HC Deb 22 March 1982 vol 20 cc683-5
35. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Attorney-General whether he will take steps to extend the availability of legal aid.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

Steps to extend legal aid will be taken when resources become available.

Mr. Janner

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that in the meantime our courts remain like the Waldorf hotel—open to all; that is, all who can obtain legal aid or who do not need it? Does he agree that that means that the majority of people in Britain do not receive the help that they need and that justice is, therefore, not available to them in our courts?

The Attorney-General

The results of the increase will be to make entitlement to legal aid the same as it was in 1979, which means that it covers at least 70 per cent. of all households in Britain.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many claims for legal aid are fruitless? Does he agree that too much money is wasted on cases that cannot possibly be justified?

The Attorney-General

As my hon. Friend knows, in each case a committee of experienced lawyers decides whether there is a reasonable case for granting legal aid.

Mr. Archer

Does the Attorney-General recollect that when the outgoing Government in 1974 restored legal aid limits to the equivalent of what they were in 1950, both parties agreed that the limit would be uprated annually to stay abreast of increases in supplementary benefit? Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman noted the anxiety expressed in the Law Society's legal aid report for 1981 that that level has not been maintained? Am I correct in thinking that the levels will be restored in due course? Since the whole question of legal services has not been debated since the Royal Commission reported in 1979, will the Attorney-General try to persuade his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate?

The Attorney-General

The increase restores the level to where it was in 1979 to cover at least 70 per cent. of all households. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the right hon. and learned Gentleman's request for a debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The next question is on the same lines.

36. Mr. Meacher

asked the Attorney-General if he will revise the criteria of eligibility for legal aid under the legal aid fund.

The Attorney-General

There are no immediate plans to revise the criteria. On 1 April next the financial qualifications governing eligibility for legal aid and advice and assistance will be improved by approximately 9 per cent.

Mr. Meacher

Is it not an outrage that Shell and BP have just been awarded £33,000 from the legal aid fund—that is, from the taxpayer—in costs in the recent case over lead levels in petrol? Is that not the grossest abuse of legal aid, since under that system costs are awarded only if an unassisted party would suffer severe financial hardship without them? Will the Attorney-General take steps to block the payment and to ensure that such abuse does not occur again?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman speaks of a matter about which I have no personal knowledge. If he writes to me I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Dover

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many defendants decide to have their cases heard in the Crown court on the advice of their solicitors? Is he aware that that increases the fee to the solicitor and therefore reduces the amount of legal aid that can be offered to others?

The Attorney-General

There is always a risk that an accused might not want to go for trial, but, for the wrong reasons, those appearing for him decide to go to the Crown court. It is difficult to pin that down, and I do not think that it happens often.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

How can the Attorney-General maintain that the resources are not available for increasing the eligibility for legal aid when he colludes with an agreement which ensures that the public pay the costs of the abortive action by Mrs. Whitehouse in relation to the National Theatre presentation? Is that not an unnecessary infringement on the money available for legal aid?

The Attorney-General

The only costs being paid out of public funds are not the prosecution costs of Mrs. Whitehouse, but the defence costs. That was a decision for the trial judge.

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