HC Deb 22 July 1891 vol 356 cc32-58

2. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £46,283, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1892, for the Salaries of the Law Officers; the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Solicitor for the Affairs of Her Majesty's Treasury, Queen's Proctor, and Director of Public Prosecutions: the Costs of Prosecutions, of other Legal Proceedings, and of Parliamentary Agency.

(3.33.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I believe that neither of the Law Officers of the Crown is here, and the question I have to raise affects both of them. I have no objection, however, to the Home Secretary dealing with the question. I feel that I owe an apology to the Committee for bringing forward this question at so late a period of the Session, as I have already brought it forward twice, but circumstances have arisen since the matter was last discussed that throw great light upon it. The question which I desire to raise by moving a nominal reduction of the Vote is whether in future the Attorney General, as chief law adviser of the Crown, should, in addition to the large income which the State pays him for contentious and non-contentious business, be allowed to take private practice. The fixed salary paid by the country to the Attorney General is £7,000 for non-contentious business, and it appears from a Parliamentary Return that, taking an average of six or eight years, he receives in addition to that an income of about £4,400 a year for contentious work or appearing as an advocate on behalf of the Government in Government cases. The Solicitor General's income is nearly £9,000, so that the two Law Officers of the Crown receive between them about £20,000 a year. This appears to me to be a very large sum to pay the two Law Officers, but I do not rise to call attention to that point. I want to lay down the principle which is practically accepted in the case of all other servants of the Crown—that they ought to devote their whole time and attention to the duties for which they are paid, and not have their attention distracted and their time monopolised by their private practice and their private interests. When on a former occasion I brought forward this question, I understood the First Lord of the Treasury to say he would appoint a Departmental Committee to inquire into it. I believe, however, that this has not yet been done. In reply to a question I put last year the right hon. Gentleman said the matter was receiving attention, but he thought that no inconvenience or injury to the public service was caused by the present practice. What, really, are the legal advisers of the Government intended for? Are they not paid this large salary in order that they may be able to give calm deliberation to all questions on which their opinion is asked, and to express an unbiassed opinion in regard to them? I contend that under the present system they really have no time to devote to the work of their offices, and the result is that the work is not done as efficiently as it should be. More than once they have been placed in a very invidious position through the conflicting claims of their public duties and private interests. Some Attorney Generals in the past have felt they were not able to give sufficient attention to public business if they continued their private practice, and they have very patriotically given up for the time their private practice. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury is an instance in point. When he was Attorney General he took no private practice, or at all events only a very small amount. In like manner Sir John Holker and Sir Richard Baggallay gave up their private practice when they held the post of Attorney General. If it was right in their cases, it is right also in the case of others, especially when the work has so vastly increased of late years. Some time ago a Committee was appointed to inquire into the remuneration of the Law Officers of the Crown, and Sir R. Baggallay who was examined, said— In my opinion, any Attorney General who desires to fully discharge the duties of his office must be prepared to sacrifice the emoluments to be derived from private practice, at any rate during that portion of the year in which Parliament is sitting. I do not think the present practice is satisfactory, either to the Public Service or to the Attorney General himself. Only the other day the Attorney General, when he ought to have been in this House in reference to a particular Bill, was engaged in a private case in one of the Law Courts. The result of the present state of things is that, instead of getting the best opinion and the best brains of our law advisers, we get what I may almost call the leavings of their minds. I believe that far too much of the work which the two Law Officers of the Crown ought to do is done not by themselves, but by gentlemen who are commonly called their devils, so that while the country imagines it is paying for the opinion of the Attorney General, it is really only getting the opinion of a very junior member of the Bar. Curiously enough, this very question arose some 300 years ago, when Lord Bacon was offered the Solicitor Generalship. He at that time wrote these words— I purpose not to divide myself between Her Majesty and the causes of other men as others have done, but to attend to her business, only hoping that the whole man, meanly able, may do as well as half a man, better able. What I think the Committee will desire is that the Law Officers should devote all their time and all their brains to the work of the country, and should not be distracted by private practice into having conflicting interests and duties. Cases have occurred lately that have furnished striking object lessons. There was the Parnell Commission, in which the Attorney General was engaged. Many Members on both sides of the House were so dull of comprehension