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16 Jun 2000 : Column WA215

Written Answers

Friday, 16th June 2000.

Public Sector Ombudsmen, England: Review

Baroness Pitkeathley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the review of the public sector ombudsmen in England.[HL2914]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) : As part of our programme of modernisation, the Government have reviewed the organisation and operation of the public sector ombudsmen in England. Underlying this review was a recognition of the need to ease public access and improve efficiency in dealing with complaints across different sectors. The review was published on 13 April (Official Report, 14 April 2000, col. WA 70).

While the review was well received, it was always our intention to consult widely on the outcome of the review. We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to comment on the review's recommendations, which, if implemented in full, will radically reform the ombudsmen system in England. That is why we have today published a consultation paper inviting comments on the review and on any other aspect of the organisation or operation of the public sector ombudsmen in England. Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of the House and in the Printed Paper Office.

The Government recognise and value the contribution made by everyone involved in the work of the ombudsmen. We also recognise the significant contribution made by the ombudsmen themselves in helping public bodies maintain and improve the standards of service they offer. The challenge now is to consider how to strengthen that contribution and ensure that all public bodies provide a first class service to all citizens.

Boundary Commission for Scotland

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the work of the Boundary Commission for Scotland is running to schedule; and what are (a) the earliest date and (b) the latest date that the reduction in Scottish representation at Westminster stipulated in Section 86 of the Scotland Act 1998 is likely to come into effect.[HL2700]

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: The Parliamentary Boundary Commission for Scotland has not yet formally started its next review. It is for the commission itself to determine when this commences, keeping in mind the requirement that it needs to report between December 2002 and December 2006. Following such a report, the implementation will take some time.

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Racial Attacks

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many attacks by white people on members of ethnic minority groups in the Metropolitan Police area were classified as racial crimes during the last year for which figures are available; and [HL2736]

    How many attacks by members of ethnic minority groups upon white people in the Metropolitan Police area were classified as racial crimes during the last year for which figures are available. [HL2737]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Information is available on racially aggravated offences which were introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The latest available information relates to the period 1 April 1999 to 30 September 1999. It indicates that 7,473 such offences were recorded in the Metropolitan Police area. No information is collected on the ethnicity of the victims.

Additional information is available on the total number of racist incidents recorded by the police. A racist incident is wider in definition than a crime so it would be misleading to compare these figures with the racially aggravated offences. The latest information on racist incidents relates to the financial year 1998-99 and was published in December 1999 in Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System; a copy has been placed in the Library. It shows that 11,050 racist incidents were recorded in the Metropolitan Police area during the period 1 April 1998 to 31 March 1999. No information is collected on the ethnicity of the victims or the alleged offenders.

The Home Office is currently discussing with the Association of Chief Police Officers the feasibility of collecting information (including ethnicity) on victims.

Prisoners: Early Release on Compassionate Grounds

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a prisoner who is suffering from a progressive illness which is likely to cause death within a few years is entitled to make an application for compassionate release on Form 210 at his own discretion; and whether, if he is refused permission to make such an application, he may be examined by an independent specialist of his own choice.[HL2741]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 allows for release from prison on compassionate grounds in exceptional circumstances. All prisoners are entitled to make an application for early release on compassionate grounds, and the criteria for determining such applications are set out in Prison Service Order 6000: Parole, Release and Recall.

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Where such an application is made on medical grounds, the Prison Medical Officer provides a medical assessment. The Governor is required to make a proper assessment of the risk the prisoner represents and comment on whether he supports the application before referring the case to Prison Service Headquarters. The advice of Prison Healthcare Advisors within the National Health Service Executive is then sought before a final decision is taken.

There is no statutory right for a prisoner to be examined by an independent specialist of his own choice where an application for early release on compassionate grounds is refused, and no standard policy guidelines apply. Such situations would be considered in the light of individual circumstances. The general principle is that prisoners should be afforded access to the same range and quality of health services as the general public.

Carriage of Clandestine Immigrants: Penalty Appeal CPCAU/070

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the rank or grade of the civil servant who, on behalf of the Secretary of State:


    (a) considered the appeal reference CPCAU/070 against the imposition of an £8,000 fine in respect of four clandestine immigrants found on a commercial vehicle at Dover on 27 April; and


    (b) signed the letter of rejection of that appeal.[HL2744]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Civil Penalty Central Administration Unit (CPCAU) was established to administer the civil penalty provisions introduced by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The unit's functions include reviewing penalties imposed at ports of entry and considering notices of objection against such penalties allowed for by the legislation. As in all cases where objections are made, consideration of the notice of objection in case reference CPCAU/070 was undertaken jointly within the unit by a team of immigration officers and chief immigration officers, with an Immigration Inspector making the final decision and signing the letter notifying that decision. An Assistant Director of the Immigration Service has overall charge of the unit and is responsible for ensuring that objections are considered fairly and impartially, and that decisions are consistent.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the civil servants who, on behalf of the Secretary of State:


    (a) considered the appeal reference CPCAU/070 against the imposition of an £8,000 fine in respect of four clandestine immigrants found on a commercial vehicle at Dover on 27 April; and


    (b) signed the letter of rejection of that appeal; had any legal training or qualifications.[HL2745]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Civil Penalty Central Administration Unit (CPCAU) was established to administer the civil penalty provisions introduced by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The unit's functions include reviewing penalties imposed at ports of entry and considering notices of objection against such penalties as allowed by the legislation. Consideration of the notice of objection in case reference CPCAU/070 was undertaken, as in all cases where objections are made, jointly within the unit by a team of immigration officers and chief immigration officers, with an Immigration Inspector making the final decision and signing the letter notifying that decision. An Assistant Director of the Immigration Service has overall charge of the unit and is responsible for ensuring that objections are considered fairly and impartially, and that decisions are consistent.

There is no requirement for staff within the CPCAU to have legal training or qualifications. Objections are considered on the individual facts of the case, taking account of any argument that may be put forward to show why a person served with a penalty may not be liable. If it is required, legal advice may be sought from Home Office Legal Advisers and the Treasury Solicitor.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many days' relevant training were undertaken by the civil servants who, on behalf of the Secretary of State:


    (a) considered the appeal reference CPCAU/070 against the imposition of an £8,000 fine in respect of four clandestine immigrants found on a commercial vehicle at Dover on 27 April; and


    (b) signed the letter of rejection of that appeal.[HL2746]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Civil Penalty Central Administration Unit (CPCAU) was established to administer the civil penalty provisions introduced by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The unit's functions include reviewing penalties imposed at ports of entry and considering notices of objection against such penalties as allowed by the legislation. Consideration of the notice of objection in case reference CPCAU/070 was undertaken, as in all cases where objections are made, jointly within the unit by a team of immigration officers and chief immigration officers, with an Immigration Inspector making the final decision and signing the letter notifying that decision. An Assistant Director of the Immigration Service has overall charge of the unit and is responsible for ensuring that objections are considered fairly and impartially, and that decisions are consistent.

All staff working at the CPCAU have received training appropriate to their role. The Immigration Inspector who signed the letter maintaining the penalty in case reference CPCAU/070 had received two days' training relating specifically to the civil penalty provisions of the Act.

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