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Custody Suites

8. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): What his policy is in respect of maintaining custody suites in operational use. [197736]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The management of the police estate is a local operational matter for the chief constable or commissioner and the police authority. The Home Office has issued the police buildings design guidance and is in the process of producing a design quality guide for police buildings.

Mr. Heath: We do not hesitate to talk about operational matters in the House. We have heard the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety say that a policeman spends one working hour in every three in the station rather than on the streets fighting crime, and is this not another false economy? Every time a cell is not available for use, police officers who have made an arrest must travel 20 or 30 miles to take a prisoner to a custody suite. Alternatively, they are deterred from making an arrest at all, because they know that they will not be available to fight crime in their own community. Should the Home Office not have a policy of ensuring that as many police cells as possible are available in local communities so that we can fight crime effectively?

Paul Goggins: It is a Home Office responsibility to make sure that there are adequate custody facilities in each area. Over this year and last, we made available £4.7 million in grant aid so that police authorities can provide such facilities, but it is for the police authority to decide where they are located, bearing in mind the need to balance the strategic use of resources and the accessibility of resources to the community. The hon. Gentleman may be encouraged, as I am, to hear of the pilot project in Northumbria, where civilians are staffing custody suites. That has released 91 police officers, who are out doing the job in the community that they joined the police to do.
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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): In my constituency, a relatively recently built police station has a first-rate custody suite which spends most of its time in mothballs, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) described. That means that those arrested have to be taken considerable distances to Loughborough and beyond. The argument is, as my hon. Friend knows, that the framework for the staffing of custody suites is so onerous that chief constables are reluctant to open them up too frequently. Will he look at the legal requirements in respect of the staff required to operate custody suites, so that those facilities can be brought into use much more frequently, saving all the travelling time to which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome referred?

Paul Goggins: I should be happy, as would my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, to consider that matter, but in the end every police authority must strike a balance between the strategic and the accessible. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the example I gave of the pilot initiative in Northumbria, and I hope that in time he will benefit from such an approach in his area as well.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I take the Minister beyond Loughborough to Wigston, also in Leicestershire, in my constituency? The police station in Bullhead street in Wigston Magna is made of 1960s concrete and is quietly falling to bits. We desperately need a new police station in the borough of Oadby and Wigston. Will the hon. Gentleman please have urgent discussions with the police authority and the chief constable to ensure that a new site is found as quickly as possible, and ensure that, preferably, the new station is made of some sort of concrete that lasts more than 30 or 40 years?

Paul Goggins: The hon. and learned Gentleman calls for more investment and more spending. It will be interesting to see how his Front Bench team intend to fulfil his request.

Mr. Garnier: Answer the question.

Paul Goggins: Let me tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that we have 23 police private finance initiative schemes bringing first-rate modern facilities to local communities throughout the country. In addition, we invested £20 million over two years in the premises improvement fund. We recognise the importance of adequate facilities and we are providing them.

Race Relations

9. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What guidance his Department has issued to parish councils on implementing their duties under the Race Relations Acts. [197737]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, parish councils have a statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity and
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good race relations. The Commission for Racial Equality is responsible for enforcing the Race Relations Acts and issuing guidance to public authorities.

Dr. Starkey: May I remind the Minister that in my constituency in Milton Keynes there are a number of urban parish councils, which for the most part do an excellent job? However, it is my experience that many of them are unaware of their duty under the Race Relations Act positively to promote good race relations, and in some cases they appear to be unaware of their duty not to indirectly discriminate. May I urge my hon. Friend to look again at the way in which advice is given to parish councils and to make sure that they are all aware of their duty, like other local authorities, to positively promote good community relations?

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right that parish councils have that responsibility. At the same time as the CRE issued the statutory code of practice in 2002, it issued a guidance booklet to all parish councils. At that time there was a survey of parish councils' awareness of that duty. The replies suggested that a majority of parish councils were aware of their responsibilities, but I will raise the matter that my hon. Friend describes with the chairman of the CRE when I next meet him. I agree that it is important that parish councils throughout the country, in urban or rural areas, are aware of their legal responsibilities in that regard.

Kirkham Prison

10. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): What steps he is taking to utilise fully the intermittent custody facilities at Kirkham prison. [197738]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The intermittent custody pilot at Kirkham has steadily increased its
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numbers, and 30 of the 40 places are now filled at weekends. Some of the spare capacity is being used for ordinary prisoners, especially during the week.

Mr. Jack: Will the Minister confirm that intermittent custody is a tough and demanding sentence? Will he tell the House how he is dealing with the barriers to progress on midweek intermittent custody and whether his discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions have been successful?

Paul Goggins: I begin by welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, his support for the prison in his constituency and his support for intermittent custody. Some difficulties occurred in working out the benefit entitlement for jobseeker's allowance claimants who might be subject to intermittent custody, but we have resolved those issues. The message that intermittent custody is, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, a tough punishment is going out loud and clear to the probation service and sentencers.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): After starting a small experiment in two prisons earlier this year, the Home Office had to admit after six months that it was having problems with the Department for Work and Pensions over the eligibility for benefits of prisoners committed to custody during the week. Why did it take so long to sort that problem out? Has that problem now been sorted out? How can we have confidence in the Home Office, which is reorganising the whole prison and probation system, when it cannot sort out the problems in a small, two-prison experiment?

Paul Goggins: The initiative is important, but it is a pilot; we are meant to learn from pilot initiatives, which is what we are doing. So far, as part of the intermittent custody pilots at Morton Hall and Kirkham, 128 orders have been made, and only three offenders have failed to turn up for their custody. The pilot is already a huge success.

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