Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and indeed for the response she has given although she and I disagree about the possibility of compartmentalising these various issues in relation to Russia and the Ukraine. However, I understand the way in which she has put these issues. When I said "compartmentalising" the Minister looked a little puzzled. I meant in terms of exercising pressure at the appropriate time, setting aside certain issues and hoping that one can deal with them separately from the rest. I am not at all sure that that is right, but be that as it may. Closing down Chernobyl by the year 2000 poses a problem over the next four and a half years. Can the

18 Apr 1995 : Column 400

Minister give the House any indication as to how, during that interim period—I am sure most of us will be pleased to hear the news that the Minister has recounted to the House—these problems may be mitigated because the peril will remain over the course of the four and a half years?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I find the noble Lord's comment about compartmentalising rather strange. When I talk about appropriate times, I mean every single time that Ministers meet with Ukrainian Ministers. Whenever we have the opportunity, we have committed ourselves to assisting the Ukraine to improve its nuclear safety and therefore we will not lose an opportunity of taking up the issues. I spelt out rather carefully for the noble Lord what we are doing. That does not mean that we will be waiting for four years. What it does mean is that we are already engaged and that we are working on various programmes of training and assistance. We are keeping not just a watching brief; we are acting within the EU action plan I described, which is backed by the G7 leaders, to make sure that the Ukrainian energy sector is made as safe as possible, leading up to the closure of Chernobyl by the year 2000 but taking account of the needs of the other reactors in the meantime. I think the noble Lord is being a little parsimonious with his comment on the matter but I shall leave that because I am convinced that the G7/EU mission last week was a good step forward.

We know that there has been slow progress in some sectors but at least we now have the Ukrainians absolutely determined to get on with the job. When the European Union finance Ministers set conditions for the release of the balance of payments assistance recently, they included a requirement for progress on nuclear safety. That is why I am not in favour of any further delay either as regards these orders or indeed as regards giving support for economic reform because were we to do that we would certainly not advance the day that Chernobyl was closed; we would slow it down. Therefore there is every need to get on with this job of influencing, as we are seeking to do.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am sorry to cause the noble Baroness concern but I want to clarify something. I am persuaded by her argument that in relation to the Ukraine the pressure that has been brought to bear has been wholly helpful, but it was only today that I and the House were able to learn from the Minister the latest information, about which I am sure the House will rejoice.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those remarks. Perhaps now I should move on from the Ukraine, where progress is really being made, to Russia where I have even more sympathy for the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord than perhaps I could have on the question of the Ukraine. Obviously, we are not going to make progress with Russia unless we are closely involved with it in supporting the democracy which is growing in Russia. I think that the noble Lord could not be more wrong when he talks about President Yeltsin sweeping the major problem of Chechnya under the carpet. He has never been allowed to do so in any contacts with western

18 Apr 1995 : Column 401

leaders; nor will he be. Chechnya is a major setback to progress in Russian-Western co-operation. We have made that clear in every single contact with the Russians, most recently when Prime Minister Chernomyrdin was here in March.

However, our response should be measured. Cutting off, or slowing down, support for Russia is likely to be counter-productive. It would damage the reform process on which a number of leading liberal Russians are making real advances. It is interesting that many of them say clearly that without our pressure they would not have achieved what they have.

The current situation in Chechnya is that the Russians have taken control of all the major towns. There is still some fighting but at a much lower level than before. We know that there are Chechen fighters in the mountains, and no one can rule out a prolonged guerrilla campaign. We know that there is a massive refugee problem, with possibly more than 40 per cent. of the population displaced from their homes. The British Government have acted to help the people who have been made homeless with a contribution of more than £2 million of emergency aid. Humanitarian organisations, with our help and help from the European Union, are finding it easier to operate throughout the region.

The Russian Government are continuing their dialogue with a range of local leaders and influential figures in an attempt to find a political solution. It is as a result of the encouragement from nations such as ours that the Russians are now making more progress than two months ago. We have told the Russians that there are three key priorities. Fighting should stop as soon as possible. Immediate humanitarian relief must be allowed through to all those in need. And a political agreement must be worked out which will allow the Chechen people to express their identity within the framework of the Russian Federation.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, knows, we have fully supported the efforts of the OSCE to help find a solution. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Inglewood will comment on this matter in greater detail when he replies to the Unstarred Question on the Order Paper today.

