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Written Answers

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

Written Answers

Thursday 29 January 2009

Avian Flu

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to increase the stockpile of vaccines for avian influenza H5N1. [HL954]

The Government are currently considering cutting-edge scientific research and expert advice on this subject. However, there are no plans at this time to increase the stockpile. Pre-pandemic vaccines need to be balanced against more broadly applicable defences such as antivirals and antibiotics.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government which occupations and sections of the population will be the priority for receiving the vaccines for avian influenza H5N1. [HL955]

The Government have procured 3.3 million doses of generic H5N1 vaccine to supply frontline healthcare workers in the event of a pandemic against which it is effective. This is because of their proximity to symptomatic patients and to reflect the need to ensure the continuity of essential healthcare services.

Bailiffs

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of whether the right of a bailiff to break in to domestic premises to enforce a fine, granted to bailiffs in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, is practised with due care and attention to sick, vulnerable and impoverished debtors. [HL831]

All of Her Majesty's Courts Service civilian enforcement officers and private contracted bailiffs are required to have been trained in the appropriate application of these powers and use of conflict management techniques. Her Majesty's Courts Service also issues instructions to in-house civilian enforcement officers and private bailiff companies under contract to of Her Majesty's Courts Service on how and when to use these powers. The contracts with these companies require them to adhere to these instructions and to refer back to the magistrates’ court before attempting to use them. The contracts also require the companies to withdraw and cease execution of any warrant where it becomes apparent that the individual falls into one of the categories deemed vulnerable and refer the matter back to the court before any further action is taken.

Powers of entry have only been used on two occasions in the last year by Her Majesty's Courts Service contracted bailiffs. Her Majesty's Courts Service issued 625,000 distress warrants to contracted bailiff companies in 2007-08.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will release the redacted parts of the magistrates' courts guidance to bailiffs about the procedures for breaking in as a last resort. [HL833]

The Information Commissioner agreed with the proposed redactions when the guidance was first released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on 9 December 2008 and the Government have no plans to release the redacted parts.

Belarus: Universities

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what support they are providing for university education in Belarus. [HL357]

Education and university standards in Belarus are high, so the UK does not provide additional support for them. We do, however, provide funding via the Global Opportunities Fund for other projects in Belarus that support civil society.

Benefits: Conditionality Review

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell, on 4 December 2008 (Official Report, House of Commons, col. 19WS), whether Professor Gregg's report suggested how the final recommendations may be adapted to the particular problems of unemployed persons who live in rural areas; and, if not, what steps they will take to consider their situation. [HL759]

Professor Gregg's report, Realising Potential: A Vision for Personalised Conditionality and Support, laid out a comprehensive approach to help individuals back to work, including those that are unemployed. The report recognises that claimants will face a wide array of possible circumstances (the area in which they live being just one) and that both the support on offer and what we expect of individuals should react to those circumstances. The Government's recent White Paper, Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future, strongly accepts this principle, and lays out our plans to test Professor Gregg's core recommendations around personalising conditionality and support.

DWP is also working with the Government Office network to ensure that localities support and prioritise employment and skills issues in their areas through the local area agreements and local strategic partnerships. Local solutions will therefore support and add value to DWP's priorities in getting people back into work, particularly from disadvantaged communities, including rural areas.

Child Protection

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government who has authority to approve or disapprove an organisation's child protection policy. [HL657]

Each local safeguarding children board (LSCB), as one of its core functions, must have in place policies and procedures for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in their area. These should be agreed by the LSCB members but ultimate responsibility for signing them off lies with the LSCB chair. Similarly, it will be the responsibility of the person who is the most senior manager of any organisation to approve its child protection policy. This policy should be in accordance with the policies of the local safeguarding children board.

Consultation

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many consultations they have initiated in the past five years in which the consultees knew in advance that the consultation would be on a non-attributable basis; and how many they have initiated in which the consultees did not know in advance that the consultation would be on a non-attributable basis. [HL925]

Each department is responsible for its own consultation exercises and no aggregate data are held regarding consultations initiated by Her Majesty's Government. Setting out whether or not responses to consultations will be attributable is not a requirement of the Government's code of practice on consultation. However, guidance from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform which aims to support application of the code recommends that departments make potential consultees aware that information provided in response to consultations, including personal information, may be subject to publication or disclosure in accordance with the access to information regimes.

