§ 9. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister without Portfolio if he will make a statement on the operation of legal aid; and what plans he has for a review of the present system.
§ Sir Eric Fletcher
The Reports of the Law Society and the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee for the year 1963–64 were laid before Parliament and published yesterday. From these Reports the hon. Member will see that the civil legal aid scheme in England and Wales is still expanding as a great and beneficial social service. Details of the operation of the scheme will, as always, be reviewed in the light of these Reports. As the hon. Member will know, a departmental committee under Mr. Justice Widgery is considering the arrangements and machinery for providing legal aid for criminal proceedings.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Does the Minister realise that, whereas legal aid cost the taxpayer £4½ million last year, the cost of litigation to the man of limited means, in proportion, was much higher? Will he do something to see that only a simple fee needs to be paid? Does he realise that the cost of litigation is extremely high? Is it possible to devise a simpler method of divorce proceedings so that these costs can be reduced?
§ Sir E. Fletcher
I am aware, as the House will be, that in view of the operation of the legal aid scheme the cost of litigation is now a matter of concern not only to the litigant but to the State. Hon. Members will see that a number of suggestions are contained in the Report. 1303 They will be the subject of careful and early consideration by my noble Friend and myself.
§ Mr. Abse
Will the Minister note that it is abundantly clear from the Report that a great deal of money has been spent by the community on subsidising divorce. No less than £4 million has been spent on divorce and only £40,000 has been spent by the State on marriage mending through the Marriage Guidance Councils? Is it not time that we stopped dodging the issue and faced the fact that we could reduce costs if we reformed divorce law, which at present is replete with humbug and hypocrisy, and is so full of elaborate complications that it is making its operation unnecessarily expensive?
§ Sir E. Fletcher
My hon. Friend will not expect me to comment on all the adjectives and sentiments that he has expressed, but it is significant that the Advisory Committee strongly recommends that close attention should be given to increasing the Exchequer grant to voluntary societies concerned with marriage guidance.