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Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is certainly a research exercise. I can only repeat what I have said already. I have every confidence that the Government will treat this matter in a decent and honourable way. My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade will make her announcement on 3rd April.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I recognise how hard my noble friend Lord Haskel has worked to secure a just outcome to all this. Will he confirm that the assets are in fact in the Consolidated Fund, or at least the equivalent of those assets? Perhaps I may tempt him to a further indiscretion. Has the Minister seen a copy of the report and could he offer us something of the flavour of its contents, or does it have to remain a closely guarded secret for the next 10 days?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I can confirm that a small amount of assets were returned to the Consolidated Fund. The Government have made a commitment to deal sympathetically with any claims to those assets.
As regards the report, I have seen a draft copy of it. The content of the report is rather mixed. It gives a detailed account of how the Custodian of Enemy Property took control of assets and how they were released after the war. But it recounts some extraordinary insensitivities immediately after the war, which are most regrettable. However, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, attempts were made to put right those insensitivities. That culminated in a letter, which is in the report, dated 15th May 1951 from Mr. Sidney Silverman, Member of Parliament, to Arthur Bottomley, who was then the Secretary of State for Overseas Trade. In that letter, Mr. Sidney Silverman stated that some of those insensitivities had been dealt with.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, when this matter arose before, I asked where the assets were. If they are in the Consolidated Fund, does the noble Lord agree that that is irrelevant to the question of fair restitution, because it is no answer? Is he satisfied that
Lord Haskel: My Lords, on 22nd April 1988, a statement was made in another place by Mr. Butcher, who was then at the Board of Trade, in reply to a Written Question from Mr. Richard Page on that point. The Government gave an undertaking that the small amount of money which was paid to the Consolidated Fund would be paid to any claimants. The Government have broadcast to the best of their ability the details of the transfer. In order to assist in that matter, they are publishing, on the internet, it is hoped by the end of next month, a list of some 20,000 names of people and companies whose records remain at the Department of Trade and Industry as having assets received by the Custodian of Enemy Property. It is hoped that that may jog memories and people may be able to make a claim.
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, in view of the Minister's answer to my noble friend, can he say whether legal remedies will be available for those unfortunate people who have suffered unfair treatment?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I imagine that there are legal remedies if a proper claim can be established. However, there are great difficulties involved in establishing a legal claim for something that happened many years ago and where records are very sparse and thin.
Lord Annan: My Lords, does the Minister remember the injunction which the noble Lord, Lord Janner, gave him; namely, that this is a matter of honour? From the Minister's replies, I fear that a comprehensive document, replete with historical instances, will appear in April and that very little will be done as a result.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell the House how much money was put into the Consolidated Fund? Further, can he say how much was paid out, or used by way of set-off with eastern European countries, when the Government well knew that people in those countries would not make their claims against their governments because they would be sent to the Gulag and that, if they did make such a claim, they would get nothing? My noble friend the Minister has been good enough to say that there will be an honourable and decent response to the report. However, can he anticipate any such honourable and decent response which does not mean the return of assets to those who own them?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, in our debate on 18th February I gave details of the amounts of money involved. It is quite a complicated matter and I am not sure that I should give a response now because it would take quite some time. However, I undertake to write to the noble Lord on the matter. I should add that if any
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, if I may say so, it does not really answer the Question, which relates particularly to the institution of marriage in the context of the births in Dundee, and also more generally. Does the noble Baroness agree with the view expressed in an article in the Independent on Sunday two days ago, which was an analysis of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget and was summarised in the following quotation:
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we cannot allow for every spin that newspaper reports put on the Budget. Indeed, I saw many headlines about the Chancellor of the Exchequer being the friend of the family and about it being a family-friendly Budget. As my right honourable friend made clear in his Budget Statement, the Government know that families are the bedrock of a stable and healthy society. The Budget proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer seek to ensure that women get a fair deal from the state and that women's choices, as well as men's, are dealt with fairly in both the tax and the benefit systems. That poses no threat to family formation.
The Government's primary concern is with the stability of relationships where children are involved. They recognise the evidence which shows that two parents offer the best prospects for their children and that this stability is often most easily found in marriage. However, it is important to recognise that the Government cannot, and should not, force couples either
Lord Higgins: My Lords, in view of the rather remarkable statistics revealed in the Question, can the Minister tell the House to what extent the figures for Dundee are consistent with those for the country as a whole? As regards the answer that the noble Baroness has just given on the Budget, surely it is the case that the Budget actually restricts the married couple's allowance. Is that not bound to be a deterrent to those who may wish to marry?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point, I can tell the House that health statistics show that, in 1996, Tayside had a 52.1 per cent. rate of conception per 1,000 female teenage residents against a Scottish average of 41.9 per cent. In other words, the answer to the question is that the figures are higher than those in the rest of Scotland. Regarding the noble Lord's second point, the answer is no. I am afraid that the noble Lord is mistaken; that is not the effect of the Budget.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that those of us on these Benches are not happy about the Government's apparent neutrality over the institution of marriage? We speak from these Benches not just for all the Christian Churches but for all the main religions in stating that the institution of marriage is vital not just to the nurture of children but also to the stability of society as a whole. Will the Minister do her best to ensure that the Government make a commitment by introducing practical measures to support the institution of marriage?
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