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Mr. Kidney: I was not one of the large number of hon. Members who expressed support for the new clause in Standing Committee. The new clause would limit what the Law Society could spend its members' money on. At its best, the legal profession is effective in its communication, fearless in its independence and passionate in its defence of liberty and democracy. If the Law Society used those skills in defence of an existing law that the Government wanted to change or to promote a law reform that the Government resisted to such an extent that it became embarrassing for the Government, will my hon. Friend assure me that that would not be a reason for the Government to exercise the power proposed in the new clause?

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend should wait to hear what I have to say, but I can assure him that we have thought very carefully about the matter. The challenge is as much for the Law Society as for any other organisation. There is no question of trying to prevent the Law Society from doing what it wants to do. However, it is right that it should put up a case for the way in which that income should be spent.

There was pressure on the Government to introduce the power in the new clause immediately, and that pressure was evident in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for, Test. We did not do so, because we listened carefully to what the Law Society had to say. Indeed, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor met the president of the Law Society, Mr. Michael Mathews, to discuss the Government's position. I was present at that meeting.

Mr. Mathews made some extremely important and useful points at the meeting, some of which related to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said, and some of which have been incorporated in new clause 7. I want to thank Mr. Mathews for the cool, intelligent and thoughtful way in which he approached this issue and deployed his arguments.

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As a result, the Government accept that immediate change could be disruptive and unhelpful. We have taken into consideration the full flexibility that the Law Society currently enjoys in the use of its income. The new clause therefore makes no immediate change to the position of the Law Society, but enables Parliament to decide what restriction might be appropriate when the Government--and the Law Society--have had time to consider the issues fully.

Indeed, that debate has started already. It is not for me to intrude on the Law Society's private arrangements, but candidates in the on-going presidential election have rightly started to debate this matter already, albeit in rather colourful language.

We have asked the Law Society to state, within the next 18 months, what activities it believes should be paid for out of compulsory fee income and what activities should be properly funded on a voluntary basis. Therefore, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, the challenge is with the Law Society. The Government would be prepared to consider proposals that went beyond the regulation, education and training of solicitors if they were clearly in the public interest or had the overwhelming support of Law Society members. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor would then be in a position to put fully considered proposals to Parliament.

It is perfectly possible that Parliament may decide to allow the Law Society to raise fees for a wider range of activities than is currently proposed for the Bar Council.

Mr. Grieve: In a sense, the Minister has already answered my question. A little while ago, he said that he was intending to put the Law Society on the same footing as the Bar Council. However, a comparison of the minutiae of new clauses 6 and 7 shows that that will not happen unless or until the order has been laid before Parliament.

Mr. Vaz: When the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that I did not say that. I said that that was one of the options. He was too busy chatting to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) to give proper consideration to what I was saying. I said that the Government will be prepared to consider the proposals, which went beyond the regulation, education and training of solicitors, if that was clearly in the public interest and if the overwhelming majority of Law Society members favoured such a scheme. I added that it is perfectly possible that Parliament may decide to allow the Law Society to raise fees for a wider range of activities than is at present proposed for the Bar Council. The new clause on Bar practising certificates would enable Parliament to place the Bar's use of fees on the same basis, if that were considered to be the proper outcome.

Subsection (1) of new clause 7 enables the Lord Chancellor to make an order to amend section 11(3) of the Solicitors Act 1974 to restrict the purposes for which the Law Society may apply its fee income. That would leave the regulation, education and training of solicitors, and would-be solicitors, at an irreducible minimum. Subsection (1) would also enable the Lord Chancellor to add to those purposes other purposes that are considered appropriate.

Subsection (2) requires that any order made by the Lord Chancellor should be subject to prior consultation with the Law Society and the Master of the Rolls, and to approval by affirmative resolution of both Houses of

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Parliament. I hope that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) are reassured that those processes will have to be completed before the matter is finally determined.

The Government cannot support a situation in which Law Society members are compelled to join a closed shop in order to practise. At the same time, we have no wish to stifle the many useful functions that the society currently performs in the public interest. The Government have listened to the Law Society's concerns and to the issues raised by hon. Members. The clause is an appropriate means of dealing with them and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Garnier: I shall be brief because the timetable motion requires the debate to finish by 10.15 pm. My brevity should not be taken as wholehearted support for what the Government are doing.

The chairman of the Bar may well have wanted new clause 6, but I suspect that he wanted it for reasons different from the Minister's. It would be interesting to compare the words of Mr. Daniel Brennan with those of the Minister to see whether they matched.

Mr. Vaz: They were his words.

Mr. Garnier: They were not only his words. I dare say that the Minister used some of Mr. Brennan's words, but he also used his own, or at least those of his civil servants, which he may have read for the first time this afternoon.

New clauses 6 and 7 cause me concern. New clause 7 seems to be a direct consequence of the Law Society's advertising campaign in March and April, when the Lord Chancellor was stung into conducting a rather ill-tempered debate on Radio 4's "Today" programme. He used fairly intemperate language either in a discussion with Mr. Mathews, the president of the Law Society, or shortly after Mr. Mathews had spoken on the radio.

New clause 7 is the result of pique. It has been produced by a Government and a Lord Chancellor who will brook no criticism. The Lord Chancellor is not prepared to have debated in public any matter of which he disapproves. He--like the Government--finds it uncomfortable to be disagreed with. New clause 7 is the result, introduced out of pique.

Mr. Vaz: The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely obsessed with the Lord Chancellor. I shall arrange a meeting for him so that he may see that the Lord Chancellor cares deeply for the professions. None of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the Lord Chancellor fits my noble Friend. The hon. and learned Gentleman can take my word for it that new clause 7 has nothing to do with any Law Society advertising campaign.

10 pm

Mr. Garnier: I believe that the Minister believes that to be the case, but I do not accept that it is credible. No one who heard the Lord Chancellor, or saw his reactions to the advertising campaign, could marry up the arrival of new clause 7, or the threat of such a clause, with what the Minister says. I do not doubt his sincerity or that he believes what he has just told us, but he is being naive.

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I have a further complaint about new clause 7, because it could amount to a denial of freedom of expression. Article 10 of the European convention on human rights, to which the Government attach so much importance that they passed the Human Rights Act 1998, allows freedom of expression. If solicitors, through their Law Society, wish to express themselves in a way that is antipathetic to the Government's policies, what right have the Government to intervene to stop them? That is the hidden agenda, if not the effect, of new clause 7, and it is much to be deprecated.

We are used, of course, to this Government bullying and arrogantly trying to wish their demands on the population. We are used to their ignoring Parliament and we have become used in discussing the Access to Justice Bill to them giving themselves and the Lord Chancellor huge executive powers through secondary legislation, some by negative and some by positive resolution. This coat-hanger Bill gives the Lord Chancellor huge executive powers. The new clause is yet another example, introduced at a late stage. It is reasonable to comment on the fact that we know that the motive for introducing it is quite different from what the Minister fondly believes. That is much to be deprecated. I shall not press it to a vote, bearing in mind the time, but it is right to signal our disapproval of how the Government go about such things, as evidenced by new clause 7.

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