§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
I beg to move,That this House calls upon Her Majesty"s Government to implement the recommendation contained in the Seventh Annual Report of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Aid to enable free legal aid to be given where the disposable income of the applicant is over £156 but not in excess of £208 and to exclude from legal aid those persons whose disposable income is over £600 instead of £420.The Motion calls upon the Government, in effect, to increase the limit below which free legal aid is granted from the present limit of £156 to £208 and also to increase the upper limit within which it can be granted from the present limit of £420 to a new limit of £600.
The House will know that under the terms of the present Legal Aid Act, 1949, the upper limit is £420 of what is called disposable income. If one is above that limit, one is outside the range of those qualified to have legal aid and, equally, if one has more than £500 of what is called disposable income one may be refused aid on that ground. That is the upper limit.
Section 3 of the Act provides that the contribution which one may be called upon to pay, that is to say, the maximum contribution, can be a sum equivalent to 960 one-half the amount by which one's actual disposable income exceeds the sum of £156 and the effect of that is that if one's disposable income is under £156 one can get legal aid free of any contribution, provided, of course, that the local legal aid committee certifies that one has a reasonable case and thinks it proper to give a certificate. If one's disposable income is over £156 but below £420, one may be called upon to pay a contribution of the amount that I have indicated, namely, one-half the amount by which one's income exceeds £156 and if it is above the limit of £420 one is disqualified altogether.
I referred to the maximum contribution. Of course, the maximum contribution is not necessarily the actual contribution which one will be called upon to pay. It is important to bear in mind that the average contributions work out at a very considerable sum. In paragraph 36 of the Report, there is to be found what is the average contribution that applicants for legal aid are actually called upon to pay, and that figure, in the case of a High Court action, is an average of £49 18s., and, in the case of a county court action, £40 17s.
One would not have a clear idea as to how the scheme works unless one has some idea of what is meant by the phrase, "disposable income". It does not mean the actual total income. It means the total income after certain disregards and deductions are made which are authorised by the terms of Section 4 of the Act. Those deductions are of various kinds— Income Tax, maintenance of dependants, rates, rent, and so on. The actual sums which are allowed were set out in certain statutory regulations made in 1950 by the Lord Chancellor under the terms of the Act and it may be helpful to consider for a moment what figures are provided under those regulations.
First, if one wants to reduce someone's real income to his disposable income one takes away the amount of Income Tax which he has to pay. Then, under the regulations, there is deducted a certain amount of the rent which he has to pay for his house and one only deducts the amount which he has to pay beyond 15s. Taking an average family which, I shall assume, pays 30s. a week for rent, to get at the disposable income of the breadwinner of the family one would, in that 961 case, disregard the first 15s. of the 30s. which the family pays.
For a married couple, up to £1 is allowed as a kind of notional allowance for keeping the other spouse. A man gets £I allowed if he has a wife living with him. Then there are allowances for dependent children, assessed on the rates applicable for National Assistance, and various other permissible allowances. If we try to see how that would normally work out in the case of a family, possibly this would not be a wholly untypical case.
I start at the upper end of the limit—the £420 limit. Suppose we get someone whose disposable income is at the top of the £420 limit, what do we have to add on to that to find out what is his actual income? Suppose that he has to pay 30s. a week for rent and that he is a married man with children, he will have some Income Tax to pay. His gross income can be computed in this way. We take his disposable income at £420, add the disregard for his rent, 15s. a week or £39 a year, and add £1 a week or £52 a year for his allowance for keeping his wife, a total of £511 a year.
If he has children he will have an allowance on National Assistance scales in respect of his children and, on top of that, there is his Income Tax. Therefore, we may take, very roughly, the kind of top gross income which would bring the applicant within the scope of the Act as about £600 a year.
In terms of modern money values, the submission which I make to the House—and I do no more than re-echo the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee in its seventh Report—is that these figures, judged by modern day values, are wholly unrealistic. I want to look at the present scale of values compared with the scale which the Rushcliffe Committee had in mind when it originally recommended these upper and lower limits.
Before doing so, I think that it is right to remind the House that a great many of these claims brought under the Legal Aid schemes are, for example, those for personal injuries in road accidents, and so on, and that the applicant, in the assumed circumstances in which he makes application for legal aid, is a 962 person who has been injured, maybe suffering great pain and a great deal of residual disability. He may have been out of work for many months and he may have had to draw considerably on savings which he may have put by.
Moreover, one has always to bear in mind that if someone contemplates bringing a lawsuit, for example, in the case of a road accident in which he has been involved, he often goes to his lawyer and says, "Can you assure me that I shall certainly win so that if I incur the expenses of litigation I shall certainly be recouped?" There are very few legal advisers who could say that the chances are 100 per cent. Very often the most optimistic advice that can be given to him is that he has a reasonably good case and that he will probably win it, if the witnesses come up to scratch and so on.
So the man who has suffered serious injury, who may have had to draw upon his savings and who has probably been out of work for many months, suffering pain and disability, and who is told by his legal adviser in an optimistic case that he will probably win, has to make up his mind whether he will apply for a legal aid certificate and make the contribution which he will be called upon to pay.
That is the position at the upper end of the scale. At the other end of the scale the person concerned must have a disposable income of under £156 to avoid being called upon to make a contribution. The best way of getting at a realistic appraisal of the situation of those at the lower end of the scale is to look at one of the examples cited by the Committee in the Report which I am asking the Government to implement today.
On page 40 four cases are set out. Case A gives a good idea of the situation in which those at the lower end of the scale may well find themselves. It is that of a retirement pensioner and his wife paying a rent of 16s. 4d. a week and making an application in respect of personal injuries arising out of a street accident. The gross income is assessed at £247, the disposable income at £183. In consequence, the maximum contribution they can be called upon to pay is no less than £13 10s. As the average cost of a High Court action is in the region 963 of £50, they will no doubt be called upon to pay the full £13 10s.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) has kindly put in my hand the particulars of a case in his constituency. It is of a person who received a serious personal injury, who has been out of work for many months, is in receipt of National Assistance, who can only just make ends meet with the greatest difficulty, and who has been assessed to pay a maximum contribution of £10 10s. It is true that he has only been called upon to pay by instalments of 17s. 6d. a month, but in such a situation, if we look at it through the eyes of a person who has been seriously injured and is living on National Assistance, having been out of work for many months, it is utterly unrealistic to suppose that he, being advised, I suppose, that he has a good case—although no case can ever be described as a certainty—will feel encouraged when asked to contribute 10 guineas.
Those cases can be multiplied almost indefinitely and all hon. Members will be able to point to cases of that kind in their constituencies which must have arisen over and over again. For persons whose incomes are at the lower end of the scale, the prospect of having to pay a contribution of that kind means the difference between litigating and not litigating, getting their rights and losing their rights. The figures incorporated in the Legal Aid Act, 1949, were based on the recommendation of the Rushcliffe Committee. That Committee reported in May, 1945, it is now 1959, and I have made a comparison between retail prices in 1945 and September, 1958.
Supposing we take retail prices in 1945 as being 100, the present day figure is 184. If we take average weekly wage rates at 100 in May, 1945, the present comparative rate is about 201. It follows, I submit, that is is completely unrealistic to apply those 1945 figures to present-day circumstances. The result is that large numbers of persons are left out of the scheme who it was intended should be within it.
It is in those circumstances that the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee recommended in its Report, which was put before the House on 13th March last year—nearly a year ago—that among 964 other changes which should be made, the lower and upper income limits should be changed in the sense I am urging upon the Government. The Committee recommended, for the reasons I have given, that the present existing limits do not correspond to reality and should be changed upwards in both cases in the figures I have put before the House.
If one asks what is the cost which is likely to fall upon public funds by these changes, the answer is that it is very small indeed. If hon. Members will look at paragraph 18 of the Report they will find that the total annual cost of four recommendations—and I am only urging upon the Government two of those four—would be a gross sum of £350,000. That figure, however, must be revised to arrive at a net sum, because of the fact that it is reduced by the amounts which are awarded to successful litigants under the legal aid scheme by way of costs, those costs going back into the Legal Aid Fund. It is pointed out by the Advisory Committee that the £350,000 annual gross cost would, when account is taken of costs paid back by successful litigants into the fund, be reduced to about £175,000. in other words by half. As I have said, that is the cost of implementing four recommendations, and not two.
So really the expenditure I am asking the Government to put upon public funds is well below the sum of £175,000. If one wants to see the significance of this, one must look at some of the expenditure which the present Government have already put upon public funds, for instance, that resulting from raising the Bank Rate in 1957. The cost of that operation was over £50 million, if not nearer £100 million, and it is derisory for the Government to hesitate for over a year in making this small and necessary change to try to make it possible for large numbers of persons who have suffered civil injuries, very often injuries which wholly change the course of their lives, to obtain the justice which is waiting for them in the courts.
It is high time that the Government took some action in this matter. The Government have put upon the Order Paper an Amendment in which they seek to congratulate themselves on two changes and one intimated change. These changes are in themselves extremely useful and would obtain the approval of all hon. Members of the 965 House, but the Government end their Amendment by calling upon the House to recognise… that it is desirable to modify the financial provisions of the Legal Aid Scheme when circumstances permit.That is a Parliamentary way of saying jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today. All the jam we want is this little extra sum of £175,000 that will make it possible for large numbers of persons to obtain justice which at present, because of scarcity of means, is denied them.
One can actually see, by looking at the figures quoted in the Report, how the present contribution scales which can be called for under the Act can be worked out. One sees in the Report a record of a declining number of applications for legal aid over a period of a year, due largely to the scale of the contributions which can be called for and the present financial limits which are within the scheme. It is worth while quoting roughly how the figures work out. In the period between the second Report and the seventh Report, which we are considering today, the figures show that there were 53,000 applicants for certificates in a year. They went down annually to 51,000, 47,000, 43,000, 40,000, and in the period covered by the seventh Report they are up slightly to 41,000. As the Advisory Committee points out, however, that is simply because during the year the Government, very rightly, extended the provisions of the Legal Aid Scheme to include county courts. So if one takes account of the fact that the scheme has been extended, there is a continuing decline.
In paragraph 2 of the Report there is a description of the reasons for this. It says first that because of the full employment which the country has enjoyed for a number of years people were not minded to apply for such aid. Full employment has gone from us. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may argue—and I think that we would have a great deal of sympathy with him if he does—that this can soon be cured when, in May, there is a change of Government; and no doubt it will be cured, but that is some time from now. The other reason which the Advisory Committee assigns is simply the high scale of contributions, and it is of that I am complaining at the moment.
Point is given to the figures I have set out when one looks further in the Report 966 at paragraph 10 and finds that of the 41,000 who applied in the period covered by the seventh Annual Report, when they were told the scale of the contributions they would be called upon to meet, over 220,00 of them refused the proffered aid. This is very convincing proof that under the present scales and the present income limits the scheme is not doing what it was hoped it would do.
The Report goes on to point out, in considering the upper income limit, that the percentage of those who were refused legal aid over the periods covered by the last three Reports were very nearly doubled; that is to say, in terms of percentage very nearly twice as many were refused legal aid, because they were above the upper income limit, as three years ago. The actual figures were 8.2 per cent., 11.l per cent. and 14.6 per cent. Unless the Government do something to implement the recommendation of the seventh Report of the Advisory Committee, I do not know what the next year may show. It may show 16 per cent., 17 per cent., or an even higher percentage of persons excluded.
