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House of Lords

Monday, 2nd March 1998.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Gulf War: DU Weapons and Toxic Dust

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether chemically toxic dust created and scattered by the explosion of depleted uranium weapons by allied forces in the Gulf was responsible for casualties on either side.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, the Government are not aware of any coalition personnel who have become ill or have died as a result of any such exposure. We have no information regarding any Iraqi casualties resulting from exposure to such dust.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is it the view of the Government that toxic chemicals produced by their nuclear weapons are legal but that if such substances were produced by an enemy they would become illegal?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, my noble friend may be suffering from a misunderstanding. DU shells are in no sense nuclear weapons and no nuclear explosion is caused when they hit any object.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of a study carried out in 1993 by three US scientists which found that in the first eight months after the Gulf War about 50,000 children died from DU-related illnesses? In the light of that, what does the Minister think of the remark made by General Gallois in 1995 that if tanks are equipped with these kinds of munitions, chemical/nuclear war is morally allowable?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am not familiar with the study to which the noble Countess has referred. But I find those figures quite remarkable because, if anyone did suffer from the inhalation of depleted uranium dust, he would have had to be very close to the point of impact of the shell on the tank. It would have to be a hard and not a soft target. On the basis that I dispute the premise of the noble Countess's question, I cannot follow the rest of it.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in a reply to an earlier question that I asked about depleted uranium, the noble Lord said that it was a heavy metal with toxic properties similar to lead. Can he confirm that that is the case and that DU has no more dangerous properties than lead?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. I can confirm what he has said.

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Depleted uranium is a material used for many civilian purposes. It is used in hospitals for radiological protection, for balancing the keels of small boats and in aircraft. There are several tens of thousands of tonnes of this material in civil hands in this country.

Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that depleted uranium is used because of its high density and that as a result it can penetrate armour? Does he agree that there is no question of depleted uranium surrounding explosives and dust being created, and that the only dust that may arise from the use of depleted uranium ammunition results from the shattering of ammunition as it hits a very hard object, as the noble Lord implied?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I agree entirely with what he has said.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend suggest that no toxic chemical is produced by the explosion of depleted uranium, or does he suggest that a nuclear weapon exploded by us is in a different category from a nuclear weapon exploded by anyone else?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, my noble friend cannot have heard my original reply. These substances are not parts of nuclear weapons. No nuclear explosion takes place whatsoever when a DU shell hits the main battle tank of an opposing force. He is quite right that toxic dust arises from such incidents. It also arises when other materials hit main battle tanks.

Immigration Advisers

2.42 p.m.

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publicise the names and addresses of those companies and individuals offering immigration advice whose activities cause concern to the Home Office.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, no. It would not be right to publish details of companies and individuals whose activities are currently under investigation or who may be further investigated in the future or who may be behaving in a way which is currently within the law where we believe the law to be inadequate and in need of amendment.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am aware of his impeccable record in the field of race and community relations. Does he agree that those who are desperately seeking help and advice on immigration matters are being exploited and that it is right and proper that they should be aware of where to go when seeking such help and advice? On that basis, does the Minister accept that a 3 per cent. increase in the budget of the Immigration Advisory Service has resulted over a period of three years in a deficit of about

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£500,000 and yet the service, whose record is impeccable--it has a 25 per cent. success rate--is expected to cut its staff by 21 as a result of cuts?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's first proposition. People are in a vulnerable situation and are being leeched upon by organisations of dubious morality and possible illegality. Those organisations are concerned with bogus applications for asylum, the presentation of bogus marriage certificates and fraud of the legal aid fund and are preying financially upon those in such difficulties.

The Government funds the Immigration Advisory Service. Funding for 1997-98 will be core funding of £2.592 million, together with £500,000 on the spend-to-save initiative. In respect of the refugee legal centre, there is further funding from the Home Office of some £3.644 million. Therefore, the sums available from public funds are not insignificant.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the law can deal with these illegalities? My experience shows that when these fraudulent immigration agencies deal with gullible people the civil courts are dilatory in attending to the cases. Can the Minister give his attention to accelerating the court process of these cases, which cause enormous distress?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I agree with the thrust of the noble Lord's question. We believe that the criminal courts and not the civil courts should be dealing with these cases. Undoubtedly, criminal offences are being committed, which is one of the points of the consultation document we have put forward. The Government's preference is to look to a statutory scheme which would be able to regulate the activities. Our further belief is that if there are convictions in the courts a few sharp sentences would send a useful signal and have a salutary effect on what is a cruel practice.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, does the Minister agree that applicants for immigration are incredibly vulnerable because the immigration law is complex and many of them are not in the UK at the time of application? In order to prevent the kind of cases about which we read, is there not a reasonable case for setting up a register of reputable organisations and individuals which provide such services to potential immigrants?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is such a case. That is why we have put out our consultation document which is headed "Control of Unscrupulous Immigration Advisers". The three options we are examining are, first, a self-financing statutory scheme, to which I referred earlier; secondly, a voluntary self-regulatory scheme; and, thirdly, a compulsory self-regulation scheme.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, bearing in mind that many of the examples quoted in the consultation document are

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of a criminal nature, and that on 2nd February in another place the Home Secretary stated that 250 firms were guilty of unscrupulous behaviour and 40 of them were solicitors, why have not those firms been reported to the Home Office, the Law Society or to the police respectively?

Furthermore, considering that the proposed regulatory scheme will cost £600 per agency, where does the Minister believe that the UKIS and the Refugee Legal Centre will find the money to meet the additional costs? Where will it come from if it is not passed on to the clients?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there may be confusion in the noble Lord's mind. The proposed fee for the first option, the preferred option, is an annual fee of £600. That is not a vast amount in terms of the budgets which I have put forward. It may weed out the unscrupulous because they will know that under a statutory scheme they are likely to be exposed.

Assertion of unscrupulous behaviour is one thing, but proof of criminal activity is quite another. However, I assure your Lordships that the Home Secretary is deeply concerned about the abuses. The matter was raised in 1992 by a Select Committee in another place and it was put forward in your Lordships' House in 1996 when my noble friend Lord Dubs introduced a proposal for a statutory scheme. The then government believed that the problem was not sufficient to require such a remedy.


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