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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that a substantial part of that backlog was inherited from the previous administration; that we shall continue to honour our obligation under the UN convention on the rights of refugees and not play this numbers game; and that we should honour our obligation to admit genuine asylum seekers as part of our civilised and humanitarian values?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we should continue to honour our international obligations. I believe that it is worth placing on record that the Government inherited nothing short of a shambles. Members opposite may not like this, but in 1996 they laid plans to reduce the number of staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate that would have left us short of people to process applications. That, and problems relating to inadequate technology, placed the present Government in a difficult situation--one that we inherited.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, perhaps I may say, first, that in 1996 there were 29,000 applications, and 39,000 decisions were made by the authorities on asylum cases. That compares with 71,000 applications and 32,000 decisions--a drop--made in the last year. That is why the backlog has increased to over 100,000. Will the Minister tell us how many of those who were refused asylum last year have left the country?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, last year we achieved the highest number of removals--7,650. That compares with figures in the early 1990s of 1,350, 1,820 and 2,200. We inherited the problem. Staff numbers were due to reduce under the previous government. The computerised system was a shambles. We are now tackling the backlog.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the United Kingdom receives far fewer applications for asylum per head of population than many other European Union countries?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am happy to confirm that the figures produced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees confirm exactly that.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, in the light of the fact that 7,000 people have been sent home, will the Minister confirm that in the same year the Government tried to send home 20,000 people, of whom at least 13,000 escaped and went underground?

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Is it not also true that every day in the past 1,000 days of this Government 50 more asylum seekers have been waiting for their cases to be heard?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have been given an interesting lesson in fictional statistics.

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I know that there is some concern about how rigorously we apply the time limit on Questions. We have allowed as much time on this Question as we did on the first. Given the interest in the fourth Question, I believe that we should move on to it.

Public Lending Right Funding

3.2 p.m.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are considering the case for increased public lending right funding which was submitted to them by the Public Lending Right Advisory Committee.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government greatly value the public lending right scheme as a way of supporting both free access to books from libraries and the production of literature. Following the advisory committee's review of the scheme, the Government undertook a consultation exercise on the committee's principal recommendations and are now considering the case for an increase in funding as part of its spending review 2000.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that encouraging reply. I declare an interest as a recipient from the fund and a member of the Society of Authors. Will he agree that the number of author beneficiaries from the fund has almost trebled since payments began and that a majority of authors look to the fund to augment the low incomes that they derive from writing? Will he also agree that far from primarily benefiting best-selling authors, an upper limit per author is set at £6,000 a year, ensuring that the public lending right is widely spread and that £0.5 million is distributed to poorer writers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the public lending right scheme is not only good in its design, but it is also well administered. The administration costs of carrying out the sampling procedures are low and have been declining. The problem is that, until this Government came into office and until our Comprehensive Spending Review, both the total amount of funding to the public lending right scheme and the payment to authors per book loan was static in cash terms. Our last Comprehensive Spending Review succeeded in increasing that. As I have said, we are

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now considering the case that my noble friend and others have made for an increase in the current spending review.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, can the Minister give the House some statistics--I know that is a speciality of his--on how remuneration to authors compares with remuneration to any other section of society?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I suspect that that is an "unknowable" statistic in the sense that we do not have the power to interrogate the Inland Revenue on individual taxpayers' affairs. In general, my understanding is that authors are badly paid. Perhaps text book authors are not, but certainly authors of literature who benefit from the public lending right scheme are badly paid. The average annual payment to authors is £241, which will not make a huge difference to wealth or poverty.

Baroness James of Holland Park: My Lords, I declare an interest as President of the Society of Authors. Will the Minister accept that the public lending right is precisely that, a right and not a charitable subvention from taxpayers, and that the funding in real terms is now £1.7 million below where it stood 20 years ago? While I welcome the reply that the Minister gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, can we please be assured that the level of funding will be reviewed annually with a view to preventing future injustice, particularly to poorer writers who depend on borrowings from libraries as the main source of their income?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe I have made clear already my sympathy with the case made by the Society of Authors. I accept the figures that that society has put forward. We can do better than review the figures annually. As a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review we have given the figures for three years ahead. Everybody will agree that that is an improvement. This is clearly a candidate in the current spending review round, but it is one candidate among others and DCMS is one department among others.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, in considering this matter, will the Government take account of the fact that in this country more books are borrowed and fewer books are bought than in many other countries? We have a higher proportion of borrowing than most countries. In those circumstances, the average income per book is probably much lower in this country than in others. Totals on this issue could be deceiving. If the Government look at the matter from the point of view of income per author, I believe that they will find that a substantial increase is needed in input in order to bring about fairness between one author and another throughout the area where the scheme operates.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that we have a higher level of loans from public libraries than do many other European countries.

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However, I am unsure whether we also have a lower level of book purchase. I am not convinced that that is the case. Certainly the amounts of money that we are talking about--subvention by the taxpayers of scarcely more than £5 million a year--are not large.

Business of the House: Northern Ireland Bill

3.8 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be convenient for the House to know that we expect a Northern Ireland Bill to be brought from another place later this evening. Assuming that such a Bill is received in this House, the usual channels have agreed that the Second Reading of the Bill will be taken as first business tomorrow and the remaining stages will be taken as first business on Thursday. The Bill is already published and available in the Printed Paper Office and the Public Bill Office where they will receive amendments in advance of Second Reading.

Representation of the People Bill

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Representation of the People Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 8, Schedules 1 to 3, Clauses 9 to 12, Schedule 4, Clauses 13 to 16, Schedules 5 and 6.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Eriskay Causeway) Order Confirmation Bill

Considered on Report.

Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

3.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


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Clause 1 [The Council]:

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