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Mr. Hague : We do not have the information on the capital value of pensioners' assets. However, in 1990-91, the latest year for which figures are available, the estimated average weekly income that pensioners received from their savings or investments was £30.30. The comparable figure for 1979 was £11.20.
Mr. Heald : I am not reading. That figure has now risen to 76 per cent. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows that a partnership between the private and public sectors can lever up standards for pensioners ? Will he pay tribute
Column 643not only to the financial and pensions industry but to the pensioners who are prepared to make the effort to provide for their retirement in addition to the state provision ?
Mr. Hague : My hon. Friend is absolutely right--even without notes. He points to a significant improvement in the opportunity for and the success of pensioners in saving. The proportion of pensioners with income from savings has risen to 76 per cent. That reflects partly an improvement in their incomes over the years and partly the fact that inflation is lower than they experienced in the 1970s.
Mr. Winnick : Has the Minister seen the report today from the Adam Smith Institute which recommends that pensions be abolished, together with all the other features of the welfare state ? Does not that report show the hidden agenda of the Tory Government as, time and again, the Adam Smith Institute's recommendations have been brought about by the Government ?
Mr. Hague : The abolition of the state pension has been advocated by at least one Opposition Member, and not just by the Adam Smith Institute. We will read the report from the institute with interest, but the Government are engaged in sustaining the welfare state, not in ending it.
Mr. Jessel : Is not the biggest form of pensioners' savings very often the house in which they live ? Will my hon. Friend see what can be done to improve the position of the large number of pensioners living in valuable houses who have low incomes ?
Mr. Hague : My hon. Friend is right to say that home ownership is an important part of pensioners' assets. Indeed, 94 per cent. of pensioners who own their home own it outright. That has contributed to the general improvement in pensioners' financial position.
15. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what has been the percentage change in real terms since 1979 in (a) average earnings, (b) the basic pension for a single person and (c) the level of income support for a single parent with two children.
Mr. Hague : Since 1979, average earnings have increased by 35 per cent. in real terms. In the same period, the basic state retirement pension has risen by 3.2 per cent. in real terms, although the total average income of single pensioners has risen by 39 per cent. in real terms since 1979.
It has been estimated that the level of supplementary benefit or income support for a typical lone parent with two children under five has risen by about 16 per cent. in real terms since 1979. However, direct comparisons between income support and supplementary benefit are difficult to make because the two schemes are very different.
Mr. Williams : Will the Minister comment on the "Social trends" survey figures published last month, which showed that since 1979 the share of national income of the richest fifth of our population has increased from 35 to 43 per cent. but the share of the poorest fifth has dropped from 10 to 6 per cent ? Does he agree that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer ? We are "back to basics" Tory style.
Mr. Hague : What is important is that since 1979 there has been an increase in income for all groups in society. That is what really matters. For example, the proportion of pensioners in the bottom decile of the income distribution, which was 31 per cent. in 1979, fell to 11 per cent. in 1990. That is a dramatic improvement in pensioners' living standards.
Mr. Hague : Income support did not exist in 1979 ; there was supplementary benefit. I have compared the level of supplementary benefit as closely as possible to income support now. Income support now is approximately 16 per cent. higher than in 1979. That reflects the commitment of the Government to help people in a difficult position.
Mr. Duncan : Does my hon. Friend accept that it is sensible to increase benefits in line with inflation and not in line with earnings ? Has he seen a report that suggests that if we increased benefits with earnings, in the next century we would have to add 17p to the basic rate of income tax to pay for it ?
16. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people he expects to lose entitlement to invalidity benefit as a result of the measures introduced in the November 1993 Budget.
Mrs. Campbell : Is the Minister aware that many people who suffer from acute anxiety and depressive illnesses receive income support and that for them a game of squash might be part of the treatment ? That is a reference to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth). Will the Minister please give some assurances to those people whose worries about the Government's plans are making their depressive illness worse ? Will he reassure them that his plans will not reduce their benefits arbitrarily and suddenly ?
