HC Deb 03 May 1872 vol 211 cc247-66

, in rising to call attention to the remuneration of the Law Officers of the Crown, and also to the grave inconvenience arising to the public from their being able to devote nearly the whole of their time to private practice; and to move, That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to adopt some new arrangements with regard to the Law Officers of the Crown, with the object of securing for the public the undivided attention of those who are primarily responsible for introducing measures of Law reform, and for tendering legal advice to Her Majesty's Government, said, the subject had been allowed to remain dormant so long that he determined, in deference to public feeling, to call the attention of the House to it; but he wished them to understand that he was in no way actuated by the desire to make a personal attack upon anyone, and more especially upon the Law Officers of the Government. His object was merely to attack a sys- tem, and not persons; and in proof of that assertion, he would at once admit that the Law Officers of the Crown had done nothing which had not been done by their predecessors, as they had done nothing which would not also be done by their successors, unless Parliament intervened to change the present system. So cumbrous, inconvenient, and ineffective was the present system that the greatest evils arose from it. So far as the House of Lords was concerned, the duties discharged by the Lord Chancellor were so multifarious—he occupied at least four important judicial offices—that there was but little chance of his giving anything like due attention to questions of Law reform, or of his tendering legal advice to the Government on the most important matters, involving in some cases principles of International Law. Turning, however, to the House of Commons, the state of things was far more unsatisfactory; for while the Lord Chancellor in the other House could, as a Member of the Cabinet, give direct advice to the Government, the Law Officers of the Crown in this House, not being Members of the Cabinet, could give advice to the Government only in a circuitous way. Then the Lord Chancellor had the whole of his time occupied with public duties, while with regard to the offices of Attorney and Solicitor General, if the holders of these offices were accomplished lawyers and great orators, briefs fell rapidly in upon them, and by the etiquette of the Bar either the Attorney or the Solicitor General became the leader in any case in which he was engaged; and the leader in a great case, as everyone knew, had all his faculties engaged, and quite enough to occupy his time, however strong he might be, either physically or mentally. It happened, therefore, when both these Law Officers were eminent in their profession, that all the time they had for discharging their public duties was what was left after their services had been competed for by rival attorneys and clients. At the present time both the Law Officers of the Crown, fortunately or unfortunately, occupied high positions. It was, however, notorious that when a Law Officer of the Crown was appointed who had not much private practice—as had been the case sometimes—his public duties were found so multifarious and so engrossing that he had quite enough to do to discharge them without attending to any private practice at all. The Attorneys and Solicitors General were primarily responsible for introducing measures of Law reform to the House of Commons, and there was no country in the world whose legal system was so complicated as ours, or in which the process of obtaining justice was so dear and so slow. Why, only yesterday, the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) declared to him, that if a merchant of the City of London had a suit at Guildhall he would guarantee, by using the delay which the law placed at his disposal, to prevent the case from being decided for four years. It often happened in civil suits for the recovery of a sum of money that far more money than the sum in dispute was rapidly consumed in legal costs, and the parties found that they were only engaged in throwing good money after bad; and the feeling that that was so had spread through the country, and acted as a sort of premium upon fraud. In addition to that point there were great legal reforms waiting for accomplishment, and until they were carried into execution every man, woman, and child in the country might be considered to suffer. Why, on Wednesday last the Attorney General stated that the laws of this country relating to the property of married women were more worthy of a barbarous nation than of a civilized one; and it would not be difficult to prove that if a lawyer would devote himself to making the conveyance of land cheaper, more simple, and more expeditious—even looking at the subject from an economical point of view—a greater advantage would be conferred upon the country than would result from a free breakfast table or from a remission of the income tax. What chance would there be of passing any great Government measure if those who were responsible for the preparation of such a measure had nearly the whole of their time absorbed in other pursuits? The passing of the Irish Church Act was