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House of Lords

Tuesday, 19th May 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Deportees: Re-entry Detection Measures

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What defensive measures they are taking to prevent deportees re-entering the country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, those who are the subject of a deportation order may not return to the United Kingdom while the order remains extant. To assist in the identification of those who may seek to re-enter in breach of such an order, the Immigration Service has immediate access to the records of all those deported. In addition, the Immigration Service employs a range of measures to detect those who may subsequently seek to gain entry using false identities or by clandestine means.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply. However, is he aware of a report that appeared in the press three or four weeks ago concerning a man from Nigeria who, having come to this country, entered into large-scale fraudulent activities with the DSS? The man received a custodial sentence of two to three years, with deportation at the end of it. However, he had already gone through that process once and had been able to re-enter this country. How often is that happening? Is it possible that the restrictions could be tighter?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have only a general knowledge of that case. However, I recognise that this is a problem. Accordingly, the Immigration Service has now at its disposal a Suspect Index Computer System. It has been in operation at all ports and offices since December 1996. From June of this year, all visa issuing posts abroad will have access to it. That ought therefore to meet, at least in substantial part, my noble friend's concerns.

Government Car Service

2.38 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many road vehicles which are regarded as specially friendly to the environment are being used in the Government Car Service, or have been ordered, including those for the use of Ministers.

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government Car Service currently operates five vehicles in its fleet which run on gas as well as petrol. A further four vehicles are in the process of being replaced with alternative fuel cars. It is the policy of the Government Car and Despatch Agency, which runs the Government Car Service, to replace its vehicles with alternative fuel cars as they come to the end of their working life, normally after three years.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. While the Government provided much publicity for these benign road vehicles at the end of last month, are not cars which produce very little pollution expensive and beyond the aspirations of most of the motoring public? As regards government cars, will the safety of Ministers be borne in mind if they drive the cars themselves, in view of the misadventure experienced on that occasion by the Deputy Prime Minister?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the cost of a conversion to gas from petrol is between £750 and £3,000 according to the type of car concerned. It is therefore worthwhile commercially only if the conversion is carried out when the car is new, before it is added to the fleet. As the noble Lord knows, it is not normal for Ministers to drive cars from the Government Car Service.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of the non-gas fired cars that are regularly in the House of Lords' car park and Chancellor's Court spend a great deal of time with their engines running at a time when the Government have issued pollution warnings? Will he issue instructions to government drivers and others who visit this House to switch off car engines, and even to leave the air-conditioning off when the very important person inside does not happen to be there?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, presumably when that happens, the driver is in the car; and who is to say that the driver is not a very important person? The question of whether cars should be left with their engines running in the House of Lords' car park is a matter for the House authorities rather than the department. As regards pollution, I remind my noble friend that all government cars are fitted with catalytic converters, which work effectively only when the engine is hot. So perhaps the balance is not quite as clear as my noble friend thinks.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I must declare an interest as the President of the Natural Gas Vehicle Association, a non-paid position. I also welcome the Government's conversion of some of the ministerial fleet to gas-powered cars. Does the Minister agree that, until the duty on gas as a fuel is reduced, it is unlikely that the market as a whole will convert to environmentally friendly vehicles?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Question is about the Government Car Service. We propose to convert all the vehicles in the Government Car Service as they are replaced. That is the economical action to take. The question which the noble Lord raised about vehicle duties is a separate issue which I shall be glad to answer if he puts down a Question.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, does the Minister accept that a reasonable proposition might be for Labour Ministers to use their cars rather less, thus indicating that we hope that in due course the use of cars in our cities will be greatly reduced?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have some sympathy with that view. Paragraph 80 of the ministerial code, which was issued last year, states that:

    "In using official cars and travelling by rail or air, Ministers must always make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements".

Lord Ironside: My Lords, will the Government consider the use of more electric vehicles in the Government Car Service, as plenty of charging sockets are readily available in London? Of course, if Ministers are using those cars, they need not worry about the batteries running flat, because if their meetings go on long enough, the batteries will be able to be recharged.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government Car and Dispatch Agency has already been working with Ford in testing an electric van called the Ecostar. But the conclusion that we have reached so far is that electric vehicle technology has not gone far enough to make it a viable alternative.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, I seek clarification, because I may have completely misheard the noble Lord's initial answer to the first supplementary question. Did he say that five cars in the pool were converted to use "gas as well as petrol"? Alternatively, did he say "gas instead of petrol"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I said "as well as". The normal procedure is to convert the car immediately after manufacture so that it can run on both. However, there are not enough LPG stations around the country to enable a car which is not required for such heavy use as government cars to be converted entirely.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, will the Government do anything to encourage the installation of LPG tanks at petrol stations so that cars may fill up? If there are only very few places where they can be filled, people will not be encouraged to switch over. That includes government cars.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is true that we do not have as many LPG outlets as some European countries. But I am afraid that that is a matter for the market. It refers back to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.

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Domestic Violence Victims: Financial Help

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to fund organisations which help victims of domestic violence.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, central Government provide core funding through a number of departments to the Women's Aid Federation in England and its sister organisations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In 1997-98, the Department of Health is providing that organisation with £217,385. Other provision includes funding through the Urban Programme for projects in Scotland, Welsh Office funding in Wales and funding for local projects in England through the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund. Housing Corporation capital and revenue resources can contribute to building and housing management costs, where local authorities identify as a priority the development of refuges for those escaping domestic violence; for example, the Housing Corporation currently provides a revenue grant to support 3,500 refuge bed spaces in England.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the considerable amount of money spent by this Government on the victims of domestic violence is very helpful and very much appreciated? Will the Minister bear in mind that the vital links between many of the victims and the organisations--the help lines which offer skilled advice--are often under-funded? The crisis line of Refuge, for example, is now offering tremendously skilled advice to many women and access to 200 sanctuaries, but that is now on the brink of closure because of lack of funds. Is it possible for the Government to help?

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