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Mr. Maclennan: Will the Secretary of State accept that many people would regard it as an unattractive way to respond to the VE celebrations for the Conservative party to be divided about the future of our relationship with the European Union?
Mr. Dorrell: It is breathtaking that the hon. Gentleman should seek to make party political capital out of a VE day celebration. The argument about the future of the European Union is clearly an argument between different points of view about how the Union should develop. It has nothing to do with the act of national commemoration which will be at the heart of VE day.
21. Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps he is taking to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of British actors and dancers to meet the needs of British theatre.
Mr. Sproat: My Department takes a close interest in the well-being of the performing arts in this country. We are aware of concerns over the funding of training for dance and drama students. That is an issue that is currently being considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, in consultation with my Department and the Arts Council of England.
Mr. Luff: My hon. Friend will be aware of how welcome is the obvious priority that the Government are attaching to resolving the question of discretionary grants. May I urge him to press the matter with the utmost speed? I am aware of case after case in my constituency of young
Column 676people who cannot use their skills to train for drama and for dance schools because the local authority does not have the money.
Mr. Sproat: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the persistence and knowledge with which he has pursued that important point. We are currently considering the findings of the Gulbenkian survey with the Department for Education, and I very much hope that we shall be able to fulfil my hon. Friend's request for a speedy answer.
Mrs. Dunwoody: The Minister will be aware that the matter is now urgent because practically no discretionary grant is handed out to people who want to study dance or drama. This country has a high quality of representation in both those arts. If we are not to lose them, it will require rather more vigour on the Minister's part than has been shown so far.
Mr. Sproat: The establishment of a national cricket academy is essentially a matter for the cricketing authorities. If a suitable project were put forward, I see no reason why it could not be considered as a candidate for lottery funding.
Mr. Hicks: Despite England's excellent victory in Adelaide yesterday, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need for a cricket academy which could well be funded from the millennium fund or from national lottery funds, provided, of course, that there is the essential structural link between the existing game and any such academy?
Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The fact that we won the latest test match does not mean that we should consider the matter any less closely. However, the cricketing world is sharply divided over whether we should have a central national cricket academy or whether the matter would be better handled by the individual counties.
Mr. Enright: I am sure that the Minister will agree that the excellent Yorkshire cricket academy, which produced Darren Gough, the great find of this tour, is a success. However, it will not continue to be a success unless the schools that feed into it have the funds to put into grounds on which they can play cricket. That is an extremely important point, and I urge the Minister to stress its importance to the Department for Education.
Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the great importance of having proper sports grounds. Of course, it would be open to schools and to those who wish to put forward a plan with them to apply for funds under the lottery for the acquisition of such playing fields, provided that the playing fields were open not just to schools but to the rest of the community. Just to show the hon. Gentleman that I do not merely echo glibly what he
Column 677says about the importance of the Yorkshire cricket academy, let me say that I shall see representatives of the Yorkshire cricket academy later this very week.
Mr. Elletson: Does my hon. Friend agree that, if there is to be a national cricket academy, the proper location for it would be Lancashire, which continues to provide the real backbone of English cricket?
Mr. Sproat: I had the pleasure of visiting Old Trafford recently, and I saw what was being done there by the Lancashire county authority. I certainly agree that its plan is splendid, but other counties might have different views.
Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Clergy pensions are currently funded from the Church Commissioners' investment income rather than from a separate pension fund. Following actuarial advice, a number of options for the future funding of pensions are being discussed with the dioceses. They focus on the collection of pension contributions for future service.
Mr. Corbyn: When does the right hon. Gentleman expect a statement to be made on the future funding of the pension fund, following the representations that he has received? What action is being taken concerning the serious losses incurred by the Church Commissioners pension fund on irresponsible investments in out-of-town shopping centres in the past? Will future pensions be increased in line with average earnings or in line with inflation, or can the right hon. Gentleman give no guarantee at all as to future pension payments both to clergy and to lay employees of the Church of England?
Mr. Alison: The specific question of when a definitive statement is likely to emerge about future pension arrangements--I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will approve of this--will depend to some extent on when the Social Services Select Committee's report on the issue comes out and when the various diocesan consultations have taken place. There cannot in any case be a fundamental change without legislation, so I doubt whether any new arrangements will be in place before 1998.
As for the underlying value of the assets, the hon. Gentleman will know that it is going up steadily. Assets lay at £2.1 billion in 1992, and by the end of 1993 they had increased to £2.4 billion. The so-called loss of £800 million is already being steadily recouped by the soundness of the Church Commissioners' investment.
Future pensions will continue to be linked to clergy stipends. Clergy stipends have been linked to average earnings. That link is likely to persist.
Column 678representation the Commission has received regarding value added tax on repairs and maintenance of historic church buildings.
Mr. Alison: The commissioners have no direct responsibility within the Church of England on the issue, but they have supported representations by the Churches Main Committee to the Government about the heavy VAT burden which churches currently have to bear.
Mr. Miller: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Right Rev. Michael Baughen, Bishop of Chester, that such a reduction in VAT would help to protect our historic church buildings? If the European Commission brings forward the proposals that have been suggested, should not the Government accept such proposals as a way of protecting those buildings?
