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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Baroness draws attention to the problems in the South East Return. I can assure her that some provision has been made. Access from Royal Court, for example, has been made, and new ramps have been provided as part of the improvements in the South East Return. However, I shall look further into the matter and draw the sub-committee's attention to it to see whether anything else can be done. I conclude by endorsing what the noble Baroness said about the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Noble Lords and noble Baronesses who occupy wheelchairs provide, not least this very day, supplementary questions to be answered, and participate in your Lordships' debates. I hope that that will continue.

Privacy: White Paper Proposals

3.16 p.m.

Lord Ackner asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we intend to publish the White Paper next week. Incorporating the convention will not itself create a law of privacy. The extent to which it leads to any development of a law of privacy will depend entirely on the decisions of the courts in any particular cases where litigants rely on the convention.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for adding to the Answer he gave me on 23rd June. Does he agree that the correct, indeed the only, answer that can be provided to the recent cynical and contemptuous observation by Mr. Richard Murdoch, that any law of privacy would only inure to the advantage of the rich and famous, is that legal aid should be made available for those who cannot afford to bring forward a reasonable cause of action? Secondly, and lastly, does he agree that speculative litigation in the form of conditional or contingent fees--if allowed in this new field of jurisdiction--would be inadequate to ensure proper access to justice?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, one always needs to be accurate on these occasions. I think that his name is Rupert not Richard. I did read a newspaper report of what Mr. Rupert Murdoch said. Whether it was a fully accurate newspaper report I am not sure. It was in one of his own newspapers, but no conclusion can necessarily be drawn from that. The question of privacy is extremely important. The Prime Minister has made it plain, as has my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, on a number of occasions that the initiatives which the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has put forward are extremely welcome, and that ultimately it will be a matter for the courts of this country to develop remedies as they think appropriate. Courts in the past have shown themselves to be subtle, flexible and useful vehicles for developments in areas of law which require a good deal of careful consideration and thought.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the incorporation of the convention will provide merely a minimum framework for human rights and will in no way inhibit the development of the common law in the appropriate circumstances?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend put the matter more succinctly and directly than I. All I can say is that I entirely agree.

Lord Henley: My Lords, bearing in mind that the incorporation of the convention will not create a law of privacy, as the noble Lord put it, does he believe that it is time for the Government, in addition to producing a Green Paper on the matter, to bring forward legislation to create a law of privacy?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, these are not true alternatives. I remember that the former

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Government indicated that they would produce a White Paper on these matters, but decided not to do so. We intend to see how the courts deal with the new legal situation. It will give the opportunity for rights to be enforced in the domestic courts; opportunities which have never been available to the citizens of this country. We believe that that is the best way forward.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is my noble friend aware--we are noble and learned friends in another capacity--that some of us prefer the approach of allowing the courts to develop the law, as they have done previously, rather than introducing a law of privacy?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to say to my noble friend that, as I sought to make plain previously, the Government, as indicated in speeches made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and more recently the Prime Minister, are firmly of the view that that is the best way forward. It will be consistent and consonant with the culture and traditions of our country, which are not the same as those of some of our neighbours on the continent of Europe.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, the noble Lord has not yet answered the question which I raised. Will legal aid be made available to enable the law to develop as he envisages?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there are no present proposals to extend legal aid to the area to which the noble and learned Lord refers. However, legal aid is not a necessary precondition for successful litigation.

Pensions: Uprating

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in fixing the 1998 uprating of the basic state pension, to be announced in November, they will honour their commitment to ensure that existing pensioners share in rising national prosperity by linking the uprating to the movement of average earnings, rather than prices, where this is more favourable to the pensioner.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, the RPI for September was announced last week, showing an annual rate of increase of 3.6 per cent. In response, the department has said that the state pension will be uprated by this percentage next April. This is in line with our manifesto commitment and should reassure pensioners. Details of benefits uprating will be announced to Parliament in the normal way. Meanwhile, the value of the basic pension is being considered as part of our pensions review, which will report in the first half of next year.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Is it not unprecedented for a statement of policy of this

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importance to be sneaked out to the press surreptitiously, as it was in this case, in briefings by officials in No. 10 and the DSS, as we saw in the papers last week? Is it not customary on these occasions for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State to the House of Commons and repeated in this Chamber before the press are given all these hyped-up pictures of windfalls for pensioners? Is it also not customary to issue a press statement? Is the Minister aware that some of us have been trying to find out just what is happening behind the backs of the review body and have been told that there is no statement? Is she not aware that the issue of restoring the earnings link for the uprating is being debated passionately in the review body and that some of us think that it is the key to a proper pensions policy? Therefore, is there any point in continuing our discussions in the review body since the Government have made up their mind without waiting for their own review body's report?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we do not intend in any sense to pre-empt or replace the normal uprating statement. However, we were anxious to make it clear that the Government would honour their manifesto commitment to protect the value of retirement pensions. I wish to emphasise that the uprating statement will be made in the usual way at the usual time. In response to my noble friend, I also wish to emphasise that, as always, this is an uprating decision for one year only. The question raised by my noble friend about the status, nature and size of the uprating is at the heart of the pensions review, aided by the National Pensioners' Convention. My noble friend will know that, far from this being sneaky, it was an issue that she herself raised only recently with the Secretary of State.

Lord Henley: My Lords, bearing in mind that what is important for pensioners is the overall level of pensions, not just the level of the state retirement pension, can the noble Baroness tell the House what effect the £5 billion smash and grab raid on pension funds will have on future pensions and future contributions?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I believe that much of the concern about the advance corporation tax has to a degree been overstated. Under ACT, the tax regime deflected money away from capital investment in to paying out dividends. Therefore, we pay twice as much of our GDP in dividends than does the United States. That was part of a Budget which sought to strengthen our investment economy, on which the level of pensions and the health of companies depends. We cut corporation tax in the Budget, and it is now the lowest in Europe. We also introduced a New Deal because, as all noble Lords will know, what matters in terms of the shaping of a pension is the opportunity for decent and secure work rather than tax privileges. Since that Budget the markets have risen by more than

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16 per cent., so they clearly have confidence in the Government's strategy. Is the noble Lord opposite saying that he and his party will reverse the change?

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