My Lords, this has been an extremely important and high-quality debate. I am not a lawyer but I have spent three and a half years at the MoJ. Therefore, when the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said that she had the greatest possible respect for my opinion, I am aware that the term “greatest possible respect” is reserved for the most insulting comment that a lawyer is about to deliver to an opponent.
I was interested in the joust between the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. When I was first given this ministerial responsibility, I had speaking engagements in Birmingham and Putney that arose within a few days of each other. I experienced some of the doubts that have been expressed in today’s debate about the road we were going down. What interested me was that at both meetings two social workers in the audience said quite unprompted exactly the same thing to me. They said, “Don’t underestimate the willingness of women to use their children in these battles”. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, pointed out that in the 25 years since the original legislation was passed there has been a change in what she described as family dynamics. We are trying to deal with the situation and get the wording right.
Even in this debate there are things that take us down cul-de-sacs. We are not following the Australian model; in fact we have learnt from it. Our proposal does not require the court to balance these two factors—I will come back to this. There is no idea of 50/50 parenting. One of the problems when this was debated down at the other end was that the press coverage was very much in terms of this being a major step change. I welcome the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, in her opening remarks. The paramountcy of the welfare of the child is still there in this legislation.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, from her vast experience, claims that the way it is worded produces a contradiction. Let me try to explain our approach to see whether we can convince her, but I suspect that we will be coming back to this issue on Report. It is not possible for the presumption to clash with the paramountcy principle. The paramountcy principle is not a rebuttable presumption. The child’s welfare must be the court’s paramount consideration. If the court does not believe that the child’s welfare is served by the involvement of a parent, it will not order any such involvement, and the clause does not require it to do so. We are not saying that the court must make an order that involves both parents, nor are we seeking to define the nature of the involvement which the court may order. We are certainly not making any assumption about how the child’s time may be divided. That is not what the clause is about.
The Explanatory Notes set out clearly how the clause operates. We have included a process chart as well as an example situation to demonstrate how we would expect the presumption to work in practice. In addition, I have provided further information on the clause, which sets out in detail how the clause will work in practice, and it addresses the concerns that have been raised. We will also ensure that clear and accessible information is available for parents about the range of changes we are making. This will help to address wider concerns about the risk that the clause may be misunderstood. We have deliberately avoided defining the nature of involvement, which the court may order. The presumption stands if any form of involvement can take place without risk of harm to the child and would further the child’s welfare. We have used the word “involvement” as the simplest, most neutral approach to express the full spectrum of ways in which a child can have a relationship with a parent. We believe that the introduction of a presumption in legislation is the best and clearest way to ensure that children are able to benefit from the involvement of both parents following family separation.
This clause is part of the consistent messaging that will be conveyed throughout the dispute resolution process about the valuable role that both parents can play in their child’s life, whether they are together or apart. The deliberate reference to a presumption sends a strong signal to both parents and others as to how the court makes its decision. It makes clear that it is the norm rather than the exception for both parents to be involved in the child’s life. On the points raised, I think that I have already referred to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, about whether it was 50/50. The wording in the clause does not suggest or imply in any way equal or substantial shared time. The Explanatory Notes make it clear that this is not the expectation.
As regards the central argument put by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, which I suspect we will continue to discuss on Report, we believe that there are no conflicting presumptions. The parental involvement presumption will always be rebutted in a situation in which the child’s welfare requires it, and the paramountcy principle is not rebuttable.
As one who has had the good fortune to watch the traffic of the cross-party talks, and who has a strong view that my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness is in line not for a knighthood but for a sainthood for his patience in those talks, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that all three parties have shown a robust individualism in the talks but, thank goodness, have also shown the generosity of spirit that has made agreement possible. If we can get the balance right between clear, vigorous discussions and generosity of spirit, we will get this done. I do not know whether we are getting a fish in the boat or a ship to port but, whatever it is, I recommend it to the House.
Noble Lords cannot imagine the tingle in my shoulder blades when I realised that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, had risen to his feet. I thought, “My God! What question of law is he going to ask me to pronounce on?”. I am very pleased to understand that there is all-party agreement and that after the due process of whatever they do down the other end the Defamation Bill will be returned without the Puttnam amendment, although when the history of this saga is written, it will be said that the Puttnam amendment did its job. I am not so bitter about it, especially since the Bill is coming back without it.
