Skip to main content

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2012

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have in respect of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2012, which the House of Lords declined to approve on 3 December.

My Lords, as I made clear before the House voted on 3 December, if the fatal Motion was carried, the LASPO Act would not provide legal aid in the cases specified in the rejected statutory instrument. That remains the case.

Does the Minister understand that that Answer is entirely unsatisfactory and does no credit to the Government? This House declined to accept the order because it represented a breach of a government undertaking given to another place to get the legal aid Bill through and because what it offered was too mean. Why are the Government taking absolutely no notice of the will of this House of Parliament? Are they not behaving more like a spoilt child than a mature, responsible Government, protecting the legal rights of some of the poorest citizens under their care, including many with disabilities?

Well, we have had heard it over two years and both Houses have come to decisions on the LASPO Bill. As regards fatal Motions, I can speak from experience. I was part of engineering a fatal Motion on the casino Bill. That fatal Motion was carried by the House. The Government of the day did nothing further on the casino matter. If I may coin a phrase, as it says on the tin, fatal Motions mean what they say.

Given that the House rejected as inadequate the limited concession on legal aid in First-tier Tribunals, is it not truly perverse for the Government to respond by withdrawing even that?

The Government have not withdrawn that concession. This House passed a fatal Motion meaning that that concession was no longer part of the Bill. That was the decision of the House. If I may so in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and of all those who voted for it, I made that very clear to the House before the vote.

Instead of continuing to sulk, would it not be proper for the Government to bring forward another order, in which they honour the commitment rightly given to Parliament by the previous Lord Chancellor?

I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, again alleged that that commitment was made. It was not made by the previous Lord Chancellor. The commitment was to examine the case for the First-tier Tribunals. As I have reported back to the House on numerous occasions, the decision was that in the circumstances it was far too expensive. It would be nice to have fatal Motions as yet another round in the legislation process, but I ask the House and the Official Opposition to think carefully. If fatal Motions are going to be used in this way, they have great repercussions, not least on our relationship with the other place.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that legal aid remains available for advice on appeal from the First-tier Tribunal to the Upper Tribunal in welfare cases? Can he also confirm that where there is a point of law on which an appellant has a reasonable prospect of success, legal aid is and will remain available for the preparation and presentation of an appeal to the Upper Tribunal?

Yes, that is case. It is also worth making the point that some of the noises from the other side make it sound as though the Government have been totally unfeeling and refusing to listen.

Well, it is worth reminding noble Lords that when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was published the initial idea was that legal aid was not required in any welfare benefit cases, other than for judicial review or for a small number cases based on the Equality Act 2010. Throughout the course of the LASPO Bill the Government were urged to rethink their position on removing legal aid for onward appeals to the Upper Tribunal, which had to be on a point of law.

The Government listened to these concerns and offered concessions during the passage of the Bill to bring into the scope of legal aid advice and assistance for welfare benefit appeals on a point of law in the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and representation for the welfare benefit appeals in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. These were concessions in which my noble friends played a considerable part in achieving. The idea of an unlistening and unfeeling Government is simply not true. If the House forces through fatal Motions, it must take the consequences.

Does the noble Lord not understand that the initial position put forward in the LASPO Bill was totally untenable? That is why it was amended. Does he not also accept that after the House has spoken on this fatal Motion, the Government are obliged to listen—and by “listen” I mean do something in response?

The noble and learned Baroness suggests that the Government, as if in some game of poker, have to produce another offer in response to a fatal Motion. A fatal Motion is what it says—it is fatal. As I have pointed out, there was the example of the casino Bill in the previous Parliament. One of the reasons why successive Oppositions have thought long and hard about using fatal Motions is that they have implications about where and when the arguments and discussions about a Bill come to an end and how that relates to the relationship between the two Houses. Such Motions can be very toxic. I warned the House and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, of that, but he pressed ahead. A fatal Motion was passed and it has been fatal.

My Lords, the Minister’s whole approach in answering questions today gives the House a great deal of explanation for why he sometimes finds it difficult to get Motions, including fatal Motions, through. He clearly misunderstands the procedure, which is as follows. Yes, an order can be defeated by a fatal Motion, but a Minister given to conciliatory thinking—something that apparently does not appeal to him—should then go to the opponents of the order and suggest to them various possibilities for ways in which an order could be put before the House and might then pass. Such negotiations may or may not be successful, but the Minister at least owes it to the House to tell us precisely what efforts he has made to ensure that an amended Motion can be put to the House that might command its support.

I am making no efforts to make such a proposal. The fatal Motion is fatal—that is the end. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, has gone around this track, but in a parliamentary process there must come a point when a Bill becomes an Act and a law is passed. If the Opposition’s plan, and it would be interesting to know this, is to use fatal Motions on a regular basis to try to keep alive issues that have been decided by both Houses through proper Bill procedures, then we are going into new territory. I am sorry but the House heard my warning and ignored it, and the Bill is now an Act.