HL Deb 15 December 2004 vol 667 cc83-4WS
Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The Government warmly welcome Sir David Clementi's report on the future regulation of legal services in England and Wales. Sir David and his team deserve our thanks for all their work over the past 18 months.

I established Sir David's review to consider the regulation of legal services with the clear objective of improving the service to the consumer. The provision of legal services must include safeguarding the public's right to independent legal advice and ensuring the quality and professionalism of the legal professions. Reform will be judged by the benefits it delivers for the consumer.

People expect value for money and services that are delivered in ways which better suit their needs. They also expect proper redress if something goes wrong as a result of poor service. The legal professions are no exception. Whether we are buying a house or getting advice about our rights, the way in which lawyers, legal executives and those who advise on legal issues work, how they are regulated and what the processes are for complaining about their work potentially affects us all.

The Government broadly accept the main recommendations of Sir David's important report and the arguments for change which he sets out. We want to ensure proportionate and appropriate regulation and separate handling of consumer redress. We will want to work closely on the details of his report with all of those involved, especially those representing the legal professions and consumer interests, to take forward this report and deliver reform quickly. We will be careful to ensure as small a bureaucracy as possible.

We strongly support the objectives set out in Sir David's report: maintaining the rule of law, providing access to justice, ensuring protection for consumers, promoting competition, encouraging a strong and effective legal profession and increasing public understanding. To achieve those objectives, Sir David's principal recommendations are the creation of a new oversight regulator with significant powers, the separation of the representative and regulatory functions of the professional bodies, the creation of a single new complaints body and steps to enable the creation of legal disciplinary practices (LDPs). These changes could see non-lawyers for the first time not only as managers of legal practices, but also as owners of and investors in LDPs.

I am sure that the legal professional bodies will engage positively with us. The Government's overriding aim is to preserve the best of the current system while moving forward for the benefit of consumers. While there are challenges in the report, we have worked together successfully on a number of issues, including the establishment of a new interim system for the appointment of Queen's Counsel. I am confident that we will continue to do so on the issues arising from Sir David's report.

The Government will publish a White Paper on Sir David's proposals as soon as possible next year, to be followed by legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Today, in response to Sir David's report we can affirm our commitment to putting in place a regulatory framework that ensures a better deal for consumers through increased competition, innovation and transparency, and safeguards the independence of the legal professions—including independence from government—in providing high-quality advice. Sir David's report provides a clear basis for achieving these aims and the Government are committed to taking this forward as a matter of paramount importance.