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21 Jul 1998 : Column WA83

Written Answers

Tuesday, 21st July 1998.

DfID Reviews

Baroness Hamwee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many of the reviews currently being undertaken by the Department for International Development will be published during the parliamentary Summer Recess.[HL2777]

Lord Whitty: We have no plans to publish any reviews during the parliamentary Summer Recess.

Gaza: Airport and Hospital

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they and the European Union are taking to ensure that the new airport and hospital in and near Gaza, built with European Union aid, are enabled to start functioning.[HL2816]

Lord Whitty: Construction of the Gaza airport was completed over a year ago, but it cannot be opened until security issues have been resolved by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. During our Presidency of the EU we worked hard to close gaps on a number of economic issues, including the airport. The EU continues to encourage both sides to reach agreement, so that the airport can be opened to give the Palestinians direct access to the outside world.

We understand from the European Commission (EC) that the Gaza hospital should be functional within a year. The EC is in the process of hiring an international management team that will implement the final stages of construction, installation of equipment, training of staff and other matters to make the hospital operational.

UNESCO: UK Commission

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following their decision to rejoin UNESCO, what is now their policy towards re-establishing a United Kingdom national commission bringing together experts on education, science, culture and the arts, environment, social sciences, communications, human rights, anti-racism, international development and related matters in order to provide specialist advice to UNESCO and to foster the networking of expertise throughout the world. [HL2752]

Lord Whitty: It is important to have an effective mechanism to engage UK civil society with the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The Department for International Development is actively pursuing, with other interested government departments, how a UK commission for UNESCO might best be designed to meet this objective efficiently without enormous cost.

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Beef: Export Ban

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they can report in lifting the ban on beef exports from the United Kingdom. [HL2600]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): A Commission proposal to enable beef to be exported from the UK under the Date Based Export Scheme (DBES) is currently under consideration by the Standing Veterinary Committee. The UK is making every effort to secure an early agreement on the best possible terms.

British Cattle Movement Service

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will place in the Library of the House copies of the publicity material issued by the British Cattle Movement Service.[HL2827]

Lord Donoughue: We have placed in the Library a leaflet introducing the computerised cattle tracing system together with a further leaflet advertising the British Cattle Movement Service helpline, and a letter sent to farmers following problems with the distribution of the helpline leaflet. We will add further material which is issued by the British Cattle Movement Service before the cattle tracing system is launched on 28 September, as this material becomes available.

Asylum: Bahraini Applicants

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to reach a decision on the asylum applications of Sheikh Ali Salman, Hamza Ali Jasim Kadhem and Sayed Haider Hasan Ali, citizens of Bahrain, who applied at the port of entry on 15 January 1995.[HL2748]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): A decision has been taken to grant refugee status to the three individuals in question and their dependants. This decision has been communicated to their legal representatives.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many persons who applied for asylum in January 1995 are still awaiting a first decision; and whether they will explain why Bahraini cases usually take much longer to resolve than the average.[HL2749]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: As at 31 May 1998, it is estimated that, of 52,110 asylum applications awaiting an initial decision, approximately 20 per cent. were lodged in 1995. I regret that it is not possible to produce an estimate for January 1995 alone with the available data.

The large backlog of cases in the Asylum Directorate means that it is inevitable that some cases take longer than others to resolve. Delays are often compounded by the individual complexity of cases, which are thoroughly investigated and considered.

The Government will be committing more resources to the processing of asylum claims and will be announcing more details of their plans in this area shortly.

Nineteen Bahrain applications remain outstanding. The oldest case dates back to 1994.

Asylum applications awaiting an initial decision as at 31 May 1998 by year of application 1

Year of applicationPercentage
Pre 199420
Total 52,110 (100%)

(1) Estimates rounded to the nearest 5 per cent.

Asylum and Immigration Appeals: Adjournments

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

    How many hearings of asylum and immigration appeals have been adjourned during the past year because of the absence of Home Office Presenting Officers.[HL2639]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: In June 1998, 3.46 per cent. of all cases listed by the Immigration Appellate Authority were adjourned at the request of the Home Office: no figures are available for adjournments because of the non-availability of a Presenting Officer. Decisions on adjournment are a matter for the adjudicator, but it is not Home Office practice to apply for an adjournment because no Presenting Officer is available.

United Kingdom Passport Agency: Performance

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the United Kingdom Passport Agency performed against its targets in 1997-98, and what performance targets they have set for the agency in 1998-99.[HL2964]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The United Kingdom Passport Agency performed very well in 1997-98. With demand 28 per cent. above forecast, it did not meet its target for processing properly completed and straightforward applications within a maximum of ten working days. But customers' travel needs were met on most occasions, and customer satisfaction remained very high.

The Passport Agency's financial target was to secure efficiency savings of 11.1 per cent. in the three year period 1995-96 to 1997-98 equivalent to £11.32 per passport service provided. The latest indications are that the agency has achieved a unit cost of £9.90, which represents an efficiency saving of 10.3 per cent. for the year, and nearly 25 per cent. for the three-year period. 1998-99 will be a transitional and difficult year for the agency, as it manages the introduction of new passport issuing arrangements and a more secure British passport from October 1998. Nevertheless, we expect the agency to maintain a high standard of service throughout the year.

We have set the agency the following targets, which take account of the special circumstances that apply in 1998-99, and the cost of the new arrangements:

    To process properly completed straightforward applications within a maximum of 15 working days in April, and ten working days for the remainder of the year.

    In seeking to meet this target, the agency will give priority to customers' travel needs, aiming to meet declared travel dates for at least 99.99 per cent. of passports issued.

    To achieve an accrued unit cost of £12 per passport service provided.

The Chief Executive will remain directly accountable to my honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State (Mr. Mike O'Brien) for the performance of the Passport Agency. An advisory board, including two private sector members with experience of delivering services to the public, will continue to provide my honourable friend with an independent assessment of the agency's performance.

Anti-Smoking Campaigns

Baroness Jeger asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the annual cost to the United Kingdom taxpayers of campaigns in this country to reduce smoking.[HL2728]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): In 1998-99, the Government are funding smoking education campaigns in the United Kingdom totalling £7.5 million.

In addition, a wide range of health professionals run localised anti-smoking campaigns and offer smoking cessation advice and support. These costs can not be separately identified.

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