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Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): May I have a positive response to the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)? When the Prime Minister answered me on Tuesday he said that education and transport were to be included in the Government's Bill on discrimination against disabled people. He said that in a packed House and it went out to the entire nation. It was therefore believed that the Government's Bill applied to education and transport, when in fact there is a mass of exemptions in terms of education so that no funding authority is allowed to be considered in the areas covered, and "transport" does not apply to transport vehicles. In those circumstances, a statement by the Prime Minister, with the attendant publicity, is required or the House and the nation will be misled. They will discover that education and transport are covered fully in my Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which is to be discussed on 10 February.

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Mr. Newton: I have made it clear twice that the Government's proposals in the White Paper include measures relating to transport and education. I do not think that I can add anything further to that.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): In view of the events in prisons over recent months, and the on-going concern and criticism by very senior prison governors, should not there be a full day's debate as soon as possible on the present system of running our prisons?

Mr. Newton: There have been two very full statements by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on related matters both before and after Christmas. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) will be aware that very significant inquiries are now in train as a result. The sensible time to consider the appropriateness of a debate would seem to be when we have the outcome of the reports that are currently being prepared.

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride): Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider the shock announcement by Rolls-Royce today to close its aero-engine design facility in East Kilbride, which will throw 600 highly skilled design engineers and support staff on the dole? Were the Government consulted about the announcement at national or Scottish Office level? Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for a debate on the future of the aerospace industries in this country and, in particular, the damaging policies of the Government which have led to a major decline in a key sector of our manufacturing economy?

Mr. Newton: I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate. However, I understand that the background is that Rolls-Royce is very much committed to East Kilbride and 1,000 people will continue to be employed in aero- engine repair. Rolls-Royce will continue to employ 4,000 people at six sites in Scotland. I hope that the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) will be encouraged, both in relation to the company and the Government's policy, that the business has recently announced major long- term contracts with Cyprus Airways and China Eastern Airlines.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): When may we have a debate on what has become known as the Blaby question on our decrepit democracy, which was exemplified last year when two Bills affecting only Wales went through the House, in respect of which 32 of the 38 Welsh Members were agreed, but which were determined by the mass of Members of Parliament from England and Scotland who had no knowledge of, interest in or responsibility for the areas covered by those Bills? Does the Leader of the House agree that Welsh and Scottish Members would gladly take responsibility for specific affairs in their own areas and forgo decisions in other parts of the country? We could then have assemblies in this country like the assemblies in Spain, France, Germany, Canada and many other countries which have a modern, decentralised system that does not threaten the unity of any of those states.

Mr. Newton: It sounded to me, interestingly, as though one Opposition Member has at last come forward with his answer, reasonably clearly, to what used to be the West Lothian question and which must now be regarded as the Linlithgow question. In that respect, the hon. Gentleman has done infinitely better than any of his right hon. or hon.

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Friends so far. I, for one, would be interested to hear him put that question to the Leader of the Opposition, as it should be directed to him.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the decision by the Labour-controlled borough of Croydon to increase the density of housing in the southern part of the borough while the

Labour-controlled London Boroughs Association has just published a document calling for the protection of the open spaces in London upon which Croydon council wants to build?

Mr. Newton: If I had to provide time for a debate every time there was evidence of inconsistency in the policies of various organs of the Labour party, I should do nothing else, but I am sure that my hon. Friend's points will be noted.

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Madam Speaker's Statement

4.9 pm

Madam Speaker: On Monday, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised two points with me about written answers. He first asked that I should make it clear that a written answer should not be made available to the press before it has been given to the Member who asked the question. I can readily confirm that that should be the case.

The present practice, which is well established, is that written questions may not be answered before 3.30 pm on the day for which notice has been given. Soon after that time, copies of the answer are sent by the Department concerned to the Official Report , the Library, the Press Gallery and the Table Office, as well as, of course, to the Member who tabled the question. It may sometimes be the case that the Member concerned is not in the House and that, therefore, he may become aware of the answer from press inquiries made before he has seen the text, but, in general, the Department should continue to make every effort to ensure that the Member gets the text of the answer no later than the press.

