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Ministers: Payments from Public Funds in Personal Capacity

Lord Desai asked Her Majesty's Government:

Earl Howe: Where Ministers of the Crown, in their personal capacity, receive payments from public funds on the same basis as other members of the public, information regarding their claims and payments is normally held under the same conditions of confidence as apply generally.

Prisoners: Central Database

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): There is a centralised computer register of all persons detained in Her Majesty's penal institutions in England and Wales. This register has been operational since March 1991, and is updated electronically every day by each prison's local computer system. The central database does not include computer details of persons held in Scotland or Northern Ireland which are outside the jurisdiction of HM Prison Service in England and Wales.

The system is not available on line to any police force but administrative arrangements exist to provide information from the system quickly whenever required.

On-line access to police forces may well be included in future initiatives of the Committee for Co-ordination of Computerisation of the Criminal Justice System, relating to the transfer of information between the criminal justice organisations. A pilot exercise, involving the local forces, probation service, prisons and courts, to establish the benefits of transferring information by use of E-Mail, is under way in Suffolk and Hampshire.

The Scottish Prison Service installed a networked Prisoner Records database in all Scottish prisons during 1995. This contains information on all prisoners in Scottish prisons and is accessible from all establishments and Scottish Prison Service headquarters. Some work has been carried out on the scope for developing an integrated communications network to enable Scottish criminal justice agencies, including prisons, police forces and the courts, to share information of common interest. No decision has been taken regarding an implementation date. Meanwhile, however, there is close co-operation between the Scottish Prison Service and Scottish police forces in matters of criminal intelligence.

The Northern Ireland position is that at present a centralised computer register of all persons detained in HM penal establishments in Northern Ireland does not exist. However, we are currently considering options for the development of existing computer systems to provide a central register. Options for information sharing between agencies within the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland are also being examined.

Drink Drivers: Use of Handcuffs

The Marquess of Ailesbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the allegation (emphasised on posters issued by the Portman Group) that a motorist failing a breathalyser test is handcuffed forthwith is misleading.

Baroness Blatch: The use of handcuffs in any situation is an operational decision for each arresting

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officer. Handcuffs may be used when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an unrestrained prisoner will use violence against the arresting officer or others; or there are reasonable grounds to believe that the prisoner will escape. Whether reasonable grounds exist will depend on the circumstances of each case. Such situations can arise with drink drivers.

Housing Benefit Proposals and Young People

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer given by Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, (H.L. Deb., 9 January, WA 15), on what evidence they relied in deciding that the proposed changes to housing benefit for those under 25 should not prevent young people from finding suitably priced accommodation.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): Many young working people rent shared houses and bedsits and the frequency with which these groups change address does not indicate a shortage of this type of accommodation. The Government's proposals would limit housing benefit to the general level of rents payable in any given locality for the sort of non self-contained accommodation that young working people tend to occupy. The Government do not believe that this would prevent those intending to claim housing benefit from finding suitably priced accommodation.

Absent Parents: Child Support Agency Action

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any absent parents who have given up their jobs following the intervention of the Child Support Agency have suffered a benefit penalty for doing so; and if so, how many.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The information is not available.

Asylum Seekers: Withdrawal of Welfare Benefits

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

    Whether they will publish the representations made by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in relation to the proposed withdrawal of welfare benefits from asylum seekers; and if not, why not.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The representations referred to were published in HC 81 of Session 1995/96, a report into benefits for asylum seekers, by the Social Security Select Committee.

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

    What measures they intend to take to comply with the duty imposed by Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that, despite the proposed exclusion of some asylum seekers from welfare and other benefits, children who are seeking refugee status in the United Kingdom will continue to receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of the rights set forth in that convention and in the other international human rights and humanitarian instruments to which the United Kingdom is party.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We are satisfied that the provisions of the Social Security (Persons From Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 1996 are consistent with the UK's continuing obligations under the convention.

Elderly People: Rail Fare Discount Schemes

Baroness Fisher of Rednal asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether senior citizens' railcards will continue to be accepted on all future privatised rail services.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): The Railways Act 1993 imposes a duty on the Franchising Director to require, through franchise agreements, participation in a discount fare scheme for elderly people. All franchise operators running privatised rail services will be required to sell and honour the relevant card.

London-Gibraltar Via Bordeaux Air Route

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by Viscount Goschen of 9 May 1995 (WA 5), whether Spain has any legal or technical right to object to scheduled flights between London and Bordeaux and Bordeaux to Gibraltar; and, if not, whether they will take the matter up with the Spanish Government.

Viscount Goschen: Services between London and Bordeaux, and between Bordeaux and Gibraltar are not matters for the Spanish authorities. Rights to operate these services are available under the EC Third Aviation Package and the UK/France bilateral air service arrangements respectively. It is up to airlines to decide whether they wish to operate a combined London-Bordeaux-Gibraltar service. If a UK airline were to have difficulty operating services we would be prepared to take the matter up with the Spanish authorities.



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