HC Deb 17 March 1893 vol 10 cc417-35

7. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £7,170, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1893, for Law Charges, England.

LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)

I hope the Committee will not suspect me, whatever may have been the case in former days, of desiring at the present time to protract in any way the course of ordinary Public Business in the House of Commons if I rise to ask the House to allow me to make some remarks on the subject which is raised by this Vote, for no other reason than that I am convinced of the very great importance of the change which it is proposed to make in the position of the Law Officers of the Crown. This matter has hardly been discussed before in this Parliament. It was discussed in former days on more than one occasion, as I will show. But the other night in Committee—I think it was Friday—only a few speeches were made; one speech was in favour of change, and others against it. No doubt, persuaded by the friendly pressure of his colleagues, the Attorney General has modified the character of the remarks he used on the subject. As far as the question of arrangement goes for the carrying out of the change in the position of the Law Officers of the Crown in respect to their private practice, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Preston as to the defects in the particular arrangement made. I object to it on the ground of economy, in the first place, because you are without any certainty that you will get a beneficial arrangement or a better arrangement than you now have, and possibly you will get a worse one. You are throwing on the Exchequer between £9,000 and £10,000 a year extra charge. I believe that under the system which has been for the moment supplanted by the new one the contentious business of the Crown, conducted under the superintendence of the Law Officers, brought in fees to the amount of about £4,500 a year to each Law Officer. But it was arranged that the Law Officers should be paid for the contentious business in which they took part at rates far lower than barristers of the position of Law Officers would receive if employed by private individuals. Those rates I estimate at 50 per cent. lower. Much of that contentious business, too, was devolved by the Law Officers on other barristers—able, skilful, and experienced—who took the business at far lower fees than great counsel would require. Now that is all to be changed. The Law Officers under the new arrangement are to have no private business, but undoubtedly it is contemplated that their fees for contentious business will be raised to what they could command in private business as great counsel, and that charge must fall upon the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head; but he has great faith, I think, in the goodness of mankind; but the Committee will probably agree with me that in these matters it is better to take a businesslike view. I am perfectly certain that if you want to maintain the high-class of your Law Officers you cannot do it on the cheap; but you are not, under the present arrangement, doing it on the cheap. I hold that you are really paying more without any security that you are getting a better article, but with every possibility that you will get a worse article. But in addition the Law Officers are to be allowed to practise before the Privy Council and the House of Lords. That is an arrangement which might work very capriciously. I do not wish to make any personal remark, but the Solicitor General might easily have a very large practice in the House of Lords, and with regard to the Privy Council, I can quite understand that, under certain developments of the Constitution, the Law Officers might have very heavy employment before the Privy Council and if you want to get all the time of the Law Officers it seems to be a very large slice to cut out to allow them to be retained before the Privy Council and the House of Lords. The scheme is one which the Committee ought to scrutinise very carefully before it is allowed. But I pass to another view of the case, and wish to examine the case solely upon the question of principle. I can quote in support of the contention that a change in the direction which the Government contemplate will, on the whole, be unfortunate in its result and probably mischievous to the public interest some of the highest legal authorities. I would like to recall to the House some of the opinions of the great Law Officers who have held office in this House in former days, but not very long ago. This matter came up for examination in 1872, when there was one of the strongest Liberal Governments in Office. It was debated in the House of Commons, and evidence was taken by a Departmental Committee, presided over by Sir G. Jessel, who, I suppose, was one of the most eminent Judges that ever sat on the Bench. Nothing has happened since that day to alter the opinion which was expressed by that Committee. They called before them Sir John Karslake, than whom there never was a more brilliant or a more distinguished lawyer, never one more respected in his profession, and by the large circle who knew him