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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand the import of what the noble Baroness says. Of course, that situation presents a difficulty; the realities of arresting and dealing with those war criminals are self-evident. We have tried to target the regime itself. We understand that the new sanctions are biting. The information we have on the ground is that people understand that we are trying to target the regime, Milosevic and his henchmen, and not the people of Serbia. The Serbian opposition understand and support that view.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, what is the Government's assessment of the recent report on sanctions by the Select Committee on International Development?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is clear that sanctions can be a blunt instrument. As I have already said, we are anxious to make sure that the sanctions are targeted. They are being targeted appropriately now. What have been described as "smart" sanctions are more effective.

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HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

11.16 a.m.

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their plans for the future role of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the role of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons is defined by statute in Section 5A of the Prison Act 1952, which was inserted by Section 57 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982. Her Majesty's Government have no plans to alter the Chief Inspector's statutory role.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is not his intention to combine the prisons and probation inspectorates? It may help to promote joint work. But does he accept that we do not require a seamless, joined-up approach to inspectorates in the criminal justice system? Does he also accept that the high profile of prison inspectorates under successive governments has played a vital role in pressing the need for prison reforms and that any change in this matter would adversely affect public confidence? Does he further accept that any changes in such an inspectorate ought to be based on the merits of the argument and not on making Ministers' lives easier by getting rid of highly effective and outspoken chief inspectors?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Government are committed to exposing public services to vigorous scrutiny to ensure that high standards are achieved and maintained. As part of the wider context of our determination to reduce crime it is well known that we are looking at closer working between the Prison and Probation Services. This will be important for the relevant inspectorates, but no decisions have yet been taken as to the nature of changes that may be necessary. It is appreciated that the role of Chief Inspector of Prisons is an independent and valued one.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, will the Minister identify for the benefit of the House those major recommendations of Her Majesty's Inspector which the Government have failed to carry out to date?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am not in a position to give an exact answer to the noble and learned Lord's question. However, it is perhaps worth remembering that the inspector has made a large number of good reports on various prison establishments and that those outweigh the reports which are not so good. In recent months Pentonville, Werrington, Ashwell, Brockhill and Feltham have received largely positive reports. There is every reason to hope that Altcourse, Lowdham Grange and Buckley Hall will follow that positive trend. In that same period only three bad reports were published: on Dorchester, Rochester and Portland.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the leak on Tuesday which

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suggested that the chief inspector's title was going to be changed to an appalling one such as "Inspector of Corrections" is rubbish, as is the leak that he seemed to be foreshadowing in his Answer on Monday?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not think I was foreshadowing any leak in the Answer that I gave on Monday. As part of the wider context of our determination to reduce crime, we are looking at closer working relations between the Prison and the Probation Services. No decisions--I repeat, no decisions--have yet been taken as to how this will be reflected in the structure and working of the inspectorate.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us would welcome closer relations between the Prison and the Probation Services? Notwithstanding that, however, is he further aware that there would be fierce opposition to any attempt by Ministers to downgrade the independence of the Chief Inspector of Prisons? We value his independent reports and there would be very strong opposition in the House if any attempt was to be made in the future to change the character of that appointment.

Lord Bach: My Lords, like the noble Lord, the Government see a robust, independent inspectorate as having an essential role in identifying bad practice and in promoting good, constructive work in prisons.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the persistent criticisms made by the chief inspector relates to the short average term in office of prison governors and area managers? I believe that the figure is about two years. The chief inspector and many others feel that a more desirable average would be between five and seven years? Do the Government have plans to improve this situation?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I attempted to answer this question on Monday. Yes, we do see a problem in terms of governors moving on. In some cases that cannot be avoided, but we are doing our best to ensure that it does not happen on quite such a regular basis.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I apologise to the House for coming back to this matter. I thought that the noble Lord said in answer to the original Question that there was no intention to change the role of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, or for that matter of the Probation Service, but subsequently he seemed to say that no decisions had yet been taken. That is a different emphasis. Can the noble Lord help the House on this matter?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord has misunderstood me. There are no plans to alter the chief inspector's statutory role. At the same time--this is not inconsistent--I am informing the House of

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something that it already knows: that we are sensibly looking at closer working relations between the Prison and the Probation Services.

Lord Acton: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the current Chief Inspector of Prisons is not only robust and independent but has done a very fine job indeed?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is an absolute delight to answer that question from my noble friend. The answer is yes.

Chechnya: Prime Minister's Discussions with Mr Putin

11.23 a.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions the Prime Minister has had with Mr Putin about Chechnya.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Prime Minister has had regular discussions with Mr Putin on Chechnya. It was discussed at length when Mr Putin visited London earlier this week. Prior to that it was discussed on 27th March in a telephone conversation following Mr Putin's victory in the Russian presidential election. Chechnya was also discussed during the Prime Minister's visit to St Petersburg on 11th March.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is encouraging that the Prime Minister has made these representations. But what fundamentally is the difference between the allegations against the Russian forces in Chechnya under Mr Putin and those against the Chilean forces under General Pinochet?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the distinction is clear, but let me explain it to the noble Lord. So far as the allegations made in regard to Chechnya, they are the subject of investigation. Noble Lords will be pleased to note that Mr Putin has agreed that there should be a commission to investigate the allegations made in relation to atrocities and that that commission will have within it an independent element. So we will be able, it is to be hoped, to see in a very clear way what has happened and to make an assessment of what actions were taken, by whom and when.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, what benefits are envisaged from the Government's policy of critical engagement with Russia?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we believe that Her Majesty's Government's policy has had many

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advantages. The international community cannot of course solve the complex situation easily, but the pressure that has been applied has led to positive results. I have mentioned one already; that is, for Russia to set up an independent commission to investigate human rights abuses. There will be an attachment of three Council of Europe experts to the Russian ombudsman for human rights; the terms are now agreed and that should happen soon. Russia will allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to have access to all detainees; Russia will allow the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe assistance group to return to Chechnya in May; Russia has started a dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson--as noble Lords will remember, she visited the region earlier this month between 1st and 4th April--who has been invited to return in two or three months' time; and discussions at the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva are on-going. All of this has happened as a result of our critical engagement--and I emphasise the word "critical".

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