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Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act: Section 55 Decisions

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Filkin: Once a decision to refuse the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) support under Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 has been made, there is no legal barrier to the Home Secretary considering further evidence and, if appropriate, reaching a new decision to grant support.

Subject to quality assurance of the data, it is planned to publish information on the operation of Section 55 within the quarterly asylum statistics at the end of May. lynne

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which came into

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force on 8 January 2003, prevents the provision of support to asylum seekers unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that their asylum claim was made as soon as reasonably practicable after arrival in the United Kingdom. Exceptions include families with children and those who can show they would suffer treatment contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Those with care needs continue to be supported by local authorities under the National Assistance Act 1948.

On 19 February, Mr Justice Collins gave judgment in six test cases. He found that the Section 55 decision-making process was flawed, largely on the grounds that there had initially been insufficient investigation of the circumstances in which entry to the United Kingdom was achieved, to give the claimant the opportunity to rebut a suggestion of incredibility and to set out fully the reasons for decisions. He also decided that there will normally be a real risk that to leave someone destitute will violate Articles 3 and 8.1 of the ECHR, and that inquiries should be made to try to establish whether any support is likely to exist. This effectively shifted the burden of proof to the Secretary of State, rather than the asylum applicant, as Section 55 had originally intended.

The Home Secretary appealed against the decision of Mr Justice Collins and the Court of Appeal gave judgment on 18 March 2003. The Attorney General made it clear that the appeal was being made on the basis of the key legal principles, not on the basis of the six individual cases.

At the Court of Appeal, the appeal was dismissed, as expected, in relation to the six cases, the judgment found in favour of the Government on several key issues of legal principle:

    The court's decision makes it clear that the burden of showing an asylum claim was made as soon as reasonably practicable is on the asylum seeker, the ECHR does not require state support to be given automatically to all destitute asylum seekers who have failed to make their asylum claims when required to do so, and Section 55 is not incompatible with the ECHR in any respect.

    The court found against the Government on procedural fairness and drew attention to a number of areas where they considered improvements could be made.

    The Home Office has already changed the procedures for making Section 55 decisions to meet the court's main concerns.

The Government will not appeal to the House of Lords against the Court of Appeal decision.

The Court of Appeal judgment means that the Government can continue to operate Section 55 as Parliament intended. It gives renewed legal backing for the Government's policy to tackle abuse of the asylum system and send a clear message to those who are abusing the system that they will not be supported at public expense.

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The key legal issues have been settled by the Court of Appeal and the Government can, therefore, uphold the robust and and fair asylum support system for which Parliament legislated.

Sex Offender Treatment Programmes:HM Prison Albany

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have paid compensation to prison officers from HM Prison Albany, or other prisons, in consequence of their taking part in the Sex Offenders Training Programmes; if so, in how many cases; and how much compensation was paid.[HL2493]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Her Majesty's Prison Service has paid a total of £325,000 in compensation to three former prison officer tutors, all from Albany prison, in respect of their personal injury claims for damages suffered from taking part in Sex Offender Treatment Programmes.

Heavy Goods Vehicles: Weight Limits

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many prosecutions there have been, in the last year for which figures are available, of heavy goods vehicles for contravening the weight limits on suitably signed roads.[HL2548]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Home Office Court proceedings database for England and Wales does not separately identify the offence of exceeding the weight limit on a specified road from other summary motoring load offences.

Information relating to Northern Ireland is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Matters related to Scotland are for the Scottish Executive.

FirstGroup plc

Lord Phillips of Sudbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    At which meeting of the board of the Strategic Rail Authority was the decision taken to exclude FirstGroup plc from the shortlist for the competition for the new East Anglian rail franchise.[HL2465]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): Decisions as to which potential bidders should be shortlisted to receive an invitation to tender (ITT) are not matters reserved to the SRA board, but are taken by the SRA executive committee. The shortlist of those to receive ITTs for the Greater Anglia franchise was decided in confidence at a

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meeting of the executive committee on 13 March and announced on 1 April.

Rail Passenger Franchises

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What criteria the Strategic Rail Authority uses in assessing which companies are (a) pre-qualified, (b) shortlisted and (c) final choices in the bidding process for rail passenger franchises.[HL2533]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The Strategic Rail Authority uses a variety of criteria for assessing which companies progress through the process to the award of a franchise. These are all aimed at encouraging strong competition leading to the selection of a value for money bidder. The criteria for each competition are set out in the bid documentation sent to all bidders.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they believe that the Strategic Rail Authority has guidelines on the maximum number of franchises that any company can operate or be shortlisted for.[HL2534]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The Strategic Rail Authority has no such guidance.

High Speed North-South Passenger Line

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much money the Strategic Rail Authority expects to spend on research and development work on a proposed high speed north-south passenger line during the financial year 2003–04.[HL2535]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The Strategic Rail Authority has allocated a budget of £300,000 for the year 2003–04. This will be used among other things to conduct a consultation exercise and to carry out further demand and financial modelling work.

Rail Levy

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list the names of organisations which responded to the Health and Safety Executive's consultation on a levy charge for railway safety activities, which closed in December 2002.[HL2563]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducted a consultation exercise on the principle of a rail levy between 29 November and 20 December 2002. The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) discussed a paper outlining the results of the consultation, including details of those who responded, at a meeting on 14 January 2003. A copy of this paper has been placed in the House of Lords Library.

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Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much of the £22 billion to be spent on "driving forward thinking and sustainable communities", announced by the Deputy Prime Minister on 5 February, is to be spent on accommodation or facilities for gypsies.[HL2382]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): The £22 billion government package to drive forward thriving and sustainable communities will provide more affordable housing across England. This investment will include homes for key workers, modern built housing, and to improve social housing in deprived areas. However gypsy and traveller sites will not be funded through this mechanism.

On 27 March 2003, my honourable friend the Member for Harrow East announced at the Local Government Association conference that further funding of £16 million will be made available over the next two years from the gypsy sites refurbishment grant to improve and upgrade existing sites, and to establish temporary sites and emergency stopping places.

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