HC Deb 19 March 1973 vol 853 cc25-7
45. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Attorney-General if he has completed his consideration of the recommendations of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee concerning a revision of the income limits of eligibility for legal aid; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

I am not yet able to add anything to the reply given to the hon. Gentleman on 26th February.—[Vol. 851, c. 1059–61.]

Mr. Davis

That is a grossly unsatisfactory reply. Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the advisory committee recommended that it was essential that revised income limits should come into operation before 2nd April, when the Legal Advice and Assistance Act is due to come into operation, and that the Government's failure to announce their proposals along the lines of its recommendation leaves the scheme in a state of great uncertainty? In fact, the legal aid scheme is foundering because of the inability to apply realistic income limits.

The Attorney-General

As I told the hon. Gentleman when he last asked this Question on 26th February, the date of the report of the advisory committee was 6th February and matters were being considered by my noble and learned Friend one of which concerns the matter about which the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) asked me, namely, an annual increase, as with the supplementary benefits scheme. These matters are under consideration, and for that reason I am unable to make a further announcement today.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the advisory committee considering the question of making it easier for women who have been awarded alimony under a court order to obtain legal aid in cases where they have not previously been able to get it, or is this matter waiting for the Finer Committee?

The Attorney-General

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the answer to that. The matters with which the advisory committee generally deals are very wide, including the best advice which can be given to my noble and learned Friend about the administration of the legal aid scheme.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Cannot the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an undertaking about the matter with which the Question is concerned, namely, the income limits of eligibility for legal aid? Even if other matters must be given consideration, is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the advisory committee said that this matter was of very great urgency? Who is responsible for all the delay, and how are the necessary operations to publicise the scheme to be put into effect before 2nd April if no decision is made?

The Attorney-General

I appreciate that there is anxiety and a need to know the substantive and definitive decision, but I cannot at present tell the House that this matter has been finally decided.

Mr. Davis

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall endeavour to raise this matter on the Adjournment at an early stage.