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Prisons: Care of Pregnant Women and Babies

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): All women's prisons have received the advice contained in the report by the Prison Service Directorate of Health Care Working Party on Midwifery Services, published in 1992. This report makes a number of recommendations on the care of pregnant women and babies in prison, and, in particular, that all midwifery care for pregnant prisoners should be provided by the local National Health Service community midwifery services.

Four women's prisons have mother and baby units, where some women prisoners with babies may care for them. Guidance on all aspect of mother and baby units is provided to all women's prisons in a detailed booklet. A separate booklet is also available for women prisoners who are interested in applying for a place in a mother and baby unit.

A new health care standard for women's health care is planned to be issued in 1999. This will bring up to date and amplify the requirements for the care of pregnant prisoners and babies in prison.

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Police Surveillance Operations

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have:


    (i) to issue a code of practice required in accordance with Section 101 of Part III of the Police Act 1997;[HL3917]


    (ii) to make an order under Section 96 of the Police Act 1997 specifying the requirements for notifying a Commissioner of authorisations, renewals and cancellations of authorisations.[HL3918]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Part III of the Police Act 1997 provides for a statutorily based system of authorisation for intrusive surveillance operations carried out by the police, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. As required by Section 101 of the Act, before the provisions can be implemented, Parliament must approve an order bringing into force a code of practice for those carrying out functions under the Act. A public consultation exercise on the draft code of practice was carried out last year. Copies of the draft code were sent to over 500 individuals and organisations and 120 additional copies were provided in response to subsequent requests. By the end of the consultation period, 60 responses had been received. We have considered these representations very carefully, seeking to achieve a balance between the operational needs of law enforcement agencies in tackling serious crime and, at the same time, ensuring that adequate safeguards are in place to protect members of the public from unnecessary invasion of their privacy. As a result, we have made a number of changes to the text of the code. In particular:


    there is specific reference to the confidential and sensitive nature of information relating to healthcare, counselling and legally privileged material;


    emphasis is given to the importance of considering the effects of collateral intrusion on those who are not the targets of the authorisation;


    further guidance is provided on when the urgency provisions should be used;


    there is reference to the procedures for ensuring effective control of the handling, storage, processing and destruction of the surveillance

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    product, especially sensitive and confidential material;


    the code now includes an undertaking given by the law enforcement agencies covered by these provisions in relation to spiritual counselling; and


    the requirements for notifications of authorisations, renewals and cancellations have been further refined.

With the appointment of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and Commissioners, we are now in a position to implement the provisions of Part III. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has therefore today laid before Parliament a revised draft code of practice. We intend to bring this document into effect, together with the notification requirements required under Section 96 of the Police Act 1997, as soon as practicable. We will seek approval of these orders by resolution of both Houses of Parliament shortly.

Asylum Applicants: Detention

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they believe that more asylum applicants should be detained, if the space were available in the detention estate and the prison system.[HL3877]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No. There is no wish to detain more asylum applicants before their case is determined. But we do need to make better use of reporting arrangements during the asylum process, and more effective use of detention for those people whose claims have been refused, if they are unwilling to make a voluntary departure from the United Kingdom.

Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture: Allegations

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the allegation by the Medical Foundation that the publication of the Immigration and Nationality Department's Country Information and Policy Unit's country assessments "has served to expose a lack of objectivity, amounting in some cases to misrepresentation, in the Home Office treatment of country background information"; and what is the time-scale for the consultative group which has been appointed to advise on the costs and benefits of an independent documentation centre.[HL3805]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This Government have sought to open up the whole process of country assessment and sought to engage refugee and other asylum interest groups in creating improved and objective country assessments. We have a developing agenda in this area which may in the long term lead to more independent country assessments.

Our current assessments aim to present a neutral, balanced picture as background information for caseworkers deciding asylum applications. They are regularly updated in the light of new information, and in

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the light of comments from external bodies, including the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

The criticism by the foundation is unfair and misrepresents the aim of our assessments. We do not accept that the assessments lack objectivity or that they fail to set out conditions in the countries concerned. We are committed to developing the assessment process in an open, transparent way and our consultative group has helped the key organisations involved in this area to exchange views and learn from each other.

The first revisions of our country assessments will reflect, in particular, comments from group members on the format and content of the human rights section, as well as other more general comments, including on the attribution of source material. The consultative group's report on country information issues, including the merits of an independent documentation centre, is expected to be completed before the end of the year. In view of the open and more constructive engagement which the Government are seeking to build in this area, we would hope that the foundation would be more balanced and fair in its approach in the future.

Benefit Integrity Project

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many people have now had their disability benefits reviewed under the Department of Social Security's Benefit Integrity Project; in how many cases there have been referrals for prosecution for fraud; how many convictions for fraud there have been; and what estimate they have made of the total sum involved in cases of alleged fraud.[HL3844]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The administration of the Benefit Integrity Project is a matter for Peter Mathison, the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Lord Morris of Manchester from the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, Mr. P. Mathison, dated 18 November 1998.

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your recent parliamentary Question asking Her Majesty's Government how many people have now had their disability benefits reviewed under the Department of Social Security's Benefit Integrity Project (BIP); in how many cases there have been referrals for prosecution for fraud; how many convictions for fraud there have been; and what estimate they have made of the total sum involved in cases of alleged fraud.

The purpose of BIP is to identify and put right incorrect payments in Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

As at 30 September 1998, a total of 265,659 cases, including 42,892 renewal cases have been selected for action under BIP. At the same date a total of 137,871 cases have been examined. Of the total cases dealt with, 3,132 have resulted in an increase in benefit, 105,353

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have remained unchanged, 18,120 have resulted in a reduction in benefit and 11,266 have resulted in benefit being stopped.

The total included 29,548 renewal cases, of which 940 have resulted in an increase in benefit, 14,686 have remained unchanged, 8,415 have resulted in a reduction in benefit and 5,507 have resulted in benefit being stopped.

BA carry out investigations into cases of suspected fraud in DLA. One thousand, nine hundred and twenty-nine cases, including 75 cases generated by BIP, were referred up to 31 March 1998. None of the cases generated by BIP have been referred for prosecution.

The Benefit Integrity Project will be replaced by a new system which is fair as well as sensitive. The characteristics of the new system and when and how it will be introduced will be the subject of future discussions with the Disability Benefits Forum. Once the way forward is determined, estimates will be made of the likely costs and savings that may arise from the new system.

I hope you find this reply helpful.


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