One has always to bear in mind the percentage of successful litigants, the figures for which are also in the Report. In the period covered, of the persons who applied for legal aid certificates and who accepted legal aid, and who went to the courts with the assistance they received under the Act, about 78 per cent. were either Wholly or partially successful and only 3.3 per cent. lost the actions they brought.
This means that of the 22,000 people who, having been offered legal aid certificates refused them because they did not feel able to meet the contributions they were called, upon to pay, three-quarters had causes of action which they could enforce in the courts and which would result in awards being made in their favour. In other words, it means that within a year, if we look at the people who refused the legal aid certificates, apart from those who were not allowed to have them because they were above the existing limit, three-quarters were deprived of their rights in the courts because they could not afford to enforce them. That is a serious state of affairs and the Government should not be complacent but should take steps to do something about it.
967 The National Assistance Board is called upon to assess this disposable income, and it is perhaps worth remembering that the National Assistance scales have been increased about six times since the Act was passed, whereas the corresponding disregard scales under the Legal Aid Scheme have not been increased. For example, the maximum allowance for dependent relatives under the scheme for the purpose of the disregard is £52 a year, whereas for adults under the National Assistance Act it is more than double that.
Those are the reasons which make a strong case why these very small changes, which the Advisory Committee advocate, should now be implemented by the Government. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take this Motion seriously. The answer which he has given to it, in effect, is that he agrees that it is perfectly right in principle, but he does not know when he will implement the recommendation. That is completely unsatisfactory. The change is small and will not cost much.
The Government have had this recommendation before them for nearly a year. The Advisory Committee's Report was placed before Parliament in March last year. The Government have been sitting on it and have done nothing about these recommendations for nearly a year, and it is about time that they bestirred themselves and realised that large numbers of people who were intended to come within the scope of the Act are excluded because the Government will not make the changes which they acknowledge are right and should be made. Because they are not within the scope of the Act many people are not able to enforce rights which belong to them and which, in many cases, would make an enormous difference to them, particularly those who have been seriously injured in accidents.
It is high time that the Government took a serious view of the matter and took steps to implement these two recommendations.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:endorses the introduction by Her Majesty's Government of a scheme for oral legal advice; welcomes the announcement of the intention 968 of Her Majesty's Government to implement the provisions of Sections 21 to 23 of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, relating to legal aid in criminal courts, and the provisions of Section 5, relating to legal aid in matters not involving litigation; and recognises that it is desirable to modify the financial provisions of the Legal Aid Scheme when circumstances permit".I have listened with interest to all that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said and to his references to the Seventh Report of the Advisory Committee. Of course, I expected that he would refer to that Report and, in particular, to the Comimittee's recommendation that the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, should be amended so as to permit free legal aid where 'the disposable income—which is, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, income after various deductions have been made and which might broadly be described as free income—is £208 or less instead of £156 or less, and to raise the limits of the Legal Aid Scheme so as to include within its scope those whose income is £600 or less instead of the present limit of £420.
Although the main burden of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech related to the contributions which applicants for legal aid are required to pay, the Motion makes no reference to the incidence of those contributions. The Advisory Committee, in its Report, gives particulars of cases where the burden is very heavy. In recent years I have had many letters and answered many questions on that matter. But that is not the subject raised by the Motion. The Motion is much narrower than that. It merely seeks to secure that a greater number of persons will be entitled to free legal aid at the lower end of the scale and a greater number of persons brought within the scope of the scheme at the other end of the scale. The Motion has nothing to do with the incidence of contributions.
I should like to make it clear at the outset, as, indeed, is clear from the terms of the Amendment, that we do not flatly reject the proposal of the Advisory Committee which is embodied in the Motion, but we do feel that that proposal should be considered in its relationship to the whole scheme and to the extent to which that scheme is in operation today.
If I may digress for a moment, I should like to remind the House of the history in relation to the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949. I was a member of 969 the Rushcliffe Committee. I think that I am now the only Member of the House who can claim to have been a member of that Committee. The Committee produced the scheme which has been embodied in the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949. It was appointed by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon, in the war years, and, although it was a large Committee, it produced a unanimous Report. It devised a very complete scheme, providing not only for legal aid in the courts, but also for legal advice.
When the Legal Aid and Advice Bill came before the House my colleagues and I on this side—we were then on the other side—did our best to make the Bill as good as possible. I well remember the useful discussions which we had in Committee, when members of all parties co-operated in trying to make the Bill as good a Measure as possible. We were rather proud of what we had been able to achieve when the Bill reached the Statute Book. Nearly all the recommendations of the Rushcliffe Committee were accepted. As I have said, it was a very complete scheme.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has complained more than once today about the fact that there has been about a year's delay in implementing a recommendation of the Advisory Committee. I do not make any complaint of the fact that there was a delay of four years between the unanimous Report of the Rushcliffe Committee and the enactment of its recommendations. I will not talk about the number of persons who, during those years, were not able to get legal aid in the courts and who could have got it if more prompt action had been taken. As a member of that Committee, I was disappointed by that delay, but I appreciate and recognise, as I think all of us on this side recognise, that the policies of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and hon. Members opposite led them into situations which made it difficult for them to give the Legal Aid Scheme the priority which it deserved.
That delay was disappointing. I do not wish to make any complaint about it or any capital out of it today, but it does not lie in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mouth, in view of that four years' delay, to be critical of the non-implementation of a recommendation of the Seventh Report of the Advisory Committee, made less than a year ago.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that the vast majority of laymen would much rather have had the benefit of the National Health Scheme than the Legal Aid Scheme, however valuable that might have been?
§ The Attorney-General
Maybe time could have been found for both to the advantage of the country, perhaps at the expense of some of the nationalisation Measures.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, Northwest)
Look at the number of times, since the Government have been in office, when requests have been made to implement the decisions of the very Committee which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about. The Government have refused the implementation of matters which were discussed thirteen years ago.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member cannot get away with that. I will deal with the recommendations in due course, if the hon. Gentleman will let me carry on with my speech.
I was saying that I am not making any complaint of the four years' delay. [Interruption.]It is part of the historical background. I dare say the hon. Member does not like it. I hoped that after that delay, once the Act was passed, there would not be delay in its implementation. I hoped that, having got on the Statute Book a complete scheme, after four years' delay, we would not have to wait very long before the scheme was brought into operation. While the Act gave powers to bring different parts of the Act into force at different times, I think that it was the general belief at that time that all parts of the Act would be brought into force—for it was a balanced scheme—as soon as the necessary machinery was set up. But that was not done.
The machinery provisions were brought into force on 1st September, 1949, but the legal aid which was made available was limited to legal aid in litigation in the High Court, and no further extension was made before the Socialist Government fell. No provision was made for legal advice and legal aid in matters not involving litigation, in the criminal courts or before tribunals, all matters which were dealt with in the Act. It has had 971 the serious result that ever since there has been a conflict of priorities. When funds have become available one has had to decide between amendment and alteration of parts of the Statute already brought into force—and these financial provisions, the subject of the Motion, are mainly in the Statute—and extending the application of the scheme. There has been that conflict throughout.
As the House knows, the Government have, on each occasion when further funds have been available, come to the conclusion that it was more important to extend the operation of the scheme. If I may remind the House, in 1953 it was extended to the palatine courts, which was only a minor extension. In 1956, it was extended to the county courts. Now we are extending it to legal advice.
The Legal Advice Scheme, for which provision was made in Section 7 of the Act, which deals with oral advice, comes into operation next Monday. We have already given an undertaking to implement Section 5 of the Act, which deals with legal aid in matters not involving litigation, during the coming financial year. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given an undertaking to bring into force during the coming financial year the provisions of Sections 21 to 23, which relate to legal aid in the criminal courts. I do not think that anyone familiar with the situation will doubt the need to implement the Sections of the Act which deal with legal aid in criminal cases.
If our record is contrasted with that of the party opposite, bearing in mind that the Rushcliffe Report was published in 1945, I do not think that it can be disputed that our record of achievement in this sphere of social service compares most favourably with that of right hon. and hon. Members opposite.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made some criticism of the excessive contributions which have to be paid under the 1950 regulations, which were passed by the Government of which he was then a member. In its First Report of 1951 the Advisory Committee commented that some contributions were excessive. It made the same comment in its Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Reports. But in none of those Reports did it recommend that the Act or the 1950 regulations made by the Socialist Government 972 should be amended, for it was its view that the first priority for any additional money that was available, should be to extend the operation of the Act by bringing further parts of it into force.
It was in its Sixth Report it said that the Legal Aid (Assessment of Resources) Regulations should be brought, where practicable and not undesirable, into line with the corresponding National Assistance regulations which have been amended several times since 1950, but the Advisory Committee did not give that recommendation the highest priority. The Committee said that it was still of the opinion that the Legal Advice Scheme should be brought into effect.
In the Seventh Report, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Newport made such reference, the Committee recommended an amendment of the financial provisions and, also, that Section 5 and Section 7 should be brought into force, but it did not say which recommendation it considered most important. It said, in paragraph 20:… we content ourselves by saying that in our opinion the Legal Aid and Advice Act will never function as intended until both our recommendations are carried out.I am sure that we are right to bring into force the legal advice provisions and to give them priority.
The Rushcliffe Committee pointed out that the voluntary advice system then operating… which at best was somewhat patchy has become totally inadequate"—and it forecast that the situation would deteriorate. That forecast was right and it really is and has been anomalous that legal aid in the courts should be available and legal advice which may avoid all necessity for recourse to the courts has not been. This is particularly true in relation to matrimonial cases where early advice may lead to reconciliation while aid in the courts may only lead to crystallising the differences between the parties.
Our Legal Advice Scheme comes into operation next Monday and I invite the House, by accepting the Amendment, to endorse its introduction. I wish to make one point about the impact which the Legal Advice Scheme may make on legal aid in the courts. One cannot estimate precisely what this impact is likely to be. It may well lead to less legally-aided litigation and so to some reduction of the 973 burden now carried by the State. How great a reduction no one now can say, but, of course, the greater the reduction the more room for manœuvre there would be with regard to the financial provisions of the Act and the regulations.
We recognise in our Amendment, and the right hon. and learned Member for Newport made some play of it, that it is desirable to modify these financial provisions when circumstances permit, but we feel that it is wise and sound policy to review the financial provisions when we have had experience of the effect of the operation on the scheme as a whole of the legal advice provisions. The number of people who pay contributions now under the Legal Aid Scheme is 18,000. While it is not possible to calculate the precise number who would receive free legal aid if the lower limit is raised—that is to say, instead of having to pay contributions they would be exempt from contributions—it would not be a low estimate, one would have thought, to put that number at about 9,000.
Again, it is not possible to form any precise estimate of the number who would be brought within the scope of the scheme by requiring a higher level, as the right hon. and learned Member submits. It may not be an under-estimate, and indeed it may be an over-estimate, to have in mind a figure also in the region of 9,000. Against those figures, which are very rough but probably somewhere near the sort of pattern, it is estimated by the Law Society that about 65,000 people in England and Wales would benefit from the Legal Advice Scheme, and 19,000 from getting legal aid in matters not involving litigation.
If those figures are anywhere about right, it is absolutely clear that the greatest good now will be done by what we are doing, namely, by introducing legal advice and legal aid in matters not involving litigation rather than by amending the financial provisions, as is suggested in the Motion. I should add that the right hon. and learned Member for Newport mentioned a figure of what he said would be the cost of implementing the Motion. He thought that it would be well below £175,000. I cannot accept that as a reliable figure. The information that I am given is that the figure will be considerably above that.
