Geoff Hoon has told lawyers legal aid is not a priority for the public, because the profession is "not terribly popular".
Speaking at a Consumers' Association (CA) debate last week, the minister of state at the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) accused lawyers of becoming "fixated" on the availability of legal aid.
"Lawyers are not terribly popular - most people prefer taxpayer's money to be spent on hospitals," he said.
Lined up against Hoon at the Lincoln's Inn debate, on whether legal aid reforms would help consumers, were Irwin Mitchell senior partner Michael Napier, Bar Council vice-chair Dan Brennan QC and CA head of legal affairs Ashley Holmes. Legal broadcaster Marcel Berlins chaired the meeting.
Napier, Holmes and Brennan said the LCD had set "too tight" a timetable for the run-in to exclusive legal aid contracting, and had failed to properly research the feasibility of conditional fees.
But Hoon claimed the legal aid system was out of touch with modern life, and stressed the reforms would cater for people living in remote areas of Britain.