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Lord Meston: I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Clinton-Davis. It is important that the commission has adequate and up-to-date information from individual areas, particularly as an inevitable effect of this Bill will be to reduce the availability in certain areas of firms able to do legal aid

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work as it is presently understood. If there is to be a selective reduction in the availability of firms able to do this sort of work, it is very important that the commission should have local information provided by those on the ground.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that the use of the word "consumer"--which we debated earlier this afternoon--is not too appropriate here. I could not help noticing that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, used the word "consumer" rather than "user". If this amendment, in any form, is to become part of the Bill, I suggest that the word "consumer" should be replaced by the expression "users of legal services"--perhaps excluding convicted criminals.

The Lord Chancellor: The purpose of the amendment is to set up committees of consumer representatives which would keep consumer interests under review in relation to the provision of legal services in each area. I have listened carefully to this debate and I shall certainly write to the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Clinton-Davis, on their concerns.

However, the whole focus of the new scheme is to create partnerships at local level between the local authorities, local providers of services, advice centres and law centres through the medium of the community legal service. It is intended to have a sharp local focus, to entail the ascertainment of need locally and the development of plans to meet these local needs.

The consumer interest is first of all to be represented on the commission under Clause 1, and it will also be represented on the regional legal services committees appointed by the commission under paragraph 12 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. They will be acutely concerned with the ascertainment of local conditions.

Further, these regional legal services committees around the country will include representatives of consumer interests. How else could the commission assess need under Clause 5(4)? Subsection (4) provides that:

    "The Commission shall also inform itself about the demand for services and the provision of such services ... and quality of the services provided".
There is no doubt that it is intended that there should be a sharp appreciation of local need through the medium of these bodies.

I am reluctant to accept this amendment because, in my view, it would create an extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. However, I shall consider the debate and fulfil my undertaking to write to both noble Lords as I have promised.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I thank my noble and learned friend for his semi-positive response. I shall welcome his letters. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Meston, for their contributions. I entirely agree that the use of the word "consumer" is unhelpful in this context. Certainly I would commend the use of the phrase "users of legal services", or something

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comparable, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, suggested, if the idea underlying this amendment were eventually to find favour with my noble and learned friend.

I am concerned about the relationship between the community legal services and the regional legal services committees. We need to concentrate on that. I know that my noble and learned friend will deal with that in his letter, but I am not convinced that having a particular consumer representative on one body will provide the degree of expertise and local or regional awareness that is currently being provided by the RLSCs.

I accept that, as indicated in the White Paper, it is intended to provide a sharp legal focus. I just want to see it sharpened up a little bit more. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [The Community Legal Service]:

[Amendments Nos. 40 to 42 not moved.]

Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 3, line 38, leave out subsection (4).

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment seeks to leave out subsection (4) of Clause 5. I can deal with it very shortly. If it is left out, would the commission be precluded from doing the things that that subsection says it can do? To put it another way, if the subsection were left out, could not the commission do precisely those things which it is enabled to do in the subsection? I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I have to advise noble Lords that if Amendment No. 43 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 44 to 53 inclusive.

Lord Borrie: I am not sure whether I know the answer to the specific question put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. This clause is very instructive in giving a role to the legal services commission by linking it with other funders of services such as local authorities and citizens advice bureaux. I shall not repeat what I said earlier on another amendment about the value of citizens advice bureaux in giving frontline advice to people who may have a problem but perhaps do not yet know whether it is a legal problem. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux provides a great deal of support, with the aid of lawyers, in the form of providing information, very often of a legal kind, to the people who work locally in branches, who may be volunteers or paid people. But it seems of some value that in Clause 5(4) there is mention of accreditation of other organisations and of monitoring those organisations.

7 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Does the noble Lord really think that it could not be done without that subsection?

Lord Borrie: I have already indicated to the noble and learned Lord that I am not sure what the specific answer to that question is. However, because I know the

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noble and learned Lord has a general feeling, which he has made clear on other occasions, that the Bill should as far as possible be shortened and that one does not want unnecessary detail, a feeling with which I concur, I was simply indicating that there are some useful words, including monitoring and accreditation, in this subsection which may be helpful when in the future people are asking what is intended by the clause.

Baroness Goudie: Law centres make legal services available to individuals who would not otherwise have access to them. They have a broad interest in local communities. If this subsection were to be removed, we would not have the services of the local authorities which would assist in funding and of the other bodies involved. This is an important clause in terms of assisting in the running of law centres and ensuring that law centres may flourish in parts of the country where there are no law centres at the moment and where there is a great need of the services they have to offer, especially to those who are greatly deprived. I may speak a little more on this subject later in our proceedings.

The Lord Chancellor: It is surely not the most important question whether the commission would have the power to do these things in the absence of Clause 5(4). The more important issue is whether this is an absolutely central provision which goes to the very heart of what the commission is about and tells ordinary people in fairly clear English what the object of the new scheme is.

Clause 5(1) states:

    "The Commission shall establish, maintain and develop a service known as the Community Legal Service with a view to there being available to members of the public",
a range of services. That is the primary purpose. Subsection (4) addresses how the commission is to go about doing that. Unsurprisingly, what it has to do is inform itself, under Clause 5(4), about the demand for services of the descriptions listed in subsection (1), then find out to what extent they are actually provided and what is their quality and then go on, in co-operation with appropriate authorities and other bodies, to see what can be done to meet the established demand. That appears to be very clear and very useful to have on the statute book for ordinary people to understand what the object of the scheme is. If Clause 5(4) were taken away, it would be taking away the provision that is central to the ascertainment of need which the community legal service is set up to meet and it would be taking away the provision that is equally central to the development of co-operative planning among all providers, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, said, is essentially the raison d'etre of the community legal service.

Amendment No. 48 is grouped with Amendment No. 43. Curiously, under Amendment No. 43, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, wants to remove the whole of Clause 5(4), but in Amendment No. 48 he wants to remove only the part providing for a co-operative development, led by the commission, to develop a community legal service. With respect, I have

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difficulty in following this point. These provisions are central to the purposes of the community legal service and, for my part, I intend them to remain there.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I asked my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor whether, if the subsection were omitted, the commission could do exactly the thing which it is there said it can do. My noble and learned friend said that that is not the most important question. That may be so, but it was the question he was asked and it was the question that he did not answer. That is significant. This type of drafting is teaching one's grandmother to suck eggs. One really must leave a body like this to do the ordinary things that any sensible body would do. We cannot continue to clutter up the statute book with a whole number of unnecessary provisions.

My noble and learned friend said that the provision tells people in language they can understand what can be done. He referred to accreditation and monitoring. Is that the language which people normally use? In the end, my noble and learned friend must make up his mind whether he concedes that it is part of the duty of a Minister in charge of a Bill to avoid cluttering up the Bill with unnecessary provisions just because he wants to make everything plain. Does he not recognise that unnecessary provisions are very expensive to the taxpayer, with duplication in the Bill at every stage, and expensive to the user, who has to pay a large sum unless he is unfortunate enough to be in a government department?

I said at the outset of the Committee stage that I would not press to a Division any of my amendments. I shall of course observe that. But I hope that my noble and learned friend will not take that to be a seal of approval for his dealing with this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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