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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 26th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 10:15 pm, 26th October 2011

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and especially the Minister for his winding up. I will give the House the good news, which is that I certainly do not intend to divide the House. I would very much like to, particularly given the degree of support for my Motion from around the House tonight-I am most grateful to noble Lords who have supported me-but it is too late to call a vote tonight, and in any event I am not certain that it would be the right thing to do, given that the Bill is due to come to this House next month. I will not be calling a vote, so anyone who wants to go now, please feel free.

I am afraid, though, that it was not the Minister's arguments that persuaded me not to call the vote-indeed, if he had gone on much longer I might have been tempted to call it in any event. I shall make a few points and then the House can move on. Some very good speeches were made, if I may so. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, talked about the Bar with great experience and knowledge. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, made some very important points, one of which I will come back to at the end of what I have to say. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds were both right on the spot with their concern for children law, if I may call it that. My noble friend Lord Beecham, with his experience, made very telling points as always. Last, but certainly not least, the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, made a very telling contribution, and one to which I think the Government side should listen with some concern.

As to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, of course I admired his loyalty, perhaps rather more his loyalty to the Government and to the Minister than to his party, which as I understand it has already made it clear at conferences twice this year that it does not like the way in which the Government are behaving towards legal aid. He asked me to state which cuts my party would have made in Government. I am not sure that he was listening with his usual care to what I said in my opening remarks, which was that the Labour Lord Chancellor and myself put out a White Paper called Restructuring the Delivery of Criminal Defence Services, which we would almost certainly have put into effect had we been elected-which we were not-and which would have saved a great deal of money. It would have been controversial and I have no doubt that there would have been debates in this House too in that event.

I did notice that in his interesting speech there was nothing at all about social welfare law and nothing about whether he felt it was right to attack social welfare law. What I had to say earlier was very much based around that part of the order. He said very little about criminal law, either, and about whether savings might be made in that field. He quoted figures and speeches that I had made, in which I, like legal aid Ministers down the years-as they no doubt will in the future-had said how generous our legal aid system was compared to the ghastly rest of the world. I did use those phrases, and there is some justification in them, but to be honest, not perhaps quite as much as I used to think when I spouted those words. For example, we compare ourselves with New Zealand, another common law country, and say, "My gosh, New Zealand gives a much smaller amount for legal aid than we do". However, the situation in New Zealand is quite different. There, for example, there is no liability compensation, which costs a great deal in this country. There are other considerations as well.

Let me be frank: when we were in Government, I have no doubt that we made mistakes in this field. I am sure we did. There is no doubt in my mind that his Government are making mistakes now as well. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Marks, will remember next time he speaks to the House on these matters that we are dealing with what his Government are intending to do, not with what my Government did or did not do when they were in office.

The Law Society has suggested savings of up to £350 million as an alternative to the legal aid cuts that the Government are putting forward. As we did not hear it tonight, we look forward very much to hearing what is wrong with the Law Society's-