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Recorded Crime

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the change in the level of recorded crime in (a) England and Wales and (b) each police force area in the year ending 31 March; and if he will make a statement. [121983]

Mr. Boateng: The Statistical Bulletin giving the Recorded Crime Statistics for the year ending 31 March 2000, including the requested details, is due to be published in July.

Institutional Racism

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the extent to which (a) his Department and (b) other Government Departments, non-departmental public bodies and executive agencies are institutionally racist; what criteria he uses to define institutional racism; and if he will make a statement. [121996]

Mr. Straw: I accepted the definition of institutional racism set out in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report as a useful guide in tackling discrimination and inequality within public services.

In the Home Office, we had already identified, through a staff survey, that a significant number of our minority ethnic staff felt that they had experienced prejudice or been denied opportunity. A programme of action was started including targets for recruitment, retention and progression, and the establishment of a minority ethnic network for staff.

The Government are determined that the public sector should lead on race equality. The legislation currently going through Parliament extends direct discrimination provisions to public authorities and includes, for the first time, indirect discrimination and a duty on all public authorities to promote race equality, and will prove a key lever in tackling institutional racism.

The Home Office is working with other Government Departments in developing strategies to inculcate race equality as a core issue. Responsibility for action by individual Departments or organisations rests with them.

Passport Fees

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to increase passport fees to cover the increased cost due to handling charges payable on credit card transactions as payment for passports. [121984]

Mrs. Roche: Savings resulting from the introduction of credit card payment for postal passport applications are likely to offset the costs of handling charges. Therefore, this development is unlikely to result in an increase in passport fees. The savings will result from more efficient processing of passport fee receipts. The facility to pay by credit card will also be more convenient for many passport customers than existing payment methods.

Passport Agency

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to improve the

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external communications and media handling capabilities of the United Kingdom Passport Agency; and if he will make a statement. [122034]

Mrs. Roche: The United Kingdom Passport Agency has undertaken a thorough audit of its external communications and media handling and has already introduced a number of improvements.

The Agency is undertaking more focused market research, to test new services and determine customer needs.

A 24 hour a day, seven days a week national telephone inquiry line has been established for general inquiries and for customers to check on progress of passport applications, as well as a same-day e-mail inquiry service, faxback service and a regularly updated website.

Passport offices have longer opening hours. The London office now opens at 7.30am Monday to Friday, all offices are open to 6pm, and Saturday opening will start this summer at all offices.

There are stronger links with the travel trade, to get important messages over to their customers.

The Agency is establishing a small team, dedicated to improving communications between the United Kingdom Passport Agency, its customers and the public, and to ensure that the Agency can respond more effectively to the media. The Agency is creating its own press office.

Referendum Campaigns

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what his policy is on Government activity during referendum campaigns. [121993]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The Government have maintained, and will maintain, the usual rules on the activities of civil servants during referendum and election periods. In addition, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill would prohibit the Government from publishing, displaying or distributing material in relation to a referendum in the 28 days immediately prior to the date of the poll. This proposal responds to the report of the Neill Committee and has been welcomed by the Committee.

Home Detention Curfew

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to his answer of 8 May 2000, Official Report, column 312W, what period was served by the prisoner convicted of wounding (inflicting grievous bodily harm) and released on the Home Detention Curfew scheme before the end of the requisite period due to an error in sentence calculation (a) before release on the Home Detention Curfew scheme and (b) subsequently; and if he will make a statement. [122030]

Mr. Boateng: The prisoner convicted of wounding (inflicting grievous bodily harm) and released on the Home Detention Curfew scheme before the end of the requisite period served 215 days before his release on Home Detention Curfew and subsequently served 227 days on his return to lawful custody.

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Disorder (Central London)

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action was taken by the Metropolitan police regarding the dispersal of the demonstrators from Trafalgar Square and Whitehall on 1 May; to which areas of London they were dispersed; what policing arrangements were made to ensure a peaceful and orderly dispersal; and if he will make a statement. [121989]

Mr. Straw: The Metropolitan police inform me contingency plans were drawn up to deal with possible disorder. The tactic for this event was to contain any disorder followed by a controlled dispersal. This is what took place from Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. I understand that protesters from Whitehall and Trafalgar Square were released in small numbers throughout the afternoon and evening to make their way home. Some demonstrators from Parliament Square were escorted to Kennington Park, and a small group of demonstrators congregated in the Strand were escorted to Kennington Park. During the controlled dispersals, police monitored their movements throughout.

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to his answers of 8 May 2000, Official Report, column 314W, on the disorder in central London on 1 May, what meetings were held prior to 1 May between the Metropolitan police and the Royal Parks Agency regarding the protection of the statues in Parliament Square; who was the most senior Metropolitan police officer present at each such meeting; what advice the Royal Parks Agency received from the Metropolitan police concerning boarding up the statues; who was the most senior Metropolitan police officer who authorised the giving of such advice; and if he will make a statement. [122031]

Mr. Straw: The Metropolitan police inform me that one formal meeting was held with the Royal Parks Agency and several phone calls were made. A member of the central planning team attended the meeting under the directions of the event commander, who on this occasion was Commander Messinger. The available information and intelligence was shared with the Agency.

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to his answers of 8 May 2000, Official Report, column 314W, on the disorder in central London on 1 May, what meetings were held prior to 1 May between the Metropolitan police and English Heritage regarding the protection of the Cenotaph; who was the most senior Metropolitan police officer present at each such meeting; what advice English Heritage received from the Metropolitan police about boarding up the Cenotaph; who was the most senior Metropolitan police officer who authorised the giving of such advice; and if he will make a statement. [122032]

Mr. Straw: The Metropolitan police inform me that one formal meeting was held with English Heritage and several phone calls made. A member of the police central planning team attended the meeting under the directions of the event commander, who on this occasion was Commander Messinger. The available information and intelligence was shared with English Heritage.

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Prisons

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Government's prisons policy. [122001]

Mr. Straw: It is the Government's policy that the Prison Service should contribute to the wider aims of the criminal justice system by: protecting the public by holding those committed by the courts in a safe, decent and healthy environment; and reducing crime by providing constructive regimes which address offending behaviour, improve educational and work skills and promote law abiding behaviour in custody and after release.

The Prison Service's priorities for 2000-01 are therefore to maintain security and prevent escapes, to deliver improved regimes, including joint approaches with the Probation Service and to manage the prison population safely. The Service is working to improve healthcare, to build a partnership with the Youth Justice Board, to increase prison capacity and to modernise the Service, which includes improving race relations and information technology.

Jackie Ballard: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will commission a full independent evaluation of the methodology of, and conclusions arrived at, in the Comparative Costs of and Performance of Privately and Publicly Operated Prisons 1998-99; what plans he has to issue a qualification of the conclusions arrived at; and if he will make a statement. [121467]

Mr. Boateng: The current methodology was developed by Coopers and Lybrand in 1994-95 and has been updated in subsequent years by Home Office staff. The 1998-99 results show that privately managed prisons cost on average 0 per cent. to 13 per cent. less than comparable publicly managed prisons. The present methodology does not cover prisons which have also been designed, constructed, managed and financed by the private sector (DCMF prisons), three of which have now been fully operational for a year. The Prison Service is therefore commissioning independent consultants to develop a revised methodology which will include DCMF prisons, and an invitation to tender will be issued shortly.


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