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Mr. Jones : We have had 15 years of Conservative Government, during which we have seen greater centralisation than ever before in the history of democracy, powers stripped away from local authorities and Conservatives appointed to quangos in Wales. The Minister of State has just told us that he is to visit Barcelona--Catalonia is the most successful economy in Europe. Is not it time that the Government learnt that the people of Wales now want their own Parliament ?
Mr. Redwood : I am very interested in the idea that Catalonia is the most successful economy in western Europe. I thought that Spain had an unemployment rate of about one in four of the work force. I certainly would not want such a rate for Wales and his comment shows that there is no progress in the hon. Gentleman's views.
We do not want another body that taxes, regulates and legislates--too many laws already exist. We need to deregulate to make the task of business easier, so that people in Wales can have real jobs and more choice.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the whole thrust of Government policy is to ensure that decisions are made in schools by governing bodies and in hospitals by trusts and that it is not designed to try to create yet another layer of bureaucracy ? Surely the unitary authority programme that we have brought forward has been warmly welcomed in Wales. There has been no drive towards creating a third layer of local government.
Mr. Redwood : My hon. Friend is right. He has answered another part of the previous question, because we restore real power to people--parents and patients--and offer choices in public services which Opposition Members would deny people. That is exactly the kind of democracy that is best and closest to people. An assembly would have to take powers away from local government and that would cause rows in the Opposition camp as well.
Column 612quangos and that they are responsible for about one third of public expenditure in Wales ? Should not democracy mean
"government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people" ?
Is not the use of unaccountable Tory placemen a corruption of democracy ?
Mr. Redwood : I believe that local councils appoint quite a lot of people to the governing bodies of schools. I think that that is perfectly healthy and it is an analogue to what I am doing on behalf of Parliament and the people of Wales, in appointing people to bodies charged by the House, often under Labour legislation, to carry out certain tasks. As for spending, by far and away the biggest part of the Welsh Office delegated budget passes directly to local government in the form of a bloc grant.
Mr. Redwood : In the first 10 months of the current financial year, Welsh Development International recorded 120 projects, which promise about 11,000 new and safeguarded jobs and a capital investment of £630 million.
Mr. Ainger : Does not the Minister accept that instead of sending the Minister of State to Barcelona he should send him to Brussels especially to intervene in the mess that the Commission has got itself in over Interreg II, as a result of which Dyfed in particular stands to lose a significant sum--possibly tens of millions of pounds--in European investment in the next six years because we are now being excluded by the Commission from the consultation process ? Can he assure us that either he or the Minister of State is taking the matter up at the highest level in Brussels ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Welsh Office is taking the matter up in Brussels, as he would expect. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State does great work for Wales in representing us in many countries in Europe, and I hope that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) recognises that there is benefit in trade links of the type that my right hon. Friend is extending. The Under- Secretary also recently visited Brussels.
28. Mr. Lidington : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effect which the reduction of their contribution towards stipends will have on the number of parish clergy.
Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church
Column 613Commissioners) : The proportion of the costs of stipends met by the Church Commissioners is estimated to decrease from 37 per cent. to about 20 per cent. by 1997 as a result of our planned reductions in diocesan stipend allocations. The extent to which that affects the number of parish clergy will depend on diocesan planning and lay giving. Our remaining support for dioceses will, however, continue to be targeted to help sustain the parochial ministry in areas of greatest need.
Mr. Lidington : Does my right hon. Friend agree that any organisation in financial difficulties needs to seek to restrain its overhead costs ? Can he therefore assure the House that synods, bishops and the Commissioners themselves will not be exempt from the need for stringency ?
Mr. Alison : The General Synod proposes to introduce cash-limited budgeting during the next two or three years. My hon. Friend will be glad to know that the Commissioners themselves have managed to reduce their staff by 25 per cent. during the past 11 years and that increasing productivity will continue on trend.
29. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what provisions are being made by the Church Commissioners to protect stipends of clergy following losses made on the property markets.
Mr. Alison : As the majority of the stipends bill is met from lay giving in parishes, any further improvement in stipend levels will largely depend on the willingness of laity to give more generously. Stipends are being increased by an average of 2.9 per cent. from this April and the majority of dioceses have recently supported a proposal for modest increases from April next year.
Mr. Banks : Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that those enormous losses were made by the Church Commissioners ? Is it because of the incompetence in property speculation that the commissioners showed or is it because the Almighty has indicated his strong disapproval of property speculation ? In either case, is not it unfair that priests should be expected to suffer the consequences, and that lay members should be asked to increase their contributions to cover the incompetence of the commissioners ? Surely the Church Commissioners and their advisers should foot the bill.
Mr. Alison : I think that the hon. Gentleman did not hear the answer that I gave him, which is that the stipends are increasing by rather more next year than the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary salary, and probably by rather more the year after than the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary salary. So the invocation of the Divinity upon the prospects for pay in different parts of the country should take into account that He is obviously looking rather less favourably on Members of Parliament than on the clergy.
30. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what plans there are to introduce an early retirement scheme for parsons ; and what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the financial consequences of such a scheme.
