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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we shall leave the European Commission in no doubt as to the view of this House.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, a single and deregulated market in air traffic in the EU is obviously of benefit to passengers, but we need a much more effective watchdog in such a market. Is it possible for the Government to do more than merely support Go and actually try to ensure that these procedures are made more rapid?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, perhaps I may repeat my assurance that we shall do everything in our power to ensure that these matters are expedited.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the liberalisation of European aviation has produced real benefits for consumers? Does he also agree that the routes where the fares tend to be higher are those on which there is no competition? Does my noble friend further agree that any study of fare structures would show that the routes from London are favourable when compared to those of our competitors?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, liberalisation of the European aviation market has brought great benefits to consumers. Where competition has developed--and here I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for his efforts in such matters while in office--it has often led to substantial

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price reductions, increased choice and better value for money. In fact, a recent study by the CAA showed that the lowest fully flexible fares from London were among the lowest in Europe.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to answer the main thrust of the courageous, witty and accurate question from his noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis; namely, what is there that the British Government can actually do about this matter under the present regulation, apart from making rather pathetic "noises off" as far as concerns the Commission?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I can only reiterate my assurance that we shall use our good offices here to do everything that we can.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the problem on the London to Munich route is an isolated incident, or are other UK low-cost airlines threatened in the same way on other routes? Alternatively, does he think that it is likely that such airlines may be so threatened?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am sure that we have a very robust civil aviation sector in Britain that, in many cases, is better prepared than others on the continent to defend its commercial interests. That is simply because of the commercial acumen that the sector has acquired through being in a more competitive situation. However, there have been incidents in the past where pressures have arisen that we believed might raise some concerns. We shall certainly be vigilant on behalf of Go and the other British airlines.

British Airways, for example, faces much greater competition on its domestic hubs than Lufthansa might do. BA has about 40 per cent of the slots at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as against Lufthansa's 60 per cent at Frankfurt and Munich. It is worth noting that the Star alliance in which Lufthansa is involved has still not been investigated by the Commission, although the attempts of BA to set up alliances have been.

Civil Court Fees

2.49 p.m.

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

    From what organisations responses have been received to the consultation paper on civil court fees issued by the Court Service in January 2000.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I doubt your Lordships would be best pleased if I took up time literally listing all the organisations which have responded. I shall write to the noble Lord with a comprehensive list. However, 15 interest groups have responded, including the Consumers' Association, the TUC, the Law Society, the Advice

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Services Alliance and the Civil Courts Users' Association. Ten managers of a range of court groups have responded, as have 12 firms of solicitors and local law societies and six court user organisations and individuals. There has also been an extensive response from the judiciary. The total of 76 responses has therefore been comprehensive.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. What is the Government's response to the call for a moratorium on the proposed increases in civil court fees which has been issued jointly by the Advice Services Alliance, the Consumers' Association, the Law Society, the Legal Action Group, NACAB and the Public Law Project? Does the noble and learned Lord accept the argument put forward by these and other organisations that the proposed increases in the court fees will seriously inhibit access to justice, particularly for those whose incomes are only just over the fee exemption limit?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I do not accept that argument. I shall be signing a new fees order, probably today. It will take effect from 25th April. It is necessary to continue to follow the policy of full cost recovery. I shall listen with great care to the responses to the consultation. I shall publish an analysis of responses by the beginning of April. When I arrive at preliminary policy conclusions, I shall consult on them. However, the government policy of full cost recovery remains.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that it is quite wrong for access to justice to be seriously prejudiced by excessive civil court fees? Can he tell us the extent to which the number of civil actions has fallen--if it has fallen--since the principle was accepted by the Government that court fees should be sufficiently high even to cover the cost of milk for the office cat?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, let us not forget that the main deterrent to going to law is not court fees but lawyers' fees. To argue that the current level of court fees is a deterrent to litigants is rather like arguing that people are deterred from buying a new car by an increase in vehicle excise duty.

My present judgment is that there is nothing wrong with a general principle that those who can afford to do so should pay a fair fee for the use of the courts to resolve their disputes. I listened carefully to the representations that were made criticising the allocation fee in defendant claims up to £1,000, and I have recently announced the abolition of that allocation fee.

The taxpayer, however, pays in full the court fees of parties who are in receipt of a range of benefits: working families' tax credit, disabled persons' tax credit, income support and others. Thus the taxpayer pays in full, or where remissions apply in part, the court fees of those for whom payment of the full fee would constitute undue hardship. Also there are categories of litigation, such as Children Act and domestic violence applications, where the fees are set

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about 40 or 50 per cent beneath the true cost. We should also remember that the taxpayer pays in full from the Legal Aid Fund the court fees of those eligible for legally aided representation.


2.54 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy with respect to recent developments in Sudan.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government's policy remains focused on achieving a peace settlement beneficial to all Sudanese. We have long supported the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process as the main vehicle likely to achieve this. Now that we have a fully operational embassy in Khartoum we are more able to promote peace and human rights and to aid the humanitarian effort, with the Government of Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and other factions. We believe that there is now an opportunity to press for peace and that the international community should do all that it can to pursue that goal.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive reply. Is she aware that I have visited areas in western Upper Nile near the oilfields and witnessed at first hand the ethnic cleansing by the Government of Sudan of the African people who live there? They have been subjected to aerial bombardment by helicopter gunships and Antonovs carrying out scorched earth policies in which thousands of homes and many schools, mosques, churches and clinics have been burned to the ground. The United States has adopted a policy of economic sanctions. If the British Government's policy of normalisation of relations does not make them minded to follow that road, will the British Government at least make sure that no British firms are involved in the exploitation of the oil which is being used by the regime to fuel its war against its own people?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that Her Majesty's Government are being assiduous in trying to promote the peace process. We are aware of the concerns about which the noble Baroness speaks and are giving the matter a great deal of attention. The noble Baroness will know that the sanctions in relation to this area are complex and difficult because of the consequences that may flow therefrom for the people of Sudan. We continue to give robust advice to all businesses which seek to work in this area so that they are fully aware of the reality of what involvement means.

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