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20 Jun 2003 : Column WA149

Written Answers

Friday, 20th June 2003.

Criminal Justice Bill: Law Commission Recommendations

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they have taken to implement the commitment given by the Home Secretary on 20 May (Official Report, Commons, col. 876) that he would seek pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee before proposing an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill in the House of Lords to fast-track the Law Commission recommendations on sentencing on more than one count.[HL3249]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): On 14 May 2003 my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote to the Lord Chief Justice, the right honourable Oliver Letwin MP, and the chairs of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committeee on Human Rights to inform them of the Government's intention to amend the Criminal Justice Bill to give effect to one of the recommendations in the Law Commission's report on The Effective Prosecution of Multiple Offending published in October 2002.

Enclosed with the letters was a note outlining the broad scope and operation of the proposed scheme. We invited comments from the Lord Chief Justice and senior judges by 12 June.

Also on 14 May, my right honourable friend had an informal meeting with the Chair and members of the Home Affairs Select Committee at which he confirmed that he would welcome their scrutiny of these proposals.

I have placed a copy of the letters and enclosure in the Library.

Commission for Racial Equality: Annual Report

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When will the Commission for Racial Equality's annual report for 2002 be published. [HL3552]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Commission for Racial Equality's annual report 2002 is published today.

Copies will be available in the House Libraries. Copies will also be sent to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.

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Working Holidaymaker Scheme

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to review the working holidaymaker scheme. [HL3553]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Home Office White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain, contained a commitment to review the working holidaymaker scheme. The main aims behind the review were to make the scheme more inclusive of the whole Commonwealth, to remove unnecessary employment restrictions and to reduce abuse of the scheme.

Removing employment restrictions will enable less affluent applicants to prove more easily to entry clearance officers their ability to support themselves without recourse to public funds. This change would also help to alleviate acute recruitment difficulties in certain sectors of the UK economy. Many working holidaymakers are highly skilled and it is sensible to make maximum use of their skills to boost the productivity of the UK workforce. We therefore propose to remove all current employment restrictions on the scheme and allow working holidaymakers to take employment in any field.

The immigration rules do not presently permit switching from the scheme into work permit employment. Permitting switching would benefit UK businesses, as they would be able to recruit skilled Commonwealth nationals quickly. It would also offer a legal route for working holidaymakers who want to stay in the UK at the end of their visa to extend their stay here, discouraging illegal working. It is not logical to force talented working holidaymakers to return home simply to apply for a work permit. We therefore propose to amend the immigration rules to allow working holidaymakers to switch into work permit employment. Working holidaymakers who want to switch will still have to meet the same work permit requirements as they would if they were applying for a work permit from abroad and, in addition, must have spent 12 months in the UK as a working holidaymaker.

The current scheme is for Commonwealth citizens only and we propose that it continue as a Commonwealth-only scheme. Some responses during the consultation process called for a global scheme. By significantly increasing the numbers entering the UK, a global scheme would add to the economic benefits to the UK from the existing scheme. However, the increase in numbers on a global scheme might necessitate the imposition of a quota, which would adversely affect access to the scheme for Commonwealth citizens. In order to increase access to the scheme we propose that the maximum age criterion be increased from 27 to 30 years of age to permit those who have studied in tertiary education to apply.

The review also considered whether the existing duration of stay granted was appropriate for a youth exchange scheme. We have concluded that two years is a sufficient period of time for a working holiday in the UK and therefore do not propose to change the

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maximum length of stay of the current scheme, nor to allow individuals to obtain a second working holiday visa.

Additionally, the review considered issues relating specifically to gap year entrants, who enter the United Kingdom to take placements in schools during the year between the end of their secondary education and the start of tertiary education. Some of these entrants have been entering on a concessionary basis under the working holidaymaker provisions; others under the concession for voluntary workers. Concerns had been expressed that neither of these categories met the specific needs of that type of entrant. Under the amended provisions of the working holidaymaker scheme, Commonwealth nationals who wish to spend a gap year in the United Kingdom, and who meet the requirements of the immigration rules relating to working holidaymakers, will be able to spend a full year working in the United Kingdom in any form of employment and then return home. If they do so, however, they will not be able to spend a second year in the category, as the provisions permit only one entry in the category.

In the light of the cultural value of gap year placements in the United Kingdom, we have decided that it is desirable to create separate provision to enable gap year entrants of all nationalities to enter the United Kingdom for a period of one year and take paid employment in schools. Work will now begin on preparing the necessary changes to the immigration rules.

Those already in the UK as working holidaymakers will be allowed to benefit from the proposed changes to the scheme with immediate effect. The changes will become effective for all new applicants from 25 August 2003.

Renewable Energy Sources

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Sainsbury of Turville on 2 June (WA 118), which stated that 1,768 hectares of energy crops have so far been planted, what action they intend to take to meet their target that 10 per cent of electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2010.[HL3379]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): Last year the Government introduced the renewables obligation, setting the framework for the achievement of our 10 per cent renewable energy target for 2010. The incentive to the UK renewable energy industry provided by the obligation and the exemption of renewable energy from the climate change levy is estimated to rise to £1 billion per year by 2010. The Government are backing this by a £348 million programme of direct support for a diversity of renewable energy projects. This includes £66 million for the bioenergy capital grants scheme (BCGS), joint-funded by DTI and the New Opportunities Fund, to support the early deployment of biomass-fired

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technology. The BCGS, launched in February 2002, has proven very popular and has become over-subscribed, with funds now fully allocated. In total, 21 projects across the UK will be supported by the scheme.

In addition, Defra, as part of its England rural development programme, has made available £29 million for the establishment of energy crops including short rotation coppice (SRC) and miscanthus under the energy crops scheme. A further £3.5 million is to be made available for the establishment of infrastructure to facilitate the harvest and supply of energy crops to the power generator.

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what basis their policy of burning biomass, which includes wood residues, can be reconciled with the needs of the wood panel industry, which is dependent on wood residues as a basic raw material.[HL3380]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The renewables obligation is the main instrument put in place by the Government to promote the development of renewable forms of energy in the UK. The obligation is intended to provide an impetus for new generating capacity that will be required to meet our current targets for renewable energy set in the energy White Paper and as a basis for further reductions in carbon dioxide emissions under Kyoto.

My officials are facilitating work between representatives of the UK wood industry and co-firing power stations to explore the opportunities offered by co-firing under the obligation for UK forestry, and, in particular, the potential for using by-products from existing wood industries. It is hoped that this initiative, if successful, will have the dual benefit of reducing imports and making more biomass available for a larger market in the UK, thereby helping to stabilise prices. We understand from the forestry industry that it can meet demand from power generators from existing surplus forestry material.

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