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Written Constitution

24. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent representations he has received on the establishment of a written constitution for the United Kingdom. [207409]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): I have received occasional representations on the establishment of a written constitution from some hon. Members in the course of parliamentary questions and debate. However, my officials have no record of any correspondence from the public on the matter since September.

David Taylor: The current British constitution is an amalgam of documents such as Magna Carta, Acts of Parliament, case law and convention. It provides little protection for the rights of citizens, and none for the legacy of Governments. Does my hon. Friend agree that in the face of the Conservative commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 on that far-off day when a Conservative Government are returned to office, all such future reforms must be entrenched in the British constitution so that changes can occur only through special measures such as super-majorities in this place or referendums in the country?

Mr. Leslie: It is not the case that most of our constitution is unwritten. Large parts of it are enshrined in statute law, including the human rights legislation to which my hon. Friend referred and the distribution of powers relating to the devolved Administrations. This is not just a question of the codification of a constitution; it is more about any reforms to it that are proposed. We have a series of reforms for improving the separation of powers between the legislature, the Executive and the judiciary, and they will be put before the House shortly.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): If a written constitution were put in place, would the Minister's boss, the Lord Chancellor, who advocates constitutional change in the other place, still be required to qualify for his job by being either a friend or a former flatmate of the Prime Minister?

Mr. Leslie: I wonder whether that was a slightly facetious question. I suspect that it was, and I shall therefore not dignify it with a substantive answer.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): The Queen once said that she found the British constitution a bit of a puzzle. Would it not help to clear up that puzzle if we began to write a lot of it down? As my hon. Friend the Minister said, this Government have done a lot more writing down of provisions on matters such as human rights and freedom of information. Although it might not have made much sense a long time ago to try to codify the constitution, surely we have now reached a point at which some kind of codification would be sensible. Could not the Government produce a draft, so that we could see what it might propose?

Mr. Leslie: With respect to my hon. Friend, we could spend a great deal of time and effort on such a codification, but I am not convinced that it would achieve a great deal, particularly when there are so many other pressing priorities for legislative time. We need to have an eye to what our constituents want us to spend time talking about in Parliament.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Has the Minister acquainted himself with the work of the
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founding fathers in the United States, whose genius provided the Americans with a constitution that has protected them for more than two centuries from the kind of capricious changes that this Government have made to our governmental arrangements? Does the Minister agree that it would serve the British people well if we had a genius similar to that of the founding fathers to protect us from his Government?

Mr. Leslie: This Administration are doing a pretty good job of reforming and improving our constitution; in that respect, I think that we are trying our best. Just because a constitution is written and codified does not mean that it will not be amended or reformed, even in the United States. I do not therefore believe that this question rests on codification. The focus of attention should be more on how a constitution evolves and improves.

Clementi Review

25. Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): If he will make a statement on Sir David Clementi's review of the regulation of the legal profession. [207411]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): I refer my hon. and learned Friend to my earlier statement, made on Wednesday 15 December 2004.

Vera Baird: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and I appreciate that some aspects of Clementi have already been discussed today. One recommendation that he makes, which has already been made by the Office of Fair Trading, is that the traditional rules on the way in which the legal profession is organised—with barristers being unable to go into partnerships, and clients having to go to a solicitor before seeing a barrister, for example—impede the public's access to cheap, high quality legal services. Does the Minister agree that access to legal services is very important and that non-access to them represents an element of social exclusion that we cannot tolerate? Does he also agree that some of Clementi's suggestions are capable—subject to safeguards about the independence of the profession—of expanding the availability of legal services to our client group, especially to poorer people?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. and learned Friend knows that we have broadly accepted the recommendations of Sir David Clementi, but we have to look at the detail. She will also have heard the discussions that we have had on the matter this morning. It is right that we should find ways of getting outside investment into our law firms, and ways in which lawyers and non-lawyers can work together, but we have to have the right safeguards in place. We must therefore consider in detail the introduction of legal disciplinary practices by speaking to all the stakeholders involved, particularly consumer groups and members of the legal profession.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): There might be some frustration among the general public at the time scale involved in introducing the regulatory and complaints proposals through a White Paper and the statutory process. In regard to the issue raised by the
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hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) on legal disciplinary practices, has the Minister formed a view as to whether the "fit to own" suggestion by Sir David Clementi should be implemented by statute—and if so, at what sort of threshold—and whether a maximum stake should be set by law for outside interests in lawyers' practices?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman's question cuts to the heart of the issues. We have not formed a view, but we are consulting and talking to ensure that we get any such outcome right. He is right that the safeguards regarding the "fit to profit" test are at the centre of the discussion, and if we are to have outside ownership we must get the balance right. We are consulting and talking and I have a round of meetings over the next few months so that we can get into the detail.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The Law Society yet again reiterated yesterday that it does not have the power to force solicitors to repay money to their clients if that has been erroneously deducted to a third party such as a claims handler. In what time scale can we expect action to stop that scandal?

