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Amendments made: No. 104, in page 120, line 18, leave out ‘any subsequent’ and insert ‘the’.

No. 105, in page 121, line 7, after ‘conveyancer;’ insert—

‘( ) granted a certificate issued by the Institute of Legal Executives authorising the person to practise as a legal executive;

( ) a registered patent attorney, within the meaning given by section 275(1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (c. 48);

( ) a registered trade mark attorney, within the meaning of the Trade Marks Act 1994 (c. 26);’.

No. 106, in page 122, line 19, leave out from ‘member’ to end of line 20 and insert

(a) the Lord Chief Justice, and

(b) if the ordinary member is not the chairman, the chairman.’.— [Bridget Prentice.]

New Clause 6

Licensing authority

‘(1) A licensing authority may apply to the Board to determine the status of a recognised professional body if it is in any doubt as to whether that professional body meets the criteria set down in this Act.

(2) A licensing authority may determine that a body “B”, which is prima facie “low risk” under section 108(2)(b) (non-authorised managers are all members of recognised professional bodies), should not be treated as low risk if it considers the services to be offered by B are inconsistent with the “professional principles” set out in section 1(3).

(3) Any decision under subsection (2) will follow the procedural requirements set out in Schedule 11(2) and (3).’.— [Mr. Djanogly.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 65, in clause 71, page 41, line 30, after first ‘activities’, insert ‘(other than notarial activities)’.

Government amendment No. 85.

No. 156, in clause 83, page 49, line 13, at end insert—

‘(da) appropriate provisions reinforcing the independence and integrity of the legal professionals concerned,’.

Government amendment No. 86.

No. 148, in clause 108, page 59, line 21, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) The management condition is that—

(a) the number of managers of the body who are non-authorised persons is less than 25 per cent. of the total number of managers; or

(b) the managers who are non-authorised individuals who provide services directly or indirectly to clients within their own professional training, are members of one or more recognised professional bodies and do not account for more than 50 per cent. on a headcount of managers.’.

Government amendment No. 87

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No. 149, in page 59, line 23, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) The ownership condition for B satisfying the management condition set out in subsection 2(a) is that—

(a) only managers of B can hold shares or exercise voting rights or control unless they are authorised persons, and

(b) the proportion of shares in B held by persons who are non-authorised managers is less than 25 per cent., and

(c) the proportion of the voting rights in B which persons who are non-authorised managers are entitled to exercise, or control the exercise of, is than 25 per cent., and

(d) if B has a parent undertaking (“P”)—

(i) the proportion of shares in P held by persons who are non-authorised managers is less than 25 per cent., and

(ii) the proportion of the voting rights in P which non-authorised non managers are entitled to exercise, or control the exercise of, is less than 25 per cent.’.

Government amendments Nos. 88 to 92.

No. 150, in page 59, line 33, at end insert—

‘(3A) The ownership condition for B satisfying the management condition set out in subsection 2(b) is that shares and voting rights in B—

(a) are only held by authorised persons, or managers who are members of recognised professional bodies, and

(b) the percentage of shares held or proportion of voting rights exercised by non-authorised managers does not account for more than 50 per cent.’.

No. 151, in page 59, line 36, at end insert—

‘(4A) For the purposes of this section “recognised professional body” means a body (other than an approved regulator), incorporated by Royal Charter, and which makes provision for—

(a) testing the competence of those seeking admission to membership of the body as a condition for such admission; and

(b) imposing and maintaining professional and ethical standards for its members, as well as imposing sanctions for non-compliance with those standards.

“member” of a recognised professional body means a member or member firm as defined by the appropriate rules of such a body.’.

8 pm

Mr. Djanogly: In moving new clause 6, I initially note that there is no doubt that the alternative business structure regime will provide a huge set of possibilities for the future provision of legal services and those that provide them. However, in Committee concerns were raised that we were not quite there yet. On the one hand, lawyers will be able to work together almost immediately, and yet the full ABS provisions were unlikely to come into place before 2011. There was a need for a halfway house, so I fully support Government amendments that will enable early consumer benefits by providing new powers and related provisions for the Law Society to regulate bodies with low levels of non-lawyer management during a transitional period before part 5 comes into force. For instance, in-house accountants and managers could now become partners of the law firm. I am glad that the Minister took note of the views of the several bodies whose opinions I highlighted in Committee, and has understood the consumer benefits of not delaying
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the possibility of practices with limited non-lawyer managers being regulated until the full implementation of part 5.

The Law Society has expressed its views as follows:

Lord Kingsland

My party colleagues and I are extremely pleased that the Government came round on this issue, and that the hard work of many in addressing this issue has led to such a satisfactory result. I would like to express my appreciation to the Minister for conceding on this point, as I believe that this is the type of change that will help ensure that Britain maintains its position as the foremost provider of legal services in the world.

I also thank the Minister for listening to the views of the Opposition in Committee and for tabling amendment No. 85, which will take us back to the position under amendments made to the then clause 83 in the other place by my noble Friends, the Liberal Democrats and the Cross-Bench peers to ensure that licensing rules contain provisions requiring the consideration of the impact on access to justice.

