HC Deb 23 July 1973 vol 860 cc1153-4
52. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the Government's policy concerning increased financial limits for eligibility for legal aid.

The Attorney-General

The matter is still under active consideration and I will make a statement as soon as I am in a position to do so.

Mr. Davis

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain his remark that the matter is still under active consideration? It has been under active consideration since about January or February, when the recommendation was first made. Is he aware that the failure to increase the eligibility limit from the income point of view is seriously imperilling the whole legal aid scheme, and that many injustices are arising because too many people who ought to be eligible for legal aid are not being allowed to get it because of the present ridiculous limit? Can he not give an assurance that something active will be done within the next week or so?

The Attorney-General

The report was made in February and consideration has been given to it since then. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the point he has made will also be considered but I am not in a position to make a statement at present.

Mr. S. C. Sillkin

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he will make a statement as soon as possible. Does he mean a statement to this House? If so, will it be before the recess? If it is not made before the recess, there will be a further three months' delay to add to the time since the advice referred to was given, and that would be quite unsatisfactory.

The Attorney-General

It is most probable—indeed. certain—that there will be no statement before the recess. The matter is still being considered and a statement will be made as soon as possible.

55. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Attorney-General when he expects to receive the recommendations of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on the availability of legal aid for representation before tribunals.

The Attorney-General

The advisory committee has only recently started to consider this matter. I cannot yet say when it is likely to report.

Mr. Archer

While the committee seems to be displaying a commendable sense of urgency, does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that to require comments on the working papers by 3rd September is possibly displaying an excessive sense of urgency, particularly since half the time allowed falls within the holiday period? As some people have been pressing for this sound recommendation to be implemented since it was made by the Franks Committee 15 years ago, would a further month make much difference?

The Attorney-General

This is a classic dilemma. On the one hand one is pressed to deal with the matter urgently, and on the other hand one must have sufficient time to consider it. I note what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, but we would consider the matter to be urgent and therefore have asked for the criticisms to be made by 3rd September.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the committee to look at the question of the payment of legal costs for owner-occupiers who have their properties threatened with compulsory purchase?

The Attorney-General

I will ask the committee to see whether that matter comes within its terms of reference and, if so, whether it can take it into account.

Sir Elwyn Jones

In the meantime, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider what further help can be given to community law centres which do a great deal of work before welfare tribunals, particularly in areas undermanned by solicitors?

The Attorney-General

I appreciate the point. It does not quite arise out of this matter, but I will bear it in mind.