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Asylum Decision-Taking Procedures

Lord Gainford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Blatch: The Government intend to undertake a significant reinforcement of the asylum determination system, and of the independent Immigration Appellate Authorities in respect of their responsibility for hearing asylum appeals.

The United Kingdom fully adheres to its obligations towards genuine refugees. But the number of abusive or otherwise undeserving asylum applications has grown massively since the late 1980s. Currently, nearly 80 per cent. of asylum applications are rejected outright, and the great majority of appeals are dismissed. It is not in the interests of genuine asylum seekers for the system to be overloaded with applications from people whose real motives have nothing to do with a well founded fear of persecution.

Additional money is being made available to fund 150 additional determination staff in the Asylum Division of the Home Office, and there will be a corresponding reinforcement in the independent appeal system. Once the additional staff are in post and trained, it will make possible an additional 7,000 initial decisions annually.

Crown Agents

Lord Reay asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Inglewood: As announced in the gracious Speech on 16 November 1994, the Government intend to bring forward legislation to change the status of the Crown Agents. In advance of the enactment of the legislation, expenditure will be incurred on preparatory advisory services, and suppliers have been contracted to provide these services.

Parliamentary approval to this new service will be sought in a Spring Supplementary Estimate for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Overseas Development Administration External Assistance Vote (Class II, Vote 5). Pending that approval, urgent expenditure, estimated at £59,000, will be met by repayable advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Road Fuel: Effect of Duty Increases on Demand

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated effect of increases in fuel duty in terms of influencing the usage of private motor cars and lorries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): The Budget and the Financial Statement together produced an average increase in road fuel duties of 10.9 per cent. and an average price increase of 7.0 per cent. Economic analysis, using price elasticities calculated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, suggests that as a result demand for road fuel will fall by around 1.9 per cent. This reflects a number of factors, including the incentives towards reduced use of vehicles, more careful driving and substitution into more fuel efficient vehicles.

Churches: VAT on Repairs

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any reason to doubt the statement of the Lord Bishop of Norwich that "when we repair our ancient churches the Government receive more than twice what they give" (H.L. Deb., 31st January, col 1399), and whether they keep figures of such amounts.

Lord Henley: The Government do not have figures to prove or disprove such a statement.

Repairs to all buildings have been liable to the standard rate of VAT since 1973. The VAT paid on repairs is charged by registered builders throughout the UK, who periodically declare to Customs the total VAT charged by them to all of their customers. There is no further analysis of these figures.

This year English Heritage made £10.5 million available in grant assistance to church repairs and a further £4.3 million for cathedrals.

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Works of Art: VAT on Sales

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether VAT is currently charged at the full rate on all sales, including sales at auction, of works of art in the United Kingdom, and if not, at what rate is it charged, and for what reasons this is.

Lord Henley: VAT is charged at the standard rate on all sales of works of art in the United Kingdom where there is a liability to the tax. However, following Royal Assent to the Finance Bill, certain works of art, antiques and collectors' pieces which are presently exempt from VAT on importation into the United Kingdom from outside the European Community will become subject to VAT. In practice, the standard rate will apply, exceptionally, to a reduced taxable value (approximately 14 per cent. of the full value) and subsequently the effective rate of import VAT will be 2.5 per cent.

Domestic Fuel and Power: VAT Rate

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, as stated by the Minister on January 31st (col. 1410), domestic heating is the only thing on which VAT is "reduced".

Lord Henley: The 8 per cent. reduced rate of VAT is unique and applies exclusively to supplies of domestic fuel and power. The Government have no plans to apply this reduced rate to anything other than domestic fuel and power.

Anti-dazzle Road Barriers

The Earl of Kimberley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the success of the anti-dazzle barrier on the A.90 dual carriageway between Edinburgh and the Forth Road Bridge, when they intend to begin installing these barriers on the remaining motorways and dual carriageways in Great Britain.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): This is an operational matter for the Highways Agency. I have asked the Chief Executive, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, to write to my noble friend.

Letter to the Earl of Kimberley from the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, Mr. Lawrie Haynes, dated 15 February 1995:

Viscount Goschen has asked me to write to you in reply to your recent parliamentary Question about advice on the use of anti dazzle barrier.

The A.90, south of the Forth Road Bridge is the responsibility of Lothian Regional Council. They installed two short lengths of the plastic vane type anti-glare screen on top of the central reserve safety fencing in the summer of 1988 at two locations where the road alignment was such that headlight glare from opposing vehicles had been identified as a particular problem.

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This type of screen was the subject of a trial on a section of the M.6 in Warwickshire in the mid 1970s and, whilst it was generally effective in cutting-off light from oncoming vehicle headlights, the installation had no significant effect on the number of injury accidents along this length of motorway.

The results of the trial are reported in Report No. SS 1058:1976, published by the Social Survey Division of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, TRRL Report No. SR 327:1977 and TRRL Report No. 955:1980. Copies of these reports are in the House Library.

I have no general plans to install anti-glare screens on other motorways and dual carriageways. However, should a specific problem of headlight glare be identified due to the alignment on a section of road, then the provision of an anti-glare device might be considered.

Secretary of State for Transport: Powers of Direction

Lord Derwent asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Secretary of State for Transport or any other Minister has power to direct a local highway authority to enter into an agency agreement with another local highway authority or with a National Park authority in its area for the exercise of some of its functions; and if so, under what legislation may such a direction be given.

Viscount Goschen: The Secretary of State for Transport's powers are to be found in the Highways Act 1980. He has no powers to direct local highway authorities to enter into an agency agreement with another local highway authority or with a National Park authority.

The Secretary of State for Wales exercises within the Principality functions that the Secretary of State for Transport exercises in England. No other Minister has powers of direction over a local highway authority.

Churches: Repair and Maintenance

Lord Kennett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept that the historic churches of England are valued by tourists who come to England, that they are some of the "plant" of the tourist industry, and that they must therefore be kept in good condition if that industry is to continue to contribute to the exchequer through VAT and otherwise.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): Historic buildings, including churches, play a leading role in generating expenditure by tourists, many of whom will include visits to a church when holidaying in England. Government funding for the repair and maintenance of historic churches is channelled through English Heritage, which expects to offer £13.5 million in grant-aid for churches, and £4.5 million for

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cathedrals, in 1994–95, and through the Churches Conservation Trust, which will spend £2.2 million on repairs to churches in 1994–95.

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