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Mr. Alexander: I venture to suggest that, if the Opposition had been on the Government side of the House, they would have made a similar proposal at this time in Parliament, but I am happy to give way.

Mr. Boateng: The cost of the committee in the last year for which we have figures was, I believe, £59,500. Members of the committee are unpaid. They give of their valuable time freely, and it is beneath contempt that Conservative Members should suggest that £59,500 was not well worth spending.

Mr. John M. Taylor: It is of an altogether different order of magnitude; actually, it is £70,000.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. We cannot have one intervention upon another.

Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister, and to the hon. Member for Brent, South, for clearing that matter up. Even if it is £59,000, one has to say to Members--

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): Seventy thousand pounds.

Mr. Alexander: I accept that, but I am taking the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, South. One has to ask, "What have we got for that committee over the years?" It is not a total of £59,000 over many years.

On such occasions, the Opposition always dress up such organisations as a voice for the consumer. Many hon. Members who are in the Chamber for the debate are, or have been, professional lawyers. I return to my original argument that there is no foundation in reality for thinking of the Legal Aid Advisory Committee as a voice for the consumer in the way that legal aid has operated for many years.

Labour will always say that those things are Treasury-driven. I return to my point--the matter is common sense-driven, and anyone considering that organisation, whether it costs £59,000 or £70,000 a year,

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is obliged to ask what the justification is for the continuation of yet another quango, especially in the legal field today.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister has brought forward the statutory instrument this afternoon. It will have my support, and I should be astonished if many Labour Members who knew anything about it voted it down.

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth): Labour Members have repeatedly said that the Labour party has decided that it now also wants to pursue a policy of low taxation. Is my hon. Friend therefore surprised that, although Labour Members speak about low taxation, they are willing to throw the taxpayer's money willy-nilly at unnecessary quangos?

Mr. Boateng: Wrong day, wrong debate.

Mr. Alexander: No inconsistency of the Opposition surprises me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Minister, in his admirable introduction, said that he would avoid the temptation to expound further on his introductory remarks. I should have liked to tempt him to tell us something, if he could, about what use the committee has served over the years. The hon. Member for Brent, South dragged out one or two odd things--I think that he mentioned a conference. A quango was not needed to organise a conference on the future of legal aid. If the entire body of the Opposition is to march through the Lobbies for that quango this afternoon, we need to know its purpose, how it can be justified for the continuing consumer and what it has done to justify the years of spending.

I should have preferred that organisation, if it had any common sense, and any grounding in the way that legal aid--especially civil legal aid--has operated for years, to examine the way that legal aid committees operate in the localities. I served on such a locality committee for some years before I came to the House, and I was happy to do so.

However, if someone with a dodgy case applies for legal aid, it is not for the local committee of solicitors to turn the application down, and the marginal, dodgy case always gets through. That means that someone with a doubtful case, having been granted legal aid, is immediately given the advice of a solicitor, who obviously is entitled to instruct counsel--often senior, and expensive, counsel. Professional advisers are then appointed. The person never goes to the most reasonably priced estate agent or accountant, but instead goes right to the top of the tree.

That may be fair in one respect, but the Legal Aid Advisory Committee never considered the effect on the non-legally aided defendant, who has before him or her a barrage of legal and professional advice of the utmost expense. In those circumstances, unless he is absolutely convinced that the High Court will in no circumstances find against him, he must give in. He has to admit liability and, following from that, costs are awarded against him. Over the years, the civil legal aid system has been geared against the non-legally aided person, whether the plaintiff or defendant. One of the fundamental flaws and one of the most unjust aspects of the legal aid system has

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had no attention from the advisory committee. If it does not attend to something as fundamental as that, what does it attend to?

Mr. Stephen: To the knowledge of my hon. Friend, has the committee ever drawn attention to the scandal of foreigners coming here and litigating their civil disputes at the expense of the British taxpayer?

Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I have raised the matter on the Floor of the House with the Leader of the House, who has promised to look into it. No doubt he is currently doing so, but my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) is right--so often an applicant for legal aid who comes from abroad and whose means cannot be easily identified is given legal aid, while the country from which he come allows no such reciprocal arrangement. That is a perfect example of how flaws in the legal aid system--which we all support--are not picked up by the so-called advisory committee.

