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National Asylum Support Service

Baroness Gale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Filkin: The Government have previously announced an independent review of the operations of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). The independent review has now been established with the following terms of reference:


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    To submit a report, with recommendations, to the Minister of State responsible for immigration matters through the director general of IND by the end of May 2003.

The independent review will be conducted by Gill Noble, CB, formerly director, Law and Order, Health and Local Government, HM Treasury; Ernie Finch, formerly of Marks and Spencer plc; and Alan Barnish, retiring chief executive of Cambridgeshire County Council.

Judiciary: Criticism by Ministers of Court Decisions

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Under what circumstances they consider it constitutionally appropriate for ministers to criticise publicly the decisions of the judiciary. [HL1803]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The Government unequivocally support the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. These are in no way diminished by the fact that when the courts make a decision adverse to a government department it is open to a Minister to say publicly that he does not accept the decision and intends to test it on appeal.

Ministers do not normally comment publicly on the decisions of the courts in cases in which they are not involved, but they may sometimes do so, if, for example, a particular decision leads Ministers to be of the opinon that the law has not been interpreted by the courts in accordance with Parliament's intentions and needs to be clarified or otherwise amended.

Civil Court Cases: Fees

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will take to address the concern expressed by the Civil Justice Council in its report on Full Costs Recovery that the present level of fees discourages access to the courts, particularly on the part of the low-wage employees and small business proprietors not eligble for legal aid. [HL1804][

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My department is taking forward a wide-ranging programme of work on fees in civil court cases which will examine all the issues raised by the Civil Justice Council in its report on Full Costs Recovery. I welcome its contribution to the debate and my officials are already speaking to the council. The fee policy principles which the Lord Chancellor announced to this House on 19 November 1998 state that "Fees should not prevent access to justice" and that "Protection must be provided for litigants of modest means". This is afforded through exemption

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from fee payment for individuals qualifying for tax credits. Those who do not qualify for tax credits but would otherwise suffer hardship in meeting a fee may apply to the court for remission, whether or not they are a litigant in person or a litigant in person trading as a firm.

Legal Aid: Residents of the Irish Republic

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there are circumstances in which a resident of the Irish Republic could receive United Kingdom legal aid; and, if so, what they are.[HL1869]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There are no nationality requirements for using the courts in the United Kingdom. The availability of public funding or legal aid follows the same basic principle. An applicant for legal aid or public funding in any of the three jurisdictions within the United Kingdom (England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) may be made by any individual regardless of nationality or residence. However, the applicant must pass the relevant merits and means criteria for the civil or criminal schemes within each jurisdiction, and the legal proceedings for which legal aid or public funding is sought must originate within the relevant United Kingdom jurisdiction.

West Bank "Security Fence"

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have made to the Government of Israel about the wall now being built in the West Bank inside the 1967 Armistice line; and what status they expect the wall to be accorded in the road map for peace.[HL1780]

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The British Government have raised with the Government of Israel our concerns about the "security fence". The seizure of Palestinian land, the isolation of Palestinian villages and the creation of a further physical obstacle to the two-state solution are unacceptable. While we fully understand Israel's need to take steps, within the law, to protect itself from terrorist attack, lasting security can be achieved only through a negotiated peace.

A final settlement must provide for a viable Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel, both within secure and recognised borders. We look forward to the Quartet publishing its roadmap, which will set out a phased progamme leading to a final settlement within three years, soon. It is important that, in implementing the roadmap, all parties refrain from actions which obstruct the search for peace.

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Protection of Cultural Property: Hague Convention

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will now ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, with the first and second protocols to the convention; and, if not, what are their reasons for delay.[HL1827]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Ratification of the convention and protocols would require primary legislation, and extensive consultation is needed on legal, operational and policy issues relating to implementation of the protocols. Once this is complete, we hope to be in a position to ratify.

Iraq: Attitude of Irish Republic

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether in their recent discussions with the Irish Republic's Government the prospect of a war with Iraq featured; and, if so, whether they are content with the Irish response.[HL1870]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs meet their Irish counterparts regularly in a number of fora. Discussions have covered a range of topics, including Iraq. All EU countries are committed to the full and effective disarmament of Iraq in accordance with Resolution 1441 of the United Nations Security Council. This position was reaffirmed most recently by the Extraordinary Meeting of the European Council on 17 February, which stated that the Iraqi regime must co-operate immediately and fully and would bear sole responsibility for the consequences if it failed to take this last chance to resolve the crisis peacefully.

Cyprus

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the total area of United Kingdom sovereign bases in Cyprus proposed to be transferred if there is an agreement there; what area in each of the United Kingdom bases is involved; and what areas will be transferred to each of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot states as proposed in the United Nations plan.[HL1884]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The UK has offered to the UN to cede a total of 45 square miles of SBA territory as part of the UN settlement proposals. The UK made this offer after considering what practical help we could offer the UN Secretary-General in his efforts to secure a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem in time for

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a reunited Cyprus to sign the Treaty of Accession with the EU on 16 April. If there is no agreement within the UN timetable, or if the proposals are rejected in referenda on either side of the island, this offer to the UN, along with the remainder of the UN proposals, will become null and void.

The area that the UK has offered to the UN to cede comprises 10 square miles in the Western Sovereign Base Area and 35 square miles in the Eastern Sovereign Base Area. Approximately 10 per cent of the total area involved would be transferred to the Turkish Cypriots and 90 per cent to the Greek Cypriots.

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they last had a meeting with representatives of the Council of the Turkish Cypriot Associations in the United Kingdom; and with which other Turkish Cypriot Organisations they have had meetings during 2003.[HL1885]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are in regular contact with representatives of both the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.

The Southern European Department wrote to the Chairman of the Council of the Turkish Cypriot Associations on 7 January inviting representatives to discuss recent developments. To date there has, unfortunately, been no reply.


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