HC Deb 26 February 1973 vol 851 cc1059-61
37. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Attorney-General what proposals the Government have to increase the income limits of eligibility for legal aid consequent upon the latest recommendations made by the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

The recommendations made by the advisory committee in its interim report which was published on 6th February are under consideration.

Mr. Davis

The right hon. and learned Gentleman evinces no urgency about this. Is he not aware that the £25 scheme is shortly to come into operation? Is he not further aware that the effective performance of the legal aid system is dependent upon a change such as that recommended by the advisory committee? Can he spell out some sort of timetable within which the Government are to consider this subject?

The Attorney-General

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. There is nothing I can add to what my noble and learned Friend said in another place on 14th February, namely, that the interim report of the advisory committee, published on 6th February, is still under consideration.

Mr. Fowler

Is it really in the public interest that men and women with deserving cases are prevented from going to law simply because they cannot afford the heavy costs which might be involved? As the committee presented its interim report as a matter of urgency, is it not incumbent upon the Government to treat it as such?

The Attorney-General

This is something which was treated urgently by the advisory committee but it reported only on 6th February. I do not think it unreasonable that three weeks later I am not able to report further to the House.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Would it not now be helpful to have some built-in provisions in the legal aid regulations to provide for periodic increases in the income limits for legal aid to permit those limits to reflect inflationary trends?

The Attorney-General

I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. Now that the advisory committee has reported and these matters are under consideration, that is the sort of issue which will certainly be taken into account.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, certainly in West Middlesex, the whole legal aid system has now become a bad joke, and not only are the provisions inadequate but they appear to be applied in a way which does no credit to the service?

The Attorney-General

I was not aware of that. I would not have thought that that was the general experience throughout the country. If the hon. Gentleman would like to let me have details I will examine them.

41. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Attorney-General what sum of money is now proposed to be spent on advertising the provisions of the Legal Advice and Assistance Act 1972.

The Attorney-General

Two hundred and ninety-five thousand pounds.

Mr. Archer

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm or deny a report that the sum originally envisaged was £400,000 and that the ensuing cut was made at the request of the Treasury? Does he agree that potential recipients of legal advice are those who most need to be informed of their rights?

The Attorney-General

I can only tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that this is the sum. It will be reviewed if it is felt that more needs to be done in advertising the service. It is proposed to print posters and pamphlets and to have television and Press advertisements. This is the programme for which this money at this time is to be expended.

Sir Elwyn Jones

As it may well be the case that even after this advertising the legal aid facilities will not be sufficiently known or used, may I ask the Attorney-General to look again, I hope sympathetically, at the possibility of providing more finance for the numerous neighbourhood law centres that are springing up to fill the gap in the present legal aid arrangements?

The Attorney-General

This is to advertise and bring this service to the attention of those who are interested. It is a sum which will be reviewed if at a certain time it is thought that there is a need for more advertising and publicity. It is directed at giving information about this important social service.