My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 14 January that Sir Robert Andrew will undertake a review of the Government legal services. Sir Robert will take account of our policies of privatisation and contracting-out, and will cover legal services provided to my Department.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, for once, I had no notion of the answer to my question? Could he be a bit more explicit about the Andrew terms of reference? What exactly does he mean by "take account"? What is to be the future of the parliamentary draftsmen? Whereas nobody in his right mind would begrudge the Secretary of State the services of the best counsel —heaven knows, he could have done with it in the past and might need it again—is there not a real problem for civil servants in the legal services available to the Government? What is their future?
I understand that the terms of reference are:
To consider: what legal services are needed by the Government; how those services can most effectively and economically be provided and organised, taking account of the Government's policies of privatisation and of contracting out; what changes are needed in the management of legal staff in Government service, including their recruitment, retention, training, deployment and remuneration, so as to make best use of them".
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the virtues of private sector provision. I must warn him in his enthusiasm that the private sector occasionally does not make a success of it — after all, he was privately educated.
As my right hon. Friend's Department is responsible for the legal services provided by local government, does he share my grave concern at the length of time that a number of Left-wing Labour local authorities take to reply to local search inquiries by solicitors? Is he aware that the Law Commission suggested that 10 days is a reasonable time, but that the London boroughs of Hackney, Islington, Camden and many others take up to three months to reply to simple inquiries? Is that not an affront to nurses, teachers and first-time buyers who want to buy their own homes simply and without delay? Will my right hon. Friend consider imposing sanctions or possibly privatising such services when local authorities offend the code?
I agree that it is very important to reply to searches as quickly as possible. I shall consider my hon. Friends suggestions. They could even be the subject of the contracting-out policy in the Local Government Bill I shall have a look at what my hon. Friend has suggested.