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9. Ms Glenda Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many British citizens have been denied access to benefits under the habitual residence rule; and if he will make a statement.
Column 11claiming income support in the three months from 1 August. Figures for housing benefit refusals are not yet available.
Ms Jackson: Is it not time to scrap this singularly ugly little piece of legislation when the reality for only one of my constituents, who is six months pregnant, is to find herself without any money or home at all, as the Euston Benefits Agency office which serves my constituents takes anything up to a month to see an initial applicant and more than two months to process an appeal? If the Government will not scrap this legislation, will they at least allow British citizens to claim under the extreme hardship arrangements so that more women and children are not put on our streets without homes or food?
Mr. Evans: The answer to the hon. Lady's first question is no. Without knowing the details, I cannot comment on the particular circumstances of her constituent. However, if she gives me the details of the case, I shall look into it. British citizens in extreme circumstances would be entitled to apply to the social fund for a crisis loan.
Dr. Spink: Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituents are singularly sick of people from abroad coming here and scrounging off our social benefits system? If we had more support from Opposition parties for our immigration and asylum legislation, we could resist that phenomenon.
Mr. Donohoe: Is the Minister aware that a large percentage of the people who are refused are British citizens, not people from abroad? Can he explain why every DSS office in the country has to send every refusal file to DSS headquarters?
Mr. Evans: It is implicit in the answer that I gave that the 1,053 people to whom I referred are British citizens. There is no disputing that. However, whether they are British citizens in the sense-- [Hon. Members: -- "They are."] No, that is not so because in many cases they have no immediate connection with this country and are not in any real sense habitually resident. My right hon. Friend saw fit to introduce that salutary measure to curb what would otherwise become a public scandal.
Mr. Evans: No doubt that is one example. Another involves Canadian or Australian teenagers on backpacking holidays to Europe, who happen to be patrials within the meaning of British citizenship and who previously were entitled to obtain income support.
10. Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to amend the regulation prescribing chronic bronchitis and emphysema in relation to deep-coal miners; and if he will make a statement.
Column 12implemented in full by the Government. The Government will, of course, consider carefully any future recommendations that the council may make.
Mr. Clapham: I am extremely disappointed by the Minister's reply. He will be aware that, over the year between September 1993 and September 1994, there were 43,827 claims, of which 39,358 were turned down--13,995 on X-ray evidence. He will also be aware that there is great concern because X -rays, especially where routine X-rays are taken at hospitals, tend to be overexposed, thereby preventing the detection of simple pneumoconiosis. Will he therefore ensure that the 13,995 cases turned down on X-ray evidence are reviewed? Will he further ensure that an instruction goes down the line requesting that X-rays taken for the detection of bronchitis and emphysema should be of the soft exposure type?
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman is right about the figures--they show that the success rate has been about 11 per cent. However, that is in line with the success rate of claims for prescribed diseases in general. We have corresponded previously on his point about soft exposure X-rays. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council remains confident that the International Labour Organisation standard classification X-rays are the appropriate means of measuring coal dust retention in the lung.
Of course, the Government must have regard to the council's advice. It is an independent, not a partisan, body, which includes trade union representatives. It is there to give impartial advice to the Government. We will have regard to its advice in the future just as we have in the past. Appeal procedures are in place for disappointed claimants, as matters currently stand.
11. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the total number of retirement pensioners; what the total was 10 years ago; and what estimate he has made of the number in the year 2004, assuming no change in eligibility criteria.
Mr. Arbuthnot: At 31 March 1994, 10.25 million people were receiving a state retirement pension. The equivalent figure for 31 March 1984 was 9.5 million. It is estimated that, by 31 March 2004, the number of pensioners will have increased to about 11.25 million.
Sir Teddy Taylor: As the ever-increasing number of pensioners will place enormous burdens on the Treasury, is there not a danger that taxes will rise all the time unless we can save cash elsewhere? Will my hon. Friend the Minister ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in the interests of the pensioners of tomorrow, to raise in the Cabinet the subject of the horrendous and also ever-increasing contributions that the country is making to the European Union?
Mr. Arbuthnot: What a surprise. The two issues have nothing to do with each other. The United Kingdom has taken the lead in cracking down on fraud in the EU, in reforming the common agricultural policy and in pensions-- which is why it has more money put away in occupational pensions than has the whole of the rest of Europe.
30. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement regarding the Crown Prosecution Service providing the reasons for non-prosecution of offences to individuals who have been the victims of crime.
