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Demining: Assistance to NGOs

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Amos: We have not made any funding available for demining projects in Sudan. We consider it inappropriate to provide funds for demining in situations where conflict continues and when new mines continue to be laid. In 1999-00, we provided some £2 million through non-governmental organisations for humanitarian mine clearance and mine awareness in Cambodia. Over the same period, we channelled approximately £1.7 million for humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan through the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Some of these funds were used to support programmes through non-governmental organisations. A copy of the Second Progress Report on the Department for International Development's mine action strategy will be placed in the Library of the House.

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Cambodia: Demining Assistance

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been their response to the recent scandal affecting CMAC, the Cambodian government's demining organisation; and what is the present alternative channel of United Kingdom funding for such work.[HL4518]

Baroness Amos: We are concerned at the recent decision by the Cambodian Prime Minister to suspend a major part of the CMAC's operations from 13 November. We are monitoring the situation carefully through our Embassy in Phnom Penh along with other donors locally, including the United Nations Development Programme (through which we have previously provided funding for the CMAC). A Government-donor symposium on mines action in Cambodia will be held on 16 November, at which we will be represented. Any further funding we may provide through CMAC will depend on the outcome of that symposium, including future commitment by the Government of Cambodia and an effective dialogue with donors. In the meantime, we continue to provide funding for humanitarian mine action in Cambodia (approximately £2 million in 1999-2000) through non-governmental organisations.

Community Self-help

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the Policy Action Team 9 report on community self-help.[HL4797]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, (Lord Bassam of Brighton): The Policy Action Team 9 (PAT9) report on community self-help was one of 18 reports commissioned by the Social Exclusion Unit to come up with recommendations to tackle the unacceptable problems in England's poorest neighbourhoods. Since the publication of the PAT9 Report in September 1999, we have made good progress in implementing many of the recommendations, some of which have been included as key ideas of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. We have set out the key achievements in an annual report which also includes a look forward to the main action points for future work. A copy of the annual report will be placed in the Library.

Immigration and Nationality Department: Retention of Files

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether Home Office files on immigration and nationality are routinely destroyed; and, if so, on what authority.[HL4636]

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The files are subject to the provisions of the Public Records Act 1958. The department accordingly works with the Public Record Office to identify and preserve material of historical importance; the remainder is disposed of when it ceases to have any operational relevance. Of the 4 million files currently held by the department, approximately 97 per cent have been created in the last 20 years.

Internet Crime: Council of Europe Draft Convention

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support fully the current draft of the treaty on Internet crime prepared by the Council of Europe.[HL4667]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government are committed to action against hi-tech crime in line with our twin objectives of making the United Kingdom the best and safest place in the world to conduct and engage in e-commerce.

We fully support the aims of the Cybercrime Convention that is currently being drafted in the Council of Europe and consider this to be an important international instrument. The convention is intended to provide States with a common criminal policy aimed at the protection of society against cybercrime. It requires Contracting Parties to adopt appropriate legislation and to provide arrangements for fast and reliable international co-operation. It will also ensure that a proper balance is maintained between the interests of law enforcement and respect for fundamental human rights.

While the Government are generally content with the current draft of the convention, a final decision will not be made until it is completed at the end of this year.

Asylum Seekers: Initial Work Ban

The Earl of Listowel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they publicise the fact that asylum seekers are often forbidden to work during their first six months in the United Kingdom. [HL4706]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: On making an asylum claim, port and in-country asylum applicants are issued with a standard acknowledgement letter. This letter clearly states that the asylum applicant and his dependants may not take employment paid or unpaid but that the asylum seeker may seek permission to work if no decision has been made on his application after six months. The instructions to Immigration and Nationality Directorate staff, which are published on the Internet, also make this clear.

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Prohibited Handguns: Compensation for Ancillary Equipment

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In relation to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and in the light of the statement in the Official Report (H.L. Deb., 4 February 1997, col. 1593) that, "The Government will also pay compensation to owners for ammunition and for other accessories and other ancillary equipment which they own and which have no use other than in connection with prohibited higher calibre handguns", why it is that some manufacturers have been denied compensation for specialist tooling equipment, including dies for prohibited handguns, which cannot be used for other purposes; and [HL4674]

    Why the Home Office have altered their interpretation of ancillary equipment from that contained in Section 17(2)(a) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 from the wording of that section "designed or adapted for use in connection with firearms prohibited by virtue of section 1(2)" to "equipment which is ancillary to the use or possession of prohibited handguns"; and [HL4675]

    Whether the Home Office intend to instruct Chief Officers of Police throughout the country to return equipment and component parts which can only be used for the manufacture of, and in connection with, prohibited handguns; and [HL4676]

    Why prototypes and their component parts of prohibited firearms which had, by law, to be handed in for destruction, were not included in the compensation scheme under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. [HL4677]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government have consistently taken the view that equipment used in the manufacture of prohibited handguns does not fall within the scope of the compensation scheme made under Sections 16 and 17 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997; nor could it do so, given the terms of Section 17 of the Act, which relates to ancillary equipment. Indeed, the noble Baroness explicitly referred to this exclusion in a later part of the speech she has quoted (Official Report, 4 February 1997, cols. 1593-94). There she said, "In the case of a manufacturer of handguns . . . the terms of the compensation scheme will not cover equipment in the area of the manufacturing of firearms".

In administering the Firearms Compensation Scheme, the Home Office has conformed with the terms of the Firearms (Amendment) Act and any relevant case law. The words quoted by the noble Baroness at the end of her Question are taken from a letter from one of my officials to a claimant which sought to paraphrase the relevant legislation in the interests of brevity: as has been explained to the claimant in question, they were not and could not have been intended to alter the effect of the legislation itself.

It is open to firearms compensation claimants to request the return from the police of those items which have been rejected from their claim as being ineligible

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to receive payment. (The police will comply with such requests unless they consider they are legally disbarred from doing so: the decision is for Chief Officers to make in the light of each individual case).

Controlled component parts of prohibited handguns are covered by the compensation scheme and, provided the general requirements of the scheme are met, payment may be made for such items. The same position applies to functioning prototypes of prohibited handguns, since such items would, in effect, be prohibited handguns themselves.

Immigration Detention Decisions: Complaints

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will extend the remit of the Immigration Service Complaints Unit to cover detention decisions themselves; and whether they will appoint an independent authority to consider those complaints.[HL4612]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Immigration Service Complaints Unit deals with all complaints relating to the conduct and efficiency of Immigration Service staff. Its remit specifically excludes operational decisions such as decisions to detain. The performance of the Immigration Service Complaints Unit is scrutinised by the independent Immigration and Nationality Directorate Complaints Audit Committee (CAC).

Those wishing to challenge the legality of a detention decision can apply for habeas corpus (judicial review in Scotland). Most detainees can also apply for bail to an independent adjudicator or a chief immigration officer. There are other avenues of redress, for example a detainee or his representative can write to the officer dealing with the case or to a senior manager, or he can raise his complaint with a Member of Parliament.

The appointment of an independent complaints authority would cut across and duplicate existing avenues of redress.

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