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Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 51 and 52:

Page 3, line 42, leave out ("demand") and insert ("need").
Page 4, line 2, leave out ("demand") and insert ("need").

The noble and learned Lord said: I have spoken to these amendments previously. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 53:

Page 4, line 3, at end insert (", and
(c) where appropriate, co-operate with such other authorities, bodies and persons in providing services of the descriptions specified in subsection (1).").

The noble and learned Lord said: The amendments which my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer moved a little earlier have reduced the passion with which I might have been minded to introduce this debate, but I hope that my noble and learned friends will forgive me if I take a moment to request information, advice and assistance.

Concern was expressed at an earlier stage about the proposed system of exclusive contracting being likely to lead to a substantial diminution in the number of firms of solicitors supplying legal services. That was referred to by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, on Second Reading. I understand the need to maintain standards. Some firms which will no longer be supplying services will, frankly, not be missed.

However, that may mean that in some areas there will be no ready access to some kinds of expertise. An obvious example is immigration law. The number of firms with a franchise is now not large; there may be only a limited number left with a contract for providing that service. The Legal Aid Board has already indicated that, leaving the present Bill aside, it will need to adopt a more proactive approach to ensure that access to that expertise is available in certain areas where there is a demonstrable need for it. It seems to be envisaged that medical negligence work will be confined to about 170 firms.

Provision of the kind which the Committee was discussing a few moments ago exists. The practising profession, law centres, citizens advice bureaux and financial advice centres, will all have a part to play; but there will also be a need to see where gaps remain and to address that problem.

As I understand it, one purpose of establishing the commission is that it will actively determine where the need lies and try to ensure that it is met. That was established, if it needed establishing, in the previous debate. Clearly, there is a duty on the commission to do that. I wondered what would be the mechanics of its

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doing it. What will be its sources of information about the needs in a particular area? Will it consult? Will it write circulars to various local authorities and bodies? Will it rely upon people writing letters to it? It would be helpful if my noble and learned friend could elaborate on how he envisages that happening. It is fine to impose a duty on someone, but one must have an idea of how it will be addressed.

The purpose of Amendment No. 53 is two-fold: first, to state on the face of the Bill an intention that that will happen; and, secondly, to invite my noble and learned friends, or one of them, to tell the Committee in a little more detail how it is envisaged that the commission will find out the existing need, co-ordinate the existing provision and make the necessary arrangements where it does not so exist. I should have said at the outset that it might be for the convenience of the Committee to consider with this amendment Amendment No. 62.

One of the messages that I believe the Bill seeks to address is the mosaic of bodies which afford legal services and assistance to the public and the patchwork quilt of sources from which they are funded. Some years ago a count was made and it was found that there were nine different government departments which funded one service or another. In circumstances where sometimes one source deals with a specific range of problems and one agency may have to refer a client to another agency because different advice is required, how that co-ordination takes place requires consideration. We all know that human situations do not always come neatly packaged and labelled with the appropriate advice and relief that is required.

I turn to the geographical area that the Committee discussed in the previous debate. It is clear from Clause 7(4) that it is intended that the commission should distinguish not only between different descriptions of cases but different areas. I hope that my noble and learned friends can tell the Committee something about the relationship between the practising profession, the commission and local authorities. For example, law centres are frequently funded by local authorities. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, indicated, it would be a tragedy if local authorities said that they no longer needed to fund law centres because the legal services commission would provide all the necessary advice. But if the commission decided that its first concern was to make provision in areas where the local authority had not done so, the more conscientious local authorities would be penalised. Therefore, the purpose of this amendment is to impose a duty not only on the commission but on local authorities to participate in this exercise.

As I understand it, at present there are some 700 citizens advice bureaux with a further 1,700 to 1,800 outlets. There are some 800 independent advice centres and 53 law centres. Together they receive over £150 million in funding by local authorities. In their White Paper the Government said that spending from the various sources would be considered as a whole. I hope that it will. But I am not wholly clear what that means and what is meant by taking the various sources of funding into consideration.

