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Sir Trevor Skeet : Will my hon. Friend the Minister bear in mind that security is the most important aspect for people travelling from Bedford? They will not use the line at all if their lives are not secure. Will my hon. Friend assure us that British Rail intends to adopt some innovative measures? Whether British Rail accepts the idea of Guardian Angels on the trains or considers any other method, will my hon. Friend assure us that some method is adopted?
Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend will agree that it is most important that criminals should believe that they are likely to be apprehended. I am sure that he will welcome the news that progress is being made with the investigation. My hon. Friend will be aware that the line has not had a record of serious crime hitherto, so the incident took the police by surprise. Nonetheless, they have reacted with great swiftness to an extremely serious incident.
Mr. Prescott : Will the new Networker trains have guards? That was the element which was so obviously missing in the deplorable Bedford line incident at the weekend. Does he accept that the cuts in staff and police levels have contributed to encouraging an increase in violence on our railway system, with the result that the steamer gangs see our rail system as a soft touch? Will the Minister now tell British Rail that it will forgo the £200 million cut in public subsidies this year? Will he ensure that the moneys are redirected to increasing staffing levels and safety standards to improve security on our railway system, thus making an increase in safety standards a higher priority than the saving of money?
Mr. Portillo : The Networkers will be one-man operated. They will be associated with the new radio equipment I have mentioned, which is extremely important in combating crime. There is no evidence that there is more crime on one-person operated trains than on
Column 12other trains. When I took the opinion of a senior police officer this morning on whether any difference would have been made if there had been a guard on the train, his reply was, "The guard would have taken a serious beating."
Mr. Jack : My hon. Friend will be aware that the Networker type of train has sliding electrically operated doors. The same type of doors contributed to an accident that resulted in the death of an elderly lady at St. Anne's railway station. Will my hon. Friend undertake that he will consider carefully the representations that I have made to him for a full railway inspectorate inquiry into that matter and into other safety matters that involve sliding doors?
Mr. Taylor : Is the Minister aware that those who are involved in the holiday business in the area, as well as those who use the line daily, are having a blight cast upon their work because of continuing uncertainty? Tour operators have lost bookings because they cannot guarantee that the line will be open from May to October. The continuing uncertainty is not helped by press speculation that the Minister has found a solution about which he will not tell the House. Will the Minister reveal whether the speculation is sourced from his Department and when an announcement will be made?
Mr. Portillo : I am not responsible for the speculation which has appeared in the newspapers. I am sorry to hear about blight. The hon. Gentleman will know that I had to give the most serious undertakings that I would consider all the evidence that is put before me, and there is voluminous evidence. It would be wrong for me to reach a decision until I have gone through the evidence carefully.
Mr. Waller : Although it seems unlikely now that a single operator could take over the Settle-Carlisle line and run it, will my hon. Friend have close discussions with bodies such as the passenger transport authorities, the county councils and the tourist boards to ascertain whether they can come together, with the support of the Government, to find a way of saving what is, by any standards, an important part of the British heritage?
Mr. Portillo : Yes. The first thing that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to do is to reach a decision on the application that has been made by British Rail to suspend its services. A number of people have been in touch with us, including the West Yorkshire PTA.
Column 13proposal has been published. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read that, he will find some of the figures for which he may be looking.
Mr. Yeo : Does my hon. Friend agree, while understanding the concern of those whose homes may be destroyed, that the national construction of a high-speed rail link offers enormous environmental benefits and improvements? It will give us a chance to transfer some traffic from road to rail, and there is the possibility that there will be fewer vehicles, including coaches, cluttering Kent's roads.
Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend has made a most interesting point. Even without the new line, rail freight is expected to more than triple. There could be 20 trains a day in each direction through the tunnel and that would mean that 1,500 fewer lorries a day would be required in Kent. With the new line there will be more room on the existing railway network for freight trains. Therefore, there will be less of a tendency for that freight to drift back on to the roads of Kent.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the Minister accept that it would be a travesty of justice to promote such a rail link by way of a private Bill? We need a planning inquiry. If a private Bill were used to promote the new line that would bring the procedures of this House into disrepute. Does he agree that it would be absolutely impossible to find four hon. Members to sit in a judicial capacity on the Bill who do not have an interest in the matter? Will he ensure that there is a proper planning inquiry and that the new line is not promoted through the back door route of a private Bill?
Mr. Portillo : No. I absolutely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Although some proposals have been put forward by a joint committee which we will have to consider very seriously, at the moment there is no method for the promotion of a new railway line other than by a private Bill.
