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The noble Lord also commented on introducers under Regulation 12(5)(c). The regulations will apply in limited circumstances, as set out in Article 12 of the exemption order. We will have an opportunity for a full debate on that early in the new year. A number of introducers are exempt. Many businesses refer a small number of cases either to solicitors or claims management businesses. It would be disproportionate for such businesses to be individually authorised. However, it is important that all businesses comply with the rules of conduct. The exempt introducer status has been introduced to deal with this situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, asks why the Government do not insist on professional indemnity insurance at the outset. It was clear from responses to a consultation exercise during the summer that, although there is general support for authorised persons to have professional indemnity insurance cover, there are concerns about some businesses difficulty in obtaining cover at a reasonable cost in such a short timeframe. The Government intend to require authorised persons to have professional indemnity insurance, but want to ensure that the requirement is appropriately introduced and that there is sufficient market capacity to provide the relevant insurance. It has therefore been decided not to introduce a blanket requirement at the outset; we instead favour a phased approach. We are undertaking more detailed work on this to establish the exact nature and level of the insurance requirement, and how best it could be phased in during 2007-08.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, also asks about the citizens advice bureaux. I confirm that not-for-profit and charitable organisations providing claims advice will be exempt. Again, this will be debated in the new year with the exemption order.
The noble Lord also asks me to confirm that fees for criminal injuries and benefits claims will be prescribed. It is not intended that the regulator would prescribe or regulate fees which authorised persons may charge. However, authorised businesses will be required to operate transparently, including providing full information to consumers about the various charges and commissions paid when cases, insurance and loans are arranged in relation to consumers claims. Authorised persons must always act with honesty and integrity. This is a key principle of the conduct rules.
At the point of authorisation, the regulator will consider the applicants practice or proposed practice in relation to the provision of information about fees. There will be firm rules of conduct. If companies break these rules of conduct, the regulator will take action, which can include suspension or cancellation of authorisation.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked for confirmation of a compensation scheme in respect of solicitors. A compensation scheme is already available to persons making complaints about solicitors. This regulation is not intended to apply to solicitors, as they are regulated by the Law Society.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: I think that the Minister misunderstood my point and I am sure that it is my fault. I used the existence of the compensation scheme against solicitors as a justification for a similar scheme against people who come within the regulations. My question was whether it is intended that, in early course, a compensation fund should be established for clients of this group of professionals, just as there is a compensation scheme for clients of solicitors. I am afraid that that is what comes of reading someone elses note.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will be delighted to hear that his question is answered in the next paragraph of my speaking notes. We have a power under the Compensation Act to set up a compensation scheme for claims and regulation. However, as we made clear during the passage of the Bill, it would not be possible to set this up at the outset. The Legal Services Bill regime will ensure adequate compensation arrangements for all regulated areas.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Compensation (Specification of Benefits) Order 2006. First Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 2nd Report from the Merits Committee.(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Compensation (Regulated Claims Management Services) Order 2006. First Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 2nd Report from the Merits Committee.(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen Order 2006. 36th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee (Session 2005-06).
The noble Lord said: This order is presented under Section 29 and Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. It will enable qualified Fellows of the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen to exercise limited rights of audience and rights to conduct litigation in England and Wales in connection with legal costs matters. A second order will be laid once this order has been made, extending the Legal Services Ombudsmans jurisdiction to oversee complaints against costs draftsmen.
The Association of Law Costs Draftsmen is the professional association representing and regulating law costs draftsmen working in England and Wales. Law costs draftsmen work in a small, highly specialised field. They draw up and analyse bills relating to all aspects of legal costs included in solicitors bills for cases in all courts. These costs can include the solicitors fee, the court fees, barristers fees and expert and witness fees.
Preparation of such bills is highly specialised work and is almost always carried out by a costs draftsman rather than a solicitor. Solicitors usually prepare their own bills in only a minority of casesfor example, those straightforward cases where the costs will be paid entirely by the solicitors own client and the legal costs are relatively low. Some costs draftsmen are employed full time by solicitors. Others work in partnership, as directors or employees of law costs drafting firms, or as freelancers on a partnership or sole practitioner basis.
Depending on the circumstances of each case, the costs set out in solicitors bills, prepared by law costs draftsmen, relate to cases heard in civil, criminal or family courts and will be paid by either the solicitors client, the clients opponent or public funds. Currently, costs draftsmen must seek the judges approval to appear at costs hearings on a case by case basis. Members of the public cannot currently instruct a costs draftsman direct. Instructions must be channelled via a solicitor, who will then be responsible for the costs draftsmans conduct before the judge.
