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16 Dec 2002 : Column WA63

Written Answers

Monday, 16th December 2002.

Chechnya

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their current policy towards Chechnya.[HL443]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): We have consistently recognised the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and the Russian Government's right and obligation to defend its citizens from terrorism. We have acknowledged and condemned the terrorist atrocities committed by some Chechen groups and their clear links to international terrorism. But we continue to emphasise that counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya, as elsewhere, must be in strict adherence to the rule of law and must respect human rights. We believe that the protection of human rights in Chechnya is an essential precursor to any political solution to the Chechen conflict.

Camp X-ray Detainees

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean on 2 December (WA 45-46), whether they consider the British detainees at Camp X-ray in Cuba to be in good health; whether the men can receive and send letters to their families; and when they expect that British officials will next visit the detainees.[HL581]

Baroness Amos: British officials paid a fourth visit to Guantananmo Bay between 11 and 15 November. The purpose of the visit was to ask questions relevant to national security, to check on the welfare of the seven British detainees last seen in May and to establish the identity and nationality of two further detainees believed to have British nationality. As a result of these inquiries, one was identified as British. The other detainee did not have British nationality. The officials were from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Security Service.

The FCO official met the detainees individually, US officials were able to observe the interviews. The official saw no visible signs of mistreatment. Some detainees reported minor medical problems and the official subsequently raised a number of these with the camp authorities.

The official passed to the camp authorities some personal letters for some of the detainees and was able to give oral messages to others. We have passed on to the families oral messages which were received and have briefed them on details of the detainees' circumstances. For reasons of privacy these details are not disclosed in this Answer. Detainees continue to be able to send and receive letters through the camp

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authorities and through the ICRC, although there is some concern about delays.

All the detainees continue to be housed in accommodation which includes individual sleeping, washing and toilet facilities. They continue to be able to practise their religion freely, to take exercise and to have access to reading material.

The visiting officials found the US camp authorities to be open and co-operative.

Thalidomide Trust Beneficiaries: Tax Repayments

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will be taking action to assist beneficiaries of the Thalidomide Trust in claiming back their tax credit entitlements.[HL598]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Inland Revenue will provide all the help they can to ensure that the beneficiaries of the Thalidomide Trust receive all the tax repayments due to them. The Paymaster General has asked the Inland Revenue to contact the Thalidomide Trust to discuss how best to assist them.

Prison Population

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will arrange early release for enough sentenced prisoners to eliminate overcrowding of prisons; and whether they will issue guidance for non-violent offences so as to prevent future overcrowding.[HL411]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The Government keep under review all appropriate measures to address the rise in the prison population, including the emergency powers that Parliament has provided.

On 4 November the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General issued a joint statement (CJS 0006/2002: Effective Sentencing) in which they said:


    "We agree with the Lord Chief Justice that prison overcrowding is a serious problem. But we are also clear that if sentences are to be effective in preventing re-offending, the courts need to strike the right balance between dealing with serious and violent crime effectively and the need to keep prison as a last resort in other cases"

National High Tech Crime Unit

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by Lord Davies of Oldham on 22 October (HL Deb, col. 1213), whether the National High Tech Crime Unit is now fully staffed.[HL487]

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) of the National Crime Squad is currently recruiting to fill eight vacant and two new posts. This will take its complement to 50 staff.

Funds have been set aside from Spending Review 2002 to continue to resource this unit at least until the end of 2005–06.

Communications Data: Police Requests

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many requests for mobile phone traffic data have been made to mobile phone companies by police forces in England in each of the past five years; and[HL488]

    How many requests for computer traffic data have been made to internet service providers by police forces in England in each of the past five years; and[HL489]

    What costs have been incurred by police forces in England for the obtaining of mobile phone traffic data from mobile phone companies in each of the past five years.[HL490]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The information requested is not collected centrally. Agreements are in place between communication service providers (CSPs) and the law enforcement agencies that provide for cost recovery where a CSP is called upon to provide communications data. The agreements have been reached independently of the Government and take account of the fact that a requirement to provide communication data places operational and financial burdens on the CSP.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What costs have been incurred by police forces in England for the obtaining of computer traffic data from internet service providers in each of the past five years.[HL491]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: This information is not collected centrally.

Agreements are in place between communication service providers (CPSs) and the law enforcement agencies that provide for cost recovery where a CSP is called upon to provide communications data. The agreements have been reached independently of the Government and take account of the fact that a requirement to provide communication data places operational and financial burdens on the CSP.

Police Forces: IT Provision

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the value of investment by central government in information technology projects and procurement for police forces in England and in each of the past five years. [HL492]

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government are committed to investment in information technology for the police. Technology can play a significant role in reducing the burden of bureaucracy and in increasing efficiency.

The Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) was established from 1 April 1998 as a non-departmental public body (NDPB) to provide a national capability for information technology and communications solutions to the police service. The PITO budget over the past five years is as follows:

1998–99£38.4 million
1999–2000£56.6 million
2000–01£71.5 million
2001–02£118.7 million
2002–03 (estimated outturn)£156.5 million

The PITO budget covers the running costs of the organisation, including the operation and necessary upgrading of the police national computer, and central investment in key national projects. Investment in these projects over the past five years including Airwave, the new digital police radio system (£94 million), NAFIS, the national automated fingerprint identification system (£88 million), applications supporting the national strategy for police information systems (NSPIS) (£82 million) and the development of the police-public interface (£6 million).

Police forces have received additional central funding (some £194 million to date) directly from the Home Office to enable them to prepare for the introduction of Airwave—for example by reconfiguring control rooms.

Forces are also able to use central funding provided through police and other grants to make local investments in information technology (IT) and have direct access to funding streams such as the Invest to Save Budget.

Entitlement Card Scheme

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they estimate that it should take three years to implement the introduction of an entitlement card when many companies are already geared up to produce such cards. [HL387]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): There are a number of steps which must be taken before an entitlement card scheme could be implemented, should the Government decide to proceed with one after the current consultation exercise concludes. These include:


    (i) securing Parliament's agreement to primary legislation to enact a scheme;

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    (ii) designing and implementing the checks on applicants which would be necessary before a card could be issued, which may need to be higher than those currently in place for passports and driving licences;


    (iii) developing an office network (through agreements with third parties) so that if a personal visit was required before a card was issued people would not have to travel too far to apply;


    (iv) procuring and implementing IT systems to process applications and deal with lost or stolen cards.

The Government believe that three years is a challenging but realistic timetable for the introduction of a scheme should they decide to proceed and Parliament approves the legislation.


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