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Mr. Tony Banks : In reviewing the various regulations relating to the hotel and catering industry, will the Minister make it clear that the Government do not intend to throw everything out? A number of regulations need to be maintained. We do not want a wholly deregulated industry, but one that resembles more the well-run hotel and catering industries found on the continent. Will the Minister ensure in discussions with the Minister for Transport in London that hotels do not call private minicabs rather than black cabs late at night? That is another danger which worries people in London.
Mr. Sproat : Of course we shall keep whatever regulations are sensible. Where they are stupid, we shall stop them. As to the cab problem, I shall certainly be in touch with my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London to find out what he thinks is the situation.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Will my hon. Friend examine in particular all the forms that hoteliers have to complete and the records that they have to keep? Will he ensure that the industry can operate according to best practice rather than having a lot of inspectors going around checking records?
Mr. Gunnell : The Secretary of State will be aware that arts organisations throughout the country have to decide between those whom they employ and the performances and services that they offer the public. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for the sake of a small saving to the Exchequer great damage is being done to arts enterprises throughout the country? That policy short changes not only the public but the country because of the shortage of arts provision. It is a disgrace.
Mr. Brooke : I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point about the small saving to the Exchequer--but my Department, like every other, is subject to the country's overall economic and financial conditions. The grant that the Arts Council will receive from my Department next year will still be 11 per cent. larger in real terms than that of five years ago.
Mr. John Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to welcome Opera North to London this week, with two performances of its brilliant production of "Gloriana" tonight and on Thursday? Does he agree that that demonstrates the value of supporting through the Arts Council regional opera companies such as Opera North? Will he see to it that Opera North is not disadvantaged by comparison with the Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera, which receive extra money from the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office?
Mr. Brooke : I join my hon. Friend in welcoming Opera North to the royal opera house in my constituency. I am particularly delighted that Opera North was the first arts performance that I saw on taking my present office. My hon. Friend referred to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales--my hon. Friend asked in particular about Wales--having larger budgets from which to find funding. I hope very much that we shall be able to resume the upward rise in Arts Council funding in the near future.
Mr. Sproat : I have received a number of letters about brass bands. As I made clear in my reply to my hon. Friend on 3 February at columns 844- 45, I see brass bands as an extremely important part of our artistic and cultural heritage.
Mr. Greenway : Has my hon. Friend ever heard "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" or other similarly exciting tunes played by brass bands or other bands? Does he agree that brass bands and other bands are not confined to the north of England and that they are valuable in the opportunity that they offer to the public to attend concerts and to players to play in concerts? Will he do all that he can for brass bands?
Mr. Sproat : Yes, I certainly will. I have not heard "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" played by a brass band, but I look forward to it. My hon. Friend makes the extremely important point that we should not allow what we consider to be the cultural and artistic part of our heritage to be too narrow or rarefied, as occasionally happens in certain artistic circles.
The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : My Department has contributed fully to the development of the comprehensive range of measures introduced by the Government to combat drug trafficking. As Attorney- General, I also have a general responsibility when matters are properly brought to my notice in relation to the fairness and effectiveness of the prosecution process.
Mr. Mackinlay : Will the Attorney-General explain the extraordinary circumstances in which he agreed, along with the Solicitor-General, to meet counsel for a Mr. Charrington, who was in custody on serious drug charges on 21 December 1992? What was so different about that case, as distinct from the cases of all the other people awaiting trial, what was the involvement of the Customs and Excise and why were the charges almost immediately dropped following that meeting?
The Attorney-General : It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman, who has taken some interest in the matter, has not bothered to read the detailed answer that I gave on 26 January at column 246 to the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). I made it perfectly clear that leading counsel for the defence made an application to see me about the case because he felt that, in the special circumstances of the case, his client was not necessarily being treated as he should. I arranged for a meeting which was attended by counsel for the prosecution. The independent prosecuting authority was the Customs and Excise. The matter was discussed and explained. Customs and Excise said that it was already reconsidering certain aspects of the evidence. It went away and considered the matter further. The decision to discontinue the case against Mr. Charrington was taken entirely by the commissioners of Customs and Excise on the advice of their leading counsel without any further reference to me.
Mr. Rathbone : Irrespective of the facts of that peculiar case, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether, as the Government's chief Law Officer, he pays special care and attention to the prosecutions that Customs and Excise wishes to bring and those that the Crown Prosecution Service wishes to bring and makes certain that there is no conflict of interest between those two prosecuting authorities?
The Attorney-General : As my hon. Friend may realise, there is a distinction between the position of the Crown Prosecution Service and that of the Customs and Excise as an independent prosecuting authority. Under statute, I superintend the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is responsible for the Crown Prosecution Service. I do not have the same statutory relationship with the Customs and Excise. I have an overall purview in relation to the prosecution process, but I can become involved in cases by other independent prosecuting authorities only if those cases are properly brought to my notice.
