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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am conscious of the problems there have been in discussions with the Imperial War Museum, which is the parent museum. Is the noble Baroness talking about Duxford?

Baroness Blatch: No, my Lords. The Imperial War Museum and Duxford are all right. They are included in the national concession. The Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon is not included in the national policy and yet it is a government-sponsored national museum.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my original Answer referred to national museums funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I understood that that was the basis of the Question. However, I take the noble Baroness's point. If I may, I shall write to her and place a copy of my letter in the Library.

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Science Museum. The situation is not quite as clear as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh,

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explained, because we have an insane situation with VAT. At present, if it is a free museum, VAT is not refunded, whereas if it is a museum with paid entry, VAT is fully refunded. At the moment an enormous amount of building work is being carried out at museums all over the country and large amounts of private finance are being used to enable that building work to take place. When will the Government unhook this crazy situation in which in order to become a free museum one is penalised by having to pay VAT on new building?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is of course right on his facts. It is true that, if museums were to become entirely free in terms of admission, they would lose the right to reclaim VAT, as they would cease to be businesses in a VAT sense, except on proceeds from their catering facilities and book stalls. As a result they would lose around two-thirds of their VAT reclaim. We have succeeded in persuading Customs and Excise that that should not apply if, as is now the policy, they admit children and pensioners free, but it is a matter for the museums to negotiate with Customs and Excise and to seek to persuade them that they are still businesses even if they have free admission. My noble friend's point about VAT and capital works is true as well.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the excellent opening of the Monet waterlily show on Sunday night is a perfect example of what my noble friend Lord Falkland is trying to achieve? People of all ages, kinds and descriptions crowded into the museum at very strange hours--I arrived there at about five o'clock in the morning--and it was a wonderful occasion. Is there anything the Government can do to encourage such an imaginative use of museums which really does increase both access and admission?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a most valuable point. I agree with her about opening hours. If she looks at the National Gallery, she will see that outside it boasts of the fact that there is still free access and that it is open for longer. We are anxious to encourage that for the permanent exhibitions as well as for the special exhibition to which the noble Baroness referred.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, if the Government have always meant that free access does not mean what the public believes to be free access--free admission--why in their press release of 24th July 1998 did they refer to the fact that the money they were giving to museums and galleries would,

    "enable Trustees of the major national collections--including those which currently charge--to introduce free access for children from next year; for pensioners in the following year; and universal free entry in 2001"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did not say that free access was not the same thing. I said that access is a wider concept than free admission. Indeed, in the comprehensive spending review we have

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provided the money for trustees, if they wish, to provide free admission, other than for pensioners and children, in 2001. Some of them do not wish to do so. What happens to the money and the way in which we can achieve wider access is still a matter for discussion between the Government and the trustees.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, would my noble friend agree with me if I suggested to him that it is not just a question of central government funding? Will he join me in congratulating Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council on the opening of the new museum in Walsall, which it has guaranteed to be open free of charge to all citizens?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I cannot wait to go to Walsall. It sounds very exciting. Lottery funds have been used as well as council funds.

Lord Tomlinson: And European funds!

Asylum Seekers

2.59 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many asylum seekers were sent home by the Government in 1999 and whether the statistics quoted by Lord Rotherwick on 8th February (Official Report, cols. 512-13) were "fictional".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, provisional figures show that in 1999, 7,650 people who had at some time sought asylum in the United Kingdom were removed either to their country of origin or to a safe third country.

I understand that the figures quoted by the noble Lord on 8th February were published in the Daily Mail. The figures are drawn from data published by the Home Office, but they are not capable of bearing the statistical inference that he sought to place upon them.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I had hoped to be able to say that I was thankful to the noble Lord for his Answer. However, I am rather disappointed. If that was in effect his type of apology, then perhaps he could tell me so.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I was simply explaining that I could not possibly agree with the noble Lord's statistical inference in his original Question. The reasons are straightforward. The figures that he quoted related to the number of cases in which enforcement action had been initiated. One cannot simply abstract one from the other and conclude, as he did, that the rest have gone underground. Some will have claimed asylum; some

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will appeal; some will have won their appeal; some may have left without notifying the Immigration Service; and yes, some may have gone into hiding.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate the dangers of becoming involved in an auction regarding the number of removals achieved? Does he accept that immigration officials are human and that, like all of us, they are susceptible to alarmist and populist pressures and that they need support in the form of effective training programmes, as recommended by the Council of Europe and by Amnesty International? Are such training programmes now in place, and what proportion of immigration officials have received training?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that thoughtful question. Unfortunately, I cannot provide that detail now. I am happy to provide it in writing and to place a copy of the letter in the Library.

The noble Lord is right in his comment about getting into an auction as regards the number of removals. We believe that there should be effective and efficient removals procedures. It is the case that last year there was a record number of removals: some 37,450 for asylum and non-asylum cases. That was the highest ever figure. We must have effective measures in place, and we must seek to treat people fairly and reasonably in all circumstances.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, will the Minister explain why, on 2nd February when we discussed Mr Tharcisse Muvunyi, the Rwandan, he refused to discuss the case on the grounds that one never discusses individual cases in the House of Lords; and when I asked the Minister in a Written Question to list all the cases that had been discussed in the House of Lords, he said that there were too many to list?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is not quite the case. It is my understanding--and it has always been the understanding of governments of both the major political parties--that we should not discuss the individual circumstances of each case. We are right to take that view. Discussion could possibly prejudice the outcome of appeals and judicial review. Those are the circumstances in which it is right and proper not to seek to discuss individual cases in this House.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, do the figures given by the Minister relate simply to asylum seekers or do they include immigration overstayers? Now that doors are closed to asylum seekers entering this country, will the Minister indicate whether there is any way in which a genuine asylum seeker can enter the country and claim asylum?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we always treat cases on merit. Genuine asylum seekers and others seeking asylum will have their cases properly assessed

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by the authorities as they should be. Yes, the figures do cover the other categories referred to by the noble Lord.

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