HC Deb 29 June 1999 vol 334 cc132-4
31. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

If he will make a statement on the application by Chorley citizens advice bureau to obtain a contract for the provision of services under legal aid. [87545]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Keith Vaz)

Chorley citizens advice bureau was not invited to bid for a contract because its application related to categories of law specified as low-priority by the north-western regional legal services committee's draft strategy.

Citizens advice bureaux will be an essential element of the local networks in the Community Legal Service. The fact that Chorley citizens advice bureau does not have a legal aid contract does not preclude it from being accredited to the Community Legal Service quality mark, once that is available, and taking part in its local referral network. Indeed, Chorley's plans to work closely with the local authority's welfare rights service fits well with the proposals for the Community Legal Service.

Mr. Hoyle

What assurance can be given to the people of Chorley? Does my hon. Friend's answer mean that there will be provision through welfare rights, or does it mean that we shall have to travel somewhere else within central Lancashire?

Mr. Vaz

I congratulate my hon. Friend on championing the work of Chorley CAB, which does an excellent job. As he knows, the north-western regional committee launched a strategy, and engaged in consultation. A representative of Chorley attended the meeting on 25 November last year, and did not object to what was being proposed.

Chorley CAB has a vital role to play in the Government's plans for a community legal service. It will act as a referral agency; it will continue its excellent work, supported by my hon. Friend; and I am convinced that it will play its part in ensuring that we have a decent, modern system of justice.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

I call Mr. Burnett, who should make particular reference to Chorley, of course.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

Thank you, Madam Speaker. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must take these matters seriously. It is a specific question. It relates simply to one citizens advice bureau, and that is Chorley.

Mr. Burnett

I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker. As a precursor to my question, I should remind the Minister that, last week, he stressed the importance of abolishing legal aid for personal injury matters. [Hon. MEMBERS: "What about Chorley?"] I am getting to Chorley. That was despite objections throughout the House. What are the savings likely to be as a result of that closure and will he apply the savings to help the not-for-profit sector—for example, the citizens advice bureau in Chorley?

Madam Speaker

Order. That was a very good try, but Members should watch the questions to which they wish to put supplementary questions.

Mr. Vaz

I have no specific figures on Chorley concerning the points raised by the hon. Gentleman and the impact of withdrawal of legal aid from personal injury cases, but, overall, the freeing-up of £70 million at its peak will enable the Government to use those resources to prioritise areas of need. It will be £70 million at its peak. It will fall in later years to £30 million.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are satisfied with the arrangements that have been made. The conditional fee arrangements will enable people in Chorley and elsewhere to have the benefit of receiving good legal advice on personal injury cases.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Did the contract application from Chorley contain a reference to legal aid being granted only in cases where solicitors themselves undertake the legal aid work? In view of the hon. Gentleman's astonishingly complacent reply to my query about the issue in respect of my constituency, will he assure the House that, when Chorley again makes what I am sure will be a successful bid, such a clause will be present in that agreement?

Mr. Vaz

Chorley was not invited to bid because the areas on which it wished to make its bids were regarded as low priorities.