that they failed to appreciate the subtle distinction which apparently existed between Sir R. Webster and the Attorney General, and which asserted that it was Sir R. Webster, and not the Attorney General, who was engaged before the Commission. Hon. Members will recollect that it became the duty of the Attorney General to explain that when on a former occasion he had risen from his seat on the Treasury Bench, and had vouched for the authenticity of the forged letters, he was then speaking from the Treasury Bench, not as Attorney General, but merely as private Counsel for the Times newspaper. The Attorney General gave an explanation which made him an interesting psychological study, and it would appear that he has his mind divided into a sort of watertight compartments, so that he is able to maintain distinct individualities, and to keep all his cases and interests apart. The other day, in this House, a Bill had to be postponed on account of the absence of the Attorney General, who was attending to his private business. In the case of "Evelyn v. Hurlbert" the hon. and learned Gentleman's private interests came before his public duty. That case also points another moral. The Attorney General was championing the cause of a leading literary light of the Unionist Party. It might have become the duty of the Attorney General, acting under the instructions of the Public Prosecutor, to prosecute Sir R. Webster's client for heinous perjury. In that case the watertight compartment theory becomes too palpably absurd, and the position now is, that if the Public Prosecutor takes action, he will not be able to fall back on the advice of the Attorney General, but must take that of the Solicitor General. If the Solicitor General had been employed in the case also, both the Law Officers would have been incapacitated from advising the Public Prosecutor, and he must have feed other Counsel for services for which the Law Officers are paid enormous salaries. The Solicitor General was counsel for the petitioner in the now historic divorce case of "O'Shea v. Parnell." A short time afterwards, addressing his constituents he claimed that in the course of his professional duty he had by the result of that case, changed the position of Parties in this House and throughout the country. Everyone will remember also that only a very short time ago the very foundations of the Throne were shaken by the thunder of the Solicitor General in the baccarat case, and everyone knows that the whole force of that speech was derived from the fact that it was made, not by Sir E. Clarke, but by the Solicitor General. It is bewildering to follow the individualities of these gentlemen, but in the public eye it is quite impossible that their different individualities can be kept apart. When they go into Court they are addressed and reported by their official titles, whether they appear for private clients or in their public capacity. I know we shall be given three reasons why this proposal should not be accepted. In the first place, we shall be told as we have been told before, that if we do not allow the Law Officers to take private practice we shall not get the best men. We shall be told that if they are not allowed to continue their private practice they will get out of touch with the Bar, and will not get back their practice afterwards. Well, I am perfectly prepared, if that argument is a sound one, to give a retiring pension for a limited number of years to the Attorney General in order to tide him over the period of destitution before he can again obtain his private practice. As to losing touch, we at present pay the Attorney General £4,000 or £5,000 a year to keep in touch with the Bar—that is to say, to attend to contentious business. I do not believe that the argument that we shall not get the best men will hold water. Even if we do not get the best men we shall get very good men, and I agree with Bacon that "the whole man, meanly able" is better than "half a man better able." Why should hon. Gentlemen really assert that we shall not get the pick of the Bar for the Attorney Generalship, if we no longer allow him to take private practice? Are the present emoluments of the office so contemptible that any gentleman would refuse to work on that ground alone? In addition to that there are the future prospects which open out before the Attorney General. Sir R. Baggallay, writing as Attorney General on this matter, says— As far as I am concerned, I readily admit that to many men, and certainly to myself, the question of the amount of salary would have but little influence as regards the acceptance or refusal of such an appointment as that if offered. As regards an appointment so honourable as that of the Attorney General at present is, the honour must remain the chief inducement to accept it. If £11,000 or £12,000 a year is not sufficient to compensate the Attorney General for the immediate and prospective loss of private practice, the difficulty could be met by attaching a pension to the office, and reducing the salary of the Solicitor General, while leaving him quite free to take private practice. I hope Members will vote on the merits of the question, irrespective of persons. I am sure the Committee will acquit me of any intention to make a personal attack, and I hope I have not done so. No one would desire that the new principle should be applied to the present holders of the offices. I simply desire to lay down the proposition that the services of the Attorney General should be at the disposal of the Government and of Parliament, so that his private interests should not conflict with his public duties, and so that he should be able to devote the whole of his great abilities to the benefit of the State. I move the reduction of the Vote by £100.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, Salaries, be reduced by £100, part of the Salary of the Attorney General."—(Mr. Sydney Buxton.)

