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Mr. Moore : My hon. Friend is precisely right. He drew attention to pensioners' real incomes. He was referring to pensioners' average incomes, not simply and solely the state pension. With regard to the average income of all pensioners, my hon. Friend referred to the appalling performance of the Labour Government under whom pensioners saw their average income increase by only 3 per cent. throughout the whole five years that the Labour party was in office.
Mr. McAllion : Irrespective of actual spending on benefits for the elderly since 1979, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government refuse to allow anyone over 65 to claim mobility allowance? Will he explain why people over 65 are not allowed to claim that allowance? People aged over 65 have the same need to move around as anyone else.
Mr. Moore : No, the mobility allowance was originally introduced for people in work or in comparable non-work situations. Eventually, the qualifying age was raised to 65 and in the Social Security Bill Standing Committee the Government are extending the upper age limit to 80. Considerable costs are attached, to the extent of £1 billion plus, to extend it beyond the age of 65. However, the massive increase in those able to receive mobility allowance is a reflection of the extra money spent by the Government on that benefit.
Mr. Charles Wardle : When my right hon. Friend considers what scope he has to help the elderly, will he also calculate and place on public record the amount of taxpayers' money which goes on social security benefits for citizens of the Irish Republic who freely enter the United Kingdom without specific job prospects or their own means of support?
Mr. Robin Cook : In view of the Secretary of State's earlier comments, will he for the avoidance of doubt put on record the fact that under the Labour Government the basic pension increased by 20 per cent. in real terms in six years while under this Government it has increased by 2 per cent. in 10 years? Does not that tenfold difference between the last Labour Government and this Government put into perspective the relative priorities which the Labour party and the Conservative party give to pensioners?
Mr. Moore : I shall put on record that throughout the whole five- year period of the Labour Government, the total increase in the real average income of pensioners was 3 per cent. Pensions have increased by that amount almost every single year since the Conservative Government have been in office. I remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are concerned about the least well-off in our country that in 1979 about 38 per cent. of pensioners were in the bottom one fifth of national wealth distribution. Happily, they now number only 25 per cent.--not 38 per cent., as under Socialism.
Mr. Scott : Chapter II, Mr. Speaker. As has already been indicated to the House, under the Labour Government the level of the basic pension increased by 20 per cent., and under the present Government by 2 per cent. Nevertheless, I confirm the figures given earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, showing that pensioners' standard of living--that is what matters--has increased by 22 per cent., compared with 3 per cent. under the Labour Government.
Mr. Morgan : The Minister's reply highlights the 20 per cent. increase achieved under the last Labour Government, compared with the 5 per cent. improvement seen under the present Government. Does the Minister agree that, because of their upbringing, the elderly are particularly resistant to applying for means-tested benefits, it is important that the Government give some attention to setting a target by which time pensioners will be able to enjoy a 20 per cent. increase in real terms in their basic old-age pensions?
Mr. Scott : What matters to pensioners is their total standard of living, which has been increasing, and is increasing, under the Government. Under Labour, inflation wiped out the savings of a whole generation of pensioners, and that affected their standard of living more than anything else.
45. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Attorney-General how many Queen's counsel are practising at the criminal Bar today ; how many were practising 10, 20 and 30 years ago ; and if he will make a statement.
The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : There are 601 practising Queen's counsel, of whom, according to records held by the Lord Chancellor's Department, 259 undertake some criminal work. The total in practice in 1979, 1969 and 1959 were 404, 391 and 181 respectively, but their specialities are not recorded.
Mr. Greenway : Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether any of that increased number of Queen's counsel received any part of the £20,000 costs awarded against the two sisters in the Tesco case? Does he agree that it is horrendous that those two ladies should face such
Column 597appalling costs in their successful efforts to clear their names, following the accusation that they were involved in £2 worth of shoplifting? Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that Tesco has a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to pay those costs?
The Attorney-General : Of course I understand my hon. Friend's compassionate concern, but he will recognise that I am unable to comment on any individual judicial decision, and I cannot make an exception in this case. My restraint must not of course be taken as concurrence in any of the adjectives that my hon. Friend chose to employ.