Mr. John M. Taylor: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, but I wanted to intervene before he completed his admirable speech. There is now in circulation a consultative paper called "Legal Aid for the Apparently Wealthy". Chapter 5, on the subject of legal aid for those who are not citizens of the United Kingdom, addresses my hon. Friend's last point, and my hon. Friend might want to make a submission to the paper.

Mr. Alexander: I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I am doubtful--my hon. Friend will no doubt correct me if I am wrong--whether the paper was drafted, or even promoted or suggested, by the committee that we are proposing to abolish. That is the sort of action that the committee should be taking, but which it has never, in all its years of existence, taken.

The advisory committee is of no relevance to our profession. I am watching the response of the hon. Member for Brent, South, and know that he agrees--

Mr. Boateng: Oh, come off it.

Mr. Alexander: The committee has no advantages for the profession or the consumer, but is just another small added cost to the taxpayer. I have pleasure in supporting the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that we abolish it today. 5.2 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Conservative Members seem to think that they are discussing an action that the Lord Chancellor will take if the order is approved today. However, they are attending a long-delayed funeral, as the committee has not met for months. Its secretariat member has already been returned to the Lord Chancellor's Office and the committee has effectively been abolished by executive action. Hon. Members have come to the House to validate that action. I can tell the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) that one of the most trenchant recommendations of the advisory committee while it was in operation was precisely concerned with the plight of people who were not legally aided. It was concerned with the dramatic increase in the number of people who would not be eligible for legal aid that would result from the change in the eligibility criteria. It gave forceful advice on the subject which, one hopes, influenced subsequent decisions of the Lord Chancellor.

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It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the force of the committee's advice on that occasion set in train in the Lord Chancellor's Office a dislike of the committee. In January 1993 the committee said:

"The committee appreciates the financial pressures to which you are subject but is concerned that the removal of substantial numbers of individuals from eligibility for legal aid and advice together with the increases in contributions will damage the access to justice which legal aid is designed to provide. We are very deeply concerned at the proposals to make savings by restricting the consumer's access to justice where alternatives are available."

That seems to be how the committee should properly exercise its responsibility. It should see whether the legal aid system provides the access to justice that it should and whether changes to the system would deny access to justice. The committee did not make itself popular by doing that.

One of the anxieties that so many of us have about the world of quangos and organisations appointed by Ministers is that their members constantly look over their shoulders, wary of the possibility that if they give forceful advice that is critical of Government policy they will not, as individuals, be re-appointed or even that the organisation of which they are members will disappear entirely. The case that we are discussing appears to give some weight to that fear. I wonder what Ministers can do to dispel the feeling that if a committee gives unwelcome advice to the Government, it may not last long.

It is surprising, on any other grounds, that the committee's abolition should take place when there is widespread debate about the future structure of legal aid. The committee has encouraged some of that debate, the Lord Chancellor has encouraged other aspects of it and various outside bodies have participated in it. I welcome the Lord Chancellor's publication of the paper on legal aid for the apparently wealthy. It is a useful document and I agree with many of its suggestions. On page after page it invites advice and comment and I see no reason why the legal aid advisory committee should not have remained in existence while that debate took place.

The Lord Chancellor specifically wants advice on whether he should proceed on a number of changes to restrict the eligibility for legal aid of people who appear to have a rich lifestyle or substantial housing assets, far beyond the reach of most ordinary people. The paper also covers the subject of foreign citizens gaining access to the legal aid system. It contains many issues on which advice is sought.

The Lord Chancellor has encouraged debate on why there are changes to the legal aid system, including issues such as cash limiting, fund holding, contracting, contingency payments and no-win, no-fee payments and their relevance to the future of legal aid. Those are all important issues and it would have been useful to have had a co-ordinated route of advice through the legal aid advisory committee. The Chancellor invites debate yet removes one of the organisations that would have had a legitimate part to play in that debate.

Legal aid is crucial to access to justice. Justice is an expensive commodity and beyond the reach of many people if they cannot get legal aid. There remains the problem of those with reasonable or significant means, but for whom legal action is out of the question because of the scale of costs involved and the amount of risk involved--for example, in defending an action against them. That is particularly true in matters of civil dispute.