Deportation

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their annual budget for removing and escorting detainees from the United Kingdom by air to foreign countries; and how that compares with spending in 2008. [HL499]

The annual budget for removing detainees from the United Kingdom cannot be disaggregated from the total cost of removals by air. Provision of details on escorting costs are not available as disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice commercial interests.

The National Audit Office (NAO) gives a breakdown of what it costs to enforce the removal of a failed asylum seeker in appendix two of its report Returning Failed Asylum Applicants.

Latest published statistics on the total Home Office spend is set out in the Home Office report, a copy of which is available from the Library of the House. It is also available to view at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/ho-annual-report-07?view=Binary.

European Humanities University

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what representations they have made to the Government of Belarus about the future of the European Humanities University, including the safety and security of its library in Minsk. [HL356]

The UK strongly supports the European Humanities University, which does excellent work in providing education to young Belarusians unable to study in their own country. We have not raised this issue recently with the Belarusian authorities, but remain ready to do so if necessary.

Gaza

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many civilian women have been killed in (a) the Gaza Strip; and (b) Israel as a result of the current conflict between the two territories. [HL548]

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health (as at 21 January 2009) 110 women have been killed in Gaza during the current conflict.

One Israeli woman was killed when a rocket hit Ashdod.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many women and children have been seriously injured in (a) the Gaza Strip, and (b) Israel, as a result of the current conflict between the two territories. [HL550]

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health (at 21 January), 1,855 children and 795 women have been injured in Gaza during the conflict. (In addition to the 412 children and 110 women who have been killed).

We have been unable to secure similar figures from the Israeli authorities concerning Israelis injured.

Gypsies and Travellers

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what arrangements they have in place to ensure that where enforcement action is taken by local authorities against unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller sites children and young people are provided with suitable alternative accommodation. [HL899]

Local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area. They are also required to establish local safeguarding children boards; these are the key statutory mechanism for agreeing how the relevant organisations in each local area will co-operate to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in that locality, and for ensuring the effectiveness of what they do. DoE Circular 18/94 makes clear that when local authorities decide to proceed with an eviction, they should liaise with the relevant statutory agencies, particularly where newly born children are involved, to ensure those agencies can fulfil their obligations towards those persons. We have issued clear guidance to local authorities which recognises enforcement action can be traumatic, and should therefore be proportionate and considered.

Immigration: Detention and Removal Centres

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many illegal immigrants who wish to return to their own countries voluntarily are currently held in detention centres. [HL647]

The assisted voluntary return of irregular migrants (AVRIM) programme introduced in November 2004 is available to those who have entered the UK unlawfully or those who have breached their conditions of leave to enter or leave to remain. AVRIM is operated on behalf of the Home Office by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an independent intergovernmental organisation.

Currently there are seven individuals who have applied under the programme who are detained in the UK Border Agency's detention estate while approval for their return is pending.

Internet: BT and Phorm

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any department has received an enquiry concerning Phorm or 121Media advertising systems; and, if so, on what date a department first received such an enquiry; which department dealt with that enquiry; who made the enquiry; what was the enquiry; and what response was given. [HL754]

Israel and Palestine

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what representations they and the Quartet are making to the Government of Israel concerning (a) attacks on and damage to Palestinian houses by Israeli settlers following and during the Rajabi House confrontation in Hebron; (b) destruction of orchards, olive trees and crops, defacing of mosques, insulting graffiti and damage to property in rural areas near Ramallah, Qalqilyah, Nablus and Tulkarm by settlers; and (c) bringing to justice those responsible. [HL374]

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Bill Rammell, visited Hebron and Ramallah on 22 and 23 December 2008 and witnessed the highly damaging impact illegal settlers, and criminal acts committed by illegal settlers, were having on Palestinian communities, land and property. He also saw the Rajabi House in Hebron and the tombstones in the adjoining Muslim cemetery which had been defaced by illegal settlers. In Israel on 22 December 2008 he voiced his concerns about the impact of illegal settlers and settlements and the need to bring to justice those responsible for criminal acts.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not hold records of representations made by the quartet.

Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government which islands off the coast of England qualify as being accessible under the definition in Clause 290(3) of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. [HL934]

Islands off the coast of England which will qualify as being accessible under the definition in Clause 290(3) of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill are those where it is possible to walk to the island across the foreshore, or by means of a bridge, tunnel or causeway, either from the mainland of England or from another accessible island. This applies even where an island is accessible on foot only at certain times such as at low tide, or only during certain periods.

