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Mrs. Shephard : There have been difficulties at the Lewes local office during the year. Additional help in the form of casual staff, overtime, regional reserves and staff on detached duty has been made available to offset the shortfall. A new complementing system is to be introduced in April 1990. It will take account of the point raised by my hon. Friend, by being more sensitive to local office needs and taking account of local circumstances. I remind my
Column 701hon. Friend that an additional £25 million was made available during the year to help local offices with their increased workload.
Mr. Skinner : Will the Attorney-General discuss with the director the Ferranti case and the fact that the directors allowed a £250 million sting to take place right under their noses? Does the Attorney- General expect us to believe that that happened without any fraud being involved?
Will the Attorney-General also discuss with the director the £4,000 that went through the checkout that resulted in a young mother and her baby finishing up in prison for six months? If the
Attorney-General wants some equality in Britain, why does he not take Judge Pickles off cases involving young black women and their babies and stick him on City cases and let him loose there?
The Attorney-General : With his well-known concern not to anticipate any inquiry by jumping to a conclusion, the hon. Gentleman would not want me to anticipate the result of an investigation that has been put in train by the director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Director of Public Prosecutions into matters which, among other things, are connected with Ferranti, to which the hon. Gentleman's question relates.
Mr. Teddy Taylor : Is my right hon. and learned Friend at all concerned about the rather extraordinary delay in the inquiries being made by the Serious Fraud Office into matters raised by the House of Fraser report?
Is he worried about the Department of Trade and Industry's decision not to refer that unpublished report to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which means that even if serious fraud is identified and proved, there is nothing that he or anyone else can do about that company's assets?
The Attorney-General : The previous Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told the other place that he was very anxious to publish the report. I am certain that exactly the same is true of his successor. Equally, however, my hon. Friend will know of the affidavit evidence sworn by the two directors of the Serious Fraud Office and the Director of Public Prosecution to the effect that they believed that the interests of justice required that publication of the report should be held up pending investigations which are in train. The investigations have not been limited to this country but have had to take place overseas. It is my earnest hope that they will be completed shortly and a decision taken as to their publication.
Mr. Fraser : Is the Attorney-General aware that if a small-time punter provides false information to obtain a loan or a job, a charge of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception will often result? What is the difference in
Column 702principle between that and giving false information to the European Commission to get a merger clearance for BL, except that the pecuniary advantage is much greater and will he be asking the director of the Serious Fraud Office to look into that?
The Attorney-General : I am afraid that most uncharacteristically the hon. Gentleman is jumping to conclusions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has said that he and his Department will be happy to answer any questions from the Commission about the sale of the Government shareholding in the Rover group. Discussions at an official level are continuing.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : The provision for all legal aid expenditure in the current Supply Estimates is £557 million. Five years ago expenditure was £273 million and 10 years ago it was £99 million.
Mr. Greenway : I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and his Department on that substantial increase. Can he confirm that many more poor people are covered in legal cases by that increased expenditure, and can he explain why solicitors' and lawyers' charges are so high? Why did the cost of the Aldington case come to £1 million?
The Solicitor-General : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his recognition, which deserved to be more widely understood, of the large increases in the money made available for legal aid in the past 10 years. Referring to the costs in legal aid cases, the fees paid to solicitors and lawyers vary on a scale appropriate to the weight and experience necessary for the lawyer or lawyers dealing with the case in question. The Aldington case, which was an unusual case, was a libel case and legal aid is not available for libel. However, the number of people receiving help from legal aid in the past 10 years, judged by the number of legal aid applications granted, has risen from fewer than 200,000 in 1979-80 to some 259,000 this year.
Mr. McFall : Notwithstanding the figures that the Solicitor-General has just given, compared with 10 years ago legal aid is now available to 14 million fewer people. Poor people have been discriminated against. The less money they have the less chance they have of obtaining justice. That is the situation we are facing in 1990.