(4.0.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)

I rise to support the hon. Member's Motion. As he has said, this is in no way a Party matter, nor is it likely to affect the present holder of the post; and if hon. Gentlemen are right in their anticipations of the result of the coming elections, the Motion, if carried, would first affect the Attorney General of the Party opposite. I regret that the Motion takes the form of a reduction of the salary of the Attorney General, for I have no desire to reduce that salary. I would rather see it increased. Differing from the hon. Member who has moved the reduction, I think the same rule ought to apply to the Solicitor General as to the Attorney General, because they are not only the advisers of the Government, but of the nation, which pays them, and they are the advisers of the House of Commons. The House is entitled to the presence of one or the other of its Law Officers during the whole of its sittings. In the Debates in the Grand Committee on the Bankruptcy Bill, it happened over and over again that neither Law Officer was present, although they were wanted very much to explain the meaning of doubtful clauses. Over and over again, too, the House has Suffered from the absence of the Law Officers. In a recent Debate on the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill we had an illustration. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbigh, to whose opinion as an ex-Judge Advocate General we naturally pay respect, ex-Pressed his view that a certain clause was not retrospective in its action. This led to a discussion of an hour and a half, in which several legal authorities took part, as to whether this was the correct view or not; and at the end of that hour and a half the right hon. Gentleman withdrew his opinion and changed it. [Mr. G. OSBORNE MORGAN: No.] Well, then, the right hon. Gentleman retained his opinion, but found nobody to agree with him. However that may be, we felt the want of the presence of a law adviser to give an authoritative explanation of the words as they appeared before us. The present system has a bad effect on litigants who coma in contact with the Crown, because when the subject is defeated, in addition to his own costs, he is saddled with the heavy fees of the Law Officer whose duty it is to represent the Crown, as well as of those of the junior Counsel, which, by the etiquette of the Bar, are so much higher than they otherwise would be by reason of the fact that a Law Officer is his leader. A remarkable illustration of this was afforded in connection with the recent rating appeal by the Committee of the London Library in St. James's Square. The counsel who argued the case on their behalf was an eminent junior who has since taken silk, and he was quite content with a five guinea fee and one guinea for conference. The appeal was dismissed, and when the bill came into the London Library there was a charge of 20 guineas for the Solicitor General and 15 guineas for his junior. The proper system would be to give to the Law Officers an inclusive salary for their whole services, and in any matters of litigation they should be required to go into Court and argue the case without additional fees, and the unsuccessful litigant should be called upon to pay just so much fee as he would have to pay were the successful side a private person. There is no force in the objection that an Attorney General would, while holding office, lose his practice. Of course he would get it all back again when leaving office. Did not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) relinquish practice when Attorney General, and did he not readily get it back again? Of course, his ability being well known, clients came round him again. Under the change proposed you would still get the best men and the advantage of the whole of their services.

*(4.12.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)

I think my hon. friend has done good service by his Motion, both to the public and to the Bar. The Attorney Greneral and the Solicitor General are the servants of the Crown, and in that sense servants of the public and of this House in exactly the same way as any other Minister, and I fail to see why an exception should be made in their favour. A few years ago there was a discussion in this House in reference to the Judge Advocate General taking business on behalf of a Foreign Ruler—I do not want to go into it—but the course followed was not received with favour by this House. I believe there is not a single other country in the world in which the Law Advisers of the State are allowed to take private practice, and there are sufficient reasons why the Attorney and Solicitor General should come under the general rule. In no case should private interest be allowed to conflict with public duty. My hon. Friend has pointed out two occasions in which most awkward complications have arisen under the present system. I quite agree that this House has in a sense the right and the attendance of one or other of the Law Advisers of the Crown and Parliament, and speaking from my experience as Chairman of a Grand Committee I can say that more than once we have felt the inconvenience of not having one of the Law Officers present to give an opinion upon some legal question which has turned up. The objections raised are not valid. It is said we shall not get the best man, but all I can say is, if men are so wedded to the desire to the making of money that they will not give their entire services to the public for £12,000 a year then the less we have to do with these men the better. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury and Sir Richard Baggallay gave up their private practice when taking office, and is it to be supposed that such men find any difficulty in getting their practice back again? The hon. Member is doing good service by his Motion, and I shall support him if he goes to a Division.

(4.15.) MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)

I am extremely sorry to find myself out of sympathy with the hon. Member who has brought forward this Motion; but I must confess that, from motives of public interest, I am strongly in favour of the Attorney General being permitted to continue his private practice. I suppose it will be conceded, and indeed it has been conceded, by my hon. Friend that it is desirable to secure the most eminent talent at the Bar for the position of Attorney General. The Attorney General is the adviser of the Crown; he is not from the theoretical and historical point of view, even though in late years he may have become so, the adviser of the House of Commons; he is the adviser of the Crown, he has the conduct of the litigious business of the Crown in contested cases, and he is also the chief prosecutor in criminal cases. The hon. Member who moved the reduction of the Vote has said that the distinction which the office of Attorney General confers upon the holder is so high that the most eminent Members of the Bar would be induced to sacrifice their private practice in order to accept it. But if my hon. Friend deprives the office of the distinguished and unique position it at present enjoys his argument fails. What inducement has any eminent man at the Bar to accept the office of Attorney General? I have always understood that members of the Bar have accepted that office not so much for the sake of the official salary which they receive as for the increase of their private practice which it causes as well as the distinction which it confers. Is it likely that the most successful members of the Bar would surrender their lucrative private practice, bringing them an income of, perhaps, £20,000 a year, for the official salary of the Attorney General of £12,000 a year including fees? It must be remembered that the position of Attorney General is a most precarious one, as he has to quit office with the Government of the day. The hon. Member opposite has mentioned the right hon. Member for Bury, and it is true that he recovered the practice he gave up when he accepted office—gave up to a considerable extent, but not altogether—but he is a singularly gifted member of the Bar, and thus found no difficulty in resuming practice he had partially relinquished. Then, again, I deny that it can be fairly said that present or previous Law Officers have neglected attendance in this House. They have been most assiduous in their attendance. They cannot be always here, and in their absence are there not on either side numbers of most capable lawyers ready and willing to give the House advice on any legal question that arises? Indeed, I think it has been made matter of complaint that so many lawyers find seats in this House. It is important that we should not transform our Attorney General into a mere insignificant servant of the Crown. If this Motion were carried, I cannot see why you should not transform the office into a permanent one, independent of the vicissitudes of the Ministry. History has furnished a warning against doing this. On either side we may feel proud of the distinguished men who have filled the office with the fullest public confidence; and speaking from the democratic and popular point of view, I oppose the Motion of my hon. Friend as likely to lower the dignity of the office of Attorney General in this House, and impair the efficiency of the duties he performs.


