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Asylum Seekers

Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to his answer of 5 March, Official Report, column 1076W, on asylum seekers, what methods of identification and judging the age of unaccompanied child asylum seekers without documentation are used, apart from appearance; and if he will make a statement. [103402]

Beverley Hughes: In the absence of documentary evidence establishing age the judgment as to whether an applicant is under or over 18 is based solely on appearance. If the applicant wishes to obtain a medical assessment of age she or he may do so independently and any such assessment will be taken into consideration. Any age assessment provided by Social Services, based on behavioural and cultural factors, is taken into account.

Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to his answer of 5 March, Official Report, column 1076W on asylum seekers, what system the Department has in place to locate relatives of unaccompanied child asylum seekers other than use of the Red Cross and other charities. [103403]

Beverley Hughes: The Immigration and Nationality Directorate refers all unaccompanied asylum seeking children to Local Authority Social Services Departments, and they then make use of the Red Cross and other organisations to trace parents. The process of accessing these tracing services rests with the Local Authority.

Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures the Government has in place (a) to stop child trafficking for the sex trade and (b) to protect child asylum seekers from organised criminal groups when they arrive in the UK. [103404]

Beverley Hughes: The United Kingdom is committed to tackling the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation. Our strategy on trafficking is set out in the White Paper "Secure Border Safe Haven" and focuses on strengthening the law through new offences covering trafficking; providing appropriate support to victims of trafficking in the UK; tackling the criminals through intelligence and enforcement operations through the Reflex taskforce; European Union co-operation and prevention in source and transit countries in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

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The new Sexual Offences Bill sets out new wide-ranging offences covering trafficking for sexual exploitation to replace the stop-gap offence of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, introduced in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The offence of trafficking for sexual exploitation carries a tough maximum penalty of 14 years. In addition to this, the Bill also introduces a new offence of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of a child, which will protect children up to 18. It covers a range of offences, including buying the sexual services of a child, (for which the penalty ranges from seven years to life depending on the age of the child); and causing, facilitating or controlling the commercial sexual exploitation of a child in prostitution or pornography, for which the maximum penalty will be 14 years' imprisonment.

Child victims of trafficking are referred to social services to receive advice and support based on their particular needs. Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in need by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs or, where appropriate, by arranging for the provision of services from other agencies. We are working with Department of Health on examples of good practice on how this commitment is delivered.

Joint work is also underway between key agencies at principal entry points to identify children at risk. A Child Protection Pilot Project was launched on 10 March at Heathrow, this is a joint operation between the Metropolitan Police and the Immigration Service.


Mrs. Roe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the hon. Member for Broxbourne will receive a reply to her letters of (a) 10 October 2002, (b) 7 November 2002, (c) 5 December 2002, (d) 2 January, (e) 6 February and (f) 5 March relating to her constituent Mr. Bilal Mumtaz Bhatti of Turnford. [101933]

Beverley Hughes [holding answer 10 March 2003]: I wrote to the hon. Member on 19 March.

Mr. Lloyd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when his Department intends to reply to the letters from the hon. Member for Manchester, Central, of (a) 23 October 2002, re Ms LB, ref PO 22392/2, (b) 29 October 2002, re Ms MS, ref PO 23397/2, (c) 1 November 2002, re Mrs. SBA, ref PO 22970/2, (d) 4 November 2002, re Mr. ADS, ref PO 23121/2, (e) 5 November 2002, re Mr. OOA, ref PO 23039/2, (f) 8 November 2002, re Mr. DC, ref PO 23410/2, (g) 14 November 2002, re Ms BK, ref PO 24950/2, (h) 20 November 2002, re Mr.UA, ref PO 134/3, (i) 21 November 2002, re Mr. JM, ref PO 3277/3, (j) 22 November 2002, re Mr. HS, ref PO 23397/2, (k) 25 November 2002, re Mr.AHS, ref PO 24698/2, (l) 26 November 2002, re Home Office Policy, ref 24848/2, (m) 11 December 2002, re Mr.TE, ref PO 25612/2, (n) 6 January 2003, re Mr.MB, ref PO 512/3, (o) 6 January 2003, re Mr.SA, ref PO 508/3 and (p) 9 January 2003, re Mr. MOA, ref PO 2050/3. [103484]

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Beverley Hughes: I have instituted measures to deal with outstanding correspondence and reach a steady state of replying to letters within target. In keeping with letters from other right hon. and hon. Members I will reply to my hon. Friend's letters as soon as possible.

Sir Michael Spicer: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will reply to the letter from the hon. Members for West Worcestershire dated 20 September 2002 for which an acknowledgement card (ref. 19910/2) was sent on 25 November 2002. [103542]

Beverley Hughes: My noble Friend Lord Filkin replied to the hon. Member on 17 March.

Criminal Records Bureau

Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the level of service provided by the Criminal Records Bureau; and how many applications are waiting to be processed and what the average time taken is, broken down by employment sectors. [103310]

Hilary Benn: Since 11 March 2002 the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) has received 1,537,968 Disclosure applications and has issued 1,341,679 Disclosures. There are less than 44,000 applications currently outside our three week service standard. This figure has reduced from its peak of 109,000 during the summer of 2002 as a direct consequence of the targeted work that is being done to clear the oldest applications from the system. The current average time taken to process a Disclosure application stands at five weeks.

For the last four months the CRB has issued on average more Disclosures each week than it has received applications for, thereby reducing the number of outstanding cases. The CRB is issuing around 42,000 Disclosures per week, which is over double the weekly output issued by the police under the previous arrangements. There are no IT Procedures at present to extract information from the CRB database by employment sector. It is expected that this functionality will become available in subsequent system releases. No distinction is made in relation to the profession of an applicant as all applications are subject to the same level of service.

London Bombings

Mr. Beggs: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what progress has been made in securing convictions against those responsible for the bomb at the King's Arms public house in Woolwich, London on 7 November 1974; [103442]

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Mr. Blunkett: These cases remain open. Should any new evidence or intelligence come to the attention of the police service, in these or other similar cases, it will, of course, be investigated fully.

Ministerial Secretariat andCommunication Directorate

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the total (a) cost and (b) staffing of the (i) Ministerial Secretariat and (ii) Communication Directorate was in each year since 1990–91; what the purpose of each is; and if he will make a statement. [99808]

Mr. Blunkett: The purpose of the Ministerial Secretariat is both to support Ministers and the permanent secretary in their parliamentary and departmental work and the Department in working effectively with Ministers and private office to achieve the Home Office aims. Figures for the Secretariat are:

YearStaff numbersCosts
2002–03 101(17)5,089,014

(16) Costs have increased following the addition of two new Ministers and their private offices together with other re-organisation of staff between private office and the rest of the Department.

(17) Estimated figures for year end.

The purpose of the Communication Directorate is to take a strategic overview of Home Office communication activity. This involves setting and facilitating delivery of strategic objectives through effective long-term planning, co-ordination and evaluation. Figures for the Communication Directorate are:

YearStaff numbersCommunication Directorate costsPublicity costs

(18) Estimated figures for year end.

The publicity costs comprise major campaigns on police recruitment, crime reduction and until June 2001 electoral registration and fire safety.

These staffing figures include press office where numbers have risen following an externally led review of the structure and operation of the press office in 1999. One of the benefits has been that media calls to the press office are being answered within four rings 90 per cent. of the time. Previously there were occasions when up to 40 per cent. of media calls were lost.

Details of costs prior to 1996 are not held centrally and could be collated only at disproportionate cost.

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