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Mr. Redwood: In October 1994, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Wales was 9 per cent., compared with 10.2 per cent. in October 1993. That represents a reduction of 14,700 or 11.4 per cent. in the number of people unemployed in Wales, and is most welcome.
Mr. Coombs: Perhaps my right hon. Friend will confirm and buttress that good news by telling the House how many job vacancies there are in Wales, as that is another good indication of the progress being made. Also, how many of the jobs created in the past year were as a result of European funding and how many jobs might not have been achieved in the past year and previously if Wales had not been a part of the United Kingdom and of the European Union?
Mr. Redwood: I think that that would require a little research, encyclopaedic though my knowledge may be of the unemployment figures in Wales. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that a lot of the jobs came because of inward investment from England as well as from overseas, and a lot came from indigenous investment and the
Column 921growth of small businesses. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that there were 12,400 more full-time jobs in manufacturing in the year to June 1994, which is a most welcome development.
Mr. Llwyd rose -- [Interruption.]
Mr. Rogers: That is four out of four.
Mr. Alan W. Williams rose --
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) should keep his temper--I do not want it. I call Mr. Alan W. Williams.
Mr. Williams: What does the Secretary of State have to say to creamery workers in west Wales? On 1 November, 156 workers at Whitland creamery were made redundant. Last weekend we heard that in Newcastle Emlyn the Dansco plant, which employs 73 people, is up for sale. There are also some doubts about the Llangadog and Haverfordwest creameries. All those are the results of the Government's reorganisation of the milk marketing scheme. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the chaos at the creameries and in the dairy industry?
Mr. Redwood: I am concerned, and I have asked the Welsh Development Agency to see what can be done to help in those cases. I will, of course, take up the matter further following the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
Mr. Rogers rose --
Madam Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman has any complaint about the number of hon. Members I am calling, I invite him to put a substantive motion on the Order Paper, and I shall see that it is debated.
Mr. Rogers: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker: Order. Points of order are taken after Question Time.
Mr. Rogers rose --
Madam Speaker: Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. [Hon. Members:-- "Name him."] I do not wish to name anyone today. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I am sure that he will do that.
28. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners how much per capita giving by church members is taken into account when the estimates of the Church Commissioners are made; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Church Commissioners' forward estimates relate only to their own investment income, but their stipend allocations to dioceses take account of the special needs of poorer dioceses, including potential income from church members in those dioceses. Giving is the largest and most important source of funding. In
Column 9221992, giving through parishes amounted to about £274 million. Covenanted giving amounted to about £4.10 per subscriber per week.
Mr. Greenway: Has my right hon. Friend seen statistics in the newspapers indicating that church membership is now at its lowest level ever? Will he comment on that? Does he agree that church membership and giving depend crucially on the leadership given by the Church and its priests? Does he share my concern that a Swaffham vicar is not following the Church's teaching in the way he is behaving and will my right hon. Friend support the actions of the Bishop of Norwich?
Mr. Alison: My hon. Friend referred to an individual case in a certain parish with which the Bishop of Norwich is dealing and it would be quite outside the scope of my responsibilities to comment on that. The donation figure that I cited of £4.10 per subscriber per week to the covenanted giving system of the Church of England is a sum which could probably, without great difficulty or pressure, be greatly increased. Appropriate and convincing leadership of integrity in the parishes will undoubtedly be able to exploit the scope for giving which exists.
29. Mr. Fisher: To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners what evidence he has that redundant churches are being converted to commercial use.
Mr. Alison: By the end of 1993, 78 redundant churches had been appropriated for storage, light industrial, office or shopping uses and 160 churches had been appropriated for residential uses. The commissioners' latest annual report--a copy of which is in the Library--contains details of the many and varied uses found so far for no fewer than 742 redundant churches since 1969.