Mr. Fraser : I am sure that the Attorney-General will concede that the circumstances of that conference were extremely unusual. What was the involvement of the Attorney-General's Parliamentary Private Secretary in the matter? Why, as reported, did he try to suppress a report that the meeting had taken place? Did he have anything to do with the leak or any other connection with the case? Does the Attorney-General have any advice to offer about the liaison between the police, as a prosecuting authority,
Column 14and Customs and Excise? It seems extraordinary that the case should have proceeded for several months with one hand not knowing what the other hand was doing.
The Attorney-General : There are a number of different strands, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to be confused about them. Liaison between Customs and Excise and the police is an operational matter for the heads of those two organisations, who doubtless take liaison matters extremely seriously ; such matters are not for me. As for the specific meeting, although such meetings are not regular, they are not exceptionally unusual. From time to time, such worries about cases are properly raised with me. The one that we are discussing was such an example. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) had no involvement in that consultation, and no involvement in the case vis-a -vis my Department. I was not aware of his constituency involvement until after the matter appeared in the press.
The Attorney-General : In cases where the defendant has indicated that he will plead guilty, the Crown Prosecution Service requires only sufficient information from the police to be satisfied that the charge is appropriate and to provide the court with the information necessary to sentence.
Mr. Hawkins : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Will he confirm that the arrangements made were fully discussed with the police? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the great concern felt about any danger of over-bureaucracy or over-complication of bureaucracy in such matters.
The Attorney-General : My hon. Friend raises a good point. I am aware of the concern that we should not have over-bureaucracy. My hon. Friend's question gives me the opportunity to say that the forms used by the police in relation to the Crown Prosecution Service were designed by the police with the assistance of the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, and were agreed by the Crown Prosecution Service but not initiated by it. There is an important distinction between what is required in relation to guilty and not-guilty pleas. In a not-guilty case, it is necessary to take statements from all the witnesses required for the trial. In the case of a guilty plea, it is necessary to have a statement only from the victim, as well as any other statements that have already been taken.
Mr. Alex Carlile : Does the Attorney-General agree that, wherever possible, the views of the victim should be obtained as a matter of course whenever it is intended to accept a plea of guilty to an offence lesser than the charge and whenever it is intended to drop the case?
The Attorney-General : It is important to try to involve the victim in those circumstances. The victim does not have a right to be consulted. The Crown Prosecution Service must stand back and consider the matter objectively. The Director of Public Prosecutions and I are
Column 15keen that there should be good liaison between the Crown Prosecution Service and police at headquarters level, right through to the officer on the beat and the victim so that all understand what is being done and why.
The Attorney-General : During 1993, I sought leave to refer 29 cases to the Court of Appeal, including one to the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. Of the 18 cases decided to date, in which leave was granted in every case, 14 have resulted in an increase of sentence.
Mr. Clappison : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those 14 cases show how important a part that power plays in ensuring that the punishment fits the crime in every case? Is he aware that a warm welcome has been given to the extension of that power to a wider category of cases? Would he care to reflect that if we had listened to the view of the Opposition on criminal justice we would never have had that power at all?
The Attorney-General : My hon. Friend is right. The Opposition opposed the power, but never mind : there is more joy in heaven over sinners who repent, and so on. Opposition Members also recognise that the Court of Appeal has been given a valuable power. Its objective is to seek to ensure that cases are sentenced in the range that the Court of Appeal criminal division regards as proper.
Mr. Flynn : What does the Minister think of the decision to give a penalty of community service to Roger Levitt for stealing millions of pounds from his own clients? Is his advice to fraudsters that if they want to steal they should steal big?
The Attorney-General : The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not proper for any Minister to make a comment on a judicial decision on sentence in any individual case. The House will be aware that the question of the power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient in cases of serious and complex fraud is under active consideration.
38. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of possible economic benefits to United Kingdom industry from the provision of funds for the training of students from developing countries in United Kingdom colleges.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd) : The main purpose of providing training under the aid programme is to benefit developing countries. I believe that schemes such as the British Chevening scholarships will also bring valuable economic benefits to the United Kingdom.
Mr. Fabricant : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that it would be wrong to be seduced by those siren voices who would argue against providing places for people from overseas countries to study at British institutions of further and higher education? Does he also agree that educational links with overseas countries more often result in enduring trade links? Will he give some indication of how many foreign students are currently studying in the United Kingdom?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I agree with the tenor of my hon. Friend's question. There are two main schemes for bringing students here--the Foreign Office scheme and the Overseas Development Administration scheme. Combining the two, about 21,000 students in all are studying in Britain at any one time, at a cost of £160 million. That is money well spent and my hon. Friend is right that it ultimately leads to the enhancement of our trade potential.