mainly due to the mastery of detail and perfect knowledge of the subject displayed by the Prime Minister; but if the Premier had been less completely master of the subject, they would have got into a state of inextricable confusion, and the Bill, very possibly, would not have been passed at all. But the Prime Minister was eminent for his financial skill; and if he gave up that skill to be competed for by rival mercantile companies, what chance would there be of his ever introducing another great measure into that House? If, then, it was thought absolutely intolerable for the head of any other Department to give up nearly the whole of his time to other business, he did not see why such a thing should be less intolerable on the part of those who were at the head of the Bar. But that was not the strangest part of the case. The Law Officers of the Crown were primarily responsible also for tendering legal advice to Her Majesty's Government, and there was scarcely a measure ever introduced into the House by a Government which did not contain some difficult legal questions, in dealing with which legal advice was required. But at any moment the Government might be deprived of the assistance and guidance which they should obtain from the Law Officers of the Crown, who might find their whole time and energies absorbed in some private suit. The Prime Minister had admitted to the House that the Alabama Treaty was not even submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown; probably, the right hon. Gentleman had too kind a heart to put the additional strain on men who were so overworked. And what had happened this Session in dealing with the Ballot Bill? Why, in many cases, where the House had wanted a legal interpretation of some clause or Amendment, they had obtained assistance from the Solicitor General, who, when he had risen, had only made confusion more confounded. It was, however, not only with regard to Government measures that complaints might be made, for on Wednesday week, when the measure introduced by the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for the county of Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen), relative to the mortmain laws, was under discussion, there were no Law Officers of the Crown present to give the House an authoritative opinion as to its legal effect; and on turning to The Times of the following day, he (Mr. Fawcett) had found that the Attorney General had been engaged on that occasion in the Court of Queen's Bench, arguing a case of "Skinner v. Usher," connected with the hiring of a cab from a railway station, which arose out of a cumbrous and invalid Act conflicting with other Acts, which was passed in 1869, when the hon. and learned Gentleman was one of the Law Officers of the Crown, and which no ordinary mind could understand. Thus the Attorney General and the Solicitor General were so absorbed that they could not give proper attention to Acts passing through the House; and in consequence of the wretched way in which statutes were drawn, long and expensive law suits resulted, in one of which the Attorney General was engaged at the moment when he ought to be in the House giving legal advice to hon. Members. What security had they that another Alabama case would not arise, if the Law Officers of the Crown were absorbed in private business? Again, it was equally unsatisfactory that the Law Officers of the Crown should be practising barristers, and, at the same time, to some extent, public prosecutors, Two years ago a serious question presented itself to the Government, who had to decide whether they could prosecute in the case of the directors of Overend Gurney and Co., and, at that time, their Solicitor General happened to be retained for the very persons against whom the prosecution, if it had been commenced, would have been directed. It was scarcely necessary to refer to a recent trial, which had occupied attention for many months, but that presented the reverse of this case in a striking manner. The Attorney General, who was the counsel engaged against the Claimant, now came forward as the adviser of the Government to prosecute the man, and spend an incalculable sum of public money in the prosecution. The consequences produced in the country were very mischievous. When the Government came to that House and asked for the money they required, they would find that much discontent existed in regard to the expenditure; not because the money was grudged, but from the peculiar relations of the Attorney General with that case, the public had got an idea that there had not been exactly fair play. No one, probably, would regret more than the Attorney General that that feeling should have arisen; but as when engaged in the case, he had found it necessary to brand the Claimant with every opprobrious epithet the dictionary contained, commonplace people thought it hardly satisfactory that he should afterwards become the prosecutor on behalf of the Government and the nation. The present system, moreover, could not be defended on the score of economy. By a Treasury Minute, lately issued, the Attorney General received £7,000 and the Solicitor General £6,000 a-year, simply as retainers, and were to have 20 per cent more for contentious business; and