HL Deb 16 May 1989 vol 507 cc1038-41

2.39 p.m.

Lord Alexander of Weedon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they made studies of the impact on the cost of legal services arising out the proposals in the three Green Papers on the legal profession, and, if so, whether they will publish their studies.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the Green Papers set out proposals for the elimination of rules in the legal profession which are not necessary in order to ensure standards of competence and conduct. The question therefore in relation to any particular rule is whether it is necessary for this purpose. If a rule is not necessary for this purpose its elimination is not likely to increase cost.

Lord Alexander of Weedon

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer. As a result, am I right in understanding that the Government have carried out no studies of the actual costs of the proposals either to the public purse or to private litigants; and, if not, bearing in mind that this issue is of critical importance to the administration of justice, is it not right that wide-ranging studies should be carried out before any proposals are implemented?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, like my noble friend, I have attended a great number of inquiries of one kind or another. I do not think that I have ever attended one in which there has not been a suggestion of some further study that should be undertaken before a decision is reached. I acknowledge most heartily the importance of these proposals. I regard them as extremely important, and I think I can assure my noble friend that decisions about what we should recommend arising from the consultation will be taken only after very careful consideration.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, what specific cost benefits to the consumer does the noble and learned Lord anticipate if the Green Paper proposals are implemented by statute?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as I have said, the primary aim of the Green Paper proposals is to consider whether there are any unnecessary rules in the profession. If on examination a rule turns out to be unnecessary, its elimination is not likely to increase costs. We have made a number of proposals for seeking to reduce costs. These have arisen primarily from the civil justice review which my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham initiated some time ago. I was glad to be able to announce some little time ago that we were hoping to implement the main thrust of that review's proposals. The object of the three Green Papers is not primarily to reduce costs. If as a result of the elimination of unnecessary rules costs are reduced, that will be welcome to all those who are clients of the legal profession.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, has my noble and learned friend studied the paper by that most distinguished free market economist, Professor Basil Yamey, of the London School of Economics, who points out that the probable result of the removal of these so-called restrictions would be to increase the costs of litigation to the ordinary person?

The Lord Chancellor

Yes, my Lords, I have in fact studied that paper with some care. If I have understood it properly, I think it may proceed on assumptions about the Green Paper proposals which are not fully justified by a close study of the Green Papers themselves.

Lord Hacking

My Lords, without bringing your Lordships to a high state of emotion so early in this afternoon's proceedings, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he accepts that members of both sides of the legal profession have concern over the present cost of legal proceedings, particularly in the field of litigation, and wish to co-operate in containing their escalation? Secondly, will the noble and learned Lord confirm that, in suggesting a reduction in advocates appearing in court proceedings, including the use of solicitors' right of audience, his proposals should have a significant effect in reducing those costs, whether or not they are quantified?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have always regarded it as a wise precaution in advocacy not to overstate one's case. Therefore, at the moment I am simply claiming that these proposals, if implemented, would not increase costs. As I said, I believe that they may reduce costs; but I am not actually making that claim at present.

So far as concerns the first supplementary question of the noble Lord, I believe that the legal profession as a whole, in both its branches—indeed, it is truly to be regarded as one profession in two branches—is anxious to do what it can to reduce costs. Therefore I hope that as a result of all this consultation and consideration benefits to the clients of the legal profession will ensue.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is it not important continually to remind oneself that by their very nature these Green Papers are discussion documents and not proposals? If that is the case, and if it was discussion which Her Majesty's Government wished to pursue, then the papers have certainly had the most monumental success.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the Green Papers contain proposals which are the provisional views of the Government on many matters. They are, however, provisional views and therefore may not ultimately be the Government's views after there has been consideration of the consultations. As a means of provoking lively and informed discussion I think that the Green Papers have been quite successful.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, I welcome my noble and learned friend's desire to implement the proposals contained in the six papers of the civil justice review, but can he say whether he has been able to work out how many clauses would be required in a Bill if they, and only they, were to be enacted in the next Session?

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, fewer than the Water Bill!

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, important as the civil justice review proposals are, I doubt very much whether Her Majesty's Government would propose that they, and only they, be enacted in the next Session. The number of clauses required for that purpose has not yet been determined.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord stick to his guns in this matter and not allow himself to be browbeaten both inside this House and outside by the two bi-partisan trade unions?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, these are papers for consultation and I have promised—I hope that your Lordships will believe that I should like to fulfil that promise—to consider representations about them from whatever quarter they may arise.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, to follow on from that, I speak rather unusually, in the interests of customers. Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House whether the Government have any idea as to the amount which the two sides of the legal profession may be spending on their campaign against the proposals contained in the Green Papers? That cost must presumably ultimately be passed on to their customers.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am not really able to say a great deal about the matter. I have read reports in newspapers which indicate that a fairly substantial sum was aimed at by the Bar. I think that that amount has been collected. However, whether it has all been spent I cannot tell. So far as concerns the Law Society, I have no information in that respect.

I believe that the proposals are most important and therefore it is not perhaps surprising that some advice was sought, even if it turned out to be a little costly, about how the matter might be handled by the profession.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, has the noble and learned Lord addressed the question of whether legal costs could be increased as a result of the implementation of the Green Paper proposals? If he has done so, can he tell the House how that will arise?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, yes, I have addressed that question. I have already said that the nature of the proposals are such that they should lead to the elimination of unnecessary costs and unnecessary rules. I do not believe that that will increase the cost of litigation.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that the mass of ordinary people in this country to whom these Green Papers ought to be directed—they are not only directed to the legal profession—are almost frightened to enter into some form of litigation, despite the fact that they can get justice, or what can be called justice, because they fear that the costs will be worse than anything they have experienced? Is he further aware that many people hope that considerations of ordinary folk will be taken fully into account in these consultations and dealt with accordingly?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the aim of the Green Papers as well as the aim of the civil justice review, and every other initiative that I and my noble and learned friends who have preceded me in this office have taken in recent years, has been to try to improve the service to the people whom the noble Lord referred to as "ordinary folk". Indeed I made that fact clear in the Green Papers. We tried to write the papers in such a way that ordinary people without any particular legal training or experience could understand them.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend confirm that, contrary to what was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, neither of the two honourable and learned professions of the law practises in England as a trade union, and that both are deeply concerned with the honour and integrity of the craft which they practise and are very proud indeed to belong to it?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I answered the noble Lord in the way that I did so as not to make any comment that could be construed as in any way adverse to the honour and public spiritedness of the two branches of the legal profession in this country.

I believe, without any reservation, that the representations made to me by the Inns of Court, the General Council of the Bar, the Law Society, various local law societies, many other professional bodies and individual practitioners have been put forward in a constructive spirit. I hope that your Lordships will feel that the project upon which we are all engaged is important, and that your desire is that out of it will come a profession that is even better than the one we have at present.