Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1994: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I regret that the time for debate on this Bill is restricted. On 3 April 1992 I made a lengthy contribution on the last Bill dealing with this subject to come before the House. My views at the time caused disquiet and anger among members of the Law Society. The leader of my party received a protest at what I said about aspects of the workings of the profession.

I was not surprised that this Bill was watered down since its publication and before it was brought to the House. I refer specifically to the proposals to open up conveyancing to solicitors employed by banks and other financial institutions. The powerful Law Society lobby in this House was very much in evidence when commitments to change were given before Second Stage of the Bill was taken. While I agree there are inbuilt dangers in allowing financial institutions to deal with conveyancing on behalf of clients, I am basically pro-consumer. The consumer should have a choice on this. I very much regret that the crocodile tears shed by the Incorporated Law Society, on behalf of consumer interests, on the erosion of this restricted practice with regard to conveyancing were heeded by the Minister as a result of pressure from his party.

The elimination of a restricted practice should be applauded, but the powerful legal lobby in Dáil Éireann brought about an anti-consumer heave.

I realise that house conveyancing is an essential part of the business of many solicitors' firms. I understand that difficulties will arise for small offices if the business is opened up but that must be balanced with the rights of the public to have a choice, and that right has been eliminated. The might of the legal lobby in this House is much in evidence in the Fianna Fáil Party.

When the last Solicitors Bill was with the Select Committee, Second Stage having been agreed in this House in April 1992, a determined effort was made to have some of its provisions substantially watered down. There was a large number of solicitors on that committee and a cross-party attempt was made to erode many of the provisions of the Bill. Members of the public and of this House must be vigilant in this matter as the provisions of this Bill, when it goes to Select Committee, may be eroded too.

The vast majority of solicitors are honest, hard working people who try to do their best for their clients. Where I differ with the profession is that it is self-regulatory, is unwilling to face up to the fact that there is mismanagement and, in a minority of cases, corruption in the profession. The self-regulatory powers should be taken from the profession and that should be done by an independent body with representation from the consumer.

Since I became a Member of this House in 1981 I encountered many problems, but where I detect the most exploitation and the most serious problems is in the legal profession. In the early eighties the Incorporated Law Society refused to face up to the problems and rejected allegations by me and by many excellent journalists who courageously raised the issues of corruption and mismanagement in the profession. People who complained to the Incorporated Law Society about problems with solicitors went through a fruitless exercise as the society denied that problems existed. When I raised this issue publicly the reaction was unprecedented. The Law Society now accepts there is a serious problem with a minority of its members, agrees that privileges have been abused and that allegations by me have, in many cases, proved correct.

The Law Society, as a trade union and a regulatory body, puts its own interests first and has done so for years. If people decided to take their problems to the courts they faced high costs and were quickly swallowed up in a jungle of a court system in trying to have their complaints dealt with.

This Bill had a long incubation. It was drafted in the Department of Justice in the early eighties and came before the House in early 1992, but because of the election in that year it was withdrawn at Select Committee stage. It has since gone through hibernation and has now resurfaced. I hope the Bill, having passed Second Stage, will be dealt with urgently.

Many of the problems in this area are so widespread that an effective group was set up to represent victims of solicitors' activities, namely, the Irish Family Farm Therapy Group, who have highlighted injustices in recent years. This group was formed as a result of the Incorporated Law Society's failure to respond to criticisms of its members and structures and its practice of dealing with complaints in an arrogant and aggressive manner. Only in recent years, because of the weight of evidence and the volume of public opinion on this issue, has the Law Society moderated its views and finally accepted that there is a problem.

I am unhappy about the continued policy of self-regulation and the basic principle underlying this Bill is that the Law Society will continue to regulate itself. Despite provisions to protect the public interest, a powerful group which controls the legal system cannot offer the public adequate safeguards. The Bill is flawed because of the retention of the self-regulation principle. The Incorporated Law Society has been half-hearted in dealing with cases of alleged misbehaviour and mismanagement by its members and people who protested to the society were informed that if they wished to take civil action against solicitors they had a right to do so. However, they were often not advised on how to proceed and they found it almost impossible to get a solicitor to act on their behalf.

In recent years the Incorporated Law Society set up a panel of solicitors to deal with complaints from the public about the behaviour of solicitors. That panel operated in theory only. The most recent evidence available shows that the panel does not work in the majority of cases. The Incorporated Law Society is aware of a recent case in Cork where a member of the public who had his case referred to a disciplinary committee of the High Court found it impossible over a period of months to get a solicitor to represent him before the committee. He ended up on the defensive when the committee warned him that unless he appeared before it at an appointed date and time the case would proceed without him. It was only after intervention by public representatives — I warned the committee that I would highlight the matter in the Dáil — that some flexibility was shown. The person eventually got a solicitor and the matter was settled before it went before the disciplinary committee. This recent example demonstrates the way in which people who use the present system are disadvantaged.

I wish to refer to unemployment and legal costs. One of the major impediments to job creation is the cost of liability insurance. The costs of employer liability, personal liability and car insurance are so high that individuals with financial resources find it more attractive to deposit money in a bank account where it will earn interest. The Government should consider the introduction of price control on the level of professional fees.

The Incorporated Law Society and bodies which represent the medical profession can come together and unilaterally decide on the level of fees for their members. This type of closed shop decision-making impacts severely on the level of insurance premia. Neither the Government nor the public has any input into the decisions on the level of these fees. We have seen many recent media articles about the level of fees paid to solicitors involved in the beef tribunal. Consideration has to be given at some stage to the level of lawyers' fees and the fees paid to doctors who attend court hearings. The closed shop decisions on the level of these fees is one of the main factors driving the level of premia through the roof. The role of the taxing master must also be examined and some effort made by the Government to introduce a degree of control on legal costs.

We all know of examples of ambulance chasing where people are encouraged at the drop of a hat to take frivolous cases against companies and local authorities and pursue them to the limit. The practice of ambulance chasing is anti-jobs, against the common good, deplorable, unpatriotic and impacts adversely on the level of awards paid by local authorities. Cork Corporation has been stung so many times by claims that it has had to open up a personal liability fund — it could not afford to retain the services of an insurance broker. Much of the annual budget of the corporation is allocated to the projected costs of civil litigation. The Minister must make an attempt to eliminate this irresponsible practice. Unfortunately the Bill does not adequately address this issue.

The Bill purports to provide greater protection for the clients of solicitors. However, the reality is that the Bill will reinforce the dominant position of solicitors. It appears that the Bill was largely drawn up by the Incorporated Law Society. This point was made very effectively by Mr. Noel Ryan on a recent radio programme. Recent newspaper articles have stated that the Incorporated Law Society and solicitors breathed a sigh of relief at this Bill, indicating that it is not as bad as they expected. This can only mean that the Bill is not as good as the ordinary citizen expected. The root and branch changes required have not been provided for in the Bill.

