What progress he has made in implementing the Legal Services Act 2007, with particular reference to its provision for alternative business structures.
Copy and paste this code on your website
I am pleased to say that implementation of the Legal Services Act 2007 is progressing according to the planned timetable. Implementation of alternative business structures will be possible after the Legal Services Board is fully operational, and that is expected in 2010. However, I intend to commence provisions that will enable legal disciplinary practices as soon as the regulators have made the necessary changes to their rules.
Does the Minister agree that the changes that we are making are as significant for the provision of legal services in the future as the deregulation of the City was in the 1980s for the provision of financial services today? Can she assure the House that, this time, the regulation of those who are let loose to deliver financial services will be effective and meaningful and that, if she devises the scheme, she will consult the House so that her provision for that regulation can be scrutinised?
I agree with my hon. Friend on all points. The 2007 Act is intended to put the consumer at the heart of the legal system. It will also encourage more effective competition, innovation and transparency and safeguard the independence of the legal profession. However, as he rightly says, the regulation must be proportionate and I assure him that the House will be party to ensuring that it is done properly.
Does the Minister agree that along with the undoubted advantages of alternative business structures comes the risk that the public will perceive that they are not receiving advice as independent as the advice that they previously received from a separate set of professionals? Will she make sure that when the structures are implemented, particular attention is paid to the independence of each of those professionals under one roof, to make sure that the public not only get independent advice, but perceive that they do?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will be the case. During debates on the Legal Services Bill in this House and the other place, we made it clear that the independence of legal advice was paramount. We have set up the structures so that the legal heads and financial heads are all independently agreed and there is no outside influence on the advice given to the consumer. For me, the most important part of the 2007 Act is that the consumer is, for the first time, to be put at the heart of the system.