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Legal Services: Regulatory Reform

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): On 15 December 2004, I informed the House that the Government welcomed Sir David Clementi's report on the regulation of legal services in England and Wales and broadly accepted his main recommendations.
 
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Today I am pleased to be placing in the Libraries of both Houses a White Paper setting out the Government's proposals for the regulatory reform of legal services in England and Wales. Our proposals are consumer focused and are the result of discussion with key stakeholders, and in particular consumer groups. I am especially grateful to representatives of Citizens Advice, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Consumer Council, and Which? that comprise the consumer advisory panel which I established in March to advise the department in developing our proposals for reform.

The Government are committed to putting in place a regulatory framework that puts the interests of the consumer first—a framework that will encourage more competition, innovation and transparency in the provision of legal services, but also one which will safeguard the independence and reputation of the legal professions.

The White Paper sets out the detail of our proposals. These include a legal services board, an office for legal complaints and the facilitation of alternative business structures for the delivery of legal services. It also provides for all partners in the regulatory framework to have statutory objectives and principles.

We will remove the existing "maze" of oversight regulators by establishing a single, independent and powerful oversight regulator, the legal services board. The board will authorise new front line regulators provided they meet its regulatory standards, including a requirement for the separation of their regulatory and representative functions.

Appointments to the legal services board will be made on merit by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. Non-lawyers will be in the majority.

The legal services board will be required to establish and maintain a consumer panel to ensure that consumers' views are heard. Appointments to the panel will be on merit, and in accordance with the rules of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

We will also build consumer confidence in the handling of complaints about lawyers by creating a new and independent office for legal complaints. This office will provide a single point of entry for all consumer complaints. It will be chaired by a non-lawyer, with non-lawyers in the majority. The office will provide quick and fair redress to consumers in all circumstances. It will be independent in the handling of complaints and will ensure a consistency of approach. The office will also refer any potential issues of misconduct to the front line regulator concerned for disciplinary action, monitoring the decisions made.

The Government also propose the facilitation of alternative business structures that may be used to deliver legal and certain other services. These new structures will enable different kinds of lawyers, and lawyers and non-lawyers, to work together on an equal footing. They will permit external investment. Through access to low cost capital and new skills these
 
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reforms will foster greater competition and innovation and enable providers better to respond to the demands of consumers. In this new environment consumer protection will be paramount and our proposals provide a range of important safeguards that will ensure the interests of the consumer are properly protected.

This White Paper confirms the Government's intention to put consumers at the heart of the delivery of legal services. In the months to come we will continue to work closely with consumers, the legal professions and other stakeholders to ensure that this becomes a reality.

Military Low-flying Aircraft

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Don Touhig) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In October 2004 the inquest was held into the tragic death of Mrs Heather Bell, who died in June 2003 when she was thrown from her horse which had been startled by a low-flying Chinook helicopter. Following the inquest, the coroner wrote to the Ministry of Defence in November 2004 under Rule 43 of the coroners' rules, with recommendations of actions to be taken to reduce the possibility of such an accident happening again. On receipt of the letter a comprehensive review was begun into the conduct of low-flying training in helicopters.

The conclusions of the review were published in a report on 14 September 2005. While it has not been possible to accept all of the recommendations, the Ministry of Defence has responded positively and constructively. Consequently, major changes have been introduced in the way in which low-flying training by military helicopters is administered which will improve the information available to the public about this essential training activity through the MoD freephone advisory service. In addition, the Ministry of Defence has launched a joint safety campaign with the British Horse Society offering practical advice to horse riders.

I have placed the report of the review in the Library of the House.

Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements: Annual Reports

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the publication of the fourth annual Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) reports. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the House Libraries.
 
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The MAPPA arrangements, lead by probation, police and the prison services are making a positive contribution to improving the safety of communities across England and Wales. By establishing these arrangements to assess and manage the risk posed by sexual and violent offenders these agencies are helping to ensure that fewer people are re-victimised. Violence and sexual abuse are unacceptable wherever they occur and it is evident through these reports that such offenders are identified and better managed than ever before.

Although the number of offenders within the MAPPA remit continues to increase, we are addressing these additional demands and strengthening the local partnership and active risk management between other social care agencies including health, social services and housing.

In the 12 months covered by the report every area has recruited or is recruiting two lay people, appointed by the Secretary of State, to assist the MAPPA process and to improve public communication. This is vital in informing communities about these arrangements and will enhance public confidence in the actions agencies are taking.

Poverty and Social Exclusion

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (David Blunkett) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I have published Opportunity for all—Seventh Annual Report 2005 (Cm 6673). The report sets out our strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion, and reports on the indicators used to monitor progress. The report has been placed in the Library.
 
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We are committed to achieving a fairer, more inclusive society where nobody is held back by disadvantage or lack of opportunity. I am pleased to report significant and sustained progress has been made on a range of our indicators. Forty-one of our 60 indicators now show an improving trend, compared with 35 last year. On some other indicators the data is not sufficiently robust to be able to determine trends.

Overall there are now 2 million fewer children and 2 million fewer pensioners living in absolute poverty since 1997, and there are 2.3 million more people in work, with unemployment the lowest for 30 years. And those in deprived communities have seen improvements in employment, education and housing.

In this year's Opportunity for All, there are two new chapters; one on women and one on Europe.

The women's chapter highlights the improvements we have made in areas such as increased employment and flexible working, and increased maternity leave and child care provision, whilst setting out our current cross-governmental programme of action to address issues which directly affect and disadvantage women.

The European chapter focuses on the challenges we face from rapid social and economic change. Reforming the social dimension is essential if we are to deliver our shared goals of social justice and inclusion in this expanded global market.

Undoubtedly there is more to do. Poverty and social exclusion are deep-rooted problems that have built up over many years.

Tackling the root causes of poverty, as well as ameliorating it, takes time as well as commitment and investment. It also requires a partnership across all sectors of society which recognises that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. However, this report shows that we are now starting to see real signs of equally deep-rooted and lasting change that will help individuals and communities take control of their lives and break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation.
 
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