I will attempt to highlight the provisions which fall far short of what people expected. On sections 9(6) and 15(4)(g), I reject totally the concept of any time limit on complaints by clients against solicitors. The imposition of time limits on complaints of any nature constitutes an amnesty for rogue solicitors, whether it be in terms of bills of cost, fraud, negligence or delays. The very idea of passing into law a provision which would effectively exonerate solicitors, officers of the court, from wrongdoing purely on the basis of a time limit is so outrageous that it has to have been thought up by solicitors. If legislators allow solicitors to commit wrongdoings within a certain time frame to the detriment of clients they will be enshrining in law the right of solicitors to practise premeditated wrongdoings. The above sections ignore the position of the aggrieved client, concentrate on planning an escape route for solicitors and will put the client at risk. The relationship between a client and his solicitor is, by its very nature, an unequal one, where the client puts his trust in his solicitor and must not be taken advantage of. Legislators should do everything to ensure that the weaker party, the client, is protected.

Section 15(1) proposes the appointment of an independent adjudicator. The provisions in this section are a contradition in themselves. This section highlights the ridiculous and misdirected nature of the Bill. The provisions in this section are so bad that they can only be termed appalling. Legislators and the parliamentary draftsman have failed to see the contradictions in this section. In essence, the section proposes that the Incorporated Law Society will establish, maintain and fund the office of an adjudicator, supposedly independent, to investigate the society. How could an adjudicator appointed under these circumstances be independent? As the Incorporated Law Society will be paying the expenses of the office, the adjudicator could not possibly be independent. The Incorporated Law Society is de facto the trade union for solicitors and as such could be neither impartial nor independent in dealing with complaints against members of its profession. If, as proposed in section 15(1), the adjudicator is an employee of the Incorporated Law Society then his independence will go out the window, so to speak.

The Incorporated Law Society has repeatedly said that the number of complaints is very few, a statement which I reject. If the society's claim is true, it should not have any problems with the appointment of an ombudsman. Despite all the promises, there is no reference to an ombudsman in the Bill. Why is this the case? We can see the clear hand of the Incorporated Law Society at work in the Bill and the so-called legislators have failed to rectify this appalling situation. If the Bill is implemented in its present form it will be incestuous and amount to what I would term "angels incorporated" where the members will clip their wings within their society. The Incorporated Law Society may have managed to fool some legislators but it certainly has not fooled the ordinary citizen. The society seems to be wide awake while the Minister and his Department are fast asleep.

The Deputy should read the Bill as a whole and not merely refer to selective provisions.

I have read the Bill. I recommend the appointment of an ombudsman who is totally independent of and separate from the Incorporated Law Society and who will be able to deal directly with complaints from clients. The 1990 report of the Fair Trade Commission stated that an office of legal ombudsman should be established to deal with complaints concerning solicitors and barristers. The Department missed a golden opportunity to act on this recommendation in the Bill.

On section 16 (5) and (6), I am opposed to limitations imposed on lay members of the disciplinary tribunal. The provisions in the Bill ensure that the powers afforded to the lay members would be disproportionate to those afforded to the legal members; it would be two to one against. This means that for every one lay member there will be two who will ensure that complaints go nowhere.

Over many years I have lodged dozens of complaints with the Law Society to no avail. I found it a non-effective way of dealing with complaints but there was no other way of doing so. I do not want to deal with the society in the matter of complaints but, unfortunately, this legislation forces people like me and members of the public to continue to deal with the Law Society.

There should be an independent ombudsman which would mean that the existing system and that proposed in the Bill would be superfluous. Only the removal of self-regulation will overcome the obstacles to fair play for the public. The presence of an ombudsman would eliminate the necessity for a complaints committee, a disciplinary tribunal or any dealing with the Law Society as a complaints body. On the last occasion a similar Bill was before the House I highlighted many examples demonstrating this.

Section 29(6) deals with the capping figure of £250,000 for claims against solicitors. The suggestion of capping to £250,000, in reference to what the Law Society may have to pay out, cannot be acceptable. A report in the Sunday Business Post on 27 February 1994 stated:

The fixing of a cap of £250,000 per claim on the Law Society's compensation fund has been welcomed, as it is in line with the figure most individuals and firms in the profession would have advocated. It is seen as having two merits — it will keep down solicitor's costs and will enable the fund to be topped up following several large claims in recent years.

This is typical as it shows that the profession's main concern is its own self-interest and the state of its fund, while it confines and sets limits which are disadvantageous to the public.

These who drafted this Bill must have been asleep. To entertain the concept of capping is wrong. The aggrieved client must be allowed to recover his or her loss in full and this should be the primary concern. This Bill asks us to accept the Law Society as the complaints vehicle but, for example, what if one of the society's members absconded with £2 million of a client's money? Under the terms of this Bill the Law Society will only have to pay out £250,000. What will happen to the remaining £1,750,000? Will the solicitor be allowed to keep that money and, perhaps, entertain some of his colleagues in the Bahamas? As legislators we must realise that this use of capping encourages fraud, grand larceny and other offences. It is short-sighted and foolish and the Minister must listen to what the public is saying. The whole issue of capping must be reconsidered. I hope to make a more detailed contribution on Committee Stage but I oppose any suggestion of capping because a client, must be compensated in full for his or her loss.

I have not dealt with all my reservations about this Bill because of time constraints. People, however, must never forget that the power is vested in Members of Dáil Éireann and not in the courts, in the Minister for Justice or her officials. This House, therefore, must ensure that the interests of the public are protected in this Bill and if they are not it must be opposed. Legislators have a duty to fulfil the wishes of the people and what goes into law can become bad law. Members of the public are, at times, expected to abide by bad law.

I will conclude my contribution with the following quotation: "A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves". I reserve the remainder of my remarks for Committee Stage.

I regret that Deputy Allen, who has serious points to make on this Bill — I do not necessarily agree with all of them and I disagree fundamentally with many of them — has not been given sufficient time to make his points and contribute to the debate on this Bill. Whether one agrees with his views one should stand up for his right to say what he has to say. In a House that is empty, and where the two Government parties with an enormous majority make no contribution to this debate, it is wrong that somebody like Deputy Allen or myself is constrained by time to make short speeches on a complex Bill that is difficult to read and assimilate and to understand the various nuances of it.

