Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Deedes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I declare an interest as I live in the village. Does it make sense to impose on a village with a population of less than 1,000 a total of some 550 people in what has been a prison? What kind of traffic problems will arise? What harm is there in using the ample barrack space that exists in the county?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we may well have recourse to barrack space at some stage. At this point, we seek to use the buildings of a former, and long-established, prison camp; I believe it started out as a prisoner of war camp. This is Crown land. The centre will provide just 300 new detention places, and we believe that the proposal represents extremely good value for money. I remind the noble Lord that exactly this policy of using detention centres was adopted by his own party. Were we to adopt it to the extent that noble Lords opposite wish, we should be building some 50 detention centres each with 500 beds, at considerable cost to the public purse--estimated to be between £1 billion and £2 billion. This detention centre will greatly aid our exercise in the south-east of England. It will take pressure off Rochester prison and ensure that those detained are located close to places of departure such as local ports and airports.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Aldington is used only for short-stay detention and that, after decisions are made, if an applicant wishes to exercise his right of appeal he is transferred to a different detention centre? What is the average length of stay at Aldington, and what are the statistics so far regarding the number of people on whom decisions have been made and who are granted leave to remain or whose application is rejected? How many are transferred to other detention centres?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, Aldington is not currently in use; it is at the planning stage. The site consists of ex-prison buildings. The Government have a planning application in place with Ashford Borough Council for 300 places. We are going through the planning process. We have been in discussion with Ashford Borough Council since the middle of last year in an attempt to bring the buildings into use. The intention is that Aldington would be used in the period leading up to the point when detainees are deported.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, did the Minister answer the question about overloading a very small

19 Jun 2000 : Column 6

village such as Aldington? Is it too late to consider using the former barracks at Walmer? They would serve the purpose just as well, and there would be no disturbance to a small, rather remote population?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question of Aldington itself. A prison existed there until recently, so Aldington is accustomed to such buildings. The prison was used extensively to house criminals convicted of a range of offences of varying degrees of seriousness.

To go back to the supplementary question put by the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, we believe that there will be minimal traffic disturbance. Clearly, that is one of the issues to which Ashford Borough Council must give careful attention when it considers the application. However, the signs are that we have answered most, if not all, of the council's concerns.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how many jobs will be created at Aldington if this scheme goes ahead? Can my noble friend also confirm that the detainees will not be given cars with which they can clog up the roads?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I take it that my noble friend's second point is intended to be facetious. As to jobs, we estimate that between 150 and 200 will be created. However, I shall write to my noble friend and provide more precise details.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is there not a big difference between a number of people who are confined in a prison located in a village and a number of people who are free to walk about and in effect represent a big invasion of the village?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is our intention that for the time that these people remain at Aldington they will be detained. I do not believe that in this instance there is a difference between their presence at Aldington and the confinement of prisoners there at an earlier stage.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, in view of the Minister's earlier remark about our policy, is he aware that its purpose is to speed up the process of dealing with applications so as to deter bogus asylum seekers? In view of the mess which the dispersal policy has created, of which this is just one example, can the Minister give his reaction to the recent highly critical report of the Audit Commission?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I entirely understand the concerns and criticisms of the Audit Commission, but many of them have already been met. That report focused on the voluntary dispersal system, not the Government's new statutory approach. We are content that our arrangements are working effectively. If the noble Lord looks at the report he will see that this Administration is taking more decisions on asylum matters and deporting more people whose claims are unfounded, and that the new

19 Jun 2000 : Column 7

legislation is beginning to have effect. I believe that we have turned the tide of the problem in terms of taking decisions and ensuring that people who arrive in this country are here properly.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, will the 200 staff be recruited locally or imported from elsewhere?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my surmise is that the staff will be a mixture of people who are locally recruited and those with previous experience of dealing with this difficult and sensitive area who have to be brought in from elsewhere.

Seed Purity

2.52 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many farms have been affected by Advanta's GM-contaminated rapeseed and what steps they are taking to determine where these are located and to ensure that the farmers affected will be compensated.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, Advanta estimates that between 125 and 150 farms in England may have been affected. The company, together with its distributors, has set up a registration system for affected farmers in order to establish their number and location. Compensation for farmers' losses is essentially a matter between the farmers affected and Advanta. However, we welcome the announcement by the company on 2nd June that it intends to provide fair and equitable compensation to those farmers.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that moderately satisfactory reply. What steps are the Government taking to see that there is no repetition of such an incident, particularly in view of the advice given to the Government by English Nature, which was reported in The Times on Friday, that a 1 per cent admixture of GM seed is totally unacceptable on both food safety and environmental grounds?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. To do something that is moderately satisfactory in this field is an achievement. When in May we announced the action to be taken by the Government, we recognised that an international and European framework to deal with seed purity, and therefore to put in place a system to monitor and regulate the kinds of events that arose in the case of Advanta, was lacking, and it was important to take action on that front. Essentially, we have done two things. First, at national level we have tried to work out a code of practice with the industry and to ensure that there are spot checks on imports which are

19 Jun 2000 : Column 8

directed at seeds from countries where there is GM production. Secondly, we have done work in Europe to ensure that tolerances for seed are set and there is an appropriate regulatory framework. I am glad to say that there has been progress at a technical level. These issues are on the agenda of today's meeting of the Agriculture Council.

Lord Peston: My Lords, does my noble friend have any hope at all that one day the voice of reason will prevail in the area of GM and people who make claims about food safety, environmental danger and so on will have no scientific basis for their comments? Is he also aware that all over the world GM foods will be the means to solve major problems of famine and farming generally? Does my noble friend agree it is about time that those who favour a serious scientific approach to this matter stand up and speak out, including Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree that we need a rational and science-based approach in this area. It is important to keep in mind that throughout this incident there was clear advice that there was no risk to health or the environment from the incident itself. Equally, there are widespread concerns. GM technology has the potential for both good and bad applications. People need to know that there is an appropriate regulatory framework. However, as my noble friend points out, that framework must be appropriate to a situation in which there is widespread cultivation of GM crops throughout the world.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page