Natural England's initial advice is that the following islands are likely to qualify as accessible for this purpose:

Burgh Island (Devon);

Canvey Island (Essex);

Foulness Island (Essex);

Great Stonar (Kent);

Hayling Island (Hampshire);

Hilbre Island (Merseyside);

Holy Island (Lindisfarne—Northumberland);

Isle of Sheppey (Kent);

Mersea Island (Essex);

Northey Island (Essex);

Portsea Island (Hampshire);

Potton Island (Essex);

St Michael's Mount (Cornwall);

Thorney Island (West Sussex);

Wallasea Island (Essex);

Walney Island (Cumbria); and

Whale Island (Hampshire).

The Secretary of State will also have power by order to specify any other island as accessible for this purpose under Clause 290(2) and (5) of the Bill, if that island is suitable for the establishment of one or more long-distance routes along its coast. It is envisaged that the Isle of Wight will be specified by order in this way.

Where an island is treated as accessible for either reason, it will be possible for Natural England, in fulfilling its coastal access duty under Clause 286, to propose that the route for the whole coast referred to by Clause 286(2) of the Bill should pass over the island. Land within the island may also form part of the margin for public enjoyment referred to by Clause 286(3) of the Bill subject to any of the land falling within the category of excepted land or any restrictions on access that may be in place on that land. The Secretary of State will take the final decision on whether land within accessible islands should be affected by the new access arrangements in either of these ways.

Northern Ireland Office: Staff Sickness

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the cost of officials in the Northern Ireland Office citing stress as a reason for taking sick leave. [HL989]

The Northern Ireland Office receives a monthly estimate of the total cost of sickness absence. The estimate is not broken down by absence type.

Northern Ireland Office: Taxis

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by the Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) on 18 December 2008 (WA 73) concerning expenditure on taxis by the Northern Ireland Office, how many journeys were made; where; and at what costs during the first few weeks of financial year 2007–08. [HL749]

During the first two weeks of the 2007-08 financial year, the Northern Ireland Office was invoiced for 37 taxi journeys at a total cost of £323.40.

A breakdown of the 37 journeys made is as follows:

31 journeys were made between Stormont Estate and various other Greater Belfast locations, including Belfast City Airport;

Four journeys were made between various Greater Belfast locations outside of Stormont Estate; and

Two journeys were made between Belfast City Airport and locations outside the Greater Belfast area.

In addition to invoiced taxi journeys, other reimbursable taxi costs were reclaimed by staff through travel and subsistence expenses claims for this period. The costs of these journeys are included within incidental expenses and details could only be identified at disproportionate cost.

The department advises that, before any business-related journey is made, each member of staff should take into account the most cost-effective means of transport, for example mileage costs and car parking.

Northern Ireland: Human Rights Commission

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission represents the community in Northern Ireland; and, if so, which commissioners represent which sections or interests. [HL602]

To ask Her Majesty's Government in determining the composition of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which of the members is considered to be (a) a Nationalist, (b) a Unionist, (c) a communist, (d) a Protestant, (e) a Roman Catholic, (f) a non-believer, and (g) a non-Christian. [HL747]

As previously indicated to the noble Lord, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 the Secretary of State is obliged, when making appointments to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, to secure so far as practicable, that the commissioners as a group are representative of the community in Northern Ireland. The composition of existing commissioners is taken into account when appointments are made, so that this obligation can be met.

Given the small number of individuals concerned, their community backgrounds will not be disclosed.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by the Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) on 17 December 2008 (WA 55) concerning the membership of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, how decisions of the Secretary of State can be verified to ensure that appointments to the commission represent the entire community in Northern Ireland. [HL746]

Section 68(3) of the Northern Ireland Act requires that in making appointments to the commission the Secretary of State must, as far as practicable, secure that the commission is representative of the community in Northern Ireland. As stated in my Written Answer of 17 December 2008 (Official Report, col. WA55) the Secretary of State has complied with this obligation in every appointment that has been made to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

In exercising his power to appoint commissioners under the Act, the Secretary of State is under his usual public law duties to act reasonably and fairly and any appointment decision he makes would be susceptible to judicial review in the usual way.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by the Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) on 18 December 2008 (WA 74), what is meant by being independent of Government within a statutory framework; and who sets the policy framework for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. [HL922]

As set out in my previous Answer the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is independent of government. This is in the context of the provisions set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

A policy framework for the commission is not specified in the Act.

