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Criminal Records Bureau

2. Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Criminal Records Bureau. [156021]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): The establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau is being closely managed and monitored and the bureau will operate to high service standards, which will be published. We expect it to begin issuing the higher levels of disclosure documents in the autumn, subject to its systems and processes having been proved under test and pilot conditions and having been shown to be capable of delivering the required level of service to its customers.

Mr. Jenkins: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I also pass on the thanks of the voluntary groups and organisations, because he listened to them and waived the

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charges? However, what plans is he putting in place to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the information going into the system, so that people have greater confidence in the working of that system?

Mr. Clarke: I appreciate my hon. Friend's initial remark. He is right to focus on the accuracy of the data, as Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary did in its report which appeared on the record in July 2000. We entirely share those concerns, as do the Association of Chief Police Officers, the inspectorate and the Information Commissioner, formerly the Data Protection Commissioner. We therefore welcome the work of ACPO in producing a compliance strategy for forces to implement. All forces have been required to submit action plans to the inspectorate, since when the plans have undergone analysis by the inspectorate. Home Office officials and representatives of ACPO and the inspectorate have met the Information Commissioner to map out a plan of further action, which we hope will lead to a very significant improvement.

My hon. Friend has rightly raised a key question, as did the Select Committee on Home Affairs in its report. We are giving the issue the highest priority in the implementation of the Criminal Records Bureau.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): What assessment has the Minister made of the effectiveness of the Prime Minister's crime tsar, Lord Birt, and will we have access to his record of achievement?

Mr. Clarke: As far as I am aware, Lord Birt does not feature in the Criminal Records Bureau which we are discussing now. I have nothing further to add on his report.


3. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): If he will make a statement on his most recent discussions with the chief inspector of prisons about prison conditions in England and Wales. [156022]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I met Sir David Ramsbotham on 5 March to discuss his thematic report on the treatment and conditions of unsentenced prisoners in England and Wales, which was published on 11 December 2000. We discussed a variety of matters to do with conditions in our local prisons.

Mr. Griffiths: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will know about the unannounced visit that the chief inspector made to Parc prison in my constituency, which resulted in the verdict of an excellent recovery after a very rocky start to the life of that private prison. Given that the chief inspector produces reports that show that some prisons do excellent work and that others continue to fail, what discussions did my right hon. Friend have with the chief inspector to try to develop a model of management for the Prison Service that will ensure that best practice is replicated everywhere, and particularly in the prisons that have been failing?

Mr. Boateng: I met Sir David after the inspection of Parc prison, and we meet regularly on a bilateral basis.

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What emerges from his and my view of Parc--I have visited the prison--is that what works is effective partnership between the prison and the local community, and effective management. Those are lessons that the Prison Service--in the public and private sectors--is taking forward. We can all contribute to that, and I am glad that Sir David has, in the course of his inspection and thematic reports, made his own particular contribution.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): Following the adverse report by the chief inspector on Chelmsford prison and following the visit that the Minister and I made to the prison, will the right hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the staff and governor of the prison on the vast improvements that they have made? I hope that, when the chief inspector carries out his next unscheduled visit, his report will be infinitely better than the previous ones.

Mr. Boateng: I am enormously grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the interest that he has shown in his local prisons. It helps greatly when hon. Members get involved. I have every confidence in the management of Chelmsford. It, too, is making important links between the prison and the local community. I hope that that will be reflected in Sir David's subsequent reports.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): How many asylum seekers are being held in prison in England and Wales? Is it not totally inappropriate to hold people in prison conditions who are not accused of and have not committed any crime?

Mr. Boateng: We hold only 1 per cent. of the total number detained at any time in prison. It is a far from ideal circumstance, but we try to ensure that when asylum seekers are held in prison, the conditions and the range of facilities available reflect their particular situation.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Will the prisons Minister confirm that, since 1997, the assault rate of prisoner on prisoner is up and the assault rate of prisoner on staff is up, thus making our prisons more violent; that the percentage of prisoners sharing two to a cell designed for one is up, thus making prisons more overcrowded; that the number of hours spent in purposeful activity is down, thus making prisoners more idle; that slopping out is back on some wings of some prisons, thus making them more degrading; that the number of suicides is up, thus making them more depressing; and that the time spent out of cell is down, meaning that prisoners are locked up in idleness for longer? If, as Churchill said, the measure of a civilised society is how we treat our prisoners, where does this prisons Minister stand in the civilisation stakes?

