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7 Dec 1995 : Column WA87

Written Answers

Thursday, 7th December 1995.

Northern Ireland: Trial Delays

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the lapse of time between the charging of persons arrested for serious offences in Northern Ireland and the start of their trial has been shortened since 1 September 1994, in comparison with previous periods.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield): Information is not available in the particular form requested. Data on time awaiting trial are not kept on a month-by-month basis. I can, however, assure the noble Lord that the Government take a serious view of delay in bringing cases to trial. As he may know, a system of administrative time limits has been operating since 1992, aimed at reducing the time defendants spend in custody awaiting trial on indictment.

On 6 December last year, in reply to a question from my noble friend Lord Lyell (Official Report, col. WA 80) I reported on the scheme's first two years of operation. I can now report on the first three years, up to 30 June 1995. Over this period, 81 per cent. of defendants in custody awaiting trial for the most serious "scheduled" offences were arraigned within the target of 11 months. The average time to process such defendants was 37 weeks, 7 weeks quicker than before the start of the scheme. Ninety-six per cent. of non-scheduled defendants in custody also met the target, the average time being 29 weeks.

Important improvements have also been recorded in the period between arraignment and start of trial. Between 1993 and the second quarter of 1995, the average wait for scheduled defendants fell from

28 weeks to 17 weeks and for non-scheduled defendants from 11 weeks to 6 weeks.

Despite these gains, the Government recognise that there is room for improvement. My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State has accordingly decided that the administrative time limits scheme should continue and that, with effect from 1 November 1995, the overall target should be tightened from

11 months to 10 months through a corresponding reduction from 267 days to 237 days in the time limit between first remand and committal. The Northern Ireland Office in conjunction with other agencies in the criminal justice field, also continues to examine further ways in which procedures may be streamlined.

Racism: ECC Recommendation

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the recommendation of the report by the Select Committee on the European

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    Communities on Community Policy on Migration (10th Report, Session 1992-93, HL Paper 35) that there should be binding Council legislation on racism to help improve standards throughout the member states; and, if not, why not; and

    Whether they accept the recommendation of the report by the Select Committee on the European Communities on Community Policy on Migration (10th Report, Session 1992-93, HL Paper 35) that the United Kingdom, in the light of its own achievements in the field of race relations, is well placed to press for European legislation to help improve standards throughout the member states; and, if not, why not.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): The Government's position has not changed since they submitted this response to the report of the Select Committee on the European Communities on Community Policy on Migration to the House of Lords on 16 March 1993. We continue to be ready to share knowledge and experience with other member states, but, given the differences of circumstances and legal tradition, we do not consider that EC legislation is appropriate.

Organophosphorus Sheep Dips: Purchase Controls

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will review the certificate of competence scheme for the purchase of organophosphorus sheep dips.

Lord Lucas: Following advice from the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC), new restrictions on the sale of organophosphorus sheep dips were introduced in 1994. A requirement that such dips may be purchased only by persons holding, or employing someone who holds, a Certificate of Competence in using such dips came fully into effect on 1 April this year.

My right honourable Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has now set in hand a review to assess the effectiveness of this scheme. The views of a wide range of interests are currently being sought on this and other aspects of the use of organophosphorus sheep dips. A copy of the consultation letter and circulation list is being placed in the Library of the House.

The VPC will be asked to review the results of the consultation, and its further advice is expected early next year.

Agriculture Council, 29 and 30 November

Viscount Davidson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 29 and 30 November.

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Lord Lucas: This meeting of the Council took no formal decisions.

The Council again considered the Commission's proposal to alter the calculation of the additional set-aside that farmers are required to make, in the following year, when the regional base area for arable crops has been exceeded. Other member states were prepared to accept a package of amendments to the proposal, one of which was that additional set-aside of less than 1 per cent. should not apply in 1996. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made it clear that he did not support this element, because it would illogically discriminate against farmers in areas where the additional requirement fell just the other side of the line.

There was a further discussion of the Commission's proposal for changes to the support system for fruit and vegetables. The Council reached no conclusions and will return to the subject at its next meeting.

In response to questions, the Agriculture Commissioner, Mr. Fischler, confirmed that he intended to submit his report on the treatment of veal calves in time for the Council's next meeting.

Northern Region: Development Assistance

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What incentives they provide to attract industry and services to the Northern Region.

Lord Chesham: The Government's prime role is to create the right economic framework within which industrial development can flourish.

Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) is the key element of central government funding for investment

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projects. In 1994-95, 254 offers of RSA were made with a grant value of almost £34 million, creating or safeguarding over 6,000 jobs. There is a wide range of other incentives including support for technology (SMART and SPUR schemes) and regional enterprise grants (REG). In 1994-95, there were 12 offers of SMART grants totalling £0.5 million, 7 offers of SPUR grants also totalling £0.5 million and 152 offers of REG totalling £1.6 million.

The Northern Development Company, partly funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, is mainly responsible for promoting inward investment in the North. Since 1985 the Northern Region has attracted 400 inward investment projects totalling £4 billion and creating or safeguarding in excess of 50,000 jobs.

The region also receives government assistance to stimulate regeneration and economic diversification via the single regeneration budget (SRB), urban development corporations, task forces, City Challenge, enterprise zones and European funding as follows:

The region's share of SRB funding in 1995-96 is £18 million. Since 1987, the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation and Teesside Development Corporation have received £562 million and have together secured 30,239 jobs.

The South Tyneside Task Force and Stockton and Thornaby Task Force each have an annual budget of £1 million.

The six City Challenge partnerships (Newcastle, Middlesbrough, North Tyneside, Sunderland, Stockton and Hartlepool) will each receive a total of £37.5 million over their five-year lifespan.

The key benefits of enterprise zone status include capital allowances, simplified planning regimes and exemption from business rates. European funding totalling £242.5 million has been allocated to the region for the period 1994-96.

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