HC Deb 23 January 1978 vol 942 cc968-70
44. Mr. Peter Walker

asked the Attorney-General whether in the financial year 1978–79 he will take steps to extend the legal aid provisions to persons appearing before the Medical Appeal Tribunal and the National Insurance Commissioner.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department (Mr. Arthur Davidson)

It remains my noble Friend's view that extending legal aid to tribunals, including the Medical Appeal Tribunal and the National Insurance Commissioner, should be further considered when financial resources become available, but it is too soon to forecast when that may be.

Mr. Walker

Is the Minister aware that his reply will be very disappointing to 3,500 handicapped persons who each year, on average, have to find £300 each in legal costs to meet appeals frequently made by Government Ministers against their allowances? As hon. Members on both sides have supported a motion urging that this position be changed swiftly, will the Government give urgent consideration to it and change it?

Mr. Davidson

I am well aware of the interest that the right hon. Gentleman and others have shown in the subject of the availability of legal aid before tribunals, but he will appreciate that when more resources become available there will be other equally desirable claims on those resources. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my noble Friend will take great account of what he has said today and of the motion put down in his name.

Mr. Lipton

Can the Minister say who will decide what cases Judge McKinnon will try and whether they will involve race—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has gone back to Question No. 42. We are now on an entirely different Question.

Mr. Lipton

It is not my fault, Mr. Speaker that you did not call me on Question No. 42.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise, and I shall try to do better next time.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Who decides upon the order of priorities in public spending? Is not the Minister being a little timid in response to appeals from all sides of the House? Will the Minister now turn to the Treasury and say that this is a high priority and that getting justice under the social provision made by this House is as important as the provision itself?

Mr. Davidson

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall make these representations, not in a timid manner but in a bold and forceful manner, to my noble Friend.