974 I do not wish it to be thought, however, that I have underestimated the gravity of the present situation, or the hardship that the amount of contributions sometimes causes. I have certainly not been allowed to forget that situation by letters from hon. Members and Questions which I have had to answer on the subject. But I think it is true to say that this situation has its origin in the failure of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to bring the Legal Aid and Advice Scheme into operation as a scheme. If that had been done, we should now be in a position to review the whole of its operation, but ever since this piecemeal process was started there has been this constant conflict of priorities which it has not been easy to resolve but which, in my belief, has been rightly resolved.
The right hon. and learned Member for Newport said that very large numbers of persons whom it was intended should be in the Scheme had been left out because of a change in modern money values. I do not dispute that that may be true in relation to some people, but it also must be borne in mind, on the other side of the picture, that many people, who are not eligible for legal aid but who would have been entitled to it when the scheme first came into force, are not entitled to it today due not so much to the fall in the value of the £ as to the fact that their real wages have risen.
Workers in many industries whose wages, in 1950, would have brought them within the financial limits of the Legal Aid Scheme, would not be entitled today to legal aid even if those limits were adjusted according to the Cost-of-Living Index. While I am asking the House to recognise that, I am not saying—indeed, the Amendment says to the contrary—that modification of the financial provisions will not be desirable when circumstances permit.
So far as I am aware, there is no indication, either in a fall in the number of applicants for legal aid or in an increase in the numbers refused on financial grounds, that the scheme, broadly speaking, is failing to provide aid for those who need it. I advise the House to reject the Motion and accept the Amendment, which gets the priorities right. When the Legal Advice scheme is in operation, and when we can see its effect, is the time to review the financial provisions.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, Northwest)
I listened with very great care to the Attorney-General's speech. Of all the speeches he has ever made this is about the most illogical and the most unreasonable, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman on many occasions has made illogical and unreasonable speeches.
What is the use of the Attorney-General trying to get out of the attempt which is being made to provide reasonable provisions, which will cost about £175,000 to put into effect, by the arguments he has used? He said that it would cost more, but that is not what was said by the Committee which considered the matter. What is the use of the Attorney-General dragging up arguments about what the Rushcliffe Committee said in view of circumstances prevailing thirteen years ago and not having reference to what is happening today? His is a kind of Rip van Winkle experience. I suppose that the Attorney-General has been sleeping from that time onwards and only waking occasionally when somebody asked a Question in the House calling upon him to implement the very proposals of the report which he says should have been implemented years ago.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not entitled to use the kind of argument which he puts forward now to cover up his own and his Government's deficiencies. Almost day in and day out it has been pointed out to him that the position is one in which the recommendations of the Rushcliffe Committee, of which he was such a distinguished member, should be carried into effect. Yet the invariable answer has been that the Government could not do this now but perhaps at some future time would be able to do something. Now the Attorney-General relies on the fact that thirteen years after a recommendation had been made to that effect he has suddenly decided to do what we have been pressing him for years to do, which is to give people an opportunity of obtaining financial assistance in securing legal advice. He relies upon that as an argument against what we ask him to do today; that is, to be fair to the man of middle or moderate income and give him an opportunity of having his case dealt with properly. I cannot see that that is at all 976 an answer to our point. At a cost of £175,000, or perhaps £200,000, the right hon. and learned Gentleman could carry out what was recommended by the Lord Chancellor's Committee which went into the matter and recommended that the income and assets limits should be raised to enable a litigant to receive aid.
Nobody today is given financial assistance unless he has a reasonable case. The House should take into consideration the fact that if a person cannot satisfy the appropriate committee that he has a substantial prima facie case he cannot get legal aid. That limits the numbers of persons helped under the Act to those who have substantial cases. We are dealing with men and women who are advised much more meticulously than is normally the case. Their case is examined by legal experts and they are told whether there is a reasonable chance of success. This is not a matter of asking for something to be done for litigants who enter into litigation recklessly or vexatiously. We are dealing with the position of men and women who are able to prove their case only with proper legal assistance, which they should be able to receive and to which they are entitled.
If people go to a lawyer before entering on litigation to ask whether their case has a reasonable chance of success, it is obvious that much public money will be saved, because if their case it not fairly strong the solicitor will clearly advise them not to bother to make an application for legal aid. I do not understand the financial argument advanced by the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General says that the Government will now permit financial assistance to be given to people to enable them to seek advice on whether they have a case. That means that such prospective litigants will have an opportunity of being advised and that public money will be saved in many instances.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman took credit for that provision which is to come into force on Monday. How many years have the Government been in office? If they had introduced such a provision long ago as they were pressed to do substantial sums of money would have been saved. It is niggardly of the Government not to realise that the limits in respect of means recommended years ago are now not applicable. When it made its recommendations, how was the Rushcliffe Committee to know what our 977 present condition would be, a condition which has resulted from Government policies and in which the sums then recommended represent much smaller amounts in real values?
If he has not already appreciated it, I hope that the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be forcefully drawn to paragraph 13 of the Lord Chancellor's Seventh Report which says:While the comparison between those features of the Legal Aid and the National Assistance Regulations, which can properly be compared, makes, in our view, an overwhelming case for amendment of the former on the lines of the recommendation in our previous Report, a study of these cases satisfies us that something more fundamental is needed.I do not know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman means when he speaks of priorities, for there cannot be anything more presented than an overwhelming case.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman studies that paragraph he will see that it is inferentially recommended that an increase should be given substantial priority. There is no question of the Report saying that other recommendations should have priority. On the contrary, it implies that there is nothing more important.
The Attorney-General advances no reasonable excuse for refusing our amendments when he says that other recommendations are being brought into effect, for that is something which he should do in any case. We are trying to give the Government an opportunity to introduce provisions which the Report of a year ago says should be immediately put into effect.
I do not want to protract the discussion, for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) has put the most salient features before the House. As a practising solicitor, I can assure hon. Members that the difficulty which we seek to remedy is encountered every day. People who consult their solicitors are amazed to find that because of the present limits in respect of disposable income and assets, they cannot be assisted even when there is a fair prospect of winning their case.
One cannot tell a client that he is bound to win his case. That is impossible. It may be because at some stage other facts will emerge which the client has not been 978 able to place before his solicitor, without in any sense having attempted to deceive him, but because the client had no, appreciated the significance of those facts. Without such knowledge, the lawyer is unable to make a perfect assessment of the possibilities. If that were not so, very few cases would be fought in the courts, Litigants who appear in court in the vast majority of cases do not attempt to deceive. They honestly believe that what they say is correct. They often say things which are not correct and which prove to be not correct but honestly believing them to be correct. All those circumstances play a large part in litigation.
Is the Attorney-General saying that a man placed in circumstances such as I have mentioned should be advised to risk losing everything he has in the world because he has a very good chance of winning his case? I could not advise in that way. I do not know what the Attorney-General would do in such circumstances, but I am certain that in his former capacity as a counsel he would think very long before advising the solicitor consulting him to tell his client that there was a 100 per cent. chance of success, or even more than 75 per cent. He would be carefully guarded in his advice.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not seem to appreciate that we are not discussing just salaries or incomes but disposable incomes, that is, after taking certain expenditures into account. It is not a question of the amount a man receives. It is a question of the amount he has at his disposal. The Attorney-General knows that a disposable income of a certain amount today cannot have the same value in real terms as it had when the limits of amounts were originally decided.
If an intending litigant approached the right hon. and learned Gentleman for advice as counsel, the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have to say that although there was a very good chance of the case being won the litigant might well lose all his meagre capital which might be above the limit for legal aid. He might have to advise him to face the unhappy circumstances of having to give up whatever rights he has, even though he had a 60 per cent. or 75 per cent. chance of winning his case.
979 Figures have been given to show the number of people whose assets are within the present limits but who have refused to take assistance even when it has been offered because they have not been able to afford the amounts which they would have been called upon to pay. The Attorney-General said that the Government are dealing with that provision, but he also said that the figures fixed many years ago must be retained until other priorities have been considered.
That is not good enough. Our respective professions do not think that that is good enough, nor does the man in the street. If hon. Members opposite consult their constituents, they will find that general opinion is that that is not sufficient. The Legal Aid Act is important and it set out to do something of considerable value to many people. There are people who, because of being unable to afford litigation, have lost thousands of pounds because they have been afraid of losing even their few pieces of furniture and other small assets in litigation, even should they win the litigation.
Let us not misunderstand the position. One may even be dealing with a successful result, but in many cases the person who has won a case finds that the person on the other side is unable to meet even the costs awarded against him, let alone any amount awarded to him. If there was anything which demanded priority, one would have supposed that it was the very modest request put forward in our Motion. I hope that by the time the debate is concluded the Government will have realised that they are depriving people of legal aid who have only very modest means. It is true that people with the smallest means are included in the benefits and rich people can afford to pay for their own litigation. However, we are here dealing with the need of those with middle-class incomes, the very class whom the Government pretend to want to help. They are the people adversely affected by the present situation, and the Government have no right to delay a remedy any longer.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has stressed the amazement of those who seek legal aid when they learn that they are not eligible for that 980 aid owing to the size of their disposable income. At that stage in his speech, the hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that serious problems of that kind were encountered both in his professional experience and in his constituency. For my part, I do not deny that I have met such people, but I find that there is a larger number of those who are rather frightened by the size of the contributions which they have to make.
§ Mr. Janner
I appreciate the kind of practice in which the hon. Member is engaged, and I know it very well, but does he not agree that it is those very reasons that make necessary what we are trying to advocate now? What does he say in regard to the priority for those in the class I have described?
§ Mr. Gower
I do not really dissent from what the hon. Gentleman says, but I feel that he would tend to lay greater emphasis on the number of people who are finding that they do not qualify for legal aid at all. I would tend to emphasise what I think is the greater number of those who obtain legal aid and are appalled at the size of the contribution which they are then called upon to pay. It may be just a matter of emphasis.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Opposition were coming forward in a modest way asking for this improvement. It is not exactly a modest way, as illustrated by the Motion tabled in the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and several of his right hon. and hon. Friends, and I can quite understand the manner in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General rebutted that rather imposing Motion today. I do not complain that the Opposition should call attention to this state of affairs, but I do not regard the way in which they have called attention to it as a modest step. I think it is rather an impressive demonstration, if I may so describe it.
I think that the House can accept the order of priority which my right hon. and learned Friend set out in his speech. I think it was right that at a certain stage priority should be given to an extension of the Legal Aid Scheme to the county courts, and at that time I think it was preferable that that extension should have taken place rather than that we should have cured some of the financial defli-ciencies of the scheme as it then stood. 981 I think it is undoubtedly preferable, as my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned, that the commencement of legal advice next Monday should again be given priority, but, having said that, I concede that there is a case for a very careful scrutiny of the financial aspects of the scheme.
I think the House will agree that it has proved a very good scheme, subject to some of the failings, to which we are all referring. It has proved a better scheme, perhaps, than some people had feared or hoped at the time of its initiation, and, ever since it has been started, there has been a good deal of ill-informed criticism about it.
For example, I think that there is ill-informed criticism of the Law Society, which is responsible for much of the administration of this scheme. The Law Society is blamed quite wrongly for the non-admission of some citizens to the benefits of the scheme, whereas, as hon. Members are all aware, that is not within its field of decision. It is left for the aspect of the scheme which is administered with the help of the National Assistance Board.
