HC Deb 10 April 1989 vol 150 cc567-9
61. Mr. Archer

To ask the Attorney-General what responses the Lord Chancellor has received to his Green Papers on the future of the legal profession.

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

At 31 March a total of 702 such responses had been received.

Mr. Archer

While thanking the Attorney-General for that informative reply, may I ask whether he has now grasped that the Green Papers have succeeded in uniting opposition from a diverse spectrum of opinion? Is he aware that some of us are troubled not because the proposals are too radical, but because it has not become apparent how Manchester school of economics principles will achieve the stated objective of making effective legal services avalable to the wider public?.

The Attorney-General

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have observed, perhaps, that in another place on Friday, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said that it was part of the purpose of the Green Papers to stimulate debate and that they had certainly succeeded in that objective. The purpose of the Government's provisonal proposals is to ensure that the public are provided with the most efficient and effective network of legal services at the most economical price.

Mr. Favell

No one should be granted immunity from change— not doctors, not nurses, not dockers and not lawyers.

On the constitutional issue raised by the Lord Chief Justice, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the Government will do all that is necessary to ensure the long-term future independence of judges, never forgetting that the Left would dearly like to bring the judiciary within the long arm of the state?

The Attorney-General

The legal profession is certainly not one which expects, requires or seeks to be immune from change.

As to the constitutional requirement of the independence of the judiciary in this country, I can give, on behalf of the Government and of the Lord Chancellor, the most categorical assurance that they hold firmly to that principle, which is absolutely central to the rule of law.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Attorney-General ensure that, whatever may be the final outcome regarding the future of legal services in this country, there will be adequate provision for the confidentiality of letters written by Law Officers about matters related to Cabinet affairs? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider that he was the fall guy in the Westland affair? Does he not feel deeply resentful and angry at the way in which he was used by No. 10?

Mr. Speaker

That has nothing to do with the main question.

The Attorney-General

Far be it from me, Mr. Speaker, to quarrel at this early state of the afternoon with your opinion.

Mr. Ashby

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept from me that the Green Papers have stimulated necessary debate and that we should be looking for changes in the legal profession only where those are necessary? In the course of seeking advice on the Green Papers, will my right hon. and learned Friend also institute inquiries into the way in which estate agents up and down the country are insisting that people go to them for legal services and for mortgages as well as for the purchase of houses? Will he consider the effect of that policy on small town solicitors throughout the country who are the backbone of legal advice?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his question with which, of course, I fully agree. It is the key to the Government's provisional proposals that they should stimulate competition, because the Government's belief in competition being very much in the interests of the ordinary citizen, in whatever area with which we are concerned, lies behind these provisional proposals. I believe that what my hon. Friend has said would form the basis of a very proper submission to the Lord Chancellor in response to the Green Papers.

Mr. Mullin

Given some of the people who have come out against the Lord Chancellor's proposals, does the Attorney-General agree that the proposals cannot be all bad?

The Attorney-General

I would welcome the opportunity— although I am surprised that one should be thought necessary— of saying that my opinion is that these proposals are not "all bad".

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that there is adequate consultation with the members of the Bar whose future careers are involved in this matter, and not give undue credence to the aged opponents of reform in the other place, who are no more representative of the Bar than the other place is of the general public?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend asks that the Lord Chancellor in particular, and the Government in general, shall not give undue credence to any particular expression of opinion. It would not be the purpose of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to be undue in any response to what is put to him.

What is required in response to the Green Papers is, as my noble Friend has so often made clear, the fullest and the most frank and uninhibited discussion possible. At the end of the period that has been set aside for consideration of the proposals the Government will consider what the next step forward should be.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is the Attorney-General aware that at the performance of The Plantagenets at the Barbican the line from Henry VI, Part 2 let's kill all the lawyers gets the largest cheer from the audience? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware just how unpopular lawyers are— perhaps even more unpopular than Members of Parliament? Therefore, will he ensure that they are brought to heel and that when we have a vote in this House it will be a free one?

The Attorney-General

I have just come back from a visit to the People's Republic of China where quite a large number of lawyers were killed not long ago. That country is now trying to recruit about half a million lawyers.

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