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Written Answers

Thursday, 23rd October 1997.

Family Planning Agencies: Funding Criteria

Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will make funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) dependent on these agencies not supporting or participating in the management of programmes of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation.

Lord Whitty: All funding from the Department for International Development for reproductive health is contingent on respect for the principles upheld at the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, including the principle of informed free choice in family planning programmes. UNFPA and IPPF neither engage in nor condone coercive family planning practices. Both are at the forefront of international efforts to encourage observance of the standards of family planning agreed at Cairo.

Mental Incapacity: Law Commission Report

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take forward the Law Commission's Report on Mental Incapacity.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The Law Commission's Report on Mental Incapacity is a thorough and detailed examination of the current law. It provides a coherent framework for reform. The Government recognise, however, that the report addresses sensitive issues on which strong personal views may be held.

The Government do not consider that it would be appropriate to legislate in this area without fresh public consultation. They therefore hope to issue a consultation paper by the end of the year seeking views on the full range of the Law Commission's recommendations.

The Law Commission's report does not make any recommendations concerning euthanasia. The Government are of the certain view, in line with the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, that euthanasia cannot be sanctioned in any circumstances. The consultation paper will therefore not seek views on this subject.

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Scotland: Right of Appeal to House of Lords

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have yet taken decisions on a question raised in the debate on the White Paper on Scotland on 30 July, namely on the means by which the proposed legislation on a Scottish Parliament would give effect to their intention to devolve the present right of appeal from a Scottish Court to the House of Lords (HL Debates. col. 203).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): The Government's proposal, as set out in the White Paper. Scotland's Parliament (Cm 3658) is that responsibility for the criminal and civil courts in Scotland should be devolved. We are now considering how best to give effect to that proposal and in particular how it should affect the right of appeal to the House of Lords in civil cases.

Human Rights Legislation

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their plans to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): We are introducing the Human Rights Bill into Your Lordships' House today. We will publish a White Paper tomorrow to explain how our proposals will work.

Highpoint Prison

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether staff at Highpoint Prison in Suffolk received instructions to prepare for a possible evacuation of the prison at some time between 25 and 30 December 1980, and if so, why these instructions were issued.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I regret to advise the noble Lord that I am unable to answer his Question, as records for Highpoint Prison relating to the period concerned are no longer available. The governor's journal is the record in which a written note is made of significant events concerning the establishment on a daily basis. It has not proved possible to locate that journal.

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Belmarsh Prison

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any convicted prisoners are now held in the Special Secure Unit at HMP Belmarsh, which is designed for remand prisoners; and, if so, how many.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There are no convicted Category A Exceptional Escape Risk prisoners held in the building, which previously housed the Special Secure Unit (SSU) at Belmarsh. The accommodation now holds only Category A High Escape Risk prisoners and is not run as an SSU.

Prisoners: Closed Visits

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prisoners in England, Wales and Scotland are currently subject to a requirement for "closed" visits.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: A policy of mandatory closed visits for all exceptional risk Category A prisoners held in Special Secure Units was introduced in June 1995. There are currently six such prisoners.

In addition, governors have discretion under Prison Standing Order 5 to impose closed visits in respect of any prisoner where security or control considerations so require. Figures for the number of prisoners currently subject to discretional closed visits are not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Prison Officers: Inquest Verdicts

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether inquests have been held into the deaths of prison officers Marcia Whitehurst and Peter Curran, who died in separate but similar suspicious circumstances in early 1997 near HMP Whitemoor; and, if so, with what result; and, if not, when they are likely to be held.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The inquest into Ms Marcia Whitehurst's death was held on 18 August 1997. Mr. Peter Curran's inquest opened on 25 July 1997 and was adjourned until 16 October to allow all witnesses to be heard. It concluded on 17 October 1997.

The verdict of both inquests was accidental death.

Special Secure Units: Prisoners

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prisoners are now held in each Special Secure Unit in (a) England and Wales and (b) Scotland; and how many of the total so held have been convicted of (i) terrorist-type offences and (ii) other offences.

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: There are six prisoners held in Special Secure Units in England and Wales, none of whom have committed terrorist-type offences. The Secretary of State for Scotland had responsibility for the Scottish Prison Service; however, I understand that there are no prisoners held in Special Secure Units there.

Prisoners' Deaths: Independent Investigation

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the meeting between the Prison Ombudsman and the Minister responsible for prisons, due to take place on or after 13 October; and in particular whether progress was made concerning effective and independent investigations of deaths and suicides among prisoners and immigration detainees.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: A coroner's inquest already provides an independent investigation into every death in Prison Service custody, which is also subject to an internal investigation by the Prison Service. The Prison Service is currently considering whether its internal investigation reports should in future be made public. In the light of the outcome of this review, we will consider whether there is a case for extending the Prison Ombudsman's remit.

Campsfield House

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have for improving the regime for inmates held at Campsfield Detention Centre near Oxford whilst the centre remains in use.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Following the disturbance of 20 August at Campsfield House, it was necessary for health and safety reasons to restrict access to damaged areas, and those where contractors were working to make repairs. Numbers of detainees were reduced to 100, about half its normal capacity, and this level has since been maintained. Contingency arrangements were put into effect to provide as many services as possible, but in the immediate aftermath of the disturbance some facilities were reduced, or temporarily unavailable. It is unfortunate that the facilities provided for detainees' recreation and education were those targeted and destroyed. The library, classrooms, computer, televisions, sports equipment, shop, telephones and laundry were either seriously damaged or completely destroyed. The living accommodation and personal possessions were barely touched.

A comprehensive repair programme has made significant progress and most facilities are now available: religious, educational, recreational and communal activities have all resumed. It is expected that the full range of services will be provided by 7 November, when the final building works are due for completion.

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While there is no evidence that conditions at the centre were the cause of the disturbance, we are taking the opportunity in its aftermath to consider what other arrangements can be made for activity which will better meet detainees' needs. A report on the disturbance at Campsfield has been undertaken by a governor from the Prison Service. The recommendations and other issues arising from the report are currently being considered.

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