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Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the actual outturn for legal aid expenditure in 1995-96 was £74 million less than the supply estimates' figure of £1.46 billion, and that the supply estimates were £67 million less than the original estimates? For this year the supply estimates are £156 million less than the original estimates. I do not expect the noble and learned Lord to confirm those figures precisely, but does he agree that the general picture is the opposite of a budget out of control? Does that not further show that his 1993 eligibility cuts exceeded what was necessary to enable the Government to achieve their spending targets?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is important to notice that the actual figures are going up. For example, the figure in respect of 1995-96, which is £1.387 million, is some £70 million below provision, as the noble Lord said. However, that represents an increase of £88 million over last year. Therefore, the amounts spent net are going up.
I do not accept that the alterations made in eligibility three years ago were in any way shown to be unnecessary. I believe that we need to change the system in order that proper priorities can be assigned to this type of expenditure.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, would my noble and learned friend care to comment on the extraordinary judgment of the European Court that a poll tax payer who should have payed his poll tax should none the less be compensated from the legal aid fund because he did not receive legal aid? Has it been possible to make any assessment of the cost of that judgment?
I have not been able to obtain, as yet, a detailed assessment of the costs but I think that it would cost something in the order of £3 million if we were to change the rules to accord with that judgment.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord referred to consultation and to a possible change in the system. In view of the experience that we have as regards the working of legal aid, is there not a strong case for an inquiry?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I cannot think of a better way of inquiring than by putting out proposals in a Green Paper for all those who know about such matters to respond. That has been done and we have received extremely wide responses from a great many people. Included in that are very full responses from the leading professional organisations. I believe that it is possible to make progress. Obviously, I wish to make progress carefully with pilot studies and incremental change.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend explain to the noble Lord opposite that many people are relieved of expenditure which otherwise they would have to undertake by the grant to them of legal aid?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, the Government were closely involved in the drafting of the Development Assistance Committee's report and we welcome its emphasis on measurable results. The committee has begun work to follow up the indicators of progress set out in it. Britain's development programme is already heavily focused on poverty reduction, improvement of health and education, particularly for women, environmental
Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not agree that the real importance of the report is that it sets specific target dates; for example, for halving the number of people living in extreme poverty in the world? Therefore, does he agree that if the Government are committed to the targets set in the report which they helped to draft, they must commit themselves to meeting those target dates? Will the Minister assure the House that the next Budget, if the Government survive to produce it, will guarantee the necessary funds for the programme?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, would not expect me to make a guarantee on behalf of the Treasury. It would be slightly out of the ordinary if I were to do so. We are working out, and the Development Assistance Committee is working out, how to achieve the targets. We are working extremely hard with the committee. We shall listen to what it says and do the best that we can to achieve those targets.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the latest report from the OECD is extremely complimentary about the British economy? The meeting of those targets depends on a sound economy. Does the Minister agree that the latest OECD report confirms that the United Kingdom's economic policy is highly successful?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I agree with him about the state of the economy. However, there is one other important point. Aid is only one of the many ways in which the United Kingdom is helping developing countries. The Government have taken the lead in debt relief initiatives and those are the third largest source of private capital to the developing world. We estimate that in 1994 Britain's overall performance was above the 1 per cent. of GNP benchmark for total aid flows which is used internationally.
Lord Rea: My Lords, following that answer, will the Minister say how the private direct investment to which he alluded can be increased so that more of it reaches the poorest countries of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa? How can private investors be encouraged to take a long-term view and assist in the development of the infrastructure and human capital, particularly the literacy and health of the people of those countries, in order to form the basis for further investment?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, that is something which we are indeed encouraging. Perhaps the noble Lord will wait until the debate on the CDC tomorrow when he will hear about the details in relation to encouraging private financing, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Lord Chesham: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question. I do not think that it is appropriate for us to target the millennium for the cancellation of third world debts. We are doing that all the time. We should not wait for the millennium to do so. A major part of development assistance is helping countries to develop their own industries, businesses, employment and education. That is a prime target in our development aid programme.
Lord Prentice: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the analysis of the OECD receives powerful support this week from the report of UNICEF into development problems affecting the world's children, which draws attention to fairly dramatic success stories in parts of the developing world but also to the vast problems which remain? Against that background, should not every OECD country, including Britain, think of revising its development assistance upwards in the years ahead?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, I wish that I could promise that we would always be able to revise the aid upwards. However, we have a very important policy, which is to make our aid work more efficiently. Efficiency rather than volume of aid may be much more important.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the noble Lord say what proportion of the total direct aid budget is administered through the European Union? Will he say also whether the Government are satisfied that the administration of that aid through the EU is better and better directed than it would be if it continued to be administered directly by the ODA?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, perhaps we should wait until Monday when figures for aid through the EU, the ODA and other countries will be published. It would be wrong for me to pre-empt the publication of those figures.
With regard to efficiency we are not satisfied. I do not think that anyone can ever be satisfied that everything is working at its ultimate efficiency. However, we are striving to improve efficiency both within the EU and the ODA.
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