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Mr. Bennett : What discussions has the Attorney-General had with his colleagues about the question of withdrawing legal aid in cases where someone probably does not face a custodial sentence? Does he not realise that everyone has the right to maintain their good name? Ought he not to ensure that legal aid is either available in all cases or, if it is to be withdrawn, at least to consider ways in which the Crown prosecution service can be selective in the cases brought? Might it not be a better approach to saving legal aid to deny the fat fees that some Queen's counsels receive in legal aid cases, rather than to deny such aid to poor people?
The Attorney-General : On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, representations that have been made to me do not show that that applies in the great run of legal aid cases, although it might be said to apply in some long and detailed cases. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that questions of legal aid are for my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor. The Crown prosecution service, when deciding on any case, considers carefully not only the sufficiency of evidence but whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.
Mr. John Greenway : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is not merely a case of using public funds to defend those accused of crimes, but often a case of using them to help the victims of crime? Has he been made aware of the evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee during its current inquiry into domestic violence, which shows that many such cases can be resolved without a custodial sentence, but that that requires the Crown prosecution service to bring a prosecution first?
The Attorney-General : I recognise that there is force in the considerations that my hon. Friend has just mentioned. When the Crown prosecution service considers cases of domestic violence, it does not consider sentencing but is looking to a sensible solution, including the justice of the matter, which it will take into account when considering whether it is necessary to prosecute.
Mr. Bermingham : Does the Attorney-General agree that the number of cases discontinued by the Crown prosecution service is on the increase? Does he welcome such an increase, especially when we bear in mind that that stops the prosecution of many petty and minor matters which have hitherto clogged up the courts?
The Attorney-General : The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. One of the principal functions of the Crown prosecution service is to review each case and, where appropriate, to keep it under review at every relevant stage. At present, it discontinues about 12.5 per cent. of cases and there is a sign that that figure is slightly on the
Column 587increase, but it is not out of hand and it shows that it correctly keeps the question of reviewing cases very much in mind.
Mr. Hawkins : Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, in cases where a non-custodial sentence is passed by a court when it is strongly felt by many people that a custodial one would have been more appropriate, he now has the power to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal for it to consider whether a more serious custodial sentence is more appropriate?
The Attorney-General : My hon. Friend draws attention to an important new power, which was introduced in 1989, which may be exerted in cases that can be tried only at the Crown court--we are therefore talking about the most serious type of case. That power is designed to maintain and improve public confidence by enabling the Court of Appeal not only to reduce over-severe sentences, but, when it appears to me or to my right hon. and learned Friend that the sentence is unduly lenient, it can be referred for reconsideration of a possibly more serious sentence.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Derek Spencer) : In 1992, in addition to questions raised by the hon. Gentleman himself, representations have been received from two local community organisations. The Crown prosecution service, has reported to the Law Officers its decision following a police inquiry into this matter.
Mr. Austin-Walker : Does the Solicitor-General accept that there is an air of disbelief in my constituency of Woolwich over the lack of action taken by the Government in this matter? Does he accept that that is in stark contrast to the positive action taken by the Government of Germany following the tragic murder of three Turkish residents? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that two of my constituents, Rohit Duggal and Rolan Adams, have been brutally murdered? How many more black youths must be slaughtered on our streets before the Government take some action against the Nazi menace in our presence?
The Solicitor-General : It is not the Government of this country who institute proceedings for criminal offences, although the Government have the power to reform the law if it is found to be inadequate. That is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. We wholeheartedly condemn racial attacks wherever and whenever they appear, and the hon. Gentleman will remember that in the case of Rolan Adams, to which he just referred, his attacker was identified and prosecuted speedily and his murderer received a sentence of life imprisonment. A large armoury of offences in the law, including murder, manslaughter and assault covered by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Public Order Act 1986 provide effective sanctions against such attacks.
The Solicitor-General : My hon. Friend is right. When we passed the 1986 Act we significantly extended and modernised the existing law. We extended it to cases where there was an intention to stir up racial hatred and circumstances where hatred was likely to be stirred up. In section 23 we introduced the new offence of possessing racially inflammatory material with a view to distributing it. In section 21 we introduced a new offence of
Distributing, showing or playing a recording of visual images or sounds which are threatening"
In section 22 we criminalised incitement to racial hatred in cable programmes. That demonstrates that we have been active, sometimes at the suit of requests from Opposition Members and elsewhere, to make sure that the law is kept up to date.