The CAB at the Royal Courts of Justice is able to apply for legal aid contracts in the normal way for the part of its work that is directly legal aid work. As regards broader CAB work, the Government have carried out a number of initiatives to provide funding while voluntary organisations make the transition to a much more difficult economic climate. I very much appreciate the record and work of the Royal Courts of Justice CAB in providing legal advice to individuals. However, I can only say to the House—as I have done frequently as we have gone through this exercise—that we are concentrating our resources on the sharp-end providers and will continue to do so.
My Lords, again, I emphasise that the RCJ CAB was able to apply to the Advice Services Transition Fund and this has helped it to continue. How many times can I say this? I look at a budget each day and I see that hard decisions have to be made. Hard decisions are being made by charities and we have tried to give them help in the transition. Quite simply, the days when large amounts of government funds were available for these bodies are over and we all have to face that fact.
No: it is not prescriptive and we would test and think very carefully about how it would be approached. Some of the points that have been made this afternoon will be taken into account in seeing how this will apply. I reject the idea that this is a gesture without substance, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, suggested. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, quoted the Constitution Committee’s findings which bear repeating,
“as the minimum change necessary. For the number of women within the judiciary to increase significantly, there needs to be a commitment to flexible working and the taking of career breaks which we believe is currently lacking”.
Salaried part-time working has been in place in the courts below the High Court and tribunals for a number of years and it is important that we do not allow a known glass ceiling to remain in place preventing part-time judicial office holders from progressing further up the judicial career ladder. These provisions do not mandate that there must be an office holder who works part-time in either the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal; instead they remove any impediment that would prevent eligible candidates who work flexibly in the lower courts from applying for appointments to those courts.
There would be something problematic in a situation whereby the most meritorious candidate for the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court was not able to accept an offer of appointment simply because we could not accommodate part-time working. In the 21st century that would be hugely embarrassing and, quite frankly, wholly at odds with the change in culture we are all seeking as the key driver towards a more diverse judiciary.
Some have argued that the work of these higher courts naturally precludes the ability of judges to work flexibly. It has been suggested that flexible working would disrupt the processes of the court and make life difficult for listing officers. The Lord Chancellor is not persuaded by this argument. The Lord Chief Justice was questioned on this very issue when he gave evidence before the Constitution Committee. He did not see any problems with organising sitting patterns in order to accommodate judges with caring responsibilities.
The Government’s consultation on judicial appointments and diversity focused on flexible working in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The proposals received near unanimous support. However, a number of key stakeholders also highlighted in their responses that extending the principle of flexible working to the Supreme Court would demonstrate our commitment to improving diversity to those considering applying and we have therefore extended our proposals accordingly to include the Supreme Court.
Given the strong support for the provisions within the House and beyond I invite the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, to withdraw his amendment. However, if he is minded to test the opinion of the House, I urge noble Lords not to support the amendment.
My Lords, as far as I understand, the process of appointment would be exactly as it is now. If, in the process of discussing a candidate for the Supreme Court, it became obvious that there was a candidate who would require flexibility in order to take up the appointment, that would be taken into account. But there is no question of the president of the Supreme Court, or anybody else, being ordered to take a part-time member because of this provision. It is there to give what it is hoped will be encouragement to those who have responsibilities outside their judicial responsibilities, so that they do not find that a bar to progress, but there is no special process of selection envisaged in this.
I suppose that I can only give those in the voluntary sector the same advice as was given in my own department, which has had to take a 23 per cent cut in services. The reality, which it seems difficult for the Opposition to take in, is that we are all a lot poorer than we thought we were and a lot of organisations are having to reorganise to be effective. As I said, we have set aside £65 million over the next two years—and I have not even mentioned the £25 million to which I used to refer during the course of the LASPO Bill as the £65 million is new money. We appreciate the benefit of Citizens Advice and we want work with it so that it can carry on its useful work.
My Lords, I sincerely hope that that well known twitterer on the Front Bench opposite has not put my name on to this. I can understand where the noble and learned Lord is coming from. When we ask a senior judge to carry out an inquiry and they do so with the thoroughness with which the Waterhouse inquiry was carried out, there is a certain duty to respect the integrity of that work. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will also accept that the situation that we faced was not just that of a single individual coming forward but of a large amount of accusations being bandied around and a great deal of public concern. The Macur review terms of reference have been more widely drawn. Mrs Justice Macur will look at whether any specific allegations of child abuse within the terms of reference of the Waterhouse inquiry were not investigated. Quite frankly, the strength of public feeling justifies us going through with the Macur review.