Mr. Boateng: The right hon. Lady knows very well that in the first two years of our stewardship of the Prison Service, we spent an additional £120 million on prisons for which she did not budget. She also knows that throughout the past four years, we have spent more year on year on education and offending behaviour programmes than her Government ever did. She should also know that this Government are serious about prison

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reform, a task on which her Government successively failed to make any headway. The Conservatives talk about it; we do it.

Miss Widdecombe: The prisons Minister appears to be saying that he has spent an awful lot of money for declining results. The flip side is discipline in prison. Is it true that television in cells is not just for the enhanced levels, but for standard levels; that it is no longer permanently losable as a result of disciplinary action; and that where there are two to a cell, it is not even temporarily losable as a result of disciplinary action? Will the right hon. Gentleman also confirm that prison governors are unable to punish juvenile offenders with loss of remission or extra days and that when they smash up their cells on the last day, which one governor told me is a regular occurrence, there is nothing that the prison authorities can do? Is it not true that the Government have presided over a revolving-door prisons policy that has led to another 1,000 victims of crimes committed by those who should be in jail? Finally, in light of the success of Thorn Cross, what possible justification was there for the early destruction of the high-intensity training unit at Colchester before the research results were known?

Mr. Boateng: The right hon. Lady does not do justice to the seriousness of the issue by approaching it in this way. She knows that her Government introduced televisions into cells and that it is this Government, yes, who expanded the number of prisons with televisions in cells. We did that to ensure that prison governors and staff have a range of inducements and incentives to good behaviour, which are withdrawn if there is a failure in good behaviour. That makes a reality of discipline in prisons. We are not simply relying on cheap rhetoric as a substitute, which is precisely what she does time and time again.

Tower Blocks

4. Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): If he will make a statement on the safety and security of residents in tower blocks. [156023]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The Government are determined to reduce crime and the fear of crime in all residential areas, including those containing tower blocks. Working with local crime and disorder partnerships, we are introducing a range of anti-crime initiatives, such as the installation of closed circuit television and the provision of concierge-controlled entry points. Some £90 million has been allocated to housing- related projects. Some of today's announcements, including new funding for neighbourhood warden schemes, will help to tackle crime in tower blocks.

Mr. Benn: I assure my hon. Friend that Leeds will bid early and bid often for the resources that have been announced today. He mentioned concierge schemes, CCTV and more beat officers, but how does he propose to share information about what works in the use of those funds? That is what the group of elderly residents of a tower block in my constituency, whom I met last Friday,

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want to know, so that they no longer feel afraid as they make the journey from the entrance to their block to the sanctuary of their own front door.

Mr. O'Brien: What works is ensuring that we get the design of tower blocks right. We seek to promote the role of good design in community safety, particularly by the "secured by design" initiative administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers which encourages the adoption of guidelines to improve the security of estates and tower blocks. The scheme offers specific guidance on multistorey dwellings and stresses the importance of controlled access to tower blocks. Research conducted last year on a sample of 50 estates in West Yorkshire revealed crime rates per household which are between 40 and 50 per cent. lower on estates meeting "secured by design" principles. That is one of the key ways in which we hope to ensure that good practice is disseminated.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Talking of tower blocks, what is the latest news in the saga of the Marsham street tower blocks, for which the Home Office is responsible?

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have been considering that issue with great care, and we are anxious to ensure that when the development is complete, it is secured by design.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): Last week, I met a group of residents of Adair Tower in North Kensington whose lives have been made hell by three crack houses. One has been closed down but the other two are still operating. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the tenant management organisation and the police on their close working relationship in dealing with that problem? Will he assure me that he and his team are doing everything possible to give the police the tools to act swiftly against crack houses? In particular, will they consider bringing up to date the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to include crack, to help the police in their work?

Mr. O'Brien: I agree with my hon. Friend's points. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently visited the area with her and met some of the local people involved in tackling those problems, and he will consider the points raised during that visit. I assure my hon. Friend that tackling crack and associated drugs is high on our agenda. We cannot tolerate the behaviour experienced by the residents in her constituency, and we are determined to deal with it.

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