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7 May 1996 : Column WA1

Written Answers

Tuesday, 7th May 1996.

India:Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal deals with declarations of unlawful association under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. We understand that the Act extends to the whole of India, but not beyond.

Home Helps: Housework

Baroness Jeger asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): Any limitations are fixed and monitored by employers, who must act within the law. It is for local authorities and agencies providing such care to comply with and apply health and safety law for their employees.

DSS Out-of-hours Service

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): This is a matter for Peter Mathison, the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the noble Earl.

Letter to Earl Russell from the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, Mr. Peter Mathison, dated 3rd May 1996.

I have been asked to reply to your recent parliamentary Question asking whether the information on the reduction of Department of Social Security out-of-hours service in the correspondence columns of the Guardian of 19th April is substantially correct.

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I recently outlined the Benefits Agency's plans for the future delivery of social security benefits based on the Benefits Agency vision of "right money to the right person at the right time, every time".

The agency will carry out a wide-ranging review of its activities as part of the Departmental Change Programme. Such a programme of change will cover all fundamental areas of the organisation's business and we are committed to achieve a 25 per cent. improvement in our productivity by 1998/99. In the first year it has been necessary to identify efficiencies and economies in excess of £200 million. All efficiencies and economies have been considered alongside the expenditure priorities the agency has been set.

It is against this background that the agency decided to review the need for the out-of-hours service which provides a service to customers at night and weekends. A decision on its viability is expected later this year.

I hope you find this reply helpful.

Iranian Nuclear Plant

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Secretary of State for Defence has discussed "the potential for future united action against Iran's nuclear plant" with the Israeli government during his recent visit to Israel (The Times, 19th April 1996); and, if so, whether they will confirm that he did not commit Britain to any such action, or to consideration of any such action except in the context of the United Nations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): No such discussion took place.

Pedlars Acts

Lord Tope asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have received on their proposal to repeal the Pedlars Acts 1871 and 1881; what was the nature of those responses; and when they expect to announce the course of action they propose to take on this matter.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): We have received 27 representations from organisations and individuals about the proposal in our October 1994 consultation paper to repeal the Pedlars Acts. Opinion on the merits of repeal is almost equally divided. We are considering the responses alongside a separate review of street trading legislation and hope to reach a conclusion soon.

Genital Mutilation

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the threat to a woman or girl of being subjected to genital mutilation (which in the UK is

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    unlawful) is accepted as sufficient grounds for asylum.

Baroness Blatch: To qualify for refugee status, applicants need to show that they have a well founded fear of persecution based on one of the reasons contained in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Those who do not meet the requirements of the 1951 convention may nevertheless be granted exceptional leave to remain if there are compelling humanitarian reasons for doing so. Cases are considered in the light of their individual circumstances. Sexual Exploitation of Children: World Congress

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What approaches they have received concerning support for, and participation in, the 1996 World Congress on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children; what has been their response; and what is their policy concerning this social problem.

Baroness Blatch: The Swedish Prime Minister wrote to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last October, inviting the United Kingdom to attend the world congress. It has been decided that the UK delegation should be led by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office.

The Government have also received representations about the congress from the Coalition on Child Prostitution and Tourism, which represents several charities and non-governmental organisations concerned with the protection of children, and from a number of members of the public, often through their Members of Parliament.

The Government were represented by officials at the European regional planning conference for the congress, which was held in Strasbourg on 25th and 26th April.

The Government utterly condemn all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and are committed to taking all appropriate measures to ensure that children are properly protected against such abuse. Prisoners: In-cell Television

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether televisions are to be removed from cells in 20 prisons contrary to the recommendations of the Learmont Report and whether such removal will contribute to good order and discipline.

Baroness Blatch: Policy on this subject is still under consideration. Prison Service Expenditure

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they balance economies in the Prison Service against any rise in the prison population and any consequent risk of riots.

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Baroness Blatch: Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Baroness Hilton of Eggardon from the Director of Services of the Prison Service, Mr. A. J. Butler, dated May 1996.

Lady Blatch has asked me, in the absence of the Director General from the office, to reply to your recent Question about economies in the Prison Service and the risk of riots.

The 1995 public expenditure settlement made additional funding available to the Prison Service to meet the expected increases in the prison population as well as for security improvements and to combat drug abuse in prisons. But it is also the Government's policy to exercise firm control over public expenditure and to secure greater efficiency in the running of public services. The savings being required of the Prison Service are broadly consistent with those expected of the public services generally.

It has been made clear to governors that, in preparing their business plans, they should maintain the balance between essential security and control measures, constructive and effective regimes for prisoners and providing support for staff.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there is to be a 10 per cent. cut in the number of probation officers employed in prisons.

Baroness Blatch: Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Baroness Hilton of Eggardon from the Director of Services of the Prison Service, Mr. A. J. Butler, dated May 1996.

Lady Blatch has asked me, in the absence of the Director General from the office, to reply to your recent Question about probation officers employed in prisons.

The whole-time equivalent strength of probation staff employed in prisons on 30 June 1995 was 645. Current plans would reduce the numbers of probation staff employed in prisons by around 85 between 1 April 1996 and 31 March 1997.

The Prison Service is committed to partnership with the Probation Service to deliver the custodial and non-custodial parts of a prisoner's sentence effectively. Governors have been discussing with chief probation officers the scope for improvements in efficiency and for more effective use of all available resources. This includes other ways of discharging continuing tasks which have been undertaken by probation staff but which do not require their specialist skills.

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