The hon. Member also asked that a Member whose constituency is directly affected by an answer should be informed of the answer as the same time as the Member who has asked the question and the press. There are no hard and fast rules about that, but I hold the firm view that, when a constituency or constituencies are specifically and directly affected by an answer, Ministers should seek to ensure that copies of the answer are given to the Members concerned at the same time as they are given to the Member who has asked the question and to the press. I hope that all Ministers will make every effort to observe that common courtesy in future.

It would also be a useful courtesy if any Member tabling a question directly affecting another's constituency--something which should not be done lightly in any case--took care to inform that Member of the action that he or she has taken.

A further related point was raised with me on Tuesday by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), namely whether, when a Member raises an issue in the House that affects another Member's constituency, he should inform the other Member that he intends to raise it. There is, in fact, a slightly broader issue to consider, namely whether Members should give advance notification when they refer to other Members in the Chamber.

There is, as I stated on 23 November 1994, at c. 598, a clear convention based on courtesy that notice should be given where such reference is intended to be made. I expect Members to observe that convention during debates and at Question Time when their reference is premeditated. There will, however, be occasions, especially at Question Time, when such a reference arises spontaneously and on the spur of the moment. In those cases, advance notification is unlikely to be practical, but Members should always consider whether reference to a colleague without notice is fair.

The House will have noticed that I am frequently--too

frequently--called upon to deal with complaints on matters of that kind. That would not be necessary if, as I remarked on Monday, Members, including Ministers and

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their Departments, exercised a little more common sense and forethought. I look to all concerned to do just that in future.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey): Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, for that ruling, which I am sure all colleagues will regard as supporting the rights of all Members in holding the Executive and civil servants to account. May I ask a supplementary question on a matter which is not covered by your ruling but which touches the same general issue? Perhaps you can deal with it now because it is on the same issue and it is a matter that you have dealt with before. It relates to ministerial announcements and it is topical today because there was an example only this morning. It seems right to raise it now rather than to let it go by.

This morning in an interview on BBC radio the Secretary of State for the Environment refused to answer questions about his air pollution initiatives because, he said, he had first to give information to Parliament. In the event, there has been no statement, no answer in Parliament, and no written answer. In fact there was a press conference and a statement was made by the Department. I have heard you say before, Madam Speaker, that matters for Parliament should come here first, so it would be helpful if you added to the package that you have announced today a confirmation that when Ministers make statements about impending legislation, as happened at the press conference, the announcement should be made either to this place or by way of an answer in this place, before the press and the rest of the world are told.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is not quite correct. The Secretary of State acted properly, and revealed in a written answer yesterday that copies of the Government policy document on air quality would be placed in the Vote Office and the Library at 9 o'clock this morning. That has been done. However, it is for Ministers to decide whether to make an oral statement to the House and whether to give press conferences or interviews to the media. In this instance the Secretary of State properly informed the House of his plans before holding a press conference.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): Further to that point, Madam Speaker. I acknowledge what you have said, in that technically the Secretary of State had ensured that the House was informed, but you will be aware that, as often happens, the written answer that the Minister gave yesterday was not published in Hansard today. Although the Secretary of State may have been technically correct, he was not acting in the spirit of informing Members of what was going to happen. There is a problem when answers cannot be published in Hansard the following day, because Members are not then aware that a statement has been made, so they do not expect the information.

Madam Speaker: I think that the Secretary of State certainly acted in that spirit, as the hon. Lady said--and the House is aware that a written answer cannot always be published on the day in question. This was one of those cases. But I believe that the Secretary of State acted properly in the matter.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you, in your capacity as the person with overall responsibility for the running of the House,

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to investigate an extraordinary waste of taxpayers' money. As I expect you do not know, the sign on the door of the gents' toilet in the Members' Corridor was recently repainted. This morning a member of staff spent three hours removing the recently repainted sign only to put it back with letters in. smaller, for the sake of some aesthetic judgment made by somebody. That is an extraordinary waste of taxpayers' money; will you look into it, Madam Speaker?

Madam Speaker: Yes, of course.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that I have written to you about my view that the Prime Minister misled the House on Tuesday regarding the contents of the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill. I am grateful for the time that you will spend considering my letter. Can you yet say when you may be able to respond?

