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It is beyond doubt that the reductions in fees embodied in the order, which the noble Lord seeks to annul, do make it more difficult for the already hard-pressed community legal practitioners, mentioned in the Motion, to thrive and will make it more difficult for barristers, junior and senior, who work on publicly funded work. We agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that such practitioners carry out an essential service for those least able to afford it. This order does involve a 10 per cent cut in their fees and in the fees of barristers for publicly funded work across the field of civil and family law, not just social welfare law. It includes-I would suggest rightly-a limit on experts' fees for the first time. It is going to be more necessary than ever for lawyers to practise as efficiently as they can and the harsh reality is that they will earn less from legal aid work. However, I am far less clear that their core viability is threatened.

We will be debating these issues-and the other issues about the scope of legal aid mentioned by the noble Lord, but not the subject of this order-in full when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill comes to this House shortly. I hope we will also be able to explore during the course of this Parliament other ways in which savings might be made without damaging the quality of the justice system. Progress is being made in exploring the achievement of savings through alternative dispute resolution procedures. I believe there is also room for improvement in the efficiency of the court system to produce savings. In the family field, I look forward with great hope to the final report of the Family Justice Review chaired by David Norgrove.

I would make it clear from these Benches that we have been, and are, heavily involved in discussions with practitioners and others , including many civil and family law practitioners, both barristers and solicitors, who have quite rightly expressed their concerns to us. We will examine closely with Ministers whether, and how far, the Bill achieves fairness and the protection of the vulnerable in the use of extremely limited resources. We would hope and expect that in due course, in a reviving economy, any gaps in provision that emerge will be refilled. However, that there must now be some cuts in fees is inevitable in these straitened circumstances.

In advancing this annulment Motion I suggest that the noble Lord and the Labour Party need to tell us what choices they would have made, or would make now, in cutting the legal aid budget. What were the cuts that he was intending to implement? How would they not have threatened hard-pressed community practitioners? Until those questions are answered fully, I suggest that, however regrettable the need for fee cuts in civil and family proceedings, it would not be sensible to divide the House on this Motion.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for raising this issue tonight and for concentrating my thoughts-like those of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel-on the welfare of children as they are treated by our legal system. We spent the whole of this afternoon talking about the treatment and rights of children. I look forward to the Government's response and comment on the ways in

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which children can be particularly protected in our legal system by the way in which the distribution of fees is arranged throughout that system.

I am still puzzled by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and why it should be this area in which we look for savings. A number of noble Lords have spoken of areas, in criminal law, for example, where there could be significant savings. Why should it be this area? I think of the work, for example, of Henry Hyams, a firm of solicitors in Leeds which takes some 2,000 cases a year from the most deprived areas of Leeds. They tell me that almost all of those cases involve the welfare of children.

That takes us to the effect of these cuts on those clinicians who provide reports to assist the courts in making determinations about the safeguarding of children-professionals who provide evidence of injury and of abuse and who are often key to the welfare of children. We have improved immensely our understanding of childcare in our society, and much of that has been due to the diligence of such professionals. We are all made very aware when a mistake is made by one of those professionals; we forget the thousands of cases when accurate decisions are taken about children's welfare and their future. The debate that we had all afternoon and this debate come together in looking at the well-being-again-of children, and of their place in our society.

Clergy in pastoral work are often aware of the time spent both by those clinicians and by lawyers with their clients, seeking the best way forward for children and family life, often in work that is undertaken quite outside the fee system. We claim to be a society that puts the family first; social welfare law is an important part of enabling us to do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, spoke of the way in which he hoped that, if there were gaps in our provision, they would be able to be filled again as the economic situation becomes better. But the most important part of our response to the difficulties in which we find ourselves is that those who are most deprived in our society should be those whom we seek to protect from the cuts being made. The Government and many local authorities seek to do that, yet in this particular instance those cuts are bearing at their hardest on those least able to bear the brunt of them.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I have three categories of interest to declare. The first is professional but, unlike a number of noble Lords who have spoken, not as a member of the Bar and still less as a most distinguished judge but as a mere solicitor and now as an unpaid consultant in the firm of which I was senior partner for some 30 years. The second is a political interest. As my noble friend will recall, it was a resolution that I was responsible for that went to the Labour Party conference some three years ago, which was somewhat critical-and rightly so-of the then Government's policies on legal aid. That led to the establishment of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Bach, on which he was gracious enough to invite me to participate. The third is a personal one, because the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I graduated at the same time all of 46 years ago from the school of jurisprudence at Oxford.

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This order, coming as it does shortly before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill reaches your Lordships' House, is something of a tawdry harbinger of what is very likely to be a prolonged and hard winter for access to justice. It is interesting that the young legal aid lawyers, in the briefing note that they have circulated, drew attention to the fact that the consultation that the Government entered into on their proposals to reduce these fees was very limited. They consulted only the Law Society and the Bar Council; there was no consultation with other stakeholders, such as law centres, community groups or citizens advice bureaux, or indeed any client interests. This does not seem to represent the "no decision about me without me" process, which was allegedly followed in terms of the health service.

9.30 pm

More importantly, that body of young legal aid lawyers has pointed out that the National Audit Office has issued a warning about the process that the Government undertook. They quote the National Audit Office as observing that there is a,

the ones we are debating-

In other words, the supply side is likely to diminish. That is surely inconsistent with one of the favourite mantras of the Government-perhaps rightly so-which is to increase choice. If you reduce the supply base, you restrict choice.