Mr. Rowe : Is my hon. Friend aware that for the past six months British Rail has engaged in what it calls consultations, but which the rest of us would call confrontation, which has added nothing to the argument? As a consequence, when British Rail finally announces the route, it will not have gained any more information or taken any notice, as far as I can see, of what anyone else is saying. Will my hon. Friend, in those circumstances, ensure that British Rail considers other routes, such as, route 5, which has been carefully designed, before it takes its decision?
Mr. Portillo : British Rail should consider its route very carefully including any alternatives which are put forward. However, my hon. Friend rushes to judgment when he says that British Rail has not been listening. He must wait until he sees the proposed line, and then judge for himself.
64. Mr. Fraser : To ask the Attorney-General what steps are currently being undertaken by his Department or that of the Lord Chancellor in relation to increasing the rights which flow from cohabitation.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : The Law Commission is currently reviewing the law relating to intestacy, to the occupation of the home, and to domestic violence. This review will include the question of what rights should follow from cohabitation as well as from marriage.
Mr. Fraser : Will the Solicitor-General confirm that it is the intention of the Lord Chancellor's Department to increase the obligations of common law partners in the forthcoming legal aid regulations? Does he agree that inter vivos rights of common law partners should be increased. For example, a common law wife who has lived in a home owned by her common law husband for many years should have rights of security and proprietary rights in the matrimonial home as well and, so as not to be sexist, vice versa?
The Solicitor-General : People in that position already have some rights and the Law Commission is considering whether they should have further rights. Such rights as they have at the moment will be taken into account appropriately when the regulations to which the hon. Gentleman referred come forward.
Mr. Holt : Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that whatever the rights are, it is very important that the mechanics match those rights? Is he satisfied with the work of the legal aid office in Newcastle which allegedly dictated a letter on 19 January, typed it on 1 February and which was finally delivered on 9 February after I had contacted the office by telephone? That communication related to the "tug-of-love" case between one of my constituents and a child's mother. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that that case was put in jeopardy, whatever the rights may be, because of the length of time involved?
Mr. Rooker : Will the Attorney-General confirm whether he has discussed with the director of the serious fraud office the continuing delay in reaching a decision on his inquiries regarding the Department of Trade and Industry's report on the House of Fraser? Will he also confirm that the dilatory actions of former Ministers, Sir Alex Fletcher and the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) allowed known crooks to buy the House of Fraser? Are they now co-operating fully with the serious fraud office?
The Attorney-General : As to the less tendentious part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the matter to which he referred at the beginning featured among those that I discussed today. Police inquiries requested by the Director of Public Prosecutions are continuing.
Sir Anthony Grant : Did my right hon. and learned Friend discuss with the Director of Public Prosecutions any need for additional staff in his Department to deal with major fraud cases? It has taken an appalling length of time to bring the Guinness scandal to trial.
The Attorney-General : No, Sir. That was not among the matters discussed, because the director of the serious fraud office has made no representation to me that he needs additional staff. The establishment of the serious fraud office has vindicated the legislation that permitted it, because matters that are now the subject of prosecution--including the prosecution arising out of the Guinness affair--would not have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions under the previous arrangements.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : What is happening in the case of Mr. Kunwar Chander Jeet Singh, who ran Ravendale Group plc and City Investment Centres, and who, in the over-the-counter market and in other share dealings, defrauded thousands of people of their money? When will that fraudster be prosecuted?
The Attorney-General : If the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask a question about a specific case, it will be to my advantage and, I suspect, to that of the House, if he addressed his question directly to that case.
Mr. Holt : Will my right hon. and learned Friend say whether one of those matters was bringing back to this country Mr. James Draper, to serve the two-year prison sentence that was imposed upon him for contempt of court, after he and others defrauded many people in this country?
The Attorney-General : Yes, Sir. That matter was discussed today. For the assistance of my hon. Friend, I can say that the Vice-Chancellor made an order committing Mr. Draper, in his absence, to prison for two years for civil contempt of court. Extradition cannot be ordered from any country for civil contempt, even if it results in an order of imprisonment. The Vice-Chancellor's judgment and a separate report by Department of Trade and Industry inspectors into the affairs of two companies, known as Milbury plc and Westminster Property Group, which covered similar ground, have been studied by counsel, who concluded that a police investigation should not be commenced, nor extradition sought, in respect of alleged criminal offences committed by Draper. The Crown prosecution service agrees with that view.
