The news that Lord Tebbitt is supporting amendments to the Legal Aid Bill, which brings about huge cuts in entitlement, especially for civil cases, is a good example of a politician following a special interest then realising there is a bigger picture. Admirably (I assume), he has a long term interest in medical negligence claims made on behalf of children, so he has joined a group of Peers seeking to change the Bill. The problem for Kenneth Clarke is that a lot of people with special interests, who each oppose his Bill because of the impact it will have in their own policy area, might coalesce into a generic opposition to his main provisions. Then he will be in trouble.
The Bill will have a big impact on housing and a number of organisations have been raising this for some time, including Shelter, Justice for All, the Advice Services Alliance, Advice UK, and the Housing Law Practitioners Association. I recommend Shelter’s excellent briefing.
Shelter estimate that the Bill will mean that around 40% of housing cases will no longer qualify for legal aid, around 42,000 cases, saving a miserable £10m. Cases that will not qualify in future include damages claims for illegal eviction and many housing benefit cases. Tenants will have fewer remedies against rogue landlords , and this will remove one of the key deterrents against illegal eviction and harassment. The exclusion of all benefits work, except where the home is threatened, will prevent early intervention action that resolves problems before they reach the extreme: this has been an important aspect in the improvement in homelessnesss prevention over the last few years.
So in this one case we wish more power to the elbow of Lord Tebbitt. The old Thatcherite, who did so much damage in Government, has a last chance to redeem himself and do something worthwhile.
I doubt that Kenneth Clarke can or will ever undertake the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, but Norman may yet prove to be perfectly cast as the ghostly Jacob Marley. The hope for Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim is that the House of Lords contains a very large number of lawyers who seem to be horrified by this attack on fundamental civic rights.