HC Deb 14 November 1983 vol 48 cc602-4
48. Ms. Harman

asked the Attorney-General what representations the Lord Chancellor has received on the Government's response to the report of the Royal Commission on legal services.

49. Mr. Dubs asked

the Attorney-General what representations the Lord Chancellor has received on the Government's response to the report of the Royal Commission on legal services.

The Attorney-General

No representations have been received.

Ms. Harman

Bearing in mind that when a tenant applies for legal aid to enforce basic rights, such as the right to repair or the right to protection from eviction, he is means-tested and often has to pay a high contribution, is it not unfair that the Government are pretending to give free, non-means-tested legal aid to anyone having a dispute about the purchase of his council house? Will the Attorney-General accept that, although I am in favour of extending legal aid, it seems unjust and inconsistent that the only people to whom legal aid is to be extended by this Government are those who are doing the Government's bidding by buying their council houses?

The Attorney-General

Even those who are in dispute about the purchase of their council houses will be subjected to the same means-testing. They will be made to contribute, if at all, according to their means.

Mr. Dubs

Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own survey has shown that many defendants in magistrates' courts do not even apply for legal aid although they are charged with serious offences, why have the Government not accepted the report of the Royal Commission on legal services in order to widen the eligibility for legal aid and to make sure that all people who are charged with serious offences have legal aid?

The Attorney-General

Since the Widgery report, it has been clear that in practically every case where there is a risk of custody, and in most cases which go for trial in the Crown court on indictment, legal aid should be granted. If that has not happened in the magistrates' court on a case sent on indictment, it is almost always the case that the court then orders that the defendant should be legally represented.

Mr. Corbett

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why the Government have not yet been able to reach a conclusion about the future of law centres, given their importance and the increasing demands made upon them?

The Attorney-General

The matter is still under close consideration. The views are not all one way, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We are very keen to get it right. I hope very shortly that we shall be able to make an announcement of our intentions.

Mr. Ryman

Can the Attorney-General use his influence with the Leader of the House to enable us to have a debate on the report of the Royal Commission? Apart from a short Adjournment debate on 5 November 1979, in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to express the initial views of the Government, there has not yet been an opportunity, after a lapse of four years, to debate this important report.

The Attorney-General

I shall make certain that the hon. Gentleman's views are made known to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Attorney-General explain why it took four years for the Lord Chancellor to produce such a miserable and totally inadequate response to the Royal Commission's report and why, after four years' gestation, 176 out of 369 recommendations were refused consideration by the Government? Has not the time come for a new and radical approach, with the right institutions and the right financing, including that of law centres, to ensure that the needs of ordinary people are properly met, especially in housing disputes, family problems, personal injuries and the loss of employment?

The Attorney-General

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) on his appointment as Opposition spokesman on legal affairs. He does not seem to change his manner of questioning, whatever post he occupies.

There were 369 recommendations in the Royal Commission's report. It is obviously necessary in a large number of those to consult before any firm decision is taken. Some of the recommendations have already been implemented. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are some very important ones. A large number of those recommendations were, in the Government's view, more properly dealt with by the professions themselves than by Government interference. If the professions fail to deal with the recommendations with which the Government think they should deal, the Government will have to intervene.