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Selborne, E.
Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Sheikh, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Shutt of Greetland, L. [Teller]
Skelmersdale, L.
Skidelsky, L.
Slim, V.
Slynn of Hadley, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Tebbit, L.
Teverson, L.
Thatcher, B.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.

8 May 2007 : Column 1285

Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tonge, B.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Trenchard, V.
Trimble, L.
Trumpington, B.
Tyler, L.
Ullswater, V.
Vallance of Tummel, L.
Verma, B.
Waddington, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wakeham, L.
Waldegrave of North Hill, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Walpole, L.
Warnock, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Windlesham, L.


Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L.
Amos, B. [Lord President.]
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Bach, L.
Barnett, L.
Billingham, B.
Bilston, L.
Blood, B.
Boothroyd, B.
Borrie, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bradley, L.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Cobbold, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Corston, B.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davidson of Glen Clova, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Drayson, L.
D'Souza, B.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Ford, B.
Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gavron, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Brookwood, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskel, L.
Haworth, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jones, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kinnock, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
McDonagh, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mitchell, L.
Moonie, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morgan of Huyton, B.
Morris of Yardley, B.
Moser, L.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Quin, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Ramsbotham, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rooker, L.
Rowlands, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Sawyer, L.
Sheldon, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Soley, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Truscott, L.

8 May 2007 : Column 1286

Tunnicliffe, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Varley, L.
Wall of New Barnet, B.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Hornsey, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.19 pm

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 355:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 356:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 131 [Delegation of an ombudsman's functions]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendments Nos. 357 to 360:

( ) the function of determining a complaint;( ) the function of deciding that a complaint should be dismissed by virtue of rules under section 130(3)(a));”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 133 [Charges payable by respondents]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendments Nos. 361 to 364:

(a) the complaint relates to activity undertaken otherwise than for reward, or(b) it appears to the OLC that the amount of a charge, unless reduced or waived, would be disproportionate having regard to the gravity or nature of the complaint, the value (if any) of the subject matter of the activity to which it relates, or the consideration payable for the services used by the complainant which consist of or include that activity, or(c) it appears to the OLC that the amount of a charge, unless reduced or waived, would cause the respondent undue hardship.

8 May 2007 : Column 1287

(a) is disproportionate having regard to the gravity or nature of the complaint, the value (if any) of the subject matter of the activity to which it relates, or the consideration payable for the services used by the complainant which consist of or include that activity, or(b) causes the respondent undue hardship.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 134 [Determination of complaints]:

[Amendments Nos. 365 and 366 not moved.]

Clause 136 [Alteration of limit]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 367:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 368 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendments Nos. 369 to 375:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 137 [Acceptance or rejection of determination]:

[Amendments Nos. 376 to 378 not moved.]

Clause 138 [Enforcement by complainant of directions under section 134]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendments Nos. 379 and 380:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 381 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 382:

8 May 2007 : Column 1288

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 383:

(a) the OLC,(b) the approved regulator concerned, and(c) such other persons as the Board considers it reasonable to consult.(a) give a copy to the OLC, the Lord Chancellor, the approved regulator concerned, and any person consulted under subsection (3)(c), and(b) publish the direction in the way it thinks fit.(a) transitional provision in relation to complaints already being dealt with under the ombudsman scheme or by an approved regulator, and(b) incidental, supplemental or consequential provision, including provision applying a provision of or made under this Part, with or without modifications, to the determination of a complaint by an approved regulator.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 383, 392 and 393 provide for the delegation of complaints handling to an approved regulator by a direction of the Legal Services Board. Where such a direction is given, the approved regulator would be empowered to award redress to the complainant, which Clause 154 currently prohibits. The Legal Services Board would have power subsequently to vary or withdraw a direction. In deciding whether to give, vary or withdraw a direction, the Legal Services Board would be bound by Clause 3 to act compatibly with the regulatory objectives and the other regulatory principles of the Bill.

Part 6 establishes the OLC, the resolution body, for those who consider that their complaints have not satisfactorily been dealt with by the in-house arrangements of the relevant legal service provider. Under the Bill, the OLC will investigate service complaints itself but will refer complaints about misconduct to an approved regulator for resolution. However, approved regulators will no longer have the power to award redress to complainants.

The Law Society, representing 116,000 solicitors, received more than 17,000 new complaints against it in 2004-05, accounting for about 86 per cent of the total costs of legal complaints handling. By contrast, the Bar Standards Board, the regulatory arm of the

8 May 2007 : Column 1289

Bar Council—the governing body for 14,000 barristers—deals with fewer than 1,000 complaints each year. The Bar Standards Board estimates that about 3 per cent of cases referred to the OLC will derive from the Bar.

