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Immigration Detention Centres: Religious Affairs

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In accordance with the Detention Centre Rules 2001 every removal centre must appoint a manager of religious affairs. The religious affairs manager's task is to facilitate religious observance and the provision of pastoral care for detained persons with the assistance of suitably qualified staff, including ministers of religion. The performance of the religious affairs office in each removal centre is monitored continually and improvements will be made whenever the need arises.

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Criminal Records Bureau: Review

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What changes have taken place as a result of the independent review of the Criminal Records Bureau.[HL3959]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Government, in their response on 27 February 2003 to the independent review team's recommendations for changes to the way in which the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) is managed and operates (Official Report, Commons, cols. 32–36WS), agreed that the CRB should be reconstituted as a free-standing executive agency within the Home Office as soon as practicable.

Vince Gaskell has been appointed to lead the new agency which will be launched on 1 September. I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of its framework document which sets out its role and functions and makes provision for its governance. A copy of its corporate and business plan including the targets set for the current financial year was placed in the Library of the House on 5 June.

Much has been done to strengthen and improve the CRB's performance and significant improvements in output volume and turnaround times have already been achieved. Since October the CRB has been issuing an average of 40,000 disclosures a week compared with 24,500 a week last August and the bureau is now meeting its service standards for turnaround times. Once the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill to implement a number of the independent review team's recommendations are in force, further improvements can be made to the efficiency and effectiveness of the CRB's services. We will consult further with registered bodies and others on the terms of the regulations to be made under the legislation before they are brought into force.

The establishment of the CRB as a separate agency will enable its senior management team under the leadership of Vince Gaskell to focus exclusively on the delivery of the CRB's changing and increasingly demanding functions and ensure that its customers receive the quality of service they have the right to expect.

Riot (Damages) Act 1886: Review

Lord Desai asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they plan to publish a review of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886.[HL3978]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have today published a consultation paper that looks at the origin and past operation of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 (RDA) and seeks the views of stakeholders on the future of the RDA.

The RDA is more than 100 years old. Both society and the nature of policing have changed dramatically in that time. In particular, in the light of our radical

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police reform programme, we need to look at whether the Act is still appropriate in the 21st century.

Currently the RDA makes a police authority in England and Wales liable to pay for damages to buildings and their contents when a riot has taken place. Police authorities, the police service and others have argued for some time that the principle underpinning the RDA—that a riot presents a culpable failure to provide adequate policing—is no longer appropriate to modern conditions. There is also concern that police authorities are subject to unlimited liability for riot damage under the RDA.

It is also argued that the RDA provides a safety net for businesses and households—particularly in inner-city areas, which have traditionally been more at risk of civil disturbances—and where property owners may have difficulties obtaining insurance, at least at affordable rates. Without the protection provided by the RDA, vulnerable communities could be at risk of further economic decline.

At a time when the police service is engaged in a programme of major reform it seems appropriate to consider whether the RDA remains appropriate to 21st century needs. We are therefore inviting views on the future of the RDA and, specifically, whether the RDA should be retained as it stands; repealed entirely; or reformed to limit liability for claims.

Comments and suggestions are requested on these specific issues but any alternative approaches or views to those outlined would be welcome.

The Government have an open mind on the options and look forward to hearing the views of interested parties.

We hope that the consultation will improve the evidence base to help develop a more detailed impact assessment.

Options 2 and 3 would require primary legislation.

Responses to the consultation paper are requested by 9 October 2003.

A copy of the document has been placed in the Library and is available at

Shipman Inquiry: Second and Third Reports

Lord Carter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they plan to publish the second and third reports of the Shipman inquiry.[HL3979]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: This morning, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health are publishing and laying before Parliament the Shipman inquiry's second and third reports: The Police Investigation of March 1998, and Death Certification and the Investigation of Deaths by Coroners. These follow the publication, last year, of the first report, Death Disguised, which established the extent of Harold Shipman's activities. The inquiry's

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final reports, on controlled drugs, and disciplinary systems and complaints, are expected next year.

We would like to thank Dame Janet Smith for the considerable work, and care and attention that have obviously gone into the preparation of these reports. We also wish to reiterate our sympathy to the relatives and friends of Shipman's victims. For their sake and in the wider interest of the community, it is essential that lessons are learned from these dreadful events.

The second report covers the investigation conducted by the Greater Manchester Police in March and April 1998; five months before Harold Shipman was arrested. It makes it clear that, while the inquiry does not blame police management systems, the conduct of those officers involved in this specific investigation fell below the standard which the community is entitled to expect of public servants in their position. There was a subsequent internal inquiry by Greater Manchester Police into the failure of the March 1998 investigation. In the words of Dame Janet this inquiry was "quite inadequate".

We take the judgment of the Shipman inquiry on the Greater Manchester Police extremely seriously. For the initial investigation to have failed is severe enough, but for the subsequent investigation into its handling to have been so flawed requires the most urgent and strenuous efforts to ensure that such an event could never recur. It is for Greater Manchester Police to investigate but we await its report, and will expect rapid and effective action as well as lessons to be learnt by other forces in response.

We have asked our officials to work closely with the Greater Manchester Police to establish what can usefully be drawn from the report and to offer appropriate support and advice. We will help Greater Manchester Police to move forward. Through the Home Office Police Standards Unit and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary we are already working with the force to deliver performance improvements for the benefit of those living and working in the force area.

It will also be for Greater Manchester Police to decide what action may be appropriate in relation to any individual police officer. The Home Secretary has written to the Chief Constable to ask to be kept informed of how the criticism against individuals in the force is being addressed.

The report recommends that guidance should be issued to those detective officers who have to undertake investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by health professionals. Work on this is already under way. The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Department of Health, with the advice of the Health and Safety Executive, are jointly developing a memorandum of understanding. This sets out the roles and responsibilities of both organisations when a serious incident takes place or is suspected of occurring, and principles for effective liaison when criminal investigations may be needed

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into such incidents involving NHS patients. The memorandum will also refer to other guidance on incidents of this type; for example, guidance to police senior investigating officers, which the report identified as being developed.

The third report found systemic shortcomings within the cremation arrangements and coroner system. The report of the Fundamental Review of Coroner Services and Death Certification, published on 4 June, identified similar inadequacies, although the solutions proposed are slightly different.

As we announced when the earlier report was published, in order to assist the Government to develop a coherent long-term strategy for the future of our death investigation processes, we have asked the chair of the fundamental review, Mr Tom Luce, to conduct some further work to link the review's recommendations to the findings of the Shipman inquiry. This will enable us to formulate a comprehensive programme of reform later this year, taking into account both sets of observations and recommendations.

Dame Janet makes two recommendations for short-term improvement: that cremation certification procedures should be strengthened and that practices in coroners' offices should be improved. As a matter of urgency, our officials are discussing these proposals with the relevant agencies as part of our existing programme to take forward interim measures to improve these services. We shall ensure that guidance to deliver more robust procedures and practices is issued as soon as possible.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury last week published a consultation document on modernisation of the civil registration service, including death certification. Like the Fundamental Review of Coroner Services and Death Certification, this also presents an opportunity for comprehensive reform, this time specifically of the registration service and its interaction with related services.

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