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21 Nov 2002 : Column 252W—continued


Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (1) what steps the Lord Chancellor will take to ensure that the Court of Appeal adopts the recommendations of the Sentencing Advisory Panel in sentencing for offences or rape; [81930]

Yvette Cooper: The Lord Chancellor is grateful to the Sentencing Advisory Panel for publishing its advice to the Court of Appeal, which proposes a revision of the current sentencing guidelines for the offence of rape.

The decision on whether or not to adopt this advice is for the Court of Appeal alone and is not a matter in which the Lord Chancellor can intervene.


British Irish Joint Secretariat

Mr. Donaldson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, what is the total cost per annum of the British Irish Joint Secretariat, based at Windsor House in Belfast; and how the cost are allocated between the British and Irish Governments . [80676]

Mr. Browne: The expenditure of the British irish Intergovernmental Secretariat is met by the two Governments. The total cost to the British Government in 2001–02 was #554,000.

Mr. Donaldson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, how many staff are employed by the British Irish Joint Secretariat at Windsor House in Belfast; and what proportion of these staff members are appointed by the (a) British and (b) Irish Governments. [80677]

Mr. Browne: The British Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat comprises 25 members of staff, 12 employed by the Northern Irleland Office and 13 employed by the Irish Government.

Mr. Donaldson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, what are the main functions of the British Irish Joint Secretariat based at Windsor House in Belfast. [80678]

Mr. Browne : The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the Secretariat were established by the British-Irish Agreement, which took effect on Thursday 2 December 1999. the role of the Secretariat is to support the Conference. As such it provides a formal

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channel of communication to promote bilateral co-operation between the two governments on non-devolved Northern Ireland matters.

Congestion Charging

Mr. Christopher Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the policy is of his Department in relation to the reimbursement of Central London road user charges incurred by its employees. [81841]

Jane Kennedy: It is general departmental travel planning policy that staff should not use cars to commute to and from work. However, staff on official business who are required to drive their own vehicles, or hire vehicles, within the charging zone will be reimbursed.

Mr. Chope: : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the estimated cost is to his Department of the Central London Road User Charging Scheme for (a) 17 February 2003 to 31 March 2003, and (b) 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004. [81880]

Jane Kennedy: All civil servants are responsible for payment of their own everyday home to office travel costs. The introduction of a Central London user charge will not affect this basic condition of service.

Any additional costs to the Department as a result of the congestion charging scheme will be just one element within wider costs which have to be met from budgets for official travelling and other costs.

Electoral Identity Cards

Mr. Banks : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the percentage take-up among electors of the new electoral identity cards. [81574]

Mr. Browne: A question was included in this year's Annual Canvass registration form which asked electors if they would need an electoral identity card. Once the Annual Canvass is complete on 29 November and the new Electoral Register is published, the Chief Electoral Officer will be able to target his efforts and resources to those people who have indicated that they need the card. As of 16 November 220,000 (18 per cent. of the 1.2 million Northern Ireland electorate) had done so.

The Government is committed to providing those people who require one with an electoral identity card in time for the Assembly election on 1 May 2003. This also remains the target for the removal of all forms of non-photographic ID from the list of specified documents acceptable as proof of identity at the polling station.

Petrol Prices

Mr. Beggs : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what information he collates on the average price of petrol paid by motorists in (a) England, (b) Scotland, (c) Wales and (d) Northern Ireland; when he last discussed fuel prices with major companies

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supplying petrol to Northern Ireland retail outlets; and if he will make representations to reduce the price paid by Northern Ireland motorists at petrol stations. [80807]

Mr. Pearson: The Department of Trade and Industry obtains, on a weekly basis from petroleum suppliers, the average UK price charged for petrol on the forecourts. DTI provides this information to the European Commission. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment does not collate separate information.

I have not currently had discussions with major companies supplying petrol to Northern Ireland retailers. The level of pricing is a commercial decision taken by the companies in the petrol supply industry. Unless there is evidence of Xprice fixing" Government cannot intervene in those commercial decisions.

Prison Officers

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many prison officers have been informed they are on the intelligence list stolen by SF/IRH, how many have been accepted on to the S.P.E.D. scheme for alternative housing; and what the total amount offered to those who choose to stay in their homes for installing additional security measures has been. [80824]

Jane Kennedy: Of the 1,426 names of Northern Ireland Prison Service Staff on the PSNI list, the vast majority have been informed either orally or in writing, efforts to inform others are continuing daily.

To date 40 prison staff have applied to be accepted onto the SPED scheme. This is operated by the NI Housing Executive and so far no decisions have been confirmed.

Officers who decide to remain in their current homes are individually assessed regarding their security needs. As this matter is ongoing the cost of the work involved is not available.


Downing Street Air Conditioning

Jane Griffiths: To ask the Prime Minister what coolant is used in the air conditioning recently installed in Downing Street. [81776]

The Prime Minister: All coolants in the air conditioning units in Downing Street comply with the UK Climate Change Programme and all relevant European Standards on the use of HFCs and safety in the workplace.


Mr. Alan Williams: To ask the Prime Minister what rules govern the retention of gifts given to members of the Royal Family when they are undertaking official tours. [80816]

The Prime Minister: This is a matter for the Palace. However I understand that the Palace issues internal guidance on gifts.

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Firefighters' Dispute

Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Solicitor General what discussions she has had with the Attorney-General, the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister about the legal aspects of the fire dispute and the implications of trade union legislation when there is a risk to life. [81661]

The Solicitor-General [holding answer 19 November 2002]: The Law Officers are concerned with the legal aspects of the fire dispute in three ways. We are responsible to Parliament for the Crown Prosecution Service, which is responsible for considering whether to bring prosecutions where hoax calls have been made. We are also legal advisers to the Government. There is a long-standing convention, followed by successive Governments and reflected in the Ministerial Code, that both the content of legal advice to the Government and the fact that it has been given remains confidential. Thirdly, the Attorney General has the power to apply, when he thinks it appropriate, to the High Court for an injunction to prevent breach of the criminal law, including offences under trade union legislation. In making such decisions he acts as guardian of the public interest.

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