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In his contributions to the debate, the Lord Chancellor said that in criminal matters the accused person has the weight of the state prosecution system and all the means at the state's disposal against him or her, so is in particular need of high-quality advice. Justice is not served if the defendant is ill advised and the state is well advised. There are some cases when, despite all the money spent, the reverse seems to be true. Justice is not served if defendants are badly advised and represented. Many more problems arise for the judicial system when mistakes are made as a result of such imbalances in the system.

The legal aid system is extremely important and it is reasonable that we should have a body advising on it. It may be judged that the committee is not that useful in the longer term and can be replaced by direct channels of advice from all the relevant bodies that the Parliamentary Secretary has mentioned. But at this time, when the issue of legal aid is being so heavily debated, it seems strange to get rid of the advisory committee. It is significant that that committee should have been forcefully critical of earlier Government proposals.

5.9 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): An interesting phenomenon has occurred this afternoon. Labour seems to be becoming the party of the status quo. Labour Members do not like change; they are in fact extremely conservative, believing that because a body has been set up it must continue in perpetuity. The Conservative party, meanwhile, has become the radical party: we believe that we should consider the possibility of change.

That phenomenon was well illustrated by the opening speeches. The Parliamentary Secretary made an extremely short, pertinent speech, using his time to the maximum; unfortunately, the sophisticated hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) made an extraordinarily lengthy speech--the kind of speech that could well be made in the committee whose existence he wishes to continue. It was good-humoured and useful, but it did not add much. It is always nice to hear the hon. Gentleman speak, however, because we know that he will not make a very pertinent or useful contribution.

The debate is not really about a statutory committee, although the hon. Member for Brent, South rightly put me in my place when I raised that point. There is no limit to the amount of advice available to the Parliamentary Secretary: I, for instance, have been advising him for years, although he does not always take my points. We have a Parliamentary Secretary precisely so that he can take all the advice that he needs, after which he must make the necessary decision with the Lord Chancellor. I do not begrudge him that task, which is very difficult, but I do not believe that another committee will help him much.

Oddly enough, the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which was passed in the most recent Session of Parliament and of which I was a great supporter, is intended to reduce the number of rules and regulations. I believe that the Government made one mistake, however: they should have included a clause reducing the number of committees. We have far too many of them. The House of Commons, for instance, probably has more Committees than any other organisation in the country.

Furthermore, every time a committee sits, meetings must be held, and the trouble with meetings is that they need staff. The Parliamentary Secretary is, in fact, doing

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something extremely profound: he is actually trying to reduce the number of committees. The Labour party, however, immediately said, "We must have a committee; if we do not have a committee, what shall we do?" I welcome the Government's move, if for no other reason than that it will reduce the number of people who sit around tables talking when they could be doing many much more useful things.

Mr. Stephen: Did my hon. Friend observe that the Opposition rather pooh-poohed the amount of money involved, which is £69,000 or £70, 000? Does that not give some idea of their attitude to public spending? Would the money not be better spent on delivering legal aid to people who need it, or even on hospitals or schools?

Mr. Steen: I do not want to be drawn into that argument. The sum involved is modest; the question is whether it is doing any good. If the Parliamentary Secretary--an enormously experienced lawyer for whom Conservative Members have the highest regard--says that it is not helping him or the Lord Chancellor, I must have regard to what he says.

There is no limit to the amount of money that the public can find, and unfortunately this amount is only a drop in the ocean. The legal aid fund currently spends some £1.5 billion a year. The sum, I believe, is less relevant than the issue, which is that too many committees and staff are involved in non-productive work. We need a new Bill, which I should be happy to promote: the Reduction in the Number of Committees Bill.

The legal aid system needs a complete overhaul. I have written to the Parliamentary Secretary a great deal on the subject. We seem to be over- concerned about the rich, but in fact there are few very rich people left; what we have are a good many people who receive legal aid and who are very poor. We should not forget that. We need a discussion paper about legal aid for the very poor, as well as about legal aid for the very rich. The very poor need legal aid, but when they receive it, it may have a counter- productive effect, in that the plaintiff must reconsider his position and decide whether he should proceed.

Mr. Deva: Rich people have access to justice because they can hire all the best lawyers, with or without legal aid, while the legal aid system also helps the very poor. It is those in between--people like us--who find it difficult to gain access to justice, because it is harder for them to obtain legal aid. Being sued, or having to sue, will mean putting their homes and their children's futures at risk. It is the middle classes--if I may use that term--whose access to justice we need to improve.

