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22 Jan 2003 : Column WA91

Written Answers

Wednesday 22 January 2003.

Ethiopia and Eritrea

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they and the states providing troops to UNMEE have made to Ethiopia and Eritrea concerning access restrictions and other kinds of non-cooperation; and whether they will ask for the extension of the mandate for ceasefire verification, frontier demarcation and demining.[HL1057]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): We have consistently supported UNMEE and the UN process. We have made representations bilaterally and support representations made by the SRSG and UNMEE Force Commander calling for full co-operation from the parties and for restrictions on UNMEE to be lifted. We also participate in the Friends of UNMEE Group in New York, along with troop contributors. We will support the extension of UNMEE's mandate.

Prison Population

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to halt the rise in the prison population, particularly in the numbers of women and young persons.[HL757]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): It is for the courts to decide in individual cases whether a prison sentence is appropriate or not. But we have always been clear that a custodial sentence should be given for dangerous violent and sexual offenders and for those who persistently offend. Protecting the public is a priority and dangerous offenders should go to prison for as long as public protection requires. However, it is equally important, whether a custodial sentence is given or not, that steps are taken to break the cycle of offending behaviour. Whatever sentence is passed, it should be accompanied by interventions to address the causes of the offender's behaviour.

We are taking forward the Women's Offending Reduction Programme over the next three years which seeks to address the range of factors that have an impact on why women offend and encourages closer joint working between departments, agencies and other organisations to tackle those factors. A primary focus will be on improving community-based interventions that are better tailored to the needs of women and to encourage greater use of such interventions to ensure that custody is used only for women offenders who really need to be there.

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For young offenders the Government have introduced a range of credible community options, including electronically monitored curfew orders for 10-15 year-olds and electronic tagging for 12-16 year-olds on bail and local authority remand. The Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) is a recently introduced programme to tackle persistent and serious young offenders as an alternative to custodial sentences or secure remands. Targeting the 3 per cent of young offenders estimated to be responsible for 25 per cent of youth crime, it is the most rigorous non-custodial intervention available for young offenders, providing the courts with a credible alternative to custody.

Prisoners: Self-harm

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures are being taken to reduce the rising number of incidents of attempted suicide and self-harm in HM Prisons. [HL1058]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The general prison population contains a large number of prisoners with a combination of psychiatric disorders, alcohol and drug dependency, family background and relationship problems and histories of self-harm and previous abuse, all of which raise their risk of suicide and self-harm. Good care and support from staff save many lives but such instances go largely unreported. The Prison Service's approach, in close partnership with outside organisations such as the Samaritans, is to identify better and support those who seem at greatest risk, with an approach that focuses on staff/prisoner relationships and the physical environment.

The Prison Service's suicide prevention and self-harm reduction programme includes a series of inter-related projects to improve pre-reception, reception and induction arrangements; inter-agency information exchange; prisoner care; detoxification; prisoner peer support, and the learning from investigations into deaths in custody.

Piloting of these projects is focused on six establishments—Wandsworth, Feltham, Eastwood Park, Leeds, Winchester and Birmingham—although others are involved in aspects of the work. An investment of £21.69 million over the three-year programme from April 2001 is allowing physical improvements to be made at these six sites, for example to reception and induction areas, and through the installation of more first night centres, safer cells, crisis suites and gated cells that enable staff to watch at-risk prisoners closely. The programme will be subject to an independent quantitative and qualitative evaluation.

Thirty full-time suicide prevention co-ordinators (SPCs) have been trained and located in the most high risk establishments, and a further 99 mostly part-time SPCs are now operating across the estate. There has been a continuing increase in the numbers of listeners being recruited in high-risk establishments, with 608 new listeners recruited within these establishments between 1 October 2001 and 31 March 2002 alone, and

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further recruitment and training are taking place. Listeners are prisoner volunteers who are selected, trained and supported by Samaritans to offer confidential support to their fellow prisoners who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm or otherwise in distress.

Between August 2001 and June 2002 a new healthcare screening procedure was piloted in 10 local prisons. Of the 10 establishments, six were adult male remand prisons (Leeds, Wandsworth, Holme House, Liverpool, Manchester and Durham), two were for female remand prisoners (Eastwood Park and New Hall) and two were young offender institutions (Feltham and Glen Parva). The two female prisons include both adults and women aged 16-21 years. An evaluation of the pilot project supported implementation of the new reception screening arrangements across the estate and a rolling programme is planned commencing in April 2003.