if that Treasury Minute were not severely scrutinized, hon. Members would have to tell their constituents that the fine promises about economy uttered at the hustings were idle words. It was an aggravation of the grievance to say that the salaries of the Law Officers of the Crown were simply paid out of patent fees, because these fees were the most obnoxious and unjust form of taxation which could be levied on industry. He held that the country did not obtain an adequate return for the money spent in that direction. The Law Officers of the Crown were paid higher salaries than the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State, whose time was wholly at the disposal of the public; and he had no doubt that eminent lawyers could be induced to devote themselves entirely to the public service for smaller salaries than was generally supposed. The legal Member of the Legislative Council of India received £8,000 a-year, and most persons would admit that that was not so tempting as £5,000 in this country, yet there had been no difficulty in securing eminent jurists for that post—among them Lord Macaulay, Sir Henry Maine, and Mr. Fitzjames Stephens, the last of whom had as yet only held the office three years, but had already introduced more comprehensive measures of reform than any one could hope to see introduced in England in double that time. If he was asked what system he proposed to provide for the present one, he would say that in the first place, it was most important that the judicial and political functions of the Lord Chancellor should be separated. In the House of Commons, moreover, what they required was a Minister of Justice, who should be at the head of the Department of Law and Justice, primarily responsible for measures of Law reform, always ready to give a legal opinion on legal questions arising in the House, and whose whole time should be devoted to the public service. Such an officer might receive a salary of £8,000; but even if it were fixed at £10,000, he believed it would be the cheapest money ever voted, if it secured them the services of an eminent lawyer as Minister of Justice. It might also be arranged that the holder of the office would, after a certain number of years, be appointed to a judicial post, or to a seat in the Supreme Court of Appeal. As to the duties in Court now discharged by the Attorney General and Solicitor General, arrangements might be made to retain certain counsel when the Government had to appear in Court, just as was done by the Government of India, by the Bank of England, and most great corporations, and it would probably be an advantage that such counsel should not be Members of the House of Commons. He would not further detain the House, except to say that he hoped this question would soon be taken up by some lawyer of eminence; but, if not, it was too important to be let drop, and he promised that he would pursue it with persistency and perseverance. A great authority had declared that the well-being of a community might be estimated by the extent to which justice was cheap and expeditious; but on that ground assuredly, England could not be pronounced at that present moment as ranking among the most happily situated nations in the world.


* Mr. Speaker, I have thought it best to interpose thus early in this debate, not at all because I wish to render it a personal matter, but because I have really no interest or desire whatever but that the House should have, as soon as may be, the best and fullest materials before it upon which to form the judgment it is invited to express to-night. Of the tone and temper of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) I will not say a word. It is a most important question, I admit, which he has taken in hand—more practically important, perhaps, than he or anyone who has not been engaged in actually working the machine of the Executive Government can appreciate or understand. It is a matter also well worthy the attention of the House of Commons how best to secure the highest legal ability for the service of the country, that in time of war and tumult the Executive Government may have the soundest counsels to direct them; and in time of peace may have those changes suggested to them which the law of England is always needing; but which, unless they are wise and thoughtful and well-instructed changes, often, in a complicated and unscientific system like our own, create more evils than they destroy. Sir, I will not say that my hon. Friend has not taken the trouble, but he has not succeeded in informing himself accurately of the state of facts; and his speech has been made, and the language in which his Motion is clothed, has been chosen, under a complete misconception. He says, in effect, that grave inconvenience had arisen from the Law Officers of the Crown being able to devote almost the whole of their time to private practice—a statement which assumes that they do in fact so devote it. Nor does my hon. Friend stand alone in this matter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford City (Mr. Harcourt), made a striking speech in the provinces last autumn, which he was good enough to send me, and which it became my pleasure as well as duty carefully to read. The speech was a