The arguments set out in the other place and by my hon. Friends and myself in Committee have obviously proved compelling. I do not propose to repeat them at length, but I would just like to highlight the importance of this Government concession as it will deal with the particular risk to access to justice posed by alternative business structures. We have maintained that whilst the timetable for low-risk alternative business structures should be brought forward, access to justice should not be reduced as a consequence.

Lord Woolf expressed his concern when, in a report of earlier this year, he stated:

The Law Society was worried that despite the fact that, as they put it:

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Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend recognise that the Law Society was making the same arguments some 20 or so years ago over the ending of the conveyancing monopoly? What has happened, however? Some of the more innovative firms with flair have been able to thrive in all parts of the country. I do not suggest that there are not issues to do with legal aid—which do not affect this discussion—but does my hon. Friend not recognise that some Law Society fears have been proved wrong in the past?

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes a good point, but the Law Society welcomes the changes. However, when they are brought in, there ought also to be a concern for access to justice. A balance must be struck.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Before the hon. Gentleman is too persuaded by the argument of his colleague, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), I hope that he will continue to recognise that not only the conveyancing issue but a range of other matters—the centralisation of police court work means that duty solicitors are sought only from the main court centres, for example—are all working against small firms in rural communities who provide a range of legal services for constituents such as mine. We must make sure that it is still viable to run a solicitor’s practice in a small town.

Mr. Djanogly: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point that has been supported by both his party and mine throughout the passage of the Bill.

The Law Society concludes:

The Joint Committee on the draft Legal Services Bill under the chairmanship of Lord Hunt also highlighted the issue, stating that it was,

The Government’s welcome concession here, via amendment No. 85, will ensure that the licensing authorities consider the possible effect on access to justice and give the issue full weight when determining applications for an ABS licence. This will go some way to allaying the concerns that I set out. I wholeheartedly commend the amendment to the House, and I will not seek to move amendment No. 53, which I feel is no longer necessary in light of the Government’s change of heart.

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Amendment No. 156, which is a probing amendment following representations made to me on behalf of the United Kingdom notarial forum and the Law Society of Scotland, forms an alternative to our amendment No 65. The original desire of the UK notarial forum, which amendment No. 65 would put into effect, was to exclude notarial activities from the provisions of part 5 altogether. The Minister expressed her views on this issue in a letter to the director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland. She said that

I certainly understand the Minister’s position, and I have no doubt that the Bill’s intention is to ensure that independence is considered when dealing with ABS licences under part 5. However, the question is whether the legislation makes this sufficiently clear. The issue for the Law Society of Scotland is

Its concern is that there is no specific link between clauses 1, 90 and 176.

I hope that the Minister can see the possible gap here. Regulatory arrangements are not the same as regulatory objectives. The requirement for a licensing authority to prepare a policy statement on how it will comply with the duty to promote regulatory objectives is not the same as having a rule in place stating that it must comply with the regulatory objectives. Following the Minister’s rebuttal of the Law Society of Scotland’s argument regarding excluding notarial activities from part 5, is she prepared to compromise along the lines of amendment No. 156, which specifically states that licensing rules must provide

Such an amendment would go a long way towards allaying the concerns of the United Kingdom notarial forum, and promoting the independence and integrity of the legal system. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.

Finally, amendments Nos. 148 to 151 were suggested to us by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales on a probing basis. The intention is to ensure that the provisions applying to low-risk bodies under clause 108 are consistent with the Government’s welcome developments in the form of amendments made to schedule 16. Those amendments, which have our support, will allow for bodies with up to 25 per cent. non-lawyer ownership and management to be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority during a transitional period before part 5 comes into force. As a result of those amendments, we will have bodies with up to 25 per cent. non-lawyer ownership that can be in operation before the full implementation of the full ABS regime.

However, as the Bill now stands, when the full ABS regime is finally implemented, such bodies would not fall within the definition of a low-risk body under clause 108, unless non-lawyer ownership and management were below 10 per cent. The amendments suggest that the opportunity should be taken to align the definition of a low-risk body with the new provisions of schedule
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16. If that is not done, we risk an almost absurd situation. For example, the law currently considers bodies with up to 25 per cent. non-lawyer ownership and management suitably low risk to see them permitted very quickly following enactment. However, a few years down the line, when they are tried, tested and well established, they will suddenly be regarded as outside the low-risk regime and subject to full licensing rules.

To illustrate how bizarrely that could play out, I shall give an example. At the earliest opportunity post-enactment, a firm comprising three solicitors decides to promote its non-client-facing finance director to partnership, not to widen the services on offer but to retain his talent, which enhances the performance of the firm. On part 5 coming into force, such a firm would be subject to the full licensing regime. The firm will not fall within the low-risk category because it will be 25 per cent. owned and managed by a non-lawyer. There is no basis for suggesting that such a firm has suddenly become more risky. The only option for that firm would be to admit a further six solicitors as partners to water down their non-lawyer holding, to demote the financial director from partnership, or to subject themselves to the full licensing regime. Surely we need to develop a system in which such tried and tested bodies, with up to 25 per cent. non-lawyer managers and owners, are considered low-risk bodies for the purposes of part 5.

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