I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the provision of legal services after the UK leaves the EU.
I am pleased to have secured this timely Brexit debate on the provision of legal services. This is a key moment for our country’s wellbeing and direction, and the implication for the provision of legal services is significant. I introduce myself as a non-practising solicitor and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on legal and constitutional affairs, which produced a report in October that noted serious issues that merit further debate. I take this opportunity to thank the APPG’s secretariat from the Law Society for its assistance with the report.
Before I launch into Brexit issues, let me explain why the legal services sector is so important to our economy. The legal services sector is a great UK success story. The UK has the second largest legal services market in the world and the largest legal services sector in the EU. In 2017, it contributed more than £26 billion to the economy—equivalent to 1.5% of GDP—and was responsible for net trade of some £4 billion. It employs and trains over 380,000 people.
The jurisdiction of England and Wales is recognised as a global centre for legal services, particularly for international, commercial and corporate transactions, and dispute resolution and arbitration. In 2015, more than 22,000 commercial and civil disputes were resolved through arbitration, mediation and adjudication in the UK. In the commercial court, which is housed in its new, modern building, nearly 1,100 claims were issued, of which two thirds involved at least one party whose address was outside England and Wales.
Our legal services sector is a great international success story, but we have no natural right to retain that business. Indeed, over the past 10 years several jurisdictions have sought to compete with England and Wales. We keep the work because of the excellence of our professional lawyers and judges and because of foreign parties’ trust in our rule of law and our reputation for judicial efficiency and fairness.