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 Bishop of Ripon and Leeds The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds Bishop 9:00 pm, 26th October 2011

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for raising this issue tonight and for concentrating my thoughts-like those of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel-on the welfare of children as they are treated by our legal system. We spent the whole of this afternoon talking about the treatment and rights of children. I look forward to the Government's response and comment on the ways in which children can be particularly protected in our legal system by the way in which the distribution of fees is arranged throughout that system.

I am still puzzled by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and why it should be this area in which we look for savings. A number of noble Lords have spoken of areas, in criminal law, for example, where there could be significant savings. Why should it be this area? I think of the work, for example, of Henry Hyams, a firm of solicitors in Leeds which takes some 2,000 cases a year from the most deprived areas of Leeds. They tell me that almost all of those cases involve the welfare of children.

That takes us to the effect of these cuts on those clinicians who provide reports to assist the courts in making determinations about the safeguarding of children-professionals who provide evidence of injury and of abuse and who are often key to the welfare of children. We have improved immensely our understanding of childcare in our society, and much of that has been due to the diligence of such professionals. We are all made very aware when a mistake is made by one of those professionals; we forget the thousands of cases when accurate decisions are taken about children's welfare and their future. The debate that we had all afternoon and this debate come together in looking at the well-being-again-of children, and of their place in our society.

Clergy in pastoral work are often aware of the time spent both by those clinicians and by lawyers with their clients, seeking the best way forward for children and family life, often in work that is undertaken quite outside the fee system. We claim to be a society that puts the family first; social welfare law is an important part of enabling us to do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, spoke of the way in which he hoped that, if there were gaps in our provision, they would be able to be filled again as the economic situation becomes better. But the most important part of our response to the difficulties in which we find ourselves is that those who are most deprived in our society should be those whom we seek to protect from the cuts being made. The Government and many local authorities seek to do that, yet in this particular instance those cuts are bearing at their hardest on those least able to bear the brunt of them.