In general terms I welcome this Bill because it was obviously needed. It has been in preparation for many years. A solicitor's Bill was finally published in 1991 and, as far as I recall, received its Second Reading in this House and was beginning its Committee Stage when the last Dáil fell. It is unfortunate that we had to wait until 1994 before it was reintroduced. There are no major changes in it, although there are some changes since it was introduced in 1991, and it is unfortunate that it was not published sooner because many of its provisions are badly needed. The public's right to protection has certainly been affected by the fact that there has been no legislation of this kind.

I wish to declare my interest or, perhaps more accurately, my non-interest in this matter because, of course, it will be alleged that anything I say is in the interests of solicitors. I am a solicitor, I practised full-time for approximately eight years before I was elected to this House. I practised intermittently on a part-time basis on a number of occasions since then. I have not practised for many years and if I am elected to the European Parliament next June — and every election is a very big "if"— it is unlikely that I will ever practise again. For that reason I have no vested interest in this matter one way or the other.

I have some experience, however, because as well as practising full time for some years as a solicitor I was Minister for Justice when I tried to deal with various problems, including problems that arise under this Bill. I was also Minister for Industry and Commerce for a long time when I again tried to deal with many of these problems. I have, therefore, some considerable experience in these matters and I hope that any views I express will be expressed in an objective way for the benefit of the general public and not for any particular sectional benefit or any particular sectional reason.

The solicitors branch of the legal profession has experienced severe difficulties in terms of its public perception in recent years. I would date those difficulties to the time when the numbers within the solicitors' profession began to proliferate enormously. When I qualified in 1961 there were less than 1,500 solicitors in Ireland. Today, there are approximately 5,000, an increase of almost a factor of four in a period of a little more than 30 years. Most of that increase has occurred in recent years and the Law Society is faced with a dilemma because there are more solicitors in Ireland in private practise than are needed.

Whenever the Incorporated Law Society seeks to control their numbers they appear to get into difficulty with the courts who have struck down many of the limitations imposed on the numbers entering the profession. From one point of view I welcome the lack of limitation on those entering, but at the same time we must face the reality that the numbers are so great there is no way many of them can be usefully employed.

One of the regrets I have always had — and I have expressed this view to the Incorporated Law Society on numerous occasions — is that they seem to prepare and educate their students or apprentices only on the basis that they will go into private practice. We are one of the very few countries, if not the only one, that does that. In nearly all other countries study of the law is regarded as a worthwhile end in itself, whereas here it is regarded only as worthwhile in so far as it leads to a professional qualification. That is wrong. I am an example of someone who has spent most of his life not practising law as a private practitioner but who nonetheless has benefited from a legal education. The country as a whole could benefit, as do other countries, from a far greater input by trained lawyers in areas other than private practice. In the United States, for example, less than 20 per cent of those who qualify in the law actually practice it as private practitioners either on their own or in a firm. That is the way it should be here. Many of the difficulties encountered by the Incorporated Law Society in recent years would have been avoided had we not had the huge proliferation of numbers. That proliferation has strongly influenced my thinking in regard to competition. I am all for competition and I agree with the Minister of State who was quoted recently as saying there is very strong competition within the legal profession because of their numbers.

I predict that those practitioners who will cause the Incorporated Law Society difficulties by having large claims made against them are people who will be cutting corners in every sense of the word in order to get and retain business. For that reason, I do not disagree with what the Minister of State has said in regard to sections 78 to 80, inclusive. On reflection, they were a mistake and the Minister of State was right to take them out.

Yes, "mature reflection". I do not like to remind the Minister of State of the genesis of that remark.

I should like confirmation that they are being taken out. While I heard the Minister of State make an announcement outside the House that they would be removed, on looking at the Official Report of Thursday, 10 March 1994, I note he said that their removal was being considered. I want to know whether they will be removed on Committee Stage.

I will be confirming that in my reply.

Good. On balance it is right although it is open to criticism but in present circumstances I doubt whether those provisions in sections 78 to 80 are wise.

My thinking on that is coloured by the numbers in the profession and, second, by my experience and that of others with banks. If people other than solicitors or lawyers are to be allowed to practise conveyancing and probate, the last people in the country I should like to see doing it are the banks. I have been frightened by the way the banks approach their clients, the manner in which they deal with them. My thinking is coloured by my experience when the two main banks were granted life assurance licences under the Insurance Act of 1989 or 1990. In spite of all their protestations to the contrary, the clear evidence in each case is that the banks gave huge amounts of information about clients to their insurance subsidiaries and forced their customers to take out insurance cover with those subsidiaries. There is no doubt that that happened, although the banks will go through the ritual of denying it. I dealt with it as Minister for Industry and Commerce. I fear that, since it happened in a matter like that, certainly it will happen if the banks are allowed provide legal services. The bank manager or official will make it clear to a customer of the bank that, unless he or she uses the bank's legal services, the bank will be displeased with him or her and will withdraw or reduce their facilities or otherwise inconvenience the customer. That is not good enough and the banks have only themselves to blame for it.

There is another section whose provisions prohibit any limitation or prohibition on fee advertising. Some years ago I would have greatly welcomed that, but from my experience of some of the advertising since 1988 it would be very dangerous to allow fee advertising. The Minister and the Government should think about this again before Committee Stage. Had I been asked this question three or four years ago I would have said there should be no prohibition or limitation on fee advertising. That was recommended by the Fair Trade Commission and, to the best of my knowledge, operates in some other countries. The type of advertising we have had, the ambulance-chasing type of activity Deputy Allen has just described, is so widespread and prevalent, and in my view so dangerous, that to allow it be extended further in relation to fees would be wrong and contrary to the public interest. That sort of garish advertising by a very small minority of firms, encouraging people to make claims they would not otherwise make, particularly against local authorities, arising out of contrived motoring accidents and other spurious activities of that kind, is so dangerous and costly to society as a whole that in the public interest the controls on professional or legal advertising should be greater rather than less. I have no objection whatever to a neutral type of advertising, but certainly I would object to the kind of advertising on some radio stations, for example, encouraging people to take claims they would not otherwise take. The public at large would be badly advised to avail of the services of people who engage in that type of extreme advertising. If it is like that now, what would it be if there were no restriction on fee advertising?

There are serious difficulties with the overall administration of law that go much deeper than the solicitors' profession. The reason the solicitors' profession receives so much publicity is that it is the part of the profession which has direct contact with the public. One of many artificial restrictions placed on barristers is that they cannot talk directly to the public, to their own clients; there has to be a solicitor present as an intermediary. That kind of restriction should not exist. It is one of many such restrictions.