never one more worshipped. He said that nothing could be more unfortunate than to have Law Officers who never appeared in private cases, but that they must sacrifice those private cases if they had a great deal to do for the Government, and he added that if the Attorney General lost prestige by never going into Court except on Government business it would be a great misfortune. The whole of Sir John Karslake's evidence was in that direction—that the Law Officers of the Crown, whether Attorney or Solicitor General, must represent the greatest amount of legal eminence which the Bar of the day can show. In a Debate in this House, in 1872, the present Lord Chief Justice said— You want the very best and most eminent men in the profession who can obtain seats in the House of Commons. You want for your Attorney General not merely a clever man, but a man of ascertained position and of considerable experience. Remember, he has to advise the Government and the House itself on subjects the importance of which cannot be overstated. He must have the judgment which is born of experience, and he must have an ascertained and great professional position, so that he may not be overborne by the weight of any great authority in the House itself when he is called upon to speak. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury expressed a similar opinion. He said— We ought to have the best men who can be obtained, and we ought to take care that we do not lower the office of Attorney General or Solicitor General so as to make it unacceptable to the best men we can obtain. I cannot help entering a protest against comparisons being drawn between the position of Prime Minister and other Ministers, and the Law Officers of the Crown. Those who become Ministers, as a rule, give up nothing; they only receive their salary in addition to their previous incomes; but the case of a Law Officer is very different. Before he accepts the position, if he be a worthy person to fill it, he has a large private practice, and if the emoluments of the office are considerably reduced we shall not get the right men to fill the position. I could quote, also, the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman who occupied the position of Home Secretary in the late Government, and who is certainly as well qualified as anybody can he to speak on this subject. I think it may be taken that all legal authorities, almost without exception, are in favour of the opinion that the Law Officers of the Crown ought to be those who in the general opinion of the Bar are the best qualified, and marked out as their leaders and their best men. But there were also debates on the subject in this House in 1887 and 1888, and then a change in the position of the Law Officers in the direction of private practice was advocated, but the opinion of Parliament was still against the proposed change. In 1888, on the Vote for the Law Officers, it was argued that they cost the country too much money, and that the country did not get enough of their time, but again Parliament absolutely refused to countenance that proposition. I think the action of the Government in proposing this change in the position of the Law Officers of Parliament has been premature and hasty, and what I would ask the Committee to do is to put some pressure on the Government to make them pause before they come to a final decision. It cannot be said that up to now opinion in the House of Commons or in legal circles has been unfavourable to the arrangement which has lasted up to the present Session. I believe I may lay stress, without fear of contradiction from the hon. and learned Law Officers of the Crown opposite me, on the importance of a lawyer who has to fulfil important duties having a large and varied private practice. Lord Coleridge has said that it would never do to have as Law Officers men who were unknown to the profession, or men without a great practice, that it was probable such men would not be fit for the duties of the Law Officers, and that as a general rule the men at the head of the profession were there because they deserved to be there. I could quote the opinions of other great authorities if I had time, all bearing in the direction that when a counsel has not a large private practice, and when he gets out of touch with his profession, he loses that sure knowledge and experience of all varieties of law which ought to be at the command of the Law Officers of the Crown; that when he appears in Court in only a certain class of business he becomes lowered in the estimation of his profession, and that when he leaves his profession any private practice he may have previously possessed would be altogether gone. Now, I cannot think the Committee will be of opinion that that is the sort of man we ought to have for a Law Officer. The duration of the office of Law Officer has not been at any time very long. Lord Coleridge stated that from the accession of William IV. to 1872 there had been 20 Attorney Generals and more Solicitor Generals, and that only gave an average duration of office of about two years, and he asked— If you at all interfere with the emoluments and profits of the office, how will you get persons of