HC Deb 23 March 1999 vol 328 cc158-60
34. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

What estimate he has made of legal aid expenditure in 1998–99; and what the figures were for (a) 10 and (b) 20 years earlier. [76339]

The Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

Legal aid expenditure in 1998–99 is expected to be about £1.6 billion; in 1988–89, it was £474 million; and in 1978–79, £83 million. Those figures show that the cost of legal aid over the past 20 years has increased by more than 490 per cent. above the rate of inflation.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Does the Minister agree that this is a classic case of introducing a benefit or grant for which demand will escalate? During his review of legal aid, will he appreciate that everything that he has said today and previously points to the single, simple objective of controlling the amount of legal aid? Will he address the fact that he is cutting whole sections of qualification for legal aid that arise from genuine need?. Finally, in case there is any misunderstanding, let me declare that I am not a lawyer.

Mr. Hoon

I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman talk in that way when it was the Government whom he supported for many years who slashed eligibility. The present Government are delivering reform of the legal aid system by ensuring that those who need assistance will get it—and will get the best quality assistance at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner.

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