PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS OFFICIAL REPORT

Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT SOLICITORS (AMENDMENT)(NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1989

DRAFT LIMITATION (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1989

Thursday 6 July 1989

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Mr. David Knox, Chairman

Ashby, Mr. David (Leicestershire, North-West)

Batiste, Mr. Spencer (Elmet)

Bell, Mr. Stuart (Middlesbrough)

Flannery, Mr. Martin (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Kilfedder, Mr. James (North Down)

McNamara, Mr. Kevin (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Pawsey, Mr. James (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Pendry, Mr. Tom (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Rees, Mr. Merlyn (Morley and Leeds, South)

Roe, Mrs. Marion (Broxbourne)

Rost, Mr. Peter (Erewash)

Sayeed, Mr. Jonathan (Bristol, East)

Short, Ms. Clare (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Skeet, Sir Trevor (Bedfordshire, North)

Stewart, Mr. Ian (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)

Taylor, Mr. John M. (Solihull)

Townend, Mr. John (Bridlington)

Wood, Mr. Timothy (Stevenage)

Mr. S. A. L. Panton, Committee Clerk.

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3 Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Thursday 6 July 1989

[MR. DAVID KNOX in the Chair]

Draft Solicitors (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989

10.30 am

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ian Stewart): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Solicitors (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

The Chairman: With the agreement of the Committee, it will be convenient to consider the other order before us, namely, the draft Limitation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

Mr. Stewart: The limitation order is a consolidation measure. The purpose of the Solicitors (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 is to make various amendments to the Solicitors (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, the legislation which governs the education, training, conduct and discipline of solicitors in Northern Ireland. The 1976 order vests in the Law Society of Northern Ireland considerable powers of regulation and control of the solicitors' profession. But in the years since its enactment the Law Society has found that the powers granted by the 1976, order are, in its opinion, insufficient to enable it to regulate the conduct of the solicitors' profession in the best interests of the public and the profession. The Government concur with this and accept that some amendments of the 1976 order are necessary. There have been some similar developments in England and Wales and Scotland. The order will cover some other important matters. It will increase the role of the Lay Observer for Northern Ireland, who monitors complaints against solicitors, and it will introduce lay participation for the first time into the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and into the practice committee of the Law Society when handling complaints. These provisions of the order are intended to increase the independent element in complaints procedures, again in common with legislation in England and Wales and Scotland. The detailed provisions of the order are set out in the explanatory document which accompanied the order on consultation. I am glad to report that those who responded to that consultation welcomed the order. In particular, I wish to pay tribute to the Law Society of Northern Ireland, which not only made detailed comments throughout the preparation of the legislation but also provided the original impetus for it.

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10.32 am

Mr. Merlyn Rees: (Morley and Leeds, South): It is a great surprise to me to be here on Northern Ireland business as I prayed against a Leeds order and prepared myself to talk on Leeds matters, although, no doubt, more surprising things happen at sea. I do not wish to detain the Committee, but I want to take the opportunity of asking the Minister a few questions. He explained that the Solicitors (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 stems from weaknesses in the 1976 legislation—it is surprising that 1976 legislation has any defects, but I suppose that such things happen—and that the Law Society played a major part in that. Does it follow procedures in England and Wales? Is it on all fours, with those or does it arise because the law book of Northern Ireland, from the days when it had its own Stormont Parliament, did not slavishly follow what happened on this side of the water? Are there any material differences in the order—the provisions should be in legislation, but we all know why they are not—from what happens in England? We have seen the Green Paper on changes in the legal profession on this side of the water and there is to be a White Paper. Will the present discussions, which will lead to a White Paper and legislation, affect Northern Ireland, or will Northern Ireland have its own discussions and White Paper to achieve change, if there is to be change? On the consolidation order, the law book of Northern Ireland is different and separate for good reasons, so how will the consolidation take place? Will it be done in the appropriate department of the Northern Ireland Office, in the office of the Lord Chancellor or the Attorney-General or in Northern Ireland? It is a quirky little question but an interesting one, because perhaps one day there will be a government in Northern Ireland and we should be clear about what is happening in the interim period.

10.35 am

Mr. Stewart: I join other members of the Committee in welcoming the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). His presence, though inadvertent, is none the less welcome. Limitation is handled in the legislative counsel office in North Ireland. It takes into account parallel legislation in England and Wales and Scotland, but it is done in Northern Ireland itself. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the new order will follow exactly the changes that have been introduced in England and Wales and Scotland. There are no material differences; only some technical ones because of the different jurisdiction. The net effect is similar and follows the changes that were introduced by the Administration of Justice Act 1985 in England and Wales and the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1988, so similar changes have been made in the rest of the United Kingdom in the past three or four years. The right hon. Member asked about the implications of the Green Paper. He will know that a Northern Ireland supplement has been issued and that there is parallel consultation on that. When 5 eventual changes are introduced following that Green Paper and supplement, they are likely to identify matters that need further amendment, but we did not think that it was worth delaying sensible and useful measures to cover those. For example, if the proposals to widen the restrictions on those who can undertake conveyancing are implemented, as suggested by the Lord Chancellor, we would change the order accordingly.We would need provisions to convert the Lay Observer into someone known as the legal services ombudsman. However, such amendments are not fundamental to the general purpose of the changes so we thought it better to go ahead now and to make any necessary amendments in due course.

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Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Solicitors (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

Draft Limitation (Northern Ireland)Order 1989

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Limitation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989—[Mr. Ian Stewart.]

Committee rose at twenty-two minutes to Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Knox, Mr. David (Chairman)

Ashby, Mr.

Batiste, Mr.

Kilfedder, Mr.

Pawsey, Mr.

Rees, Mr.

Roe, Mrs.

Rost, Mr.

Sayeed, Mr.

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Stewart, Mr. Ian

Taylor, Mr. John M.

Townend, Mr. John

Wood, Mr.