Madam Speaker: No; as a matter of fact I have not seen the letter, and I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman had written to me. Correspondence between me and individual Members should not be raised in points of order across the Floor of the House. When a Member writes to me I should be given the opportunity to read the letter and to respond, as I always do, as soon as possible.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Further to the points of order arising from your statement, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that it is part of the conventions and courtesies of the House that when shadow spokesmen visit the constituencies of Conservative Members of Parliament they notify the Member concerned of their visit?

Madam Speaker: Yes, indeed; I have made that very plain. The custom relates not only to shadow Ministers but to all Members of the House of whatever party--Back Benchers and Front Benchers, including Ministers. I made that clear earlier this week, and I am constantly doing so. As I said at the end of my statement, I hope that all concerned will apply a little more common sense and behave reasonably and courteously towards each other.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on what appears to be a change in your policy on parliamentary language. A word that, when it was used by Members, was described as unparliamentary by the previous Speaker, was used yesterday in the House and appeared in Hansard . I believe that you know what the word is; my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) used it to describe seagulls' droppings. Are more colourful parliamentary proceedings, with the use of that word in all its forms, now in order, or can it be used only as a noun and not as an adjective or an expletive?

Madam Speaker: As I have explained before, the English language has a very rich vocabulary. I would prefer some other word to be chosen. I am sure that most hon. Members can find other ways of explaining precisely what they mean. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) had used the word before I realised it, but he is such a courteous Member that I know it was not offensively intended.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, I raise

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points of order in the House only rarely. I seek your guidance on an issue that concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. I refer to the difficulty that hon. Members encounter when trying to find ways of replying to inaccurate statements.

This week my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) was accused, as a former Government Minister, of voting to restart live animal exports, which had been stopped in 1973. I have consulted Hansard , and it appears that on 12 July 1973 the motion that stopped live animal exports was a Labour Opposition motion, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East. Live animal exports were restarted on 16 January 1975, following the O'Brien report, with the support of the then Conservative Opposition spokesman on agriculture.

The House was thus misled by the allegation made by the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave). In such circumstances, how can hon. Members put the record straight?

Madam Speaker: There is always the Order Paper, either in the form of questions or of early-day motions. If the hon. Gentleman consults the Clerks, he may find other methods too--although he has already corrected the record.

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Legal Aid and Advice

4.21 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor): I beg to move,

That the draft Legal Aid Advisory Committee (Dissolution) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved.

This debate is at the behest of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, and I have no dispute with that perfectly proper use of parliamentary time. Tempting though it may be to stray wider, I shall confine myself to the rather narrow subject of the order, which concerns the dissolution of the Legal Aid Advisory Committee.

In 1949, when the Committee was put in place, legal aid was operated under a very different regime: it was run by the Law Society. That may seem curious now, but it was true none the less. The profession ran the legal aid scheme.

With the passage of time, better ideas emerged, and in 1988 responsibility for administering legal aid passed to the newly constituted Legal Aid Board, which is independent of Government except in the higher reaches of policy. Many of the functions of the Legal Aid Advisory Committee passed to the Legal Aid Board at that time, so it was decided to retain the advisory committee for a transitional period, to see whether that was a fruitful idea. The Lord Chancellor has had time to reflect since 1988, and has decided that the time has come to stand down the Legal Aid Advisory Committee, possessed as he is--as am I and as is the House--of no shortage of advice on legal aid. In all my adult life, I have never received as much advice on any other subject.

I have in my pocket a list of some of the bodies that give me and the Lord Chancellor advice on legal aid. In no particular order, they include: the Law Society, the Bar Council, Action for Victims of Medical Accidents, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the British Association of Social Workers, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Consumers Association, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Housing Law Practitioners Association, Justice, the Justices' Clerks Society, the Law Centres Federation, the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, the Legal Action Group, MIND, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, the National Consumer Council, Relate, Shelter, the Solicitors Family Law Association, the Trades Union Congress--and so on, and so on. Not least, Members of Parliament offer advice on legal aid. Sometimes I think that all 651 are writing to me simultaneously. I should specially mention the Select Committee on Home Affairs. We are not short of advice.

Before I ask the House to debate and ultimately, I hope, accept the proposal to dissolve the committee, I would not wish to leave the Dispatch Box without thanking all those who have served the advisory committee for the dedicated and careful work that they have done. It is greatly appreciated.