Column 16Metropolis, who acknowledged that to tackle racial harassment effectively, a much stronger policy is needed from the Director of Public Prosecutions, so that more of those people who perpetrate racial harassment will be prosecuted?
The Attorney-General : The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has not yet reported that meeting to me, nor any opinions such as that which the hon. Gentleman identifies. I look forward to reading any communication from the commissioner.
Mr. Adley : Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall the great courtesy that he showed me, when we met to discuss the case of my constituent, Mrs. Christine Sellers, and the possibility of bringing a criminal prosecution against the surgeon, Mr. Cook? My right hon. and learned Friend's advice was that she should bring a civil case against him. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the case has now been heard, and that judgment is expected later this week? If Mrs. Sellers wins, will my right hon. and learned Friend be willing again to see me, as was anticipated in the first place?
The Attorney-General : On Thursday, 29 September 1988. As I stated in my answer of 23 January 1989 to the hon. Gentleman, we had a constructive meeting in regard to matters of concern to our respective responsibilities--in particular, extradition between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
Mr. Dalyell : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has possibly had a telephone conversation this morning with the Irish Attorney-General, what message does the right hon. and learned Gentleman have for lawyers and solicitors in Northern Ireland in the light of last night's tragedy?
The Attorney-General : Last night's tragedy should and does arouse disgust throughout the civilised community. It is, of course, most deeply felt among lawyers but also, I would judge, widely shared throughout the Province.
The Attorney-General : The Irish Attorney-General has had the papers concerning Mr. Ryan since last month. Those papers were sent with a view to his prosecution being considered by the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr. Winnick : Arising from what the Attorney-General has just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), does he agree that the murder last night of a solicitor is a new escalation of the murderous violence in the Province? Does he also agree that those who practise law in Northern Ireland have a duty and a responsibility
Column 17to their clients? Are not those responsible for the murder demonstrating once again that, whether the violence comes from the Republican or the Loyalist side, these murderers have no respect for the rule of law?
The Attorney-General : The hon. Gentleman's last remark was quite correct. However, I do not know whether the murder was an escalation of the violence that has beset the Province for so many years. It is certainly an example of violence on a disgusting and totally unacceptable scale, which right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House wish to do all that they can to suppress, consistent with the rule of law.
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten) : I visited Malawi at the end of last month. I saw a range of British-financed development projects and technical projects and technical experts, and confirmed to Malawian Ministers our continuing commitment to help Malawi's development programme. British aid to Malawi, including help for Mozambican refugees, amounted to £25 million in 1987, the latest year for which full figures are available.
Mr. Patten : I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. I saw for myself the importance to Malawi's economy of improving transport links. That is why we intend to spend just over £13 million on the northern transport corridor linking Malawi to Dar-es-Salaam. We have also made a contribution to the rehabilitation of the Nacala line, and will probably be able to do more to support that project as well.
Sir Jim Spicer : My hon. Friend will know all our aid is directed on a bilateral basis where it is most needed. Why does the European Community, particularly in the case of black South African townships, insist on feeding its aid through a third party, which then has the power to direct where the aid should go? Would not our approach be more satisfactory?
Mr. Patten : We are pressing, both through our own bilateral contributions to projects in South Africa and through the European Community, to ensure that that aid goes to education and social projects where it is most needed. We shall, as my hon. Friend suggested, be spending on our own substantial programme and we have already committed about £25 million to bilateral projects in South Africa in the five years to 1992.
Mr. Chris Patten : Negotiations on a successor to the third Lome convention, which expires in February 1990, were opened formally in October last year. The first European Community--African Caribbean Pacific ministerial negotiating meeting, which I shall be attending, is in Brazzaville later this week.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : When the Minister attends the meeting, will he press the European Commission to consider carefully the implications of the 1992 single market and its impact on African, Caribbean and Pacific countries? Will he ensure that those Third world countries do not lose out in the single market? Does he recognise the grave danger that the fat cats of Europe will get the cream and milk while the Third world countries will be left with only a cracked saucer?
Mr. Patten : I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with a good deal of what the hon. Gentleman said. We have to make absolutely certain that 1992 does not create a fortress Europe, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear. We have to do all that we can in the re-negotiation of the Lome convention to ensure that we liberalise the existing trade arrangements where we can. We have set out our thoughts on that, and in particular we have made clear our views on bananas and the importance of guaranteeing the position of our traditional suppliers in 1992 and thereafter.
