§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
I regret that it is not possible to determine how many asylum applicants were unable to pay for advice or legal representation. The available information is that the Immigration Advisory Service and The Refugee Legal Centre—Home Office funded bodies—provided free advice to 10,578 refused asylum applicants at the appeal stage over the last financial year (4,455 and 6,123 respectively). In addition to this, the Refugee Legal Centre gave advice in 3,152 asylum applications. These figures do not include those advised380W by charitable organisations or others working without reimbursement who are unconnected with the Home Office.
§ Mr. Wigley
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current average waiting time for decisions on applications for asylum in the United Kingdom; and what steps he is taking to reduce waiting times. 
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
Applications lodged before the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 are currently estimated to be taking on average 58 months to reach an initial decision, while those lodged after the Act are taking an average of 14 months. Both of these figures reflect the proportion of inherited old cases within the system, but figures for 1997 show that 38 per cent. of initial decisions on asylum applications were taken within six months, as against 10 per cent. in 1992.
We have been conducting a wide-ranging review of asylum and immigration policy. We hope soon to be able to make a full statement about our future strategy, including proposals to improve the handling of asylum applications. Quite separately, plans are now well advanced for the introduction of more efficient working practices and for the computerisation of casework in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. A trial of the new working practices is to start on 17 August.