The Association of Law Costs Draftsmen seeks recognition as a body authorised to grant rights to its fellows to conduct litigation on behalf of clients in matters relating to legal costs, and to appear at legal costs hearings in all courts without having to seek the judges permission. It wants clients to be able to instruct costs draftsmen direct rather than only via a solicitor. It also wants costs draftsmen to be authorised and regulated by their own professional association in all aspects of their work as law costs draftsmen rather than being under the supervision of solicitors in respect of their conduct at court as at present.
The rights sought will allow the association to grant rights of audience and rights to conduct litigation to suitably qualified fellows in respect of the assessment of the amount of costs payable in all courts and all types of case. This includes family, civil and criminal cases in all courts. It will apply irrespective of who will ultimately pay the legal costs claimed in the solicitors bill being assessed. Admittedly, this order will lead to only a small number of law costs draftsmen being able to exercise these rightssome 500 over the next five to 10 years. But, from a competition point of view, it is important that they can do so.
Costs draftsmen will be able to act independently of solicitors in legal costs proceedings. This may simplify access to costs draftsmens services and will potentially cut costs by enabling consumers to have direct access to the expertise of costs draftsmen, rather than being obliged to instruct and pay for a solicitor as well. Consumers and costs draftsmen will also benefit from the fact that costs draftsmen will be authorised and regulated directly by their own professional body with its expert knowledge of the specialist area involved, rather than indirectly via solicitors, who are not generally experts in this area.
The Legal Services Ombudsman has been consulted and has confirmed that she is willing for her jurisdiction to be extended to cover complaints against law costs draftsmen. Because of the very small numbers involved, it is anticipated that her office will receive approximately one complaint per year.
These orders have passed through the required statutory approval procedure. In doing so, they have been considered and approved by the Legal Services Consultative Panel, the Office of Fair Trading and the senior judiciary and, as a result, have my full support. If this order is approved, it is anticipated that the Legal Services Bill will be amended to include the ALCD on the list of approved regulators. I now commend the order to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen Order 2006. 36th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee (Session 2005-06).(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
Lord Carlile of Berriew: We on the Liberal Democrat Benches regard the Association of Law Cost Draftsmen as a respected body which has brought professional discipline to an area that at one time was relatively unregulated. We recognise that law cost draftsmen, particularly those who have been through the qualification
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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2006. First Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.
The noble Lord said: These regulations make a number of minor technical but necessary changes to the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) Regulations 2004the 2004 regulations. This is as a result of the changes introduced by the Electoral Administration Act 2006. When approved, these regulations will provide for the effective combination of a parliamentary election with another election or referendum.
These regulations revoke the provisions from the 2004 regulations that applied specifically to combined elections in June 2004 as they are no longer needed. They also revoke the prescribed form H from the 2004 regulations as a new form Hthe postal voting statement to be used when there is joint issue and receipt of postal ballotswhich has now been prescribed in the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, as amended by the Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2006. They provides for three further functions to be combined when there is joint issue and receipt of postal ballots, as a result of the changes introduced by the Electoral Administration Act 2006.
The returning officer in charge of the combined functions will also have responsibility for the creation of a corresponding number list prescribed under Rule 19A of the parliamentary elections rules; the creation of a marked postal voters list and proxy postal voters list under Rule 31A; and verification of personal identifiers on postal voting statements under Rule 45(1B)(d). It makes a number of modifications to the 2004 regulations to reflect changes made to the parliamentary elections rules by the Electoral Administration Act. It amends the form of directions for guidance of voters at combined polls to provide improved clarity for voters; removes the specific reference to European parliamentary elections from the form of declaration to be made by the companion of a voter with disabilities; and replaces the reference to incapacity with a reference to disability to reflect the change of terminology introduced by the Electoral Administration Act 2006.
The Government consulted the Electoral Commission on the draft of these regulations. The commissions detailed response is available on its website. The Government have taken on board the commissions comments in developing the draft. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2006. First Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
Baroness Hanham: I have very little to say about these regulations because they implement discussions that we had during the passage of the Electoral Administration Act. However, I would like to clarify two matters. I do not think the Minister mentioned the part of the regulations that relates to the abandonment of one of the two polls. Paragraphs 27A and 27B refer to the death of a candidate, but paragraph 27 refers to the abandonment of part of a poll. I want to be clear that that is right.
