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Prisoners: Transfers between UK Jurisdictions

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In 2002, the average time taken to consider applications for the transfer of prisoners from England and Wales to Scotland was 171 days, and to Northern Ireland, 121 days.

No prisoner was transferred from Northern Ireland to England and Wales or to Scotland in 2002. One prisoner was however transferred to England and Wales in 2003. This application took 120 days to consider.

The transfer of prisoners from Scotland to England and Wales and to Northern Ireland is a matter for the Scottish Executive.

Immigration Removal Centres: Visiting Hours

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The visiting hours for each immigration removal centre, including those establishments managed on behalf of the Immigration Service by the Prison Service are as follows:

CentreVisiting hours
CampsfieldBetween 2pm-5pm and 6pm-9pm daily for social visits. The break is to accommodate the detainees' evening meal. Between 9am-noon, 1.30pm-5pm and 6.30pm-9pm daily for legal visits.
DoverBetween 9am-11.15am, 2pm-4.15pm daily for legal and social visits.
DungavelBetween 1.30pm and 8.30pm daily for social visits. Between 9am-noon and 1.30pm-9pm for legal visits.
LindholmeBetween 9am-11.30am and 1.45pm-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. Between 1.45pm and 4pm at weekends.
HarmondsworthBetween 2pm and 9pm daily. Legal visit take place within 24 hours of the request being made between the hours of 9am to 9pm.
HaslarBetween 2pm and 4pm daily, except on Thursday. Between 9.30am and 4.30pm on Thursday. This applies to both social and legal visits.
OakingtonBetween 2pm-5pm and 7pm-9pm daily for social visits. Legal representatives are on site. Outside legal representatives may vist their clients between 9.30am to 9pm daily.
Tinsley HouseBetween 9am and 9pm daily for legal visits. Between 2pm and 9pm daily for social visits.

Visits to individual detainees held in prisons will be in accordance with the Prison Service Operating Standard No. 44, Prisoners' Family Life, which includes provision for family visits.

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Zimbabwe: Removal of Failed Asylum Seekers

Baroness Park of Monmouth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the reasons (beyond the "political grounds" cited in the case of Thomson Dowu) for their policy, announced in January 2002, for not returning unsuccessful asylum seekers to Zimbabwe; and[HL4820]

    Why the Home Secretary "deemed it safe to return unsuccessful asylum seekers to Zimbabwe" in May 2003 and now say, "there is no reason why nationals of that country cannot return there voluntarily", despite the European Union statement of 12 September 2003 on the breakdown of the rule of law and the Foreign Secretary's assessment in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights report of 2003 that Zimbabwe, like Burma, "lives in the shadow of dictatorship or serious abuse of human rights"; and[HL4821]

    What the Home Office considers to be the minimum conditions that must be in place before unsuccessful Zimbabwe asylum seekers can be safely returned; and[HL4823]jenny

    What the Home Office considers to be the minimum conditions that must be in place before unsuccessful Zimbabwe asylum seekers can be returned on a politically expedient basis; and[HL4824]

    Whether the Home Office consulted or informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, through that office, the British High Commission in Zimbabwe before issuing the letter of 23 May 2003 deeming it safe for unsuccessful asylum seekers to be returned to Zimbabwe; and, if not, what information formed the basis for their decision.[HL4825]

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The suspension of removals of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe announced in January 2002 was in response to concerns about the serious deterioration in the situation in Zimbabwe in the build-up to the presidential election held in March that year. We did not, at that time, regard it as unsafe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, but in view of the rapidly changing conditions we considered that it would be appropriate not to enforce returns.

The Government's position is, as it has been since January 2002, that each asylum (and human rights) claim made by a Zimbabwean national will be considered on its individual merits in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Each application is considered against the background of the latest available country information including that obtained from and through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We do of course recognise that conditions in Zimbabwe are such that there are individuals who are able to demonstrate a need for international protection. Where they meet the definition of a refugee in the 1951 convention, asylum is granted. There may also be individuals whose circumstances make them particularly vulnerable and who would engage our obligations under the ECHR. Where this is the case these individuals will be granted humanitarian protection or discretionary leave.

In the first six months of this year, we have granted asylum to 615 Zimbabweans and granted other forms of protection to over 20 others. These statistics show that we are giving protection to the significant number of people who are found to be in need of it.

If an application is refused, there will be a right of appeal to the independent appellate authorities against that decision. Should a claim be refused and any appeal be unsuccessful that means that, for that individual, return to Zimbabwe would be safe. That is why we consider it reasonable to expect an individual in that position to leave voluntarily.

However, although it would be safe for failed asylum seekers to return to Zimbabwe, our view at present is that in the wider context of the Government's position on Zimbabwe, it would be inappropriate forcibly to return them at this time.

The policy remains under continuous review. Huw

Asylum Seekers: Withdrawal of Support on Failure of Application

Baroness Park of Monmouth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there are any categories of asylum seekers other than Zimbabwe citizens from whom the National Asylum Support Services has been instructed, once their asylum application has failed, to withdraw accommodation, support and the right to work.[HL4852]

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Section 94(3) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 requires that, with the exception of families including children under the age of 18, support must be terminated to all asylum seekers regardless of nationality who have received a final decision on their claim.

The employment concession for asylum seekers was abolished on 23 July 2002. Generally speaking, asylum seekers are no longer able to work while their applications are under consideration although we retain a discretion to grant permission to work in wholly exceptional or compassionate circumstances. Asylum seekers who had been given permission to work prior to abolition of the concession can continue to work until a final decision is made on their claim. Failed asylum seekers are also not entitled to work. Huw

Questions for Written Answer: Reply Times

Lord Jopling asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 16 October (WA 136) which stated "I do not know whether it will prove practicable to obtain this information, but we will look into the matter and I will write to the noble Lord as soon as possible", why it took in excess of 13 weeks to give this answer to the Lord Avebury when the standard time is two weeks; and what admonitions have been given to departments for this delay beyond the previous assertions that departments have been reminded of the need for prompt replies.[HL5012]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The delay to the Question tabled by Lord Avebury was caused by prolonged inconclusive debate between officials about whether the lead in dealing with the question should be taken by the Home Office, because of its responsibility for policy on criminal offences, or on faith policy, or by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, because of its responsibility for court statistics and records. Unfortunately, the mechanisms in place in the two departments which in the overwhelming majority of cases ensure that such debates are resolved quickly failed on this occasion. The staff concerned have been reminded that where agreement cannot be reached at desk officer level, questions must be referred to a sufficiently senior level in a timely fashion to ensure a resolution within the deadline. I offer an unreserved apology to the noble Lord and to the Lord Avebury for the delay which occurred on this occasion.

Genetically Modified Crops: Farm Scale Evaluations

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to receive advice on the genetically modified crop farm scale evaluation

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    results from the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment to which those results have been passed for review and advice.[HL4953]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (Lord Whitty): The results of the farm scale evaluations have been passed to the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). The committee is holding two public meetings to discuss the results and we expect to receive its advice within the next three months. jenny


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