HC Deb 31 March 1993 vol 222 cc362-412

[Relevant documents: The Fifth Report from the Home Affairs Committee on Legal Aid: The Lord Chancellor's Proposals, House of Commons Paper No. 517 of Session 1992–93, and the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Scottish Affairs Committee on 23rd March, together with Memoranda, to be published in House of Commons Paper No. 574 of Session 1992–93.]

4.5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I beg to move: That the draft Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions and Contributions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 18th March, be approved. I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following motions: That the draft Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 18th March, be approved. That the draft Advice and Assistance (Scotland) (Prospective Cost) Amemdment Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 11th March, be approved. That the draft Advice and Assistance (Assistance by Way of Representation) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 11 th March, be approved. That the draft Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 11th March, be approved. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Civil Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 565), dated 9th March 1993, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th March, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Civil Legal Aid (Assessment of Resources) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 788), dated 17th March 1993, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th March, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Legal Aid in Criminal and Care Proceedings (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 789), dated 17th March 1993, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th March, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Legal Advice and Assistance (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 790), dated 17th March 1993, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th March, be annulled. We are considering a number of regulations on legal aid —five sets subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and relating to Scotland, and four sets relating to England and Wales, which are subject to the negative resolution procedure and which have been prayed against by the Opposition. I am glad to be able to put the Government's case in support of these resolutions.

Legal aid is the means whereby people on low incomes may be helped to have access to the justice system. I believe that over the years it has been successful in that aim and indeed that our system of legal aid in Great Britain is undoubtedly one of the most generous in the world and the envy of many other countries, including several of our European neighbours.

Over the years, successive Governments have sought to ensure that the system of legal aid represents a level playing field as between Scotland and England and Wales. That, of course, means that there have always been significant differences between the detailed systems in the two countries, since their legal systems are very different. The changes we are bringing forward in the regulations seek to continue to implement that principle. They are not identical as between England and Wales and Scotland, but they represent the realisation of a broad common policy. I therefore propose to deal first with the position in Scotland before going on to describe the proposed regulations for England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department, will deal with the English position in more detail on winding up.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have hardly started, but I shall give way.

Mr. Maclennan

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in his speech. Does not he recognise that it is monstrous to conflate two debates about two wholly different legal systems and to spend less than three hours debating the entirely different circumstances of Scotland and England and Wales? This is the first step that has been taken since the Government's published papers on constitutional reform, which shows how little has changed under the Conservative party.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The broad principles are the same throughout Britain and, as a United Kingdom Parliament, we are entitled to consider these issues. The basic problem is that the figures have escalated out of all proportion.

On 19 April 1989, I revealed that £54 million was spent on legal aid in Scotland in 1988. With his characteristic directness, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Da!yell) said that that was a hell of a lot of money". [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] The hon. Member for Linlithgow said that. Of course, it is far more today. In 1991–92, the figure was £86 million and it is about to be £104 million in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will appreciate this point. Nye Bevan said that the language of priorities is the religion of socialism. With greatly increasing expenditure on one service, what is at stake is whether that service should have higher priority than health, education, social work, housing and other essential services. The figures had escalated so much in all parts of Britain that something had to be done. That has been accepted.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Will the Under-Secretary tell us by what standard one measures the proportionality? Is he saying that people have become greedy for legal aid, or does he accept that there is more reason for people to seek legal aid nowadays?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

No, I am not saying either of those things. I shall give the hon. and learned Gentleman the figures. He will be interested to know that the cost in England and Wales was less than £100 million in 1979, but that, for the year ending today, the figure will be £1,100 million. If expenditure continues to rise, the figure will be nearly £2,000 million by the mid–1990s, so there is a need to contain the large and rapid growth in expenditure. However, I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that, under the Government plans, there is no question of legal aid being cut.

I confirm that expenditure in England and Wales will rise by 10 per cent. in each of the next three years, to a total of £1,528 million for 1995–96. Over the same period, we expect the number of acts of assistance in grants of legal aid on advice and assistance to rise from just over 3 million in the current year to about 4 million—an increase of almost 30 per cent.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)


Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

May I develop my argument? Legal aid—

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Yes, I give way to my right hon. Friend.

Sir John Wheeler

The figures that my hon. Friend has just given the House are astonishing. With public sector borrowing at £50 billion a year, it is not tolerable to consider the level of expenditure in the way that he has described. Will he assure the House that there will be a proper system of accountability covering the projected increases to which he alluded, to ensure that the taxpayers' money is properly and fairly used?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. If one takes all the circumstances into account, and in view of the rises in expenditure that will take place, the approach adopted by the Lord Chancellor is certainly not ungenerous.

Legal aid, of course, involved the expenditure of large amounts of taxpayers' funds. Over the past few years, and especially over the past year or so, legal aid expenditure in Scotland rose dramatically. Indeed, it has almost doubled over the past five years. Expenditure on legal aid from public funds was £49 million in Scotland in the year ending 31 March 1988. It rose to £83 million in 1992 and will reach £104 million in the financial year that ends today.

The first two Scots sets of regulations before the House represent a major element in the response to that rise in expenditure.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Mr. Menzies Campbell


Mrs. Ewing


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

May I develop this point?

The Government have a general responsibility to ensure the best use of taxpayers' funds and to set spending priorities accordingly. It is in that context that we have had to consider carefully, as any responsible Government would have to, the recent rises in expenditure on legal aid.

I shall now describe the provisions contained in each of the sets of regulations in a little more detail.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is there a relationship between unemployment and the sums in the legal aid budget to which the Minister has referred?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is especially relevant that the most vulnerable should be assisted. I accept that principle, and people on income support levels of income will certainly continue to receive free civil legal aid, advice and assistance. Eligibility will continue to be based on an individual's disposable income—that is, his gross income less various allowances. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the decision to retain a band of contributory advice and assistance to ensure that all people on modest incomes will continue to have access to legal aid in Scotland.

Mr. Menzies Campbell


Mrs. Ewing


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

May I develop what I have to say about some of the regulations first? The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) will be able to comment in a moment. I am well aware that he has served on the Scottish Legal Aid Board, and has considerable experience in the matter; I shall give way to him in due course.

The Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions and Contributions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993 adjust the threshold of a person's disposable income below which free civil legal aid is available. They propose that the threshold should be set at £2,293 with effect from 12 April 1993, when the annual adjustments in income support levels under the social security system come into effect. The upper limit will remain unchanged at £6,800—it is higher in personal injury cases, at £7,500—and the maximum contribution that a person between the lower and upper limits will be asked to make towards the cost of his legal aid bill will be raised from one quarter to one third of his disposable income above the lower threshold.

The Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993 similarly change the threshold—this time of weekly disposable income—above which a person is required to pay a contribution for legal advice and assistance. The new disposable income level will be £61 per week. The regulations also describe the scale of contributions to be paid where weekly disposable income exceeds £61 but does not exceed a slightly increased upper disposable income limit of £147. The level of contribution will range from £7 to £86.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

The Minister is explaining the regulations in the context of an argument about priorities. What greater priority is there than that a person should have access to the courts of this country, irrespective of his or her means? Is the Minister not aware that, before a person is admitted to legal aid, he must establish probable cause and that it is in the interests of justice that legal aid be awarded to him? If the Minister is concerned about those on income support, does he not realise that these proposals will bite most strongly for those who fall just outside the very limits that he has described? It is these people to whom access to the courts will be denied.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Member could perfectly well advance that argument to those who fall just outside the limits now. Wherever you have a cut-off point, there will be resentment among those who fall just outside it. In relation to Scotland, as the Secretary of State made clear a few minutes ago, only 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. of those receiving civil legal aid and advice and assistance now will have no entitlement in future. That affects only some 7,500 people.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

One hundred thousand.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

That is our best estimate. It is certainly not 100,000, which is a ludicrous exaggeration.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Does my hon. Friend think it relevant in this context that while the cost of legal aid has doubled since 1988–89 in England, by no means have the clients seeking legal aid doubled? The figure is very much smaller than the doubling which we have experienced.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

We anticipate that the rise will be from over 3 million in the current year to about 4 million. What has come through is that more and more people are applying for legal aid and for their entitlement, and that the figures of those receiving legal aid will increase by the mid–1990s.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of us in the House who are not legally qualified have noticed in the past couple of years a growing number of constituents who come to us seeking legal advice because the legal profession has, for certain reasons, including difficulties with legal aid, been unable to assist them? Is he therefore aware that some of us are concerned that this tendency will increase as a result of these measures, and that a number of people, particularly those seeking redress over personal injury, may be unable to seek justice under these arrangements? What proposals has he for reviewing the consequences of the motions that he is asking us to vote on tonight?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I said earlier that the upper limit for somebody who has suffered personal injury is £7,500, which is higher. The effect on eligibility is, as I said, in the region of 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. It may be that my hon. Friend will be seeing a few more constituents. I am sure that, with his ability, he will be able to give them the same assistance that he has given to all his other constituents.

First, all the figures relate to a person's disposable income—that is, his income after allowance has been made for a number of necessary outgoings, such as expenditure on dependants, housing costs, the costs of travel to work and other expenses associated with employment, and a number of others. The calculation will vary according to the circumstances of each individual applicant. An applicant with a disposable income towards the upper end of the scale giving rise to eligibility could well have a gross income of about £15,000 or even more. The levels of eligibility, therefore, continue to represent generous provision. We estimate that 55 per cent. to 60 per cent. of households in Scotland will remain eligible for legal aid under the new proposals.

Secondly, the contributions that are payable are in all cases maximum contributions. We have seen some newspaper comment recently which seems to imply that the maximum contribution levels are in some sense an entrance fee for access to the system of civil justice. That is certainly not the case. As at present, no legally aided person will be required to pay more than the case actually costs. On the other hand, however high the costs of an individual case rise, no one will be required to pay more than the maximum contribution.

Thirdly, our approach has not been to remove significant numbers of people from eligibility for legal aid altogether. We calculate that of the almost 300,000 people in Scotland who have received grants of civil legal aid and/or advice and assistance in 1992–93, only 7,500–2 per cent. to 3 per cent.—would not be eligible under the current proposals.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I know that my hon. and learned Friend has strong views, so I shall give way to him in a second.

The effect of the proposals is that some people who previously made no contribution towards the costs of their case will have to make a contribution, generally a very small one, and that the level of contribution of those who already contribute will rise. That is a fair and even-handed approach.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I am most obliged to my hon. and yet to be learned Friend, who has frequently been my junior and who knows my views. There has always been a terrible gap in legal aid by which people were deprived of the ability to go to law. The proposals increase that gap. My main complaint is as follows. We have a Scottish Lord Chancellor who is the principal Law Officer in England. Why should we take the view that we must imitate his idocies in England when the cost of legal aid in Scotland has not increased, but decreased? If one divides the money that is being spent by the number of people seeking redress, one finds that the figure has gone infinitely down. Can my hon. Friend answer my question?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I can, indeed. I have been junior counsel to my hon. and learned Friend and to the Lord Chancellor, as has the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). My hon. and learned Friend has also worked under the Lord Chancellor. I believe that his judgment in this matter is sound. Expenditure on legal aid has doubled in Scotland since 1987–88 and even under the Government's proposals it is forecast to rise to 40 per cent. above the original planned figures for 1992–93 by the mid-1990s. The number of people helped has been rising, and will continue to rise to an estimated total of 425,000 or more in 1995–96.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Has the Minister made these proposals in conjunction with other Government proposals that involve the trade unions? As the Minister knows, the trade unions have an excellent reputation for taking up, for example, industrial injury cases. At the same time that the Government are introducing these proposals, they are requiring the trade unions to spend more on compulsory ballots because they propose to reduce the amount available for the ballots—which they are imposing.

Inevitably, this means that trade unions, which have been excellent self-help organisations, will not be able to spend so much money on legal representation of their members—a field in which they have an unquestionably excellent record. Thus, trade union members, as well as benefiting less from legal aid, will receive less assistance from their organisations. They will be caught on a fork of deprivation when it comes to obtaining justice in civil injury cases.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment, who has just come into the Chamber, will have heard his remarks. My understanding is that trade unions were against accepting funds when they were offered. Perhaps these matters can be followed up with the Department of Employment, as they relate primarily to employment.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I congratulate my hon. Friend and his colleagues on their proposals generally. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that it is always right to disallow the capital value of a principal residence in calculating entitlement to legal aid? In my constituency, there is a widower who has a very low income but owns a house worth £300,000. That person, having obtained legal aid on the basis of low income, was able to harass a neighbour without mercy. As the neighbour—an engineer with a wife and three children to support—was in receipt of the income of a young professional man, he was unable to obtain legal aid for a dispute about a tree on the border between the sites. That is not a level playing field. Surely it is not right that such things should be allowed to happen.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I should like to examine the circumstances of the case to which my hon. Friend refers. I hope that it will be possible, in the winding-up speech, to provide a full response.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Minister give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have given way to many Scotsmen, and I am always glad to give way to the hon. Gentleman. However, I should like to make a little progress first.

The remaining three sets of regulations give effect to the commitment given by the Government during the recent passage of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1993 to extend the scheme of assistance by way of representation to cover the preparation and presentation of a petition by a debtor for the sequestration of his or her estate. The regulations will allow an eligible debtor to obtain the help of a solicitor in completing and submitting the petition forms required by the court. If necessary, the solicitor can also appear in court, on behalf of the debtor, at any hearing relating to the petition.

This assistance is in addition to, and separate from, any preliminary advice that the solicitor may have provided, under the advice and assistance scheme, on the options available to the debtor. The Government's commitment to extend the scheme of assistance by way of representation was welcomed by the Opposition at the time of the passage of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act. I hope that that support will continue in respect of the regulations that are before us today.

Before turning to the four sets of regulations relating to England and Wales, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham).

Mr. Graham

I have worked with many people who, because of the level of the income, were prevented from going to law. In this regard, I agree with what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn). At the moment, I am dealing with a case involving folk in this situation. Many organisations in Scotland are saying clearly that the Minister is wildly wrong and that if these proposals are accepted there will be great injustice and unfairness in Scotland.