In saying that, we can also say that it has proved not merely extremely helpful, as the hon. Gentleman said, but far more than that. It has proved a significant development of these post-war years, and I would be prepared to say, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, that we owe to the members of the Rushcliffe Committee a great debt, as well as to those who sat in this House at the time when the Act was passed, and Members on both sides of the House who contributed to the original Bill. That does not, however, mean that we should now say that it is perfect, and I do not think that the terms of the Amendment moved by my right hon. and learned Friend in any way cut across entirely the case made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). My right hon. and learned Friend and the Government have in fact conceded that there is a case for improvement in this financial sphere.
I should like to call the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to one particular case, with which I have had a long association, arising in my own constituency; a case which possibly illustrates some of the defects in the existing 982 scheme. My constituents, Mr. and Mrs. C. Dodd, live in Barry at 294 Barry Road, and they are elderly people. They are retirement pensioners and live modestly in a council dwelling at that address. Mr. Dodd's sister, a Mrs. Emily Barrett, died intestate on 21st March, 1950, at 17 Sidney Road, Harrow, Middlesex. Prior to her death, Mrs. Barrett had been looked after by Mr. and Mrs. Evans, who were service tenants, in a sense, but who were really friends of her son, who predeceased her. On her death, my constituent, Mr. Dodd, being her brother, and believing himself to be the only next of kin, was: astonished when the tenant, Mr. Evans, asserted that he possessed a will. My constituent had reason to believe that this was a document of dubious authenticity, and naturally he was one of the people who sought the help of the Legal Aid Scheme.
In due course, his case was accepted and a caveat was entered against this will. Eventually, an action in the High Court of Justice in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division was instituted. This was a long action, involving many witnesses, including an expert on handwriting, as my constituent believed, apparently with some right, that there was a forgery involved in the will. In due course, this action came before Mr. Justice Anthian Davies and judgment was entered for my constituent, Mr. Dodd. Subsequently, letters of administration were granted to him, and he then found himself in the position that the Mr. Evans who toad brought forward the will which had been rejected by the court was staying on in the house, alleging that he had a tenancy, so that Mr. Dodd had to face a second action in the Queen's Bench Division for possession of the house, and again won his case on llth January, 1955.
The chief property, indeed the only real property, of the estate was this dwelling house, and my constituent was apparently the only next of kin—the only surviving one. He had reason to believe that he would have the proceeds of the sale, and by this time he had been involved in two actions to assert his rights. Then, it was discovered about the time of the action that there were other next of kin of another brother and a sister. When the dwelling house was ultimately sold, at a price which brought the gross estate to £1,588 12s. Id., after the costs of the administration of the estate had 983 bean met, it reduced the net estate to £1,387. Owing to the fact that there were two other next of kin, it meant that if the estate was divided £462 or thereabouts would form each third share.
The result of the operation of the Legal Aid Act, which we are considering today, is not merely that my constituent has had to pay a contribution of £48, or £65 or even £100, as mentioned in the table to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. Not even will his contribution be limited to £200. Almost the whole of his share has been taken, so that he has nothing at all out of the estate. The other beneficiaries pay nothing. It means that even had he had no next of kin the whole of this estate of something like £1,300 would have been taken for the costs of the actions; and it has been of tragic consequence to a man who is advanced in years and has an elderly wife, who has had to travel to the Law Courts in London from my constituency—no light undertaking—for a four-day hearing in the expectation, the human and natural expectation, that he would receive something in the evening of his life as a result.
I think hon. Members will agree that this is an extremely tragic case. It is one on which I have had some correspondence, not only with the Law Society but with the Legal Aid Committee and my right hon. and learned Friend, for a very long period, and I mention this because I think it shows that some opportunity must be taken of remedying the defects of the scheme. It is agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House who were here and who debated the original Bill that they did not intend such a tragic result as this. I am sure that they never contemplated that the result of a man obtaining legal aid would be that the whole of the estate of his next of kin would be used up in contesting a bogus will. Perhaps, he would not have contested such an action, involving him in this torture of mind, this long strain on mind and body which was involved after he had received a legal aid certificate.
I mention that case not because I think that anything which has been advocated by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would solve the difliculty of this 984 case, but because I believe that the scheme needs a different sort of examination to that mentioned in the course of the debate. With all its defects, I think this scheme represents a very significant step forward. Although its administration by the Law Society has been very well done, and although I think that the financial aspects have been very well carried out, nevertheless, I would say with some restraint and diffidence that this sort of case does reveal the need at some stage in the near future rather than in the more prolonged future for a re-examination of certain aspects of the original Act. I am sure that those hon. Members who sat on the Rushcliffe Committee with my right hon. and learned Friend, and those who sat in this House when the Bill was introduced and debated, did not intend it to produce such tragic consequences as I have outlined in that case.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I intervene briefly in this debate on behalf of one of my hon. Friends who had intended to speak but who is unable to be present as he is attending a Committee of the Council of Europe.
I wish to call the attention of the Government to some cases which have been referred to him, but may I preface my remarks by saying that I agree with the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) that no one would complain at a careful scrutiny of the working of the Legal Aid Scheme. If there be ill-informed criticism I should like to rectify that by paying tribute to those who give a good deal of time, attention and devotion to the working of the scheme. It must be conceded by everyone—I think it is conceded by the Government—that the financial provisions ought to be reviewed as speedily as possible.
My hon. Friend, who has been in correspondence with a firm of solicitors in his constituency, wished to call attention to some of the cases referred to him. The first example he gives is that of a single man with an income of £6 6s. 6d. a week which comprises £4 4s. sickness benefit and £2 2s. 6d. disability benefit. He is living at home and paying board and lodging and has a small sum of money saved. Despite that, this man has been assessed at not less than £150 towards costs. He was obliged to pay £93 within 28 days 985 and, thereafter, £5 a month. I think the House would agree that that is an inordinate burden to place on anyone in those circumstances.
My hon. Friend's correspondence includes a second case where a married man, parted from his wife, has an income of £6 15s. from sickness benefit and other earnings. Nevertheless, he has been assessed at £72 payable in monthly instalments of £6. Again I think everyone would agree that that is an unfair burden to put upon that individual, and it makes the legal aid provisions farcical. It is the sort of case which entirely nullifies the spirit of the Act.
There is also correspondence regarding the case of a young widow whose husband was killed in an accident and whose house and contents was practically destroyed in an explosion. This young woman works for £6 12s. a week and has a pension of £2 2s. a week. She has two young children and pays a rent of £1 6s. a week. Following the death of her husband, certain insurance moneys and other moneys came to her and she has savings amounting to £330. Yet, as the solicitor writes to my hon. Friend,You may be surprised to hear that the Assistance Board, when they considered this woman's application for legal aid,…assessed her at no less than £286.In other words, they raided the only savings she had in the world. Again, I think we all recognise that if the Legal Aid Scheme works in this way it is not serving the purpose we had intended.
Finally, there is another case, that of a married man with three children, whom he is maintaining, whose wage is £8 17s. 8d. He pays a rent of 17s. 8d. a week. This man took divorce proceedings and his contribution to the costs has been assessed at £60. If people are to be called on to make such substantial contributions in those circumstances the scheme is nullified. I hope, therefore, that the financial provisions will be examined immediately, especially as I see that the Government in their Amendment to the proposed Motion of my right hon. Friend state:…it is desirable to modify the financial provisions of the Legal Aid Scheme when circumstances permit.It is unfortunate when we have a scheme which has proved a great benefit to poor litigants that we should get cases where 986 the financial burden is quite excessive for people in particular circumstances. I join with the hon. Member for Barry in hoping that we shall have a speedy revision of the financial provisions and ensure that poor litigants are not put in the embarrassing position in which some occasionally find themselves under the present arrangements.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
The Legal Aid and Advice Scheme is a fine social service and a remarkably cheap one as social services go. It costs about £1 million a year, of which about 40 per cent. is taken up by administration. I am sure we all agree that the structure of it is sound. We have had ten years' experience of its working, and the method, the bare bones, seems to stand up very well to criticism.
When it was introduced I was frightened that it might make us a litigious nation, which we are not; that we might find the courts overwhelmed with people straining at the leash to go to law, and, having been subsidised by the State with that end in view, slipping their leashes and rushing at each other in the way that some other nations do as a great sport and pastime. But that has not happened. The English remain an unlitigious race despite the opportunities given.
What divides the House today is. I think, the narrow point of priorities. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is right in his order of priorities. It is absolutely right to bring the legal advice system into action and to extend legal aid to the county courts before we do anything else. Could he have had his way, I have no doubt that we should have all the other things we want at the same time, but hon. Members know that he and his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor have to battle with the Treasury on these matters, and it is unfair to blame my right hon. and learned Friend for not having done all the things which I am sure he wishes to do.
We must all advance what we regard as our own order of priorities, and I wish to advance three matters which, I think, are high on the list. One has not been mentioned today. It is that something must be done, and soon, for the non-assisted person who is held up to ransom so often by the assisted person. It is 987 a scandal that the State, having entered into this field, having "maintained," in the technical legal sense of the word—which is normally an offence—litigation in which it is not particularly interested, having promoted it for a man of small or moderate means, steps gracefully out of the picture when that litigation fails, leaving the unassisted person who has won his case to pay all his own costs, or virtually all of them.
That means that there is inequality of pressure upon the contestants, which is grossly unfair. It is a cardinal principle of civil litigation in this country that there should be some pressure, if possible equal pressure, upon the two parties to settle their differences, and the sanction behind that is the fear of losing the action and therefore of having to pay costs. That may be regarded as a rough system, but it has worked extremely well and has helped to produce a race of people which, on the whole, is non-litigious. But now, as so many people know, there is virtually no pressure upon the assisted person to settle, and there is every pressure on the unassisted person to settle where he has a perfectly good case which is 99 per cent. to 100 per cent. sound. As is well known, many commercial concerns and insurance companies have cases in their files to which little red tabs are attached to indicate that they are cases in which the concern is being sued by an assisted person and the case must be settled at all costs because, unless a settlement is reached, and even if the case is won, the concern will have to pay its costs. That is a most unhealthy state of affairs, yet, so far as I can see, despite a good deal of pressure, nothing whatever is done to reduce that inequality.
I think it would be too much to ask—although this is the ideal solution—that the State should pay all the costs of the successful unassisted person. That would be wrong, because that would mean that there would be no pressure on either side to settle. Both sides would be litigating ultimately at the expense of the State—although that sometimes happens now when there are two assisted persons. Nevertheless, it is wrong to permit that kind of thing to a greater extent than we must. But something must be done to equalise the pressure. There must be less pressure on the unassisted person and slightly more on the assisted person.
988 I should like to see some sort of scheme by which, say, as an example, 50 per cent. of the costs of the successful unassisted litigant would be met from the Legal Aid Fund, and that an assisted person should have to pay slightly more by way of contribution—not, of course, as much as the thing at risk, but slightly more—if he fails in his action than if he succeeds. That would give him some motive to agree to a settlement, whereas now in many cases he has none. Not only has he no motive to settle, but he knows that his opponent has every motive to do so. If the pressures could be somewhat more equal, we should get away from the unhealthy position which at present obtains.
