353 and December 1998 when it stood at 3,066. [HL1097]

The number of prisoners is determined by the numbers sentenced to imprisonment by the courts and the average lengths of the sentences given.The courts are more likely now to use custodial penalties for females than they were. The proportion of women aged 21 and over found guilty at the Crown Court who were given a custodial sentence increased from 24 per cent. in 1992 to 36 per cent. in 1997, and has been at 37 per cent. since April 1998. Sentence lengths have also increased, from an average 17.7 months for females aged 21 and over sentenced at the Crown Court in 1992, to 19.5 months in the year ending June 1998.There has been an increase in the number of females coming before the courts. The number sentenced to all types of disposals for indictable offences (including triable either way offences) at the Crown Court and at magistrates' courts increased from 40,000 in 1992 to 44,400 in the year ending June 1998.Part of the increase in the numbers sentenced may be explained by a reduction in the use of the caution. During 1992, 61 per cent. of females were cautioned for indictable offences, compared with 51 per cent. in the year ending June 1998.Between 1992 and 1998 the greatest increases in the number of females held as sentenced prisoners by offence were for drug offences (up by 208 per cent. from 260 to 800) and for robbery offences (up by 200 per cent. from 60 to 180). The increase in females sentenced for drug offences accounts for 45 per cent. of the total increase in female sentenced prisoners between 1992 and 1998 (figures for June in each year).Women still form only a small proportion, 4.9 per cent., of the total prison population and remain less likely than men to receive custodial sentences.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will commission research to examine the sentencing of women by courts. [HL1098]

The Home Office regularly monitors the sentencing of female offenders in England and Wales and information is published annually in Criminal Statistics, England and Wales. We also plan to publish a report later this year that will be a comprehensive overview of women and criminal justice.The Home Office has recently published a detailed study comparing the sentencing of men and women, aged 21 or over, for shoplifting, violence and drugs offences in 1991. The results were published in Home Office Research Study 170 and Research Findings 58 in July 1997.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What steps they intend to take to stem the increase in the female prison population.[HL1099]

It is for the courts to decide the appropriate sentence in any individual case, within the statutory limits set by Parliament. We believe that prison must be the right response for those who have committed serious offences and those who pose a danger to the public, such as violent, sexual or persistent offenders. However, prison should be used only where necessary and courts should use community penalties where this will adequately address the offending behavior.

We believe that the courts should have an effective range of sentencing options available to them and that is why we introduced new non-custodial penalties such as drug treatment and testing orders, action plan orders and reparation orders in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

It is obviously important that probation services should provide programmes suitable for women offenders. Under national standards, probation services are already required to periodically review whether they are providing a broad range of community service placements including sufficient places suitable for women.

In July last year the Lord Chief Justice laid down guidance which will help courts decide how to sentence offenders on the borderline between a custodial and non-custodial penalty. The new Sentencing Advisory Panel, established in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, may also be able to provide advice in this area.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What sentencing alternatives to custody suitable for women offenders are available to court. [HL1100]

A custodial sentence may be imposed only where the court is of the opinion that the offence is so serious that only such a sentence can be justified or where only such a sentence would be adequate to protect the public.Where the court is not of that opinion, a wide range of community and financial penalties are available for both male and female offenders.The 1996 report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation entitled

AReview of Probation Service Provision for Women Offenders reinforced the importance of probation services providing a full range of facilities appropriate for women. Some larger services provide "women only" offender programmes, although many are mixed. As part of the Effective Practice Initiative the Inspectorate will be considering how best to monitor provision for the supervision of women offenders in their future inspection arrangements. A programme for women offenders has been selected as one of the three "pathfinder programmes" under this initiative.

Military Corrective Training Centre, Colchester

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will place in the Library of the House the report of Cambridge University's Institute of Criminology on the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester. [HL1104]

It is the Government's intention to publish the report. A copy will be placed in the Library on publication.

