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Fire Engines (London)

Mr. Randall: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to make a decision on the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority's proposal to reduce the number of fire engines in London. [77315]

Mr. George Howarth: On 1 March my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary received the application by the Authority, under section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947, for his approval to the removal of five fire appliances and associated firefighting posts.

Where an application is straightforward and uncontentious my right hon. Friend aims to reach a decision within six weeks. However, it is important that hon. Members, organisations and members of the public who wish to make representations about a section 19 application have the opportunity to do so. In a case such as this, where it is already clear that there will be a significant number of representations to consider, my right hon. Friend will normally take much longer than six weeks to reach his decision. I can assure the hon. Member that the application will not be approved unless we are

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entirely satisfied, in the light of advice from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Fire Services, that the national standards of fire cover will be maintained.


Mr. Corbett: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the procedure by which convicted prisoners may apply for permission to visit close relatives in other penal institutions in England. [77639]

Mr. George Howarth: Inter-prison visits may, on application, be allowed between prisoners who are close relatives when both parties are inmates at separate establishments, subject to the requirements of security and the availability of transport and accommodation. The procedures for convicted prisoners to apply for permission to have such visits are set out in Prison Rules 33 and 34, Standing Order 5A and Circular Instruction 11/1991, copies of which are held in the Library.

Fire Research

Mr. Fitzpatrick: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how much his Department has spent in each of the last three years on funding research into fire-related issues. [77610]

Mr. George Howarth: Home Office fire research expenditure for the period 1995-96 to 1997-98 1 .


(4) Figures supplied by the Fire Research and Development Group, FEPD.

Asylum Applications

Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will publish forecasts of asylum applications and details of how the cost of supporting asylum seekers is calculated. [78426]

Mr. Straw: A note entitled 'Estimates of public expenditure on asylum seeker support' has been placed in the Library and circulated to interested parties. I am also today publishing an Information Document which sets out further details of the proposed asylum support arrangements. I am arranging for copies to be sent to every Member and placed in the Library.

Green Transport Plan

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what involvement fleet managers have had in drawing up his Department's Green Transport Plan. [77971]

Mr. Straw: My Department is drawing up green transport plans for its headquarters buildings including those occupied by its Executive Agencies by the end of this month and for all other key buildings by March 2000. My Department's fleet managers have been fully involved in developing the policy.

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Local Authority Spending

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the local authorities to which Ministers have written urging greater spending on local services within their portfolio area. [77959]

Mr. Straw: Home Office Ministers have not written to any local authorities in those terms.

Fire Service (Staffing)

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on staffing levels in each Fire Service area. [77693]

Mr. George Howarth: Information on staffing levels in each fire authority area is included in the annual Reports of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire Services for England and Wales. The report for 1997-98 was presented to Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in October 1998.

Prisoner Deaths (Notification)

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what (a) guidelines and (b) regulations his Department has regarding (i) the notification of relatives and (ii) the information, support and guidance offered to relatives after a death in (1) prison and (2) police custody. [77337]

Mr. George Howarth: The Prison Service issued revised instructions to staff last autumn under Prison Service Order 2710--'Follow Up To Deaths In Custody'. These instructions give guidance on the notification of the next of kin and how the bereaved can be helped and supported in a sensitive manner during this difficult period.

The decision on how to inform the next of kin should take into account individual circumstances. Wherever possible, notification is made by a governor grade and chaplain from the appropriate denomination. However, in some instances notification via the police is necessary. Supporting relatives and keeping them informed of developments following a death are of paramount importance. A senior member of staff is appointed as the named point of contact (a second person will be available in the first person's absence) for the family, who are invited to visit the prison.

The Prison Service has reviewed its practice in relation to disclosing information about investigations into deaths in prison custody. As a result, it proposes to investigate any death occurring on or after 1 April on the basis of disclosure before the inquest to persons whom the Coroner believes to have a proper interest in preparing for it. This disclosure must not compromise the inquest or any criminal proceedings or infringe the legal rights of witnesses. Each case will be reviewed in accordance with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

The position in the police service is that all police officers early on in their service are given training on dealing with all sudden deaths, which includes notifying relatives of a sudden death. Where the death occurs in police custody, it would be for the senior officer in charge

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to decide on the appropriate way of informing the relatives of the death. It is normal practice for the next of kin to be informed by a police officer in person. Practice on the provision of written information varies among forces but in the Metropolitan Police Service they normally provide the family with a leaflet on the role of the coroner and a leaflet by the independent Police Complaints Authority on investigating serious incidents. They may also appoint a family liaison officer of above inspector rank at local level.

Home Office guidance is shortly to be issued to chief officers of police about the disclosure of documentary evidence to interested parties in advance of inquest hearings which concern deaths in police custody. The guidance advises that disclosure should be the normal practice in all cases of death in police custody, as well as deaths arising from fatal road accidents involving the police.

Strip Searches

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will update his answer of 9 July 1998, Official Report, column 590, on strip searches; if he will list the conclusions and recommendations of the review of strip searching procedures; and if he will place a copy of the final report in the Library. [78175]

Mr. George Howarth: I refer my hon. Friend to my reply of 9 February 1999, Official Report, column 137. I will write to him when the report is complete.

Data Protection Act 1998

Mrs. Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress he is making towards bringing the Data Protection Act 1998 into force. [78411]

Mr. Straw: We are making good progress in preparing the large amount of subordinate legislation needed to complete the regime created by the 1998 Act. We intend to make the drafts of the instruments available on the Internet in due course. We hope to bring the new regime into force by the end of June or as soon thereafter as we can.

Metropolitan Police (Objectives)

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has received the Metropolitan Police Committee's advice on proposed objectives for the Metropolitan Police, and on an Efficiency Plan, in 1999-2000; and if he will make a statement. [78412]

Mr. Straw: Yes. Following consultation with the Metropolitan Police Committee and the Commissioner, I have approved the following objectives for the Metropolitan Police in 1999-2000:

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    Reducing Drug Related Crime

    To target and reduce drug related crime in partnership with other local agencies.


    To increase the MPS's commitment to become an anti-racist organisation and the awareness and confidence of minority ethnic communities and groups in the MPS's ability to deal convincingly with Racially Motivated Crime.

    These objectives are set out in the Metropolitan Police Policing Plan 1999-2000 which the Commissioner is issuing with my approval.

Again with my approval, following consultation with the Metropolitan Police Committee, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is publishing at the same time an Efficiency Plan for 1999-2000 which aims for efficiency gains of 3.5 per cent.

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I am sending copies of both these plans to all right hon. and hon. Members whose constituencies fall wholly or partly within the Metropolitan Police District and I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Library.

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