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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I feel that the noble Lord's question is wide of the Question on

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the Order Paper. However, I agree with him about the importance of community rehabilitation services and that is precisely why in my reply to one of the noble Lords who raised the issue in relation to Oxfordshire I mentioned the sums which had been given for community rehabilitation to try to reduce the acute stress on some hospitals. However, if the noble Lord would care to write to me again with the specific issue he wishes to raise about Essex, I shall try to help him.


2.46 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have plans to improve the system of screening applications for asylum, in consultation with other governments, and plans to consider expeditiously the cases of applicants who have been waiting in the United Kingdom for decisions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we are committed to delivering a faster, fairer and firmer asylum process than the one we inherited. Reducing delays and backlogs within the asylum system will play an important role in discharging that commitment. Consultation with other governments on asylum issues is a continuing feature of intergovernmental co-operation both within the European Union and more generally.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. I would welcome progress in discussions with the Belgian and French authorities. Are the press reports correct that sea ferries in future will receive government help on the same scale as Eurotunnel now does since the ferry companies cannot refuse to carry passengers whose documents are in order? Bogus asylum seekers often destroy their documents during the journey before they land.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, any company is entitled to carry or not carry people, as it chooses. As I said in answer to a question a few weeks ago, it is essentially a commercial decision. I take the noble Lord's point that, unfortunately, a device often used by bogus entrants is to destroy documents wilfully because that makes it difficult then to return such people to the appropriate country of origin.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how many people are at the moment awaiting the hearing of their asylum cases and how many were waiting a year ago? Is there the same proportion waiting now in London as there was? Most of the support organisations for those people are in London. I have been told that many cases are being shifted outside London, thereby causing grave hardship.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is a backlog of around 50,000 people altogether waiting. As I said on an earlier occasion, 10,000 of those cases,

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lamentably, pre-date 1993. I simply cannot say whether the proportion of those in London has gone down. I shall research the figures and write to the noble Lord. It is true that some asylum seekers and immigrants have been placed outside the London area, but the placing authority retains the financial obligation of their upkeep.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in relation to those who have been waiting for a long time, can the Minister say whether the asylum directorate instruction is still in force? That provides that where a person has been waiting for more than seven years from the date of his or her initial application, exceptional leave to remain may be granted. Is it the practice invariably to give exceptional leave to remain where people have been here for seven years? In order to reduce the backlog, will the Government consider as an interim measure reducing the period to six years? Six years is long enough for anybody to wait for a first decision.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the policy to which the noble Lord refers is still in being; that is, after seven years exceptional leave to remain will be granted. It will be possible to have an arbitrary reduction of that period from seven years to six. However, it is premature to come to a conclusion on that, bearing in mind the overall wide-ranging review of these topics which is being conducted and considered.

Lord Renton: My Lords, can the Minister say what proportion of the cases that have been dealt with within the past 12 months have been found to be bogus asylum seekers? Is he aware that any strengthening of the policy which the Government introduce will receive wide support in this country?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, a significant majority were found to be ineligible. I welcome the noble Lord's support, which he has propounded on earlier occasions. There are a number of deficiencies in the system. One is delay, which means unjustified expense and uncertainty and also--the critical point--the fact that bogus asylum seekers are doing a serious disservice to those who are genuine claimants.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, can the Government not introduce a system whereby there is no appeals process when there has been a unanimous initial consideration?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I would always be reluctant to contemplate any regime where there is no appeal in any circumstance. I have never met any judicial or even quasi-judicial body which is free of all possibility of error. However, that is one aspect of the review that is presently being considered.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I must declare an interest in that I am a lay member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. The Minister has already said that a large number of applications are found to be bogus. Is

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it correct that only a tiny proportion of those bogus applicants are removed from this country when their cases have gone right through the appeals system?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not true that only a tiny proportion are removed. My recollection is that 7,000 were removed last year. That is a significant number.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I welcome the use of the word "bogus" by the noble Lord; it is a word that was used vociferously by his colleagues on these Benches when they were in opposition. It is true that a large proportion of applicants are bogus asylum seekers, and I welcome the fact that the noble Lord now accepts that. The Minister does not possess specific figures. But will he make available to the House information as to whether there is any increase or decrease in the backlog? How many of the cases that preceded 1993 have been dealt with during the course of this year?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the last questions are legitimate questions and I shall research the figures, transmit them to the noble Baroness and place them in the Library. It is a matter of genuine public interest. However, I do not believe that I was ever guilty of complaining about the use of the word "bogus". It is a well-known English term with which I am familiar.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister said that 7,000 people who were unlucky in their appeals were returned to their country of origin. Have any of those attempted to re-enter this country on another bogus excuse?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is not a question I am capable of answering. If people are removed, they may well attempt to come back with bogus documents.

Lome Convention: Negotiations

2.55 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In relation to their commitment to give priority to the defeat of world poverty in their overseas development programmes, what progress has been made in the preparations for the renewal of the Lome Agreement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, a draft negotiating mandate setting out the EU's position on the successor to the Lome Convention will be discussed at the EU Development Council on 18th May. As presidency, we hope that this mandate will be agreed in the EU General Affairs Council in June. Poverty eradication will be at the heart of the EU's position.

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Formal negotiations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries party to the Lome Convention are due to begin in September.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. However, are the Government satisfied with the Commission's current trade proposals or do they have any anxiety lest they contradict the poverty eradication targets? Is it realistic to expect, as currently proposed, SADC, covering southern Africa, and Caricom, covering the Caribbean, to enter into free trade agreements with the European Union within six years? They will be competing with much stronger economies. By contrast, what progress is being made with the Department for International Development's proposals for an improved generalised scheme of preferences?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the House knows and as was made clear in the Government's White Paper, for which the Department for International Development was responsible, the eradication of poverty lies at the heart of the negotiations which the Government, along with the rest of the EU governments, will be addressing. The key target remains to halve absolute poverty by the year 2015. That is achievable; it is affordable; and the Government believe it to be morally right. However, our position will be affected in the negotiations by the review taking place on 18th May. We hope that we can adopt the negotiating position of the EU in the General Affairs Council on 8th June and that thereafter, in September, we will be able to begin negotiations with the 71 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries involved.

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