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Justice and Home Affairs Council, 19th and 20th March

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My right honourable friend the Home Secretary represented the United Kingdom at the Council. The main matters dealt with at the meeting were as follows.

The Council agreed "A" points--among other things, a recommendation on football hooliganism which followed an initiative proposed by the United Kingdom, and a joint action on the exchange of liaison magistrates between member states of the European Union.

The Council reached political agreement on a joint action on racism and xenophobia. The effect of the new measure will be to strengthen judicial co-operation between the member states in combating racist or xenophobic acts committed within the European Union.

The Council agreed the financial regulation relating to the budget for Europol, and considered briefly the question of whether the European Court of Justice should be given jurisdiction to interpret the Europol Convention.

The Presidency reported progress in negotiations on the draft External Frontiers Convention, and concluded that officials should continue work on developing the draft instrument.

The Council considered a draft multi-annual work programme, providing a framework for action in the Third Pillar, to be taken forward by several Presidencies. A further version of the programme will be prepared in the light of discussion, for adoption at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in June.

The Council discussed proposals for areas of activity in the Third Pillar which should be funded from the 1996 Community budget, and agreed that the issue should be examined further by officials.

The Council discussed a number of outstanding issues arising from negotiations on the draft convention on simplified extradition procedures. The Presidency hoped that a final text of the convention would be ready to be adopted by the Council in June.

The Council noted progress on the draft convention on corruption, and agreed that work on the text should continue with a view to its being submitted for adoption by the Council in June.

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The Council agreed that work should proceed on a draft convention on service of judicial documents within the EU. The purpose of the convention would be to relieve delays in some member states in effecting service of process under the 1965 Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extra Judicial Documents.

The Presidency reported on a recent EU seminar in Rome on fundamentalist terrorism. The Council reaffirmed its commitment to co-operation between the member states in the fight against terrorism.

The Presidency reported to the Council on recent discussions in Oslo between the EU and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on the repatriation of refugees from the former Yugoslavia, and on a meeting in Rome with the Andean Pact countries which considered issues relating to illegal trafficking in drugs.

On the second day of the Council, member states' representatives met their counterparts from the Central and Eastern European States and Cyprus and Malta to continue the pre-accession structured dialogue with those countries on justice and home affairs.

Firearm Controls

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have had with chief police officers of England and Wales concerning psychologically damaged people who possess firearms, and whether they propose to make any statement of policy before the summer recess.

Baroness Blatch: Section 27 of the Firearms Act 1968 prohibits a chief officer of police from granting a firearms certificate to someone of intemperate habits or unsound mind. In 1992 the Firearms Consultative Committee discussed whether it would be possible to strengthen the provisions of the Firearms Acts regarding the granting of firearm certificates to people with mental disorders. The committee includes chief officers from England and Wales and Scotland.

The Government have announced the setting up of an inquiry into the shootings in Dunblane Primary School, to be conducted by Lord Cullen, who will have the power to look at the existing controls on firearms and to make recommendations. The Government will consider any recommendations for changes in firearms controls which the inquiry may propose.

Rights of Audience in Higher Courts

Lord Ackner asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the "sets of advice" referred to in the Written Answer by the Lord Chancellor on 28th February (WA 100-101) were that given by his Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct on 21st June 1995 and that given by the Director General of Fair Trading in July 1993 and on

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    31st August 1995; whether advice was received on other dates, and if so, when; and what are the reasons for the Lord Chancellor's delay in reaching his decision.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): The "sets of advice" referred to in my Written Answer on 28th February (WA 100-101) are those mentioned in this Question. Advice on this subject was also received from my Advisory Committee on 25th July 1995. All the issues surrounding this matter are receiving active consideration and a decision will be announced as soon as possible.

Torture: Prosecution Procedure

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will issue and publish guidelines for prosecutions for the offence of torture in breach of Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

The Lord Chancellor: Prosecutions for offences of torture require the consent of the Attorney General. In considering whether to grant that consent, he will consider whether the evidence is sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest.

