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Forestry and Sustainable Development

Lord Gordon of Strathblane asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): We have today published a supplementary consultation paper called The Sustainable Management of Forests, and a copy is available in the Library. Comments are invited on how forestry can contribute to sustainable development, and these should be sent to the Forestry Commission before 11 September.

Powers of Entry without Warrant

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The police may enter private property without a warrant in certain circumstances set out in Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. They include arresting a person for an arrestable offence, recapturing a person unlawfully at large, saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property.

Statutory powers of entry for persons other than police constables are matters for the government department responsible for the relevant legislation. A central record of all powers of entry is not maintained.

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Secure Accommodation for Juveniles

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What provision there is for secure accommodation for juveniles.[HL2999]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Crime and Disorder Bill will provide courts with more appropriate custodial remand and sentencing powers to deal with the most serious and persistent young offenders. To complement these changes, the Government have undertaken a review of all forms of secure accommodation for young offenders and young people held on remand. The Government believe that present arrangements for the provision and management of secure accommodation are inefficient and incoherent and are in need of reform. The review of juvenile secure accommodation was completed at the end of March and the Government have decided now on a programme of further work to be undertaken, a summary of which has been placed in the Library.

The main focus of this further work involves extending the role of the new Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, expected to be in place by October this year. The Crime and Disorder Bill already provides for the Youth Justice Board to advise on the setting of standards for secure accommodation for remanded and sentenced juveniles and to monitor the delivery of those standards. The Government have decided in principle to extend this role to include the commissioning and purchasing of secure accommodation for juveniles on remand and under sentence. This additional function will enable the Youth Justice Board to provide a much-needed central focus for the delivery of high quality secure facilities for remanded and sentenced young people. Subject to the outcome of further detailed work, the Government envisage that it should be possible for the Youth Justice Board to take on the function of commissioning and purchasing secure accommodation by April 2000. This will involve making an order under Clause 42(6) of the Crime and Disorder Bill.

A priority for immediate action is to improve the standard of care and quality of regimes in accommodation currently used for those remanded and sentenced as juveniles. Ninety per cent. of these young people are held in Prison Service accommodation. The Prison Service is already working on the development of new regime standards for juveniles and is planning to pilot improved regimes in two establishments, Werrington and Huntercombe Young Offender Institutions. Proposals to help achieve greater separation of juveniles from adult prisoners are also being taken forward. This work will pave the way for the introduction of the detention and training order contained in the Crime and Disorder Bill, which will involve a programme of improved education and training to tackle offending behaviour, undertaken partly in custody and partly in the community.

The Government plan to set out their detailed proposals on the future role of the Youth Justice Board in respect of secure accommodation early next year.

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Prisoners: Release on Temporary Licence

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the outcome of the review of arrangements for the release of prisoners on temporary licence.[HL3004]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Following a review initiated by the Director General of the Prison Service, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided to make a number of changes to the arrangements for release of prisoners on temporary licence, to support the Government's policy of developing constructive regimes for prisoners. The current system, put in place in 1995, has significantly reduced the numbers of temporary release failures, and the stringent risk assessment process will remain in place in order to ensure protection of the public. The Prisoners (Return to Custody) Act 1995 made it an offence to fail to return to custody after a period of temporary release. However, the current system places too great a limit on opportunities for governors to develop activities aimed at supporting constructive regimes and preparing prisoners for resettlement in the community.

From 1 September, governors will be able to develop challenging activities for young offenders outside the establishment, including schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Young offenders will be allowed limited participation in team sports in the community, where they are able to represent the establishment and build local contacts. Many establishments already undertake reparational and community work, and overnight stays away from the establishment will be permitted for selected young offenders where this is necessary to support such projects.

A number of measures will assist prisoners in finding work or training on release and in maintaining family ties, factors central to reducing reoffending. Short term young offenders will be eligible for release on facility licence for interviews to obtain housing or employment on release, and for hostel assessments. Prisoners aged 18-24 will be eligible for release on facility licence, including overnight stays where necessary, for employment related interviews under the Government's New Deal scheme. Further opportunities will be made available, for both adult prisoners and young offenders, to gain experience of employment prior to release. The current restrictions on prisoners obtaining paid work in this community will be amended to allow governors greater freedom to develop "working out" schemes, to allow prisoners experience of regular employment. Release on resettlement licence will also be extended for young offenders once they have reached the latter stages of their sentences to assist in their resettlement in the community.

Consideration will be given to extending some of these changes to all adult prisoners if the evaluation suggests that it is safe to do so.

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A copy of the relevant Prison Service Instruction, giving full details of the changes, will be placed in the Library.

