Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Monks Lord Monks Labour 3:30 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, I support my noble friend in this amendment. Referral fees are one aspect of the Bill that will affect union legal services adversely, along with changes to "after the event" insurance and conditional fee agreements. These three issues will make union legal services much more difficult and expensive to operate. Inevitably, fewer cases will be taken. Last year, unions assisted something like 50,000 individuals with cases. There was no charge on the public purse for that assistance. It was done through people's membership of the union. Many people who were very ill or injured in some way were helped considerably. When this Bill becomes law, essentially, that will become more difficult.

I have checked which unions use referral fees and which do not. Two of the major unions use them and the rest do not. The two which use them do not use them to fund the Labour Party, which is the allegation that is around. As my noble friend explained, the political fund of the unions is completely separate. A separate contribution is made to that. It is registered under the Trade Union Act 1984, which was put through by the noble Lord, Lord King. You make a voluntary donation which is separate from your union membership fee and it is separately accounted for.

The suggestion that referral fees are used by unions to fund the Labour Party is totally wrong. The whole purpose of referral fees where they are applied has been to support the expansion of union legal services to make good some of the defects elsewhere in the justice system. I hope that the House will bear that in mind when it considers this amendment.