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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Is it proposed that these centres be situated in different parts of the United Kingdom so that the south-east of England does not have to bear the brunt? If so, are the Government consulting local representatives before decisions affecting location are made?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the answer to both questions is yes. Some induction centres are being explored or provided in the South East for the good reason that that is where most asylum seekers enter the country and make their claims. However, later phases of the induction centre programme are likely to be sited in regional centres in the Midlands, the North West and the North East. Part of the aim of the induction centres is to ensure that Kent does not have to bear the whole burden of entry and that we have a much more managed process.

Turning to the question of consultation, the local authority is always consulted before a decision is taken, but we are also reviewing whether the consultation process should be strengthened.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for clarifying the purpose of induction centres. He has provided the House with helpful information. In order to allay public fears, can he explain the Government's plans in relation to the dispersal of asylum seekers, bearing in mind that they do not remain in the induction centre for more than 10 days? What is the position with regard to accommodation centres, which were envisaged in the last immigration and asylum Bill?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, with regard to the powers in relation to dispersal, if an asylum seeker asks for support and is found to be destitute, then he must accept the offer of accommodation provided by the Government in a nominated location. That is not a process of choice, for good reason. Many asylum seekers would prefer to live in London, but that would be unreasonable and impracticable, given the burden on the London authorities.

With regard to accommodation centres, the Government are proceeding with their commitment to develop pilot accommodation centres because they will form part of a much more tightly managed process, right from entry through to, if an asylum seeker is not found to qualify, removal. The next two centres are going through their planning processes. Planning appeals are expected shortly.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, my noble friend asked how many induction centres are planned. What is the answer to that question?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I apologise if I did not speak clearly, but I answered that point earlier by saying that six to eight centres are planned.

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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, can the Minister reassure noble Lords that stories in the newspapers that former members of the Taliban are coming to this country claiming asylum on the grounds that they would not be safe under the present regime in Afghanistan are without foundation? If they are not, can he tell the House what measures are in place to ensure security in our country from people coming from that kind of background?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, to my knowledge, I am not aware that any member of the Taliban has sought to claim asylum in this country, but I shall check the position because I am not personally aware of every claimant for asylum. I do not make that remark flippantly; it is not possible to be certain.

The question of security has received a great deal of attention recently. When asylum claimants make their claim at the port of entry, as they should, they are then subject to a sequence of checks. Their details are taken and they are fingerprinted. The fingerprints are then checked against Home Office records and EURODAC. If any doubt arises over their identity, they are put through various levels of interviews subsequently at the port of entry. In some cases those interviews can be extensive.

The reality is that one can identify by such processes people who have a terrorism history, but it is unrealistic to think that it is possible to pick up those with no terrorism history and who do not present any characteristics. That is why we believe that the idea of locking up all asylum seekers as they enter the country is implausible. That is compounded by the fact that, unfortunately, terrorists can use many other ways to get into this country.

Lord Russell-Johnson: My Lords, in the Minister's response with regard to the location of induction centres, he referred to regions in England, but made no reference to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Are there to be no centres in those areas, or is it simply an oversight?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, as yet no decisions have been made as to where other induction centres will be sited. The Government have invited expressions of interest from regional consortia as to whether they would consider running and managing such centres. The consortia tend to be local authority-based. I believe that an expression of potential interest has been received from a Scottish consortia. However, no decisions have been made and the matter is still at an early stage of exploration.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the Government intend to commandeer empty houses? If so, does he think that that would be popular either with the owners or with the next-door neighbours?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, no and no.

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Expert Witnesses

3.15 p.m.

Lord Mitchell: I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare my interest as a friend of Mrs Clark's father.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, following the release of Sally Clark from prison, they have any plans to review the giving of evidence by expert witnesses.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, this has been a tragic case and one over which Sally Clark and her family have every right to feel seriously let down by the criminal justice system. We need to look carefully at the detailed written judgment from the Court of Appeal, once we have received it, to determine what lessons can be learnt from this case with regard to those called to give expert evidence in other cases.

In the light of that, we need to examine existing procedures and, where necessary, take steps to strengthen them to ensure that in future we have confidence in how the evidence of specialist witnesses is presented and tested in the courts. In particular we need to be certain that the independence of such witnesses can be relied on.

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench for that helpful Answer. Sally Clark was convicted and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for the double murder of her two sons. At her trial the testimony of two eminent witnesses sealed her fate.

The first stated that the chances of two cot deaths in any family were one in 73 million, a powerful number that was simply wrong. The second, a pathologist, testified that the second birth—

Noble Lords: Question!

A noble Lord: Leave him alone.

Lord Mitchell: The second witness, a pathologist, testified that the second baby was healthy when he died, whereas recent and reluctantly released evidence now shows that the baby was fatally infected.

Mrs Clark was lucky in that she was a solicitor—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I shall come to my question. What of those currently in prison, serving sentences for similar crimes; namely, where the prosecution has used identical expert witnesses, but who do not know how the system operates? Where is their justice?

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Court of Appeal has decided that the conviction was unsafe on the basis that the original court was deprived of the opportunity to hear important medical evidence which the Court of Appeal stated might have affected the result. The court has not yet produced a detailed judgment. We need to consider the detailed judgment to see whether lessons need to be learnt from it. Furthermore, on the basis of that judgment, we need to examine what steps need to be taken. My noble friend has raised an extremely serious matter.

Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, when the Government address the questions that have arisen from this case, will they look also at the delay? Last summer the defence finally took possession of the medical examination reports and asked the prosecution to agree that the conviction must be unsafe and should be set aside at once. Nothing happened until a few days ago. We read in the newspapers that the prosecution crumbled at the end of the first day of the hearing.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I believe that the vital material came to light at the end of November 2001. It is perfectly reasonable for the prosecution to be given a proper opportunity to consider the material before reaching a conclusion. The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which reviews cases in which there may be a miscarriage of justice, referred the matter to the Court of Appeal. That court then sets a reasonable timetable for the matter to be considered. Of course we need to look at the timetable, but a balance must be struck over the way such cases are dealt with so that they are given proper consideration.

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