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House of Lords

Wednesday, 15 October 2008.

The House met at three o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Mental Health: Police Custody

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Government have made it clear that police stations should be used only exceptionally as a place of safety. The IPCC report does indeed suggest that, in many areas, considerable further work is required. That means that, locally, mental health services must work in partnership with the police and other agencies to ensure that effective alternatives to police custody for people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act are available.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. It is clear that police stations continue to be used as a principal place of safety for lengthy periods of time and contrary to all the guidelines, at considerable cost to the welfare of those detained and the valuable time of the police. Is the Minister aware that in Nottinghamshire, for example, the time involved was more than 6,000 officer hours costing in excess of £136,000 last year? Will she tell the House what steps Her Majesty’s Government will take to require NHS trusts to provide adequate funding and staffing for reception centres for people detained under Section 136?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his Question; he asked a similar Question in June. There have been two reports highlighting the need for further progress in this area: the IPCC report already referred to and a publication by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The IPCC report refers to figures in 2005-06. Since then, we have issued new guidance and made funding available to develop NHS facilities locally. This also shows that it is possible to make the use of police stations an exception, but the key to success is to plan and develop services to meet those needs in conjunction with local partners.

I suggest to the right reverend Prelate that this may point to some need for greater co-ordination in Nottinghamshire. Given his interest, I can think of just the person to lead that co-ordination. There is no

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doubt that the IPCC report makes a valuable contribution to this debate. I undertake to ensure that my honourable friend the new Minister, Phil Hope, has these reports drawn to his attention.

Lord Elton: My Lords, declaring an interest as the Minister who took the 1983 Act through this House, does the Minister think that publishing guidelines and advice is sufficient? Declaring an interest as the Minister who took the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 through this House, are more vigorous means not needed to ensure that the money is spent to produce places of safety outside police cells when this section is implemented? Will the Minister ask her colleagues to consider ensuring that the police are adequately trained in the difficult art of identifying and separating madness from inebriation and whether the duration of 72 hours is not excessive?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and bow to his greater experience in these matters. He points to some very important issues. In January this year the guidance was reinforced. A national training package for custody officers was published precisely to help them to recognise those people coming into police custody who need help. Our aim is to help prevent and minimise harm to those who come into contact with the police and who need help. Seventy-two hours is a maximum. It is always possible that 72 hours will be the maximum period and that people will remain in custody for less time than that, as we would wish.

Baroness Murphy: My Lords, without the collection of data at the centre, how will the Government know when their policy has been implemented? At the moment, no data are collected on this section compared with any other section of the Mental Health Act. Does the Minister agree that the Government would have better knowledge of the implementation of the policy if data on it were collected at the centre?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, our revised code of practice to the Mental Health Act makes clear that locally agreed policies should include arrangements for monitoring how, in what circumstances and with what outcomes Section 136 is being used locally. This has been reinforced by the recommendations in the IPCC report. We will continue to collect national statistics on the number of people detained in hospital under Section 136.

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, what safeguards have the Government put in place to ensure that Section 136 is not used disproportionately in respect of people from black and ethnic minorities?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. We know that there are inequalities in the incidence and prevalence of mental health illness between some of the BME communities and in the way in which those people experience mental health services. We made clear in the revised code of practice that local agencies need to monitor

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the way that Section 136 is used in their areas, including its use in respect of people from black and ethnic minority communities. We are also collecting data on the ethnicity of people detained under Section 136 in NHS hospitals through our national mental health minimum data set. In time we will be able to report on that more fully.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, what progress is being made to ensure that children are not being inappropriately detained in adult mental health centres? If this was the case, and it was remedied, it would presumably make space for those detained under Section 136.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I do not have details on children with regard to Section 136, but I undertake to investigate that and write to the noble Baroness because she raises a very important point.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, will the department support pilot programmes by GP practices to identify people who are at risk of being detained under Section 136 and to divert them from Section 136 suites?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the investment that the Government have put into local GP practices and mental health services aims to provide services at a local level which will divert people from Section 136 suites and, indeed, from presenting themselves to the police. I think that 740 teams have been set up, of which a large proportion aim to provide at-home services in precisely the fashion that the noble Baroness mentioned.