Mr. Fisher: The right hon. Gentleman knows of the case of St John's church, Hanley, in Stoke-on-Trent--a fine church which a commercial company wishes to turn into a climbing centre. Will the right hon. Gentleman and his fellow commissioners agree to meet interested local residents, the diocese and the local planning authority to discuss the well worked out and costed plans of the local action committee to save the church? Does he agree that it is not good to encourage the conversion of churches for commercial use when there is keen local interest in saving them for worship and other community uses?
Mr. Alison: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am familiar with the case of St John's, Hanley. Although the friends of the local parish church offered an alternative proposal to the projected climbing enterprise, it seemed to the diocese and to the commissioners that the climbing enterprise idea was a firmer proposition. However, it has not yet received planning permission. If the climbing centre scheme does not proceed, the commissioners will look forward to the diocese's further recommendations, which I am sure will include the friends' alternative use to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would meet a deputation of interested parties. I shall be glad to talk about the practicalities and the usefulness of such a visit with an open mind.
30. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners what guarantees of pensions are being made to serving and retired clergy and employees of the Church of England.
Mr. Alison: The security of existing clergy pensions is not at issue as the value of the commissioners' assets comfortably exceeds the accrued pension liabilities for retired clergy and those currently in active service. Separate funding arrangements are in place to pay the pensions of lay employees in the Church of England. The commissioners and the pensions board are discussing with dioceses proposals for funding pension liabilities arising from the future service of clergy on a more sustainable basis involving contributions. This will help to secure the commissioners' continuing ability to help the Church in other ways.
Mr. Corbyn: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great deal of concern about the amount of Church Commissioners' assets that were lost due to unfortunate property speculations in the past few years? There is a danger that this will impact on the pension funds and therefore affect not just the ability to pay pensions in the near or foreseeable future but the ability to increase pensions at least in line with average earnings. Many clergy and staff of the Church are deeply concerned about this matter. Can the Minister assure them not only that pensions will continue to be paid at existing levels, but that they will be increased in the future?
Mr. Alison: Yes. The answer that I gave to the hon. Gentleman that the value of the commissioners' assets comfortably exceeds what is needed is based on our past performance. We have increased pensions at a substantially higher rate than the rate of inflation--indeed, at levels almost approaching earnings--and we hope to be able to do that using existing assets for the categories that I have described. It is precisely because we want to make certain that future pensions can be increased in a way that is desirable and for which there are precedents that we are moving to introduce a contributory base through the dioceses.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the loss of assets due to property speculation. In fact, the value of the portfolio is rapidly increasing again with the change in market values, and we have complete confidence that we shall be able to sustain the level of pensions.
38. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department when the Lord Chancellor intends to introduce legislation to implement Law Commission report No. 174, on privity of contract and estate.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor): My hon. Friend is entitled to return to the charge in this matter. I personally wish to make progress in this area. I shall be meeting
Column 924some of the leading representatives of the interests affected to discuss possible ways forward and I think that there may be more news on this subject shortly.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Law Commission produced its report as long ago as 1988-- indeed, I asked my hon. Friend a question about it as long ago as May 1993, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) tried to introduce a private Member's Bill on the subject? Is he further aware that there are some cases of real hardship? Several lease assignments ago, people were called on to meet obligations involving rent increases of which they were not even aware. Will my hon. Friend pledge the Government to support any amending legislation, from whatever source it might come?
Mr. Taylor: I am aware of the hardship and I take no pleasure in the fact that my hon. Friend has had to ask the same question twice. I admire the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who is sitting behind my hon. Friend. The Government would certainly help any private Member's initiative to deal with the matter.
39. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department whether he intends to broaden eligibility rules for legal aid.
40. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what new proposals he has to assist those on low incomes to gain access to legal aid.
Mr. John M. Taylor: Almost half the households in England and Wales currently qualify for civil legal aid. In serious criminal cases, anyone who needs help meeting the costs may qualify. The Lord Chancellor reviews legal aid financial limits each year and will shortly be considering what changes he should make in April 1995.