most useful one; for it put into popular language and rendered generally accessible a scheme of the Judicature Commission, which was entombed in a Blue Book read by very few, but which, adopted and rendered popular by my hon. and learned Friend, was no doubt read by many more. But my hon. and learned Friend contributed some original matter of his own; and he stated, if I recollect the expression rightly, that the Law Officers of the Crown are accustomed "to pack away"—that, I think, was the phrase—the Public Business of the country into those nooks and corners of time which a large or moderate private practice may leave undisposed of. Now, nothing can possibly be less founded in point of fact. And though I am sure neither of my hon. Friends intended it, I ask the House and I ask them to consider how grave an imputation they make not on me and the Solicitor General only, but on the long line of distinguished—some of them really illustrious—men, who have been our predecessors—men, I dare to say, as upright, as high-principled, as honourable, as ever adorned any profession in the world. It is a great honour, I suppose, to fill these offices; it is, I am sure, a far greater responsibility; and no man of common character who takes them does, or can, or would dare to "pack away" into corners of his time the great and heavy duties which he has undertaken, to be discharged at hap-hazard and chance-medley fashion, in the intervals of his professional labour. I can assert, for my own part, that it is not the fact. I know that the work of these offices has not been well done by me—no man knows it better; but it has not been from want of will, but from want of power. The work may have been done badly, but it has not been done carelessly, it has not been done indolently, it has not been subordinated to my private practice. I can say the same, I am sure, for Sir Robert Collier, with whom I served so long and so happily in office. I did not serve with Sir John Karslake; but I have the honour of his private friendship, and I know I can say the same for him. I have not the honour of the private friendship of Lord Cairns; but I have often heard, and I believe, that he strictly and sternly limited his private practice during all the time he held office as a Law Adviser of the Crown. If I do not mention my hon. and learned Friends the Solicitor General and the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), it is because they are in the House, and can speak—if they please it—for themselves. The foundation of fact, therefore, on which the Motion of my hon. Friend rests, fails him altogether. Sir, I had hoped to discuss this matter without any personal topics being introduced into it. But the speech of the hon. Member for Brighton does not allow me to pass by altogether some such matters; and I allude to them because character is precious to every man, and because in an Assembly of Gentlemen, the character and conduct of even the humblest Member of it can scarcely be considered a matter to which any other Member is indifferent. As to what the hon. Member has said of my connection with a late great trial, and the prosecution arising out of it, the House should recollect that I had no choice as to accepting the conduct of a prosecution, ordered by the Lord Chief Justice under an Act of Parliament, and directed by the Government, without any reference to Mr. And what has been sacrificed during the progress of a trial utterly unparalleled—I believe, at least, in England—is not the Public Business, which I have done to the best of my ability, but the whole, or almost the whole, of my own private practice. I am sorry my hon. Friend has adverted again to the case of Overend and Gurney. We have had that matter out before, and I do not desire to recur it. He knows that I was engaged in that case 18 months before I took office, and that upon no rule, whether of his devising or not, could I, as matter of common sense and honesty, have done otherwise than as I did. As to the case of Skinner and Usher, to which he has somewhat bitterly alluded, I appeared in that case as Counsel for the Treasury, and argued it as Attorney General. Unless he desires to prevent an Attorney General from appearing in Court for the Government, I am unable to understand what he means. But I must protest against his notion that it is the duty of the Attorney General to draw or to scrutinize the Bills which a Government Department passes for the regulation of the cabs of London. One word only as to my present position. When the change as to the payment of the Law Officers was in contemplation, the Government were kind enough to consult me upon it, telling me that in any event it was not to be applied to me, as I had taken office on other terms. I proposed some modifications in the scheme of the Government, and desired that if they were adopted, the scheme might be at once applied to me, not thinking it proper to suggest for another man what I would not accept myself. The Government, no doubt for good reasons, declined to adopt my views, and so the matter remained upon the old footing. These, then, being the general and personal conditions on which we have to argue, what is it that you want? You want the very best and most eminent men in the