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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 26th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Martin of Springburn Lord Martin of Springburn Crossbench 9:45 pm, 26th October 2011

My Lords, I have enjoyed listening to the experts in law and legal aid. It is deeply unfair that a 10 per cent cut should be put on one section, and one section alone, of a service that is paid for by the taxpayer.

The Law Society was here today to talk about the future legislation that will come before this House. I asked how much lawyers earn in the field of legal aid. I was told that young lawyers earn £25,000, as has been mentioned. They rightly deserve it, but there are many manual workers, tradesmen and semi-skilled people who earn that kind of money and work hard for it. However, we are making a 10 per cent cut.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, many of those who work in the legal aid service are women. I know that there is not much sympathy for Members of Parliament at the moment but I met a former colleague, a lady Member, who said that a substantial part of her salary goes on childcare. There is no doubt that the cost of childcare has gone up. It has gone up for those young mothers who work as solicitors. Any of us who drive a car will know that prices are going up every time we go to a forecourt. Lawyers need to travel to get to court. They are not just based in London. Therefore, this cut is extremely unfair.

I am surprised by the Minister, who was at one time a member of a trade union. I do not know whether he still is; it would have been the T&G that he was in, would it not? I do not think that any organiser in the Transport and General Workers' Union would want a cut of 10 per cent in the workforce, or take it lightly, so why should we do this?

In the constituency that I previously served and the place that I was raised in, a great many men and women who were asylum seekers came, as a result of a decision of the Home Office, to live in my community. More often than not, they came and received advice from legal aid practitioners. While those asylum seekers were coming to me, they were also going to the legal aid practitioners. I was able to form a good working relationship with those practitioners and found that they were doing things over and above their duties as solicitors-working outside office hours and going to people's homes to try to help them. These practitioners are the people on whom we are going to impose cuts.

As the noble Lord said, cuts have to be made, but we have to look at how we implement them. It is the easiest thing in the world to say, "Right-10 per cent across the board". However, it is not necessarily the right thing to do. I urge the Minister to reconsider this matter. At a time when many young people in this profession cannot even get mortgages, because that is difficult, they have to go into the rented sector, and their overheads are far more than they used to be. I can recall times when people did not have access to legal aid solicitors, and the difficulties and hardship that that caused for their families lasted for years. I hope that the Minister reconsiders this matter.