I have been looking into and discussing with the Newcastle Law Centre the impact of these reductions in fees on that organisation. It employs three solicitors at an average salary of around £29,000 and two qualified caseworkers at around £25,000. By no possible stretch of the imagination could these be described as fat-cat lawyers-some might regard them as potentially half-starved lawyers-but certainly they are not well paid in comparison with those in private practice or commercial organisations. Interestingly, the organisation also engages the work of eight volunteers. In the last financial year it advised 2,000 people and opened 550 active files. That is a substantial workload. As a result of the fees decision of this order, they are likely to lose some £20,000 a year. Their salaries, of course, have not been increased since 2009, the fees have not gone up since 2008 when the previous Government increased them, and we are now in a time of considerable inflation on non-salary costs. So they are not just getting a 10 per cent cut in the next year; they will be getting a 10 per cent cut on top of inflation and on top of no real increase in the past few years.

In addition, the centre faces the prospective loss of £60,000 a year from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It is not yet clear whether that funding will be continued to any extent. Perhaps the Minister will be in a position to indicate either when or what kind of decision will be made about this sort of funding. In the current financial year, the centre has also sustained a loss of £30,000 of the £95,000 grant it receives from the local authority, Newcastle City Council. The grant is now £65,000, and given the scale of the

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cuts in grant that the authority has received, it can by no means be assumed that the grant will be sustained at that level. One hopes that the grant will be sustained-and there are two Members of your Lordships' House who might be arguing that case-but certainly no guarantees can be given in that respect.

This is an organisation that, at the moment, is carrying out important work in the realms of asylum, immigration, consumer and employment law, and is facing a very fraught future, which will have a significant impact on the people who use its services. I repeat: there have been 2,000 advice cases and 550 active files opened in the past year. That is a significant number of people, many of whom will now be unlikely to be assisted.

Moreover, demand will increase as a result of the prevailing circumstances in the economy and also because of the potential impact of the fees on private practice. I have had discussions with a leading north-east firm that is largely a legal aid firm. It depends on legal aid for about 80 per cent of its fee income. Interestingly, the salaries that are paid there are also pretty modest. The senior solicitors in their legal aid departments earn all of £40,000 a year; less experienced solicitors are on £24,000 a year; and they have a number of caseworkers on between £16,000 and £18,000 a year-again, not exceedingly generous salaries. Some of the departments are barely covering their costs at the moment and that is before this fee cut or, indeed, before taking into account rising inflation. There is also a significant question about the funding of family law, to which other noble Lords have referred. Again, I do not know whether the Minister is able to indicate either when decisions will be made about that or whether they are likely to match or differ from the current position.

It is not clear whether that firm, which is a very significant player in the local legal economy, will be able to sustain the breadth of its operations. Again, if it were to reduce its staffing and coverage, that would restrict the choice of those who need legal advice. The firm which I am consulting has for some time sustained its criminal department on the basis of not covering its costs in some years and barely covering them in others. It has been able to do that only because it has been relatively buoyant in other areas. It cannot be expected that firms in the private sector will be able to continue to provide a pro bono service, even for criminal legal aid. However, if I may say so in the presence of those who have affiliations with the Bar, there and in the court system, rather than at the solicitors' end, is probably where the savings need to be made. There is a real risk of that supply base being undermined and choice being restricted with it.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to experts. It is perfectly reasonable to look at the fees payable to experts and to develop a system in which they can perhaps be better controlled. On the other hand, expert advice is often needed. The large firm to which I referred instructs experts-for example, country experts in asylum cases or medical experts in welfare cases. Again, it is reasonable that they should be properly, if not overgenerously, remunerated because there could

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be a significant impact on the supply base of important people with a significant role in the administration of justice.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said about the annual Liberal Democrat lawyers' get-together. I hope that they will again be toasting access to justice and the legal aid system-perhaps next year, in the light of these circumstances, not with claret but more likely with bowls of thin gruel. With the combination of this measure and what is to come, we are facing a significant attack on the legal aid system. It is perhaps no coincidence that that takes place while we are also debating the future of the National Health Service. Many Members of your Lordships' House last night paid tribute to the post-war Labour Government and the creation of the National Health Service as a great achievement in social policy and a great pillar of the welfare state. Many of us, if not all, particularly on this side of the House, think that that achievement and that pillar are threatened with being substantially undermined by the Health and Social Care Bill. We will be debating that matter at some length over the next few weeks but whether or not that be the case, it is clear that there is a real threat to the legal aid system. It is potentially facing being dismantled and access to justice, which was one of the great achievements of the post-war Labour Government-and a fundamental part of the welfare state that was then developed-is severely at risk.

I do not know whether my noble friend will be dividing the House tonight-it would, perhaps, be unusual for the House to divide on a statutory instrument of this kind-but if he does not, we will, of course, return to the greater issue, the substantive issue, of which this is the trailer, when we look at the legal aid Bill. If your Lordships' House does not significantly amend that Bill, access to justice will be significantly diminished and there will be a significant diminution in the quality and breadth of the welfare state and the society which that great post-war Government sought to create and foster. I hope that the Government will think very carefully before they do further damage to something which, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, we have all been proud of for the past 60 years.

Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, we live and learn. I apologise to my noble friend on the Front Bench for my slowness in getting up and, possibly, for what I am going to say. We live and learn: I always knew that I was more liberal than the previous Labour Government; I now know that I am more liberal than the Liberal Democrats, at least as represented in the House tonight. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench have not reached the stage of trembling when I stand up, because I am really quite a nice pussycat-in comparison with some, at any rate-but I can assure them that, were this to be pressed to a vote, I would not vote for it. I do not think that it is right for us to be killing off statutory instruments in the way that this would do, certainly with the way that the House operates at the moment. However, it is important that somebody from these Benches should make it clear that, even if we would not want to see this voted down, we are not happy bunnies about the

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policies that seem to underlie it. There are those of us, as I have already warned my long-suffering Whip and others, who are likely to want to return to some of these issues when we get to the Bill that is coming down the track towards us.

