HC Deb 25 February 1985 vol 74 cc12-3
41. Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General when he will respond to the 34th annual report of the Lord Chancellor's legal aid advisory committee.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

The report was published on 28 January. The Lord Chancellor wishes to consider carefully the committee's recommendations before taking any decisions on them.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Minister agree that it is urgent to act on the recommendation of the advisory committee about the threat to the future of law centres and citizens advice bureaux consequent on the possible abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan councils and on possible uncertainties in urban programme funding? Will he take urgent action to give law centres and CABs security for the future?

The Solicitor-General

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has formulated proposals for transitional and supplemental financial support for voluntary bodies, which would include the law centres, as a basis for further consultations with those concerned. It is, of course, right that there should be a viable and sensible basis for funding the law centres, but this must be got right and there are conflicting interests.

Mr. Sayeed

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider whether there is not a good case for a contingency legal aid system, as at present recourse to the law seems to be available only to the very poor and the very rich?

The Solicitor-General

I do not wholly accept the terms in which my hon. Friend has framed his question, but there is certainly room for improvement. He will recall that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor introduced a regulation, which took effect in March last year, to raise the thresholds for legal aid, thus meeting a need. I will, however, pass on my hon. Friend's comments to my right hon. and noble Friend.

Mr. John Morris

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree there is a great need, not for transitional arrangements, but for certainty of funding for the law centres? Only a year ago, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), we were told that the matter was receiving urgent consideration. Given the rundown of urban funding, is there not a dispute between the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Department of the Environment about the future of the law centres? How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconcile the Government's support for citizens advice bureaux nationally with the fact that they do not do so locally? With the additional danger of rate capping, will there not be a considerable diminution of advice for hundreds of thousands of people?

The Solicitor-General

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to an answer given "only a year ago", which puts the matter in context. The demands made on legal aid and advice services, including law centres, tend to vary between localities. It is not easy to resolve the conflicting interests, but local circumstances are best identified at local level. The Government therefore see advantage in local diversity in funding arrangements, but this and other matters are kept under review.