Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The House of Lords is shortly to purchase new accommodation. In lieu of completion, which is expected to take place shortly, the Treasury agreed a cash advance essential to the purchase from the Contingencies Fund on 16 March in the sum of £50,294,225. This advance was given prior to the Royal Assent to the Appropriation Act on 17 March which gives parliamentary authority for the expenditure.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The Treasury is today publishing "The UK financial services sector: Rising to the challenges and opportunities of globalisation". Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House. The document is also accessible on the Treasury website at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/.
The paper sets out how the UK financial services sector will be integral to helping the rest of the UK economy and society respond to long-term global economic changes, and presents a series of associated challenges for the sector and for policy-makers.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The Treasury has conducted a review into the costing of oral and written parliamentary questions. The revised costs, which will apply from 1 April 2005, are:
The disproportionate cost threshold (DCT) relating to answers to written parliamentary questions and the recently introduced cost limit for requests to central Government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are set at the same level£600. The FOIA cost limit is due to be reviewed later this year. In order to maintain consistency between the two limits for the time being, the DCT will remain at £600.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has made the following written ministerial statement in the other place yesterday, 21 March 2005.
"On 15 December 2004, I informed the House that I had warmly welcomed Sir David Clementi's report on the regulation of legal services in England and Wales and broadly accepted his main recommendations. Since publication of the report, I have met key stakeholders, including consumer groups, a number of times. In the course of these meetings we have built a strong consensus in support of consumer-focused reform of legal services.
I will publish a White Paper later this year. I will set out detailed proposals for a Legal Services Board. Regulatory powers will be vested in the board, and delegated by it to the professional bodies, as long as they meet the standards the board sets. The professional bodies will be required to separate their regulatory and representative functions.
The White Paper will set out the arrangements for appointing members to the Legal Services Board, and will propose a lay chair and a lay majority with appointments being made on merit, by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. The board will have a range of sanctions available. The White Paper will set these out but I expect them to include setting targets, imposing fines, issuing guidance, directing a professional body and removing one or more regulatory powers, with the board ultimately having the power to remove regulatory powers from any professional body which has failed. Taken together, these arrangements provide a robust framework that will promote consumer interests.
I accept Sir David's recommendation for an Office for Legal Complaints. This will be simpler for consumers to use and understand and will provide consistent, fair and professional handling of cases for all complainants. As with the Legal Services Board, the White Paper will set out the detailed arrangements, but I expect the office will also be led by a board with a lay chair and a lay majority.
I warmly welcome Sir David's proposals to facilitate the creation of new business structures. Non-lawyers will be able for the first time to become managers, owners or investors in legal practices. This will create an opportunity to bring in new capital and develop new ways of working that should benefit consumers. Robust safeguards will be established to protect the consumer and the profession's reputation. Many of the changes that will be outlined in the White Paper will require legislation and I intend to bring forward that legislation when parliamentary time allows. I am committed to legislating to bring the regulatory framework I have described into full effect.
I can announce today that I have set up a consumer panel to advise the Government as we take forward reforms. The panel will comprise representatives from Citizens Advice, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Consumer Council, the Welsh Consumer Council and Which?.
Going forward, I will continue to work closely with all interested parties to ensure that we establish a new framework for the regulation of legal services that protects and promotes the needs of consumers and allows the legal profession to flourish and retain its reputation as the best in the world."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): On 12 May 2003 my noble Friend Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the then Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, announced that John Halliday CB had submitted the report of his independent review of the Law Commission on 31 March 2003. She added that the Lord Chancellor had welcomed the thrust of the recommendations and asked the Ministerial Committee on the Law Commission, which is currently chaired by me, to oversee the action taken on the report.
The Ministerial Committee subsequently authorised the setting up of an interdepartmental project board to manage the implementation of the recommendations. This board has now completed its task and been dissolved.
more effective communication between the Law Commission, Government Departments and other stakeholders. As a result a vision and guidance' document, that sets out how the Law Commission and Government Departments will work together, has been published.
ensuring that the Law Commission's programmes of law reform are based on the best possible assessment of needs, priorities and resources. Consequently, the Law Commission undertook a wide consultation when preparing its ninth programme, which has been published today, 22 March 2005.
the development of more effective programme and project management at the Law Commission. As a result, the Law Commission has established a new electronic programme management system that will come into operation at the start of the ninth programme on 1 April 2005.
improving the processes for deciding on and implementing Law Commission recommendations. As a result, time limits have been set by the Ministerial Committee on the Law Commission within which Government Departments are required to respond to commission reports.
Recommendation 30, aimed at identifying special parliamentary procedures to facilitate scrutiny of Law Commission Bills, is being taken forward separately by the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
The vision and guidance and the paper setting out the quinquennial review recommendations and how the Government have responded to them have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will shortly be available on the website of the Department for Constitutional Affairs at: www.dca.gov.uk
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