Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Avebury: My Lords, have the Government made an assessment of the effect of alcohol on domestic violence? Should not more attention be paid to the causes of domestic violence so as to prevent it in the first place rather than providing more facilities to pick up the pieces afterwards?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I tried in my earlier response to allude to the point that the noble Lord is making. The Government need to ensure that we approach this issue across the board--not simply picking up the pieces, although providing appropriate support to the victims of domestic violence and their children is important, but also looking at how we may prevent the violence in the first place and dealing with the perpetrators of that violence.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, in view of the Minister's answers about the complexity of funding and the provision of refuges for women, is there not a good case now for reconstituting the ministerial committee on domestic violence? I understand from previous answers that that is not the Government's intention.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I think I made it clear that if we go into too much detail we may be in danger of needing a co-ordinator of co-ordinating committees. There is the Cabinet sub-committee on women's issues which has an overall role to address all forms of violence against women, and there is also the ministerial group looking specifically at the work across

24 Feb 1998 : Column 543

departments on domestic violence. The Department of Social Security is leading an interdepartmental review of funding for supported accommodation, including refuges. My own department, the Department of Health, and the territorial departments are all contributing to that. It is important that we get work on those topics done well and disseminated well.

British Indian Ocean Territory

2.48 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any proposals to change their policy on the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory and in particular whether they will agree to the return of the former inhabitants to those islands from Mauritius.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have no such proposals. Our policy remains that the territory will be ceded to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes. It is possible for the Ilois to apply for contract work at the defence facility on Diego Garcia. But, given the lack of infrastructure needed to sustain inhabitation, a wider return by them to the other islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory is not a realistic prospect.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, if the territory is essential for defence purposes, although some people doubt whether that is the case, why cannot some of the islands be made available to be used for the return of the people to their homeland? There is nothing unusual about military bases and civilians existing side by side. In view of the Foreign Secretary's recent announcement of a review about the remaining British Dependent Territories, is not this a highly appropriate time for the matter to be reconsidered?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is true that some of the outer islands are some way from Diego Garcia; and they are not necessary for the defence purposes that I outlined in my original Answer. But for legal and logistical reasons it would not be possible to allow the Ilois to return to them. There is no prospect of re-establishing the copra plantations which originally drew the Ilois to that part of the world on any commercially viable scale. No infrastructure is left in any of the outer islands. There are no buildings, running water facilities or electricity. The territory's administration could not provide the longer term support that would be needed for such a small community. It could not provide medical and educational facilities or even basic supplies. So what the noble Lord suggests is simply not practicable.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, is not the statement that there is no infrastructure left on a par with the statement made by the government of the time that there were no inhabitants on the islands, when in fact they had just removed them? Given that

24 Feb 1998 : Column 544

it was Mr. Robin Cook who, as a Back-Bencher, first alerted another place to this shameful episode in British colonial history, would it not be very suitable if he found the way back for these unfortunate people?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my right honourable friend is considering British dependent territory citizenship not only in connection with the former inhabitants of BIOT but of other dependent territories as well. I believe that my right honourable friend is endeavouring to address some of those issues.

The noble Lord referred to my right honourable friend's statements. They were made some 10 to 15 years ago. Since that time the defence requirements have developed. They have not diminished as a result of the ending of the Cold War. It is the fact that we still need the islands for defence purposes. The noble Lord says that those defence purposes are not so very great and that the islands were not inhabited in the past. It is not the case that the outer islands were heavily inhabited. I can assure the noble Lord that what I said in my original Answer about there not being facilities is factually correct.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Mauritius is a valued and enthusiastic member of the Commonwealth? She mentioned to me in her original Answer that the facilities are not there. Would it not be a darned good idea to start those facilities now because of the reputation which Labour governments have in developing other countries where standards have not been reached?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this question was raised during the meeting with the Mauritian Prime Minister in October 1997. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs reiterated a commitment given by previous British governments that the territory would be ceded to Mauritius when no longer required for defence purposes. Other matters were discussed then. Moreover, in a Written Answer on 17th November 1997, my honourable friend the Minister of State also made the point. It is also worth remembering that the Ilois community was compensated originally with a sum of £650,000 and 10 years later with a further sum of £4 million for the disruption caused to their lives.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred to Mr. Robin Cook's position some years ago. Can the noble Baroness answer the question? Has Mr. Cook changed his mind? If he has, is it on the same basis as he changed his mind about cruise missiles? Some 16 years ago he was signing CND petitions against them.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that all of us on occasions come to different conclusions in the light of changing circumstances--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I made clear to the House, I am aware that the

24 Feb 1998 : Column 545

statements were made 10 to 15 years ago. If the noble Lord would like to listen instead of talking to his friends, he might learn something. The fact is that the position has changed since then. The Government can reaffirm, as publicly stated in 1992 under the previous administration, that the territory will be ceded to Mauritius when no longer required for the defence purposes for which it is needed at the moment.

Scottish Parliament: Voting System

2.56 p.m.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the introduction of electronic voting in the Scottish parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, it will be for the Scottish parliament to decide on its procedures including its system for voting. However, we expect this matter to be considered by the all-party consultative steering group, which my right honourable friend has established to take forward consideration of how the parliament might operate. The parliament building will have the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the latest technology including, if so decided, electronic voting.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that there is said to be some support for electronic voting? Can he give an assurance that, whatever system is chosen, parliamentarians will have to be present in order to vote? Can he also confirm that the Government will not give support to voting by remote control?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am tempted to speculate that the noble Lord's supplementary question is based on his long experience in another place. Perhaps I may step outside my brief for the moment. I believe I can give an assurance that procedures will be put in place to prevent such obvious cheating.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, will the Minister also bear in mind, first, that even the latest electronic machines can go wrong and, secondly, that it is never certain which finger is on the button?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I take the point that the noble Baroness has made. I understand that we use wands in this House so that the top hats of noble Lords in years past could be lifted to make sure that it was noble Lords who were voting and not their servants. I do not believe that we shall be introducing wands in a Scottish parliament.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page