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Column 12fully trialled and checked out, so that we do not get to the point when information technology delays rather than improves matters, as unfortunately happened with the Child Support Agency and invalidity benefit?
Mr. Lilley: It is expected that, when we put out a contract, there will be a piloting process and a gradual roll out of the facilities through post offices. Post offices are very eager for them to be installed as soon as possible. I agree that it is sensible to learn from initial experience and ensure that we do not run before we can walk.
Mr. Lilley: That was on an earlier question, but I was referring to the phrase "persons from abroad" which is used in my Department. It simply means those who come to this country on the strict understanding that they will not be a burden on the public fund.
Sir David Knox: Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures show the Government's commitment to the less well-off members of society? Does he also accept that the lot of the less well-off provides no grounds for complacency?
Mr. Lilley: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The figures refute two frequent assertions: first, that we have been cutting back on social security, which we manifestly have not; and, secondly, that there has been no growth in benefits. When one considers where the growth has been coming from and sets aside all benefits to unemployed people, one sees that other benefits, particularly pensions and benefits for the disabled, have still grown. That means that, since 1979, all other benefits have been growing at 3 per cent. a year faster than inflation. We are, however, carrying out a long-term review to ensure that that huge sum of money is focused on those in greatest need and that, in future, growth does not outstrip the nation's ability to pay.
Mr. Pike: Does the Secretary of State admit that those figures would show a different basis of comparison, had unemployment remained constant at the figure that the Government inherited in 1979 and had the Government not entered the exchange rate mechanism at the wrong rate and caused a massive increase in unemployment?
Mr. Lilley: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Sir D. Knox). I pointed out that, even if all benefits to unemployed people had been set aside, or held constant at the 1979 level, all the other expenditure on social security--eight ninths of the total--has grown at 3 per cent. a year faster than inflation. That is because of the growing number of retired and elderly people but also because of the increased and new benefits going to disabled people, as well as the growth in
Column 13invalidity benefit, which, together with housing benefit and benefits to lone parents, is an area that we are tackling.
Ms Lynne: Given that racially motivated attacks are on the increase, does the Attorney-General accept that, notwithstanding changes to section 5 of the Public Order Act, more prosecutions should be made under section 18, or a new crime of racial harassment introduced, so that the perpetrators of those crimes do not get away with just a fine?
The Attorney-General: Part III of the Act provides a comprehensive selection of offences, which are well placed to cover the events that concern the whole House. The problem in those cases is invariably one of evidence. Provided that the evidence can be obtained--the House will recognise the difficulties--I assure the hon. Lady that there is a strong willingness to prosecute.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Derek Spencer): It is the policy of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute all offences where the evidence provides a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to do so.
Mr. O'Brien: Does the Minister agree that the service provided by the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out those prosecutions is paid for by the state? Does he accept that my constituent, Mr. Allan Green, who has been granted permission to appeal against a previous conviction, has been denied solicitor services and the facilities of a Queen's counsel? Those services will be provided for the Crown Prosecution Service and, therefore, my constituent is at a disadvantage because of the Government's policies on the Crown Prosecution Service and legal aid for those who appeal. Does the Minister agree that there is a bias in favour of the Crown Prosecution Service? Will he take action to ensure that fairness applies in administrating justice and will be seen to apply in the case of Mr. Allan Green?
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman has been misinformed about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Green's case. At first instance, Mr. Green had a certificate for two counsel under the legal aid provisions. He could have had a Queen's counsel and a junior, or two juniors; he chose two juniors. When he appealed to the Court of Appeal, the court granted him a certificate for junior counsel. If junior counsel sees fit to write a letter to the Court of Appeal showing that a solicitor's services are
Column 14necessary for the conduct of the appeal, which is unusual but sometimes necessary, the Court of Appeal has the power to extend the certificate to include the services of a solicitor. Furthermore, if junior counsel writes an opinion saying that the case is one of exceptional difficulty, gravity or complexity, the Court of Appeal has power to extend the legal aid certificate to include the services of Queen's counsel. In that way, the machinery allows absolute equity of representation between the CPS and Mr. Green.
Mr. Batiste: Can my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the CPS is seeking extended rights of audience for its employees in the courts? Does he share the view of many hon. Members and others outside the House that that would be quite wrong in principle?
The Solicitor-General: The matter is being considered at the moment by the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee, chaired by Lord Steyn, who will in due course make the committee's recommendation. That recommendation will then be considered by the designated judges. That machinery has been set up by the House under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990.