4.24 pm

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South): It is a funny sort of appreciation that is followed by the dissolution of the body that has rendered valuable service. It is because we believe that the service is so valuable that we oppose the

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exercise of the clause in the Legal Aid Act 1988 under which the Lord Chancellor seeks to dissolve the Legal Aid Advisory Committee. We opposed the clause when it was first initiated in the House. We oppose it now because we believe that the Lord Chancellor needs and ought to receive advice within a statutory framework on the exercise of his functions in relation to the provision of legal services. It is clear from the timing of the measure what lies behind the Lord Chancellor's concerns. Indeed, it was reflected in the little list--or the long list--that the Minister trotted out during his rather brief justification of the measure. I think that the House, albeit a House in the early part of the afternoon, deserved a little more lengthy justification for the abolition of a body that has provided good service since 1949. [Interruption.] It will not do for Conservative Members, and the silent ones in particular, to suggest that the less time that is expended in discussing this matter the better. Opposition Members fear that what the Lord Chancellor and his acolyte here in the House are saying--

Mr. John M. Taylor: The hon. Gentleman made reference to my hon. Friend the silent one--my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood). My hon. Friend was drawing a different inference, and comparing the lengths of time that solicitors took to get to the point with that which barristers took to get to the point.

Mr. Boateng: The difference might be that some return to the point again and again. The Minister does just that. The point that he returns to again and again is that he and the Lord Chancellor can be trusted and that legal aid and legal services are safe in their hands.

The point of the little list was to reassure us that there is already a profusion of bodies all too willing--indeed, one suspects from what he had to say that they are a little too willing, in the Lord Chancellor's view-- to give advice on the exercise of the Lord Chancellor's functions. There is a reason for that. There is widespread discontent out there among the consumers of legal services with the functions of the Lord Chancellor and the way in which they have been carried out.

There is widespread anxiety that the Lord Chancellor increasingly is more concerned with the dictates of the Treasury than with the interests of justice. That is why so many bodies and individuals write letters to the Minister and to the Lord Chancellor and make their way to the Lord Chancellor's Department. It is because of the state of crisis in the provision of legal services in Britain.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the committee which the Government plan to withdraw has some mystical quality that none of the other committees that my hon. Friend listed has? Is it because it is statutory that the Committee has some wonderful aura of giving the best advice? Is not the advice of all those other groups good enough? Is it the Opposition's view that the committee is perfect because it is a statutory committee, or because they want more and more committees?

Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman is a Member of some sophistication, and that intervention does not do him any justice. He knows very well that the importance of that committee lies in its statutory independence and the fact that it has no axe to grind.

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Among the organisations on the Minister's list are some that certainly have an axe to grind. With all due respect to the Law Society, both it and the Bar Council are concerned, first and foremost, with the interests of the legal profession. The Opposition believe that the interests of justice and the provision of legal services are matters in which the consumer, and not the profession, should come first.

As a result, it is important for there to be a body, established by statute, that has the right to speak for the interests of the general public and the consumer of those services. That is why we intend to push this matter to a vote. The Lord Chancellor's actions are high-handed and contrary to the interests of justice and the consumer of legal services.

The timing of this motion is interesting, as it is within a week of a speech by the Lord Chancellor in which he outlined

proposals--shortly to be canvassed in a Green Paper-that mark a dismantling of the legal aid system as we know it. With such proposals in mind-- proposals instigated, first and foremost, by a desire to appease the Treasury--it is no wonder that the Lord Chancellor wishes to remove an independent committee that was established by statute to overlook his activities.

It is not the first time that the sabre has been rattled in that area, and the Government now propose not only to rattle it, but to slice off the offending limb. It was first rattled at a time when the Lord Chancellor's Department was again concerned about the dangers of an organisation that had shown that it was increasingly too independent-minded for the likes of those whose sole concern is to implement policy that has its roots elsewhere--in the interests not of justice, but of the Treasury.

The committee was an annoyance and an inconvenience to those persons within the Lord Chancellor's Department--not least, I regret to say, the Minister and the Lord Chancellor--who did not want to heed the strictures of bodies that show themselves to be robust and independent-minded and that clearly have no axe to grind. Within weeks of the publication of the 40th report of the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee--a report that was highly critical of the cuts in eligibility for legal aid, the lack of resources applied to the research and study of such matters and of how legal services might be delivered more effectively--it was announced that the Lord Chancellor intended to abolish the committee.

