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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the question is what law applies. The House authorities have committed themselves to following health and safety regulations as far as concerns this House and, indeed, another place. There is a House of Lords Safety Policy that meets the best requirements of health and safety practice. There are problems associated with operating it within this building, but the House authorities have addressed that. Therefore, I do not want any implication to be taken of criticism of the House authorities. However, how they take it further in terms of the health and safety regime is a matter for them rather than us. Our responsibility is to ensure that the law applies equally to all work places.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I should like clarification of my noble friend's reply to the first supplementary question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. When responding, my noble friend said that it is not for the Government to decide such matters. Can he confirm that neither is it a matter for the usual channels; it is matter for the House itself?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as it happens, I have visited the kitchens on occasions, both many years ago when I was an officer of a union that used to represent staff within this building--indeed, I should perhaps have declared a past interest in that respect--and also more recently. I believe that things have improved, at least a bit. However, the purport of the noble Lord's question is probably to get me involved in matters that are primarily the duty of the House authorities. I shall, therefore, not fall into that trap.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, if my noble friend the Minister will not fall into that trap, will he at least join with all of us on both sides of the House in paying tribute to the staff of the Palace of Westminster, not least for their perennial patience towards us and their efficiency? Will he also ensure that an investigation is carried out into the reasons why so many of them quietly tell us of the difficulties that they endure in serving the Members of both Houses of Parliament? If, as my noble friend said, there is an agreement in principle that the conditions are to be raised to the same standards as exist elsewhere--not in Royal palaces--why should they not be subject to the same laws as apply elsewhere? Indeed, why should not the staff be protected by the same laws as everyone else? That would reflect our appreciation of them.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in terms of the first part of my noble friend's question, I wholeheartedly endorse his comments as regards the service and the dedication that we receive from staff in this building; and, indeed, that appreciation applies to our colleagues in another place. I recognise the often very difficult conditions under which they work. As to the middle part of my noble friend's intervention, I must again side step that question because that is primarily a matter for the House authorities. However, broadly speaking, I would agree with the last part of his intervention.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, on the question of safety and immunity, I am sure that some other noble Lords present today will remember the occasion in this Chamber when parts of the ceiling fell off and almost landed on the late Lord Shinwell; and, indeed, could have caused him, or any other Peer who happened to be sitting in the area below, quite considerable harm. Can the Minister tell us who is responsible if injury occurs to a Peer as a result of such a situation?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, clearly that again is the responsibility of the House authorities. I may have a residual departmental responsibility in respect of biodiversity, but I think primarily it is someone else's responsibility. Clearly their appearance there is to be regretted, however much we might like them in other contexts.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, reminded us, previous governments have removed Crown immunity from hospitals and from members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces. If Crown immunity has been removed from them, why is it proving so impossible to do it in the Palace of Westminster?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hope that we are reaching a situation where that is not impossible. Indeed, some movement in that direction was taken when we established the Food Standards Agency. The reason for the situation--I described it earlier as slightly theological--is that the Crown cannot sue itself, whereas since the establishment of trusts in the National Health Service there is a body to prosecute. Such a body does not exist as regards government departments, including MoD departments. However, the arrangements as regards the MoD differ according to the different locations of both civil and military personnel. We intend to clarify the whole situation so that the same laws can be enforced and applied to premises where people are employed by Crown bodies as apply to any other employer.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, following the implementation of the marriage aspects of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 on 1st January 2001, people are required to provide documentation as part of the procedures for dealing with the civil preliminaries to marriage. The Government are also undertaking a fundamental review of civil registration in England and Wales, the aims of which include an improvement in the quality of information that is collected, and better and wider use of technology.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. However, does he not agree that it is in the public interest and, indeed, possible to take practical steps to reduce or eliminate the current "rent a bride" racket which is not only intended to circumvent the immigration and residence rules but is indeed making a mockery of marriage?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is important to remember that we have to maintain a balance. We have to have marriage laws which are not discriminatory as between any part of our population. We have to make sure that it is not unnecessarily difficult for people who legitimately want to get married to do so. At the same time we have to make sure that our laws are the same for everyone. That means that sometimes there will be bigamous marriages, marriages which involve perjury or marriages of people who have entered this country illegally.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that formed part of the provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Not only is there a responsibility on registrars to make such reports, but there is now a specialist unit in the asylum and naturalisation division to which such a report can be made.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is rather too soon. Since the London Marriage Abuse Team was set up in the asylum and naturalisation division, there have been over 200 arrests, over 100 people have been charged or cautioned, and more than 40 people have been removed or deported. But that occurred over a period of two years. The 10 or 11 weeks that have elapsed since 1st January comprise too short a period for statistical comparison.
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