I hope the Committee will allow me to occupy their attention for a very few minutes whilst I lay before them the views which are entertained by those sitting on the Treasury Bench on this subject. I do not share the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport in relation to fees for contentious business. The present system has been followed for many years, and I think we do well to adhere to it, but it is not a point I think I can now profitably take up time in discussing. I should like to say a few words with regard to the proposal of the hon. Member that the Law Officers of the Crown should be obliged to give up their private practice.


My proposal only refers to the Attorney General.


I cannot see any distinction in point of principle between the two Law Officers of the Crown. Certainly the arguments of the hon. Member apply equally to both the Law Officers of the Crown. During the 56 years ending in 1886 there were 33 changes in the office of the Attorney General, giving an average tenure of that office of 20 months, while during the same period there were 40 changes in the office of Solicitor General, giving an average tenure of that office of 16 months.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many of those vacancies were caused by the holders of the offices having been raised to the Bench?


I will come to that in a moment. I am now only supporting the assertion that the position of Attorney General is a precarious one. I have not taken out of this list the number of those who during those 56 years became Judges, but certainly I say that the tenure of the office of Law Adviser to the Crown is not the best and surest road to the Judicial Bench. At present there are the Lord Chancellor and 33 Judges on the Bench, yet of these only three have ever been a Law Officer, namely, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Master of the Rolls. The position of Law Officer, therefore, is precarious, and it is by no means a certain road to the Bench. Are we likely to get the best men at the Bar to accept the position if they are to be entirely debarred from private practice? Would this be advantageous in the public interest? In a country like this of Judge-made law it is very necessary that the Law Officers, in order to keep abreast of the constant growth and progress of the law, should be in daily contact with the course of business and litigation, as it passes through the Courts. But as Law Officers, their contentious business would be confined almost entirely to criminal and revenue cases. If confined to such cases, the Law Officers would not keep up to the high-level of eminence which the Bar requires, and which constant experience alone secures. But I have wandered a little in that observation from the point I ought to have made at an earlier period, namely, that to debar them from all private practice would be to endanger their future professional prospects so gravely that eminent men would not submit to such a condition. Every common lawyer who accepts the position of Law Officer of the Crown has to make a considerable sacrifice. He has to give up his circuit, and that, to many a man, means a very serious loss. If he is a conscientious man, and does not neglect his duty to the Crown, his private practice in London must also be diminished—at any rate, I have never heard it even suggested that the Law Officers of the Crown neglect their official work for the sake of private practice. The hon. Member opposite quoted from Sir Richard Baggallay, but he omitted to read the words in which Sir Richard Baggallay said that if private practice were forbidden, the prospects of a Law Officer of the Crown on retiring from office would be materially diminished. Well, I do not think any lawyer would accept such a position as that. There are a number of men at the Bar pressing forward—straining at the leash, I may say—and just below the most eminent who are quite ready and able to take the place of those before them if the way is clear, and if an Attorney General or Solicitor General is debarred for even 20 months from private practice and is thus to lose all contact with his former clients, his chance of regaining his former practice will be but small. A man in the first rank of practice will be unwilling to run this risk. His term of office might be short, and he might be doomed to ultimate disappointment. The hon. Member suggests that the Law Officers of the Crown frequently go to the Bench, but the experience of the last 30 years shows how many years leading lawyers have had to wait for their promotion. I have spoken of 16 or 20 months as the average time during which a man holds the position of Law Officer, but the Committee are probably aware of the years during which Sir Fitzroy Kelly and Sir F. Thesiger waited for their promotion. If, therefore, the best men are wanted it is unreasonable to expect them to give up private practice, and it is undesirable in the public interest that by so doing they should be allowed to rust. I cannot accept the view to which expression has been given that the Law Officers are the servants of the House of Commons. They are the servants of the Crown, and their services in this House are rendered not as Law Officers, but as Members of the House. As Ministers of the Crown it is, no doubt, their duty to answer questions in the House, but they do not owe to the House the duty of advising it upon points of law. It has been suggested that, owing to their being so busy with private practice, the Departments shrink from consulting them to the extent that they otherwise would. This is a very mistaken idea, for, as a matter of fact, the Law Officers are now consulted three or four times as much as they used to be prior to 1875, when they ceased to receive fees for non-contentious business. Certainly in the Home Office the opinion of the Law Officers is being constantly taken on numberless points, I may say on many trifling questions, and the advice sought is promptly and cheerfully given, and I believe that the experience of other Departments is similar. I quite admit that wherever in any case points are likely to arise in regard to which the functions of the private advocate may ultimately come into conflict with the duties of a Law Officer of the Crown, it would be convenient and right for the Law Officer for the time being to decline the brief. I do not think that the Special Parnell Commission can be said by any fair-minded man to be a case in point. Before that Commission opened the Attorney General had been connected with the Times newspaper, he had the whole of their confidence, he knew all their case, and his obligations to his client were such as any barrister would readily understand made it an honourable duty to undertake the task set before him, and not to refuse it. No doubt he was subsequently placed in a difficult position which made it somewhat embarrassing for Her Majesty's Ministers to consult him, but that was an accidental result. As to the other case that has been mentioned, I do not see that it is much in point. The Attorney General was counsel for Mr. Hurlbert, and it has been suggested since the close of the case that a prosecution for perjury may be instituted. But a prosecution for perjury might arise out of a revenue case or a criminal case in which the Attorney General had been engaged on behalf of the Crown. There is nothing but sentiment to prevent a barrister's prosecuting for perjury a witness whom he himself has on a former trial put into the witness-box [An hon. MEMBER: His client?] or even his client. ["Oh!"] There is no actual rule to prevent a barrister prosecuting his own client. It is merely a question of feeling, and the necessity of so doing might arise out of the ordinary contentious business of the Crown. As to the absence of the Law Officers of the Crown during this Debate, I may say that the Solicitor General is engaged on the Statute Law Revision Committee, and is as much discharging his duties there as he would be if defending his salary here. But, no doubt, both the Law Officers would feel a delicacy in taking part in a Debate in which their salaries are in question. I hope that for the reasons I have stated the Committee will feel that the suggestion that the Law Officers should be debarred from all private practice is not desirable or feasible.

