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Social Security: Appeals Service

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Tribunal members are judicial appointees and their performance is a matter for the President of the Independent Tribunal Service. The president monitors the performance of appeal tribunals to ensure maintenance of standards and this will continue.

However, the Government are determined to speed up the administration of the appeals service and measures contained in the Social Security Bill currently before Parliament are intended to address the lengthy delays in the system. The Secretary of State will assume personal responsibility for the administration of appeals and intends to create a new appeals agency. She will set and publish demanding targets for administration and report on the results.

Ministerial Statements to Parliament

Lord Chesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is not possible to give a precise definition. Ministers take into account a number of factors in determining whether a policy announcement is of sufficient importance to require it to be made to Parliament in the first instance, including the likely degree of public and parliamentary interest.

Strategic Communications Unit

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The budget of the Strategic Communications Unit has not yet been finalised.

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Campsfield House Centre: Report

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to publish the report on Campsfield prison.[HL726]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The date for the publication of the report on Campsfield House Immigration Detention Centre has not yet been announced. This is a matter for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Asylum Applicants: Delays

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether statistics of asylum applicants who have not been called for interview are a relevant measure of the effective administration of immigration policy.[HL712]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The volume of cases in the asylum backlog is an important test of the overall effectiveness of the procedures. But, within that, it is the number of applicants awaiting decision rather than awaiting interview which is the relevant measure. In August last year we announced a study of the asylum process as part of the Government's comprehensive spending review. That study is, among other things, looking at the whole problem of delays and backlogs and is expected to report shortly.

Firearms: Compensation Scheme Administration

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will place in the Library of the House (a) a copy of the National Audit Office report containing observations on the administration of the Firearms (Revolvers/Pistols) Compensation Scheme; and (b) a copy of the Home Office Police Policy Directorate letter dated 28 January which gave details of the administration of the scheme.[HL739]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Home Office letter to chief officers of police, which was actually sent on 29 January, was informed by an oral briefing on 22 January provided by auditors from the National Audit Office (NAO). The Comptroller and Auditor-General wrote to the Home Office Accounting Officer on 30 January about the NAO programme of work and included an annex formally summarising their interim findings from their visits to a sample of police forces. Copies of the Home Office letter and, with his agreement, that of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, have been placed in the Library.

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Firearms Licensing: Police Administration

The Earl of Haddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the current members of the Association of Chief Police Officers Committees on the administration and licensing of firearms for England and Wales and for Scotland, indicating their Constabularies.[HL741]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand from the Association of Chief Police Officers that the following people are members of their Administration of Firearms and Explosives Licensing Sub-Committee:

Mr. A. T. Burden (Chairman)South Wales Police
Inspector B. BrookesAvon and Somerset Constabulary
Mr. D. Winser
Cambridgeshire Constabulary
Mr. I. McColl
Mr. I. HoldingCheshire Constabulary
Mr. T. SlateDerbyshire Constabulary
Chief Inspector B. TalbotHampshire Constabulary
Sergeant P. JohnsonMerseyside Police
Commander A. Trotter
Metropolitan Police
Mr. G. Smith
Mr. M. LobbNorthamptonshire Police
Ms M. McDermottNorth Yorkshire Police
Ms H. RodgersSouth Wales Police
Superintendent D. DaviesSuperintendents Association
Mr. P. O'BrienPolice Federation
Mr. G. Bennett (Observer)Fife Constabulary
Superintendent J. Duncan
(Observer)Grampian Police
Superintendent S. Le Bretton
(Observer)Jersey Police

Membership of the Scottish Sub-Committee is as follows:

Mr. G. Bennet (Chairman)Fife Constabulary
Mr. J. ForbesCentral Scotland Police
Inspector S. WilsonDumfries and Galloway Constabulary
Mr. A. MoffatFife Constabulary
Superintendent J. DuncanGrampian Police
Inspector D. MuirLothian and Borders Police
Superintendent R. McGheeNorthern Constabulary
Superintendent J. MoulsonStrathclyde Police
Inspector L. RobbieTayside Police