Lord Rix: My Lords, while the Minister and the Government are collecting data, could they also discover how many people with mental health problems have an originating learning disability?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, that is one of the things the Royal College of Psychiatry is suggesting. The pilot that it is conducting of forms that collect information will address that issue. We wait with interest to see what that produces.

Prisons: Deaths in Custody

3.14 pm

Baroness Stern asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, there have been 53 deaths in prison custody categorised as due to non-natural reasons up to the end of September 2008. That is 20 fewer than at the same point last year. Of those, 48 were self-inflicted, three were apparent homicides and two were described as “other non-natural”.

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Baroness Stern: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed reply and for confirming that three of these 53 sad deaths are reported as having been caused by a violent assault by another prisoner. Can he confirm that that figure is already the highest for murders of prisoners by prisoners for several years, although the year still has three months to run? Can he therefore assure the House that however overcrowded the prisons are and however many staff posts are cut, prisoners will at least be kept safe from murderous assaults at the hands of other prisoners?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I want to make it clear that these are apparent homicides. But, yes, the figure is the highest since 2005. The average over the last number of years has been about 1.7 per year, which means that in some years there have been fewer than that but in other years there have been more. We take the safety of staff and prisoners very seriously and are committed to a robust approach on prosecuting the most serious of those offences. All prisons have in place a violence reduction policy which is used to identify the problems that are specific to that establishment and to develop practical solutions to managing violence. Overall, despite almost a doubling of the prison population between 1978 and now, homicides have remained relatively low. Each case is, however, a tragedy.

Lord Henley: My Lords, how on earth is the noble Lord proposing to effect an improvement in the situation in prisons when prisons are bursting at the seams—we see an increase in prison numbers every week—and when the Government are proposing, as today’s Times reports, to reduce the Ministry of Justice budget by some £1.3 billion, including, I am told, getting rid of some 3,000 Prison Service jobs?

Lord Bach: My Lords, perhaps I may gently advise the noble Lord not to believe everything that he reads in the newspapers, not even the Times. We have put a lot of resources into the Prison Service, and we will continue to do so.

Baroness Corston: My Lords, will the Minister revisit one of the recommendations that I made in my report on women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system? Arising from that review and from my previous work as the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I met the families of people who had died in prison, and I was shocked to discover that they were even having to consider selling their homes in order to be represented at an inquest. Is it not time that we provided for non-means-tested representation at inquests for people whose children or other family members have died in custody, bearing in mind that the Government are always legally represented?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for the outstanding work that she has done in this field. I remind the House that we have, in the first six months, successfully fulfilled all the commitments that we made in our response to her excellent report. As she has asked for me to take back that specific proposition, I will of course do so.

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Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the contracts between the Ministry of Justice and contracted-out prisons impose a penalty of 50 points if a weapon is discovered in a prison, a penalty of 10 points for a serious assault on a prison officer, but a penalty of only one point for the death of a prisoner? Is that true? If so, what priority does he place on the most fundamental human right: the right to life?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the view of the Prison Service is that a financial deduction would not be an appropriate redress for a death in custody. It could, frankly, be viewed as putting a financial value on the life of a prisoner. There are no financial deductions for deaths in custody in any of the contracts for private sector-run prisons, or public sector prisons for that matter, operating under a service level agreement with the Prison Service.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, how many prisoners who have taken their own lives were serving indeterminate sentences? Has the Minister read the very good report on the mental health problems of people who are awarded this sentence? When they look up their sentence on a computer, it comes up as 99 years. It is therefore a cause of considerable mental distress.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord and others have expressed concerns at the number of deaths among those in prison for public protection. Since the sentence was introduced, we have had among this group one apparent homicide, four naturally caused deaths and eight self-inflicted deaths. So far, four of the 49 self-inflicted deaths—8 per cent—have been among these prisoners. As the noble Lord and the House will know, following the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which sets a seriousness threshold for indeterminate and extended sentences, we now have in place legislation to ensure that the sentence is used as intended.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord said that my noble friend Lord Henley should not believe the figures that he read in the Times. What are the figures?