Mr. Steen rose --

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues his speech, may I warn him against pursuing that intervention too far? We are not debating the merits of legal aid as such; we are debating the merits or otherwise of getting rid of an advisory committee.

Mr. Steen: I am always guided by your helpful rulings, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will not be drawn into that argument, although I think that the House appreciated the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva).

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Our debate has been slightly wider than the subject of the committee, because the committee covers a wide area of activity. I was simply saying that, as the committee itself has pointed out, there has been a great deal of distortion in the legal aid system. Once a litigant receives legal aid, the balance of justice is distorted because his decision whether to proceed has been affected. I believe that that is true of criminal as well as civil cases. Someone charged with a criminal offence should not presume that he cannot afford to defend himself; many criminals, in fact, can afford to defend themselves, and should not automatically receive legal aid.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the legal aid system is that large sums are spent on the legal costs of cases whose subject matter is relatively small? Surely we must consider raising the arbitration limits and putting much more effort into mediation. Perhaps we should examine some of the Med/Arb schemes that are so popular in America. Mr. Steen rose --

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I see another temptation for the hon. Gentleman. We must not go down that road. This is not a general debate on legal aid; it must relate to the advisability or otherwise of washing the committee out of existence.

Mr. Steen: I hear what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker. I merely wish to point out--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to "hear what I say"; I want him to follow my instructions.

Mr. Steen: The criticism that you are making, Madam Deputy Speaker, is not--I am glad to say--of my speech, but of the interventions. You are presuming that I shall respond to them in a way that you will not like, but I assure you that that is not so.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Let me be blunt. The hon. Gentleman was already going down that path, and I was trying to be kind to him, which was clearly a mistake. I shall be blunter next time.

Mr. Steen: I do not wish to incur your wrath, Madam Deputy Speaker, but merely earn your good humour. I was simply going to say something that I now will not say. What I will say is that the committee should have taken into account the effect of legal aid on civil cases. It should have recognised that, because so many civil cases now involved legal aid, the administration of the courts was being blocked. So much legally aided litigation is passing through the courts that the administration of justice, especially in county courts, is not as efficient and effective as it should be. That is something that the committee, mistakenly, did not consider. It should have put it right, but, of course, it cannot now do so as it is being wound up.

The House will be amazed to learn that 3.5 million people, or one seventh of the entire working population, received legal aid in this financial year. As has been mentioned, the cost is £1.6 billion, which is approaching the total sum collected in excise duties on the nation's alcohol.

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I remind the Minister that the legal aid system is nearly out of control--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. So is the hon. Gentleman. I remind him for the last time that he must stick to the point at issue. This is not a general debate on legal aid. If he strays, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.

Mr. Steen: Labour's Front-Bench spokesman spoke for 25 minutes about the legal aid system. I feel--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) may have done as the hon. Gentleman says but he did so in relation to the existence or otherwise of the advisory committee. That is the distinction, and I would expect those who are legally trained to understand that distinction.

Mr. Steen: Of course I understand the distinction. I am talking about the legal aid system in relation to the committee's report. I do not feel that I should have to preface every remark with a comment about the report. Labour's Front-Bench spokesman did not mention it more than once or twice so I feel that it is perhaps slightly unfair to penalise a Tory Back Bencher when the Labour Front Bencher was allowed to range widely over various subjects.

Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member for Brent, South may have ranged widely but his remarks related to the advisability or otherwise of the dissolution of the committee. That is my sole concern and that is the point that I am trying to make to the hon. Gentleman, although it seems hard to get through to him.

Mr. Steen: You got through to me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I think that it is probably a slightly unfair comment. In any event, I shall now continue referring to the report.

I practised as a barrister. I know many solicitors and barristers who survive thanks to legal aid funds and the help of the committee. I welcome the reduction in bureaucracy that will flow from the demise of the committee but it seems to be a drop in the ocean and might perhaps be gloriously irrelevant.

We should be appalled by the amount of money spent overall on the legal aid fund and the committee but, instead, we seem to have had little regard for the enormous sums spent merely to distort the marketplace, which is what the legal aid fund and the committee have been doing. They distort the way in which people litigate. Only last night we debated the distortion of the fishing market by the intervention of the Spanish fleet. In the same way, the committee and the legal aid fund have distorted the marketplace and any balance in matters of justice. My party is the party of the market force but I am convinced that the committee and its recommendations tended to distort. We shall correct that distortion by getting rid of the committee today.

