Legal Aid

Oral Answers to Questions — Lord Chancellor's Department – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 18 Tachwedd 1996.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Mr. William O'Brien:

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what consultation he has had with the Law Society on the setting of priorities for legal aid support. [2863]

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department), Assistant Whip (Law Officers)

The Lord Chancellor and I have met the president and other members of the Law Society on several occasions in the past few months to discuss legal aid. We expect to have regular discussions as the reforms progress. I will soon start a programme of visits to local law societies to talk to practitioners about the reforms and how they will be implemented.

Mr. O'Brien:

Does not the Law Society want a legal aid system that offers advice and assistance to people who pay their taxes? The way in which civil cases are attended to is a scandal. It cannot be right for people of modest means who work and pay taxes to be denied access to the legal system. People on pensions, who make contributions to legal aid, have to pay extra because of the length of time that it takes for cases to come to court. When will the Government make the system fairer and speed up the process of legal aid cases coming to court?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department), Assistant Whip (Law Officers)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important and interesting point; it is vital that we speed up access to justice, and that is one reason why the Government are implementing the Woolf reforms, which will make that access not only simpler and faster but cheaper. I am grateful to him for voicing support for our legal aid reforms; we are in discussion with the Law Society about them and it is perfectly proper and natural for the society to speak up for its members, but the Government will not be deflected from introducing the reforms at the earliest opportunity, to create a justice system of which we can all be proud.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Is my hon. Friend aware that far too many people who are not entitled to it still get legal aid, especially the self-employed and those whom I would call wheeler-dealers, who have a great facility for pulling the wool over the eyes of officials and getting recompense for not only criminal but civil matters, as the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said? That causes great resentment among those who feel that they should be entitled.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department), Assistant Whip (Law Officers)

My hon. Friend is quite right: too many weak, trivial and undeserving cases still slip through the net, which is why the Government are introducing radical reform. Tinkering with the system is not enough: we must control the budget, determine our national priorities and improve the merits test. We will do all those things, and we look forward to receiving the support of Opposition Members.