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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): Fifty responses to the consultation paper were received. I am grateful to all those who expressed views. As a result of the consultation exercise, I am planning to take the following action: 1. I intend that a special investigations unit should be established to handle means assessments in both civil and criminal cases where the applicant's financial circumstances are unusually complex. I have invited the Legal Aid Board to advise me on the feasibility of establishing such a unit, and on the practical arrangements necessary to establish and run it. 2. I intend to amend the legal aid regulations to provide those assessing the means of applicants for legal aid with a discretionary power to include in the means assessment the assets of friends, relatives and children where these appear to be providing a significant material advantage to the applicant. 3. I intend to examine further the practical implications of allowing the trial judge in criminal cases to release details of the statement of means of an applicant for legal aid in specified circumstances. 4. I intend to take powers to require applicants for legal aid to transfer ownership of any assets that they fail to declare in their application to the legal aid authorities so that the money disbursed in legal aid can be recovered from those assets. 5. I intend to amend the legal aid regulations to provide that there shall be a limit of £100,000 on the amount of equity value in a house that is ignored in the legal aid means assessment. I also intend to limit the maximum amount of mortgage that can be offset against the equity value of a house to £100,000, and to limit the amount of mortgage repayment allowable against income to the amount due on a £100,000 mortgage.
The overwhelming weight of the responses supported the view expressed in the consultation paper that it would not be right to impose nationality restrictions on the availability of either criminal or civil legal aid. I therefore propose to make no change in the present arrangements on this point. Assets held abroad by those applying for legal aid in this country will continue to be taken into account in the means assessment process.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My right honourable Friend the Prime Minister announced on 9 February that parallel arrangements to those established for the pay of permanent secretaries would be made for the most senior ambassadorsthat is those with a rank equivalent to permanent secretary.
A remuneration committee has now been established to advise on the pay of those ambassadors. The full terms of reference are below. Though the final decisions on the pay of individual ambassadors will be for my right honourable Friend, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Goodlad) to take, we would expect normally to accept the recommendations of the committee.
As in the case of the remuneration committee dealing with permanent secretaries pay, there will be five members of the committee, three from the private sector, the head of the Diplomatic Service and the chief clerk of the Diplomatic Service. The recommendations made will be those of the three private sector members and the terms of reference provide that the chairman be drawn from their number.
Sir Denys Henderson has agreed to be the first chairman of the committee. Sir Michael Perry and Mr. Allan Gormly have also agreed to serve on it. We are grateful to them. The presence of Sir Michael Perry, who is also chairman of the senior salaries review body and of the Committee on permanent secretaries' pay, will help ensure that awards made to senior ambassadors are in balance with those made to permanent secretaries.
Remit 3. The purpose of the committee is for the private sector members to make proposals to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the pay of individual Grade 1 ambassadors save in so far as their pay is determined by the terms of an individual appointment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): We have stated at the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review and extension conference of states parties that a world in which the nuclear forces of the US and Russia were counted in hundreds rather than thousands would be one in which we would respond to the challenge of multilateral talks on the global reduction of nuclear arms.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): Consideration was given to the relocation of the Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service from the mid-1980s. The decisions on the locations to which they subsequently moved were taken in 1988.
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