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Panel 2000

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Panel 2000 is in the final stages of producing a Consultation Document. This is intended to stimulate public debate on how Britain's identity is projected abroad. The Panel will welcome comments from all those with an interest in how Britain is perceived overseas. As soon as the document is finalised it will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Sudan: Supply of Trucks to Church Ecumenical Action

Lord Prys-Davies asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Government recently approved the export of two Bedford trucks to CEAS to help with the distribution of humanitarian aid in southern Sudan. While the trucks were once owned by the MoD, they have been stripped of all military hardware and painted white. They will now be used to help ease the terrible crisis in southern Sudan of which we are all aware. We were therefore glad to be able to approve this export as an exception to our interpretation of the EU arms embargo on Sudan. This decision does not affect the Government's continued support for the EU common position on arms exports to Sudan.

Law Commission Reports

Lord Davies of Coity asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): I refer the noble Lord to my answer of 19 March (Hansard, 19 March, WA 213) which mentioned the Government's intention to bring forward legislation arising from a number of Law Commission reports as well as explaining why a number were not to be implemented.

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It has been further decided that the following three reports will not be implemented. Breach of Confidence (Law Commission Report No. 110) was published in 1981. Since then, developing case law has clarified the scope and extent of the breach of confidence action, a view confirmed by the European Commission of Human Rights. Liability for Chancel Repairs (Law Commission Report No. 152) sought to deal with an open-ended liability to repair the chancels of some very old churches. The liability can cause hardship, but it is often reflected in the sale price and is enforced in relatively few cases. There is also a risk that any scheme to bring this liability to an end might encourage enforcement where it still exists. Although continuing the liability carries the risk of breaching the European Convention, so does its abolition. Contributory Negligence as a Defence in Contract (Law Commission Report No. 219) has been overtaken by developing case law. A Bill to implement the report would make little difference in practice and Parliamentary time should not be spent on it.

Work is continuing on three further reports and part of a fourth. On 25 March, the Government announced that it is conducting a Review of the Enforcement of Civil Court Judgments. One of the terms of reference is to consider whether, and if so, how, the present power to distrain for rent should be abolished, as recommended by the Law Commission in Distress for Rent (Law Commission Report No. 194). As for Termination of Tenancies (Law Commission Report No. 221) the Law Commission has been consulting on a revised scheme. The consultation period ended on 31 March and a decision will be made following completion of the Commission's further work. The Government is continuing to work on Judicial Review and Statutory Appeals (Law Commission Report No. 226). Only a small part of this report would require implementation by primary legislation. The remainder could be implemented by rule and will be considered as part of the Civil Justice Programme. Finally, the second part of Restitution for Mistake of Law: Ultra Vires Public Authority Receipts and Payments (Law Commission Report No. 227) is undergoing further consideration in the light of the recent substantial changes in the personal taxation system.

Prisoners with Disabilities

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements they make to ensure that disabled prisoners are kept in establishments with appropriate facilities.[HL2928]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Prison Service aims to comply with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and to do everything that is reasonably possible to make its services available to prisoners, staff and visitors.

A Prison Service Order (PSO) giving further guidance on the management of prisoners with physical, sensory

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or mental disabilities will be issued by the end of this year. The PSO will develop the current practices whereby disabled prisoners are allocated on an individual basis, taking account of the individual's disability. Work has already been undertaken at a number of prison establishments to make physical changes such as widening cell doorways and building wheelchair ramps. The PSO will also give further guidance on:

    facilities at prison establishments;

    guidance on reception procedures;

    allocation of disabled prisoners;

    advice on the provision of specialist equipment.

Police Service: Sickness Absence

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take to reduce the high level of absenteeism in the Police Service; and what further measures are being taken to ensure that no police officer is allowed to take ill-health retirement when facing a disciplinary investigation.[HL2945]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Home Office has issued extensive guidance on the management framework and monitoring, and has provided an open learning package, to help police service managers to improve their management of sickness absence and to reduce the numbers of days lost as a result of sickness absence.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary also made a number of recommendations in their report: Lost Time. The Management of Sickness Absence and Medical Retirement in the Police Service, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. These recommendations are being taken forward by police forces, the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, National Police Training and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. The report also provides police forces with suggestions and checklist for good practice in managing sickness absence and medical retirement.

The Government have also made clear that, as part of meeting their efficiency targets over the next three years, police forces will be expected to reduce their levels of sickness absence further in order to benefit from increased funding.

The existing police pensions regulations provide for retirement to be held over until disciplinary proceedings have been concluded, but where there is no prospect of an officer recovering his health to face disciplinary proceedings, it is right that he should be allowed to go. It needs to be recognised that the physical and mental demands of police work will make ill-health retirement the only correct course in many cases. New discipline procedures which are being introduced on 1 April 1999 provide for disciplinary proceedings to be concluded in the absence of accused officers, with appropriate safeguards.

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Prisons: Private Finance Initiative

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prisons (a) have opened and (b) are currently planned under the Private Finance Initiative; and what are the lengths of the contracts in each case.[HL3066]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Three prisons--Altcourse, Lowdham Grange and Parc--have opened, and four further prisons are planned to open, under the Private Finance Initiative. The length of the contract in each case is, or will be, 25 years.

Metropolitan Police Committee: Membership

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to make additional appointments to the Metropolitan Police Committee.[HL3202]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have today appointed the following as members of the Metropolitan Police Committee:

    Councillor Lincoln Beswick (Labour, Brent)

    Councillor Toby Harris (Labour, Haringey)

    Councillor Barbara Hughes (Labour, Camden)

    Councillor Tim Joiner (Conservative, Westminster)

    Councillor Serge Lourie (Liberal Democrat, Richmond upon Thames)

    Councillor Maggie Mansell (Labour, Croydon)

    Councillor Derek Sawyer (Labour, Islington)

    Councillor Michael Slaughter (Conservative, Bexley)

    Councillor Ala Uddin (Labour, Tower Hamlets)

    Councillor Ron Gee (Independent, Epsom and Ewell)

They will join the eleven existing members, who are Sir John Quinton, who will remain Chair, Miss Maria Callaghan, Mr. Thomas Chan, Councillor Maurice Heaster (Conservative, Wandsworth), Major General Malcolm Hunt, Councillor Margaret O'Neill (Labour, Bexley), Mrs. Shahwar Sadeque, Mr. Mark Souhami, Mr. Inder Uppal, Mr. Reginald Watts and Ms Rachel Whittaker.

Nine of the new members were nominated by the Association of Local Government, in response to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's request for nominations reflecting the current make-up of London Boroughs. The tenth is the representative of the Outer London Metropolitan Police Group.

The new members will take up their appointments on 1 September. The Committee's task will continue to be, to advise my right honourable friend in relation to the discharge of certain of his functions as Police Authority for the Metropolitan Police. The functions in question are based on those which, outside London, are the responsibility of the police authorities established under the Police Act 1964, as amended by the Police Act 1996.

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In particular, my right honourable friend looks to the Committee to prepare for the Metropolitan Police Authority which we intend to establish as part of our proposals for a Mayor and Assembly for London.

The next couple of years bring new challenges, with the Crime and Disorder Bill, efficiency plans and the preparation for the Metropolitan Police Authority. The whole Committee has much to contribute on these and other key issues.

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