Motion to Approve

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2012 – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 3rd December 2012.

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Votes in this debate

Moved By Lord McNally

That the draft order laid before the House on 29 October be approved.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by Lord Bach

As an amendment to the above Motion, leave out from "that" to the end and insert "this House declines to approve the draft Order laid before the House on 29 October as it does not fulfil the undertaking given by Her Majesty's Government on 17 April; and will mean claimants, including a disproportionate number of disabled people, will not receive legal help on a point of law in first-tier tribunals relating to welfare benefits thus denying them a fair hearing on point of law cases".

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour 6:33 pm, 3rd December 2012

My Lords, I spoke to my amendment earlier in the debate and the House will be relieved to hear that I have very few words to say at this stage. My case is this: how can it be right that there is automatic legal aid for any client who gets to the second-tier or upper tribunal-the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court-on a welfare law case but no automatic right to legal aid for first-tier tribunals? You can get to the second-tier tribunal or the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court only on a point of law. If that is the position, how can it be right that at a first-tier tribunal, when a client has a point of law, they should not be allowed some legal advice before the first-tier tribunal commences-in other words, before the first-tier tribunal or during it? It is no use being able to get it at the very end of the first-tier tribunal in very remarkable and odd circumstances.

The Government seem to believe that was appropriate logic because that is the concession they were generous enough to make in the House of Commons on 17 April 2012. But they have not kept to that concession. They have come up with something much more vague; something that will happen in very, very few cases.

I am very grateful to the Minister for the time he has taken with this and to all noble Lords who have spoken on my amendment. When the Minister answered a question from me the other day he said:

"I want to make sure that we maintain a legal aid system that will remain one of the most generous in the world and focus it on the most needy".-[Hansard, 27/11/12; col. 90.]

Can noble Lords think of anyone who is more needy than the sort of person that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, was describing-a disabled person who has undergone some of these tests in order to get her or his benefits, who is not happy with the result, thinks something has gone wrong and wants to appeal? What the Government are intending is that that person should not have the ability to get legal aid in order to appeal to the first-tier tribunal even when the matter is a point of law which they cannot be expected to know or understand. It defies logic and fairness to suggest that kind of process should continue.

All we are asking is that the Government withdraw this Motion, which they are clearly not prepared to do tonight. If they will not withdraw it, I shall ask the House, in a completely non-partisan spirit, to decline to give approval to this Motion tonight and invite the Government to come back with a slightly more generous order that looks after the type of person the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, was telling us about earlier in our debate.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, we are almost on the verge of another financial Statement by the Chancellor. I have made it clear that the noble Lord must not lure the House into an idea that following him into the Division Lobby will produce a better offer because it will not.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

Is the noble Lord saying that he will not come back with anything on this matter if this amendment is carried? I think that that is a threat that the House should be very wary of accepting at such a late stage in the debate.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

It is not a threat. I just do not want the House to make a decision on such an idea. This is not the Committee stage of a Bill. The order relates to what is already an Act of Parliament. If we do not bring forward another order in this area, the Act simply will go through. I want the House to be aware of that fact.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

There is a framework Act of Parliament, passed by Parliament, which I have never sought to go behind. These orders add flesh to those bones. This is a very important order. In any event, the Government would have to have some kind of order on these matters. On this occasion, the Government have, in effect, not kept with the intention that they certainly had in the House of Commons. By announcing what they did in the Commons, they managed not to lose a vote and to get the Bill through. As a consequence, it is a serious matter.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach-I almost said "my noble friend", which he is. My noble friend Lord McNally has not commented on the noble Lord's fundamental assertion on which, for me, the strength of the case rests; namely, that the former Lord Chancellor made a clear undertaking which is now not being kept. Would it not be helpful to the House for the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to ask my noble friend Lord McNally for his comment on that?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

That would be a fair question to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has had every opportunity to answer it and has chosen not to.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

I will answer it-I answered it in my remarks. The Lord Chancellor said that he would take the matter away and use his best endeavours. I have seen the exchange of papers with the DWP, the Legal Services Commission and the Administration on whether this could be done. We have come back with our best endeavours. This casual throwing around of betrayal fires the troops up for voting but it simply is not true.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

I would not dream of using the word betrayal as regards this matter. The noble Lord misunderstands me completely. It is not a betrayal. The governing party in the House of Commons said that it intended to do something and, in that way, managed to get an adverse amendment withdrawn. It has come up with a solution but the solution is not the concession that it made in the House of Commons. That is the fact of the matter. It is a much narrower solution and it is deeply unsatisfactory for those who are interested in how the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable are looked after in our society and their rights to access to justice.

For that reason, I ask the House to decline to approve this order, so that the Government can think again and come back with an order which we can all accept. I beg to move.

Division on Lord Bach's amendment.

Contents 201; Not-Contents 191.

Amendment agreed.

Division number 1 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2012 — Motion to Approve

Aye: 199 Members of the House of Lords

No: 189 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Motion, as amended, agreed.