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Legal Aid

Volume 300: debated on Monday 10 November 1997

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38.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what primary legislation his Department intends to introduce in relation to legal aid. [13465]

Extending conditional fees to all civil, but not family, cases, and withdrawing legal aid from most civil claims for money or damages, can be done under existing legislation. Subject to consultation, we expect to bring in the necessary regulations soon. Making contracting the only way to provide legal aid services, and changing the merits test to reflect the availability of resources, will need primary legislation. I hope to be able to bring forward a new Legal Aid Bill in due course.

41.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what is his policy toward controlling the legal aid budget. [13469]

I propose to control the legal aid budget by ensuring that legal aid is targeted to where it can do most good and is used only where no appropriate alternative method of funding is available. For the longer term I wish to see legal aid being delivered under contracts that will define the price quality and quantity of service to be provided tailored to the local needs of the community.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what measures his Department is taking to ensure consistency in decisions relating to the granting of legal aid. [14930]

Civil legal aid is granted by the Legal Aid Board in accordance with the statutory merits test. The Board use a number of procedures to ensure the test is applied consistently. There is a programme of work to improve the decision making process in the Legal Aid Board Area Offices, through the revision of existing guidance and the production of new guidance. My officials are also reviewing the operation of the merits test with the Legal Aid Board.In addition the Lord Chancellor recently announced plans to tighten the merits test so that a case would generally need a 75 per cent. chance of success in order to receive legal aid unless there were other compelling reasons for granting it. It is also proposed that the decision to grant should also take account of the available resources. However it would require primary legislation to give effect to these proposals.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what was the cost of legal aid in each of the last three years (a) exclusive and (b) inclusive of VAT. [15069]

Net expenditure on legal aid for the last three years is as follows:

  • 1994–95: £1,298.7 million
  • 1995–96: £1,390.5 million
  • 1996–97: £1,475.7 million
Information on VAT is not readily available and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost. Since not all disbursements attract VAT, and not all solicitors and counsel have always been registered for VAT, it is not possible to calculate the total VAT that is paid out of the Legal Aid Fund.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will list (a) the amount of expenditure on the Green Form scheme for 1996–97 and (b) the percentage of that expenditure which relates to (i) immigration, (ii) welfare benefits, (iii) debt, (iv) consumer and (v) other. [14931]

Net expenditure on the Green Form scheme, in 1996–97, was £151 million. Expenditure, as a percentage and by category of advice given, was as follows:

  • Immigration and Nationality1 17 per cent.
  • Welfare Benefits 9 per cent.
  • Debt 4 per cent.
  • Consumer 2 per cent.
  • Other 68 per cent.

1 It is not possible to identify separately the cost of advice given in respect of immigration matters.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (1) what percentage of the statutory charge was recovered by the Legal Aid Board in each of the last three years; [15070]

(2) what is the total value of the statutory charge currently owed to the Legal Aid Board. [15068]

Moneys recovered by way of the statutory charge relate to cases where charges have been outstanding over a number of years, and therefore there is no annual total statutory charge against which the moneys recovered in the same year could be measured as a percentage.The total value of quantified statutory charges outstanding at the end of the 1996–97 financial year was £185.9 million.

40.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on his plans to reform legal aid. [13468]

43.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement about his future plans for legal aid. [13471]

44.

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the proposed reforms of the legal aid system. [13472]

Our plans for legal aid reform were announced by my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in his recent speech to the Law Society Annual Conference. Subject to consultation, we intend to make conditional fees available for all civil non-family cases; to withdraw legal aid from most claims for money or damages; and to make contracting the universal way of procuring legal aid services. These changes will allow us to target scarce resources on the people who need them most, and will bring the cost of legal aid under better control and improve quality and value for money.