Mothers In Prison

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the situation has changed since the 1994 Home Office Survey

Mothers in Prison found that 61 per cent. of women in prison had children under 18 and over 30 per cent. had children under 5; and what consideration they are giving to realistic alternative sentences for mothers. [HL1129]

A survey of 234 women prisoners for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prison's Thematic Review in late 1996 found 66 per cent. of women prisoners were mothers with children under 18 years. Fifty-five per cent. of women had at least one child under 16 years. Estimates based on this survey suggest that around 4,500 children under 16 years have a mother in prison. The same survey found over a third of the mothers had one or more children under five years old.A custodial sentence may be imposed only where the court is of the opinion that the offence is so serious that only such a sentence can be justified or where only such a sentence would be adequate to protect the public.Where the court is not of this opinion, a wide range of community and financial penalties are already available for both male and female offenders. Some larger probation services provide "women only" offender programmes, although many are mixed. As part of the Effective Practice Initiative the Probation Inspectorate will be considering how best to monitor provision for the supervision of women offenders in their future inspection arrangements. A programme for women offenders has been selected as one of the three "pathfinder programmes" under this initiative.

Deportation: Families With Children

asked Her Majesty's Government:What is their policy regarding the deportation of families where there are children who have spent a long time in the United Kingdom. [HL1255]

For a number of years, it has been the practice of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate not to pursue enforcement action against people who have children under 18 living with them who have spent 10 years or more in this country, save in very exceptional circumstances.We have concluded that 10 years is too long a period. Children who have been in this country for several years will be reasonably settled here and may therefore find it difficult to adjust to life abroad. In future, the enforced removal or deportation will not normally be appropriate where there are minor dependent children in the family who have been living in the Untied Kingdom continuously for seven years or more. In most cases, the ties established by children over this period will outweigh other considerations and it is right and fair that the family should be allowed to stay here. However, each case will continue to be considered on its individual merits.

Nato Summit: Washington

asked Her Majesty's Government:What will be their policy at the April 1999 NATO Summit Meeting in Washington towards a comprehensive review of the role of nuclear weapons in the security policy of the Alliance; and what proposals they will make for reduced significance of such weapons in future. [HL978]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

NATO has already responded to the radical changes in the European security environment since 1991 with dramatic reductions in its sub-strategic forces; a significant relaxation of the readiness criteria for nuclear-roled forces; and the termination of standing peacetime nuclear contingency plans.In preparation for the Washington Summit, we are considering with our allies all aspects of NATO security policy, to ensure that it reflects the current security environment.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What proposals they will make at the April 1999 NATO Summit Meeting in Washington concerning the availability of the resources of the alliance to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations for future peace support operations in Europe. [HL979]

NATO has already offered to make available Alliance resources and expertise on a case-by-case basis to the United Nations Security Council and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe for peacekeeping and other operations. For example, in Bosnia, the NATO-led force is working closely with the UN International Police Task Force and OSCE Mission.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What proposals they will make at the April 1999 NATO Summit Meeting in Washington for strengthening the role of the Permanent Joint Council and Partnership for Peace. [HL980]

Her Majesty's Government are working to strengthen the role of the NATO/Russia Permanent Joint Council, the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace within their existing frameworks. NATO has used the first three of these fora for consultations with Russia and other Partners on the situation in the former Yugoslavia and is deepening its military co-operation with Partners under Partnership for Peace. We want more substantial exchanges with Russia in the Permanent Joint Council. There are no plans for new NATO/Russia initiatives at the Washington Summit, but NATO and Partners are developing for the Summit a new framework to involve Partners in consultation and planning for NATO-led operations.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What priority they will give to disarmament and arms control at the April 1999 NATO Summit Meeting in Washington; and what proposals they will make in this respect from small arms through to weapons of mass destruction. [HL982]

Disarmament and arms control are a high priority for the UK. We will be pushing for a reaffirmation by NATO Heads of State and Government at the Washington Summit of the importance of disarmament and arms controls, and the Alliance's support both for existing Treaties and for initiatives allies are taking forward in other fora.

asked Her Majesty's Government:What will be their proposals at the April 1999 NATO Summit in Washington for the future role of the Western European Union including its Parliamentary Assembly in relation to movement in the European Union towards a common foreign and security policy. [HL983]

The NATO Summit will complete the implementation of the 1996 Berlin decisions to develop a European Security and Defence Identity within NATO. We hope the Summit will continue the process of strengthening the European contribution to NATO, in parallel with work underway in the WEU and EU to develop the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Government remains committed to proper scrutiny of developments in this area by bodies such as the WEU Assembly.

