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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2002 has been published today. Copies of this report are available from the Libraries of the House. It is also available in electronic form from DEFRA'S website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/esq/m_publications.htm.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): The Government recognise that British Sign Language (BSL) is a language in its own right regularly used by a significant number of people. For an estimated 70,000 deaf people it is their preferred language for participation in everyday life. BSL is a visual-gestural language with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax.
The Government understand that people who use BSL want their language to be protected and promoted in the same way some minority languages are by the Council of Europe's Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The Council is considering how that might be achieved for indigenous sign languages. The Government will give careful consideration to any proposals which the Council might make.
The Government have already taken action to improve access to BSL, for example by identifying situations where it might be reasonable for employers and service providers to engage the services of a BSL/English interpreter.
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practical issues surrounding the implementation of new powers in sections 134 to 139 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The provisions in question will enable the immigration authorities to require employers and financial institutions to supply information in respect of specified individuals who we reasonably suspect have committed certain immigration offences, including fraud against the national asylum support arrangements. The deadline for responses to the consultation document is 9 June 2003. I have arranged for copies of the document to be placed in the Library and on the Immigration and Nationality Directorate website.
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): A new fast track pilot scheme to be introduced in April will radically reduce the time taken to process asylum claims from arrival to removal.
The pilot will operate at the Harmondsworth Removal Centre and will build upon the reforms in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the success of the Oakington fast track process. This new pilot will enable us to deal rapidly with straightforward asylum claimants and to remove those with unfounded claims within four weeks of their arrival.
The new Fast Track Procedure Rules to be laid before Parliament later this week will enable us to pilot fast-track decisions and appeals based upon co-location of key elements of the asylum process. For this to work effectively, we will be detaining at Harmondsworth Removal Centre asylum seekers whose claims appear to be straightforward, pending a decision on their claim. Detention will initially be for about two to five days to enable claimants to be interviewed and an initial decision made. This new process will have bulletin access to legal advice. Detention of asylum seekers for a short period of time for the purposes of making a speedy decision on their claim was upheld last October as lawful by the House of Lords. If the claim is refused or for any reason cannot be dealt with in accordance with the pil