Henry Bellingham – 2012 Speech on Nigeria

henrybellingham

Below is the text of the speech made by Henry Bellingham, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on 30 July 2012.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the British Government, it is a great honour for me to welcome distinguished guests from both Nigeria and the UK to London today. I would like to thank His Excellency Mr. Olusegun Aganga for inviting me to attend. May I also thank the Bank of Industry in Nigeria for hosting this important event and in such superb surroundings.

The Olympics is about bringing different nations together: athletes from different countries; spectators; journalists; entrepreneurs; politicians; business-men and -women. The Olympic spirit is about building understanding and trust across national boundaries.

In that sense, today’s summit clearly embodies the Olympic spirit. I am delighted to have the opportunity to reaffirm the importance and value that Britain places on its friendship with Nigeria.

I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome you to London during the Olympics. In particular I welcome all of Nigeria’s athletes, and wish them all success – that is except when competing against Team GB!

I hope that the games will also leave lasting business and commercial relationships.

Today I shall explain why the United Kingdom cherishes and aspires to nurture our commercial ties with Nigeria, and where we see opportunities for increased bilateral co-operation.

As some of you may be aware, prosperity is at the heart of this Government’s foreign policy agenda. Since the last general election, the Government has focussed on supporting British companies to invest in, and to export to, new markets. The results have been impressive. British exports are growing and there has been a particular surge in exports to markets outside Europe. The Government has a responsibility to position the economy so it takes full advantage of opportunities away from the Euro zone.

Just over a year ago, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, visited Nigeria. He was deeply impressed by the commercial drive of the Nigerian economy, and set an ambitious joint goal with President Goodluck Jonathan: to double bilateral trade by 2014.

One year on, I am confident that we are well on the way to achieving, and possibly surpassing, this ambitious target. Indeed bilateral trade last year was just under £4 billion. In the last year alone British exports to Nigeria grew by 13%. The UK remains in the top five exporters to Nigeria and it remains our second largest market in Sub-Saharan Africa. And the trade is not all one way, Nigerian exports to Britain have also grown substantially during this period, despite global economic challenges.

Trade is a two way phenomenon. The UK remains an important destination for Nigerian goods and we want to encourage Nigerian exporters to think of the UK as a gateway to the EU market as well.
Sub-Saharan Africa boasts some of the World’s fastest growing economies and some of the greatest commercial opportunities, both for investment and export. As the most populous nation in Africa with impressive continued rates of growth, Nigeria is a country that remains at the top of our prosperity agenda. A World Bank study forecast that seven of the World’s fastest growing economies will be from Sub-Saharan Africa. Our view is that Africa still does not get enough attention from investors or traders. UK trade with Ireland continues to be greater than our trade with the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, but the potential for increasing trade with Sub-Saharan Africa is significantly greater.

Statisticians expect the Nigerian economy to become the largest economy in Africa in the next few years. There are tremendous opportunities in Nigeria, and British companies are well placed to realise them.

It is clear to see why Nigeria has grown so fast and so consistently in recent times. Last year since I had the fortune to visit Lagos. I was struck by the entrepreneurship and vibrancy of the economy.

I came back hoping that we in Britain could build even stronger partnerships with Nigerian businesses, harnessing the energy and dynamism that characterises Nigeria today.

For example, I often refer to the impressive new Eko-Atlantic development. It will be one of the largest and most creative land reclamation projects in the world over the next few years, and there will be numerous opportunities for British business in construction, engineering, architecture, retail and many other sectors.

Some people associate Nigeria only with the oil and gas sector. Of course, we do work closely with energy firms and are delighted that some of the leading British firms, like Shell continue to do well in Nigeria.

But although I recognise the immense wealth and potential there, I am keen to ensure that British companies are aware of the many other opportunities that Nigeria has to offer. Take, for example, the boom in consumer goods. Diageo, PZ Cussons and Unilever are firmly established in Nigeria, where they manufacture and market their brands. This demonstrates an investment in skills and people.

Take too the example of services and skills, which are becoming increasingly exportable to Nigeria. The number of students who choose to study at British universities and then return to Nigeria with newly acquired skills is growing year on year.

