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Civil Partnerships: Inheritance Provisions

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

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The new legal status of "civil partnership" will provide a range of rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples that choose to register. The Civil Partnerships Bill makes provision for civil partners and former civil partners to be added to the categories of people entitled to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, and provides for their applications to be treated on the same basis as applications made by spouses and former spouses. The Government have no current plans to amend the 1975 Act to make similar provision for co-habiting opposite-sex or same-sex couples.

Asylum Seekers: Return to Country of Origin

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In replying to the above question I will refer to both voluntary returns and enforced removals from the UK, as they differ in approach.

The voluntary assisted return and reintegration programme (VARRP) is aimed at assisting asylum seekers and people with exceptional or discretionary leave who are considering returning to their country of origin voluntarily.

The programme is widely publicised both internally and externally, in reporting centres and induction centres as well as on the Home Office website. Voluntary returns are also publicised to communities by non-governmental organisations including the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Additionally, the Home Office hosts meetings with Iraqi and Afghan community groups to raise the profile of voluntary return. The IOM, which operates VARRP on behalf of the Home Office, will return to all countries where it is safe to do so and where there are travel routes available.

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The Government recognise that there is scope for us to promote our enforced removals activity more than we are doing currently and we are taking various steps to try and achieve this. Given the sensitive nature of removals, we need to exercise caution and take into account the safety and well-being of the individuals being removed. However, we are already taking steps to promote some enforced removals by putting some information into the public domain. This includes using the media to help promote certain removals, inviting members of the press to take part in some enforcement operations and publishing quarterly statistics on all areas of IND activity, including removals. These statistics can be found on the Home Office website.

Asylum Seekers: Readmission to Third Countries

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will invite the European Commission to publish details of the readmission agreements with third states (for asylum seekers and others) which it is negotiating on behalf of member states.[HL2250]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It is normal procedure for the texts of the Community's readmission agreements with third countries to be made available only after negotiations and the ratification process have been completed.

The Commission has so far been authorised by the Council to negotiate Community readmission agreements with 11 third countries, of which four have been concluded. The agreements with Macao Special Administrative Authority, Sri Lanka and Albania are undergoing ratification.

The agreement with Hong Kong entered into force on 1 March 2004 as the first-ever Community readmission agreement. It has been published in the Official Journal.

Overseas Post-graduate Students: Visa Fees

Lord Chan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will waive the extension of the £150 visa fee for overseas post-graduate students pursuing a Masters in Business Administration and other courses where the graduation ceremony for successful students takes place many months after the conclusion of the courses.[HL2263]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Provided the requirements of the Immigration Rules are met, post-graduate students should be given leave to remain for the duration of their course plus four months. This should give post-graduate students sufficient time beyond the completion of their studies to enable them to attend their graduation ceremony in the United Kingdom.

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There is no facility to waive fees and, other than those people legally exempt from the charge, all will have to pay for their applications to be processed. An application for further leave to remain as a student or as a visitor will attract a fee of £155 for a postal application and £250 for personal callers.

Community Punishments

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the efficiency of the administration of community service punishment was last reviewed and which government agency is responsible for the matter.[HL2296]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The government agency responsible for reviewing the efficiency of the administration of community punishment is Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation. Community punishment schemes in all 42 areas of the National Probation Service were reviewed as part of the performance inspection programme between 1999 and 2002. These inspections addressed the achievement of national and local targets, compliance with national standards, the organisation, nature and quality of the work undertaken by offenders and the satisfaction of those who benefited from that work.

The currrent inspection programme is the effective supervision inspection which began in June 2003 and will eventually cover all 42 areas. This will focus on management arrangements in community punishment units, along with assessment of offenders and the suitability of work placements.

Additionally, since the development of the enhanced community punishment scheme in 2003, the National Probation Directorate has developed a framework to assess how effectively this has been implemented in probation areas. A rigorous post-implementation review is currently underway with very encouraging results. Once the implementation phase is completed, areas will undertake an annual audit of their enhanced community punishment provision to ensure that quality is maintained.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether litter clearance is a suitable activity for offenders sentenced to community service punishment.[HL2297]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Litter clearance is a suitable activity for offenders sentenced to community punishment and has always formed a proportion of the unpaid work—currently standing at 7 million hours each year—performed by offenders on community punishment orders. It provides punishment of offenders in combination with reparation to the community.

The enhanced community punishment scheme which was introduced in October 2003, and is now operational in all 42 areas which make up the National Probation Service, is designed in such a way that it also

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has a rehabilitative effect and the potential to reduce the likelihood of reconviction.

Research indicates that certain qualities or features of placements appear to increase the rehabilitative impact of community punishment and the introduction of enhanced community punishment obliged local probation areas to re-evaluate all existing placements with a view to their capacity:

    to provide demanding, purposeful work which the offender and the people who benefit from it see as a worthwhile contribution to the community;

    to ensure contact between the offender and the members of the community who benefit from the work;

    to provide opportunties for the offender to learn new practical and thinking skills, particularly in relation to employment; and

    to comply with health and safety requirements.

Where existing placements have not matched these criteria, it has usually been possible for areas to work with and support beneficiaries to ensure that the requirements can be met.

The type of activity undertaken is much less important than whether the placement provides challenging and demanding work for the offender, enabling them to develop skills which will improve their prospects in the job market. As long as the beneficiary and the probation area work in partnership, it should be possible to provide a quality placement through a well run litter clearance scheme. Suffolk Probation Area, for example, is currently undertaking litter clearance on a number of beaches as well as for local councils. A number of their staff are currently working towards a City and Guilds qualification which is a legal requirement for the supervision of litter clearance on highways and this should enable them to expand their activities further.

Prisoners: Literacy

Lord Acton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 25 March (WA 109–10), whether they will ensure that prison governors are aware of the advantages to prisoners of a system of educated prisoners teaching illiterate prisoners to read, as promoted by the Shannon Trust and other organisations.[HL2301]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Prison Service appreciates the potential benefits of educated prisoners helping other prisoners to learn. There are plans to support activity to train prisoners, prison officers and staff from other agencies to become adult learner supporters. The main focus will be on the Link Up project, which is funded by the Department for Education and Skills, and delivered by the Basic Skills Agency. This project will be promoted to prisons through heads of learning and skills, who are the members of the prison senior management team

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responsible for raising awareness of and support for successful leaning schemes within the establishment.

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