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Road Traffic Humps

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: The height and shape of road traffic humps on public roads is prescribed by law. The humps referred to by the noble Lord were installed in February 1994 by Westminster City Council. They are of a design which is no longer recommended. I will convey the noble Lord's concern to the city council.

Prisoners Ill-treatment: Boards of Visitors' Duty

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Boards of Visitors are required, under Prison Rule 94, to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State any ill-treatment of prisoners which comes to their knowledge. In dealing with such allegations, Ministers would expect the board to seek an explanation from the governor of the establishment and, if they remain unsatisfied, to draw this to the attention of the Secretary of State.

A prisoner does not have to use the services of the Board of Visitors in seeking a resolution to his or her grievances. Thus some cases will by-pass the Board of Visitors entirely and go to the Prisons Ombudsman.

Individual chairmen of Boards of Visitors can and do raise issues of concern directly with Ministers or the Director General of the Prison Service, who will make themselves available to discuss such issues if required. The Prisons Ombudsman will also take such action if he should wish to raise any issue of concern.

Legislation: Human Rights Compatibility

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Williams of Mostyn on 20 July (WA 72), whether there is any reason why, as a matter of good public administration, as distinct from legal duty, they will not undertake that a Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament will, before Second Reading of the Bill: (a) make a statement to the effect that in his or her view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights; or (b) make a statement to the effect that, although he or she is unable to make a statement of compatibility, the Government nevertheless wish the House to proceed with the Bill.[HL2974]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Such an undertaking, although different in form, would be identical in its effects to Clause 19 of the Human Rights Bill [H.L.]. We believe that the best course is to await final parliamentary approval of this and other provisions of the Bill and then to decide when they should be brought into force.

Passports: Grounds for Withdrawal

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether British citizens are entitled to expect that passport facilities will be withdrawn only in clearly defined circumstances which have been reported to Parliament; and, if so, what are the current circumstances in which the Government would exercise the right to withdraw passport facilities.[HL3055]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The circumstances in which a British passport would be withdrawn have been reported to Parliament on a number of occasions, the last being 7 February 1995, and have not changed. Withdrawal of a passport would be considered: (a) if it came to the Passport Agency's attention on replacement that it had been issued incorrectly; and (b) on the same basis as the refusal of an application. That is in the case of: (i) a minor whose journey was known to be contrary to a court order, to the wishes of a parent or other person or authority in whose favour a residence or care order had been made or who had been awarded custody; or care and control, or to the provisions of Section 25(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 as amended by Section 42 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963, or Section 56 of the Adoption Act 1976, as amended by the Children Act 1989; (ii) a person for whose arrest a warrant had been issued in the United Kingdom, or a person who was wanted by the United Kingdom police on suspicion of a serious crime; (iii) in very rare cases, a person whose past or proposed activities were so demonstrably undesirable that the grant or continued enjoyment of passport facilities would be contrary to the public interest; (iv) a person repatriated from abroad at public expense until the debt has been repaid.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider giving the present arrangements for issuing and withdrawing passports a statutory basis.[HL3056]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government have no plans to change the present system under which passports are issued in the United Kingdom at the discretion of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in overseas posts, both exercising the Royal Prerogative.

In practice, refusal and withdrawal of passport facilities to United Kingdom nationals is confined to certain well defined categories, of which Parliament has been informed from time to time. Although the issue of passports is a discretionary power under the Royal Prerogative, it is constrained as any statutory power might be, and the exercise of the discretion may be reviewed by the courts. The system has worked well and it has been generally accepted, under successive Administrations, that the exercise of the Royal Prerogative has not been abused.

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Youth Justice Task Force

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they have received from the Youth Justice Task Force.[HL3207]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Youth Justice Task Force delivered its final report, which incorporates all the advice it has given, this month. That advice has helped frame the youth justice measures now reflected in the Crime and Disorder Bill [HL] and provides a steer for the early work of the new Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. Copies of the task force's final report have been placed in the Library and will be made available on the Internet. The task force has now been wound up.

Terrorism Legislation: Consultation

Lord Mason of Barnsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the consultation paper on future legislation against terrorism will be published.[HL3208]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Work on the preparation of the consultation paper is well advanced and we now envisage that it will be published in the autumn.

Prison Service: Annual Report and Accounts

Lord Mason of Barnsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to lay before Parliament the Prison Service's Annual Report and Accounts.[HL3211]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am pleased to report that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today laid before Parliament the Prison Service's Annual Report and Accounts. Copies have also been placed in the Library.

Prison Service Agency: Quinquennial Review

Lord Dixon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to conduct a quinquennial review of the Prison Service Agency.[HL3209]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Prison Service was established as a Next Steps Executive Agency on 1 April 1993. Since then there have been a number of changes to the relationship between the service and the main Home Office. Most importantly, as promised in the Labour Party manifesto, since the general election the Government have acted to take proper ministerial responsibility for the service. Against this background, and taking the opportunity of the quinquennial review of Next Steps Agencies which is now due, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is today announcing an evaluation of the performance of the agency, reconsideration of Prior Options relating to

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Agency Status and, if appropriate, a review of the existing framework document.

The terms of reference for the review are as follows:

    to conduct an evaluation of the performance of the agency since its inception;

    in the light of this evaluation to consider whether, among the available options, agency status remains the most cost effective way of achieving Home Office aims within the context of proper ministerial responsibility; and

    if the review concludes that the Prison Service should continue to function as an executive agency, to consider what changes, if any, are required to the framework document and financial memorandum in light of the findings of the review and the changes we have made to the arrangements for ministerial responsibility for the service. If, however, the review concludes otherwise, to recommend the transitional arrangements necessary to facilitate transformation of the service from executive agency to another organisational entity.

The review will be conducted by officials from the main Home Office working with officials in the Prison Service. It will draw on and take account of other relevant work, for example, the Prison Service Review which was published earlier in the year and the Prison-Probation Review.

We welcome the views of all interested parties and, in particular, the review team will seek the views of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation, the Parole Board and the Prison Ombudsman. I am today writing to the Chairman of the Boards of Visitors National Advisory Council, the Home Office Trade Union Side, the Prison Service Trade Union Side, the Prison Officers' Association, the Prison Governor's Association, the Secretary of the Prison Service Joint Industrial Council, the Association of Chief Probation Officers, the National Association of Probation Officers, the Central Probation Council and the Directors of the Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, inviting their views. We shall also be seeking the views of the Criminal Justice Consultative Council and organisations associated with it.

It is hoped to publish the outcome of the review around the end of the year.

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