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Lord Renton: It is always with the greatest possible reluctance that I ever hold myself out to disagreeing with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. However, on this occasion, as on a previous occasion, I do so, although I think that he has made a good point about the desirability of using the word "or" in this subsection. But it need not be used four times. If it were to be used instead of the word "and" in line 10, the intention of the Lord Chancellor might be well fulfilled.

The Lord Chancellor: I find it difficult to muster the enthusiasm for these narrow issues that is demonstrated so often by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, was given pause on a previous occasion by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, it was not for very long!

What I think the draftsman intended was that, collectively, the persons on the commission should bring to the commission the experience defined inclusively in paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (5). However, I have listened to what the noble and learned Lord has said. It is perfectly true that a useful member of the commission could be an individual who brought experience and knowledge of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) or (d) but not experience of all of them. Therefore, I shall give pleasure to the noble and learned Lord by inviting him to withdraw the amendment on the basis that I will invite the parliamentary draftsman to consider the virtues of "or" as against "and".

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I am naturally discouraged when I find myself opposed both by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I will withdraw the amendment. I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for offering to consider further the second point, whether the word should not be "or". It is not a question of the commission collectively, as I think he put it, having the range of qualities. What is demanded by the draftsman, as I read the subsection, is that the individual appointed should have them.

I hope I need not apologise for wishing to make the statute book more user-friendly and more accurate. However, having heard my noble and learned friend's offer, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

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Baroness Wilcox moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 2, line 11, at end insert (", and
(e) consumer affairs").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment relates to the membership of the new legal services commission. Subsection (5) of Clause 1 specifies the type of people that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will appoint. It carefully specifies people with experience of the provision of legal services, people with experience of the work of the courts, people with experience of social conditions and people with experience of management. My amendment would add to that list those with knowledge and experience of consumer affairs.

Over the past few years--indeed I realise now that it is eight years since 1991 when I became chairman of the National Consumer Council and first started to work on access to justice, a piece of work which seems to have grown and grown--I have been fortunate enough to see a number of initiatives in the civil justice system which have made it far more focused on the needs of the end user or consumer. For example, the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, as set up by the Civil Procedure Act 1997, includes a representative with knowledge and experience of consumer affairs. That is the committee which makes the rules for the way in which our civil courts operate. Since consumers have been involved in devising the rules of the court, they have been transformed beyond recognition. They are much more user friendly, they are written in plain English and have a much more logical format.

The noble and learned Lord the Chancellor himself may remember that when he was in opposition he and I took part in the Committee stage of the Civil Procedure Bill on 20th November 1996. He and I tabled similar amendments to the Bill specifying consumer and advice sector memberships to the Civil Procedure Rule Committee. At that time the Bill referred only to people with knowledge of the working of the courts. On that day the noble and learned Lord made a very clear case for specifying consumer and advice sectors in the wording of that legislation. Fortunately, we were successful and the Act now does make that specification with, I am sure he will agree, very favourable results.

The same principle is at stake in this Bill. It seems strange to me that in subsection (5) of Clause 1 a number of types of individual are specified but not anyone with knowledge or experience of consumer affairs. Surely a body as important as the legal services commission should include a consumer representative along with the others specified in subsection (5).

From past experience, the Lord Chancellor has clearly expressed a view that it is important that those with experience and knowledge of consumer affairs should be involved in aspects of the civil justice system. I therefore hope that he will be able to accept this amendment from me today in the same receptive spirit as his predecessor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, displayed as regards the Civil Procedure Act two years ago. I beg to move.

Lord Borrie: I rise to support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. The

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word "consumer" in relation to the client of legal services is not entirely a happy one. After all, one cannot consume legal services in the way in which one can consume an apple. However, over the years, in legislation of various kinds, for good or ill, the word "consumer" has come to mean the purchaser or end user--to use another phrase of the noble Baroness--of goods and services of all kinds. To have on the legal services commission someone who has experience in or knowledge of consumer affairs would be most helpful.

I disagreed with the noble Baroness only in her use of the phrase, "representatives of consumer organisations". We do not want "representatives" in this regard, any more than we do in relation to the Law Society or the Bar Council. If, however, that was a slip, and the noble Baroness meant that various consumer organisations such as the one of which she was a respected chairman, the National Consumer Council, or the Consumers Association were to be consulted that is fine. Perhaps I may mention another organisation that would be particularly appropriate to this part of the Bill. I refer to the citizens advice bureaux movement, the bodies that are so useful to people up and down the country in providing various forms of information, often of a legal nature and therefore approved and accredited by lawyers. It is informal oral advice, leading people to a lawyer to obtain further and better advice. Therefore, people who come from that field, as an alternative to the Consumers Association or the National Consumer Council, might well be appropriate, helpful members of the commission. The key experience that someone with knowledge of consumer affairs would bring to the commission would be a continuing concern for value for money and quality of service at a reasonable price. That would surely be of great benefit to the commission.

5 p.m.

Lord Renton: The commission will be smaller than the Legal Aid Board. We must be careful not to enlarge the description of people who can serve on the commission, to make it so thoroughly comprehensive of society that the commission will become an enormous board.

Every living person is a consumer. If we did not consume we should not go on living. I wonder whether those who represent consumer bodies are any more worthy of representation on this body than, for example, representatives of trade unions or professional bodies. I respect my noble friend, who always puts wise opinions before your Lordships. However, I have some doubt as to whether this amendment would be genuinely helpful.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: As another non-lawyer, I wish to add my voice to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, in support of this amendment addressing membership of the legal services commission. There is always a danger that those who operate the legal system and work within it, even with the best will in the world, will tend to focus on rules and procedure and lose sight of the needs of people who use the service, who may be termed purchasers or users. It is understandable that it might have undesirable and unfortunate consequences for ordinary people.

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The reforms that the Bill seeks to introduce are partly to remedy a civil justice system that does not properly meet the needs of those consumers it exists to serve. Too often, it is painfully slow, appallingly expensive and usually incomprehensible and frightening, especially to the inexperienced. To members of the legal profession the courtroom may be the equivalent of the office, but it is a place to which most ordinary people wish never to return.

The reforms that the Bill enables will be sweeping. For the lay person there are five main strands: reform of civil procedure; greater emphasis on alternatives to trial; reform of state funding for legal services; expansion of alternatives to state funding--the "no win, no fee" agreement; and the establishment of a community legal service. The job of weaving those strands together into a coherent and effective whole will fall partly on the legal services commission. The commission's role is therefore crucial to the success of the reforms.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who is one of my heroes, recently conducted a two-year review of civil justice. In it, he recognised the importance of placing the needs of ordinary people at the centre of legal reform by recommending that the Civil Procedure Rule Committee and Civil Justice Council, the two major bodies created by his review, should have designated places for consumer members. In that, he received the support of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he was in opposition.

It is equally important that the legal services commission should put the needs of ordinary people at the centre of its work. To do that it, too, needs members who will focus primarily on the needs of those using the service, particularly the inexperienced and the vulnerable.

Of course, the commission will not start with a totally clean sheet. It will inherit much received wisdom that must be challenged if the reforms are to create something new and different. It must rethink old ways of doing things. Lay members are often effective catalysts to change, because they do not bring with them the inherited baggage of the professionals. Change would be much more difficult without them.

I understand that, in government, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has already recognised the valuable contribution that consumer representatives can make to many aspects of the work in his own department, where they serve productively and happily on working groups and policy committees. It therefore seems to me that there is nothing to be lost, and everything to be gained, by accepting this amendment. I urge the Government to do so.

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