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The Law Society, in its briefing to me—and, no doubt, to other noble Lords—has admitted that its own schemes have been deficient. It does not pretend that its history is as good as the Bar’s in handling complaints. This amendment—or something like it, if I may put it that way to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland—is surely desirable to modify the Government’s approach, to allow some flexibility which the history of complaints against the legal profession surely justifies.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, the speech we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, came as music to my ears; his arguments were extremely compelling. Uniformity does not necessarily mean that we will have a more efficient or effective scheme. The underlying concern about the basic thrust of the Government’s proposals is that they risk creating a rather bureaucratic monster which is not apt to deal any better with complaints that would previously have been handled by the Bar Council.

The issue of cost remains extremely important. It is clear that the Bar Council’s existing arrangements for handling complaints have been of great benefit to the consumer. We have not heard anything in the discussion of costs that has led us to believe that this problem will go away under the Government’s new legislation. It is time to draw a line and say firmly to the representatives of the consumer lobby, who have expressed a preference for uniformity of treatment, that this does not necessarily work to the advantage of those whom they represent.

I have found it increasingly distasteful in the course of these debates to hear opinions which almost suggest that lawyers are the enemy of consumers. That is a complete travesty of the truth. Lawyers are very often necessary to ensure that remedies are obtained. Their skills as advocates, and in some cases their selfless preparedness to investigate allegations, are worthy of commendation.

A brief from Which? which was passed to some Members of this House said:

That is simply a misrepresentation of the position of the Bar Council. Significantly, its conduct committee has 10 lay members whose decisions are subject to a lay veto, as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, stated. If that is the best argument that can be produced in favour of this inflexibility, it is a bad argument which ought to be roundly rejected by the Government.

Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, I shall speak briefly because the points have been strongly put by

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my noble friend Lord Kingsland and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I may be disappointed, but the noble Baroness may be about to stand up to tell us what good sense has been spoken. I sincerely hope so. It seems to me to be quite compelling to be able to save costs, to do justice better and to have less complexity, which would trump uniformity for the sake of uniformity every time. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give us more confidence than her recent headshake suggested.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord is very gracious in the way in which he puts forward his comments. Noble Lords have made strong arguments about the role of the Bar and I hope that they will agree that at no point in our deliberations have I indicated anything other than the highest regard for the way in which the Bar handles complaints. On the work going on with the Law Society and its regulatory body, I read out its latest report on its quality and success in handling complaints. Although I do not have the figures with me, I think that noble Lords will agree that it is being done in a better way than previously. I do not begin for one second to suggest that we are bringing it together to suggest in any way the wrapping-up of all the regulators or that they are failing, or that taking complaints away is a form of punishment. That is absolutely not the objective.

We have approached this issue from a different perspective. We know that there is an issue of public confidence. It may be more perception than reality in the context of the Bar. I did not know how the Bar handled its complaints procedure until I was involved in this job. It is not really surprising if the public do not know about the way in which the Bar handles complaints. None the less, whether it is right or wrong, there is an issue about perception in public confidence and the way in which complaints generally are handled.

Inevitably, there is an inconsistency in the way that the various complaint-handling arrangements work. Among some people who wish to bring forward complaints, there is some confusion about where to take them. That is probably particularly important where, for example, a solicitor may have instructed a barrister and the consumer has to try to determine where the fault lies and to whom to complain. Noble Lords may not like it, but there is an issue about independence—real or perceived—of complaints about lawyers being handled by their own professional bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, read out part of a letter, which I think that noble Lords have received. The letter is addressed to me, dated 4 May, from the National Consumer Council, Citizens Advice and Which?. The noble Lord may argue that they do not necessarily represent appropriately the people whom they seek to, but they are the most prestigious bodies we have for consumer affairs. Therefore, noble Lords would expect me to take note of what they said. As the noble Lord said, the letter states:

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It continues:

That may be inaccurate in the context of the Bar, but that is what they say. They go on:

Noble Lords will have seen the letter. I shall make sure there is a copy in the Library of your Lordships’ House.

As I have said, because we are also introducing alternative business structures, there will be opportunities for solicitors and barristers to work together in other ways. As the letter points out, this will add to the potential confusion for those who seek to complain. We believe it is more sensible in creating a new system to have one body that handles complaints about all legal professionals. That is clearer and more consistent; the system is straightforward, people know where to go and it can be dealt with properly. The most clear and consistent message since Sir David Clementi’s report, and before that, is to make sure that we deal with any perceived or real loss of confidence in the way that legal professional bodies have dealt with consumer complaints about their members.

