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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I respectfully ask the Minister to answer my question?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sorry, I thought that I had answered the noble Lord's question.

Water Industry Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Access to Justice Bill [H.L.]

3.33 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

("Principles to be applied
Principles applicable to Part I

.--(1) Every person exercising functions in connection with this Part must act, so far as possible, in a way which is compatible with the objectives set out in subsection (2).
(2) The objectives are--
(a) that persons have access to legal services and the machinery of justice which they would otherwise be unable to obtain on account of their means;
(b) that such access is not to be impaired on account of disability (within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) or the place in England and Wales where any legal services are sought;
(c) that legal services and facilities of high quality be available such that disputes may be resolved, and proceedings determined, expeditiously, fairly and with the parties placed on an equal footing.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name--

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I wonder whether noble Lords leaving the Chamber will do so as quietly as possible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, is unable to speak to his amendment.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, the amendment is similar to that which I tabled on the first day of the Committee stage. It received support from all sides and perhaps more importantly, it received a favourable

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response from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I will not remind him of the assurances which he gave on that occasion because I am sure that he has them well in mind.

The main difference between the amendment now proposed and that proposed at the beginning of the Committee stage is in Clause 1(2)(b). The previous amendment required access to justice to be enjoyed without discrimination on any ground. The noble and learned Lord then pointed out that it was on the wide side and it would appear to exclude discrimination on grounds of merit, merely on the grounds that one case was stronger than another. That could not have been intended and would not be right.

The noble and learned Lord agreed with the principle that there should be no discrimination on grounds of race, gender or disability as being a principle worth stating at the outset of Part I. The amendment picks up on the word "disability". Because it may mean different things to different people, we have given it a definition.

In addition, we suggest that there should be no discrimination on what one might call geographical grounds. That is an important point. We have in mind the avoidance of all the available resources being channelled in the direction of the large conurbations. We want to ensure that access to justice is equally available to those living in rural communities. That is especially important in the case of the disabled. It may well be that a potential disabled plaintiff may be able to get to see his solicitor in his nearest town, but unable to get to see his solicitor in Birmingham, Bristol or wherever. The two halves of the amendment tie together in that way. It may be that the amendment is now too narrowly focused and that we have gone to the opposite extreme. However, I hope that as it stands it will be acceptable.

In subsection (2)(c), we have referred to the "quality" of the legal services to be provided. Throughout the debates on the Bill during Second Reading and in Committee the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor rightly laid emphasis on the importance of maintaining the quality of legal services to be provided. Therefore, we have added those words in subsection (2)(c) to ensure that that is an objective under the Bill.

Finally, we have omitted subsection (2)(d), which referred to the need to ensure a strong independent legal profession. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor pointed out that that is more relevant to Part III and Schedule 5 to the Bill and is hardly relevant to Part I. I respectfully agree and propose to bring forward that proposal when we come to Part III and Schedule 5. Therefore, we are concerned only with subsection (2)(a), (b) and (c) as the objective.

I now turn briefly to the broader considerations which lie behind the proposed amendment. I am sure the whole House will be pleased to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be moving an amendment later today to leave out Clause 4 which was much attacked in Committee. Leaving out the clause will be a great improvement to the Bill.

The House will be pleased also to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has gone some way to meeting the important points made in Committee

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on the need for a purpose clause setting out the broad objectives of the Bill. However, in place of the broad purpose clause, which some of us hoped for, we now have rather limited objectives which will be set out in Clause 5, to which Amendment No. 29 relates; Clause 6, to which Amendment No. 37 relates; and Clause 12, to which Amendment No. 86 relates. For my part, I do not regard those provisions, tucked away and heavily qualified as they are, as being satisfactory. No doubt that will be discussed when we reach the amendments.

My point at this stage is simply to say that what was needed and what we still do not have is a bold statement of the objectives applying to the whole of Part I such as one finds frequently in other Bills and such as we have in Section 1 of the Legal Aid Act 1988. That is surely what the Select Committee had in mind. I apologise for quoting again the part of the report to which I referred on the last occasion where it states:

    "The policy objectives and national principles are not set out in the Bill, which contains no parameters or criteria for the exercise of his powers by the Lord Chancellor, but are simply left to be supplied by directions. We see the setting of objectives and priorities which will have such important consequences for citizens as a legislative act".
One also feels sure that such a clause is what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice had in mind in his speech on Second Reading. Your Lordships will recall that what he said on that occasion was echoed later in the debate by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls.

If we split the objectives in the Bill in the way proposed, we shall only create problems for ourselves because some lawyer is sure to be found who will say, "Why is the objective in Clause 5 rather different from that in Clause 12? Surely Parliament must have meant this here and that there." That will lead to endless argument as to the scope of the objective in relation to a particular case. It is much better to have all the objectives put together at the start of the Bill as I had hoped the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would do.

The dismemberment of the purpose clause which is what will happen if the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is accepted and mine is not, will deprive the purpose clause of part of the point of having such a clause. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this amendment because I have little to add. At present, there is no overriding clause in Part I. Clause 5 provides a kind of purpose clause for the community legal service and Clause 12 provides a kind of purpose clause for the criminal defence service. The original versions are still on the face of the Bill and are extremely inadequate. I accept that they are improved by Amendment No. 29 in relation to Clause 5 and by Amendment No. 86 in relation to Clause 12--those amendments being in the name of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor--but they are still not good enough. The amendment to Clause 5 is limited by the inclusion of the words,

    "within the resources made available".

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That is not part of the purpose. That is a restriction on the achievement of the purpose. That restriction is unavoidable but it has no place in the purpose clause itself. The proposed new clause is an admirable statement of what should be the purpose of Part I. I strongly support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I rise to support what has been said by the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord opposite because I believe that, if for no other reason, it is a much tidier way in which to approach the question of looking at the objectives of the Bill. It is better to have those objectives right at the beginning of the Bill rather than have them stated in various clauses for which one must look extremely carefully. I fail to see the logic of my noble and learned friend's resistance to what I thought was stated very positively in Committee.

Of course, I shall listen to what my noble and learned friend says. We are, however, discussing a dramatic change and one which should be stated clearly in unequivocal terms right at the beginning of the Bill. Otherwise, it loses much of its point--whether in Clause 5 or anywhere else. I hope that my noble and learned friend will respond positively to the amendment.

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