Forestry: Strategy for England

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to prepare a forestry strategy for England.[HL807]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): Last year, the Government published an analysis of the responses to the discussion paper on Woodland Creation: Needs and Opportunities in the English Countryside. We said then we are committed to increasing the area of woodland in England, and many of the responses to the discussion paper agreed that a forestry strategy would help us implement this policy

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more effectively. We have therefore asked the Forestry Commission, in liaison with other relevant government departments and agencies, to prepare a forestry strategy for England. This will set out the Government's priorities and programmes for the creation and management of woods and forests in England. It will help set the context for further work by the Forestry Commission and other organisations aimed at realising the diverse benefits that well planned and managed woodlands can deliver.

We have asked the Forestry Commission to report to my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary by the end of July, and expect to publish our priorities and programmes for forestry in the autumn. We have also decided to set up an English Forestry Forum after the forestry strategy has been published. The forum will advise on implementation of the strategy. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary shall chair the forum, which will meet twice a year and which will be run along similar lines to the Agri-Environment Forum which has been operating successfully for a number of years.

Fisheries: Controls and Allocations

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of discussions with the fishing industry on arrangements to implement United Kingdom obligations under MAGP IV, with particular reference to the introduction of effort controls in the pelagic and beam trawl segments.[HL719]

Lord Donoughue: As my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary explained on 17 December (HC Deb., column 330-405), the progress made during negotiations with the European Commission on the UK's detailed plans for implementing MAGP IV, together with the results of the 1997 decommissioning scheme, mean that, provided fishing effort in other fleet segments does not increase, immediate further action in 1998 can be limited to the introduction of effort controls in the pelagic and beam trawl segments.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary also explained that the Government's preference was for such controls to be managed by the industry themselves and that detailed discussions with the fishermen concerned would be held without delay. As a result of those meetings it has been possible for the fishing effort available in 1998 to be allocated between the various Producer Organisations (POs) or groups of fishermen concerned. The allocations are, however, provisional and will need to be reviewed as definitive information about activity in 1997 becomes available.

All POs and groups have been invited to manage their uptake of effort to stay within these allocations on whatever basis they and their members consider

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appropriate within their constitutions. The Government are not seeking to impose any particular formula for this and is not making any allocations of effort to individual vessels. POs and groups will therefore have the flexibility to respond to local circumstances and, within their allocations, to take account of any special factors affecting particular members. We would expect them to do this in a fair and responsible way in accordance with their rules. These arrangements are expected to cover virtually all vessels definitively assigned to both segments this year. There may, however, be a few vessels which remain outside PO or other membership, for which a separate non-sector effort allocation will operate.

Where POs or groups remain within their effort allocations no further action by Government will be needed. But in cases where monitoring shows risks that allocations will be exceeded, POs or groups will be warned and fishing by their members suspended, through the licensing mechanism, if no appropriate response is made.

Guidance on the arrangements for measuring and monitoring fishing effort is being issued to all fishermen concerned and copies will be placed in the Library of the House, together with details of the provisional effort allocations.

In addition to the above, certain limited changes are being introduced for distant water vessels, which were the subject of a separate consultation exercise with those concerned. These are designed to reflect the possibility of effort outside EU waters being varied in line with fishing opportunities, as provided for in Article 8 of Council Decision 97/413/EC. But any such requests need also to be cleared with the European Commission and will be subject to examination on a case by case basis.

All the above changes are without prejudice to the further consultations on the operation of the licensing system, which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary announced on 17 December (HC Deb., col. 336-405), and to the review of the current moratorium on the issue of distant water licences, which will be taking place shortly.

The Government recognise that the introduction of these effort management measures represents a new development in fisheries policy. We are alive to the concerns of the industry and will be seeking to ensure that the details of implementation are as practically devised as possible. The arrangements will be kept under review and, in particular, we shall want to consider the possible need for changes at the time of the Commission's interim review of MAGP IV in the first quarter of 1999.

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