The Minister has given a figure of 7,500 people. In my view, that is a doubtful number. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that, if it proves to be wrong, he will instantly take steps to review the legislation? Scottish people who cannot afford legal representation should be provided with it. Let the Minister give us an assurance that everybody in Scotland will be entitled to representation in the courts.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I stand strongly by the figures that I have already given to the House. If the hon. Gentleman will let me know about the circumstances of the case in his constituency, I will ensure that it is examined very carefully.

The Civil Legal Aid (Assessment of Resources) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 relating to England and Wales set the lower limit of disposable income, below which legal aid is available without a contribution, at the annual equivalent of the income support personal allowance for a single person aged 25 and over. In 1993–94, that will be £2,293.

The regulations also align allowances for dependants which are made in calculating disposal income for legal aid purposes with income support allowances. They increase the fraction of disposable income payable by way of contribution from one quarter of disposal income in excess of free limit to one third and provide that contributions continue for the life of the case—that is, for as long as the legal aid certificate is in force. They amend the regulations covering assessments and further assessments of means so that they are consistent with the new financial conditions; and, finally, they adjust the table of additional capital disregards for pensioners in line with the new financial limits.

The Civil Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 provide that an area director of the Legal Aid Board may waive payment of contribution where it appears that the costs of the proceedings will not be more than contributions which have been paid. The regulations also amend the payment-on-account scheme to align the periods after which payments may be made to barristers with those applicable to solicitors.

The Legal Aid in Criminal and Care Proceedings (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 make the same changes in respect—

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister referred to barristers. There are no barristers in Scotland: they are called advocates.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that matters of substance and correctness or otherwise are not matters for the Chair.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have always said that my hon. and learned Friend is a brilliant man, but not always necessarily correct. I am referring to England, where the term "barristers" is normally used.

The Legal Aid in Criminal and Care Proceedings (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 align the free limit with the single adult income support rate, that is £44 a week. They also align dependants' allowances with income support allowances, raise the fraction of disposable income payable as contribution from one quarter to one third and provide for contributions to be paid for so long as the legal aid is in force.

The Legal Advice and Assistance (Amendment) Regulations 1993 set the qualifying limit of disposable income for advice and assistance at £61 for 1993–94. They provide that assistance by way of representation shall be available to applicants with disposable incomes of between £61 and £147 a week, and that applicants with income between those two limits shall pay contributions for the life of the case of one third of the difference between actual disposable income and the lower limit of £61.

It may assist the House if I say a word about the differences between our proposals for Scotland and for England and Wales. In both cases, the changes are designed to address the very considerable increase in the cost of legal aid on both sides of the border. Where there are differences, they reflect differences in the legal systems and in legal aid practice.

In Scotland, we announced on 17 February that we had decided to retain a band of contributory advice and assistance for people whose weekly disposable income lies between £61 and £147. That reflects the greater reliance placed on the advice and assistance scheme in Scotland. On the civil side, many applicants who require to establish the probable cause in law of their proposed action are helped through the advice and assistance scheme, whereas in England limited grants of full civil legal aid are available for that purpose.

On the criminal side, defendants in Scotland who plead guilty are eligible for assistance by way of representation which is part of the advice and assistance scheme, whereas in England that is dealt with through full criminal legal aid. On the question of eligibility for criminal legal aid, the English arrangements for the assessment of income of applicants are broadly similar to those which apply to civil legal aid.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Will the Minister accept that, just as in Scotland, there are great concerns among many people lest we are again hitting people who are just outside the income support level? As in many other areas of life, if one qualifies for income support, one will probably be all right, whereas, if one is just a little outside, one will probably be in trouble or will have much greater difficulty in getting access to justice.

As my hon. Friend said, the amounts involved have escalated. Even so, will he look again at the propositions that have been put forward by the Bar Council and the Law Society to save money, to see whether in future they might provide a better way forward than today's proposals?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Whatever benefit or legal aid system we have, there will be huge objections, wherever the cut-off point is set, from those who are just omitted. That has always been, and always will be, the case. The system will be reviewed in due course, but I cannot hold out any hope in respect of the Law Society's recommendations. In relation to the Law Society of Scotland, I do not understand the basis of its figures. Under the new system, the maximum contribution for ordinary cases will be £1,502. I do not understand where the Law Society can possibly have got the idea that contributions could be higher than that.

In England, the new regulations will provide for contributions to civil legal aid to continue for the life of the case, rather than being restricted to a contribution based on one year's income, as in Scotland. The equivalent change in Scotland would require amendment to primary legislation. We shall consider in due course whether any further action should be taken on that in the light of experience of the changes in England.

Working within the priorities set for public expenditure, we have set out our aims for legal aid for significant growth and we have targeted the available funds to where we believe they are most needed. We have a legal aid system of which we can rightly be extremely proud. I commend the regulations to the House.

4.37 pm
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

I begin by answering the question, which the Minister failed to address, asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I refer to the proceedings of last week's Scottish Select Committee on legal aid eligibility changes, in the report of which Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the Minister of State, is reported as saying: In a recession and when there is greater unemployment, one would expect more people to be eligible for legal aid, and certainly more financial disputes and difficulties at home. That answers the question eloquently.

In the previous legal aid debate I referred to the last Conservative manifesto, which contained the statement: We are committed to enabling people of limited means to have access to justice. It is clear in the light of the regulations for England and Wales that that manifesto as a guide to what is likely to happen is somewhat less reliable than Old Moore's Almanac. What happened in April 1992 no longer applies because the recession is longer and deeper.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that an increase of 10 per cent. Over the next three years is insufficient? If so, will he say what increase the Labour party would recommend?

Mr. McFall

The hon. Gentleman should accept that the Conservative manifesto, written in haste in April. was mendacious: it has no validity now. It is clear that people will be taken out of legal aid as a result of the regulations. If they are unamended, that manifesto statement, in its perfidiousness, will rank alongside the Prime Minister's outburst last March when he said that he had no plans to extend the scope of VAT. Just the poor and those on moderate incomes will be left to shiver in the cold in the coming winters, so potentially up to 14 million people in the United Kingdom will be left out of access to the courts. The core issue is eligibility of the public to gain access to the law. Justice is not optional in a society based on the rule of law.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

It is sometimes suggested that civil legal aid has gone up. It has not gone up in Scotland in real terms; it has gone down. We will leave aside criminal legal aid because that may raise another argument. Perhaps I should declare an interest in both. The amount of money cannot be limited because it is impossible to know how many people will fall over a paving stone, or will hit their heads, or will be hit on the head, or what will happen. Therefore, we cannot say that legal aid will go up or down, and we cannot limit it; we cannot say that we are going to brush one tooth.

Mr. McFall

I thank the hon. and learned Member. I refer to his statement last week in the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. At paragraph 97 he said: You cannot say to people that it is fair you will just give them one loaf of bread and if 3 million people want to eat they only get a crumb each and if 2 million people want to eat they get a crust. That seems to me the attitude to the matter. I do not understand that legal aid is other than a public service which must be given to those who ask for it and require it. That was said eloquently, and my right hon. and hon. Friends agree with it.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)


Mr. McFall

I shall refer to the hon. Gentleman later; perhaps I will let him intervene then.

The genesis of the regulations, as in England and Wales, lies in the autumn statement. To satisfy the Treasury, at the Law Society national conference in Birmingham in October, the Lord Chancellor said: The overall cost of legal aid must be made more affordable. It must be better targeted towards those areas of work where it provides the most cost-effective service. The buzz word "targeting" is the Government's way of saying there will be cuts. And sure enough, four days after the Lord Chancellor announced his cuts in the other place, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), in a written answer on 16 November, told the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) that he would reduce the free income limit for eligibility from £3,060 per annum to the equivalent income support level of £2,213 per annum. In doing so, he admitted that it was in line with the proposals for England and Wales announced recently by the Lord Chancellor.

However, the system in Scotland is entirely different from the system in England. Scots law has Roman law roots, a distinct jurisprudence, its own statute and case law, a separate court system and a separate system for administering legal aid.

The Government have done no consultation and no research. No one outside Whitehall and St. Andrew's house knew until November what was happening. Indeed, the president of the Law Society, in his appearance before the Scottish Affairs Select Committee last week, made that very point. It all goes back to the autumn statement, when it was said that the recession was longer and deeper than expected.

I shall concentrate on Scotland and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) will deal with England and Wales. The Government's attack on legal aid in Scotland has been disproportionate from the beginning. Criminal legal aid takes 70 per cent. of the budget in Scotland. Yet that is not being touched, and the Government have undertaken no investigation so far into that. I am aware that the president and vice-president of the Law Society have been invited to meet Ministers next week at St. Andrew's house on this subject. But that is a case of bolting the stable door after the horses have gone. As I said, 70 per cent. of budget is not being touched. Since then, the Minister has done a U-turn in restoring advice and assistance in Scotland. I submit that the Government were humiliated into that by public and political opposition in Scotland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Department is carrying out a review of criminal legal aid in Scotland?

Mr. McFall

I stated that the Department is undertaking a review, but it is far too late. The regulations will come into effect tomorrow and up to 250,000 people may be affected. If the Minister is sincere about the investigation, he should have a moratorium on the cuts.

Civil legal aid will have to bear the brunt of the cuts. Why? The Government tell us that 4,000 more people have applied for civil aid until March of this year and that they must therefore save £2 million to £3 million. Lord Fraser said that. Is that justified, and what will the consequences be? In his written reply to the hon. Member for Ayr, the Minister said that the legal aid budget had doubled. Let us make it clear that civil legal aid has not doubled. If we take the figures for the past five years, we find that civil legal aid has fluctuated from a baseline of approximately £15.5 million, with a variance of approximately £1 million. Over that five-year period it has increased by less than £900,000 and has decreased in real terms by 20 per cent. There is no justification, therefore, for cutting back.

I asked the House of Commons Library to get me the statistics for the past 10 years. In five of those years, civil payments exceeded the forecast for this year and the cost per case exceeded the £873 projected for each case this year. The proposed figure for this year is therefore an aberration, for various reasons which were adequately explained by the Law Society in its submission to the Select Committee last week.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned criminal legal aid. As I would expect of a man of perspicacity, he has clearly read the proceedings of the Select Committee. I made a number of suggestions as to how the criminal system could be altered to save vast amounts of money. I have made those suggestions frequently. I trust that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will join us in doing that because there is a massive waste of money, time and resources.

Mr. McFall

I agree with the hon. and learned Member. From memory, I think that he told Lord Fraser that many defence lawyers asked clients to plead not guilty, and that that was one area where improvements could be made. The noble Lord decided not to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman down that path. Let us hope that he decides to do so and that we get the savings that the hon. and learned Gentleman has talked about.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Yet again, the hon. Gentleman is making a most perceptive contribution to a debate on home affairs in Scotland. Does he agree that the cost of legal aid must be related directly to the cost of litigation? If we had a full-scale, wide-ranging review of the civil legal system in Scotland to reduce the costs of litigation, we would immediately bring about circumstances in which we could reduce the cost of legal aid as well.

Mr. McFall

I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman. As I said earlier, no mention was made of the situation prior to November so there could be no contributions or advice given to the Scottish Office. There was no justification for that.

It is tempting to see legal aid as a lawyer's issue. As a non-lawyer, that does not concern me. Undoubtedly, there are fat-cat lawyers who make some money, not on legal aid but maybe elsewhere. Certainly, lawyers do not suffer from collective shyness, so they can make their own case on that. I am here to talk on behalf of people other than lawyers.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I must declare an interest. Some years ago, I made a modest—indeed, humble—living as a solicitor, part of which came from the legal aid fund. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Perhaps he would care to address this point: some members of the profession, either solicitors or barristers, have milked the system. I shall give an example. In the past, a simple shoplifting case was dealt with by taking instructions from a client and doing the trial, which would be two hearings at the most. One now gets one, two, three or four hearings or remands, and then perhaps one goes to the Crown court. That is the reality. Some lawyers take advantage of the system and have brought this on themselves.

Mr. McFall

I agree that some lawyers take advantage. It is for Parliament to ensure that that system does not prevail in the future.

Why am I arguing at the Dispatch Box? I am here to argue on behalf of the potentially 250,000 Scots who will be affected by the Government's proposals. Who are they? Some would be tempted to say that they are not the very poor, but those who are slightly above the income support level or on moderate incomes.

Sadly, the hon. Member for Ayr has left the Chamber. Perhaps he does not care what he says today, but I care about what he said last week and yesterday. Last week at the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the hon. Gentleman said rather adequately, but perhaps mistakenly from his viewpoint: I suggest that at present there are many, many people who just cannot afford civil legal aid—people on what you would describe as moderate means and reasonably well off, as seen by some in the community, but people who just cannot afford to go to law on civil matters. We are here to argue on behalf of those people today. Who are they? The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) says women, and I agree.

Last year, 23,000 people in Scotland received legal aid. Almost 19,000 were family law cases. The proposed changes will hit women and children the hardest. Those affected will include victims of domestic violence, the child caught between angry parents, the person trapped in an abusive relationship, the childless couple who want to adopt and the child abused by an estranged parent. Those people will be involved. Such cases are often emergencies which need immediate court action. Almost all such cases are started by women who have part-time or low-paid employment. The employment statistics published yesterday graphically describe that 22 per cent. of the population work part time and many more than 22 per cent. are low paid.

The Government talk about eligibility and affordability. I would contend that they are two different things. Anyone can book into the Savoy but not everyone can pay for it. That is the difference between eligibility and affordability. The poor and the needy are not the same: the need is greatest for those on moderate incomes and the consequences for them are greater.

Would it not be ironic that if the cuts go through it will be easier for a man to get criminal legal aid to defend a charge of wife or child assault than for a woman to get civil legal aid to secure the safety of herself and her children in her home? That is iniquitous, but it is the situation that we shall have.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

I expect that my hon. Friend has read the report on domestic violence of the Select Committee on Home Affairs which, with a Conservative majority, said: In the case of domestic violence, we have no doubt that the new restriction on legal aid will mean that the remedies of the civil courts will effectively be removed for a very large number of victims. It is a disgrace that when I questioned the Secretary of State for Scotland about the matter on 3 March I was told that the changes would have no effect on the eligibility of that category.

