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House of Lords

Tuesday, 14th November 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Legal Services: Access

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many of the responses to the consultation paper Financial conditions for funding by the Legal Services Commission have (a) supported and (b) opposed the proposals in that paper for taking into account the equity value in homes in assessing the liability of applicants to pay contributions to the Community Legal Service Fund.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I have received 34 responses to the consultation paper, including one from the Liberal Democrat parliamentary home and legal affairs team, signed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Twenty-eight of the 34 specifically commented on the proposals--four favourably and 24 unfavourably. The noble Lord is therefore a member of a comfortable majority of hostile voices. Within the minority, however, were the Association of District Judges and the Bar Council, which supported the proposal on its merits.

The consultation period was 12 weeks, ending on 20th October. I shall receive an analysis of the responses from my officials around the end of November. I shall come to my decisions and announce them in December.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, does the Lord Chancellor disagree with the extremely powerfully argued submissions by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Law Society, which commented adversely on the proposals? Does he accept that there is a serious risk of denial of access to justice for low-income home owners, particularly pensioners and single parents? When he considers the submissions, will he pay the greatest attention to the very serious consequences of this appalling proposal?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Lord puts it a little high. He spoke out strongly and clearly against the proposals in our debates on the Access to Justice Bill. They were to have been introduced at the same time as the Community Legal Service, which was established on 3rd April. Instead, the Government chose to consult. I understand very well the arguments

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of the noble Lord and others. I am listening to them positively and sympathetically and I shall announce my decisions in December.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, as the Lord Chancellor has been so positive and sympathetic to the overwhelming case made so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is there anything further to be said?

The Lord Chancellor: Well, steady on, my Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has the sense of the drift of what I have said.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Lord Chancellor agree that in many cases legal aid is given to individuals who live in a very lavish style? Would it not be a good idea to change the rules for using taxpayers' money on legal aid by taking into consideration the wealth of the immediate family of the applicant?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, we have put in place a range of measures to deal with those whose receipt of legal aid is objectionable because of the lavish lifestyle that they ostensibly maintain.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Lord Chancellor aware that many ordinary people--and I consider myself among them--think it scandalous that to have any legal case someone has to be either immensely rich or very poor? Taking the value of a property into account would help to offset that a little.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have already addressed that in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

House of Lords Constitutional Committee

2.40 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked the Leader of the House:

    Whether the proposed constitutional committee of this House will have a remit to advise on the exercise of the House's guardianship of the constitution; and, if so, whether the committee's membership will include Law Lords, one of whom could be appointed chairman.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the terms of reference for the Constitutional Committee, agreed by the Liaison Committee on 26th June, are:

    "To examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution".

I interpret that to mean that the Committee could, if it wished, consider the exercise of the House's guardianship of the constitution. As I am sure that the noble Lord is aware, the Committee's membership is a

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matter for the Committee of Selection, but the inclusion of a Law Lord would give it a valuable source of expertise.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for her open and encouraging reply, for which I am very grateful. Would the Constitutional Committee have the remit to advise the House on whether Royal Assent should be sought before Third Reading for a Bill that had been amended in Committee by a substantial majority on a free vote?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a question that he obviously feels is current. I hesitate to respond on the constitutional issue without taking expert guidance, which I shall, of course, do. On the face of it, what he suggests does not sound likely, particularly if, as in the case that I suppose that he is referring to, the Bill had already been certified by the Speaker as appropriate for the Parliament Act.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I have listened attentively to my noble friend's Answer. Why would anyone wish to give any priority to lawyers on this issue, or, for that matter, on any other? I have listened to the noble and learned Lords who fill the House and I have not found them any more noteworthy for objectivity and independence--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Peston: My Lords, I have not finished my sentence. I have not found them any more noteworthy for objectivity and independence than the rest of us. They have all the merits and all the faults of the rest of us. One or two of us might be puzzled as to why anyone would single them out on a matter of constitutional importance.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend is braver than I am. He will be aware that the ultimate decision in relation to a committee of this kind will rest with the Committee of Selection. I am also advised informally that the Law Lords are considering whether they should involve themselves in controversial matters. That may be relevant to whether or not one of their number becomes involved in this particular committee. However, I am not sure that I would follow my noble friend quite to the end of the path that he reached with regard to his broader character assessments.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will the committee also be required to consider the credibility of statutes, whether they can be enforced and whether they would be understood by the people who have to observe them?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am well aware of the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that Bills, and the Acts that follow them, should be clear and, as he said, relevant and understandable to

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the people whom they concern. I am sure that everyone strives towards that end. Whether that is, except in the broadest sense, a constitutional matter, I am not entirely certain. I believe that the question of credibility is a subject on which we could hold many hours of useful discussion, but I am not sure that that would be an appropriate response to a Starred Question.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I very much welcome the first reply given by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. However, has she also had an opportunity to read the article in today's Daily Telegraph from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, the former Master of the Rolls? Does not that article demonstrate a point which is the reverse of that put by the noble Lord, Lord Peston; that is, how worthwhile the noble and learned Lords' views are on constitutional matters and how worthy they are to be Members of this House and to take part in this type of constitutional question?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with regard to the general points raised by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I am sure that, as usual, we broadly agree. However, in relation to his specific point, I have not read the article in the Daily Telegraph. Perhaps I may say gently that if the noble Lord had wanted to raise a matter, I should have been given forewarning.

Statues in Central London

2.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What powers they have to influence the choice and location of statues in central London.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, under the Public Statues (Metropolis) Act 1854 the consent of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is required to erect a public statue in a public place in central London. That is in addition to the usual consents required under planning legislation. The Government have no other powers to influence the choice and location of statues in central London.

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