Mr. Cunningham: Although the Attorney-General says that it is up to the police, many victims of crime believe that that should be the responsibility of the CPS. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do something about that? Often, victims are utterly bewildered when prosecutions are not brought.
The Attorney-General: I well understand that point, and I sympathise with victims. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from the victims charter that it was decided that the most sensible and usual way to communicate with a victim should be via the police. It is for the CPS to provide the police with appropriate information so that they can assist the victim. If a victim is in court, the CPS will often give the appropriate explanation.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Derek Spencer): The Crown Prosecution Service and the police continue to work together closely. A number of initiatives include a pilot scheme in which Crown Prosecution Service lawyers will hold regular advice surgeries for police officers.
Mr. Robathan: I had the opportunity to visit my local CPS in Leicester in the summer, when I was made aware of how vital is close communication between the service and the police. Can my hon. and learned Friend assure me that he will keep pressing both parties to work together, so that there is no repeat of embarrassing incidents recently reported in the press?
The Solicitor-General: I can assure my hon. Friend of that. I also had the benefit of visiting the CPS in Leicester. As my hon. Friend discovered, good communication lies at the heart of sound prosecuting. With that much in mind, the police and the CPS are taking forward joint monitoring of their performance nationally and have developed national charging standards for a variety of assaults, ranging from common assault to murder.
Solicitor-General accept the trial judge's view that some aspects of the handling of that case were thoroughly reprehensible? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman also accept that there were two grave failures? One was reliance as expert evidence on the testimony of only one psychologist, who was also involved in assisting the police with the gathering of evidence. The other was failure to appreciate that the evidence of the undercover officer would almost inevitably be ruled inadmissible because of the inducement offered.
Column 14Is the Solicitor-General aware that the stand since taken by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, by the Director of Public Prosecutions and by the Attorney-General--that there was nothing to suggest that anyone acted other than properly--has caused anxiety? Will he assure that House that, to avoid repetition, the Attorney- General himself will be involved with directors at the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that there will be guidelines--not whether there will be guidelines--in those vital matters?
The Solicitor-General: Not for the first time, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is being wise after the event. It is easy to speak with the benefit of hindsight. The case was taken in front of an experienced metropolitan magistrate. It lasted for about 11 days, during which time there was a thorough preliminary inquiry. The magistrate ruled that there was a case to answer. The case was also advised on by senior Treasury counsel. As the case passed both tests, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's idea that there is anything to apologise for is misconceived.
The Attorney-General: Since 1 October this year, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have been participating in a pilot study in six police force areas, including Croydon, on the production of abbreviated files in cases where a guilty plea is anticipated.
The Attorney-General: My hon. Friend makes a good point. When, a year ago, my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and I went through, with the police, the detailed forms that they use in the preparation of a case, it was plain that the writing out of names, addresses and other details was dreadfully time consuming. Obviously, one of the best ways in which to help them is to get information technology to perform the task, as that cuts down a great deal of the burden of the paperwork.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Can we nevertheless be assured that, in the gathering of information, victims will be closely communicated with about charges? Can we be assured that if, as happened in a horrendous murder case in my constituency, half way through a trial in which there is a guilty plea there is a change in the charge from murder to manslaughter, at least the family of the victim are given an explanation about why that has happened and why the subsequent sentences will, therefore, be very much lighter than they would expect them to be?
The Attorney-General: The hon. Lady makes a point with which I have a good deal of sympathy. It is important to try to keep in touch with victims. Obviously, the victim cannot determine what the charge should be; that must be determined carefully and independently. However, a proper explanation to the victim or his family--for example, when a charge changes from murder to
Column 15manslaughter--is highly desirable and is, indeed, in accordance with best practice, unless there are very special reasons for doing otherwise.
Mr. Brazier: Are not two of the best ways in which we can reduce paperwork in those matters, first, by extending to a number of new charges the provision whereby people can plead guilty by post and secondly, by allowing some of the lesser cases to be prosecuted directly by the police or by local solicitors instead of by the Crown Prosecution Service?
The Attorney-General: I know that my hon. Friend is a great enthusiast for both points, which he has made before. I am not quite so enthusiastic, although I am looking for constructive ways in which to reach the same goal.
The Attorney-General: A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Mr. Asil Nadir. The Crown is ready to proceed when he returns, or is returned, to the jurisdiction. Interpol has been informed of the warrant.