Mr. Lammy: If there are particular problems, let me hear about them so that we can deal with them. My hon. Friend knows that the whole point of asking Sir David Clementi to examine the entire issue was so that we could get the statutory footing right. If the Law Society does not have powers, the Government can deal with that.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The final report of Sir David Clementi on the regulatory framework for English and Welsh legal services has been well received by most interested parties and certainly by the official Opposition. On the report's suggestion for designing a suitable regulatory system, are the Government in favour of model A, model B or model B-plus?

Mr. Lammy: I have now said several times that we got the report in December and that it is right for us to consider and consult on it. We have indicated that we want to move towards a White Paper, but let us get on with detailed discussions with the legal profession, of which the hon. Gentleman is part.

Mental Capacity Bill

26. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the Lord Chancellor's recent discussions with the Archbishop of Cardiff on the Mental Capacity Bill. [207412]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): We have had an ongoing dialogue with the Archbishop of Cardiff and other stakeholders. The dialogue has been a success and has improved and reinforced the Bill. I undertook on Report to reinforce the Bill further, which is why we will amend it in another place so that when the best-interest determination relates to life-sustaining treatment, a
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decision maker must not be motivated by a desire to bring about a person's death, regardless of what would be in his best interests.

Mr. Chapman: Those of us who have been concerned about some aspects of what is overall a good Bill will draw some reassurance from what my hon. Friend says. Will he add to that reassurance by making it clear that the word "decision", as used in the Bill, covers omissions as well as acts?

Mr. Lammy: The reason we have continued the dialogue that we have held, especially with the Catholic Church, is to make the Bill better. We should not forget the many millions of people who will benefit from the Bill. It was because of the dialogue that we had clause 58 and were able to rule out euthanasia. It was because of the dialogue that we were able to strengthen aspects of the Bill relating to advance decisions and that we were able to establish that anyone with the motivation of bringing about death—that is at the heart of the discussion about omission—should not be able to do so.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Why does not the Minister get rid of all this jargon? Why does he not talk about conversations rather than dialogue, and why does he not ask his officials to write answers that he can read to the House that are written in the Queen's English and comprehensible to all those who listen?

Mr. Lammy: I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that the decisions are important and that serious cases regarding life-sustaining treatment go through our courts each year. Whether he likes it or not, Law Lords and judges in the Court of Appeal spend a long time discussing such issues. I am sorry that he does not understand the legal position on life-sustaining treatment, but I give absolutely no apology for making that clear to the House.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware of the concerns of disability rights groups such as the "I Decide" coalition about the Bill, and will the Government take those concerns into consideration? Their concerns are similar to those to which Baroness Chapman alluded in her excellent speech, if he has had time to read it, in the debate in the House of Lords yesterday.

Mr. Lammy: Yes, I am aware of those concerns. This is a question of getting the balance right between those in the "I Decide" coalition who want to ensure that those who lack capacity and who are disabled have rights, and those who have taken up issues in relation to life-sustaining treatment. Dialogue has taken place because of that balance, and I am sure that we will achieve a compromise with which everyone is satisfied.

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