profession who can obtain a seat in the House of Commons. I am stating the question in the abstract; and it will be no answer to me to say that in this, that, and the other case, you have not got what you desire. I know that well enough. But this is what you aim at. And you want not merely a clever man, you want a man of ascertained position and considerable experience. Remember that he has to advise the Government and the House itself on subjects of which the importance cannot be overstated; so that he must have judgment, which, as a rule, is the result of experience and the growth of time, and he must have an ascertained and great professional position, so that he may not be overborne by the weight of greater authority in the House itself when he is called upon to speak on legal subjects; as to which, if he does his duty, he will always remember that it is a real opinion, not a party argument, which the House is entitled to expect at his hands. Farthermore, he has often to bring in and to conduct through Parliament Bills of a purely legal character; and for this and in order to legislate with effect, and to do good rather than harm, he ought to have at least a competent knowledge of practice, and a competent acquaintance with the system with which he undertakes to meddle. Now, to discharge with any degree of effect these great and delicate functions, it would never do to have men unknown to the profession, nor men without great business in it. It is probable such men would not be fit, in point of fact, for the duties of office: it is certain that they would be thought unfit; and, as a general rule, the men at the head of the profession are there because they deserve to be there. I know there are exceptions. Some men not fit for it attain success by luck; some men fit for it fail of it from ill chance. But as a general and rough practical rule in the law, as in every other intellectual profession, success is the test of merit. You must have, then, for the reasons I have given, these successful and distinguished men, if you can get them, to fill the posts of Law Officers of the Crown. They will be men, in most cases, with no private fortune to begin with, who are striving to make one, but who have made no large provision for their family, and who simply cannot afford to relinquish practice. My hon. Friend proposes that on acceptance of office they should be compelled to do so. I tell him that if he hopes to get the great men in the profession to accept these offices, his proposition is utterly unpractical; it is not disrespectful to him, because he is speaking on a matter of which he has no practical experience, to tell him that his proposition is absurd. There have been, since the accession of William IV., 20 Attorney Generals; the Solicitor Generals have been more numerous; so that little more than two years is the average duration of the office. Is it not absurd to suppose that a man at the head of his profession would give it up for an office so precarious? Would a great physician, or a great engineer, or a great attorney, think of doing so to become the physician, or the engineer, or the attorney to a Government, and to lose his office when the Government lost theirs? The notion is absurd. But with us at the Bar, business is even more fleeting and precarious than with the professions I have referred to; and yet, even as it is, large sacrifices have to be made. I speak with more knowledge of common lawyers; but I believe the same is true of those men who practise in Courts of Equity. A common lawyer gives up his circuit and large classes of his private practice which he never can resume. If he holds office but for six weeks, he never can go back to the practice he has left. But even the business we retain suffers not a little. A Law Officer, it is known, may be called away at any time by the public service, and cannot refuse to go. Those who employ him do not believe that he packs away the Government Business into odd corners of his time, and they rightly and properly go elsewhere. As it is, a man continues in the profession, and when he leaves office, if he has anything in him, his business generally, to some extent, revives. But if a man were absolutely cut off from all practice in his profession for private clients for three or four years, I believe that any man's business, however great or powerful the man might be, would be utterly destroyed. It must be remembered, too, that at the Bar the conflict is very close, and the differences between man and man are often very slight. A man in business can perhaps maintain his position now; but let him quit it for three years or so, and new connections are formed, not easily displaced, and his former position, if he strives to return to it, he finds to be filled by a man always, perhaps, equal to him, and now, owing to three years' disuse by the Law Officer of general practice, really his superior. These last words suggest a consideration which ought not to be omitted. It is a bad thing for the public service to withdraw a lawyer who is to serve the public from general practice. A man who is withdrawn from general competition and is confined to one class of work, becomes almost inevitably inferior in knowledge and in influence to the man whose practice and competition and studies remain varied and general. I know if office had been offered me on terms like those proposed by my hon. Friend, I should have positively declined it. As it was—will the House forgive me these personalities?