The Law Society and solicitors generally bear the brunt of public criticism. While they do not deserve to be immune from criticism, far from it, as they have handled many of their affairs badly, including investigations into complaints, nonetheless, I know enough about it and have seen enough from the inside to know that the problem is far wider and deeper than the solicitors' profession. Some aspects were touched on the last day by Deputy Gay Mitchell when he referred to the relationship between the Judiciary and the barristers' profession. There is truth in some aspects of what Deputy Mitchell said. The Minister of State would be well advised to consider the ramifications of that situation. It was summed up in a recent judgment of Mr. Justice Kinlen in a case relating to costs. It is a tricky area and one I am loath to dwell on because any remarks you make about it tend to be misunderstood and represented as a direct attack on the Judiciary. Nonetheless, it is necessary to say that we will not put things right until a much broader approach is taken than in this Bill.

If you are trying to reform the whole legal administration here it cannot be done by simply picking out one of the three elements involved and legislating exclusively in relation to it, you also have to look at the other two. The Minister of State mentioned in his opening speech that the principal legislation relating to the profession dates from 1954. There has been legislation relating to solicitors since the 18th century and many Acts throughout the 19th century but there has never been, to the best of my knowledge, any legislation relating to barristers. It is, therefore, artificial to pick out one of the three necessary constituent elements and say you are on a zealous crusade of reform. You cannot do that unless you are prepared to take them all on. There have been numerous failings in the Law Society from time to time — not least the interview given by its director general on RTE recently — in which he said the Law Society wrote 99 per cent of this Bill although I believe that is untrue. However, whatever the failings of the Law Society, and I do not defend them, to deal with it in terms of reform is a joy compared to dealing with others.

As Minister for Justice I tried to improve legal education, which in those days was in an appalling state, and to unify professional education. I asked the representatives of the Benchers of the Kings Inns to come and see me but they refused. I continued to send requests and finally after about six months they deigned to come. Two elderly gentlemen arrived and I said my piece to them for five or ten minutes. They told me they had received their charter and motto from Queen Anne in 1703 which reads nolumus mutare. They said, in case I was not a Latin scholar, that it could be read transitively or intransitively. It meant they were unwilling to change and unwilling to be changed. As far as they were concerned I could take it either way because they would not change and would continue for the next 250 years as they continued for the last. Happily much of that has gone since 1970 when that meeting took place but there is still an extraordinary reluctance to change and reform, which is regrettable.

A time limit of 20 minutes in which to speak on a topic such as this is completely inadequate as it means one can only touch on certain aspects. It is a great pity because Deputy Allen, the Minister of State and I are the only people in the House, apart from yourself. Nobody is offering to speak. If Deputy Allen and I had been allowed develop the various points this would be a more useful debate rather than this artificial limitation of debate into tiny segments which render it quite useless.

In general terms, the Bill is welcome and is useful. There is much detail.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted 20 Members being present;

I do not know what select committee will consider this Bill but I would be interested in being a member of it. It is a pity I can only contribute briefly when there is a great deal of detail I would like to go into on the Bill. The Minister should have an open mind to any amendments to the Bill.

One change has been made which is welcome even though it may be misunderstood or misrepresented and there are others which could usefully be made. The Minister of State should bear in mind the need to look at administering the law in general rather than simply trying to reform it all through one branch which happens to be the subject of legislation for 200 years when the remainder is not subject to any legislation and see how that difficulty might be faced up to in the future.

I thank Deputy Allen for using a technical device to ensure I had an opportunity to contribute. I apologise for any inconvenience caused. I was at a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privilege. Edmund Burke said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Deputy Allen, and others, were vigilant in ensuring a momentary presence in the House of a number of Labour and Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

Why do Fianna Fáil Deputies not answer the quorum bell?

Will the Minister comment on that?

I cannot speak for my colleagues.

Darina Allen recently published a cookery book the name of which I could use but in the circumstances I would rather not be disrespectful to members of the Minister's party. I understand they had a long and difficult meeting this morning.

It was long but not difficult and certainly not as difficult as the one the Deputy had recently.

The freedom I spoke about can only be maintained if we have a strong, independent and vibrant legal profession. That is part of our democratic structure. This legislation is a response to the need for such a strong legal profession whose standards will not be called into question.

I hold a practising certificate issued by the Incorporated Law Society and have a vested interest in this legislation although it will not colour any of my comments. It is high time we had reform of our legal structures. I compliment the Minister, and his predecessors, for bringing this legislation forward. Legislation was published three years ago but never enacted. Over the years the profession instituted some elements of reform but nothing of the type required. It is difficult for any Government to engage in a programme of radical reform of a profession such as this. I disassociate myself from the comments of Deputy Mitchell who, in the course of his contribution, said the Bill was drafted by the Law Society. That was not a fair comment and not too many people would believe that to be the case. It is right that the profession should have been consulted by the Government. They are the professional body regulating the solicitors' profession.

This is complex legislation and I do not intend to deal with many of the technical aspects of it which would be more suited to a Committee Stage debate. I welcome the processing of Bills through select committees but I am not sure which committee will debate this Bill.

Legislation and Security.

I hope those of us who are not members of that committee will have an opportunity, by way of substitution or otherwise, to contribute to the deliberations.

Any Member is entitled to attend the meeting.

Much of the debate centred on discipline, the practice of solicitors and the way they earned their livelihood. It is unfortunate that in recent years a number of cases have been highlighted in the media. However, that cannot be taken as an indication that there is widespread improper practice in the profession. In any walk of life some people will be more diligent than others and it is not fair to tarnish any profession because of the actions of a small number of people.

There is a compelling argument for introducing regulations as far as fees and discipline are concerned. Many aspects of the way fees are earned have given rise to concern none more so than the practice of creaming off a percentage of an award in a personal injuries case or in any case where a claimant is successful in obtaining compensation. I am pleased the Minister has decided to regulate that area. There is a strong argument for allowing lawyers to fight cases on a no win, no fee basis. This should be accompanied by limits on the amounts solicitors can expect their clients to pay. A system along the lines of that in the US where lawyers take a large percentage of damages would be against the public interest. The 10 per cent practice is to be outlawed and that will be welcomed.

Certain costs are not covered by the scale of fees agreed by the Taxing Master or by insurance companies. An element of costs will always have to be met by the plaintiff but as long as he is aware of what he will have to pay there will be no problems. The problem arises because consumers are left in the dark. They are told they have been awarded £X,000 but what they get is £X,000 minus a considerable amount of money. That has — rightly — given rise to public concern because there was a feeling that the practice being engaged in was not above board. It is quite right that the practice should be outlawed.

It is worth considering allowing lawyers to take cases on the basis that costs will be paid only if they win, and that a proportion of the damages awarded will have to be paid in certain cases to encourage actions by clients in the lower socio-economic groups. It is a fact of life that as long as we do not have a comprehensive system of legal aid, people will be denied access to the courts. That is fundamentally unfair in a democracy. Lawyers have a duty to take on speculative actions but in current circumstances that is not always the case. Unfortunately many plaintiffs do not have redress through the courts simply because the risk is too great, that is the difficulty. We must have a system that will encourage people who cannot afford legal costs to seek redress through the courts, even when there is a risk of failure.