Mr. Scott : Our clear intention is to ensure that those who are incapable of work through either physical or mental disability receive incapacity benefit and that those who are capable of work receive back-to- work benefits. I
Column 645can give the hon. Lady an undertaking that, in the objective medical test, special arrangements will be made to take account of mental incapacity.
Mr. Bates : Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents who are existing beneficiaries of invalidity benefit that if they are genuinely incapable of work they will suffer no loss of benefit whatever and that the benefit will retain its tax-free status ? Will he reject and condemn the scaremongering of the Labour party that has suggested otherwise ?
Mr. Nicholas Brown : If benefit records are held at the Long Benton complex in my constituency of Newcastle, East, why has the Minister allowed a local manager to purchase 22 Olympic jackets to keep senior management warm, at a cost of more than £300 a jacket ? Would not the money have been better spent on
19. Mr. Enright : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is his estimate of the number of people who would lose entitlement to unemployment benefit in the current year if the period of entitlement were reduced from 12 months to six months.
Mr. Burt : It is estimated that a total of 240,000 unemployed people at any one point in time during the current operational year would lose unemployment benefit if the length of entitlement were reduced from one year to six months, although 150,000 would be eligible for income support.
Mr. Enright : Are not the unemployed paying for the incompetence of the Government's financial policies ? Will the Minister give an assurance that if--as he and other Ministers are constantly stating--there is an upturn in the economy, he will instantly restore to the unemployed what is surely their right ?
Mr. Burt : The Government are giving more practical help and advice than ever before to aid the unemployed to get work. The Employment Service is set to find 5,632 placements in each working day, having placed 1.4 million people in employment in 1992-93. Employment and training programmes are providing opportunities for 1.6 million people, which represents an increase of 50 per cent. on the past financial year. That is a good record.
31. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Attorney-General what consultations he has had with the director of the Serious Fraud Office in relation to the length of time being taken for its inquiries into the flotation of Butte Mining and allied matters.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Derek Spencer) : The Serious Fraud Office investigation into the affairs of Butte Mining plc began in June 1992. The matter is complex and the investigation is proceeding as quickly as possible.
Mr. Morgan : Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the fact that for 18 months the Serious Fraud Office has been investigating a south sea bubble affair in the City of London, which occurred almost seven years ago, tends to bring our legal system into disrepute ? I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that we need to control City fraud. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that there is a prospect of the matter coming to some sort of conclusion ?
The Solicitor-General : I can assure the hon. Gentleman of that. The matter did not come to light until comparatively recently. As I said, the inquiry began in 1992. It involves inquiries in many foreign jurisdictions. It is a good example of the special skill and powers required to get to the bottom of cases of that nature. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is being pursued rigorously.
The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : The average time between acceptance of a case by the Serious Fraud Office and the preparatory hearing which constitutes the start of the trial was 27 months for the year ending April 1992 and 24 months for the year ending April 1993.
Mr. Bruce : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Surely it is intolerable that it has taken so long to bring to trial someone who has been charged and against whom there is already some evidence. Surely it is not in the public interest or that of the accused that that length of time should be taken. How long will it be before the number of months is reduced to a more acceptable level ?
The Attorney-General : The reason for setting up the Serious Fraud Office to deal with these complex cases was precisely that given by my hon. Friend--the matters needed to be investigated more expeditiously and efficiently. The length of time that it takes to deal with those complex matters is a great deal shorter than it was before the Serious Fraud Office was set up.
Mr. John Morris : Is the Attorney-General satisfied that the Serious Fraud Office has adequate resources to investigate and proceed with cases expeditiously ? Will he look into some of the cases to which much publicity has been given as a result of the delays and into prosecutions involving Ministry of Defence property ?
The Attorney-General : Yes, I am satisfied that the Serious Fraud Office has adequate resources. When it has taken on particularly big cases, such as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International and Maxwell, special arrangements for extra resources have been made. I will certainly consider what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about Ministry of Defence cases, but I have no reason to believe that such cases are unduly prolonged. A number of extremely complex cases--for example, in relation to the North sea--have recently been brought to very satisfactory conclusions.
