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5 Feb 2003 : Column 337W—continued

Prisoner Incidents (Inquiries)

Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to give the Chief Inspector of Prisons responsibility for conducting inquiries into deaths and serious injuries in prisons. [93331]

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Hilary Benn: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched a three-year safer custody programme in April 2001 aimed at reducing deaths, self-harm and violence in prisons. The programme targets the highest risk prisoners in the highest risk locations, concentrating on six pilot sites. As part of this programme the Prison Service is considering how it can improve and strengthen investigation procedures into deaths in custody to determine not only what happened in an individual case but also how practice might be improved in future to try to prevent further deaths.

The Prison Service has conducted a wide-scale consultation exercise, considering a number of options (including asking Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons to conduct such inquiries) to make investigations into deaths in custody more independent. Ministers are also considering whether to give responsibility for investigating deaths in prison custody to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. In the interim, the Prison Service is working to strengthen and improve the current system of investigating deaths.

Section 5A(4) of the Prison Act 1952 permits the Home Secretary to refer specific matters connected with prisons and prisoners to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons and direct her to report on them. Similarly, the Home Secretary can ask the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to investigate and report on any prison matter.

Prisons (Mother and Baby Units)

Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to increase the number of mother and baby unit places for prisoners; and what estimate he has made of the number of mother and baby unit places in 2003. [93297]

Hilary Benn: Two new mother and baby units (MBU) are under construction. One is at Eastwood Park in Gloucestershite and the other at Askham Grange in York. These units will provide an extra 22 places and are due to be completed in September 2003. This will bring the total number of places to 90 by the end of 2003.

Two new prisons at Ashford and Peterborough will also have accommodation for mothers and babies and they are scheduled to be completed by October 2004. Between them they will provide 24 additional places.

Probation Service

Mr. Allen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many probation officers were in post, excluding probation service officers, in each year since 1997; and how many (a) offences and (b) offenders the probation service dealt with in each year since 1997. [94489]

Hilary Benn: The information requested is as follows:

Numbers of Probation Officers(33),(34)

England and Wales19971998199920002001
Probation Officers7,1497,1937,5197,5717,506
Probation Service Officers1,9192,0272,5022,8693,566

(33) Numbers shown as whole time equivalents

(34) Information shown taken at 31 December

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Persons starting supervision by the Probation Service

England and Wales19971998199920002001
Number of offenders165,222174,046175,879168,529165,491


All figures have previously been published


Figures obtained from RDS Probation Statistics 2001

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many cases in Avon and Somerset magistrates courts in the last year have been postponed because of late probation reports. [95119]

Hilary Benn: Information is not collected centrally on the number of court cases postponed due to late probation reports. However, I am aware that in the last eight months the Avon and Somerset probation area has had difficulty in meeting the demand of the magistrates courts for court reports

The National Director of the National Probation Service has recently issued revised guidance on the prioritisation of work and the Chief Officer and the Probation Board of the Avon and Somerset probation area are carefully monitoring the position. Action has been taken by the Chief Officer to manage and improve the situation, including prioritising certain categories of case, redeploying some staff from other service delivery areas and recruiting and training new staff subject to budget limitations. The Probation Board reviews the probation area's performance at regular intervals and received a report on the provision of reports to court at it's meeting in January and will receive a further report on progress being made in April.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what was the average time taken for probation officers to submit reports to courts in 2002; and in what time probation officers are required to deliver such reports to courts; [95124]

Hilary Benn: Information is not available centrally on average times for probation officers to submit reports to courts, but is collected to record performance against the National Standards target which requires that pre-sentence reports are to be prepared within 15 working days of the request by the court (National Standards for the Supervision of Offenders in the Community 2000 (revised 2002)). The National Probation Service currently has a target to produce 90 per cent. of Pre-Sentence Reports within 15 days. The latest figures, which relate to magistrates courts, show that for all probation areas in 2001–02 79 per cent. of reports were provided within the 15 day target.

Stray Dogs

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what allocation he has made for 2003–04 to fund the management of stray dogs, broken down by police authority. [93596]

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Mr. Denham: Police grant is allocated according to a formula largely based on an assessment of needs for broad categories of police service. It is for the Police Authority and Chief Constable to determine detailed application of funds for particular purposes.

Recorded Crime

Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many (a) robberies and (b) snatch thefts were recorded each month by the police in each police force area in England and Wales between April 2001 and September 2002. [93336]

Mr. Denham: The Home Office does not routinely publish national statistics on recorded crime on a monthly basis. Annual national statistics on recorded crime, including robbery, will be published in July 2003 for the period April 2002 to March 2003. This will provide a direct comparison with the previous year (April 2001 to March 2002), of the level of robbery offences for each police force area in England and Wales.

A quarterly update on recorded crime was published early in January and covered the 12 month period to September 2002. This showed that recorded robbery in England and Wales fell by an estimated 10 per cent. in July to September 2002, compared with the same period the previous year. However the quarterly update does not provide a force by force breakdown.

Snatch theft is not a standard Home Office offence category, although information on snatch thefts has been collected from April 2002 for the 10 forces currently taking part in the Government's Street Crime Initiative. The results of the initiative were published in October 2002, and include figures on snatch theft. A copy is available in the Library.


Mr. Dawson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will reform the law in relation to travellers. [94642]

Mr. Denham [holding answer 3 February 2003]: In July 2002 we announced proposals for new eviction powers for the police so that they can deal with unauthorised encampments. These new powers will allow the police to take firm action against unauthorised encampments without the pre-conditions found in the current legislation, where local authorities have made adequate site provision. We will bring forward amendments to the legislation when parliamentary time allows.

Violence against Animals

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research he has evaluated on the extent to which people convicted of crimes of violence have previously been involved in violence against animals. [95133]

Mr. Denham [holding answer 3 February 2003]: There has been no research undertaken on this by the Home Office. However from a sample of 11,049 offenders sentenced in 2000 and convicted of violent offences, only

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six offenders appeared to have a previous criminal conviction for the summary offence of 'cruelty to animals'.

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