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14 Nov 2000 : Column WA19

Written Answers

Tuesday, 14th November 2000.

Farming and Rural Conservation Agency: Annual Report

Lord Shepherd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When he will publish the 1999-2000 annual report for the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency.[HL4607]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The 1999-2000 annual report and accounts for the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency were laid before Parliament today. Copies are available in the Library of the House.

Fisheries Economic Link Measures

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will assess the impact of the economic link measures introduced for the fisheries sector on 1 January 1999.[HL4604]

Baroness Hayman: From 1 January 1999, all British registered fishing vessels over 10 metres catching more than 2 tonnes of quota stocks have had to demonstrate an economic link with fisheries-dependent communities in the United Kingdom. This link can be demonstrated in a number of ways--for example, by vessels landing at least 50 per cent by weight of their quota catch into the UK or by employing a crew of whom at least 50 per cent are normally resident in a UK coastal area.

In the first year of operation, over 1,750 vessels caught more than 2 tonnes of quota stocks and in almost every case achieved a satisfactory economic link, primarily through landings into the UK. Where a small number have failed to make the full list in 1999, they will be expected to make this up in 2000 and future years. The new arrangements have resulted in a significant increase both in the volume of landings made by foreign owned UK flagged vessels and in local expenditure on goods and services in the UK. They have also led to over 300 tonnes of additional quota being made available to fishermen in the under 10 metre fleet and non sector.

A full report by the Fisheries Departments in the United Kingdom on the operation of the economic link measures and their impact in 1999 has been placed in the Library of the House.

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Commission of the European Union: Reform

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their current policy towards the reform and reorganisation of the Commission of the European Union.[HL4422]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): As part of the IGC, the Government would be prepared to see a reduction in the size of the Commission, provided this was accompanied by a substantial re-weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers. The Government also support restructuring the College of Commissioners to allow it to organise its work effectively. These changes would ensure that the Commission can remain effective after enlargement.

The Government also strongly support the process of management reform that is currently under way in the Commission, which should help to ensure that the Commission is more accountable, efficient and transparent.

International Treaties: Parliamentary Scrutiny

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

    Further to the response of 31 October to the House of Commons Procedure Committee's 2nd Report of Session 1999-2000 (HC 210), whether they would support a proposal to establish a House of Lords Select Committee on Treaties to scrutinise treaties laid before Parliament under the Ponsonby Rule and treaties subject to proceedings in Parliament; and, if not, why not.[HL4514]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I refer the noble Lord to my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, on 2 October, which stated that the creation of Select Committees is a matter principally for the relevant House of Parliament.

Knives Act 1997: Prosecutions

Lord Windelsham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many (a) prosecutions and (b) convictions there have been under the Knives Act 1997 since it was brought into force.[HL4538]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Sections 1 to 7, 9 and 10 of the Knives Act 1997 came into force on 1 September 1997.

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Data for England and Wales, taken from the Home Office Court Proceedings Database, are as follows:

1997 1998 1999
Offence descriptionProcConvProcConvProcConv
Section 1 (4) (a)11(1)11(2)--
Section 1 (4) (b)--21(3)5-
Section 2 (1) (a)----1-

(1) Conviction resulted in a fine.

(2) Conviction resulted in a fine.

(3) Conviction resulted in a Probation Order.

For Scotland, prosecutions under the Act cannot be identified separately from other "trading" offences.

For Northern Ireland, the data are not available.

Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation: Appointments

Lord Orme asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the consultation on the appointment of a joint Chief Inspector for Prisons and Probation. [HL4619]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced on 9 June, Official Report, col. 392-393W, that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham's appointment was extended until the end of July 2001, when Sir Graham Smith, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation, is also due to retire.

In response to a question in the House of Commons on 27 July, Official Report, col. 879W, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary told the House that a consultation exercise had been established to gauge public opinion on proposals, including the option of a joint Chief Inspector, designed to ensure that the inspectorates of prisons and probation support closer working between the two services while maintaining the independence and rigour of the inspection process. The consultation exercise ended on 31 October. Copies of the responses to the consultation exercise will be placed in the Library.

A majority of those consulted favoured some change--establishing terms of reference for the inspection of joint working between the criminal justice agencies and the sharing of inspectors between the inspectorates. In contrast, only small minorities were in favour of the status quo, or of the appointment of a joint Chief Inspector for prisons and probation.

During the consultation exercise, a helpful scheme was put forward by Her Majesty's Chief Inspectors of Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service, Magistrates' Courts, Probation, and Prisons to inspect practice across their boundaries systematically. This scheme has much to recommend it and the consultation exercise also suggests that it will command broad support. It is therefore the option which the Government proposed to pursue, along with the arrangements canvassed in the consultation exercise for bringing the work of the inspectorates closer together.

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Both Sir David and Sir Graham have made significant contributions to raising standards in the prison and probation services respectively, and the Government are grateful to them for their work. In view of the retirements in July next year, both Chief Inspector posts will be advertised in the New Year.

Hi-tech Crime: Police Resources

Lord Orme asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What resources are available to the police in England and Wales to tackle hi-tech crime.[HL4620]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government are committed to action against hi-tech crime in line with our twin objectives of making the United Kingdom the best and safest place in the world to conduct and engage in e-commerce.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is making £25 million available to the police in England and Wales over the next three years to initiate the implementation of a national hi-tech crime strategy to enhance the capability of law enforcement more effectively to investigate crime where new technology is used.

The funding being made available will give impetus to the process of developing the skills within the police to undertake computer network investigations and forensic examination of computer systems. These are skills that are becoming necessary as criminals identify opportunities to use and misuse information and communications technology. It is important to ensure that the police have the proper skills and equipment to support them in this new activity.

With those skills the police will, at the local level, be able to deliver improved service to the public to investigate reports of computer-related crime and to recover and analyse computer based evidence. The crimes concerned cover a wide spectrum from hacking and financial fraud to obscenity and the unlawful activities of paedophiles. The work of local units will be complemented by a multi-agency national hi-tech crime unit that will begin operation in April 2001. The national unit that will provide advice and support to local units, and to other law enforcement agencies across the United Kingdom, and deal with the most serious and organised hi-tech crime offences, including those which have a transnational impact.

The Government's commitment to support the development of the capability of law enforcement was made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he endorsed the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit report last summer. That report recommended that the Government improve the technical capability of law enforcement to investigate Internet crime and establish an internet crime unit.

On 11 September, the Prime Minister published the UKOnline Annual Report. The establishment of a national hi-tech crime unit was identified as a specific action, part of the Government's commitment to work

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with industry to ensure a safe and secure environment for e-commerce and to help people trust the Internet.

I am pleased that, with the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, we are able to make progress towards ensuring that the police both locally and nationally are better trained and equipped to deal with hi-tech crime.

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