Clause 4

Legal Services Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 14th June 2007.

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Standards of regulation, education and training

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 216, in clause 4, page 2, line 36, leave out ‘assist in the maintenance and development’ and insert ‘ensure the development and maintenance’.

No. 215, in clause 4, page 3, line 1, at end insert—

‘( ) In relation to subsection (1)(b), the Board must satisfy itself that appropriate standards of education and training, including training in client care, are being maintained by approved regulators and, should it not be so satisfied in respect of any particular education and training scheme or schemes, the Board must consider withdrawal of its approval of that scheme or those schemes.’.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

Good morning, Mr. Cook. Amendment No. 267 is not the most hard-hitting of amendments. It is consequential, so I shall overlook it and move on to amendment No. 215.

Clause 4 imposes a duty on the Legal Services Board to assist in the maintenance and development of standards of regulation by approved regulators of regulated persons, and in the education and training of those persons. For example, it may issue guidance on or disseminate examples of good education and training practices or principles of professional conduct that have been developed for reserved legal activity by one approved regulator to all approved regulators.

Amendment No. 215 has been tabled on a probing basis. It stresses the importance of the board’s role in education and training. As the overarching regulatory body that oversees the work of all other regulatory bodies, the board must understand the importance of its role as a supervisor and ensure that all regulators meet the necessary standards. Accordingly, it is  important that it is instructed to withdraw its approval of any education or training schemes that do not satisfy the relevant criteria.

The approval of the LSB as given to regulatory bodies should be regarded as an endorsement oftheir suitability and mean that consumers will have confidence in them. Therefore, it could be seen as necessary that such approval is given only when it is deserved, not in the case of regulatory bodies that fall short of the necessary standards.

Photo of John Mann John Mann PPS (Rt Hon Richard Caborn, Minister of State), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I welcome the thrust of amendment No. 216. It is such a good amendment that I was almost tempted to add my name to it. The words

“assist in the maintenance and development of standards”

seem to be rather weak. The Minister should contemplate using the word “ensure” because it gives a more appropriate and clearer direction to the board and also sends out a message about the role of the board to the professions. The amendment is worthy of the Minister’s thoughtful consideration over the next day or two.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

Obviously, I agree that it is part of the board’s remit to work with approved regulators to achieve high standards across the legal sector. That was the view of the Joint Committee on the Draft Legal Services Bill and we accepted its recommendation. The Bill explicitly states that intention in clause 4. However, I have a different view on the nature of that duty. Clause 4 states:

“The Board must assist in the maintenance and development of standards” in relation to the regulation and the education and training of people authorised by the regulators. I think that that gives the approved regulator the necessary freedom to tailor its standards and training regimesin a way that is appropriate to its own area of legal expertise.

Although I heard what my hon. Friend had to say, I think that it is appropriate to use the word “assist” because it is about proportionate regulation. We have discussed proportionality during the proceedings of the Bill. The same must apply in this area. If we said that the board had a duty to “ensure” the development and maintenance of those standards, it would become a more interventionist approach. I am not surethat that sits comfortably with effective oversight regulation. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Huntingdon will withdraw the amendment in the knowledge that we are attempting to agree that education and training standards are important, but that assistance is the right way forward for the board’s role in relation to the approved regulator.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I take the Minister’s point about the need for proportionate intervention. However, there is a subtle difference here. If the legal services are not performed in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, the Legal Services Board need not act because the regulatory bodies will deal with the matter. If there isa problem in respect of development and training schemes with the regulatory bodies themselves, the Legal Services Board should act in their place because  there is no supervisory body above it. Therefore, it could be said that it is the responsibility and obligation of the Legal Services Board. The board should not just assist in the maintenance and development of the education and training schemes, but at some point be able to take control. There may be a case for turning the amendment on its head, so that if the board is not satisfied it should consider withdrawing its approval for schemes.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. If the board felt that the arrangements had an adverse impact on the regulatory objectives, it could intervene and have them changed. The Bill as it presently stands responds to the very important point that he is making.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

I hear the Minister on that point of clarification. I will go away and look at it. I thank her for saying that. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.