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Lord Rooker: My Lords, to be honest, I want to avoid that at present because I do not have an answer. The point is that we are dealing with the health check and the consequences of the 2003 reforms, which decoupled payments and brought in the single farm payment, and we are trying to operate that at present. With regard to future reforms, as I said, we will receive a document from the Commission about the health check at the end of May, I think, and there will be a 12-week period of consultation on it. During their presidency, the French are committed to bringing the health check to a conclusion before the end of the year so that it does not get mixed up with other changes, such as co-determination, which will come about as a result of the changes being made in the way that the European Union is governed.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, what is the Governments view of the production and consumption of food in the world? For example, in some cases the price of grain has nearly doubled this year. There is a shortage, which looks as though it will continue, and therefore some stability is needed because it is probable that better prices will continue to be seen.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, that may be so but this morning a speaker at the NFU conference drew attention to a book published some 10 years ago that asked what would happen if China could not feed itself. That is a possibility, and therefore, as the noble Lord said, the push for production and these prices may be sustained. That could change the face of the organisation of food production in the world, and, as I emphasised, change the technologies used for that food production with a growing population. I am not going to refer to cheap food and so on. It is better that people stay close to the market but it must be a genuine and not a manipulated market.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, according to Treasury figures, membership of the CAP costs every family in this country £18 per week. Might it not be better if we followed New Zealand and Australia, repatriated the CAP and had a free market in agriculture?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, my answer to my noble friendI still consider him to be thatis the same as the one that I gave earlier. While we are in the EU, there will always be a common agricultural policy of some kind. However, he is right that the average cost of the CAP to an EU family of four is around €950 a year. Only €20 of that is spent as EU money on targeted environmental programmes. In other words, we are paying out money for the wrong thing. Whether the amount of money stays the same is not the issue, but we are not paying out enough for environmental programmes and therefore there has to be a change. Of course, the CAP takes up some 40 per cent of the total EU budget for one industry and that is quite unacceptable.
Lord Rooker: No, my Lords, I do not accept that. If you talk to farmers in East Anglia who grow sugar beet, which is now going into the first biofuel plant in the country, you would see that that is not so. However, digging up land that is primary forest to grow biofuels does not make sense. The use of biofuels is not a clear-cut issue. That is something for a future debate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the recent consultation with the General Council of the Bar and the Law Society on a proposed amendment to the Criminal Defence Service (Funding) Order 2007 closed yesterday. The proposed amendment would allow solicitors to instruct non-contracted advocates in very high-cost criminal cases, in certain circumstances. We are currently considering the responses to that consultation and will make our views known soon
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that on 18 January last, the Legal Services Commission offered contracts to barristers at hourly and daily rates which would barely pay chambers expenses and which would also demand access by LSC officials to the working diaries of practitioners who signed the contracts in order to monitor their entire professional practice. Does he not realise that those terms are completely unacceptable to any experienced barrister; that the paying of peanuts by the hour or by the day perversely encourages utter inefficiency in the preparation and conduct of cases, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, recognised in his report; and that the amendments that he proposes in the order are bound to lead to a third-class system of legal aid for people who need first-class legal advice?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords, I do not accept that. I certainly do not accept that they will lead to third-class legal advice. There is no reason why the new system will not continue to ensure that barristers of quality take part in the very high-cost cases involved. The new scheme that will be introduced is designed to give greater control over costs and greater monitoring of what goes on, which is entirely appropriate. Essentially, we are talking about public sector procurement. Given the huge amount of money that this country spends on legal aid, it is essential to ensure that it is spent as wisely as possible.
