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Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire): The Prime Minister briefly mentioned heroin production in Afghanistan, which is a scourge not only on the streets of the west, but in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Could he give more details of what steps were agreed to curb the production of Afghan heroin, given that it is estimated that about 90 per cent.—some say 98 per cent.—of the heroin in this country comes from Afghanistan?

The Prime Minister: That is right: 90 per cent. or more of the heroin on British streets comes from Afghanistan. I think that about 70 per cent. of total world production of heroin comes from Afghanistan. We are engaged in intensive efforts to destroy as much of the poppy crop as possible. For this year, we have achieved a certain level of success—not as much as we would want, but a significant percentage of the crop was destroyed. We have agreed at the G8 summit and elsewhere that we will step up those efforts for next year. That will include ensuring that the farmers in Afghanistan are given alternative sources of production, taking action against people who are trading and dealing in the drug, and in particular taking action at the borders of Afghanistan where the drugs leave that country.

One startling fact is that if we analyse what happens on the ground, we discover that the farmers in Afghanistan do not make much money out of that crop; the money is made further down the line. I believe that it is possible to persuade farming communities to engage in a better, more sustainable, legal form of production. That is what we are trying to do, and the G8 agreed that we should step up those efforts.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I agree with the Prime Minister about the importance of our relationship with the United States. However, does he share my concerns that unilateralist action by the American Administration with regard to the International Criminal Court could lead to

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great instability in the Balkans and withdrawals from Kosovo and Bosnia? Does that not emphasise again the importance of the European Union countries working collectively for the common security and defence policy?

The Prime Minister: My understanding is that discussions are continuing on the UN situation in Bosnia. I think that we should let those discussions continue and give them a fair wind.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): When will the EU member states sit down to hammer out a thoroughgoing reform of the common agricultural policy? I am glad that the Prime Minister agrees that the way in which it prevents fair trade for African countries is a moral outrage. Is it not time for him to get his colleagues to do something about it?

The Prime Minister: Those discussions continue the entire time. The right hon. Gentleman knows which interests are blocking reform. However, we have at least a better chance of achieving reform with the enlargement of the European Union, because if the common agricultural policy is not reformed at that stage the payments will be unacceptable. The United Kingdom, Germany and other countries are leading the charge on this; we must ensure that we overcome substantial resistance elsewhere. It will take some time, but that is what we will try to do.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments on efforts to reduce trafficking in heroin, not least because of the effect on south Wales valley constituencies where heroin use is becoming something of an epidemic. The next epidemic might well be crack cocaine. Was there any discussion at the G8 summit on international trafficking in crack cocaine?

The Prime Minister: There was no specific discussion at the summit, but we are working with other countries that are faced by the same menace to take all and any action that we can to deal with the problem. This is a recent phenomenon—particular countries are sourcing

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this and particular organised gangs are trading in it. We are working very hard at a police and intelligence level to deal with it.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Although we warmly welcome the G8 summit's concentration on the NEPAD proposals, and although I hope that the Prime Minister was correct in observing that Zimbabwe is the exception rather than the norm in Africa, may I put it to him that it was unfortunate that Zimbabwe was not criticised by the summit? Zimbabwe is heavily involved in the Congo civil war; its regime has singularly failed to feed the Zimbabwean people due to attacks on farmers, white and black; and the recent election was a classic case of corruption. If we are to ensure that all other African nations can respond to the NEPAD proposals positively, surely we should be seen to be taking action, bravely and correctly, against Zimbabwe at the G8 summit and elsewhere.

The Prime Minister: Everything that the right hon. Gentleman says about Zimbabwe is right—the question is, what is the best way to effect change? My view is that the best way is to put all possible pressure on the African countries in the region that have the greatest ability to influence the situation. I was able, during the course of the G8 summit, to talk to President Mbeki and President Obasanjo about that. It is extremely important that we keep up that pressure and make it clear, as I have just done, that Zimbabwe cannot benefit from the African deal from NEPAD. We are obliged to give certain humanitarian assistance, but Zimbabwe will get no other assistance from us and from those other countries. I am afraid the tragedy is that change is most likely to come from the region or within. We must work in the most effective way possible.

It is not really an issue of courage; our position on Zimbabwe is clear and open. Sometimes, being the country that always takes the lead does not help some of the opposition forces in Zimbabwe. The right hon. Gentleman probably realises that. However, we do everything that we can and if there are sensible and constructive suggestions as to what else we can do, we will certainly listen to them.

