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Prison Service: Safer Custody

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Prison Service Order (PSO) 2700 (suicide and self-harm prevention) came into effect on 1 January 2003. It replaces the previous instructions and sets out mandatory requirements. This PSO brings existing policy in line with the direction of the Prison Service's approach to suicide prevention (the move from "awareness" to "prevention") and the broader context (decency, safety, the concept of the healthy prison). It provides prison staff with instructions on identifying prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm and on providing the subsequent care and support for such prisoners.

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A guidance document Suicide Prevention Strategies has been issued in conjunction with this PSO. Copies of both have been lodged in the Library. The guidance document provides suggestions in line with the suicide and self-harm prevention strategy based on the Internal Review of Suicide and Self-harm in the Prison Service and incorporates protocols on the use of safer cells and information on the role of Samaritans and prisoner peer supporters. It aims to support the practices and procedures set out in PSO 2700, while recognising that not all the guidance will be appropriate or feasible or affordable for all establishments. Managers are encouraged to judge which suggestions are appropriate to their type/category of establishment and carefully to consider which aspects of the advice they believe realistically can be implemented in their establishment within the resources available.

These documents cannot reflect all the learning from the Prison Service's suicide prevention and self-harm reduction programme, which is at its half-way stage. This programme includes a series of projects to address pre-reception, reception and induction arrangements; inter-agency information exchange; prisoner care; detoxification; prisoner peer support, and the learning from investigations into deaths in custody. The three-year programme, which started in April 2001, will be subject to an independent evaluation, and a new generation of replacement PSOs is planned for 2004. It is likely that, as with PSO 2700 and the supporting guide, the distinction between mandatory actions and good practice will be maintained.Joan

Prison Service: Court Escort Service

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps are being taken to reduce the long delays and late arrivals of prisoners from court and to improve the limited information received by prisons from escort contractors; and what assessment has been made of the benefits that could be secured from placing responsibility for escort services with the Prison Service.[HL756]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Prison Service is taking a number of steps to improve the service to the courts. These include the greater use of video links to reduce prisoner movements to court and the provision of additional resources to contractors to enable them to respond to the increased volume of business.

All necessary information is passed between the contractor and the Prison Service whenever a prisoner is moved. Any failure to pass on any necessary information would be investigated by the Prison Service as part of their monitoring processes.

The contracting out of prisoner escort arrangements has offered better value for money and a reduction in the number of escapes and has freed up prison officers to concentrate on their core duties. A recent Prison Service review confirmed that the service should continue to be contracted out. It also concluded that

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existing contracts, which are planned to be re-let in 2004, should be replaced with more flexible ones to allow the Prison Service to respond more quickly to future business needs. The Prison Service is developing this approach and is considering how the relevant agencies in the criminal justice system can work together to improve the service.

Prisoners: Deaths and Serious Injury

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ask the Chief Inspector of Prisons to conduct inquiries into all deaths and serious injuries in prisons; and whether they will provide adequate additional resources for that purpose.[HL758]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary launched a three-year safer custody programme in April 2001 aimed at reducing deaths, self-harm and violence in prisons. The programme targets the highest risk prisoners in the highest risk locations, concentrating on six pilot sites. As part of this programme the Prison Service is considering how it can improve and strengthen investigation procedures into deaths in custody to determine not only what happened in an individual case but also how practice might be improved in future to try to prevent further deaths.

The Prison Service has conducted a wide-scale consultation exercise, considering a number of options (including asking HM Chief Inspector of Prisons to conduct such inquiries) to make investigations into deaths in custody more independent. Ministers are considering whether to give responsibility for investigating deaths in prison custody to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. In the interim, the Prison Service is doing what it can within available resources to strengthen and improve the current system of investigating deaths in custody. There are no plans at present to introduce routine independent investigations for serious incidents in prisons.

Section 5A(4) 1952 permits the Home Secretary to refer specific matters connected with prisons and prisoners to HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and direct her to report on them. Similarly, the Home Secretary can ask the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to investigate and report on any prison matter.

Criminal Records Bureau Review

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 1 November (WA48-50), whether the independent team led by Patrick Carter and appointed in September to take a fundamental look at the strategy and operations of the Criminal Records Bureau and its private sector partner, Capita, has reported to the Home Secretary with its conclusions and recommendations; and, if so, when

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    that report and the Government's response will be published.[HL795]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The independent review team delivered its conclusions and recommendations to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in December. These took the form of advice to Ministers, including on matters that are commercially confidential; as such they are not in a form suitable for publication. We shall be considering the review team's findings and recommendations very carefully and are minded to publish a summary document, together with the Government's response, in due course.

China: Human Rights

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What special rapporteurs and working groups of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights have visited China over the past 10 years; whether there are any outstanding requests for invitations by any of those bodies; and, in each case, what was the date of the request and the reply, if any.[HL786]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): The Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights has given us the following response to the noble Lord's question:


    The Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance visited in 1994;

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited in 1997.

Pending requests:

    The former Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions requested an invitation for a visit in 1992. The request was repeated in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.

    The former Special Rapporteur on Torture requested an invitation in 1995. China first issued an invitation in 1999. Negotiations have taken place since to agree terms of reference for the visit. We understand that the Chinese invitation was repeated to the new rapporteur in November 2001.

    The former Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression requested a visit in 1999. This was repeated in 2000 and 2001. The new rapporteur requested a visit in 2002.

In addition, the Chinese Government have told us that in November 2002 they issued an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What reply they have received from the Chinese authorities when they have raised the duty of member states to co-operate with United Nations mechanisms and those of the High Commission for Human Rights, in particular at the United

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    Kingdom-China and European Union-China human rights dialogues.[HL787]

Baroness Amos: Since the EU and UK/China human rights dialogues started in 1997 we and the EU have regularly urged China to co-operate with all UN human rights mechanisms.

China has issued invitations to the Rapporteur on Torture and the Rappporteur on the Right to Education. It has also recently repeated an earlier invitation to the chairman of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

At the most recent UK/China human rights dialogue in November 2002 we urged China to issue an open invitation to all special rapporteurs and in particular to the new Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. The Chinese response was that their authorities would be unable to cope with a flurry of visits and that the UN's limited budget for rapporteurs should not be concentrated on just a few countries. However, they agreed to consider issuing an invitation to the Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

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