I am not clear where the regulations refer to the requirement for identifiers for postal votes. If there is more than one election, people are presumably expected to have postal votes for each of them, but I not sure where these regulations make clear where and by whom those identifiersa signature and date of birthhave to be checked. Apart from that, I am happy with these regulations.
Lord Greaves: I apologise for missing much of the Ministers speech. I was caught napping by the previous business happening rather quicker than forecast. Like the noble Baroness, we do not find anything to quibble about in these regulations. They are sensible and technical and carry through decisions that have been made about personal identifiers and other matters. We are looking forward to seeing how well the new security rules work.
These regulations repeal the rules that were made for the 2004 all-postal elections. We had some long debates on them. The debates were not bitter but were argumentative, and we marched through the lobbies a few times before the Government were able to hold those all-postal elections. We now seem to be in an era when all-postal elections have been abandoned. I hope that is the case, and it is welcome that the Government are nothing like as enthusiastic as they were about them.
I wish to make one or two detailed points, the first of which is on the issue of the ballot papers in a combined election. As I understand it, those of us who will not be allowed to have one type of ballot paper at a parliamentary election but can have a paper for a local election or referendum will be dealt with by having a strange squiggle or alternative mark put down on the corresponding number list and the marked register to show that we have had one type of ballot paper and not another. There are various categories like that. However, I presume that an elector who is entitled to two or three ballot papers at an election is entitled to refuse to accept one or more
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The last time we discussed this matter, under the Representation of the People (Amendment) Regulations, the Minister told us about the system for signing in the polling station. There will be a machine to prevent people seeing the signatures of other people, which might potentially breach the secrecy of the ballot. What progress has been made in designing that apparatus and are the Government in a position to tell us how it will work? Clearly, the people involved in elections will need to be able to tell electors what to expect.
As far as the return of postal votes is concernedthe regulations cover the situation in a combined electionthere will be sample security checks of at least 20 per cent of them. Will that include checks being done throughout the period in which votes are coming back, or will a returning officer be able to fulfil their 20 per cent quota by, for example, taking the first 20 per cent that come in and not taking the late ones? There might well be problems of delaying the count if there are lots of late postal votes. Some people might see an opportunity there for getting round the regulations and getting round the security and not having particular postal votes checked by putting them all in late at the last minute. Will that be possible?
Finally, one thing I picked up from reading the regulations is that where there are pilots for electronic counts, the voters will be asked not to fold their ballot paper. Normally if you go to a polling station, you are asked to fold the ballot paper in two, so that when you put it into the box no one can see the top side of it and therefore they cannot see how you have voted. If you do not fold it, how do you get it into the ballot box without people being able to see how you voted? There seems to be a problem with secrecy there. With those detailed questions, I am happy to support the regulations.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I am grateful to the two noble Lords for their comments on the regulations. I will answer the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, first. She asked about what happens in the event of the abandonment of a poll. Where the poll at a parliamentary election is abandoned due to the death of a candidate, the regulations provide that the pollat an election that is combined with that election; for example, a local government electionwill continue. Secondly, do people have to have identifiers for both elections, and where and by whom are they checked? On the issue of receipt of postal ballots at a parliamentary election that is combined with another election, the returning officer for the parliamentary election will be responsible for checking identifiers. The noble Baroness asked about the marked postal voters list. The postal voters list will be marked when the postal voting statement has been received. The elector will be informed that it has been either received or provisionally rejected.
I have answers coming through on the detailed questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. On postal voter identifiers, the answer is yes. That is nice and short. He also asked about pilots for electronic counts and voters being asked not to fold the ballot paper. That provision will be in a pilot order that is accurate, and an e-count result can be achieved. I think that the noble Lord asked a few more questions, and I will write to him if that is all right.
Lord Greaves: The Minister has been good enough to answer about folding the ballot paper. I understand the reason for that, which I assume is to make it easier for it to be counted electronically. The point I made is that, as I understand it, they will not be voting electronically, they will be voting in the normal way on a piece of paper, and those pieces of paper will then be counted electronically. If you do not fold your ballot paper, someone on one side or other of the person putting it in the ballot box will be able to see how you have voted. How will that be prevented?
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I am advised that the ballot papers will be placed face down unfolded in a ballot box designed for e-count. However, I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that his question has nothing to do with this order. We will write a full letter of explanation later.
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