Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hooson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does it not indicate the huge problem facing this country? Everyone will agree that it is highly undesirable for mentally disturbed prisoners to be in the same establishment as people who are not mentally disturbed, for the sake of both categories. What realistically is the chance of progress on this front? For example, have the Government considered the use of some disused mental hospitals, because the establishments have to be secure, so that some of these mentally disturbed prisoners can at least have treatment?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is undoubtedly a serious problem. We are making funds available to assist mental health assessment schemes at magistrates' courts, we are funding NACRO to the extent of £146,000 in the coming year to carry out development work and we are encouraging the transfer of mentally disordered prisoners, whether remand or sentenced, who need hospital treatment from prison to hospital. That figure has risen from 180 in 1987 to a provisional figure of 750 last year. The number of secure psychiatric beds outside the special hospital regime has now gone up to 1,509 and low level secure beds to about 1,100. We are also looking to developing prisons on the Grendon model which would have

11 Mar 1998 : Column 211

therapeutic community places within them. But I accept what the noble Lord indicates--there is a long way to go.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, what advice are prisoners given if they are put in a cell with a mentally ill prisoner? What training are prison staff given in handling mentally disordered prisoners?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, prison staff are trained in order that they can recognise the signs of disorder and how to deal with them. About two-thirds of prisons have prisoner support and listening groups, most of which are supported by the Samaritans, who do very good work. But I readily accept, as I said earlier, that there is a good deal still to be done.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for disclosing the scale of the problem facing the Prison Service. Can he say what progress is being made in making available the resources of the National Health Service to prisoners, beginning perhaps first of all with those suffering from mental illnesses?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has recommended that the National Health Service should assume responsibility for the delivery of healthcare services to prisoners. Having had that recommendation, the Prison Service and the NHS have set up a joint working group to advise Ministers on options for improving prisoners' healthcare; in particular, to what extent and whether healthcare as an overall responsibility ought to be transferred to the National Health Service.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that mentally disordered people are of two quite distinct kinds? There are those who are mentally ill, many of whom are curable, and those who are mentally handicapped, which is an incurable condition. Those who are severely handicapped mentally have not a clue about what they are doing and need to be dealt with quite differently from others.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I entirely accept that proposition. One would have thought that those in the category of serious mental illness identified by the noble Lord have no place in prison in the first place. I am very conscious of that. One needs to bear in mind that the figure I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, includes psychiatric diagnosis relating to substance dependency or abuse. So the spectrum we are looking at, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, indicated, is a very wide one indeed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the Minister accept that a large part of this problem is that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of care in the community and too far away from the long-stay institutions referred to in the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson? If that is so, as seems indisputable, will the Government consider giving

11 Mar 1998 : Column 212

greater encouragement to village community-type institutions for both mentally ill and mentally handicapped offenders instead of allowing local services to pursue their abolition?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord's point is well made. Indeed, before the general election many of us on all sides of the House were on occasions bitterly critical of care in the community, when there seemed to be little community and precious little care for those who needed both. I shall certainly transmit the noble Lord's suggestion to the joint working group.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the background to this Question is that there are more persons in prison in this country awaiting trial in proportion to the total population than in any other country in Western Europe? As we have heard, 40 per cent. of them are not there because they are dangerous or because they have allegedly committed serious offences but because they are in need of psychiatric help or because they are homeless. Is it not true that the Home Office has established in its research that the use of prisons as assessment centres in this way is inhumane, expensive and ineffective? Can the Government do something about this now, as it does not require legislation and it does not require money? All it requires is some political effort.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think the solutions the noble Lord points to are without demand on resources. This requires more than political determination and imagination. Certainly, the deeply troubling question of prisoners on remand is one that the Home Secretary is addressing urgently, because he is intent on reducing delays in the system. That is not a total answer to the noble Lord's question, the thrust of which I largely endorse.

Commercial Broadcasters: Financial Levies

3.8 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will make proposals for alternative financial levies on commercial broadcasters.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have no plans to change the current arrangements for Exchequer payments under the Broadcasting Act 1990. We are considering the future regulation of broadcasting and telecommunications and intend to publish a Green Paper on convergence during 1998. The licensing regime for broadcasting, including Exchequer payments, is part of that overall framework and may well fall to be considered in that context.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I take some consolation from the second half of his Answer to me? Is he further aware

11 Mar 1998 : Column 213

that the previous Conservative administration left behind a special tax system for commercial broadcasters which is thoroughly inequitable? The ITV companies pay more than £400 million a year over and above the normal business taxes and there are grotesque anomalies between one company and another as to what payments they make, while BSkyB, with its dominating position in satellite broadcasting, escapes that taxation. The commercial radio companies are similarly conscious of the unfairness of the present system. Is the Minister aware that we hope that the Green Paper will result in a serious attempt by a new government to create a new and fairer tax system for these commercial broadcasters?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am aware of the criticism which has been made of the regime which was established by the 1990 Act. As regards the Channel 3 companies, some change will take place in the process of the renewal of licences from 1st January next year. But I share the noble Lord's hope that in the longer term what we do about convergence will deal with some other possible anomalies.

Organophosphates: Independent Review

3.9 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will convene a committee of scientists, medical practitioners and lay people who have no record of previous service on any of their advisory committees for pesticides or veterinary medicines and no links with the manufacturers to examine urgently all of the current evidence on the human health effects of exposure to organophosphates; and to report their findings publicly.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I am pleased to tell the noble Countess that the Department of Health has recently commissioned and funded a review of the putative effects of organophosphates on humans by the Medical Research Council's Institute of Environment and Health. The report of this review is expected to be published in the summer. The Advisory Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) has already given initial consideration to some of the issues raised by the report. It has decided to set up a working group to consider the report in greater detail. Its findings will be made public. I would like to assure the noble Countess and the whole House that Ministers take this process extremely seriously.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does she appreciate that I have been battling for six years against people who have a mantra that OPs are safe provided that they are used in the manner directed on the labels? Is she aware that they have not stepped back from that and looked at the enormous amount of ill health that has been caused

11 Mar 1998 : Column 214

by organophosphates? I shall be only too delighted if I can be proved wrong on this matter. Will the Minister please make sure that there is absolutely no overt or hidden bias among the people who are looking at OPs?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page