Access to Justice Bill [Lords] — 14 Apr 1999
John Prescott MP, Kingston upon Hull East voted with the majority (No).
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Access to Justice Bill is the most important legal reform of the past 50 years. It is radical and innovative. It is a significant step in restructuring our legal services better to protect the rights of our citizens. It will focus legal services on people's real needs. It presents a considerable opportunity and a considerable challenge to all who work in the law.
Few people who have been through our justice system would argue that it does not need fundamental reform. It is slow, expensive and unpredictable. We are determined to deliver a modern justice system that meets the needs of all our citizens in the modern era. The public demand, and we must deliver, a justice system in which they have the utmost confidence. We will not be diverted from that task by reactionary elements in the legal professions. The legal system is not an end in itself; it is for and about the protection of people and of society. It protects our basic rights. Our legal services must serve the users and society generally, rather than the needs of those operating the system.
The one attempt at reform by the previous Government, the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, was a half-hearted effort which, ultimately, failed to deliver the changes needed to make the legal world serve the needs of its clients and society. Our intention with the present Bill is to go much further--to reorient legal services away from the interests of lawyers towards the needs of customers and the wider public. That is the central ambition of our reforms and the central aim of this modernisation.
Before dealing in detail with the Bill's provisions, the House will want to examine carefully the content of the Opposition's reasoned amendment. I hesitate to describe the amendment as "reasoned" because, despite its length, it gives little insight into what--if anything--the Conservatives really think about these proposals. They seem to be against them, no doubt for cynical and opportunist reasons, but what do they actually believe in?
Can the Conservatives, who presided over a 20 per cent. cut in eligibility for legal aid while they were in office, and who in 1993 cut more than 25 per cent. of the population out of the green form scheme, really claim now to be the guardians of access to justice? Can members of a party whose Government introduced conditional fees allowing 100 per cent. uplifts now complain four years after the event that that was wrong in principle as it supposedly increases the cost of litigation?
Are the Conservatives against the concept of the Legal Services Commission in principle? Are they against the criminal defence service? Does their concern about
14 Apr 1999 : Column 231
imposing statutory restrictions on the Crown Prosecution Service mean that, not unsurprisingly, they are lining up with those reactionaries who want to maintain, or even extend, restrictive practices in the law?
I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
'this House declines to give the Access to Justice Bill [Lords] a Second Reading because it is likely to reduce access to justice as a result of removing legal aid in civil cases and is likely to increase the costs of litigation as a result of the 100 per cent. uplift in fees under conditional fee arrangements, because the Bill contains no detailed costings or description of the proposed functions of the Legal Services Commission and imposes no statutory restrictions on the ambit of the Criminal Defence Service or the extent to which the Crown Prosecution Service can appear in the Crown Courts, because a system of wholly state-employed prosecutors and defenders creates the danger of miscarriages of justice, and because the Bill grants to the Lord Chancellor constitutionally unprecedented powers unilaterally to alter the rules of the independent legal profession.'
That ringing endorsement of this noble system was delivered by the Lord Chancellor in 1996 before he achieved his high office.
Question put, That the amendment be made:--
The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 338.
Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.
What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.
What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.
What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.
|Party||Majority (No)||Minority (Aye)||Both||Turnout|
|Con||0||126 (+2 tell)||0||79.0%|
|Lab||338 (+2 tell)||0||0||81.9%|