Lord Bach: My Lords, even if I knew them, I would not tell the noble Earl.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive member of the National Offender Management Service. Although I appreciate that the figures that my noble friend gave could well turn in the other direction all too easily, does he agree that the figures that he gave in his Answer do reflect the valuable work being done by prison staff at all levels, including the senior leadership of the National Offender Management Service?

Lord Bach: Yes, my Lords, I certainly do. Prison staff sometimes do not get the support or praise that they require. It has always been difficult to work in a prison and to be a prison officer. It is just as difficult today.

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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I am afraid that we are into the 16th minute.

Department for International Development: Georgia

3.22 pm

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Department for International Development’s bilateral programme and office in Georgia will close on 31 December 2008. This is in view of Georgia’s economic progress and shift to lower middle-income status, as confirmed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2006. UK development assistance will continue primarily through our membership of multilateral organisations.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. We all know that the world is a very different place since DfID took that decision. If the Government are set to close the DfID office, what discussions have they had with the major multilateral donors to Georgia, particularly the EU, to make certain that there is continuity in development assistance? Will those organisations take over the kind of work that DfID was doing? Are there plans for a phased handover, or is DfID simply letting things drop? Georgia has suffered from a war in which many people have been injured and displaced. Does the Minister agree that this is a time not to close the office but to extend further humanitarian aid?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the office related to the bilateral programmes, which we do not believe are the way forward in these difficult circumstances. There has been a review since the summer of whether the office should remain open and we have decided that it should not. We have, however, made a £2 million contribution of immediate aid for work in other areas. That includes about £1 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is one of the few organisations working there, and £550,000 for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We will also be involved in the donors’ conference later this month, which will consider the long-term needs of Georgia. We are convinced that the situation is entering a phase where a multinational, rather than a bilateral, effort is called for.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Georgians and the Russians have both used cluster bombs in this recent conflict—something that the Georgians have admitted to but the Russians

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have as yet denied? In the light of the closure of this office, what are the UK Government, together with international partners, doing to get both countries to sign up to the recent UN agreement on cluster bombs and immediately to map where those cluster bombs were used so that they can be removed?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, as noble Lords will know, the whole issue of post-conflict resolution is being handled through a Geneva conference, which meets today and is reviewing the agreements of 12 August and 8 September. I do not know whether the mapping of cluster bombs will be on the agenda but I hope that it will be. The Halo Trust is one of the various organisations that we are supporting now to help immediately with the issue of cluster bombs and unexploded bombs.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the plight of the probably long-term refugees from South Ossetia—up to 30,000 according to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Is he confident that there is adequate co-ordination between the various international organisations involved—the UNHCR, UNICEF, the ICRC and the OSCE? More particularly, what contribution are we making to the need for specialist human rights monitors to look after these long-term refugees?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am aware of the refugee problem, which we are addressing with bilateral aid. A donors’ conference will take place in Brussels on 22 October. Considerable aid is coming together and Her Majesty’s Government’s input to that aid will be announced at that conference.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, can the noble Lord say how much of our total aid goes to multilateral organisations and how much goes directly to countries for specific projects, which is much more effective and involves less waste?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I will write to the noble Viscount on that specific question. However, we do not accept that multilateral aid is a bad thing. We see bilateral aid as being for low-income countries in particular. It is about providing intensive-care aid, where we go in and provide advice and support for real projects. When a country moves into the middle-income group, it needs international institutions; it needs a better voice on the stage for trade and it needs technical experience. The multilateral agencies are best at providing that aid and it is those agencies that we support in those circumstances.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be helpful if at least one DfID official could be attached to one of the three embassies that we maintain in the south Caucasus region because of the human needs arising from wars and frozen conflicts?

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