Commons Reasons and Amendment
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
Lord McNally (Minister of State, Justice; Liberal Democrat)
But isolating one aspect and saying that if a woman goes to a refuge and cannot get in she will not get legal aid ignores the fact that I have put before the House-the whole list of options that people can turn to. I do not think that it serves the case of women subject to domestic violence to somehow suggest that the passing of this Bill will cut them off from legal aid. The fact is that we will be spending something like £120 million a year in legal aid in this area of law. As I pointed out in my opening remarks, one thing that I am most proud of about this Government is that we have put funding into domestic violence issues in a very detailed way-in a way to which the noble Lord, Lord Blair, referred.
We are talking about a very specific area of assistance in a very specific area of law, with victims seeking legal aid for private family matters. With her skills, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, has turned this into a debate again and again on who is in favour of helping domestic violence victims, and who is against. I think that is a clever way of putting it to the House, but it is not a fair way. We have tried and listened and moved on all these areas. Long ago, the request from the Opposition was for the ACPO definition; when the ACPO definition was conceded, it was the UK Border Agency that became the mark. The fact that we have done ACPO-plus does not seem to matter. The fact that we have brought in funding for specific aid in this area does not matter. We will always find there is another bar to clear, so that as noble Lords come in asking, "What's this about?", it can be said to them, "It's about voting for legal aid for those affected by domestic violence". But legal aid is there for those affected by domestic violence. The criteria by which they qualify have been widened. We have listened to this House and acted on its advice.
On the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about family legal aid in children and kinship, where private family law proceedings are being taken as an alternative to public law proceedings-for example, where it is more sensible for grandparents to care for a child rather than the parents-legal aid will be available. If there is evidence of child abuse, it will also be there. I will look at the further points the noble Earl made, and if I may I will write to him, but we believe that exceptional funding will also kick in in this area.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, is a powerful and sometimes an emotive advocate but it is sometimes worth cutting through the emotion, and I ask the House to do that-to cut through the threat that this will cause death-and look at the facts. The fact is that this Government have listened and extended the criteria for this form of legal aid beyond what the House first asked for. This Government have put real money into real, pioneering services in terms of this terrible scourge of domestic violence. The Commons has considered this, and was right to return it to your Lordships. I believe this is the moment to ask your Lordships to accept the view of the Commons. I beg to move.