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19 Mar 2003 : Column WA29

Written Answers

Wednesday, 19th March 2003.

Prison Population

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the prison population in the United Kingdom at 25 December 2002, 25 January 2003 and 25 February 2003; and how many of those persons were being held in police cells designated for the purpose; and[HL1898]

    What was the total in the United Kingdom at 25 February; and how many of those were in police cells designated for the purpose; and [HL1899]

    How many places were available in open prisons at 25 February; and how many prisoners were of a category judged to be suitable for placement in open prisons at that date; and[HL1900]

    What are their contingency plans to provide places in secure accommodation for persons sentenced to a term of imprisonment when the number of places in prisons has been filled.[HL1901]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): On 24 December 2002 (the nearest date to 25 December 2002 for which data are available), the total prison population was 70,320. There were no prisoners being held in police cells under Operation Safeguard on that date.

On 24 January 2003 (the nearest date to 25 January 2003 for which data are available), the prison population was 70,505. There were no prisoners being held in police cells under Operation Safeguard on that date.

On 25 February 2003 the prison population was 72,144. There were no prisoners being held in police cells under Operation Safeguard on that date. The total useable operational capacity of the Prison Service estate was 73,556: this is the maximum number of prisoners that the estate could normally expect to hold without recourse to police cells. There is a possibility that police cells may be required in some parts of the country before useable operational capacity is reached.

On 25 February 2003 the total useable operational capacity of the open prison estate was 4,357. There were 887 vacancies in open prisons on that date. On 25 February 2003 there were 4,513 prisoners who can be reasonably trusted in open conditions. A significant number of these prisoners will not be placed in dedicated open prisons, the main reason being that they are more appropriately located in closed conditions, where their individual treatment, programme and or resettlement needs can be more effectively met. Some of these prisoners, such as fine defaulters, are serving short-term sentences whose length makes a move to open conditions impractical. Some may also need to be held in a closed prison while their specific healthcare needs are met.

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The Prison Service has population management procedures in place to monitor prison population levels. Should it be necessary, the Prison Service will activate Operation Safeguard so that police cells throughout the country can be used to hold those sentenced to a term of imprisonment for whom a Prison Service establishment place is not immediately available. The Prison Service last used police cells for this purpose on the night of 20 December 2002.

The information given above is for Prison Service establishments in England and Wales. As at 25 February 2003, the Northern Ireland Prison Service has certified accommodation for 1,385 prisoners. Their prison population on 24 December 2002 was 1,013. It was 1,091 on 24 January 2003 and 1,101 on 24 February 2003. The Northern Ireland Prison Service does not, and has not, used police cells and its estate does not contain any open prisons.

Information relating to Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Executive.

Data Sharing

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 4 March (HL Deb, col. 707) in which he identified that information from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Passport Service and other databases could be cross-checked to combat identity fraud, whether the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 apply to such checking, particularly the requirement that data shall only be used for the purpose for which they were collected, by the URU service (an online identity checking service); and, in the event that there are difficulties in this context, how they propose to resolve them.[HL2043]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: In Answer to a separate Question by the noble Earl I have stated that the commercially provided URU service does not have access to information held on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and UK Passport Service databases.

In my Answer of 4 March to which the noble Earl refers (HL Deb, col. 707), I did not say that information from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Passport Service and other databases could be cross-checked to combat identity fraud. However, greater use of this type of data sharing was recommended by the Cabinet Office study on identity fraud and the UK Passport Service and the DVLA are planning to share information with the consent of individuals, which would be fully in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. In addition to helping to counter identity fraud, this link will provide customer benefits as people applying for photocard driving licences will no longer need to send in their passports to DVLA to confirm their identity.

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Citizens of Iraq Resident in UK

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are discussing or making any plans to intern or otherwise detain citizens of Iraq who are resident in this country; and if so, under which legislative provisions; what criteria if any will be used to select people; and where such people will be detained. [HL2088]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: We currently have no plans to intern or otherwise detain citizens of Iraq who are resident in this country.

However, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will continue to keep under close review any threats to national security from wherever they come and will take whatever action is necessary to protect the public. This is best achieved by a range of measures that more accurately target those individuals and groups that pose a threat regardless of their nationality.

Asylum Appeals: Home Office Representation

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In approximately what proportion of cases during the past year Home Office presenting officers and counsel representing the Home Office have participated in the hearing of asylum appeals by adjudicators. [HL2052]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): Home Office presenting officers and counsel representing the Home Office in appeals before an adjudicator are allocated to lists of cases, which may comprise both asylum and non-asylum appeals. Because the cases within the lists can be changed at short notice, the information on cases at which the Home Office has been represented is not reliable and is unavailable in the form requested.

Home Office Responses to Correspondence from the General Public

Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by Lord Bassam of Brighton on 26 February (HL Deb, col. 237), what is the performance for Home Office responses to correspondence from the general public. [HL2061]

Lord Filkin: The Home Office is targeted with answering 95 per cent of public correspondence within 20 working days. This is one of the agreed public service agreements (PSA) for central government.

The Home Office performance against this target for the period April 2002 to February 2003 for non-immigration matters currently stands cumulatively at 90 per cent within 20 working days. The monthly performance over the last six months is as follows:

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    September 2002: 91 per cent


    October 2002: 90 per cent


    November 2002: 94 per cent


    December 2002: 93 per cent


    January 2003: 93 per cent


    February 2003: 92 per cent

Thus, performance against target over the past six months averages 92 per cent.

No performance data are held currently for public correspondence on immigration and nationality matters. This will be addressed when the new correspondence tracking system is further developed to operate on IND systems later this year.

Mr Colin Skellet

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the dropping of all charges by the Crown Prosecution Service in the case of Mr Colin Skellet, whether they will list all the background briefings that were given by the police and Crown Prosecution Service to the press at the time of Mr Skellet's arrest; and whether they will name those who authorised them. [HL1558]

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): The Crown Prosecution Service did not give briefings to the press at the time of Mr Skellet's arrest. Once a file on the matter had been received by the Crown Prosecution Service its press office gave factual responses to press inquiries confirming that the file had been received and was under consideration.

I can, however, only reply on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service, for which I am responsible. The conduct of the City of London Police is a matter for the Commissioner of the City of London Police.

Foot and Mouth Disease Contingency Plans

Lord Inglewood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they anticipate having a foot and mouth contingency plan in place. [HL2103]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): Foot and mouth disease contingency plans for Great Britain, as required by Article 5 of Directive 90/423, were in place prior to the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease, as were veterinary operational instructions and local animal health office plans. All these were subject to ongoing review and updating.

Since the 2001 outbreak, Defra has prepared revised foot and mouth disease contingency plans. On 12 March 2002, Defra's interim foot and mouth disease contingency plan was published on the Defra website (www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/fmd/contingency/contingency.htm).

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On 3 July 2002, the interim plan was updated and a revised version published, and on 6 November 2002 Defra introduced the foot and mouth disease contingency plan, which was published on the Defra website. This publication was announced to the House in my Statement on the Government's response to the official inquiries.

To meet the requirements of Section 18 of the Animal Health Act, which comes into force on 24 March 2003, Defra is preparing a revised foot and mouth disease contingency plan following wide consultation, which will be laid before Parliament very soon.


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