This knowledge exchange is not only of immediate benefit to the higher education system and to those who study here in the UK, but is a long term investment in the flow of skills and peoples between our two nations.

A strong recent example of collaborative working on ideas and innovation is the successful launch of Nigerian satellites, to provide imagery for mapping, agricultural monitoring and disaster relief programmes works.

The images will not only assist people in Nigeria itself, but will be of value to governments and business across the region and perhaps globally. NigeriaSat-X was built by engineers from Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency with expert guidance from specialists at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

The new generation of Nigerian scientists and engineers trained up under the NigeriaSat-X project will continue to support Nigeria’s space programme, ensuring its continued success and sustainability. In total, twenty six Nigerian engineers were located at SSTL’s facilities in Guildford for eighteen months throughout the design and test phases. I am sure there will be further opportunities for co-operation in the future.
We have been working hard to ensure that the good news about Nigeria is spread across the United Kingdom. Officials at UK Trade and Investment have been lauding the diversity of opportunities to British businesses.

Just last month UK Trade and Investment hosted a delegation from the Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce at a business promotion event at Lord’s Cricket Ground and last year they organised Nigeria conferences in London and Manchester.

While events like these can educate and raise awareness in the business community, it is impossible to replicate the value of close cultural links to commercial partnership. There are over half a million people of Nigerian origin living in Britain. They are in a unique position to provide a bridge between our cultures and economies. Small and Medium-sized Enterprises really benefit from their experience and contacts in identifying potential partners for trading and investing in Nigeria. The Diasporas is key for developing people to people relationships.

So the opportunities for deeper and broader commercial partnerships between the UK and Nigeria are already there. Part of realising those opportunities must involve overcoming potential hurdles and changing perceptions. We are already working to counteract some of the misconceptions that deter businesses from investing in Nigeria.

Our government is also committed to working with the Nigerian authorities to make the business climate there ever more at-tractive to investors. Improvements in power supply, transportation and legislation that protect business investment can make a real difference to Nigeria’s already impressive growth rates.

Our Department for International Development, refers to the opportunity to “unleash” the Nigerian economy. By 2015 it will be providing £300 million per year in Development assistance. Its aim will be to unlock the potential already latent in the Nigerian economy, pulling people out of poverty in the process.

Of course, trade plays the vital role in resolving poverty. It is a vital stimulus for growth, development and productivity. And as has been shown in the markets that have grown fastest over the last fifty years, private enterprise is the real engine of growth – creating wealth far more quickly than the public sector can.

It is also important that British investors are reassured by a robust legal framework that is conducive to large-scale investment. That legal framework must enforce respect for contracts and due-process. While the perception of commercial risk endures, companies will focus less on the commercial opportunities.

So the Petroleum Industry Bill is of great significance. It provides a real opportunity for Nigeria to demonstrate to the business community that it is ready and willing to embrace and protect new investments.

A well crafted Petroleum Industry Bill could set a legal framework that ensures investor confidence in the oil and gas sector. And it could ensure that Nigeria’s immense natural wealth is harnessed and managed for the good of the Nigerian people.

There has already been a great deal of interest in the Bill. When the Financial Times – an institution not given to hyperbole – refers to legislation as a “game-changer”, then it is a clear signal that prudent action will be widely noticed.

It is therefore vital that the Bill leads to a law that enhances transparency and visibility in the oil sector. Not only would this will go a long way to countering negative perceptions about the business environment in Nigeria, it would also show Nigerians how, where and for whose benefit the income from their oil wealth is being spent.

And it would also be an important step in ongoing efforts to raise oil production to four million barrels a day. Nigerian crude, famed for its high quality, could help to diversify the global energy market and further strengthen Nigeria’s reputation as a responsible member of the International Community.

A recent study by the World Bank, the Ease of Doing Business Index, placed Nigeria just a few places behind other large emerging economies, such as Brazil, India and Indonesia. This bill provides the opportunity to push forwards and establish Nigeria in front of those countries as a leading up-and-coming market in which to invest.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there is a wealth of opportunities in Nigeria. All of us here today have a role to play in realising those opportunities. While the Olympics may be a competition, trade and investment is not. It is a positive sum game from which we can all benefit. My government is wholeheartedly committed to supporting Nigeria’s rise. I hope that we can all work together to strengthen our political, commercial and cultural relationship for the good of our mutual prosperity.