Mr. Fraser : Does the Solicitor-General agree that what starts off as the racist platform for organisations such as the British National party, leads in Germany and in this country to racist murders? Will he discuss with the Home Secretary whether we should now legislate for the crime of racially motivated attacks, in order to underline our repugnance at the racist crimes that are probably generated by the type of literature referred to in the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker)?
The Solicitor-General : I listen to any arguments that hon. Members can put forward. If we are to have a specific offence of racial harassment it will just add another ingredient that the prosecution must prove before it can succeed in obtaining a conviction. I doubt whether that is the right way to proceed. I discovered the typical reaction of the British people in Leicester, South in 1983, when the candidate from the so-called British National party, who stood against me, managed to secure only 280 votes out of a total of 53, 000.
The Attorney-General : Sir John has now completed the phase relating to the Maguires and his report on that aspect was published on Thursday 3 December. As to the Guildford and Woolwich aspects, I refer the hon. Member to my answer to him on 26 October 1992.
Mr. Mullin : In the Guildford case, unlike in the Birmingham one, everyone concerned up to a high level knew almost from the outset that they had the wrong people and rigged the evidence accordingly. Is not that the real reason why Sir John May will never be permitted to carry out his inquiry as originally intended?
The Attorney-General : I have no reason to believe that the hon. Gentleman's prejudices are accurate. The purpose of Sir John May's inquiry is to find that out. Although Sir John must balance the interests of justice in bringing to justice those alleged to have done wrong, he is continuing with his inquiry in an effective way so that it can inform the royal commission before it reports towards the middle of next year.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Do not the Government realise that unless the United Nations goes beyond its existing aid mandate and authorises action to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Islamic nations will go in and do the job for us? How do the Government view the prospect of what might be a holy war in the centre of Europe?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : Quite apart from the enormous dangers that would face our troops by any escalation of the situation caused by United Nations forces, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred so eloquently last Thursday, the hon. Gentleman should also remember that if counter action prevented United Nations forces from delivering aid to those who are starving, 1.6 million people in Bosnia who are now receiving humanitarian support would suffer. It is important to recognise that the Jeddah meeting concluded that action should be taken forward by means of the United Nations Security Council. It was not a unilateral statement.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : Yes. This nation is one of the largest contributors to humanitarian aid in former Yugoslavia. We have contributed more than £70 million so far this year. We have 2,400 troops in the United Nations protection force, UNPROFOR, and some 260 in the ambulance unit in Croatia.
Mr. Meacher : When will the Government learn that a great deal more can be done to aid Bosnia without putting a huge army into the field? When will the air exclusion zone be enforced? When will the so-called United Nations protected areas be properly protected against continuing murder, rape and pillage, let alone new safe havens be created? Why will not the Government declare that the areas stolen by ethnic cleansing will not be internationally recognised and that there will be no let-up of sanctions until those areas are demilitarised and a majority of the refugees permitted to return home in safety? Why will not the Government use their failing EC presidency to get EC monitors or United Nations troops stationed in Kosova or Macedonia to deter a Serb military move? Are the Government simply resigned to theirs being the worst EC presidency on record?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : The question is about aid, not political solutions in that very troubled land. We all agree about the outrages and objectives, but the methods of solving those objectives are difficult. The hon. Gentleman would do well to consider the advice of Lord Owen and other such people who are on the spot and know exactly what is going on.
Lady Olga Maitland : May I give a warm welcome to the brave British convoys that are going into Bosnia and ask my hon. Friend to ensure that the aid that they are bringing to these stricken people includes medicines, so that we do not get a repeat of what happened last year at Serebenica, where an entire convoy arrived and it was found that it was not carrying one aspirin?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I have mentioned the ambulance unit in Croatia. Of the £70 million to which I referred, £3 million-worth of medical supplies and support has been given to the World Health Organisation.
37. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the time it will take to achieve the United Nations' target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product of developed countries being spent as aid to underdeveloped countries.
