HC Deb 10 December 1957 vol 579 cc1043-4
1. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware that the Legal Aid (Assessment of Resources) Regulations involve considerable hardship; and if he will now amend the scales of contribution to bring them into line with other National Assistance Board scales and with the increased cost of living since 1950.

2. Mr. Collins

asked the Attorney-General if, in view of the fact that depreciation in the purchasing power of the £ has led to an increase in average weekly earnings of all industrial workers from £7 2s. 8d. in 1949, when the Legal Aid and Advice Act was passed, to approximately £12, he will raise the maximum limit of disposable income above the present level of £420 so that the advantages of the Act may still be available to the people it was designed to assist.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

No, Sir. The Advisory Committee stated in its last Report that the financial conditions of legal aid did not in general prevent litigants getting the assistance they should. The Committee is now considering the Law Society's Seventh Annual Report and its comments should be awaited.

I do not of course accept the statement that it is the depreciation of the purchasing power of the £ that has led to the increase in average weekly earnings of all industrial workers, nor do I accept the premise that receipt of increased remuneration necessitates an increase in the scope of legal aid.

Mr. Fletcher

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree, as I am sure he must, that the operation of the legal aid scheme in its present form causes considerable hardship and that there are a great number of cases in which deserving and desirous litigants are prevented from getting justice owing to the operation of the present scale?

The Attorney-General

As I have said, I think the hon. Member should await the Report of the Committee.

Mr. Collins

Is the Attorney-General aware that an ever-increasing percentage of applications is disallowed on financial grounds and that the purpose of the Act, which was to give the average worker a chance to obtain justice in the courts has been frustrated by increasing wages, whatever may be the reason he gives for that? Is he aware that thousands now find it useless? Is it not in the interests of justice and of carrying out the purposes of the Act that this income limit should be raised?

The Attorney-General

I cannot accept the hon. Member's statement as to the position.

4. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Attorney-General if he will now take steps to bring into operation the provisions of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, with regard to providing a system of legal advice.

The Attorney-General

My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has requested the Law Society to revise its plans and estimates for providing legal advice. When they are received, my noble Friend will consider how best to employ any further funds which may become available.

Mr. Fletcher

May we take it from that reply that the Government are sympathetic to the idea of now bringing into operation the provision of a system of legal advice? Does the Attorney-General's Answer mean that the Government now realise that we shall never get the full benefits of this Act until the legal advice system is brought into operation?

The Attorney-General

There has been no change of view by the Government in relation to this matter.