Why? It is clear that there was a connection between the decision to abolish and the fact that the committee had become increasingly critical of the administration of legal aid and of the Lord Chancellor's policies towards it.

It is disingenuous for the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and seek to rationalise and justify the Government's decision to abolish the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee on the ground that we should not worry, because the Legal Aid Board can be relied on to provide the Lord Chancellor with all the advice and assistance he needs. As the Minister well knows, to describe the Legal Aid Board as "independent of the Lord Chancellor" is a misnomer. It is no such thing. To all intents and purposes, it is an executive agency of the Lord Chancellor's Department. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor's Department intends that, in due course, it should be so in its entirety.

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The Minister refers to the board's independence except at the higher reaches of policy. It is precisely the higher reaches of policy, and failures in them, that we are concerned about. Increasingly, the people of this country do not trust those concerned, because cuts in eligibility are having a detrimental impact on the lives of ordinary people of modest and moderate means.

They do not trust the Lord Chancellor in terms of the higher reaches of policy, and want a sharp and critical eye applied to those policies. They want a source of searching, independent and rigorous research. They do not want another quango, executive agency or arm of Government in all but name to be given unfettered power in that area. They and we believe that it is important that there be a voice for the consumer and those most directly affected by the impact of the current cuts in legal services.

May I briefly review the work of the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee? I hope that at least some Conservative Members will express an appreciation for what has already been done and give some clear undertakings and assurances on who will do that work in future. What did the 41st annual report, which was to be the last, of the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee have to contribute to the proper and effective delivery of legal services?

Let me mention just three points. Elizabeth Filkin, the chairman, said at the beginning of the report:

"Our work has shown that the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Legal Aid Board still have insufficient management information on which to base sound policy development."

In that context, and in the absence of such information, the Lord Chancellor felt it right to make certain observations to the seminar of the Social Market Foundation last week. We want to examine the consequences of that insufficient management information in terms of the development of policy.

In our dialogue with the Government on this issue, we have returned time and again to the underspend of the Lord Chancellor's Department, as have those many organisations referred to in the Minister's list. Elizabeth Filkin went on to refer to that underspend. She asked why more had not been done to improve access to legal aid, advice and assistance, thus utilising that underspend. That was a reasonable, proper question, but it is a difficult one for the Government, because they have no answer. That is why they want to abolish the committee that asked it.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): If the hon. Gentleman considers that such matters should properly have been drawn to the attention of the House and the public, is that not his job and that of his hon. Friends in Her Majesty's Opposition? Why does he need a quango to do his job for him?

Mr. Boateng: It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which the Government cannot abide any criticism or any examination of their policy. Perhaps it should not surprise me; perhaps I am long enough in the tooth and have had sufficient experience in the House--perhaps a little more than the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen)--to accept that behaviour. The Government always deride any such criticism or examination as being motivated by party political spite.

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We can be absolutely sure of one thing: had my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and I questioned the impact of the cuts in eligibility to legal aid and the impact of the underspend on the quality of legal services, we would have been told that we were addicted to public spending and exaggerating the problems for our own party political advantage. The Government, however, cannot attack the truth that is spoken in the report of the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee, because it is independent. So what do they do? They abolish it.

If the Government had their away, they would abolish all opposition. They would single a number of us out. I can see that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) is busy pointing his finger at me and my right hon. and learned Friend, or perhaps in my direction alone. That is typical of the hon. Gentleman, and I wear it as a badge of honour that I should have been singled out by the likes of him for personal abolition. I intend to survive a little longer. It is a great pity that the advisory committee will not survive long enough to subject the Lord Chancellor's most recently vaunted proposals to the critical scrutiny and examination they deserve. The hon. Member for Shoreham, however, can be absolutely sure that the Opposition will subject them to such scrutiny. Even in the absence of the advisory committee, the mish-mash of half-baked, misconceived market solutions which the Lord Chancellor parades as policy to overcome the crisis in legal services will be revealed for what it is.

The advisory committee, an independent statutory body, referred to what it described as the

"limited improvements in legal aid eligibility"

which were announced by the Lord Chancellor in March of last year and implemented in April. Those improvements should not be subject to party political controversy.