Mr. Donald Anderson: Did the Solicitor-General note the reference in last week's annual report of the Law Commission to the valiant but failed efforts of the Crown Prosecution Service to adapt the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to the modern world? In particular, did he note the Law Commission's criticism of the waste of time and money of the CPS, practitioners and judges on "obscure and antique Acts"? Surely now is the time for the House and the Government to respond positively to those criticisms of the Law Commission and to simplify the law. Why not begin with the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the recommendations of the Law Commission?
The Solicitor-General: I read the Law Commission report with great interest having had reason to deal with the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 on many occasions over the years. It is a matter for obvious comment that the language in which it is couched is not the language that people use nowadays. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will also read that report with great interest and will consider whether he should bring proposals to the House for an updating of the law.
The Attorney-General: The Crown Prosecution Service has referred the cases of seven potential defendants to Treasury counsel for advice. That advice has now been delivered. It is being considered with great care by the CPS and by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and myself. I cannot, at this stage, predict whether or when any prosecution will be initiated.
Mr. Marshall: Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it is high time that decisions were made on those cases? The 1991 Act was passed by the House with a large majority several years ago and it is high time that those cases were brought to trial before the witnesses to those awful offences may die.
Column 15circumstances will be examined scrupulously in the light, first, of the expressed will of Parliament and secondly--the House will regard this as being of great importance--in conformity with the proper and necessary requirements of justice.
Mrs. Dunwoody: No one doubts that the Attorney-General is correct to demand proper performances of justice, but he will understand that genocide is not something to be treated lightly; nor can it be ignored. I must ask him to try to expedite the hearings, because, after all these years, speed is the very least that we can offer those who suffered in a way that many of us find inconceivable.
The Attorney-General: The hon. Lady and the House will realise that the police, having been charged with the burden, have carried out a careful examination, which is now being looked at by senior lawyers. The outcome of that examination must then be considered by the CPS, in consultation with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and myself. That is the stage that has been reached. There will be no dilly-dallying in the matter, but equally it must be looked at extremely carefully.
Attorney-General and myself act wholly independent of Government.
Mr. Mackinlay: What is the hon. and learned Gentleman going to do about the widespread public perception that white-collar crime is easy to get away with in this country; that there are very few prosecutions and, when there are prosecutions, sentences are wholly inadequate? Is it not an opinion that has some validity that, if one commits a mega-big white-collar crime, one gets away with it whereas, if one is a minnow, one gets prosecuted?
The Solicitor-General: That view is totally misconceived. The Serious Fraud Office deals with a number of cases--approximately 50 at any one time--that formerly were not prosecuted. Very recently, increased power to refer unduly lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal was assigned to my right hon. and learned Friend, so that he can now refer unduly lenient sentences in cases of serious and complex fraud.
Column 16We shall study them carefully. We shall continue to have a large aid programme, the object of which is poverty reduction through sustainable development.
Mr. Hughes: Does the Minister accept that one of the recommendations of the summit was to encourage Governments to accept the 20:20 principle? Do he and the Government accept that principle, whereby 20 per cent. of the aid should be spent on social programmes specifically targeted to help, not only the poorest countries, but the poorest people? Does he also accept that there should be a reduction in the percentage of our bilateral aid that is tied from more than two thirds of our aid programme to about a third, which is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average, and which will also help to target aid towards alleviation of poverty?
However, those so-called definitions--20:20 definitions or other definitions of what contributes to poverty reduction--are meaningless unless one understands what is behind them. If there were parts of the hon. Gentleman's constituency that were regularly without electricity or did not have any electricity supply, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would feel that that was a matter of considerable deprivation, but in overseas development terms, projects to enable areas to have secure supplies of power are not within the 20:20 definition. Therefore, unless those definitions are clear, they are meaningless.
The important thing is that we have an aid programme that is essentially focused on relieving poverty and ensuring sustainable development.
Mr. Hendry: Does my hon. Friend share my worry about whether the multi-million pound jamboree in Copenhagen should have taken place? Does he agree that the money would have been better spent on tackling poverty rather than talking about it?
Mr. Baldry: The facts are that, prior to the Copenhagen summit, Britain had the sixth largest aid budget in the world; after the Copenhagen summit, Britain continues to have the sixth largest aid budget in the world; year on year, an aid budget that is due to grow at a time when many countries, including the United States, Canada and Sweden, are reducing their aid budgets.
