HL Deb 24 July 1980 vol 412 cc520-3

The LORD CHANCELLOR rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 3rd July be approved.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name. There is, in fact, a corresponding Motion relating to the position in Scotland, and it may be convenient to discuss that Motion relating to Scotland at the same time, since it is really the same subject. But this Motion standing in my name relates to England and Wales only. These proposed regulations increase from £25 to £40 the cost of advice and assistance which a solicitor may provide under what is commonly known as the green form scheme without first obtaining the approval of the area committee of the Law Society. With the approval of the appropriate legal aid committee a solicitor may provide advice and assistance beyond the limit provided by the scheme. The limit, therefore, is not a bar to the amount of advice and assistance which a solicitor may provide, but simply an administrative check which enables the Law Society to control the expenditure under the scheme.

At its present level of £25 the limit has not been changed since the scheme came into being in 1973. At that time the limit was at a level below which it was believed that most solicitors would be able to provide most eligible clients with subsidised legal advice and assistance. With rising costs it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide such advice and assistance without exceeding the old limit. The result is that there is an increasing number of applications to exceed the limit and this process places a continuously heavier burden on those who have to deal with these applications. The increase to £40 should in most cases enable solicitors once more to provide advice and assistance without the expense and without the delay which an application for permission to exceed inevitably involves. It will also reduce the resulting administrative problems. I beg to move.

Moved, That the regulations laid before the House on 3rd July be approved.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am very happy to associate this side of the House with the approval of these regulations. It is partly as a result of inflation that the change needs to be made. The green form scheme whereby advice and assistance can be rendered without the preliminary formalities of certification by certifying committees has proved to be of very great value indeed and much advantage has been taken of it. It may well be that my noble friend Lord Mishcon will have some observations to make as to the problems that the solicitors' profession have to meet in dealing with this matter.

Can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say whether any use was made of the new arrangements that were introduced last year to enable, in certain cases, the green form scheme actually to cover appearance and representation in court in emergency conditions? I believe that was contemplated, and I wondered whether it has operated in practice. But as to the regulations themselves, they are welcomed and necessary.


My Lords, I wish also to say from these Benches how much we welcome these new regulations. The green form scheme has proved invaluable in providing legal advice to those who otherwise might not be able to afford it; and also I think, on a narrow financial basis, it has paid for itself in so far as it has enabled much litigation which otherwise might have taken place to be avoided, because sensible advice has been given in time. From these Benches, therefore, I welcome this new proposal.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful, both to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for their support of the regulations which I have just moved. I am very glad of the confirmation which both noble Lords have given to my view that the green form scheme is one of the most valuable additions to the legal aid service that has been made since its inception.

I cannot give the noble and learned Lord details of the use made of the arrange- ments of last year, but I will ask my department to write a letter, which I will sign, telling him of the facts and, if he wants any further publicity for it, we can arrange for a Question and Answer in the House. I am very grateful indeed to both noble Lords. It is a useful scheme and although I did not invent it, I was the midwife which brought it to birth in 1973.


My Lords, I rise only to add a few words to those which have already been said, since your Lordships would be rather impatient if I merely repeated in somewhat less eloquent language what has already been said. On behalf of the profession of which I am a humble but proud member may I say that these regulations are certainly very welcome.

As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said, this is a figure of £25 on this very valuable part of legal aid which was fixed in 1973. Indeed, it was suggested as the appropriate figure 10 years ago, and your Lordships may feel that my profession very properly has been acting without too much forcefulness in putting up with this limit of £25 for so long. That does not mean that efforts have not been made to increase it, for a very simple reason. The administrative costs of having to apply in regard to this valuable scheme, both at the solicitors' end and at the Law Society end, have really been quite prodigious when one thinks of the amounts involved. Indeed, some 25,000 applications were made for an increase only last year.

The purpose of my mentioning this matter to your Lordships—in the hope that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, with his usual readiness to help in legal aid, will take note of what I am saying—is that it is hoped that the rise in inflation over a period of time (much though we all hope that it will not be considerable) will be taken into account with regard even to the small increase which has now been given, and that for the sheer economy of the saving in administrative costs there could possibly be at least an annual review of the amount that we are now dealing with.


My Lords, by leave of the House I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mischon, for what he has said. I think that lawyers of both branches of the profession are not perhaps always as popular as we ought to be. It ought to be recognised that this scheme is largely run by the profession and this part of it by the solicitors' profession, to whom the nation owes a duty of gratitude in the matter. I will certainly take on board the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, about annual reviews. I am not in a position to give him an answer now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.