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Legal Aid

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 2 July 2013

15. What impact assessment he has conducted on the potential effect of his proposed changes to legal aid on the quality and equity of legal representation in criminal cases. (162398)

Although we are clear that we must continue to bear down on the cost of legal aid, under our proposals, and indeed under any actions we take, quality legal representation will still be available to all who need it.

I congratulate the Government on having the political maturity to rethink their proposals. Does the Secretary of State agree that we cannot compromise the quality of British justice, even in a time of austerity?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, I regard the qualifications available to both the solicitors’ profession and the Bar in this country as of a high international standard. If a qualified solicitor or barrister is available to help somebody in a legal predicament, that is a sign that we are doing the right thing to support them and that will not change.

Why, then, did the Secretary of State think it was a good idea to limit whom a person can pick to be their solicitor?

My key concern is to ensure that we have universal coverage, even in tough times. I have consulted the legal profession, put forward ideas and listened, which I think is what they hoped a Government would do. I have made a modification, but nobody, and certainly not the Labour party, should be under any illusions: we have to meet financial targets and tough decisions lie ahead. The question is whether the Opposition support those changes, because I have heard no suggestion that they would reverse them.

My right hon. Friend and I have already spoken about this subject. I believe that there would be very great difficulties for people in need of legal aid on the Isle of Wight. The travelling times and the difficulty and cost of accessing legal advice on the mainland would be of a completely disproportionate magnitude to those experienced elsewhere in the country. Will he outline how he plans to address that problem?

One of the comments from colleagues in the House and elsewhere, which we must clearly factor in when developing the next stage of the proposals, is what we will do in areas that are rural or have particular geographical issues. That is something I am very mindful of—

It is all very well for Labour Members to say that it is a mess, but we are making changes that they recommended and said were necessary. We are making a financial decision to sort out a mess they left behind. [Interruption.] Where do they stand?

Order. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) should not keep prating noisily from a sedentary position. When he was practising at the Bar, he would not have behaved like that in the courts. Due decorum should be observed by the hon. Gentleman.

This Government’s handling of the proposed changes to legal aid has been absolutely shambolic. Not only are they proposing to restrict access to legal aid—a right that goes back to Magna Carta—but their proposal will actually cost more. When will the Minister get a grip?

Sometimes, Mr Speaker, you have to pinch yourself when you hear Labour Members. It is true that we are going to limit access to legal aid to people who have a net disposable income of more than £3,000 a month after tax, national insurance, mortgage payments, food, council tax, and child care. My view is that if people have that much disposable income, they can make a contribution. Labour is only a party for the rich these days.