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Mr. Hawkins: It gives me great pleasure to respond to the Minister's helpful clarification of the amendments. As I declared in Committee, when I spoke from the Back Benches, I am a former chairman of the corporate counsels' organisation--the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry--and in that capacity I welcomed the Government's long-awaited removal of the bar on employed counsel and employed lawyers generally appearing in court on behalf of their employers. It is something for which the organisation that I used to chair campaigned for many years and it is a welcome change.

Some will wish the Government to go even further, and I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that they may be prepared to do so in future legislation, but at this stage the employed Bar generally has got a great deal of what it has long sought.

I think I am right in saying that I am the first corporate counsel ever to be either a Minister or a shadow Minister in any of the legal Departments, and it is therefore with a sense of humility that I speak in that capacity from the Front Bench. Having campaigned for these changes for many years, as a committee member and during my chairmanship of the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry, I have particular pleasure in welcoming them and the helpful clarification that the Minister has given this evening.

Mr. Dismore: I very much welcome the amendments, particularly those extending rights of audience to employed advocates, particularly solicitors. I am pleased that the clause as amended would get rid of restrictive qualifications, regulations and rules of conduct, but in this context I would highlight the rules relating to court dress, particularly wigs. Unless we have equality of court dress between different advocates there is a risk that although rights of audience may be extended, judges and those trying cases will discriminate between one variety of advocate and another. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to address that issue.

Mr. Burnett: We support the amendments and the increased rights of audience for the Crown Prosecution Service. In some parts of the country, notably Cornwall, the CPS has enjoyed rights of audience in Crown courts for many years. We also welcome clause 41, which is applicable to all exercising rights of audience, providing for an overriding duty to the court to act with independence in the interests of justice.

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The Minister will be aware, however, that we oppose a state defender system. Can he confirm to the House that at the very least the Crown Prosecution Service and the criminal defence service should not come under the aegis of the same Department of State?

Mr. Grieve: The Government are addressing two matters in these amendments. First, they have sought to clarify that employed advocates should appear only on behalf of the person or group employing them and should not sell their services. I am sure that the Minister will find common ground with us in approving of that clarification.

On the second issue, I have one reservation to raise. I do so conscious of the fact that it could also apply to anyone who practises infrequently, whether or not they are employed. The whole thrust of the amendment to allow employed advocates to practise is on the basis that large numbers of highly qualified, employed people are not practising in solicitors' firms or at the Bar, but have all the requisite qualifications to appear in court and should therefore not be denied the opportunity of doing so.

With the change of emphasis introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary and the removal of the word "advocate", it has become quite clear that anyone who may, at one time, have obtained the qualification required to become a barrister or solicitor and who has continued to pay their subscription will be able to appear in court--even if an interval of 30 years has elapsed since they previously did so.

It can equally be said that that problem may arise with people who purport to have practised at the Bar or to have worked for a firm of solicitors and who may not have appeared in court during that period. However, there has at least been the merit of a certain amount of self-regulation or self-criticism within the solicitors' and barristers' profession, which may tend to make it less likely that such people would appear long after their qualifications had become redundant.

The amendment has highlighted the fact that there may well be individuals who will be able, quite easily, to exercise a right of audience in future, claiming all the panoply--including whatever robes may happen to be advocated by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore)--to appear in court, when they are massively poorly qualified to do so, and in circumstances where their employer may not have any capacity to scrutinise their ability to present a case properly.

If we are to go down this road, we will have to start thinking creatively about continuous assessment for barristers and solicitors. Once we get to the point which the Parliamentary Secretary has advocated and almost welcomed, real difficulties will be seen to arise with people who have the nominal qualification, but one that is so old and unused and is being deployed on behalf of so uncritical a client that it will bring the professional qualification into disrepute.

Mr. Garnier: I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary one question. Is it the Government's intention--it may be made clear elsewhere in the Bill--to allow employed lawyers to appear in court on behalf of third parties; that is, for people other than their employer? [Interruption.]

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The Solicitor-General appears to be saying no. If that is the case, I will be satisfied. However, the language of the amendments was not as clear as it might have been, although it became marginally clearer as I listened to the Minister, However, the amendments do not deal with the point that I have addressed. If the Minister can give that simple assurance, I will be most grateful.

Mr. Vaz: I am happy to give the hon. and learned Gentleman that assurance.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on his genius in bringing up wigs in the middle of discussions on this amendment. He is incredibly frustrated because his amendments were not called, and he is trying to tempt me down the road of court dress, to which the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) also alluded. I will not go down that road. My hon. Friend and I can have many happy discussions about wigs, but there is no change at the moment.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) is trying to drive a wedge between my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and me. My hon. and learned Friend is responsible for the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Lord Chancellor will be responsible for the criminal defence service. There is no empire building. Of course an Order in Council could change the way in which Departments operate, but the Government have absolutely no plans for that and it would be daft of any Government to want to do that in the future.