any position at the Bar to accept such a precarious position? Whether you have short Governments or long Governments, I think it will always be a matter of the greatest importance to the State to have at its command the highest legal assistance that the Bar can produce. But if you are going to make the office less profitable, more precarious than it was, and more liable to change, surely you will lower its attraction for members of the Bar. If you get a class of men who are not of the standing of the two hon. and learned Gentlemen whom I see before me, and of my hon. and learned Friends who preceded them, and of the great men who have held the office of Law Officers of the Crown—if you lower the class of men, the persons you will get will look upon their office as a mere stage in their career, and they will be eager for any puisne Judgeships which may fall vacant; there will be what there has never been before among the great Law Officers, a regular scramble for ordinary puisne Judgeships. The tenure of the office being made shorter, and the value less, the class of men will become less good. I will not dwell further upon the importance of preserving for the service of the State the best men who are known at the Bar. The Committee I am sure will see that for themselves. When we remember the importance of the questions which the Law Officers have to deal with, questions involving the expenditure of millions of money, and, perhaps, great loss of life—questions such as the Newfoundland difficulty, the Behring Sea Arbitration, the Alabama affair, and matters of that kind, of which numerous instances are to be found in history—money is saved, and the country is greatly strengthened by having at its command the most solid legal assistance that the Bar can give. You are now altering the position of your Law Officers. You are making them a sort of Crown officials, limiting them entirely to the transaction of Crown business. They no longer can come to you representing a vast knowledge of law, native and international. They will be different people entirely from what they have been in the past, because the offices in all probability will no longer be held by the greatest men at the Bar. I know the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General will not disagree with the views I am expressing, and I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) will widely disagree with them. There is a tremendous weight of authority against the change, and absolutely no facts are adduced in support of the proposals of the Government in this direction, unless, indeed, you have in your minds certain circumstances, which occurred some years back, in respect of the private practice of the Law Officers, and which excited a good deal of attention at the time, but which were only judged as making a change necessary by persons who judge and think hastily. These persons, when events that surprise them occur, say "Oh! something must he done," and I have always noticed when that cry is hastily raised "Oh! something must be done," it invariably follows that something very foolish is done. That, I think, has been the ease in the present instance. It seems to me that by the new system you have adopted you are running enormous risks, and are gaining nothing to the Exchequer. You are running the risk of getting inferior persons to advise the Government on subjects that involve the greatest interests of the State—subjects, even, of peace or war—and you are doing it as the result of criticism without evidence. It is true that the Attorney General defended the Vote when it was opposed, but he never said a word in favour of the change. I do hope some Member of the Government, able to give an authoritative opinion—someone like the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Solicitor General—will tell the Committee what induces the Government to propose this change to the House of Commons at all; will say within what limits they think it may work; and what will he the probable effect upon the class of future Law Officers, as compared with that of former days. I hope we shall have that explanation from the Government, but in any case, for my own part, I would press on the Committee the desirability of pausing before accepting the arrangement proposed by the Government. I support the Motion of the hon. Member for Preston as a protest against the change, and this I would say in conclusion: The present Government may make what change they like in opposition to the view of their Law Officer, but they cannot bind future Governments; and I have a very strong feeling that you will find that future Governments will go back—and will be forced to go back—to the old arrangements. They will be obliged to secure the best legal assistance they have at their command. You are really putting an extra charge of no inconsiderable amount on the Exchequer in order to effect a change which will only last the lifetime of the present Government. I would really ask the Government and the Committee whether they think the change worth persevering in. I have myself the strongest opinion of its impolicy, and, as a protest, I shall support the Motion of the hon. Member for Preston.


