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The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that plans are in hand to increase the quality of information to asylum seekers, bearing in mind that there are cases of asylum seekers in the north-east of England being called for interview in Croydon at 10 o'clock in the morning?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that information. If he wants to draw to my attention specific difficulties that asylum seekers have experienced, I shall be grateful to receive them. We always seek new and better ways to inform asylum seekers of their rights and responsibilities. For that reason I am extremely pleased that we have launched our website, a copy of the front page of which I have here. It is designed for and targeted to those who advise and to those who seek advice in equal measure. I believe that it will be a useful addition to the work that we undertake.

Lord Renton: My Lords, as there are so many bogus asylum seekers and so many bogus refugees, should not all parties, including the Liberal Democrats, give full support to the Home Secretary in his efforts to stop such rackets?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we in the Government take a very dim view of any type of racketeering. The racketeering that has taken place in relation to the movement of human beings across the European continent is particularly reprehensible and has had tragic and fatal consequences. It is in everyone's interests that we oppose that. Equally, we must recognise the rights of those who quite properly seek asylum in our country. We have a long and proud

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tradition in that respect of which I am proud, as are the Government. I believe that we should all be proud of that.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister recall that, during the proceedings of the Immigration and Asylum Bill, many Members from all sides of your Lordships' House expressed concern about the way in which the voucher scheme would operate? Given that a review is currently under way, can the Minister ensure that consideration will be given to the way in which the vouchers are tendered? At the moment no change can be given even when small sums are involved, which can have an adverse effect on people who live on tiny amounts of money? Will the Minister also tell the House how much it costs to operate the voucher scheme and whether it gives us value for money?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am content that the scheme provides value for money. As the noble Lord is aware, currently we are conducting a review of the implementation of the voucher scheme, which will take some time, but it will be completed in April next year. If the noble Lord knows of specific problems that individual asylum seekers have experienced when using vouchers, I shall be grateful to hear of them. We are dependent on people bringing forward such information in order to conduct a proper and effective review.

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that no amount of ministerial pedagogy will allay public concern over such issues unless combined with the correct policies? Therefore, is he encouraged by the recent poll carried out on behalf of the Rowntree Reform Trust that suggests that our policies are about right? For example, only 13 per cent of the public believe that people who want to come here just to escape poverty in their own country should be allowed entry. Equally, only 14 per cent consider that entry should be refused for people who have a well-founded fear of death and torture.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that interesting report has been drawn to my attention. The noble Lord has provided me with the background data. We should all take encouragement from its findings. My hope is that those findings will broadly be supported by all sides of your Lordships' House. They seem to match up to what the Government are trying to achieve and provide us with a valuable platform on which to promote greater integration. It is good for those seeking asylum here and good for our community as a whole.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the website that he mentioned. Can he confirm that the figures on the Research, Development and Statistics Directorate website demonstrate that in the three months to 30th September this year there were 9 per cent fewer asylum seekers compared with last year, but that 14 per cent

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more of them finished up in detention on 30th September compared with the same date in 1999? When will the Government make progress in meeting the recommendation of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and many others that asylum seekers should not be kept in detention? Can the Minister assure the House that when Aldington and Harmsworth are completed they will not simply add to the total number in detention?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am familiar with most of the statistics to which the noble Lord refers and I do not quibble with them. Oakington is making a valuable contribution to the way in which we manage this particular problem, and we have received very few complaints about its operation. I believe that when the other two centres are established they will enable us properly to conduct a fast-track procedure in the interests of those who seek asylum, in particular those with families. The system is working well and I am confident that when it expands it will continue to do so and will provide value for money and good quality accommodation.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, the question of heightening public awareness was raised at a meeting between the Prime Minister and Home Secretary and Bishops and other church leaders. Does the Minister agree that the information of which he speaks eloquently--we should like to hear more--should be about why this is a worldwide problem rather than that it is a problem? One in 120 people on this globe are homeless, which surely indicates that we should be looking in the direction of "why" as well as "that".

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate speaks with great knowledge and wisdom on this matter. We need to raise public awareness, and much more should be done. After all, we are a caring and compassionate society, and this is a shared value of which we should be rightly proud and to which we all want to subscribe. However, a degree of proselytising goes with it, and the Government share that common objective.

Traffic Calming Measures: Effects on Ambulances

3.22 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated cost to the London Ambulance Service of the wear and tear caused by the traffic calming measures now in place in many London streets.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, it is not possible to identify the specific cost of repairs to the potential wear and tear caused by traffic calming measures. There may be some impact on the

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London Ambulance Service, but that needs to be seen within the context of a drive to reduce both the frequency and severity of traffic accidents, with clear benefits to the public and the health service as a whole.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am not opposed to traffic calming measures in principle, but is it not self-evident that these bumps in the road, some of which are very severe, will cause considerable additional wear and tear to ambulances and other vehicles, not to mention discomfort to the unfortunate patients inside them? Therefore, is it not a good idea to look again at the extent to which these measures are put in place, particularly the height to which they are built?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, a balance must be struck. Road humps are arguably the most effective method to reduce vehicle speed, and when they are used to slow traffic to 20 mph or less they result in a 60 per cent reduction in accidents. That has a beneficial impact on the health service as a whole. Local authorities are required to consult ambulance services when they propose to install road humps. I believe that the best approach to this issue is to encourage the closest engagement between ambulance services and local authorities so that the benefits of road humps, where appropriate, are effected and issues which concern ambulance services--for example, the impact of road humps on their ability to respond to 999 calls--are very much considered.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I share the admiration for the London Ambulance Service, but if the DETR's assessment of the cost of one road death as being in excess of £1 million is accurate, does my noble friend agree that that puts into context the more marginal cost of the damage to ambulances from road humps?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is right. If road humps reduce the number of people who are injured or killed as a result of road accidents, that must be a gain for society as a whole. Equally, I do not believe that we can overlook the impact which road humps can sometimes have on the ability of ambulances to respond to emergencies. For that reason, I believe that the best approach is to have close consultation and discussion between ambulance services and local authorities when the latter wish to install road humps.

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