Prisoners Held Over 100 Miles from Home Area

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bassam of Brighton on 6 March 2001 (WA 26), whether they have made progress in reducing the number of prisoners held over 100 miles away from their home addresses. [HL1059]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The proportion of prisoners held over 100 miles from home area has remained constant at 17 per cent since March 2001. However, due to an 11 per cent increase in prison population during this period the number of prisoners held over 100 miles from their home area has increased by 1,400 to 12,400 prisoners.

Yarl's Wood Detention Centre

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will now publish the report by Stephen Moore on the fire at Yarl's Wood detention centre on 14 February 2001, together with the reports on the fire by the Bedfordshire Police and the Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service; and what decision they have made about bringing the undamaged part of the detention centre into operation. [HL1084]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): Stephen Moore's terms of reference require him to take full account of inquiries being undertaken by the Bedfordshire police and the Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. He is also required to conduct his inquiry in a way that would not impede any criminal investigation. Criminal trials arising out of the events at Yarl's Wood on 14 and 15 February are listed for April 2003. Consideration is therefore still being given as to when the report can be completed and published.

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Publication of any reports by the Bedfordshire police and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service must be a matter for them.

No decision has yet been taken about bringing the undamaged part of the centre into operation.

Right to Buy Scheme

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    If they intend to make any changes to the right to buy scheme.[HL1225]

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The Government fully support the aspiration of the great majority to own their home (there are now nearly 1 million more homeowners than there were in 1997) and we continue to provide a range of schemes to assist still more people into home ownership.

The Government are fully committed to the principle of the right to buy, which has enabled 1.5 million tenants to own their house or flat, and have helped create stable, mixed communities, but the scheme must be kept up to date to reflect the current housing market. Right to buy has changed litttle since it was introduced in 1980, and the Government are particularly concerned about exploitation of the rules and about the way the scheme is now working in areas of high demand for housing.

Right to buy imposes a substantial long-term burden on the public purse (last year's sales will, in due course, result in a long run cost of some £850 million) so it is vital that it meets its objectives effectively. The Government have therefore decided to act to tackle abuses and to reduce the scheme's adverse impact on the availability of affordable housing, in both urban and rural areas.

My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister intends to reduce the maximum discounts available to tenants in 42 areas that are under the greatest housing market pressure, as evidenced by a high incidence of homelessness and high house prices, and where there is also evidence of abuse of the scheme. The areas concerned, mainly urban and all in the South and East of England, are listed below. The maximum discount will be cut to £16,000, the same as the maximum discount available to assured tenants of housing associations under the right to acquire scheme.

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister officials have today written to all the local authorities concerned and to any housing associations in those areas to whom the social housing stock has been transferred consulting them on our intentions. A copy of this letter has been placed in the Library of the House. It provides each local authority with the opportunity to provide reasons why the change should not be made in their area. All representations received will be considered carefully.

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An order introducing the changes will be laid before Parliament next month and will come into effect in March. Any tenant who has applied for the right to buy before the date on which the order comes into effect will be entitled to the current, higher, maximum rates of discount where they qualify for these.

The Government are also determined to ensure that more local people in rural areas can afford a home. The previous administration introduced constraints on the right to buy in some designated rural areas, all national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty by restricting the resale of homes purchased under the scheme. The Government are now taking immediate steps to increase the scope of those restrictions on resale. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is removing the requirement for the area in question to have 3 per cent or more of stock as second homes and will be prepared to designate areas that include towns with up to 3,000 inhabitants (rather than the current limit of 2,000). Office of the Deputy Prime Minister officials are also writing to all local authorities and post-transfer housing associations to inform them that we are relaxing the criteria. A copy of this letter has been placed in the Library of the House. We expect more local authorities will take the opportunity this change now provides to protect the stock of affordable housing stock across much of rural England.

The Government will assess carefully the impact of the changes before determining the need for further modernisation of the right to buy.

Areas in Which Right to Buy Discounts Will Be Reduced


1. Barnet

2. Bexley

3. Brent

4. Bromley

5. Camden

6. City of London

7. Croydon

8. Ealing

9. Enfield

10. Hackney

11. Hammersmith & Fulham

12. Haringey

13. Harrow

14. Hillingdon

15. Hounslow

16. Islington

17. Kensington & Chelsea

18. Kingston upon Thames

19. Lambeth

20. Lewisham

21. Merton

22. Newham

23. Redbridge

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24. Richmond upon Thames

25. Southwark

26. Sutton

27. Tower Hamlets

28. Waltham Forest

29. Wandsworth

30. Westminster

South East

1. Chiltern

2. Epsom & Ewell

3. Hart

4. Oxford

5. Reading

6. Reigate & Banstead

7. Spelthorne

8. Tonbridge & Malling

9. Vale of White Horse

10. West Berkshire



South West


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