Mr. Griffiths : I invite the Minister to be more specific. Will he dare to say that the target will be reached by the end of the Government's term of office? Does he agree that if the target is not met it would be a disgrace to a developing and prosperous country such as ours?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I shall certainly give no such indication. When the Labour party was in government no such indication was given. It is impossible to bind a future Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is amazing that the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept how important it is that this year our spending on aid increased by 3 per cent. in real terms over last year's. Next year, there having been a tremendously stringent round this year, there will be a 1 per cent. real-terms increase on this year's spending.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way in which we can help developing nations is, first, to encourage them to stop killing one another and, secondly, to encourage them to make the best use of their own resources? My hon. Friend will know of my particular interest in the Cahora Bassa dam. Now that the people of Mozambique are at peace, will he make every effort to assist in the repairing of the power lines from the dam? The work is due to start in April 1993 if finance can be found.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I am happy to give my hon. Friend further information about what is happening in that area, in correspondence as I am not briefed today on the precise position. It is the Government's intention to help people to help themselves, and we have a substantial aid programme. We should bear in mind the great importance of a successful GATT round. That will increase world trade and help the third world.
Sir David Steel : However long it was going to take the Government to reach the United Nations aid target, will the Minister confirm that it will now take longer following the financial settlement for 1995-96?
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Does my hon. Friend agree that if we were to add our net contribution to the European Community budget, which goes largely to the underdeveloped countries in the southern part of Europe, our spending on aid would far exceed the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about the matter. The United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. is directed towards the section of the world which, when defined in terms of gross domestic product, would not include the southern states of the European Community.
38. Mr. Fisher : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the level of expenditure by Her Majesty's Government in the last financial year on agricultural aid to countries in Africa.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : In 1991-92 bilateral expenditure on agriculture- related activities was £44 million. In addition, the United Kingdom contributed over £11 million to multilateral organisations working specifically in the agricultural sector.
Mr. Fisher : Does the Minister accept that as the autumn statement made it clear that after 1993 the aid budget would be cut in real terms, to the great disgrace of the Government and to Britain, and as at the same time humanitarian aid in Europe and elsewhere is likely to have to continue to rise, the inevitable consequence of the two factors will be the further squeezing of agricultural aid? Does not the Minister understand that unless we invest, and help developing countries invest, in the agricultural infrastructure of training, seed technology and water irrigation, we shall never be helping developing countries in the way in which they need to be helped?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : The point about helping developing countries to plant seeds and grow food is well taken--of course that is true. In October this year more than £500,000 was provided for seeds and tools for Somalia. When referring to the general point of the 0.7 per cent. target, however, the hon. Gentleman should recognise the great achievements over the years and the fact that, within
Column 592a reasonable period, there has been a significant improvement. In five years our contribution has risen by 8 per cent.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : Does my hon. Friend accept that those of us who were concerned about the rumours of a cut in the aid budget and agricultural aid for Africa and elsewhere should write to say that we are grateful that there were no such cuts and that we are grateful for the increase announced for the next year or two? If more of us applauded in that way the Government might be able to say that they will go on making progress towards the 0.7 per cent. target.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : My hon. Friend is right : the Government should get a round of applause for having protected and enhanced the aid budget. Just before the autumn statement a few weeks ago the Opposition were saying that there would be a 15 per cent. or £25 million cut, which is outrageous.
39. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what new initiatives are proposed to ensure speedier distribution of aid from Her Majesty's Government in drought-affected areas in southern Africa.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : We are continuing to work hard with international agencies and non-governmental organisations to ensure that our assistance for the drought-affected countries of southern Africa is delivered both quickly and to the intended beneficiaries.
Mr. Pike : Although we may be encouraged that that is the right approach, the simple fact is that aid is still taking far too long to get the point where it is needed. May we have every assurance that the Government will do all in their power to ensure that aid given by the British Government reaches these points with the minimum delay--whatever the reasons for such delay?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is referring to ; I should be grateful for further details if I am to comment further. The facts that I have do not bear out what he suggests. Of the £51 million of bilateral aid that we have committed to the drought-affected areas of southern Africa this financial year, £45 million worth has already been disbursed. That represents more than three quarters of what we have committed.
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