Mr. Skinner: Why is it that the Attorney-General and the Government seem to have written off the chance of getting Asil Nadir back into the country? This Government, who are so adept at rounding up social security claimants, new age travellers and anti-foxhunters, cannot lay a finger on that man. Is not the truth that millions of people out there believe that the Government allowed Asil Nadir to escape, especially because he gave more than £400,000 to the Tory party? When will the money be handed back to those who finished up with the debts round their necks?
The Solicitor-General: During the past 12 months, the Attorney- General sought leave to refer 50 cases to the Court of Appeal. Of the 38 cases decided to date, 32, or 84 per cent., have resulted in an increase in sentence.
Mr. Hendry: Is not the most effective way of ensuring that criminals should be punished more severely than their victims--as highlighted by the case of the 82-year-old pensioner in Derbyshire last week--through my right hon. and learned Friend's right to ask the Court of Appeal to review lenient sentences? Is it not a shame that the Labour party continues to oppose that policy?
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend may find on closer analysis that, in that sector, as in so many others, the Labour party has changed its ground somewhat over the past two or three years. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 will give my right hon. and learned
Column 16Friend the Home Secretary power to extend the scope of the present power to refer to serious fraud. I understand from him that he will be doing that in the near future.
37. Sir David Steel: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the replenishment of Overseas Development Administration funds following the court case on the Pergau dam.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry): The Government have yet to receive and study the written judgment. Until we do so and have decided for or against an appeal, we cannot decide on the implications for the aid programme. No decision has been taken on those points. The House will be informed when the Government have decided whether to appeal against the judgment.
Sir David Steel: I well understand that the question of whether there is to be an appeal has still to be decided. However, that should not prevent the Government from making it clear to the House, and giving an undertaking, that if they do not appeal, or in the event of an appeal going against them, the ODA budget will be reinstated in full. Is the Minister aware that the courts decided that the World Development Movement could go back to the courts if the £230 million was not reinstated? Surely the Minister should give the House that long-overdue assurance now.
Mr. Baldry: As I have said, we have yet to receive the court's written judgment. Until we have studied that judgment and decided for or against an appeal, we cannot decide on the implications for the aid programme of the money already spent or the funds likely to be required in future. However, the right hon. Gentleman and the House can be assured that, as soon as we have decided whether to appeal, the House will be informed.
Sir John Stanley: Does my hon. Friend agree that, should the present legal position be sustained, and the Government be found to have used aid money for non-aid purposes, there would in those circumstances be the clearest possible moral obligation on the Government to make good the appropriate sum to the aid programme and, at the very least, to make an appropriate public expenditure survey transfer from the Department of Trade and Industry to the ODA?
Miss Lestor: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people, including myself, believe that this talk about studying the written judgment is really a means of avoiding the question because we all know what the judgment was? Will he make it clear that his Department is not working on a scheme designed to subvert the court's judgment? Is he also aware that the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office are in danger of appearing very churlish in looking for loopholes in that judgment? Why will the Minister not refund the money, as that is what many hon. Members feel should be done, and direct it to
Column 17the poorest countries, particularly where the freeze in the aid budget means a cut of 17 per cent. in aid to the African continent?
Mr. Baldry: I think that I have already answered the hon. Lady's first point very fully. This is a matter in respect of which the court has made a ruling and it must be right for the Government to consider whether to appeal. Until we have decided whether to appeal, what might happen to the aid budget is hypothetical.
As for the hon. Lady's other point, she is severely mistaken. Let me help her: if she considers the figures shown on this board, which were announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, she will see that he has increased the aid programme. It is a plus programme-- [Interruption.] Let me help Opposition Members as they are having some problems. The figures for the coming year are up nearly £50 million.
Mr. Baldry: For the following year, they are nearly £100 million more than now, and, for the next following year, they are nearly £150 million more. Those are plus, plus, plus figures. For each of the three coming years, including this year, more money will be spent than in the previous year. We are the sixth-largest aid donor world wide, and our aid budget is £2.2 billion. Indeed, last year, the United Kingdom was one of only seven countries to increase its aid in real terms. The hon. Lady's suggestion about cuts in aid is total bunkum. They are plus figures throughout.
Mr. Baldry: My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development visited Poland from 7 to 10 November. Polish Ministers expressed appreciation for know-how fund assistance, particularly its speed and flexibility, and made suggestions for future assistance.
Mrs. Gillan: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Have not the tearing down of the Berlin wall and the disintegration of the Warsaw pact countries been some of the most significant events this century? Is it not essential to help newly emerging central European countries to have a secure democracy, and essential that we continue to support them through the excellent method of our know-how fund?