Mr. Alison: Yes, I very much hope that any changes recommended by the European Commission in this matter will be reflected by changes in the Government's approach to VAT. I endorse what Bishop Michael Baughen has said about the heavy burden represented by VAT, but it should not be overlooked that the Government have been supportive of charities in the past, not only by the long-standing exemption from income tax from their direct income, but by introducing gift aid and relaxing the regulations on charitable deeds of covenant. They have increased the ability of English Heritage to make grants to cathedrals and other places of worship in use. We should not underestimate the extent to which the Government have sought to help charities, but I agree that there is more land to be possessed.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Secretary of State for National Heritage recently kindly met a deputation from the Historic Churches Preservation Trust to discuss that and other issues? Will my right hon. Friend talk to the Secretary of State about the matter and ensure that vigourous representations are made, as the measure places a crippling burden on many smaller, and particularly rural, parishes?
Mr. Alison: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage has a peculiarly attuned and sensitive ear and is capable of hearing anything which is bruited around the House. He will have taken careful note of what my hon. Friend has said, and he will reflect that I have had occasion to write to his Department on the matter. I hope that there will be a benign approach to any changes proposed by Brussels on VAT.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor): The Lord Chancellor does not plan to restrict the scopeof legal aid. New proposals for legal aid will be the subject of a Green
Column 679Paper later in the year, as anticipated in the Lord Chancellor's recent speech to the Social Market Foundation.
Mr. Brazier: Is my hon. Friend aware of how welcome are the proposals which my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has outlined for setting up limited budgets to many hard-pressed taxpayers? Given the considerable powers which officials in area legal aid offices have, and given that those powers are likely to be extended, is there not a strong case for having some voluntary oversight?
Mr. Taylor: The board can refuse legal aid on the grounds of merit and, if so, an applicant can appeal to an area committee, whose members are independent legal practitioners not employed by the board. In addition, complaints about the board's administration are susceptible to investigation by the ombudsman.
Mr. William O'Brien: Does the Minister agree that it is important that people who rely on legal aid to obtain justice should have the same level of representation as the Crown Prosecution Service at any appeal to a court or to the Lord Chancellor? Will he ensure that there will be that equality of representation?
Mr. Taylor: I want to give a serious answer to a serious question, but I should have thought that most advocates in the private sector would consider themselves to be every bit as good as the advocates in the Crown Prosecution Service.
Mr. Stephen: Can my hon. Friend confirm press reports that the Legal Aid Board has granted legal aid to Winston Silcott to enable him to sue the police? Is my hon. Friend aware that Mr. Silcott has received £17,000 compensation from the Home Office within the past six months? How can it be that people can give money away to friends and relations, as Silcott has done, and then claim to be too poor to pay their own lawyers' fees? Does not that make a mockery of the legal aid system?
Mr. Mudie: The Minister will be aware that the Lord Chancellor has suggested cash-limiting the legal aid budget on a regional basis. Is the Minister aware that where that has been tried, in the social fund, hundreds of thousands of genuine claimants have been refused aid because the money has run out? Does the Minister agree that it would be intolerable for that to happen in justice? Will he ask the Lord Chancellor to think again? If the noble Lord wishes to persist, will the Minister ensure that there are proper safeguards to protect innocent people?
Column 680question will be taken into account. For the moment, raising the spectre of cash running out is scaremongering and we certainly want to ensure that that does not happen.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: When considering changes to the legal aid system, will my hon. Friend consider those cases in which someone assisted by legal aid can pursue a civil claim against a business, which is not able to claim such aid? The case can bring the business almost to the point of bankruptcy and, even when the business eventually wins, it is unlikely to be awarded any compensation by the courts.
Mr. Taylor: It is part of the original sin of legal aid--if that is the correct expression--that, in civil cases, one encounters disputes in which party A has legal aid and party B does not, whether the latter is a limited liability company or another citizen. As long as resources are not infinite and there has to be a cut-off point, as there does with many such welfare schemes, it is almost inevitable that one party will be legally aided while the other is not.
Mr. Boateng: We have heard a lot from the Minister about cuts that affect the consumers of legal services. What are he and the Lord Chancellor doing to deal with the scandal of restrictive practices within the legal profession? Have they met the Bar and the Law Society to deal with how lawyers might put their own house in order, so that more consumers can benefit from legal services at a time when those are being cut?
Mr. Taylor: That was an interesting question. I am no more in favour of restrictive practices than the hon. Gentleman, but he knows as well as I that the legal professions are self-regulating. Obviously, we view any abuses of public money with the greatest possible concern because that is what the House would want us to do. Meanwhile, I think that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the fact that the Lord Chancellor wants to widen the categories of people who dispense legal advice. It need not be solicitors and barristers only, but could include citizens advice bureaux, as supported by me, and law centres, as supported by him.
Mr. Hawkins: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that one of the great concerns about the system has been the large number of people on modest incomes who have not been eligible for legal aid? That was one of the concerns highlighted in the excellent debate in the House last Wednesday morning, to which my hon. Friend replied. Will he reconsider the position of the so-called MINELAs--middle income, not eligible for legal aid?