The speeches in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, and others, including the noble Earl, Lord Listowel and the right reverend Prelate-in fact, everybody bar one, dare I say, who has spoken-have made a pretty devastating case. I will listen to the Minister's answer. I am a notoriously pliable chap, and if I am convinced I will be prepared to change my view, but at the moment I think that they have made a pretty devastating case. I have only one question to add to those that have been asked, which is about mental health, where locking people up remains one of the areas where you can get legal aid for the mental health tribunal.

I think it is relevant that two years ago, when I was still chairing the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, the Ministry of Justice, under its former incumbents-or the officials, at any rate-asked the council, and me as its chair, to chair the user group for mental health tribunals. This is a little less comfortable for the Opposition Front Bench, but even at that stage, mental health lawyers were expressing the view that the cuts that had been made in legal aid remuneration were, at least in some parts of the country, making it virtually impossible to find people to represent those before the mental health tribunals. It was particularly true in the south-west; there were some concerns in the north-east, but there were certainly concerns, even with the policies that had previously been pursued. I therefore want to ask two questions of the Minister. Is mental health affected or potentially affected by this? What is the position on the availability of legal aid lawyers to help claimants who have been confronted by the prospect of being deprived of their liberty by mental health tribunals? This ties in with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has just made very effectively. The net result of this may well be to reduce the amount of support available to vulnerable people, not only because legal aid is not available but because growing numbers of young lawyers who do pro bono work will not be able to afford to go on doing it. This is a worry for many law centres and the like. I should like some comment on that.

9.45 pm

Lastly, and to avoid being too unfriendly to my noble friend Lord Marks, it is the case that a lot of cuts that did a lot of damage were made by the previous Labour Government. That ought to be acknowledged. It is the case that we need to find savings in various places and the Ministry of Justice cannot be excluded. However, if these proposals, under either the previous Government or this one, end up causing damage by trying to save our nation at the expense of the most vulnerable people-whether families, children, battered wives or the mentally ill-it raises some questions. Is the Ministry of Justice being asked to find too many savings? Certainly, it raises the question of whether the Government are finding their savings in the right way.

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I say to my noble friend Lord Marks that the same thought occurred to me as had evidently occurred to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. If we can find £250 million to ensure that local councils provide weekly rubbish collection services, which some already do for food waste, I question some of the priorities here. I make no apology for making an uncomfortable speech. If the matter is pressed to a vote, I will not vote for the Motion, but I am not very happy with what we are being asked to support.

Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I have enjoyed listening to the experts in law and legal aid. It is deeply unfair that a 10 per cent cut should be put on one section, and one section alone, of a service that is paid for by the taxpayer.

The Law Society was here today to talk about the future legislation that will come before this House. I asked how much lawyers earn in the field of legal aid. I was told that young lawyers earn £25,000, as has been mentioned. They rightly deserve it, but there are many manual workers, tradesmen and semi-skilled people who earn that kind of money and work hard for it. However, we are making a 10 per cent cut.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, many of those who work in the legal aid service are women. I know that there is not much sympathy for Members of Parliament at the moment but I met a former colleague, a lady Member, who said that a substantial part of her salary goes on childcare. There is no doubt that the cost of childcare has gone up. It has gone up for those young mothers who work as solicitors. Any of us who drive a car will know that prices are going up every time we go to a forecourt. Lawyers need to travel to get to court. They are not just based in London. Therefore, this cut is extremely unfair.

I am surprised by the Minister, who was at one time a member of a trade union. I do not know whether he still is; it would have been the T&G that he was in, would it not? I do not think that any organiser in the Transport and General Workers' Union would want a cut of 10 per cent in the workforce, or take it lightly, so why should we do this?

In the constituency that I previously served and the place that I was raised in, a great many men and women who were asylum seekers came, as a result of a decision of the Home Office, to live in my community. More often than not, they came and received advice from legal aid practitioners. While those asylum seekers were coming to me, they were also going to the legal aid practitioners. I was able to form a good working relationship with those practitioners and found that they were doing things over and above their duties as solicitors-working outside office hours and going to people's homes to try to help them. These practitioners are the people on whom we are going to impose cuts.

As the noble Lord said, cuts have to be made, but we have to look at how we implement them. It is the easiest thing in the world to say, "Right-10 per cent across the board". However, it is not necessarily the right thing to do. I urge the Minister to reconsider this matter. At a time when many young people in this profession cannot even get mortgages, because that is difficult, they have to go into the rented sector, and

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their overheads are far more than they used to be. I can recall times when people did not have access to legal aid solicitors, and the difficulties and hardship that that caused for their families lasted for years. I hope that the Minister reconsiders this matter.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, this is the point in the evening when I thank everyone for contributing to a wide-ranging debate-so wide, in fact, that it would probably take me at least 40 minutes to reply. I will try to do justice to the debate in a shorter time because the House has more business to consider. I remind the House that this was supposed to be dinner hour business-a matter that the usual channels might look at in future when they do their planning.

The debate was indeed a trailer for the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill-now known to its friends as LASPO-that will come to this House. I do not object to colleagues using the opportunity to widen the debate to cover some of those areas. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said that it was a "tawdry harbinger" of a long hard winter for legal aid. I say to the House-to the right reverend Prelate, my noble friend Lord Newton, and others-that there would be a long hard winter if this Government did not face up to the spending cuts that are needed. It is all very well, as the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said, to say that this 10 per cent cut was the easy way. I put it to him that the easy way, which we have heard time and again tonight, would be to say, "Not this cut. Not that cut. We would do it in a different way". We have had to face up to the fact that we have to make some hard decisions.