—I lost between a third and a-half of my private practice by taking office; and I am confident that men much fitter than I for office would absolutely decline it on such terms as these. I doubt if my hon. Friend would find that he was a good economist for the country if the best men in the profession of the law declined its service. Sir, it may be said that I have omitted one great inducement to the acceptance of these offices—namely, that they are the natural avenues to the Bench. It is true that I have done so, and I have done so on purpose; and I will tell you why. I pass by the fact that to many men—and those I think the best men—for many reasons, some of which it might be invidious to mention, the Bench is not the same object of desire which it was some 30 years ago. But I wish to draw pointed attention to the fact that these offices are not now the only, no, nor the more usual avenues to the Bench. The Bench has been so largely increased of late years in point of number, that almost every man of fair ability and moderate success is sure in his turn if he cares for it, to secure a seat upon it. I am not, however, content to rest on general statement; I challenge inquiry into the facts. And the facts are curious. There are now 30 Superior Judges, from the Lord Chancellor at £10,000 a-year, to the Judge of the Admiralty at £4,000. Of these 30 Judges, only eight have ever been either Attorney or Solicitor General. Of the whole number, only 13, including these eight, have ever been in Parliament at all. If you take in retired Judges, there are four ex-Lord Chancellors who have held office, against six ex-Judges who have not. So that the House will see I am justified in saying that if the Bench is what a man desires, he is even more likely to attain it by remaining out of Parliament and declining office, than he is by entering Parliament and accepting it. Sir, my hon. Friend has used the stock argument of the salaries of our great statesmen; but there is no real parallel between Law Officers and ordinary statesmen. The statesman on taking office, it must be remembered, as a rule, gives up nothing. He is making nothing by his statesmanship; and though I do not suppose that one public man in a hundred ever thinks of it in that connection, he actually gains the moderate income which his office brings him. Besides, a man who devotes himself to public life is, as a rule, a man at ease in his fortune: he has inherited one, or he has made one, or he will succeed to one, or he is in a position to be indifferent to one; and making money by politics is, happily for us, not a common, nor, speaking generally, a successful line of life. In all these matters, the lawyer is in a different position. As a rule, he is a man to whom money is not indifferent: he begins from little or nothing; he is many years before he makes anything; his time of great practice, at least at the Common Law Bar, is generally short; and the fortunes which common lawyers, at any rate, can make from the practice of their profession is generally moderate indeed. Moderate, I am sure it is, compared to that which many men enjoy who seem to grudge the lawyers their success, and are never so happy as when carping at their gains, and suggesting all manner of ill-natured thoughts as to their conduct and their character. The House will forgive me for saying these things, because I know they are true, and because the House ought to know them too. I am not ashamed of my profession; I glory in it; but I should be ashamed of it if we were the sort of fellows, and led by the sort of motives, which and by which the vulgar gibes of our detractors endeavour to make out we are. So much for the inconvenience which results from our private practice, and for the possibility of cutting us off from the practice of our profession. But there is another matter, wholly different from this and, as I think I shall show, quite unconnected with it, on which, speaking as I ought to do, not as an advocate, but as a man of experience, and giving, as I ought, information to the House, my hon. Friend appears to me to have much more to say. I cannot, and I will not, contend that the prospects and condition of law reform are what they ought to be, and what I earnestly wish they were. But it is not the private practice of the Law Officers, but other matters of a very different nature, which bring about the present unpromising state of things. The Law Officers are not Members of the Cabinet; and, except on points of law incidentally arising, they scarcely ever attend its deliberations. Law Bills are generally, not always, initiated by the Lord Chancellor, and the Law Officers are by no means, as a rule, consulted upon them. We have now, indeed, a Chancellor, between whom and the Law Officers, ever since I have known office, there has been personally the most cordial feeling—a Lord Chancellor whose political opponents even respect and regard him as a man of blameless life and winning character, and who, I suppose, has not an