The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill bounced back to the House of Lords on Monday for consideration of Commons’ amendments. Members of the Lords voted eight times during the debate, and in scoreboard terms, the result for the government was played 8, won 4, lost 3, with one sort of score draw.
The first defeat came on Lord Pannick’s motion that “the Lord Chancellor shall exercise his powers … with a view to securing that individuals have access to legal services that effectively meet their needs…” which was agreed by 248 – 233. Baroness Scotland moved an amendment which covered legal services for victims of domestic violence, and carried the day by the narrow margin of 239 – 236. The third government defeat came on Lord Alton’s motion on compensation for mesothelioma sufferers, agreed by 214 – 205.
The government’s wins came on amendments covering the Lord Chancellor’s duty to a person eligible for legal aid advice (telephone gateway); civil legal services for children under 18; industrial disease claims; and civil legal services for social welfare. The score draw came on an amendment concerning the independence of the director of legal aid casework. While the specific amendment had been rejected a compromise had been reached which achieved the desired result elsewhere in the bill.
Back to the Commons on Tuesday for consideration of the three defeats. The amendments on domestic violence and the statutory duty for legal aid were defeated by large majorities, but there had clearly been urgent movement on the subject of mesothelioma victims. Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said he had considered the points made both in debates in the Commons last week and in the Lords the previous day, and had also held ministerial meetings with campaigners on behalf of victims. He moved an amendment in lieu of the Lords amendment, which was agreed without division. The amendment specifies that the mesothelioma provisions may not be brought into force until the Lord Chancellor has carried out a full review of their potential impact and has published a report on the conclusions of the review.
In true ping pong fashion the bill was back in the Lords on Wednesday. On the matter of the statutory duty for legal aid, minister of state Lord McNally asked the House to reject the amendment. He said: “I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is not going to press it. This is really the time to ask the House to agree with the House of Commons”, and so they did. Baroness Scotland pressed her amendment on domestic violence to a vote and, remarkably, for the third time in these proceedings, there was an equality of votes, 238 – 238, and the amendment was defeated.
The Commons motion on mesothelioma was agreed without division, and that was the final act. Now that all amendments to the bill have been agreed by both Houses the bill will receive royal assent and become an act of Parliament on the last day of the parliamentary session.
Just one last, end of term, exchange between two of the main protaganists. Lord Bach congratulated the Minister on being “a member of the luckiest Government there can ever have been in the history of Parliament. The odds against drawing three votes on crucial amendments, two on Report and one at this stage of proceedings so that the Government win the vote, as it were, must be immense.” In reply, Lord McNally said: “I think that if the noble Lord were to ask Señor Torres, he would find that a draw is also sometimes a victory. He is the Chelsea centre forward. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is a Leicester City supporter and does not mix in that kind of high-class company.”