It is not just this part of legal aid that is taking the hit. The Ministry of Justice is a relatively small department with a budget, when we came into office, of £10 billion. We made a commitment for the spending review to cut that by £2 billion. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, knows, we have only four major areas of responsibility-prisons, the Probation Service, legal aid and court services. They have all taken their cut and it is simply not true to suggest that we have taken a particularly easy view in terms of legal aid. As my noble friend Lord Marks said-and, to be fair, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, echoed it-the previous Labour Government were looking at legal aid. I went to the Commonwealth Law Conference. I have never used the comparison with continental legal aid because I know that there is a different system there, but I particularly sought out the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand law officers to talk about legal aid and they confirmed what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, knows full well-they all consider our legal aid system to be, in their terms, "absurdly generous". It is also untrue that we have not made comparable cuts in criminal legal aid. In fact, the parallel order will, over the period, save some £80 million in criminal legal aid spending.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, particularly mentioned Law For All. That is interesting because it very much echoes what was said when the Immigration Advisory Service closed. Let us be fair: Law For All has closed before any of these legal aid cuts have come in, so the legal aid cuts have not caused its collapse. However, it

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is interesting that the Legal Services Commission was able to make provision from other providers, and I shall return to that in a few minutes. We have recognised the problem relating to CABs and law centres, and I shall try to cover that in my main remarks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, made an interesting point. I am proud to be the Minister responsible for promoting diversity in the legal profession. I put it to the noble Baroness that it is not a matter of diversity to suggest that women and black and ethnic minority lawyers should be corralled in one part of the legal profession. Indeed, my drive in terms of diversity-the noble Baroness is quite right and I have talked to both the Bar Council and the Law Society about this-is that the profession as a whole has a responsibility to promote diversity, not in the narrow area of legal aid but across the profession. To be fair, I think that they are responding to pressure in that area. We are taking diversity extremely seriously.

The noble Baroness and a number of other noble Lords also mentioned the Family Justice Review, which is a separate and independent programme of work looking at the entire family justice system. Our proposals are not dependent on the outcome of that review and are focused on legal aid; they go in the same direction as, and in support of, the aims of the Family Justice Review, which I am assured will be published very shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and a number of others talked about the fee levels reducing access to good-quality experts. The benchmark rates for experts have been applied by the Legal Services Commission for some time. The truth is that there are only limited anecdotal reports of problems with access to experts.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, accused us of weasel words in the Explanatory Memorandum, and I hope that my opening remarks have removed those weasel words. Of course, much of this has been driven by the need for cuts in public expenditure, but we have tried to do so in a way that focuses legal aid on the most needy.

We go back to the issue of the level of spending. What is so sacrosanct about £2.2 billion? It certainly was not sacrosanct for the previous Labour Government because they were planning to cut it anyway. The system is not being dismantled. It does not help when the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, makes that kind of comment. I could make a point about the earnings of barristers in family legal aid work, but let us not go down that route.

10 pm

I turn to the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. There is a question about whether the Legal Services Commission should be able to commission experts directly, and that could be looked at. On aid to children, we will retain legal aid for child parties in family cases. In 2009-10, we provided £133 million civil legal aid funding to child parties in all categories of law and, under our proposals, around 95 per cent of that aid would continue. I hope that gives some reassurance to the noble Lord on the points that he raised.

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Apart from getting some of the previous Government's record into Hansard, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for pointing out that we are, as the Lord Chancellor has pointed to, consciously looking for an approach to the settlement of disputes that is less legalistic and brings in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. We are also looking at possibly legislating in the next Session of Parliament on court efficiencies.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked about the supply side being likely to diminish and I shall try to cover that in a moment. It is certainly not right to say that we did not consult widely. The reforms were subject to full public consultation, which ran from 15 November 2010 to 14 February 2011 and elicited over 5,000 responses.

Lord Beecham: The lack of consultation to which I referred and on which I quoted the legal aid lawyers was in relation to this fees order, not the Green Paper.

Lord McNally: These were all foreshadowed in the Green Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, is not a happy bunny but, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, if we were not willing to take tough decisions, there would be a lot more unhappy bunnies around because we would be paying interest rates of two, three or four times what we are paying now, which would result in far greater cuts in public expenditure and services. The fact that our Government are not making headlines in relation to the economic situation in which they find themselves is because we had the courage to take tough decisions early. I have no doubt that when we ask colleagues and the Opposition to face up to that fact, we will always have the problem that these are tough decisions; we have never resiled from that.

Lord Higgins: Would my noble friend give way?

Lord McNally: It is very late.

Lord Higgins: Yes, I realise that, but my noble friend has just made a rather extraordinary statement. He said that we would be paying interest rates three or four times greater than we are now and I just do not understand what he means.

Lord McNally: At what rates is Ireland borrowing at the moment? I am suggesting that we would have lost control of our economy in the way that some parts of Europe have lost control of their economies. The consequences for public expenditure would have been much more severe. I would have thought that I would have had the support of my noble friend in that.

Lord Higgins: No one is more enthusiastic than I am that we should cut the deficit as fast as possible. I have made that clear, time and again. I just did not understand the quantitative statement that he made, but I do not wish to delay the House further.

Lord McNally: On the other points that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, made, legal aid is currently available for legal advice on any mental health matter and representation for mental health matters heard in the

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county court, such as charging a detained person's nearest relative for mental health legislation purposes, for damages claims and for representation before the first tier mental health tribunal and onward. We propose retaining these changes within the scope of legal aid.

In 2010, tenders for legal aid contracts for mental health demonstrated a strong demand for mental health work, with nearly three times as many new cases bids than there were cases available.

I hope that answers the points that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, raises; namely, that there is the supply that he was concerned about and that we will continue this in scope.

The House will be aware that the Government have had to make some tough decisions. As I mentioned, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, accepted that when he had responsibilities for this matter the legal aid fund had to play a part in the often difficult exercise. To govern is to choose. It is a key role of Government on behalf of the taxpayer to ensure that the amount they pay for any service represents maximum value for money. In this context it is essential that the Government ensure that they only pay the rates that are necessary to secure the level of services that are required. While this may not be welcomed by those who provide services funded by legal aid, it is a reality that suppliers of other services across the country face on a daily basis. The Government recognise that some providers may choose not to continue to provide legally aided services in this environment, but it is not the purpose of the legal aid system to sustain the current legal market. Rather, we want to continue to have a sufficient supply of providers of satisfactory quality to provide an appropriate level of services for legally aided clients.

