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Written Answers

Monday, 8th November 1999.

Afghanistan: NGO Funding

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When, following the improvements in the accommodation and security of United Nations agencies, they will review the restrictions on funding the United Kingdom non-governmental organisations working in Afghanistan.[HL4489]

Baroness Amos: The Department for International Development (DFID) recently conducted a review of its programme of assistance to Afghanistan, including the issue of funding for NGOs. The outcome of that review was recorded in a letter of 5 August from the Secretary of State for International Development to the Chairman of the International Development Committee, a copy of which is in the Library of the House. The operating environment for humanitarian agencies in Afghanistan is closely monitored by DFID, and a further review will be conducted in due course.

Humanitarian Mine Action

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the current level of expenditure by each member state of NATO and by each member state of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which is not a member of NATO on humanitarian work to deal with the consequences of past anti-personnel mine laying.[HL4411]

Baroness Amos: The Department for International Development is not in a position to provide information on expenditure by other member states of NATO or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In 1997, the Department for International Development announced plans to double annual bilateral expenditure on humanitarian mine action to £10 million in the financial year 2000-01. Since then we have committed over £18 million. The programme is on track to meet its target.

Home Department: Expenditure Limit

Baroness Turner of Camden asked her Majesty's Governnment:

    What proposals they have for changes to the 1999-2000 Departmental Expenditure Limits and running cost limits within the responsibility of the Home Department.[HL4643]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Subject to Parliamentary approval of the necessary Supplementary Estimates, the Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) will be increased by £11,319,000 from £7,752,125,000 to £7,763,444,000. The running cost limit will be increased by £1,561,000 from £2,136,392,000 to £2,137,953,000. A separate running cost limit of £163,000 will be established for expenditure on Welfare to Work.

The changes in Class IV Vote 1 are the net effect of the following transfers: £455,000 to Department of Trade and Industry (Class IX, Vote I), £50,000 to Welsh Assembly (Class XIV, Vote I), £1,499,000 to Prison Service (Class IV, Vote 2) in respect of the Crime Reduction Programme; £100,000 to Lord Chancellor's Department (Class V, Vote I) in respect of new offence to reduce volatile substance abuse; £28,000 to Treasury Solicitors (Class V, Vote VI) in relation to extending Attorney General's powers on unduly lenient sentences; £700,000 from the DEL Reserve in respect of contribution to the Active Community Initiative; £10,000 to Department of Health (Class II, Vote II) as contribution towards a research programme; Neutral payment of £3,000,000 from Lord Chancellor's Department (Class V, Vote I) in respect of the Confiscated Assets Fund; £15,000 to Prison Service (Class IV, Vote II) in respect of secondment costs; £5,067,000 from The Scottish Office (Class XIII, Vote 5) in respect of the balance due following a reduction in the level of contribution by The Scottish Office towards Criminal Injuries administration and compensation costs from 13 per cent to 11 per cent; £7,000,000 from the DEL Reserve in respect of administration costs for the Asylum Seekers Directorate; £305,000 to Department of Health (Class II, Vote II) in respect of drugs related research; Neutral payments of £100,000 from the Department of Health, £100,000 from the Department for Education and Employment, £100,000 from the Lord Chancellor's Department and £36,000 from the Welsh Assembly in respect of a contribution towards grant in aid for the National Family and Parenting Institute; Neutral payment of £12,000 from the Cabinet Office in respect of contribution towards grant in aid for Youth Net.

The changes in Class IV Vote 2 are the net effect of the following transfers: £500,000 to the Department of Health (Class II, Vote 2) for the running costs of the Prison Health Policy Unit and the Prison Health Task Force; £1,499,000 from the Home Office (Class IV, Vote 1); in respect of the Crime Reduction Programme; and £15,000 from the Home Office (Class IV, Vote 1) to cover a secondment to the Mental Health Unit. In addition, the Supplementary Estimate gives effect to the take up of £173,000 for Welfare to Work DEL under the end year flexibility scheme entitlements announced by my right honourable Friend the Chief Secretary (Mr Byers) on 27 July.

The increase in the department's running costs limit is the net effect of the following transfers: £500,000 to the Department of Health for the running costs of the

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Prison Health Policy Unit and the Prison Health Task Force. £205,000 to Department of Trade and Industry and £50,000 to Welsh Assembly in respect of the Crime Reduction Programme; £28,000 to Treasury Solicitors in relation to extending Attorney General's powers on unduly lenient sentences; £10,000 to Department of Health as contribution towards a research programme; £3,000,000 from the DEL reserve in respect of administration costs for the Asylum Seekers Directorate; transfer of £646,000 from the Departmental Unallocated Provision to other current expenditure to meet the cost of upgrading the Emergency Communications Network.

These increases will be offset by transfers or charged to the Reserve and will not, therefore, add to the planned total of expenditure.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate: Casework System

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in testing the Siemens casework system, designed for the Immigration and Nationality Department; and when they expect it to be fully commissioned.[HL4479]

Lord Bassam of Brighton : The target date of 14 June for the commencement of testing, to which reference was made on 19 May in reply to a previous question from the noble Lord (WA 32), was met. Testing is not expected to be completed before December. Implementation of the system will then take place progressively during 2000, when and where the business benefits of using the system have been proven.

Asylum Applications: Processing

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made since the end of March towards the target of deciding most initial asylum applications within two months of their receipt; and whether they still believe that the target can be achieved by April 2001.[HL4478]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The White Paper Fairer, Faster and Firmer--a modern approach to immigration and asylum set out our proposals to deliver a more effective asylum system, including deciding asylum applications within an average of two months. We are committed to meeting the White Paper target of achieving this by April 2001.

We are developing new procedures to speed up the consideration of both new cases and those in the backlog. These are being continually refined to achieve maximum efficiency. We are also prioritising family cases and considering them under "fast track" procedures with the aim of achieving the two-month target by April 2000. In addition, we are recruiting substantial numbers of new staff purely to deal with

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asylum applications and training more of our existing staff in asylum skills.

Lord Eames asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to deal with the increase in those claiming refugee status in the United Kingdom.[HL4433]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Immigration and Asylum Bill sets out our proposals to deliver a more effective asylum system. This will protect those in genuine need of protection while dealing swiftly and firmly with abusive applications. The Bill will deliver key elements of our strategy to reform the asylum system.

Operationally, we are developing new procedures to speed up the consideration of both new cases and those in the backlog. The procedures will be continually refined to achieve maximum efficiency. In addition, we are recruiting substantial numbers of new staff purely to deal with asylum applications.

Non-fatal Offences against the Person

Lord Windlesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What decisions have been reached on introducing legislation to reform the law on non-fatal offences against the person, as recommended by the Law Commission; and[HL4429]

    When they intend to repeal any archaic and unclear provisions of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.[HL4430]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We hope to make an announcement soon outlining our proposals for reforming the law on non-fatal offences against the person following the proposals made by the Law Commission.


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