HC Deb 10 February 2004 vol 417 cc1261-2
23. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the work of citizens advice bureaux in relation to legal advice provided to members of the public. [153652]

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

The citizens advice bureaux and other not-for-profit agencies have an important role to play in the community legal service and in increasing access to legal and advice services for people experiencing social welfare problems. During 2003–04, the Legal Services Commission contracted with 239 CABs. The contracts were valued at more than £25 million.

Huw Irranca-Davies

The Minister will join me in applauding the work of the citizens advice bureaux throughout the UK, not least the offices in Maesteg and Bridgend, which reach out to all parts of Ogmore. However, may I draw his attention, with some concern, to a report published last week that suggested that parts of Wales were an advice desert, with people having to travel up to 50 miles to reach advice from a lawyer? Does he agree that the long arm of the lawyers should stretch a little further?

Mr. Lammy

I commend the work of the CABs in Bridgend. At this very moment, the LSC is involved in a contract bidding round with solicitors and CABs that want to provide legal aid services in Wales, and it believes that, as of April, some of the gaps that have been identified will be closed. I visited Wales a few months ago and looked at the telephone advice service that Shelter was providing on social welfare and housing issues. We have to look increasingly at other ways of providing advice, particularly in rural areas, and telephone advice will be one of those methods.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con)

Many CABs provide excellent services throughout the country, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that the inept local government settlement is making local authorities look closely at the donations that they make to charities, which will also affect the CABs? Is he concerned that some of those services might have to be withdrawn?

Mr. Lammy

The citizens advice bureaux receive more than £116 million of public funding every year. That is more than they have ever received before, and on this side of the House, where we support the Attlee Government's establishment of legal aid, we shall of course continue to support citizens advice bureaux.