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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not able to give a view on that. Binding sanctions can be imposed only by the UN Security Council acting under Chapter 7 of the charter, and consensus is necessary to do so. It is clear that there is no consensus for this. It would be a mistake to push the point to clarify the position because it might give some comfort to the Burmese to know which countries are not as disturbed and distressed as we are about what is going on in Burma. Sometimes the public exposure of positions in that way can give comfort to those to whom we do not wish to give comfort.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, a formal investigation into the circumstances of the employment of David McGee at Woodhill prison is scheduled for completion by 27th June 2003. The terms of reference include a requirement to ascertain the causes of what took place and to recommend any changes to recruitment procedures and pre-appointment vetting arrangements. The Prison Service will consider and act upon these recommendations appropriately to prevent a similar occurrence. It would not be prudent to pre-empt the findings.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she accept that the control and discipline of a prison establishment depends very much on the quality of the prison staff? I am well aware of the example she has quoted, which is a matter of serious concern. The rising number of prisoners and the lack of staff is no excuse for sloppy procedures or cutting corners. What assurance can the Minister give that those presently employed in our prison establishments have been suitably cleared?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree that it is of critical importance that the serious nature of the procedures and the necessity to adhere to them is well understood. We have done everything to ensure that that is understood. The incident to which the noble Lord implicitly referred is a matter of concern. We shall take the opportunity to consider whatever recommendations come out of the investigation.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does not this case illustrate that there is a need for a national identity card, using biometrics positively to identify the person to whom the card has been issued?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. We await the results of the inquiry. At the moment we do not know what instrument of identification may have been used by the person to prove his identity. Like your Lordships, I shall have to await the outcome of the investigation.
Lord Elton: My Lords, will the Minister nevertheless undertake to consider a review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons after the local inquiry has been completed? This issue goes far beyond one particular establishment and touches on the security of all our prisons.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly assure noble Lords that we will carefully consider any recommendations made by the investigation. The noble Lord has made a very valid suggestion. We certainly have not closed our minds to any arrangement that may be necessary to ensure that this very important issue is properly addressed.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the key issues are that prison staff are overworked, that there are too few of them, that the number of prisoners is growing, that steps are not being taken to reduce their numbers by the imposition of alternative sentences, and that as a result, whatever changes are now recommended, the situation will get worse?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot accept the very gloomy picture painted by the noble Lord. We are taking steps. Noble Lords will know that the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill advocate a wide variety of alternative sentences, which seemed to me to be warmly welcomed by virtually everyone at Second Reading. Prison staff members must be of high quality. We are addressing the very serious issues raised by the noble Lord, and we see very good practice in a number of our prisons.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, with regard to the terms for the recruitment of prison staff without prejudice to the outcome of this particular investigation, is it the case that the staffing of prisons has been increased in line with the rising number of prisoners? Are there special problems in recruiting prison staff in particular parts of the country, and will the Minister confirm that identical standards are being maintained in recruitment procedures whether or not there are special problems in particular places?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly confirm that identical standards are being applied throughout the country. Alongside that, we are trying to ensure that the sensitivities of the regions are recognised. I cannot give the right reverend Prelate specific answers about the numbers. However, I undertake to write to him in relation to those matters.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount that we will not lower our sights. The noble Viscount knows that the central recruiting policy was changed to enable us to have a regional opportunity to recruit people. There is no current intention to reverse that trend because of current issues. However, we shall have to look very seriously at the lessons that may need to be learnt from the incident at Woodhill Prison.
Lord Renton: My Lords, in view of the Minister's reliance on the effect of the Criminal Justice Bill, is she not aware that it is a very detailed Bill of 374 pages, that it will not come into operation for many months and that before that time it may be considerably amended in your Lordships' House?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have, of course, had the joy of reading that Bill. I understand that it is 374 pages long. Noble Lords will know that I also had the delight of replying at Second Reading. I therefore know the challenges. However, that has not prevented us trying to put good practice into place and encouraging those invested with the huge task of sentencing to mix mercy with punishment.