HC Deb 17 May 1976 vol 911 cc951-3
42. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Attorney-General whether he is satisfied with the workings of the legal aid system.

The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)

My noble and learned Friend is satisfied that the legal aid system has made an immense contribution to enabling people of limited means to obtain justice in the courts. He is fully aware of its limitations and it is his policy, as and when resources permit, to improve the system.

Mr. Renton

Does not the right hon and learned Gentleman think that the definition of those who qualify for civil legal aid and those who do not is too tightly drawn and that there is a very firm cut-off point for maximum disposable income? Will he adjust this?

The Attorney-General

The financial limits of eligibility are now being examined by the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee. A working party has been set up to review the whole of the financial conditions relating to the legal aid scheme, and we should await its report.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

When can we expect to get that report? A number of people ought to be receiving aid or more than they are receiving, and they are thereby handicapped from taking action in the courts.

The Attorney-General

As I have said, I am aware that there are many limitations that one would want to remove, of which the financial limit is only one. My noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is giving urgent consideration to the whole question of legal aid. I cannot say when the report will be ready.

Mr. Adley

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman have any views on the rights of people who may wish to purchase or sell houses without using solicitors but wish to do so through the organisation of which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) is president?

The Attorney-General

That is an entirely different question.

Mrs. Dunwoody

While my right hon. and learned Friend is encouraging the Lord Chancellor to hurry on with the report, will he also have a gentle word with the legal profession about the time it takes on legal aid cases? There is another form of difficulty here, because anyone on legal aid has to wait longer for services than someone who is paying his advisers, and people on legal aid therefore think that they are being badly treated in this way.

The Attorney-General

I assure my hon. Friend that our noble and learned Friend needs no reminder from me about the urgency of improving the legal aid system. Indeed, he speaks again and again, quite rightly, on the subject and is fully aware of the need. I am surprised to hear what my hon. Friend says about the time taken on legal aid cases, except to the extent that time is always taken in satisfying the legal aid authorities that an application is justified and that the needs of the applicant are within the limits. If, however, my hon. Friend has any particular case in mind, I hope that she will let me have the facts and I will look into it.