Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Under-age Sexual Intercourse

Lord Ashbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The number of prosecutions under Sections 5 and 6 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 forms only part of the picture. The prosecuting authorities can only take action after an offence has been reported to the police and investigated. The number of prosecutions for these offences in 1995 reflects the number of offences notified to the police in that year.

In 1995 the police recorded 178 complaints of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 contrary to Section 5 of the 1956 Act. In 122 cases, the offender was cautioned or found guilty at a court as a result. Of the recorded 1,260 complaints of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 contrary to Section 6 of the 1956 Act,

26 Jan 1998 : Column WA9

603 offenders were cautioned or found guilty at court. These figures demonstrate that when the prosecuting authorities become aware of an allegation of such an offence, they treat it seriously.

Although the number of complaints made to the police and the number of prosecutions have reduced over recent years, the proportion of complaints that result in a caution or conviction has remained fairly constant.

Prisoners in High Risk Categories

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prisoners, both sentenced and on remand, are currently: (a) Category A classification; (b) officially considered to present "exceptional risks"; and (c) subject to closed visits.[HL132]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: On 16 January 1998, 820 prisoners were classified as Category A, with six prisoners classified as exceptional escape risk and subject to closed visits.

Prisoners Held under Special Secure Conditions

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With regard to prisoners held under special secure conditions:
    (a) what is the longest, median and mean length of holding under such conditions (Acheson Report, Recommendation 4);
    (b) whether prisoners now have the right to make written representations asking to be held under more normal conditions;
    (c) whether prisoners are informed of how long they are likely to be held under special secure conditions;
    (d) whether open visits have been restored in all cases, as recommended by the Woodcock and Acheson Reports (paragraph 6.57 and Recommendation 8); and, if not, why not and when they expect such visits to be restored;
    (e) whether sentence planning is now available to all prisoners (Acheson Report, Recommendation 6); and, if not, why not;
    (f) whether regime improvements have been or will be introduced (Acheson Report, Recommendation 7 and paragraph 5.14);
    (g) whether, if prisoners are to continue to be held at Her Majesty's Prisons Full Sutton and Belmarsh under special secure conditions, natural light and the outlook from cells will be improved (Acheson Report, paragraphs 4.6 and 4.9); and
    (h) when they intend to commission further independent reviews of the health of prisoners (Acheson Report, Recommendation 1).[HL133]

Lord Williams of Mostyn:
(a) Of the six prisoners currently held in the Whitemoor Special Secure Unit (SSU), the longest stay is four years five months, the

26 Jan 1998 : Column WA10

median length is two years four months, and the mean length is just under two years one month.
(b) as a matter of existing policy, all prisoners, including those held in SSUs, may make a request or complaint to the Governor or board of visitors relating to their imprisonment, orally or in writing at any time. In addition, prisoners held in SSUs are given the opportunity to make written representations when their cases are coming before the Category A Review Committee. Alternatively, they may instruct their legal representatives to make such representations.
(c) Prisoners are held in SSUs only if they are classified as Category A Exceptional risk of escape. There are no time limits relating to the period of detention in such units. A prisoner's security category and escape risk classification are normally reviewed annually but can be reviewed at any time in the light of information received. Once a prisoner is no longer classified as exceptional risk, he will be moved out of the SSU.
(d) The six exceptional risk category A prisoners held in the SSU at Whitemoor continue to be subject to closed visits, although open visits may be, and have been, granted in exceptional circumstances. This is because there is still no acceptable alternative to closed visits which can guarantee that objects cannot be passed between visitor and prisoner. The policy of mandatory closed visits for exceptional risk prisoners will be kept under review to ensure that it remains the appropriate response to the threat posed by such prisoners.
(e) The overriding consideration in determining the length of time a prisoner spends in a SSU must be security. However, the Operating Standards have been amended to introduce sentence management procedures for SSU prisoners based on a six-monthly review of behaviour, attitude and other relevant factors. As part of the review, staff will identify a number of achievable targets for each prisoner for the following six-month period. The review and targets will provide the sentence plan documentation for SSU prisoners. New arrangements have been put in place for conducting regular reviews of all SSU prisoners. These include collecting the necessary information to inform future sentence planning.
(f) The security constraints imposed by the need to ensure that exceptional risk prisoners do not escape inevitably mean that the regime within SSUs is more restrictive than elsewhere. Within these constraints, the Prison Service continues to review the balance of regimes available to prisoners. Prisoners in SSUs have access to exercise, education, hobbies, limited work, visits, telephones, association and religion. At Whitemoor, currently the only operational SSU, braille transcribing and craftwork have been introduced, and access to physical education has been increased.
(g) The only SSU currently in operation is the one at Whitemoor Prison, which the Acheson Report acknowledged as being the most spacious of the SSUs, with good facilities and plenty of natural light.
(h) The health care received by prisoners in SSUs is comparable to that elsewhere in the Prison Service. In addition, the SSU Operating Standards were amended in January 1997 to incorporate formal reviews of the health of prisoners detained in the SSU every three months.

26 Jan 1998 : Column WA11

"Grand Theft Auto" Computer Game

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have examined the Official UK Playstation Magazine for January 1998, the cover of which portrays the computer game "Grand Theft Auto" with the slogan "Crime Does Pay" and in which pages 92-97 enumerate missions, after vehicles have been stolen, including ferrying drugs, kidnapping, blowing up buildings, killing pedestrians and trying to escape in the ensuing police chases; and, if so, whether they consider that this game will have no effect on the young people who may play it in their homes although it can only be sold legally to adults.[HL160]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have seen the computer magazine to which the noble Lord refers and I share his concern at the publisher's portrayal of the computer game "Grand Theft Auto" with the slogan "Crime Does Pay". This matter has been taken up with the publisher, who has, I understand, received complaints from other sources.

As the noble Lord knows, computer games which are likely to any significant extent to stimulate or encourage crime (or which depict human sexual activity or acts of gross violence) must be submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for classification.

In classifying material, the board is required, under Section 4A of the Video Recordings Act 1984, to have special regard to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers, or through their behaviour to society, by the manner in which the work deals with, inter alia, criminal behaviour or violence. A "potential viewer" includes a child or young person who is likely to view the work if a classification certificate were issued.

The game "Grand Theft Auto" was submitted for classification and was given an 18 certificate by the Board. It is, therefore, considered suitable for supply only to adults. The classification system which I have described has been established to protect young people. Once a computer game has entered the home, however, parents have a responsibility to supervise their children and to ensure that they are not exposed to unsuitable material.

European Council: Powers

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the European Council, as established under Article D of the Treaty of the European Union, is thereby empowered to act without any proposal from the European Commission or the European Parliament and to give its own independent instructions to the Commission.[HL6]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): According to Article D of the Treaty on European Union, "the European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political

26 Jan 1998 : Column WA12

guidelines thereof". The European Council does not require a proposal from the European Parliament or the European Commission before it acts in this way.

In the exercise of its functions under the Community Treaties, the Commission is not subject to instructions from the European Council. It is likely to take account of the general political guidelines defined by the European Council in accordance with Article D. The Commission is represented on the European Council by its President.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page