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5 Feb 2003 : Column 322W—continued

Area Cost Adjustment

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with his colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister about the impact of (a) the changes to the Area Cost Adjustment and (b) the new approach to Resource Equalisation on police funding in Essex; and what estimate he has made of the impact in financial terms. [93286]

Mr. Denham: Ministerial discussions during the recent review of funding formulae covered a range of subjects including the Area Cost Adjustment (ACA) and Resource Equalisation.

Any change to funding formulae will result in winners and losers. We carefully considered the impact that all the options for change would have on all police authorities before any final decisions were taken.

The way the ACA is calculated has been revised to make it much more sensitive to local circumstances. It now recognises that there can be high cost areas outside the South East and it recognises the evidence that there are variations within London and the South East.

The previous Resource Equalisation system recognised the different abilities of authorities to raise their own resources, but used an unrealistic assumption of council tax to do it. The new system assumes a national council tax that is close to what authorities actually charged in 2002–03 plus a small extra amount for inflation so that high need, low taxbase authorities are not unfairly penalised.

All police authorities have been protected from excessive fluctuations in grant by the application of floors and ceilings which ensure that every police authority will benefit from a minimum increase in general grant of 3 per cent.

Assets Recovery Agency

Colin Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Assets Recovery Agency. [94826]

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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Assets Recovery Agency came formally into being on 13 January, and its Director, Jane Earl, took up post on 3 February, as did her Assistant Director for Northern Ireland, Alan McQuillan. I have signed a commencement order to bring the Agency's powers of civil recovery, taxation, investigations and data sharing into force on 24 February, and the criminal confiscation provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which include powers for the Director, will come into force on 24 March.

Jane Earl and her staff will have my full support in their efforts to reduce crime. They will do this by making sure that those in our communities who seek to live off of the misery and suffering caused by crime are not allowed to enjoy their ill- gotten gains.

Asylum Accommodation (Scotland)

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the sites which are being considered for asylum seeker accommodation centres in Scotland. [95281]

Beverley Hughes: The current position on sites under consideration is as we announced in May 2002.

Site searching has continued since we made our initial announcement as we said it would. We will not be putting into the public domain details of any sites unless and until they are considered to be a serious prospect for the siting of an accommodation centre.

Asylum Seekers

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what (a) private and (b) public consultation took place between the National Asylum Seekers Support Service and constituents of Sittingbourne and Sheppey with respect to the decision to open a refugee and asylum reception centre at the Coniston Hotel in Sittingbourne; and if he will make a statement. [91357]

Beverley Hughes: Prior to the meeting on 24 January there has been no public consultation between the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) and constituents in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. On 12 September 2002 NASS wrote to the Chief Executive of Swale Borough Council to advise that NASS was considering a tender for use of bedspaces at the Coniston Hotel. The letter from NASS made it clear that the information was at that time "Commercial in Confidence" since the tender to which it related was still being evaluated. It was suggested in the letter that Swale Borough Council liaise with other agencies to consider matters which fell outside their responsibility, such as 'Police/Crime and Disorder concerns'. The Chief Executive was asked to provide specific information and also invited to provide any additional information he felt would be appropriate or relevant to local or regional circumstances. Two written replies were received from Swale Borough Council.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the hotels and guesthouses in the Gatwick area which are providing accommodation to asylum seekers, together with

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(a) the number of individuals in each case and (b) their country of origin; and what the average cost per week has been to public funds. [94609]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 31 January 2003]: The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) does not currently accommodate any asylum seekers in hotels or guesthouses in the Gatwick area. NASS does not have a central record of hotels used by local authorities providing housing for asylum seekers. Some people who were transferred from Sangatte are being temporarily housed in the Gatwick area.

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what checks are made on the accuracy of addresses provided by asylum seekers as their place of residence in the UK (a) at the time when they make new application for asylum and (b) at subsequent stages of their application. [94921]

Beverley Hughes: Immigration officers at ports of entry would normally seek to verify any address which is provided by an asylum seeker as his or her place of residence in the United Kingdom. If the asylum seeker will be staying with friends or relatives, every effort is made to contact the person concerned. In addition the friend or relative's personal details and address may be checked against Home Office records, including the Warnings Index. Similar checks are run on applicants who claim in-country.

The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) also requires its accommodation providers to confirm in writing that an asylum seeker has arrived at accommodation which is being provided as part of a support package.

All claimants' addresses are entered on the Case Information Database (CID) which includes a postcode check mechanism to double-check the address.

The onus is on all claimants to notify any changes of address which will be entered on CID.

The ability to maintain contact with all asylum seekers is a primary objective of measures in the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and through the establishment of induction, accommodation and reporting centres. Asylum seekers will be informed of their obligations to provide up-to-date address details, and to report as required, during the induction process. The Immigration Service will actively manage the contact process: through the eight designated reporting centres, by using police stations and by visiting asylum seekers at their accommodation.

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many crimes were committed by asylum seekers, broken down by type of offence, in the most recent year for which information is available. [94924]

Mr. Denham: I regret that the information requested is not available from existing data collection systems.

Information on the number of asylum applications is published quarterly on the Home Office website at The next publication will be available from 28 February and will cover the final quarter of 2002.

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Body Armour

Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what assessment he has made of the acceptability of body armour to the police; [93660]

Mr. Denham: All police forces in England and Wales operate within the Health and Safety (Police) Act 1997 and must, therefore, conduct (and maintain) risk assessments into the roles of their officers. Where a risk is identified, body armour is one of the measures that should be considered. There are a variety of levels of protection which can be offered according to the perceived threat and a risk assessment will normally establish the level of protection required. The use of protective equipment is ultimately a matter for chief officers of police.

All forces in England and Wales have access to dual-purpose body armour (knives and ballistic) either as a general or pool issue. All firearms units in England and Wales have access to overt heavy-duty body armour. In May 2002, the Home Office Police Scientific Development Branch set up a database to record instances when body armour has saved an officer from death or serious injury.

Coniston Hotel

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the consultation on the Coniston Hotel as an asylum centre will be conducted independently of the NASS. [95544]

Beverley Hughes: On 20 January I announced that there will be an independent inquiry into the operation of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) which will include its general procurement processes. However, consultation on individual sites identified as potential accommodation for asylum seekers, whether on a short or longer term basis, will be carried out by NASS.

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