Iraq: Us Policy

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether United States proposals to topple Saddam Hussein are compatible with the text of the Security Council Resolution 1205 (1998), in which the words are found "reiterating the commitment of all member states to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Kuwait and Iraq". [HL998]

Questions about US policy on Iraq should be directed to the US Government.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have been consulted by the United States Administration on:

  • (a) the desirability of financially and militarily supporting Iraqi opposition groups to secure the dismantling of Iraq, as the United States Secretary of State has been advocating to governments in the Middle East; and
  • (b) the undesirability of dismantling Iraq, as urged in evidence to the United States Congress by the United States Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in the Middle East, General Zinni;
  • and what long-term policy British military activity in Iraq is intended to support. [HL999]

    Her Majesty's Government have consultation with the US over a range of issues relating to Iraq. The long-term aim of British policy towards Iraq is full Iraqi compliance with the relevant Security Council Resolutions.

    Nigeria: Support For Electoral Process

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What practical measures they are taking to support the electoral process in Nigeria. [HL195]

    Her Majesty's Government fully support the democratic process in Nigeria. The FCO and DfID have spent around £900,000 on projects to support the electoral process.The FCO have funded a BBC World Service project on responsible journalism and voter education. We are working with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to provide training for the new political parties and politicians. We have helped pay the cost of freighting ballot papers to Nigeria.We have funded a Commonwealth team which has provided training to electoral officials. With the UN and EU, we are providing observers to the National Assembly and Presidential elections on 20 and 27 February.DfID involvement has covered a wide number of projects. These include: a Commonwealth Local Government Forum observer mission; training for up to 1,200 local election monitors; a seminar to discuss the draft constitution; and the production of a manual for polling officials.

    Submarines And Mine Clearance Diving: Employment Of Women

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the outcome of their review of the possible employment of women in submarines and in mine clearance diving. [HL1256]

    In the course of the Strategic Defence Review we examined the possibilities for maximising opportunities for women in each of the Services, consistent with maintaining our combat effectiveness. The results of this work were set out in the report on the Strategic Defence Review, Cmd 2999, in which we also announced our intention to review the exclusion of women from service in submarines and Royal Navy mine clearance work.We have now completed our review of these matters and have concluded that we should maintain our policy of excluding women from service in submarines and mine clearance diving for medical reasons.

    In reaching this conclusion we considered all the evidence very carefully and looked hard for options which might enable us to open service in submarines to women despite the medical risks involved. We are not able, however, to put to one side the MOD's statutory duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

    All RN submarines currently in service may remain submerged for up to 90 days for operational reasons. In the course of such deployments, contaminants build up in the internal atmosphere. Although there is careful control of the materials allowed aboard and atmospheric filtration, the build up of contaminants such as carbon dioxide in this closed environment cannot be prevented. Such an atmosphere is not harmful to adults, but medical studies by the Institute of Naval Medicine show that for some contaminants the levels exceed those considered safe for the foetus of a pregnant woman, and can also place the woman's health at risk. In other cases there is insufficient data available for us confidently to recommend with confidence maximum exposure limits which would prevent harm to the foetus and the woman.

    A woman, in the first days after conception, may not be aware that she is pregnant. If she were serving in a submarine there is, therefore, at least the possibility that she might unknowingly expose her unborn child to levels of contamination above those considered safe. Even if some women were prepared to accept the risks and volunteer to serve in submarines, the Government could not compromise its duty of care by allowing them to do so.

    In the specialised area of mine clearance diving, where there are far fewer posts involved, an unborn child and its mother could be exposed to substantial medical risks caused, in this case by the very high pressures to which these divers are subjected. As far as women who are not pregnant are concerned, the medical risks are less well understood, but there may be a risk to a woman during menstruation. We have accepted the medical advice that women should, therefore, be excluded from working as mine clearance divers at least until more definitive medical advice is available.

    The Government and the Armed Forces are determined that the widest possible employment opportunities should be available to women in the Armed Forces. The position on service in submarines and mine diving clearance will, therefore, be kept under review.

