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Mr. Kennedy : Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), is there not a complete contradiction running through Government policy? The Department of Health encourages old people in particular to take advantage of helplines and other facilities that it is promoting, whereas the Department of Social Security has cut back on housing benefits and on essentials such as heating, so that elderly people, many of whom have never been in debt before, are cutting back on essentials, including heating, rather than go into debt to their local authorities. Therefore, the Department of Energy is caught between a deeply unfair and regressive Government policy that is hurting the elderly. Will the right hon. Gentleman's Department make efforts to show the light to other Government Departments that are doing so much damage?
Mr. Morrison : The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the codes of practice and of the provision made for pensioners, whereby their supplies will not be cut off between the months of October and March. That is a constructive way forward.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the experiment in which pensioners were invited to pay a lower standing charge if they were small consumers has been withdrawn? Is he aware also that standing charges now account for a month's basic pension? Will he consider again whether something can be done about the level of standing charges for pensioners?
Column 638of standing charges has been looked at for some years, and it has been the considered view that a reduction would not in practice benefit the very people about whom my hon. Friend and Opposition Members are concerned.
20. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received regarding the protection of consumer interest arising from proposals to privatise the electricity industry.
Mr. Michael Spicer : I continue to receive a number of representations on this topic. The Electricity Consumers Council has welcomed the proposals in the Electricity Bill for protecting consumers' interests.
Mr. Pike : Does the Minister recognise that there is genuine concern among many other organisations representing consumers, and among consumers themselves, in that experience has shown that it is the consumer who has been taken for a ride as a result of privatisation? Will the Minister give an assurance that, if the Electricity Bill must be forced through, every possible step will be taken to ensure the best possible protection for the consumer?
Mr. Spicer : I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The essence of the Bill is the benefit that it will bring to consumers. At present, one monopoly producer largely determines the cost of electricity. In future, it will be subject to the force of competition, not to mention the multitude of consumer rights that, for the first time, will be brought in by the Bill.
Mr. Dykes : In addition to electricity supply, the consumer will purchase goods--especially white goods--from the showrooms of area boards. Therefore, will the Minister meticulously examine the need to ensure that the consumer is protected from the dangers of hidden subsidies, interest- free credit and all the other devices that may obtain now, but may not later when the monopoly effect increases?
60. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Attorney-General if he will meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss what resources he plans to allocate to examining the book, "A Hero From Zero" sent to right hon. and hon. Members by Lonrho plc, for possible breaches of the law.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : Both the Director of Public Prosecutions, with whom the Law Officers have discussed this matter, and the director of the Serious Fraud Office have received copies of the inspectors' report on the takeover of the House of Fraser Group and of this book. Each is receiving appropriate consideration.
Column 639Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry allowed a known crook to buy the House of Fraser simply because he had sat at the Prime Minister's dinner table? If the Al Fayeds are telling the truth, there has been a tax fraud on a massive scale. Will the DTI inspector's report that was referred to last Friday by Lord Young be published? He said that the report would not be published because it was in the public interest not to do so. That will not wash. The Law Officers must take a grip on the matter and operate as Law Officers rather than simply Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister.
The Solicitor-General : The hon. Gentleman should realise that the prosecution service is independent. Those matters are being considered by the director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Director of Public Prosecutions. They will reach their independent and impartial decision. The publication of the report is a matter for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
The Solicitor-General : Individual decisions on legal aid in civil cases are a matter for the local legal aid committees. The Law Society reports annually to the Lord Chancellor. It provides details of the number of applications granted and refused and whether the reasons for those refusals are on legal or financial grounds.
Mr. Brazier : I welcome the changes planned for next April in the administration of legal aid, but they should go further. Is the Minister aware of two cases in my constituency? In one, a woman suffering from heart trouble was refused legal aid on the ground that her husband had not committed violence against her "for several weeks". In the other, legal aid was granted to a man who a few months earlier put in a substantial planning application and said that he could finance it without borrowing.
The Solicitor-General : It is important to remember that these decisions are taken by independent authorities. There would be a right of appeal from local legal aid committees to the area committee. The Legal Aid Board, when it takes over the functions of the Law Society, will examine the working of the entire system.
Mr. Madden : Will the Minister arrange for a new legal aid fund to be established in Bradford to help the many ratepayers of that city who wish to take legal action against the injustices heaped upon them by the new Conservative administration? Will the Minister explain how, when there is a High Court action in London on Wednesday and Thursday of this week involving the sale of old people's homes which we have been prevented from discussing on the ground that it is sub judice, Bradford council can debate these matters tomorrow and propose to sell homes and adjust the sale price on the life expectancy of the old people living in them?
Column 640committee, with the usual appeal process. I am sure that Bradford would not wish, any more than any other area, to interfere with the operation of the courts.
Mr. Bowis : Will my hon. and learned Friend monitor the cost of legal aid? Is it not true that too often clients who win their cases do not actually receive compensation or damages because the whole of the award has been soaked up by legal costs?