The World economy is tough and unforgiving. The UK has no Divine Right to stay as one of the World’s top ten economies. Nor does Nigeria, a strong emerging economy, have a divine right to fulfil its clear potential. It is only through hard work, including through partnerships between our countries, that we will succeed.

Henry Bellingham – 2007 Speech on Legal Aid

Below is the text of the speech made by Henry Bellingham on 12th January 2007.

I declare my interest as a barrister who did legal aid work in the past. I welcome the debate in Government time, although it is regrettable that it is not in the main Chamber. There are 25 Members here, which is I suggest probably many more than are in the Chamber for the debate on social exclusion.

Everyone agrees that action is needed to control the criminal legal aid budget, and I want first to discuss criminal legal aid in general terms, before considering civil legal aid. The cost is up 37 per cent. from 1997 to more than £2 billion, as the Minister pointed out, and I want to consider the drivers of that increase. Lawyers’ fees are certainly not responsible, because standard and non-standard fees, taken together, are up 1.7 per cent. since 2001. I suggest that the increase in the legal aid budget is largely due to the increased volume of cases, changes in procedure and changes in the rules of evidence. Of course, there has also been a very big increase in the number of criminal offences on the statute book. Indeed, in a speech made by the Minister herself in 2005, when as a Back Bencher she secured an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, she pointed out that 700 new offences had been created since 1997.

In fact, June Venters QC pointed out in a recent speech that since 1997 there have been 3,000 new criminal offences. That obviously puts great pressure on the criminal system, because the Government go on legislating.

Defendants must of course have justice. Indeed, in a speech on October 24 2006, June Venters said:

“Legal aid is there to ensure that vulnerable and disadvantaged people are not denied access to justice because of their inability to pay”.

The Lord Chancellor in a speech the other day to the Law Society said:

“Free access to justice for those who need legal aid is as integral to the welfare state as the NHS or state education.”

I think that we would all agree.

I shall quickly consider the impact of means-testing on magistrates courts. It is ironic that the drivers behind the increases in the legal aid budget do not come from the magistrates courts, but mainly from the Crown court. However, the means-testing arrangements are having an impact on the magistrates courts as we speak. That is a matter for concern. Most solicitors support the principle of means-testing, but they have always stressed that the new means test must enable legal aid to be granted or refused quickly. That manifestly is not happening.

I recently received a letter from a large firm of solicitors in Sheffield—Howells, the Citizens Solicitor. The firm made it clear that the new arrangements for means-testing are extremely bureaucratic and cumbersome. I shall not go into detail, Sir Nicholas, as you have told us to make progress, but it points out that the Department for Constitutional Affairs did not take account of representations made by the solicitors who deal with such cases day in, day out at the sharp end.

The Minister talks about the most vulnerable, and in her press release this morning she made it clear that vulnerable people would not be affected. The New Policy Institute report headed “Means testing in the magistrates’ court: is this really what Parliament intended?” was published on 5 December. It highlighted the case of a lone parent with a child aged 10. The parent was working full-time at the minimum wage of £5.35 an hour but will not be eligible for criminal legal aid because of a boost to her family income from tax credits. If that is not affecting the vulnerable, I really do not know what is. That is exactly the sort of person who we should be trying to protect and help. Is that what the Minister intended? Is it what she meant today in her press release?

The result, as we have heard, is that many firms will close or amalgamate. Many of the firms in my constituency are not in criminal legal aid to make money; they are doing it through conviction, as a service, because they believe in the ethos of trying to protect those in society who have real problems and crises. That was very much the message that I received from those firms. There will certainly be legal aid deserts, especially in rural areas.

Furthermore, in my judgment, there is no question but that the bidding process and the best-value procedures will lead to bigger firms, and the consolidation and closure of small firms. We should not be in any doubt that the larger firms will cost more. It is the smaller more focused firms with dedicated partners who historically and traditionally offer the best value for money. For instance, in 2005 and 2006, Otterburn Legal Consulting carried out two large surveys of criminal firms, and it concluded that the smaller firms with lower overheads and dedicated staff who work long hours offer the best value for money. The larger firms cost more, and ultimately they will cost the Government more in criminal aid. That is ironic.

