John Steven Bassam, Esquire, having been created Baron Bassam of Brighton, of Brighton in the County of East Sussex, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Healey and the Baroness Gould of Potternewton.
Emma Harriet Nicholson, wife of Sir Michael Harris Caine, Knight, having been created Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, of Winterbourne in the Royal County of Berkshire, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Harris of Greenwich and the Lord Holme of Cheltenham.
The Right Honourable Sir Hector Seymour Peter Monro, Knight, AE, having been created Baron Monro of Langholm, of Westerkirk in Dumfries and Galloway, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Strathclyde and the Lord Sanderson of Bowden.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that the protection of minorities and civil rights in general is one of the Copenhagen criteria, and therefore has been relevant to the Commission's opinion on the applications of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other eastern European countries. There has been considerable evidence--some of it in our own media--of the level of racism against the Roma minorities in those countries. Some of it is public antagonism to the minority rather than institutionalised state racism. Nevertheless, there is clearly an obligation on those states to protect their minorities more effectively than they have done. Some degree of low level police harassment is evident in those countries.
Can the Minister imagine the effect of joining that attitude to a racial minority with freedom of movement within the EU? Does he agree that the effect of human rights abuses on movement of population is one reason why this Government's commitment to an ethical foreign policy is in our national interest?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree completely with the final point made by the noble Earl. I am not familiar with the quotation to which he referred, but it reflects some of the attitudes of people within Slovakia and other eastern European countries towards their minorities. Such an attitude needs clearly to be eliminated from government and establishment thinking, and judicial and police operations, within those countries before we can conceivably allow them to enter the EU.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I should declare an interest as a member of the board of the European Roma Rights Centre, whose headquarters are in Budapest. In view of the Minister's recognition that the Roma are a large ethnic group facing severe problems of racial discrimination, prejudice and harassment, will he ensure that accurate information is made available by the Home Office in asylum applications so that the special immigration adjudicators can have recent cogent evidence of the actual situation in the country from which the Roma are seeking asylum in this country?
The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, will the Minister indicate what monitoring there will be of the situation in those countries, and, in particular, the Czech and Slovak Republics, to ensure that there is a definite improvement in the protection of minority rights, and, especially, of the Roma people?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in the approach to EU accession, the situation with regard to minorities and their civic rights will be a central part of the monitoring process to see whether they can meet the EU criteria. The criteria on civil rights and the protection of minorities are absolute criteria. There will be no transitional period. So accession to the EU would require them already to have vastly improved their treatment of minorities before we could conclude an accession treaty.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, under the reinforced pre-accession strategy, there is an institutional form of monitoring those aspects set up by the Commission. That will form part of the report to the Council of Ministers at the various stages of the accession talks.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister once again for his helpful reply. Is he aware that, under the present Home Office procedures, most of the Roma who are currently trying to enter the country at Dover and other southern ports are subject to a fast track procedure of five working days? Under that procedure, most are returned almost immediately. Will he be kind enough to draw the attention of his colleagues in the Home Office to a situation where the genuine grounds of persecution sometimes do not have time to be considered seriously?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sure that my colleagues in the Home Office are aware of those concerns. However, when we are faced with an arrival of substantial proportions, the facts have clearly to be established rapidly. That is what the Home Office has attempted to do.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the unauthorised activity referred to in the Question mainly concerns
The Earl of Bradford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply and for making my Question a little clearer. I may have been over-delicate in the way that I phrased it. Does he consider that giving greater powers to Oftel to allow call barring to numbers other than BT numbers would be helpful in this situation? Alternatively, does he accept that the police should be given greater powers to prosecute and that fines should be much heavier than they are at the moment?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, BT sought the support of other telecom operators to bar the calls. However, the scheme was challenged by lawyers acting on behalf of the London Committee of Call Girls. The lawyers argued that the co-operation between BT and the other telecoms operators represented a registrable agreement under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act. However, BT has continued unilaterally with its own ban. Since February it has issued 733 warning letters and barred incoming calls to 104 lines. In addition, 94 customers ceased renting BT lines during the process.
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