I want to make one further point concerning reported flagrant violations of human rights said to have been committed in Samashki. We have received a number of such reports. The European Union has expressed its deep concern at the events in Samashki. We condemn the actions committed against civilians, which are in total violation of fundamental human rights. A statement was issued on Saturday, and we have made a solemn appeal to the Russian authorities for an end to violence against civilian populations.

That is why we feel very strongly about this issue and why I stated clearly in my opening remarks that Chechnya is one of the problems that has to be dealt with by the Russians before the PCAs come into being. There is more that can be said on the subject, but as we have a debate on the Order Paper today about Chechnya it is best left until then, and I return to the orders before us on partnership and co-operation agreements.

18 Apr 1995 : Column 402

I assure your Lordships that we have no intention of going beyond the interim agreements until such time as the matters on which our debate has concentrated have been resolved. That is why, in the interests of influencing and reforming those countries, we believe that partnership and co-operation agreements should be progressed even if they will not be completed until we are fully satisfied. These long-term agreements have considerable potential for good because they aid dialogue and influence in the way I described earlier. I commend them to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the European Communities and their Member States, and Ukraine) Order 1995

4.4 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee]—(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Finance Bill

Brought from the Commons endorsed with the certificate of the Speaker that the Bill is a Money Bill; read a first time, and to be printed.

Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1995

4.5 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29th March be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the first statutory instrument standing in my name on the Order Paper.

It may be convenient if I explain the purpose of the four legal aid regulations on the Order Paper. The Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1995 and the Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1995 provide for the uprating of the financial eligibility limits for civil legal aid and for advice and assistance. The Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1995 raise the lower disposable income limit for civil legal aid below which civil legal aid is available without a contribution by the assisted person from £2,382 to £2,425 per annum. The regulations also increase the upper limit above which civil legal aid is not available from £7,060 to £7,920 per annum.

18 Apr 1995 : Column 403

The Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1995 provide for a similar uprating in relation to advice and assistance. In these advice and assistance cases the calculation is carried out on the basis of weekly income. The regulations raise the lower limit from £63 to £64 and the upper limit from £153 to £156. The regulations also revise the scale of contributions for applicants with disposable income between the upper and lower income limits for advice and assistance.

These proposed changes generally represent a 1.8 per cent. uprating on the 1994-95 levels. They therefore match increases in the level of income-related social security benefits. The new upper limit for civil legal aid will equate to the limit which currently applies to personal injury cases in England and Wales. This represents a significantly greater uprating than 1.8 per cent. The revised limit will remove the existing position whereby personal injury cases are relatively disadvantaged in Scotland as compared with England and Wales through having no separate and higher upper limit for these cases. It will also have the effect of bringing a small additional number of people within the scope of civil legal aid. All of these proposed changes are entirely straightforward and do not raise any new points of principle in this area of the legal aid system.

The Advice and Assistance (Assistance By Way Of Representation) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1995 and the Criminal Legal Aid (Scotland) (Prescribed Proceedings) Regulations 1995 provide for the extension of assistance by way of representation, which is a form of advice and assistance under the legal aid arrangements. They arise as a consequence of the provisions on raves in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. That Act allows for proceedings for the return of equipment forfeited in certain circumstances. Assistance by way of representation is the most straightforward means to ensure that legal aid is available in relation to any such proceedings. Given that assistance by way of representation will be available in this respect, it is necessary to exclude such cases from eligibility for criminal legal aid. These are technical changes designed to streamline and improve the administration of the legal aid system.

We have also laid before the House a number of further regulations under the negative resolution procedure. These relate to the uprating of fees allowable to solicitors and counsel for civil legal aid work and the aggregation of resources of cohabitees in the calculation of disposable income and capital for the purposes of advice and assistance and civil legal aid. The regulations also contain further minor and technical amendments and improvements to the legal aid system in Scotland.

The regulations make provision for the uprating of eligibility limits and for other useful changes to the system of legal aid in Scotland. I commend this first instrument to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29th March be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].—(The Earl of Lindsay.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page