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8 Apr 1998 : Column WA129

Written Answers

Wednesday, 8th April 1998.

Prisons: Writers in Residence

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which prisons have Writers in Residence.[HL1331]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): There are writers in residence at the following establishments:


    Channings Wood

    Eastwood Park



    Low Newton





Data Protection Bill: Interpretation of Clause 31

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the speeches of the Lord Falconer of Thoroton on 24 March (H.L. Deb., cols. 1115-17 and 1119), whether they consider that the exemptions for media intrusion upon personal privacy contained in Clause 31 of the Data Protection Bill will be required to be interpreted and applied by the courts in accordance with the European legal principles of proportionality and legal certainty.[HL1299]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes. According to the consistent case law of the European Court of Justice, in the application of Community law the guiding principles, which include proportionality and legal certainty, must be observed by the courts.

Justice and Home Affairs Council, 19 March

Lord Shepherd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels on 19 March.[HL1476]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary chaired the Council on behalf of the Presidency. My honourable friend the Minister of State (Joyce Quin) represented the United Kingdom. The main matters dealt with were as follows.

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The Council agreed a number of "A" points, including a Council Decision on sharing the cost of preparing film masters for the uniform format of residence permits; Council conclusions on the G8 recommendations on organised crime and terrorism, and on the G8 principles on high tech crime; instruments on the exchange of information in immigration and asylum matters and on dealing with missing persons and unidentified corpses; reports on the Europol Drugs Unit's activities for 1997 and its work programme for 1998; and rules governing certain aspects of Europol's operation, in preparation for when the Europol Convention comes into force. These rules covered the Europol computer system, receipt of information from third states and third bodies and confidentiality for the information held by Europol.

In addition, the Council agreed as "A" points a number of joint actions enabling Community funding of Third Pillar activity. The Odysseus programme will support training, exchanges and co-operation in the field of asylum, immigration and the crossing of external borders. The Falcone programme will support exchanges, training and co-operation in the fight against organised crime. Community funding will also be available to support projects in favour of displaced persons, asylum seekers and refugees.

The Council agreed Presidency proposals designed to improve openness and transparency in justice and home affairs, in particular by making details of proposals available more easily and earlier, providing more frequent and more detailed information for the press, and having open debates on particular topics from time to time. A Council decision to publish a comprehensive public register of Council documents was also agreed as an "A" point.

The Council had a full discussion of the justice and home affairs implications of the enlargement process on the basis of a Presidency paper. The Council reaffirmed the need for Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in the member states, and national experts, to be fully involved in the enlargement process and underlined the importance of effective monitoring of the progress made by the applicant states in taking on and implementing the Justice and Home Affairs acquis. Ministers agreed that enlargement should feature as a standing item on future Justice and Home Affairs council agendas.

The draft Convention on driving disqualification was discussed, and provisional agreement reached on the text. However, some further work is still needed on a small number of outstanding issues.

The draft Joint Action to establish a European Judicial Network was discussed. The text has now been agreed by all but one member state, which was not prepared to lift its reserve at the Council. The Presidency will pursue bilateral contacts with the member state concerned. Another Joint Action concerning participation in a criminal organisation was agreed subject to one minor reserve, and should be formally adopted shortly.

The draft Convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters was discussed, and considerable progress made on a number of outstanding points.

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The Council received a progress report on ratification of the Europol Convention. This showed that only three member states have yet to complete the necessary procedures for ratifying the Europol Convention, and hope to do so before the end of the United Kingdom Presidency. The Council also agreed in principle to advance the date when Europol's mandate with regard to terrorism will become effective.

The Council reviewed implementation of the action plan on the influx of migrants from Iraq, taking note of a report of a recent visit by the Presidency to Turkey, which is a major country of transit for migrants.

The Council also considered the current state of negotiations on the Eurodac Convention on finger-printing of asylum seekers. It was clear from the discussion that a number of issues remain to be resolved and that further work will be required on this important instrument.

Implementation of the Dublin Convention was also discussed. This Convention, which has only recently come into force, establishes the state responsible for deciding asylum applications. The Council took note of ongoing work to draw up a programme of action aimed at ensuring effective implementation of the convention.

Fire Safety Legislation

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in the development of legislation on fire safety.[HL1477]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: On 28 November, the Government published a consultation document entitled Fire Safety Legislation for the Future, copies of which are in the Library. The consultation period closed on 28 February and, between the Home Office and the Scottish Office, we have received around 450 responses.

We have decided to proceed with a thorough overhaul of fire safety legislation along the lines set out in the consultation document. However, some difficult areas, such as Houses of Multiple Occupation and licensed premises, need more detailed discussion and consideration before we can take a decision on them and we will need to tie in with other separate aspects. We will now work up detailed proposals in close co-operation with interested parties. Subject to clear evidence of cost effectiveness of the proposals, we will aim to legislate as early as practicable.

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the European Commission has issued a letter under Article 169 of the Treaty of Rome challenging the United Kingdom's implementation of the general fire safety provisions of the European Framework Directive.[HL1478]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We can confirm that such a letter has been received from Commissioner Flynn on behalf of the Commission.

To avoid prejudicing any legal proceedings that might result, the detail of the letter and the reply to it must remain confidential between the Commission and Her

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Majesty's Government. However, we can say that, in broad terms, the Commission's concerns relate to the need to justify the exceptions we have made from the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (among them, one for fire certificated premises). They are also concerned that the duties placed on employers by these regulations should fully reflect the unconditional nature of the responsibilities and obligations imposed on employers by the framework directive.

The Government have decided that they will take the necessary steps to address the Commission's concerns about meeting the terms of the directive in full. Such steps should be consistent with the emerging findings of the recent consultative exercise, Fire Safety Legislation for the Future. The steps would involve making changes to the 1997 regulations. Officials will begin to consult interested parties immediately upon the implications of this and the best way to proceed.

Immigration: Strengthening of Controls

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will strengthen immigration legislation to tackle abuse of the United Kingdom's immigration control.[HL1479]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government are firmly committed to ensuring that those who seek to migrate to the United Kingdom but have no grounds for doing so under the Immigration Rules are prevented from coming here. We have today by order extended the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 to Eurostar services arriving from Brussels to reduce the large numbers of inadequately documented passengers using this route over recent months.

The order as drafted does not extend to SNCF (the operators of services from France) because of their current position under French law. But we have agreed with the French Government measures to enhance operational co-operation until a longer term solution can be found.

From 0001 hours on Friday 10 April, we will require nationals of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia to obtain Direct Airside Transit Visas to come to the United Kingdom, even when they intend to remain airside while in transit through the United Kingdom. We have taken this action following evidence of abuse of the Transit Without Visa concession by such nationals.

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