In many ways, the whole debate is mistaken. It is a supreme irony that the winding up of a committee should take time on the Floor of the House. Furthermore, we usually proceed by using statutory instruments, of which there were more than 2,000 last year. Why could we not

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wind up this committee in the same way? Why do we need a debate lasting one and a half hours, with me talking for far too long?

Mr. John M. Taylor: The Opposition asked for it.

Mr. Steen: The Minister tells me that the only reason why we are holding this debate is that the Labour party asked for it but it would be much simpler to dissolve the committee without bringing the issue to the Floor of the House. That gives me an idea for another good Bill that I could introduce, one on ways to dissolve committees without bringing the matter to the Floor of the House.

I hope that you feel that in my closing remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker, I followed your strictures and that my colleagues and Opposition Members will listen carefully to what you told me. 5.24 pm

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood): I appreciate the fact that we must relate our comments to the advisory committee and I begin by quarrelling with part of the analysis of the reasons for abolishing the committee.

The Legal Aid Board is, of course, responsible for the administration of the legal aid system. It works fairly well and innovatively and accepts a wide range of representations. In a sense, the Legal Aid Board's administrative functions can replace those of the advisory committee but the House needs to be absolutely clear about the fact that many of the parameters that determine the way in which legal aid works are decided not by the Legal Aid Board but by the Lord Chancellor and his Treasury-driven ambition to cash limit the amount spent on legal aid. It is on the matters over which he has some control that I would argue that he should not be a judge, sitting on his own. We do not allow him to be a judge, sitting on his own, on the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords and we should not allow him to be a judge sitting on his own of other matters for which he determines the scope of legal aid.

Let me cite some examples. If an old lady in my constituency trips over a pavement and qualifies for only £999 in damages instead of £1, 000, it is the Lord Chancellor who decides that she shall not receive legal aid. A statutory committee is required to advise the Lord Chancellor on such an issue. The committee should also publish its report, which is bound to be authoritative, for use by outside bodies and Members of Parliament.

The Lord Chancellor decides the eligibility for legal aid by, for example, excluding anyone from legal advice whose income is above the income support limit. That involves the exclusion of millions of people which is a crucial matter on which he should have advice from a committee because of the widespread effect on the rights of ordinary citizens. Those rights have been encouraged by the citizens charter but their exercise is discouraged by the absence of any assistance.

The Lord Chancellor also decides the rates of payment and remuneration for legal aid practitioners.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Quite right, too.

Mr. Fraser: Of course, the Lord Chancellor sets them at between half and one third of commercial rates. The Minister may be in favour of that, too, but if the rates are driven down to such an extent two legal professions will

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be created, which will be to the disadvantage of those who want to exercise their legal rights. That is another example of where the Lord Chancellor should at least take advice.

One way to reduce the cost of legal aid, which I know is on the Minister's mind, would be to change the procedures or to use different ones such as mediation and conciliation. A great deal of money is spent on legal aid for tenants suing their landlords for damages in the county court, which is a lengthy procedure. It would be much cheaper and simpler if there were legal aid for proceedings in magistrates courts under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Such matters are determined by the Lord Chancellor--

Mr. Stephen rose --

Mr. Fraser: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall not give way because time is short.

There are two final issues on which it is extraordinarily important that the Lord Chancellor receives advice. The first involves legal aid for criminal proceedings. I am referring to criminal proceedings in the Crown court, in which, incidentally, the Legal Aid Board has no involvement and over which the Lord Chancellor has very little control because the rates of payment are determined by the courts and the grant of certificate is determined by the Crown court. Criminal legal aid covering magistrates courts, attendance as a duty solicitor at a magistrates court and attendance at police stations--the figure excludes Crown courts--covers 30 per cent. of all expenditure. I believe that the amount in the Crown courts is considerably higher. The matter on which the Lord Chancellor should take advice is the proposition that the cash limiting of civil legal aid should be completely decoupled from the amount spent on criminal legal aid. Crime has doubled since 1979 and the growth in crime has increased the expenditure on criminal legal aid. If we have cash limits, we limit legal aid for someone who wants civil legal aid. I give an example of how that could happen. Let us suppose that a woman has been assaulted by a burglar who has committed many offences and who gets legal aid. Apart from finding that the amount she gets from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board is reduced, the woman could find herself unable to get legal aid for an accident that she suffers because she is uncertain and unsteady as a result of the burglary because so much more money has to be spent on the burglar's defence. It is extraordinary that we take money away from the victims of crime and then spend it on defending people most of whom, in the magistrates court, turn out to be guilty of the crime. The committee should be asked its view about whether legal aid should be totally decoupled in terms of criminal legal aid and civil legal aid. The other matter on which the committee's advice should be sought is the extent to which the Government should be responsible for paying for the consequences of their own changes in procedure. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the attendance of lawyers at police stations and the attendance of lawyers at

