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Miners' Compensation

25. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What progress he has made since 2 December 2003 regarding lawyers' fees for former miners' claims for compensation and the role of the office for the supervision of solicitors. [147120]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): The Law Society's compliance board is urgently investigating the claims made in this House that some solicitors have inappropriately charged additional fees in compensation cases for mining-related diseases. The board is also investigating the basis on which the charges have been made. I am expecting to hear from the Law Society later this week.

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Mr. Allen: I thank the Front-Bench teams both in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and in the Department of Trade and Industry, on behalf of hon. Members of all parties, for their speedy response to the problems faced by former miners and their widows. Those people have been ripped off—to use the technical legal expression—by being charged extra fees over and above those charged by the DTI. Will the Minister also look into the claims-handling companies, which are just as involved in this malpractice? I understand that a company called Vendside has taken millions of pounds in fees from the DTI. My hon. Friend has done a great job helping former miners and their widows, and I hope that he will also look into the claims companies.

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend has been assiduous in campaigning on behalf of miners in this matter. I undertake to investigate the matters in respect of claims companies that he has raised, and to write to him about them. The Clementi review, which was set up by my Department, is looking into regulation in this sector, and there will be some proximity to claims companies. This is a serious matter, and I look forward to what the Law Society has to say later this week.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), it is true that Union of Democratic Mineworkers officials Neil Greatorex and Mick Stevens have paid themselves six-figure salaries through a subsidiary company established—with the Government's active co-operation—to process claims. Will the Minister confirm that the remit of the Law Society's office for the supervision of solicitors includes such companies, which subcontract the legal work and then charge miners and their families up to £500 for the privilege?

Mr. Lammy: Solicitors are required by their rules of conduct to agree with clients the basis for charging from the outset of a case. In the absence of a specific agreement, the Law Society would view as improper any subsequent deduction. That is why the matter, which falls clearly and squarely within the Law Society's remit, is so serious. We must wait to see the outcome of the investigations that are continuing.

David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that in the cases of many miners in my constituency, the Law Society of Scotland has decided already? They were underpaid before 1999, and then received a payment of £1,000. Because of the advice of lawyers, they are now receiving payments in excess of £10,000, £12,000 and £15,000. Will the Minister investigate to determine that the same is not happening in England and Wales?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend will be aware that we keep a close eye on what arrangements take place in Scotland. Those are different from the arrangements in England, but clearly in this case there is a perception of unfairness, and some merit in that perception.

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Asylum Seekers

26. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What steps he is taking to ensure that adequate legally aided advice and representation is available to asylum seekers. [147121]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): The Government want to ensure that legal aid is targeted properly on those genuine and complex cases that can demonstrate the need for it by passing the merits test. All asylum seekers meeting that test have access to appropriate advice and representation. The Legal Services Commission constantly monitors supply to ensure as far as possible that, as in all areas of law, sufficient quality suppliers exist to meet the needs of asylum seekers.

Dr. Harris: I thank the Minister for that question—[Hon. Members: "Answer."]—or rather, I thank him for that answer. He will be aware that I have written to him that Darby's, the last city-centre firm in Oxford, has withdrawn from publicly funded legal aid for asylum seekers. The Legal Services Commission wrote to me that

on the new arrangements—

In his letter to me, however, the Minister merely states that his proposals will improve matters. Does he recognise that they will make matters worse, and that fewer good decisions will be made because of inadequate representation for asylum seekers?

Mr. Lammy: No is the short and simple answer to that question. There were three suppliers in Oxford providing asylum and immigration advice. One of those has withdrawn, but we are presently in a bid round, and three suppliers have expressed an interest. If those three suppliers get the contracts, there will still be three suppliers in Oxford. As Oxford is not a large dispersal area, that provision is adequate.


The Leader of the House was asked—

Post-legislative Scrutiny

34. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): To ask the Leader of the House what assessment he has made of options for post-legislative scrutiny. [147108]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): Some argue that Parliament should do more to monitor the effects of legislation passed. Departmental Select Committees can do that at present if they wish, but I am open to suggestions as to how the matter can be taken forward.

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Mr. Heath : With a Government who churn out legislation, create new offences by the hundred—more than 660 before last summer—and have new Home Office Bills such as antisocial behaviour Bills, asylum and immigration Bills and criminal justice Bills queuing up for attention, we often see measures taken that are considered to be the panacea for a particular ill, but are then repealed or replaced even before they are implemented. Is not there a strong case for Parliament to take a reasoned view of what happens after Acts leave this place and how they work in practice, and to examine the consequences of what we pass for the public whom we are trying to serve?

Mr. Hain: There are two issues in that question. The first is the list of Bills to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Is he suggesting that we should not be doing something about illegal human trafficking? Is he suggesting that we should not be doing something about antisocial behaviour? Is he suggesting that we should not crack down on criminals who are evading the net of justice? The way in which he and his colleagues have sometimes voted suggests that that is indeed Liberal Democrat policy. On the wider point about procedures in the House, he has a good argument. I am sympathetic to the case for post-legislative scrutiny. It is important that the impact of the Acts that the House passes is evaluated properly. As for how that can be done, several ideas exist, some of which the Modernisation Committee canvassed a few years ago. I do not want to overload departmental Select Committees, which are the obvious vehicles for such post-legislative scrutiny. On the other hand, we need to find a way forward.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that I had the privilege of leading for my party in Committee on the Child Support Act 1991, which was introduced by Baroness Thatcher, and that everyone agreed with those principles, but that because we had not consulted battered wives or Families Need Fathers, we have had to make four or five subsequent efforts to try to get that legislation right? Such considerations apply to all parties. Does my right hon. Friend accept that if we listened to such groups earlier in the process we would avoid problems? Progress is no faster if we rush legislation through this place; it is better to have full consultation and get things right—as he may feel that we could have done on foundation hospitals and university fees.

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend has advanced a powerful argument in respect of the Child Support Agency. I remember finding, as a constituency Member, that the Act was proving a disaster within weeks of its implementation. He has also made a strong case in respect of post-legislative scrutiny, as did the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)—but the stronger case is for pre-legislative scrutiny, for which he has also been a powerful advocate. As he knows, the Government have been introducing more and more Bills that have been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, so that there is proper consultation and we get things right. Sir Humphrey does not always get things right.

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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Leader of the House is absolutely right: both pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny are very important, relevant responsibilities of the House. He is also right to stress the importance of Select Committees, especially in the context of post-legislative scrutiny. My own Procedure Committee is currently dealing with the consequences of devolution for the House. If the Leader of the House agrees with me that post-legislative scrutiny is the responsibility of Select Committees, will he ensure that they have the staff and resources that will enable them to perform that function?

Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have improved resources. His Committee and others play a valuable role, and I am grateful for the work that he does. There are a number of issues associated with the hon. Gentleman's proposition. If we gave departmental Select Committees extra responsibilities for post-legislative scrutiny on a systematic basis—of course, they sometimes do the job voluntarily—we would have to consider not just increasing resources even beyond their present level, but the size of Committees and whether Sub-Committees should be established for particular purposes. I know that the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on the Liaison Committee have strong views on that, but if a solution can be found, I am willing to look for it.

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