Mr. Bayley: Is the Minister aware of the rapidly increasing number of people on low incomes who now find that they cannot obtain legal aid and therefore cannot obtain access to the courts? Only this morning I learned of a woman in my constituency whose only income is invalidity benefit and who has lost her job through ill health. Her marriage has broken up and she has been asked to contribute £90 per month under the legal aid scheme for legal representation in the divorce proceedings. She cannot afford that money, so she is not represented. What plans do the Government have to re- widen the scope of legal aid so that people such as my constituent are properly represented in the courts?
Mr. Taylor: The legal aid system in this country is a generous one. Hon. Members do not have to take my word for that. The Labour spokesman in the House of Lords said it recently on the record. In Britain, 48 per cent. of households are eligible. The point about invalidity benefit is simply that although some welfare benefits enjoy an automatic passporting into legal aid, invalidity benefit does not because it is not means-tested. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to have a look at the case to which he referred, I will certainly do so.
Mr. Flynn: When will the Government end the generosity and scandal of a legal aid system which allows millionaires to loot huge sums of money on the pretext
Column 925that their financial assets are temporarily frozen when Mr. Ray Murton, a low-paid labourer living in a council flat, was denied legal aid in a case of alleged medical blunder in which he lost a leg? Why is it that 75 per cent. of households enjoyed legal aid in 1979, but more than half the households in Britain are now denied access to justice in a system that is increasingly discredited, wasteful and unjust?
Mr. Taylor: I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the Lord Chancellor is shortly to issue a consultation document called "Legal Aid for the Apparently Wealthy". Hon. Members who have misgivings on the matter can certainly register their views. I imagine that they would like to register their views.
Mr. Alan Howarth: Does my hon. Friend accept that disabled people on low incomes are particularly disadvantaged in sustaining their legal rights? If we are not to have a disability rights commission, an omission which I would regret, will my hon. Friend consider sympathetically and constructively the case for extending legal aid to enable disabled people to avail themselves of the new rights that the Government propose to establish for them in employment and other areas?
Mr. Taylor: I will gladly discuss the matter personally with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). There is an extremely complicated set of interrelationships between the welfare system and the legal aid system. A fundamental review of the legal aid system is going on now. We shall consider all these things and I shall remember what my hon. Friend has said.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Will my hon. Friend accept that the vast majority of my constituents are perfectly happy to pay for the half of the households in Britain who are eligible for legal aid, but far from happy to have to pay for legal aid for illegal immigrants? We are the only country in the world that would dream of paying legal aid for such persons.
Mr. Taylor: My hon. Friend's constituents have many reasons to be extremely happy with their lot. She mentioned one way in which they are not. That matter would come squarely within the ambit of the Lord Chancellor's consultation document, "Legal Aid for the Apparently Wealthy". I remind this honourable House that in this country all people are equal before the law courts, even if they are foreigners.
Mr. Boateng: No Opposition Member would describe the legal aid scheme as generous--on the contrary. How does the Minister justify the fact that people whose immense wealth is shielded by family trusts continue to receive legal aid while many people of modest means are denied it altogether, such as the pensioner on £343 a month who lost his voice box as a result of medical negligence at St. Mary's hospital and is required to pay an additional £44 a month towards the cost of legal advice and assistance? How can that be just? When will the
Column 926Government understand that the people of this country do not want more consultations, reviews and Treasury-led solutions, but justice?
Mr. Taylor: Let us keep the record straight: I did not describe our legal aid as generous--the noble Lord Williams of Mostyn said it in another place, speaking for the Labour party.
Sir Anthony Grant: In any changes that he may make, will my hon. Friend bear two things in mind? First, there is far too much litigation in this country; we do not want to go down the same road as the United States. Secondly, will he bear in mind the risk that a recipient of legal aid can, by blackmailing, spell ruin for people who are just above the level for receiving such aid?
Mr. Taylor: I certainly agree that there is too much litigation and that it is too complicated. I shall bear my hon. Friend's remarks closely in mind.