Mr. Janner : While I share the hope of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that Tesco will, for the sake of its own good name and of justice, pay those legal costs, is it not a matter of concern for the Attorney-General that the system of justice, including payments into court- -whether or not they are received by Queen's counsel--has been brought into disrepute? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look into the entire matter, so that innocent people charged with shoplifting but cleared by a court will not find themselves under a massive burden of debt, which they have to meet because of a defect in the law?
The Attorney-General : The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Lord Chancellor is responsible for civil law policy, and I undertake to draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks to his attention.
The Attorney-General : As of 28 February 1989, 200 representations had been received in response to the Lord Chancellor's recent Green Papers. Of those, 44 per cent. were from members of the public, and the rest were from lawyers, including judges.
Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Green Paper proposals should lead to cheaper legal services for all, and would benefit everyone in the community? Does he agree also that legal Jeremiahs who forecast an end to the independent Bar and to the family solicitor may be distinguished lawyers, but are jolly bad forecasters who do their profession a disservice?
The Attorney-General : The purpose of the Government's provisional proposals is to ensure that the public are provided with the most efficient and effective network of legal services at the most economical price. Opinions of every kind about the efficacy of the proposals, expressed in response to the Green Papers, will of course be assessed very carefully.
Mr. Maclennan : Bearing in mind that no Select Committee shadows the work of the Lord Chancellor's Department, and that it will be this House which is faced with legislation, and bearing in mind the blood-curdling imprecations of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hailsham, Lord Ackner and a number of other luminaries, does the
Attorney-General agree that it might be appropriate to consider supporting any moves to set up a pre-legislative Committee of the House to take evidence on the proposals before they are brought before the House-- especially in
Column 598the light of widespread speculation that the Green Paper will be followed speedily by legislation rather than by a White Paper?
The Attorney-General : I rather lost track of the number of hypothetical questions incorporated in the hon. Gentleman's overall question. Those matters, however, are not for me but for the usual channels --and there I must leave the answer to that interesting question.
Mr. Aitken : Would it not be a logical extension of the bracing free -market philosophy of the Green Paper for the office of Lord Chancellor and, indeed, that of Attorney-General to be taken by non-lawyers in future? Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that the Peter Wright saga demonstrates that millions of pounds could have been saved if the Government had taken the cheapest available common-sense advice, namely that of non-lawyers?
The Attorney-General : My hon. Friend seems to have overlooked the fact that the Lord Chancellor does not have to be a lawyer. The Attorney- General does, but his salary is so low that I suspect that it represents the lowest cost available through competition.
Mr. Fraser : First, when the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor examine the Green Paper, will they learn some of the lessons of the Financial Services Act and ensure that they get these radical reforms right first time? Does the Attorney-General recognise that the effect of some other reforms has been to deny proper advice to those most in need of it--perhaps the poorest in the community? Secondly, what opportunity will there be for the House to be consulted? Parliamentary questions do not provide a sufficient forum for consultation about the terms of the Green Paper.
Finally, why does the Green Paper not say much about one branch of the profession--judges--and their selection, training and suitability? Would it not be better if a legal commission were responsible for the appointment of the judiciary?
The Attorney-General : As for whether the Financial Services Act and the way in which it has been implemented represent an analogy, those matters can be, and no doubt will be, properly addressed to the Lord Chancellor in response to the Green Papers. As for consultation with the House, there is of course absolutely no reason why right hon. and hon. Members should not make their representations to the Lord Chancellor, and he hopes very much that they will do so. The appointment of judges falls outside the scope of the Green Papers, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will understand why that is so.
Sir Anthony Grant : Much of the Green Paper is extremely sensible, and valuable to the public and the legal profession. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware, however, that any proposal to move to the American system of contingency fees would be unacceptable? Does he not agree that it would be very undesirable for us to return to the days when certain lawyers were regarded with utter contempt and called ambulance chasers?
The Attorney-General : The proposals regarding contingency fees, and the argument underlying them, are set out with great clarity in the Green Paper. I do not wish to add to what is written there, except to say that the
Column 599American system--or, at any rate, what is commonly regarded as the American system--is not advocated in the Green Paper.
47. Mr. Allen : To ask the Attorney-General what his Department is doing to reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse, by securing convictions of perpetrators, and co-ordinating its approach with local government and other institutions in this area.
The CPS is represented on the Home Office advisory group which is considering the practical and legal implications of using a child's video- recorded interview as evidence in criminal proceedings, which is an important proposal. The CPS acknowledges the importance of inter-agency co- operation in the investigation of child abuse cases. The police and the social services, at local level, can always obtain legal advice from the CPS at an early stage in any investigation.