My Lords, that statement, coming from such a source, reinforces what I said. When we have asked a distinguished judge to carry out an inquiry, we have to be extremely careful as to whether they can be second guessed. I do not think that anything that the Prime Minister or the Government are doing calls into question the integrity of the Waterhouse inquiry. As we always are when distinguished judges take on these difficult tasks, we are in his debt for doing so. However, the review of the Waterhouse inquiry will look at whether any specific allegations of child abuse were not investigated. The serious allegations that have been made merit a further thorough investigation.
My Lords, the noble Lord will not expect me to agree with that analysis, which has been his constant theme during the passage of the LASPO Bill, and I suspect will continue to be, based on a worst-case scenario. We are restructuring legal aid and that will have an impact on the not-for-profit sector. We have never resiled from that. However, we also appreciate the benefits of the not-for-profit sector, which is why we provided £107 million in transitional funds and an additional £20 million to help the sector restructure for the new framework of legal aid and legal services that the reforms are intended to bring about. I do not accept the worst-case scenario that has been the basis of the noble Lord's arguments throughout the passage of the Bill.
I thank my noble and learned friend for that helpful question—he is making a habit of helpful interventions. Of course we do, and nobody doubts that. That is why, as I said before, we have provided funds for this transitional period and why my honourable friend Nick Hurd is at this moment making attempts to identify funding that will give the not-for-profit sector a better long-term future. Nobody denies, underestimates or fails to appreciate the benefits of the not-for-profit sector. The key is how it will adjust to the new structure of legal services that we are bringing about by these reforms.
I think that those are rather strong words. I have said before that in a democracy where there is a separation of powers there can be a healthy relationship between parliamentarians and the judiciary, whereby parliamentarians can sometimes express concerns about how the judiciary has interpreted some of Parliament’s Acts and, likewise, the judiciary may occasionally pass an unkindly word about the behaviour of parliamentarians. As long as that is kept on a basis of mutual respect and due courtesy, it is a healthy way for a democracy to go.
My Lords, that convinces me only that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, can resist anything except temptation.
The noble Baroness gave some reasons why the Government should give themselves time to think on these matters. She pointed out that this is only enabling legislation, but, as I said in the previous debate, it is better that we have some clarity in what we wish to do. We are aware that the proposed changes to legal aid will put pressure on parts of this sector of justice, and that is why a concerted effort has to be made to drive up the quality of original decision-making. It is the departments and public bodies that make the original decisions that have the primary responsibility to ensure the quality of decision-making. However, this work with the decision-makers will continue, so as to improve getting it right first time. To drive up standards, we will seek to spread lessons learnt among relevant decision-making bodies.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, gave the game away when he said that the amendment and the consequential amendments were a perfectly legitimate and ingenious way of asking the House to reconsider a decision it had already made in Committee. However, the department has never hidden the fact that one of the reasons for the decision was saving money. However, as in the recent debates, almost throughout the Bill, opponents to what the Government propose seem to put enormous emphasis on the benefits that arm’s-length bodies can deliver and give no credit at all to the fact that one of the beauties of our system was that one check and balance on the delivery of policy was the direct line of responsibility running from Ministers in their departments through to the Floors of both Houses. We do not accept the idea that all these things have to be done by arm’s-length bodies, nor do I accept that the Ministry of Justice knows nothing and cares less about the wider issues of administrative justice. It is unfair to keep on throwing these attacks on civil servants who, in my experience, show an extraordinary commitment in their areas of expertise and are extremely willing to speak truth to power.
I apologise if I am wrong on this, and I will write to the noble Baroness, but I believe that the 15 per cent right will be retained and judges will be able to make voluntary contributions, as they do now. I should have asked the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment, even if he intends to return to the fray on Report.
I am afraid that I cannot do that. I am offering to talk very seriously about this. I say in a strictly non-jokey way that there are issues that we have to look at if we are not to fall into innocent traps, as the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, reminded us. There would have to be discussions without preconditions on either side. If the noble and learned Lord wishes to press the amendment, I shall resist—and that would be a mistake for both of us.
My Lords, I have some trepidation in speaking before a former Lord Chancellor does, but perhaps what I have to say will help. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for reminding the House that I was the Minister who took through the LASPO Bill and I have been watching the Labour Front Bench nodding in unison at every word that could possibly embarrass the Government. However, the origins of what we are doing now lie with the last Labour Government, who shared then the growing cross-party consensus that we were becoming a more litigious society, driven by a compensation culture and a determination to have our day in court—the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, referred to Jack Straw’s campaigning on whiplash—and the response to that was the setting up of the Jackson report under Sir Rupert Jackson.