Lloyd's Mutualisation of Losses

Earl Alexander of Tunis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What, in the light of the fact that the Department of Trade and Industry have since the early 1970s and the European Communities' First Non-Life Directive considered losses to be mutalised, they consider to be the legal position of Lloyd's Names who have for the last twenty years been recruited on the basis of being sole traders, and whether by implication the published statements recruiting investors to Lloyds were untrue in a material respect.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: As detailed in the reply given by my noble friend on 9 May 1995, Official Report, cols. WA 5-6, Names' losses are not mutalised, other than through the support that has been provided by Lloyd's Central Fund since the 1920s, which is recognised in the Insurance (Lloyd's) Regulations 1983, (implementing the first EC non-life insurance directive). Names' responsibilities vis-o-vis the central fund have been made clear through Lloyd's publication, Membership: The Issues, and a publication in these or substantially similar terms has been drawn to the attention of prospective members for many years.

Access to Work Programme

Lord Lane of Horsell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the outcome of the Access to Work review.

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The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): The Government are committed to helping people with disabilities to secure jobs and satisfying careers at work. Our Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will significantly improve opportunities for disabled people. Access to Work (ATW) also has a part to play, and the Government recognise the high regard which disabled people and employers have for the programme.

Access to Work is not a demand-led programme. Although we increased the 1995-96 budget substantially during the year from £13.4 million to £19 million, we had to announce on 14th December restrictions on eligibility conditions for the remainder of 1995-96 in order to prevent a major cost overrun. We also announced that, before we reached decisions on 1996-97, my department would hold discussions with the disability and employer organisations principally concerned and we would take into account research and other data on the first year of operation of the programme.

In the light of these considerations we have decided for 1996-97 that, in addition to continuing to provide help to those who are unemployed, eligibility should be reinstated for employees and the self employed. This restores the eligibility criteria which applied before the December announcement.

As now, the Employment Service (ES) will continue to identify approved costs for the purposes of ATW with reference to the value of any wider benefit which accrues to the organisation. ATW will continue to meet 100 per cent. of the approved costs for unemployed disabled people. The ES will also pay 100 per cent. of approved costs for Travel to Work (TtW) and for Communicator Support at Interviews (CSI) for all groups.

For disabled people in employment, ATW will meet up to 80 per cent. of approved costs above a cost threshold of £300 per year. With a view to the needs of the most severely disabled, ATW will however, provide 100 per cent. of all such costs in excess of £10,000 over three years. The Government recognise that particular factors may apply in the case of the self employed and we shall consider this issue further.

Multi-year commitments to individuals will be made for a maximum of three years. The ES will accordingly review cases where commitments have been made for longer periods.

The new arrangements will apply from 1st April for the unemployed, as will TtW and CSI for all groups. Other support for employed people will take effect from 1st June, so that the necessary new administrative arrangements on cost sharing can be implemented effectively by the ES, along with support of the self employed.

The ATW budget is cash limited and expenditure will be monitored closely. Should further prioritisation of ATW support prove necessary at any point, the Government will continue to give top priority to the unemployed, followed by those in work who suffer the onset of a disability or major worsening of a disability,

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and then those whose job circumstances change and those who seek to move to a new employer.

The ES will continue to discuss detailed implementation of the arrangements with the organisations principally concerned. On this basis, we are pleased to announce that we are increasing planned provision for ATW in 1996-97 from £12.9 million to £19 million. We shall be considering provision for ATW in future years in the course of the 1996 public expenditure round.

This significant increase in the budget for the programme will, I believe, be welcomed. In particular, I am pleased we have been able to restore eligibility to the employed and the self employed, as this will help them retain jobs and to progress at work. I believe that these new arrangements strike the appropriate balance in helping to meet the needs of people with disabilities, particularly those who need the most expensive types of help, while putting the available resources to best use.

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