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Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply and pay tribute to his personal concern for prisons and prisoners. Will he accept that the Amnesty report illustrated clearly the wide-ranging dangers to the most vulnerable people in this country, whether they are in custody or at liberty? Will the noble Lord give some examples of current progress in providing better safeguards for such people?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's congratulations on behalf of my noble friend Lord Williams, who is abroad at present. He is the Prisons Minister and certainly deserves the noble Lord's tribute.

Perhaps I may give a single example, referred to in the Amnesty report; namely, that of Category A prisoners. Category A prisoners are now no longer held in separate prisons but in units in five dispersal prisons, where they have rights to education, employment, physical education and recreation, offending behaviour programmes and rights of association.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, did my noble friend observe in the Amnesty report the worrying number of deaths in police custody arising from asphyxia caused by inappropriate restraint techniques? Are the Government taking action to ensure that all forces receive regular training in techniques which are effective but are much safer? While my noble friend is reflecting on that, can he shed any light on the curious statistic from the Government's own research report that

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someone arrested by the Metropolitan Police is over six times more likely to die in custody than someone arrested by a provincial force?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, on the first question, regarding deaths in custody from asphyxia, in the study to which my noble friend refers, in only 8 per cent of the cases examined between 1990 and 1996 may another person's actions, which may include restraint leading to asphyxia, have been associated with the death. However, my noble friend is right. We need better figures on restraint. We have been carrying out a full review which will be available next year. There is a new training syllabus, and 80 senior investigating officers have been trained. On the issue of the higher proportion as regards the Metropolitan Police, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to write to him.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the delay in the publication of the transcript of this hearing an outcome of the decision of the United Nations not to publish any documents until they are translated into all working languages of the UN? Will the Government work for the reversal of that inane decision?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not aware that that is the reason for it. I understand that, although it is not unusual for UN documents to take some time to appear, this delay is due to pressure of work at the office of the High Commission where priority has been given to publication of the written findings of the committee.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, as this Question relates to torture, is the noble Lord aware that many noble Lords have been considerably gratified by the Government's announcement to increase the number of Kosovan refugees who come to this country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not believe that I should respond to that, but I do with gratitude. I believe that the noble Lord expresses a view that is widely shared throughout the country.

National Attack Warning System

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made on bringing in the National Attack Warning System.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to the National Attack Warning System which the Home Office is developing in conjunction with the British Broadcasting Corporation. We are reviewing the system with the aim of achieving the most cost-effective implementation of the final elements by the end of the current financial year.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I warmly welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch

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Box. A system was selected in 1995 and work began to develop the air warning attack system. Can the Minister explain why there appears to be tension between the Home Office, the MoD, the BBC and the ITC which is preventing that work coming to fruition? Is the money still in the budget? What is the priority now in the Home Office for this project?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. The system has been around for some time. The BBC was commissioned to begin work on the system in 1994, with a planned implementation date in 1998. The noble Baroness is probably much more aware than I am of the problems and delays that have arisen during the period between initiation of the project and the present. Having said that, I assure the noble Baroness that the whole project is still on course and the financial implications remain. It has been indicated that with a few minor tweaks to the system it is possible that the whole process will be rounded off by the end of this year.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, can my noble friend say how the system will work?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the system has been developed by the British Broadcasting Corporation around existing transmission arrangements. In a time of tension the system provides, additionally, a back-up transmission of British Telecom and private wires to give resilience and uses remotely controlled switching equipment to connect the warning centre to dedicated transmitters instantaneously. This also gives the ability to use alternate paths to the transmitters in the event of damage to the network following an air attack. The system is based in the main on the BBC transmission of both television and radio, plus the British Telecom back-up in certain areas.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that whatever system is decided upon and however penetrating it may be it will not work properly unless people understand it? Therefore, what steps will the Government take to ensure that people do understand it?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the system needs to be fully understood. As it is a warning system, it is important that those involved--the nation generally--are forewarned and educated about the likelihood of an attack and how the system will work. It is important that the noble Lord's point is got across as effectively as possible. That is part of the build-up to the scheme. The indications are that once the system is in place there will be a process of education based mainly on television and radio to inform people of exactly what preparations are necessary to tune in to the system and how they should react once the system has been activated.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, can the Minister inform the House what kind of attack this message will be about?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the system will operate on the basis of a national emergency. We are not

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considering local arrangements, but a national system. In the event of an air attack--it is recognised that we would have knowledge of its likelihood--the whole nation will need to be informed. It is to be hoped that when the system is in operation it will provide that kind of information and warning.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, if the warning system is activated because of an air attack, what is the population meant to do? What do the Government suggest that people should do?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the system has been designed to ensure that warning of an attack is given throughout the land. In the event of the system being attacked and becoming unworkable, it would be very difficult for it to operate on the basis presently envisaged. The system is designed with safeguards. If it is partially disabled following an air attack--that is about as much as it can be--the rest of the system will still function on the basis that warnings and post-warnings will be given throughout the nation or to those parts not affected by the attack.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, it is my understanding that this system was intended not only to warn of the attacks of which the Minister speaks, but also major civil emergencies of one kind or another. Is that still the case?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the answer to that is a qualified "yes", on the basis that the system is designed to be a national attack warning system. I envisage very few civil scenarios which will require a national warning system. I can think of occasions when, for example, floods may affect particular areas and therefore warnings need to be given. On a national basis in peacetime, I find it very difficult to envisage the need for such a system. In the event of it being necessary to use it on the basis suggested, I believe that this could be achieved by means of the well-rehearsed systems that already exist under parts of the scheme. In answer to the noble Lord's question of whether the system can be used in civil or peacetime circumstances, I find great difficulty in envisaging such circumstances. Having said that, the system exists. If the noble Lord can think of circumstances in which it may be used, I am sure that the system can be applied them.

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