The Solicitor-General : No. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's assumptions are correct, although I know where they come from. He will also have recognised and no doubt welcomed the announcement by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor providing extra availability of legal aid, particularly in personal injury cases and cases involving children and pensioners which are likely to increase the numbers by up to 10 million people.
Column 703working of the scheme among the legal profession--in which of course I declare an interest--particularly about the rate of remuneration for legal aid? The delays in payment and the circumstances in which it is granted are resulting in a reduction in the number of solicitors who are willing to carry out legal aid work. Will he consider what effect that is likely to have on the Government's commitment to improved access to the legal system for poorer people in society?
The Solicitor-General : Over the past year and a half, I have been made well aware of the concerns about the matters that my hon. and learned Friend raised. He will recognise that considerable advances have been made in improving rates of remuneration. The Legal Aid Board is urgently tackling the question of promptness of payment and the other administrative matters which are important if legal aid is to be given effectively.
Mr. Winnick : Will not Mr. John Day, who is a former senior official of MI5, recommend in his book independent oversight of the security services along lines that have been repeatedly rejected by the Government? Is the Attorney-General aware that we should at least be pleased that, unlike the Wright farce, there will be no objection to Mr. Day publishing his book, and that hence there will be a considerable saving to public funds?
The Attorney-General : I have not read Mr. Day's book, but any question on the oversight of the security services should be put to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I take issue with the hon. Gentleman's description of the proceedings brought by the Government on the publication of Mr. Wright's book, "Spycatcher". I recommend that he reads a note written by Professor Birks of Oxford university in the current edition of the Law Quarterly Review, in which he describes the "battle", as he put it, to suppress the book as one in which the Government were victorious on all points of principle.
Mr. Dalyell : I thank the Attorney-General for his most courteous letter in answer to my request that Law Officers might help hon. Members serving on the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill. Will he reflect on the position of Coopers and Lybrand and discuss with the Serious Fraud Office whether some of those who have been commissioned to write a report for the Government should become involved in a potential management
Column 704buy-out of the Crown Suppliers? Is that not terribly near to insider trading, and should not the Attorney-General's Office consider the ethics involved?
The Attorney-General : I am grateful for the kind words with which the hon. Gentleman began his supplementary question. Matters concerning insider dealing are, in the first instance, for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, whose Department is the prosecuting Department for the offence known as insider dealing. I shall consider the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised and draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker) : Following the very useful visit of two British officials to Cambodia in December, I have decided to provide a further £1 million to multilateral agencies for their programmes inside Cambodia in 1990-91. There has been a further meeting with non-governmental organisations' representatives in London to discuss new project proposals, and I have let the Voluntary Service Overseas know that we should be happy to support the opening of a volunteer programme in Cambodia.
Mr. Strang : Can the Minister be sure that that aid will not go indirectly to the Khmer Rouge? There is growing concern among hon. Members about the escalating war in Cambodia. Do not recent statements by the non- Communist factions of the coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea make it clear that they are now fighting in collaboration with the Khmer Rouge? Is it not, therefore, high time that the Government ceased all direct aid to the non-Communist resistance if they are to comply with their declared policy of giving no aid directly or indirectly to the Khmer Rouge?
Mrs. Chalker : I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have been given repeated assurances by the United Nations Border Relief Organisation that British aid is not being used by the Khmer Rouge. In the light of recent events, I again sought and received confirmation of the position from UNBRO. I join the hon. Gentleman in his concern about the war and the reported happenings over the past few days. We want to see a political solution and free elections, and we are working for that with the interested parties, especially the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. There is such confusion at times about what the three aspects of the resistance movement are saying that I do not feel that I can respond to the hon. Gentleman's last question, but he can be in no doubt that we will not give, have not given and have no intention of giving any support to the Khmer Rouge.