The order that we are debating this evening introduces a number of changes to the fees that the provider can currently receive for carrying out legally aided work. The main features were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Justice is required to make savings in the year 2014-15 of about £50 million. My noble friend Lord Marks referred to the total savings of £120 million. With the exception of the family fee reforms which will take effect on 1 February 2012 when new contracts under the family re-tender exercise are expected to commence, the new fees took effect on 3 October 2011 and apply to all cases commenced after that date.

The reforms were subject to a full public consultation which ran from 15 November 2010 to 14 February 2011. I have already referred to that in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. With the exception of the Law Society, no respondents provided any form of detailed numerical analysis of the market. The Law Society did so through Mr Andrew Otterburn. His report indicated that while the fee reduction will inevitably reduce the income of solicitor firms, on the whole, they would still make a profit even before making any efficiencies in working practices.

Subsequent to his report, Mr Otterburn specifically confirmed to the MoJ that, in his view, an overall phased reduction in fees of around 10 per cent, with the reduced fees only applying to new cases commenced after the implementation date, would allow solicitor firms time to adjust to the new fee levels and would not, therefore, necessarily make supply unsustainable.

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The Government accept that the proposed reforms may be particularly challenging to the not-for-profit sector. That was raised by a number of colleagues. However, it is also the case that the major issue for this sector, generally, is change to other sources of funding; for example, as was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, from local authority cuts, which may make supply in the areas they cover vulnerable in any event.

This is clearly a matter for concern for the Government as a whole, and the issue of the future of the voluntary advice sector will be considered as part of a cross-Government review on which an expected announcement will be made shortly. In the interim, the Government have already provided transition funding to assist the not-for-profit sector to adapt to the changing financial environment. I understand that overall 45 individual CABs and 17 law centres have taken advantage of this fund. As the noble Lord will be aware, the Government will also be providing a further £20 million of funding for the not-for-profit sector. Specific details of this fund will be made available shortly.

In the context of legal aid services, the issue is whether services will be available for clients rather than whether that service is provided by any particular provider. We assessed the likely impact of the reforms when considering the responses to the consultation and overall are satisfied that the reforms are sustainable and that, although individual providers may leave the legal aid scheme, there will be a sufficient supply of providers of satisfactory quality to provide an appropriate level of service in all areas of law. The Government therefore consider that the fee reductions will be sustainable and will ensure that clients can continue to access legally aided services.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Justice Committee report on legal aid concluded that, given the extent of the savings that the Ministry of Justice is having to make, in principle it is correct that fees should be reduced. We are willing to look at areas of isolation-the so-called legal aid deserts-and there are a number of actions that the Legal Services Commission can take to mitigate shortfalls if they develop. As I said earlier, it is also true that some of the fears that people would not come forward have not been borne out in areas where individual firms have collapsed. Indeed, in all the areas where we put forward contracts, there has been an oversupply in terms of those seeking that work.

In addition, there is a genuine alternative. The Community Legal Advice telephone helpline is an alternative for those involved in legal aid. I see the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, shaking his head. The other night, I went to a Law Society function giving prizes to successful law firms, and I was amazed by how many of the prize winners were offering online and distance advice. The old idea of face-to-face may not survive. There is no doubt in my mind that the legal profession is a profession in transition in many respects.

I am being told to shut up, and I will. The fact is that wherever we have been looking at new contracts, we have found that they have been oversubscribed, so I do not think that this is the issue that is suggested. It is not a 10 per cent cut per individual. It is a challenge to those firms and to the legal profession to find different

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methods of service, different structures and different efficiencies. That is a pattern that many professions and many industries have found over the years. We are confident that there are sufficient numbers of providers willing to remain in the legal aid market. I am well aware that a lot of what we have discussed today is a dress rehearsal for when the LASPO Bill comes, but I do not believe that it would be right to pass this Prayer this evening, and I sincerely hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will resist putting the Motion to a vote.

10.15 pm

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and especially the Minister for his winding up. I will give the House the good news, which is that I certainly do not intend to divide the House. I would very much like to, particularly given the degree of support for my Motion from around the House tonight-I am most grateful to noble Lords who have supported me-but it is too late to call a vote tonight, and in any event I am not certain that it would be the right thing to do, given that the Bill is due to come to this House next month. I will not be calling a vote, so anyone who wants to go now, please feel free.

I am afraid, though, that it was not the Minister's arguments that persuaded me not to call the vote-indeed, if he had gone on much longer I might have been tempted to call it in any event. I shall make a few points and then the House can move on. Some very good speeches were made, if I may so. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, talked about the Bar with great experience and knowledge. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, made some very important points, one of which I will come back to at the end of what I have to say. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds were both right on the spot with their concern for children law, if I may call it that. My noble friend Lord Beecham, with his experience, made very telling points as always. Last, but certainly not least, the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, made a very telling contribution, and one to which I think the Government side should listen with some concern.

As to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, of course I admired his loyalty, perhaps rather more his loyalty to the Government and to the Minister than to his party, which as I understand it has already made it clear at conferences twice this year that it does not like the way in which the Government are behaving towards legal aid. He asked me to state which cuts my party would have made in Government. I am not sure that he was listening with his usual care to what I said in my opening remarks, which was that the Labour Lord Chancellor and myself put out a White Paper called Restructuring the Delivery of Criminal Defence Services, which we would almost certainly have put into effect had we been elected-which we were not-and which would have saved a great deal of money. It would have been controversial and I have no doubt that there would have been debates in this House too in that event.

