§ 28. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
For what reasons legal aid debts are being exempted from legislation on the late payment of debts. 
§ The Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)
The money that is paid by the Legal Aid Board to lawyers is currently outside the scope of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 because the amount of legal aid payments is decided by Parliament through regulations. Claims for payment have to be taxed by a court or assessed by the board before they can be paid. Therefore, there is no direct contractual relationship on which the late payment legislation could operate.
§ Mr. Chope
That answer just will not wash. The Law Society has made representations to the Government saying that they are guilty of sleight of hand in relation to this. If Law Society payments were to be exempted, they could have been exempted in the main legislation. Masses of small firms of solicitors throughout the country were waiting for the Lord Chancellor's Department to pay debts outstanding for more than six months. They were looking forward to the legislation. At the last minute, they have been excluded from the rights under it. If a debt is incurred for the Lord Chancellor's wallpaper, that will carry interest, but a debt for a core legal service that is provided to the Lord Chancellor's Department does not.
§ Mr. Hoon
The hon. Gentleman has this wrong. Provision of legal aid does not currently come within the 675 legislation simply because there is no direct contractual relationship. There will be a direct contractual relationship if the Government carry through, with Parliament's approval, plans for reforming legal aid to establish contracts. In those circumstances, there will be a contract against which late-payment legislation can bite.