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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 26th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Newton of Braintree Lord Newton of Braintree Conservative 9:30 pm, 26th October 2011

My Lords, we live and learn. I apologise to my noble friend on the Front Bench for my slowness in getting up and, possibly, for what I am going to say. We live and learn: I always knew that I was more liberal than the previous Labour Government; I now know that I am more liberal than the Liberal Democrats, at least as represented in the House tonight. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench have not reached the stage of trembling when I stand up, because I am really quite a nice pussycat-in comparison with some, at any rate-but I can assure them that, were this to be pressed to a vote, I would not vote for it. I do not think that it is right for us to be killing off statutory instruments in the way that this would do, certainly with the way that the House operates at the moment. However, it is important that somebody from these Benches should make it clear that, even if we would not want to see this voted down, we are not happy bunnies about the policies that seem to underlie it. There are those of us, as I have already warned my long-suffering Whip and others, who are likely to want to return to some of these issues when we get to the Bill that is coming down the track towards us.

The speeches in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, and others, including the noble Earl, Lord Listowel and the right reverend Prelate-in fact, everybody bar one, dare I say, who has spoken-have made a pretty devastating case. I will listen to the Minister's answer. I am a notoriously pliable chap, and if I am convinced I will be prepared to change my view, but at the moment I think that they have made a pretty devastating case. I have only one question to add to those that have been asked, which is about mental health, where locking people up remains one of the areas where you can get legal aid for the mental health tribunal.

I think it is relevant that two years ago, when I was still chairing the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, the Ministry of Justice, under its former incumbents-or the officials, at any rate-asked the council, and me as its chair, to chair the user group for mental health tribunals. This is a little less comfortable for the Opposition Front Bench, but even at that stage, mental health lawyers were expressing the view that the cuts that had been made in legal aid remuneration were, at least in some parts of the country, making it virtually impossible to find people to represent those before the mental health tribunals. It was particularly true in the south-west; there were some concerns in the north-east, but there were certainly concerns, even with the policies that had previously been pursued. I therefore want to ask two questions of the Minister. Is mental health affected or potentially affected by this? What is the position on the availability of legal aid lawyers to help claimants who have been confronted by the prospect of being deprived of their liberty by mental health tribunals? This ties in with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has just made very effectively. The net result of this may well be to reduce the amount of support available to vulnerable people, not only because legal aid is not available but because growing numbers of young lawyers who do pro bono work will not be able to afford to go on doing it. This is a worry for many law centres and the like. I should like some comment on that.

Lastly, and to avoid being too unfriendly to my noble friend Lord Marks, it is the case that a lot of cuts that did a lot of damage were made by the previous Labour Government. That ought to be acknowledged. It is the case that we need to find savings in various places and the Ministry of Justice cannot be excluded. However, if these proposals, under either the previous Government or this one, end up causing damage by trying to save our nation at the expense of the most vulnerable people-whether families, children, battered wives or the mentally ill-it raises some questions. Is the Ministry of Justice being asked to find too many savings? Certainly, it raises the question of whether the Government are finding their savings in the right way.

I say to my noble friend Lord Marks that the same thought occurred to me as had evidently occurred to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. If we can find £250 million to ensure that local councils provide weekly rubbish collection services, which some already do for food waste, I question some of the priorities here. I make no apology for making an uncomfortable speech. If the matter is pressed to a vote, I will not vote for the Motion, but I am not very happy with what we are being asked to support.