Mr. McFall

My hon. Friend makes my point. Where will women in such situations go? They will go to the local authority for housing. Local authorities already face sharp rises in applications for housing under homelessness legislation. They are already under pressure and stretched. With the increased demand, they are likely to raise the level of proof required by women and others to establish homelessness. Some local authorities insist that women start court proceedings to put the husband out of the home and want affidavits and proof from solicitors.

Where do women go at present? Do they go to the Women's Aid Federation? In Glasgow in 1992, 1,000 women were turned away from the federation. In Scotland in 1992, 22,000 people went to the federation for assistance. The Women's Aid Federation freely admits that it could not adequately cope with that situation. What are the Government doing about it? They are condemning women and children to stay in violent relationships. It would not be over-dramatising to say that someone somewhere may be killed under such pressure—it could be a woman attacking her husband or a husband attacking his wife—because the Government have decided to sit on their hands and have people sitting in their homes with nowhere to go. What will be the effect on children? The growth of children will be stunted. What will be the effect of that situation on children's personalities? The Government have no answer.

Many bodies in Scotland have submitted their views to the Government and they all went unheeded. The Scottish Association for Mental Health contacted me yesterday —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) says that he is not surprised. Is that sympathetic or what we consider pejorative? Is that contempt for the Scottish Association for Mental Health? If it is, I will allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. It was a despicable comment.

The Scottish Association for Mental Health contacted me because it wished its clients and the people involved to be catered for. I will give the hon. Gentleman an example. The association is concerned about the group of people who receive invalidity benefits and who could be badly affected by the changes—people who are unable to work because of mental health problems who could be entitled to invalidity benefit if they have paid the appropriate contributions.

The invalidity benefit ranges from £55.15 for a person over 60 to £65.70 for someone under 40 Under the present rules, older people are exempt from making any contribution for legal costs if their income is below the qualifying limit of £3,060 per annum. However, younger people who receive the higher level of benefit would have to make a contribution of £89. Under the proposed changes, older people will earn more than the annual qualifying limit of £2,293 per annum and will have to pay £200 towards the cost of a mental health hearing while younger people on invalidity benefit will have to pay £300.85. To people on such an income level, that figure is unthinkable. I must condemn Lord Fraser when he said that £300.85 is a small contribution. In our experience, £300 represents a large, if not impossible, contribution for a person earning slightly more than £65 a week. The stress of having to pay such an amount can be enormous for some people.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McFall

I think that I have given way enough to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

People resort to the courts in extreme circumstances, often when there is no other means of salvaging the wreckage of their lives. They go to the courts when they are treated unfairly and they expect society to help in redressing the balance. In short, they go to seek justice. That is recognised in a letter which I received this week from the Episcopalian Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. He said that we as Christians have a special duty to be a voice for those who are the least noticed in society. We are concerned about the danger that is posed to the civil rights of disabled and disadvantaged groups, who under these cuts will no longer be eligible for legal aid in civil actions. I suggest that Conservative Members read the reports of the Select Committees on Home Affairs and on Scottish Affairs dealing with legal aid. They underline the point made by the bishop.

In short, people are looking for justice. Throughout the ages, every citizen of a civilised society has had the fundamental right to expect help from civil authorities to achieve justice. By their proposals, the Government are excluding a section of society from one of the basic rights of citizenship.

I began by referring to the autumn statement, and I shall finish with the remarks of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman is a confident young Cabinet Minister who deigned to appear on "Newsnight" on 12 November. He said: Legal aid is not a high priority for this Government." That statement fills us—the Opposition—with despair. More important, it fills with despair millions of people who are begging for justice or for access to the courts to secure justice. The Government's attitude will blight and possibly wreck their lives. That is why we shall vigorously oppose the Government on this issue.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members have expressed their wish to speak in the debate. I ask that those who catch my eye exercise some self-restraint in relation to the length of their speeches.

5.1 pm

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

First, I declare an interest as a practising barrister who derives some income from legal aid.

In the autumn statement on 12 November, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor announced that his proposals would curb the rise of legal aid costs. His proposals were greeted with horror. On 3 February they were attacked as draconian, deplorable and wrong in principle by the Lord Chief Justice. On 4 February, the Daily Mirror thundered: Law aid axe puts millions at risk. The Times, with traditional understatement, stated, "Legal aid plans opposed." On 6 February, The Guardian asserted that the plans would deprive 7 million of free legal aid and impose increased charges on a further 7 million. The next day, on Sunday 7 February, The Observer headline read: No justice for 12 million if Mackay cuts legal aid. Hundreds of solicitors wrote to hon. Members on both sides of the House. They were reported in the newspapers as saying that 14 million would be excluded from access to legal aid, that justice would be too expensive for all but the rich and the destitute, and that in a criminal trial you might as well plead guilty because you will not be able to defend your case properly. They alleged, apparently, that the disabled and the sick would be denied legal aid if their incomes came to over £61 a week.

The House was lobbied by members of the Save Legal Aid campaign, which was supported by about 40 organisations, including citizens advice bureaux, Shelter, the Trades Union Congress, the British Association of Social Workers, Age Concern and the Bar Council. Almost everyone having attacked the controversial proposals, The House Magazine reported that Lord MacKay of Clashfern must have felt like a heavily impaled dartboard. As there was clearly public alarm and as the job of the Select Committee on Home Affairs is to scrutinise the work of the Home Office, the Northern Ireland Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Committee decided to examine the proposals as quickly as it could and to report to the House before this debate. That we speedily did on 9 March, three weeks ago. I hope that hon. Members will now be more fully informed. We took oral evidence—[Interruption.] Opposition Members will be none the wiser, but they will be more fully informed.

The Committee took oral evidence from both branches of the legal profession and from the Lord Chancellor on 24 February. We, the Committee, read written memoranda sent to us by many organisations and individuals. We would have taken more evidence if we had had time to do so.

We concluded that the quantification of the numbers of those who would be deprived of legal aid was subjective, depending on what it took someone who was called upon to make a contribution to decide not to pursue the matter. We concluded, however, that the eligibility cuts would deprive some ordinary people of the access that they now enjoy to the law. It seemed, in practical terms, that as many as 150,000 people would not receive legal aid, including some of the 100,000 who would be cut from the green form scheme. In short, the numbers deprived would be nothing like the 14 million mentioned in the alarmist allegations. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) echoed those allegations. As 14 million would not seek access to the courts, it is absurd to say that 14 million will be deprived of anything.

It was clear also that the sick and the disabled with incomes of more than £61 a week would not suffer because disposable income would be assessed, not gross income stemming from whatever benefits they receive.

We accept that the Lord Chancellor is faced with a legal aid budget that is apparently spiralling out of control. The cost of legal aid has risen from less than £500 million in 1988 to over £1.1 billion in 1992, a rise of 135 per cent. It seems that the budget is likely to increase to £2 billion by 1995–96 if nothing is done. That would be a rise of 68 per cent. in the provision of civil legal aid when the retail prices index has risen by only 27 per cent.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Does my hon. and learned Friend remember paragraph 23 of the report, which states: The Lord Chancellor emphasised to us that the limits for free and contributory legal aid and advice related to disposable income, a point which some of his critics appear to have overlooked. Disposable income is calculated by allowing costs against gross income. We were told that allowable costs included tax, national insurance, dependants, maintenance payments, rent or mortgage, council tax, some other housing costs, fares to work, subscriptions to unions or professional bodies, pension fund contributions and (on a discretionary basis) the costs of child-minding, repayment of loans for home improvements and school fees."? Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that disposable income is a much smaller sum than gross income and other forms of net income?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I thank my hon. Friend for filling out the details of that which I was skirting.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

A couple with two children with an income of £21,000 might well qualify for contributory legal aid when the deductions are taken into account.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I thank my hon. Friend for filling out the details even further. As I am trying to keep my speech short, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not go into all the details.

We, the Select Committee, concluded that the cuts were unfortunate. We found that they did not sit easily with the Government's strategy to make the consumer and the citizen generally more aware of his or her rights and more tenacious of them. In our view, the legal aid scheme exists to ensure that ordinary people can have the protection of the law. It gives many people access to the law and underpins justice and the freedom of the individual. It has obviously been a great success. More and more people have been helped by the scheme. The numbers have risen from 3.14 million five years ago to an estimated 4.1 million for 1995, even after the Lord Chancellor's changes.

The Committee looked ahead to the immediate future. My colleagues and I were struck that no one seemed to know in enough detail why the costs were rising so rapidly. We suggested that urgent work needed to be undertaken to find the answers.

We thought it a great pity that the legal profession and the Lord Chancellor's Department had not quite got their acts together. We hoped that out report might help to bang heads together so that both sides might co-operate in undertaking an inquiry into the scope for savings and efficiency in the way in which legal services are delivered and how the courts operate. Radical changes might be the result. We felt that both sides needed to be prepared to commit themselves to such changes. But both the professions and the Lord Chancellor seem willing to start the process. We welcome that.

Mr. Alex Carlile

While we are talking about civil legal aid, does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that virtually every bill for civil legal aid, whether from solicitors or counsel, is scrutinised by an official who is appointed essentially by the Government so that there is far less scope for fraud in the civil legal aid scheme? Does he agree that, in the absence of any evidence of lawyers acting improperly in claiming their fees, the scheme should continue much as before? Does he further agree that there is an enormous amount of room for efficiency savings in the courts? For example, pre-trial reviews are effective in civil cases.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Yes, I accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. We did not find any fraud in the legal professions. We probably did not investigate for long enough to discover any. We were looking at what is happening now and what immediately could be done about it.

We felt that although it was too late to do anything about the orders that we are debating today, which are due to come into force on 12 April, if agreed savings were found between the professions and the Lord Chancellor's Department, it might be possible to restore the cuts in eligibility in real terms in the future. We said that the Government should set themselves that goal. If not, they would not achieve their manifesto commitment to give people of limited means greater access to the law, not less access to the law. Greater access means providing advice and assistance either free or at a price which they can afford.

We had a particular anxiety about the Lord Chancellor's proposals to end the contributory part of the green form scheme. That could affect access to legal services for up to 100,000 people, just at the time when it is most necessary because it can head off many legal actions, if the advice achieves a certain result. We could not see what objection there was to people making a contribution, if they could afford some, but not all of the costs.

We could not see any convincing reason why the Lord Chancellor proposed to leave the scheme in existence in Scotland for tapering off contributions, but to end it completely in England and Wales so that people will have no access to the green form scheme if their income is more than about £61 a week. Such discrimination in favour of the Scots by a Scot we found to be carrying kith and kinship too far. We recommended that such discrimination should cease. We are, after all, a united country.

We noticed in passing that a large part of the legal aid budget was eaten up by VAT. As VAT merely transfers public funds from the Treasury to the Lord Chancellor's Department and back to the Treasury, it serves no practical purpose except to complicate matters and boost bureaucratic costs. We were pleased to hear that the Lord Chancellor thought its removal worthy of consideration.

Of course, there is a great deal more wrong with the legal aid system. We had time to examine and report on only some of it. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, we make a lot more law in Parliament than we used to. We give more people more rights and make people more aware of them. It should not surprise us that they take advantage of that and, therefore, claim more legal aid.

However, too much money is being wasted. The money could often be better allocated. Furthermore, there is an inherent injustice about a system which encourages one party to a legal dispute to take legal action confident in the belief that it will cost him nothing or hardly anything, against another party who has to pay all his costs and who, if he wins, will receive not a penny of damages or costs. Justice should be open to all, not just the rich and the poor but the person in between.

We simply do not know how many people with a good case never bring it or defend themselves with it because they cannot afford to do so in case they lose and they cannot be helped by legal aid. That is the other side of the coin to those who are unjustly treated by the system because they cannot afford to contribute to legal aid, or because legal aid is simply not available. On that issue neither I nor the members of the Home Affairs Select Committee could offer immediate constructive suggestions. The matter needs a full and detailed study. Perhaps something will come out of the Runciman royal commission on that issue.

But many avenues for saving legal aid waste should be explored. Other hon. Members will want to speak, so I shall mention them only briefly. First, instead of paying criminal legal aid with inadequate assessment of means, we could be much more thorough. If a case is likely to cost the tax payer millions of pounds, those involved in large criminal inquiries might be invited to produce a thorough breakdown of their means and assets, with the assistance of a state investigator, before they are awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal aid. We might be surprised how many people would not choose to have their affairs investigated and would either pay the lawyers privately or decide to plead guilty whereas if they had got a free defence they might have had nothing to lose by pleading not guilty.

Secondly, in civil cases, the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 provided for conditional fees. That provision has not been brought into effect. It might help some. Clients may negotiate with solicitors a no-win, no-fee arrangement. The Bar is chary about that, but the provision is on the statute book, so let us introduce it.

Thirdly, a contingency fund could be set up, financed by a levy on all damages won in civil cases. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) made the point persuasively in the Committee's questioning. Most civil claims end in success or at any rate end in one party receiving a substantial amount in damages. The levy could be used to relieve the burden on the legal aid fund. Such a scheme was set up in Hong Kong in 1984 and became self-financing after four years.

Fourthly, more use could be made of private legal insurance taken out by employers on behalf of employees similar to BUPA in medicine, the AA and RAC schemes and the Legal Protection Group, which is part of Sun Alliance. The more that such insurance was taken out, the less burden there would be on state legal aid.

Fifthly, we could deliver a cheaper legal service in some cases by having salaried lawyers working from law centres where there is an inadequacy of private solicitors in a particular area. I understand how small solicitors feel about that. Obviously, they should not be threatened. However, there are plenty of parts of the country, especially following the Government's reforms of the professions, where there is simply no solicitor. The salaried service operating from law centres would obviously be sensible.

Sixthly, the Government are actively considering the franchising of legal advice as a contract between the Legal Aid Board and the franchisee, for block advice in a large number of cases at an all-in fee. That seems sensible.

Seventhly, we could resolve disputes, especially in matrimonial matters, without the need for confrontational legal appearances in court. Relate has recommended that system and achieved some success in it.

Eighthly, we could do more to expand the use of the small claims courts, where legal expenses are minimal and rough justice—not always so rough—is often, if not frequently, obtained.

