HC Deb 01 April 1996 vol 275 cc15-6
31. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what new proposals he has to reduce (a) bureaucracy and (b) waste in his Department. [21923]

Mr. Jonathan Evans

A wide range of measures to improve efficiency has been introduced, including the implementation of the Department's senior management review and the introduction, over the next year, of a new management structure for the Court Service.

Mr. Flynn

As £750,000 of public money has already been spent on the defence of the three soldiers who were found guilty of the foul and cowardly murder of Louise Jensen, does the Minister not think that it would be a waste of legal aid funds if a similar sum were paid out for an appeal against their conviction? How would he explain the expenditure of our money to defend those three soldiers when constituents of mine on average or below average income have been refused legal aid?

Mr. Evans

It is not the policy of the Lord Chancellor's Department to respond to particular questions in relation to certain cases where legal aid has been granted; that matter is in the hands of the respective legal aid authorities. The Government are very much aware of the necessity to ensure that the substantial sums of public money that are expended on legal aid are better targeted. That is why we are engaged in undertaking consultation on targeting need in terms of legal aid and why, in due course, the Government will announce their response to that consultation.

Mr. Stephen

Is the Minister aware that if a Member of Parliament tries to find out whether and, if so, how, a decision by the Legal Aid Board to grant legal aid can be justified, he will be told that the facts of the case are confidential? If he then asks the ombudsman to inquire, the ombudsman will tell him that he cannot inquire unless he is asked to do so by a party to the case. I understand that even if our noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor were to ask, he would be told that the matter was confidential. Will my hon. Friend consider ways in which the Legal Aid Board can be made more accountable to Parliament and place a note of his conclusions in the Library?

Mr. Evans

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is important that the Legal Aid Board should be accountable, but that it is also important that its decisions to grant legal aid in specific cases should not be influenced in any way by governmental or individual political decisions. That is why, as I said earlier, the policy of the Lord Chancellor's Department not to respond on individual cases is right. My hon. Friend is quite right, however, that the Legal Aid Board must be seen to be accountable for its actions.