General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:04 pm on 23rd November 1990.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green 12:04 pm, 23rd November 1990

I shall decline the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to enter into a discussion with him at this stage on the relationship between good farming practice and the rural environment, important though that is. I wish to take up the much narrower point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), who referred to the importance of a serious discussion of service industries at the Uruguay round.

I raise this point, which is specific and narrow, in my capacity as chairman of the Lords and Commons solicitors group. We are concerned about the issue of foreign legal consultant regimes. I start with the proposition that legal services are a critical part of international trade. Immediate access to advice on the variety of laws and the variations in laws from one country to another, and on international law, are often vital to firms that are seeking to trade in other countries.

It is important that United Kingdom solicitors should be able to provide their services outside the United Kingdom, either by regular visits or by the establishment of offices under their own professional title and names, without—this is the important consideration—having to satisfy the requirements for admission to the host state's legal profession. Indeed, it is not necessary for them to do so, because they are not concerned to have access to the activities that are properly reserved for the host state's legal profession, such as access to the courts there or to real estate transactions. They are there to advise on the laws of our country and on international law, to enable foreign countries to trade with us more readily and easily.

At the Geneva round, the prevailing view was that the professions as a whole did not require a sectoral annexe that would provide special interpretation or exemption from the framework principles. No doubt that is true for medicine, engineering and architecture, for which the laws of nature which govern the human body, or of physics or mathematics, are universal, but it is not true of man-made laws, where there is disparity and variation between one nation and another and where experts must be in place personally in order to give the necessary advice and services and to facilitate trade. That was recognised by the United States negotiators at Geneva, who proposed an annexe applying the principles that I have tried to enunciate. Probably their annexe was too wide for acceptance.

Therefore, I advance a possible solution, which is that the concept of foreign legal consultant regimes should be recognised in an annexe, with suitable definition, so that there is a peg upon which to hang subsequent negotiations on matters within the GATT framework. The central element in such a definition would be along the following lines: "'foreign legal consultant regime' means a regime under which foreign lawyers are permitted to be established in a host state to provide foreign and international legal services under their own home state title and firm name without having to satisfy the requirements for admission to the host state legal profession". I offer that to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and I urge him to raise it and to press it at the Uruguay round.