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Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that the cost to the taxpayer of legal aid is in some cases out of control? A member of a rich family, on paper, may not have many resources, but his family does. If there is some laxity in the instructions to the independent Legal Aid Board, why do we not change the rules?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that I have intimated that I propose to change the rules to give a discretion to the authorities with responsibility for adjudicating on the financial entitlement of people to take account of benefits supplied by members of their families or friends where those benefits appear to be of assistance to the applicant. At present, the basis is strict ownership and entitlement. I have sought to open a discretion. Some commentators have suggested that it will be difficult to apply. However, I believe that it is well worth making the effort for such application.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, regarding the information available to the authorities which have to determine the eligibility for legal aid, will the noble and learned Lord consider the precedent of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act in which the assessment is made by the court on the basis of the proceeds of the crimes that the person has committed rather than the actual value of assets available to him?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am aware in general terms of the provisions relating to the proceeds of drug trafficking. Those provisions are applied after a conviction. Legal aid is decided upon at the stage in criminal matters when a person has the presumption of innocence in his or her favour. Therefore, a degree of discrimination is required to apply suitable procedures after conviction.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, yes, there is indeed such provision. There are, as usual, difficulties in bringing home to people what is said. It may be thought that people have money. It may be thought that they have resources. It may be quite another thing to prove such factors to the level of the criminal standard of proof.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend say whether there have been any prosecutions of people who have concealed their means and have drawn large sums by way of legal aid at the taxpayers' expense?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, speaking from memory, I am not aware that people have been successfully prosecuted on that account for large sums. I perhaps need to refresh my memory; but I know that there are provisions for such proceedings. However, as I pointed out, the difficulty of proof is usually the obstacle to proceedings.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, King Michael of Romania has been invited to the Guildhall banquet on 6th May and the thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Cathedral on 7th May in recognition of his positive wartime role.
Lord Sudeley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and warmly congratulate the Government on their positive response. Perhaps I may ask, first, why the Queen of Romania has not also been invited. Secondly, given that the King of Romania was ejected forcibly from his own country in 1989, do Her Majesty's Government agree that refusing entry to a Romanian national born of Romanian parents on Romanian soil is a violation of Romania's obligations under international conventions as a member of the Council of Europe? And, thirdly, do Her Majesty's Government agree that as Romania is now a member of the Council of Europe, investment from the West should be made conditional on the present Government of Romania improving their human rights record and renewing their commitment to ending intimidation and harassment of political opponents?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, heads of government and heads of state have received invitations to the various celebrations of 50 years of peace. I understand that restrictions have had to be made to allow more veterans to attend events in the cathedral, in
Lord Molloy: My Lords, I hope that this House acknowledges the role and contribution of our Royal British Legion and that no one on either side of the Chamber despises our Royal British Legion. I hope that this House recognises what it has done in assisting our great country in times of stress. The statement made by the noble Baroness is much appreciated by our Royal British Legion.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as a member of the women's section of the Wallasey Royal British Legion, I know how much we owe to the work of the Royal British Legion. We have had a very happy partnership with the Royal British Legion over all the arrangements. Only yesterday the chairman of the Royal British Legion told my noble friend the Leader of the House how satisfied he was with those arrangements. He has seen what is planned for Hyde Park and again is satisfied.
Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, at the end of the war, by ousting his fascist government in Romania King Michael possibly saved the Russians three months' to six months' fighting. Is it not possible for the British Government to ensure that he receives some honour? The USA Government and the Soviet Government gave him honours at the end of the war in recognition of his great help to the Allies. Fifty years later, why cannot we do the same?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I note with interest what my noble friend says. This is obviously not a matter I can answer at the Dispatch Box. It is perfectly true. King Michael's wartime record was very honourable indeed. I shall look into the request that the noble Lord makes.
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, since we are slightly wide of the main Question, will the noble Baroness tell the House whether there is any truth in the rumour I have heard that the Poles who fought so courageously on the Allied side have not been invited to participate in the celebrations? I hope that that is not true.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that it is not true. I am sure that they will have a very prominent place in all the celebrations this coming weekend. Checking my list for names, I can immediately say that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Mr. Bartoszewski, will be attending this weekend and will be involved in all the events that are taking place.
Lord Finsberg: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, although Romania is a member of the Council of Europe, it is subject to monitoring to make certain that it has carried out the commitment made before it became a member? I will see that the point made by my noble
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that question. It is absolutely right that any countries which have had severe human rights problems are subject to monitoring. I look forward to hearing the results of his inquiries.
Lord Braine of Wheatley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is no doubt whatever about the wholly honourable role that the King of Romania played at a very important stage in the war? Does she agree that it is sad that the kind of recognition asked for was not granted earlier?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, there is nothing in what I have said to indicate, nor personally do I feel, any doubt whatever that King Michael's wartime record was honourable. Almost alone he led the coup against the dictator Antonescu which brought Romania on to the Allied side and, as noble friends said some moments ago, he may well have helped to shorten the war. However, at the Dispatch Box I cannot answer in the way my noble friend would like. I have said that I shall look into the matter. I shall do so and write to my noble friend.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there is some anxiety that the celebrations this weekend seem to be dominated by London? Is she further aware that there is tremendous help, organisation and support within the small towns and villages throughout the length and breadth of the country? Once the celebrations are over, will it be possible for some information to be produced, through the press or television, on the way in which the general country has responded? London should not dominate the scene.
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