HC Deb 02 December 2003 vol 415 cc365-6
25. John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the efficiency of the office for the supervision of solicitors in dealing with complaints from hon. Members about the level of fees charged to miners and miners' widows for mining-related disease claims. [140734]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

On 26 September, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs announced that in his view the Law Society's office for the supervision of solicitors was not handling complaints efficiently or effectively. As a result, the Government are to appoint a legal services complaints commissioner with powers to oversee more closely the work of the OSS. Nevertheless, the Law Society remains responsible for investigating individual complaints, and it has assured me that it will investigate with urgency cases where solicitors are allegedly overcharging claimants for mining-related diseases.

John Cryer

On that basis, why do we not move towards abolishing the OSS and replacing it with a truly independent body? As my hon. Friend knows, it is seen as being far too close to the legal profession and far too timid when it comes to dealing with complaints.

Specifically in relation to complaints by miners and miners' widows, does my hon. Friend agree that the OSS—or the Law Society, which now deals with such matters—should be urged to get off its backside and go out to encourage people to register complaints? It should make clear the service that it provides vis-à-vis complaints and bring those complaints in, not just wait for them.

Mr. Leslie

I understand my hon. Friend's frustration. That is why the Secretary of State took action by introducing a new legal services complaints commissioner properly and more rigorously to oversee the work of the Law Society in these matters. My hon. Friend makes the reasonable suggestion that instead of just reacting to complaints, it should engage more proactively with users of legal services. We need to monitor the situation closely. I assure him that my Department will not tolerate malpractice by solicitors.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab)

Will the Minister get on to the Law Society hotline and tell it directly that, in view of the comments made in the Chamber today, hon. Members are fed up with miners who have given their health and their lives being ripped off? Solicitors in the handling agreement have already received payments in excess of £20 million: enough is enough.

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend's anger is understandable. He is aware, as is the office for the supervision of solicitors, of cases where miners and their families have not been well served by the legal profession. As I said, more than 100,000 claimants have gone through the handling scheme at the Department of Trade and Industry. The typical charge by solicitors under the DTI-approved scheme is £1,800 per claim, so there can be few excuses for excessive legal fees.