41. Mr. Dowd: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to review the scheduling of cases in the Crown courts.
Mr. John M. Taylor: I have no plans to review the scheduling of cases in the Crown court. Cases are listed by court staff working under judicial guidance, within guidelines approved by the Lord Chief Justice.
Mr. Dowd: Does the Parliamentary Secretary share my extreme concern at the experience of a constituent who, on arriving home on a Monday evening, found a message on her telephone answering machine saying that the extremely serious case that she was pressing was to be heard the following morning at the Old Bailey? It is not surprising that she felt so pressurised and ill prepared that she was unable to continue with it. Does the Minister agree that the court's decision was intolerable and inefficient, not to say callous? What is his Department doing--with the Attorney-General and the Home Department--to ensure the sensitive and efficient administration that is necessary to retain public confidence in the criminal justice system?
Mr. Taylor: A scheme of plea and directions hearings in all cases is being planned for all Crown court centres, starting in January next. Meanwhile, the House should know that court listing is very difficult. It is only as precise as the information received from the parties involved. Sometimes a civil case scheduled for a five-day trial will settle on the court steps. In criminal cases, a defendant who says that he intends to plead not guilty all too often changes his mind at the last moment--that happens in 50 per cent. of cases.
43. Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what is the waiting list for the processing of non- asylum applications to the immigration appellate adjudicator.
Mr. John M. Taylor: Once the parties have indicated readiness to proceed, the average waiting time for a non-asylum appeal to be heard by an adjudicator is nine weeks.
Mr. Hughes: I am grateful. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that, although that is the average, many take
Column 927much longer and that every time there is a delay it also affects the families abroad? Can he ensure in the coming year that additional resources are made available to deal with the backlog without prejudice to present applicants?
Mr. Taylor: Waiting times have come down in the past two years, but not so much as the hon. Gentleman or I would like. We are taking a number of specific measures. Five are listed in my brief. If the hon. Gentleman would like, rather than gabbling them into the microphone I will write to him to tell him what they are.
44. Lady Olga Maitland: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to review the work of the Judicial Studies Board.
Mr. John M. Taylor: The Judicial Studies Board is to conduct an internal review of its structure and resources, the activities to be undertaken, and the priorities to be accorded to them.
Lady Olga Maitland: As the Lord Chancellor's Department spends nearly £1 million on race awareness courses for judges, does my hon. Friend agree that it is plain common sense to merge the main points of those seminars with the annual judicial studies which take place every Christmas? That would save the Government a lot of money, and end that political incorrectness.
Mr. Taylor: The vast majority of those who have taken part in the programme so far have found it valuable to them in their work as judges. Racial awareness courses are extremely important if we are to assure the minorities within society that the judicial system is fair to them as well as to us.
45. Mr. Enright: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what further consideration he has given to the reform of legal aid.
Mr. John M. Taylor: A number of initiatives are currently in hand for making improvements to the legal aid scheme. The most significant of these is a fundamental review of the scheme.
Mr. Enright: Can the Minister understand the extreme bitterness of my constituents who are refused legal aid, even though they are on poverty wages, while people such as Ernest Saunders, Asil Nadir and other wealthy crooks are given massive help by his Department and while barristers go on day after day spitting out their profits?
Mr. Taylor: The hon. Gentleman will take only modest comfort from the fact that we are to issue a paper entitled "Legal Aid for the Apparently Wealthy", as I said earlier. The issues involved should be looked at from first principles, and my efforts will join those of the hon. Gentleman in that spirit.
Sir Donald Thompson: Is my hon. Friend aware that many people come to my advice centres complaining that the people who are proceeding against them are on legal aid, and that they therefore cannot hope to fight successfully against the weight of the state's money?
Mr. Taylor: A possible part of the original sin of the legal aid system is that there are civil cases in which one party receives legal aid and the other does not. If I had a remedy for that this afternoon, I would certainly offer it to the House. I am well aware of the point that my hon. Friend makes.
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