The second and perhaps more trifling priorities which have been mentioned and which I think we should bear in mind are these. I follow what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) about the rise in the cost of living and the figures as they stand on income contributions. But I have to accept what my right hon. Friend says about the priorities there. But more urgent perhaps than those income limits are the "disregards." Disregards of disposable income could be linked to the National Assistance Board scales throughout. For mechanical reasons that would make it much easier than having to amend the Act each time. The officials of the National Assistance Board know what they are about. Excellent though they are, legal aid committees have no such experience about the way the effects and forces of changes in prices operate upon people with small means. I see no reason why the disregards should not be the same for National Assistance cases as for legal aid.
It seems to me that in the case of capital the disregards have gone seriously agley. At present, if a would-be applicant for legal aid owns a house which exceeds a value of £2,000, one-half of the excess is counted as capital, which to me seems very unfair. A person living in a house worth £3,000 today, if assessed on that basis, as he is at present, would be said to have a disposable capital of £500. In fact, of course, he has no more disposable capital of £500 than a man living in a house worth £2,000. There is an artificiality about taking into account the value of houses of relatively small 989 and modest dimensions of that sort, which, I think, should be examined again.
The same applies to life policies. Those worth less than £75 are disregarded, otherwise the full value of the policy is counted as capital. At today's values that is ridiculous. Something should be done in those peripheral subjects of disregards of capital and income because to the modest man costs in marginal cases would make all the difference. On the other side of the coin there are, of course, limits of income and contributions which the right hon. and learned Member for Newport has put forward with great force, but which must wait, I think, while these other things are put right.
Hon. Members on this side of the House have a special duty to regard this social service highly and to see that it works in the best possible way. We are always advancing—I think rightly—the argument that we should adopt legal rather than administrative procedures when there is any doubt or dispute about which should be adopted. That is our philosophy and that we constantly advocate. But if we do, there falls upon our shoulders the particular obligation to see that the courts are readily and easily open; because it is idle to urge people that they should come to court and look after themselves, instead of being "nannied" along by some bureaucrat. if in fact the sinews of the legal struggle are not open to them. I hope, for that reason. my right hon. and learned Friend will see that in his future battles with the Treasury he squeezes them for as much "lolly" as he can.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) referred at the end of his speech to the opposition of Government supporters to administrative tribunals, about which we have heard on many occasions, and pointed out that consistent with that policy must be a change of procedure whereby it is made easier than at present for members of the public to have access to the courts. I do not go the whole way with the hon. and learned Gentleman about administrative tribunals, but that was a perfectly consistent expression of opinion.
990 I suppose that every hon. Member who is in contact with his constituents has been made aware that legal aid is increasingly not providing members of the public with those facilities for easy access to the courts that was envisaged by those who introduced the Measure. I dare say that we could all recite examples such as were put before us by the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). Perhaps the House will allow me, not to go to such lengths, but to recite briefly an example which I came across and which shows how this system is working under the operation of the present means test.
The case is one of a constituent, a railwayman, seriously injured at work. He believed that his employers, the British Transport Commission, should be held responsible through its servants for the injuries that he had received, and that it should be proceeded against. He was so ill-advised as to take the matter away from his trade union after he had consulted it initially. He consulted a solicitor in Manchester, who advised him, on the evidence, that he had a case and that he should apply for a legal-aid certificate. This he did, and the Law Society granted him one, after he had undergone the means test and had agreed to meet charges which for him, disabled and away from work, were very considerable. However, the certificate having been granted the solicitor, I suppose very properly, said that he must seek counsel's opinion. This he did. Counsel advised, contrary to the earlier advice tendered to my constituent, that the constituent was unlikely to succeed in the courts. In view of this advice, the legal aid certificate was withdrawn.
My unfortunate constituent is now faced with meeting the whole of the costs incurred up to this point. This seems an anomalous situation. At the very least I suggest that a proportion of the costs up to this point might very well be available to him from any kind of State scheme which is supposed to assist him in pursuing litigation. Had he been wise enough to keep the case in the hands of his trade union then, had counsel's opinion been that he was unlikely to succeed, the costs would have been borne by his trade union. The legal aid certificate having been withdrawn, my unfortunate constituent has to bear a cost of about £30, at a time when he is only just recovering from a serious injury, is just 991 commencing work again and is on a light job with a lower rate of pay.
This case is typical of many that hon. Members on both sides of the House have experienced. If I had not heard, as indeed I have, many other speeches from hon. Members that have persuaded me that the Act needed looking at again, my experience with this one case would prove to me that the Act is not working out as its promoters hoped it would, as a method of giving ordinary members of the public easy access to the courts in seeking to redress their wrongs.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
On the whole, I disagree with the last observation made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths). The experience of those associated with this scheme is that, in the main, it is a success, and that the only matter for discussion is how the scheme can best be implemented in the future and the relatively small criticisms be ironed out.
I agree with the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General that the Government priorities are right in this connection. I also agree with him, in particular, that it was necessary to go a little way into the past to strengthen his argument. The party opposite has not framed a really competent scheme, which needed to be carried into effect substantially at one time, and made it not very easy for the Government to decide the right priorities.
The Government are quite right in introducing at this stage, as the first priority, the scheme for oral legal advice. Oral legal advice is greatly needed in the constituencies. We are all delighted, because it means that practised lawyers will be able to take over their proper province, instead of people coming to Members of Parliament with their legal problems. It will not only be Members of Parliament who will have to suffer this in future. We shall all in this House be able to say to an inquirer, "Go and get your free oral legal aid. It will be paid for by the State. Do not come to me with these problems." I have no doubt that there are many able lawyers in my constituency to whom people would rather go than burden me with their legal problems, particularly as people can take a whole half hour with 992 the lawyers for much less than the price at which they are likely to have less than half an hour with me.
I believe that oral legal advice could be extremely popular. I am surprised that it has not received wider acknowledgement from the Press, although this scheme is coming into force next Monday. It is a great addition to the social services and a continuing part of the legal aid service which started in 1949.
The other thing which is rather surprising is that this House has never once mentioned or discussed, so far as I can find out, criminal legal aid, which is what I want to deal with. I warmly welcome the announcement of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to implement the provisions of Sections 21 to 23 of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, for giving legal aid in criminal courts. Those Sections make provision for fair and proper remuneration for those engaged in criminal cases, where a certificate of legal aid is provided over a very wide field, covering magistrates' courts, courts of session and courts of assize, and, finally, the Court of Criminal Appeal. The whole range will enable proper representation to an accused and proper remuneration for the work done. I would like to deal with a little of the history of this matter.
Up to the present there has been one law for those who prosecute on behalf of the Crown and a totally different standard for those who defend the accused. I plead tonight—and I think it is the first time the matter has been raised in this House—that we should stand on principle in this matter. It is within the terms of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, but none the less I would like this to be clearly understood and, I hope, appreciated by the Government and by all concerned, that representation on behalf of the Crown, that is to say, for the prosecution, and representation on behalf of the accused, that is to say, for the defence, should be treated alike and on the principle that what is right for the Crown is equally right for the accused. That is the right principle in deciding whether people ought to have legal aid certificates and the remuneration to be paid for work done on both sides.
Nobody would suggest for one moment that Crown prosecutions, whether in 993 magistrates' courts, courts of session or of assize, carry high professional fees, either for the solicitors who prepare the case or for counsel who conduct it. This has never been, for either solicitors or counsel involved, among the higher-paid work of the profession. Indeed, it is among the lower-paid.
I have brought figures of proof. They show that if a case goes to a magistrates' court and is not handled by the Director of Public Prosecutions or by the Commissioner of Police, but is dealt with by the police officer in charge, sent up to the Old Bailey and then handled by counsel there, the pay for the prosecution is 6 guineas. It involves having to prepare the case for that day. If the case is extended for more than a day and goes into two days, a further 4 guineas is paid, making the total 10 guineas. If the case goes on any longer it will not increase much above that. I am not saying that these fees are too low or too high, but that a standard or yardstick ought to be applied to the regulations for those who deal with criminal offences.
At present, the position is covered by the Poor Persons Fees and Regulations, 1953. I think that these are Regulations 1429 of that year. Under those Regulations the position is unfortunate and is having a serious effect upon the administration of justice. That is why I so much welcome the Motion of Her Majesty's Government today that they intend to implement the provisions of Sections 21 to 23. If a solicitor takes up a case in any court of session or assize, the fee to which he is entitled for the whole preparation of the case and its presentation in court is a total of £7 Is. 9d., a strange figure, arrived at because he is entitled to £4 14s. 6d., plus a 50 per cent. increase. If the case takes more than five hours and goes into two days the maximum which is then obtainable is a total of £13 10s. 0d. Thereafter, if it runs for three days or more, he is entitled to a charge of 4 guineas per day.
There is no other country in the world —I have taken the trouble to compare the figures—where the charges are so low, or where the work is done for such a small amount. It is not a satisfactory situation to expect a solicitor to be able to get out and prepare a case and work on it on behalf of an accused for remuneration of that kind. The result, although there 994 are notable and gallant exceptions, is that, in the main, solicitors will take only those legal aid cases in criminal work where they have to do no work.
That is to say, where they know that the case is liable to turn into a plea of guilty and they can put what is known as a "back sheet" around the papers and ship it to the member of the Bar concerned, who usually is a young man, and say, "Get on with it". They will take those cases; because probably they will involve them in no more work than seeing the client for an hour's interview, getting a copy of the depositions and sending the case to the counsel concerned.
Where the injustice arises is in the difficult cases. Difficult cases which arise in sessions, and, indeed, at petty sessional courts, are usually far longer cases. It is very difficult, and has been for many years, to find solicitors who are prepared to undertake and properly do the preparation of any long criminal trial because, unfortunately, no discretion is vested on the matter of costs in the man in charge. In the High Court, in a civil case, there is a taxing master and a wide measure of discretion in regard to costs. The arrangements made there are that the solicitor and the counsel employed are entitled to 85 per cent. of the normal fees. In criminal cases, however, statutory maxima are laid down and cannot be exceeded.
I have considered and discussed this matter with several clerks of assize and others of some experience. It seems to me that these men, clerks of assize and those in charge at the Old Bailey and elsewhere—men of experience and position—are well able themselves to be permitted to have discretion in considering what is a proper sum to pay. I invite the Government to consider giving them a much greater amount of discretion than they have at present. I am not, of course, suggesting that there should not be a definite maximum and that there should be a minimum, but within that I make a plea for a rather larger measure of discretion to enable cases which are long-length and complex to be undertaken by solicitors and counsel for adequate remuneration. The yardstick of that remuneration should be that it should be along the same lines as what is regarded as proper for a person preparing or presenting a case on behalf of the Crown.
995 I want to mention another matter. It is a plea for economy. If this is to be done, we must recognise that there will be a heavy burden of cost. Whereas, under the civil aid scheme, usually it is recoverable when the plaintiff succeeds and the Legal Aid Fund recovers money, in the criminal case it will not be recovered. The outgoings of costs for the solicitor and counsel have to be met and they are not able to be recovered from the fund. We have to be careful to see that people only obtain certificates in criminal cases where there is a real case of need. If they can afford to pay they should do so.
There is a difficulty here. The National Assistance Board is able to meet and determine the matter in a case. If I may say so, it is dealing usually with people of good character. In the criminal case, although frequently people of hitherto good character are dealt with, equally frequently people of abominable character are dealt with, people whose characters are so bad that it is a waste of time to ask about their means because they will always tell lies. In these circumstances there should be some sort of directive for assistance by way of circular from the Home Secretary to the magistrates, inviting them to be careful to ensure as far as possible that they grant certificates only in appropriate cases where there is need and that if need be they should examine, or cross-examine, the person under oath in the box to ascertain his real sources of income. That would provide the balancing factor we need before we go into a period of expansion of this scheme, which may prove quite costly.