I could go on. The field of possible legal reform is large. As the Select Committee reported, this corner—the financing of the law—is particularly fertile. Let us all—the politicians, the Lord Chancellor, his Department, the legal professions and the courts administration, judges included —seek to improve the system. The system can be improved. There is a large area in which those improvements could take place.

I finish by quoting the last paragraph of our report on

page xxvii. It says: Our inquiry has demonstrated that unless the whole legal aid system is fully reviewed and all the relevant parties act together and constructively in undertaking that review, cuts will continue to be forced on governments. The principal sufferer will then inevitably be the one person everyone seeks to help—the person of modest means with a legitimate case, who seeks the protection of the law.

5.18 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I am grateful to you for calling me so early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I intend to be brief, and I declare an interest as a practising lawyer. I served on the Select Committee which drew up the report. The cuts—I use the word "cuts"—in the number of people who will be eligible for legal aid were perhaps untimely. There are ways in which the matter could have been put off to enable people to examine the system. It occurred to me when the evidence was being taken, as it did to many members of the Committee, that one simple way of reducing the cost would be not to pay VAT on legal aid payments. The Government should not pay it out simply to get it back six weeks later. It is a waste of money. It causes bureaucracy. It costs money. It is waste.

There are various other matters. For example, the Lord Chancellor's Department did not appear to have taken into account the fact that the number of people charged in police stations during the last quarter of last year fell by some 12 per cent. Indeed, as the newspapers have reported, the number of reportable crimes has also fallen by 4 per cent. Therefore, there will be a reduction in the volume of cases going through the courts. Even now, court rooms are standing empty in major magistrates courts and legal aid certificates are not being granted because there are not the cases for them.

Criminal legal aid forms by far the largest proportion of the legal aid bill. As the number of cases is decreasing, the amount being paid out in legal aid in 1992–93 will also decrease.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the fairly typical metropolitan jurisdiction of Solihull, from where I come, there is already clear evidence that completions of caseload in January 1993 are up on January 1992? Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's comparison of last quarters could be deceptive. Incidentally, I attach no more importance to my statistic than I do to his; I measure it with the same caution as I would the last quarters.

Mr. Bermingham

It appears that Solihull is a criminal place. The evidence from north London, Merseyside and elsewhere throughout the country goes the other way—but time will tell. The point is that it is the sort of factor that has never been studied. Indeed, we have never studied in depth the way in which legal aid is administered and where spending occurs. We all have anecdotes; I could keep the House up all night with them, but I do not intend to do that. It would serve no purpose, because there is no hard evidence. That will come only from a detailed and efficient inquiry into these matters. Therefore, my first request to the Minister is that such an inquiry be put in hand urgently.

In my experience of criminal legal aid, I have never understood why it is necessary to wait until the last possible moment to find out whether somebody has pleaded guilty or not guilty in what is a standard case. There are enormous savings to be made in that and other areas. For example, in a magistrates court, it is often to the advantage of a defendant to plead early, if he intends to plead. Very often, a good duty solicitor can assess within the first few hours whether in a simple case—I am not talking about complicated cases—there is to be a plea. If there is, the matter should be dealt with on the spot.

Unfortunately, there has been a slight complication because of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which has led to some sentencing problems. That has increased the cost of legal aid. However, with good will on all sides we could rectify the mistakes in the Act. I do not think that there is a lawyer in the country who would say that the Act is anything other than flawed.

It is wrong that the overall effect of the proposals is to attack civil legal aid. Criminal legal aid will emerge largely unscathed—although there may be a little more difficulty in getting expert witnesses and so on—while the real cut will be in eligibility for civil legal aid. I made similar points in Committee, and they are in the report. Some 92 per cent. of personal injury cases succeed, with recovery running at about £2 million a week in lost benefits, with the likelihood that that figure will rise. That is money going back to the state.

The overall cost of accident claims last year was a paltry £11 million. That is nothing. However, the proposals will affect a number of people—I will not play the numbers game—who will no longer be able to go to a lawyer and get legal aid to bring an accident claim. Of course, if that person was either a passenger in a car or had been knocked down, he would still be covered: many lawyers do not even bother to apply for legal aid for such cases, because their costs following the event are assured.

I met a number of solicitors in St. Helens last Saturday and discussed the issues with them. They were worried that the cases that would be most affected would be those with claims of about £1,000 or £2,000. The people who will suffer under the eligibility cuts are the very people who want to bring such claims. They will be very much under attack.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

No doubt the hon. Gentleman is aware that there is speculation that the arbitration system in the small claims court may be extended upwards to cover the claims to which he has referred. Does he have any observations on that?

Mr. Bermingham

I have only one brief observation. A solicitor that I met in St. Helens on Saturday, who is not of my political persuasion, said that that would close his litigation department. He said that, once those claims were taken away from him, his litigation department could not survive, because it does not attract the big claims. We must remember that many solicitors in rural areas and small towns rely for their livelihoods—and they are not the world's richest—on such claims, where they win their costs. In the end, there is no real cost to the taxpayer.

My cri de coeur to the Minister is that two groups will suffer most from what is being proposed—first, battered wives and other victims of violence; secondly, children. Those are the two groups where the greatest damage will be done. I hope that, for once, the House will put politics aside and think of human beings and the victims of abuse, domestic violence, car accidents, work accidents and so on. Let us all stand back, albeit for a few months, while we thoroughly investigate these matters and find where the savings can be made—and both professional bodies acknowledge that there are savings to be made within the system. Let us deny these regulations today; they can always be brought back before us after the inquiry, if they are justified.

I have a sneaking feeling that, once we begin to nibble away at eligibility, it will be nibbled and gone for ever. I ask the House and the Minister to think of the 100,000 or 125,000 people who will suffer. That is an incredible number. How much human misery is there in that figure? For once, let us not be partisan. We should stand back, gather the evidence and then act with realism and decision. I happen to believe that we could increase the net for legal aid without it costing any more money. That would bring a little more civilisation to many more people.

5.27 pm
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

My speech folows those of two colleagues who, like me, are members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham).

Members of the Committee reached unanimous agreement on certain points. First, however we felt about the emotional aspects of legal aid, we were all appalled by the soaring cost. Legal aid has seen the biggest increase in the whole of the public sector during the past few years, and we cannot go on like that.

The most important discovery during our deliberations was the enormously fertile area in which we can look for ways to make savings. We have heard many suggestions about that. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton made a point about VAT, which was taken up by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South. We cannot quantify it, because we have not done sufficient work yet.

It might also be worth considering the difference between the remuneration of barristers and the remuneration of solicitors. The Committee was told that there was a great scope for savings in barristers' remuneration. For example, if one counsel were used instead of two in a big criminal case, important savings could be made.

The figures surprised us very much. We were told that, for instance, a barrister acting in a child law case would receive £300 an hour for reading papers, and £2,000 a day in refreshers. A while ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions told us that her average brief fee payment to a Queen's counsel for a trial lasting the average length of 2.6 days was £7,585. Those are bizarre sums—and, moreover, the fees are paid on legal aid.

Mr. Lawrence

They are not. Such sums simply are not paid on legal aid.

Dame Jill Knight

On page 11 of the report by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, we find the question: Are those fees paid on legal aid? The answer was: Yes". Perhaps the position should be clarified, but in any event —regardless of whether legal aid is involved—an enormous amount of money is being spent.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

Is not the crux of the matter the fact that we have no facts and figures apart from those in the Select Committee report? Moreover, it is clear that there is a dispute among members of the Committee about whether such fees are paid.

Dame Jill Knight

I agree. As the Chairman of the Committee has pointed out, we were not trying to decide where savings could be made; the points to which I have referred simply arose as we went along.

In what I assure hon. Members will be a short speech, I wish to deal with the Legal Aid Board from a rather different angle. Its activities concern me very much. If a Member of Parliament has reason to question the allocation of legal aid, he had better understand that the board will deal with his inquiry with all the courtesy, helpfulness and understanding of a thug with a leaded sock. In cases brought to me, legal aid has been granted to would-be litigants with ample resources: indeed, that point was raised in an intervention. One such litigant had four cars, and lived very well in an extremely pleasant and expensive house.

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

Everyone has four cars.

Dame Jill Knight

I assure my hon. Friend that I have only one. However, I am not applying for legal aid.

The parties against whom that constituent wished to act —this was not a criminal matter, but a neighbourhood dispute involving planning—were astounded to find themselves being taken to court. They lived next door to my constituent, and saw the style in which he lived: they saw unmistakable signs of affluence. Nevertheless, the grant was provided, enabling that man almost to ruin the people against whom he was acting. It was they, of course, who complained to me.

I felt that legal aid should not have been granted in that case. I wrote to the Lord Chancellor's Department, which —in the time-honoured manner of Government Departments—handed me on to another Department, or at least said that I had better write to the Legal Aid Board. I did so.

I believe that I had a perfect right to question the board about its decision. Public money was being used. I did not want to be given confidential facts about the case; I simply wanted to know that the full facts of the matter—which had been reported to me, and on which I had reported to the Legal Aid Board—had been properly considered. I felt that I had a right to a proper answer. I feel very strongly that all Members of Parliament have not merely a right but a duty to pursue what they consider to be genuine complaints.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

My hon. Friend is making a persuasive case, to which I have listened with interest. Is she aware that, in certain cases, it might be possible to refer such queries to the Parliamentary Commissioner, who would be only too pleased to pursue them in more detail and at greater length? My hon. Friend may agree with my view that the Commissioner's office is under-used by the House. In this regard, he could be the right arm of Members of Parliament.

Dame Jill Knight

I shall consider that helpful suggestion carefully.

It seems sensible to me for someone who queries what the Legal Aid Board is doing to go straight to the board itself. I did that: I wrote a courteous letter, giving the facts as I knew them. The answer I received was rude, dismissive and completely uninformative. It was a "Yes, Minister" version of: "Go to hell: we do what we want, and no one is allowed to question us." That will not do. Surely Members of Parliament form the only body that can question the Legal Aid Board; I know of no other organisation that can say to the board, "Are you sure you are absolutely right?" It appears, however, that no one has the right to expect a courteous and informative answer from the board.

Let me ask my hon. Friend a direct question: will he please examine this matter? It concerns not only me, but other hon. Members who have raised similar cases with the Legal Aid Board and have tried to persuade it to behave in a civilised and helpful manner.

5.36 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I do not often agree with the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), although we have a long history of debating matters such as this. It goes back to the days when we sat our Bar exams together. However, I sympathised with a good deal of his speech, especially his positive suggestions for getting to the root of the problem of the rising cost of legal aid. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) wishes to intervene, he will take up a little of my time; if he does not, perhaps he will kindly refrain from gesticulating in a manner which suggests that he does.

The proposals that we are discussing will be extremely damaging to the rights of ordinary people. I shall not engage in an argument about the precise number who will be hit; even the Government have acknowledged that more than 120,000 people in England and Wales will drop out of legal aid altogether. The Law Society of England and Wales properly drew attention to the much larger penumbra who will have to make contributions. No one has attempted to deny that the society was probably right in saying that as many as 12 million families could be affected by the Government's proposals.

Mr. Butler

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

Madam Speaker has asked for short speeches. As I do not intend to speak for long, I should prefer not to give way. Mine will be the only Liberal contribution to this brief three-hour debate.

The Law Society of Scotland has also produced some figures, which no one has seriously contested, about the damage that the proposals will do. I find the lumping together of debates on the English and Scottish arrangements unacceptable; the two subjects are entirely distinct and require distinct solutions. There must be a proper review of the Scottish criminal justice system, not just the administration of legal aid in Scotland.

One significant difference between the Scottish and English and Welsh systems is that, although rising, the average cost of a case in Scottish courts is a little over half that in English and Welsh courts. It is perverse of the Scottish Office to beat the people of Scotland with the same stick as is being used in England and, on the coat tails of the Lord Chancellor, to impose cuts which are not necessary even judged purely in terms of public expenditure costs in Scotland. Indeed, the Government have predicted a long-term decline in the demand for legal aid in Scotland due to demographic changes.

Perhaps the most serious aspect of the debate is not the hardship that these measures will create, appalling though it may be—hon. Members have said that family law cases are most likely to involve serious hardship—but that the measures will not even address the problem that they are apparently designed to address. On 3 February, in evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, of which I have the honour to belong, the Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department told us that these measures will not reduce expenditure on legal aid but will merely restrain it—and only slightly at that. In other words, we are being asked to swallow something that will not tackle the problem that the Lord Chancellor's Department has identified. We have not had from the Lord Chancellor's Department, and certainly not from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, any evidence about how it is proposed effectively to tackle the problem of the spiralling costs of legal aid. We were told that the measures will not be terribly damaging to the interests of those whose eligibility has been reduced—the Department focused on that point—but the debate should address the question of how to get at the root problem.

The rights that these measures are interfering with are of no use unless they can be exercised, and liberties are of no value unless they can be protected. The purpose of the law is to ensure that our rights and liberties are protected. If a person cannot pursue his legal rights in court or defend himself against attack, those rights and liberties do not exist and, in a real sense, the Government's proposals contribute to the creation of a lawless society.

There is no doubt that the rising cost of legal aid is a challenge to everyone who cares about access to justice and that, unchecked, there would have to be a substantial further injection of cash to provide an adequate service from the existing system, but I draw the House's attention to comments that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Taylor, made in another place in an earlier debate on the subject. He said: Experience shows that so far from saving overall costs by denying legal aid, costs may be incurred which legal aid may have avoided. There are many cases in which a litigant in person ploughs on when legal advice would have persuaded him that he had no case. He is likely to take more of the court's time partly because he may have difficulty in presenting his case intelligently and partly because the court needs to be more indulgent to him… The Master of the Rolls tells me that already about 20 per cent. of the sitting time in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) is taken up by litigants in person."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 February 1993; Vol. 542, c. 282–3.] In short, if economies are to be made which do not result in the denial of justice, there is little choice but to look seriously at the system of courts, advice and assistance. In so far as there is a royal commission sitting on the criminal justice system, it might be argued that no serious amendments of the kind being considered today should have been introduced before the report of the royal commission, which no doubt will have relevant comments to make on procedure and evidence.

