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Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

2nd November 2011

Jonathan Djanogly leads the debate on a further group of Government amendments on the reforms to legal aid.

Mr Djanogly: We now move on to, or perhaps I should say back to, legal aid. When we discussed legal aid on our first day on Report, we had two very constructive, albeit lengthy, debates in which I took more than three dozen interventions. That was partly the reason, along with the many valuable contributions that were made, why we were unable to cover all the groupings—[Interruption.] I know that that disappointed a number of hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Let us not start where we left off the other day. Let us see if we can make progress. We do not want to run out of time, and I am sure that those on both Front Benches want to make good time.

Mr Djanogly: I want to try to avoid delay today, so I shall speak to Government amendments now and respond to the points made in debate later, rather than pre-empting in my opening remarks what hon. Members may have to say about their amendments.

Government new clause 4, which is a technical amendment, has two purposes. First, it seeks to provide clarity about the role of the director of legal aid casework, by ensuring that the exercise of the functions of the office is on behalf of the Crown, and that service as the director is service in the civil service of the state. The second purpose of new clause 4 is to ensure that the Lord Chancellor is treated as a corporation sole for the purposes of part 1 of the Bill.

The new clause is necessary in order to clarify the position in relation to the Lord Chancellor’s ability to hold an interest in land for those purposes, and so applies to charges that transfer from the Legal Services Commission to the Lord Chancellor at the point when the LSC is abolished, and for future charges to be taken over property under clause 24. The statutory charge is the charge that arises under clause 24 on any property recovered or preserved, including costs, by a legally aided person in respect of the amounts spent by the Lord Chancellor in securing their legal aid services and any other amounts payable by them under clauses 22 and 23. The amendment is essential, as the current value of charges held by the LSC is £212 million.

Government new clause 9 and new schedule 3 make provision on information sharing in relation to checking a person’s financial eligibility for legal aid in Northern Ireland. They replicate for Northern Ireland the information gateway for England and Wales created by clause 21 and further provided for in clause 32. Government amendments 26 and 27 are technical amendments that make it clear that regulations made under new schedule 3 will be prescribed not by the Lord Chancellor but by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Government amendment 54 is also a technical amendment that makes it clear that the Bill extends to Northern Ireland for the purposes of new clause 9 and new schedule 3, which create the information gateway, and for the purposes of clauses 38 to 40. I should point out that under paragraph 2(4) of new schedule 3, it will be a criminal offence to use or disclose information contrary to the provisions of paragraph 2.

Government amendments 25 and 64 to 68 relate to the transfer of LSC employees to the civil service when the LSC is abolished. The powers currently set out in the Bill include a power, in schedule 4, for the Lord Chancellor to make transfer schemes to transfer to the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State the LSC’s rights, powers, duties and liabilities under or in connection with an LSC occupational pension scheme, of which there are currently two, or compensation scheme. The occupational pension and compensation scheme arrangements for LSC employees are different from those for existing civil servants. When the employees transfer to the civil service and become civil servants, they will join the principal civil service pension scheme.

Amendment 64 confers new powers upon the Lord Chancellor that can be exercised as part of any transfer scheme. Proposed new sub-paragraph (6A), set out in amendment 64, allows for the Lord Chancellor to apply legislation with modifications as far as it is necessary to give effect to any transfer scheme. That is appropriate when transfer schemes are of an administrative nature relating to the specific issues in question. For example, it will allow the Lord Chancellor to provide that an aspect of pensions legislation applies in a particular way to that particular scheme. It will assist, as appropriate, in enabling the continuation of the LSC pension scheme or schemes after the abolition of the LSC so that they can continue for the benefit of their pensioner and preserved members. Those are members who have contributed to the schemes before leaving LSC employment and either draw a pension from the scheme or will be entitled to do so in future.

For compensation scheme arrangements, as well as allowing the modification of legislation, proposed new sub-paragraph (6B), set out in amendment 64, provides that the transfer scheme may amend or otherwise modify the existing LSC compensation scheme. That will allow compensation arrangements for LSC employees transferring to the civil service to be brought into line with those of other civil servants over a transitional period.

Amendment 65 reflects the fact that when LSC employees transfer to the civil service there will no longer be any active members of the two current LSC occupational pension schemes, known as the No. 3 and No. 4 pension schemes. The amendment provides the Lord Chancellor with the power to make a scheme to merge the two residual pension schemes. It is explicit that a scheme exercising this power must not result in members of the pension schemes, or other beneficiaries under the schemes, being deprived of any rights accrued prior to the merger.

The LSC’s No. 3 pension scheme has fewer than 100 pensioner and preserved members, and no current LSC staff members. The No. 4 scheme is for current staff and also has a number of pensioner and preserved members. At present there is much duplication in the administration of the No. 3 and No. 4 schemes, such as producing two sets of accounts and actuarial valuations. Merging the schemes would allow us to cut significantly the administration costs of running two trust-based schemes. The amendment will also give the power to wind up an LSC occupational pension scheme.

Amendment 25 corrects a slip in clause 38(7)(j). The intention was not to make regulations that contain free-standing provision that modifies an Act either directly or indirectly, subject to the affirmative procedure. Amendments 66 to 68 clarify the fact that the regulation-making power provided to the Lord Chancellor under paragraph 10 of schedule 4 can be used in connection not only with transfers affected by schedule 4, but with schemes under schedule 4, meaning schemes dealing with something other than a transfer.

Government amendments 137 and 138 concern schedule 4 to the Bill, which governs transfers of employees and assets following the abolition of the LSC. They are purely technical amendments that simplify existing provisions. Paragraph 10(1) of schedule 4 currently allows the Lord Chancellor to make consequential supplementary, incidental or transitional provision by regulation, and paragraph 10(2)(b) specifies separately that such regulations may include transitory or savings provision. Rather than continue to separate these related provisions, for the purposes of simplification amendment 137 brings them together in a revised paragraph 10(1) and Amendment 138 amends paragraph 10(2) to reflect that simplification. That mirrors an identical amendment to clause 115.

Finally, Government amendments 1, 2 and 19 are minor and technical amendments to clause 32 and schedule 5, consequential on the removal in Committee of what was then clause 71.

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