Mr. Lester : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her prompt response to the report by the two diplomats who visited Phnom Penh and on the provision of the extra £1 million. I beg her to use her considerable influence with her colleagues in the Foreign Office to continue to search for
Column 705a solution to the war. There is no point in an enlarged programme for Cambodia unless the war ends. We read in today's newspapers of the bombardment of Battambang, the second largest city in Cambodia. There is a desperate need for a new road from Phnom Penh to Battambang, but there is no point in constructing it until the war ends. Will my right hon. Friend use her influence with the Security Council to achieve that end?
Mrs. Chalker : I thoroughly agree with my right hon. Friend that unless a lasting political solution is found, there is no way in which the aid, which we will willingly give, can be properly used for the benefit of the people. We will continue the efforts that we have been making in recent months.
Mrs. Clwyd : I welcome the Minister's announcement of additional aid to Cambodia. Does she recognise the widespread concern of the British people on the issue of Cambodia and Government policy? Is she aware that a petition was handed in today at the Foreign Office by Oxfam supporters and an all-party delegation which voiced their worry and asked the Government to reconsider their policy? We all agree that a political solution should be found. Can the right hon. Lady give us a categorical assurance that United Nations Border Relief Organisation food aid, to which we all contribute, is properly monitored? She has received reports from Oxfam supporters who have seen what is happening in the Khmer Rouge camps on the Thai border. Some of that food is parcelled up by people in those camps and goes directly to the military, including the Khmer Rouge, who are fighting inside Cambodia against the Cambodian Government.
Mrs. Chalker : I understand the hon. Lady's anxiety about the potential issue which was reported to me by Frank Judd of Oxfam at a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and me on 14 November. We have repeatedly gone to UNBRO for these assurances. I shall not be entirely satisfied as long as hon. Members and the British people remain concerned about this matter. I shall continue asking for assurances and do all I can to ensure that the food intended for families and ordinary people in Cambodia is not sent to the Khmer Rouge. But I am here in London--not in the camps or in Cambodia-- and I cannot say hand on heart that none of the food has gone through.
I was aware of the petition that the hon. Lady, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) delivered this morning to the Foreign Office. One can have endless petitions, but a political solution is needed. With the help of United Nations Security Council members, I hope that we can bring that about as soon as possible.
Mrs. Chalker : The Lome convention has no direct role in commodity pricing, but helps commodity dependent African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries through aid for improved production and diversification. ACP
Column 706states can also get help under the Stabex scheme, if they face shortfalls in export earnings from certain agricultural products, and under the Sysmin scheme if they face shortfalls in production or earnings from a list of minerals.
Mr. Corbyn : Does the Minister accept that the attitude of the EEC and of North American countries towards commodity prices has been a major contributory factor in the debt crisis in much of the world? Does she agree that the latest round of Lome convention prices on exports from ACP countries has resulted in virtually the lowest real terms prices ever achieved by those countries? They are worried about the way in which they have been treated by the EEC. Is the right hon. Lady aware that exports from ACP countries to the European Community are at their lowest level for 25 years? Those countries and many of us are worried about the growing crisis faced by the poorer countries because the richer industrial countries are closing their markets to them and forcing them into debt and low commodity prices.
Mrs. Chalker : The answer to the hon. Gentlemen's first question is no. The answer to his second is that the Lome convention contains no provision on commodity prices or participation in international commodity agreements. The three main areas of co-operation in commodities matters in the convention are the national indicative programmes, Stabex and Sysmin and the consultations. It is through the national indicative programmes that we seek to help countries that are heavily commodity dependent. Resources for diversification, including aid for processing, marketing, distribution and transport, are considered when individual country programmes are drawn up, and that will be happening this year.
The best way in which to help commodity-dependent countries is to enable markets to work efficiently and openly and to strengthen and restructure the countries' economies. That we are doing, not only through the EEC but directly.