Not only will the widening of the Legal Aid Scheme of oral advice be a costly element—far more costly than has been the present basis of litigation in the High Courts—but the actual cost of legal aid certificates being granted wholesale, if they are, to people who have to stand on a criminal charge must be carefully dealt with. I can envisage a great deal of trouble if people charged with dangerous driving, driving under the influence of drink, or with motoring offences of one kind and another are to try to obtain legal aid in the magistrates' courts. I have no doubt that in that type of case they would be met by a flat refusal by the bench, but it is quite easy to enlarge the scope of this matter without noticing it.
996 I think that the scope ought to be narrowed, but I hope that in bringing in the new regulations, which, as I see it, are necessary under Section 21 of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, the Government will make quite plain their intention to treat prosecution and defence alike. In doing so they would incur the great gratitude of many people for the extension of a scheme which, I think, is very soundly based.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I am glad that my hon. and right hon. Friends placed this Motion on the Order Paper because discussion of this matter is long overdue. I agreed with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I regret exceedingly that I had not the pleasure and benefit of hearing the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and those of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General today.
I do not think it is a question of saying, "Look at your record as a Government and look at our record as a Government." Either the matter is one which requires to be dealt with, or it is not. It is no argument for the Attorney-General to say, "Compare our record with yours; we have done far more". What we want to do is to see that the problem is tackled in a proper manner.
I understand that the reply given by the Attorney-General to the Motion is contained in the Amendment. It is, "We are getting on with the job. We are getting on with the matter of giving advice. We are getting on with the matter of legal aid in the criminal courts." I am very glad that we are. With many other hon. Members on more than one occasion I have pressed for the implementation of the powers relating to giving legal advice and I am glad that at long last something is to be done about that. I am glad, also, that something is to be done about legal aid in criminal courts. I agreed with many of the remarks of the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet. It is time that this problem of legal aid in the criminal courts was dealt with, but that does not seem to touch the real grievance here.
No one disputes the fact that the Legal Aid and Advice Act in its administration has brought about a great deal of good. 997 It has been successful to a very large extent. There is no doubt whatever that a great many people have benefited under it. People who would not have been able to bring their cases and who ought to have been helped, have been helped and have brought those cases successfully. The record is very good, but that does not prevent us examining the scheme and seeing where the real trouble is.
The real complaint about the scheme depends upon two considerations. The first is that it is quite unrealistic today to treat cases in the way in which they are treated having regard to the financial limits under which legal aid is given. It is absurd to say that where there is disposable income of £420 no aid shall be given. I have come across many examples of constituents in very humble positions who have good cases and only moderate means, but who have been unable to bring their cases because when they approached the legal aid committee it was found that their financial position was such that legal aid could not be granted them.
The Government need not take that from me or from other hon. Members. They can get the statistics from actual cases. I wonder if the Government have ever taken the trouble to get the data from legal aid committees of the actual applications made to them by persons of small means, just over the limit, persons who have really good cases, who have grievances which ought to be remedied, but who cannot have assistance because of this very low limit. It is no good saying that this is a question of priorities and that we ought to deal first with advice and then with legal aid in criminal courts and so on. If this is an outstanding grievance touching the mass of cases, it is surely one which should receive primary attention.
There is a very simple way in which the Attorney-General can test the matter. Let statistics be obtained of cases where legal aid has ben refused. If we are right, if statistics show that there is a real grievance, surely it cries out for remedy immediately. My right hon. and learned Friend gave figures about it. It would not entail the Government in a very considerable amount from a financial point of view.
The second point is a complaint which has been made again and again about the 998 administration of legal aid, the contribution which is levied upon persons granted legal aid. It is notorious that in undefended divorce cases often the contribution a person is called up to make is more than a solicitor would charge if the person went to him and put the case in his hands. Case after case has demonstrated that. What is the good of a system of legal aid which says, "We are willing to help you; we think this is a deserving case. We shall certainly help with asistance in fighting the case, but you must pay a considerable sum "—often very large— "by way of contribution."
This is not limited to divorce cases. There are many others where large contributions are levied in that way. It is nothing short of a scandal that in many cases a contribution is levied and, as a result, the person is unable to avail himself of the certificate which is granted for legal aid.
Those are the two main grievances. I am very glad the matter has been discussed today. The debate is long overdue. The Legal Aid and Advice Act was obviously brought in at a time when we did not know what would happen about this matter. As an hon. Member has said, the country might have been flooded with cases as a result, but it was not. In the result it has proved a necessary step. I hope that the Government will think again about this matter. It is not a party matter nor one for political rancour of any sort. It is a matter in which an evil exists. Let the Government study that evil and do something to remedy it.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
I follow the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) as yet another lawyer. This has been a debate by lawyers with certainly one, and perhaps two, refreshing interventions by others. Nevertheless, although it is a subject concerned with lawyers and the administration of the law, it is a subject which affects many thousands of constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said, it is estimated that some 85,000 people may well be affected. It is possible that, to their lasting regret, many people have to seek out 999 a lawyer, or are advised by a lawyer, or are even cross-examined by a lawyer. It may indeed be their misfortune that this happens, but it is one which often occurs in the lives of countless thousands of people in this country.
The hon. Member for Leicester, Northwest (Mr. Janner) rebuked my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for referring back to the work of the Rushcliffe Committee. But the work and recommendations of that Committee are the fount of this debate. They were the start of this legislation, whose task has not yet been fulfilled.
Few doubt nowadays the need and place of legal aid as a part of our social services. Previously there was always criticism of the scales of justice. One end of the scale was that the law, like the Ritz Hotel, was open to all. The other end was that of the tragicomic counsel in my friend Mr. Mortimer's play "Dock Brief", who saved the client who had chosen him by dock brief by making such a muddle of the trial that the Court of Criminal Appeal eventually had to quash the verdict of guilty. Those were the two extremes which existed before legal aid.
But in any debate on legal aid we should not forget or ignore the great work which was done by many charitable societies, some of a religious or quasi-religious nature, who did, and still continue to do, a great deal of work by assisting, and advising and getting lawyers to start to investigate cases. Their history as forerunners to legal aid is of tremendous importance. Nevertheless, those societies, such help, and all the charity in the world could not play the part of what was needed, namely legal aid. Legal aid has been generally welcomed, not only by the cynics who thought that it was going to be of assistance to lawyers who were going to do better as a result of it. It has been welcomed generally because it is believed that there does exist the necessity for help in a matter which touches the lives of so very many people.
However, this new system has not been perfect. I agree with those hon. Members who have spoken today of the immense hardship sometimes caused to those people who are never the rich and never the poor, to those people who are just outside the scope of the Act, be they 1000 £420 people or be they £600 people, as is suggested in this Motion. Especially has it hit them in the matter of costs. If there is a nil contribution, then a successful party who is just outside the scope of the Act suffers the full impact of having to pay substantial sums in costs in order to defend successfully an action brought against him.
Moreover, it is bad for the law that there should be an encouragement to surrender to a bad case. It is not only insurance companies which surrender because they know it is cheaper to pay out £50 and settle a case. It is others who are advised that, even if they succeed, the costs will be in excess of £50 and therefore it is very much wiser to settle. Further, parties then are not so inclined to compromise when the spur of costs has completely disappeared.
Most people think that it is usually the lawyers who are not in favour of compromise. It is a fact with which most practising lawyers would agree that it is the parties who usually refuse to compromise, however much the lawyers may be advising them so to do. When the parties have got their dander up and are determined to see that their rights, as they call them, are ventilated, it is indeed a skilful solicitor or counsel who can persuade them to settle.
In civil cases 15 per cent. of the costs are subsidised by the practitioners. We have listened today to some of the hard cases which have been put with great sincerity by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. I speak with very much less experience in this than can a solicitor, but I am very doubtful if the amount of the contribution ever deters anybody from litigation which he is determined to pursue.
§ Mr. Rawlinson
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) says that it does. It may be that he has experience of people abandoning what they believed to be just claims. I cannot believe that he or counsel whom he wished to employ would not act for them free if that really was the case.
§ Mr. Silverman
That is not the point. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as anybody in the House that, with or without a legal aid scheme, before it and after 1001 it, there have always been members of both branches of the profession who, in a suitable case, will act regardless of fees. That is not what we are discussing this afternoon.
§ Mr. Rawlinson
Certainly. I intend to refer to that tradition in the profession to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and I belong. It is a very long tradition which goes back to the days certainly before Saint Thomas More and which I was interested to see that that Christian agnostic, Lord Birkett, the other day referred to as part of his practice.
The contribution is settled after reference to the National Assistance Board. It is laid before the legal aid committee, which has to decide whether a prima facie case has been made out so that it can grant a certificate. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne tells me, and I accept from him, that there have been cases of persons who have been deterred by the contribution. If that is so, they are very much fewer in number than we are led to believe. It is healthy and sensible to keep the contributions and assessment high.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) that there should be a close investigation into the question of granting costs to the successful party. Like him, I think that a proportion of these should be provided out of the Legal Aid Fund. I think that successful litigants should somehow get back some of the costs which they have incurred. As the hon. and learned Member said, they have been brought into litigation because the State has been supporting the plaintiff.
Now I turn to the criminal cases, about which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) spoke. They present different and difficult problems, because there the burden is borne by the practitioners and, as he has said, particularly by solicitors. It is very useful to consider the difference between the conduct of, say, a divorce action under legal aid terms and the conduct of a serious crime, say, murder. There are cases proceeding in the courts at the moment where the Crown in effect is the employer, where there are leading counsel, junior counsel and solicitors 1002 employed on both sides with entirely different scales of fee. It is sometimes thought that there should be a public defender. If there is to be a public defender, as there is a public prosecutor, the public defender should have equal resources with the public prosecutor and pay equal fees.
The scale of fees is extremely low. I do not think that it affects greatly the distinguished advocates of whom we have been speaking a little earlier. They are advocates who have in the past given their services free and still do. But the main burden is on solicitors, and on junior counsel.
Take, for instance, the case of long frauds. There are very long-term frauds and there are very many before the courts at present. Much legal work in London and at the assizes in the various towns and cities is being held up by the tremendous number of these fraud cases. This may be due to the greater efficiency of the fraud squad, but what happens? The accused has a defence. There are perhaps 100 to 150 exhibits, running to hundreds of pages of documents. Many inquiries have to be made. The accused is somebody of no means and properly entitled to legal aid. The case may last three working weeks; it may last six working weeks. Who, then, will accept that brief? It can be accepted, can it not, only if it is on a basis of legal aid at the fees that are suggested, for something like three to six weeks, by those who have not other employment? I will give the scale of fees in a moment, but they are so low that they cannot attract busy practitioners away from their normal work and tie them down to one case lasting from three to six weeks.
The scale is very low. Under Statutory Instrument 1429 of 1953 the fee for the solicitor is only £7 1s. 9d. and for counsel £4 17s. If the case goes over five hours, the fee is increased for the junior to £9 and for the solicitor to £13 10s. Thereafter, the solicitor gets four guineas a day and junior counsel five guineas a day. The solicitor has to do the preparatory work. He has to draft the brief. He has to answer the inquiries which are made of him by counsel. He may have to travel far and examine many witnesses. Counsel has to prepare his case and be in court, and 1003 so have the solicitor and his clerk. A tremendous burden rests upon them. I hope that an even greater extension will be made towards the assistance that can be given for those who engage in these criminal defences.