If that is the case, and if that principle is good enough for civil cases, how can he justify taking the position that he takes for criminal cases, where one would have thought that defendants would need better advice rather than worse?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not accept that under the new system defendants will get worse advice. That does not follow at all. I point out to noble Lords that this country spends £2 billion on legal aidfar more than almost any other country in the world. On the rate per hour, the noble Baroness is right that in much of the changes that are taking place in legal aid funding there is a move away from paying by the hour. However, for the very high-cost cases, we are bringing in much more of a case management system which allows representatives of the Legal Services Commission to meet defence teams on a regular basis in advance so that there is a clear understanding of the likely work to be undertaken and the costs. That is effective case management.
Lord Henley: My Lords, if the advice is to be offered to unqualified people who, according to the report in todays Times, have admitted they are unqualified for half the work they will be asked to do, how will they offer a better service to their clients?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there are two different issues here. The case cited in the main by the Times article this morning is about a provision in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which is currentlynot speedilymaking its way through your Lordships House. That applies to criminal proceedings in the magistrates courts. It is rather different from the high-cost cases to which the Legal Services Commission is determined that quality barristers will be appointed.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, how many of these quality barristers have signed the contract that the Legal Services Commission is putting forward? The Minister must know that it is just uneconomical for any barrister with any practice to sign the contracts at the rates now being proffered.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am tempted to cite the top 10 barristers earnings from legal aid last year, ranging from £663,000 to £957,000 per year. I know that that is not always typical of all barristers. The fact is that there has been a huge increase in the number of lawyers practising at the Bar and a big increase in the amount of money going to legal aid. The reduction in fees of about 10 per cent will save about £5 million. That is not a huge amount. At the same time, there was an agreement with the Bar Council that led to an extra £29 million being put into a graduated fee structure going to members of the Bar. The noble Lord is not representing the effective position.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot comment on the advice given by every lawyer to every client. I am satisfied that the structure in place is the best one to ensure that the huge amount of money put into legal aid is spent wisely, and that the other changes that have been made ensure that, overall, people get a good service from the legal profession in this country; I pay tribute to the Bar Council, the Law Society and the regulatory bodies. The excellent overall quality of the legal profession is one reason why this country can export so many of those services.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) rose to move, That Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with tomorrow to allow any Banking (Special Provisions) Bill brought from the Commons to be read a first time and a second time that day; and that it be dispensed with on 21 February to allow any such Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as my noble friend the Chief Whip explained to the House yesterday, the usual channels propose that the Banking (Special Provisions) Bill should receive its Second Reading tomorrow, with the Committee and remaining stages on Thursday. The Business of the House Motion is needed to allow this to happen.
I take this opportunity to remind noble Lords that the speakers list for Second Reading is already open, and that the Lords Public Bill Office is willing to accept provisional amendments to the Bill based on the Commons print. I beg to move.
Moved, That Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with tomorrow to allow any Banking (Special Provisions) Bill brought from the Commons to be read a first time and a second time that day; and that it be dispensed with on 21 February to allow any such Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for having moved this important but most unusual Motion, which has been agreed through the usual channels because of the exceptional circumstances facing the Northern Rock bank. However, can she confirm that, during the passage of the Bill over the
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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I can confirm that there will be time for amendments. I say to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Mitchell, that I am extremely sorry that we have had to move their debates and legislation. Although we have made no decisions yet, we will be in discussion to make sure that we try to satisfy what I feel will be your Lordships wishes to find time to get those debates back on the Order Paper as soon as possible.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link, High Speed 1, is now open, on time and within budget. Passengers can now travel the 68 miles from St Pancras to the tunnel at up to 186 mph. They can go from London to Paris in two hours and 15 minutes, and from London to Brussels in 1 hour and 51 minutes. For commuters living in Kent, journey times will be slashed from December 2009, with a new fleet of trains. The company that built the rail link, London and Continental RailwaysLCRestimates that the project will generate an additional £10 billion of private sector regeneration investment along its route. Management of construction has been a tremendous success. That, in part, is down to the structure in place: the corporate structure, the contracting structure and the roles played by all stakeholdersLCR, the Government and a range of other partners. However, managing a construction project is not the same as managing an operational railway. The Bill makes a small number of changes to support a restructuring and make sure the future structure is as effective as the existing one.