I therefore—in no sense comprehensively—conclude my remarks by offering a few suggestions which are worthy of consideration as to how we might seek better to address the problem of how to spend the money that we have, rather than simply cutting to save money. First, the Government should consider the possibility of taking a firm step on the road towards a more comprehensive system of alternative dispute resolution than is currently offered. Demand on the courts could be reduced by diverting cases to tribunals and hearings, whose decisions could be made binding. Secondly, we should extend the requirement for compulsory insurance into areas where it is appropriate to do so, which could reduce the need of many to go to court, as it has in employment, personal injury and traffic accident cases.

Thirdly, we should consider extending the role of the ombudsman, encouraging trade associations to set up their own ombudsman for each industry as an alternative and cheaper means of satisfactorily resolving disputes outside the courtroom. Fourthly, we should consider introducing wider use of plea bargaining. A guilty plea would result in a lower sentence, less time in court and lower cost. Justice must still be done and innocents must be protected from pressures to plead guilty. The Seabrook model provides a starting point for such a system, but not a perfect one. Fifthly, we should consider wider use of judges' summonses for directions in criminal cases. This allows the judge to manage the progress of the trial by calling for documents at specific times, thus facilitating a speedier, and therefore cheaper, procedure.

We must also recognise the extent to which weak cases constitute an expensive and unnecessary burden on the courts. The Bar Council has recommended that the merits test of the Legal Aid Act 1988 should be tightened to provide a workable and sufficiently realistic equivalent to the pressures and choices imposed on private litigants.

We must find a more efficient and comprehensive means of providing advice and representation. I note, with approval, the proposal of the chairman of the Bar Council that every barrister might be asked to undertake at least one free case each year—pro bono publico. That is the kind of gesture which could make quite a significant impact on costs. The Lord Chancellor has signalled his desire to introduce franchising and fixed fees, against many objections by the legal profession that neither of the proposals would have beneficial effects. If the Government press ahead with their proposals, I foresee that they will simply deprive large parts of the country of the benefits of legal advice from solicitors, who will close down their operations. That is entirely the wrong track to take.

Mr. David Nicholson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I said that I would not give way, but as I have particular regard for the hon. Gentleman I will give way briefly.

Mr. Nicholson

I am most grateful. As a fellow member of the Public Accounts Committee, and also as a member of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee, I am following the hon. Gentleman's proposals with great interest and considerable approval. They are alternative ways of resolving a genuine problem. I have not yet heard him mention what role the Child Support Agency may have in moving into administrative procedures matters, which are currently resolved in the courts at great length and often unsatisfactorily.

Mr. Maclennan

That is one of the proposals to which the Government should give serious and constructive consideration.

I was about to mention the provision of advice through law centres. The funding and proper provision of law centres can be enormously helpful in creating an efficient, effective and accessible source of help, which can substantially reduce the costs of legal aid. However, local authorities across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to fund them, and 10 have closed in the past few years.

There could be tremendous savings if such organisations were properly funded. I acknowledge that it is difficult to give a precise estimate of their economic value, but their important scope and worth has long been recognised. As long ago as 1979, the royal commission on legal services concluded that their impact had been out of all proportion to their size". I draw to the Minister's attention the fact that a large amount of work is pre-empted—for example, in the case of groups of tenants of housing estates. In such instances, their work can prevent expenditure.

I cite an example from, I believe, the constituency of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). The Brent law centre represented 2,350 council tenants as a single group against the local authority. Had the cases been dealt with by a private practice, each of the 2,350 litigants would have had to be represented individually. In the future, law centres could offer still further scope for innovative and efficient means of delivering local services. For example, they are in an ideal position to provide a duty solicitor scheme in county courts for cases where representation is crucial, paid on a sessional basis.

We must examine the administration of the courts themselves. Delays in courts and the problems created by non-attendance are expensive. In 1991, the National Audit Office survey, which was conducted before the sitting of the Public Accounts Committee, found that 66 per cent. of clients had experienced delays in the handling of their case but the true causes of such delays are apparently unknown to the Lord Chancellor's Department. The technology that the Department says may help it to monitor such problems will not be in place until later this year, despite the fact that the Public Accounts Committee recommended that it should be set up as long ago as 1986. It is clear from the National Audit Office survey that many court administrative practices are inefficient and inappropriate to the volume and complexity of today's cases.

I have suggested a substantial package of reforms which is illustrative rather than exhaustive. It is clear that we cannot continue year after year to try to shore up our crumbling system of legal aid by further cuts in eligibility. It is entirely misleading for the Government to suggest that the only people who will be adversely affected by what the Government are doing are those who are dropping out of legal aid. It is the people on low incomes, just above the income support level, who will be most adversely affected.

I believe that the measures should be withdrawn. They should not be implemented on 12 April as intended, and no measures should be brought before the House to cut eligibility for legal aid unless and until the Government are able to diagnose why legal aid costs are spiralling in some parts of the system and what steps they can and will take to reduce the unacceptable increases in costs. Such proposals must be more pertinent than those before us. The reform of our faulty system is necessary and urgent.

5.54 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Thank you for calling me at this time, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall also endeavour to be as brief as I can. I had planned to make a three-hour or four-hour speech until your earlier admonition. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has, as ever, made a thoughtful contribution to our proceedings, and I am sure that he will have been listened to with great care.

Before coming to the guts of my speech, may I attempt to clear up an apparent confusion in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight)? She mentioned some enormous figures for the daily rates for counsel f9r reading papers and so on. Page 11 of the minutes of evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs contains an exchange between the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and Mr. Birts QC, one of the barristers who gave evidence. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South said: It has been put to us, for example, that a barrister in a child law case would receive £300 per hour for reading papers and £2,000 a day as refreshers. The Director of Public Prosecutions said to us a while ago that her average payment brief fee to a QC for an average 2.6 day trial was £7,585. I have to put it to you that these are bizarre sums of money to those of us who are not lawyers. Mr. Birts said: Are those fees paid on legal aid? One can imagine the inflection in his voice as he asked that question. The hon. Gentleman said, "Yes." Mr. Birts continued: I think it is important to know that and to know whether they have been through the taxation process or the assessment process. Are they taxation figures or not? It is likely that that question was based on a false premise or that there was a misunderstanding about the evidence that the DPP had given to the Committee on another matter.

What is more telling is that a little later, in paragraph 67 on page 12, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South wanted to know what was the average payment in a criminal case per hour, first of all, and then what is the average refresher? Mr. Calvert-Smith, a junior from the Bar, answered: The base figure is £29 an hour. That is the base figure upon which 86 per cent. of all criminal cases are paid because they are standard fee cases. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South replied: You amaze me, I must say. Mr. Calvert-Smith said: I am sorry, it is true. The hon. Gentleman then asked: You are telling us—let us be clear—that the average barrister charges £29 an hour? Mr. Calvert-Smith replied: We do not charge the legal aid system in 86 per cent. of cases. We are sent a brief which says "Standard fee" on it. We know exactly to the last pound and shilling what we are going to get paid, and we know that that has been based on the figure of £29 an hour prep."— preparation—

as average in all standard cases, so that is the base figure. That is what the Lord Chancellor thinks that he is paying as an average fee to 86 per cent. of criminal practitioners. I hope that that has cleared up some of the confusion which arose unwittingly in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston.

I start with one or two givens, which I am sure will be accepted by all hon. Members. The legal aid system was one of the great legal reforms of the century. Its introduction into our system of legal affairs just after the second world war was a benchmark. It was the intention of the Rushcliffe report, after which the system was established, that no one should be financially unable to prosecute a just and reasonable claim or defend a legal right. That principle has been reasserted throughout the decades since 1949 and was endorsed in other words by the Lord Chancellor. He told the Home Affairs Select Committee: The legal aid scheme exists to ensure that ordinary people can have the protection of the law. It is the legal aid scheme which gives many people access to the law, and underpins justice and the freedom of the individual.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman quote what the Lord Chancellor told the Home Affairs Select Committee of which I, too, am a member. How does he reconcile that with what the Lord Chancellor said in 1990: What we need to debate in the 1990s is the need to secure better access for those whose means exclude them from the legal aid scheme but are not sufficient to pursue cases through the courts"? Do not the Lord Chancellor's present proposals run totally contrary to that, and to what the hon. Gentleman has just quoted?

Mr. Garnier

I am sure that the hon. Lady will have a chance to make a contribution in due course, and I believe that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has already dealt with that question. There will always be a cut-off point; some people will always be on the wrong side of the boundary, and a humane society must seek to mitigate the effects of that as far as possible.

We must bear in mind the fact that it is estimated that, by the financial year 1995, we shall be talking about a legal aid budget of £1.5 billion in cash terms. That is a lot of money, even in the language of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). A substantial proportion of the gross cost of some aspects of the legal aid budget is recovered—especially in cases such as personal injury. However, it has to be faced, whether we like it or not, that net costs have risen at well above the rate of inflation.

Perhaps I should make the declaration that I too am a member of the Bar, although, as I have probably done no more than four legal aid cases in 15 or 16 years at the Bar —I specialise entirely in defamation work, which is one of the exceptions to the legal aid provisions—I may be able to talk with some disinterest—

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Being privately funded.

Mr. Garnier

Labour Members may think that I am one of the fat cats of the privately funded Bar, but I too was open-mouthed and most impressed by the figures presented by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South in his questioning of Mr. Birts. No one in my chambers would look askance at those fees.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

May I vouch for the moderation of my hon. Friend's fees?

Mr. Nicholls

They are all lawyers on that Committee.

Dame Jill Knight

No, they are not.

Mr. Garnier

They are not. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South are not lawyers; nor is my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). All three of them have played a great part in our deliberations and have been most helpful to all of us.

Little research has been done into why the costs are rising at such a rate. Some limited research has been carried out by the Legal Aid Board, and the National Audit Office has reported on its behalf. The report shows a substantial rise in the numbers of letters written and telephone calls made per case, and so forth, but no single explanation is given.

Nor were the legal professions able to give us an in-depth analysis of the reasons for the growth in costs. Witnesses recognised a number of factors that might have been causes of the massive and increasing rise in costs. In civil cases, there are the effects of the Children Act and the growth of judicial review. Witnesses also identified an increased awareness of litigation and of legal rights, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), our Chairman, has already mentioned.

Other witnesses mentioned administrative failures in the legal system, including listing inefficiencies and adjournments in the magistrates courts. My experience in the Queen's Bench division of the High Court and in the civil jury list is that efficiencies have been manifest, and libel actions and civil jury actions set down come on for trial within 29 days after setting down, rather than the two-year wait on which we often used to rely some time ago.

Sir Michael Davies, the judge in charge of the jury list, and his successor in that office, Mr. Justice Drake, have done tremendous work to increase efficiencies. The need for efficiencies has been recognised and the efforts are bearing fruit, especially in the division in which I practise. With proper training of listing officers and the proper use of computers, and good will both from the administration and from practitioners, there is no reason why further improvements could not be made in other courts, especially the criminal courts.

For reasons of time, I shall not detail all the factors that witnesses identified to the Committee as being responsible for the immense rate of increase in the cost of legal aid. Suffice it to say that that cost has effectively doubled as a proportion of Government expenditure. No Government, regardless of the economic circumstances that we are presently in but are shortly to come out of, could allow increased expenditure at that rate without some check upon it.

The Committee unanimously agreed that a full and detailed analysis of the reasons for the rise in demand for legal aid, and for the increase in costs per case, must be undertaken. I differ from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), who said that the inquiry should take place before today's regulations came into effect. In my suggestion—I almost said "in my submission"—the regulations which, assuming a fair wind this evening, will come into force on 11 April, will act as a catalyst and encourage debate about that aspect of Government expenditure.

The Lord Chancellor told us in his evidence: if current rates of growth were allowed to continue, expenditure on legal aid would be likely to be close to £2 billion by 1995–96". That would represent an exact doubling of the proportion of public expenditure devoted to legal aid in 1987–88.

Now I shall mention some of our suggestions about how savings could be increased. We concluded in our report: The savings forecast will be made under the legal aid head of the Lord Chancellor's budget. It is a notorious problem of public expenditure planning that savings in one area may result in costs in another, without any mechanism for properly judging those costs and taking them into account in the equation. Clearly the Lord Chancellor had views on the matter, as did those who gave evidence to the Committee and supplied evidence in written form.

In my private conversations with members of the judiciary, especially members of the Court of Appeal, the question of the added costs to the system of administering justice brought about by an increase in the number of unprepared or incompetent—I use that term strictly litigants in person clogging up the system, especially in the Court of Appeal, is frequently raised. For example, the Registrar of the Court of Appeal now has five legal civil servants working for him, employed more or less full time in trying to untangle the propositions advanced by litigants in person who wish to apply to that court. I suggest that there are better uses of those civil servants' time than seeking to read the green ink—hon. Members on both sides of the House will no doubt recognise the green ink syndrome. It seems an utter waste of the intellect and time of Court of Appeal judges and of the registrar's civil servants that they should have to wade through all that before being able to reach a judicial conclusion. But identifying that problem does not mean that we can sit back and say, "More money, more money", irrespective of whether that money is being wisely spent.

Others suggested that people would bring cases at first instance which lacked merit, by virtue of their not having been given legal aid. Under order 18, rule 19, of the rules of the Supreme Court—I am sure that an equivalent procedure is available in the county courts—there is a method by which cases can be struck out summarily if they want merit. I do not see why litigants in person should be treated differently from represented litigants. If their cases lack merit, they should be snuffed out at birth.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

They are.

Mr. Garnier

I am told that they are. All the better for that.

Mr. Anderson

When I said that they are, I mean that it is my understanding that judges lean over backwards, understandably, to help the litigant in person. That will clearly be a further cog in the machine and another matter on the side of the equation to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Garnier

I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I should like to move on.

We must consider how we are to save money in the longer term as well as identifying the need to save money and deal with the problem as it is currently presented to us. The first area in which we in the Committee believe that savings can be made is in the administration of the present legal aid system. The matter was the subject of a recent report from the National Audit Office and has been the subject of hearings of the Public Accounts Committee, which will, I believe, shortly produce a report by which we will no doubt be informed. But that should not prevent us at this stage from doing our best and taking steps to check the unmitigated flow of money into the legal aid system without its being properly accounted for.

