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Baroness Wilcox moved Amendment No. 232:

Page 17, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) In appointing such persons to the panel, the Lord Chancellor shall have regard to the desirability of appointing persons who have experience in, or knowledge of--
(a) the provision of legal services;
(b) the provision of advice services;
(c) civil or criminal proceedings and the working of the courts;
(d) the maintenance of professional standards among barristers or solicitors;
(e) social conditions;
(f) consumer affairs;
(g) commercial affairs; or
(h) the maintenance of professional standards in professions other than the legal profession.").

The noble Baroness said: I was greatly heartened by the very positive response from the Lord Chancellor to my amendment about the membership of the legal services commission earlier in this Committee stage of the Bill. I rise to speak to Amendment No. 232, which relates to another body established under the Bill--the legal services consultative panel. The panel will replace the Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct, known as ACLEC, which has been described in detail by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I tried to listen carefully to the noble and learned Lord, but I fear that I may repeat him at some stage. I am not sure whether I shall get everything I want or absolutely nothing, but at this stage I shall plough on in hope.

This important new body will have a key role in maintaining and developing standards in the education, training and conduct of people providing legal services. From my perspective, as one interested in consumer issues, I believe that it is important that providers of services--including legal services--should be user-focused in their work.

The Woolf reforms and the other reforms that we are debating in the Bill aim to bring about a huge cultural change in the way in which legal services are delivered. The only way that that will happen is if the education and training of those providing the services is geared more than it was in the past towards putting the needs of the client and the consumer first. Having consumer membership of this consultative panel will maximise the chances of bringing about the sweeping changes to education and training that I think we all agree will be needed.

I turn to another role of the panel: the conduct of those providing legal services. The Government know only too well the problems that have arisen in the past,

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with imprecise rules of professional conduct leaving large gaps into which the interests of clients sometimes fell. Costs information to clients is one of those gaps which has given rise to huge numbers of complaints from clients. In the White Paper Modernising Justice the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has highlighted the problems for clients caused by inaccurate estimates of costs from the lawyers at the start of the case. Indeed, the White Paper wants to rectify this. It says,

    "In future, the Government expects to see lawyers give clear and firm estimates of the likely cost of cases, so clients can make informed decisions about whether to proceed. The circumstances in which an estimate might have to be changed, and how any change would be calculated, should also be explained clearly at the outset".
Presumably the consultative panel will have to work at this particular problem.

In addressing this and other issues, it is important that the panel have a balance of interests, including those who speak with the client's voice undiluted by any competing interests.

Until now, the main providers of legal services have been solicitors and barristers. But the reforms which began two years ago have meant that advice agencies are increasingly providing legal services under contract from the Legal Aid Board, soon to become part of the legal services commission. It is equally important that the panel has input into the education, training and conduct of the advice sector, and therefore it is crucial that the advice sector's voice is also heard on the new panel.

Perhaps it might be helpful if I say a few words about the thinking behind the wording of this amendment. The provisions in Clause 29 abolish ACLEC, as set up in the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, and establish the new consultative panel. The legislation establishing ACLEC specified the types of people that should be its members. By contrast, this Bill does not specify what types of people should be on the consultative panel. Given what I have already said about the importance of consumer and adviser voices on this new panel, that is a worrying omission. My amendment aims to address this and, in so doing, expresses the concerns and fears in this area of the National Consumer Council and the National Federation of Consumer Groups.

In the two years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have learnt that when devising amendments it is often a good idea to use the wording of legislation that already exists because the precedent is already there. That thinking is followed in this amendment. It is almost identical to the provisions of subsection (5) of Section 19 of the Courts and Legal Services Act, which specifies part of ACLEC's membership. One significant difference, however, is the addition of the advice sector, for the reasons I have already mentioned. I have not been as specific as the previous Act in the membership of ACLEC. ACLEC relied heavily on academics and lawyers. My hope is that the new legislation will enable the new body to take a fresh approach by incorporating a broader range of interests.

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I do hope that the Lord Chancellor will be as generous in his response to this amendment as he was to my amendment to Clause 1 earlier in the Committee stage. I know from what he said then that he, as well as I, is keen to shift the focus of the civil justice system towards the users of the service. Accepting this amendment would be one further important step in that direction. I beg to move.

Baroness Goudie: I welcome and support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. It is important that we name the kind of people that we would like to be part of the panel. Not only should they be people with a legal background but people with an education background and those who have worked in consumer affairs. I hope that the Lord Chancellor will feel that he can accept the amendment.

Lord Kingsland: I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 233 and 235, both of which stand in my name. Amendment No. 233 is quite specific about some of the people who ought to be members of this body. I am not sure whether my noble friend Lady Wilcox would entirely agree with the specific categories of lawyers or indeed the number of lawyers that I have included in Amendment No. 233. The thinking behind the amendment is that we need a body which can match in skill and experience the membership of the legal services commission as one of the jobs of this new body will be to monitor the work of the legal services commission. The members will therefore need skills of a similar, if not an identical, kind.

I am aware that on one interpretation Amendment No. 235 might be said to contradict Amendment No. 233 because in Amendment No. 233 I have called for one practising solicitor and one practising barrister whereas in Amendment No. 235 I have called for two of each. But I also note that Amendment No. 235 suggests "not fewer than nine members" and "not more than 12 members". If it is 12 members, there would be plenty of room for two barristers and two solicitors; but if the figure is nine I accept that I shall have to be content with only one of each.

Baroness Crawley: I support Amendment No. 232 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who has in her refreshingly no nonsense way pointed out an omission which should not be allowed to stand. She has also been consistent in that this amendment is very much in the spirit of Clause 1, which now seems several years, let alone days, ago. The amendment would ensure that in the membership of the legal services consultative panel representation of consumer interests would be included and the education and training work of the panel would benefit greatly from that wide base of representation. This inclusion of user-friendly involvement would genuinely reflect the place that consumer interests have in the very heart of this Bill.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Entering the debate on Clause 29, I feel like someone attending the funeral of a rather precious relative.

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It must be remembered that one of the features of ACLEC was that it had a preponderance of lay membership. So the idea that lay people, users of the courts, have come into the contemplation of the Lord Chancellor for the first time since the noble and learned Lord came to the Woolsack is a slight misrepresentation of the position. However, history moves on. I certainly do not wish to say much more about this particular matter.

It is also true to say that there was no question of the members of ACLEC being appointed as representative of the profession. The idea was that they should be appointed after consultation. We used effectively the advertisement and the Nolan system for making the appointments. But it was found difficult, and divisions between the parties such as that mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, went right down through the lay people as well. So the persuasive powers of the two groups seemed to influence the lay people almost equally.

It was my intention that ACLEC should be able to resolve some of those difficult issues. It may well be that the new panel will be able to do what ACLEC has failed to do. However, the future alone will determine that.

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