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My noble friend should take heart from the fact that the point which he rightly stressed, and which has been raised and supported by other Members of the Committee, is a very valid one. How do we make sure that in the range of services we provideincluding legal aid, proper advice and support and the use of professionalsthe Tribunals Service serves people by being user-friendly, open, accessible and speedy? How do we make sure that we provide a high-quality service where, at the end of it, people have had access to justice? Legal aid has its part to play, but at this point I cannot define an open-ended part in the Bill. I hope my noble friend will take heart from the fact that I am trying not to lose the point but to put it in its proper context within the service and within the wider review.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: The Minister is, as always, disarming, but it is more than 25 years since the Royal Commission on Legal Services spelt out in particularity the tests that should be applied to the giving of legal aid in administrative tribunals. Although no one would seriously argue that the quantification of the Governments commitment to the money necessary to bring those merit tests to fruition could be undertaken by the Minister in advance of the conclusions of the deliberations to which she has referred, it is not clear
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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to the noble Lord for understanding the points I was making about why I cannot give that commitment. It was very sweet of the noble Lord to call me disarming but I am not sure that that is what I want to be.
It is very important that we do not take out bits of the legal aid framework and put it into different parts of legislation. We are carrying out a serious review of legal aid. It is important that we are very clear about its direction in the future and that we set that in the right context. This is not a Bill about legal aid. Much as noble Lords might wish it to be, it is not. It is a Bill about the future structure and development of the Tribunals Service. One of the issues as we develop the service will be the proper role of legal aid within it. We are at the beginning of that process, however, and I would be happy to look at anything I felt would benefit it. I am not sure, however, that the legal aid issues around the tribunal system can be dealt with effectively in this Bill, out of context and without looking at the whole framework of legal aid in the future.
I will resist the amendment, but it is not a resistance born of a lack of understanding of the issues being raised, or of a recognition by my noble friend and me that we have an issue that needs to be addressed. Rather, the issue needs to be addressed from the legal aid perspective as a whole. With regard to the tribunal service, the question is: where will the money be best used to serve the people we wish to serve? That will be legal aid within the Tribunals Service, but it will also be the other things I have described. It may well be that we need less legal aid money if the Tribunals Service develops in particular directions and people get high-quality advice earlier, or it may mean more legal aid money because the
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I shall turn quickly to the other points made about the European Convention on Human Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, predicted what I was going to say. We have to sign the statements to say the legislation is compatible with the convention, so the amendment does not add anything. We do not put that into all our legislation, because it is already there. That is why I am resisting the amendment.
Lord Kingsland: I am grateful to the Minister for everything she said about the three issues highlighted by these amendments. I have no doubt that the question of legal aid will reappear on Report. I take her point about human rights. As for the question of the interests of justice, I know she will go away and reflect on that. I am hopeful that she will come back with a positive response. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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