Following the Legal Aid Act 1988 and the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, the Government are implementing a series of measures to improve the machinery of civil justice and, in particular, to reduce delay, cost and complexity.
Is the Solicitor-General aware that the recently published proposals by the Lord Chancellor on legal aid are widely regarded as the most openly retrograde steps proposed since legal aid was introduced in the late 1940s and that they are universally condemned by the legal profession and consumer organisations throughout the country? In the light of the already apparent hostility, will he withdraw them?
The Lord Chancellor's consultation document deserves rather closer examination than that. It offers an opportunity for extending the limits of legal aid upwards in areas where it has not attempted to go under any Government. Whether it will be possible to do so will depend to some extent on the finances available. That it offers an opportunity in that direction, when hitherto no such opportunity has appeared, is something which the hon. Gentleman should no overlook.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a state-funded insurance scheme, which could cover many more people at much less cost than the present legal aid scheme, or tax relief on private insurance, would ensure that there was much greater access to the judicial system than there is at present?
My hon. and learned Friend picks up another of the points to be found in the Lord Chancellor's consultation document, which is well worth careful examination.
Is not the proposal simply the equivalent of urging people to take out a BUPA subscription instead of using the national health service? Can the Solicitor-General confirm that as a result of the recent freezing of the upper limits of legal aid for income and capital, 1·1 million people who would otherwise be eligible for legal aid are being left out and that there is nothing whatever in the Lord Chancellor's consultative paper to provide any compensation for those who will be disqualified from legal aid simply by saving? Will he please confirm that there is no policy of permanently freezing those upper limits?
There is no policy of permanently freezing the upper limits. Obviously, the non-increase in them this year will have some effect on the numbers who are eligible. The matters that are open for consideration in the consultation document offer opportunities for legal aid in areas where hitherto it has not been available. They include legal aid insurance, which is to be seen in some areas—property insurance policies sometimes include this —and should not be viewed narrowly.