HL Deb 08 August 1966 vol 276 cc1578-9

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government the amount spent in the last year from public funds on—

  1. (a) legal aid in divorce proceedings;
  2. (b) grants to reconciliation agencies.]


My Lords, expenditure on legally aided divorce proceedings is not accounted for separately, but it is estimated that the cost in England and Wales in the last financial year was about £3 million. In the same period grants to marriage guidance organisations in England and Wales amounted to £46,375.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply, but I should like to ask whether it does not reveal a rather extravagant and extraordinary misapplication of public funds?


No, my Lords, I do not think so. It would indeed be surprising if these two amounts were comparable. I am not clear whether the noble Lord is proposing that the amount expended on legal aid should be reduced. If he is, I must remind him that, before the last Labour Government passed the Legal Aid and Advice Act, there were thousands of men and women, particularly women, who were entitled to a divorce in law but could not get one because they simply could not afford it. If, on the other hand, the noble Lord is intimating that, in his view, the amounts of the grants to marriage guidance organisations should be increased, I entirely agree with him. I would point out that for this year, in spite of present conditions, the Government have agreed to increase the grants to these bodies from £46,375 to £63,000, an average increase of 24 per cent., and, in the case of the National Marriage Guidance Council, an increase of 40 per cent.


My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor able to say what proportion of the total sum expended upon legal aid is represented by expenditure on legal aid in divorce proceedings?


My Lords, speaking from recollection, the approximate percentage of the amount spent on legal aid which goes to divorce is about 70 per cent.