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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we are concerned to assist the organic sector of the industry, which we believe has been neglected in the past. As a percentage of farming, the British percentage of organic farming is still the smallest in the whole of Europe. We are currently actively and urgently looking at ways of improving that situation. The noble Earl will find that the time he has to wait will be much less than that taken by a Royal Commission.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York commissioned a major study of the countryside which in 1990 published the report entitled Faith in the Countryside? If he is, he will be aware that that commission, which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Prior, was not concerned just with the rural Church but with a whole range of issues affecting the countryside--economic, social and environmental? Is he further aware that the report was, and is, still widely regarded as speaking with authority on those issues, not least because of the wide range of expertise among the commission's members and the thoroughness with which it undertook its researches?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. I am indeed aware of the commission's distinguished report. It was a most impressive body, of which I believe the right reverend Prelate was deputy chairman. Faith in the Countryside is, in my view, as good as any existing publication on

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the problems of the rural countryside. It is extremely helpful to us in the new Government, because we are trying to re-position our ministry and its concerns more broadly than just for farming. We are looking at the whole of the countryside, where there are many problems of deprivation. Those issues were well highlighted, and we shall attempt to follow the paths there set out.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, as the Government review their agricultural policy and the structures of the department, will the Minister accept that in the territorial departments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are already integrated countryside departments? Will he ensure that in future there is full access to European funds for those national and regional departments, so that the countryside policies in those regions within the UK provide a better framework, particularly for the livestock sector?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question. The points that he made are well taken. There are integrated policies in all the territories and we are examining the position in Wales. Under the new devolution proposals, the Welsh will rightly have greater control.

At the most recent meeting of the Agriculture Council, which specifically considered CAP reform, I took as a colleague the honourable Member in another place, Mr. Win Griffiths, who is a junior Minister at the department with specific responsibility for Welsh rural affairs.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the problems of the countryside are not so much in terms of food production--indeed, hardly at all--but in terms of social deprivation? How many people in the farming industry are in receipt of family credit?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord an answer to that question. We are aware that the problems of the countryside are social. Much of the subsidy which goes into the agricultural industry is directly or indirectly diverted to assist social problems in the countryside. There are problems not only of food production but of housing, schools and access to health, in particular for people who do not have transport. We are extremely aware of the acute issues of rural deprivation and poverty.

Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, under the proposals for the national assembly for Wales, will the assembly be able to appoint a Royal Commission to look into Welsh agriculture without reference to Whitehall?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I cannot answer that question. I am tempted to point to my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn who in my experience has answers to everything.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the rally on rural affairs which took place in March

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highlighted the problems in relation not only to farming? Bearing that in mind, will the Government consider setting up a department of rural affairs? If so, does the Minister agree that there would be room for that Minister in the Cabinet? Perhaps he or she could become the 23rd Member of the Cabinet instead of Alistair Campbell.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, Mr. Campbell can well look after himself. As regards ministerial representation of rural affairs, it is well known that that is under consideration. However, it is a matter for the Prime Minister. Those of us who attended the rally were made well aware of the need for someone to have prime responsibility for issues.

Prisoners' Board and Lodging: Payments

2.53 p.m.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have considered the possibility of making those who can afford to do so pay the costs, which would otherwise fall on the taxpayer, of serving a sentence in one of Her Majesty's prisons.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, most prisoners come into prison with few personal assets and earn only pocket money--on average £7 a week--while there. Most who work outside the prison for real wages, as part of a resettlement regime, are charged for board and lodging. In some cases, they also pay contributions to other causes, such as victim support charities. Furthermore, a court may impose a fine in addition to imprisonment and make a confiscation order for certain crimes.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but it does not address the Question that I asked. Given that there is a shortage of resources and that in general it is necessary to give taxpayers' money to people who need it rather than to those who do not, how can the Minister justify people who, by free choice, commit an act which necessitates their confinement in one of Her Majesty's prisons expecting taxpayers to pay their hotel bill, which is some £25,000 a year? Is it not equitable that the people who have resources-- I recognise that they are only a small proportion--should pay the cost of being kept in prison because they are there as a result of their own actions?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, courts have had the power to order the confiscation of assets in respect of non-drug crime since as long ago as 1989. There is no reason why in appropriate cases courts should not confiscate what I agree are sometimes large sums of money which could go to the public funds and thereby be used for defraying the charges to which the noble Lord referred.

Lord Henley: My Lords, will the Minister give a slightly more sympathetic answer? Will he agree that

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the proposal is a logical extension of the changes which we made when we introduced the powers to confiscate the ill-gotten gains of drug dealers and others who commit offences and make money out of them?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I cannot be more helpful. If a prisoner pays board and lodging it will go into the same fund as that which would benefit by the confiscation of assets in the way I have described. It is a matter for the court in each particular case; but I would have thought that there was a strong case to be made for confiscating substantial assets for public purposes.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report published about two weeks ago about a prisoner who, with the use of his mobile telephone, was earning a large salary? Is that not totally unacceptable and should not the salary have gone towards his upkeep?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of the total number of people in prison, only 227 are engaged in work of the kind described by the noble Lord. The prisoner in question is at Wealstun Prison. He was convicted of conspiracy to defraud Barclays Bank--and I do not put that forward as mitigation. He is earning a salary as a business procurement consultant. Contrary to some reports, he was not using a mobile telephone and he did not have a BMW. He pays £24 a week towards board and lodging and 10 per cent. of his earnings to Victim Support. The remainder is being kept for his release; but if his family is making a claim on public funds, the sum which he is earning will be taken into account.

I accept that that is an unusual case because the prisoner was earning £30,000 a year. However, thought is being given as to whether a proportion of similar sums ought not to be used in the way described. He will not be earning £30,000 a year for much longer because he will be out on 30th April.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, how many prisoners pay towards their accommodation and what percentage is that of the total prison population?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as I have indicated, the average prison earnings are only £7 a week. Only 227 prisoners work outside and therefore the opportunities for deductions to be made towards board and lodging are very limited.

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