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend is right. It must be in our interests to help to pump-prime communist Europe's transformation into free enterprise democracies. That is exactly what the know-how fund helps to achieve. The key aims of the know-how fund are financial services; privatisation; the marketing of small businesses; improving management, agriculture and health services; and promoting good government. The fund is well targeted and flexible. It offers assistance in sectors in
Column 18which we have expertise and experience. President Walesa recently said that the British do not say much but they do a lot. It is a much-appreciated programme.
Mrs. Roche: Given the large amounts of aid to countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Oman, which are hardly among the poorest countries of the world, is it not clear that the links between British aid and British arms sales are rather more than the brief entanglement to which the Foreign Secretary referred in the Pergau dam scandal?
Mr. Baldry: There is no link between our aid programme and defence sales, and there never has been. It is absurd to suggest that our aid flows are determined by prospects of defence sales. All of our 10 biggest aid recipients are low-income countries--seven in sub-Saharan Africa and three in Asia. Nearly 80 per cent. of our bilateral aid to developing countries goes to the poorest countries. A recent OECD report recognised that our aid focuses on poor countries, and it acknowledged the quality of our aid to those countries.
Mr. Waterson: Is my hon. Friend aware that more than 400,000 jobs in this country depend on defence industries and that the people who work for companies such as Computing Devices in my constituency are becoming heartily sick and tired of left-wing pacifist Opposition Members attacking our arms industry and trying to produce a bogus link between arms sales and our aid policies?
Mr. Baldry: It would seem that the Opposition suggest that we should never contemplate defence sales to any country to which we give aid. That is a somewhat bizarre approach. How many employees of companies such as British Aerospace, GEC, Rolls-Royce, Racal, Perkins Engines, Vickers and hundreds of other United Kingdom defence exporters would accept losing their jobs for such a spurious policy?
Mr. Baldry: We estimate that 39 per cent. of total bilateral aid allocatable by country went to Africa in 1993-94. Africa is also a major recipient of multilateral assistance, to which Britain makes a significant contribution.
Mr. Merchant: Will my hon. Friend confirm that Africa must benefit from the fact that, as he said, Britain is among only a handful of countries that have increased their overseas aid budgets this year and that, apart from development aid, Africa will benefit from the fact that Britain is among the lead countres in encouraging debt
Column 19relief measures for the most indebted--the poorest--countries as long as they pursue sound economic policies?
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we are increasing our aid budget. He is also correct in that Britain continues to take the lead in promoting debt relief to the world's poorest, most indebted countries. Our priority is to achieve implementation of the full Trinidad terms through the Paris Club, but we recognise that that will not be enough for a few countries.
That is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has called upon the international financial institutions to consider what more they can do for their poorest, most indebted members. He has proposed that the International Monetary Fund should improve access to, and the concessionality of, its loans to the poorest, most indebted nations. That would be financed by the sale of part of the IMF gold reserve. The UK is persistently in front in trying to relieve the burden of debt on the world's poorest nations.
Mr. Enright: Does the Minister agree that, in spite of his ludicrous cardboard cut-out, the amount of money going to Africa does not tackle in any way whatsoever the huge problems of that continent? Does he further agree that aid which should be going to Africa is going to central and eastern Europe? Is it not about time that we
Column 20stopped the poor paying for the poor? Will the Government take a lead multilaterally, unilaterally and bilaterally?
Mr. Baldry: I wish to make a number of points. Firstly, some of the aid lobby take the somewhat perverse position that, whereas aid to Afghanistan is virtuous, aid to Albania is not. Secondly, the amount of money allocated to Africa has been increasing and we have been focusing much of our aid programme on Africa, with considerable success.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recognise that 10 years ago Uganda, for example, was in ruins. It has now been rebuilt. In the past six years, its growth rate has averaged more than 5 per cent. per annum. That is an excellent example of how Africans can help themselves with outside support. We have been a leading donor to Uganda: we disbursed £38 million in 1993-94.
The position is similar in Ghana, which has pursued a programme of economic reform and returned to democratic rule. We actively supported the Ghanaian Government's efforts with aid of nearly £15 million in 1993-94. We are committed to providing £100 million in aid to South Africa.
Of course, following the public expenditure survey outcome, we are now deciding the allocation of resources. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that aid to the poorest countries of Africa and Asia will be a clear priority in that process.
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