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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, political imperatives were not on the list of the five criteria that I put forward for assessing road schemes. There have been instances in the past when political imperatives of less--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am thinking of particular schemes perhaps in the more recent past. There have been instances in the past where political imperatives of less national significance have been assessed for those reasons. We have to look at the issues of integration and it would be foolish not to look at transport links on both sides of the Border. Certainly, we have to look at issues such as regional services, the CTRL and Eurostar services. We have to look also at cross-Europe issues, as this route is a trans-European network. So wide issues of integration are involved.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware of the vast amounts of money that have been wasted on building dual carriageways which have then been made into six-lane carriageways. I have in mind the A.19, the M.25, the A.1, the M.6 and so on. Would it not be a great deal cheaper if in the first place six-lane roads were made whenever possible?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do not think that the general spirit of an integrated transport policy and the emphasis the Government want to put on cutting pollution and congestion are such that we should go to the philosophy of predicting and providing in terms of

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road space. If one looks at the predictions for traffic growth if no change is made, it becomes perfectly obvious that we cannot build our way out of transport problems. That is why we need an integrated approach and why we need to look closely both at integrating transport issues with land-use planning issues so that we do not generate unnecessarily the need for travel and journeys and also at providing clean, affordable, acceptable public transport alternatives to individual car journeys where appropriate.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, in view of the interest expressed by the Minister in cross-Border links, does she not feel that equal priority should be given to the long awaited dualling of the A.1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the dualling of the A.1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh is being considered in the context of the Scottish roads review, the results of which will be published later this year. There are also schemes proposed for the A.1 south of the Border, which comes within my responsibilities and about which I hope to be able to give information to the House next week.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, it is encouraging to hear the noble Baroness's response to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Campbell about this stretch of road. She has shown that she understands precisely what the problem is and why there is a difficult bottle-neck on that stretch. I gather that the decision as to whether the work goes ahead is to be taken within the next few days. When she returns to her office today, will she underline those particular details in red because they are very important?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I was trying to be studiedly neutral in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, about this scheme and in explaining the issues we have to take into account. I said that I understood very well that locally and north of the Border great emphasis was put on the issue of having motorway standard links all the way down. But I also pointed out, in the context of less emphasis on road building and more emphasis on road maintenance and making the best use of what we have, that we have to assess rigorously claims, for example, that a specific part of a road is a particularly bad bottle-neck and needs to be addressed because of that.

Prisons: Suicide Rate

3.18 p.m.

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many people since April 1992 have committed suicide in prisons managed by the commercial sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, since April 1992 there have been 19 apparent

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self-inflicted deaths of prisoners in custody in contractually-managed prisons. I understand that inquest verdicts have been returned on 12 of those deaths: 10 were suicides and two were accidental deaths.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Can he explain why the staffing ratio in private sector prisons is less than in publicly-managed prisons? Does he accept that the very high prison population results in prison officers being unable to provide adequate care to those who may have a suicidal tendency? What is the Government's plan in relation to housing prisoners near to their homes and in relation to mentally ill offenders who may have a depressive illness and may be a suicide risk?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, staff ratios vary according to the regime in a particular prison and the type of prisoner in it. I take the noble Lord's point about imprisoning prisoners close to their homes. Unfortunately, one finds that the suicide rate in prisons is larger in local prisons, partly because it is found that suicide among prisoners, which everyone regrets, tends to occur in the very early stages of incarceration, whether on remand or following sentence. Prison officers are trained to be aware of suicide risks. There are a number of schemes which have been developed, and which are still being developed, with various organisations such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, to make sure that suicide risks are identified as soon as possible when a prisoner is taken into custody.

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, as regards the latter part of the Minister's reply, can he confirm that the Prison Service policy of having trained suicide-awareness teams applies to the prisons in the private sector as well as to HM Prison Service establishments? Can he also confirm that a majority of the suicides which the noble Lord mentioned--that is, 17--were not convicted offenders at all, but were on remand awaiting trial or sentence?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, certainly many were on remand. It is a very serious problem indeed. As regards the specific question about private prisons, Doncaster prison, for instance, was the subject of a report published by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in October 1996. He particularly commended the systems of management of healthcare and suicide prevention, so there is no distinction in the quality that one aims to provide in this context between private prisons and publicly-run prisons.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in a civilised society one death of this kind in prison is one too many? Does he further agree that, while there is a real issue of prison needing to be a deterrent and a punishment, the biggest challenge of all is the process of rehabilitation to full and positive citizenship and that has to start on day one of internment? In that context, does my noble friend also agree that there is a cultural issue to be tackled here in the entire Prison Service in

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which, of course, there are very many prison officers who serve with distinction and commitment which would challenge us all?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, even one death is one too many. The apparent rise in the rate of suicide in custody has generally mirrored a similar rise in similar age groups throughout the community. I dare say that the reasons for that are manifold and subtle and I cannot pretend to pinpoint all of them. My noble friend Lord Judd is right. We have to have constructive regimes in prison. When I repeated the Statement that Mr. Straw made in another place quite recently in your Lordships' House, I pointed out that extra funding was going to be made available to increase the target of productive activity from 22.5 hours a week to 24 hours a week, which is an important start.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us accept what he said a few moments ago that the most difficult area lies in local prisons? Is he aware also that many of us have seen over-staffing in some prisons? Does he agree that under-staffing raises particularly difficult issues in prisons because, by definition, the governor, or whoever is in charge of the establishment, does not have the staff to keep watch on the most vulnerable prisoners? Will he guarantee that this particular matter is looked at with some care?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, certainly under-staffing is a distinct problem, not only as regards the numbers of staff, but their quality. Dealing with potentially suicidal prisoners is a very difficult skill to acquire. That is undoubtedly a problem. I can tell your Lordships that that is under review. Any remedy for reducing the suicide rate is something that we all take most seriously.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that both as regards suicide and many other prison problems, it is overcrowding which lies at the root of them? In those circumstances, can he give the House any kind of hope that there will be a substantial reduction in the prison population through the introduction of other methods for the treatment of offenders than incarceration which so often leads to further offences?

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