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Legal Aid

Volume 523: debated on Tuesday 15 February 2011

We published impact assessments alongside our reform proposals setting out their potential financial implications. We estimated that the savings to civil legal aid would be around £255 million by 2014-15. Total civil legal aid expenditure was around £900 million in 2008-09.

We all appreciate the need to make savings, but citizens advice bureaux, including the Charnwood CAB in my constituency, play an important role—hon. Members on both sides of the House have drawn attention to their CABs. Mention has been made of the difference between legal and general help. May I suggest that the Minister consider, with the Department for Work and Pensions, simplifying the length of the forms that people need to fill in? The CAB currently helps benefits claimants who sometimes have to fill in forms of up to 52 pages in length.

Yes, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we are in discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions on exactly that matter, and more generally on improving early intervention, so that preferably people will not need to go to a tribunal at all.

We heard evidence this morning that conditional fee agreements were driving up costs in clinical negligence cases. Will the Minister look again at Lord Justice Jackson’s view that legal aid in such cases should not be cut?

We are indeed doing that. The consultation on Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations closed yesterday, and we have had a large number of responses. We will look carefully at those over the coming weeks and come back with our response to the consultation. I agree that this is an important matter in terms of legal aid and conditional fees arrangements in so far as half of clinical negligence cases are funded by the former and half by the latter.

On budget savings, has the Minister had a chance to consider how much might be saved in the legal aid budget by not allowing cases of unaccompanied children and young people whose asylum claims have failed to be dealt with under legal aid, and indeed those who have fled domestic slavery? Will he look again at whether the savings derived are appropriate, given the impact that it will have on these categories of people?

In all those circumstances—the hon. Gentleman mentioned a lot quickly—I think that we will be retaining access to legal aid.

Recently, Ministers drew attention to the staggering sum of £38 per head of population in England and Wales being spent on legal aid funding. That figure is £3 in France and £5 in Germany. Will he give us the comparisons with the rest of the regions of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland and Scotland?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that England and Wales spend more on legal aid than anywhere else in the world except Northern Ireland. In Spain, the figure is about £2.50, in France £3, in Germany £5 and in other common law countries it is more like £9 to £11. Some people say that our system is different, but actually other common law countries spend about a third of what we spend on legal aid. After our proposals, we will still be spending more on legal aid than any other country in the world.