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Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The grant of refugee status under the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees is not a civil right within the meaning of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But I would remind the noble Lord that there exists a right of appeal against substantive refusals of asylum to

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an independent Immigration Appellate Authority; under the provisions of Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Bill asylum seekers would, if destitute, be entitled to welfare support during the currency of such appeals.

Female Prisoners: Distance from Home

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many women now in Her Majesty's prison had previous addresses in Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall; and whether they consider that their relatives have special difficulties in visiting, because of distance and poor public transport.[HL1221]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Prison Service is fully aware of the importance of encouraging the maintenance of family ties, particularly for women, many of whom are primary carers for children and other family members. We recognise that closeness to home is a difficulty for women in prison due to the smaller number of women's prisons and this issue is taken into account as far as possible when deciding where they should be placed.

Tables setting out the number of women in prison who had previous addresses in Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are shown below.

Table 1: Female prison population by county for Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset

Originating countyPrison nameFemale prisoners
CornwallDrake Hall1
Eastwood Park10
DevonCookham Wood1
Drake Hall2
Eastwood Park26
Foston Hall2
DorsetEastwood Park10
Drake Hall2
Eastwood Park11

Table 2: Prisons holding female prisoners originating from Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset(3)

PrisonFemale Prisoners
Cookham Wood1
Drake Hall5
Eastwood Park57
Foston Hall2

(3) All data are taken from 31 September 1998.

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Wackenhut (UK) Ltd: Prison Service Contracts

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether contracts with Prison Escort Services and Immigration Detention Centres are affected by Wackenhut (UK) Ltd's decision to withdraw from the contracts to run Her Majesty's Prison Coldingley.[HL1207]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No. The difficulties which caused Wackenhut (UK) Ltd to terminate the contract to operate prison industries at Coldingley were specific to that operation and do not affect other contracts in which Wackenhut is involved.

Business Mail: Date Stamping

Lord Napier and Ettrick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will encourage the Post Office to date stamp the date of dispatch of business envelopes to make it clear when they were posted.[HL1052]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): Operational responsibility for the handling and processing of mail rests with the Post Office board and management. I understand from the Post Office that all stamped and metered business mail representing a large proportion of total business mail and accounting for around 30 million items a day carries a date stamp showing the day of posting. Business mail which is sent under one of Royal Mail's discounted and customer sorted services under the postage paid impression cover is not date stamped. Such mail is usually produced by business in large quantities using pre-printed stationery well in advance of the mailing date or date of handover to Royal Mail for delivery on a specific date or within a specified time period, making it difficult to determine or apply a posting date.

Woodland Grant Scheme

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to change the rules of the Woodland Grant Scheme.[HL1376]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): We are making two changes to the rules of the Woodland Grant Scheme today.

We are keen to improve value for money from the Woodland Grant Scheme and have concluded that the payments currently offered for creating new woodland do not reflect the economies of scale available when creating very large forests. Payments for these large forests significantly reduce the funds available for delivering our other forestry objectives.

We have therefore decided that from today fixed rate grants will no longer be available for applications to create new woodlands of 300 hectares or more. They will be replaced by a grant linked to the overall costs likely to be incurred by the applicant over the first 10 years. Normally the grant will be 60 per cent. of the costs, which will be agreed in negotiation with the owners. However, where there are particularly important public benefits in relation to achieving Biodiversity Action Plan targets, or helping crofter or community-based forestry schemes, it may be possible to pay 80 per cent. of the agreed costs. These payments will not exceed the grant that would have been paid using the current fixed rate grants.

The rules of the Woodland Grant Scheme have also been amended from today so that grants are no longer available for land where the landowner has terminated an agricultural tenancy by means of a contested notice to quit. This change, which follows a recommendation in the Scottish Land Reform Policy Group's Report, is intended to discourage landowners from terminating tenancies, against the wishes of their tenants, in order to convert the land to woodland.

Both these changes will apply throughout Great Britain.

More detailed information on these changes is available from the Forestry Commission.

Scottish Parliament: Opening Sitting

Lord Saltoun of Abernethy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what date the Scottish Parliament will start to sit.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office, (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): Article 3 of the Scottish Parliament (First Ordinary General Election and First Meeting) Order 1999, which was laid before Parliament on 16 February, provides that the first meeting of the Scottish Parliament will be at 9.30 am on 12 May 1999.

Charitable Organisations Supported by DFID: Standards

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support codes of practice and standards to regulate the activities of international humanitarian and development organisations such as

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    the corporate sector's ISO 9000 or the standards for international fundraising organisations as promoted by the Accrediting Bureau for Fundraising Organisations (ABFO).[HL1194]

Baroness Amos: The Department for International Development supports many international and development organisations which are officially registered as charities with the Charity Commission for England and Wales or with the Inland Revenue for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Some of these organisations work to standards, such as the corporate sector's ISO 9000 or the standards promoted by the Accrediting Bureau for Fundraising Organisations. While DFID does not generally specify such standards, we do seek to ensure that all the NGOs we support work to high standards.

WTO: Participation by Developing Countries

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the proposals for the creation of a legal aid centre to advise needy nations on World Trade Organisation law and help them with the costs of litigating before WTO dispute panels.[HL1213]

Baroness Amos: The Government attach great importance to helping developing countries participate effectively in the WTO. There are currently two proposals to help developing countries make full use of the WTO's dispute settlement system. One involves the establishment of an independent legal advisory centre outside the WTO; the second involves the strengthening of the capacity of the WTO Secretariat itself to provide help to developing countries in this area. The Government regard these two proposals as complementary. If a common proposal were to emerge, the Government would consider funding for this. But, if it does not, the Government will provide financial support for both the current proposals.

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