I shall digress into some of the history behind the current discussions. In 1996, London and Continental Railways won a contract to design, build and finance the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and to own and operate the UK arm of the Eurostar joint venture. LCR also acquired brownfield development land around Kings Cross and Stratford. The first part of the High Speed 1 line opened in 2003 and the second section opened, to much celebration, in November last year. The projects original financing plan depended largely on borrowing against Eurostar revenues, but even before construction began it became clear that, with Eurostar passenger numbers falling below the earlier estimates, those plans would not give lenders sufficient security. To make sure the project was completed, the Government and
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Government support will always be needed to fund major rail projects, but given the investment made by taxpayers, we now need to get the best possible return. In 2006, the board of LCR and the Secretary of State agreed to undertake a joint programme of work to evaluate potential restructuring options. The objective of that work was to identify and implement a future structure for the company that was both affordable and maximised value for taxpayers. What is planned is a separation of LCRs three different businesses: the infrastructure, including the track and stations; the land interests; and the UK stake in Eurostar. Ultimately, as the Secretary of State said last year, we anticipate that there will be an open, competitive process for any sale to secure best value for the taxpayer. Outside the Bill, a number of regulatory approvals must be granted, but if the timetable proceeds as we anticipate, the most significant salethat of the rail infrastructureis likely to take place in 2009.
The Bill itself, although short, is the first visible step in the restructuring work package. One of the key drivers for the Bill was to remove the uncertainty that existed in some quarters as to whether the Secretary of State was able to provide financial support in the operational phase of the railway. Any uncertainty over those legal and regulatory powers could jeopardise the Government's ability to get the best price. Due diligence on behalf of a potential purchaser of the railway could raise concerns about the legal or regulatory powers supporting the project's revenues and financing. That might in turn lead to a reduced bid from investors, or might deter others from bidding at all.
The Bill's first clause confirms that the Secretary of State's powers in the Railways Act 2005 to provide financial assistance can be applied in relation to High Speed 1 and the train services that run on it. The second and third clauses change existing provisions in relation to the regulation of the line. Although High Speed 1 is not subject to periodic price reviews by the Office of Rail Regulation under the Railways Act 1993, the ORR is the appellate body responsible for deciding disputes that may arise in relation to access to and charges for HS1. Clause 4 allows the Office of Rail Regulation to charge a fee for the costs it reasonably incurs in carrying out its functions in relation to HS1. The Bill also amends the statutory definition of development agreement in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 to include operation.
We are now starting to see the full extent of the CTRL project's value to the UK taxpayer. The financial receipts from any sales are likely to be significant but the benefits of the rail link are wider than any financial
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Journey times to the Continent have been cut by at least 40 minutes compared with before High Speed 1 was built, and through tickets are now available from regional stations across Britain. More than that, local people in Kent will experience significant reductions in journey times to London from 2009, with travel to Folkestone and Canterbury estimated at around an hour.
The Bill sets in motion a restructuring package which will optimise value for money for taxpayers and put the railway on a firm financial footing for the future. In those terms, I commend it to the House.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I am grateful to speak on a Bill which, although short in length, has the potential to have far-reaching implications. The Channel Tunnel rail link opened in its entirety late last year amid much fanfare, with the newly refurbished St Pancras station the crowning glory of the achievement. Yet still more is expected, with 40 per cent of the rebranded High Speed 1 line reserved for commuter services between Kent and London, as the Minister just said. That alone has huge potential significantly to change the commuting lives of many into the capital from 2009.
It was the 1996 Act that permitted the construction of all that, with the regeneration potential of the line crucial to the decision-making process in the preconstruction phase. In that regard, the opening of Stratford International station is eagerly awaited to fulfil completely the promise of the line for the 2012 Olympics and beyondagain, as the Minister just said.
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