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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I believe that I have answered that point on a number of occasions. However, I am quite happy to repeat my answer. Clarity is always of use--making visible those

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rights that we already have is a matter of real importance to the peoples of our countries. The charter will be a measure that can be used to good effect by ordinary men and women. Indeed, to highlight the issue raised in this House previously, perhaps the lawyers will not have it all their own way.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords does the Minister agree that it is desirable for the European Court of Justice to have regard in areas of EU competence to the charter and the European convention to protect the individual citizen against the misuse of power by EU institutions and officials? Taking the specific example given by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, does the Minister also agree that Article 19 of the charter, to which he takes objection, is already in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids inhuman or degrading treatment, punishment or torture?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. The ECJ will be able to take these measures into account, as is proper. However, as the noble Lord pointed out, a good basis for the upholding of those rights is already inherent in the current structure that we have. It is a persuasive document, but nothing more.

Asylum Seekers

2.54 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the latest monthly figures for asylum applications shed any light on the progress of their attempt to deter applicants from applying for asylum in the United Kingdom by changing the way they are treated when they arrive.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Government's strategy is to create a fairer, faster and firmer system under which genuine refugees are identified quickly; and we deal firmly with unfounded claims. The number of applications from central European countries, where the vast majority of applications prove to be unfounded, has dropped since April of this year.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a policy of reducing the number of applications by deterrents can only be viable, first, if the undesirable features of the present treatment of asylum seekers are promulgated in the refugee-producing countries--for example on the streets of Baghdad--and, secondly, if the Minister can convince applicants that refugees are now worse treated than they were when Mr Michael Howard was in office? Can the noble Lord attempt to show the House that either of those factors is the case?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe that I have made it plain on a number of occasions that our policy is to adopt a fair but firm approach to dealing with the matter of asylum applicants. That is the course that we have set for ourselves. We believe that we offer fair treatment. Indeed, when people, quite understandably, come to this country in fear of persecution in their home country, they will be given a fair hearing. That is the Government's policy and one that we have had for a long time. Moreover, it is a policy that has been shared by successive governments. We are fully committed to carrying out our obligations under the 1951 convention; and we shall continue to do so both fairly and firmly.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, at the risk of being a bore, can the Minister tell me what happens if an asylum seeker gives birth to a baby in this country? Will that baby automatically become British? If it is British, does that change the status of the asylum seeker?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, if a child is born in the United Kingdom, that does not necessarily mean that he or she will attract British nationality. Therefore, the child of an asylum seeker born in this country will not be deemed to be British. I should add that a multiplicity of factors, such as the nationality of ancestors, are required to qualify for British nationality, but being born in the UK is not the only relevant factor as far as concerns British nationality.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I believe that we all respect the Government's wish to be fair. However, does the Minister agree that the factors controlling the volume of asylum applications are largely the number of dictatorial regimes, the number of countries with no effective government and the number of internal conflicts, all of which generate genuine fears of persecution?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the circumstances described by the noble Lord have a bearing on the number of applications received for asylum status. However, we should also recognise the fact that there are many who seek to come to this country and claim asylum but who do so in a way that is entirely unfounded. We must have fair and firm procedures in place to deal with that situation. Since we were elected in May 1997, the Government have very successfully adopted that course.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister observed that the number of applications still outstanding is roughly 11-times the increased number of applications made in the month of October alone? In view of that fact, will the noble Lord acknowledge that it is impossible for the Government to meet their target of making first decisions on all applications within two months by April 2001?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not acknowledge the noble Lord's final point. The number of applications lodged in October was 6,970, which was a 7 per cent increase on the September figure. However, applications over the past three months--August to October 2000--averaged 6,610 per month, which is 5 per cent lower than the monthly average for the same period in 1999. We are on course: we shall reach our April 2001 target. As I understand it, we have substantially reduced the backlog of asylum applications down to some 89,000 at present. Our intention is to reduce those to fractional levels by April 2001.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, how can there be a deterrent to improper asylum applications when the Government's dispersal and support policies are collapsing and a high level of granting leave to remain is being given?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is not a question of deterrence; it is a question of having a firm, reasonable and fair policy. That is the policy of the Government. I contrast that with the absolute shambles of a policy we inherited and the absolute shambles that noble Lords opposite have got into with their current policy. On 18th April, William Hague said that the next Conservative government would detain all new applicants for asylum. This was echoed by Ann Widdecombe on 4th October when she said that the Conservatives would automatically house all new asylum applicants in secure reception centres. As of 27th November 2000, she changed her mind yet again--they would only lock up all new applicants from the so-called "white list" of third safe countries. Which policy are we to believe, William Hague's or Ann Widdecombe's, or which Ann Widdecombe policy do we now believe on Tory asylum policy?


