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Lord Henley: My Lords, we have already seen some evidence of PFI projects in universities. There is a PFI project at the University of Greenwich called BOOT, the build, own, operate and transfer project, which demonstrates the success of such schemes. I believe that it is open to the institutions and the funding councils to take forward these projects and see what they can develop.

Legal Aid Costs and Income Support

3.18 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, no. My proposal that all legally-aided persons should pay a small minimum contribution if they pursue a civil court case against another party does not fall within the remit of the Social Security Advisory Committee.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his Answer. While clearly it is technically correct, does he agree that since this may affect decisions on income support, including decisions on its correct level, the advice of the Social Security Advisory Committee is well worth having? Before the noble and learned Lord assures the House that people on income support can afford to pay these contributions, can he list all the other deductions that they may suffer at the same time?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there are provisions for a number of deductions to be made at source in respect of such benefit, the main idea being to

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secure, for one reason or another, particular matters for the claimant. For example, amounts may be directly deducted in respect of payments to utility companies, mortgage companies, the Child Support Agency and the like. It is not my intention that this particular matter should be the subject of a direct deduction. My present intention is not to go down that particular road. So far as concerns the level of income support, that is a matter on which the Social Security Advisory Committee would have a locus. That is a rather more general matter than the matter with which I am particularly concerned.

Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord confirm that in 1991, when free legal aid was available not just at income support level but at 20 per cent. above that level, his own department's eligibility review flatly turned down minimum contributions because they would operate as a deterrent to the most financially vulnerable either asserting or defending their legal rights, and that anyway the administrative costs would make it not worth while? Has there been any new research to justify what was unacceptable, as his department held in 1991, for those at 20 per cent. above income support level today becoming acceptable for those who are just at income support level?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, time has moved on since 1991. The costs of the scheme and information about it have of course been accumulated since. I have to take account of the fact that, for example, the Bar Council said in its answer to the Green Paper:

    "Many cases are supported on legal aid which no reasonably well off and prudent individual would consider starting or continuing".
It is important that such matters are considered responsibly at the beginning. So far as concerns administrative arrangements, the proposals that I have made more recently are of a different kind altogether from the system which was operating in 1991. I am proposing that the system should depend to a great extent upon contracts in relation to representation for legal aid.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend confirm that the success rate of legally aided civil actions is 92 per cent., as stated by Professor Zander in an article in The Times on 9th July? Can my noble and learned friend state also what is the amount of costs recovered to the benefit of the Legal Aid Fund as a result of those successful actions, and whether credit is given against the figures that have been announced to the House in relation to the total costs of legal aid?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, where net figures are given, the deductions by way of repayment are of course included. I do not have the total figure in my head at the moment. It is, of course, as my noble and learned friend knows, in the Legal Aid Board's report. On the percentage success rate, the figure to which my noble and learned friend referred is one which of course includes many cases which are settled.

One of the problems with the present system is that even small or trivial cases which are started against an unassisted person can involve that person in costs which

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make it uneconomic for the person to defend the case, whether or not it is one which, fought out to the end, would be successful. Therefore one has to take those figures with a degree of caution. When one looks at the cases which are fought out, the figure is much lower than 92 per cent.

Panchen Lama

3.23 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What response they have had from the Government of China regarding the whereabouts and safety of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's nominee as Panchen Lama.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva has said that the boy is in good health and living with his parents under government protection. We and our EU partners are considering what further action to take on this difficult and sensitive issue.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer which takes us a little further than was the position this past January. Is my noble friend aware that the Panchen Lama is only six years old and is thus probably in the unenviable position of being the youngest political prisoner in the world? Will my noble friend therefore go a little further and urge the Government of China to re-establish dialogue with the EU China Human Rights Dialogue which I gather has been suspended?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we, too, continue to be deeply concerned about the fate of the boy recognised by the Dalai Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. We have raised our concerns with the Chinese authorities both bilaterally and in conjunction with our EU partners. We shall continue to do so.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I must declare an interest as patron of the all-party Tibet group. Although I fully understand the Government's concern about the future of Hong Kong, is the Minister aware--I am sure that he is--that some of the worst human rights abuses are taking place in Tibet and have been for some years? Do the Government agree with His Holiness the Dalai Lama who said in his speech on Tuesday this week in the Grand Committee Room that that amounts to cultural genocide? Will they take a most positive attitude to supporting His Holiness in seeking a negotiated settlement with the Chinese? After all, that is a practice which we have been seeking to encourage others to do as we have been doing in this place over many centuries.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, as to the last aspect of the noble Lord's question about encouraging dialogue, which is the only way that a settlement will occur, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had a meeting with the Dalai Lama yesterday. Once the Dalai Lama had described the situation in Tibet and expressed his concern

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about the threat to the Tibetan cultural identity, my right honourable friend said that he had discussed that issue and human rights in China, including Tibet, with his Chinese counterpart in January. He also said that we would continue to raise our concerns with the Chinese authorities both bilaterally and with our EU partners. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary also stressed our hope that talks, without preconditions, between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, could begin without delay.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, the Minister referred to representations being made by us and through the EU. Has the matter been before the UN?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, yes, it has indeed been before the UN. At the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva towards the end of April, we co-sponsored with our EU partners a draft resolution on China which referred specifically to Tibet. We were most disappointed that Chinese attempts to block the resolution through a procedural device were successful. However, there was strenuous lobbying by the EU and other co-sponsors. I believe that the strength of the concern shown by Europe on this issue will have filtered through to China.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, what response have the Government given to Chinese warnings that this week's visit of the Dalai Lama would damage bilateral relations with China? Is not that a crude blackmailing tone that should be resisted? In the Minister's earlier reply I did not detect that a sufficiently robust response on this matter is being given to China.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I believe that a robust reply was given, as is frequently done in such situations. The Dalai Lama is in the UK this week on a private visit as a guest of British Buddhist organisations. He is a distinguished spiritual leader who is widely respected throughout the world. We are not prepared to listen to China telling us that he cannot come here on a private visit.

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