There has to be an incentive for consumers to shop around for the best deal. Advertising is important in encouraging the legal profession to operate in an efficient manner. People say that the legal profession is above ordinary commercial transactions, but that is old hat and a relic of bygone days. We are living in a commercial world where the accepted rules of commerce must apply.

There has to be an element of competition and consumers have to shop around to get the best possible deal when engaging in legal transactions.

It is unfortunate that many solicitors will cast aside a less viable case. It compounds the injustice the plaintiff feels is being perpetrated against him. This brings me to the question of legal aid. The Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor, recently reaffirmed the Government's commitment dating from the early 1980s to put the legal aid service on a statutory footing. The system is neither adequate nor free and I hope that when the legislation is published the Pringle report will be adhered to. The legal aid system in the United Kingdom is terribly expensive and Irish taxpayers could not foot the bill for a similar service in Ireland. We have to accept that we do not have a bottomless pit from which to resource the legal aid service.

The condition of courthouses throughout the country and the operation of the list system for cases need to be addressed but I am not sure they are within the jurisdiction of the Minister of State. Long delays in the High Court are a feature of our legal system in spite of a slight improvement over recent years but it is unacceptable to have to wait four or five years for a case to reach finality. Some sittings of the District Court are in licensed premises and I do not think that is in keeping with the concept of acceptable justice but, unfortunately, some of our courthouses have fallen into a poor state of repair and cannot be used.

Parts III and IV of the Bill deal with the protection of clients. It is essential to have compulsory indemnity cover; although the vast majority of practitioners have such cover, the fact that it will be enforceable by way of statute gives a greater level of protection to clients. It is important that the certificate of indemnity should be on display in the waiting room or other public area of the office that the Minister deems fit. The powers that will be vested in the Law Society to withdraw the practising certificate and to institute criminal proceedings in respect of malpractice are of particular importance. We can deal in greater detail with these issues on Committee Stage.

Will the Minister comment on the future of the Bar? By and large the Fair Trade Commission report of 1990 has been neglected. The then Minister, Deputy O'Malley, invited recommendations on that report but where does it stand now? Is it under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, her Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, or the Minister for Equality and Law Reform Deputy Taylor? It is important that this report, which is very wide-ranging in its recommendations, becomes the focus of attention. In this Bill we are not addressing what direction the legal profession should take in terms of numbers and whether the professions of solicitors and barristers should be fused — this is being hit on the head by the various sectoral interest groups — as we approach the end of the century.

Unfortunately, the concept of reform or rationalisation was clouded by the label "fusion". While I do not see this happening there is a need to streamline the system. This has not been encouraged by way of a public debate. I ask the Minister of State to consider publishing a Green Paper on the legal profession to follow on the recommendations of the Fair Trade Commission.

It is important that we consider the questions of training for members of the Judiciary and the necessity to maintain two distinct arms. I can think of no reasons, other than reasons of history there should be two distinct arms as in the United Kingdom. It is not the case in the United States and in many other democratic states. It is only in those countries which were handed the British system of justice that one finds two distinct arms. This gives rise to public concern. The "cattle market law" practised outside the door of the Law Library is not always in the best interests of the consumer. The unfortunate punter does not have direct access to barristers who can change briefs with one another. This gives rise to a lack of public confidence in the legal profession.

The Minister of State should be complimented for saying the right but not always the most popular things. The professions should be more consumer friendly and more efficient as this would lead to greater public confidence. It is easy to blame the legal profession but should we not blame the system? The Minister should publish a Green Paper on the legal profession to initiate a public debate which would be in the interests of the consumer.

I thank all those who contributed to the debate which was informative and constructive. Deputy Flanagan's suggestion that we publish a Green Paper is most useful and I will discuss it with the Minister.

The Deputy also raised the question of fusion. He will be aware that the Fair Trade Commission considered this matter but was unable, as Deputy McDowell said, to reach a conclusion that fusion would be to the benefit of the consumer. It recommended instead that it should be made easier for people to change from one branch of the profession to the other. The Bill contains a number of measures to facilitate this process. Perhaps fusion will evolve over a period of time. Neither the Fair Trade Commission nor I have been persuaded that fusion would be in the best interests of the profession.

The Bill is a comprehensive reforming measure which raises many issues of vital concern to the public and the solicitors profession. Many constructive views on these matters have been expressed. To respond to Deputy O'Malley, I will be open to reasonable amendments when the Bill is discussed on Committee Stage. For Deputies' information the Bill is to be referred to the Select Committee on Security and Legislation and every Member of the House will be entitled to attend. I have not approached the legislation with a closed mind and I do not intend to do so at this stage.

Deputy Mitchell alleged that the Bill was drafted by the Incorporated Law Society. Deputy Gilmore echoed this point. I refute that suggestion. During the preparation of the Bill the parliamentary draftsman consulted the Incorporated Law Society. This was right and proper because our objectives are similar to those of the Law Society which has a vested interest, as the regulatory and representative body for the profession, in ensuring that there are remedies available for the public when members of the profession operate below par. I thank the Law Society for making many useful suggestions during those consultations. The suggestion that this Bill was drafted by the Law Society is farcical and absurd and I reject it.

The proposal to amend sections 78 to 80 of the Bill has been the subject of some comment. Deputy Mitchell said that these provisions were jettisoned following the intervention of lawyers in my party. Deputy Gilmore said I announced in the media that the Government would drop these sections. He also said that these provisions were necessary to introduce competition in an area where solicitors enjoy a monopoly and argued that there is a need for more competition in the profession. Deputy Kenny, the Chief Whip of the main Opposition party, was in favour of the proposal to delete these provisions. The views of Deputy Mitchell were at variance with those of Deputy Kenny in that regard.

They were not. I refute that suggestion.

They were and the record proves this.

I said that the Minister of State jettisoned these provisions on the instructions of Fianna Fáil Deputies.

The Minister of State to continue without interruption, please.

The Minister of State should not say that my views are at variance with those of Deputy Kenny.

Deputy Mitchell's views on these provisions are at odds with the approach taken by his colleagues when similar provisions in the Solicitors Bill, 1991 were being debated.

They are not.

The Deputy does not like to hear this——

What I said was that the Minister of State jettisoned these provisions on the instructions of lawyers in Fianna Fáil.

——but at that time several members of the Deputy's party strongly opposed these provisions. During the debate on Second Stage Deputy Shatter stated, at column 579 of the Official Report of 3 April 1992: "It is in the interests of the general public that banks do not start conducting probate work". On the question of conveyancing, he stated at column 581:

It would be dangerous to give the banks conveyancing work because, again, they have no expertise in this area. The proposal is designed to give the banks a total monopoly and this could prove detrimental to the interests of the customer. I hope I have given some additional reasons as to why they are dangerous and are not in the public interest.