Mr. Watson : Will the Minister comment on the position of the British Council, which is heavily involved in many of the areas--aid, trade and education--to which he has referred? May I highlight the example of the Scottish international resource project, which is proving beneficial to many overseas students? What guarantees can he give that the funding for such projects and for the other work of the British Council will be maintained in years to come?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I cannot comment specifically on the hon. Gentleman's point about the Scottish international resource project because I do not have the facts at my fingertips, but I can tell him that, wherever possible, we expand schemes that bring people to the United Kingdom. I can also tell him that the British Council has had enhanced funding in the past year for its activities.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : It is true that over years the trend has been increasing, but it fluctuates from year to year ; how significant the increase has been over the past three years, I cannot say. Much of our multilateral expenditure is by agreement with other parties--it is not entirely determined by ourselves. For that reason, we must accommodate it if we wish to remain in forums such as the United Nations, international institutions and other areas where there is multilateral spending. The most important thing is to ensure that multilateral spending is money well spent. We certainly take a great deal of trouble with the European Community to assist in that process : for example, the "Horizon 2000" declaration, which was agreed in December 1992, set out procedures to improve
Column 17the way in which EC funds were spent and we currently have five officials seconded to the Commission to try to improve its spending plans.
Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Minister accept that the reputation of Britain's bilateral aid programme has been sullied by the decision to fund the Pergau dam project in Malaysia when his own civil servants and colleagues advised against it? Is not £234 million of British taxpayers' money being wasted in Pergau with the sole purpose of boosting the arms trade? Does the Minister agree with Sir Timothy Lankester that that was an outrageous abuse of our aid programme?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the matter will be fully discussed by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, but I must make one or two points. First, our aid programme is not, and will not be, linked to arms sales. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman says that our reputation is sullied, but British aid has contributed to Malaysia's rapid economic development and to the productive relationship that we have with Malaysia in many spheres of activity, including trade. Our trade today is three times what it was in 1988.
Mr. Lester : Does my hon. Friend agree that this question is a matter for the aid and trade provision? Should it not be made clear that the aid and trade provision is a system of soft loans and has nothing to do with our basic aid programme--our bilateral aid programme--which is based on helping the poorest countries first?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : My hon. Friend is right. I should add that the aid and trade provision is about 5 per cent. of our total aid programme and, under new procedures, is to be directed to help the poorest countries. I remind the House that the aid and trade provision was invented by the Labour party.
41. Ms Hoey : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has received about the delivery and distribution of aid to those most in need in Angola.
Ms Hoey : I am sure that the Minister is aware of the information coming out of Angola about the scale of the tragedy there : hundreds of thousands of people are starving and hundreds of thousands are going to starve. Does the Minister really believe that this country is doing enough, not only in terms of the amount of aid but in ensuring that it is distributed fairly? Is the co-ordination between the United Nations agencies and the voluntary agencies which
Column 18are doing such good work there ensuring that the aid is getting to the people who need it and not being diverted to the armed soldiers of UNITA?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I know that the hon. Lady is familiar with Angola and is an expert on this subject. She does the House a service by drawing our attention to the tragedy there, which is quite as bad as that of former Yugoslavia, or perhaps worse in terms of deaths. Since October last year, there has been better access to the provinces to deliver aid and, as a result, we are now providing £400,000 to finance two field officers to assist the in-country office of the United Nations department of humanitarian affairs and to help with the distribution of aid.
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Bearing in mind the neglect and destruction that have occurred in Angola as a result of years of Marxist rule followed by civil war, would not one of the major contributions that we can make to Angola's redevelopment once the conflict has come to an end be to rebuild the infrastructure for which our country's engineering expertise is so well suited?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I have no doubt that that will be so in due course, but at the moment our priority is to provide emergency assistance-- food, health care and nutrition. They must be the demands of the moment.
42. Mrs. Gillan : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance the United Kingdom and the Group of Seven leading industrial countries are providing to promote economic reform in Russia.
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : The United Kingdom has consistently supported the process of reform. To date, about £1.2 billion of United Kingdom funds has been pledged. The G7 programme of phased support linked to progress on reform is worth more than $46 billion.
Mrs. Gillan : With the increasing reports of problems of Russian companies and organisations, one of which manifested itself in relation to Aeroflot flight SU242 when citizens' lives were put in danger by an apparent disregard for international safety rules, does the Minister agree that we should do even more to help the economic reforms and the transition to a market economy in Russia?
Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I agree with my hon. Friend that without the successful transition to a market economy in Russia all the political developments that have taken place in recent years will be threatened and as naught. In our large overall programme of bilateral support to Russia, we are giving quite a lot of help through technical assistance, as Russia's biggest challenge is to acquire the necessary expertise in that area. Our present funding of about £140 million per annum will be very helpful in that direction.
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