Tory and Crossbench peers lead the revolt against Clarke’s legal aid cuts

Jonny Mulligan of the Sound Off for Justice campaign reports on the latest House of Lords defeats for the government in the LASPO bill over legal aid cuts.


By Jonny Mulligan of the Sound Off for Justice campaign

Last night, after the eight defeat on the legal aid bill in the House of Lords, a source close to Ken Clarkes responded by saying “it’s yet another example of Labour peers behaving like they’re in the Greek parliament, not the House of Lords”. This is wrong and its not Labour.

The rebellion to this bill is being led by Tory peers such as Lord Newton, Lord Cormack and Baroness Eaton and cross bench peers; Labour is simply following. And furthermore, outside Parliament criticism of his cuts is coming from the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Peers are rebelling because Clarke and Cameron are asking Parliament and the public to take a punt on his plan and he has no evidence of savings.

We agree action has to be taken on the deficit. The difference is Sound off for Justice has a plan that will save the taxpayer £390 million while the Lord Chancellor does not.

Almost everyone who has looked at these particular cuts thinks too many of them will end up costing taxpayers more than they save.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureaux points out that advice costing £80 to deal with a housing problem can save thousands for councils who are legally required to house homeless families, and King’s College London found that cutting £10.5m for legal aid in clinical negligence cases will cause knock-on costs to the NHS of £28.5m.

This week their Lordships have set out very clearly the moral, economic and political case for not making this cut from all parties and none.

In the face of these powerful arguments, most cogently and movingly from Lord Newton, Mrs Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Social Security, government ministers had not a single argument in response.

Lord Newton told the House:

“Nobody believes that the savings the government have claimed for these proposals will actually be realised. The CABs, the Law Society and the report produced by King’s College all reckon that a lot of theses savings are illusory and that the knock-on effects on other government departments will be substantial but have so far been completely unquantified.”

While Conservative peer Lord Cormack said:

“I take no delight in not supporting my government as I could not on previous two amendments. All of us are keen there should be equality and fairness of treatment for all people in this country. Although government has to act with severe constraints, let us recognise dilemma but ask them to recognise in turn that in this amendment there is a real point of principle that deserves a sympathetic response.”

With another Tory peer, Baroness Eaton, adding:

“The cuts for children will cost way more than the £6-7 million the government claims it will save. Lack of a robust evidence base means even the authors of these reforms cannot argue that they will make the savings they claim for them.”

Even those like Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who want to see reductions in expenditure, are uneasy about these cuts. Transferring the burden of cost to local authorities will place them under an unmanageable strain. Government ministers need to tell us how much of the burden transferred to local authorities they will then claim back.

The Ministry of Justice impact assessments in support of the legal aid cuts contain 15 separate statements that the MoJ does not have evidence for its predicted savings and 30 admissions they are based on speculation. This is pretty extraordinary.

The black hole in the MoJ accounts is growing and the department has failed to have its accounts approved by the National Audit Office three years running. It has allowed spending on criminal legal aid to jump by 9% in a year and it has failed to collect £1.5 billion in fines owed by criminals.

In January, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, the permanent secretaty at the MOJ, told the public accounts committee they would not have the department’s accounts for 2009/10 until 2015. Clarke’s complaint that it is just Labour fighting him on this issue is simply untrue – it is also the Conservative and Crossbench peers.

And outside Parliament it is Sound off For Justice, Mumsnet, Rights of Women, Shelter, AVMA, the NSPCC, Netmums, the Resolution Foundation, the Childrens Commissioner, the Women’s Institute and all who know the true the social and economic consequences which will impact 645,000 women, children, and families across the UK at a huge cost to the taxpayer.

See also:

The financial and personal cost of the legal aid cuts laid bareJonny Mulligan, March 7th 2012

Time for Ken Clarke to deliver peers the evidence on the real cost of legal aid cutsJonny Mulligan, March 5th 2012

The insurance industry’s millions to the Tories are set to pay offAlex Hern, January 30th 2012

The principles of British fairness, the rule of law and Magna Carta are at stakeJonny Mulligan, January 16th 2012

Osborne’s slashing of legal aid: Another false economyDr Graham Cookson, January 10th 2012

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