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6 Apr 2000 : Column WA147

Written Answers

Thursday, 6th April 2000.

Field Margins and Hedges: IACS Rules

The Earl of Caithness asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will press for a change to the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) rules whereby all the area of a field margin over 2 metres from the centre line of the hedge has to be deducted from the field area so that only the excess over and above 2 metres is deducted; and[HL1730]

    Why they consider the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should remain the lead partner in its biodiversity action plan when so many hedges are under threat as a result of the revised Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) guidelines on field margins; and[HL1731]

    Why, as a result of the revised Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) guidelines on field margins, farmers are not to be compensated by higher area payments; and[HL1732]

    Whether they consider it is right that the revised Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) guidelines on field margins should impact retrospectively on farmers who had planted their winter crops before they knew of the guidelines and their significance; and[HL1733]

    When Agriculture Ministers are next due to meet to discuss the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) guidelines on field margins following the Government's representation to the European Commission.[HL1734]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My right honourable friend the Minister has reached agreement with the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, that the United Kingdom should, for this year, apply the same criteria as were used in 1999 and earlier years for determining the acceptability of hedges and other field margins included in claims based on whole Ordnance Survey field areas under the Integrated Administration and Control System. For 2001 and subsequent years, MAFF will work with the Commission in order to clarify what types of margins are acceptable for inclusion in aid claims and to identify ways of safeguarding environmentally valuable hedges, so that we can reach a permanent resolution of this issue.

Government Departments: External Consultancy Costs

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What, on a departmental basis, has been the total value of external consultancy contracts, excluding

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    public relations and marketing consultancies, entered into by the Government for the periods (a) 1 May 1997 to 31 March 1998, (b) 1 April 1998 to 31 March 1999, and (c) 1 March 1999 to date; and[HL1596]

    What, on a departmental basis, has been the total value of external public relations and marketing consultancy contracts entered into by Government for the periods (a) 1 May 1997 to 31 March 1998, (b) 1 April 1998 to 31 March 1999, and (c) 1 March 1999 to date.[HL1597]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: This information is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Passenger Information: Provision by Carriers

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In what circumstances immigration officers will be requesting passenger information from carriers under paragraph 27B of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971, as inserted by Section 18 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.[HL1941]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): The types of information which may be requested are set out in the Schedule to the Immigration (Passenger Information) Order 2000. The information specified in Part I of the Schedule to the order is contained in the machine-readable zone of passports and visas. Provision of this information is essential if we are to be able to grant or refuse entry to passengers in advance of their arrival in the United Kingdom. We have set out what we propose by way of such flexibilities in the draft Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order laid before Parliament on 30 March 2000.

We would expect to come to a mutual agreement with carriers as to the routes for which we might start to require Part I information and as to when the requirement would start. Beyond this, we would only seek Part I information on specific occasions for intelligence purposes. We would endeavour to keep such requests to a minimum. The information specified in Part II of the schedule will only be requested where the carrier is in possession of it. However, we think it might take some time for carriers to put systems in place to allow them to provide us with any significant volume of information, so we will implement the new power gradually over the coming months. We will continue in this spirit of co-operation, but ultimately we reserve the right to insist upon the provision of passenger information under the new powers wherever we have good reason in the context of the immigration control.

Bingo Charges

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to simplify the current system of bingo charges.[HL1940]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Mr O'Brien, has laid an Order (The Gaming Clubs (Hours and Charges) Regulations 2000), in the House to simplify the current system of bingo charging.

The current system of charges is set out in Section 3 of the Gaming Clubs (Hours and Charges) Regulations 1984. It prescribes the amount bingo operators may charge by way of admission and participation fees for games during any period of play of up to two hours (currently £10 exclusive of Value Added Tax). It also sets out how the charges should be displayed. The arrangements for the charging notices are, however, complex and in practice most players will not know in advance of deciding to play what charge is being made for an individual game.

The Home Office, therefore, proposes to make regulations that will establish a statutorily based notification system that will specify the form in which participation and any other charges must be notified so that they are transparent and easily understood. Notices will be displayed at the main point where payment for the charges is to be made.

The regulations will also allow a charge to be made for admission to a bingo club not exceeding £10 per day which will be displayed at, or near, the principal entrance to the premises and a charge to be made for participation in a game of bingo not exceeding £5 for each chance in playing the game. These are upper limits; in practice operators will set far lower charges than this.

The measure will extend to Scotland.

A copy of the Regulatory Impact Assessment has been placed in the Library.

Asylum Seekers: Costs to Public Funds

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the cost to public funds of dealing with asylum seekers is cash limited.[HL1781]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The term cash limit is no longer used in relation to government expenditure. As announced in the Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report 1998 (Cm 3978), Departmental Expenditure Limits cover spending capable of being subject to firm multi-year plans. The comprehensive spending review brought together operational costs of dealing with asylum applications and costs of support to adults and families claiming asylum into the Home Office Departmental Expenditure Limit, though with the recognition that funds available might need to be reassessed as a result of exogenous shocks, such as large increases in numbers of applications relative to previous forecasts.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they can estimate the average weekly cost of housing asylum seekers.[HL1779]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Information on the weekly cost to local authorities of housing asylum seekers is not held centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give a breakdown by local authority area of the number of asylum seekers presently being housed at public expense; and what they estimate the total cost to public funds of housing asylum seekers during the current financial year will be.[HL1780]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The information requested is not available. The available information is that, excluding Home Office administrative costs, the estimated total cost to public funds for support, including daily needs, of asylum seekers in the financial year 1 April 1999 to 31 March 2000 is just over £537 million.

Prisoners: Education Costs

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the average number of hours available to prisoners for education in 1997-98, 1998-99 and 1999-2000 respectively; and what was the spending on education per head of the prison population in England and Wales in each of those years.[HL1763]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The available information is set out in the tables. Figures exclude spending on education materials and on libraries. The figures for 1999-2000 are to the end of February only and do not include any refunds of recoverable VAT, details of which are not at present available.

Education hours purchased

1997 (calendar year): 1,117,214

1998 (calendar year): 1,213,562

1999-2000 (to end February): 1,354,165

Average cost per head of prison population

1997-1998: £514.58

1998-1999: £536.40

1999-2000: £569.99


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