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magistrates courts pushed up the legal aid budget, as it was bound to do. The Government are now trying to cash limit the civil side because--

Mr. Stephen: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is this not a thinly disguised canter around the whole course of legal aid? Should not the hon. Gentleman be brought to order?

Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman can safely leave it to me. I have been following the arguments closely. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) is giving various examples of why he feels that the committee should remain in existence. It was equally open to Conservative Members or to any other hon. Member to employ the same tactics, if one wants to put it that way, in exactly the same way. The fact that other hon. Members did not do so is not my fault.

Mr. Fraser: I was saying that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act has pushed up the cost. There is a new issue on which the Lord Chancellor should ask the advisory committee to advise. Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the right of silence will be abolished at the beginning of April. There will be a requirement on somebody charged with a criminal offence to give an explanation of his behaviour or the circumstances under which he was apprehended. Under the Act, if he fails to do that when he has been cautioned by a police officer, that can be evidence against him at his trial. The consequence is that it is even more important that everybody being interviewed at a police station is represented by a lawyer. It will no longer be enough for a lawyer, when phoned up, to say, "You need not say anything. I will see you the next day." That is an issue--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is an issue that seems to be going rather far away from the hon. Gentleman's original proposition. I advise him to align his remarks on this example more closely to the order.

Mr. Fraser: You have a habit, Madam Deputy Speaker, of sometimes taking the words straight out of my mouth. I was about to finish the sentence by saying that that is the sort of issue on which the advice of the advisory committee should be taken because it will have a crucial effect on legal aid. It would be scandalous if the removal of the right of silence led not only to injustices in the criminal courts, but to people with civil matters to press being deprived of assistance.

The committee's advice and the Government's policy should be to ensure that when we grant people civil and legal rights, they are capable of enforcement. The Government's proposal is a weakening of that position.

5.33 pm

Mr. John M. Taylor: By leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate. I should like the House to imagine for a moment that instead of coming here to dissolve the committee, I have come to create a new advisory committee. My hon. Friends may deny it, but they would be looking sullen. They would not be happy and they would probably go to the Tea Room instead of sitting here. The Opposition would be shrieking and accusing me of stacking the committee with Tory placemen-- [Interruption.] They would. That is exactly what would happen.

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The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) spoke for longer than I did, although he spoke in a good-humoured way. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) in many ways made the points that I should like to have made. I know that I am not allowed to quote from Hansard for another place. I point out, however, that there is quite a good synopsis on the utility of the committee at column 693 of the Official Report, House of Lords of 30 November. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor refers to his own conclusion about the committee, which was transitionally retained after the Legal Aid Act 1988. My right hon. Friend had a look at it, gave it a fair trial and decided that it was time for it to go.

I assure the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that the Lord Chancellor's Department is far from being short of unwelcome advice; it is part of our daily bread. The right hon. Gentleman reviewed the agenda fairly and comprehensively. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) spoke for all of us who like to think that we are radicals and deregulators. He is right to say that he advises me often enough. I wonder whether he is attracted, as I am, by the practice of the United States Congress. The Americans have what is called the "sundown" clause. In any instrument setting up a committee, there is a final clause that says when the committee will expire; all committees have their own expiry built into them. That would stop us returning to all the statutory instruments. Does that idea commend itself to my hon. Friend?

Mr. Steen: Is my hon. Friend suggesting built-in obsolescence? When one sets up a committee, would it cease immediately at its expiry date unless there was an affirmative proposal for it to continue? Is that what my hon. Friend has in mind?

Mr. Taylor: That is exactly what I have in mind. Does my hon. Friend approve?

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