*(4.43.) MR. HALDANE (Haddington)

No one wishes to make any personal criticism on this occasion on either of the distinguished occupants of the position of Law Officer of the Crown. There is a question of broad public interest involved, and it seems to me that that is the one point of view from which the matter can be discussed. It is not a question of the maintenance of the ancient office of Attorney General, or a question of individuals. It is a question of the interest of the Government in general and of the House of Commons in particular, and it seems to me better that a Law Officer should give the whole of his time to the service of the public than that he should spend a portion of it in earning £15,000 a year. The Home Secretary himself has furnished an additional reason for thinking that it is desirable for the public to get as much of the time of the Law Officers as possible, because the right hon. Gentleman said that it is not only in his own Department, but in all Departments, that their services are more frequently required now than formerly. It stands to reason that with the increasing business of the country the time of the Law Officers must be more taken up than it was before with their public duties. It seems to me that the whole time of the Attorney General, at all events, should be given to the public. The Home Secretary has said that the average tenure of office by the Law Officers is 20 months. Then I would ask how, in common sense, can it be supposed that in the case of men of such eminence so short an absence from private work at the Bar would deteriorate their minds, blunt their faculties, or relegate them to oblivion? It is within the knowledge of everyone that if a man who is appointed a Law Officer of the Crown has been well before the public and is well known he will get back his practice easily on leaving office. It is all very well to quote one or two instances on one side, but I could give many instances to the contrary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury on becoming Attorney General gave up his private practice. Where is the right hon. Gentleman now? Why, there is no man in a more commanding position at the Bar, or in a better position to get as much private practice as he chooses to take; and so it is with every man who has occupied the position of Law Officer within the last few years. It is suggested that the Attorney General who ceases to practice privately will find himself unable to cope with antagonists who exercise themselves from day to day in forensic strife. I am bound to say, however, that an advocate in the largest practice would find the dis- tinguished individuals who have occupied the office of late years the most formidable of antagonists, no matter how long they might have been out of practice. If a man has once got into the groove, and his mind has become adapted to the work, no amount of absence, as long as he is well and strong and physically capable, will prevent him remaining what he has always been. I have no desire to make attacks on anybody, and if this Motion were put in a form in which it would exclude from its scope not only those who at present occupy the position, but those who have occupied it, and may do so again, we should still be glad to accept it. We can see in the mass of Bills that come before us day after day a tendency more and more to consider where amendments of the law are possible and ought to be made. Night after night appeals are made to us to take Bills on trust, and read them a second time without discussion. How is it possible for us to do so unless the Law Officers have been able to consider whether the Bills are acceptable? We know that the non-contentious and political business which our Law Officers have to conduct is now very great, and the House requires more and more of their time. I feel, therefore, constrained, without reference to any particular person, to support the Motion. I wish it was not so. The position of Attorney General is a great position, and one would like to see it kept up as it is now; but, consistently with the public interest, I do not see how that is possible.

