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30 Jun 2003 : Column WA51

Written Answers

Monday, 30th June 2003.

House of Lords: Sittings in Session 2001–02

Lord Marlesford asked the Chairman of Committees:

    For how many hours the House sat in total in Session 2001–02; and for how many of these hours the House was in Committee.[HL3648]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): During Session 2001–02 the House sat for a total of 1,395 hours 21 minutes (excluding swearing-in days). The House spent 301 hours 15 minutes on committee stages of bills. On 24 July 2002 the House spent six hours 21 minutes in Committee considering the fifth report from the Procedure Committee.

Westminster Hall: Roof Restoration

Lord Jopling asked the Chairman of Committees:

    When the last major restoration of Westminster Hall roof took place; how much it cost; who was the architect in charge; and who were the main contractors.[HL3636]

The Chairman of Committees: Between 1914 and 1923 Sir Frank Baines of the Office of Works undertook a major restoration of the roof, which included structural reinforcement of the roof timbers with a steel frame, and the rebuilding of the lantern. Between 1949 and 1952 further repairs were made to the lantern and roof of the Hall, at a cost of £34,000. The architect was J A Wright of the Ministry of Works, and the contractors were Matthew Hall & Co. Ltd. In 1991 a full structural survey of the Hall was carried out by Alan Baxter and Associates. JaniceRebo

Northern Ireland Office: Questions for Written Answer

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 15 January (WA 49–50) concerning Parliamentary Questions answered by the Northern Ireland Office, what steps have been taken to improve the prompt and accurate answering of questions; and whether they are satisfied with progress in this regard.[HL3179]

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Northern Ireland Office endeavours to answer all Parliamentary Questions within the 14-day time-scale. However, because of the large numbers of Parliamentary Questions in recent months, many of

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which have required co-ordination between several parts of the Northern Ireland Office and the formerly devolved administration, the 14-day time-scale has occasionally not been met.

The Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has discussed this matter with all of the Northern Ireland Permanent Secretaries. The Northern Ireland departments for which the NIO is responsible for during direct rule are well aware of the importance of answering Written Questions on time.

Within the Northern Ireland Office steps taken to improve the response time to Written Questions include the Parliamentary Section employing an additional member of staff to assist in the work relating to Parliamentary Questions. They have also introduced a computerised Question tracking system to enable earlier warning of overdue questions and provide statistics on question turnaround times.

The NIO will review response times to Questions once these changes have had time to have an effect.

North/South Implementation Bodies

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 3 June (WA 138) concerning implementation bodies, whether the exchange of notes with the Government of Republic of Ireland (Treaty Series No 54 (2002) on 19 November 2002) allows changes of policy by the implementation bodies such as caused by a reduction of its budget.[HL3209]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I refer the noble Lord to the Answer given on 3 June 2003 (WA 138). JaniceRebo

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 3 June (WA 139) concerning proportionality of funding for 2003 agreed by Finance Ministers North and South and approved by the British and Irish Governments dated 19 November 2002, whether the procedure followed was that set out on 5 December 2002 and entitled Ministerial Decision-Making Interim Procedures; and whether it was consistent with the letter from the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to David Trimble MP of 19 December 2002 and with an Answer to the Lord Privy Seal on 14 January (WA 28); and, if so, on what date was the working party meeting and the consultations on the cross-community basis and with the Ulster-Scots Agency.[HL3210]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I refer the noble Lord to the Answer given on 16 June (WA 77).

As the noble Lord is aware, work is underway to increase the budget of the North/South Language Body. This work will be carried out in accordance with the agreed consultation arrangements.

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North/South Ministerial Council

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 3 June (WA 138) concerning arrangements to replace the North/South Ministerial Council meetings, whether there was consultation with Northern Ireland political parties on the content of exchange of notes between the British and Irish Governments on 19 December 2002; and, if not, why not.[HL3211]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The exchange of notes referred to in the previous Answer took place on 19 November 2002 not 19 December 2002. There was no consultation with the Northern Ireland political parties on the content of the exchange of notes which is a matter for the two governments.

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 14 January (WA 28) concerning the North/South Ministerial Council, whether they can demonstrate that all decisions of the council since 15 October 2002 have been consistent with the assurance in the answer.[HL3232]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I can assure the noble Lord that the decision-making process has been consistent with the previous assurances. JaniceRebo

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they have taken in consultation with the advisers to the right honourable David Trimble MP and to Mr Mark Durkan, to ensure that decision making by the North/South Ministerial Council is transparent, as promised in a letter from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to Mr Trimble of 19 December 2002.[HL3254]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: A list of decisions taken up to 28 March 2003 under the exchange of notes between the British and Irish Governments on 19 November 2002 was placed in the Library on 7 April. Papers relating to all decisions taken up to 30 April 2003 have been placed in the Library.

Action Mental Health

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they made a contribution to the salary of the chief executive of Action Mental Health in Northern Ireland; and, if so, what proportion of the total salary their contribution represents.[HL3498]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The chief executive of Action Mental Health in Northern Ireland is a senior civil servant seconded from the Department for Employment and Learning. Action Mental Health reimburses the department with the notional salary for the post, which was equivalent to approximately 60 per cent of the secondee's salary during the 2002–03 financial year.

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Prison Population

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

    What are their plans for reducing the size of the prison population in England and Wales[HL3192]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): It is for the courts to decide in individual cases whether a prison sentence is appropriate. Where imprisonment is the most appropriate punishment, it should be applied and we should, and are, developing our capacity to meet demand.

The Criminal Justice Bill will provide sentencers with a more flexible range of sentences to deal with offenders as effectively as possible. The introduction of two intermediate sanctions—"custody minus" and "intermittent custody", allowing offenders to retain employment and family contact during the week while being held in custody at weekends—will provide options short of full-time custody. The introduction of a generic community sentence to replace the current series of standardised orders will also provide sentencers with the flexibility to impose a package of requirements at any level of seriousness.

We are also introducing tough new community sentences such as the intensive control and change programme (ICCP) which is designed to cut offending by 18 to 20 year-olds. ICCP, which was launched as a pilot in April, will keep offenders off the streets, tackle their offending behaviour, aid rehabilitation and provide an effective alternative to prison for non-violent and non-sexual offenders.

We are also extending home detention curfew (HDC) to four and a half months. The HDC scheme is proving successful. There are currently more than 3,000 prisoners on HDC each week and 90 per cent of the 70,000-plus prisoners released on HDC since the scheme began in January 1999 have completed their curfew period without any problems at all.

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

    What are their plans to meet any gap between the capacity of Her Majesty's prisons to detain inmates in humane and acceptable conditions and any rise in the prison population in excess of that capacity.[HL3300]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Government continue to keep under review the demand on prison places and the capacity of the Prison Service to accommodate, in humane conditions, those prisoners sent to it by the courts.

We are committing significant funding to increasing the capacity of the prison estate. Funding from the May 2002 budget provided for 2,320 places to be delivered over the following 12 months. We have already announced that an additional £60 million has

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been made available to provide 740 places by March 2004, together with funding for 450 places at Birmingham Prison, which are currently scheduled to open by April 2004. A further £138 million from the capital modernisation fund was announced in the 2003 Budget, and will be used to provide around 1,000 places over the period 2004–06.

The useable operational capacity of the Prison Service estate was 55,300 in April 1996 compared to the 74,300 in June this year, an increase of 19,000. With the building programmes in progress, the useable capacity will continue to increase, providing a total useable capacity for the Prison Service estate of around 78,700 places by 2006, some 23,400 places more than in 1996.


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