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Earl Howe: A number of measures are being taken to encourage recruiting and retention in the Armed Forces. These include targeted recruitment advertising campaigns; payment of a recruitment bounty to marines and soldiers who persuade others to enlist; and payment of a retention bonus to those who serve beyond the three year commitment in the Royal Marines and the Army, where most shortages occur.
There was a much improved level of recruitment in the final quarter of 1995-96 and that has continued into the current year. In the first quarter of this year there was a 53 per cent. increase in Army enlistments compared to the same period last year; enlistments into the infantry have almost doubled. In addition, over a similar period, there has been a 35 per cent. increase in applications for Royal Marines, General Duties.
Our guiding principle is to seek to develop terms and conditions that will enable the Services to recruit and retain people of the right calibre and with the mix of skills required for our Armed Forces in the future.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.
Baroness Blatch: During the debate on the Asylum and Immigration Bill on 22nd July, suggestions were made that notices to that effect should be placed on landing cards or in airports. We have undertaken to consider that suggestion and will do so. However all passengers seeking entry are examined on arrival by an immigration officer. Anyone who has a fear of persecution can therefore express that fear immediately and genuine refugees should have no reason to answer questions otherwise than truthfully.
Baroness Blatch: Paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Police Regulations 1995 specifies that a member of a police force shall not take any active part in politics. It would be for the chief officer of the force concerned to decide whether any member of his force appeared to be in breach of that condition, and what steps to take in the event of any such breach.
Baroness Blatch: There are many reasons for the difference in numbers of applications declared admissible by the Commission in respect of any State Party to the Convention, including the number of applications received by the Commission from within the state concerned. As regards the significance of such comparisons, I would refer the noble Lord to my statement on 3rd July (H.L. Deb., cols. 1567-68): the wider range of figures cited there makes clear that incorporation of the Convention by a State Party has no demonstrable effect upon the number of applications declared admissible by the European Commission on Human Rights.
Baroness Blatch: In the Government's opinion the Convention does not entitle asylum seekers to be treated as refugees until their refugee status has been recognised. The Government's view is entirely consistent with Article 31.1.
Baroness Blatch: Article 33.1 provides that no contracting state shall expel or return a refugee to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Removing asylum applicants to safe third countries is entirely compatible with that requirement.
Baroness Blatch: My right honourable friend said: "We are taking away benefit only from illegal immigrants, from people who change their story after they have arrived in Britain claiming to be something other than asylum seekers, and from people found not to be genuine refugees". The Government are satisfied that their policy is entirely compatible with the UN Convention.
Baroness Blatch: In 1995 79.6 per cent. of in-country applicants were refused asylum and exceptional leave, compared with 77.6 per cent. of port applicants. However, the important issue, in the Government's opinion, is that those granted leave to enter on the basis that they will support themselves during their stay without recourse to public funds should be held to that requirement, whether or not they claim asylum. The previous regulations were an open invitation to people who have entered illegally, or for a different purpose, to gain access to the benefit system by making an abusive asylum application.
Baroness Blatch: While there would not be an irrefutable presumption that those without documents had arrived recently, if they said they had it would in practice be very difficult to refuse benefits to such a person on the grounds that they had not arrived recently when there was no documentary evidence as to the date of their arrival. Often there would be no evidence with which to refute their claim.
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