Although the committee welcomed those improvements and gave them the credit they were due, it also pointed out that they fell short of a real-terms restoration of the cuts in eligibility to legal aid. The committee considered that to be a regrettable failure. The committee performed a valuable function by giving the changes their due credit, while at the same time pointing out, authoritatively and independently, their failings. All that work by the Committee is now to be put on one side.

It does not end there.

Mr. Steen: Oh dear.

Mr. Boateng: Such protests will not work. The Opposition have no intention of abrogating our responsibilities to legal aid, whatever the attitude of Conservative Members.

The hon. Member for Shoreham asked what useful function is carried out by the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee which could not be carried out by the Opposition. One such important function is to call conferences from time to time at which issues concerning the provision of legal services are considered in a non-partisan, academic, practical atmosphere.

In November of the year reported on in the advisory committee's 41st annual report, one such conference was held on reinventing legal aid. One would have thought that that project would have endeared the advisory committee to the Minister and his hon. Friends. Some of

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the committee's proposals managed to achieve just that, so it is all the more surprising that it should have brought upon itself the descent of the sword of Damocles that has hung over it for so long. One of the contributors to the committee's conference was no less a person than Professor Partington, who contributed to the report of the Social Market Foundation which found so much favour with the Minister and the Lord Chancellor. It did so because it was from that paper that the notion of capping regional budgets for legal aid arose. It is from that paper that the notion of

fundholders--replicating in legal services the disastrous experience of the national health service--first sprang.

The Lord Chancellor's advisory committee performed a function that enabled a thousand flowers to bloom for legal aid and legal services, even though there were some weeds among them. It is unfortunate that the Lord Chancellor has chosen to pluck the weeds and not the flowers for his particular herbal remedy for legal services.

The committee nevertheless performed a valuable role. One does not have to agree with all its all conclusions and recommendations, but it is important that a body with a clear and independent voice and a specific statutory duty to report to the Lord Chancellor and to Parliament on measures to improve legal aid and legal services should exist.

The Opposition have been challenged by Conservative Members to take on the role of that committee. Have no fear; we shall perform a function providing just that place in which it is possible for ideas about improving services to grow, and to find succour and inspiration. We regard that as part of our role, and we shall fulfil it.

However, if Conservative Members believe that we shall do so in the non- partisan way that the Lord Chancellor's legal aid advisory committee was able to do, they have got another think coming, because we are partisan with regard to the provision of legal services. We believe that people of moderate and modest means should have access to the law and lawyers. We believe that it is important that legal services should not be thought of simply as a matter for lawyers. We believe that there is, and should be, room for appropriate and alternative dispute resolution procedures. We believe that there should be room for properly trained and qualified mediators to provide advice and help about family law. We believe that there needs to be a new dispensation and a new impetus for a network of advice and law centres. We believe that it is important that the courts system and the legal profession be reformed, to put the interests of the consumer at the heart of their practices and procedures.

For the very reason that we believe that all those things are important, and that the consumer should come first, we oppose the abolition of the committee, and we shall continue to cry out first and foremost for the interests of the consumer and the interests of justice. We shall continue to cry out when we notice the Government motivated by a desire, first and foremost, to appease the Treasury and undermine the interests of justice that they should properly uphold.

4.51 pm

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) has spent about 25 minutes justifying an organisation that, in my experience in my professional life--and, I suggest, possibly in his--

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bore not the slightest relevance to anything that we had been doing year after year. Perhaps, when the hon. Gentleman was at the Bar, it was fundamental to the way in which he worked and the way that his clients were served. I found that that was not the case when I was active in the law. I therefore have great pleasure in supporting the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Minister that that quango be dissolved. I do not think that there will be a great loss to the community or the consumer.

Mr. Steen: Has my hon. Friend any idea what the committee costs? The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) did not mention that. I think that it is of relevance.

Mr. Alexander: I was going to discuss that subject and suggest, if I were to make any criticism of my hon. Friend the Minister's admirable short address, that the amount of money spent on the committee for many years, compared with the results that it achieved, would have been a helpful statistic to produce in persuading hon. Members, especially on the Conservative Benches, of the need for the committee.

Mr. Boateng rose --

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