Community Legal Service (Funding) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2011 — Motion to Annul

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 26th October 2011.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 9:00 pm, 26th October 2011

My Lords, I regret that I, too, must support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, because of my concerns about the impact on child welfare. I regret doing so, because I know that the Government take the welfare of children very much to heart, and I thank the Minister for ensuring that domestic violence issues have been kept out of the scope of the order and that tandem representation of children in private law cases will be untouched.

I remind the Minister and other Members of the House of Article 3.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states:

"In all actions concerning children"- whether undertaken by legislative bodies or other institutions-

"the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration".

I should be very interested to hear from the Minister how the best interests of children have been considered in this move by the Government to cut legal aid.

Children need the best experts and lawyers in the immensely complex cases that they are often drawn into. My concern is that those experts will be driven out by the further cut in their finances. Expert witnesses to the family courts-including paediatricians, child and adolescent psychiatrists, educational psychologists, adolescent psychotherapists and independent social workers-are all subject to the 10 per cent cut, having already had their fees seriously cut. For clinicians working in London, the situation is worse, because London-based practitioners are allowed to charge only two-thirds of the amount charged by those based outside London. As everyone knows, it is more costly to practise in London.

I am concerned that because of the impact on expert witnesses there will further delays for children in the courts and that poor decisions will be made. If a child is taken into local authority care and the wrong decision is come to, it will stay with that child for the rest of his life and possibly for the rest of his children's lives. We need to get those decisions right and we need the right expertise.

A further concern of the expert witnesses is that they cannot deal directly with the Legal Services Commission but have to work indirectly through solicitors. Perhaps the Minister could look at that, because it would certainly be an improvement if they could deal directly with the commission.

I look forward to the Minister's response. I hope that he can give some comfort to your Lordships.