Mr. Allen : Will the Attorney-General please convey my thanks and those of my constituents to the CPS at local level in respect of its handling of the Broxtowe child abuse case? As that case was handled in an absolutely exemplary fashion, will the Attorney-General call for a report on the interdepartmental co-operation that took place, since we have heard a great deal about interdepartmental conflict in other cases? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel that there are lessons to be learnt, and will he have that report distributed to the CPS in other areas?
The Attorney-General : I am most grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. As always, he is most supportive of the Crown prosecution service in his constituency, and that is greatly appreciated. I note what he has said, and I will make inquiries in the direction he has suggested and will write to him.
Mr. Devlin : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is quite impossible for the House to deal properly with the Children Bill or to legislate on any other matter relating to child abuse unless it has some reliable figures? During the Cleveland inquiry we were bedevilled with varying claims concerning the number of children being sexually abused : one in four, one in 10, one in 100, or one in a million. Until we have some reliable figures we will not be able to draw up proper proposals for action. When can we have an inquiry into the extent of this abuse?
The Attorney-General ; Such an inquiry would be outside my responsibilities, but I think that my hon. Friend will recognise that it is possible to acknowledge, and to respond to, public concern about the abuse of children. Undoubtedly child abuse exists to a serious extent, though it is not possible to quantify it precisely. No doubt, my colleagues will determine how best to meet people's concern.
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten) : The international donor community will continue to do all it can to ensure that relief supplies reach those in need in all the drought-affected areas of Ethiopia.
Mr. Wareing : Now that the medical teams from the Relief Society of Tigray have confirmed the bombing of Hauzien and Sheraro and other towns by the Ethiopian forces, would not the best way of ensuring that supplies get through to the people of Tigray be to call an international conference embracing the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, so that an end might be brought to the strife in the area and that all those nations could partake in the relief of its desolate population?
Mr. Chris Patten : I should say, first, that we do try to provide humanitarian aid to those in need, wherever they may be. I do not think that it would be helpful to say precisely which channels have been used in the past, because that could prejudice the success of some of the relief efforts. However, it is a point that we have had an opportunity to discuss with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs--to its satisfaction, I think. Of course, we urge all parties to the civil conflicts in Tigray and Eritrea to seek an early, peaceful and negotiated solution to their differences. It is not easy, to put it mildly, to distribute humanitarian assistance when there is a civil conflict raging.
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Does my hon. Friend not agree that in current circumstances one of the most effective ways to get help to Tigran and elsewhere is through the good offices of the international agencies that are working there? Can he tell the House to what extent Britain has contributed in that regard?
Mr. Patten : In the past couple of years we have provided, altogether, about £50 million for humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia. A good deal of that assistance has been chanelled through non-governmental organisations. At present we are providing 560,000 doses of vaccine, through agencies including the Save the Children and Concern, at a total cost of just over £250,000, to deal with the outbreak of meningitis, which, understandably, has caused a great deal of concern. We shall look promptly and sympathetically at any further requests for help with the meningitis outbreak.
Mr. Chris Patten : During my recent visit to Uganda, I announced a further £21 million in aid on grant terms. Of this, £10 million is fast-disbursing balance of payments aid in support of Uganda's IMF- backed economic recovery programme, £5 million is for development projects, £5.66
Column 601million is an increase in the grant for the rehabilitation of Owen falls power station, and nearly £500,000 is for Oxfam's relief work for displaced people.
Mr. Wells : I congratulate my hon. Friend on squeezing in a visit to Uganda on his way back from Brazzaville after the Lome convention meeting. What assurances can he give to the House that that additional aid, which is very welcome to Uganda, will be spent on the objectives that he has agreed?
Mr. Patten : We have had a particularly close and good dialogue and working relationship with President Museveni's Government in Uganda. They are faced with a Herculean task, but they have made an outstanding start to that job. Since President Museveni came to office we have committed or spent about £110 million in Uganda. I assure the House that we shall continue to support President Museveni and his Government in the excellent work that they are trying to do, which, I saw as is already showing some signs of success.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : In relation to Uganda and other African countries, was the Minister consulted by the Prime Minister prior to her statements during the last few weeks on CFCs? If that is not to be empty rhetoric, does the Minister accept that such statements must be followed up by money for the developing world? It may need money to rid itself of existing and future refrigeration plants.