As we saw in Committee, about 70 per cent of complaints against barristers involve allegations that, if true, would require both compensation for inadequate professional service and proceedings for misconduct. The approved regulator, where appropriate, should be in a position to deal with both aspects. It is both inconvenient and confusing for consumers to have to deal with two different bodies about different aspects of their complaints, especially if one body accepts the facts to which the complaint relates but the other does not. There is also likely to be duplication of work and therefore unnecessary expense. Moreover, the approved regulator has a range of powers, including powers to award redress, which are far wider than those proposed for the OLC. This enables it to ensure that the most appropriate remedy or sanction is provided through a single procedure.

By contrast, the proposed new complaints-handling system will involve decision making by salaried non-lawyers who are unlikely to be able to supply the analysis and expertise currently provided free of charge. It is one of the,

That should not be lost by the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, a former director of the Office of Fair Trading, warned us at Second Reading.

As we saw in Committee, the Bar Council has established a body of expertise and maintained a complaints-handling service that is widely acknowledged to be of an extremely high standard. As we saw in Committee, the Legal Services Ombudsman has consistently given high marks to the Bar Standards Board for the speed and quality of its complaints service. Robert Behrens, the Bar Standards Board’s independent complaints commissioner, has said that there is a strong case for the Bar Standards Board to have delegated jurisdiction over complaints about poor service.

Clause 154 creates inflexibility in complaints handling and adds massively to its costs. We have concluded that the Bill as drafted is certain to offer a poorer service to consumers at vastly greater cost—at least as far as the Bar is concerned. The Bar Standards Board, the approved regulator for the Bar, is an independent, ring-fenced, regulatory authority. It already deals with both service and conduct complaints. It already has a significant lay element, and its decisions are subject to a lay veto. This is emphatically not a case of lawyers deciding on complaints against lawyers. The independent Legal Services Ombudsman has repeatedly said that the Bar Standards Board does outstanding work.

We had hoped that the experience and expertise that barristers and lay members bring to providing a professional, cost-effective approach to complaints handling would, in the interests of consumers, be recognised in the Bill. Instead, the Government are

8 May 2007 : Column 1290

persisting with a scheme which will provide a sub-optimal service to consumers at a colossal cost to the service providers.

The Government’s proposals for amending complaints handling, and in particular the new clause inserted after Clause 154 by Amendment No. 395 and the new clauses after Clause 159 by Amendments Nos. 403 to 405, involve a voluntary scheme as an add-on to the main statutory one. However, the amendments do not address the problems that we have identified in the legislation. Nor do they answer our objections to the complete exclusion of approved regulators, with all their expertise from the ombudsman process. I beg to move.

4.30 pm

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support the amendments, but I could not do so in only a few words unless I had listened to my noble friend Lord Kingsland, who put the whole scene to the House so much better than I could ever have done. Therefore, accepting everything that my noble friend said, and his argument, I shall make a short point. This is a matter of principle. These are enabling amendments, which in no way break the structure of the Bill or the board’s control under it. If the amendments were accepted, there could be no requirement on the board to direct any approved regulator in any complaint that lies within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman, and, indeed, after consultation with the OLC, the approved regulator and any other person. This essence of consultation is highly commendable, as is the essence of partnership, to which my noble friend Lord Kingsland referred in another context. The ombudsman has approved the complaints procedure, as it stands, in relation to the Bar, but that does not mean that the procedure cannot be amended in consultation from time to time or that the directions in proposed new subsection (1) of the amendment would not be wholly justified. We are not in a static situation, and the amendment takes due account of that. It would comply wholly with the Clementi soft-touch approach. I cannot speak for any branch of the legal profession—probably not even for my own now—but surely it is right in principle that the amendment should be supported.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, for many years now, there have been independent reviews of the complaints system run in respect of solicitors and the complaints system run in respect of the Bar. Up to now, independent reviews, especially those conducted by the ombudsman, have, year in and year out, unanimously condemned the Law Society’s complaints schemes as defective, deficient and inadequate, whereas the system run by the Bar up to now has been praised as modest in charges and in price—taking advantage of the barristers’ willingness to do this kind of work free of charge—and has received a tremendous amount of praise. In the Bill as it stands, complaints about both solicitors and barristers are wrapped up together and given to a new statutory body, which will of course be quite expensive. The new system does not take into account the difference between the complaints systems of the two branches of the profession, which I have just mentioned.

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The Bar Standards Board, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, referred, has a lay chairman and other lay members, as well as lawyers and barristers. Both kinds of people are helpful to one another, as I understand it. The Bar Standards Board can hardly be regarded as simply a lawyer’s charade. The only case the Government have for wrapping up together the complaints systems for both solicitors and barristers is that it is “tidy” and, as it were, fair to both branches of the profession.

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