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Point of Order

4.34 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you use this opportunity to confirm that all hon. Members should be entitled to take up constituency cases as they see fit on the Floor of the House and through correspondence with Ministers and, where appropriate and with the full consent of the constituents concerned, possibly even with the media? If you confirm that, Mr. Speaker, will you condemn, as I do, the remarks of the president of the British Medical Association at the BMA conference in Harrogate today who said that we should not be allowed publicly to refer to cases of constituents who are patients in the national health service even when they have specifically asked us to do so? This comes dangerously close to being a breach of privilege of this House and should be condemned by you and by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I am confident that all Members of the House are conscious of the need to use our privilege of free speech responsibly and, in particular, to protect the privacy and dignity of individual members of the public.

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Orders of the Day


Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

4.36 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This short but important Bill was introduced in another place and, with cross-party support, made swift progress unamended through all its stages. I know that my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Scotland appreciated the support of the Opposition parties in the other place.

The office of the Public Trustee was created by a Liberal Government in the Public Trustee Act 1906. That Act came about in response to a series of notorious defaults by trustees, who had usually disappeared with the trust funds. Prospective trustees, or those making wills, were thought to need a safe place to entrust their money so that the true beneficiaries would receive it. That was why the office of Public Trustee was invented—to provide a completely secure official in whom absolute trust could be reposed.

Until recently, the Public Trustee was located in the Public Trust Office but following the 1999 report of the Public Accounts Committee into the Public Trust Office, and after recommendations in a quinquennial review, a refocused role for Public Trustee work was agreed. The Public Trust Office was re-launched as the Public Guardianship Office from 1 April 2001 and the trust work was transferred to the Official Solicitor's office, to be handled alongside his existing estates work.

The present policy for both the Official Solicitor's estates work and the Public Trustee's trusts work is to accept new cases only as a public sector trustee of last resort. That means that the Public Trustee is available to act to protect the vulnerable or persons under legal disability—such as children or the mentally incapacitated—or where there is a social need to do so; for example, where there is a family dispute and an independent person needs to step in to protect the interests of members of the family. An extreme case might be where a father had killed his wife and was in prison, and someone needed to look after the interests of the children.

Other examples of the Public Trustee acting as trustee of last resort include where no one else is suitable or able to do so and an injustice would otherwise result. For example, if the Public Trustee were not to accept appointment, a deceased's estate would not be dealt with because, for one reason or another, it would not be economical for the private sector to act.

Commercially viable trusts that do not involve the need for special protection for people suffering from incapacity or those who are otherwise disadvantaged have been encouraged to transfer to the private sector. However, as a result of the 1999 changes and the transfer of such work, the accommodation and overhead charges for trust work increased significantly, particularly from 1 April 2001, while the income from trust work has reduced and is projected to continue to reduce.

However, under section 9(4) of the Public Trustee Act 1906, there is a statutory requirement for full cost recovery for trust work. The only way that we can meet

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that requirement at present would be to increase fees, but the fee increases required to achieve full cost recovery would be extremely high. For this financial year, the increase would be about 100 per cent., and some of the clients affected by those fee increases would be very vulnerable people.

A large number of the clients are elderly. There are also 50 cases where the Public Trustee looks after the interests of beneficiaries of vaccine damage or other compensation settlements. Another 100 cases involve mentally or physically disabled beneficiaries, and a further eight people benefit under charitable provisions.

Some clients, particularly the elderly, rely on the income that they receive from their trust funds and others are reliant on the expectation of inheriting trust capital. Increasing administration fees for those people would reduce the amount of capital generating income and the amount of capital available for distribution. The Bill will therefore remove the requirement for full cost recovery for trust work to prevent those large increases in fees from occurring.

We are also using this opportunity to regularise the position in relation to trust fees to bring fee setting for trust work in line with fee-setting provisions for other work. At the moment, the majority of fee-setting powers are held by the Minister with responsibility for the policy. However, under section 9(1) of the 1906 Act, the power to set fees for trust work is vested in the Treasury, although the sanction of the Lord Chancellor is needed. The Bill will transfer that power to the Lord Chancellor.

The Bill will also repeal section 7 of the 1906 Act, which was an important part of the package that had been put together to reassure the public following the scandals that had occurred. It ensured that if an incumbent trustee stole the funds, or breached trust in dealing with them, the state would indemnify the beneficiary.

The repeal of section 7 will do two things. First, it will remove the Consolidated Fund's liability to make good any sum required to discharge the Public Trustee's liability and will place that liability with the Lord Chancellor. Secondly, it will tidy up the position on the Public Trustee's liability to beneficiaries. In preparing the Bill, we found that the exception in section 7 had no legal effect and thus served no purpose, so we have taken this opportunity to remove it.

As I have said, this is an important Bill, although short in length. It will ensure that we protect some extremely vulnerable clients of the Public Trustee from large increases in fees, while at the same time bringing up to date the financial requirements governing the work of the Public Trustee. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will support it.

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