I have had the privilege of talking to the Bar Council and to Geoffrey Vos, who has passionately and straightforwardly put the concerns of the Bar. One issue has been to make sure that the expertise and experience that could be available to the Office for Legal Complaints is not lost. I have indicated to Geoffrey Vos that we have looked carefully at Schedule 15(15), because that allows the OLC to enter into arrangements with regulators to provide it with assistance as it sees fit. There is no question that the ultimate decision-making must rest with the ombudsman—it must be an independent process. Yet I would expect the OLC to be in discussion with the regulators, and to think about what expertise might be available that it could usefully use while retaining the independent system. The Bar and other regulators may well assist under the new arrangements.

The key difference between this and what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, proposed is that, in line with Sir David’s philosophy, the OLC can make the best of existing arrangements by drawing on the Bar’s or any other bodies’ expertise, rather than completely delegating the responsibility it has to the public to ensure quick and fair redress. Within that context, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, it really pains me to stand up at the Opposition Dispatch Box and once again take issue with what the noble Baroness says, especially as she has spoken in such measured and conciliatory tones. Yet she must know by now, having

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had these exchanges not only at Second Reading but also in Committee, that what she has said simply will not wash.

I find it difficult to understand how the noble Baroness can in one breath say that she absolutely accepts everything that has been said about the high quality of the Bar Standards Board and the way the Bar deals with complaints, and yet, in another breath, say that, even if in reality these standards are high, the public have doubts—that there is a public perception that somehow these standards, which she knows are met, are not being met. Where does this perception come from? What evidence does the noble Baroness have that there is a public perception that, despite all the evidence, the Bar Standards Board falls below requirements that have been tested over a long period? There is no such perception.

Then the noble Baroness says that there is concern that it is lawyers judging lawyers. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, had the complete answer to that: there are 10 lay members on the Bar Standards Board. The ultimate say on whether a Bar Standards Board decision stands is made by a lay person.

Why does the noble Baroness think that the Legal Services Board has nothing to do with the law? There will be lawyers on the board. Further, why is she so convinced that the Legal Services Board is independent, whereas the Bar Standards Board is not? Did not your Lordships pass an amendment requiring the Lord Chancellor to have concurrent advice from the Lord Chief Justice precisely because the House does not believe that, as presently structured under this Bill, the Legal Services Board is independent?

I know how hard the noble Baroness has striven to resolve this particular problem in the Bill; but I have to say to her, most disappointingly, that I cannot accept her arguments as a satisfactory substitute for these amendments, and therefore again I wish to test the opinion of the House.

4.50 pm

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 383) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 185; Not-Contents, 135.

Division No. 2


Addington, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alliance, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Arran, E.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Barker, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Biffen, L.
Blackwell, L.
Bledisloe, V.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.
Borrie, L.
Bowness, L.
Bradshaw, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Butler-Sloss, B.
Byford, B.
Cameron of Dillington, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Cathcart, E.
Cavendish of Furness, L.
Chadlington, L.
Chidgey, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.

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Craigavon, V.
Crickhowell, L.
De Mauley, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dear, L.
Denham, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dykes, L.
Eccles, V.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Elles, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Feldman, L.
Fellowes, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
Fowler, L.
Freeman, L.
Garden, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Glasgow, E.
Glentoran, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goodlad, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Hamilton of Epsom, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hanham, B.
Hanningfield, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Haskins, L.
Henley, L.
Higgins, L.
Hooper, B.
Howard of Rising, L.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Inglewood, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Kalms, L.
Kimball, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lewis of Newnham, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lloyd of Berwick, L.
Lucas, L.
Luke, L. [Teller]
Lyell of Markyate, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Mar, C.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Monson, L.
Montrose, D.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Naseby, L.
Neill of Bladen, L.
Neuberger, B.
Newby, L.
Noakes, B.
Northbrook, L.
Northesk, E.
Northover, B.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Palmer, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Patel, L.
Patten, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Quinton, L.
Ramsbotham, L.
Reay, L.
Rees, L.
Rees-Mogg, L.
Rennard, L.
Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rogan, L.
Roper, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Saatchi, L.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
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.
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.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Tebbit, L.
Teverson, L.
Thatcher, B.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tonge, B.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Trenchard, V.
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.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Windlesham, L.