It is interesting to note that one of the reasons for the setting up of the Jackson report under the Labour Government was that the costs in civil litigation were often disproportionate to the issues at stake. Lord Justice Jackson, who has just retired, spoke at the Cambridge law faculty on 5 March 2018 and, reflecting on his reforms, he said that the problem was that,
“Almost everyone perceives the public interest as residing in a state of affairs which coincides with their own commercial interests”—
he might have said professional interests as well.
My locus in this is not as a lawyer—I have told the House before that when I was a Minister I once said to a visiting distinguished American lawyer, “I must explain that I am not a lawyer”, and he said, “Then I shall speak very slowly”—and, given the array of legal advice and talent we have already heard, I tiptoe into this with trepidation. This is based partly on a family experience of a whiplash, which was clearly fraudulent but the insurers thought that the cost of defending was greater than simply settling. That left me with the experience of not only a fraudulent claim but a fraudulent claim which was sustained by the obvious collusion of both the solicitors and the doctor concerned. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is right to talk about a racket in which many respectable professions are involved. Those overseeing those professions have a duty of care to root out those who are complicit in these frauds.
As I have said, there was a growing cross-party consensus that something must be done. I confess that seven years ago I answered a Question from the Dispatch Box assuring the House of the urgency with which the Government were dealing with the issue of whiplash. I say to my Front Bench and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for whom the affection and respect I have is overwhelming, that I worry his amendment is just another one kicking the problem down the road when everybody else who speaks on it recognises that there is a problem. This has been said on a number of occasions: we are dealing with not the kind of catastrophic life-changing injuries that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, often refers to when we discuss medical negligence, but the very lowest level of claims where, as the noble Lord again said, many people would not even think of claiming if they were not spurred on by the claims management industry out of its own self-interest.
I fully endorse what my noble friend Lord Marks said about the need for others to take responsibility, not least the industry itself, for fighting fraud and making attempted fraud not worth while. I worry that the legislation says that we need a medical certificate. Somebody said, maybe in a private briefing, that there was one doctor who had a kind of Roneo of letters that he just signed. If you are going to have a medical check in this, you have to make sure that it is not part of the fraud because in the past it has been.
Nevertheless, it is rather sad that we have this collection of amendments. I look forward to the usual forensic dissection of them by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen. There are some good and some not so good ideas in there, but I do not want us to see something that becomes a wrecking amendment when we have waited for far too long for this. Perhaps because I am not a lawyer I do not share the fear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that we are setting some terrible precedent that will weaken the role of the judiciary. I do not see that at this very low end of the process. I hope that, in our usual way in this House, we can extract some of the good ideas that have been put forward but not lose the sense of urgency with which the Bill, at last, tries to address a real problem in a practical way.
My Lords, I follow with some trepidation my successor at the Ministry of Justice, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. I do so because, for the three years before he took up his office, I was the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice who had responsibility for the negotiations around the GDPR in its early stages. It is interesting that this debate reflects very much the early gestation of the GDPR. At that point, there was a very clear division between what I would describe as the Anglo-Saxon approach—which the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has expounded—and the continental approach. I suspect that is something that has bedevilled our approach to law-making in the EU over 40 years.
The truth of the Anglo-Saxon approach is this: of course we believe in these things, and if we look here, there and everywhere we will find that they are all covered; but hold that against points made by people who have only very recently experienced the power of the state and its abuse of the law by the Stasi and others. They want a much clearer definition that can be clearly observed. Thanks mainly to the hard work of my noble friend Lady Ludford in the European Parliament, we got a GDPR that was not overprescriptive in that direction but satisfied those very real concerns. We are at the same point again in this Bill.
Of course the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, is undoubtedly right about the various guarantees found in this and other legislation, but the politician in me says that if we are to get the adequacy we want in due course, we must not—to use a phrase of an old mentor of mine, Joe Gormley—build platforms for malcontents to stand on. We must not leave in everybody’s mind the question of why they did not want this in the Bill, when it is such a clear statement of their beliefs and our beliefs.
To revert to my old job as a political adviser, my advice to the Minister is this. In doing what he has been asked to do—to withdraw the amendment—he should work with the amendment tabled by the Opposition and bring through at Third Reading something that will cover our Anglo-Saxon desire to see these things in law but also reassure in a very political way those who have genuine concerns and want to see us carry out and stand by these responsibilities.