The Legal Aid Bill limps back to the Commons this afternoon, having had a rough ride through the upper chamber where the Lords inflicted 11 defeats on the government. And it looks like its next stint in the lower chamber might not be much smoother. As Paul Waugh reports, a group of MPs have tabled a new amendment to the Bill (actually, an amendment to an amendment tabled by the government on Friday) to continue to provide legal aid advice (but not representation) for reviews and appeals of benefit cases. What’s significant is that the amendment is signed by seven Lib Dem MPs, including party president Tim Farron, and four of Labour’s frontbench Justice spokespeople, including shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan.
This marks another step forward in Labour-Lib Dem relations, which have come a long way since Ed Miliband called Nick Clegg’s party ‘a disgrace to the traditions of liberalism’ back in July 2010. There was a similar attempt at coordination last month, when Andy Burnham called for Labour MPs to support a Lib Dem amendment calling for the NHS reform bill to be dropped. That time, the move came too late, and only seven Lib Dems voted for the amendment anyway — not enough to overhaul the government.
This time the Lib Dem rebellion may be somewhat larger, especially with both their president and the backbench justice committee having signed up. It may also be easier for the Labour leadership to get their MPs in line without the headaches they had over the NHS amendment, Khan’s involvement has come at an earlier stage than Burnham’s did. Will they have to votes to defeat the government? When Paul Waugh asked him on Twitter, all Farron would say was ‘Guess we will see later!’