HC Deb 02 December 2003 vol 415 cc364-5
23. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)

How many law centres have been opened since the launch of the community legal service. [140732]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Six law centres have been opened since the launch of the community legal service, in Devon, Surrey, Stockport, Trafford, Bury and the Isle of Wight. Law centres provide legal advice and support to an increasing number of communities and play an important part in the fight against social exclusion.

Mr. Kidney

I am pleased to hear about those expansions in the community legal service by way of law centres. Is it part of the Department's thinking that, under a comprehensive community legal service, there is a greater role to be played by law centres and salaried staff in achieving wider access to justice?

Mr. Leslie

It is true that the number of law centres, which are not the only providers of advice through the community legal service, is increasing. There are 52 law centres across the country, 45 of which are funded by the Legal Services Commission, but a large number of solicitors are also contracted to provide advice. I know that my hon. Friend does not have a law centre in his constituency, but I assure him that there are many solicitors with contracts to give legal aid advice. There is also an outreach service in the Stafford citizens advice bureau, of which I know he is well aware.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

May I say that I very much look forward to being the Minister's opposite number? It risks becoming midget wars with attitude, but we shall try to pitch the tone good and high.

Does the Minister agree that law centres have an important role in liasing with citizens advice bureaux, but that the problem is that the Government keep loading ever greater burdens on to local authorities, including expecting them to support law centres and citizens advice bureaux, without providing any dedicated funding to enable them to carry out such work? How much of the budget does the Minister estimate will be exclusively devoted to such support?

Mr. Leslie

First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new portfolio, although I am not sure about being characterised as a midget, given that at 6 ft 5 in I tower over the Dispatch Box. I am surprised that he cannot recognise that it must be the angle at which he is sitting.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs invests about £7.6 million in community legal service law centres, compared with £4.3 million in the first year of the CLS in 2000–01—a massive increase in funding. The hon. Gentleman urges more expenditure. We have to budget prudently for such matters, but we want more law centres to open up if we can afford it.