I did notice that in his interesting speech there was nothing at all about social welfare law and nothing about whether he felt it was right to attack social

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welfare law. What I had to say earlier was very much based around that part of the order. He said very little about criminal law, either, and about whether savings might be made in that field. He quoted figures and speeches that I had made, in which I, like legal aid Ministers down the years-as they no doubt will in the future-had said how generous our legal aid system was compared to the ghastly rest of the world. I did use those phrases, and there is some justification in them, but to be honest, not perhaps quite as much as I used to think when I spouted those words. For example, we compare ourselves with New Zealand, another common law country, and say, "My gosh, New Zealand gives a much smaller amount for legal aid than we do". However, the situation in New Zealand is quite different. There, for example, there is no liability compensation, which costs a great deal in this country. There are other considerations as well.

Let me be frank: when we were in Government, I have no doubt that we made mistakes in this field. I am sure we did. There is no doubt in my mind that his Government are making mistakes now as well. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Marks, will remember next time he speaks to the House on these matters that we are dealing with what his Government are intending to do, not with what my Government did or did not do when they were in office.

The Law Society has suggested savings of up to £350 million as an alternative to the legal aid cuts that the Government are putting forward. As we did not hear it tonight, we look forward very much to hearing what is wrong with the Law Society's-

Lord McNally: What is wrong with the Law Society's figure is that it does not save public expenditure to shuffle costs around Whitehall to other departments or to propose extra taxation on alcohol. That is not saving public expenditure; it is shuffling the pack.

Lord Bach: If the noble Lord is right, perhaps he will explain this decimation of social welfare law, with its few savings for the Ministry of Justice, and how it will cost infinitely more to the state as a whole when problems are not solved, people are chucked out of their houses, debts grow bigger, families break down and children commit crime. Other departments will have to pick up the pieces for the paltry savings that the Ministry of Justice will make. Please do not give us that stuff about public spending. The truth is that these Ministry of Justice savings-we have said that we accept that the MoJ has to find a number of savings-will cost the state and the community much, much more.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, said, civil legal aid is not an optional extra. The concern is that this Government are treating it just as an optional extra and the cost will be much greater. We could see which way the Government were going on legal aid way back in June or July 2010 when out of the blue they removed the grants that were given by the Legal Services Commission for young legal aid lawyers to get legal contracts with legal aid firms. It cost a few million pounds a year, if that. But the Government abolished them at the start and we should have been wise as to what they were planning

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to do now. There was absolutely no reason for doing that and there cannot be any reason for doing what they are intending to do now to social welfare law.

Legal aid in the civil field is well worth protecting. I shall end with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Lewis F Powell who spoke about the American system but it could just as easily be applied to the British system. He said:

"Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists ... it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status".

He was right. I hope only that the Government change their mind. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Armed Forces Bill

Main Bill Page

Commons Reason and Amendment in Lieu

10.22 pm

Motion A

Moved by Lord Astor of Hever

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, the debates on the subject of medals are further evidence of the strength of feeling in both Houses on this important matter. I acknowledge the conviction with which a number of noble Lords have pursued their concerns about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal and about aspects of the process for deciding what is to be done when other states wish to honour British subjects, particularly those who serve Her Majesty and their country.

In particular, I recognise the contributions made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, my noble friends Lord Palmer and Lord Lee, and many other noble Lords. There is widespread concern in this House and in the other place about whether it is time for a wide and independent review of the rules which guide the HD Committee in making its recommendations to Her Majesty. There is concern in particular about whether, in advising Her Majesty on the acceptance and wearing of the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal in 2005 and 2007, the HD Committee made the right recommendations.

I must begin by making it clear what the Government will do in response to these concerns. First, I have consulted ministerial colleagues, including the Deputy Prime Minister, who have agreed that there should be a fresh review of the rules governing the award of military medals. This review will be conducted by an independent reviewer with full consultation with interested parties and will take account of the issues raised in this House during our previous debates. As part of this process, I will recommend that a solution needs to be found which addresses concerns about double-medalling and about rules setting fixed time limits for

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the award of decorations. The rules need to be reviewed from first principles to see whether they remain fit for purpose. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has already written to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, stating that this is what we will do. If we are to allow this review to do its work thoroughly and effectively, we need the agreement of this House that the way forward is independent consideration of what improvements should be made to the current system of advising Her Majesty.

There is then the question of the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal. In anticipation that we will be able to deal with this issue under current HD Committee rules and procedures, I have already commissioned an urgent HD paper recommending that holders of that medal be able to wear it with the approval of Her Majesty. I am confident that we are going to resolve the issue of the wearing of the PJM medal. Within the present architecture of the royal prerogative, the HD Committee will be able to progress this matter swiftly so that the PJM can be worn on Remembrance Sunday this year and thereafter without restriction.

I shall now speak to the Motion and explain why we should not accept the noble and gallant Lord's amendment. The issue now is not about the PJM medal. I have explained what we will do about that. And it is not about the rules applied by the HD Committee. There are strongly held concerns about those rules and I have said what we will do about them. The issue is not even about taking the opportunity to show respect and admiration for the Commonwealth. Even less does it provide support or recognition for Her Majesty as the head of the Commonwealth. What then are the issues relevant to the amendment? They are these. Is it right for Parliament now to overturn decisions taken by Her Majesty? Is it right for this House to establish a precedent for future interference in past and future decisions? Is it right for decisions on the award of medals to be decided and rules laid down and changed in the glare of parliamentary debate rather than dispassionately? And is it right, as the amendment would provide, to create a rule by which decisions on the acceptance and wearing of Commonwealth medals by members of the Armed Forces and the Civil Service are to be entirely a matter for the Commonwealth Government making the award?

