HC Deb 14 October 1996 vol 282 cc460-1
28. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to improve the administration of his Department. [37954]

Mr. Streeter

A wide range of measures is constantly being undertaken to improve administration. They currently include: taking forward the management improvements set out in the civil service White Paper "Continuity and Change"; use of the private finance initiative to deliver better computerisation, services and accommodation; and other measures to enhance the quality of service and provide better value for money for court users and the taxpayer.

Mr. Flynn

Would not administration be improved if the Minister's Department had more resources, obtained possibly by clawing back some of the millions of pounds that have been looted from legal aid by criminal millionaires? If we cannot claw the money back from the millionaires, possibly because they have fled abroad, should not we claw it back from those who have benefited from the work of those crooks? Can we make a start by demanding that the Conservative party pays back into the public purse some of the £400,000 given to it by Asil Nadir in an attempted bribe?

Mr. Streeter

We are all concerned about cases where there appears to have been an abuse of legal aid money. My Department has already moved to take steps to close the loophole that has been used by the apparently wealthy. Our legal aid reforms are designed to crack down on weak and trivial cases and to ensure that a stiffer merits test is applied, which is the very thing that the hon. Gentleman has urged us to do. I thank him for his support for our White Paper reforms.

Mr. Dykes

Will the improved administration plans for the Department include more training for judges, including senior judges, particularly after the most unfortunate decision made in the Maxwell case, which undermined the meticulous preparatory work of the Serious Fraud Office?

Mr. Streeter

When introducing the reforms brought forward by Lord Woolf, the judiciary will have to undergo serious training, which it is enthusiastic to do. Resources will be made available. It is our intention to have a legal system fit for the 21st century which is safe in Conservative hands.

Mr. Boateng

Talking of elders and betters, what is the Minister's response to the criticism of the Government by the judiciary over the weekend? The Master of the Rolls described our civil justice system as a "no-win casino". The head of the chancery division described the Government's proposals for court fees as "mistaken". When will the Minister's Department publish Lord Woolf's report? Will he cost it so that we can reform a system that is increasingly falling into disrepute?

Mr. Streeter

We are about to announce our response to Lord Woolf' s report. We shall take seriously any comments made by the judiciary. As I understand it, some comments were made in relation to the prospect of the Opposition Front Bench trying to outdo my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who is introducing tremendous reforms that are supported by the nation at large. The hon. Gentleman's response appears to be, "Mine is bigger than yours."

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the administrative reforms that he is undertaking will enable his Department sufficiently to pursue contempt of court cases? In particular, will the reforms enable his Department to examine the clear contempt of court of those who quote privileged court documents, including the disgraceful conduct of the right hon. Members for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) in quoting privileged documents?

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend raises a serious matter. The disclosure of documents in the case to which he refers clearly needs to be carefully scrutinised. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for full consideration.