Sir Ivan Lawrence : Since fraud cases must vary in their complexity and length, surely there is not much point in criticising the average length of time it takes to bring a fraud case to trial. On the other hand, however, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the longer a case takes to come to trial, the more likely it is that a company will be destroyed when news of the investigation gets around ?
The Attorney-General : My hon. and learned Friend makes a good point, although that news is likely to get around at the beginning rather than at the end of the investigation. That the cases should be dealt with promptly and expeditiously is extremely important.
Mr. Maclennan : Does the Attorney-General accept that, in the average case appearing before the Crown court, it takes 13.7 weeks between committal and trial ? Although the matter of fraud is appalling, the average length of a trial is far too long. What is he going to do about that ?
The Attorney-General : I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He compares relatively simple cases that appear before a Crown court and large complex cases. If he casts his mind back to the early 1980s, for example, he will find that some large cases from the City of London took five, six or seven years to come forward, whereas the equivalent period now is two, three or four years. Expedition is extremely important. We have made improvements ; we must continue to work at it.
Mr. Thurnham : Where the Serious Fraud Office has spent millions of pounds preparing its case, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider appealing against a grossly lenient sentence, such as that imposed on Levitt ?
The Attorney-General : I cannot comment on individual cases, but a clause has been tabled to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to give my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the power to extend the power of the Attorney-General to refer sentences in serious and complex fraud cases.
Mr. Skinner : Will the Attorney-General tell us whether the Government, the Serious Fraud Office or he himself have been in negotiation with Asil Nadir's lawyers with a view to trying to get him to plead guilty to one of the lesser charges--as was the case with Levitt--so that he can get off on the more serious charges ? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a guarantee to the House today that in no circumstances will he or the Serious Fraud Office allow Asil Nadir to have those charges against him dropped so that he gets a plea on a lesser charge ?
The Solicitor-General : I am satisfied that the criteria in the code for Crown prosecutors which determine whether a prosecution should proceed are sound. But, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General announced to the House on 15 December 1993, the Director of Public Prosecutions is currently revising the code so that it may more easily be understood by the police and the public.
Mr. Dickens : Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we expect the Crown Prosecution Service to act as judge and jury, a halfway house, in deciding whether we should prosecute ? In those circumstances, would my hon. and learned Friend have any objection if Members of Parliament approached their local CPS office about a case of particular interest to the local police and the victims ?
The Solicitor-General : I should welcome, as I am sure would the CPS, the attendance of any hon. Member who wished to visit his local CPS office. I am sure that such offices would be cheered up immensely at the prospect of a visit by my hon. Friend. Any hon. Member who visits those offices will discover that cases are discontinued only after close liaison with the police. When that happens, it is done in the interests of justice and it is not any criticism of the police.
36. Mr. Gunnell : To ask the Attorney-General what was the cost of the Crown Prosecution Service in the final year in which it was administered by local government ; and what is the percentage difference in real terms, between that figure and its cost in 1992-93.
Mr. Gunnell : I am sure that the Attorney-General will find that costs have increased. Does he agree that in West Yorkshire, for example, what has been purchased is a loss of local democracy ? Does he also agree that the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, which is before the House of Lords, threatens further to erode local democracy and to create great national interference in respect of both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service which may not be in the interests of justice ?
The Attorney-General : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Prosecution decisions are not matters for elected members either of Parliament or of local authorities ; they must be carried out by independent prosecuting authorities. The hon. Gentleman might care to reflect on the huge release of police time and effort away from the time that they had to spend in the courts prosecuting, giving evidence and providing antecedents in the Crown courts. That has enabled them to become free for much more front-line policing.
Mrs. Roche : Will the Minister explain why his Department appears to ignore its stated policy of giving aid to those countries that have good government and are among the poorest in the world ? Instead, it favours countries that are major purchasers of British weapons, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
Mr. Goodlad : There is no connection whatever between the sale of defence equipment to recipients of aid and the aid programme. The good government criteria which we apply to aid are extremely important, as are the criteria for tackling poverty. Eighty per cent. of our bilateral aid to developing countries was spent in the poorest countries in 1992-93. One of our priority objectives is to help developing countries to design and implement poverty reduction strategies. There is, therefore, no basis whatever for the hon. Lady's allegations.
Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Minister recall that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who was put up to answer overseas development questions a few weeks ago, assured me
"our aid programme is not and will not be linked to arms sales" ?--[ Official Report , 7 February 1994 ; Vol. 237, c. 17.]
Is the Minister aware that the Foreign Secretary admitted on Friday that aid and arms were entangled with the negotiation of the arms deal with Malaysia signed in 1988 ? Has British aid been entangled with the sale of arms on other occasions ?
Mr. Goodlad : I repeat that our aid programme is not linked to arms sales. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on 25 January in a written answer to the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham),
"During discussions in 1988 about the proposed memorandum of understanding on defence sales, the Malaysians expressed their wish to make a reference to aid. A protocol was signed during the visit to Kuala Lumpur in March 1988 by the then Defence Secretary, my noble Friend, Lord Younger of Prestwick. This set out the Malaysian Government's intention to buy defence equipment from the United Kingdom, with the details to be elaborated in the later memorandum. The protocol included a reference to aid in support of non-military aspects under this programme.'
After consultation with ministerial colleagues in London, the Secretary of State for Defence wrote to the Malaysian Minister of Finance in June 1988 to say that aid could not be linked to defence sales"
"As a result the issue was not taken up in the memorandum of understanding on defence procurement which the British and Malaysian Prime Ministers signed in September 1988, and which did not cover aid. Our aid programme is not linked to arms sales--[ Official Report , 25 January 1994 ; Vol. 236, c. 145-46 .]
however much the Opposition may continue to repeat that it is.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Just to be absolutely clear about this, and so that the Minister cannot be accused of being economical with the actualite , can he tell us whether aid, now or in the past, has ever been entangled with defence and arms sales--yes or no ?
Mr. Goodlad : My hon. Friend is right. There is a rich mixture of humbug and cynicism among Opposition Members. They will not tell us whether they are in favour of defence sales, whether they are in favour of the aid and trade provision or whether they are in favour of destroying jobs--so we must assume that they are in favour of the latter.
41. Mr. Enright : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reviews have been conducted on the completion of the first half of the current Lome agreement ; and what conclusions were drawn.
Mr. Enright : Is it not odd that the start should have been so late ? If the Government are going to get down to a hard and proper analysis of what aid is needed, should not they be looking at regional structures in the ACP countries, particularly at the Economic Community of West African States ? They should also be looking at education and, perhaps, at monetary union, which those countries, but not the European Council, are discussing.
Mr. Goodlad : The hon. Gentleman makes two important points. The scope for regional co-operation is a unique feature of the Lome convention. The seventh European development fund includes 1.25 billion ecu for regional co-operation projects. Regional allocations are subject to the same processes as national funds. Programming takes place at the beginning of each EDF. That is likely to be discussed in the negotiations with the ACP countries, which start in May.
Column 651Human development, in which education plays a major part, is a stated objective of the convention--one which will be upheld in the mid-term review. The Commission is producing a paper on education policy ; it should result in a resolution at the Development Council in November this year.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend expect that, as part of the review of the Lome convention, it will be pointed out that British exports to Malaysia trebled after the signing of the Pergau dam deal ?
Mr. Goodlad : My hon. Friend is right. Our exports to Malaysia have been extremely healthy ; in 1993, they doubled the 1992 figures. I hope that, despite the efforts of the Opposition, they will continue to prosper.
42. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make assistance available to the South African authorities for the upkeep of that country's game reserves following the impending elections.
Mr. Banks : Is the Minister aware that enormous pressures will be put on the new Government of South Africa after the April elections, even if a civil war is avoided ? There will be many priorities, but will he give us an assurance, on behalf of animal lovers in this country, that much of the good work that has been done in the South African game reserves will be upheld and that that will be one of the items that the Government will look at sympathetically in terms of aid to South Africa ?