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12 Jan 2009 : Column 509Wcontinued
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether he has consulted the Electoral Commission on whether the proposed new powers of entry for the Electoral Commission in the Political Parties and Elections Bill will potentially allow entry into the homes of (a) trades union staff and (b) trades union members who donate to a political party through paying a political levy, in trades unions that affiliate to a political party; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Wills: The Political Parties and Elections Bill currently provides for two specific, constrained, powers of entry. The provisions were discussed with the Electoral Commission during their development.
The first is a restatement of the existing power under section 146(3) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which allows the Commission to enter premises and take copies of information relating to income and expenditure from a registered political party, a recognised third party and a permitted participant in a referendum. This power can be exercised by the Commission for the purposes of carrying out its functions but does not authorise the use of force to enter premises. However, it is a criminal offence to intentionally obstruct the Commission from entering premises.
This power is replicated in clause 1(5) of schedule 19A (to be inserted into the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 by schedule 1 to the Bill). It is, however, extended in its scope to encompass candidates (other than candidates in Scottish local government elections), election agents, regulated donees (including MPs) and regulated participants.
In addition, the Political Parties and Elections Bill seeks to provide new powers for use by the Commission when it undertakes an investigation in circumstances where it has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a breach of PPERA has taken place: specifically, the Bill provides the Commission with new powers to request information, to put questions and to apply for a warrant to enable it to enter premises when carrying out an investigation into a suspected offence or other contravention of the 2000 Act; each of these new powers is subject to a series of safeguards. These powers and the associated safeguards are set out in schedule 1 of the Bill, which proposes to insert a new schedule 19A into the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
In relation to the new power to enter premises, under paragraph 3 of schedule 19A the Commission will need to apply for a warrant: there is no automatic right of entry. For a warrant to be issued, the Commission must demonstrate on oath to a justice of the peace that it has reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has been committed (or other contravention of PPERA has occurred). The Commission must also satisfy a justice of the peace that documents are on any premises that were withheld following an earlier request made under paragraph 2(2) of the schedule or that are otherwise relevant to the investigation. When entering the premises that a warrant authorises entry into, any Commission staff must be accompanied at all times by a constable.
A warrant issued under paragraph 3 is capable of applying to any person or organisation that the tests in the paragraph above are met. On that basis it is capable of applying to trade unions and their members in the same way that it may apply to any other person or organisation.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether he plans to table an amendment to the Political Parties and Elections Bill to restrict the Electoral Commissions powers of entry into regulated donees in respect of (a) the offices of hon. Members within Parliament, (b) the offices of noble Lords within Parliament and (c) the parliamentary offices located at 4 Millbank. 
Mr. Wills: As I indicated at Committee stage of the Political Parties and Elections Bill, we have heard the force of opinion in the House on the issue of the Commission's powers and will consider what can be done to address it.
We are considering how best to do so while delivering the objective of empowering the Commission to investigate more effectively, together with ensuring that its powers are subject to appropriate safeguards.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what his proposed definition is of reasonable cause for a magistrate to give permission for the Electoral Commission to use its new suggested powers of entry. 
Mr. Wills: The Political Parties and Elections Bill proposes that the Electoral Commission may apply to a justice of the peace for a search warrant to authorise the entry of premises.
In order to issue a warrant a justice of the peace must be satisfied, having had regard to information given on oath by the Commission, that there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence or other breach of PPERA has been committed or has taken place. In addition the justice of the peace must also be satisfied that there are on the premises for which the warrant was sought documents that that have previously been required to be produced or which are otherwise relevant to the Commission's investigation. Further detail about the proposed power of entry and search by warrant is set out in paragraph 3 of schedule 1. It would ultimately be for a court, taking all relevant factors into consideration, to decide whether the above requirements were met and whether issuing a warrant was appropriate as a result.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what effect the planned reductions in his Departments spending will have on (a) progress on the proposed CORE electoral database and (b) numbers of staff in his Departments electoral law and regulation division. 
Mr. Wills: The Co-ordinated Online Record of Electors (CORE) project is funded from a ring fenced capital allocation. Funds are released for expenditure subject to an annual bidding process. We do not anticipate that this position will change as a result of the Ministry of Justices Performance and Efficiency Programme.
Staffing requirements in Elections and Democracy Division are reviewed based on its work load and the skills required and this will continue.
Robert Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what the average length of time is for (a) the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and (b) the ICO Freedom of Information Operation Team 5 Local Government (South) to allocate a freedom of information case to a caseworker. 
Mr. Wills: Figures available relate to Freedom of Information cases closed by the ICO between April 2007 and September 2008.
Of the cases closed by the ICO between April 2007 and March 2008, the average number of days from receipt by the ICO to allocation to a case officer was 69.
Between April and September 2008, the average time taken for allocation following receipt by the ICO was 64 days.
Of the cases closed by FOI Operation Team 5Local Government (South) between April 2007 and March 2008, the average number of days from receipt by Team 5 to allocation to a complaints officer was 117. Between April and September 2008, the average time taken for allocation following receipt by Team 5 was 130 days.
This information has been provided by the ICO.
David Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice with reference to the answer of 24 November 2008, Official Report, column 865W, on HM Courts Service: finance, upon what assumptions on changes to the volume of cases the estimate of additional income was based; and what assessment he has made of the accuracy of such assumptions. 
Mr. Straw: The estimation of the additional income of £28 million from family court fees was calculated by taking prior year volumes of new care cases issued, and adjusting that volume to take into account an initial drop as a result of the introduction of the new Public Law Outline in April 2008. In addition, the estimation also included volumes from existing cases that had been issued prior to the introduction of the new fee charge, and that would incur the new fee charges after 1 May 2008:
The assessment of the accuracy of the assumptions was based on an understanding of the low volatility and identifiable trend of those application volumes in recent years.
