HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc14-6
36. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what is his latest estimate of the amount that will be spent on legal aid in the current year; and what the figures were for (a) 1978–79, (b) 1990–91, (c) 1991–92 and (d) 1992–93.

Mr. John M. Taylor

It is estimated that net expenditure on legal aid will amount to £1.284 billion in the current financial year. Net expenditure on legal aid in 1978–79 and in the previous three years was as follows: for 1978–79, £86 million; for 1990–91, £682 million; for 1991–92, £906 million; and for 1992–93, £1.093 billion.

Mr. Bruce

The figures are clearly frightening because they reveal the speed at which the cost of legal aid is increasing. Has my hon. Friend thought to tackle the problem from the other direction, by reforming court procedures to cut the delays and waste caused by having many lawyers sitting around in court waiting for cases to be called and by frequent adjournments, thus also creating various costs?

Mr. Taylor

As I have been one of those lawyers who used to sit around, I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend's question. He may like to know that improvements to and the simplification of court procedures are a constant and urgent preoccupation of the Lord Chancellor's Department. Meanwhile, the royal commission will report tomorrow, and my hon. Friend will no doubt want to see the extent to which its proposals meet his anxieties.

Ms Eagle

What is the Minister's opinion of the fact that when Mr. Asil Nadir fled bail, he left behind a legal aid bill of £1 million which has to be footed by the British taxpayer, although Mr. Nadir is clearly not short of money? Will the Government consider examining the loopholes in the legal aid system to prevent such outrages happening again?

Mr. Taylor

It is extremely unusual to hear the Labour party worrying about the taxpayer—refreshing perhaps, but just a touch unusual. The Labour party's usual cry is for more and more legal aid.

Mr. David Shaw

What are the Department's views on the projections for growth in legal aid costs over the next few years? Is the Department worried about the fact that it is projected that the legal aid bill will exceed the Government support given to manufacturing industry?

Mr. Taylor

I do not have a brief to speak on industrial matters, but I can answer my hon. Friend's question about the amount by which legal aid is set to increase over the next three years. Very approximately, the figures are 10 per cent., 10 per cent. and 10 per cent. in each of the next three years, and the anticipated usage of legal aid is expected to rise from the participation of 3 million persons per annum to 4 million persons per annum during the review period.

37. Mrs. Roche

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the recent restriction in eligibility to legal aid; how many representations he has received on this issue; and what proportion of them have indicated that this restriction is causing hardship.

Mr. John M. Taylor

We estimate that about 48 per cent. of households are now eligible for civil legal aid and about 21 per cent. for advice and assistance under the green form scheme. The Lord Chancellor and I have received a number of representations about various aspects of the changes to legal aid eligibility, a small proportion of which give examples of the effect of the changes.

Mrs. Roche

What would the Minister say to the seriously ill leukaemia patient who is not able to sue for medical negligence because of cuts in legal aid and who said that he could not gamble with the money that is meant for his children's food? What consideration has the Minister given to the Home Affairs Select Committee's recommendation that the cuts in eligibility should be restored?

Mr. Taylor

I remember that the hon. Lady raised the issue of the Home Affairs Select Committee's report with me during the debate on legal aid eligibility. I am at pains to tell her that the Lord Chancellor will shortly report, on the Government's behalf, on the Committee's report. I think that that will happen soon, and I do not want to anticipate it.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Is my hon. Friend aware that two hours' consultation under the green form scheme for someone with an income of up to £60 a week will be free and that two hours' consultation for someone with an income of £62 a week will cost £100? In view of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee's recommendation that the suspension of the green form scheme should be dispensed with, especially as it is to continue in Scotland —the Lord Chancellor told the Select Committee that people north of the border would be better off than people in the south—will my hon. Friend undertake to look again at the decision to do away with the green form scheme other than for those on income support?

Mr. Taylor

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the proposals were approved not long ago by a majority of 49 in this honourable House. They were subsequently referred to the High Court on judicial review, whereupon the Lord Chancellor's position was sustained in its entirety. However, it is not for me to anticipate future positions with regard to public resources and the many claims on them. We will continually and very closely monitor the effects in practice of the changes that we have made.

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