HC Deb 09 July 1863 vol 172 cc435-7

said, that on every Tuesday and Friday the London Gazette contained a list of bankrupts. Since the passing of the late Bankruptcy Act very many of the cases in bankruptcy were stated to be conducted by a solicitor of the name of Ald-ridge; and in the subsequent newspaper reports of those cases that gentleman was called the "Crown Solicitor," and it was reported that he was paid at the rate of from £6,000 to £10,000 a year for this business. He would therefore beg to ask Mr. Attorney-General whether there is in the Court of Bankruptcy, Basinghall Street, London, an officer called "The Crown Solicitor;" and if so, what his duties are, by whom and under what authority he was appointed, what his remuneration is, whether the same is paid by fees or salary, and out of what fund it is paid?


said, in the absence of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, he was much pleased at the Question having been asked, as it afforded him an opportunity of clearing up a matter which had been rather extensively misrepresented. In the first place, there was no officer called the "Crown Solicitor." That was a title to which the gentleman referred to had no claim. The facts of the case were these. When the late Bankruptcy Act passed, a very great number of pauper bankruptcies took place, among persons discharged from prison, and others becoming bankrupt in formâ pauperis; and it was necessary to make some provision for the care of these bankrupt petitioners. The Commissioners were of opinion that a gentleman should be appointed for that purpose; and the Lord Chancellor, acting upon that opinion, appointed the gentleman named by the hon. Member for Finsbury, who had, he (The Solicitor General) believed, discharged the duties of the office, if office it could be called, entirely to the satisfaction of the Commissioners. Office, however, strictly speaking there was none. The gentleman was only appointed so long as there should be occasion for his services, and during the pleasure of the Lord Chancellor. His duties were the ordinary duties of a solicitor, in aid of pauper bankrupts, who, as he had previously stated, had been exceedingly numerous. With regard to the question of remuneration, he (the Solicitor General) was also glad that the hon. Member had stated to the House the very extraordinary reports which had reached him as to this gentleman having received from £6,000 to £10,000 a year. When he stated the figures, he doubted not they would greatly relieve the hon. Gentleman's mind; but, at the same time, he was bound to say the amount was much more than the Chancellor had anticipated, or than the gentleman would receive for the future. The fact was, the Commissioners settled a scale of fees, which was adopted by the Lord Chancellor for one year, in order to see how the matter would work. The scale fixed was £3 for each bankruptcy, with a contingent percentage if assets should be recovered. The first year, the gross receipts—(out of which a considerable staff of clerks had to be paid, together with actual expenses and disbursements, which the Lord Chancellor estimated to amount to one-third of the total sum received)—were £2,795 odd. This appeared to the Lord Chancellor to be considerably too much, because it gave an average of something more than £1,600 a year after deducting the payments out of pocket. When, therefore, the account of the third half-year reached the Lord Chancellor, he ordered the scale to be reduced from £3 a case to £2, the effect of which was that for that half-year Mr. Aldridge received £774 gross, which, deducting the out-of-pocket expenses, would give him about £550 for remuneration. As long, then, as there was a large number of these bankruptcies, it was obvious that such a person was necessary, and the present arrangement, which had been entered into before notice was given of the present question, was that, the out-of-pocket disbursements being paid, the gentleman should receive the fees at £2 a case up to £1,200, as a maximum remuneration. If the fees did not amount to so much, he would take the fees as they were; if they amounted to more, he would only receive £1,200. That was an arrangement which the Commissioners thought fair and reasonable for the very important and very arduous duties which that gentleman had to perform. The money, it should be remembered, came out of the funds which the Act of Parliament had placed under the control of the Lord Chancellor.


said, he wished to know whether there was statutory authority for the appointment of this officer at £1,200 a year?


said, he had already explained that no "officer" had been appointed at a permanent salary; and that the present very large number of pauper bankrupts would be unable to get the benefit of the recent changes in the law of bankruptcy without some such arrangement as the present. The Lord Chancellor had the power to regulate the mode in which the appointment and payment should be made.