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Lord Gilbert: Military low flying training continues to be a necessary contribution to our defence capabilities. The amount carried out in 1997 was about 5 per cent. lower than in 1996, measured in terms of hours booked, reflecting current requirements and commitments. The distribution across the country has not changed significantly. We try to spread the activity as widely as possible, but a variety of operational, geographic and climatic constraints inevitably mean that some areas continue to see a greater intensity than others.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: From April 2000 the Working Families Tax Credit will generally be paid through the wage packet. Couples will be able to choose which partner should receive the credit. The details of the new scheme, including the rules for dealing with particular situations, such as disagreements between partners, will be developed by the Inland Revenue over the coming months. Although the resolution of particular disagreements would, of course, depend on the specific facts of the case, the present presumption is that, where the couple disagree about which of them is to receive the credit, it would normally be paid to the partner who mainly cared for the children.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As set out in the House of Lords Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to Proceedings of the House of Lords, citizens of the Republic of Ireland may sit in this House. In practice, it is unlikely that the Prime Minister would recommend that Her Majesty confer a life peerage on an Irish citizen unless that person would bring to the proceedings of the House relevant experience of UK life. The Oath of Allegiance (or Affirmation) must be taken (or made) before any Peer can sit or vote in the House of Lords.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The New Opportunities Fund, which will use Lottery funds to support out of school hours activities, will be formally established if and when the National Lottery Bill receives Royal Assent later this year. It will publish grant criteria and begin to invite applications for out of school hours activities and its other initiatives as soon as possible after this. In the meantime, the Government will shortly be publishing draft directions to the New Opportunities Fund setting the framework for its initiatives.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Most prisoners serving sentences of between three months and four years will be eligible for consideration for release on home detention curfew. To be released, they must first pass a risk assessment and have a suitable release address.
The detail of the risk assessment is still being worked out and will need to balance properly any potential risk posed by the prisoner's release on home detention curfew against the risks involved in retaining prisoners in custody until their automatic release date, when the curfew is not available.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Consultation documents on the two pension schemes have been published today. We have placed copies in the Library. Copies are also being sent to police forces and fire services, police and fire authorities, the police staff associations and the fire service unions in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They have been invited to comment by 31 July 1998.
The current police and fire service pension schemes were established to reflect the special nature of police and firefighting work. Of course, we continue to take this fully into account. But these schemes are very expensive, both for police officers, firefighters and the relevant authorities, and are not necessarily in tune with current circumstances.
Authorities, in particular, are faced with large annual increases to pension costs, consuming an increasingly large proportion of their total budget and thus eating into the resources available to run the services themselves.
The level of early retirements on medical grounds in the police and fire service is unacceptably high and in many cases cannot be justified. Wide variations across the country between forces and brigades support this argument. Good management of ill-health retirement is crucial. The consultation documents suggest options for change which depend on better practice and, in the case of the police, on amending current legislation. We have separately announced changes in regulations and practice to deal with those situations where officers seek to retire early before the disciplinary process is complete.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Responsibility for funding Boards of Visitors and the Secretariat will be transferred from the Home Office to the Prison Service with effect from 1 April. There are in practice no tangible business links between the work of boards and the core Home Office and the transfer will enable Boards to be funded appropriately. This change will in no way affect the independence of boards. Prior to reaching a decision, the Government consulted the National Advisory Council for Boards of Visitors.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The current application forms expire on 14 April 1998. Revised versions of the seven existing forms have been prescribed. These will be valid until 14 October 1998. From today until 14 April 1998, applications may be made on either the newly prescribed forms or the existing versions. Only the newly prescribed versions may be used for applications made on or after 15 April 1998. The new forms will be available shortly from the Application Forms Unit on 0181 760 2233 and copies have been placed in the Library.
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