For clarification, my previous Answer referred to a policy framework in relation to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in respect of which both the Government and the Northern Ireland Policing Board have responsibilities.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by the Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) on 18 December 2008 (WA 74), (a) which non-departmental public bodies other than the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission work independently of Government and Ministers; (b) which other non-departmental public bodies do not answer questions tabled in the House of Lords on operational matters; (c) whether that arrangement was sought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and, if so, when it was decided and agreed; and (d) whether the Equality and Human Rights Commission has sought such an arrangement. [HL923]

(a) The Northern Ireland Departmental Report 2008 (Command Paper Cm 7405) lists the NDPBs sponsored by the Northern Ireland Office. These are as follows:

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland;

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland;

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission;

Northern Ireland Police Fund;

Northern Ireland Policing Board;

Parades Commission for Northern Ireland;

Office of Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland;

Probation Board for Northern Ireland;

Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation;

Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland;

Independent Assessor for Police Service Northern Ireland Recruitment Vetting; and

Northern Ireland Law Commission.

(b) The policy of referring noble Lords to the NDPB on operational questions applies to all of the Northern Ireland Office's NDPBs listed above.

(c) No.

(d) The Equality and Human Rights Commission is an independent body sponsored by the Government Equalities Office. The policy in relation to questions for that body is therefore a matter for the Government Equalities Office.

Passports

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there is a legal obligation on United Kingdom passport holders who obtain a passport from another country to report that they have done so to the Identity and Passport Service; and, if so, what sanctions apply to those who do not do so. [HL971]

British nationality law contains no restriction on British nationals also holding other nationalities and therefore the right to hold other passports. There is no obligation to report the acquisition or renewal of other passports.

Pensions

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government in light of the number of company failures, and the findings of the recent Holden report on pension fund governance, whether they will take steps to review the effectiveness of the governance principles and structures of pension funds. [HL829]

The Government remain committed to supporting the effective provision of private pensions. The legal framework within which they operate has been the subject of a significant level of external scrutiny, from the report of the Pension Law Review Committee in 1993 under the chairmanship of Professor Goode and including the reports of the Pensions Commission under Lord Turner. Building on this, successive Governments have established a comprehensive regulatory framework for occupational pensions and the Government have introduced an effective safety net to help individuals if their scheme fails. The Government are currently working to implement an ambitious pension reform programme, including taking forward their rolling deregulatory review to ensure the right balance between encouraging private pension provision and protecting the rights of pension scheme members. The Government do not, therefore, believe a further review of the issues referred to in the Question is called for at this time.

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government in the light of the Fair Pensions report Investor Responsibility? UK Fund Managers' Performance and Accountability on ‘Extra-Financial Risks, what steps they are taking to ensure investors in pension funds publish evidence of their social, environmental and governance policies. [HL958]

The law already requires an occupational pension scheme's statement of investment principles to disclose its investment policies. This must include a declaration of the extent (if at all) to which social, environmental or ethical considerations are taken into account in the selection, retention, and realisation of investments.

The Government have also undertaken a consultation on the Myners investment principles. One of the outcomes of that consultation, which ended in June 2008, was the establishment of an investment governance group in partnership with key members of the pensions industry. As part of its main objectives, the group will encourage, influence and promote best practice in investment-related governance.

Police: Northern Ireland

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by the Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) on 18 November 2008 (WA 186) and the letter from Assistant Chief Constable Roy Toner placed in the Library of the House, why they deem the matter “an operational intelligence matter”; who decided to classify it so; whether this takes full account of the information known by the police, the Provisional IRA and dissident IRA activists; and what assessment they have made of the relationship between that matter and the comments of the Chief Constable of the Police Service for Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde, on the threat from dissident IRA activists. [HL654]

It was the view of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that this was an operational matter on the basis of advice from his security advisers. In coming to this view the Secretary of State took account of all relevant information and he remains of the view that it would not be appropriate to comment.

Prisoners: Tagging

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the differences between the proposed Northern Ireland tagging of prisoners regime and that used in England; whether a convicted person's religious beliefs and observances outside the home are taken into account in England; and, if so, how. [HL874]

Electronic tagging of offenders and defendants has been operating throughout England and Wales since 1999, and is used as a means to monitor curfews which are available as an option in community sentencing, as a bail condition and as a condition of release from prison, with the person remaining in the community. The monitoring service is provided by two private sector companies under contracts with the Ministry of Justice.