My answer to these questions is this. First, by overturning past decisions that have been made on Commonwealth medals, it would establish a precedent that Parliament may overturn after any length of time any decision of the sovereign as the fount of honour. Secondly, it would establish a further precedent that Parliament is able to lay down and change rules which are to be applied to decisions on the acceptance of honours from foreign and Commonwealth countries. It would assert that Parliament can do so in a way which alters the fundamentals I have described of the existing arrangements, such as the need for a basically consistent approach to awards by all friendly and allied states. Thirdly, it would take away from the sovereign and, indeed, the United Kingdom any control over the acceptance of Commonwealth medals. Whenever a Commonwealth country awarded a medal or honour

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to members or former members of the Armed Forces or the Civil Service, that decision would be binding, even if it was against the wishes of our Armed Forces, of Parliament or of the sovereign.

10.30 pm

I attach a special value to our membership of the Commonwealth and to our connections with its members. They are of the greatest importance historically, culturally and constitutionally. But I do not believe that the amendment is the way to reflect our respect for the Commonwealth or for Her Majesty as head of it. Moreover, the amendment would create a different principle for the wearing of medals awarded by Commonwealth nations from that which applies to those awarded by other allies.

The operations in which our Armed Forces find themselves involved are increasingly international. British units work regularly alongside United Nations, NATO or EU partners. It would not be easy to explain to non-Commonwealth allies why the United Kingdom had decided to treat their awards on a fundamentally different basis from those offered by a Commonwealth nation. It would be even more difficult to justify to the members of our Armed Forces whom a non-Commonwealth country wished to honour.

Last, and perhaps of greatest concern in the long term, is the assertion which must underlie the amendment, that decisions on the award of honours and whether to change them are better made in the emotive and often party-political atmosphere of parliamentary consideration than in the detached and largely non-political approach envisaged in the arrangements set up by King George VI.

It would be wrong in principle for this House to lead the way towards such a new approach to decisions on honours, towards setting a precedent of interference in such decisions or towards a diminution of Her Majesty's function. For these reasons, I cannot accept the noble and gallant Lord's proposed Motion A1 and urge noble Lords to support Motion A, that this House do not insist on the inclusion of the amendment in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I beg to move Motion A1 and thus speak to my Amendment 6B, which I proposed as an amendment in lieu. In the latter part of his remarks, the Minister reminded the House of the Government's thinking on the issues that have been central to our debates on the medal amendments that the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Touhig, and I tabled at the earlier stages of the Bill. Our responses to the Government's views are on the record of our earlier exchanges. I do not propose to dwell on them now other than to say that my colleagues and I repeatedly urged the Government to take action on two of the issues about which the Minister has just spoken.

I shall speak first about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal, the PJM medal, the subject of my Amendment 6B. This award was offered by the King and Government of Malaysia to members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces and other Crown servants for their contributions

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to that country's security in the difficult times of the Malayan emergency and, later, during confrontation with Indonesia. In 2007, acceptance of this award was recommended by the HD committee to Her Majesty for approval, but the committee did not recommend that the medal could be worn without restriction.

As I have explained in earlier debates on the Bill, many recipients have been unhappy about this, particularly as Australian and New Zealand recipients, alongside whom they saw service, were granted permission to wear the PJM medal at all times. The Minister has now assured the House that the HD committee will be making a further submission to Her Majesty and that, subject of course to her approval, these medals may be worn on Remembrance Sunday this year and thereafter. In the context of the Bill that is bringing the Armed Forces covenant into legislation, this is a most welcome approach of fair treatment of veterans who are the recipients of the PJM medal. On that understanding, I do not intend to press my Amendment 6B, which deals solely with the unrestricted wearing of the PJM medal, since the noble Lord's proposal may achieve the result that it seeks to secure by the more traditional path: that is, within the present architecture of the royal prerogative.

The other topic raised by the noble Lord relates to the workings and responsibilities of the HD committee, which has the most difficult and sensitive task of dealing with a variety of issues concerning medals and other rewards, particularly those of foreign Governments. I greatly welcome the Minister's reassurance that the time has come for an independent review of the HD committee. In moving our Amendment 6 in your Lordships' House on 10 October, I contended that there are some HD committee rules that,

On those grounds, I sought the view of the House and our amendment was carried. The arrangements that the Minister has just described will set in hand a thorough and independent look at the HD committee. In the light of the Government's position as just stated by the Minister, I attach great importance to the independent leadership of this review. I am grateful that it will consider in particular the no-double-medalling and fixed-time limits that have been the source of much unhappiness and concern over the years. I hope that the HD committee, as well as the whole House, will welcome the review.

I should also like to place on record my appreciation for the extremely considerate and open way that I and my colleagues have been treated in dealing with these matters. The new Defence Secretary, in his most busy initial week, took time to discuss them with me and, as the Minister pointed out, has also written to me. The Minister has been most approachable and considerate; he is in full grasp of his brief and greatly admired in this House. It is a measure of his great contribution to the Bill that he was able to persuade his business managers and all the involved departments of Government that it was not realistic nor in the best interests of the Armed Forces and veterans to resist every amendment. Instead, he has contributed greatly to the Armed Forces Bill outcome, with which all should be content.

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I am full of admiration for the extremely hard work and commitment of the team of officials and service personnel whose most strenuous efforts have enabled us all to reach this accord. I hope that it is in order to commend them and thank them. I should be grateful if the Minister would pass on my appreciation and that of my colleagues.

I should rather have avoided dealing with any of these issues as grounds for party political discord. It is alien to me as an independent Cross-Bencher, particularly when dealing with matters that affect our Armed Forces. Nevertheless, I am most grateful to the more than 200 Members of your Lordships' House who supported our Amendment 6, which, along with other amendments, sent the Bill back to the other place. I am personally delighted that the end result has been agreed by negotiation and agreement, a smart win-win result for all sides.

This is a historic Bill since it introduces into the law of the land the Armed Forces convention, an arrangement that will prove to be most valuable and supportive to service personnel, veterans and their families. The Government are to be congratulated on bringing it into statute in this carefully considered manner. For the convenience of any debate, I formally move Motion A1, having made clear my intention about Amendment 6B.