*(4.55.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I think the strongest argument of the Home Secretary was that it would be impossible to have an effective advocate in the Attorney General unless he was in daily contact with the Courts. The right hon. Gentleman somewhat exaggerated that argument, but no doubt there is considerable force in it. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman appears to understate the amount of business which would still be conducted in the Courts by the Attorney General if the Motion were adopted. At present the Attorney General advises all the Departments of the State, and therefore it would be quite consistent and proper that, whenever any Department of the State had contentious business, it should be represented by the Attorney General. It is obvious, therefore, that the Attorney General would have quite sufficient business in the Courts to prevent his tongue forgetting its cunning. I was somewhat surprised to hear what fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones), who claimed that he was supporting the democratic side of the question. I think the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Buxton) on this occasion has really supported the popular and democratic side. It seems to me a somewhat obsolete argument to say that if the proposal were adopted it might develop a spirit of sycophancy in the holder of the office. It is notorious that complaints have been made respecting the absence of the Attorney General, and notably when the Bankruptcy Bill was under discussion. I can scarcely agree that the absence of the Law Officers is compensated for by the presence of other learned Gentlemen, who are always ready to offer their gratuitous services to the Government. I have always rather held the belief that the gratuitous legal opinion of a lawyer is worth what you give for it. Three cases have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar in which no candid person will deny that serious embarrassment has been felt in consequence of the position taken up by the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, namely, the Parnell case, the Hurlbert case, and the baccarat case. The statement of the Home Secretary that there is no embarrassment in the Hurlbert case is surprising, because the Attorney General, as I understand, has proposed that the Solicitor General and not himself should advise the Public Prosecutor. I was amused by the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the position of the Attorney General in the case would not be different from that of a private practitioner at the Bar. It must be obvious that there is a very great distinction between the two cases, because the Attorney General was called upon to advise in the public interest whether a prosecution should be under- taken against his own client—a position in which, of course, no private barrister could ever be placed. One word with regard to the present practice of feeing the Law Officers of the Crown in contentious business. I think that cases have occurred recently which make it very clear that where the Crown is concerned the Attorney General and the Solicitor General are briefed in cases of such a character that no private suitor would ever think of going to the expense. The hon. Member for Stockport referred to the case which I brought under the notice of the House some time ago, and in which the Attorney General was concerned for the Crown. The Department had marked upon his brief 75 guineas; that was taxed down to 12 guineas, and it was stated in the House that the Attorney General had made it a rule that he would not go into Court under a certain sum. That is no doubt quite consistent with the modern spirit of the Bar, but it is inconsistent with the older and nobler conception of the advocate at the English Bar, whose services, at least in theory, were available to the first comer. However, all that is changed. But the position of the Attorney General is very different from that of an ordinary practitioner, and the question does arise in my mind whether that rule ought to be applied by the Law Officer of the day to Crown business. If it is to be applied, then the Departments must be very chary about employing them; they must very carefully consider whether any particular case is of such importance as to require the services of these highly-paid gentlemen. For these reasons, Mr. Courtney, I shall support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar.

(5.7.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 80; Noes 118.—(Div. List, No. 369.)

Original Question again proposed.

(5.15.) SIR G. CAMPBELL&c.) (Kirkcaldy,

I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £1,000, in connection with the Salaries and Expenses of the Public Prosecutor.

MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I rise to order. I desire, first, to move the reduction of the Attorney General's salary, in reference to a prosecution which he has not instituted. A good many fortune tellers in a small way are prosecuted and sent to prison with hard labour. I am informed, Sir, that there is a fortune teller carrying on business in a large way, not at 1s. a head, but 10s. a head, in Bond Street. Her name, I believe, is Miss Kennedy. I have had the misfortune, with others, to make inquiries and pay 10s. I do not say that it is wrong to prosecute fortune tellers who charge 1s., but I want to know why there is no prosecution where it is done in a very fashionable way, and for a large fee. I am told that Miss Kennedy keeps a footman to receive visitors, and everything is in proper West End style. I want to know from the Attorney General why the person charging 10s. is not prosecuted as well as the persons charging 1s. The law should be put in motion all round, whether in the East End or the West End, or anywhere else, and whether the charge be 1s. or 10s. I move the reduction of the Vote by £100.


The hon. Member must vary the amount; £100 has already been rejected.



Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, Salaries, be reduced by £200, part of the Salary of the Attorney General."—(Mr. Morton.)


My hon. and learned Friend is not able to be here, but I am sure I may say on his behalf that he is extremely anxious in the administration of the law, so far as it comes under his cognisance, to secure with regard to public prosecutions that there shall be equality of treatment of all persons, however different their position. Of course, a great many of these things are matters for the police, and they have to be considered by the police. My hon. and learned Friend is not acquainted with the facts of the case, but the hon. Member seems to be very well acquainted with them; and I am sure if he were to say anything to the Public Prosecutor, or make to a person responsible a statement of the facts, it would be fully considered.


