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Written Statements

Monday 20 April 2009



The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Policing, Crime and Security (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On Friday 17 April I published a consultation paper entitled Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Consolidating Orders and Codes of Practice. Today I have published consultations on Working Together to Protect Crowded Places and Safer Places: A Counter Terrorism Supplement.

I will make copies of each of these consultations available in the Vote Office and place copies in the House Library.

Immigration: Afghan Nationals


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have made an authorisation under Section 19D of the Race Relations Act 1976 as amended, to enable the Secretary of State to request that asylum applicants claiming to be nationals of Afghanistan submit to language analysis.

Language analysis carried out for some Afghan asylum applicants demonstrates that significant proportions of those tested have claimed to be of a nationality, or from a region or grouping, that is not their own in order to try to gain residence in this country. This authorisation will assist the Secretary of State to make decisions in individual Afghan cases, and to ascertain the extent of abuse within this nationality.

The Secretary of State may take a refusal to submit to testing into account when determining whether an applicant has assisted in establishing the facts of his case or her case.

The authorisation will remain in place for 12 months (until April 2010), at which point we will review whether it is still necessary and appropriate.

I am placing copies of the authorisation in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

Prisons: HMP Ashwell


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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A serious disturbance involving over 400 prisoners took place at HMP Ashwell, near Oakham in Rutland on Saturday 11 April. HMP Ashwell is a category C training prison. HMP Ashwell was originally an open prison fenced to upgrade it to category C in the 1980s. The older part of the prison held 425 prisoners in non-cellular; the rooms the prisoners were held in do not have bars or grille gates to secure them. The newer part of the prison held 194 prisoners in cellular accommodation. The disturbance was entirely within the insecure old prison site. The cellular accommodation was not damaged and is still in use.

The disturbance began at 1 am and ended at 10.45 pm on the same day. The silver command suite at the prison and the gold command suite at NOMS HQ in London, which can quickly call on national resources to handle serious incidents, were swiftly opened, and Ministers were informed.

The incident started with a young prisoner, aged 22 and serving a three-year sentence, confronting staff and when ordered to return to his room refusing and beginning to cause damage and being joined by others. This quickly escalated. Staff initially secured the office and then evacuated from the old part of the prison. No member of staff was injured or directly attacked. Once staff had withdrawn, the damage continued with fires lit and fittings and fabric smashed and damaged.

Riot-trained prison officers were called out and the police very promptly secured the perimeter. Intervention did not take place because there was no available accommodation in which to secure the perpetrators. Instead escort vans were directed to the prison and a planned removal of 424 prisoners to 26 other prisons took place during the afternoon and evening of Saturday 11 April. This was a well executed operation with a final sweep of the prison by riot-trained officers identifying and removing the three remaining prisoners who had not come forward to be evacuated.

The incident finished at around 10.30 pm when all prisoners were accounted for. No staff were injured or directly attacked and there were minor injuries to only three prisoners.

The damage done to three of the old wings appears to be substantial although the rest of the prison is either undamaged or sustained superficial damage.

The gold command suite at NOMS headquarters in London remained open until 2.30 am on 12 April to double check that all named individual prisoners transferred out were accounted for and to verify that the roll at Ashwell, as confirmed by the governor at 10.30 pm, was correct.

The events at Ashwell are now the subject of a police investigation and a large proportion of the site remains a crime scene. There is a continuing Prison Service investigation, which will be scrutinised by a committee of the corporate management board of the Ministry of Justice and by Ministers, who will consider what further action needs to be taken. I will make the findings of the investigation and our conclusions on it available to the House in due course.

At the time of the disturbance Ashwell held 611 prisoners against its operational capacity of 619.

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There was a full complement of night staff on duty. There have been no recent reductions in operational staffing levels or reductions to regime.

There has been speculation that the prison held prisoners other than category C. This was not the case. All the prisoners in Ashwell were assessed as category C prisoners.

This disturbance was brought to a conclusion by the skill and courage of a wide range of committed professionals. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already publicly thanked not only the National Offender Management Service staff at Ashwell, the establishments who provided Tornado (riot-trained prison officers) support and those prisons who received prisoners at short notice, but also national resources, escort services and colleagues who staffed the gold and silver command suites. Thanks have also gone to the local police and fire services and to staff at Leicester Royal Infirmary. My noble friend Lord Bach visited the site on Saturday evening and I visited HMP Ashwell on Sunday 12 April. We were both most impressed with the work already under way to deal with the impact of the incident.

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The public should be reassured that on the rare occasions when incidents such as this happen, there are such professional and dedicated staff from many agencies acting to protect them. The incident at HMP Ashwell was well managed and the public were not put at risk; no prisoners escaped and no staff were injured.

Tobacco: Co-operation Agreements


The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today the United Kingdom signed: (1) the anti-contraband and anti-counterfeit agreement and general release between the European Community, the member states and the Philip Morris group of companies; and (2) the co-operation agreement between the European Community, the member states and the Japan Tobacco International group of companies. The texts of the agreements are published on the website of the European Commission Anti-Fraud Office.

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