Government LA Minister Jonathan "Jingle-Bells" Djanogly came to visit us on Wednesday. His brief- to justify almost complete dismissal of 5,000 responses against his bill.
He is surprisingly young, but then for me the doctors and policemen suffer this also. He told us one of the priorities of the cuts was to protect fundamental rights that should be protected by the state.
Then he cut education law unless the child has a disability. I thought education was every child's right.
He tells us that another priority is savings. Thus all employment law will be cut. He thinks people should rely more on trade unions. A first this, a Tory minister advocating trade union membership.
Fierce John from the Mary Ward Legal Centre (a proud charity dating to Victorian times) asks him why appeals in Employment cases, which by definition are legally complex should be cut. After all, the employer has a lawyer. Why leave a carpenter or a cleaner unprotected against the might of the state or corporation?
Jingle-Bells tells us that there is no funding for representation in employment hearings anyway. We tell him that's wrong, in the Lower Tribunal that's true, not in the Upper. "But that's a tiny amount" he blurts out.
OK Jingle Bells, if tiny, why cut it? He doesn't seem to know.
Jingles tells us that another priority is value for money.
A comrade from Shelter points out that its no use defending a possession case where a client isn't getting their housing benefit unless you can do something about this. Jingle- Bells assures us that he is trying to make the benefit system so efficient that there will never be a need for lawyers again.
Pull the other one Jingle Bells.
A very senior legal executive asks why funding is available when children are taken to Europe, but not Wales. The Minister looks more than usually confused., smiles a bit shily. A young civil servant (see above) explains that the reason is the reason.
An Irish lawyer asks about the impact of lack of funding for disabled clients. Jingle Bells assures us that Equalities Protection will be in place. “But disabled people will lose benefits just like other people” he adds magnanimously.
Oh Jingle Bells!
Finally I lose my temper. A straight answer to a straight question if you please. Last month we forced a Council to pay for 18 months of Housing Benefit and preserved the home of a family with a disabled child. Yesterday we stopped an eviction, and prevented a family being flung onto the parish. Tomorrow who'll do our job?
Jingle Bell blushes, and gives a speech about this government's deep commitment to the voluntary sector. I'm not sure he knows what Housing Benefit is for. Or the voluntary sector.
Under the reforms British children or children born in this country will have no funding to apply for leave to remain. Their mothers and carers can't work and can't claim benefits. Family life clearly is no great priority for Jonathan.
Linda Lee from the Law Society is dismayed and disappointed.
Jonathan assures us that 5,000 replies to his consultation were carefully considered. And then discarded.
Oh Jingle Bells!