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4 Feb 2008 : Column 759

The second said:

which is why the letter was written to “express thanks” to the Department. The first came from the Labour leader of Lancashire council and the second from the Tory leader of Kent council. I say to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that it could not be clearer that that gives the lie to any accusations that this settlement is somehow riddled with geographical or political bias.

I also have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it does local government a disservice when he dismisses it, saying that people are getting less from more funding for local government. The latest Audit Commission figures show that four out of five councils—up from two thirds a year ago—are rated either good or excellent. They show that nine out of 10 councils provide good value for money and that where more than half of people are satisfied with their council, they rightly expect it to save money. In doing so, councils must show that they have maintained or improved local services in order to count any of their savings as efficiencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan chairs the all-party SIGOMA—special interest group of municipal authorities—and I welcome his welcome for the settlement. I thought that, by and large, he made a balanced speech. He was right that the settlement means that those with the greatest needs will get the resources. He also reminded us of the experience of local government under the previous Conservative Government—four years of real cuts under the Tories running up to 1997 have been followed by 10 years of above-inflation rises.

This settlement and those increases, combined with tough capping action, have helped bring down council tax increases, and, following its introduction in 1993, three of the four lowest rises in council tax have occurred in the past four years.

We will not hesitate to use our capping powers to protect taxpayers from excessive increases, but this is a settlement for three years. It provides greater flexibility and more resources, and is backed by more than a third of a billion pounds to help councils improve, innovate and cut inefficiency. Responsibility for delivering the settlement now rests with councils. I commend the settlement and the report to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 278, Noes 45.
Division No. 69]
[10 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger

Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David

Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Sheridan, Jim
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Vaz, rh Keith
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Waltho, Lynda
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Bob Blizzard and
Steve McCabe

Baker, Norman
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Lorely
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Davey, Mr. Edward
Featherstone, Lynne
Foster, Mr. Don
Gidley, Sandra
Goldsworthy, Julia
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick

Heath, Mr. David
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunter, Mark
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kramer, Susan
Lamb, Norman
Laws, Mr. David
Moore, Mr. Michael
Mulholland, Greg
Pugh, Dr. John
Rogerson, Dan
Rowen, Paul
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Smith, Sir Robert
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, Matthew
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Webb, Steve
Williams, Mark
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Noes:

Bob Russell and
Willie Rennie
Question accordingly agreed to.
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4 Feb 2008 : Column 761

4 Feb 2008 : Column 762


Delegated Legislation

Northern Ireland

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Question agreed to.

Modernisation of the House



Mr. Speaker: We shall take the next three motions together.



Scottish Affairs


4 Feb 2008 : Column 763

HMP Chelmsford

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

10.14 pm

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the report by Her Majesty’s inspector of prisons on Chelmsford prison on the Adjournment, given that it came out only last week. I hope that the Minister agrees that the report raised some important issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. That is why I sought this debate.

Chelmsford prison is a Category B male local prison with a certified accommodation level of 570 prisoners, but it suffers from overcrowding, with an actual number held of around 680 to 690 prisoners. Prison officers do an excellent job in very difficult circumstances, given the strains and tensions placed on the prison by the number of prisoners held there.

Over the past 10 years the prison has been inspected several times by Her Majesty’s inspector of prisons, in both announced and unannounced inspections that have highlighted several problems. As a result, I am pleased to say, measures were taken to seek to rectify those problems. That is why it is so worrying that the latest report, following an announced inspection on 9 to 13 July last year, has highlighted so many serious problems. To add to the confusion, the annual report by the independent monitoring board at HMP Chelmsford for 2007, which in part covers the period of the HMI report, paints a far more positive picture of what is going on in the prison. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on why there are some fundamental differences between the two reports, and say which report portrays a more accurate assessment of the situation.

The most worrying problem that has emerged is the number of suicides in the prison. Until the end of 2006 there was one suicide a year. That is one suicide too many, but one can be heartened that the rate was below the national average for suicides in prisons. However, since May last year there have been four suicides in the prison. That is a deeply disturbing increase. I appreciate that it is difficult for the Minister or others to comment on the cases because inquests have not yet been held on all the suicides, but does the Minister have any idea why there has been such a dramatic and tragic increase in the number of suicides in the prison over the last 10 months, compared with the prison’s previous record?

The HMI report was damning on the subject of bullying, self-harm and suicide. Section 3 of the report states that everyone inside a prison should feel safe from bullying and victimisation. However, section 3.1 states that:

Ann Owers stated that some 40 per cent. of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, which is a staggeringly high proportion. Although an anti-bullying co-ordinator had been appointed, and the procedure for identifying bullying had been improved, she goes on to say that

4 Feb 2008 : Column 764

On the subject of self-harm and suicide, the report states that the expected outcomes should be that

However, section 3.18 of the report says:

Will the Minister explain why previous recommendations concerning listeners were not implemented at the time, and what has now been done to ensure that the prison follows best practice?

Will the Minister also explain why, following the suicide in October 2006 of a prisoner who had been placed directly on C wing because of overcrowding, and when the ombudsman had recommended after his investigation that listeners and insiders should be available in reception, the proposal was once again rejected by the establishment? Given what has happened since, it is important that we are told exactly why that recommendation was rejected at the time. Can the Minister confirm that implementation of the recommendation, which took place during the most recent inspection, is continuing?

Will the Minister outline what is being done to implement the report’s recommendations for minimising opportunities to self-harm and commit suicide? The recommendations were, first, to improve the quality of initial assessment, care in custody and teamwork—ACCT—reports; secondly, that staff monitoring entries in ACCT documents should demonstrate a high level of engagement with the prisoner; thirdly, that prisoners were to have 24-hour access to listeners, and, fourthly, that CCTV should not be used as an alternative to observation of and engagement with prisoners at risk of self-harm.

I am slightly confused, however, because section 9 of the independent monitoring report, which deals with the issue of safer custody, portrays a slightly different assessment of the situation from that given in the HMI report. I accept that the HMI report went into much greater detail about self-harm and suicide, but the independent monitoring report is far more positive, and less critical, than the HMI report about what was going on during the same period. The independent monitoring report covers the whole of 2007 whereas the HMI report is a snapshot of a four-day period in July 2007, but would the Minister care to give an opinion as to why the two reports seem on the face of it to be sending out different messages about a critical point, given what has happened in the prison over the past year?

I am sure the Minister agrees that everything possible must be done to minimise the opportunities for self-harm and suicide among prisoners. Will she assure me that everything will be done to implement recommendations in the report that have not already been acted on, to ensure that Chelmsford prison is safer and enjoys the most sophisticated best practice so that we can put an end to the ever-increasing number of suicides?

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