It is not just the mechanics of the present system that may need scrutiny. Others have talked about the need to look at the planning and overall strategy of the legal aid system since its inception in 1949. The furore that the Lord Chancellor's proposals have engendered may act as a catalyst to allow a more fundamental and strategic look at the purposes of legal aid and at the best means of delivering service to the consumer.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton has outlined a number of the alternatives that might be available—alternative legal disputes settlements and so forth. I would just caution the House about being too easily seduced by short-cut judicial remedies, because hasty court work is often not conducive to bringing justice into the world. There are a lot of criticisms to be made of the "no win, no fee" system. It simply does not apply sensibly to cases where injunctive relief or other equitable relief is being sought, and that is very often the case in legal aid matrimonial cases.

We all accept the need to find value for money, but I would suggest that we start that now rather than allowing the debate to rumble on without a proper date being put on it.

In his evidence to us, the Lord Chancellor has made it quite clear that he has an open mind—

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Garnier

I am conscious of the time, and I really must push on.

Mr. Llwyd


Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that, if the Member who has the Floor does not give way, he must resume his seat.

While I am on my feet, may I remind the hon. Member that there are no bonus points for Members who make long speeches when the Chair has requested short ones?

Mr. Garnier

That was exactly the admonition I had in mind in not giving way. I do not wish to be unkind, but I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

All interested parties are now in a frame of mind where they are prepared to meet and, I would suggest, discuss constructively how best to achieve the common aim of us all, ensuring the best delivery of justice to the public. This set of regulations is just the beginning of assisting to that end. I commend the regulations to the House as but the beginning of the process.

6.13 pm
Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

If there is anything that I am famous for, it is the brevity of my speeches. I am not sure about the quality.

First of all, on behalf of Scotland and England and Wales, I protest at the fact that we have squeezed these two debates into one, in a time which is totally insufficient to begin to discuss the seriousness of these affairs. Only two weeks ago, we managed to get two separate debates on the late opening of betting shops in England and Wales and in Scotland, and, important as that subject may be, it pales into insignificance beside the importance of what is happening here. It is a disgrace, and it also confuses the issue. The Minister constantly moved back and forth between England and Wales and Scotland, yet it is impossible, because the two systems are not comparable. Because of that, there will be a lot more confusion of those who are listening to the debate elsewhere.

Before I am accused of being some sort of ethnic cleanser, I want to point out that I do not distance myself from the business of England and Wales and Ireland in this matter, because the justice which ought to prevail for everyone is equal in all those areas of the United Kingdom. I am an internationalist, not a nationalist, particularly where justice is concerned.

I notice with great interest that the Select Committee on Home Affairs spent a great deal of time discussing the reasons for the increase. That was understandable, although the Committee did not have the extended time that it would have needed to go into all the ramifications of trying to put that right. But my recollection, if it is correct, is that there was very little discussion of the recession as a contributory factor. This was in contrast to the 1991 annual report of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, which observed: it seems likely that the recession has been a significant contributory factor in the growth in demand for civil legal aid and an exceptionally high and unexpected rise in the volume of accounts received by the board. At that time, it was indicating, at least to the Government, that, as regards Scotland, an increase was on its way. The Government had plenty of time to look at the reasons for the increase because they were given the warning then.

However, as far as I can gather, the most significant cause of the increase in the cost of legal aid in England and Wales identified by the Lord Chancellor—the rise in the average cost per case—appears not to be a factor in Scotland. In fact, the average cost per case in Scotland was £815. I realise that it is unfair to compare the two costs because of different systems; nevertheless, in England and Wales it was £2,008 per case. Therefore, the Chancellor, having noticed the spiralling costs in England, had a knee-jerk reaction, Treasury-led, which fed through to Scotland. As was said earlier, we were hanging on the coat-tails of the action that had to be taken immediately here in England because of the spiralling costs.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

On that point of the cost, my hon. Friend will have heard the Minister say that the cost of civil legal aid had almost doubled in the past five years. Does he recall that, at last week's meeting of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, Mr. Brian Adair, president of the Law Society of Scotland, refuted that saying there had been no increase in real terms, and that it was only over the past year. He described the increase as a blip, and said that it was due to a number of factors, including the fact that solicitors are submitting their accounts faster because of the recession.

Is it not a fact that there is no demand for this review of legal aid in Scotland, and that we are just being tagged on the back of the English and Welsh review, for reasons which suit the Government but do not suit the people or the legal profession in Scotland?

Mr. McKelvey

That is indeed the case, but if there is—as there ought to be—an immediate investigation of legal aid costs in England and Wales, I would not object to a subsequent investigation into the costs of legal aid in Scotland, because, if there is any waste of money by virtue of the system, such money could be put to a proper use by making legal aid available to a larger number of people rather than a smaller number, as will happen under these regulations.

I cannot give evidence, because there has not been an investigation to provide it, but from a gut reaction and from my own personl experience as a constituency Member of the people who come to me seeking advice, I feel that there is no question but that the recession, with greater unemployment, has led to more domestic separations and violence, and more problems caused by the lack of jobs or money. It must have had an effect on people who seek legal aid, and it is those very people that we are going to bar.

I do not want to get involved in the numbers game, but if there is one person, one family, one group, who will be denied legal aid and yet who deserve it in all justice, there is something wrong with this process that we are going through today. Several groups of people have written to us—Family Law, the citizens' advice bureaux, Glasgow Women's Aid, the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties, the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the Law Society—and a common thread runs through their letters. They have made out a case not for themselves but for those who, they say, will suffer because of this legislation, and they are not just the poorest and neediest but include even those on moderate incomes. Are the Government seeking to turn this legislation into an extension of the benefits system? I suspect that they are. I object to that, and I support the objections from various groups.

Family law cases account for the majority of expenditure in civil legal aid cases and for half the expenditure in advice and assistance. It follows that any reduction in eligibility would have a major impact on that area of law. The majority of initiators of family proceedings are women. The nature of the eligibility criteria for civil legal aid are such that only the woman's income is assessed, and the husband's is discounted. As women are traditionally responsible for child care, they are often in part-time employment to fit in with their child care obligations. Women are also traditionally at the lower end of the earnings scale. Any reduction in eligibility for civil aid will disproportionately affect women across a broad spectrum. I am not saying that there are not men in that position; of course there are. However, proportionately it is women who will bear the brunt of the cuts.

Glasgow Women's Aid says: Abuse of women takes place in every sector of society; both rich and poor men are abusive, and regardless of the financial situation within the family few women have control over the financial resources. That is not a guess, but a fact. Women in Scotland will bear the brunt of the suggested cuts.

Although the Government announced on 17 February revisions to their proposals to change the legal aid system in Scotland, there remains concern that individuals' access to justice is under serious threat. The Scottish Council for Civil Liberties says of the legal aid system: This is an important right which has been recognised by many international treaties and courts and cannot be discarded lightly. If the Government are modern, democratic and caring —they say that they pursue policies of charters for people: charters for patients, charters for pupils and charters for pupils' parents—they cannot turn their back on the basis on which the interests of people are looked after—the question of human rights.

The universal declaration of human rights, which has been adopted by 48 states of the United Nations General Assembly, says in article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law". The people of Scotland, of England, of Northern Ireland and of Wales are entitled to that equality, and are entitled not to be discriminated against. They should not be concerned, as they are at the moment, about what will happen to them after today's debate.

The Scottish Association for Mental Health has outlined two important areas which we should consider: civil legal aid and mental health hearings. If the proposed changes to civil legal aid take place, people with disabilities might have to face large bills for legal fees if they were involved in court proceedings. Among the proceedings covered by the rules would be a hearing to determine whether a person should be detained in hospital under section 18 of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984.

Among the people who might be affected by the changes are those on invalidity benefit. A person who was unable to work because of mental health problems could be entitled to invalidity benefit if he or she had paid the appropriate contributions. The benefits range from £54.15 for older people to £65.70 for a disabled person who is under 40. A person in the first category would have to pay £200 towards the cost of a mental health hearing, whereas the younger person's contribution would be £300.85. To pay such a sum out of such an income would be unthinkable for a normal person. It is intolerable that we should consider imposing such a burden on a person suffering the stress and strain of mental disability.

The effects of the cuts on people with disabilities are similar. They receive extra income only because the benefits system recognises the extra living costs that are associated with disability. If we take the approach that we should penalise that group of people, how on earth can we be considered humane, modern, democratic or caring? It is because those concerns are shared by the disability movement in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland that we are grateful that the submissions of disability organisations should be circulated in the House today. Declarations made by hon. Members about those groups of people will be recorded and read, and should be acted on by the Government.

I have no overall solution to the problem of the growing cost of legal aid. The matter has never been investigated properly. However, I have one direct suggestion for the Minister. He should withdraw the motions and have a proper inquiry into the whole question not only of legal aid, both civil and criminal, but of the judicial system and its costs. I do not know why it is so much more costly to defend cases in England than in Scotland. The comparisons are worth making. If the Minister cannot do that, my advice to his hon. Friends, who I believe are genuinely concerned about the issue and about the groups of people who will be affected, is at least to abstain tonight, if they cannot join us in the Lobby to defeat the Government.

6.26 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I listened with considerable interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). It was an especially thoughtful speech and I congratulate him on it. I was interested in his passing reference to the ombudsman and I believe that he was right to make that reference. I believe, as I am sure other hon. Members agree, that the ombudsman has a part to play in this area. I find it significant that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson), who is sitting in his usual place in the Chamber, played a prominent part this morning in the activities of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, which discussed the ombudsman. Mr. William Reed could do much to assist the House on matters relating not only to the health service, but to a wide range of other issues, such as the Legal Aid Board.

In considering the future of legal aid, it is necessary first to look at the nation's economic position. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear in his Budget statement that we face a deficit of £35 billion this year, which will rise to £50 billion next year. We all know that the reason is a major recession and we all know that recessions squeeze Government revenues both ways. They reduce the amount coming in and they increase the amount spent on benefits. Given that position, it is necessary to take a long, hard look at the cost of legal aid.

The House will be aware that the cost of legal aid has risen dramatically. In 1988–89, the cost was £475 million. Four years later, it is well over £1 billion—a rise of about 130 per cent. Revised estimates for this year already show a substantial increase on that enormous figure. Like all other hon. Members, I understand the importance of legal aid. Without it, justice would be denied to a substantial number of those who are worse off, but action is necessary to curtail the rising cost. Legal aid should not, therefore, be regarded as some form of income support designed exclusively for the convenience of the legal profession.

Mr. Llwyd

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pawsey

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has sat through the entire debate.

Mr. Llwyd

On the question of necessary action, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the courts could be run more efficiently? When I was in private practice as a solicitor, I appeared in court daily in a rural part of my constituency. I found that there were often five or six other solicitors waiting for their cases to come up. They frequently waited for half a day, which cost the country hundreds of pounds. Should not this matter be taken up immediately at the highest level? Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the practice, in civil listing centres, of listing three active trials per day on the basis of the often wrong premise that two will settle is also stupid, ridiculous and costly and ought to be looked at?

Mr. Pawsey

Again, the hon. Gentleman makes valid points, which I have no doubt will be referred to in my hon. Friend's winding up speech. Clearly, it would have been very helpful to listen to a major contribution from the hon. Gentleman, had time allowed.

It is argued that as solicitors are human there may sometimes be a level of abuse, with adjournments requested and granted by the courts even when they are not strictly necessary. Cases are sometimes disposed of with a slowness which may owe more to legal aid than to legal complexity. I readily accept that the fault is not all on one side. Were the clerk of a court to consider lists more carefully, it might prove possible to avoid having solicitors waiting in court while unrepresented cases are heard.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

And barristers.

Mr. Pawsey

I take my hon. Friend's point.

It should always be remembered that the legal aid clock is ticking at the charge while the solicitor or the barrister is in court. Even if it is not his case, it is a matter of "They also charge who only sit and wait."

The Lord Chancellor itemised four principal factors affecting legal aid. Due to shortage of time, I shall not go through them, but I commend them to the House. These are admirable regulations which should be implemented as soon as possible.

6.32 pm
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

As a practising barrister, I should first declare an interest.

We shall oppose these regulations in the Lobby because they represent a betrayal of the bipartisan approach to legal aid which has lasted in this House since 1949, when the Lord Chancellor's Department was able to announce, to universal acclamation, proposals as a result of which no one would be financially unable to prosecute a just and reasonable claim or to defend a legal right. In 1979, during a debate on the outgoing Labour Government's proposals to improve legal aid, it was clear from remarks of the then shadow Solicitor-General—soon to be Solicitor-General Sir Ian Percival—that the incoming Conservative Government would be committed to a legal aid system such as had been described by Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney-General in 1949, as a charter for the little man to the British courts. The Legal Aid Act 1979, under which these regulations are made, is a real charter—not a phoney charter such as has been introduced by the present Government. It is a charter providing that all people, regardless of their means, should have access to the courts. It is not the sort of access that we have heard described—access to the Ritz for someone unable to buy a meal within those sacred portals. The Act provides a right to legal assistance and advice, to ensure that no one is financially unable to prosecute a just and reasonable claim or to defend a legal right.

That cross-party consensus is betrayed in these regulations and by the Lord Chancellor, and Conservative Members who vote for the regulations ought to be ashamed of themselves. The right of all people, even the most deprived and regardless of means, to access to the courts ought not to be a matter of party political controversy. Legal advice and assistance for those who need it ought to be a right. In the course of the debate to which I have referred, Ian Percival drew an analogy. He said that this right ought to be comparable to people's right to health care. The then Mr. Percival, the Conservative shadow Solicitor-General of the day and Solicitor-General-to-be, said: Just as it was unthinkable that an accident victim's injuries should be untreated through inability to pay his doctor, so he should not be prevented through lack of funds from pursuing his just remedies at law."—[Official Report, 30 March 1979; Vol. 965, c. 841.] Mr. Percival was right then, and we are right in our opposition to these regulations.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Hon. Members will have seen early-day motion 1726, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), myself and other hon. Members, concerning benzodiazepine cases. Across the country, there are about 18,000 such people in great hardship. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should take a fresh look at such cases and at the way in which multi-party actions are handled? Does he agree that, in any review, the House should look very carefully at the possibility in such cases of the introduction of no-fault liability? That might assist—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. The time available for the debate is limited, and this is a very long intervention.