I would point out that no Amendment has been moved to the Estimate.


I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £500.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, of £700, for Law Officers' Salaries, be reduced by £500."—(Mr. Hanbury.)

SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

I will only occupy the time of the Committee for a very brief period, but I wish to give some of my reasons for having always supported the change now made. I hope the Committee will not expect me to enter into that portion of the subject which affects the amount of the emoluments the Law Officers receive. I do not wish to criticise that portion of the arrangement—I do not wish to deal with the terms made by my hon. and learned Friends for their services. The noble Lord says that the Law Officers will, under the new system, be placed in such an inferior position that the Crown will not get the best men for the place; but he also said that under the new system the Attorney General will receive £16,000 a year of the taxpayers' money—and there is no member of the profession but will feel that £16,000 a year, with the private practice he is able to enjoy, is an ample remuneration for any public service which the Attorney General may render. But I take a broader view of the matter. I think that the public should receive the full services of the Law Officers of the Crown, and I think that unless the public do receive them the duties of the Law Officers cannot be properly performed. I particularly desire to make it clear that I am not for one moment supposing that those who have previously occupied the position have not efficiently discharged their duties. But the business of this country has been increasing year by year, and is increasing in many ways, especially in the Law Officers' Department. In former times the Law Officers never attended the House of Commons at all unless they were sent for on some particular occasion when their attendance was specially required, or when some crucial Division was about to take place on which the fate of the Government depended. But of recent years a great change has taken place. The Law Officers now attend most diligently to their duties at the House, and one of them ought, I think, to be present upon every Standing Committee. Such duties were never thrown upon them in former times. Year by year an increased number of legal opinions is required from the Law Officers. I believe in the last 20 years they have more than doubled. And my view is that, if these duties are properly performed, there is but little, if any time for attention to private business. It is not right to place the Law Officers in a, position of temptation either of neglecting their public duties for their private practice or of overworking themselves. The noble Lord has referred to the case of Sir John Karslake, who retained his private practice. I was one of those who had to remonstrate with him for the manner in which he devoted himself to his private duties. I begged him to spare himself, lest overwork should bring him to his death. But he did not listen to these remonstrances, and his duties to the public were so heavy, and his private practice so great, that I do not hesitate to say that Sir John Karslake killed himself by the diligence with which he applied himself to his work. And take another view of the question. I am one of those who think that the personal position of the Law Officers, without continuity or connection with a Department, prevents the legal business of the country from being properly performed. I think that a Law Officer should be as accessible to the heads of Departments as a solicitor is to his client. When the head of a Department wants a legal opinion, there is no office to which he can go and say, "I want your opinion." The opinion has to be obtained by a cumbrous red-tape method of procedure. A period of four or five weeks often elapses before an opinion which has been asked for is returned to the head of a Department. That is accounted for by the pressure put upon the Law Officers; but surely that pressure is increased, if the Law Officers retain their private practice. The delay which so often occurs now is frequently detrimental to the Public Service. Great inconvenience is suffered from the want of a central department. A Law Officer has to discover for himself as best he can what has been done in the past; and surely, if you can adopt a method by which you can secure consistency in the legal opinions that are given you ought to adopt it. At present there is no record of the opinions given — there is no précis of the cases advised upon, and every Law Officer is without guidance as to past precedents. If he cannot discover what has been done in the past he must give a fresh opinion. It may appear a small matter, but it is most necessary that there should be a central department where access can be had to one Law Officer or the other. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will no doubt recollect the fight that took place in the interest of the Law Officers about 20 years ago. At that time they were allowed no method of official communication, but the right hon. Gentleman, by the employment of language of a super-official character, not overburdened with moderation, secured the concession from the Government that the Law Officers should have one small bag passed through the Post Office as an official bag. That was all that the Law Officers could obtain. But the absence of a central department was not a grievance of a fancied character. This country once suffered through the absence of such a department. Not long ago—during the time of the American War—there was building upon the Mersey a vessel known as "No. 260." The Custom House officers watched that vessel, and sent to the Foreign Office for instructions as to what course to pursue. The Law Officers had to be consulted. There were three of them in those days—for we then had the Queen's Advocate. One was reposing on the banks of the River Wye, and he dispatched his opinion to London. The papers were wrapped in a brown-paper parcel. That parcel was followed by some enterprising persons connected with the Confederate States, and before the papers reached London their contents were known to the agents of the Southern States. Before the advice contained in the papers could be acted upon, that vessel, half-equipped, had left the Mersey. Her equipment was subsequently completed, and "No. 260" became the Alabama, and cost this country millions of money. This was simply because we had no department where business could be carried on as it should be. Ever since I have had knowledge and experience of this subject, I have felt that there must come a time when the practice of a barrister on the part of a Law Officer of the Crown must give place entirely to the performance of his public duties. I cherish the hope that the Law Officers of the Crown will ever maintain their high position, whilst, at the same time, properly discharging their duties. I do not believe that by accepting office they will get out of touch with the profession and the public. I am convinced that eminent lawyers like my hon. and learned Friends who at present occupy the position of Law Officers on leaving office will at once find themselves retained by the public. The large number of Law Officers who in recent years have disappeared from view has been referred to. Yes; but what has become of them? The great majority of them have obtained judicial offices, offices which will still be open to Attorneys General and Solicitors General. I do trust that a fair trial will be given to the change the Government have carried into effect.

SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)

I intervene in the Debate with some reluctance, and I will not touch upon the question of the particular reduction moved by the hon. Member for Preston, because it seems to me the House of Commons would be well advised if it considered this matter as one of principle quite apart from any other question. I prefer to argue the question from the point of view of what is best for the Government and for the transaction of the legal business of the country. I cannot help having a slight feeling of wonder as to what are the feelings of the Under Secretary for the Colonies in connection with this Debate. It cannot be seriously denied that the result of the change will be to increase the burdens on the country by some £7,000 or £8,000 a year, and I very much doubt whether the Under Secretary for the Colonies, when he moved in this matter in two consecutive Sessions, had any idea that the result of the Government adopting his suggestion would be to increase the burden on the taxpayer. I cannot help feeling that many people will think that the object which it was sought to obtain has been rather dearly bought. What is the principle for which the Government are contending? If it be that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General should not take private practice, what is the meaning of the exception in the case of the House of Lords and the Privy Council? I say, from the point of view of principle, when it comes to be examined into, it is an absurdity to suggest that you are depriving the Law Officers of the opportunity of making large sums of money by private practice, and also preventing a sensible amount of their time being occupied if these two tribunals are excepted. I happen to know where the suggestion originally came from. The President of the Local Government Board will probably remember mentioning the matter to me some years ago, and I then explained to him the opinion which I venture to express to the House to-night. It is a mode of selection which in my humble judgment would apply most unfairly in the case of certain members of the profession, and would defeat its object. Some Law Officers have been great advocates before juries, some have been great advocates in the Courts of Equity, and some have done a large and almost continuous practice in the House of Lords and the Privy Council. What is to be the position of the Law Officers in connection with the House of Lords and the Privy Council? The House of Lords sits four days and the Privy Council four or five days a week, and I may be permitted to say, with some little knowledge of the matter, that the work of getting up and mastering a Privy Council case is not the least laborious part of our profession. The Attorney General and Solicitor General will be distinctly at a disadvantage in cases before those tribunals. They may not, in the first place, be accustomed to the practice of those Courts, and, in the next place, they will not have had the advantage of following cases up from the Court of First Instance. From the point of view of principle it would be better to say that a Law Officer shall never take any but criminal practice. The Attorney General is the director of prosecutions, in the sense that he advises the Home Secretary and other Secretaries of State, and if he is not to engage to any extent in private practice, I say what reason is there for picking out and exempting the two tribunals which involve the most lucrative remuneration, and certainly involve not the least heavy labour, and in connection with which some Law Officers may have a large practice and others none at all? The history of the past 50 or 100 years shows how essential it is to have a lawyer well acquainted with criminal practice to advise the Government; therefore, we have to face the question of the best way to secure the services of the man who will command the respect of the House of Commons and of the country. I had not the pleasure of hearing the speech of the Attorney General the other evening, but I could not help thinking as I read it that there was in it an under-current of regret at the change to which he had been a party. I am doing him no injustice I am satisfied. No one who read the speech could have had any doubt as to what was not in it. He said that he was in a unique position for the six months during which he had previously held the office of Attorney General; he had lost £2,000. We know very well what was the class of legislation then being framed, and what were the relations between the First Lord of the Treasury and the Attorney General. There was a Home Rule scheme then in preparation, and in connection with that the hon. and learned Gentleman's time must have been fully occupied. I certainly think that if it had been then necessary to make this change it should have been the result of the concentrated wisdom of the Government, the Government saying to their Law Officers, "It is wise that the change should be made," and the Law Officers taking that view. I confess it does encourage us in thinking that the change was not a wise one when we have the conviction that does not admit of any serious doubt that the best opinion that possibly could be taken on this matter—namely, that of the Attorney General himself, is against the change, and against the change when it was coupled with the condition that the Law Officers might practice in two tribunals to the exclusion of others. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury has referred to the increasing duties of the Law Officers of the Crown, and I cannot help reminding him that in 1872, speaking as Solicitor General, he defended the position of the Law Officers taking private practice.


