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Fire Safety: Task Force Recommendations

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): We are pleased to announce today that the Government have accepted all the main recommendations of the Community Fire Safety Task Force.

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We have pledged quite clearly our determination and commitment to providing safer communities. The fire service has a vital role to play in helping to achieve a safer society, not just by fighting fires, but by reducing the number of fires, deaths and casualties.

The Community Fire Safety Task Force was established to advise on a new strategy for England and Wales to reduce significantly the incidence of fire in the home. The report it produced last November was welcomed as an enormous service to reduce the pain and suffering caused by dwelling fires.

We made clear when the report was published that we wanted to hear the views of chief officers, fire authorities and the unions, all of whom have a crucial role to play in translating the strategy into action. We are pleased to say that the response to the task force report has provided a strong mandate for almost all of their key proposals and for a refocusing of effort towards prevention and safety.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Mr. Howarth) is writing to those same organisations today to explain how we intend to take the strategy forward. In particular, we want to see the efforts of government, fire authorities and other local agencies integrated and co-ordinated as the task force recommended so that the whole effort achieves more than the sum of its parts. We shall be taking steps to put these arrangements in place shortly. We also accept, with the strong endorsement of the fire service, the recommendation that community fire safety should be made a statutory duty.

Community fire safety must become a core activity of the fire service; and we must work in partnership with other agencies and with business to eliminate preventable fires. The success of this approach will mean a safer society for us all.

Fraud Law: Review

Lord Glenamara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ask the Law Commission to review the law on fraud.[HL1451]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has today asked the Law Commission to undertake a review of the law on fraud. The terms of reference for this review are:

"As part of their programme of work on dishonesty, to examine the law on fraud, and in particular to consider whether it

    is readily comprehensible to juries;

    is adequate for effective prosecution;

    meets the need of developing technology, including electronic means of transfer; and to make recommendations to improve the law in these respects with all due expedition. In making these recommendations, to consider whether a general offence of fraud would improve the criminal law".

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Criminal Cases Review Commission: Management Statement

Lord Glenamara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When a management statement will be published for the Criminal Cases Review Commission.[HL1450]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The management statement for the Criminal Cases Review Commission has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library. The Statement sets out the mission and objectives of the commission, its accountability to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and, through my right honourable friend, to Parliament, and the division of responsibilities between the commission and the Home Office. The management statement is a key document for any non-departmental public body, and we commend that for the commission to the House.

Passports for Children

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for passports for children.[HL1262]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Following a policy review, we have accepted the Passport Agency's recommendation that, on the grounds of improved security, of making child abduction more difficult, facilitating travel and maintaining the agency's efficiency and effectiveness, all children should be required to hold their own passport. This change in policy will take effect from 5 October 1998, when the agency plan to begin introducing a new, more secure British passport. Children already included on their parents' passports will not be affected by this change until the passport is changed.

Prison Service: Dismissal for Racism

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

    How many members of the Prison Service have been dismissed for racist behaviour for each year during the past three years.[HL1291]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: According to information held at Prison Service Headquarters, which may not be complete, one member of the Prison Service was dismissed for racist behaviour in 1995.

Asylum System: Backlog

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will announce that any asylum applicants who lodged applications before the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 came into force on 26 July 1993, and who have received no

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    initial decision by 26 July 1998, will be granted exceptional leave to remain.[HL1329]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: An inter-departmental study has been looking at all aspects of the asylum system, including how best to deal with the backlog of cases inherited from the previous administration. The study team has now concluded its work and we are considering its findings very carefully. We shall make announcements on the way ahead as soon as we can.

Local Government Staff Commission for England

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the Local Government Staff Commission for England will be wound up.[HL1449]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The Local Government Staff Commission for England has completed its duties resulting from the 1992 Structural Review. Yesterday we laid before the House an order winding up the Commission on 12 May. We are very grateful to the Commission for all the work it has done to safeguard the interests of local authority staff during the structural review.

Rollerblading on the Highway

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the practice of rollerblading upon the public highway is legal.[HL1332]

Baroness Hayman: There is no specific legislation preventing rollerblading on the highway. Some local authorities have used local by-law powers to prevent and control rollerblading and similar activities such as roller-skating and skateboarding in parks, in pedestrian areas and on promenades.

Common Land

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have to legislate for the proper management of common land in England and Wales.[HL1370]

Baroness Hayman: We intend to look at proposals for common land legislation in the light of the findings of a research project on good practice on managing common land, which is due to be published shortly. This may lead to consultation with interested parties and then to consideration of whether and when further legislation might be introduced.

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Millennium Dome Site: Contamination

Lord Sefton of Garston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is true, as stated by the designer of the Dome Exhibition, that one cannot dig down on the site of the Dome because of contaminated land, when the Government had said that the site had been cleared.[HL1345]

Baroness Hayman: It is necessary to exercise caution when digging down into any site which has been subject to major remediation works. The Greenwich site has been reclaimed by British Gas and English Partnerships to a fit for use standard. The site is safe for the proposed use but this does not imply that all contaminated material has been removed.

The depth of contamination on the site to be occupied by the Millennium Dome varied widely. The treatment applied to each part of the site depended on the type and depth of the contamination.

The approach to the treatment of the site has been approved by both the Environment Agency and the London Borough of Greenwich and is consistent with government policy on the treatment of contaminated land.

Sandeel Fisheries: Management

Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether fishing for sandeels continues on the Wee Bankie, Marr Bank, Scalp Bank and Smith Bank; whether it is correct that there was a near record catch of sandeels from the North Sea in 1997; and whether they think that fishing of sandeels on this scale is sustainable.[HL1314]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): Fishing for sandeels continues in the Wee Bankie and neighbouring fisheries. Final data for the 1997 North Sea sandeel fishery are not yet available, but in October 1997 the Advisory Committee on Fishery Management of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advised that the stock could sustain current fishing mortality and appeared to be within safe biological limits.

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