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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, our stand is not perverse. There is a consistency in that our policy both on the recommended dosage of Vitamin B6 in foods and our stand on OPs is the consequence of the official scientific advice we have taken. There are differences between the two. The regime for OPs is much stricter in terms of licensing and controls over sales and use. B6 has a lighter regime. Whether the regime for controlling OPs is strict enough is a question on which our scientific advice says "Yes". The noble Countess disagrees. I personally would not discourage her from continuing to ask her questions.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that he might do very well to recall that the noble Countess is, first, very persistent and, secondly,

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very often right? There is at least a possibility, remote as it may seem to him, that the Government or the department concerned have got it wrong.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I always appreciate the noble Lord's questions and normally agree with them. It had crossed my mind, long before I took this job, that the noble Countess could be right in a number of ways. I have conducted my job so far on the basis of that possibility.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, following on from that, perhaps I may ask the Minister who are the members of the Committee on Toxicity and what areas of interest they represent.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the Committee on Toxicity has 15 members. They are appointed for their expertise. They are basically scientists or medics. Their interest in terms of expertise is in the broad area of relevant sciences. If they have financial interests, they are required to declare them.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, is the Minister aware of any studies on the British population which show the uptake of Vitamin B6 rather than the intake of Vitamin B6? Is 10 milligrams of Vitamin B6 sufficient in terms of intake?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, there have been a number of surveys on this matter. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy in 1991 recommended the average daily intake required for the purpose that these particular nutrients perform. It was 1.4 milligrams a day for men and 1.2 milligrams a day for women. Many studies--the noble Countess referred to them--and many official bodies have accepted that 50 milligrams and above is potentially a dangerous dose if used over a prolonged period. It was on the advice of the Committee on Toxicity and our Food Advisory Committee that we accepted 10 milligrams as a recommended daily dose for food supplements. We are not discussing medicines. Other countries take different numbers, but often, especially in Europe, less. For the assistance of the House, perhaps I may point out that one can get one's recommended daily dose of Vitamin B6 from the consumption of 12 pints of beer a day.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I understand the Government's position to be that Vitamin B6 deficiency is rare and that therefore to restrict the availability of Vitamin B supplements would not be widely felt. Is the Minister aware of a recent study by David Benton and others of a number of young British adults which reveals that 42.3 per cent. of males and 63.7 per cent. of females had a Vitamin B status which was in either the marginal or the deficient range? If he is aware of that, has he any comment?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am not aware of that study. Since starting this job I have read all kinds of documents that I shrewdly spent my previous life ignoring. The basic survey was conducted in 1990.

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It demonstrated, or claimed to demonstrate, that a deficiency of Vitamin B6 was very rare. The Committee on Toxicity looked at 100 studies on various aspects of the subject. It was still convinced that Vitamin B6 deficiency was rare. I shall inquire about the significance or weight of the study to which the noble Earl refers.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, perhaps I may help the noble Lord. The study was on the intake and not the uptake. Particular groups of individuals, such as women on the pill, women on hormone replacement therapy, and people like myself who have been chemically poisoned, need extra doses of Vitamin B6 because their metabolism has been altered by the other chemicals that are affecting them. Those people rely on purchases of Vitamin B6 from healthfood shops. There will be enormous expense to the health service if we all go to our GPs for prescriptions. Has that been taken into account?

Lord Donoughue: Yes, my Lords. I think we can say that. The restraints we have applied refer only to food supplements. Vitamin B6 can still be licensed and be available from a pharmacist in amounts up to 49 milligrams a day. A doctor can prescribe more than 50 milligrams. Those who have complaints for which Vitamin B6 is an appropriate remedy can still get it from the pharmacist or from the doctor. It is not our information that this imposes a particular extra burden.

Prisoners: Suicides

3.7 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prisoners in England and Wales have taken their own lives in the financial year 1997-98 so far, and of these, how many were male remand prisoners under the age of 21.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, 48 prisoners in England and Wales have taken their own lives since 1st April 1997, including one male remand prisoner under the age of 21.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does not that indicate that there has been a further steep increase in the rate of self-inflicted deaths since the start of this year? Bearing in mind that only 27 per cent. of the prisoners who took their own lives in the last financial year were being monitored at the time of their death, do we not have to admit that our identification of those at risk is not very reliable? Can the Minister say whether any of the 18 young men under 21 who suffered self-inflicted death in the past year were being monitored at the time and whether, in view of this tragic loss of life, the Government will ask the recently appointed assistant

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director for young prisoners to address the question of prevention as a matter of the highest priority, taking into consideration that at the Army's institution for young offenders there have been no self-inflicted deaths in the past five years?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, during the past 10 years the overall trend as regards suicide has been an annual increase of 6 to 8 per cent. However, against the rise in the prison population, of which your Lordships are well aware, during the past three years the number of deaths has reduced slightly from 127 to 116 per 100,000. So far, 64 prisoner have died. If sustained, that would be a rate of 118. The noble Lord raised some further matters. I appreciate that there were more than two questions but these are sufficiently serious matters for me to deal with them. Of course the assistant director will have this very much in mind. It is an extremely important question. The noble Lord asked whether the young men who died were being monitored. They would have been monitored, but plainly the monitoring failed. I say with all candour that I know of no monitoring system that will ever bring about a situation where no inmate in a custodial institution is unable to take his or her life.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister familiar with the Howard League report on young offenders, Banged up, Beaten up, Cutting up, which was produced by a committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws? Does he accept the concern expressed in the report that prison overcrowding is making it increasingly difficult to protect prisoners from other prisoners? In particular, does he accept the recommendation of the report that prisoners should no longer be allowed to keep razor blades in their cells?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am aware of the contents of that report. There is no evidence that overcrowding of itself results in an increase in suicide. There is a large number of prisoners who prefer to share cells because it mitigates the loneliness and boredom of the day. Obviously, the Government are paying particular attention to the Kennedy Report, as they are to other reports. The fact that the Director of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, recently recirculated the useful document Caring for the Suicidal in Custody demonstrates that this issue is treated with great seriousness.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the pioneering work of the Children's Society in its remand and rescue initiative, which is officially launched today, has secured the release from remand of over 50 youngsters in the first six months and that that demonstrates many more young people on remand could be supervised in the community and thus be at far less risk of suicide, self-harm, bullying and criminal contamination?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that question and also for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it so that I might do useful research. The Government believe that the initiative which the right reverend Prelate has specified, and the work of NACRO's juvenile remand review group, are very helpful in assisting the court with information when it makes remand decisions. The youth justice reform programme, to which reference was made earlier to your Lordships, will include measures for improving the delivery of youth justice services. One of the extremely important proposals which cannot be over-stressed will include placing a statutory duty on local authorities to provide appropriate access to youth justice services, which will include bail support. Accordingly, that should help the pressures on the juvenile remand system as well as on the wider prison estate.

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