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Extradition Laws

Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans the Government have to improve the UK's extradition laws. [65175]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: At present it takes too long to extradite someone from the United Kingdom. Not only is this against the interests of justice and the victims of crime but it is the British taxpayer that foots the bill: paying for the fugitive to be detained and often funding their legal battle.

The previous Home Secretary launched a review of extradition law and the Home Office published proposals for consultation in March last year. Since then the attacks on 11 September have added impetus to European Union (EU) plans for an EU-wide arrest warrant.

The Government has already announced that we intend to legislate to bring this into effect. This will dramatically speed up the extradition process between EU states, but not at the expense of fugitive's rights.

It should also make it possible in some circumstances to return people to the United Kingdom who, under the old system, would not have been extradited.

We also plan to streamline procedures for non-EU countries too.

I am today publishing a consultation paper containing a draft Extradition Bill which outlines our proposals and invites all of those with an interest to comment.

An Extradition Bill will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.

Royal Prerogative

Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what decisions have been made by his Department in the last year under authority from the royal prerogative. [63132]

Mr. Blunkett: [holding answer 25 June 2002]: Records are not kept of the individual occasions on which powers under the royal prerogative are exercised, nor would it be practicable to do so.

Prisoners (Educational Standards)

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the standards of literacy and numeracy among prisoners; and what information he collects on these subjects. [60829]

Hilary Benn: The majority of prisoners have serious basic skills needs which must be addressed if we are to help them re-settle effectively into the community on release. In 2001–02 prisoners achieved over 24,000 basic skills qualifications. Almost 16,000 were at level 2—an increase of 30 per cent. over the previous year. The basic skills target for 2002–03 is 28,800 at all levels.

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We collect monthly information on the number of basic skills qualifications gained at establishment level. The Prisoners' Learning and Skills Unit (PLSU), based in the Department for Education and Skills, supports establishments which are falling short of expectations.

We have ensured that prisons are part of national developments in basic skills, and have been piloting new national curriculum materials and tests in seven prisons. Additional capital resources over this year and next from the Capital Modernisation Fund will help us to deliver improvements in basic skills by supporting initial assessment, the integration of basic and key skills into prison workshops and the transformation of Libraries into learning resource centres.

From April 2002, education and training in prisons—including basic skills provision—has been inspected against the criteria set out in the Common Inspection Framework, which covers all post-16 learning. With the support of the PLSU, the majority of prisons have established quality improvement groups to secure better planning and delivery of all their learning provision and to respond to the findings of inspection reports. We expect the remaining prisons to do so shortly.

Public Service Agreements

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the (a) cost and (b) saving from the pursuit of the Department's Public Service Agreement targets in each year since they were introduced. [60891]

Beverley Hughes: The Home Department's Public Service Agreement sets out the key outcomes it is committed to deliver with the resources provided, and its Service Delivery Agreement sets out the key steps towards delivery of those targets. Every year the Department publishes performance against its targets—including on value for money—and the resources it has used, in its departmental report.

Departmental Website

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the procedures for information appearing on his Department's website. [54520]

Mr. Blunkett: I apologise for the delay in replying.

The Home Department's website is not only used to communicate policy, but it is pivotal as a tool for consultation as well. Content is developed in co-operation with policy owners, who are responsible for its currency and accuracy. Information on the site is updated or removed whenever required, ensuring that the contents are as reliable as possible. This immediacy allows our content to reflect the activities of the Department across all its responsibilities in England and Wales for the criminal law, crime reduction, policing, prisons and probation as well as for immigration and asylum policy across the United Kingdom. Other areas of the site reflect the Department's lead on active communities, race equality and family policy.

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National Security

Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what reasons of national security compel the Home Office to retain sections of PRO file PRO/30/60/13/2 dating from 1887 to 1896 closed under section 3.4 of the Public Records Act 1958. [61284]

Mr. Blunkett: The Home Office retained those sections of PRO file PRO/30/60/13/2 that were considered sensitive as defined under schedule 3 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994. The continuing sensitivity relates to honouring commitments to keep certain matters secret and so retain the confidence of those who do or would co-operate with the authorities on intelligence and security matters as well as protecting the identities of family members and descendants who might in some circumstances be placed at risk. I will continue to keep this under review.

Criminal Records Bureau

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding the time taken by the Criminal Records Bureau to process applications from local authorities for information; and if he will make a statement. [61516]

Hilary Benn: A number of representations have been received directly or indirectly. Measures are being taken to address the initial operating difficulties, which have resulted in delays in responding to applications for disclosure. We are determined that the Criminal Records Bureau will be in a position, as soon as possible, to meet the high standards of service that it has set itself.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to (a) reduce delays in conducting Criminal Records Bureau checks and (b) maintain security of such checks when outsourced to other countries. [61346]

Hilary Benn [holding answer 17 June 2002]: The information is as follows.

(a) The Criminal Records Bureau has introduced a number of measures as part of a performance improvement plan in order to reduce delays in conducting Criminal Record Bureau checks. These measures include:

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) has also introduced the following short-term contingency measures:

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(b) The concept of processing data overseas is not a new one and has been carried out successfully for a number of years. The security of criminal records checking should in no way be jeopardised by the outsourcing of the data capture process. The company carrying out the work in this case, Hays Plc has undertaken work for other public bodies.

A number of proposed sites were researched, both in the United Kingdom and abroad. The site in Chennai was chosen for many reasons, including:

Hays Plc in India offer the greatest capacity and flexibility to meet the CRB's needs.

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