Mr. Janner : Did the hon. and learned Gentleman discuss with the Director the possible impact of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and whether prosecution could now be taken against those who put into the mail such grossly offensive literature as "Holocaust News" and other racist and anti-semitic documents? Is not that Act wide enough for the Government to take action against those whom they have wanted to prosecute previously, but who have walked away freely from the net of the law?
The Solicitor-General : The matter of "Holocaust News" has been carefully considered by the Director and the Law Officers, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows. The Malicious Communications Act 1988 does not appear to have any application to that case.
Mr. Favell : When my hon. and learned Friend last met the Director of Public Prosecutions did he discuss with him the remand prisoner problem described in a consensus report by the Law Society and other interested parties as
"tottering daily on the edge of a crisis"?
Is he satisfied with the speed with which the Director is bringing prisoners to trial? Do the Director, the Solicitor-General and the Attorney -General have any objection to private remand centres as a means to ease the problem?
The Solicitor-General : I shall answer that part of the question that is relevant to my Department's responsibility. By and large, I am satisfied with the speed with which the Crown Prosecution Service is bringing suspects to trial. It must be remembered that part of its remit is to review each case to determine whether it is proper to bring the case to trial. That takes slightly longer than was previously the case, for very proper reasons. Other than that point, the others raised by my hon. Friend fall within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Mr. Skinner : Has the Solicitor-General discussed with the Director of Public Prosecutions the case of Roberto Fiore, whose extradition has been sought by Italy since 1981 because of his link to the fascist group that was held responsible for the Bologna railway station bomb that killed 85 people?
Why are the Home Office, the Solicitor-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions dragging their feet on that
Column 641extradition while the Prime Minister and other Ministers are getting stuck into the Belgian and Irish authorities because of Patrick Ryan? This case has been going on for more than seven years.
The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : No, Sir. The fullest co- operation was accorded to the Belgian prosecuting authorities by the Crown prosecution service in the Heysel stadium extradition case and the Belgian prosecuting authorities reciprocated in the recent case of Ryan. I grateful for that. An extradition treaty has been in existence for nearly 90 years. Its provisions have hitherto worked well. As to recent events, I think that the Government's views are now generally well known.
Mr. Adley : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he think that some advantage would be gained by the closest possible co-operation between the EEC states on extradition procedures? Does he think that one of the co-ordinating activities on which all 12 member states might agree would be to seek a system whereby politicians do not have the power, and thus the temptation, to overrule decisions taken by courts in their countries?
The Attorney-General : My hon. Friend's suggestion will be carefully noted. It is legitimate to observe that whatever procedures and machinery are put in place, there will always remain the necessity for the will to operate them.
Mr. Fraser : Will the Attorney-General seek an explanation from his Belgian counterpart on what seems to be a bizarre decision by the Belgian Cabinet to overrule its courts on the extradition of Mr. Ryan? We have enjoyed cordial and co-operative relations with Belgium. The effect of the Belgian Government's decision was to place the Irish Attorney-General in the invidious position of being asked to process in his sovereign state an extradition that had immediately beforehand been rejected by another sovereign state.
The Attorney-General : The Belgian Government are in no doubt about the great surprise that their decision occasioned to the British Government, for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has put forward--the legal grounds that were put forward as the basis of the Belgian Government's decision evidently escaped the attention of the Belgian courts, which were satisfied.
Column 642statement on progress on the UNICEF global immunisation programme and the United Kingdom contribution to it.
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten) : There has been no significant change in the figures I gave my hon. Friend on 24 October, when UNICEF had committed about $302 million to immunisation projects, some 71 per cent. of its estimated requirement. Programmes continue to develop, but the initial spurt in activity has eased off as campaigns are completed and continuing immunisation activities are incorporated in new country programmes.
Mr. Chapman : I commend UNICEF's ambitious initiative in making it possible for all children of the world to be immunised against six preventable diseases. I also commend my hon. Friend for making available a record £7.5 million to UNICEF's general resources fund, in addition to the £6 million contribution to the special fund, most of which will go to the immunisation programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if money is still needed, the Government will continue to set a fine example which will be admired by every hon. Member and the public in one of the most worthy objectives of all time?
Mr. Patten : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in this subject. Our total contributions to UNICEF have doubled from about £7.5 million in the 1985-86 financial year to over £15 million in the last financial year. We will continue to give UNICEF's work the priority that it deserves. Through our general health programmes, we will also continue to try to focus as much as possible on the development of primary health care facilities in developing countries.
Ms. Armstrong : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which country in membership of the development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has decreased its net official development assistance (disbursements) to sub-Saharan Africa in 1986 prices and exchange rates between 1980 and 1987 by the highest percentage ; and by what percentage.
