Tuesday, 18th March 2003.
Convictions Subsequently Quashed
Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:
On how many occasions in the past five years people have been released from prison after serving more than five years on the grounds that there was a miscarriage of justice.[HL1825]
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Figures provided by the Criminal Cases Review Commission show that between 31 March 1997 and 28 February 2003, 85 cases referred by it to the Court of Appeal have resulted in convictions which have subsequently been quashed (including sentence only). Of these, 69 were sentenced to over five years.
Child Protection on the Internet
The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:
Notwithstanding the proposals in the Sexual Offences Bill, what measures they have in place, or are contemplating in partnership with the information technology sector, to ensure the safety of children using the Internet, with particular reference to the work of the Internet Watch Foundation; whether any such measures are operating effectively; and to what extent and in what ways the Government are contributing to any such initiatives.[HL1983]
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government continue actively to encourage the Internet industry to support the work of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which represents an effective way for the industry to deal with illegal on-line content. Through the European Commission's e-safe programme, the Government are supporting development of an international network of hotlines for reporting illegal content, of which the IWF is part.
The Government also work closely with the police, child protection agencies, the Internet industry and others, including the IWF, through the Task Force for Child Protection on the Internet, which is chaired by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Mr Hilary Benn).
The then Home Secretary set up the task force in March 2001 to bring together law enforcement, children's charities, the Internet industry and government to work in partnership to tackle child protection on the Internet.
To date the task force has been responsible for a number of successful initiatives, including:
a public awareness campaign to alert parents/carers and children to the potential dangers that
18 Mar 2003 : Column WA16
young people may face online and help them surf in safety. This campaign has now been run on two occasions and is aimed at providing information for parents in supervising their children online and for children in highlighting the risks of giving out their personal details online. Analysis of the first campaign has shown that, in targeting parents and young people themselves it significantly improved awareness of key safety messages amongst target groups;
developing training for police officers;
developing a unique set of models of good practice for service providers relating to chat, instant messaging and web services;
the task force is also taking forward, with the Internet Crime Forum, the development of a shared system for reporting and handling child protection issues and law enforcement requests.
The task force will continue to work on assessing the new challenges posed by technological developments, such as 3G mobile phones; and developing basic training materials for child protection staff on children's Internet use.
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has established the School Internet Safety Strategy Board to advise the DfES on all Internet safety issues, including the use of latest technology. The board comprises representatives from industry, including the IWF, children's charities, parent groups and other government departments.
The Department for Education and Skills and the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) have produced a detailed information pack for teachers and parents about pupils' safe use of the Internet, and Becta has also begun a process to accredit ICT service suppliers to education.
Internet Watch Foundation
The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they consider arrangements for the funding of the Internet Watch Foundation, aimed at creating a safe environment for Internet use, particularly by children, are adequate; and, if not, whether they have any plans to offer financial assistance.[HL1984]
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) performs a unique and valuable role in Internet self-regulation through administering its hotline, which enables users and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to report suspected child pornography and obscene or racist material on the net. The IWF's take-down procedures enable the Internet industry to remove illegal content from their systems, while relevant information is passed on to the police.
The Government support the work of the IWF and the development of a broader funding base for its work as set out in its recent review of governance. We believe self-regulation is the appropriate framework for the
18 Mar 2003 : Column WA17
UK Internet industry and that the IWF should continue to be industry funded. We fully support moves to encourage the wider Internet industry to play as full a part as possible in terms of financial assistance and in other ways, to ensure the continuing effectiveness of the IWF.
Communications Data Retention
The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether, in respect of the draft code of practice for voluntary retention of communications data and the consultation paper on it, their policy objectives might be more effectively achieved by a targeted preservation scheme similar to that in the United States.[HL2126]
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As discussed in Section 12 of the consultation paper on the voluntary code, data preservation is a very useful tool but not a substitute for data retention.
Forensic Pathology Services
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether an independent review into the provision of forensic pathology services has been carried out.[HL2173]
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My right honourable friend John Denham commissioned an independent review into the provision of forensic pathology services and the Government have accepted the key recommendations of that independent review. There is clearly a need to establish a unified forensic pathology service to deliver the needs of the police service, coroners and the wider criminal justice system. The Government intends to enable a standard high quality service to be offered across England and Wales; ensure availability of service by providing the framework of a career structure to retain existing practitioners and to attract new entrants to the field; facilitate the provision of specialist regional service delivery centres; and introduce improved management and budgetary controls for the provision of forensic pathology services.
Officials have been instructed to implement the key recommendations of the review as quickly as possible, with the intention that:
By autumn 2003 we will move to new accreditation and disciplinary procedures based on model competencies; and have two centres prepared to deliver a training programme against the improved standards.
By summer 2004 we will aim to have more newly trained, and operational forensic pathologists; an agreed career structure for the future national forensic pathology service; and developed contracts of employment.
18 Mar 2003 : Column WA18
John Denham will continue to take a close interest in progress and will receive regular reports on progress from the programme delivery board established to take this work forward. The delivery board will include representatives of both users and providers of forensic pathology services.
A copy of the review has been placed in the Library.
Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:
When they intend to consult publicly on the implementation of new powers in Sections 134 to 139 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. [HL2193]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): The Home Office has today published a public consultation document seeking comments on some practical issues surrounding the implementation of new powers in Sections 134 to 139 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The provisions in question will enable the immigration authorities to require employers and financial institutions to supply information in respect of specified individuals who we reasonably suspect have committed certain immigration offences, including fraud against the national asylum support arrangements. The deadline for responses to the consultation document is 9 June 2003. Copies of the document will be placed in the Library and on the Immigration and Nationality Directorate website.
Asylum Claims: Fast-Track Pilot
Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:
When the new fast-track pilot scheme will be introduced to process asylum claims. [HL2194]
Lord Filkin: A new fast-track pilot scheme to be introduced in April will radically reduce the time taken to process asylum claims from arrival to removal.
The pilot will operate at the Harmondsworth Removal Centre and will build upon the reforms in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the success of the Oakington fast-track process. This new pilot will enable us to deal rapidly with straightforward asylum claimants and to remove those with unfounded claims within four weeks of their arrival.
The new fast-track procedure rules, to be laid before Parliament later this week, will enable us to pilot fast-track decisions and appeals based upon colocation of key elements of the asylum process. For this to work effectively, we will be detaining at Harmondsworth Removal Centre asylum seekers whose clams appear to be straightforward, pending a decision on their claim. Detention will initially be for about two to five days to enable claimants to be interviewed and an initial decision made. This new process will have
18 Mar 2003 : Column WA19
bulletin access to legal advice. Detention of asylum seekers for a short period of time for the purposes of making a speedy decision on their claim was upheld last October as lawful by the House of Lords. If the claim is refused or for any reason cannot be dealt with in accordance with the pilot timescales, a decision about further detention will be made in accordance with existing detention criteria. Detention in this category of cases will therefore normally be where it has become apparent that the person would be likely to fail to keep in contact with the Immigration Service or to effect removal.