Last updated:2023-09-18
Lords Debate Low Commission Report
Lord Low, the chair of the Low Commission initiated a short debate in the House of Lords last Tuesday (25th February) on the Commission's report which was published in January.
Opening the debate Lord Low said that the Commission, which was established by LAG, was “anxious to develop a fresh approach” to providing assistance to the public. He stressed the higher priority public legal education should play in assisting people with social welfare law problems and also argued that while the Commission was not recommending “a simple restoration of cuts," this did "not mean we would not like to see any of them reversed.”
The report recommends that a £100 million fund is established to support social welfare law services. In his speech Lord Low said, “We are calling on the next UK Government to provide half of this "by contributing £50m per year to a fund to be administered by the Big Lottery Fund."
The former Legal Aid minister, Lord Bach welcomed the report saying “It is important to have some good news as the “truth is that social welfare law has been decimated over the past four years.” He criticised the government saying that they “seem to have decided as a matter of policy that access to legal advice for some people” particularly the poor and vulnerable is “not even a necessity, let alone a priority.”
The cross-bench peer Baroness Tanni Grey- Thompson, who played a prominent role in opposing sections of the legal aid legislation when it was debated in the Lords, was critical of the impact of the legal aid changes on disabled people. She argued that no-one would have argued that the old system was perfect “but for disabled people it offered considerable help and support. That safety net is disappearing.”
There were contributions to the debate from a number of prominent members of the Lords including the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who praised the report noting, “It is clear from reading the report that Welsh issues have not been overlooked.” The Bishop of Peterborough, in what was his maiden speech in the Lords, expressed concerns about the loss of support for social welfare law services as,  "One of the tests of a civilized society is of course the way in which it supports its weakest and most vulnerable members.”
The Minister for legal aid in the Lords, Lord Faulks, a Conservative peer, said that “industries innovate and modernise to address changing needs and environments. It is essential that the advice sector does so too.” He recognised though the difficulties the sector faced and pledged that the government would “carefully consider” the suggestions contained in the report.
Link to the record of the debate-