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Police (Civilian Staff)

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the Government's guidance to the Metropolitan Police Service on the use of civilians within police stations; and in what circumstances civilians may be given responsibility for the supervision of detainees within police stations. [25230]

Mr. Michael: The Commissioner tells me that the Metropolitan Police's civil staff are employed in a wide range of roles in support of operational police duties. There are currently 4,835 civil staff employed at divisional police stations within the Metropolitan Police District. Guidance on the use of civilians in the custody area of police stations was issued to all police forces on 6 July 1993. The guidance provided a list of tasks which were considered suitable for trained civilian staff working under the direct supervision of the custody officer.

The Commissioner tells me that civilian gaolers were formally introduced in the Metropolitan Police via a pilot scheme in May 1993. Since then, it has been acknowledged that, despite having no special powers, they can make a useful contribution in assisting the custody officer in the management of detained persons. Their main role is to deal with a wide range of important routine matters on behalf of the custody officer concerning general welfare, housekeeping and detention conditions.

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Fires (London)

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the role of the Metropolitan Police Service in dealing with fires on or close to the Thames. [25229]

Mr. Michael: The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis tells me that fire fighting is not a primary objective of Thames Division. However, when they come across incidents of fire in the course of their duties, the Division respond and call on other resources as appropriate to preserve life and property.

Cannibalism

Mr. NcNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to make cannibalism a criminal offence. [25221]

Mr. Michael: No. If anyone were to attack or kill a person with the intention of eating any part of the victim's body, it would already involve the commission of a criminal offence.

Lotteries

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what date he passed ministerial responsibility for matters relating to on-line lotteries to another minister. [24993]

Mr. Straw [holding answer 26 January 1998]: 17 November 1997.

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Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will place in the Library copies of his correspondence with the Deputy Prime Minister on the subject of on-line lotteries. [24994]

Mr. Straw [holding answer 26 January 1998]: It is not normal practice for correspondence between Cabinet Ministers to be placed in the Library and I see no reason to depart from that practice on this occasion.

Film Classification

Mr. Coaker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the British Board of Film Classification's Annual Report for 1996-97 will be published; and if he will make a statement. [26222]

Mr. Straw: I have today laid before the House copies of the Annual Report of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for 1996-97, which gives details of the Board's financial accounts and activities over the past eighteen months. Copies of the report have also been placed in the Library.

Under section 6 of the Video Recordings Act 1984, the designated authority for the classification of video works (in practice, the President and Vice Presidents of the BBFC) is required to produce a report as soon as is reasonably practicable after 31 December. The production of the report for 1996-97 has been greatly delayed and I have expressed my concern about this very strongly to the new President, Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith. Mr. Whittam Smith has made it clear that he shares my concern and has assured me that he will be establishing a timetable for the production of the 1997-98 report to ensure that it is produced as soon as possible after the audited accounts are available.

I have also made clear to Mr. Whittam Smith my serious concern at the unilateral action taken by the BBFC last year to relax the guidelines for the classification of videos in the R18 category (that is, videos which can lawfully be sold only in licensed sex shops). The BBFC's change of policy was brought to my attention by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise which was concerned that material had been classified which might have been liable to forfeiture under section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1959 and the subject of forfeiture proceedings under section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. It was entirely unacceptable that the Board should have acted in this way. As a consequence of my concern, Mr. Whittam Smith has inquired into the handling of this matter and is putting in place procedures to ensure proper controls on the formulation of policy. He is also taking steps to improve management accountability at the Board.

On taking up his post, Mr. Whittam Smith outlined his proposals for reviewing the Board's classification policy and his intention to consult widely on this issue. I welcome these positive steps towards greater openness and accountability at the Board.

Crime Rate (Chelmsford)

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the change in the crime rate in the centre of Chelmsford since January 1996. [25667]

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Mr. Michael: Information collected centrally on recorded crime is broken down only as far as police force area. More localised data can be obtained direct from the Force Statistics Officer for Essex Police.

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the impact of the introduction of CCTV on the crime level in the centre of Chelmsford; and how many arrests have been made as a result of CCTV. [25785]

Mr. Michael: The police in Chelmsford report that there has been a 21 per cent. overall reduction in recorded crime in the Chelmsford town beat area since the closed circuit television system became operational in January 1996; and that 426 arrests were directly attributable to incidents being caught on camera.

Firearms (Compensation)

Sir Brian Mawhinney: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to his answer of 13 January 1998, Official Report, column 165, for what reasons the average turn round time between receipt of claims from the police and processing of options A and B was 19 weeks. [25926]

Mr. Michael: With over 116,000 handguns and associated equipment surrendered over a short period, an initial build-up of claims was inevitable. Processing rates were initially held up by computer problems, now resolved, and are currently determined by a combination of factors, including: the nature and complexity of the claims that are being examined; the numbers of staff available at any given point; and the time that can be spent on processing claims, as opposed to non-productive work such as dealing with inquiries. We are doing all we can to keep the length of time that claimants must await payment to a minimum. This includes weekend working; the use of casual staff and of data processors on short term contract to input the claimant details; allowing the examiners more time on processing the payments; and increasing the number of trained examiners available. A recorded telephone mailbox message giving current processing times has been introduced to reduce the distractions to staff.

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to his answer of 13 January 1998, Official Report, column 165, on the Firearms Compensation Scheme, what was the reason for the delay in returning Mr. Fowles's incorrectly completed firearms compensation application; and if he will make a statement. [25350]

Mr. Michael: Errors in the completion of compensation claims are normally identified when the claim is examined prior to payment. Having been lodged on 23 September 1997, towards the end of the hand-in period, Mr. Fowles's claim has not yet reached that stage, and the error in his claim has come to light as a result of the previous Question. The form has been returned to

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Mr. Fowles for correction. There has been no delay in notifying him of the error, and the processing time for the case will be unaffected, so long as Mr. Fowles completes the form correctly and returns it promptly.

Immigration

Mr. Wilshire: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will publish the conditions that have to be met by the partner of someone seeking permission to live in the United Kingdom before they may be admitted. [25865]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The term "partner" is not defined in immigration legislation or rules. Different descriptions are used and so it is not possible to give a precise answer to this Question. Someone seeking permission to enter the United Kingdom with a view to settlement as a spouse or fiance(e) must show that he or she is present and settled in the United Kingdom and that, as a couple, they intend to live together permanently and are able to maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds. The parties to the marriage, or proposed marriage, must have met. If the overseas partner is seeking permission to enter under the concession for unmarried partners, introduced on 13 October 1997, the couple must additionally show that they have been living together in a relationship akin to marriage which has subsisted for four years or more; that they are legally unable to marry (other than by reason of consanguineous relationships or age); and that any previous marriage, or similar relationship, has permanently broken down. In all cases, the overseas partner must be in possession of a valid entry clearance for entry in the appropriate capacity.


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