HC Deb 28 October 2003 vol 412 cc154-5
20. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West)

When the Secretary of State intends to complete the review of the not-for-profit contract issued to organisations offering legal services as part of the community legal service in order to incorporate retail prices index increases in salary scales; and if he will make a statement. [134515]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy)

The Government are committed to the increasing contribution of the not-for-profit sector to legal aid work. The Legal Services Commission is currently reviewing the cost to the not-for-profit sector of providing publicly funded advice. A questionnaire will go out to suppliers in mid-November, and I hope to announce the outcome of the review early in the new year.

Dr. Naysmith

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It indicates that some progress has been made, which is a good thing. Does he agree that if we are to have a high-quality community legal service, it is essential that we should treat those who choose to operate in that area fairly? Will he guarantee that what happened this year will not happen again?

Mr. Lammy

I know that my hon. Friend has been active in the north Bristol area, where the not-for-profit sector provides advice. He will know that there is an historic difference between the way in which we contract for advice with solicitors and the way in which we do so with the not-for-profit sector. Notwithstanding that, we want to see a greater contribution from the not-for-profit sector. The amount of money that we are contributing to it has increased from £35 million in 2001 to £51 million this year. There have been problems—that is why we are conducting the review—but I hope that we shall be able to come back in the new year and make some positive progress in this area.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Considering the overall cost of legal services, including the important not-for-profit sector, will the Minister keep his diary clear for Friday, by which time he will have in his hands the report on immigration and asylum cases to which he referred earlier? In the meantime, can he provide any guidance on whether there will be any savings, which could help the particular sector that we are talking about, arising from the Home Secretary's statement last Friday that 15,000 cases will not now go through the appeals system?

Mr. Lammy

The right hon. Gentleman will know that many of those cases are old ones going back to the end of the 1990s. Many of the people involved have completed and gone through the appeals procedure. Nevertheless, we estimate that there will be a saving of about £13 million.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

Will my hon. Friend require those who work for the community legal service to identify areas where local people have no access to legally aided advice and assistance—the so-called advice deserts? When they are identified, what will my hon. Friend do to fill the gaps?

Mr. Lammy

We are conducting an entire review of legal aid, examining the supply, the purchase and the demand. We know, of course, that there are some rural areas where we have to keep a close eye on supply. However, I shall tell my hon. Friend about last year's figures. There were 2,909 providers on the criminal side and this year there are still 2,909 providers. On the civil side, there were just under 5,000 providers last year, and that number has dropped by 200 this year. So, talking about deserts is a bit strong. We want to guarantee that the great Attlee invention of legal aid will continue into the next century.