Mr. Boateng

There is certainly scope for taking up the issues raised by that important early-day motion. It is possible, not least in the area of multi-party actions, to make some savings in terms of legal aid and to provide better protection from those affected by oppressive action.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

The hon. Gentleman made a point about limited funds. The funds for the national health service are not unlimited. Does the Labour party believe that funds for legal aid should be unlimited? If not, what limit would it set?

Mr. Boateng

In this House it is customary, when someone has given way, to show a little more grace than the hon. Gentleman has shown. However, I shall respond in kind. We believe that it is as wrong for health to be rationed in the way that the Conservative Government have rationed it as it is for access to justice to be rationed, as they propose to do under these regulations.

It is important that we put the interests of the consumer above all other considerations. Of course we should take note of the question of remuneration and of costs. It is important that we seek ways of achieving efficiency in these areas, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) indicated, but it is important also to look at how the interests of the consumer are affected by these regulations.

Like many other hon. Members on both sides, I expect, I have received letters from numerous solicitors—not only legal practitioners, but social work practitioners and others involved in this area—as well as from people in receipt of legal aid. Perhaps the most striking of those contributions came from a firm of solicitors called Daniel and Harris, which practises in north-west London. On behalf of solicitors who represent not the fat cats of the Queen's Bench division and their Fleet street employers —important though that area of law undoubtedly is and as erudite as the contribution from the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) was—but the poorest and most disadvantaged, that firm stated: The majority of our clients do not choose to go to law. Battered women do not have a choice about taking injunction proceedings to protect themselves and their children. Local authority tenants do not have a choice about defending possession proceedings, often for rent arrears that have arisen because of the council's failure to pay itself housing benefit. The homeless do not have a choice about challenging the council's decision to refuse to house them. The social and human costs of the Lord Chancellor's proposals are enormous. The proposals are mean, short-sighted and unjust. The people concerned in the field share that view without exception.

Although the proposals are unsatisfactory, it is no wonder that they fail to meet the interests of justice when we consider how they came into being. The proposals do not stem from research carried out by the Lord Chancellor's Department into cost-effectiveness and efficiency. Opposition Members, and, I hope, hon. Members in all parts of the House, want that research to be carried out. As my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) have said, we want a thorough and comprehensive review of the cost-effectiveness or otherwise of the legal aid system. To go beyond that, we would like a broad view taken of the whole of our criminal and civil justice system to see how it can be made more consumer friendly and how it can deliver the goods more effectively to people seeking justice.

The proposals do not emanate from that compulsion. They emanate from the Treasury. The origin of the regulations lies in the Treasury and in the desire to save money at the expense of justice. That is no basis on which to proceed, and we shall oppose the regulations for that reason.

The impact of the regulations on a particular section of the community which has not been mentioned very much in the debate causes particular concern and is illustrative of a wider problem in respect of the Legal Advice and Assistance (Amendment) Regulations 1993, which deals specifically with the green form and advice by way of representation. The people about whom I am concerned here are those who require the assistance of the legal advice and aid scheme when dealing with issues of mental health and care in the community. As a result of those regulations, many of those people will slip through the net. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) reminded the House of the Lord Chancellor's stated concerns in that area and his reference to the importance of a safety net to ensure that people do not just slip through the system as a result of the regulations. We are entitled to ask where that safety net is. What proposals are being introduced today to show that consideration has been given to that area?

I will give a brief example of the impact of the regulations in respect of mental health. Section 47 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 will give carers and users of services legal rights to assessment from 1 April. From that date, too, however —it is ironic that it should happen on the same day—many of those people will be unable to afford the advice of a solicitor to enforce those rights. What is the point of giving rights with one hand while taking away the means of enforcing those rights with the other? That is unfair and it is not right. The House should reflect that in the Lobby tonight.

The problems do not end there. Let us consider the impact of the regulations on a person of modest means —I make no apology for joining my colleagues in emphasising that particular aspect of the regulations—and particularly the way in which they affect women. Time and again, women are disadvantaged. I have an example of that from Sunderland, Tyne and Wear. I will describe the lady in question as Ann T. She used to work as a part-time cleaner, but she is unable to work as she was badly injured by a motorist. Her husband earns £126 a week. She is currently entitled to legal advice under the green form, with a contribution of £12, so that she can be advised in respect of a possible claim against the Motor Insurance Bureau. Under the proposals, she will not be entitled to any subsidised or free legal advice or assistance. We have heard nothing from Conservative Members to show that people like Ann T. will be given any consideration in the regulations.

We shall oppose the regulations. They are a denial of justice. We intend to fight them tooth and nail now, and we shall continue to do so.

6.46 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor)

In the 14 minutes left to me, I will endeavour to reply to the many points that have been made in the debate. I hope that the House will bear with me and not think me graceless if, in those circumstances, I take no interventions.

May I first of all congratulate the Home Affairs Select Committee and its learned Chairman, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), on their report. I thank my hon. and learned Friend and tell him that I have taken note of his remarks on conditional fees, private legal insurance, ADR—alternative dispute resolution—and small claims procedures.

May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) on his thoughtful speech, which brought the proceedings of the Home Affairs Select Committee to life here in the Chamber. However, I would not wish to raise his hopes on rapid progress on those matters of co-operation with the professions which have been on the agenda of the efficiency commission since 1986. Together with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), I acknowledge the very remarkable talents of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn).

Mrs. Roche

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way and for his congratulations to the Home Affairs Select Committee. Given those congratulations, may I remind him of the Committee's recommendation that the Government commit itself to restoring cuts in eligibility in real terms when compensatory savings are found, and that it set a long term goal of ensuring that citizens have access to advice and assistance either free or at a price they can afford"? Will the Minister give that assurance?

Mr. Taylor

The cost penalty of allowing that intervention is probably a matter of regret. However, I promise the hon. Lady that I will very carefully consider that. In fact, having read the Select Committee report once, I will re-read it. I cannot say fairer than that.

I was addressing my remarks to the very unusual talents of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross. He said that expenditure on civil legal aid in Scotland has dropped. I am afraid that I must tell him that there has been a large surge in civil legal aid expenditure in Scotland over the past year—almost £24 million now compared with £16.5 million in 1991–92.

Several hon. Members spoke about improving the efficiency of court procedures. There is a Standing Committee operating in Scotland to that end and there is the royal commission in England and Wales. I am sure that all who follow these events look forward with interest to their results.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) looked for further instruments of control. I invite him to share our thinking in anticipation of standard fees, franchising and fixed hourly rates in non-matrimonial cases, alongside his proper hopes for alternative dispute resolution.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Birmingham) and others spoke of the vulnerabilities in certain circumstances of women. It is important to remember that for civil legal aid for women facing domestic violence, it is likely, where a husband or wife have contrary interests—where their means are separately assessed—that, women in those circumstances will be among the least affected by the changes and will be ready candidates for an emergency legal aid certificate.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) that I shall be more than glad to look at the difficulties to which she referred with the Legal Aid Board and I shall be happy if she will pursue those matters with me and my Department.

I must tell the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey)—[Interruption.] I am sorry if I pronounced his constituency incorrectly; I shall content myself with referring to it simply as Kilmarnock. He detected the increase in Scottish expenditure as a blip. As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary explained, the caseload, measured by grants of legal aid, which will fuel future expenditure, has continued and is continuing to increase inexorably in Scotland.

In 1979, the cost of legal aid was less than £100 million. In the year which ends today, it will be £1.1 billion. Over the past four years alone, legal aid expenditure has risen by 130 per cent. That cannot be allowed to continue. If it were to continue, expenditure would be nearly £2 billion by the mid-1990s.

The measures which are contained in the instruments that are before the House will help to contain the large and rapid growth in expenditure. But in doing so, they will safeguard access to justice to the greatest extent possible and will target the available money to where it is most needed.

It is important to remember that there is no question of legal aid being cut. Expenditure will rise by 10 per cent., 10 per cent. and 10 per cent. over the next three years to £1.528 billion in 1995–96. Over the same period, we expect the number of "acts of assistance"—that is, grants of legal aid or advice and assistance—to rise from 3.4 million in the current year to over 4 million. That is an increase approaching 25 per cent. In 1979–80, there were fewer than 1 million acts of assistance. The legal aid scheme is not being destroyed. It is continuing to grow.

It would be wrong to deny—and we have not sought to hide—that, as a result of the changes, fewer people will take advantage of legal aid than otherwise would have been the case. But the figures that I have given put into context the suggestions that the changes will affect as many as 14 million people. Clearly, it is nonsense to suggest that 14 million people will drop out of a scheme that helps just over 3 million people.

Let us explore that by looking in turn at civil legal aid, criminal legal aid and advice and assistance. In calculating disposable income—we talk about disposable income and that is important—for legal aid purposes, allowances are made for tax and national insurance, dependants, community charge, which in future will be council tax, housing costs, being rent or mortgage, water and sewerage charges and upkeep and insurance, work-related expenses, being fares, subscriptions to trade unions or professional associations, and the cost of child minding. In addition, assessing officers have discretion to allow other expenses, of which repayments of loan for home improvements and school fees are examples. That is a pretty hefty list of items to be discounted in determining disposable income.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Taylor

I am sure that I shall regret it, but I give way to my hon. Friend.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Put like that, my hon. Friend deserves to regret it. In fact, he probably will not, because I am simply asking him to confirm what the Lord Chancellor said and what has always been said—that disability allowances are also allowable.

Mr. Taylor

I think that is right—[interruption.] I read the litany once. I am not sure that the House wants me to read it all over again.

The amending regulations provide that from 12 April, attendance allowance, disability living allowance, constant attendance allowance paid as an increase to a disablement pension and any payment out of the social fund will be disregarded in the calculation of disposable income for advice and assistance. Those are additional disregards which bring advice and assistance into line with legal aid. That additional help recognises in particular the needs of those with disabilities.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that explanation.

Mr. Taylor

I hope that I have been able to retrieve my apparent lack of grace and I thank my hon. Friend for asking an extremely helpful question.

It has been argued that the changes are unnecessary. It has been suggested that because there has been in recent months a fall in the caseload of magistrates courts and a fall in the volume of criminal legal aid orders, the necessary savings will be found without any changes. But the Lord Chancellor is committed to expenditure targets not only for 1993–94 but for the further two years of the public expenditure survey. We cannot change plans on the basis of what may prove to be merely a blip in the trend of criminal business.

It has also been suggested that civil legal aid and personal injury litigation in particular are self-financing. That is not the case. Civil legal aid as a whole carries a net cost to the legal aid fund and, although the recovery of costs is relatively high in personal injury cases, so too does that category of case.

The Lord Chancellor and I appreciate the sincerity of the arguments which have been put to us, not least by the professions. However, the fact which must be faced is that the Lord Chancellor must take steps now to ensure that the expenditure totals to which he is committed until 1995–96 will be achieved. Ifs and buts and maybes will not do. We need to be certain that expenditure will be brought under control. The changes in the regulations will provide the required certainty.

But in attempting to achieve that control, we have done all that we can to preserve access to legal services. The scope of the legal aid scheme is unchanged: legal aid and advice and assistance will continue to cover the range of legal problems which it now covers. Almost half all households will be eligible for civil legal aid. That is not a bad poor man's lawyer. More than a fifth will be eligible for free legal aid and the same number will be eligible for advice and assistance. Criminal legal aid will be largely unaffected. Over the next three years, expenditure will grow by over 30 per cent. and the volume of legal aid business will grow by 25 per cent. We shall, of course, keep all that under review.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn


Mr. Taylor

I will not give way to my hon. and learned Friend at this stage. To do so would be even more hazardous. I am sorry that he did not hear my earlier remarks and those of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary about the great talent that he has and how seldom we find that he is mistaken in his contributions to our debates, although he managed it today.

Working within the priorities set for public expenditure, we have had to set our priorities for legal aid. We have planned for significant growth and we have targeted the available money to where it is most needed. We still have a legal aid system of which we can be proud. It is arguably the best in the world and arguably the most expensive, too. But, as the Lord Chancellor said, every pound that is spent on legal aid is a pound that cannot be spent on housing, education, transport or the health service. This is a debate about priorities and we have taken a responsible position on the priorities.

I shall end with a quotation from Lord Williams of Mostyn, who said, since the autumn statement: Ours is probably the most generous system of legal aid in the world. He is a former chairman of the Bar Council and he speaks for Labour in the other place. I agree with him and I commend his words to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 304, Noes 259.

