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21 Jun 2000 : Column WA23

Written Answers

Wednesday, 21st June 2000.

Lord Hoffmann

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Lord Chancellor at any time received representations from the Lord Browne-Wilkinson and other members of the Appellate Committee about Lord Hoffmann during the case of General Pinochet; and, if so, what were those representations.[HL2755]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): Discussions between the Lord Chancellor and the higher judiciary, including the Law Lords, are confidential unless, as a result, any matter arises upon which a statement to the public should be made. I made two such statements in this case: first, my conclusions that the circumstances giving rise to the first decision of the Appellate Committee having to be set aside did not in my judgment call into question Lord Hoffmann's continuing membership of the Appellate Committee; and, secondly, the measures to be taken to ensure that in future there could be no repetition of these circumstances.

Speed Limit Enforcement Cameras: Type Approval

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the length of time taken, in typical cases, for minor modifications to camera equipment used in traffic enforcement to receive type approval.[HL2813]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Modifications to type approved camera equipment are assessed on a case-by-case basis bearing in mind the technical and legal implications of the modification. To quote an average period taken would be misleading, even if the information were available. A minor change to the name of the device would require a new type approval order to be drawn up and signed. Modifications such as software changes could require considerable testing by the Police Scientific Development Branch of the Home Office before type approval could be recommended. Other modifications that do not have any direct bearing on the working of the device may be approved simply by a letter to the manufacturer.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many applications for type approval for camera equipment used in traffic enforcement are awaiting clearance; and how many of these have been waiting for more than three months.[HL2814]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Her Majesty's Government currently hold five applications for type approval of camera equipment, four of which were received more than three months ago. The Police and Scientific Development Branch (PSDB) of the Home Office is responsible for testing and evaluating new speed camera devices. PSDB ensures that all testing is completed as quickly as is practicable so that the police have the best equipment available. But proper and rigorous testing is essential, and applicants can take time to supply the relevant documentation and meet the necessary testing standards.

Life Sentence Prisoners: Copies of Temporary Licences

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Where copies of temporary licences issued to life sentence prisoners are kept; and whether, following unsuccessful application by a prisoner whose reference is B29411 to the Parole Board and the Lifer Unit of Her Majesty's Prison Service for a copy of a temporary licence which he is said to have breached, they will now produce a copy of this document to him.[HL2819]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Copies of all temporary licences issued to life sentence prisoners are kept on file at the prisons where they are issued. A copy is also given to the prisoner for each period of release. The prisoner referred to in the Question has been given a further copy of the relevant temporary release licence.

HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs: Chief Inspector of Prisons' Report

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons will publish the report into the follow-up inspection of Her Majesty's Prison Wormwood Scrubs of 7 to 17 February.[HL2975]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons' report of his unannounced inspection is being published today. Copies have been made available in the Library and the Printed Paper Office.

My noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, the then Minister of State at the Home Office, made a Statement to the House on 28 June 1999 (Official Report, cols. 32-45), on the report of an unannounced full inspection of Wormwood Scrubs prison that had taken place in March 1999. That report made deeply disturbing reading. Sir David Ramsbotham's inspection had taken place against the background of criminal investigations into allegations that a number of members of staff at Wormwood Scrubs had assaulted prisoners. Sir David and his team of inspectors had found the overall treatment of prisoners was profoundly unsatisfactory.

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In his Statement last year, my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, the then Minister of State at the Home Office, said that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had made it absolutely clear to the Director General of the Prison Service that change must be delivered at Wormwood Scrubs. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary expected a robust action plan to be put in place quickly, and my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, the then Minister of State at the Home Office, expected the majority of Sir David's recommendations to be accepted and implemented. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, the then Minister of State of the Home Office, reported that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had asked Sir David Ramsbotham to carry out a further inspection in six months' time and that the result would be reported to the House.

The Chief Inspector returned to Wormwood Scrubs between 7 and 17 February this year, and his report of that inspection is published today. He found Wormwood Scrubs much improved from his previous visit. Change had taken place, and life for prisoners has improved. Prisoners felt safer, and their relationships with staff were better. Healthcare was radically improved, education had been expanded and, together with employment, could attract most prisoners into purposeful activity.