If I had the Attorney General's salary, or part of it, I would take care to find out the particulars. Why should I, who get no pay, do what is apparently the business of the Attorney General, or of the Solicitor General, or of the Public Prosecutor? I do not think this is the way in which one ought to be answered when one gives particulars of a case of this sort. If the hon. Member promises me that these large cases, as well as the small ones, shall be inquired into, I shall deem it my duty to withdraw the Motion for the reduction of the Vote. Otherwise, I must press the Motion.


I have always great pleasure in assisting at the reduction of any legal Vote. I am altogether of opinion that lawyers get too much, and I think the point has been so ably and lucidly put by my hon. Friend that it will commend itself to the majority of the Committee. I do hope the Committee will be saved the trouble of dividing by the Solicitor General giving us a straightforward and satisfactory answer, and so remove the suspicion which is in my mind as well as in the mind of my hon. Friend, that the law is not administered alike to rich and poor.

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question again proposed.


The Motion which I have to make is that which I have already very shortly laid before the Committee. My experience is that the Public Prosecutor in regard to public frauds is not easily moved. I do not blame the Public Prosecutor, who is under the Attorney General, and against whom it may be thought, therefore, my Motion ought to be directed. The Attorney General should be in the position of the Procureur General of France, or, to some extent, of the Lord Advocate, who is allowed to take a very limited extent of private practice. My view is that we should have a great and real system of public prosecution. We ought to get rid of that singularity of private prosecutions; they ought not to be conducted as between private litigants I do not think we will ever get rid of that superstition until we have a real Public Prosecutor—a real Attorney Ge- neral at the head of a great Department to prosecute public offences for the benefit of the public. I desire, however, now to limit myself to one class of offences, namely, public frauds. The Director of Public Prosecutions has submitted a very fair and frank Report upon the subject of his duties; but when he comes to frauds and offences connected with property, he seems to have prosecuted in no such cases, the reason being that it is the instruction of the Attorney General not to prosecute in a case which assumes the aspect of a criminal fraud. It seems to be the Attorney General's view that in such cases the prosecution ought to be instituted by the parties aggrieved. I desire to raise a very distinct issue—whether or not it is right that prosecutions in cases of fraud by promoters of public companies and the like should be undertaken by the Public Prosecutor. Under the law of England a person who steals a purse or a horse is prosecuted at the public expense, and I do not see why persons guilty of financial frauds should not be treated in a like manner. I think it in the general interest and in the interest of trade that the Public Prosecutor should take up cases of this kind. I see that the Public Prosecutor, in his Report, cites two eases in which he undertook the prosecution in 1889, as showing that he had better not do so. One in connection with a fraudulent Insurance Company was undertaken by direction of a Select Committee of this House; it cost £517, and ended in an acquittal. No doubt it was a difficult case, for the law relating to it was very complicated. In the second case there was a conviction of the accused persons, followed by a sentence of seven years' penal servitude. The Public Prosecutor points out that the cost was £386 11s. 1d., and suggests that the expenditure in both cases was scarcely justified. I do not agree with him; I think nothing is more detrimental to the public than fraudulent assurances. I do not think the argument of expense tells against the policy of public prosecutions; on the contrary, I think it tends in the opposite direction, and that as the prosecutions are so expensive private persons ought not to be expected to undertake them. The fact is, that if they are instituted by private persons they are generally compromised, and that certainly is not desirable in the public interest; neither is it in the interests of thrift that it should be placed at the mercy of the promoters of fraudulent companies. The circumstances attending the wreck of a company should be investigated as strictly as those connected with the wreck of a ship, and it is of no use bringing the misconduct of company promoters to light unless means are provided for punishing them. No doubt exposure and prosecution entail expense, but it is not likely to be undertaken at all if the Public Prosecutor declines to move in the matter. It is all very well for the Attorney General to say that people should look after their own affairs. I know it is impossible often to protect a man against his own folly; but it is possible to protect him against fraud. No doubt great influences are and will be brought to bear against the adoption of a general policy of public prosecutions in these cases. There is an enormous body of "guinea-pig" Directors to contend with. They take good care not to see any fraud in the companies from which they draw their fees. I asked a question the other day with regard to the case of Cloëte, which was investigated before a Metropolitan Magistrate and sent for trial. What happened? The case was compromised, measures being taken to compensate the prosecutrix for the loss she had sustained. An eminent Judge sanctioned the withdrawal of the prosecution. This was one of the few cases in which a private person has been induced to prosecute, and I am sorry it did not go to trial. Then there is the case of Duncan. A verdict for £10,000 was obtained against him for breach of promise of marriage. He went bankrupt and committed the offence of concealing his assets. Eventually £6,500 was traced, and it was allowed to be accepted in settlement of the case.


The Court of Appeal reduced the damages in that case to £6,500.