Division No. 226] [7 pm
Adley, Robert Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Aitken, Jonathan Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Alexander, Richard Cormack, Patrick
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Couchman, James
Amess, David Cran, James
Ancram, Michael Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Arbuthnot, James Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Ashby, David Day, Stephen
Aspinwall, Jack Deva, Nirj Joseph
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Devlin, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Stephen
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Dover, Den
Baldry, Tony Duncan, Alan
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Duncan-Smith, Iain
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dunn, Bob
Bates, Michael Durant, Sir Anthony
Bellingham, Henry Dykes, Hugh
Bendall, Vivian Eggar, Tim
Beresford, Sir Paul Elletson, Harold
Biffen, Rt Hon John Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Blackburn, Dr John G. Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Body, Sir Richard Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Booth, Hartley Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Boswell, Tim Evennett, David
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Faber, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Fabricant, Michael
Bowden, Andrew Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bowis, John Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Fishburn, Dudley
Brandreth, Gyles Forman, Nigel
Brazier, Julian Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bright, Graham Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Freeman, Roger
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) French, Douglas
Budgen, Nicholas Fry, Peter
Burns, Simon Gale, Roger
Burt, Alistair Gallie, Phil
Butcher, John Gardiner, Sir George
Butler, Peter Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Butterfill, John Garnier, Edward
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Gill, Christopher
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carrington, Matthew Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Carttiss, Michael Gorst, John
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Churchill, Mr Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Grylls, Sir Michael
Coe, Sebastian Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Colvin, Michael Hague, William
Congdon, David Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Conway, Derek Hampson, Dr Keith
Hanley, Jeremy Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hannam, Sir John Moss, Malcolm
Hargreaves, Andrew Needham, Richard
Harris, David Nelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Hawkins, Nick Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawksley, Warren Nicholls, Patrick
Hayes, Jerry Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Heald, Oliver Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Norris, Steve
Hendry, Charles Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Ottaway, Richard
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Page, Richard
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Paice, James
Horam, John Patnick, Irvine
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Patten, Rt Hon John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pawsey, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Pickles, Eric
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hunter, Andrew Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Powell, William (Corby)
Jack, Michael Rathbone, Tim
Jenkin, Bernard Redwood, John
Jessel, Toby Richards, Rod
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Riddick, Graham
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Robathan, Andrew
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Key, Robert Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
King, Rt Hon Tom Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kirkhope, Timothy Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knapman, Roger Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sackville, Tom
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knighl, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shaw, David (Dover)
Knox, David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shersby, Michael
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Legg, Barry Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Leigh, Edward Soames, Nicholas
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Spencer, Sir Derek
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lidington, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lightbown, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spring, Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sproat, Iain
Lord, Michael Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Luff, Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Steen, Anthony
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stephen, Michael
MacKay, Andrew Stern, Michael
Maclean, David Stewart, Allan
McLoughlin, Patrick Streeter, Gary
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sumberg, David
Madel, David Sweeney, Walter
Maitland, Lady Olga Sykes, John
Malone, Gerald Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Marland, Paul Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Marlow, Tony Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Thomason, Roy
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mates, Michael Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Thurnham, Peter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Townend, John (Bridlington)
Merchant, Piers Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Miiligan, Stephen Tracey, Richard
Mills, Iain Tredinnick, David
Mitchell, Sir David (Wants NW) Trend, Michael
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Trotter, Neville
Monro, Sir Hector Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Viggers, Peter Wilkinson, John
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Willetts, David
Walden, George Wilshire, David
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Waller, Gary Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Ward, John Wolfson, Mark
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Wood, Timothy
Waterson, Nigel Yeo, Tim
Watts, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wells, Bowen
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John Tellers for the Ayes:
Whittingdale, John Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Widdecombe, Ann Mr. Andrew Mitchell.
Abbott, Ms Diane Dalyell, Tam
Ainger, Nick Darling, Alistair
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davidson, Ian
Alton, David Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Armstrong, Hilary Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Dewar, Donald
Ashton, Joe Dixon, Don
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dobson, Frank
Barnes, Harry Donohoe, Brian H.
Barron, Kevin Dowd, Jim
Battle, John Dunnachie, Jimmy
Bayley, Hugh Dun woody, Mrs Gwyneth
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Eagle, Ms Angela
Bell, Stuart Eastham, Ken
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Enright, Derek
Bennett, Andrew F. Etherington, Bill
Benton, Joe Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bermingham, Gerald Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Berry, Dr. Roger Fatchett, Derek
Betts, Clive Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Blunkett, David Fisher, Mark
Boateng, Paul Flynn, Paul
Boyce, Jimmy Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Boyes, Roland Foster, Don (Bath)
Bradley, Keith Foulkes, George
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fraser, John
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Fyfe, Maria
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Gapes, Mike
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Garrett, John
Burden, Richard George, Bruce
Byers, Stephen Gerrard, Neil
Callaghan, Jim Godman, Dr Norman A.
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Golding, Mrs Llin
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gordon, Mildred
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Gould, Bryan
Canavan, Dennis Graham, Thomas
Cann, Jamie Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chisholm, Malcolm Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clapham, Michael Grocott, Bruce
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Gunnell. John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hain, Peter
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hall, Mike
Clelland, David Hanson, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hardy, Peter
Coffey, Ann Harman, Ms Harriet
Cohen, Harry Harvey, Nick
Connarty, Michael Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Henderson, Doug
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Heppell, John
Corbett, Robin Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hlnchliffe, David
Corston, Ms Jean Hoey, Kate
Cousins, Jim Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Cox, Tom Home Robertson, John
Cryer, Bob Hood, Jimmy
Cummings, John Hoon, Geoffrey
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Hoyle, Doug
Dafis, Cynog Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hutton, John Parry, Robert
Ingram, Adam Pickthall, Colin
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Pike, Peter L.
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Pope, Greg
Jamieson, David Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Janner, Greville Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Prescott, John
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Primarolo, Dawn
Keen, Alan Purchase, Ken
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Quin, Ms Joyce
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Radice, Giles
Khabra, Piara S. Randall, Stuart
Kilfoyle, Peter Raynsford, Nick
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Reid, Dr John
Kirkwood, Archy Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Leighton, Ron Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Lewis, Terry Rooker, Jeff
Litherland, Robert Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Livingstone, Ken Rowlands, Ted
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Ruddock, Joan
Llwyd, Elfyn Salmond, Alex
Loyden, Eddie Sedgemore, Brian
Lynne, Ms Liz Sheerman, Barry
McAllion, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McAvoy, Thomas Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McCartney, Ian Short, Clare
Macdonald, Calum Simpson, Alan
McFall, John Skinner, Dennis
McKelvey, William Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Mackinlay, Andrew Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
McLeish, Henry Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Maclennan, Robert Snape, Peter
McMaster, Gordon Soley, Clive
McNamara, Kevin Spearing, Nigel
McWilliam, John Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Madden, Max Steinberg, Gerry
Mahon, Alice Stevenson, George
Mandelson, Peter Stott, Roger
Marek, Dr John Strang, Dr. Gavin
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Martlew, Eric Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Maxton, John Tipping, Paddy
Meacher, Michael Turner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Tyler, Paul
Michael, Alun Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Warded, Gareth (Gower)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Wareing, Robert N
Miller, Andrew Watson, Mike
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Welsh, Andrew
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wicks, Malcolm
Morley, Elliot Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Wilson, Brian
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Winnick, David
Mowlam, Marjorie Worthington, Tony
Mudie, George Wray, Jimmy
Mullin, Chris Wright, Dr Tony
Murphy, Paul Young, David (Bolton SE)
O'Brien, Michael (N Wkshlre)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Tellers for the Noes:
O'Hara, Edward Mr. Jon Owen Jones and
Olner, William Mr. Eric Illsley.

Question accordingly agreed to. Resolved,

That the draft Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions and Contributions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 18th March, be approved.

It being after Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Questions on the remaining motions in the name of Mr. Secretary Lang, pursuant to order [26 March].


That the draft Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 18th March, be approved.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]


That the draft Advice and Assistance (Scotland) (Prospective Cost) Amendment Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 11th March, be approved.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]


That the draft Advice and Assistance (Assistance by Way of Representation) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 11 th March, be approved. —[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]


That the draft Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 1993, which were laid before this House on 11th March, be approved.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

Mr. Deputy Speak

then put the Question on a motion in the name of Mr. John Smith.

Motion made, and Question put:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Legal Advice and Assistance (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 790), dated 17th March 1993, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th March, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes 252, Noes 301.

Division No. 227] [7.16 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Ainger, Nick Coffey, Ann
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cohen, Harry
Allen, Graham Connarty, Michael
Alton, David Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Corbett, Robin
Armstrong, Hilary Corbyn, Jeremy
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Corston, Ms Jean
Ashton, Joe Cousins, Jim
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cox, Tom
Barnes, Harry Cryer, Bob
Barron, Kevin Cummings, John
Battle, John Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bayley, Hugh Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Dafis, Cynog
Bell, Stuart Dal yell, Tam
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Darling, Alistair
Bennett, Andrew F. Davidson, Ian
Benton, Joe Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Bermingham, Gerald Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Berry, Dr. Roger Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Betts, Clive Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Blunkett, David Denham, John
Boateng, Paul Dewar, Donald
Boyce, Jimmy Dixon, Don
Boyes, Roland Dobson, Frank
Bradley, Keith Dowd, Jim
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Eagle, Ms Angela
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Eastham, Ken
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Enright, Derek
Burden, Richard Etherington, Bill
Byers, Stephen Evans, John (St Helens N)
Callaghan, Jim Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fatchett, Derek
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Flynn, Paul
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Canavan, Dennis Foster, Don (Bath)
Cann, Jamie Foulkes, George
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Fraser, John
Chisholm, Malcolm Fyfe, Maria
Clapham, Michael Gapes, Mike
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Garrett, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) George, Bruce
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Gerrard, Neil
Clelland, David Godman, Dr Norman A.
Godsiff, Roger Miller, Andrew
Golding, Mrs Llin Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Gordon, Mildred Moonie, Dr Lewis
Gould, Bryan Morley, Elliot
Graham, Thomas Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mowlam, Marjorie
Grocott, Bruce Mudie, George
Gunnell, John Mullin, Chris
Hain, Peter Murphy, Paul
Hall. Mike O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hanson, David O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hardy, Peter O'Hara, Edward
Harman, Ms Harriet Olner, William
Harvey, Nick O'Neill, Martin
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Henderson, Doug Parry, Robert
Heppell, John Pickthall, Colin
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Pike, Peter L.
Hinchliffe, David Pope, Greg
Hoey, Kate Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Home Robertson, John Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hood, Jimmy Primarolo, Dawn
Hoon, Geoffrey Purchase, Ken
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Quin, Ms Joyce
Hoyle, Doug Radice, Giles
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Randall, Stuart
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Raynsford, Nick
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Reid, Dr John
Hutton, John Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Ingram, Adam Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Rooker, Jeff
Janner, Greville Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Rowlands, Ted
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Ruddock, Joan
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Salmond, Alex
Keen, Alan Sheerman, Barry
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Short, Clare
Khabra, Piara S. Simpson, Alan
Kilfoyle, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kirkwood, Archy Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Leighton, Ron Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Litherland, Robert Soley, Clive
Livingstone, Ken Spearing, Nigel
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Llwyd, Elfyn Steinberg, Gerry
Loyden, Eddie Stevenson, George
Lynne, Ms Liz Stott, Roger
McAllion, John Strang, Dr. Gavin
McAvoy, Thomas Straw, Jack
McCartney, Ian Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Macdonald, Calum Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McFall, John Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McKelvey, William Tipping, Paddy
Mackinlay, Andrew Turner, Dennis
McLeish, Henry Tyler, Paul
Maclennan, Robert Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
McMaster, Gordon Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McNamara, Kevin Wareing, Robert N
McWilliam, John Watson, Mike
Madden, Max Welsh, Andrew
Mahon, Alice Wicks, Malcolm
Mandelson, Peter Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Marek, Dr John Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Wilson, Brian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Winnick, David
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Worthington, Tony
Martlew, Eric Wray, Jimmy
Maxton, John Wright, Dr Tony
Meacher, Michael Young, David (Bolton SE)
Meale, Alan
Michael, Alun Tellers for the Ayes:
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Mr. Jon Owen Jones and
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Mr. Eric Illsley.
Adley, Robert Eggar, Tim
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Elletson, Harold
Aitken, Jonathan Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Alexander, Richard Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Amess, David Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Ancram, Michael Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Arbuthnot, James Evennett, David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Faber, David
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Fabricant, Michael
Ashby, David Fenner, Dame Peggy
Aspinwall, Jack Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Fishburn, Dudley
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Forman, Nigel
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Baldry, Tony Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Freeman, Roger
Bates, Michael French, Douglas
Bellingham, Henry Gale, Roger
Bendall, Vivian Gallie, Phil
Beresford, Sir Paul Gardiner, Sir George
Biffen, Rt Hon John Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Blackburn, Dr John G. Garnier, Edward
Body, Sir Richard Gill, Christopher
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Booth, Hartley Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Boswell, Tim Gorst, John
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bowden, Andrew Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bowis, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Grylls, Sir Michael
Brandreth, Gyles Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Brazier, Julian Hague, William
Bright, Graham Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hampson, Dr Keith
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hanley, Jeremy
Budgen, Nicholas Hannam, Sir John
Burns, Simon Hargreaves, Andrew
Burt, Alistair Harris, David
Butler, Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Butterfill, John Hawkins, Nick
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hawksley, Warren
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hayes, Jerry
Carrington, Matthew Heald, Oliver
Carttiss, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hendry, Charles
Churchill, Mr Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coe, Sebastian Horam, John
Colvin, Michael Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Congdon, David Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Conway, Derek Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Cormack, Patrick Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Couchman, James Hunter, Andrew
Cran, James Jack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Jenkin, Bernard
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Jessel, Toby
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Day, Stephen Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Devlin, Tim Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James King, Rt Hon Tom
Dover, Den Kirkhope, Timothy
Duncan, Alan Knapman, Roger
Duncan-Smith, Iain Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dunn, Bob Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Durant, Sir Anthony Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Dykes, Hugh Knox, David
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Sackville, Tom
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Legg, Barry Shaw, David (Dover)
Leigh, Edward Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lidington, David Shersby, Michael
Lightbown, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lord, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Luff, Peter Spencer, Sir Derek
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, Andrew Spink, Dr Robert
Maclean, David Spring, Richard
McLoughlin, Patrick Sproat, Iain
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Madel, David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maitland, Lady Olga Steen, Anthony
Malone, Gerald Stephen, Michael
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Stewart, Allan
Marlow, Tony Streeter, Gary
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sumberg, David
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Sweeney, Walter
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sykes, John
Mates, Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Merchant, Piers Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Milligan, Stephen Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mills, Iain Thomason, Roy
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Moate, Sir Roger Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Monro, Sir Hector Thurnham, Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moss, Malcolm Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Needham, Richard Tracey, Richard
Nelson, Anthony Tredinnick, David
Neubert, Sir Michael Trend, Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Trotter, Neville
Nicholls, Patrick Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Viggers, Peter
Norris, Steve Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Walden, George
Oppenheim, Phillip Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Ottaway, Richard Waller, Gary
Page, Richard Ward, John
Paice, James Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, Irvine Waterson, Nigel
Patten, Rt Hon John Watts, John
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wells, Bowen
Pawsey, James Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Whittingdale, John
Pickles, Eric Widdecombe, Ann
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Porter, David (Waveney) Willetts, David
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Wilshire, David
Powell, William (Corby) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Rathbone, Tim Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Redwood, John Wolfson, Mark
Richards, Rod Wood, Timothy
Riddick, Graham Yeo, Tim
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Young, Sir George (Acton)
Robathan, Andrew
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Tellers for the Noes:
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Mr. Andrew Mitchell.
Ross, William (E Londonderry)

Question accordingly negatived.