HC Deb 02 August 1976 vol 916 cc1204-6
36. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Attorney-General what was the cost of legal aid in 1973, 1974 and 1975, respectively.

The Attorney-General

The total net cost of legal aid on my noble Friend's Vote—namely, civil legal aid, legal advice and assistance, and legal aid for criminal cases in magistrates' courts—was £21.2 million in the financial year 1973–74 and £28.9 million in the year 1974–75. The figures for 1975–76 have not yet been audited, but they are estimated to be about £40 million. The total net cost of legal aid in respect of the higher criminal courts, which falls in the Vote of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, was £10.3 million in 1973–74, £14.4 million in 1974–75 and £18.4 million in 1975–76.

Mr. Price

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this is an area of accelerating public expenditure and one which we should examine to find proper sources of savings? Does he not consider that the hiring from public funds of expensive QCs to argue for days and days about who said what to whom in police stations could be eliminated by changing the Judges Rules and by tape recording all interviews in police stations? What progress is being made to save money and turn it over to essential areas of legal aid?

The Attorney-General

I am not sure that that would necessarily save any money in counsel's fees. This is a matter which has been under consideration, but it is a question for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I am sure that if my hon. Friend put down a Question to the Home Secretary he would be able to give him the latest thinking on that subject.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Has the proportion of legal aid for family matters and matrimonial disputes remained constant in the last three years?

The Attorney-General

It may have done but I cannot say offhand whether it has. The hon. and learned Gentleman will have noted that the total civil legal aid has gone up by a large amount, and that includes aid for family matters.