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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the policies of both sides are failing. The use of suicide bombers does nothing to bring peace, nor, sadly, will the Israeli Government's attempts to increase security, without serious engagement in a political process. The United Kingdom Government have been intensively engaged to that end. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has met President Mubarak, US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Hariri and in recent days has spoken to Crown Prince Abdullah and President Bush. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has, similarly, been heavily engaged.

We will continue to do everything that we can to take forward the process, despite the appalling events in the region.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the latest suicide bombing was carried out by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the political wing of Fatah, the organisation controlled by Yasser Arafat? Will my noble friend take into account, when assisting with the so-called peace process, the contradiction between Yasser Arafat's condemnation and the fact that a wing of his movement is carrying out the atrocities?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, one of the problems is the degree of control that can be

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exercised in the circumstances. We call on Yasser Arafat to make a 100 per cent effort to prevent terrorist attacks. We do that constantly in all our interchanges with the Palestinian Authority.

I should point out that President Arafat has condemned the bombings this week. He said that attacks on Israeli citizens did not relate in any way to the Palestinians' legitimate right to resist the Israeli occupation. He said that in Arabic, so I hope that there will be no equivocation among his supporters about his condemnation.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, it is right that Ariel Sharon's policies will not produce any kind of solution and are self-defeating. Does the Minister accept, however—I am sure that she does—that the calculated and targeted suicide bombing of civilian men, women, children and babies is an unqualified evil, with no "ifs" or "buts" attached? Does she welcome, as I do, the statement by 55 leading Palestinian thinkers to that effect? It was welcome, as were the comments of Chairman Arafat to the same effect. Will the Minister give us the Government's view of the new proposal to build a fence and trench through West Bank territory? Is that a plus or a minus?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord heard how I began my initial Answer. I said that Her Majesty's Government condemn unequivocally the suicide bombings. The noble Lord is, of course, right to emphasise the point, and Her Majesty's Government welcome all such statements, from whatever side. We hope that, when the statements are made by those on the Arab side, those who are carrying out the atrocities will listen carefully.

I understand that a 110-kilometre stretch of fence is being built along the northern green line, although it may extend further than that. I understand the wish to try to secure the Israeli population, but I fear that fences alone will not achieve that objective. Israel will be secured only by negotiations in which both sides have taken part realistically and sincerely.

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some of the prime sponsors of terrorism in the West Bank are in Syria and Iran? They use the Palestinians cynically as their means of destroying the state of Israel, their prime purpose, and have little interest in the well-being of the unfortunate Palestinians. Is there anything that our Government can do to bring pressure to bear on those states?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, without in any way indicating intelligence sources, I can assure your Lordships that, if Her Majesty's Government have reason to believe that such activities are encouraged by states overseas, we make representations to those governments. If we are looking around to find those who are really trying to help the Palestinian people, I would point to the donors of aid. The major contributor has been the European Commission. That aid helps the

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Palestinians and will be of more importance and benefit to them than encouragement for any form of terrorism.

Prisons: Facilities

3.17 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as a past member of the board of visitors of a young offenders institution.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the new prisons which are being built will have facilities for disabled prisoners, staff, visitors and volunteers; and what plans they have to adapt existing prisons to provide these facilities.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, new houseblocks in both Prison Service-managed and contracted-out prisons are designed to be fully accessible to wheelchair users at ground floor level. Other appropriate facilities are also provided. The Prison Service has produced a draft design guide to reflect the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. A needs assessment is being undertaken, which will benefit all those with a disability.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. However, many facilities in our prisons are upstairs, and it is hugely difficult for severely disabled people to be integrated into prison life. Such people suffer extra discrimination.

Are prison officers covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995? How does human rights legislation relate to prisons?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there are, of course, problems above ground floor level. As I said, a needs assessment is due to be completed within 12 months. That will form the basis of Prison Service strategy planning for all existing accommodation. As I suggested in my Answer, problems for disabled people must be taken into account in tenders for new prisons—contracted-out or in the Prison Service.

Prison officers are not included in the DDA. We take their position into account when preparing employment policies. It would take some time to give a complete summary of how the Human Rights Act 1998 applies to prisons. I shall write to the noble Baroness about that.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that, where possible, it is better to treat non-violent offenders in the community rather than sending them to prison? Should that not apply especially to disabled prisoners who, as the noble Baroness has already pointed out,

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are unlikely to receive decent treatment that will help them to avoid further expenses? If my noble and learned friend agrees with that comment, will he do what he can to encourage sentencers to take disability into account, in particular when a disabled person is found guilty of a non-violent offence?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, in a joint Statement made last week, my right honourable friends the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary made it clear that, with regard to non-serious crimes not involving violence or sexual assault, sentencers should consider whether prison will do any good in such cases. Evidence would suggest that short prison sentences imposed in cases where neither violence nor sexual assault is involved rarely do any good. Sentencers need to think about that much more.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, first, given the overcrowded conditions in our existing prisons, are there sufficient cells available which can be quickly adapted for prisoners afflicted by blindness or deafness? Secondly, are the relevant doorways wide enough for wheelchairs?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the position is mixed throughout the prison estate. At any one time something under or up to 1 per cent of the prison population is disabled in one way or another, including physical disablement and sight impairment, to which the noble Lord referred. As I have said, at present sufficient space is available to deal with those prisoners, but it varies from place to place. I cannot give the noble Lord an assurance that in every case doors will be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, nor can I say whether in every establishment there will be sufficient facilities for the sight impaired.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, while welcoming the tone of his original Answer, does the Minister agree that it is extremely important for disabled family members, visitors and friends to know exactly what facilities are available during what will be a stressful time if they are visiting from outside? Do individual prison establishments produce in an accessible format a clear, one-page guide on what is available? If they do not, would the noble and learned Lord support that proposal?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree that it is important for people to know exactly what facilities are available in each prison establishment and that family members in particular should be aware of the relevant facilities if a disabled relative is to visit a prison. I do not know the answer to the question put to me by the noble Baroness. I shall look into the matter and write to her.

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