Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the proposed title, which I believe was personally

24 Jan 2000 : Column 1324

selected by the Home Secretary from a list of alternatives, has indeed been greeted with ridicule throughout the criminal justice system? As the Home Secretary changed his mind and was converted on the policy of restricting the availability of jury trial after our debate last week, can the noble Lord say whether he will change his mind again?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate this particular name change when the Crime and Public Protection Bill comes before this House. Noble Lords will then be able to debate the ideas behind the legislation, so there is still some opportunity for further consideration of the matter.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, on the question of representations, will the Minister be good enough to tell the House who has made representations in favour of this name change?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that no representations have been made in favour of the name change. However, given that there are about 17,000 members of staff in the Probation Service, the fact that we have received only 60 representations illustrates that, although the name change may not yet have gained great popularity within the service, there is no significant opposition to it.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how much this extraordinary and stupid name change will cost?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not aware of the additional cost--if any--that this name change will involve.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the new title is cumbersome and easily forgettable, especially among those people to whom it is likely to apply in a rather more personal and direct way? Further, will the noble Lord give consideration to a simpler title like, "Community Justice Service", which I believe many staff in the Probation Service actually favour?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his helpful suggestion in this regard. However, we believe that the proposed name change reflects the kind of change that we are trying to make within the service. That is very important: it is a change in the nature and the culture of the Probation Service to one that will be involved in punishment and rehabilitation, thereby focusing people on challenging their own offending behaviour.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that he gave a ridiculous description of the previous government's policy with regard to the Probation Service? Has he considered the effect on morale of a change of name of this character,

24 Jan 2000 : Column 1325

especially the depressing effect on long-serving members of a service who may feel that the change of name means that their previous service has not been respected? Is there not a read-across here to the RUC and, for that matter, to New Labour?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot possibly agree with those sentiments. I believe that the term "assist and befriend" is taken from the Probation Service Act 1993, so it is actually on the statute book. As for the noble Lord's other comments, I can only say that we have confidence in what we are trying to achieve. We believe it to be right for the service. We also believe that we should re-focus the way that the service works. I cannot agree with the noble Lord's comment about the RUC.

Baroness Hogg: My Lords, what will someone who previously called himself or herself a probation officer now call themselves?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, a community punishment and rehabilitation officer.

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I am sure that there is a good reason, but why was it felt necessary to include the word "punishment" in the new title?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it was felt necessary because we believe that the service should focus on the effects of community sentencing, which is a form of punishment. It is not a soft option. Those matters need to be focused on. That is what the general orientation of the new service is to be.

Deaths in Custody

3 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proportion of those who die in custody are black or Asian.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, for England and Wales, 29 or 12 per cent of those dying in police custody since 1st April 1996 and 52 or 10 per cent of those dying in prisons since 1st January 1996 have been black or Asian. Black and Asian people constitute approximately 5 per cent of the population of England and Wales. However, they form 11 per cent of those arrested and 15 per cent of those in prisons. Many deaths included in the figures are the result of self-harm or natural causes, involve alcohol or drugs, or are included because the definition on the police side extends to cover those who die while trying to evade arrest. Every death in custody is an individual tragedy, but only a small proportion are genuinely contentious.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that helpful reply. Will he further illuminate three areas? Is he aware of concern about the possible use of excessive force and in how

24 Jan 2000 : Column 1326

many of the cases that he mentioned was that alleged? Does my noble friend agree that it would be useful to know in how many cases the deceased was mentally ill? Has indirect discrimination ever been investigated in relation to deaths in any form of custody?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this is a sensitive area. I shall try to answer the questions as best I can. I do not think that we have considered indirect discrimination with regard to deaths in any form of custody. There have been no restraint-related deaths in prison since 1995. Since April 1996 there have been a small number of deaths in police custody where restraint may have been a factor. As to knowing whether many of those in custody suffer from mental health problems, that is undoubtedly the case, but precise statistics in the form requested this afternoon are not available.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister noted that no persons detained in military custody--that is, persons convicted of military offences--have died in custody in the past few years? Would it not be worth the Government investigating the reasons for the vastly better performance in that respect of military custodial sentences over civilian ones?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his useful contribution to the Question. However, it is worth reminding the House that recent reports, particularly the report produced by the Police Complaints Authority, have commended the Police Service on the way in which it has improved the monitoring of those detained and on the effect that has had on the number of deaths in custody. The Prison Service is at this moment busy implementing the findings of a thematic report of April of last year from the inspectorate of prisons which is also designed to improve the way in which deaths in custody are processed and to ensure that the issues which may lead to them are dealt with by the Prison Service.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, presumably a post-mortem is carried out in all these cases. Is there a record of the proportion of those who have died in custody who were under the influence of either drugs or alcohol?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, those figures exist. There are figures as regards self-harm, natural causes and alcohol and drugs. Since 1st April 1996, for example, 53 prisoners in police custody died from alcohol or drugs, 41 died from natural causes and 60 as a result of self-harm. Those are important and telling factors which have a great impact on the statistics. Similar data and figures exist as regards the Prison Service. Rather than bore your Lordships with them this afternoon, I am more than happy to place them in the Library.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, can we take it that the Minister's initial Answer confirms that, if anyone should think or allege that discriminatory

24 Jan 2000 : Column 1327

treatment was a contributory factor in these figures, that would be indirect discrimination as defined by the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill, which we shall discuss again on Thursday?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that may well be the case. We are concerned to ensure that there is no discrimination in the Prison or Police Services. Those are important objectives for the Home Office as part of our modernisation programme.

Race Relations (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 8, Schedules 2 and 3, Clause 9.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Armed Forces Discipline Bill [H.L.]

3.6 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Custody without charge]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page