The extent of the changes required, including substantial cultural change, inevitably takes time. Nevertheless, the Chief Inspector found that a promising start had been made and real improvements had already been delivered. The report makes 99 recommendations for further improvement, but encouragingly identifies 12 examples of good practice.

I should like to pay tribute to all those who have contributed to this change. Senior managers at Prison Service headquarters have given the establishment both leadership and support. The Governor and his management team have tackled the problems at Wormwood Scrubs with determination and commitment, and their legitimate authority has been restored. It also gives me great pleasure to commend the staff of Wormwood Scrubs for what has been achieved. This time last year, there were serious concerns as to whether or not the Prison Officers' Association would co-operate fully with what needed to be done. Sir David notes the determination of the vast majority of staff in the prison to see Wormwood Scrubs restored to a place of excellence, known for the high quality of the treatment of, and conditions for, its prisoners.

Staff at Wormwood Scrubs still face a difficult time. A number of staff are still suspended from duty in connection with the investigations into the allegations of assault. I understand that the first criminal trials are likely to start in the next few weeks, and this will bring further unwelcome attention on everyone connected with the establishment. Nevertheless, today's report shows how much has already been achieved in the face of these sorts of difficulties, and, with Sir David Ramsbotham, I am optimistic that the programme of improvement will be continued and completed at

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Wormwood Scrubs. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is still keeping the option of market-testing open, but we believe that this report shows the kind of rapid progress he had hoped for.

Flood Control Action Plan

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress the Environment Agency has made in implementing its action plan in response to the independent report on the Easter 1998 floods and whether they will report on the serious flooding in Todmorden and other areas of Northern England in early June.[HL2964]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The Chairman of the Environment Agency has provided me with a report of progress up to the end of April 2000. Copies are being placed in the House Libraries.

The Government are pleased to note that the major work programme set out in the action plan is almost complete.

Key developments since the agency's last report, which covered the period to end of December 1999, are as follows:

    Completion of the first phase of the telemetry works resulting in an additional 109 river level gauges, 16 river flow gauges and 65 rain gauges. These will enable conditions to be monitored during flooding and the calibration of flood models.

    A concordat between the agency and the Meteorological Office has been signed to provide a framework for improved liaison and exchange of data.

    The agency has completed its programme of visual inspections of its flood defences. Local authorities have inspected between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of their defences. The remainder are scheduled for completion by September in line with the Government's High Level Targets. Defences belonging to third parties have been inspected where identified through discussions with local authorities.

    Of the 1.6 million properties within the flood plain, 1 million addresses have been identified as high risk. This will enable flood risk information and other publicity material to be better targeted within the wider flood plain.

    A letter designed to raise awareness of the flood risk to caravan sites has been produced and distributed together with a request for site owners to make visitors aware of such risks and what they should do in the event of a flood.

    The agency is producing guidelines to enable the severity and extent of flooding to be calculated on a consistent basis in order to better inform post-event surveys.

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Two activities have yet to be fully completed by the agency. These are the introduction of the new flood warning codes and revised management structures. The new flood warning codes are scheduled to be introduced on 12 September 2000. The introduction of the revised management structures will be phased during April to September 2000 in order to minimise the risk of disruption to services.

The agency's Easter Floods Project Team has now completed its work and is to be congratulated for its efforts in delivering the action plan and meeting the priorities we set out in striving for a seamless and integrated service of flood forecasting, warning and response. The outstanding issues will be taken forward by the agency's National Flood Warning Centre. Further activity in improving flood defence will be driven by the High Level Targets that the Government set last November.

As regards the flooding earlier this month, the Government are acutely aware of the suffering experienced by many communities in Northern England, and express the Government's sympathy to all those affected.

We have asked the Chairman of the Environment Agency to provide a report on the flooding, by 21 July 2000, to include:

    the impact of the flooding;

    the causes of the flooding, including assessment of the contributory factors suggested by local members of the public;

    the effectiveness and timeliness of flood warnings;

    to what extent the effects of these floods were mitigated as a result of the measures taken to implement the independent report of the Easter 1998 floods; and

    what further lessons can be learned from these floods.

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