Lord Carter: My Lords, after consideration of Commons amendments to the Insolvency Bill my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on inherited SERPs.

Transport Bill

3.1 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments in lieu of Lords amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments in lieu of Lords amendments be considered forthwith.--(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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[The page and line refer to HL Bill 64 as first printed for the Lords.]

27Clause 40, page 27, line 5, at end insert--
("( ) No direction to make a transfer scheme shall be given under subsection (1) before the first Session of the next Parliament after that in which this Act is passed.")
The Commons disagreed with the Lords in their amendment but proposed the following amendment in lieu thereof--
27Cpage 27, line 5, at end insert--
("( ) No direction may be given under this section before the end of the period of three months starting with the day on which this Act is passed.")

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 27 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment. No 27C in lieu thereof.

When this Bill was last before this House I gave a full explanation of the Government's reasons for not wishing to agree to Amendments Nos. 27 to 29. I shall not repeat those reasons at length, but perhaps I can give your Lordships a brief reminder.

First, we do not agree that the public-private partnership needs to be deferred until after the next general election. We made our policy clear, before, during and after the previous election campaign. During that campaign the Prime Minister said that we needed public and private sectors in partnership in developing transport infrastructure and the Chancellor indicated that NATS was a candidate for a public-private partnership. Since the election we have consulted on the PPP proposal and listened carefully to the responses. All the issues have been debated at length. We remain convinced that the PPP is the right solution for NATS.

Secondly, delay would be damaging to NATS and its users. There is an urgent need for new investment in NATS, especially to deliver the two centres at Swanwick and Prestwick on time. We also need the injection of new project management skills. We need to separate service provision from regulation. And perhaps most importantly there is an urgent need for certainty for the staff who have lived with uncertainty for so long.

Thirdly, as I explained to your Lordships earlier this week, I do not believe that it is the role of this House to decide the timing of the legislation. This House is a revising Chamber and is very effective in that role. I do not wish to overstate the case on this issue, but I firmly believe that we should concentrate on that role.

Perhaps I can return to the subject of safety which has been raised on many occasions during the debates on this part of the Bill. Of course safety is the first priority and your Lordships will recall the amendments introduced in this House to reaffirm our commitment to safety. I cannot accept that the private sector is unsafe--look at the British airline industry.

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The airlines are strongly in favour of the PPP, not just as bidders, but also as users whoever wins the bid. I am certain that they would not support the PPP if they thought that it would be unsafe. In the most recent debates on this Bill Members of both Houses have paid tribute to the safety of air traffic control and said that it need not be threatened by a PPP.

I was pleased to hear two noble Baronesses on the Benches opposite declare on Monday night that they saw the merit in what we propose. The noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, spoke of the involvement of private enterprise in state activities. That is exactly what we are proposing--the involvement of private enterprise. We are not proposing a once-for-all sale. We do not want a continuation of total state ownership. We want private involvement through the PPP.

But we recognise that there is a message underlying Amendments Nos. 27 to 29. We have listened to that message. We have listened throughout the passage of the Bill to what has been said in both Houses. We have held to the PPP policy because we believe it to be the right solution for NATS. But we have amended the detail in response to concerns. Most recently we have made changes to address concerns about safety and about the pensions of NATS' employees. Elsewhere in the Bill we have addressed concessionary fares for disabled people; lane rental for street works; the impounding of illegal lorries. Throughout the passage of the Bill the Government have listened to views, have met concerns, and have accepted changes proposed by all sides of both Houses.

The amendments agreed in another place are further evidence of our willingness to listen. These amendments are an expression of good intent. We want to make it clear that if the Bill passes this week we shall not enter precipitately in to the PPP. These amendments are an undertaking that we shall take time to conduct the process properly. We shall work on the detail and make sure that we get it right. In short, we shall ensure that all concerned fully understand the proposals and that action is being taken to deal with real concerns expressed.

I can assure noble Lords that this will be a carefully considered process, as, of course, we always intended that it would be. These amendments are our promise to this House. I believe that it is right to proceed with care. I firmly believe that this House should accept the Commons amendment.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 27 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 27C in lieu thereof.--(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston.)

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