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Bona Vacantia

21. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): How many payments were made to individuals out of money received by the Government by way of bona vacantia in the financial year 2004–05. [66197]

The Solicitor General: There were 488 payments to individuals out of money received by way of bona vacantia in 2004–05.

Mr. Kidney: Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that when the provision affects the property of individuals or limited companies, it applies like a tax at a rate of 100 per cent.? If individuals are affected adversely by its application—no doubt like those involved with the 488 payments he mentions—they have to beg a faceless official to give them relief. They rely on the official's discretion to get that relief. Is not the obscurity and opacity of the whole system summed up
 
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by the fact that the Latin name is still being used today? Would he like to be the Minister who modernises the system and makes it fair and predictable?

The Solicitor General: Although the Treasury Solicitors administer bona vacantia, the policy in relation to it is a matter for the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The current arrangements for making discretionary payments are flexible and, by and large, seem to work relatively well. They were recently revised and updated, and are kept under constant review to make sure that they reflect changes in society and enable people to get what they are entitled to more easily. Of the 488 cases, 238 involved people claiming estates to which they were legally entitled, after the Treasury Solicitor had administered them. The decisions were not entirely discretionary. The rules are rather old, but by and large they work because they have been updated over time.

Extradition (United States)

22. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): How many extradition requests by the UK have been outstanding with the US authorities for in excess of (a) 10, (b) five and (c) two years; and if he will make a statement. [66198]

The Solicitor General: I am told that there are currently no extradition requests from the UK before the American courts that have been outstanding for more than two years, but there are some requests for individuals who are on the run when it has not been possible to make an arrest, or for individuals who are serving in US prisons.

Andrew Mackinlay: That is good news, but will the Solicitor-General tell us whether there is parity of treatment between the United Kingdom and the United States? We still have a one-sided extradition treaty. Will he use this occasion to assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are saying to the United States authorities and Senate that there must be reciprocal
 
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arrangements? If our authorities and his office are to pursue the extraditions that they want, there must be appropriate and comparable reciprocity.

The Solicitor General: On comparable arrangements, requests to the United States take an average of approximately five months to conclude and those to the UK take about seven months, so we take slightly longer. The standard for extradition in the United States under the Bill of Rights is one probable cause; that is part of the constitution, so we have to respect it. We think that our standard of requesting information is appropriate. The systems are slightly different, but very similar. There was an unfairness before 2003 in that the UK required a prima facie case, which was a much higher standard, but we have rebalanced the situation and it is much fairer than it ever was. We want the ratification of the 2003 extradition treaty. The Home Secretary has recently raised that with the US Attorney-General, and we hope that the US Senate will advise on and consent to it as soon as possible.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Solicitor-General knows of the discontent about the arrangements between the States and the United Kingdom on extradition. Will he and the Attorney-General examine the whole range of treaties between us and other countries to ensure that equality, parity and reciprocity in extradition is the norm? As we review the functioning of the House of Lords, will he give serious consideration to whether decisions about treaties that the UK should enter into should be ones for Parliament, rather than the Executive or the Prime Minister?

The Solicitor General: As for reciprocity, it is always difficult to balance the different ways in which decisions are made under different legal systems. The systems all have differing histories and statutory backgrounds. We need to ensure, as far as possible, that there is a level of reciprocity that is fair to those for whom we make applications and for whom applications are made to us. We have a well-established practice for dealing with treaties, which, in our view, broadly works fairly and well.


 
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Business of the House

11.32 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the coming weeks?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business for next week will be as follows:

Tuesday 2 May—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Wednesday 3 May—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 4 May—A debate on the Government's strategy to improve the life chances of disabled people on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 5 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 8 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to future European Union finances, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages that may be received.

Tuesday 9 May—Opposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 10 May—Remaining stages of the Police and Justice Bill, followed by a motion to establish a Joint Committee on Conventions of the House of Lords.

Thursday 11 May—Remaining stages of the Housing Corporation (Delegation) etc. Bill.

Friday 12 May—Private Members' Bills.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks.

The past few days have indeed proved that a week is a long time in politics. Yesterday, the usually calm and cautious members of the Royal College of Nursing barracked and heckled the Health Secretary, raising their opposition to job cuts among nurses. When we have raised job cuts among nurses and doctors in the Chamber, the Leader of the House has consistently refused our calls for a statement by the Health Secretary or a debate on the NHS. Nurses are deeply concerned about patient care, so will the Leader of the House now ensure that there will be a debate in Government time on the state of the health service?

One of the reasons for problems in the health service is the sheer incompetence of the Government. They miscalculated the cost of the new GP, nurses and consultants contracts by more than £600 million. They miscalculated the savings from legal aid, which will lead to 1,000 job losses in the courts service. Failure in the operation of working families tax credit and the new Child Support Agency system have meant that thousands of families have been left in financial difficulty. As we now know, failure by the Home Office to deport more than 1,000 foreign criminals meant that
 
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they were let out on to our streets, free to thieve, murder and rape again. May we have a full debate, in Government time, on ministerial incompetence?

May we also have a statement from the Home Secretary on rising violent crime? Not all hon. Members will know that figures published by the Home Office today, which it claims show that crime was stable in the last three months of last year, show that over that period, sex offences were up, robberies were up, drug offences were up, and violent crime was up. Are those yet more problems that the Home Secretary thinks he should have more time to put right?

May we also have a debate on the use made by the Government of reports produced by Select Committees? In recent months, we have seen warnings about the Rural Payments Agency ignored, warnings about problems in the tax credit system ignored, and warnings about the release of foreign criminals ignored. But that was not the only warning that the Home Office received about foreign criminals. It ignored Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.

On Tuesday, the Home Secretary said on "Newsnight" that "very, very few" foreign criminals had been released after he knew about the problem. The truth was that it was 288, and the rate of release went up after he was supposed to be getting a grip on the problem. Clearly, he is not in charge of his Department and attempts by some to place the blame on civil servants merely demean the Government.

Time after time Ministers have been found wanting, and time after time they have failed to pay the price. May we have a debate on ministerial accountability, which will give this House the opportunity to say to this Government, "Enough is enough"?


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