I take on board the points made by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Khan) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) about the black and minority ethnic firms. Many are small businesses, but they have a great commitment to the communities that they serve. By definition, they probably do not want to consolidate or merge or even expand; they want to remain small and to serve their communities in their inimitable way. I also take on board the points made about legal aid advice centres.

If you do not mind, Sir Nicholas, I shall quote a colleague. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) has recently been very ill. He suffered an unpleasant stroke, but mercifully he is now much better. I spoke to him by telephone last night. He asked me to tell the House that, in his judgment, the supplier base for legal aid on the Isle of Wight is threatened by the current proposals. He said that if the base is eroded too far, there will be no choice, which will create further serious problems, with conflicts of interest. The problem affects all areas, but it will have a particular impact on the island, given the logistical difficulties of getting people over from the mainland—or the high cost that his poorer constituents will face in getting to the mainland. He pointed out the risk that under the Government’s proposals the Isle of Wight will become an advice desert. It is important that his comments are taken on board, particularly at this time.

The public defender service pilot schemes clearly show that the cost of the PDS is between 40 per cent. and 90 per cent. more than the cost of private law firms providing the same criminal defence services to the public. I find that a matter of concern, and it illustrates that big is not necessarily beautiful.

When considering criminal legal aid, I wonder whether the Minister’s reintroduction of means-testing with such a bureaucratic system is really how the Government want to help the vulnerable. I am sure that she does not need reminding that, during an Adjournment debate in October 2005, she argued cogently and passionately that the budget for criminal legal aid cannot be capped. I know that she has taken the Queen’s shilling and gone native, but, for goodness sake, does she not trust her instincts—or is she just doing what her boss is telling her? I leave it to others to draw their own conclusions.

I turn to civil legal aid. We heard this afternoon that the proposal for a single national fixed fee for advice work in each legal field will lead to many problems. The Government say that it will be cost-neutral, but I put it to the Minister that the picture in civil legal aid is pretty grim. Civil practitioners received a rise of 2.5 per cent. in 2004 in legal aid fees. There was no increase in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999 or 2000. It is a matter of great concern that the number of offices with civil legal aid contracts fell from 4,301 in March 2004 to 3,632 in March 2006—and the number is falling fast.

Lord Carter proposed a graduated fee scheme for solicitors doing family and welfare related work. Why did the Government not take Lord Carter’s advice? Why did they not listen to what he had to say? Standard fees are obviously are very different. Although I welcome the Government’s decision to reconsider and delay the introduction of standardised fixed fees in relation to family, immigration and mental health law, fixed fees will definitely be introduced for others areas of social welfare law, including housing, employment, welfare benefit, debt, community care and education law in October—in a few months.

I ask the Minister to consider her Department’s regulatory impact assessment. It confirms that a standard fixed fee will mean a loss of income for 38.6 per cent. of providers. The Law Society’s document on the subject is a pretty comprehensive survey of the various points of view put by different organisations. It makes it clear that 82 per cent. of family practitioners believe that their firm is less likely to undertake publicly funded work in future; that 78 per cent. of mental health practitioners are considering whether to continue to represent publicly funded clients and believe that the quality of service will decline; that72 per cent. of immigration practitioners say that their firms are less likely to undertake legal aid work in future, and 67 per cent. thought that the quality of the service would decline; and that 95 per cent. of civil aid practitioners believe that the proposed fixed fees would make their work non-viable. That is pretty staggering.

Is it any wonder that virtually every organisation out there that has lobbied MPs and expressed opinions is telling us of its dismay? People are very concerned and a range of organisations are involved. First, the Access to Justice Alliance—an organisation that is very well briefed—has said:

“To survive on the proposed fixed fee we would have to exclude some of those most in need whom we currently help. There is unlikely to be another supplier to take them on, so they would simply not receive the help they need”.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, an organisation that we all know and love has made it clear that it is gravely concerned about the potential loss of expert legal advice for family law cases resulting from the cuts in legal aid. It says:

“There is already a serious risk regarding the future availability of family legal aid lawyers; the situation will only get worse if the government fails to provide proper support”.