Miss Lestor : While the hon. Gentleman is in the mood to agree with my hon. Friend, may I ask whether he has had time to look at the charter for Lome IV produced by the world development movement? Two of the points in that charter may well be in line with what he is thinking, and I should welcome his comments. First, the Economic Community, in discussing 1992, should publish a report on the anticipated costs and benefits to African Caribbean Pacific states and fully compensate those that are adversely affected, and secondly that the Economic Community should abolish all remaining tariffs and non-tariff barriers on processed products from ACP states. As the Minister shares the Opposition's concern about the move towards 1992, I should welcome his co-operation on those matters.
Mr. Patten : I agree with a good deal of the world development movement's charter on the Lome re-negotiations. In regard to tariffs, as I said earlier, we are pressing for further liberalisation. For example, we are pressing for rum to be treated like other industrial products. It seems inconceivable that after 1992 we could continue with a quota on rum and with compartmentalisation. I have mentioned the importance of liberalising the arrangements. The hon. Lady also mentioned an economic assessment of the consequences of 1992. We have argued with ACP countries that they should benefit from a larger and more dynamic market after 1992. The European Community has to help them develop their own processing and manufacturing capacity, for example, by simplifying the existing rules of origin.
Column 19he pay particular attention to the Madrid appeal--the document produced by the 22 countries of the Council of Europe in their campaign for greater public awareness in the North-South campaign?
Mr. Patten : That was a very useful campaign, particularly as my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) played a part in drawing up that declaration. We were pleased to be able to make a small contribution to that campaign, which quite properly accomplished its objectives.
Mr. Chris Patten : We shall continue to play our full part in implementing the internationally-agreed strategy on debt. We will maintain support through the aid programme for important initiatives recently adopted for the poorest debtors, in which Britain took a leading role.
Mr. Cohen : That is some strategy. The Minister will be aware that that World Bank report showed that the poorer nations paid the richer nations some $43 billion last year and because of compound interest they were still $39 billion further in debt. The Government's strategy is to export privatisation, to soak the resources of those countries and leave them even further in debt. Is that not a recipe for poverty capitalism, rather than popular capitalism?
Mr. Patten : Unusually, the hon. Gentleman is a little wide of the mark. The figures which he quoted are certainly misleading as they take no account of grant aid or of the ability of better off developing countries to repay their debts. The net capital flows to sub-Saharan African countries were strongly positive throughout the 1980s. Even after deducting interest payments they amounted to $15 billion in 1987, the last year for which we have figures. These days very few people would agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of market forces. His views seem to be more in line with those of Mr. Ligachev than with those of President Gorbachev.
Mr. Wells : The House owes my hon. Friend a great debt of gratitude for the initiative that he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have taken to put on the international scene the initiative on sub-Saharan debt, which has been taken a step further at Toronto. Does my
Column 20hon. Friend believe that the time is now ripe for a further initiative in that area, and that we should extend the initiative on sub-Saharan debt to other countries, such as Guyana in South America? Can he make a statement about that? Is he prepared to take any steps in relation to the debts owed to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund?
Mr. Patten : It is important to distinguish between the poorest and the most indebted countries and those which are rather better off. It is also important to distinguish between debts that are owed to Governments and international organisations and those which are owed to commercial banks. Whatever happens, I would not endorse the transfer of risks from banks to taxpayers.
We have announced that we have committed support to the programme, which we hope will get off the ground, to encourage economic reforms in Guyana. Canada has led the exercise, but we have said that we will support an agreed IMF-World Bank programme in Guyana. I hope that we can start one very soon.
74. Mr. Welsh : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current progress in negotiations for the replenishment of the International Development Association.
Mr. Welsh : I wish the Minister all success in the negotiations and hope that they are successful for the association. Is the Minister aware that, in 1979, we contributed 10 per cent. of this fund and that, in the early 1980s, we reduced that contribution to 6.7 per cent. because we had a weak economy? Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the economy is the strongest it has ever been. Does the Minister agree with the Chancellor? If so, will he renegotiate a 10 per cent. contribution in the next round of negotiations?
Mr. Patten : Of course I agree with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the strength of the economy. I also agree with what he told the IMF-World Bank development committee recently. He said that we
"believe a substantial replenishment is justified to maintain the Bank's concessional lending to its very poorest members, especially in Africa".
I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend. We shall certainly play our traditional part in accomplishing such a replenishment.
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