Ms. Armstrong : Will the Minister comment on the British contribution? Will he confirm that because our contribution has gone down in percentage terms, sub-Saharan Africa lost about £600 million in that period? Will he assure the House that there is a commitment to enable sub-Saharan Africa to get out of its continuing problems? It now has a debt repayment problem and a loss of income, which means that it is getting into further problems. This country, with its economic growth that the Minister keeps telling us about, is in an ideal position to help sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr. Patten : I have the passing impression that I did not give the hon. Lady the answer that she was expecting. In our bilateral and multilateral programmes, we contributed £530 million to sub-Saharan Africa in 1987. We have taken the lead in trying to cope with the African debt problem. I am sure that the hon. Lady will have been delighted also by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's
Column 643announcement last week that we will be prepared to contribute up to $100 million to Nigeria to help the programme that it is agreeing with the IMF, provided other donors also give support.
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Has my hon. Friend noted the comments of the development assistance committee in praising the British programme for its concentration on the poorest countries, not least in sub-Saharan Africa?
Mr. Patten : Yes, we concentrate more aid on poor countries than do many other donors. The average for OECD donor countries as a whole is about 60 per cent. to poor countries whereas our figure is about 80 per cent. That is wholly right. It is also why we attempt to convince our colleagues in the European Community to adopt poverty criteria rather than political criteria for allocations under the Asia-Latin America programme.
Miss Lestor : As I have written to the Minister, he is no doubt aware that in its report, which he must have seen, the development assistance committee has expressed its concern at the decline in our aid
"in real terms during much of the 1980s and that as a proportion of GNP it was now considerably below DAC average."
The OECD also states :
"that the time has come to reverse the downward trend in the United Kingdom's ODA/GNP ratio, also as a contribution to improved aid burden- sharing among DAC members, and to make sustained progress towards
the United Nations target. Does the Minister agree with those views? Can he give an assurance that this year the trend will be reversed?
Mr. Patten : I agree with what the development assistance committee of the OECD said in its statement about the effectiveness of our aid programme, about the extent to which it takes account of environmental factors and about the extent to which it is directed towards the alleviation of poverty. I also welcome what the development assistance committee said about our aid programme now growing in real terms--a reflection of the growing strength of our economy, to which the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mrs. Armstrong) paid such glittering and fulsome tribute earlier. I am delighted that our aid programme will be growing by 18 per cent. in cash terms over the next three years or 5 per cent. in real terms.
Mr. Patten : I said 5 per cent. in real terms. Perhaps the hon. Lady could take a course in basic economics. I am delighted that we should be able to add to that with the new money that would go to Nigeria, provided that the other conditions which I mentioned earlier are met.
Mr. Chris Patten : Details of our existing activities to protect rain forests are given in a supplement to "British Overseas Development", a copy of which I am placing in the Library. In future we will encourage recipient countries
Column 644to direct more of our aid to forestry and will increase commitments through international research and British charities.
Mr. Jack : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and his commitment to the rain forests. My nine-year-old son, Edmund, many members of the public and ecological bodies are worried that we are losing the race against time in the destruction of the rain forests. What hope can my hon. Friend give that a sense of new urgency will be promoted by the British Government in pursuit of further initiatives to ensure that his ecological legacy remains at the disposal of the whole world?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend's nine-year-old son is as worried about the subject as is my nine-year-old daughter, Alice, and they are both entirely right to be worried about this issue, to which my hon. Friend has paid such attention during his time in the House. We are funding well over 70 bilateral research and non-governmental organisation projects in the forestry sector. We have committed about £80 million to projects which are currently under way. I believe that we should do more and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed us to that in her speeches to the Conservative party conference and the Royal Society. I look forward to some of the results of that in the years ahead. As my hon. Friend said, this is an extremely important subject.
70. Mr. Fearn : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to initiate discussion with any developing countries to offer increased aid in return for guarantees about the protection of areas of tropical rain forest.
74. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to initiate discussions with developing countries to offer increased aid in return for the implementation of measures to protect areas of tropical rain forest.
Mr. Chris Patten : I shall be encouraging recipient countries to direct more of our aid to forestry, but I support the view of the Brundtland commission that aid should not be subject to blanket environmental conditionality. Instead we should help countries to improve their capacity to tackle environmental problems and encourage international agencies to take full account of environmental aspects when preparing loans.
Mr. Patten : Our ambassador to the United Nations in New York, who was formerly the permanent secretary in my Department, is one of the foremost environmentalists in this country. Like our other representatives abroad, for example, at the World Bank, he has been pressing that the environmental impact of development should be taken into account.
Mr. Kirkwood : Will the Minister acknowledge that experts say that at the present state of erosion tropical rain forests will disappear by 2020 if some urgent action is not taken immediately? Is he aware that the only way to do that effectively is to make sure that the people who are getting a commercial return from taking out the rain
Column 645forests are accommodated and subsidised through the aid packages that we offer abroad? Is the Minister's Department considering that?
Mr. Patten : That is one of the approaches being considered under the tropical forestry action plan. However, the problem is more complicated than that, which is why we have put so much money into, for
Column 646example, inventories and management of the rain forests of western Africa. It is why, as I said earlier, we have committed £80 million to forestry projects that are at present under way and, above all, it is why we shall commit more resources to trying to develop appropriate institutions in developing countries so that they have capacity in environmental matters, which they do not have at present.
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