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Home Detention Curfew Scheme

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Filkin: Hilary Benn announced today a change to the home detention curfew (HDC) scheme that will provide earlier resettlement opportunities for lower risk offenders and help to deal with the pressures on the prison population.

A draft order has been tabled under Section 34A(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (as amended) to change the requisite period that a prisoner must spend in custody before becoming eligible for HDC. This will mean that the maximum period a prisoner may spend on HDC will rise from the present three months to four-and-a-half months, according to sentence length. Since all prisoners must spend at least 25 per cent of their sentence in custody, this will mean no change in the maximum curfew length for prisoners serving between three months and under 12 months. Prisoners serving 18 months and over will be eligible for the maximum four-and-a-half month curfew period. Prisoners serving four years or more are not eligible for HDC. The order will come into force on 14 July 2003.

Eligible prisoners who are assessed as suitable for HDC, and who have not already been released by the time the order comes into force, will be released in phases between 14 July and the end of August if their new HDC eligibility dates fall prior to 1 September 2003.

It is extremely important to maintain public confidence in the HDC Scheme. So, at the same time as increasing the maximum curfew period, we will set a presumption that prisoners convicted of certain serious offences will not be suitable for release unless exceptional circumstances exist. Offences involving the death of the victim, attempted murder or threats to kill, serious offences involving the possession of firearms or offensive weapons, child cruelty and all racially aggravated offences will be subject to this presumption. This will also apply to prisoners convicted of any sexual offence who are not already statutorily barred from HDC.

As at present, governors will release prisoners on HDC only if they pass a risk assessment and following a satisfactory home circumstances report. Public safety is of paramount importance and offenders will be released on HDC only where it is safe to do so.

Under the HDC scheme prisoners serve the remainder of their custody period at home under electronic curfew, usually from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The scheme provides prisoners with a smoother and more effective re-integration into the community, enabling prisoners to be released from prison early while remaining subject to significant restrictions on their liberty.

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At any one time this measure will increase the number of prisoners serving the latter part of their sentence on an electronic tag by up to 1,000 prisoners. No further changes to the scheme are planned but, as always, the scheme will be kept under close review.

Game Licences: Measures of Inflation

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Whitty on 2 April (HL2157), since when they have measured inflation by movements in the average weekly earnings of regular full-time men farm workers; and whether they would regard movements in the price of wheat as equally valid for the purpose of updating the price of a game licence.[HL2415]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My earlier Answer was intended to illustrate the relative effect of keeping the cost of a game licence constant over such a long period of time. Different indices would, of course, produce different current equivalents.

Patients Entitled to Help with Travel Costs

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much it cost the National Health Service to reimburse patients entitled to help with the costs of travel to and from hospital in the last year for which figures are available.[HL2424]

Baroness Andrews: The reimbursement of patients under the scheme to provide help with health costs is carried out by the appropriate National Health Service trust. The Department of Health does not maintain a central record of costs associated with the scheme.

Northern Ireland: Electoral IdentityCard Applications

Lord Rogan asked her Majesty's Government:

    How many application forms for Northern Ireland electoral identity cards have been returned to applicants for correction; and how many of these have subsequently been resubmitted for processing.[HL2147]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): A total of 6,993 application forms had been returned to applicants for correction by 8 April. The corrections required related either to incomplete filling of the form or because of inconsistency between the personal data provided in the application and that given for electoral registration. While the application and validation procedures do not provide a count of resubmitted forms, a record is maintained of all unresolved applications which have not yet resulted in the issue of

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a card. The Electoral Office will be taking special action to deal with outstanding applications during the latter part of April and early May.

Northern Ireland: Fine Defaulters

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have in Northern Ireland as regards the use of community penalties and to reduce the use of imprisonment.[HL2378]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government have no specific plans to change arrangements as regards fine defaulters.

As part of an overall review of the sentencing framework, the Northern Ireland Office is currently considering the range of disposals available in Northern Ireland. This will include looking at non-custodial options.

Gulf Troops: Free Letters and Packets

Baroness Billingham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bach on 8 April (WA24) can they confirm what plans they have to allow families to send free letters and packets to service personnel in the Gulf.[HL2536]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): The Ministry of Defence, with the generous support of the Royal Mail Group, plans to introduce a free postal service to Armed Forces personnel currently serving in the Gulf.

From Thursday 17 April, families will be able to post letters and packets of up to 2 kilograms in weight free of charge to BFPO addresses in the Gulf. Priority will be given to the delivery of letters, "blueys" and "e-blueys", which are the primary means of communication for families. Packets will be delivered to the troops as soon as is practicable depending on the operational situation.

This service is designed for close family and friends. Packets can only be accepted addressed to named individual service personnel. We would urge families to limit the number of packets they send so that the system works for everybody and does not become overloaded. Those who wish to show more general support to the Armed Forces serving in the Gulf should not use the system and we would encourage them instead to contribute to the UK Armed Forces Gulf Fund (details available at www.ukforcesgulffund.org and 0800 107 0200).

We are working very hard to implement the new system and need to put mechanisms in place to handle the expected increase in mail. We hope that families will be patient in the interim period, since we still need to get essential stores and equipment to the Gulf to support the front line.

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Northern Ireland: Jury Service

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What categories of people are exempt from jury service in Northern Ireland; what allowance is paid for jury service; when the allowance was last updated and on what it is based; and whether there are special arrangements for those who manage small companies and those who are self-employed.[HL2258]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): Schedules 1, 2 and 3 to the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 prescribe those persons who are exempt from jury service.

Schedlue 1 disqualifies any person who has at any time been convicted by a court in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man and sentenced to imprisonment for life or for a term of five years or more; or to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure or during the pleasure of the Secretary of State. It also disqualifies any person who has in the past 10 years served any part of a sentence of imprisonment or detention or been detained in a young offenders centre; had passed on him or made in respect of him a suspended sentence of imprisonment or order for detention or a community service order. Persons who at any time in the past five years have been placed on probation are also disqualified.

Schedule 2 outlines those groups or persons ineligible for jury service: namely persons concerned with the administration of justice, the forces, those who suffer from mental disorder and those who are unable to understand the English language.

Schedule 3 outlines those groups or persons excusable as of right from jury service: namely Members of Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive, the European Parliament, public officials, members of the clergy, professions (this category includes professors, full-time teaching staff from schools, colleges and universities, medical practitioners, dentists, nurses, midwives, veterinary practitioners and pharmaceutical chemists) and persons aged between 65 and 70 years.

Jurors are entitled to claim daily travelling, meal and financial loss allowances. Each juror is supplied with a leaflet that specifies current rates.These allowances are updated annually and take into account increases in the retail prices index. The current rates were last updated on 1 August 2002 and are set out below.

There are no special arrangements for those who manage small companies and those who are self-employed but such persons are entitled to the financial loss allowance as well as travelling expenses and meals on the same basis as other jurors.

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Jurors' Allowances

A basic rate daily travelling allowance for a motor car of 25.3 pence per mile.

A meal allowance where a meal is not otherwise provided at public expense. The allowance varies according to the length of time a juror is away from home or place of business as follows:

£
Not exceeding 5 hours£2.22
Exceeding 5 hours but not exceeding 10 hours£4.51
Over 10 hours£9.86

The maximum amounts which may be claimed per day for financial loss are:


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£
For a period not exceeding 4 hours£26.32
For a period of more than 4 hours£52.63

Where a juror serves more than 10 days, for each day after the 10th day the sum may exceed £52.63 per day but shall not exceed £105.28 per day.


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