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2 Nov 2000 : Column WA109

Written Answers

Thursday, 2nd November 2000.

Rural Policing

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether improvements in rural policing will result from the £15 million announced on 15 June (WA 211).[HL4502]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Chief officers will target the money as they see fit, keeping their local communities informed of where improvements can be expected.

Guidance to be issued under the Local Government Act 1999 will require those police authorities which were given a share of the money to provide a clear account in their Best Value Performance Plans. For the previous year they will set out: what improvement they sought with the money, which Best Value Performance Indicators (BVPIs) were used to measure their performance, and how they performed. For the forthcoming year, they will detail: what improvement they seek and which BVPIs will be used to measure that. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary will inspect forces on the basis of that statement.

Prisons: Purchase of Computer Equipment

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What powers the Governors of HM Prisons have to order small items of information technology capital equipment such as printer replacements.[HL4366]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: On 29 February 2000, HM Prison Service and Electronic Data Systems Ltd (EDS) entered into a contractual partnership agreement (Public Finance Initiative/Public Private Partnership) for the provision to include the supply of IT and telephony services. Following contract award, we entered a period of transition designed to prepare for the transfer of responsibilities and capabilities to EDS. EDS assumed responsibility formally on 3 July 2000. This is known as Cutover date. The term of the partnership is for 12 years, with the replacement of existing infrastucture to take place gradually across the service in the first two years following Cutover.

A user guide was issued in June explaining to all Prison Service managers how to use the EDS service in the interim. For example, faulty or broken equipment will be repaired or replaced by EDS in response to a call to their helpdesk.

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Police Officers: Retirement on Health Grounds

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, when consideration is given to eligibility for ill health retirement under the Police Pensions Regulations, it is appropriate in modern circumstances to require that the applicant should be able to fulfil the full range of duties of a constable.[HL4246]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Under the Police Pensions Regulations an officer may be retired on the grounds of permanent disablement if he or she is unable to perform the "ordinary duties of a male or female member of the force". The term "ordinary duties" is not defined further. In practice, forces have tended to adopt a flexible approach and have normally considered whether an officer is able to carry out sufficient of the duties for the rank concerned to make retention operationally justified.

This approach has, however, been called into question by a determination of the Court of Appeal this year that a police officer's "ordinary duties" should be interpreted to include operational duties. This interpretation may result in more officers being certified to be permanently disabled from performing the ordinary duties of a police officer. Under the regulations it is, however, a matter for the police authority to decide whether or not the officer should be retired on health grounds. If there is a sufficient range of duties that the officer is capable of undertaking, there is no requirement for the police authority to set a date for retirement.

There are, however, clear grounds for amending the current regulations so that it is put beyond doubt that a police officer is not permanently disabled if able to perform a sufficient range of the duties expected of his or her rank. We will be consulting the police service about the precise terms of revised regulations shortly.

Electoral Registration Form: Distribution with Additional Material

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they approve of local authorities distributing voluntary questionnaires to householders with the statutory form for the electoral register; whether they have examined the distribution by the London Borough of Lambeth of a survey on energy efficiency attached to the electoral registration form; and whether they have estimated the effect of such practices on the level of electoral registration.[HL4357]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is left to individual Electoral Registration Officers to decide on the best and most efficient way of conducting their annual canvass of electors. It is an offence under paragraph 29 of the Representation of the People Regulations 1986 to fail to complete, or to complete falsely, an electoral registration form. The overall rate of registration

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remains high, at over 95 per cent nationally. I understand that the Electoral Registration Officer in Lambeth considers that the inclusion of an energy efficiency survey form in each of the last three years has not affected the rate of voter registration.

Criminal Record: Definition

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the definition of a criminal record.[HL4322]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: There is no definition of a criminal record for all purposes. A criminal record is most commonly taken to mean a record of convictions at court.

General Abacha: Assets

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether four months ago the Nigerian Government requested assistance from the British Government to trace money looted and then laundered by Nigeria's former ruler, General Abacha, as reported in the Financial Times of 20 October; and if so, what was the Government's response.[HL4325]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is the Home Office's practice to treat letters of request for assistance in criminal matters from foreign governments confidentially, as communications between two states. We are normally therefore unable to confirm or deny that we have received a request.

However, given the press coverage already received by this matter, we can confirm that in June 2000 the Home Office received a request from the Nigerian Government to trace and freeze assets alleged to have been illegally removed from Nigeria by the late Sani Abacha and his family and associates.

Our response was to consider the request in the context of the requirements of the UK legislation governing mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, in this case the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Designated Countries and Territories) Order 1991, as amended. We have asked for further information from the Nigerian Government, and it is this information which we are now awaiting. To proceed without having established all the relevant facts could render the Secretary of State liable to legal challenge through a judicial review.

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, at the request of the Nigerian authorities, Switzerland and Liechtenstein have frozen funds believed to have been looted by General Abacha, Nigeria's former ruler, and his family, and deposited in accounts in those countries; and whether the United Kingdom Government have agreed to freeze similar funds believed to have been deposited in the United Kingdom.[HL4326]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Home Office understands that Switzerland and Liechtenstein have frozen assets alleged to have been removed from Nigeria by the late General Abacha and his associates. The UK Government can agree to freeze any similar funds that may have been deposited in the United Kingdom only once they have ensured that all the requirements for carrying out the request for asset freezing have been satisfied.

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the review, announced last year, of the rehabilitation periods contained in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 has not yet started; when it will start; and what will be the form of the review.[HL4367]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been considering whether a more comprehensive review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 should be undertaken. He hopes to make an announcement shortly.

London String of Pearls Millennium Festival

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the London String of Pearls Millennium Festival is proving to be a success; and whether they will encourage such national treasures along the River Thames to consider opening to the public on a permanent basis.[HL4220]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The London String of Pearls Millennium Festival, to which the Millennium Commission awarded a grant of £50,000, is proving to be a great success and will continue through to the end of the year. Highlights so far include an exhibition of the Goldsmith's Company's private collection of 20th Century Silver, Gold, Jewellery and Art medals; the public opening of Custom House, and the "Voters of the Future" exhibition in Westminster Hall.

Many of the landmark buildings involved in the Festival, such as the Tate Galleries and the Globe are open to the public all year round. It would clearly be difficult for working buildings such as the Royal Courts of Justice and Lambeth Palace to be open to the public all year round beyond that access which is normally allowed. The Government do, however, agree that their buildings should be accessible to the public as often as possible and they support such initiatives as Heritage Open Days.

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