§ Mr. Raymond S. Robertson
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on his proposed changes to eligibility for civil legal aid and advice and assistance.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
My right hon. Friend has carefully considered the various representations he has received on the proposals to change the eligibility criteria for legal aid in Scotland as set out in my reply of 16 November 1992 to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Robertson),Official Report, Vol. 214, col. 64.222W
Given the distinctive features of the Scottish legal system and in particular the interface between advice and assistance and full civil and criminal legal aid, my right hon. Friend has decided to retain a contributory band of advice and assistance. Those on income support or family credit or with a weekly disposable income of less than £61 will be eligible for free advice and assistance. Those whose weekly disosable income falls between £61 and £147 will receive advice and assistance subject to the payment of a contribution on a sliding scale set by reference to the level of the applicant's disposable income. The retention of contributory advice and assistance will ensure that those on moderate incomes above income support level will continue to benefit from advice and assistance.
We intend to proceed with the changes to eligibility for civil legal aid as announced. The current eligibility criteria for criminal legal aid will remain unchanged.
These changes will ensure the achievement of our Objective that reasonable access to legal aid continues to be provided for the most needy. Planned expenditure on legal aid is expected to rise by 40 per cent. over the next three years and more people than ever before are expected to be granted legal aid.
My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State has today written to all Scottish Members of Parliament explaining the revised proposals in more detail.