|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Avebury: My Lords, as the advice given by the Scottish Industrial Development Advisory Board turned out in the event to have been disastrously wrong, what steps has the Secretary of State for Scotland taken to replace its members with people who will give him better advice in future? What sensitivity analysis was applied to that investment decision to find out what changes might occur which would render it non-viable?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, a clear difficulty for the company has been that while it anticipated that there would be a slow build up before it achieved full occupation of the hospital, the work did not build up as quickly as was expected. Although it has been put about widely in Scotland and elsewhere that some £30 million of taxpayers' money was lost, it needs to be understood that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has written today to the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland spelling out exactly what was offered originally and what was the import of the VAT changes, and reaching the conclusion that at the end of the day any loss to the public purse--it may not even be that --would be something less than
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, the Minister said that HCI's target was not met. Originally we were promised 7,000 operations per year. That figure was reduced suddenly to 1,000 operations per year. The discrepancy was serious. We were given no reason for it. We were told also by HCI that the World Health Organisation was supporting its endeavours in Clydebank. The WHO, speaking from Geneva, officially repudiated that suggestion, and said that it wanted such facilities built in developing countries and not in countries already well provided with hospital facilities. How many patients were promised by HCI, from what I understand to be opulent offices in Milan, Boston, London and Athens? What is the hospital's future likely to be, because it is a wonderful complex? It has a wonderful 168-bed four-star hotel within a few miles of Glasgow Airport. It would be a tragedy, and unacceptable to the Scottish public, if any more public money went into it. The only possibility is that by writing off debts the hospital may be able to be used by people from abroad.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, the backers of the hospital carried out a number of inquiries using market researchers and they were confident that they would be able to make a success of it. While the total financial support package was some £30 million, the backers put in no less than £150 million of their own money. They calculated that the exercise would be successful. The hospital was not built up fast enough to allow that to proceed and I understand that the receiver is actively pursuing the matter in order to find a purchaser.
I emphasise that, at the time, people in the west of Scotland were worried not that the exercise would not be viable but that it would take too many people from the National Health Service. That certainly has not happened.
The Lord Chancellor ( Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, it is estimated that the cost of legal aid in the current financial year will amount to £1.33 billion compared with £1.21 billion last year, an increase of £120 million.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer. Are steps being taken to ensure that this large cost figure is reduced, that the practice of providing legal aid for wealthy men such
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have taken, and am taking, a number of steps further to control the legal aid budget. They are in the shape of new systems of payment in relation in particular to legal aid. The important distinction must be made between criminal proceedings, in which the state prosecutes a person, and civil legal aid. As regards criminal legal aid, there are provisions which require the interests of justice to be satisfied in order that legal aid should be granted. There is no upper limit as regards criminal legal aid. An assessment is made by the courts of the amount that the person in question should pay because, in relation to crime, it may well be that even a person with comparatively large assets is not able adequately to meet the cost of some cases. As regards civil proceedings, there is of course an upper limit relating to means.
I must emphasise that the rules applied are the same for everyone. Those who may be regarded by some as apparently wealthy have applied to them exactly the same rules as currently apply to everyone else. It may be that ways of satisfying the rules require further examination. That will be done through a paper which, as I indicated on a previous occasion, I propose to lay before the public for consultation as soon as an adequate analysis of the problem is available to me.
Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question which I have asked twice in previous Sessions. Can my noble and learned friend say to what extent the legal profession in civil cases is making the fullest possible use of opportunities for the conciliation and settlement of cases instead of bringing them to court?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is not easy to be certain about that. To a great extent such matters are conducted outside the courts. I believe that the possibility of conciliation, mediation or what is generally described under the heading of an alternative dispute resolution is fairly widely used. In particular, I commend the practice of the commercial court which expressly directs the attention of litigants to the opportunities available so that they may consider them before embarking on litigation.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord feel confident that the rate of increase of legal aid expenditure is set to reduce as a result of the substantial cuts he has imposed in rates of pay for civil legal aid work under certificates granted after February this year? Furthermore, as current expenditure on legal aid is well within estimates, is the noble and learned Lord able to make a start on restoring the eligibility limits which, at the time the cuts were made, he indicated he desired to do as soon as circumstances permitted?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as the figures I have given to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter show, the rate of increase in the total amount paid for legal aid remains quite high. It is against that background that I must consider what I can do. I have
Lord Elton: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend tell those of us who are not lawyers what proportion in aggregate of legal fees is derived from legal aid and what proportion is derived from people who are paying for their own defence or prosecution?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is extremely difficult for me to ascertain precisely how much is paid by other than the state. I have given the figures that the state pays. It is a substantial proportion of the total but I do not believe that I have sufficiently good information to base conclusions on the precise amount in aggregate paid for legal fees.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to incorporate Section 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms agreed by the Council of Europe at Rome on 4th November 1950 and the first protocol to that convention into the law of the United Kingdom. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.