HC Deb 27 November 1975 vol 901 cc1025-6
7. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many convictions were obtained for the most recently available year for the making of false declarations and other frauds to obtain legal aid.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I regret this information is not available: the criminal statistics do not distinguish frauds in relation to criminal legal aid applications from certain other types of fraud.

Mr. McCrindle

Is the Minister aware of the very real disquiet which has suddenly become evident among the public in this matter? Does he understand that some members of the public cannot quite appreciate why seemingly well-heeled individuals should be able to obtain legal aid while others, who are, on the face of it, much more deserving, fail to do so? At the very least, will the Minister recognise that there is a need for re-educating the public if the legal aid system is not to fall into disrepute?

Mr. Lyon

I try to do my best, in my replies to letters on this subject, to educate members of the public in this matter. There is a distinction between civil and criminal legal aid. In criminal legal aid the application has to be decided quickly and, therefore, there is not always an opportunity for the Supplementary Benefits Commission to do the exhaustive investigation of means that always takes place before a civil legal aid application is granted. However, if later examination shows that there has been any kind of false representation about means, the matter can always be remedied by the court when it make an award about the contribution that the accused has to make to the Legal Aid Fund.

Mr. Ashley

Will my hon. Friend consider handing over the whole of the legal aid system to an independent commission and thus take it out of the hands of the Law Society, because that body is not particularly well suited to handle the legal aid system? Its primary concern is to defend the interests of solicitors and lawyers.

Mr. Lyon

I shall think about that interesting suggestion, although it does not really come within my ambit. Civil legal aid is dealt with under a scheme administered by the Law Society, and that society is responsible to the Lord Chancellor. However, the criminal legal aid system is dealt with through the courts, and for that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is responsible. From time to time we have considered the possibility of setting up an advisory committee on criminal legal aid, but for various reasons that has been rejected. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.