At any rate, Duncan attempted to conceal the money, and when it had been recovered the Prosecutor did not press the charge against him, and he got off with a nominal sentence. I say that this system of private prosecutions leads to great abuses. Public frauds have a tendency to discourage thrift, and thrift very much wants encouragement in this country. How is it that England is not so rich and prosperous in regard to small investments as France and other countries? The reason is that we have not here, as France, Germany, America, and Switzerland have done, encouraged the system of small investments. Our laws are unequal: they enable a rich man to obtain justice, but they deny it to the poor man. In France, in America, and in our Dependencies the small investor flourishes, but in England we do our best to discourage him by not instituting public prosecutors against offenders who commit frauds upon these investors. I beg to move the reduction of Item H of the Vote by £1,000.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item H, Salaries, be reduced by £1,000, part of the Salary of the Public Prosecutor."—(Sir G. Campbell.)

*(5.54.) MR. MATTHEWS

I hope the hon. Member will not think me discourteous if I decline to follow him into the details of the cases he has referred to. If he had pointed out any misconduct on the part of the Director of Public Prosecutions, I should have been prepared to defend an officer who has discharged his duty with rare zeal and ability. The system of private prosecution does not come within this Vote, and I decline, therefore, to enter into a discussion as to whether the English system of leaving persons aggrieved to prosecute is inferior to that of other countries. The single matter in which the remarks of the hon. Gentleman were relevant is the question of whether it ought to be part of the duty of the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute the promoters of fraudulent public companies. Public frauds always have been and are still prosecuted by that official, but the sort of frauds which are not so prosecuted are those in which a set of rogues and knaves put forward a number of false and fraudulent state- ments, whilst other people who desire to get large interest join in the scheme, and when they lose their money, come shrieking to the Director of Public Prosecutions to get their money back. I do not agree that the Director of Public Prosecutions ought to be required to spend large sums of money in prosecuting cases of that sort. As to Cloëte's case, the learned Judge before whom it was to be tried had all the depositions before him, and he came to the conclusion that it was not clear any offence had been committed. I take leave to say, on behalf of an officer for whom I am responsible in this House, that he has always discharged his duty with uncommon zeal and industry, and that he deserves the commendation of the House rather than a reduction in his salary.


We have just listened to a piece of special pleading on behalf of the present system, and that is just what I expected. I made no charge against the Public Prosecutor. I have no doubt he does his duty excellently well. What I have raised was the question of the desirability of his prosecuting in cases of company frauds. This, I complain, he does not now do.

(6.0.) MR. T. M. HEALY

The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary made a remark which was as much calculated to do mischief as anything I have ever heard. I gathered that what he said was to the effect that the persons who lost their money in public companies were those who tried to get large interest for it, and were no more to be pitied than the directors and promoters who took their money. I do not think a more unfortunate observation was ever dropped by a Minister, and I hope some Member of the Government will rise to correct it. The country is at this moment smarting under a number of public company blisters, and nothing could be more regrettable than the making of such an observation at this moment. It gives public company promoters to understand that, no matter what they do, they are not to be kept in check by the Public Prosecutor. No prospect could be more appalling to those who entrust their money to the Directors of public companies. I do not know whether the Home Secretary was led to make the observation by the fact that many of his Conservative supporters are Directors of these companies, but it would be unfortunate that it should go forth, on the authority of the Homo Secretary, that those who intrust money to their keeping almost deserve prosecution as much as the directors.

MR. SUMMERS (Huddersfield)

May I ask what is being done by the Public Prosecutor in the Hurlbert case?


It has been already stated to the House by the Attorney General that he has passed the matter over to me, and he has left the direction of the steps to be taken to me. It would be going beyond my duty if I were to state more than that steps are being taken for the examination of the materials upon which a decision must be arrived at. I do not think that I ought to make any further statement at present.

(6.4.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 46; Noes 98.—(Div. List, No. 370.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

3. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £39,553, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1892, for certain Miscellaneous Legal Expenses.

(6.13.) MR. MORTON

I have a question to put to the Attorney General with regard to Revising Barristers, and as I do not see him in his place, I beg to move, Mr. Courtney, that you do report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Morton.)


I would appeal to the Committee to take two or three more Votes.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not take the Vote for the Supreme Court of Judicature.


If the Motion is withdrawn the Government will stop at the Vote before the Committee.


I withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

I desire to ask the Solicitor General a question with regard to the intentions of the Government as to the interest which certain Magistrates' clerks have in prosecutions. There is a statute providing that the clerks in boroughs shall not be interested in the prosecutions. That rule does not prevail in country districts, and the consequence is that there are many Magistrates' clerks who have a direct pecuniary interest in committals. It has been admitted by successive Governments that this is a blot on the administration of justice.


I will take an opportunity of ascertaining the facts and speaking to the hon. Member on the subject.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported to-morrow.

Committee to sit again upon Friday.