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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I was aware that yesterday was Martyrs Day in Malawi, but

4 Mar 1996 : Column 5

I realise that the noble Lord's question is what one might call a little loaded. However, we were very pleased to support the elections which took place in Malawi. We believe that they were free and fair. While there are bound to be criticisms in the settling down of a new government, I have to say to the House that there has been an improvement in human rights since those elections. There is now freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and genuine political dialogue in Parliament. Those are good things.

As regards individuals, I do not think that that aspect comes into this Question.

Lord Rea: My Lords, perhaps I, too, may express my commiseration to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, and send wishes for a speedy recovery.

Is the noble Baroness aware that she has the full support of these Benches in giving assistance to developing countries to achieve good governance? Does she not agree that a state prosecution service, properly constituted and conforming to internationally agreed principles, forms part of good governance? Although the Minister says that there was no actual assistance given in this trial, the assistance that Britain gives to Malawi to upgrade and bring up to international standards its legal service is a thoroughly good thing?

Would she not also congratulate the current Malawi Government on at least initially agreeing to the verdict which went against them, thus accepting the rule of law, even though they are now considering appealing?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, first, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, about the importance of a sound state prosecution service. That was why just over a year ago we approved £100,000 for the Malawian legal sector to improve the skills of court interpreters, to make sure that there were law books in its High Court library, and to give training to lawyers and High Court judges.

As regards the noble Lord's comment about the Government of Malawi accepting the legal outcome of the Mwanza trial, of course that is right. The government are seeking to improve all their systems, but they have a great deal of work to do. They therefore not only need our help but deserve our support. We constantly make the government aware of their need to practise good government in all its aspects in Malawi. It is not good enough merely to have freedom of speech, of the press and political dialogue; they must also be a transparent accountable government to all their people.

Lord McNally: My Lords, has the Minister made it clear to the Government of Malawi and other recipients of British aid that the Minister's situation is made much easier in winning the case for aid where human rights and independence of the judiciary are expected?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Yes, my Lords.

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Asylum Seekers: Help to Local Authorities

2.50 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to make an announcement about the nature and extent of the help promised to local authorities with their responsibilities to asylum seekers arising under the Children Act 1989.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the Department of Health jointly with the Department of the Environment have had discussions with representatives from the local authority associations regarding the implications for local authorities resulting from the changes in social security benefits for asylum seekers.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. She is no doubt aware that we have been given categorical assurances on the subject, but it deals with an emergency that came into effect a month ago tomorrow. While honour in government assurances is taken for granted, punctuality is also to be desired.

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords, I appreciate the sentiments expressed by the noble Earl. The grant that will be forthcoming for local authorities will be paid in arrears, so that their costs will be covered.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the children of asylum seekers will lose their entitlement to free school meals which are predicated on income support? What do the Government intend to do to ensure that such children receive the necessary free school meals in the interests of their health?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the position will be as before. If asylum seekers or their children qualify for benefits, those benefits will still be supplied. Up to 80 per cent. of the unavoidable additional expenditure will be paid to local authorities. The noble Baroness shakes her head. I am not sure whether she appreciates the distinction between asylum seekers who are appealing after their case has been reviewed and those who have not appealed. Where such people are appealing, I understand that the benefits will not be forthcoming as they have been in the past but that, nevertheless, under the Children Act there is a duty on the Social Services Department to ensure that the children are looked after.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Social Security Advisory Committee, the Government's own independent committee, spoke about the withdrawal of benefits to asylum seekers in the following terms:

    "Health professionals have warned that, given the vulnerability of many asylum seekers due to already precarious health, some will die"?

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Is not the Minister worried that, given the delay in announcing the new provisions, problems will particularly affect the children? Unless the benefit is at a high level and permanent, the problems may come to fruition.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, officials are discussing the details with colleagues from the Department of the Environment and local authority associations. That fully meets the most pressing concerns put to the Government by the Social Security Advisory Committee and local authorities.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is it not true that local authorities have been supplying the services? That is why they have been asking the Government for extra help. It is not that people have not been looked after. The burden has fallen unevenly on different boroughs in different areas, particularly in London, and in different years. Therefore, local authorities are pleased with what is happening in asylum funding.

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords, I believe that my noble friend is right. The local authority associations are continuing discussions with the Government and are now well aware that 80 per cent. of their unavoidable additional expenditure above a certain threshold will be met, as will the housing benefit subsidy forgone.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, has the Minister received any estimates from local authority organisations as to the financial level of help that will be required as a result of the policy?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I understand that we are awaiting that.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that she said that, under the Children Act, it is open to local authorities to ignore the criteria for the provision of free school meals in any case where they consider it to be in the interests of children?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I do not believe that I can better the answer that I gave to the noble Baroness. If the family would have been eligible, I understand that, subject to the time period of the appeal, the ruling is the same.

Earl Russell: My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that her replies so far could be described as more sympathetic than specific? Can she tell us when the next meeting with local authority negotiators is scheduled?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, it is up to them to decide when they wish to speak to the department. After all, it is they who are collecting the information to present to the department.

4 Mar 1996 : Column 8

Police Bill [H.L.]

2.55 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee (on Recommitment) on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee (on Recommitment).--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clauses 1 to 106 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Police Areas]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 46, line 46, at end insert ("and the non-metropolitan districts of Leicester and Rutland").

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. All the amendments to this consolidation Bill appearing on the Marshalled List in my name arise from the making of the Leicestershire (City of Leicester and District of Rutland) (Structural Change) Order 1996 which was approved by your Lordships' House a few days ago, on 28th February.

The order makes provision for the reorganisation of local government in Leicestershire. One consequence of the changes made by the order is that the names of the local government areas which make up the Leicestershire Police Area will change from 1st April 1997, although the geographical extent of the police area will remain the same. Article 5 of the 1996 order amends Schedule 1A to the Police Act 1964 which sets out the descriptions of the police areas. The purpose of Amendment No. 1 is to make equivalent provision in relation to Schedule 1 to the Bill which is derived from Schedule 1A to the 1964 Act.

As I indicated, the changes in the names of the local government areas making up the Leicestershire Police Area will not take place until 1st April 1997.

Amendment No. 2 makes the appropriate transitional provision to ensure that until that date the Leicestershire Police Area is described by reference to the existing local government area. Amendment No. 3 revokes Article 5 of the 1996 order which is no longer required in the light of the repeal of the Police Act 1964 by the Bill. When the Bill was considered by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills, the committee was made aware of the possible need to bring forward the amendments. The amendments have since been approved by the chairman of the joint committee, my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for whose assistance I am most grateful. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules 2 to 7 agreed to.

4 Mar 1996 : Column 9

Schedule 8 [Transitional provisions, savings etc.]:

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