Criminal Memoirs: The Mary Bell Case

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the investigation into Home Office officials' handling of the Mary Bell case.[HL3003]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has now received the Permanent Secretary's report into the circumstances in which Home Office officials had for some time known of the possibility of a book from which Mary Bell would profit financially but had not informed Ministers. This was, at his request, an investigation to identify lessons for the future, not a disciplinary inquiry.

Since her release in 1980, Mary Bell has remained under life licence under the supervision of the probation service. Throughout this period, officials in the Home Office Lifer Review Unit have received regular reports from the probation officers responsible for her supervision. These have frequently included accounts of attempts by literary agents and the media to induce her for substantial sums to tell her story. Indeed, there are records of such approaches to her even before she left prison.

The probation service is responsible for supervising those subject to life licence and for reporting, on a regular basis, on each individual to the Lifer Unit on their progress. The service has a particular responsibility to ensure that the public is protected from people who have previously committed very serious offences. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation has received a copy of the report of the investigation carried out by the Chief Probation Officer of the Durham Probation Service into their handling of Mary Bell's case, and offered my right honourable friend his own independent assessment of it. In the light of this, my right honourable friend is satisfied that the probation service kept Home Office officials properly informed of the plans to publish a book. Given the exceptional difficulties of the case, it is also clear that the service has played a major and positive role in helping Mary Bell keep to the conditions of her licence in the 18 years since her release.

Between 1984 and 1987, Home Office officials were informed that Mary Bell had become interested in producing her own account and had spent some time preparing a manuscript. The supervising probation officer notified them of discussions with a literary agent in 1985 about a possible autobiography. Officials advised the probation officer that the Home Office did not favour publication but had no power to prevent it and would not attempt to put pressure on Mary Bell. Ministers were not informed of these developments and, in the event, the project foundered. Officials heard no more about the possibility of a book until August 1995, when they were informed of her renewed interest in producing her own account.

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The probation service notified officials in January 1996 that serious negotiations were under way between Mary Bell, Gitta Sereny and a literary agent. In July, they were informed that a contract had been signed and an advance payment made. Officials responded to these developments along the same lines as their predecessors more than a decade previously--namely, by questioning the wisdom of the venture but confirming, correctly, that they had no power to prevent it. Great care was taken throughout to try to protect, through maintenance of an injunction long in force, the anonymity of Mary Bell and her family, in the interests of her young daughter.

Following a probation service letter of 6 March this year, advising that the book would appear shortly and was likely to arouse controversy, officials recognised the need to forewarn Ministers. Because their information was that serialisation of the book would not begin until 2 May, they did not, in the event, do so until 23 April, by which time (unbeknown to them) news of the book was already emerging. The initial briefing to Ministers concentrated on the contents of the book, and did not make it clear that officials and the probation service had known about the contract from the outset. Ministers were given a full brief on the history of the case only on 30 April, the day after newspaper serialisation had started and some days after widespread controversy had arisen over the financial benefit to Mary Bell.

The Lifer Unit of the Prison Service Headquarters is responsible for casework on nearly 4,000 life sentence prisoners and around a further 800 lifers now on supervision under licence in the community. Their primary task is to ensure that the lifer system operates in a way which minimises risk to the public. They bear a heavy load and my right honourable friend is satisfied that he has been very well served--as, he believes, have his predecessors--by the conscientious advice they provide on the exercise of his statutory powers in individual cases. The possibility of financial benefit to Mary Bell for a book about her crimes did not involve questions of public risk or any breach of the law or the terms of her life licence. Officials accordingly concluded, as early as 1985, that there was nothing they could do to prevent it and did not therefore believe it necessary to submit to Ministers.

Ministers are entitled to expect that officials will try to spot events involving their cases which are likely to arouse controversy and provoke concern over the adequacy of the law. My right honourable friend believes that officials acted in this case throughout in good faith and in accordance with a correct interpretation of the law. With hindsight, it is clear that there were a number of occasions on which Ministers might reasonably have been informed of developments in the Mary Bell case. The Permanent Secretary has accordingly recommended to my right honourable friend procedural and other improvements which will help to guide Home Office staff in assessing future cases where Ministers may need to be kept informed of developments, even where there is no question of the exercise by them of statutory powers. He and the Director General of the Prison Service are specifically preparing revised internal operating procedures for the

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handling of lifer cases and arranging for supplementary guidance to be provided to lifer caseworkers and supervising probation officers.

My right honourable friend has asked officials separately to consider whether the law relating to criminal memoirs might sensibly be strengthened.

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