enemy in the world. But it has not always been so. The constant differences between Chancellors in the other House and Law Officers in this are of very recent memory. There is nothing in the nature of things to prevent their recurrence; and, indeed, the greater independence of the times in which we live, and the more free expression of opinion which is usual amongst us, render a wide divergence of opinion more and more likely to arise between men often so widely separated in age and in position as the Lord Chancellor in one House and the Attorney and Solicitor General in the other. It would not be possible now-a-days for an Attorney General, with any sense of self-respect or regard to the opinion of the profession, to support a legal measure which he did not approve, and as to the scope and object of which he had been allowed no sort of influence. It is not often that the Law Officers are called upon to originate legal measures; and if they do, time and opportunity are too generally wanting to carry them through the Houses of Parliament. And yet there are great subjects before the very feet of any man filling my position, and with the power to deal with them, which might, indeed, be handled with enormous public advantage. Once before this Session I have mentioned the subject of an English Code, the object of every reasonable man's desire, and which ought not to be so difficult to attain. But short of the great subject of an English Code, there are the Criminal Law and its administration, the Law of Evidence, the Law as to Jurisdictions, the Law of Written Pleading, the Law of Entail, the union of the two systems of Law and Equity—above all, the Appellate Jurisdiction of the House of Lords. These, and the like of these subjects, need handling without delay. They must be handled by a lawyer; but it is not easy for a Law Officer, as to matters so important, and standing as he does, external to the councils of the Government, to take them in hand or to prosecute them with effect. Something, however, has been done, even since I took office in 1868, to show that we are not altogether idle. The Bankruptcy Bill, which I have always felt, owing to the fact that the Chief Judge under the Bill was very soon afterwards appointed Vice Chancellor, has hardly had a fair trial; the Law of Naturalization, the Foreign Enlistment Act, the Law of Master and Servant; these, and other measures, are measures which I can look back to with some degree of satisfaction. But I think that if he is fair and candid, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton must needs admit that one great, and just now, perhaps, well-nigh insurmountable difficulty in the way of law reform is the strongly political character of the House of Commons, and the far greater interest felt on both sides of the House in party struggles than in legal questions. Why, the other day my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, with his great position in this House, with all the weight of his character and the power of his eloquence, could barely keep alive a House of 40 Members to discuss the important subject of Legal Education, while every minute detail in the long roll of the clauses of the Ballot Bill has been fought over for hours upon hours, and decided upon in full divisions by eager partisans. Sir, there is another matter which it would be disingenuous and unmanly if I were to pass by in silence. It never ought to be forgotten that obstruction to law reform does not depend only on the temper and constitution of the House of Commons. We must remember always that there is another House of Parliament, where, in the hands of noble and learned Lords, Law Reform has before now been turned into a party question, and the struggle, at least to bystanders, has seemed to be, not so much as to what is to be done, as to who shall do it. No candid mind, I think, can refuse to see that of all the difficulties which lie across the path of the law reformer, this is, perhaps, the greatest and most lasting. Sir, I thank the House for the patience with which it has heard me. I hope I have not shown myself a foolish optimist as to the position and character of lawyers in this House or out of it; still less, I hope, have I descended to any poor and whining apology for my own shortcomings. But I oppose the scheme of the hon. Member for Brighton because I am convinced it is unpractical, unfounded in point of fact, and likely to be mischievous if put in practice, because, I am sure, if it ever became the rule, it would lower the character of the profession and weaken the power of the Executive Government.


said, there was great justice in the complaint of the hon. Member for Brighton with regard to the frequent absence of the Law Officers of the Government from the discussions in that House, for he himself had noticed that their attendance in that House was not nearly so regular as it was 10 years ago; and although believing the Tichborne claimant to be one of the greatest impostors ever known, he thought it was to be deprecated that the leading counsel against the claimant in the late civil suit should be employed to prosecute him in the forthcoming trial. In short, it appeared that the intention was to persecute as well as prosecute him.


