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New Clause 6

Bar practising certificates

'.--(1) If the General Council of the Bar makes rules prohibiting barristers from practising as specified in the rules unless authorised by a certificate issued by the Council (a "practising certificate"), the rules may include provision requiring the payment of fees to the Council by applicants for practising certificates.

(2) Rules made by virtue of subsection (1)--
(a) may provide for the payment of different fees by different descriptions of applicants, but
(b) may not set fees with a view to raising a total amount in excess of that applied by the Council for the purposes of the regulation, education and training of barristers and those wishing to become barristers.
(3) The Lord Chancellor may by order made by statutory instrument--
(a) amend subsection (2)(b) by adding to the purposes referred to in it such other purposes as the Lord Chancellor considers appropriate, or
(b) vary or revoke an order under paragraph (a).
(4) No order shall be made under subsection (3) unless--
(a) the Lord Chancellor has consulted the Council, and
(b) a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(5) No provision included in rules by virtue of subsection (1), and no other provision of rules made by the Council about practising certificates, shall have effect unless approved by the Lord Chancellor.
(6) The Council shall provide the Lord Chancellor with such information as he may reasonably require for deciding whether to approve any provision of rules made by the Council about practising certificates.'.--[Mr. Vaz.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Vaz: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 7--Fees for solicitor's practising certificates.

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Mr. Vaz: The new clauses relate to practising certificates for barristers and solicitors. Most solicitors are already required to hold practising certificates under the Solicitors Act 1974. The certificates, which are renewed annually, are evidence that the solicitor is properly qualified, and that he or she has abided by the various requirements placed on solicitors, such as having satisfactory insurance arrangements and having paid their dues to the Law Society.

New clause 6 enables the General Council of the Bar for the first time ever to require barristers to hold and pay for practising certificates on a similar basis. It also limits the purposes to which the Bar Council may apply the income that it receives from practising certificates, which will effectively be compulsory subscriptions.

The Law Society already has a statutory power to levy fees for practising certificates, but there is currently no statutory restriction on the society's use of its compulsory fee income. New clause 7 enables the Lord Chancellor to limit the purposes for which the Law Society may apply fee income from practising certificates.

The Government believe that it is right for a regulatory body to be able to charge compulsory fees to those whom it regulates. The Opposition tabled an amendment in another place that would have enabled the Bar Council to charge compulsory fees. That amendment was flawed, but my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said that active consideration would be given to tabling a suitable amendment at a later stage.

The Bar Council carries out a regulatory function in relation to barristers, which is comparable to that exercised by the Law Society in relation to solicitors but, unlike the Law Society, the Bar Council has no statutory power to enforce the payment of subscription fees by its members. It is estimated by the Bar Council that 10 per cent. of practising barristers currently do not pay their subscription fees. The Government agree that it is unfair that some barristers should not contribute to the costs of the regulation from which all barristers benefit.

The new clause will also enable the Bar Council to require barristers to pay what amounts to a training levy to support pupil barristers or to provide other training. At present, many new barristers, after attending the Bar vocational course and being called to the Bar, are unable to obtain pupillages, and their careers fall at the first fence.

The Government hope that the Bar Council will choose to exercise its new power. It should be a potent means of ensuring more meritocratic entry to the Bar, which suffers from an excessively middle-class image. In short, it is not at present open to all the talents.

The Dearing review made it clear that individuals and professions should be expected to pay for such postgraduate vocational training. At present, neither the year in which the professional qualification is gained, nor the pupillage year, is grant aided. That operates as a powerful deterrent against entering the profession for people from ordinary backgrounds.

Mr. Grieve: I have no objection to the new clause, but I would not want it to go unsaid that, as the Bar currently operates, a large number of chambers supply substantial grants to their pupils to help them to complete their pupillage year.

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9.45 pm

Mr. Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us that they do that, and it is not only wealthy personages who are able to come here and become barristers. Those training opportunities are very important. I believe that the funding would help to ensure for the future that more people not from privileged backgrounds are able to rise to success at the Bar.

On the detail of the clause, subsection (1) will enable the Bar Council to make rules requiring the payment of compulsory fees for practising certificates for those barristers who provide legal services to the public or to an employer. Subsection (2) provides that the rules on practising certificates may set different fee levels for different classes of barrister, for example according to whether they are employed, non-practising or in private practice or according to the length of time since they were called to the Bar. Subsection (2) also provides that the total amount of money generated from the payment of those fees should not exceed the Bar Council's total expenditure on the regulation, education and training of barristers and would-be barristers.

The Government have considered whether the total amount of fees from compulsory subscriptions should also be available for use on what might be described as the Bar Council's trade union activities. Our view is that they should not. The Government have no intention of creating a closed shop, requiring individual barristers to fund activities which they may not support and may, in fact, be contrary to their interests. Of course, it will be open to the Bar Council to raise money from barristers on a voluntary basis for those purposes, but the days of pre-entry closed shops are ended for trade unions and should not apply to other bodies either.

Nevertheless, the Government accept that there may be other purposes for which it would be appropriate for the Bar Council to use money generated from subscriptions. In considering that possibility, the Government would be guided by the wider public interest. Subsections (3) and (4) therefore enable the Lord Chancellor to add by order to the purposes in subsection (2). The order would be subject to prior consultation with the Bar Council and to affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament.

Subsection (5) requires that the Bar Council's rules on practising certificates be made with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor who, under subsection (6), may, when deciding whether to approve such rules, request additional information from the Bar Council.

The chairman of the Bar Council, Dan Brennan, has welcomed the proposed introduction of new clause 6. His view is that the clause

I want to place on the record the Government's thanks to Dan Brennan and the Bar Council for all the work they have done to facilitate the formulation of this change.

On new clause 7, at present, under section 11(3) of the Solicitors Act 1974, fee income may be applied in any manner that the Law Society may think fit. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who is in his place, tabled an amendment that

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sought to apply the same restrictions to the Law Society as the Government intend to apply to the Bar. That would have had the effect that practising certificate fees could be used only for the regulation, education and training of solicitors. A large number of other hon. Members expressed their support for the purpose of that amendment. In replying, my predecessor, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), said that there was a strong case for such a restriction, but that the Government needed to consider the position carefully before disturbing an arrangement that had been in place for many years.

The Government's initial view, which they conveyed to the Law Society, was that the restriction should be imposed in the same way as for the Bar Council. As I explained in relation to the new clause on Bar practising certificates, our belief is that it is right in principle to define how a professional body may spend money generated from compulsory subscriptions. The Government therefore support a restriction. I am aware that many solicitors would welcome such a move and feel that it would help to ensure that the Law Society remained answerable to the profession. Furthermore, there is a strong argument that the Law Society should be placed on an equal footing with the Bar Council.

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