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Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 3, line 38, after ("itself") insert ("and the public").

The noble Lord said: The simple purpose of this amendment is to require the commission to make public the information that it gathers under this subsection about the demand for services provided by the commission. I beg to move.

The Lord Chancellor: Again, the noble Lord does not over-exert himself in developing the amendment, explaining it to the Committee or urging the cause of the amendment upon the Committee. Mercifully, I have read the amendment. It proposes that Clause 5 should be amended to place a duty on the commission to inform the public of the demand, or need, whichever word is chosen, for legal services. I welcome the noble Lord's support for the move to greater openness on the part of public bodies such as the commission.

However, I am not minded to accept the amendment as I believe it to be unnecessary. Schedule 1 already contains measures that will place a duty on the commission to publish an annual plan for each financial year. That annual plan will be laid before each House of Parliament.

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The plan will show the commission's assessment of need and how it intends to meet the need for legal services over the forthcoming financial year. It will summarise the findings and advice of the regional legal services committees, which will have been published in full as regional strategies. The first of the regional strategies undertaken by the RLSCs were issued for public consultation in the autumn of last year. Further detail about the basis of the plan will be available under the open government code of practice. The commission will also be required to publish, under paragraph 14 of Schedule 1, an annual report on the commission's performance against the annual plan. Therefore, the public will be fully informed and the amendment is not necessary. On that account, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw it.

Lord Kingsland: In response to the noble and learned Lord's elucidating and helpful response, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Goodhart had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 45:

Page 3, line 38, after second ("the") insert ("current and probable future").

The noble Lord said: In view of government Amendments Nos. 46, 51 and 52, I do not propose to move this amendment or Amendments Nos. 47 and 50.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 46:

Page 3, line 38, leave out ("demand") and insert ("need").

The noble and learned Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 51 and 52. These amendments would require the legal services commission to inform itself of the need for legal services and to plan what can be done towards meeting that need. The provision also requires the legal services commission to facilitate the planning by others of what can be done to meet the need for legal services. The amendment replaces the requirement for the commission to inform itself of "demand". I am grateful to the National Consumer Council and to the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, for bringing this matter to the Lord Chancellor's attention through their amendments.

I cannot accept the noble Lords' amendments. I do not think there is any point in going into the reasons. I agree that the focus on need incorporates a concept of reaching those who do not currently seek help and is not merely a snapshot of current requests for information, advice and assistance in the same way as demand. The concept of need also clearly excludes unmeritorious demand, which is of obvious importance to our reforms of the justice system. The idea of matching the provision of legal services to the needs of local communities is at the heart of our vision of the community legal service. I invite the Committee to agree that Clause 5 be amended.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

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7.15 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 48:

Page 3, line 40, leave out from second ("and") to end of line 41.

The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment is yet another attempt to get rid of unnecessary words. The commission is to inform itself about the need for services, whether those services are on tap, the provision of such services and their quality. The subsection continues,

    "and, in co-operation with such authorities and other bodies and persons as it considers appropriate",
it should meet the requirements of paragraphs (a) and (b).

If the words were omitted, would the commission be precluded from doing what it is enjoined to do under paragraphs (a) and (b) if it co-operated with others whom it deemed appropriate?

I wish to put the matter again specifically. If these words were omitted, would the commission be precluded from acting in co-operation? That question can be answered yes or no. If, as I suspect, the answer is that the commission can act in co-operation in the absence of those words, what is the justification for including those words? I hope that I shall not hear about "flexibility" or "making things plain". I press the Minister to make absolutely clear whether those words make the slightest difference to the subsection. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Viscount of Oxfuird): I must advise the Committee that, should this amendment be agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 49 due to pre-emption.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: It is important to note that subsection (4) does not merely give power to the commission, but imposes an extremely important duty upon it; namely, that it should seek to co-operate with other authorities. There is a tendency, particularly in some forms of central government organisation, to carry on as if it were not necessary to seek help from local organisations.

I was conscious of the other difficulty; namely, that if central government, with its money, comes into an area, the financially pressed local authority is apt to withdraw its resources from the area and leave matters to the Government. Local community services--local law centres, community law centres, or whatever we may choose to call them; they are given a variety of names, but fortunately their principal purposes are much the same--are important in building up the community legal service. Without these express words, the commission may have a power but not a duty to co-operate. Therefore, the words that the amendment seeks to delete are important to the success of the community legal service. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will not feel moved to accept the amendment.

Lord Renton: I should like to follow what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern said. We

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have not been informed as to the community basis on which Clause 5 and the following clauses are to be administered. What are to be the areas concerned? Is it to be done on the basis of what at the Bar we call the "circuits"? Is it to be done on the basis of the regions of England and Wales? Is it to be done on some local authority basis, as was suggested by my noble and learned friend? We should be able to understand this so that we can know what the Government's intentions really are. I hope that between now and Report the Government will amplify Clause 5 so as to make clear the local basis on which the community services are to be administered.

Baroness Goudie: I support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said. I agree wholeheartedly with him that, if the local authorities and other bodies do not work closely with the regional committees, the law centres will not have a chance to survive. At the moment, as I said earlier, they do not survive very well. We need them to flourish. If we do not have careful planning with local authorities, the system will not work. It is important that this clause should remain in the Bill.

The Lord Chancellor: The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has the advantage of having two bites at the cherry. Amendments Nos. 43 and 48 were grouped and I have already spoken to both.

It appears that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has met the noble and learned Lord's point. It is not a question of whether Clause 5(4) is unnecessary because it confers powers which inhere in the commission in any event. It imposes a duty upon the commission and the commission would not be under such a duty unless it were imposed by statute. That appears to me to be a complete answer to the noble and learned Lord's point.

I have already undertaken to write to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. The position is that the Legal Aid Board is currently in discussions with the local authorities to develop plans for each of their areas. What is particularly in view is a local authority-based community legal service. I shall amplify this point in the letter which I have promised the noble Lord.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Of course, this clause imports a duty. I read the very words imposing the duty: "The Commission shall also". I agree with those who referred to the importance of acting in concert, where appropriate, with a local authority and other local voluntary bodies. But, with respect, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and his supporters are proving too much. If they are right, the commission shall perform the functions set out in paragraphs (a) and (b),

    "in co-operation with such authorities and other bodies and persons as it considers appropriate".
But let us suppose that it considers that it can perfectly well act without needing anyone's co-operation. Is it acting improperly? With great respect to my noble and learned friend and the noble Baroness, it seems to me that those words do not advance the purpose of the Bill.

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If we can get rid of even a word or two which are unnecessary, it is our duty to do so. However, in pursuance of my previous undertaking, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 not moved.]

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