Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will my noble friend accept my thanks for that Answer and my congratulations to the Government, who have given a vigorous lead throughout this project? Does she agree that events have demonstrated so dramatically the need for an effective verification regime that words are almost superfluous? Are the American reservations essentially that the draft protocol does not go far enough? If so, is there not a danger of the "best being the enemy of the good"? If the protocol is not in place in time for the review conference in November, will my noble friend assure the House that it will not be left high and dry, like so many worthwhile projects which have missed their time?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his plaudit for Her Majesty's Government on the vigorous way in which we have pursued the protocol. He is right: it is argued in relation to the convention that we need not only verification procedures but also enforcement procedures. The United States felt unable to support the protocol because it believed that it would be ineffective in preventing the proliferation of biological weapons and that it would place an unacceptable

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1511

burden on United States commercial and defence interests. I remind my noble and learned friend that, although the United States found difficulty with the protocol, it made clear its commitment to strengthening the convention. It has now come forward with proposals about ways in which that might be done. I hope that we shall be able to make some progress at the review conference.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is it not the position that the new American proposals go considerably further than the convention and that they have been presented in London and in other capitals? I believe that they would require new, tighter controls on imports and exports of biological material. What is the Government's attitude to this additional commitment by the Americans? Would it involve changes in our law, and has that been considered?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the United States' proposals were received somewhat later than had originally been anticipated--for the understandable reasons that the US government departments concerned were preoccupied following the events of 11th September. I agree with the noble Lord that some of the proposals are far-reaching, including the criminalisation of possession. They include, for example, improving the network for reporting disease that may flow from the use of biological weapons, stricter controls on pathogen handling and a rapid reaction force in the event of any attack. Those are only a few examples.

The noble Lord asked about the United Kingdom's reaction. We are studying the proposals with great interest. I cannot give the noble Lord a blow-by-blow account, but what is being suggested has particular force in the light of what, sadly, we have seen happen in recent days and weeks in the United States. As for any changes to United Kingdom law, those would have to be considered in the light of any agreements that were made internationally.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister recall that during the passage through this House of the protocol to the chemical weapons convention there was some discussion about the invasion of sovereignty which an effective implementation and inspection regime involves? Is the Minister clear--I hope that Her Majesty's Government are saying this to the United States--that, if there is to be an effective enforcement regime, it must be as effective and as detailed within democratic countries, whatever the commercial interests of their companies, as it is in other countries?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have no problem agreeing with what the noble Lord says. Indeed, the United Kingdom supported the protocol very vigorously indeed. We, together with our European partners, expressed some regret that the United States did not find itself in a position to do so. But we must look on the positive side. The United States has now come forward with some encouraging

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1512

proposals--in particular, regarding the investigation of suspect outbreaks of disease and possible ways in which the international community can come together. If there are to be international verification procedures, that suggests that all countries must make up their minds where they stand on the issue of sovereignty. I believe that the United Kingdom has already made that very clear.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is essential that every scientific and technological effort should be used to improve the detection of biological weapons and the prevention of their use and the consequent medical effects? Does she further agree that the current levels of science and technology in these areas are not sufficient, and that verification is therefore necessary along the lines of the convention?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that every effort must be made to utilise all available ability and expertise in science and technology, both nationally and internationally, in order to take on the threat that any form of biological weaponry may pose not only to this country or to our allies but anywhere in the world. I am not in a position personally to express an expert view on whether there is sufficient scientific and technological capability in this country or elsewhere to fulfil that task. However, I can assure my noble friend that there are many in government who are in a position so to do and their expertise will be called upon when the convention is reviewed between the 19th of this month and the 7th of next month.

Asylum Seekers: Accommodation Centres

3.17 p.m.

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consideration they have given to the legal implications of their decision to deny financial support to asylum seekers who do not take up places in reception centres.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we have considered, and are continuing to consider, the legal implications of denying financial support to asylum seekers who decline to take up a place in one of the trial accommodation centres. Further details of the precise proposals will be set out in the White Paper that was announced in the Statement on 29th October.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He has often dealt in a very open and robust way with the questions put to him. Having flattered the Minister, may I ask him this? Before he incurs any expenditure in relation to the setting up of reception centres, will he look at the experiment carried out during the admission of 28,000 Ugandan Asians to this country as refugees when it was found that reception centres did not work? The refugees moved quickly into the community where they received better support

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1513

and, more importantly, were able to work and settle permanently. Is it not cheaper to allow asylum seekers to receive support in the community, together with the appropriate social security support, rather than incur expenditure beyond what they would normally receive?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's flattery. Given that the Question was tabled only 26 hours ago, I think that we have done quite well so far. There is no comparison whatever with the entry of the Ugandan Asians or the Vietnamese boat people--in regard to which I have paid tribute to the previous administration. Those cases involved a defined number of people over a specific period of time and one could plan. There is no planning in relation to the asylum seekers who are currently entering this country--roughly some 6,000 a month. We do not know how many are entering the country each week or where they come from. We cannot plan. To compare what happened in those years with what is happening now is to compare chalk and cheese.

As we made clear in the Statement, we are not expecting everyone to go to the accommodation centres; we are trialling the centres. We shall have only 3,000 places, using the centres, it is hoped, twice a year. That accounts for only 6,000. The present flow of asylum seekers into the country is about 6,000 a month. So for 90 per cent of asylum seekers, the normal system--better managed, I accept, as was stated earlier in the week, in terms of ending the voucher system and the move to smart cards, and in terms of the management of the dispersal system--will continue for a period of time. That is inevitable. We are seeking to run a fairer, faster system, end to end--so that people who succeed can be integrated faster. But those who fail will be removed faster.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, in view of the fact that about 60 per cent of asylum applications arise from people who have apparently already been in the United Kingdom for an unknown length of time, as the Minister told us when we discussed the Statement on Monday, are the Government considering a scheme to ensure that foreign nationals entering the United Kingdom are registered on arrival?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not think that that matter is connected with what we are discussing. Many people who apply for asylum in country have arrived clandestinely. They did not enter the country via a port of entry with a passport and did not present themselves to an immigration officer. Those who have done so and who are not citizens of the European Union will have had their passports checked against the warnings index. Their passports will be "swiped" through the relevant machine and if they are not listed on the warnings index--the vast majority of passports are not--and they have a visa or the necessary documents, they will be allowed to enter the country. As I say, that matter is not connected with what we are discussing. We do not keep a record of all people entering the country. People may

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1514

think that a passport that is "swiped" is recorded, but that is not the case. The point of "swiping" a passport is to check it against the warnings index--that is done in an instant--to determine whether someone is a banned person or is on the warnings index. To record people entering the country would involve much extra work. There are no embarkation controls.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page