Electronic tagging in Northern Ireland is due to commence in April 2009 and the procedures underpinning its implementation are still under development. In Northern Ireland, it is intended that electronic monitoring will be available to monitor curfews as a condition of bail, as a licence condition or as a requirement of a community sentence. The technology will be the same as that used in England and Wales and the monitoring service will be provided by a private sector organisation under contract with the Northern Ireland Office.

Before a court or prison governor in England and Wales issues an offender with a curfew requirement with electronic tagging it should, as far as is practicable, avoid any conflict with religious beliefs and observances. This is specified in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for those subject to a community sentence, and in Prison Service Order 6700 for those released early on home detention curfew (HDC). This may. for example, take the form of a pre-notified schedule of variations to curfew times to allow attendance at religious services without violating the terms of their court order or licence.

Roads: Dartford Crossing

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many vehicles have used the Dartford crossing in the past four months; and what were the numbers for the equivalent months in each of the previous four years. [HL929]

The information requested is as follows. The figures for November and December 2008 are provisional and await verification.

2004

September

4,698,608

October

4,755,414

November

4,468,289

December

4,417,102

18,339,413

2005

September

4,703,260

October

4,745,910

November

4,390,728

December

4,305,466

18,145,364

2006

September

4,617,521

October

4,677,210

November

4,358,343

December

4,266,139

17,919,213

2007

September

4,560,867

October

4,584,955

November

4,308,434

December

4,144,689

17,598,945

2008

September

4,437,281

October

4,552,628

November

4,098,677

December

4,053,929

17,142,515

Schools: Admissions

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Statement by Baroness Morgan of Drefelin on 4 December 2008 (WS 20–21), how the revised codes concerning the school admission system will ensure that children living in rural areas forced to apply to the local authority controlling the area in which they live will not be disadvantaged by having to travel long distances to attend school. [HL570]

Local authorities must ensure that their admission and transport policies ensure fair access to educational opportunity as required by Section 13A of the Education Act 1996.

For those children living in rural areas there can be a limited number of schools to which it is reasonable for parents to apply, and the School Admissions Code is clear that admission authorities should take account of the time it will take to travel to school, as well as the safety of travel when setting their oversubscription criteria. The regulations currently before Parliament will improve the co-ordination of admissions and make it easier for local authorities to ensure that admission arrangements do not disadvantage children living in particular areas and to ensure that all children have a place at a suitable school.

It is for the local authority to determine the pattern of provision most appropriate to its area, including whether there is sufficient suitable provision for children living in rural areas where travelling to school may be more difficult.

Schools: A-levels

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Baroness Morgan of Drefelin on 20 January (WA 194–95), whether future issues of Outcome Indicators for Children Looked After will indicate how many (a) boys, and (b) girls, achieved GCSE grades A*–C, including mathematics and English. [HL997]

There are no plans at present to include this information in future issues of Outcome Indicators for Children Looked After. However, the Government do recognise the usefulness of more detailed information in terms of its potential to lead to improved outcomes. We are therefore exploring ways of obtaining this either through existing data sources via other means without placing additional burdens on local authorities.

Transport: Lorries

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many lives could be saved by installing class 6 forward facing mirrors on United Kingdom lorries not currently covered by European Union legislation. [HL961]

Based on 2007 road casualty statistics, we estimate that up to three lives per annum could be saved by the use of a class 6 front mirror. A cost-benefit study carried out for the European Commission in preparation for the recent legislation on improving vision from large goods vehicles concluded that requiring the installation of a front mirror was not justified. This decision took account of a range of issues including safety benefits, costs, fleet turnover and the practicalities of retrofitting mirrors to older vehicles.

Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have had discussions with other European and African nations to devise a plan to replace Robert Mugabe's regime through militarily supported action; and, if so, whether such action will be preceded by detailed planning for the establishment and restoration of a properly functioning administration supported by a viable currency. [HL813]

We do not believe that an external military intervention in Zimbabwe would be desirable or viable. We have not raised this as an option with any other Government. The situation in Zimbabwe is critical, and we believe that President Mugabe is an obstacle to forming a Government who can start to address the country's problems. But those working for change and reform in Zimbabwe are not calling for military intervention. Their—and our—primary focus is on the humanitarian situation and the alleviation of suffering. We are providing £47 million in humanitarian aid this year, including a £10 million package to tackle cholera and support essential health services.