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Written Answers

Thursday, 3rd April 2003.

Fines Officers

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What provision they have made for the procurement and training of fines officers, a role proposed to be created by the Courts Bill in light of the recently published White Paper on the forthcoming anti-social behaviour Bill and its proposals for the use of fines as a punishment. [HL2256]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): There are no statutory requirements in the Courts Bill as to grade, qualification or experience of fines officers. However it is expected that fines officers will largely be drawn from existing MCC staff, many of whom have long experience in dealing with defaulters.

The precise role of fines officers will be piloted alongside other measures in the fines collection scheme. Once pilot areas have been identified, discussions about the specifics of the fines officer's role will begin with justices chief executives, including the provision of training.

The specific training a fines officer will require may be further developed throughout the pilots and guidelines may then be given to all courts prior to a national roll-out of the scheme.

Regulations, which will be developed after Royal Assent to the Courts Bill, will provide details about the fines collection scheme and guidance will also be provided for the fines officers to help them in their work; this may be further developed during the running of the pilots.

Sexual Offences: Northern Ireland, and England and Wales

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What significant differences there are in the laws governing homosexual offences in Northern Ireland, and England and Wales. [HL2120]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): There are two significant differences in the law governing homosexual offences in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales. First, the age of consent is 17 in Northern Ireland where it is 16 in England and Wales, although this applies to all types of sexual activity. Secondly, where in Northern Ireland a man would be charged with buggery for the non-consensual anal penetration of another man, in England and Wales this would be rape. This second situation will be addressed in the Criminal Justice Order (Northern

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Ireland) 2003. The order will amend the definition of rape in Northern Ireland to include anal penetration.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Sexual Offences Bill will be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and its case law if Northern Ireland is not included in those provisions relating to homosexuals.[HL2121]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government's obligations under the convention relate to what is proposed by any new piece of legislation, rather than what is not. As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton has stated clearly, it is the Government's view that the provisions of the Sexual Offences Bill are compatible with the convention rights.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the result of the equality impact assessment under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 on the decision not to include Northern Ireland in those parts of the Sexual Offences Bill designed to bring about legal equality as between homosexual and heterosexual offences.[HL2122]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: An equality impact assessment is undertaken on any policy which, following an equality screening, may have a detrimental effect on one or more of the nine Section 75 categories. An equality impact assessment focuses on what is being done rather than what is not. The Government have not, therefore, undertaken an impact assessment of the effect of not extending these provisions.

Northern Ireland: Smoking among Civil Servants

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is their policy to discourage smoking among Northern Ireland civil servants; how many special smoking chambers there are in their premises in the Province; and whether they have plans to reduce that number.[HL2138]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Smoking is not permitted in any premises occupied by Northern Ireland Office or Northern Ireland Administration staff, except in designated smoking rooms. This ban includes public offices, workshops and depots and extends to all areas including single occupancy rooms, training and conference rooms, corridors, toilets, canteens, reception areas and vehicles. There are some 144 smoking rooms currently in operation. The smoking policy is currently being reviewed and it is anticipated that this will significantly impact on the current provision of smoking rooms.

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Both the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Administration seek to discourage staff from smoking, through the workplace health improvement programme. This programme is designed to raise awareness of health issues (including smoking) and offers practical advice to encourage staff to adopt/maintain a healthy lifestyle.

House of Lords: Hereditary Peers' By-election

Lord Palmer asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What is the cost to the House of Lords of employing Electoral Reform Services to assist with the Hereditary Peers by-election.[HL2369]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The cost was £8,581.60 excluding VAT.

Political Parties: Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will set out the rules or conventions governing covert penetration of political parties by police and by the Security Service.[HL2311]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Part II of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) governs the authorisation, conduct and use of covert human intelligence sources by the police, the Security Service and other public bodies. The Security Service may only act in accordance with its statutory remit as set out in Section 1 of the Security Service Act 1989, as amended by the Security Service Act 1996.

NASS: Independent Inquiry into Dealings with Landmark

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What the findings were of the independent inquiry into the National Asylum Support Service's dealings with the Landmark Company.[HL2417]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: On 11 July 2002, in answer to a Parliamentary Question from my honourable friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Louise Ellman) Official Report, Commons, col. 1194W, the Home Secretary announced that he had instructed the director of National Asylum Support Service (NASS) to arrange for an independent inquiry to be carried out into issues arising from NASS' dealings with the Landmark Company. We are today publishing a summary of the report of that inquiry and a copy of that summary is being placed in the Library.

The inquiry confirmed that there were serious problems in the way accommodation for asylum seekers was being run in Liverpool. Its main

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recommendations have been accepted and are being implemented. Although the report concludes that there has been no material breach of contract by Landmark, it is clear that what happened in Liverpool is completely unacceptable.

We are therefore also announcing today the action which has been put in hand. A new contract manager has been appointed and will hold Landmark closely to account: the future of the contract will be reviewed after six months in the light of performance.

The new deputy director-general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, responsible for NASS, has been asked to make clear to Landmark that significant improvements will be needed—both in its general performance and in the standard of its properties. In the meantime, no further dispersal will be made to Landmark properties.

The Home Secretary has also recently commissioned an independent review of the management, staffing and expertise at NASS, which is due to report by the end of May.

Prison Service: Corporate and Business Plans

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the Prison Service corporate plan and business plan for this financial year. [HL2418]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Prison Service's corporate plan for 2003–04 to 2005–06 and business plan for 2003–04 (which includes the agreed key performance indicators) has been published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

Market Renewal Pathfinders

Baroness Golding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What funding allocation market renewal pathfinders can expect for 2003–04.[HL2391]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): The nine market renewal pathfinders are making good progress in developing their long-term action programmes to turn around their areas which suffer from low demand and abandonment.

The bulk of the £500 million market renewal fund announced in Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future will be allocated in negotiation with each pathfinder on the basis of proposed outputs and outcomes included in their strategic schemes. Completion of these schemes is essential to ensure future large-scale investment is well informed and based on robust plans.

We recognise that pathfinders are at different stages in completing their schemes, and whilst we expect three of the pathfinders to complete schemes this year, the

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remainder will not complete schemes before the end of the financial year.

I am therefore announcing today an initial allocation of up to £4 million of market renewal funding for those who do not expect to complete their schemes this year. This will mean that alongside development of these robust schemes, early action on the ground can continue in the areas that need it most.

Pathfinders which complete their schemes this year will be allocated levels of funds to support the proposed programmes, as agreed in negotiation with ODPM. Prior to agreement, these pathfinders can, where appropriate, undertake early action that will underpin the wider action plans they are developing in their strategic schemes.

This represents a key step in delivery of our commitment to tackle low demand and abandonment.


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