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Asylum Seekers: Local Authority Obligations

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Jay of Paddington: A judgment given in the High Court on 8 October 1996 (Regina v City of Westminster and others, ex parte A, P, M & X) held that asylum seekers who are excluded from receiving social security benefits and housing under the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 may be eligible for residential accommodation under Section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948. This judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal in February 1997. Local authorities have no power or duty to provide food to asylum seekers for whom they are not providing residential accommodation (Regina v London Borough of Newham ex parte Gorenkin) or to provide money for the purchase of food or other items to people for whom they are providing residential accommodation (Regina v Secretary of State for Health ex parte London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, K, A & M, 9 July 1997).

There are no special provisions for the children of asylum seekers in the Children Act 1989. If they are "in need" within the meaning of Section 17 of the Act, their local authority will be obliged to provide services under Part III of the Act, with a view to safeguarding and promoting their welfare. The obligation on the local authority in this respect is the same as for any other child in need.

The definition of a child in need is set out in Section 17(10) and, if an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child falls within that definition, authorities have the same duties to provide services for that child, which may include the provision of accommodation, as for any other in their area who may be in need.

Fire Safety Regulations

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Yes. After consultation with my right honourable friend the

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Secretary of State for Scotland we intend shortly to make suitable regulations. These will build on those proposals on which consultation was completed last year and will be accompanied by a simple guidance package. We hope to lay the regulations before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth) understands from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that she intends to lay equivalent regulations for Northern Ireland before the end of the year.

Intrusive Surveillance: Code of Practice

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for consultation on the intrusive surveillance code of practice required under Part III of the Police Act 1997.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: On 14 July, my honourable friend the Minister of State (Mr. Michael) signed an order to commence Section 101 of the Police Act 1997 on 5 August 1997. This will allow the public consultation exercise to begin on that date. Officials will send copies of the draft code of practice to a number of individuals and organisations, inviting their comments by the end of September. Copies will be placed in the Library and additional copies of the draft code are obtained from the Home Office.

Refugees from Former Yugoslavia

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What changes are being made in the handling of applications from refugees and displaced persons from the former Yugoslavia following the Dayton Peace Agreement.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: All applications for asylum will continue to be considered on their individual merits within the terms of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Since 1992 exceptional leave to remain has been granted to those who came from Bosnia but did not qualify for refugee status. The situation now, following the Dayton Agreement and subsequent developments, makes that policy unnecessary and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has recently said that certain categories of persons could reasonably be expected to return to Bosnia.

The Government share the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' hope that many Bosnians will wish to return home voluntarily. However, leave will not be withdrawn from Bosnians already granted exceptional leave to remain on having been refused refugee status, nor from former Yugoslavs admitted under the Temporary Protection Programme, and, subject to personal acceptability, extensions of stay will normally be granted.

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From today, applications for asylum from Bosnians will be considered on their merits in the normal way. Exceptional leave will not be granted automatically if the application is unsuccessful, but it will be considered in individual cases where there are genuine humanitarian reasons. Those falling within the categories which the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says may reasonably be expected to return home will no longer, in general, be granted exceptional leave to remain and will be expected to return home.

Since August 1992, as a concession, the United Kingdom has not normally sought to return asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia to safe third countries through which they had transited, if they had spent less than a day or two in each country. Asylum applicants from the states of the former Yugoslavia will now be treated in the same way as those from other countries. This will mean that they will be returned to safe third countries where we are satisfied that: the applicant is not a national or citizen of the third country concerned; the applicant would be safe in the third country concerned; and the applicant either had an opportunity to claim asylum in the country concerned or was otherwise admissible there. However, we would not normally remove an applicant where there were immediate family members in the United Kingdom, such as a spouse, a minor child or, if the applicant were a minor child, a parent.

Since December 1992, nationals of the former Yugoslavia have been granted a visa abroad where they could demonstrate that they had a claim to refugee status or had been displaced from their home as a result of the conflict and that they had close family here. In view of the improved situation in the former Yugoslavia, this concession is now being withdrawn, and the normal arrangements for obtaining visas to claim refugee status in the United Kingdom will apply.

We have agreed with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that the temporary protection programmes announced in 1992 and 1995 are to end, although those people already accepted who can go straight into the community will continue to be allowed to take up their places. A total of 2,660 have been brought to the United Kingdom and given temporary refuge under the two programmes.

Prison and Probation Services: Joint Working

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to improve joint working between the prison and probation services.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is very important that the prison and probation services work together closely and effectively. They are both responsible for protecting the public from harm; and, where prisoners are released from sentences which are served partly in custody and partly in the community, they are subject to probation service supervision. There need to be the best possible arrangements for sharing information about prisoners and co-ordinating effort on risk assessment, resettlement

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planning and programmes directed to reducing offending and dealing with problems, such as drug or alcohol misuse, which get in the way of successful rehabilitation.

We therefore intend to look at ways in which the better integration of the two services could improve their performance and effectiveness. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked my honourable friend the Member for Gateshead East and Washington West, who has ministerial responsibility for both services within the Home Office, to lead this work. This will include looking at the structure and organisation of the probation service to complement the review of the prison service which is now under way.

A system of punishment which is effective, credible and commands public confidence requires both community and custodial sentences to work, and to work together. Having considered the options for improving on present arrangements, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will consult all concerned before deciding on the best way forward.

The detailed terms of reference of this review are as follows:

    To identify and assess options for closer and more integrated work between the prison service and the probation services of England and Wales, including any implications for the structure, organisation, management, working practices, human resources, funding and legislation governing the functions of those services;

    To examine international models reflecting good practice and to identify any lessons concerning the effectiveness and efficiency, organisation and management structures exhibited by those models;

    To provide a preliminary analysis of the options identified, including the estimated costs and benefits, as a basis for consultation. This review will in due course form part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

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