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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for raising a matter on which I myself pressed the Minister on the last occasion. He did say that he would write to me about it. I have told his officials that I have not received that letter and I am
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still unaware of it. I am also unaware of the authority that he refers to. Perhaps there is a problem in communication, but he is again asserting something which I am not aware is the case. But I take it that he has his facts right and I shall sit down.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I can recall signing the letter and I am told that it was handed to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, on Monday this week. So I am somewhat puzzled that the noble Lord has not received it.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am sorry; I have just nodded to the Minister's officials in the Box. I now recollect that I was handed a letter, and I also recollect that I never read it. So I am altogether covered in confusion and I withdraw the point.
Where appropriate, exceptional funding may be available in cases of significant wider public interest or where the issues are so complex that it would be impossible for applicants to represent themselves in person. In summary, the Government therefore continue to believe that the case for a suitors' fund has not been made. However, Clause 71 provides for a report on the operation of the legislation to be made within five years of Royal Assent. This will give us an opportunity to look at the impact of the tribunal and whether access to it is being frustrated by the costs of bringing a case before it. With that in mind, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
When considering letters, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, ought also to receive a copy of the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I shall ensure that he receives one as a courtesy, and of course I will share that with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that last remark. However, he has said that there will be a review of the workings of the legislation five years after it is enacted. That is quite a long time. Does he not appreciate that justice delayed is justice denied?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that aphorism is a common one, but I do not think that this will be a case of justice delayed being justice denied. We have been widely praised for bringing forward the notion of the tribunal and, as I have explained, we think that access will be facilitated to it. Moreover, there is the further benefit that the Attorney-General can bring
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forward public interest cases and so forth. But, should a serious issue arise which can be seen to frustrate those who wish to bring cases before the tribunal, any review of the legislation would look at that. However, we think that a period of five years is appropriate in terms of review. It is not an uncommon period to adopt for legislative review and we believe that we have the balance about right.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but I am afraid that I remain unswayed in my conviction that this tribunal will be stillborn without effective legal advice and assistance. It really does no good to say that the Attorney-General will take the occasional case. Indeed, it was my own correspondence with the Attorney-General that opened the door to his agreeing to take occasional cases. In correspondence we talked about one or two cases a year. Nor is it any response to the lacuna I am drawing attention to that the Minister has ascertained that, in exceptional cases involving the wider public interest, the taking of counsel's opinion will be allowed or, in even more exceptional circumstances, representation. I know the workings of the Legal Services Commission very well and I can assure the House that, given its general way of working, the number of cases that will fit those two categories will be minuscule. We are talking about perhaps two or three cases a year. But we are expecting the traffic brought before the tribunals to be hundreds of cases a year, not two or three. So I repeat that this central part of the Bill will not be just impeded, but wholly undermined by the absence of a fund of this sort.
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