One is compelled to ask what has been added to the sum of human knowledge by that summit, which cost $30 million--$30 million that, one suspects, the United Nations could have spent better elsewhere directly on aid.
Miss Lestor: First, before we call what took place in Copenhagen a jamboree, may I draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the fact that one of the problems that confronted us in Copenhagen was that we did not send our Prime Minister there, as more than 100 other countries did? In the eyes of many people representing the developing world and other parts of the world, that was regarded as us trying to downgrade the whole position-- especially as we sent as our representative the Minister responsible for overseas aid which, however competent that person may be, gave the impression that poverty and social exclusion were nothing whatever to do with this country.
Column 17Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in dismissing the invitation to hold a full-scale debate on the summit, we have opted out of the global perspectives of the summit; we have opted out of trying to consider those matters from a worldwide point of view, not only from a very narrow perspective?
Mr. Baldry: Of all the 118 representatives at the summit, only my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker of Wallasey had the perspicacity to make it clear that free trade is the key to global prosperity, that the full implementation of a general agreement on tariffs and trade is likely to generate more jobs worldwide than any other single international development and that prosperity created by free trade is the key that opens the door to higher social standards. That is why open access to markets is important for all products. My right hon. and noble Friend made it clear that the overriding goal of our aid programme is poverty reduction through sustainable development. I have no doubt that my right hon. and noble Friend's words made a telling contribution towards ensuring that the summit maintained a degree of perspective on what is in the interests of developing countries.
Mr. Baldry: We have given our strong support to the good offices of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Commonwealth Secretary- General. We have also allocated more than £0.5 million to the international humanitarian relief effort this financial year.
Mr. Worthington: Just before the tragedies in Rwanda and Burundi, the Foreign Office said that it was not getting too involved with those areas because they were not within Britain's traditional sphere of influence. There is no doubt that Sierra Leone is within Britain's traditional sphere of influence as it is a former British colony. Does the Minister accept responsibility for giving a lead at the United Nations Security Council to ensure that the already deteriorating position, with thousands upon thousands of refugees, does not get worse? Does he accept the responsibility for giving a lead at the UN Security Council?
Mr. Baldry: It may be of interest to the House to know that last Friday we were able to speak by radio to all the British hostages in Sierra Leone and to confirm that they are alive and well. That is the first confirmed proof that all our hostages are alive and is an encouraging sign. We hope to secure their release soon. There is no need for exhortation in the UN Security Council because the UN Secretary-General and the Commonwealth Secretary-General are both actively engaged in seeking to facilitate progress in Sierra Leone towards peace negotiations. Both the UN Secretary-General and the Commonwealth Secretary-General have our full support in those initiatives. We are working to bring greater attention to the conflict in Sierra Leone, which we want
Column 18to see peacefully resolved as quickly as possible. We want the safe release of United Kingdom and other hostages as speedily as possible.
Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend makes a good point. That conflict alone has caused the displacement of more than half a million people and the deaths of 20,000 people. Last Friday the director of Oxfam said:
"Africans are now more likely to die as a result of internecine wars than at any other time in their long history. These complex emergencies are the result of violent conflicts not natural disasters."
That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is correct to promote in the UN more peacekeeping initiatives in Africa to try to ensure that there are mechanisms to enable African countries to have the capacity to deploy peacekeeping forces quickly and effectively.
Mr. Wicks: Does the Minister accept that much aid policy, which is reinforced by other policies in the fields of trade and finance, reinforces dependence on aid? Will he consider new aid policy initiatives which attack the causes of poverty?
Mr. Baldry: That is why we are very keen to ensure that all countries have access to free trade and sustainable development. If countries are to come out of poverty, they will need to trade freely and to sell their goods and services on the world market. That is why Britain, and my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker in particular, must be congratulated on making it clear at the Copenhagen summit that many developing countries need free trade in order to lessen their dependence on aid.
Dr. Spink: What is the Overseas Development Administration doing to focus aid to South Africa on the very poor people in that country, particularly as we are currently experiencing a wonderful royal visit to that country?
Mr. Baldry: As the House knows, we have an aid package to South Africa of some £100 million which is focused primarily on support for education and other initiatives such as rural development programmes, youth enterprise development and support for small businesses, many of which are emerging in the townships.
Bearing in mind the remarks that were made earlier, it is worth remembering that much of that aid to South Africa would not qualify according to some of the definitions of poverty which were bandied around at the summit and elsewhere under the 20:20 definition. I hope that the whole House supports the substantial aid package that we are giving to South Africa.
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