Deputy Deenihan, at column 510 of the Official Report of 2 April 1992, and former Deputy Barnes, at column 652 of the Official Report of 3 April 1992, were also opposed to these provisions. Deputy Barrett stated, at columns 37 and 38 of the Official Report of 4 December, that he did not understand why the banks were being empowered to provide probate services and that he was not happy that this was the correct move. He described these proposals as part of "a trendy concept of opening things, weakening the professions and letting other people work in areas where heretofore only professionals worked". He was not happy that these provisions were in the interests of consumers.

Deputy Kenny was in favour of the proposal that section 79, which deals with conveyancing services, should be dropped. Deputy Mitchell was not present in the House for the contribution of his colleague, Deputy Allen, who is a member of the front bench. If Deputy Mitchell did not oppose the deletion of these provisions, Deputy Allen did so in the most trenchant terms.

Sections 78 and 79 were included for the purpose of increasing competition in the provision of probate and conveyancing services. However, I have been considering these provisions having regard to representations which I have received, not solely from politicians, and it may be that they are not the best way forward. In recent years there has been a substantial increase in the numbers qualifying as solicitors. Within the profession, therefore, there are many more solicitors competing against each other for available business, including conveyancing and probate services. This competition will ultimately benefit consumers.

In reviewing these provisions, I am concerned about extending further powers to the banks and other large financial institutions. These are economically powerful organisations which already exercise considerable power and influence in our economy. Having considered the matter carefully, I deem it may not be in the best long term interest of consumers to grant further powers to financial institutions in relation to property and interest in property. If greater competition is needed in these areas it can be provided and is being provided within an expanded profession.

My concern is not to protect the interests of solicitors or to preserve the alleged monopoly which they may enjoy but to do what is best in the interest of the consumer. If any Member or anyone else thinks the best way to protect the interests of consumers is to extend and expand the powers of banks and large financial institutions, I urge them to think again.

Competition in the provision of probate and conveyancing services will be further enhanced by section 69 which lifts the Law Society's prohibition on price advertising of legal services. The increase in the number of solicitors and the changes in advertising arrangements should ensure adequate competition in the provision of these services to the benefit of the consumer.

The concerns which have been expressed about sections 78 and 79 do not extend to all financial institutions equally. I regard credit unions as being in a different category to other financial institutions. In general, they are relatively small organisations operating at local or community level and they function on a non-profit-making basis for the benefit of their members. It seems appropriate that they should be enabled to provide will-making and probate services subject to safeguards being introduced by way of regulation to ensure the playing pitch is level as between them and solicitors. I look forward to the debate on Committee Stage on these provisions.

Has the Minister scrapped the section?

The section will go on Committee Stage. There will be an amendment introduced to allow probate to be carried out by credit unions after the introduction of regulations to level the playing pitch.

Deputy Mitchell said that there should be an independent body to hear complaints about barristers and solicitors. There was concern that the adjudicator would not be independent in the carrying out of his or her functions if the scheme were funded by the Law Society. Deputy Gilmore suggested that the functions of the adjudicator were not those usually associated with the Ombudsman scheme. He also alleged that the adjudicator's function would be to report to the Law Society and that he or she would be no more than a research officer for the Law Society. Section 15 is confined to complaints about solicitors. Complaints against barristers have not been included because the Bar Council, in response to the recommendations of the Fair Trade Commission, introduced new machinery some years ago for dealing with complaints against barristers. It comprises an investigation and disciplinary committee which includes two lay persons nominated by trade unions and employers' bodies and a further appeals tribunal which can review any decision by the committee. It is headed by a retired Circuit Court judge. The machinery is available to anyone who wishes to complain about the handling of a case by a barrister.

I have recently received a copy of the first report of the Barristers' Professional Conduct Tribunal concerning the period from January 1992 to August 1993 which I am considering. I intend to wait until there has been adequate experience of the operation of these new arrangements for dealing with complaints against barristers before considering the need for legislative intervention in relation to this aspect of legal services. I would not, however, rule out extending the powers of the independent adjudicator to include complaints against barristers if the arrangements introduced by the Bar Council were not to command public confidence.

Will the Minister take the powers to do that?

I noted an editorial in the London Times of 14 March 1994 describing how the Bar in the UK have a self-regulatory system similar to our Bar and up to now, had similar terms of reference for the complaints machinery. It decided to radically reorganise that machinery to enable people to make complaints about matters such as we are dealing with in this Bill, for example, shoddy service, overcharging etc. It is interesting that the legal affairs ombudsman in the United Kingdom, referring to the existing disciplinary system which is the same as the one the Bar here has, said that it was primarily a disciplinary system that exists for the benefit of the profession rather than a complaints system. I propose to write tomorrow to the Bar Council bringing that matter to their attention and asking them if it is their intention to look again at their complaints machinery in the light of what is happening in the United Kingdom.

Concern was expressed about the independence of the adjudicator because the Law Society is required, under section 15, to fund the operation of the scheme. I have explained why the Law Society should fund the running of the scheme. There are at least three important safeguards built into the provisions of section 15 to ensure that the adjudicator will be able to operate in a completely independent way as is required under the section. First, the Minister's consent will be required for the appointment of any independent adjudicator by the Law Society. Second, the adjudicator will be required to report annually to the Minister on the discharge of his or her duties. As he or she will be under a statutory obligation to act independently in the exercise of functions, it will be open to the adjudicator to raise any issue of interference with his or her independence in the course of the annual report. Finally, the Minister shall be requiring publication of the annual reports and shall lay them before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Any difficulties encountered by the adjudicator in discharging his or her statutory functions will then be a matter of public record. Also, it is not unusual for the bodies who are covered by an ombudsman scheme to fund the scheme. That is the case in the ombudsman scheme for the credit institutions which establish arrangements for an independent adjudicator to consider unresolved complaints about participating credit institutions, including all commercial banks and building societies. It is also the case in the insurance ombudsman scheme.

Deputy Gilmore's suggestion that the adjudicator's role would be limited to making reports to the Law Society is entirely wrong and misplaced. Under section 15 the adjudicator will be empowered to investigate complaints and to reinvestigate a complaint made to the society about a solicitor if he or she is not satisfied that the Law Society has adequately investigated the complaint. The adjudicator is also empowered to direct the society to apply to the disciplinary tribunal for an investigation into the conduct of a solicitor. Where the adjudicator reinvestigates a complaint he or she may require the production of documents relevant to the complaint and require persons to attend before him or her. Any person who fails to comply with such a requirement or any person who interferes with the adjudicator in the performance of his or her duties will be guilty of an offence.

