HC Deb 19 January 1998 vol 304 cc688-90
37. Mr. Tipping

What representations he has received about the first annual report of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors. [21481]

Mr. Hoon

To date, I have not received any such representations.

Mr. Tipping

Does the Minister accept that the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors has received representations? The number of complaints has risen 7 per cent. over the previous year. As well as an increase in complaints there is a persistent view among complainants that their complaints are not treated either seriously or quickly enough. When my hon. Friend has the opportunity, will he raise those issues with the organisation and look for better performance measures?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter once again. It is clearly important that the public should have confidence in the way in which complaints against solicitors are addressed. I am determined that the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, established by the Law Society, should have the opportunity to demonstrate that it is dealing effectively with complaints. It seems that one test of the office's success will be the reaction of hon. Members and their constituents. I know that the OSS would welcome visits from hon. Members so that it can listen to their concerns in person and explain what it is doing to meet them. I encourage my hon. Friend to take up the offer of a visit to the OSS.

Mr. Fabricant

Given that the office has a role in overseeing the activities of solicitors, and further to the Minister's earlier answer that it is the Law Society, among other organisations, that is preventing the right of access of solicitors to higher courts, will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to examine the system that exists in New Zealand whereby solicitors, along with barristers, have a right of audience in higher courts?

Mr. Hoon

Perhaps I inadvertently misled the hon. Gentleman: solicitors have the right of audience in higher courts and have had that opportunity for some time. They have to be approved by the Law Society before they are able to appear in the higher courts. I hope that the hon. Gentleman approves of such prior approval, as it demonstrates competence among quite a limited number of solicitors who presently satisfy the Law Society's rules in that respect.