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23 Oct 2002 : Column 333W—continued

Illegal Immigrants

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many detention places for illegal immigrants, and failed asylum seekers exist and what plans he has to increase these over the next 12 months. [75426]

Beverley Hughes: At present, there are 1,609 detention places in removal centres. This excludes the 900 places at Yarl's Wood removal centre, the operation of which has been suspended since March this year. In addition, there are 400 detention places at Oakington Reception Centre which are used to support the fast-track asylum process.

We remain committed to reaching the target of 4,000 detention places announced in the White Paper ''Secure Borders, Safe Haven''. The serious events at Yarl's Wood removal centre in February, and the subsequent need to suspend operations at the centre, were a severe blow to our programme to reach the target of 4,000 places. Plans to build a new removal centre (Logford) adjacent to the existing Harmondsworth Removal Centre, are in place and this will provide a further 300 detention places. We anticipate that the new centre will become operational in April 2004.

Asylum Support

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the cost of asylum support is, including unaccompanied minors (a) in the last 12 months for which figures are available, (b) estimated for the current financial year and (c) estimated for the period 2003–04; and if he will make a statement. [75433]

Beverley Hughes: The expenditure on asylum support, including unaccompanied minors for 2000–01 was #751 million.

The figures for the financial year, 2001–02 are not yet finalised. These will be published in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) Annual Report in the near future.

It is not yet possible to provide the estimated allocations for 2003–04. This will depend on a range of factors and will be finalised much closer to the time.

Racist Football Fans

Mr. Hepburn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action will be taken to stop racist football fans from Slovakia travelling to England for the European Championship qualifier. [75206]

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Mr. John Denham: Preparations for the England v. Slovakia football match next June will be thorough and include close inter-governmental and police co-operation. Slovakian fans will be forewarned that racist chanting is illegal and will not be tolerated.

Domestic Violence

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what progress has been made in investigations by his Department into what evidence other than conviction, injunction or police caution could be taken into account to allow women who are not British citizens facing domestic violence to remain in the UK if their marriage breaks down within the two-year probationary period; [75821]

Beverley Hughes: We have recently undertaken a review of the operation of the domestic violence concession. Consideration is being given to whether the terms of the concession should be extended to include the acceptance of other forms of evidence that domestic violence took place. An announcement will be made as soon as possible.

The Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Cabinet Office are currently exploring possible options to address the issue of support for victims of domestic violence who are subject to immigration control.

Illegal Entrants

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress is being made towards placing at French ports (a) British Immigration officials and (b) machinery capable of detecting illegal entrants in vehicles; and if he will make a statement. [75436]

Beverley Hughes: The establishment of juxtaposed immigration controls, whereby French and UK immigration officers will carry out entry controls on behalf of their respective countries in the UK and France prior to the commencement of inward journeys was agreed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, when they met on 12 July 2002.

UK Immigration Service/Police aux Frontiers Joint Operations in Calais were implemented on 20 August following the signing of an Anglo-French Protocol on 7 August. This is a first phase which will eventually lead to full juxtaposed controls and involves UKIS officers working alongside officers of the Police aux Frontiers (PAF) conducting checks for forged and counterfeit documents.

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The government are also determined to reduce the flow of clandestine entry to the United Kingdom from Continental Channel ports in freight vehicles and, as a first step in a project, are procuring new detection technology equipment for the use of port/ferry operators in Calais to supplement the vehicle checks already conducted there. This is the first of a number of initiatives, which will provide a significant deterrent to clandestine entry to the UK and to strengthen our controls at the Channel ports. A Heartbeat Detector has been operational in Calais since 26 September this year and will be supplemented by up to two further units. Two Passive Millimetric Wave Imagers are currently deployed in the port on a trial basis and will be replaced by permanent units in due course.

It is recognised, however, that these positive measures in Calais may result in some displacement of clandestine traffic to other Continental ports. Funding has therefore been made available for the procurement of additional equipment for deployment in those ports and considerable progress has already been made.

In taking the project forward, Immigration Service officials have visited a number of ports to assess the risk of displacement, current security measures and the extent of their equipment needs. In all cases, port and other officials have welcomed the initiative and have voiced their willingness to participate. Dunkirk and Cherbourg are amongst those ports already visited and further visits are planned to St. Malo, Caen, Dieppe, Le Havre and Roscoff.

Asylum Applications

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to improve (a) the quality and (b) the speed of initial decisions in asylum applications. [75418]

Beverley Hughes: Action to maintain and improve the quality of initial decisions on asylum applications is a continuous process. Recent initiatives include extra training on human rights and seminars by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture to better equip caseworkers to interview asylum applicants. Guidance to caseworkers and training needs are informed by, and updated in the light of, random sampling of initial decisions, emerging case law, policy changes, and feedback from internal and external stakeholders.

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) achieved the 2001–02 target of deciding 60 per cent. of new substantive asylum applications within two months. Provisional, internal data indicate that IND is on track to meet this year's target of 65 per cent. and well placed to achieve next year's target of 75 per cent. within two months. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill contains a number of provisions to support faster asylum processes, particularly for clearly unfounded claims.

National Asylum Support Service

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how much it cost to run the National Asylum Support Service in the last 12 months. [75434]

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Beverley Hughes: This information is not currently available. Information on the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) expenditure can be found in the IND Annual report.

The latest figures, for 2001–02, will be published in the near future.

Asylum and Immigration Policies

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on his part in progress on common asylum and immigration policies in the EU. [75408]

Beverley Hughes: The Government, working with successive Presidencies and the Commission, has been instrumental in driving forward the European Union (EU) agenda on Immigration and Asylum. We have taken a key role in speeding agreement to a common package jointly to handle Asylum issues. We have taken action, with our partners, to enhance border protection and tackle transit routes. We have drawn attention to the scope for enhanced co-operation on returns and readmissions. We have been instrumental in focussing on the need for enhanced co-operation with source and transit countries. Effective, targetted and intelligence-led joint operations to tackle the traffickers is also a keynote of the Government's approach that has been taken up across the EU.

The joint Anglo-Spanish initiative at Seville resulted in a substantial impetus being given to the progress on migration and asylum at EU level, including action to strengthen the EU borders, tackle illegal immigration and target dates for reaching agreement on the remaining elements of the asylum package.

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