Concern was expressed by Deputies Mitchell, O'Donnell and Gilmore about the cap of £250,000 being put on awards from the statutory compensation fund. Deputy O'Donnell stated that it might need to be increased. The Government considered this matter in some detail before deciding to provide for a cap. In recent years the fund has had to meet a number of substantial claims from large business institutions. The purpose of the cap is to ensure that the fund is not depleted by further large claims, particularly by financial institutions. Financial institutions have large resources available to them and are experts in financial matters. They are, therefore, in a very strong position to protect their own interests without having recourse to the compensation fund.

The purpose of the fund is to provide compensation for private individuals and the smaller business clients who suffer loss at the hands of fraudulent solicitors. It was never intended that the fund should have an open-ended liability. For the past ten years the Law Society has not paid an amount in excess of £250,000 to any private individual who suffered loss because of the fraudulent activity of a solicitor. However, claims in excess of £250,000 have been made by bodies corporate in the past ten years. If a cap is not placed on claims there is a serious risk that the fund will be depleted by very large claims, thereby depriving the people it is intended to protect. I note Deputies do not object to the principle of a cap; concern is about the level of the cap. The Law Society has a discretion to grant in excess of £250,000 in cases of hardship. However, I am disposed to consider reasonable suggestions on Committee Stage.

Deputy Mitchell noted that section 30 does not contain a power to enable the Minister for Justice to increase the monetary level of the fund which must be maintained on a fixed date at £1 million or such higher level as the Law Society may provide by regulation. The requirement to maintain the fund at £1 million is not absolute. However, it is an indication to the Law Society of the minimum level at which the fund should be maintained and it does not limit the total amount of claims which the society may be required to pay out of the fund. That is governed by section 29 of the Bill, to which I already referred, under which the society is required to maintain the fund at a level to meet claims arising under the provisions of that section. Section 22 of the 1960 Act simply required the society to maintain the fund at £25,000. Of course, the Law Society currently maintain the fund at a substantially greater sum than that.

Deputy O'Donnell raised the issue of funding for complaints procedures under sections 8, 9 and 15. It is intended that the Law Society will pay the costs of the investigation of complaints under those three complaints procedures. The Law Society has sought the provisions of sections 8 and 9 to strengthen its regulatory control over the profession. Section 12 empowers the society to recover a contribution of up to £1,000 from a solicitor who has been the subject of a complaint under sections 8 and 9 to offset the cost of investigating the complaints. The cost of establishing and running the office of an independent adjudicator will be funded by the society, provided for under section 15.

Deputy O'Donnell expressed doubts about the proposal in section 69 to allow solicitors to advertise their fees, as recommended by the Fair Trade Commission and she and Deputy Kenny were also concerned about the standards of advertising by some solicitors. Deputies McDowell and O'Malley made an interesting contribution in that regard. Solicitors in the United Kingdom have been allowed to advertise their fees for some time. The general feeling is that it has contributed to reducing the levels of fees although it is difficult to provide statistical evidence to prove this proposition. If solicitors can advertise their services it is illogical to argue against advertising their fees. If one is opposed to something in principle, one should be opposed to it in totality. Deputy McDowell was opposed to it in totality and Deputy O'Malley expressed grave reservations about advertising in general. In the absence of the other provisions in this Bill the right of solicitors to advertise their services in an unregulated and uncontrolled manner might cause difficulties and those difficulties could be exacerbated if their powers were extended to advertising their fees.

Two difficulties arise in that regard. The unregulated and uncontrolled advertising in the United States — referred to by some Deputies as "ambulance chasing"— could take place here. The provisions of the legislation will enable the Law Society to prohibit such advertising and provide effective remedies for solicitors who engage in that type of advertising. A second difficulty will arise when people try to get a market share, for example, when people come into the profession for the first time. Young solicitors may advertise bargain basement prices and provide a bargain basement type service. If people receive a shoddy service at present they do not have any redress and if they lose money as a result their only alternative is to take an action for negligence. People who are victims of a shoddy service provided by a solicitor will not be disposed to consulting another solicitor, going back to court and taking an action for negligence when the outcome is doubtful and they consider the losses which they may incur.

For the first time in section 8 of this Bill we are allowing ordinary members of the public to make a complaint about such matters to the Law Society. That will be a simple, speedy and effective remedy involving no cost for the client. If clients are unhappy with the way in which the Law Society deals with the matter they will have recourse to the independent adjudicator. By inserting those safeguards we are justifying the fact that solicitors are allowed to advertise their services and their fees. It is generally felt that the provision which allows solicitors in the United Kingdom to advertise their services and fees has contributed to a general reduction in fees. However, I concede it is impossible to measure that statistically and state that it is a fact.

Deputy Kenny referred to the difficulties experienced by intending solicitors in obtaining apprenticeships, a number of significant proposals in the Bill address this matter. Section 47 allows a solicitor to have two apprentices instead of one and to have one apprentice for every two assistant solicitors in his employment, with the written consent of the Law Society. Section 44 also reduces from seven to five years the period of continuous practice required before a solicitor may take on an apprentice, but the society may agree to a shorter period.

Under the provisions of the 1954 Act, terms of apprenticeship of up to five years may apply depending on qualifications and experience. Section 42 reduces the period of an apprenticeship to a maximum of two years and enables the Law Society to prescribe a shorter period if it sees fit. There is also provision in section 53 to allow apprenticeships to be served in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. Taken together, those provisions should have a significant impact in alleviating the difficulties faced by intending solicitors in obtaining apprenticeships.

Deputies O'Donnell and Mitchell were critical of the present statutory Irish language requirement which will continue to apply to all solicitors qualifying in the State. They argued that the compulsory requirement should be dropped and replaced with other arrangements to facilitate people who wish to obtain legal services in the Irish language.

Irish is the national language and first official language of the State. There are, therefore, good policy reasons for retaining the statutory Irish language requirements for solicitors here. Our courts are public institutions and it is appropriate that provision should be made to enable individuals to have their cases conducted in the Irish language. The Constitution provides that in a case of a conflict between the texts of any copy of the Constitution the text in the national language shall prevail. The courts have from time to time considered the Irish text of the Constitution for the purpose of elucidating the corresponding English provision. Constitutional law is the fundamental law of the State and no study of Irish law would be complete without a knowledge of the Constitution. Solicitors who qualify here make up the great majority of solicitors practising in the State and it is not unreasonable that they should have a competent knowledge of the Irish language. However, I take on board the points made by Deputies Mitchell and O'Donnell that the Irish language examination which solicitors must sit is rather harmless. I am holding discussions with members of the Law Society about provisions which will enable the Law Society to provide, sometimes compulsorily, ongoing education for solicitors.

