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House of Lords

Wednesday, 11th November 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Lord Grey of Codnor--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Iran: Visas

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing I state that I am chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will relax the visa regime for Iran to accommodate the business community; and, if so, when.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, all Iranian nationals, including those in the business community, are required to obtain a visa in order to travel to or through the United Kingdom or any other member state of the European Union. There are no plans to remove this requirement.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the business community is being severely hampered by the length of time taken to process individual inward visas, which on occasion can take up to three months to process? Does he agree that with that approach the recent rapprochement will never develop? Will the Minister consider bringing together his officials in the Home Office, who I suspect are the principal culprits, and their counterparts in the Foreign Office to determine how this process can be reduced to a maximum of two weeks?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the principal culprits are not the Home Office officials, who can never be subject to a legitimate accusation of that kind. There is regrettably a delay in respect of business visitors. We need more staff at our embassy in Tehran. That embassy is waiting for two relief members of staff. What are they waiting for? They are waiting to be issued with visas by the Iranian authorities.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, as chairman of the All-Party Iran Group, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can reassure the House that, while allowing a good flow of businessmen in both directions, entry clearance officers will nonetheless keep a very close eye on possible Iranian terrorists, such as those from the National Council for Resistance of Iran and other organisations, who are quite worrying people?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I can give that reassurance. One of the central purposes of a visa regime is to ensure that our proper national security interests are keenly attended to. I repeat that we take our duties very seriously in that regard.

Infectious Salmon Anaemia

2.34 p.m.

Lord Nickson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to eradicate the outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia in Scottish fish farms.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, under European legislation confirmation of the presence of ISA disease requires appropriate eradication measures. These include the clearance of sites, slaughter of fish, disinfection of the farm and fallowing for at least six months prior to re-stocking. In addition, rigorous movement restrictions are being imposed on farms within areas of high risk and a major programme of inspections carried out. Testing of wild stocks for the presence of ISA is also under way.

Lord Nickson: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, as I am always, for the care with which he attends to all matters to do with salmon. Regrettably, I was unable to be present during the short debate on 27th October, although I have read all of the Minister's remarks in the Official Report. He indicated then the degree of resource that was being devoted to inspection. Does the Minister agree that had the Government accepted one of the recommendations of the Scottish Strategy Task Force that there should be a more rigorous and independent regime of inspection this disease might have been prevented in the first place? Further, whatever the methods of eradication, can he assure the House that continuing resources for independent inspection will now be put in place for the foreseeable future to ensure that even more virulent diseases from Norway do not cross the North Sea?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, to reply to the second question, we now have 17 fish health inspectors deployed on the ground and a further 18 scientific staff involved in the diagnosis of the disease. We shall maintain that level of resource for as long as is necessary to get on top of this particular infection. As to the noble Lord's first question, I am genuinely unsure whether anything that we could have done by way of inspection would have prevented the disease from coming here. However, as soon as it was reported to the department my officials reacted quickly and effectively.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, does the Minister agree that despite the fact that live fish brought to Scotland must be accompanied by a health certificate, transport in the tank of a well-boat imposes great stress on them which in turn allows hitherto undetected disease

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to develop? Since this disease is endemic in Norway, should transport by well-boat to Scotland be abolished altogether?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, there is no movement of live fish from Norway to Scotland. As to well-boats, I have set up a government and industry technical working group and asked it to look at the whole issue as a matter of urgency. As soon as I receive its report I shall be prepared to consider legislation when the need is made out.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, as the majority of these fish farms are, as I understand it, Norwegian and Norway is not a member of the European Union, can the Minister say whether their hygiene regulations are as strict as ours?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the hygiene regulations that apply to fish farms in Scotland do not vary according to the ownership of the fish farms. Whether they are Norwegian, Scottish or anybody else's fish farms they are subject to the same regulatory regime.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, while I accept that fish from a suspect site in which the disease is thought to be present, because of the way in which the salmon are behaving, but has not been confirmed cannot be moved other than to market, is there not a severe danger that salmon may escape and spread the infection to other sites or into the wild population? Further, can the noble Lord assure the House that we shall not go down the same road as the Norwegians and describe this disease as endemic and stop trying to eradicate it and therefore see it spread to all our fish farms to their detriment, with the possibility of spreading it to the wild stock to its detriment?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I suppose that it is theoretically possible that escapees from a disease site can act as a means of communicating the disease. I do not believe that there is any point in seeking to deny that. But we have not had a new confirmed outbreak since, I believe, 10th September and it has been possible to establish site-by-site contact with all the infected farms.

We are committed to the policy of eradication. I think that we still stand a good chance of being able to knock the virus on the head and to rid our waters of the disease. That is where we are putting the resource; and that is what is driving policy.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, if movement from suspect farms to market is allowed, is there any danger to people who eat fish from those farms?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, all the scientific advice I have received is that there is no danger to people. They are not eating the diseased fish. Companies are allowed to market fish from the same fish farm. The virus cannot

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replicate itself at temperatures above 24 degrees centigrade. That means that it cannot replicate within the human body.

Asylum Applications

2.40 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to control the flow into the United Kingdom of applicants for asylum, of whom only a small percentage have to date been accepted after the processes of investigation.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Government's recent White Paper sets out a comprehensive strategy for modernising immigration control and reforming the asylum process. The key themes are speeding up the system, strengthening enforcement and minimising the incentive to economic migrants. The Government are determined to create a system which protects the genuine refugee but deters abusive claimants.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minster for his reply, in particular the determination he expressed. Bearing in mind that the Government's White Paper in July stated that many claims are a tissue of lies, is The Times correct in stating that about 50,000 applicants await decisions and some 23,000 await appeals? Is the case of bigamy being investigated in which a woman apparently married seven immigrant gentlemen and was found out only by chance?

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