Mr. Grieve: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what referral criteria are put in place for the Poppy Project; and whether the Government has recently considered amending such criteria. 
Maria Eagle: To qualify for safe accommodation under the Government-funded Poppy project individuals must be over 18 years old, trafficked into the United Kingdom and sexually exploited in England and Wales. Priority for accommodation is given to individuals that have experienced exploitation in the immediate three months prior to referral. This year we also piloted support provisions for victims of trafficking for forced labour and domestic servitude.
We ratified the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings on 17 December 2008. This will require us to have minimum levels of support for all identified victims of human trafficking by spring 2009. We are currently tendering for a national support model for victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, as they share similar high-level support needs. We are also working with the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre to develop support services for victims trafficked into forced labour.
Mr. Gerrard: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what services his Department provides to people who are identified as having been trafficked. 
Maria Eagle: The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office jointly funds the Poppy project to provide specialist, high-level support to victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Victims are provided with a 30 day reflection period, accommodation, advocacy support, access to counselling, interpretative services, access to immigration legal advice, resettlement support and a range of other services to meet their individual needs. The Poppy project also has outreach team. This year the Government piloted support services for victims trafficked into domestic servitude and forced labour.
We ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings on 17 December 2008 and will come into force in April 2009. This will see the introduction of a 45-day minimum reflection period and one-year temporary residence permits, both of which will be extendable in certain circumstances. We will also introduce a national support service model with an increased number of supported accommodation places.
Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what plans he has to bring forward legislative proposals to amend those provisions of the Act of Settlement relating to the Royal Succession; and what recent representations he has received on the matter. 
Mr. Straw: The Government have always stood firmly against discrimination in all its forms, including against Roman Catholics, and we will continue to do so. To bring about changes to the law on succession would be a complex undertaking involving amendment or repeal of a number of items of related legislation, as well as requiring the consent of legislatures of member nations of the Commonwealth. We are examining this complex area although there are no immediate plans to legislate.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will publish (a) the Offender Management Strategy 2008 and (b) the evidence base on which it draws. 
Mr. Hanson: The publication 'Punishment and reform: our approach to managing offenders' was published on 17 December 2008 and is available on the Ministry of Justice website and a copy will be placed in the Libraries of the House. It explains how the principles of punishment and reform underpin our approach to offender management.
A strategic review of offender management took place in 2007. A summary report was made available to probation services in January 2008. I am arranging for a copy of the summary to be placed in the Library of both Houses. The purpose of the Offender Management Strategic Review was to set the direction for the implementation of future phases of offender management within the National Offender Management Service. The
review drew on an extensive programme of consultation with practitioners and other interested parties including the findings from Offender Management Inspection reports by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation which are public documents.
Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what staff resources the National Offender Management Service proposes to allocate to directors of offender management; 
(2) what salary the National Offender Management Service proposes to pay its directors of offender management; 
(3) what the (a) job description and (b) person specification for the post of director of offender management is; 
(4) what estimate he has made of the cost savings from the change from regional offender managers to directors of offender management in the National Offender Management Service. 
Mr. Hanson: Directors of Offender Management will be the single point of accountability in English regions and in Wales. They will lead the total system incorporating probation services, public sector prisons, contracted prisons and partnerships for the provision of offender management. Director appointments will be finalised early in 2009 and NOMS management are currently designing the regional structures and finalising staff numbers. Final staff numbers will be available in March 2009.
The director of offender management role has been evaluated, in all cases, to be senior civil servant (SCS) pay band 2. The salaries paid will be commensurate with this pay band and are expected to be in the region of £80,000 to £120,000. The exact salaries of the directors will be different because the roles vary in scale and this will be recognised accordingly.
It is expected that the savings generated from the regional restructuring in the National Offender Management Service, which includes the creation and appointment of directors of Offender Management will be in the order of £5 million to £10 million.
The job description and person specification have been placed in the Libraries of the House.
Mr. Garnier: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to his answer of 11 December 2008, Official Report, column 300-1W, on open prisons: prisoner escapes, what plans he has to reduce the number of absconds from open prisons. 
Levels of abscond have fallen over the last decade and are still declining. They are now 54 per cent. lower than in 1996-97. Prisoners undergo a risk assessment process before been considered for open conditions and those considered to be at risk of absconding are not allocated to the open estate. Open prisons take a variety of actions to reduce absconding including effective screening of prisoners when they arrive at the prison coupled with intelligence work within the prison to identify potential absconders and send them back to
closed conditions. Work is also being undertaken with the police and CPS to ensure that wherever possible absconders are prosecuted as a deterrent to others. Despite excellent progress in this area we are far from complacent and in the coming year the National Offender Management Service will be building on these achievements to ensure that the downward trend in absconds continues and that best practice is spread across all areas of the country.
Mr. Garnier: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer of 11 December 2008, Official Report, columns 300-01W, on open prisons: prisoner escapes, what each of the 125 offences committed by prisoners while unlawfully at large in each of the last 24 months was. 
Mr. Hanson: Data in the following table show the main categories of further offences that prisoners have been charged with committing while unlawfully at large from open prisons in England and Wales between December 2006 and November 2008.
|Further offences with which prisoners were charged while unlawfully at large from open prisons during the period 1 December 2006 to 30 November 2008|
|Offence type||Total recorded|
1. Data shown are for charges brought against prisoners. Data are not available on outcome following charging.
2. The prisoner who committed the murder then committed suicide and so was not charged.
3. These figures have been drawn from live administrative data systems. Although care is taken when processing and analysing the returns, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system.
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