Mr. Taylor: Yes. I am probably in that category. I want to share with my hon. Friend the emergence of the regime of conditional fees--no win, no fee. Many cases, especially personal injury cases, will be susceptible to that scheme. Although the idea is in a fledgling state, there
Column 681is also a possibility of people obtaining legal expenses insurance, as many of us do in respect of our motor policies.
Mrs. Roche: Given that the Lord Chancellor removed legal aid from 14 million people in 1993, is it not about time that he and his Department started to make the legal system more accessible to ordinary people and more efficient, rather than clobbering them time after time?
Mr. Taylor: I have never understood how 14 million people could fall out of a scheme used by 3 million people. We want to widen access and some of my suggestions to the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) were along those lines.
Mr. John M. Taylor: The Lord Chancellor and I have received a number of representations on that subject and it was for that reason that the Lord Chancellor issued the consultation paper "Legal Aid for the Apparently Wealthy" on 20 December 1994. Responses are required by 1 March.
Mr. Marshall: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is unprecedented public anger that people such as Mr. Ernest Saunders, Mr. Roger Levitt, Mr. Gordon Foxley and Mr. Hashim should get legal aid? Does not that roll call of wealthy parasites, including Mr. Asil Nadir, underline the need to deprive the apparently wealthy of access to the taxpayer's money?
Mr. Taylor: To his credit, my hon. Friend was successful in securing a debate on that subject on the Floor of the House last Wednesday morning. He was eloquent then and was equally robust and clear in the point that he has just made. I am grateful to him.
Mr. Taylor: I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, because it was clear from sedentary interventions that certain hon. Members thought that my reply did not hit the nail on the head. The answer is, as some hon. Members know already, that we have produced a consultative paper entitled "Legal Aid for the Apparently Wealthy" which deals, among other things, with exactly the points about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) is concerned.
Mr. Skinner: Is the Minister aware that not only did Asil Nadir get legal aid but it has now been proved that the money handed over by Asil Nadir to the Tory party, amounting to £440,000, had been stolen? The Tory Minister dealing with the matter at that stage said that if the money were found to be stolen, he would ensure that it went back to its rightful source. Has that been done?
Mr. Thurnham: Will my hon. Friend urge his colleagues in the Department of the Environment to complete their consultations as soon as possible with a view to the Government introducing a reform Bill without further delay?
Mr. Taylor: I am always prepared to assist my hon. Friend by any conversations that I can usefully have with the Department of the Environment, but I should put it on record that the Government had agreed my hon. Friend's Bill when he introduced it. While I am pleased that the British Retail Consortium and the British Property Federation are agreed, they have agreed to something else, and that sets us back a bit. I am concerned, above all, about the small tenant.
Mr. John M. Taylor: The administration of justice should, so far as possible, be public. Subject to certain statutory safeguards, including the law relating to contempt of court, the coverage of trials is a matter for the press itself.
Mr. Soley: Why did not the Lord Chancellor's Department act in the case of the Taylor sisters, where the court decided, partly on the basis of press coverage, that they had been wrongly convicted? Has the Lord Chancellor considered the alternative of requiring newspapers to cover both the defence and the prosecution equally, so that prosecutions are not based on salacious claims that later turn out to be false?
Mr. Taylor: The Lord Chancellor would not intervene in a judicial capacity--he would not act in an appellate function. I know that the hon. Gentleman has great knowledge of that subject because, some time ago, he introduced a private Member's Bill that dealt with it. I do not know whether we should consider obliging the press to cover each side equally, as they do in general elections. [ Laughter .] That proposition does not seem to have found a favourable reception. I shall reflect on the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman about equality of coverage.
Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree that the sub judice system in the United Kingdom is the envy of other parts of the English-speaking world? Does he further agree that the O.J. Simpson trial is making a mockery of the United States' judicial system?
Column 683Mr. Taylor: I watched some of that on television last night. The sub judice rule has served us well and should be reconsidered only with the greatest possible care.
43. Ms Lynne: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what representations he has received from legal aid lawyers in Rochdale, in the past six months, regarding proposed changes to the legal aid system.
Mr. John M. Taylor: I am not aware that the Lord Chancellor or I have received any such representations directly from Rochdale solicitors or via the hon. Lady. The Rochdale solicitors have been particularly helpful
Column 684with a non-solicitor legal aid experiment conducted with the Rochdale citizens advice bureau. I wish all parties to those arrangements every possible success.
Ms Lynne: Is the Minister aware that many solicitors are finding it increasingly unprofitable to perform legal aid work? What assurances can he give my constituents in Rochdale and elsewhere that the services will not decline?
Mr. Taylor: We owe it to the House to keep an eye on the levels of expenditure on legal aid, as it constitutes part of the public purse. I believe that, by and large, legal aid practitioners know how to work expeditiously and to a high standard, and many of them are acquiring franchises by so doing. I think that the best of them will work well and find standard fees extremely congenial with their skills.
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