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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, in view of the deafening silence in some quarters of the European Union during the Iraqi crisis, which still continues, is it not a little premature to talk about a common foreign and security policy? Is the noble Lord aware that the security of Europe has depended very largely on the existence of NATO, with the support of the United States, and more particularly so far as we are concerned on Great Britain's undertaking in 1954 to underwrite the security of the whole of Europe by agreeing to commit its own forces without reference to anybody else to the defence of Europe?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not dissent at all from the contribution made by NATO over past decades to the security of Europe referred to by my noble friend. However, we are now in an era when Europe as a whole would benefit from greater co-ordination between member states of the European Union on foreign policy whether we are talking about an immediate crisis or in the longer term. That is what these changes are designed to achieve.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I agree with the question of my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones. Can the Minister say to whom the high representative of the common foreign and security policy will be accountable, and what will his role be in promoting decisions on which there have been constructive abstentions?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards the first point, it is clear that the high representative will continue, as the secretary-general, to be responsible to the council. It will be the member-states on the council who will decide the policy. As regards constructive abstentions, the new mechanism will apply when a member state does not wish to prevent the council as a whole moving forward, but does not itself wish to participate in that policy. In those circumstances, the high representative will remain responsible for carrying out the position adopted by the majority of the council.

Asylum Seekers: Financial Support

3.1 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, local authorities are discharging the duties imposed upon them as a result of court judgments as best they can. The Government recognise the financial and administrative burden placed on them as a result and do not believe that the National Assistance Act is a suitable vehicle for providing support to asylum seekers. The Government are reviewing the whole asylum process including the way in which welfare support is delivered. The review team will be reporting shortly. Meanwhile, the Government have listened to representations from local authorities and have considered the costs that they are facing in arranging accommodation and support. The Government have announced that funding for 1998-99 will be increased by almost 18 per cent. to £165 per accommodated single adult asylum seeker per week; obviously, subject to parliamentary approval. That restores the level to that paid in 1996-97.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for small mercies. Is she aware that, according to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, the cost of supporting asylum seekers in London alone last year was £109 million, whereas, according to Mr. Paul Boateng speaking in a committee of another place last Wednesday, the total government support for asylum seekers came only to £89.6 million? Does the Minister agree that that helps to quantify the extent to which the Government are passing the buck of a central responsibility to local authorities? Why does not the buck stop at 10 Downing Street?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I believe I indicated in my original Answer that the Government are extremely concerned about the plight of asylum seekers. I am sure the noble Earl realises that for some months a review has been in progress on the whole of both asylum and immigration policy. A review of the benefits connected with them is taking place and a report will be made. That has led to a high level of activity within the Government; the lead department being the Home Office. As regards costs, we have decided, as I said, to accept the suggestions made by a number of local authorities, particularly in central London, about the costs imposed on them through their responsibilities in this field. That is why we have restored the grant to £165 a week.

The noble Earl referred to my honourable friend Mr. Boateng. Officials in the Department of Health estimate that the cost related to adult asylum seekers, to which I referred, on the basis of estimates of increased numbers will be about £89.7 million for the coming year. That does not include specific grants addressed to unaccompanied children or children in families.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is it not a euphemism to say that the Government have listened to local authorities when in fact the appeal to the House of

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Lords against the original decision was to be heard in February and that it was withdrawn because the Government agreed to increase the sum to £165 a week under that pressure?

Is not the Minister aware that the five inner London boroughs formed a consortium and are working together to try to resolve this problem? Does she agree that £165 a week is insufficient for caring for someone in the centre of London and that every effort to move people to where accommodation would be available more cheaply and of a better standard is thwarted or resisted very often by threats of judicial review? What can the Minister do to prevent these procedures stopping any innovative scheme coming forward? Will those matters be considered in her review? Is the Minister further aware that the need for space in central London is so desperate that thoughts are now being given to having floating accommodation in the form of a ship?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in my original Answer to the noble Earl, the present situation under the National Assistance Act is unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, we inherited that situation because of legislation introduced in 1996 under the previous government. I repeat that we have tried to address the problem on an across the board basis. I am aware that there is a particular issue in central London. That is why we have been concerned to raise the grant for 1998-99.

One of the problems that has occurred is that we hoped cheaper accommodation would become available, but because local authorities--and quite rightly, because the review is taking place--see this as a relatively short-term problem which they need to address, they have felt unable to undertake longer-term accommodation arrangements which might have reduced costs.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall the opposition which her side of the House undertook to the proposals on immigration put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and myself in the last Parliament? Why is it that 10 months later the Government still have not reversed the policy, as they said they were going to do? Is this another U-turn?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, it is certainly not a U-turn. The problem is that the complexities and difficulties which we have inherited have led to a proper, sensible and sustained inquiry into the whole issue. For example, we have heard my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn describe in some detail the situation on immigration appeals, where we have inherited many thousands of such appeals since 1993 that have not been heard. We are addressing this problem. As I indicated in my original Answer to the noble Earl, it will be a matter of weeks, not months or years, before we produce a solution.

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Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Hayman will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on planning for the communities of the future. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to,

    "brief comments and questions for clarification".

There is a mandatory limit of 20 minutes from the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen.

Teaching and Higher Education Bill [H.L.]

3.8 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.--(Baroness Blackstone).

Lord Tope had given notice of his intention to move, as an amendment to the Motion ("That this report be now received") to leave out from ("That") to the end and insert ("the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of Clauses 16 to 18.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I say at the outset that it is not my intention to move this amendment, but I do intend to give an explanation of my reasons to your Lordships. This morning I received a letter from the Minister which I am sure she will not mind me--

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