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Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 2 November (WA 49), why the average waiting time for citizenship applications under the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997 is the only category that is not tracked; and whether they will now do so and publish the average waiting time on the Applying for British Nationality website. [HL302]
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): This information is not currently readily available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. We are planning to improve our IT systems for dealing with these applications and one of the benefits will be the ability to publish waiting time information for these applications.
Whether they will ensure that, in any review of the centrally administered holiday pay schemes included in the Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2001 (SI 2001/597), the dispensation for the construction industry will not be abandoned. [HL270]
Whether they will amend the law so as to allow judges in the Court of Appeal considering cases referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Court of the Appeal for review as unsafe convictions to have the discretion to lift reporting restrictions on names of accusers as in the Crown Court. [HL204]
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The question of whether reporting restrictions should be lifted by the Court of Appeal, in cases where a complainant has anonymity, is not limited to cases in which the Criminal Cases Review Commission refers a case to the court as a possible miscarriage of justice. It could, in principle, arise in any appeal against conviction for a sexual offence.
Whether further advice is being given to the judiciary on Section 41 applications in rape cases following the Criminal Cases Review Commission's referral of the Leslie Warren case to the Court of Appeal. [HL251]
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In 2002, the Government commissioned an independent evaluation report into the impact of Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. The final report was published in January 2006 and the findings and recommendations were sent to the senior judiciary and the Judicial Studies Board (the report can be found at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs06/rdsolr2006.pdf). The Criminal Procedure Rules Committee, which is chaired by the Lord Chief Justice, has made new rules requiring applications to introduce evidence about a complainant's sexual behaviour to be in writing in advance of the trial. These rules came into force on 6 November 2006.
Whether the application for compensation from the criminal injuries compensation scheme in the case of the accuser in the Warren Blackwell case was applied for as a victim of sexual assault or rape; and on what basis compensation was paid. [HL252]
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Claims to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) are confidential as between applicants and the CICA. Ministers are specifically precluded by law (the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995) from involvement in individual cases.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The maximum sentence for the offence of rape is life imprisonment. Guidelines suggest a starting point of a five-year determinate sentence if the victim is an adult and there are no aggravating features. Martin Walsh was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of six years, equivalent to a 12-year determinate sentence. As Mr Walsh has been sentenced to life, he will be released after six years only if the independent Parole Board considers that is safe.
The Government are consulting on proposals to reform the way that minimum terms for those sentenced to life imprisonment are calculated. The consultation suggests options for making this process clearer to the public so as to deal with the misperception that all offenders will be released at the end of the minimum custodial term set by the judge. Many offenders sentenced to indeterminate sentences in practice spend significantly longer in prison than the minimum term specified.
We have already announced that we want judges to have more discretion so that they no longer have to reduce the sentence they impose by up to one-third for an early guilty plea, regardless of the circumstances. The Sentencing Guidelines Council is currently reviewing its guilty plea discount guideline.
What consideration they have given to the findings of the Snowdon Survey 2006 on continuing inequalities in further and higher educational opportunities for students with disabilities; and whether they will take any action as a result of the survey. [HL172]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): I pay tribute to the work of the Snowdon Award Scheme, now in its 25th year. As the Snowdon Survey 2006 acknowledges, the majority of disabled students do now receive the additional funding and support that they need, but there is always room for improvement.
The department will be looking closely at the Snowdon survey and will be using the findings to inform a new cross-government strategy for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LLDD) to be launched in spring 2007.
What plans they have to assist the European Commission's fight against fraud by reinforcing procedures to reduce misuse of European Union and United Kingdom matching funds by United Kingdom recipients, following the auditor's refusal to certify the European Union budget for the 12th year running. [HL291]
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The Government work closely with the European Commission to reduce any misuse of European Union and United Kingdom match funding, taking action to improve the management of funding wherever necessary.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): The EU budget for tobacco premiums was €920 million in 2006. As member states contribute to the EU budget as a whole, and not to any particular part, we cannot say how much the UK contributed in subsidies for tobacco farmers.
As a non-producer, the UK has concerns about the cost and health implications of the tobacco regime; subsidies are at odds with the Community-sponsored Europe Against Cancer programme. The UK has always been critical of the regime and welcomed the 2004 reform, whereby direct support for tobacco will be brought to an end by 2010.
What is the net contributing cost of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union after all rebates and funds received from the European Union for (a) the last full financial year, and (b) the past 10 financial years. [HL311]
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The United Kingdom's net contribution to the EC budget in financial year 2005-06 can be found at footnote 1 to Table 7 (page 15) of the Public Expenditure 2005-06 Provisional Outturn White Paper (Cm 6883) published in July 2006. Net contributions figures for the
29 Nov 2006 : Column WA59
Further to the Written Answers by Lord Drayson on 9 October (WA 47) and 22 June (WA 99), what information the Ministry of Defence has received from its liaison officer in Washington DC on the range, scope and cost in the current financial year of federally funded research at the Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas into Gulf War veterans illnesses; when the information was received; and what assessment the department has made of its possible relevance among British veterans of the conflict. [HL23]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): Our liaison officer in Washington forwarded on 5 May 2006 a publicly available report of the earmarking of $75 million over five years from financial year 2006 for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre to carry out further work to investigate the possibility of neurological abnormalities in the brains and nervous systems of Gulf War veterans. He continued to monitor the position and on 15 November reported that a contract between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre had been signed. Details, including those of costs, have yet to be released. We take a close interest in this research in relation to our wider work to investigate the causes of Gulf War veterans illnesses. However, we will not be in a position to make a detailed assessment of its possible relevance to British veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict until further details are released in the new year by the US authorities.
Whether they will commission a research study to ascertain whether there is a correlation between changes in the Department for Communities and Local Government count figures for Gypsy and Traveller caravans, and the corresponding accommodation needs assessments; and, if so, what steps they will take to ensure that less thorough needs assessments do not result in lower obligations for the local authorities in the regional spatial strategies. [HL113]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): Accommodation needs assessments are intended to be an in-depth look across the range of
29 Nov 2006 : Column WA60
The department has issued interim guidance on conducting accommodation needs assessments, which will be finalised next spring. It is also supporting research to assist regional assemblies in determining patterns of provision at regional level. On this basis, we do not see a need for additional research. Regional assemblies will need to take account of all relevant information in developing their strategies, which will also be subject to consultation and examination in public.
On what occasions since 2003 Top Goods has been in receipt of government or lottery funding; what was the value of each award made; and whether these awards were subject to competitive tendering. [HL96]
According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's lottery grants database, which uses information supplied by the National Lottery distributing bodies, Top Goods has never received a lottery award.
What will be the cost to National Health Service trusts of the decision by HM Revenue and Customs to disallow recovery of VAT charges on registered medical professionals employed through agencies; and [HL171]
What is the rationale behind the decision of HM Revenue and Customs not to allow recovery of VAT by National Health Service trusts on professionals employed through agencies, including doctors, radiographers and physiotherapists, while continuing to allow such recovery for nurses and administrative and clerical staff. [HL226]
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Government departments and NHS bodies can, under special refund arrangements, reclaim the VAT they are charged on certain contracted-out services. This
29 Nov 2006 : Column WA61
This VAT refund scheme is an exception to the normal principles of public funding; that departmental and NHS spending allocations are calculated to take into account VAT costs incurred in the course of delivering public services. As with any such exception, eligibility and definitions are applied strictly.
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