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Legal Aid

Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2010

12. What steps he plans to take to fulfil the aspiration in the coalition agreement to increase the efficiency of the legal aid system. (25571)

The consultation document “Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales”, published on 15 November, sets out proposals to make the legal aid scheme more efficient. We looked from first principles at its scope, the eligibility rules, and the fees paid to lawyers and other providers of legal aid. We looked at alternative sources of funding, and we are also consulting on reducing administrative bureaucracy and making the system simpler to operate.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he take this opportunity to make it clear that the issues raised by Des Hudson of the Law Society are unfounded, that access to justice will still be available for people who really need it and that worthy organisations such as Citizens Advice are valued by this Government?

Yes, we are certainly very keen to work with voluntary organisations such as Citizens Advice to ensure more efficient and focused provision of legal aid, and included in that will be our proposals for a civil law telephone gateway service. By refocusing legal aid we aim to ensure that taxpayers’ money will be prioritised to help the vulnerable receive the legal support that they need.

The Secretary of State will know that proposals to close both the county court and magistrates court in my town of Whitehaven have been met with widespread anxiety and have been condemned by the local bench and local solicitors. Will he agree to meet us, so that he can learn at first hand just how ruinous the proposals would be if enacted?

The courts consultation closed in mid-September. We have been examining the significant number of responses and will be reporting back to the House on them before the new year. I am sure that the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made on his local courts will be examined and, following our decision, I would be happy to meet him.