said, he should think himself unworthy of the office he held if he did not serve the Government to the best of his ability. There was nothing so disagreeable as to discuss a personal question of this kind; but it was an untrue statement, so far as he was concerned, for any man to assert that he devoted himself to private practice to the prejudice of the duties of his office. The truth was that when office was offered to him he decided on giving up, and had actually given up, more than two-thirds of his private practice. No inconvenience arose to the public as far as he was concerned from his attention to private practice, because he had made it a rule to give a preference to public business. His private practice did not occupy half his time, and certainly his official duties could not be discharged if he devoted the greater portion of his time to private practice. His hon. Friend had an erroneous idea of the true position of the Law Officers of the Crown. The initiation of law reform did not rest with them, but with the Cabinet, and it was their duty to give assistance and advice when asked for it. The real reason why law reform did not progress was that important political measures left no time for law reform. Important measures of law reform had been prepared and printed and laid aside in former Sessions, and it would be useless to suggest new measures until the old ones had been disposed of. The duty of a Law Officer of the Crown was to act as counsel for the Crown, and to conduct its litigious business in the Courts, and in order to be qualified to do this he required continuous practice—to advise the Crown and to assist in legislation.


said, he wished his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had adhered to his professed intention to argue the question upon general grounds, instead of introducing personal considerations. As a member of the legal profession he desired to protest against one phrase used by the hon. and learned Gentleman when he spoke of the distinction between Law Officers of the Crown and other political Ministers accounting for the difference in their remuneration. He said that no man could occupy a great office of State who did not possess an independent fortune. He hoped that was not true, for such a statement was one of the most mischievous and revolutionary that could go forth from the Treasury Bench. The hon. and learned Gentleman said men who were not lawyers did not enter the House to make money by statesmanship. On the part of the legal profession he protested against that profession being made an exception to the rule, and he protested against the statement that there was any class who entered the House to make money by statesmanship.


, in explanation, said, the distinction he drew was between persons who gave up professional practice and persons who gave up nothing.


, in continuation, questioned the statement that a Law Officer of the Crown could not return to the practice which he had abandoned on taking office, and said that if the Attorney General left the public service his services would immediately be in great requisition. Another protest he had to make was against the Solicitor General's disclaimer of the responsibility of the Law Officers of the Crown for the initiation of law reform. True, they did not belong to the Cabinet; but, if they were not responsible, from whom would the House of Commons receive the views of the Government on the question of law reform? In the speech of his (Mr. Harcourt's) which had been so severely criticised, by which he certainly never meant to give offence, he ventured to suggest that there should be a Member of the Cabinet specially charged with the question of law reform; and if there were, the House would not witness the spectacle of the two principal Law Officers of the Crown getting up and washing their hands of all responsibility of it. Did not that account for the melancholy collapse with respect to law reform, which had been witnessed during the last four years? Measures with the object of reforming the laws were brought into the House of Commons, and they were cold-shouldered by the Attorney and Solicitor General of the day, who said—"It is no child of mine." Now, he considered that the first duty of the Law Officers of the Crown ought to be to attend to legislation in that House, and he himself, if no one more competent would undertake, would pledge himself to call attention before long to the whole condition of law reform in this country which at present afforded a spectacle of legislative impotence which reflected discredit on both Houses of Parliament.


must take occasion to say that his experience led him to believe that, while there was a great deal of cry about law reform in this country, very few in reality seemed to want it. His hon. and learned Friend who had spoken last but one talked a great deal about the subject, but he did nothing. The hon. and learned Gentleman was one of those who sought to set everybody right; but it would, he thought, be as well if he would first right himself. If he would only do something worthy of his great abilities in the direction of law reform the House, he had no doubt, would entertain a better opinion of him than it did at present.


said he would point out, as one of the reasons why law reform had of late made no progress, that the Government did not seem disposed to proceed on those old constitutional principles on which alone the country desired that any such reform should be based.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.