    Land Command Order Of Battle

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Following the Strategic Defence Review, what is the revised Order of Battle for HQ Land Command; and whether a diagram illustrating the revised Order of Battle could be provided. [HL946]

    Following the Strategic Defence Review, the Order of Battle for Land Command will be two deployable divisions and four regional divisions. The deployable divisions will be:1st (United Kingdom) Armoured division based in Germany, consisting of three armoured brigades, 4, 7 and 20;3rd (United Kingdom) Mechanised Division based in the UK, consisting of three Mechanised Brigades, 1, 12 and 19.The regional divisions will be:2 Division consisting of 15 (Northeast), 42 (Northwest), 51 (Highland) and 52 (Lowland) Brigades;4 Division consisting of London District and 2 (Southeast), 49 (East) and 145 (Home Counties) Brigades;5 Division consisting of 43 (Wessex), 143 (West Midlands), 107 (Ulster) and 160 (Wales) Brigades;United Kingdom Support Command (Germany).There will also be 2 (National Communications) Signal Brigade and nine deployable Brigade-sized formations:

    • 16 Air Assault Brigade;
    • Combat Service Support Group (United Kingdom);
    • 1 Artillery Brigade;
    • 7 Air Defence Brigade;
    • 12 (Air Support) Engineer Brigade;
    • 29 (Corps Support) Engineer Brigade;
    • 1 Signal Brigade;
    • 11 Signal Brigade.

    In addition, there will be six overseas detachments:

    • British Army Training Unit Suffield and British Army Training Support Unit Wainwright in Canada;
    • British Army Training Support Unit, Belize;
    • British Army Training and Liaison Staff Kenya in Nairobi;
    • British Gurkhas, Nepal;
    • Brunei Garrison.

    I am sending a copy of a diagram illustrating the Order of Battle to my noble friend. Further copies will be available in the Library of the House.

    Muslim Children In Care

    asked Her Majesty's Government:How many Muslim children are in local authority care; and how many are awaiting adoption or foster-care. [HL1191]

    Information about the religious faith of children who are looked after by local authorities or the faith of their parents is not held centrally.

    Less Favoured Areas

    asked Her Majesty's Government:What steps they are taking to ensure that in less favoured areas of the country viable rural communities, sustainable farming and good forest management are maintained: and what contribution the Government are prepared to make over and above the European Community contributions to achieve such ends. [HL101]

    The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
    (Lord Donoughue)

    Dedicated support for farmers in the Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) of the United Kingdom is provided through the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances (HLCA) scheme. The scheme is designed to help sustain the economies and environment of these rural areas and is largely nationally funded, with the EU contributing about 25 per cent. of the total cost. An extra £60 million was provided for HLCAs as part of the Government's special aid package for the livestock sector announced last November, taking total expenditure this year to £170 million. Farmers in the LFAs also receive other subsidies worth over £500 million a year. The Government's plans to make the HLCA scheme more effective in meeting both social and environmental concerns will be taken forward in the context of the Agenda 2000 proposals for reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.The Government's approach to sustainable forestry is set out in the UK Forestry Standard which was published last year. The Forestry Commission offers advice and incentives under the Woodland Grant Scheme to encourage landowners to manage their woodlands in accordance with the Standard.

    Bse Inquiry

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they expect the BSE Inquiry to be completed by 30 June. [HL1136]

    The Committee of Inquiry has indicated that it needs an extension of time beyond 30 June 1999 in order to enable it to complete its work. Discussions are under way on the additional period that will be required to allow the Inquiry to do this. A further announcement will be made as soon as possible.

    India And Pakistan: Aid And Compliance With Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

    asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the provision of aid to India and Pakistan is intended to be linked to compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. [HL1153]

    The Government's guiding principle in relation to the provision of aid to these countries following the 1998 nuclear tests has been that all new commitments should be carefully re-examined but the poor of India and Pakistan should not be punished for the action of their government. Virtually all our bilateral assistance to India and Pakistan is poverty focused and we have therefore decided, following a careful review, that it should continue.For lending by international financial institutions (IFIs), the situation is set out in the G8 Communiquéof 12 June as follows:"We do not wish to punish the peoples of India or Pakistan as a result of actions by their governments, and we will therefore not oppose loans by international financial institutions to the two countries to meet basic human needs. We agree, however. to work for a postponement in consideration of other loans in the World Bank and other international financial institutions to India and Paksitan, and to any other country that will conduct nuclear tests."In response to Pakistan's severe fiscal crisis Board agreement was given in January to an IMF/World Bank economic reform package. In the case of India, we continue to consider proposals on a case-by-case basis against the basic human needs criteria.