Mr. Teddy Taylor : How on earth can it help to have economies working more openly when the EEC is spending £220 million every week simply destroying food and dumping it at crazy low prices, with the sole consequence of spreading death, starvation and destruction throughout the Third world? Given her responsibility for overseas development, will the Minister make it abundantly clear that she will do everything in her power to fight against this dreadful policy of dumping food on the Third world at crazy low prices and spending lots of our taxpayers' money on dumping high- tar tobacco in places such as Africa, which in my view, is an affront to the civilised world.
Mrs. Chalker : My hon. Friend knows that I have always been against subsidising the overproduction and dumping of food. I hope that he realises that Lome agreement EDF VII, which represents a 46 per cent. increase on EDF VI, gives the largest ever United Kingdom commitment to the Lome countries. We are doing our best--through the EC programme and bilaterally, through the economic reform programmes--to help the countries, especially those that have been commodity dependent. Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. Friend that dumping excess provision created in Europe is no way to solve the problem.
Column 707Mr. Foulkes : But, specifically, does the Minister accept the importance of bananas to the economies of the West Indian islands, and the threat posed by the ending of the banana protocol in 1992? Does she recall the pledge of the Prime Minister in Jamaica in July 1987 to fight to protect their position? Will she say how far the Government have been able to fulfil that pledge?
Mrs. Chalker : That has nothing to do with commodity prices. The hon. Gentleman will know, however, that it was the British Government who fought hard for the banana producers during the recent negotiations on Lome . The response that I have had from the banana producers has been one of gratitude for what Britain was able to achieve under the EDF discussions and the Lome convention.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you make it clear to me, to the House and to anyone else who may read about or watch events here that you have had no request from the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement this afternoon, at the start of the new year's parliamentary business and in the 18th week of the ambulance dispute? It is now quite clear--and not only in my area--from statements by leading doctors and medical personnel that people are dying because of the Government's pig-headedness in refusing to settle the dispute.
Mr. David Amess, supported by Sir Bernard Braine, Mr. Ivan Lawrence, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Michael Latham, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Peter Archer, Mr. David Atkinson and Mr David Sumberg, presented a Bill to enable the Secretary of State for the Environment to set aside land, not being Crown land, within the Greater London area, for the erection of a permanent memorial to Raoul Wallenberg : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 March and to be printed. [Bill 38.]
Mr. Edward Leigh presented a Bill to reform the law governing licensed premises : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 April and to be printed. [Bill 39.]
Mr. James Couchman presented a Bill to reform the law governing retail trade on Sundays : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April and to be printed. [Bill 40.]
Mr. John Bowis presented a Bill to amend the law relating to speed limits on roads and motorways : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 May and to be printed. [Bill 41.]
Mr. David Sumberg presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the display of pornographic material in public places : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 4 May and to be printed. [Bill 42.]
Mr. Tony Marlow presented a Bill to enable the Secretary of State for Defence to introduce a scheme allowing young people between the ages of 16 and 21 years to volunteer to fulfil a period of national community service for a period not exceeding 18 months : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 July and to be printed. [Bill 43.]
Mr. Andrew Mitchell presented a Bill to amend the law governing public exhibitions by performing animals : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 March and to be printed. [Bill 44.]
Mr. Graham Allen presented a Bill to abolish the House of Lords as presently composed and to provide for a new directly elected membership based on parliamentary constituencies : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 26 January and to be printed. [Bill 37.]
Mr. Harry Greenway, supported by Sir Bernard Braine, Mr. Iain Mills, Mr. Stuart Randall, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Ronnie Fearn, Mr. Michael Colvin, Mr. Robin Cook, Mr. Henry Bellingham, Mr. John Carlisle, Mr. Terence L. Higgins and Mr. Gerald Bermingham, presented a Bill to secure the wearing of protective headgear by minors while horse riding ; to prescribe offences and penalties ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 2 February and to be printed. [Bill 45.]
That the Caldey Island Bill be referred to a Second Reading Committee-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
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