11 pm

I thank the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) for his comments, although I said that I would stop thanking and congratulating him. He is very knowledgeable about these issues and I know that during his time as a member of the Bar Council he campaigned hard for these measures. In a spirit of generosity, as we have named some provisions after the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and the inquest provision is named after my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, we will name this provision after him.

Mr. Grieve rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has already made a contribution to this debate.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 35, in page 24, line 37, leave out 'or capacity'.

No. 36, in page 24, line 39, leave out 'as advocates' and insert

'or limit the circumstances in which that right may be exercised by them by requiring them to be accompanied by some other person when exercising it'.

No. 37, in page 24, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 25 and insert 'employed.'.--[Mr. Vaz.]

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Clause 46

Public notaries: abolition of scriveners' monopoly

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): I beg to move amendment No. 94, in page 27, line 36, at end insert--

'( ) No person shall take or use any name, title or description implying that he is certificated as a notary by the Incorporated Company of Scriveners of London unless he is qualified to practise as a Scrivener notary in accordance with the rules and ordinances of that Company.
( ) A person who contravenes the preceding subsection shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale'.

I immediately declare an interest as a former client of two firms of notaries which, prior to the Bill, were among those to enjoy the central London monopoly. In 1964, I employed the first in Portuguese when I was married by proxy in Brazil. A third of a century later, I employed the other in Spanish when I was a trustee of an archaeological-ecological project in the Andes in Peru. That said, the hour obliges me to speak telegraphically.

My interest in this debate is a constituency one, but in more senses than one. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), now the shadow Attorney-General, on which I richly congratulate him--if the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department does not rule me out of order--served as a harbinger of my speech when he spoke on the subject in Committee. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for having written to me on the strength of that speech.

I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members who may have been caught in the crossfire between two of my constituents, the Association of Solicitor Notaries of Greater London and the Incorporated Company of Scriveners of London, although members of the former have acknowledged to me that they have done most of the firing, some of which, including one inaccurate allegation about myself, has been mildly disobliging. The most vehement address, admittedly from someone who is not my constituent, has asked hon. Members to vote against any amendment that I might table, whatever its terms, which seems--I remark neutrally--an eccentric index of notarial professionalism.

The issue of the monopoly came up last year during consideration of the Competition Bill, provoking the Lord Chancellor's Department into accelerated consultation. I do not quarrel with the Lord Chancellor's conclusion, but I hope that he would not quarrel with my observation that the scale of the consultation was limited and that, judging by the parliamentary answer given by the then Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department on 2 March, those who were consulted did not include the users of notarial services in my constituency. It was because the consultation was slenderish that I tabled the amendment.

The amendment draws attention to the specialist role of the scrivener notaries, who have long had an interface with continental law; so much so that the society was admitted to the International Union of Latin Notaries at a ceremony in Buenos Aires last September--the first body in the world from a common law jurisdiction to be admitted to the union, which represents something of a triumph for the United Kingdom. The company sets similar admission requirements to those of its European counterparts.

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Like many livery companies, the Worshipful Company of Scriveners has been the guardian of the art and mystery of its calling and has played a notable part in education in the profession. The faculty office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, discharging a responsibility in the profession that goes back to legislation in the reign of Henry VIII--an era that coincided with the alternative reign ofCardinal Wolsey--has made much use of the society in the devising, preparation and marking of notarial examinations. It is an irony that in that regard the society may have worked itself out of a job, because examining is passing into other hands and clause 46 will likewise remove it from the role of regulation in my constituency and more widely in central London.

The society's professional expertise has been recognised by the Lord Chancellor's Department which has expressed the view that, if its members have a professional edge, they will be able to demonstrate it in the marketplace. Branding is a reasonable challenge to the society, including perhaps the development of a kite mark, but the world outside--including Europe--has for centuries associated notarial activity in the City of London with the scrivener role, and it is therefore important that the definition and significance of that role can be protected against anyone seeking to arrogate to themselves the renown of scriveners by borrowing the name without justification or, in particular, membership of the company; if not, continental clients may cease to turn to London for those skills.

I said that I did not argue with the Lord Chancellor's conclusion. Ironically, the competition that he is ushering into central London in this regard may be matched by competition provided by the society's member firms outside central London, the society having hitherto felt that its role as a regulator in central London precluded it from competing outside. All would thus be winners, including clients of the various firms.

I hope that the Solicitor-General will indicate that he understands that the strength of the City of London is its multi-layered resource of skills and that that cannot be preserved if, in promoting competition through an afterthought to the Bill--as I am sure he will acknowledge--one risks tarnishing the family silver by removing the reasonable, traditional and honourable hallmarks of quality. The provision in amendment No. 94 should be welcomed as a protection for users. It in no way impedes the legitimate provision of notarial services at any level or description in the City or elsewhere.

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