The Ministry of Justice does not provide direct support for law centres. However, law centres are able to bid for contracts issued by the Legal Services Commission to provide legal services in specified areas of law and will continue to be able to do so in the future.
My Department is also working closely with the Cabinet Office to support the cross-Government review into the funding of the not-for-profit sector announced on
I thank the Minister for that reply, but what would he say to my local law centre in Nottingham, which, as a result of his legal aid changes, says it will no longer be able to offer specialist advice to people experiencing problems at work, with debts or with benefits? When our local citizens advice bureau is already hugely overstretched, does that not mean that hundreds of people—particularly vulnerable people—will be unable to get the advice they need and will be denied access to justice?
Specifically, legal aid will be provided for a lot of debt advice after our changes. We are reducing our spend on legal aid, and law centres will be affected by that, but the Government recognise and highly value the important role of not-for-profit organisations such as law centres. That is why we launched a £107 million transition fund last year and the £20 million advice services fund this year. It is why the Cabinet Office has also announced a review of not-for-profit advice centres, which is a welcome and important development.
Is it not an assumption behind the Government’s reforms that the availability of advice needs to replace a great deal of litigation? If that is to be achieved, is it not necessary to ensure that there is a long-term, not merely a short-term, solution to some of the funding problems of law centres and citizens advice bureaux?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We are changing the way funding works and looking for alternatives to be taken up. However, we appreciate that, in the meantime, while the reorganisations are happening, there is a need to support law centres, which is why we are looking at transitional provisions to ease that passage.
Writing in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of the TaxPayers Alliance, pointed out that:
“advice costing £80 to deal with a housing problem can save thousands for councils who are legally required to house homeless families…cutting £10.5m for legal aid in clinical negligence cases will cause knock-on costs to the NHS of £28.5m.”
“Almost everyone who has looked at these particular cuts”—
even Norman Tebbit—
“thinks that too many of them will end up costing taxpayers more than they save.”
Is he right?
No, he is not right. The figures have been repeated by the Law Society. The point is that legal help is not the same as legal aid. We certainly appreciate the strong need for legal help so that problems can be dealt with early, and that is why we are very supportive of not-for-profit organisations.