The attitude of the Treasury is perhaps illustrated by the Statutory Instrument to which I have referred. It says that counsel assigned under a legal aid certificate shall be given a fee not exceeding £4 17s. Then it goes on to say that, in addition,if he attends from a distance exceeding twenty miles measured in a straight line a further fee not exceeding £1 14s. will be payable.Even the route is considered. It must be directly by straight line before counsel is entitled to the generous £1 14s. extra.
Therefore, I welcome very much my right hon. and learned Friend's announcements with regard to Sections 21 and 23. The problem must be one of finance. Everybody accepts that. There are priorities and it is a matter of balance.
Recognition should also be paid to the extremely useful and important work that the trade unions do in organising the defence and representation of their members. It is a very excellent service which they provide and I should have thought it was one of the services for which their members were particularly grateful.
Balanced against that, on the other side, are the insurance companies. I hope that every right hon. and hon. Member is quite sure that he is insured against a slate falling off his roof and on to a passer-by. I sincerely hope that that is provided for and that the insurance company will look after him should that unfortunate occurrence happen. In much of the personal injury litigation, which is a very important and substantial part of the work of the courts, insurance companies represent, and pay for the representation of, defendants. The defendant is, perhaps, an employer, a manufacturer, or a driver of a motor car. Trade unions often represent and pay for the representation of plaintiffs, and both provide welcome means of legal aid.
I welcome, too, the oral legal advice scheme. There is no doubt that that will save a great deal of expense, quite apart from saving the time of my hon. Friend 1004 the Member for the Isle of Thanet. Everybody in the House will appreciate the importance in any kind of problem of quickly getting advice from the expert, the solicitor, which may save a lot of heart burning and a great deal of money afterwards. The more quickly they go to the solicitor, the sooner we shall find a tremendous saving.
In my opinion, the grant of legal aid needs to be more carefully examined. Every member of the Bar can speak of those who, having been granted legal aid in a magistrates' court, drive up to the Central Criminal Court in the largest and smartest of motor cars, and judges often remark that the person who arrives at the bankruptcy court rather seedily dressed and riding a push-bike will turn out to be the creditor, while the man who comes in the most handsome Bentley is the debtor. So more care should be given to the granting of the certificates, in order that we can be quite sure that people do not get them under false pretences. In civil cases, there should be far greater inquiry made by the National Assistance Board to ensure that only those who deserve, and need legal aid, get it.
Also, perhaps a greater responsibility should be put on the legal aid committees. After all, they consist of members of the profession, and they have laid before them the papers in the case so that they can determine whether or not a prima facie case exists It is comparatively simple, of course, to make out a prima facie case, but these committee should have placed upon them the duty to go a little further into these cases to make sure that they are proper cases for legal aid. Above all, though I appreciate what hon. Members on both sides have said, the level of the contributions should be kept up, so that this social service is given only to those who really deserve it.
For those reasons, I welcome the Government's Amendment. It appears to me, although I have not great experience in this, that, for a change, the Treasury has been reasonably generous to my right hon. and learned Friend. Perhaps he was able to blarney the Treasury with greater success than did the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West who mentioned delays.
We cannot compare the legal aid scheme with the health scheme or with other social services. The position of 1005 lawyers in this scheme, be they advocates or solicitors, is very different from that of medical practitioners in the National Health Service. They must always be available, ready and willing to challenge the executive. I do not think that it is pretentious in this House to say that the freedom to plead freely at the Bar has been the final freedom on which all freedoms are based. As I say, I welcome the Amendment, and I only hope that there will be opportunities speedily to go forward with the other matters mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend, and which are foreshadowed in the Amendment.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I regret that I must go far in disagreement with what the hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) has said. I put my name to this Motion because, for a long time past, I have been conscious of deficiencies in the Legal Aid Scheme as at present administered. Of course, I do not quarrel with the Attorney-General's recent announcement of the step being taken to bring into operation further Sections of the 1949 Act.
Looking back, I think that all of us who were in any way associated with the passing of that Measure can congratulate ourselves on doing a very important work of social improvement and justice. We can also reflect that some of the misgivings expressed ten years ago by right hon. and hon. Members opposite have proved entirely unfounded. I do not think that anybody would now wish to undo the work since done by this Act.
Our criticism of the present Government, a criticism that we have maintained year after year, has been of their chariness and dilatoriness in bringing the provisions of the Act into full operation. Over and over again, when pressed by this side to bring additional parts of the Act into operation, they have referred to financial stringency or to the necessity to have regard to priorities, or have made one excuse or another.
Belatedly, they have introduced this scheme for legal advice. They will now implement the provisions of Section 21 dealing with legal aid in the criminal court and with any matters not involving litigation. Those are all matters that are set out in the Government Amendment, 1006 and we welcome them, but they are not reasons that justify the Government's refusal to look into the undoubted defects that exist in the administration of the Act as a result of the present regulations as to contribution.
Those of us who have had any experience at all of the administration of this Measure, who have had the experience of seeing people in need of legal aid, and have had the responsibility of advising them as to how they could obtain a certificate, are conscious of the thousands of cases which, thanks to this Act, have resulted in justice being obtained where it could not have been obtained before. What was, before the 1949 Act, a blot on our whole system of social justice, has been removed. Prior to its enactment, countless cases of injustice went uncorrected because people had not the money either to obtain legal advice or to take their litigation to court.
I differ also from the hon. Member for Epsom in what I thought were his somewhat harsh strictures on the work being done by the legal aid committees. He thought that the committees should be stricter in their examination of cases, and in their decisions. My experience is that a great deal of voluntary work has been well and conscientiously done, and I do not think that many hon. Members on either side would wish to criticise the area committees in fulfilling the burden put upon them, and undertaking their responsibilities under the Act.
Our reason for tabling this Motion is that we are very conscious that there are still a large number of deserving cases that, in our opinion, are quite improperly, and quite unnecessarily, penalised by the harsh way in which the regulations are framed, but which have, of course, to be administered by the areas committees. The hon. Member spoke as if it were rare to find someone who, because he did not get a certificate, was unable to take his case to court.
I have had some years of experience in this sphere. From sitting in my own constituency week after week, and from letters I have received from various parts of the country, I know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in which people who have a legitimate grievance or cause of action in Her Majesty's courts are deprived of the opportunity of having their cases conducted, and damages 1007 awarded, perhaps, because of their lack of financial means, and because of the oppressive way in which the regulations are at present administered.
Moreover, everything that the hon. Member said runs counter to the very strong recommendations made by the Advisory Committee of the Law Society, in its Seventh Report—following similarly strong recommendations in earlier Reports. That Advisory Committee has the best means of judging where the shoe pinches, and I would invite the Attorney-General and hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider two or three of the specific cases that are quoted in page 40 of the Report. From my inquiries I could quote a number of similar cases.
Let us take, for example, Case C— a police constable who wants to make an application in relation to divorce proceedings. At present, his disposable income being £359, he is required to make a contribution of £101 10s. as a condition of obtaining a certificate of legal aid. One knows that, in practice, area committees assess an applicant to the maximum. Sometimes they depart from that norm, but in the majority of cases they take the view that the applicant should be so assessed, as circumstances may arise that could turn what appeared, prima facie, to be a simple case into one incurring some unexpected expense larger than that met with in the average case.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) pointed out that, at present, some applicants for legal aid for divorce proceedings have to pay substantially more than they would if they instructed a solicitor in the ordinary way. Over and over again I have advised persons in my constituency that they are clearly entitled to a certificate of legal aid. They have filled up the appropriate forms and have obtained the certificate, but have them found that, in undefended divorce proceedings such as those quoted in page 40 of the Law Society's Report, they have to pay £101 10s.
In the ordinary way, no person in an undefended divorce case would be asked to pay his solicitor anything like that. Very often they would not be asked to pay anything at all until after the case was over. The applicant for legal aid, however, has to undertake to pay a contribu- 1008 tion, and to start paying it by instalments. The result is that people decline to take up the certificate because they are frightened of the amount they have to pay or, even if they do take it up, they abandon it.
§ Mr. Rawlinson
The hon. Member has referred to cases quoted in page 40 of the Law Society's Report, and to some in his own experience. Whom is he blaming? Is he, also, making strictures on the legal aid committees, or not?
§ Mr. Fletcher
No, the hon. Member has completely missed the point. I am blaming the present Regulations. The whole point of the Motion is to call upon the Government to change the existing regulations so that applicants for legal aid certificates should not have to pay the contributions which they have to pay at present.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Yes. Let there be no misunderstanding about this. The whole object of the Motion is that free legal aid should be providedwhere the disposable income of the applicant is over £156 but not in excess of £208, and to exclude from legal aid those persons whose disposable income is over £600 instead of £420.May I develop the point and ask the Attorney-General to follow the argument? If, as I suggest, the existing regulations are changed in accordance with the recommendations made by the Advisory Committee of the Law Society, the result would be that, instead of the deduction being £156, as at present, there would be a deduction of £208. In other words, if the recommendations of the Advisory Committee of the Law Society were adopted in each of these cases on page 40, the maximum amount which any applicant for legal aid could be required to pay would be approximately £26 less than at present.
The whole object of the recommendations is to reduce the maximum amount which an applicant for legal aid can be asked to contribute, or, putting it the other way, to increase the starting figure from £156 to £208, bringing within the scheme people who now have a disposable income of up to £600. Obviously, the existing allowances would continue, 1009 but the reliefs would start at a higher figure. The object of the recommendations is to mitigate the hardship which at present exists.
It is obviously a hardship that a person with very limited means, with a family to support, should be called upon to make a contribution of over £100 as a condition of receiving a legal aid certificate for an undefended divorce action, and the fact that such a person is at present called upon to make such a contribution very often results in his being deterred from proceeding with the action. This applies whether it be a petition for divorce or anything else. Moreover, a great many people naturally assume that if that is what it would cost under legal aid, it would cost more in the ordinary way. That does not always happen, of course.
As I said, in a great many cases it would cost them less, but one cannot really blame the unfortunate layman for thinking that, if that is the cost under the Legal Aid Scheme, he would have to pay even more if he was not assisted under the scheme. Therefore, the result which the Attorney-General must face is that a great many people, because of their inability to pay the very high level of contributions, are deterred from proceeding for the redress of their grievances. That is the burden of our complaint and that is why we want the regulations changed. That is why we want the minimum raised.
There is a further evil resulting from the regulations as they now exist. There is no flexibility in the scheme. This is not the fault of the Law Society, which has only to administer the regulations as they stand. The Law Society has a statutory duty, once it has decided that a certificate should be granted, to exact these contributions; there is no power to mitigate them because of different circumstances which arise after a certificate has been granted.
As I told the House, I know from my own experience of a number of people who have fallen into arrears with their contributions through no fault of their own. As a result of circumstances, people may have other pressing liabilities which mean that they cannot keep up their contributions. When this happens, they receive pressing letters from the Law Society and they become frightened. They 1010 realise that they will not be able to pay the full amount, £100 or whatever it may be, and sometimes they have to abandon their proceedings in mid-stream rather than continue them.
