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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): As at the end of September 1998, 22,855 refusals of asylum in the United Kingdom have been certified and have entered the "fast track" appeal process following the implementation of aspects of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 regarding certification on 21 October 1996.
It is estimated that the process of appeal to the special adjudicators in each asylum application costs, on average, £600. I regret that no estimate of the cost of appeal, including judicial review, is available; nor is there a separate estimate for asylum applications that were certified.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Her Majesty's Government are concerned about the spread of mercenary activity. We have been studying measures taken by other governments to curb such activity and have been considering why the UN Convention on the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries has attracted relatively few ratifications. We will be discussing these matters with the UN's Special Rapporteur on Mercenaries in due course.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Fatchett) raised our concerns about the Balibo incident with President Habibie during a visit to Indonesia on 8 October. The President undertook to investigate the matter.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): Three hundred and twenty-two responses were received in the department about the draft regulations which were sent out for consultation on 3 June. Copies of these have been placed in the Library. We have today laid revised draft regulations before the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My right honourable friend Mr. Michael Meacher represented the United Kingdom at the Environment Council which took place in Luxembourg on 6 October.
The Council agreed Conclusions which prepare the Community's negotiating position for the Fourth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change taking place in Buenos Aires on 2-13 November. Through Conclusions the Council also endorsed the commitment by the European Car Makers Association (ACEA) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars. This agreement between the Commission and ACEA will cut carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 25 per cent. by 2008 and play a considerable role in reducing greenhouse gas emission in the European Union. Ministers also discussed for the first time two proposals which complement that agreement. These will require the monitoring of carbon dioxide emissions from new cars and similarly provide a scheme for labelling the fuel economy performance.
First ministerial discussions were held on a number of other important dossiers. I gave general support to the directive concerning end of life vehicles whilst stressing that member states should be given reasonable flexibility in implementation. A brief initial discussion was also held on the Commission proposal for a new regulation introducing stricter controls on substances that deplete the ozone layer, which the UK supports in broad terms. The Council also reached agreement on a Resolution on Environment and Employment.
The Council noted the progress of discussions in working group on directive proposals to reduce emissions from heavy goods vehicles and to revise the proposal controlling the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms. These will return to the Council in December. Informal discussions were held over lunch on the environmental implications of Community enlargement and on the integration of environmental objectives into other policy areas.
In land transport, the Council reached a common position on a directive which will facilitate the free movement of transportable pressure equipment within the Community. The text which was agreed met a UK concern that the industry itself should be able to continue to carry out inspections of this type of equipment, under the necessary supervision.
The Commission reported on the recent Swiss referendum on lorry charges. The referendum approved a law allowing the Swiss Government to impose Alpine transit charges, which would be higher than those foreseen by the draft EC/Switzerland transport agreement. The Commission now hoped that agreement could be reached on the EC/Switzerland agreement at the next Transport Council.
The Council debated the directive amending Community rules on the promotion of combined transport. This would require reduced taxes for lorries engaged in combined transport and would permit lorries above current Community weight limits to carry out such operations. There was discussion of the need for careful definition of combined transport, if the proposal was to lead to a real incentive to reduce road mileage. The proposal will continue to be examined with a view to reaching agreement at the next Transport Council.
The Commission reported that, following the break-down of negotiations between employers and employees on working time in road transport, it would propose the extension of the working time directive to non-mobile workers in road transport, and a separate measure for mobile workers. The latter would cover own-account operators and self-employed drivers.
The Commission presented its new proposals on rail access and charging rules. Member states generally welcomed the proposals, which aim to contribute to the revitalisation of the Community's railways by clarifying the regulatory framework for the provision of rail services. The Presidency concluded that the Council would look again at these proposals at its next meeting.
In air transport, the Council reached a common position on a regulation to restrict the use of older aircraft which have been modified ("hush-kitted") to meet the latest noise regulations, but which produce more noise than newer aircraft. The United Kingdom expressed its disappointment at the suspension of Gibraltar from the scope of this regulation, especially as Gibraltar is covered by existing EU legislation on aircraft noise. The UK reluctantly agreed to suspension on this occasion, to allow progress on this measure, which is important to all member states.
The Council noted progress on a Commission proposal to amend the rules on compensation for passengers denied boarding on overbooked flights. The UK made it clear that it supports this proposal and that it would oppose the inclusion of clauses suspending application to Gibraltar. The Presidency said that it would attempt to secure agreement on the regulation at the next Transport Council and urged rapid progress.
Following further discussion of civil aviation relations between the EC and the US, the Presidency said that the proposal to give the Commission a mandate to negotiate market access would continue to be examined, in the hope of reaching a conclusion at the next Council.
The Italian Minister requested a discussion of the Commission's Decision that the decree requiring movement of airlines' operations to the new Milan Malpensa airport was discriminatory and illegal. Ministers agreed that the matter should be resolved bilaterally between the Commission and Italy.
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