8 May 2007 : Column 1296


Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B. [Lord President.]
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Bach, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Billingham, B.
Bilston, L.
Blood, B.
Boothroyd, B.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Bradley, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Corston, B.
Coussins, B.
Crawley, B.
Cunningham of Felling, L.
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.
Elystan-Morgan, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Filkin, L.
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.
Henig, B.
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.
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.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Quin, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rea, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rooker, L.
Rowlands, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Sawyer, L.
Sheldon, L.
Simon, V.
Slim, V.
Snape, L.
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.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Varley, L.
Wall of New Barnet, B.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Hornsey, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

8 May 2007 : Column 1297

Elections: Scottish Parliament

5.02 pm

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“A great deal of wholly legitimate public concern has been expressed over certain aspects of last Thursday’s election. I entirely share these concerns. They focus mainly on three areas: the arrangements for the administration of postal ballots; the operation of e-counting machines; and the significant number of spoilt ballot papers.“Mr Speaker, when it became apparent in the early hours of Friday morning that difficulties were emerging, I contacted Professor Sir Neil McIntosh, the Scottish Electoral Commissioner. I expressed to him my concern that these issues be addressed as part of the statutory review of the Scottish elections that the commission is obliged to undertake, as a matter of urgency. Sir Neil was able to offer me this reassurance and this investigation is indeed now under way.“The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to report on the Scottish parliamentary elections. At the request of the Scottish Executive it will also be reporting on the local government elections. The commission is an independent body and is committed to ensuring a full and independent review of the Scottish elections. “In those areas where the commission itself has an operational involvement—for example, in its statutory duty to promote public awareness of electoral systems—the commission will ensure independent evaluation of its own work, as it has in previous statutory reports. The commission is currently finalising the scope and timescale of the review, but intends to publish a report in the summer.“A focus of public concern has been the adoption of a single ballot paper for the Scottish elections and the holding of those elections on the same day as the local government election. The poll for the Scottish Parliament elections is set in the Scotland Act. It has a predetermined cycle that Parliament at the time supported fully. I am not aware of any calls to change that. The decision to hold the local government elections on the same day was entirely a decision for Scottish Executive Ministers. It was enshrined in legislation which was fully debated and passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2001.“Without wishing to prejudice the findings of this inquiry I should like to set out to the House the sequence of recommendations, consultations and decisions that led to the adoption of a single ballot paper for both elements of the Scottish Parliament elections, which are matters for which the Government have legislative responsibility.“On 25 May 2004, my predecessor as Secretary of State, my right honourable friend the Member for Edinburgh Central, announced the creation of

8 May 2007 : Column 1298

a commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Arbuthnott to examine the implications of Scotland having four different voting systems. This commission was independent and included nominations from political parties. The commission issued a consultation paper in January 2005 and spent 12 months gathering evidence and carrying out a wide-ranging and extensive inquiry.“The Arbuthnott commission issued its report jointly to my predecessor and the Scottish First Minister on 19 January 2006. The report contained a series of recommendations and suggestions—some to the Electoral Commission concerning voter education; some to the Scottish Executive, such as a recommendation to move the date of the local government elections; and several recommendations to the Government.“My right honourable friend made it clear that it was unlikely that we would be in a position to implement those recommendations from the report which would require primary legislation in time for the 2007 Scottish elections.“However, there was one matter that could be progressed without the need for primary legislation—the suggestion that the two ballot papers for the regional list and constituency member be combined into one, with the regional list on the left-hand column, based on the example of the New Zealand paper.“In the light of the views of the Arbuthnott commission I decided to proceed with a wider public consultation in order to test whether the suggested move to a single ballot paper commanded more general support, and to explore the appropriate design of such a ballot paper.“The Scotland Office launched this consultation on 9 June 2006. In addition, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary met a range of interested parties, including representatives from disability rights groups, to explore these issues. There was a significant level of support for a single ballot paper. Of 29 respondents, the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, the Liberal party of Scotland, Enable Scotland and Capability Scotland were not in favour of a combined ballot paper. I have requested that all responses to this consultation are placed in the Library of the House.“The major political parties that expressed a view were largely in favour: Derek Barrie, chief of staff, on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, responded on 15 June:“Peter Murrell, chief executive of the Scottish National Party, responded on 16 August 2006:

8 May 2007 : Column 1299

“Lesley Quinn, the General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, responded:

No response to the consultation was received from the Scottish Conservative Party.

“Beyond the political parties, the Electoral Reform Society responded:
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