Legal Services Bill [HL]
Lord Hunt of Wirral (Conservative)
My Lords, Clause 8 establishes the Consumer Panel. It is vital that on the Consumer Panel, to be established and maintained by the Legal Services Board, there should be a fair degree of representation. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (4) mention a number of interests and persons. Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 are intended to ensure that representatives of corporate consumers are included on the Consumer Panel. I move Amendment No. 40—I am very grateful to my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Kingsland for their support—to ensure that regulation is targeted at the specific needs of different situations, rather than operated through a "one size fits all" approach. The regulatory arrangements in respect of the provision of services to lay persons and small businesses may well differ substantially and fundamentally from those that are appropriate for corporate consumers of legal services, where there is less likely to be an inequality of knowledge between the client and the lawyer.
To achieve its aim, the amendment would guarantee that the Consumer Panel included the full range of consumers of legal services. The prohibition elsewhere in the Bill on any authorised person being a member of the Consumer Panel would undermine efforts to ensure that corporate consumers are represented. In practice, the vast majority of corporate users of legal services instruct law firms through their in-house legal departments. The expertise and knowledge of what corporate consumers require from the law firms that they instruct rests primarily with those in-house legal teams. We in the Joint Select Committee heard evidence from sizeable sections of those in-house legal departments. One lawyer who spoke to us was in charge of an in-house legal team of 500 lawyers, who regularly purchased legal services from outside law firms.
It is therefore desirable to ensure that the prohibition on authorised persons serving as members of the Consumer Panel is not applied to representatives of corporate consumers. The amendments, particularly Amendment No. 40, are designed to bring that about. I thank the City of London Law Society for the representations that it has made. I particularly thank the group legal director of Emap, Nick Folland, who came to see me with the City of London Law Society and explained this in much greater detail. I hope that the Minister will agree to the amendment.