§ 2. Mr. Watson
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received about the proposals for legal aid reform.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)
We have received a number of representations about the Government's proposed changes to the eligibility criteria for legal aid in Scotland, from the Law Society of Scotland, consumer interests, solicitors' firms, Members of Parliament and members of the public.
§ Mr. Watson
It would be interesting to know how many of those representations were in favour of the proposals. Why is it that under the proposals, someone in Scotland earning £62 a week who applied for legal aid today would have to pay nothing, but if he applied tomorrow he would have to pay £252 out of his £62 a week? If he were unable to afford that, he would have to abandon his claim. He would not have access to the legal system. What is that, if it is not a denial of basic justice? Will the right hon. Gentleman, even at this 11 th hour, recognise that thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of Scots will be denied access to legal aid and the legal system? Will he now withdraw those ill-advised proposals?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman substantially exaggerates the position. Only about 2 to 3 per cent. of those qualifying for legal aid this year will be affected by the proposals. When I point out that expenditure is doubling over a six-year period—it has risen from £49 million in 1988 to £100 million this year, with further substantial increases in the pipeline—the hon. Gentleman will realise that any Government have a responsibility to protect the taxpayers' interest and to ensure that the matter is kept under reasonable control.
§ Mr. McFall
On the Government's own figures, 100,000 people will be taken out of the eligibility category. Among these will be many thousands of women who are locked into violent relationships because they have no access to courts. Such women, with no legal recourse and living in intolerable conditions, could take the law into their own hands. Ironically, some could conceivably end up being granted criminal legal aid to defend themselves against a charge of murder. Does the Secretary of State agree that for the 22,000 women who contacted Women's Aid in Scotland last year, any cuts in legal aid availability will represent a terrible threat to their safety and that of their children?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman has got his figures completely wrong. We will have an opportunity to debate this later on, but the figure is not 100,000 but some 7,500 —less than one tenth of the figure the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Moreover, we expect civil legal aid to continue to increase by up to 40 per cent. by 1995–96. Criminal legal aid is not affected by these changes.