Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Many immigration cases were brought to me in my former constituency of Croydon. In one case, I discovered that people were being brought to me by unscrupulous advisers who charged a fee for the introduction. Does the Minister agree that there should be a register?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as far as the Government are concerned, the noble Lord is pushing at an open door. I confirm that people in this vulnerable situation are being charged, I have heard it alleged, as much as £1,000. A further claim is then made on the legal aid fund, making two possible frauds. At the end, there is no decent redress for the applicant and the system is severely clogged for more meritorious applications.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the past he has admitted that certain aspects of the law relating to asylum seekers are far from clear and satisfactory and that while that is so the need for advice is exceptional? When he considers how far that is the case, will he bear in mind what was said by Lord Taylor of Gosforth about the delays to justice caused by ill-informed litigants in person?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, certainly it is a very difficult area of law even for those who claim to be expert in it. But I know that the noble Earl will remember the indication which I gave to your Lordships

2 Mar 1998 : Column 949

in the past few weeks that there is a review of the asylum procedures. I entirely agree that we want a system which will be fairer, firmer and faster.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I declare an interest as a lay member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Is it not correct that when an asylum seeker has his initial claim rejected by the Home Office, he is informed of the two free legal services which are provided? But is it not the case also that a great many people who seek asylum do not speak English and those forms are only in English? In view of the fact that the Home Office will know, at that stage, which language the person speaks, would it not be possible to put in a separate sheet with that information in that person's own language, because if he goes to a solicitor he is unlikely to be given that information?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is a useful suggestion. One of the problems is that people from abroad who come to this country will not be familiar with the system, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, rightly pointed out, nor with the language. It is people of their own ethnic and national origins who are familiar with the language who are very often preying on their own countrymen and countrywomen. It is that which we wish to stop.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister indicate how many cases have been reported to the Law Society, bearing in mind that such exploitation has been going on for some years now?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I cannot give a precise figure in terms of those reported to the Law Society. I agree entirely with the sub-text that the Law Society and the Bar Council have their own duties in relation to their members. Very often, we are dealing with people who are not solicitors or barristers but who may pretend to be. At present there are about 250 organisations, individuals and companies which are known to the Home Office. Of those, 38 are firms of solicitors and five claim to be solicitors. I hope that that provides a context for the noble Lord's question.

Western European Union: Purpose and Functions

2.52 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they consider to be the purpose and functions of the Western European Union, in the context of NATO's acceptance of the objective of developing a European security and defence identity and of the Protocol on Article J7 of the Treaty of Amsterdam.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Western European Union acts as the interface between NATO and the European Union, allowing Europe to take on an increased share of responsibility in security matters, consistent with the primary role of NATO. It provides

2 Mar 1998 : Column 950

Europe with a valuable crisis management tool and a military capability which the European Union can call on to support its common foreign and security policy.

The WEU is also an essential part of the development of the European security and defence identity in NATO, able to draw on the assets and experience of NATO to run crisis management operations in which our North American allies choose not to take part.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will the Minister assure us all that, in the foreign policy led strategic defence review, the question of how our forces fit in with the developing European and defence initiative is being taken fully into account? Will the Minister accept that over the past few months we have heard more enthusiastic language about closer European defence co-operation from our American allies than we have from the British Government?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, on the first point, I assure the noble Lord that those aims will be taken into account in the defence review. On the second point, it is clear that the British Government wish to see a strong European dimension to NATO. What the noble Lord may be querying is the position which the Government have explained often to this House; namely, that we do not believe that the European Union should take on direct military responsibilities. We made that position absolutely clear in the Amsterdam negotiations.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the protocol cited in the Question refers specifically to paragraphs 1 and 3 of Article J7? In view of the profound silence of the European Commission during the recent Iraq crisis, will the Minister reassure us that the members of the European Council meeting together can decide on courses of action regarding both the organisation and functions of the WEU without any proposals coming from the Commission or without being required to enter into any co-decision matters in conjunction with the European Parliament?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, clearly relations between the EU and the WEU are covered in the inter-governmental second pillar to which Article J7 and its paragraphs apply. That means that it is the Council of Ministers and not the Commission which is the prime authority in those matters and there is no co-decision with either the Commission or the Parliament in that respect.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble Lord comment on the proposition that the WEU is much more suitable as the base of the security pillar in western Europe but, if it is to fulfil that role properly, the Council of Ministers will have to take the same sort of approach as Her Majesty's Government have adopted over the past year.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, to some extent, I agree with that. Increasingly, the WEU can take on responsibility for

2 Mar 1998 : Column 951

aspects of crisis management within Europe. We should not expect it to take on aspects of the territorial defence of Europe which is the responsibility of NATO.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the European Council of Ministers has no status whatever in the matter? The protocol concerned and the article to which it relates refer specifically to the European Council, which is set up under entirely different auspices from the Council of Ministers. Therefore, would the Minister care to revise his answer to my question?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, not very much. The article referred to relates to co-operation between the WEU and the EU. Clearly, the Council of Ministers does not have any authority in relation to the WEU's operations. Therefore, the co-operation is expressed in terms of co-operation between the European Council and the WEU.

Lord Carver: My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify his answer? Is he saying that the WEU as it exists at present and its relationship with NATO satisfactorily provides the European security and defence identity which has been envisaged? If so, I do not agree with him. Is he saying that nothing more needs to be done to produce a better organisation and relationship than the sort of muddle which exists now between the WEU and NATO?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am certainly not saying that the present position is satisfactory. But the role of the WEU would primarily be in the area of crisis management, whereas the European pillar of NATO would deal with territorial defence aspects. But certainly all those areas need further development and, in particular, the WEU needs to be turned more effectively into an operational unit to deal with crisis management matters. I hope that that clarifies the situation.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, Article J7, which is now before the House as part of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, states specifically that the WEU is an integral part of the development of the European Union. Are the Government saying that they agree with that sentiment or that they have deep reservations about it?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, for the European Union to develop a direct defence capability requires a unanimous decision and at present the British Government are not prepared to be party to that unanimous decision. Those longer term objectives will always be subject to a unanimous decision under the Treaty of Amsterdam as well as under the current treaties.

2 Mar 1998 : Column 952

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page