The NSPCC outlines a very distressing case of a young girl called Tracey. She was a heroin addict suffering from post-natal depression and social services tried to remove her baby from care. It was a complex case and I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) that many of those cases are becoming increasingly complex and difficult. In the case I have outlined, many hours were put in by the solicitor concerned at a substantial loss to the law firm. The solicitor was eventually paid about £9,000 in legal aid money, which may sound a great deal, but it certainly was not anywhere enough to cover the time put in. The bottom line is that Tracey is now off drugs and her life is back on track. That is exactly the type of case that her solicitors believe they would not be able to take on today. The cost of social care and of interventions from other agencies to help Tracey would be far more than the legal aid paid out to her solicitor.

Other organisations involved in this issue are Shelter, Mind, Action Against Medical Accidents and the Mental Health Lawyers Association, which has been lobbying very hard indeed. It sent me an e-mail the other day in which it made it clear that it is not at all happy with what is happening. It states:

“The problem that the Government faces, is that it has squeezed mental health lawyers so hard…there is no slack in the system…The Government faces a potential ‘meltdown’ situation in October. This is not industrial action it will simply be members finding they just cannot do the job”.

The Minister recently said:

“Matters connected with mental health lawyers are going to be looked at again, in connection with practitioners. They have no concerns at all.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 1280.]

However, Richard Charlton, the chair of the Mental Health Lawyers Association, made it clear that that was not the case given his references to ‘meltdown’ and ‘no slack in the system’. If the Minister thinks that that represents ‘no concerns at all’, she should think again.

The citizens advice bureaux have been extremely active in briefing us. I have many letters from CABs and I will not got through all of them. However, I want to flag up that my local CAB in west Norfolk and the one up the road from me in Boston have grave concerns. In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) the Boston CAB’s bureau manager, Maggie Peberdy, said:

“As you will know, Boston CAB holds a contract with the Legal Services Commission to provide debt and benefits advice. We strongly believe that the proposed changes will have a damaging impact on our ability to provide essential legal aid services to people with complex welfare benefits or debt problems, and that this in turn will harm the most vulnerable in our community.”

She goes on to list many of her concerns. The Minister kindly attended a meeting of the all-party citizens advice group the other day. At that meeting, the CAB passed on a number of very complex case studies that involved a whole range of factors—for example, those dealing with complex clients suffering from mental illness who require the assistance of outside agencies and third parties including local authorities. Those cases take a long time to resolve.

The Minister should look again at what the CAB has said and at the views of the Association of Lawyers for Children, the Family Law Bar Association and a large numbers of individual firms. I met a firm in my constituency the other day, which is a growing and expanding partnership that is doing well. However, there is a real problem with that business as a number of dedicated partners and lawyers, some of whom do criminal and legal aid and family work, are concerned about whether the firm will be able to carry on offering the same level of public service. They were kind enough to bring in a family law barrister who expressed exactly the same concerns and who is acting for different solicitors up and down the region. Day in and day out, he expresses in court his very grave concern about whether many of the smaller firms will be able to carry on with this type of work.

I shall conclude now as I know that you, Sir Nicholas, wish to call other Members to speak. However, I am concerned about the black and minority ethnic firms in relation to civil legal aid as the present system is nearly at breaking point. It is already becoming increasingly difficult to find a legal aid solicitor and the Government’s plans will only make that worse. The Minister talks about trying to help and make life easier for the vulnerable, but she should listen to what the experts are saying and trust the judgment and instincts that she so eloquently expressed in the debate on 26 October 2005.

As the shadow Attorney-General said earlier, what is the role of the Lord Chancellor in this? First of all he has downgraded his own job—we gather that was done on the back of an envelope—and has then spent ten of millions of pounds on a new supreme court. He has rewarded his Ministers with a sell-out to the Treasury or has the Treasury rewarded him for not managing his Department properly? The conclusion that I draw is that some of the most vulnerable people in our constituencies and communities will suffer. That is what concerns us and it is why I very much hope that the Minister will start listening to the people who really know what is going on.