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Prison Farms

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the proposed closure of prison farms following the review of the future of the Farms and Gardens Estate. [63633]

Hilary Benn: Proposals on the future of prison farms are to be put to Ministers for consideration shortly.

Ethnic Minorities

Mr. Grieve: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the Government's estimate is of the size of the Sikh community in (a) the United Kingdom and (b) England and Wales. [63613]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 21 June 2002]: At present, there are no accurate data available on the size of the Sikh community in either the United Kingdom or England and Wales. Current estimates for the United Kingdom Sikh population range from 350,000 to 500,000.

Next February we hope to have a clearer picture. Demographic data about Sikhs in the United Kingdom—and specifically England and Wales—will be available for the first time from the results of the religious identity question in the 2001 Census.

However, the Labour Force Survey is also introducing a question on religion this spring. The results will be evaluated and, if possible, released towards the end of the year.

Mr. Grieve: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many Sikhs are employed in his Department. [63607]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 21 June 2002]: The Home Office keeps ethnicity data on its employees using the 2001 Census categories of ethnic groups. Information is not currently kept on the religious beliefs or affiliations of employees.

Immigration

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the average time taken to process

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applications for indefinite leave to remain submitted by people admitted for settlement as the fiancé(e)s of British citizens was in the last 12 months. [64151]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 24 June 2002]: Information on decision times for individual types of general immigration applications is not available. Our aim is to decide straightforward applications within three weeks and this was achieved during the first half of 2001. Due to an exceptionally large increase in the number of immigration cases in the latter part of the year the turnaround time increased. This has now been reduced to four weeks and we are working to return performance to three weeks shortly.

Information on initial decisions is published quarterly. The next publication will cover the period up to June 2002, and will be available from 30 August 2002 on the Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate website at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/ immigration1.html.

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he changed the advice on his Department's website that applications by people admitted as fiance(é)s for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom, would be dealt with in six weeks; what the reasons were for that change; and if he will make a statement. [64152]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 24 June 2002]: The information on the Immigration and Nationality Directorate website reflects the current average length of time between the receipt of all postal immigration applications in Croydon and their initial consideration. In early March the average length of time quoted on the website was changed to six weeks. This was changed to five weeks at the beginning of May and to four weeks at the beginning of June. These changes reflect the improvement in initial processing times over recent months towards the target of three weeks.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what percentage of letters received by the IND in 2000 went unanswered; [64236]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 25 June 2002]: Information on all correspondence received by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) in 2000, and on the average length of time taken for officials to respond to hon. Members' correspondence over the last 12 months is not recorded centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. IND received over one million pieces of correspondence during 2001–02, and systems are not yet in place to identify whether responses were given to all categories of correspondence we have seen.

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We are however now developing measures to record and track all categories of public correspondence, including MP's correspondence. The Home Office Customer Communication Foundation project was suspended last November and has now been replaced by a short term/tactical Correspondence Tracking System (CTS) project to address the handling of correspondence and the provision of accurate management information. The project is due to begin on 1 July 2000 and will be rolled out for operational use during the autumn. IND's ministerial and treat official correspondence are both included in the intended scope of the project.

The Home Office's service delivery agreement for 2001–04, which commits all directorates, including the IND to replying to 95 per cent. of public correspondence within 20 days by the end of 2001–02, does not require that such correspondence also be acknowledged. However, it is IND's policy to acknowledge the receipt of all immigration, asylum, asylum support and citizenship applications either by the sending of a letter or the issue of a form. Other casework-related correspondence is not routinely acknowledged at present although we are considering the feasibility of acknowledging certain categories, when backlogs are reduced to a frictional level.

Hunting-related Offences

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many offences against (a) hunt personnel, supporters or their property and (b) opponents of hunting or their property (i) were reported, (ii) were prosecuted and (iii) led to convictions in each year since 1997. [63880]

Hilary Benn [holding answer 24 June 2002]: The information requested is not available centrally.

Prevention of Terrorism

Vera Baird: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to publish the report on the operation in 2000 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996. [65176]

Mr. Blunkett: I am pleased to say that J. J. Rowe's report on the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act will be placed in the Library today.

Permanent counter-terrorist legislation was enacted in the Terrorism Act 2000, which came into effect on 19 February 2001.

Temporary Staff

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the cost to his Department was of employing staff in (a) London and (b) the south-east from employment agencies in each year since 1997. [56510]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 16 May 2002]: Detailed breakdowns of costs of employment agency staff by region are not held centrally nor captured by the Department's accounting systems. Data are recorded under broad expenditure headings. Further detail could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

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The Department's policy is that staff from agencies may be employed to provide short-term cover for vacancies while permanent staff are recruited.

The recorded expenditure on agency staff by the core Home Office is shown in the table:

£000

YearExpenditure
1997–98298
1998–99466
1999–20001,189
2000–013,014
2001–026,641

The increase since 1999 is mainly due to the expansion of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) in response to the increased numbers of asylum seekers. Agency staff were employed until long-term recruitment plans were implemented, enabling us to drive home the backlog and speed up the time taken for vital decisions.

Throckmorton

Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make it his policy to purchase residential properties at Throckmorton in the immediate vicinity of the site of the proposed asylum accommodation centre, where residents are attempting to sell their homes; and if he will make a statement. [57235]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 20 May 2002]: We have no plans to purchase such properties.

Pensions

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how much was spent by his Department on paying pensions to retired employees of his Department in 2001–02; if he will estimate the corresponding amounts to be spent in (a) five years' time, (b) 10 years' time, (c) 20 years' time and (d) 30 years' time; if he will estimate in each case the proportion of such liabilities which will arise from (i) unfunded pension schemes and (ii) pre-funded pension schemes; and in the case of pre-funded schemes, if he will estimate the value of the corresponding pre-funded funds in each of these years. [57370]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 20 May 2002]: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), on 23 May 2002, Official Report, column 563W.


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