Mr. Alison : The pension scheme already contains a provision enabling clergy to retire with an immediate pension and retirement lump sum up to five years before the minimum normal pension age. Discussions are taking place within the Church to determine whether it would be appropriate and financially feasible to introduce a specific scheme aimed at encouraging some clergy who are close to pension age to retire early, in order to free posts for younger clergy.
Mr. Marshall : I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that the parsons' freehold affects the efficiency of the Church adversely, and also restricts opportunities for young and enthusiastic ordinands ?
Mr. Alison : No, I do not think that I can go down that road. The parsons' freehold is not an immovable and irresistible block in the way of movement in the Church ; nevertheless, I believe that it gives some genuine and, I believe, appropriate independence to clergy whose doctrine and ministry may not always be strictly in line with what parishioners want. I consider that desirable.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor) : A total number of 104,429 reader visits were made to thPublic Record Office search rooms at the Chancery lane site during 1993. The census microfilm search room accounted for 76,798 of the visits, while the remaining 27,000-odd visits were to the search rooms for original documents.
Mr. Lidington : The Department's plan to shift the PRO's facilities in their entirety to Kew will create difficulties of access for many readers who use Chancery lane. Will my hon. Friend consider keeping the Chancery lane search rooms open, perhaps as a family history centre, so that people can use the microfilm and other facilities ?
Mr. Taylor : No decision has yet been made about the future use of the Chancery lane site. It is the subject of a review currently being undertaken by the Public Record Office and Property Holdings. The review is expected to be completed by 30 September 1994. If my hon. Friend wishes to give me the benefit of his thoughts, I shall be very grateful.
Mr. Maclennan : If a member of the public searched any part of the PRO, would he find a precedent--since the English revolution of 1688--for the monstrous and unconstitutional pressure put by the Lord Chancellor on Mr. Justice Wood, the president of the employment appeals tribunal, to violate his judicial oath and deny appellants an oral hearing in order, in his own words, to save the taxpayer costs ?
Mr. Taylor : It is no part of my job to respond on judicial matters from the Dispatch Box ; but I happen to think that if the hon. Gentleman were fully appraised of the facts, he would not have expressed himself in that way.
Mr. Boateng : It is, however, part of the Minister's job to respond to questions relating to the Public Record Office itself. Will he confirm that the review that he mentioned in reply to the question from the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) includes inquiries with the intention of imposing a charge on use of the PRO ? Does he not accept that his role, and that of the Lord Chancellor, is to protect ease of access and freedom of use ? Are we not witnessing--in terms of the development of the PRO--not the next step, but the final step to privatisation ?
Mr. Taylor : There are no current plans to privatise the PRO. As for charging the public, the question of charges for access to the records is the subject of a review currently being undertaken by the PRO. An extensive market research exercise asking for the views of users has been carried out. The review is expected to be completed by 31 March ; so the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House will not have long to wait.
37. Dr. Spink : To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to encourage the publication of the names and addresses of those appearing on court lists in respect of sex offences and subsequently being found guilty.
Dr. Spink : Is my hon. Friend aware that 21 homosexual men were recently prosecuted in my local court for acts of gross indecency in a public toilet only a few minutes' walk from my house ? Is he aware that all the public toilets in my constituency must now be closed at night, and that one has been taken out of use ? Would not the publication of those men's names and addresses act as a deterrent ?
Mr. Taylor : It is not the function of the courts to publicise details of convicted persons. The press may do so when the information is given in proceedings held in open court, unless a restriction order is in force, and, as my hon. Friend should know, almost all such cases are held in open court. The only exemptions are for the victims of sexual offences and for children and young persons involved in criminal offences.
Mrs. Roche : So far as sexual offences are concerned, can the Minister tell the House what stage the judicial studies programme for the training of judges in these matters has reached ? Are outside speakers being taken on to deal with very serious matters, such as rape trauma syndrome ?
Mr. Taylor : The hon. Lady may be reassured that the matters she raises are high on the agenda of the Judicial Studies Board. Outside experts will certainly be contracted to provide the benefit of their knowledge and wisdom.
38. Mr. William O'Brien : To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what consultations have taken place between the magistrates' associations and his Department over the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill [ Lords ] ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. John M. Taylor : The Lord Chancellor and I and our officials have consulted the Magistrates' Association on many occasions in the two years since our proposals were published. We shall continue to do so.
Mr. O'Brien : How does the Minister reconcile the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) on 31 January-- Official Report , Vol. 236, column 610--in which he said that justices' clerks would be responsible to local magistrates committees, with the fact that in my area of Wakefield and Pontefract the magistrates committees will be abolished as a result of the amalgamation proposed under the Bill ? How does the Minister reconcile his reply on that occasion with practicality ? Will he now face reality and change the proposals in the Bill to ensure that local magistrates committees may continue ?
Mr. Taylor : I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the situation. I am at pains to tell him that, even if there are amalgamations- -for example, in his own area--they will merely create a larger administrative unit under a magistrates courts committee. There will be a magistrates courts committee consisting of locally selected magistrates, and I can repeat the assurance that the justices' clerks and their chief will be answerable to the committee, which will have the authority. It will be a locally run service, which is what the hon. Gentleman and I both want.