Lord Touhig: My Lords, I welcome the statement from the Minister this evening about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal and the independent review of the operation of the HD committee. We have battled on this issue for years in the other place. Here in the House of Lords-I do not want to enter into the debate about a future appointed or elected House-we have achieved something that the elected House did not manage to achieve regarding the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal. It is a great credit to all concerned that we have been able to do that.

I also think that the Minister's statement tonight sends out the positive message to a close and dear ally in Malaysia, a Commonwealth ally, that we respect the generosity of the king and the people of Malaysia in honouring those British servicemen who fought in that country. I certainly welcome the independent review of the HD committee. I can see that it has a difficult job but I am not entirely happy with the way that it has done it.

I do not think there is anyone in this House who does not have the highest regard and affection for Her Majesty the Queen, and no one would want to put her in a difficult position regarding the question of honours. I feel that it is the actions of the HD committee that have embarrassed Her Majesty in this respect by the way it advised her that the veterans should accept the medal but not wear it. Thankfully, that is being resolved this evening.

I am a great believer in fate, in the sense that I think that sometimes one faces an issue or a problem and someone comes along and solves it. I pay tribute to the Minister because I am not sure we would have achieved this without his personal efforts. He has been hard-working, honourable and decent throughout this whole thing and has strongly represented the views of this House, and of many others outside, with regard to the veterans.

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I join the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, in his praise of the Minister's team because they have assisted the Minister in bringing about this decision. I cannot speak highly enough of the regard I have-and I am sure the whole House has-for the Minister. As for the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, he has led from the front. He has been persistent and pushed hard, and worked with the Minister and lobbied. I do not know how many meetings he has had with the Minister, and I have to weigh the e-mails I have had from him about the progress he has made on this issue. We owe him a great deal.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer at this late hour. I can honestly say that as a Parliament and as a country, as a result of the Minister's statement tonight on the veterans of Malaysia, we have redeemed our honour.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I briefly add my thanks to those expressed by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley to the Minister for his personal commitment to the Armed Forces and the veterans, his personal commitment to ensure that this House had a Bill that is now moving forward to become an Act in a much better condition, and the tireless way with which he and the Bill team have made themselves available to us all. Of course I am glad that he managed to negotiate that the amendment over inquests for military personnel was incorporated. The joy over that must not be diminished by disappointment over the defeat last night over the issue of the chief coroner-that is for another day. For tonight, sincere thanks are due to a Minister who has shown enormous commitment and has worked with us in this House to improve the workings. This has been this House at its best, and we are all grateful to him.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I briefly pay tribute to the noble and gallant Lord for the way that he has led the campaign in your Lordships' House to improve the Bill, particularly in regard to the PJM medal. The Ministry of Defence-in the nicest way-does not have the reputation of being the most flexible of ministries, as indeed I know as a former Minister. However, on this occasion we have seen that the ministry has demonstrated flexibility and compromise, primarily because of the personal efforts of the Minister, who has worked tirelessly to build bridges and bring about a compromise. I pay tribute to him and his Front Bench colleagues for the work that they have done. We have seen during the passage of this Bill this House working together at its best. We have improved the Bill and we should be proud of what collectively has been achieved.

10.45 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, we on these Benches are content that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, is not going to press his amendment, and we are content with the outcomes on this issue. This is the last chapter in the Armed Forces Bill, and we are pleased with where it has got to. We are pleased on this issue and on the other issues where concessions have been achieved. It has been very pleasing that the

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Bill has engaged all sides of the House, and the contribution made by noble and gallant Lords in this specialist area has been particularly useful and has added to our debate, improving the outcome. That is also true of other people with significant service experience who have contributed.

I, too, thank the Minister for the way in which he has handled the Bill, and I thank his staff. We on the opposition Front Bench have been able to give the Bill proper scrutiny, much of it in private, which has saved time in the House, because of the co-operation that we have had. We are impressed and delighted, like everybody else, with the way in which the Minister has handled and crafted the concessions. However, it is a matter of raw political reality that this concession has come forward because of the fear of defeat in the Division Lobbies. Many of us have worked in government and we know the importance that the political reality of defeat brings to discussions. I am sure that the Minister has taken this pressure and used it very carefully. It is a matter of raw political reality that, without the fear of defeat, the PJM medal would not be worn this Remembrance Day, and it is highly probable that without the pressure of potential defeat in the Lobbies many other concessions would have not come forward.

This is a good Bill about just causes, and it is a good Bill because it has been a product of very good debates, but it is also a good Bill because of the political pressure that we have brought to bear from these Benches. The House can be properly and justly proud of this Bill, and we on these Benches are proud of our contributions.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: I would like to thank all noble Lords and particularly noble and gallant Lords for their work, and also my noble friend the Minister. The point that I would like to make is that acceptance of the Malaysian medal was approved; it was wearing it that was not. That was a rather strange situation. My only comment at the lateness of this hour is to hope that my noble friend the Minister enjoys wearing his medal at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House has presented a number of challenges, and I am delighted that we have been able to resolve them. I am very grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and all those other noble Lords for their very kind remarks this evening. As ever, I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the House for their help, support and unfailing courtesy. I echo what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said about the excellent team of officials, and I will ensure that his full appreciation and thanks are passed on to them.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for his consistent support to me all the way through the Bill. I very much appreciated that.

Finally, I must pay tribute once again to the Armed Forces. This Bill is for them, and I believe that we deliver it in good shape.

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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken, and I thank particularly the Minister for the help that he has given. The hour is too late to go any further than that, other than to express my appreciation, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Motion withdrawn.

Motion A agreed to.

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Public Bodies Bill [HL]

Returned from the Commons

The Bill was returned from the Commons agreed to with amendments. It was ordered that the Commons amendments be printed.

House adjourned at 10.50 pm.

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