The House of Lords has returned to debate the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The first time that the Bill was on the agenda for Peers, they were not shy in coming forward to explain why the Government had got this wrong - and it was no different this time.
First – a bit of background. You may have seen that amongst the proposals in the bill, the Government wants to change who should be eligible for Legal Aid. As part of these reforms, tens of thousands of disabled people stand to lose access to legal advice that they need to help them challenge their welfare benefits when the Department for Work and Pensions get it wrong.
This would effectively deny disabled people access to justice, impacting on the very fabric of the British justice system and the debate centred on this principle.
The scale of the changes did not escape the attention of those Peers who sat in almost universal condemnation until 10.15pm, quizzing the Government on their proposals.
In these times of Coalition Government, it was particularly interesting that the most scathing attacks came from Liberal Democrat Peers – directed at Lord McNally, a Liberal Democrat Government Minister.
He was told "not merely to assume our support but earn our support on these benches" and that "I hoped we would not be in this position by the time we started committee" by one Lib Dem Peer. Another, Lord Pannick, rather ominously stated that if the Government did not back down, "the Minister and the Government will face a substantial rebellion on their own Benches".
This really was quite strong stuff for the normally sedate House of Lords.
The next session of debate takes place on 10 January. During this sitting we expect the debate to turn specifically to legal aid for welfare benefit decisions – and to the impact that these changes will have on disabled people.
In Scope’s virtual House of Lords, hundreds of people have taken their seat to tell the Government that disabled people must have proper access to justice. If you haven’t already, join me in filling up this chamber to tell the Government that they have got it wrong.