HC Deb 30 November 1992 vol 215 cc17-20
43. Mr. Raynsford

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will estimate the number of applicants who will be denied access to legal aid in consequence of the proposed changes to the legal aid scheme.

Mr. John M. Taylor

We estimate that around 2 per cent. of households will no longer be eligible for legal aid as a result of the measures announced recently. In addition, the decision not to uprate the income limit from next April will result in a further 8 per cent. of households not being restored to eligibility.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister accept that access to justice is one of the fundamental principles of a free and democratic society? How can he justify steps that will deny that right to a substantial number of our fellow citizens who are on modest incomes, especially when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets a handout for his legal action?

Mr. Taylor

It is very important to remember that our legal aid system is probably the most generous in the world. Its cost has doubled in the past four years, yet, even so, it is destined under the autumn statement to go up by 10 per cent. in each of the next three years. Even after the changes announced, it will still be available to 48 per cent. of households, and one fifth of households will receive legal aid without any contribution. It remains targeted at the poorest people, as it should be.

Mr. Dickens

Does my hon. Friend agree that if someone needs legal aid to defend a position, he is justly entitled to receive it if he qualifies? By the same token, there are people who are absolute scoundrels and who take on people through litigation. Some people have to put their hands in their pockets to pay for the case while the others get legal aid although they are not really entitled to it. We are the custodians of taxpayers' money.

Mr. Taylor

Once again, that is a powerfully expressed view on the subject, with not a little of which I agree. I am at pains to say while I am at the Dispatch Box that the effect of the recent changes on criminal legal aid is likely to be small, although some people will have to pay more in contributions; I think that they should.

Mr. Maclennan

Has the Minister discussed the matter with the Law Society since the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the announcement? Why is there such an extraordinarily large discrepancy between what the Minister has said this afternoon and the estimate of the Law Society which claimed that 10 million more people are ineligible as a result of the Chancellor's announcement?

Mr. Taylor

I have noticed that the solicitors' estimate is similar to that of the Liberal party and I cannot account for either.

44. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what arrangements there are to ensure that legal aid is available to all those who need but cannot afford legal advice.

Mr. John M. Taylor

All people whose disposable income is below £6,800 and whose disposable capital is below £6,750 will still be eligible for civil legal aid. For personal injuries cases the limits are £7,500 and £8,560. Those whose disposable income does not exceed income support level will be eligible for legal aid without a contribution.

Mrs. Jackson

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that, in the opinion of Sheffield law centre for example, cuts in eligibility for legal aid will have a particularly serious effect on women who try to get support from the courts against violent men in their own homes or outside? Contrary to stereotype, the majority of such women are not on income support. What arrangements will the Government make to ensure that women who are in that threatening situation are encouraged to take up the legal protection to which they are entitled?

Mr. Taylor

In addition to the services of the legal profession, valuable contributions are made by law centres and citizens advice bureaux. Women in the plight described by the hon. Lady are very much the concern of the Lord Chancellor's Department which is inquiring urgently into questions of domestic violence and how they affect women. Before long, it may be possible to legislate in that area to alleviate a very real grievance which is admittedly and very largely a women's issue and one that rightly claims the full attention and concern of society.