Mr. Patten : Refrigerators in Uganda are at something of a premium just at the moment. Nevertheless, Uganda and other developing countries are threatened by global as well as local environmental problems. I addressed those problems in a widely unpublicised speech at Cambridge university last Monday, a copy of which is undoubtedly in the Library. That speech reflected many of the wise things that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said recently about sustainable development.
Mr. Chris Patten : Seven countries have already benefited from concessional rescheduling at the Paris club. These countries are all implementing structural adjustment programmes supported by the IMF and the World Bank. We expect more to follow in the near future.
Mr. Clarke : The Minister has not given the figures, but if the British contribution is in the region of £2.5 million does it not compare unfavourably with the global debts of $73 billion that sub-Saharan Africa faces? Given the colossal difference between our contribution and the debt owed, would it not make sense to write off that debt and to make a substantial contribution to multilateral projects, including the Nordic plan?
Mr. Patten : As I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would know, we have written off old aid loans in Africa to the tune of £275 million. The initial costs of the Toronto concessions will be small, but they will grow as the Paris club agrees on more reschedulings. The main purpose of those concessions is to reduce the capitalisation of interest that leads to an exponential growth in the stock of debt.
Mr. Sayeed : Does my hon. Friend agree that those who doubt my hon. Friend's commitment to the destitute and the dying, thosewho have no chance of altering their circumstances, should have a look at a video recording of his excellent interview on HTV?
Mr. Campbell-Savours It is a pity that the Minister has not got any jobs to hand out.
Mr. Foulkes : Notwithstanding the Minister's unpublicised speeches, his television appearance and his ambition, will he admit that in the past 10 years bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa has been cut in real terms by a cumulative figure of £600 million, while commodity prices have plummeted and interest rates have soared? Does he agree that what is needed is a major international expansion based on a just, new international economic order? Does he accept that the problems of debt and poverty are not just technical matters but are also moral issues?
responsibilities--demonstrating that none of us is entirely beyond ambition. We have spent £3 billion in sub-Saharan Africa through our aid programme since 1981. I am delighted, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is, that our aid programme is growing again in real terms, and much of that growth will go to real-terms increases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr. Chris Patten : Details of our existing activities to protect rain forests are given in a supplement to the December 1988 issue of "British Overseas Development", a copy of which I have placed in the Library. We are encouraging recipient countries to direct more of our aid to forestry. We support international activity through the tropical forestry action plan, the international tropicial timber agreement and other multilateral bodies.
Mr. Jack : I am greatly encouraged by my hon. Friend's commitment to projects to safeguard the rain forests. Does he agree that we need to redouble our efforts, particularly in places such as Brazil, which faces 1,000 per cent. inflation and 1.5 million new entrants to the labour market for whom the most sympathetic international help is required? Will my hon. Friend consider sponsoring a conference on the lines of the current one in London on CFCs to deal with problems affecting the rain forests?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend's suggestion is certainly interesting. There have been a number of conferences on the problems in the forestry sector where--I agree with my hon. Friend--we need to redouble our efforts. I attended
Column 603such a conference recently, and most of the conferences have as an objective further strengthening of the existing international agencies and institutions so that they may play a more prominent part in securing the objective to which my hon. Friend refers.
Mr. Dalyell : May I pay tribute to the expertise of our impressive and concerned embassy in Brasilia? Is the Minister aware that those who are lucky enough to see it at first hand are absolutely appalled at the sheer horrific scale of the destruction near Altamira in the Xingu valley? Out of self-interest, ought we not to study what will happen to us in northern Europe if we do not do something to stop the destruction in eastern Amazonia, which, for reasons of physics, which I cannot go into just
Column 604now, the air currents and the "hopscotch effect" across Amazonia could result in our having a climate similar to that in northern Labrador?
Mr. Patten : I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the expertise in our embassy in Brasilia. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman was able to visit Brazil and the important Altamira conference. What he said underlines what I heard last November from Chief Paiakan of the Kayapo tribe. What is happening in Amazonia is properly of considerable concern to the rest of the world. We have to find ways to help developing countries effectively to tackle their own problems and problems of concern to the whole world.
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