That is provided those involved are not from France or Germany and trying to practise in this State.

Deputy O'Donnell argued that it should be compulsory for all solicitors to undertake management training courses on a regular basis and that such courses should be part of the training for intending solicitors. Deputy Wallace also spoke of the importance of continued legal education for qualified solicitors.

Section 49 of the Bill contains substantial amendments to section 40 of the Principal Act in regard to the education and training of solicitors. It specifically provides that the Law Society may require qualified solicitors to attend further courses of education and I understand that the society intends to use these provisions.

The matter of pre-qualification training in business management is an issue currently being reviewed by the Law Society. Some training in management practices is already included in the training courses for apprentice solicitors. I agree with Deputy O'Donnell that lack of management training can lead to shoddy workmanship and I urge the Law Society to ensure that intending solicitors and qualified solicitors receive adequate training in management practices and techniques.

Deputy Mitchell was very critical of the high level of fees charged by solicitors and barristers. He called for the appointment of an independent person who would not be a lawyer to decide the levels of solicitors' and barristers' fees.

Section 9 of the Bill imposes an obligation on the Law Society to examine complaints by clients about overcharging by solicitors. Where the society finds that a bill of costs is grossly excessive they may require a solicitor to refund any fees already paid by the client or waive the right to recover fees. This provision will not interfere with a client's right to submit a bill of costs to the Taxing Master of the High Court.

I am aware that there have been a number of decisions by the courts in regard to the powers of the Taxing Master to adjudicate on bills of costs. A full review of the powers of the Taxing Master seems very desirable. I will be considering the Taxing Master's functions in the context of legislation to amend the courts Acts which is being prepared in my Department.

On the general matter of legal fees there are a number of statutes governing the payment of solicitors' costs in both contentious and non-contentious matters. For example, in contentious matters fees for party and party costs are prescribed by three separate rules' committees established by statute, one each for the District, Circuit and superior courts.

There are also other statutory rules relating to fees for non-contentious business, particularly in respect of conveyancing. The Minister for Justice is not represented on any of those committees, although in most cases her concurrence is required in the making of rules on costs. The repeal of existing statutory scales would require legislation to amend the rules of the various rule making bodies. The Fair Trade Commission in its report on the legal profession considered the area of fee determination in considerable detail and made a number of recommendations for change including the abolition of rules and orders prescribing solicitors' fees for conveyancing and other non-contentious work and prescribing party costs in contentious matters. However, the commission's recommendations were not unanimous in that two members of the commission made different suggestions about the payment and control of costs. Those recommendations are being examined and any proposals to introduce changes in that area will be announced by the Minister for Justice in the usual way.

Section 68 requires solicitors to give clients an estimate of charges for legal services and will make the client's obligation to a solicitor more transparent. That section will also ensure that solicitors must account to clients for all costs recovered on their behalf from other parties. It is not intended to address the level of solicitors' fees for legal services. However, the provisions to lift the prohibition on fee advertising by solicitors will lead to greater competition in the provision of legal services and better value for the consumer.

Deputy Mitchell is opposed to the wearing of wigs and gowns in court by solicitors, barristers and judges. Deputy Gilmore was also critical of the requirement that barristers should wear wigs and gowns. My views on court dress are well known to Members of the House. I am not opposed to barristers wearing a simple black gown, but I am opposed to the wearing of ceremonial wigs. Horse hair is something one would expect to find at a race meeting and not in court. I have contracted the Bar Council about that matter and it has been considering the matter for two years. The dress committee of the Bar Council has not reached a definitive conclusion yet.

It supports the Minister's views.

Will that requirement be extended to Dáil Deputies?

I urge the Bar Council to respond to this matter in the near future, otherwise we will have to take action on it.

Deputy Mitchell was critical that the scope of the Bill did not extend to barristers. He was strongly critical of the barristers' profession. He advocated a fusion of the profession, as did Deputy Gilmore. I have dealt with that matter in detail, as has the Fair Trade Commission. This is a Solicitors Bill which amends the law relating to the regulation and control of the solicitors' profession. Deputy O'Malley rightly stated that legislation dating back to the 18th century deals with solicitors. No legislation has been introduced to deal with barristers. An attempt was made in 1791 or 1792 by the Lord Lieutenant of the day to provide legislation for barristers but he was not successful. The phrase nolumus mutare, we are unwilling to change, originates from that time. To that extent nolumus mutare still rules. I am interested in the English Bar Council's proposals to beef up its complaints machinery to make its Bar Council more user friendly and more transparent. I will communicate with the Bar Council in that regard this week.

The appointment of solicitors as judges in higher courts is a matter which is outside the scope of the Bill. However, it will be considered in the context of legislation to amend the Courts Acts being prepared in my Department.

Deputy Browne favoured a retirement age of 65 for judges and he put forward his case in his usual colourful manner. That matter is governed by the Courts Act and I will consider it in the context of the forthcoming legislation.

Deputy Deenihan advocated that solicitors should continue to charge fees on the basis of a specified percentage. That matter has been referred to by Deputies on all sides. Deputy Deenihan was dissatisfied with some of the regulatory controls in the solicitors' profession. He stated that honest solicitors had to pay compensation for the dishonest dealings of solicitors. That is true but I am not sure what point the Deputy wished to make. The proposed introduction of controls has been widely applauded by Deputies on all sides, which I appreciate.

Deputy Allen strongly opposed the time limit specified in section 15 which prevents the adjudicator from hearing a complaint once two years have elapsed. That time restriction has been provided because we did not wish the office of the adjudicator to be swamped with a flood of complaints. That would be unfair to new complainants. If all the people who were unhappy with the manner in which the Law Society operated during the years complained to the independent adjudicator, the adjudicator would not have time to deal with the complaints submitted following the enactment of this legislation. The inclusion of that provision despite its appearance to the contrary, is in the consumers' interest, but if people are unhappy with a two year time restriction I am open to suggestions in that regard on Committee Stage.

Deputy Allen was unhappy about the "ambulance chasing" type of advertising. I am introducing provisions to enable the Law Society to prevent misleading and distasteful advertising which may bring the profession into disrepute. That provision will be introduced at the request of the Law Society who assured me it intends to use that provision to the maximum to prevent such unfavourable advertising.

I am sure the Select Committee on Legislation and Security will deal with this Bill expeditiously. I am confident matters will be thrashed out and I look forward to an informative and constructive debate on Committee Stage. Deputy O'Malley regretted that he would not able to develop some points. Although he is not a member of the Select Committee on Legislation and Security he and other Members are entitled to attend and contribute to Committee Stage debate.

Question put and agreed to.