Mr. Sims : I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the magistracy in south-east and south-west London has been very concerned at suggestions that the Lord Chancellor might use his powers under this legislation to amalgamate all the courts in the area under a single administration. Can my hon. Friend assure me that no such plan will be implemented without very careful consultation ? Can he assure me, in particular, that the Lord Chancellor will have to satisfy himself that amalgamation would be more cost effective than the present arrangements ?
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend should know that we are still exploring with the outer London action group the details of its proposals. My officials' next meeting with the group will be held on Wednesday. The Lord Chancellor and I are hopeful that it will be possible to find a system that delivers our objectives in restructuring the outer London service, but falls short of amalgamating committees. We are working with the service to that end.
39. Mr. Llwyd : To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how many representations he has received from legal practitioners, the Law Society and the Bar Council regarding the freezing of legal aid rates.
Mr. John M. Taylor : The Department has to date received about 20 letters from solicitors and local law societies expressing concern about legal aid rates. The Law Society and the Bar Council are consulted when fee rates are reviewed and have expressed similar concerns.
Mr. Llwyd : Does the Lord Chancellor's Department realise that growing numbers of solicitors' firms are now going out of legal aid practice altogether and that this sad fact, coupled with last year's savage cuts in the green form
Column 617scheme, has resulted in tens of thousands of people in Wales, England and Scotland being deprived of access to legal advice and assistance ?
Mr. Taylor : There is no evidence that legal aid fee rates are inadequate to allow solicitors to continue to undertake legal aid work. Since 1988-89, the proportion of solicitors' offices in England and Wales that received payment for legal aid work has increased from 68 to 82 per cent.
Sir Ivan Lawrence : Is my hon. Friend aware that, if the Government were to do more to encourage private insurance in litigation cases, there would be less pressure on the legal aid fund and less need to freeze legal aid rates ?
Mr. Taylor : My hon. and learned Friend should know that expenditure on legal aid this year is expected to rise by 12 per cent. The Lord Chancellor announced that he will be increasing all legal aid income eligibility limits by 3.8 per cent. and the green form limit by 15 per cent. He is also abolishing the means test for ABWOR--assistance by way of representation--for mental health review tribunals. Those measures prove the Government's continuing commitment to the legal aid scheme. Legal expenses insurance certainly has a role to play, but the market must show itself willing to participate. Progress in that respect seems to be slow.
Mr. John M. Taylor : We are considering whether the Limitation Act 1980 should be amended to change the limitation period that applies where a plaintiff claims damages for non-accidental personal injuries. We hope to reach a conclusion by the end of the year.
Mr. Hinchliffe : Does the Minister accept that the current limitation law is out-dated and inappropriate and does not take account of, for example, the specific circumstances of people who have been subject to childhood sexual abuse and who try to take legal action in adult life ? Will he assure me that the circumstances of such people will be taken into account in the current review and give me an idea of how soon the review will be completed ?
Mr. Fabricant : Does my hon. Friend agree that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done ? Does he agree that, if it is to be seen to be done, magistrates should be drawn from all age groups and from all sociological backgrounds ? What exactly are the Government doing to encourage that ?
Mr. Taylor : The Lord Chancellor seeks to maintain a proper balance of ages on benches. It is important that there should be young as well as older people to ensure a continuity of experience. Efforts are made to ensure that people are aware that it is open to them to apply, but only those who put themselves forward can be appointed.
Mr. Banks : Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great problems being experienced by aspiring solicitors in getting grants from local authorities because such grants are discretionary ? Is he further aware that, four years ago, the College of Law received two thirds of its income from local authorities but the figure has now fallen to 9 per cent ? Will the hon. Gentleman consult the Department for Education to see what can be done, otherwise solicitors will be drawn from an ever narrower bunch of people in society ?
Mr. Taylor : If the hon. Gentleman is talking about law students rather than trainee solicitors, to whom his initial question referred, he has correctly anticipated my answer. The policy on the awarding of grants for postgraduate education is a matter for the Secretary of State for Education. However, I do consult Ministers at the Department for Education and I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.
Mr. Dickens : Does my hon. Friend accept that trainee solicitors face another problem in that many study for three years for a qualification and then sometimes have a job getting on to a course for their final year in order to achieve the full qualification ? Is he proposing to do anything to make more places available so that when trainee solicitors have completed three years' training, they have the opportunity to become fully qualified ?
Mr. Taylor : As I understand the problem, the difficulty is that grants for postgraduate qualifications--that is, the solicitors' professional examination after a degree--are discretionary ; they are in the hands of local authorities. It is a matter for local authorities to decide and it lies ill in the mouths of those who argue for local authorities to have discretion to blame the Government for the way in which that discretion is used.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that as the Law Society, the solicitors and all those involved in the profession are excellent, they should be responsible for making proposals to ensure that trainee solicitors can be remunerated properly while they are training ?
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