I was not made Solicitor General until 1873—the year after that.


I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the correction, especially as it gives the Chancellor of the Exchequer an opportunity for amusement at my expense. The date is not material to my purpose. The right hon. Gentleman, however, spoke of having to give up two-thirds of his private practice when he became Law Officer. I say that if the right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to give up so much of his private practice it proves that, he recognised the fact that the public had the first claim upon his time. And I cannot help saying that the Government must have a very poor opinion of their Law Officers if they cannot trust them to limit their private practice to an amount consistent with the discharge of the public duties. I do not think anyone would tax the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer with having neglected public business for private practice. And I do not for a moment suppose that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury permitted private practice to interfere with his public duties. The fact is that if you cannot trust a Law Officer to make public business his first charge, he is not very fit to be selected for the post. The point of continuity in the offices of Attorney General and Solicitor General is worthy of more consideration than has been given to it. The last Government experienced the inconvenience of constant changes especially in regard to the Irish Law Officers. They had, I think, four or five different Attorneys General for Ireland. I cannot help saying that, having regard to the risks which any Attorney General runs when he is obliged to give up the whole of his private practice, the natural inducement to obtain judicial rank will have a serious effect upon the length of time during which a Law Officer will hold his office. Certainly there are few offices in which continuity is of more importance than in the case of those who have to perform such duties as the Law Officers have to perform. While I have disclaimed altogether—and do disclaim—the idea of arguing the question from a financial point of view, I cannot help thinking that some future Law Officers will be in the position of demanding and of receiving briefs in that considerable part of Government business which is now done by permanent counsel. I hope and trust that we have made our meaning clear that this is a matter which cannot be decided by any private bargain between a Prime Minister and an Attorney General. I hope the House will pause before it puts an end to a system that has now existed for something like 100 years, and which in the past—speaking of the period from 1820 to 1880—has produced a series of distinguished men who have given their time and the best of their abilities to the public service. I hope the protest we are now making will not be forgotten, because I cannot help feeling, apart from personal considerations, that what we have to do is to adopt a system by which we can secure the services of the men best fitted to serve the public.


The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury has stated the views of the Government with such force and ability that it would be impertinent in me to add anything to what he has said. So far from this being a new question raised for the first time in a new Parliament, I would remind the Committee that it was raised five years ago, and that the House divided on it as lately as in 1891, and though the late Government had a large majority, and though it is always difficult to obtain support for a proposal to reduce a Vote, the majority of the Government on that occasion was only 35. I think that was a clear expression on the part of the House of Commons that the change should be made. I must say I have some difficulty in reconciling the views of the late Attorney General with those of the noble Lord. The position of the noble Lord the Member for Paddington was—first, that the services of the best men cannot be obtained under the new system, because they will not be well enough paid; and, secondly, that a charge of £9,000 or £10,000 will be thrown on the Exchequer in order to pay the Law Officers better.


I said you would not secure the services of the best men, not because they will be badly paid, but because they will not have that great reputation at the Bar on leaving office which they possessed before, and because they will undoubtedly fall off in their legal skill and experience from the loss of that private practice which you propose to take away.


That, of course, is a matter of prophecy oil the part of the noble Lord.


Not at all.


