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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, provision already exists in the Legal Advice and Assistance Regulations 1989 for some solicitors to accept postal applications for Green Form advice and assistance in certain circumstances. Where a solicitor holds a legal aid franchise for the particular category of legal aid work in which advice and assistance are to be given (which in these cases would be crime), and where it is considered justifiable, a postal or telephone application may be accepted. Circumstances in which it may be considered justifiable to accept a postal or telephone application include where the convicted person is in prison or disabled, in hospital, or where he or she is a single parent without child care.

Franchised solicitors may also claim for telephone advice and for the cost of outward travel, although not for travelling time, to attend on a client away from the office prior to the signing of a Green Form application. These franchises are the result of a relatively new initiative by the Legal Aid Board. At present there are 1,050 solicitors' offices which hold a legal aid franchise. These franchised offices are spread throughout England and Wales, albeit with some degree of regional variation. I understand that the Legal Aid Board aims to increase the numbers substantially over the next few years.

I accept that some prisoners will have, or will want to go to, legal advisers who are not franchised. If they wish to obtain Green Form advice and assistance from a non-franchised firm of solicitors, that of course is a matter for them. Postal applications cannot currently be made in such circumstances. But it is possible for the convicted person to authorise someone else to attend the solicitor's office and to make the necessary application on his behalf. The authorised person must be able to supply the solicitor with details of the convicted person's financial circumstances so that eligibility can be assessed. But this does not seem to be unreasonable.

We believe therefore that prisoners wishing to make representations to the commission will have access to legal advice and assistance through the Green Form

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scheme without the need for further changes to the current arrangements. The current arrangements will be kept under review so that if any changes are thought necessary in the light of the commission's operations these can be considered. Changes can of course be made without the need for primary legislation, either by issuing guidance or by way of an amendment to the Legal Advice and Assistance Regulations 1989.

A legal aid franchise holder has demonstrated that his or her work practices meet certain specified standards. As a result, the Legal Aid Board is provided with assurances over the quality of the franchise holder's work. In return, the franchise holder is able to take advantage of a range of delegated powers, financial incentives and special arrangements, including the ability to accept postal applications for Green Form advice and assistance.

It is important that there should be proper control over public funds spent on the provision of legal aid. The Green Form scheme has recently been the subject of alleged abuse and in some cases even fraud by solicitors. The Legal Aid Board and the Lord Chancellor's Department are working closely together to improve control over the scheme and to identify and act upon cases of alleged abuse more quickly. Legal aid franchising is seen as an important tool in improving control by providing additional assistance and additional assurances about solicitors' working practices. To relax the requirements for firms which have not met the criteria for a franchise would run contrary to that aim.

The noble Baroness made reference to difficulties for the prisoner in finding authorised persons and the difficulty of whether the prisoner has someone who is appropriate and can properly represent his case. If the prisoner cannot find an authorised person to visit the solicitor, he may ask a non-franchised solicitor to visit, for which I understand the solicitor would be paid, or he may choose a franchised solicitor. I rest my case. I hope that that was understood.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I have great sympathy with the Minister but it would appear that she has absolutely no sympathy with those who have a non-franchised solicitor and no one they can appoint to send for them. Those people will still face considerable difficulties. They will include people, for example, who send cases to organisations such as Justice. I shall not divide the House at this hour but I am concerned that there is a lacuna which affects those people. My only encouragement from what the Minister has said is that the position will be kept under review. I hope that she and the department will listen sympathetically, once the commission is up and running, to representations from organisations such as Justice which, it seems to me, are at the present time needlessly having to incur expense in travelling when they could be using legal aid money to give advice, which is what they should be able to do.

In the circumstances, I shall withdraw the amendment but I hope that the noble Baroness will keep an open mind on those people who fall outside the present provisions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the amendment is withdrawn, I have reread the note before me and I should put on record a rather crucial word that I missed

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out earlier. The solicitor who has been chosen to act as the authorised person to go to visit the solicitor would not be paid if a non-franchised solicitor was chosen. However, of course the choice is there to use a franchised solicitor to act as the visitor.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [The Commission: further provisions]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 23, line 36, leave out from ("The") to end of line 43 and insert ("Commission shall—
(a) pay to members of the Commission such remuneration,
(b) pay to or in respect of members of the Commission any such allowances, fees, expenses and gratuities, and
(c) pay towards the provision of pensions to or in respect of members of the Commission any such sums,
as the Commission are required to pay by or in accordance with directions given by the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 11, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 20.

The Treasury has decided to assume a more strategic role in relation to the oversight of non-departmental public bodies, their funding and their pay arrangements. As part of this process it is looking at ways of withdrawing from its current role in approving the pay arrangements and so forth of such bodies. With this in mind, it does not wish to acquire responsibilities in this respect for any additional NDPBs. Amendments Nos. 11, 13 to 17 and 20 therefore delete the references to the consent of the Treasury in relation to the proposed arrangements for paying the commission and its staff, the numbers of staff which the commission may employ and their terms and conditions of service. In preparing the amendments to make the necessary changes to the Bill's provisions, we came to the conclusion that there was no reason why the commission should not in fact handle the calculation and processing of the salaries and pension arrangements of the members of the commission. Amendment No. 11 therefore also makes this change. Essentially, under the new paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 1, the Secretary of State will determine, in broad terms, what salaries or pension arrangements may be made, and the commission will make the necessary payments in accordance with his directions. His directions can, of course, be as general or as precise as are required; for example, a direction could fix a particular salary or it could require a scheme for the payment of salaries and expenses to be set up.

Finally, by virtue of the transfer of functions (Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service) Order SI 1995/69, the Minister for the Civil Service assumed on 1st April certain of the Treasury's responsibilities for superannuation and pensions. Amendments Nos. 12 and 18 reflect this change by substituting references to the Minister for the Civil Service for the reference to the Treasury in paragraphs 3(3) and 5 of Schedule 1. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 12 to 18:

Page 23, line 46, leave out ("Treasury") and insert ("Minister for the Civil Service").
Page 24, line 3, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(1) (c)").
Page 24, line 9, after ("may") insert ("direct the Commission to").
Page 24, line 10, leave out (", with the consent of the Treasury,").
Page 24, line 13, leave out ("and the Treasury").
Page 24, line 18, leave out ("and the Treasury").
Page 24, line 23, leave out from ("The") to second ("may") in line 24 and insert ("Commission shall pay to the Minister for the Civil Service, at such times as he may direct, such sums as he").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

7 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 25, line 22, at end insert:
("( ) In any such report the Commission may, on the basis of their consideration of cases, make such recommendations to the Secretary of State as they consider necessary for changes in the law and procedures.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will recall that we discussed this matter in Committee on an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. It appeared to me at that time that it was possible to try to frame some form of compromise which might be more acceptable to the Government. That being so, I wrote to the noble Baroness and made some suggestions as to how the matter might be handled.

The purpose of the amendment that I have tabled can be summarised extremely briefly. Should the commission have the power to report to the Secretary of State if, after its consideration of a case or cases, it believes that there should be a change in the law or in procedures? We think that it should have such a power. The amendment lays down that the commission can do that in the course of preparing its annual report to the Home Secretary.

It seems to me to be highly desirable that the commission should have an explicit power to report to the Secretary of State spelt out in statute. I believe that the public interest would be served were that to be done. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to indicate that the Government are prepared to look on the matter favourably. I beg to move.

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