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In moving this amendment I seek to afford my noble and learned friends the opportunity to tell the Committee how they see the commission co-ordinating the various sources of funding, how it will be done both nationally and locally and what role it is envisaged local authorities will play. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I listened with great interest to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. Without doubt he touched on one of the central issues of the Bill: the precise effect of exclusive contracts via the tendering process. My Amendment No. 77 seeks to address this matter head on. I believe that the amendment that the Committee is now considering is an indirect way of dealing with the central issue. Therefore, I defer my comments on the issue of exclusive contracting and tendering until the Committee comes to Amendments Nos. 67 and in particular Amendment No. 77. In general, I very strongly support the sentiments expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I deal with Amendments Nos. 53 and 62 together. I echo the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, about the most effective way of dealing with the various issues that have been raised. My noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell has addressed the issue of whether or not we are restricting access to justice by limiting the number of solicitors who may be available. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is right. His amendment, Amendment No. 77, goes to the very heart of that issue. Without any disrespect to my noble and learned friend, perhaps I may defer my response to that very important issue until we come to that amendment because I believe that it arises more clearly in the context of that amendment. I suspect that other members of the Committee will also wish to address the same point. Therefore, it is perhaps better to deal with it at that stage.

My noble and learned friend raised a number of other important issues in relation to the two amendments. As to Amendment No. 53, he asked how the body would assess the need as required by the Bill. The regional legal services committees and the Legal Aid Board have already done a lot of valuable work on modelling needs. In their consultations in the regions they have extended and modified the modelling that they have done. The work that is now being undertaken jointly with local authorities, particularly in pioneer areas, will enable further extension and refinement of the work. As one would expect, they also have good contact not just with the local authorities but with advice centres, providers of legal services, law firms and all the other agencies that will deal with people who do or may need legal services. We cannot be too prescriptive in relation to that issue. It is really for the bodies themselves to work out the best way to consult and discover the information that they want.

Separately from that in relation to the first amendment, my noble and learned friend Lord Archer raised the question of immigration advice and said that

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there were few franchises in that respect. I am aware that many providers of immigration advice are unfranchised. It is the intention of the Legal Aid Board to offer short-term contracts to help firms get up to a standard where they can get a franchise to deal with immigration problems. I should like to think that we are aware of that problem and seek to deal with it as urgently as possible. We also envisage contracts for second-tier advisers who can support front line advisers who lack expertise. There is also power in Clause 7 to establish new bodies who can employ people directly.

I turn to Amendment No. 62. At the heart of this proposal, which I take to be a probing amendment, is the question: what are we doing to ensure that there is proper co-ordination between the providers of legal services, the legal services commission, the Lord Chancellor and the local authorities? While I cannot support the amendment, officials of the Lord Chancellor and the Legal Aid Board have been working closely with individual local authorities to develop the concept of the community legal service partnership. The intention is that this will provide a forum in which the local authority, the legal services commission and if possible other significant funders and providers will come together to co-ordinate funding and planning of local legal and advice services to ensure that the delivery of services better matches the needs of local communities.

Local authorities have shown great enthusiasm and willingness to be involved in this initiative. The idea of community legal service partnerships will be developed in pioneer local authority areas. The five local authorities that have agreed to be pioneer areas are: Liverpool, Norwich, Nottinghamshire, Kirklees and Southwark. They will develop best practice models by testing methods of needs assessment, categorisation of services and encouraging the development of referral networks within local services.

The pioneer areas will be subject to an evaluation and monitoring exercise by the Lord Chancellor's Department. The aim is that it should be completed by the end of this year. We are also looking to have a larger number of other local authorities as associate pioneer areas. This means that the local authorities will be actively assisting in the development of community legal service partnerships, but they will not be subject to the same degree of monitoring.

Our mission is to build partnership. At this stage I believe that an inclusive and co-operative approach to local authorities is more effective than any attempts at coercion. That is already demonstrated by the results we have achieved. The work of the pioneer and associate pioneer areas and the move to best value by local authorities should provide more than sufficient incentive for local authorities to work co-operatively with the legal services commission and others. In the real world, I believe this is the best that can be achieved currently. I hope that that I have gone some way to answering the

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questions raised by the noble and learned Lord in his helpful amendment. However, I invite him to withdraw the amendment.

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