This is the kind of case which is constantly worrying my hon. Friends and myself. It seems to produce such unnecessary hardship and misery, and it produces a set of circumstances with which I find it baffling to deal when, in my constituency, people come and ask me what they should do. As the regulations stand now, there is nothing one can do, and that is why we are asking that the regulations should be changed.
I do not want the Attorney-General to be pedantic about the terms of the Motion. I am not limiting my complaints about the present scheme to the precise terms of the Motion. I stand by all the recommendations made by the Advisory Committee of the Law Society. I hope that the Attorney-General will not say that there is nothing in the Motion about Recommendation 17 (c). I attach considerable importance to this. Recommendation 17 (c) is that the regulations should be amendedso as to make eligibility for the Divorce Department depend upon a nil contribution instead of one of under £10".If there are cases where a person's financial circumstances are such that he just cannot afford to make any contribution at all in a divorce case, why should he have to pay £10? The right of members of the public to relief in Her Majesty's courts ought not to depend upon financial considerations of this kind. I do not believe that the cost to the Exchequer would be very great in carrying into effect Recommendation 17 (c).
We are concerned here for the humblest of Her Majesty's subjects. We believe they have just the same rights to have their cases presented in court as anyone else, if they have a prima facie case, even if they cannot afford to make any contribution at all. We think that the machinery by which applications are sifted by the area committees is sufficient. If applicants satisfy an area committee that they have a prima facie case for relief, they should not then have to undergo a means test, which, perhaps they cannot fulfil, as a condition of obtaining relief in the courts of law. I mentioned as an example Case C because it illustrates the 1011 problem we are trying to bring before the House and the Government.
Case D is of a kind which is probably familiar to other hon. Members of the House, the case of separated wife with five children under 10 years of age to look after. She has a disposable income of £212—little enough if she has five children to look after. She wants to bring some action in the courts which she is perfectly entitled to bring because she has a prima facie case. She is asked to make a contribution of £28. In her case, in those attenuated circumstances, such a sum is beyond her means. I have known many cases involving widows or women whose husbands have deserted them, and the circumstances in this class of case are really the most pathetic one ever has to deal with.
Such women find themselves in intolerable financial straits. They are hard put to it for advice about how to go about the proceedings, and, unless they have advice, they are the very people most liable to extortion at the hands of those who are able to have legal advice. After all, the whole object of the Measure is to ensure that poor people should be placed on a footing of equality in having legal advice and knowing what their rights are vis-à-vis those who can afford to have legal advice. The gravamen of our charge against the Government today is that the regulations operate harshly, oppressively and unfairly on many deserving people in the most deserving financial circumstances.
The circumstances of the woman referred to in Case D are a very good example. The demand that she should, out of her small pittance, make a payment of 10s. a week for a year is quite sufficient to deter her from going on. If the regulations were changed as we suggest, she would be exempt from any contribution at all. As regards Case E, a woman earning a little more, with a disposable income of £308, I would like to see the maximum contribution reduced from the high figure of £76—high in relation to her income of £308—to no more than £50. I think that even £50 would be a substantial sum, and, even at that figure, it might be too high to enable her to proceed.
I do not wish to detain the House longer. I hope that enough has been 1012 said to convince the Government that there are very many most deserving cases calling for spmpathetic treatment. That sympathetic treatment can be accorded only if the regualtions are changed. I do not want the Attorney-General to tell as that because of other reforms which he has introduced this should wait any longer. It is overdue for correction already.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
By leave of the House, I should like to say a few words in reply to the debate. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree, first, that this has been an interesting debate and, secondly, that it has been a valuable debate. It is a long time since we have had an opportunity of considering the various aspects of this social service which both parties took a great part in bringing into force. I am glad myself—and I do not wish to say anything controversial at this stage—that we have had an opportunity of discussing it.
It would perhaps have been easier for us all if we had had an opportunity for a general discussion on all the wide variety of problems related to it. Some of them we have not touched upon today—the question of legal aid for the tribunals of various kinds before which lawyers are now to appear if they have not already a right of audience. There is the question of timing and the question of when legal aid for cases in the House of Lords should be introduced. There is a wide variety of subjects which we have not touched upon today.
Naturally, attention has focused primarily on the Seventh Report of the Advisory Committee. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) made more than one error, but I want only to refer to one at this moment. He kept referring to the Committee as the Advisory Committee of the Law Society. It is not. It is an independent Advisory Committee and I think that the House is indebted to that independent Advisory Committee for the work that it has done over the years in drawing our attention to particular facets of the scheme.
In the course of my speech in moving the Amendment, I drew attention to various features of the Committee's Report. Naturally, in the course of years, the emphasis has altered, as I sought to 1013 show. The criticism started—and it is important to bear this in mind—at the very beginning of the 1950 regulations, passed by the Socialist Government, on the ground that in some cases the contributions demanded were excessive. I do not want to repeat what I have said already this afternoon about priorities. I would say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, East, who, I think, was not here at the beginning of the debate, that the Motion of which he was speaking in support is really far narrower than the matters to which he was referring.
The Motion itself is only suggesting that some of those who now pay contributions should be relieved of the burden of paying contributions and get free legal aid, and, at the other end of the scale, that those now outside the scope of the scheme should be brought in. There is nothing in the Motion which touches the 1950 regulations, which govern the amount of the contributions to be made.
I think that it has been useful that the debate has not been confined narrowly to the contents of the Motion.
§ I have no doubt that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will study the OFFICIAL REPORT of what has been said in the course of the debate, whether or not it has gone beyond the terms of the Motion or the Amendment, because I am sure that all those concerned in the administration of this scheme will find it valuable to consider, reflect upon and bear in mind the different points of view which have been ventilated in the debate.
§ I should like to conclude by saying that I am sure that the House would wish to pay tribute not only to the Advisory Committee for the part which it has played—and long may it continue to play it—but also to those who have given up a great deal of their time on the area committees all over the country not only to try to make this Act work as we intended it to do, but to try to secure that the social service which was devised operates satisfactorily.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question: —
§ The House divided: Ayes 230, Noes 285.1017
|Division No. 50.]||AYES||[6.58 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Holmes, Horace|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Houghton, Douglas|
|Albu, A. H.||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Delargy, H. J.||Howell, Denis (All Saints)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Diamond, John||Hoy, J. H.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Dodds, N. N.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Balfour, A.||Donnelly, D. L.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Hunter, A. E.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Edelman, M.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Benson, Sir George||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Beswick, Frank||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)|
|Blackburn, F.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Fernyhough, E.||Janner, B.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Finch, H. J. (Bedwellty)||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.|
|Boardman, H.||Fitch, A. E. (Wigan)||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Fletcher, Eric||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Foot, D. M.||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Bowen E. R. (Cardigan)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)|
|Boyd, T. C.||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Gibson, C. W.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Gooch, E. G.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Greenwood, Anthony||Kenyon, C.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Burke, W. A.||Grey, C. F.||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Lawson, G. M.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Griffiths, William (Exchange)|
|Hale, Leslie||Ledger, R. J.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hamilton, W. W.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hannan, W.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hastings, S.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Cliffe, Michael||Hayman, F. H.||Logan, D. G.|
|Coldrick, W.||Healey, Denis||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||McAlister, Mrs. Mary|
|Corbet, Mrs, Freda||Herbison, Miss M.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||McInnes, J.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Holman, P.||McLeavy, Frank|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Peart, T. F.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Pentland, N.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Mahon, Simon||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Popplewell, E.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Prentice, R. E.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Mann, Mrs. Jean||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Probert, A. R.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Mason, Roy||Proctor, W. T.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Mayhew, C. P.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Mellish, R. J.||Rankin, John||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Messer, Sir F.||Redhead, E. C.||Thornton, E.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Reeves, J.||Timmons, J.|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Reynolds, G. w.||Tomney, F.|
|Monslow, W.||Rhodes, H.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Moody, A. S.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Weitzman, D.|
|Mort, D. L.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Panoras, N.)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Moss, R.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Moyle, A.||Ross, William||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Mulley, F. W.||Royle, C.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Shurmer, P. L. E.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Willey, Frederick|
|O'Brien, Sir Thomas||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Skeffington, A. M.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Oram, A. E.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Oswald, T.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Owen, W. J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Paget, R. T.||Snow, J. W.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Sorensen, R. W.||Woof, R. E.|
|Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Yates, V, (Ladywood)|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Sparks, J. A.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Parkin, B. T.||Spriggs, Leslie||Zilliacus, K.|
|Paton, John||Steele, T.|
|Pearson, A.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Deer and Mr. Simmons.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Cooke, Robert||Cower, H. R.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Corfield, F. V.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Green, A.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Crowder, Petre (Ruisllp—Northwood)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Cunningham, Knox||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Ashton, H.||Dance, J. C. G.||Gurden, Harold|
|Astor, Hon. J. G.||Davidson, Viscountess||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Deedes, W. F.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Barlow, Sir John||de Ferranti, Basil||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Barter, John||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Batsford, Brian||Dodds- Parker, A. D.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Doughty, C. J, A.||Hay, John|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Drayson, G. B.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||du Cann, E. D. L.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Duncan, Sir James||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Duthle, W. S.||Hesketh, R. F.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Eocles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Elliott, R.W. (Ne'castle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Body, R. F.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Errington, Sir Erie||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Erroll, F. J.||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Fell, A.||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Braine, B. R.||Finlay, Graeme||Hope, Lord John|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col- W. H.||Fisher, Nigel||Hornby, R. P.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Forrest, G.||Horobin, Sir Ian|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Fort, R.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence|
|Bryan, P.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Freeth, Denzil||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Howard, John (Test)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Gammans, Lady||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Carr, Robert||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Glover, D.||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Hurd, Sir Anthony|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Godber, J. B.||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Goodhart, Philip||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)|
|Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Mawby, R. L.||Simon, J, E, S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Smyth, Brig, Sir John (Norwood)|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Moore, Sir Thomas||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Speir, R. M.|
|Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Joseph, Sir Keith||Neave, Airey||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Kaberry, D.||Nicholls, Harmar||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Keegan, D.||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'mth, E. & Chr'ch)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Kimball, M.||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Storey, S.|
|Kirk, P. M.||Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Lagden, G. W.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Lambton, Viscount||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Orr-Ewing, c Ian (Hendon, N.)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Osborne, C.||Teeling, W.|
|Leburn, W. G.||Page, R. G.||Temple, John M.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Partridge, E.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Peel, W. J.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Pitman, I. J.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Pott, H. P.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Powell, J. Enoch||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|McAdden, S. J.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Profumo, J. D.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Ramsden, J. E.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Rawlinson, Peter||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Redmayne, M.||Wall, Patrick|
|McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Renton, D, L. M.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Ridsdale, J. E.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Rippon, A. G. F.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Maddan, Martin||Roberts, Sir peter (Heeley)||Webster, David|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Robson Brown, Sir William||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Maltland, Hon Patrick (Lanark)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hon. Sir R.||Roper, Sir Harold||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Wolrige-Cordon, Patrick|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Russell, R. S.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Marshall, Douglas||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Mathew, R.||Sharples, R. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Shepherd, William||Mr. Legh and Mr. Gibson-Watt.|
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House endorses the introduction by Her Majesty's Government of a scheme for oral legal advice; welcomes the announcement
of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to implement the provisions of Sections 21 to 23 of the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949. relating to legal aid in criminal courts, and the provisions of Section 5, relating to legal aid in matters not involving litigation; and recognises that it is desirable to modify the financial provisions of the Legal Aid Scheme when circumstances permit.