So far as the facts go they answer the noble Lord conclusively. He says we cannot get the best men at the Bar under this arrangement, but he admits that two of the ablest men at the Bar have been got. Then the arrangement has the approval of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury, who was one of the ablest Attorneys General who ever held office; and we have heard that Sir Horace Davey takes the same view. Without wishing to imply anything disrespectful of other counsel at the Bar, I would appeal to the noble Lord whether it is possible to get four men of higher standing and greater ability, and—to put the matter on the lowest basis—men who have drawn larger incomes from their professions?


The Attorney General is not in favour of the new arrangement.


The Attorney General has accepted the arrangement. The decision of the Government on this question was arrived at before any appointment was made. The noble Lord gave us the opinions of two or three late Attorneys General, but he omitted the opinion of one, a very eminent Member of a Tory Government, who was afterwards elevated to the Bench. I mean the late Lord Justice Baggallay, who said— Any Attorney General who wishes to fairly 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. That was in 1872. The noble Lord asks why we want to make a change. Because the conditions of public life have changed, because the work of the Attorney General has doubled, and trebled and quadrupled, and because the work which is thrown upon a successful advocate has increased. He says we cannot obtain the best men under such circumstances. He has been answered on that point by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir H. James). The average income of the Attorney General from the State has for some time past been £11,140 a year. The headship of the English Bar, and the certainty of promotion to a high position on the Judicial Bench in addition to such an income will command the services of men of the greatest ability that the English Bar has ever produced. The late Attorney General spoke of the continuity of the office. Will he tell me of any Attorney General who, during the last 10 years or the last 40 years, has hesitated to accept one of the highest positions of the Judicial Bench?


Yes; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James).


The right hon. Gentleman did not refuse the highest judicial office on the ground of the un- certain tenure of the post of Attorney General, and I venture to say that the continuity of the office will be just as secure under the new arrangement as under the old one. I have no time left to go further into the question, but I should like to give one further explanation to the noble Lord, who has made an unfounded statement as to the Attorney General's work. He said a large number of briefs would be received by the Attorney General under the new arrangement which he did not formerly obtain.


Under the heading of what is called contentious business, and I make the statement on the highest legal authority.


On the highest legal authority I contradict it. The same inaccuracy characterises the noble Lord's statement with respect to the fees. The fees are subject to the Treasury Rules. The noble Lord has said it is the duty of the House of Commons to secure the best men for the post. We believe we shall do that, and are satisfied that the Public Service will be best promoted by the course we have taken.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

I think this interesting discussion may now come to an end, and I do not rise to continue it, but I think it is right that I should emphasise the statement of my noble Friend, that whatever decision the House or the Government may come to in this matter, it will not be binding on future Governments. It will be, in my opinion, open to any future Government to take whatever step it considers proper to secure the highest legal ability for the positions of Law Officers. It has already been pointed out that the present Government, whilst nominally abolishing private practice, have left the most laborious and the most lucrative private practice still open to the Law Officers. I do not think that, after the declarations which have been made on this subject, there will be much object in putting the House to the trouble of a Division, and I would suggest that the discussion may come to an end without a Division.


I beg to withdraw the Amendment, Sir.


No, Sir; I think that, after the declaration which has just been made as to the future, it is necessary we should negative the proposal.

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Vote agreed to.

8. £5,400, Supplementary, Supreme Court of Judicature.


said, the Committee was asked to vote a sum which apparently ought to have been charged last year, and he should like to have an explanation of the item.


said, the sum referred to was provided for in 1891–92, but not used in that year owing to the claims not having come in. It was merely a re-Vote.

MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)

asked how it was that circuit allowances had been increased by £1,000? The complaint had always been that they were too large already.


said, that the re-Vote arose in connection with the Winter Assizes. The matter could be discussed when the main Estimates came on.


inquired whether the £1,000 was an aggregation of the sum of £7 10s. a day. It seemed to be a very large increase, and many Members had objection to the allowance of £7 10s. a day altogether.


It is for circuit expenses.

Vote agreed to.

9. £10, Supplementary, County Courts.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next.

Committee to sit again this day.