§ MR. HANBURY (Preston),
who had given notice of his intention to call attention to the Treasury Minute of December 1892, regulating the official 942 fees and the private practice of the Attorney and Solicitor General; and to move—That this House regrets that the public remuneration of the Law Officers having been increased in consideration of the arrangement as to private practice therein specified, that arrangement has been widely departed from,said, his Motion was not aimed in any way against the Law Officers of the Crown. Had he been in the position of the Attorney General, and had he had a Chancellor of the Exchequer to deal with who would have allowed him to draw larger fees than were ever drawn before by a Law Officer, he should have done exactly the same as the present Attorney General (Sir C. Russell) had done. If he brought any charge at all it was against the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt) for not having acted upon his own Treasury Minute. That Treasury Minute certainly led laymen to suppose that the private practice of the Attorney General and Solicitor General would be very largely reduced, and in fact that they would have no private practice whatever except upon retainers given to them before they took Office and practice in two specified Courts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was the guardian of the Public Purse, and it was of no use to put extra pennies on the Income Tax if he did not keep a very strict eye on the way in which money leaked out of the Exchequer. Above all things, the right hon. Gentleman ought to be careful to prevent any expenditure which was in distinct violation of the Treasury Minute being indulged in for the benefit of his colleagues on the Treasury Bench. One of the great benefits which the country was to have derived from the new system started by the present Government in regard to the payment of the Law Officers of the Crown was that of greater clearness. As a matter of fact, he (Mr. Hanbury) thought the country had been rather mystified under the new system. The information given with regard to it was at present very scant indeed. Under the new arrangement the Law Officers obtained larger fees than formerly, whilst a new Office was set up. It was due to the public that they should know precisely what the arrangement was. Hitherto a Return had always been printed showing what remuneration 943 the Attorney General and Solicitor General received. He (Mr. Hanbury) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day whether he would present such a Return this year, and the reply was that no such Return would be given. The House had been told that the new arrangement would save the money of the public, whilst at the same time the public were to be entitled to a, greater-portion of the time of the Law Officers. It was said to be monstrous that the Law Officers should be paid high fees, and yet be able to give practically all their time to private practice. He himself had always protested against that system, and had especially objected to certain fees that used to be taken by the Attorney General. Well, everybody had supposed that, after all the parade of virtue that had been made by the present Government, the public would have obtained more of the lime of the Law Officers. It turned out that there was a great deal more hidden under the word "appear" in the Treasury Minute than Members had been led to believe. It seemed that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General were only prevented by the Treasury Minute from actually appearing in Court, and that they were perfectly at liberty to take any private practice whatever in their chambers, so that there was, in fact, practically no alteration in the system, inasmuch as the Law Officers might devote a great deal of time to their private practice as long as the public did not know of ii. Formerly the private practice was done openly, and he contended that the public had no idea whatever that when the change in the system was introduced it would still be possible for the Law Officers to act secretly in Chambers although they could not appear in open Court. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answering the question he (Mr. Hanbury) had put to him on the subject, quoted the words of the Attorney General and acted as the Attorney General's mouthpiece. He (Mr. Hanbury) had some reason to protest against this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for the Treasury Minute, and he ought to act as a check upon the action of the Attorney General, and ought to see that his own Treasury Minute was carried out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day con- 944 fessed his complete ignorance of the whole subject.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he had questioned the right hon. Gentleman with regard to two retainers. One related to the Salt Union and the other to the Sutherland case. Well, the Treasury Minute dated back to the appointment of the present Attorney General and Solicitor General. He wished to know what was meant exactly by the words—Retainers accepted before the appointment of the present Law Officers.As a layman, he confessed he did not exactly understand what the word "retainers" covered, but he was told by his legal friends that it might cover a vast amount of ground. It might mean that if the Attorney General or the Solicitor General had been engaged by any private client for a particular suit before his acceptance of Office he should be allowed to conduct that suit, and he (Mr. Hanbury) would not complain of an arrangement of that kind He was also told, however, by lawyers that it might mean that one of the Law Officers had accepted a sort of general retainer to act on behalf of any particular Railway Company or other company which was always having lawsuits, and that in that case he was at liberty to appear in every action that Company might bring or defend. If so, it was a farce, and they ought to know what was the meaning attached by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to his own Treasury Minute. He would now proceed to the other portion of his case, which was this: The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that he was ignorant of the two particular cases which he (Mr. Hanbury) had mentioned — the Salt Union case and the Sutherland case. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was very specific in the answer which he made, and so was the Attorney General. He did not deal with these retainers as though they were general retainers given, say, by a Railway Company, hut the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking as the mouthpiece of the Attorney General, said that in each of these two cases the retaining fee had been given before the acceptance of Office, and with reference to the litigation referred to in the ques- 945 tion. He might say that he only mentioned these two cases because he saw in the newspaper reports that the Attorney General or the Solicitor General had received very large fees, and because it was possible there might be other cases of the kind: and as the Treasury would not publish this arrangement, or tell them what was meant by this retainer under which the Attorney General and the Solicitor General acted, the public must, of course, protect its own interest in the matter, and know what the Treasury meant by having a Return delivered of the fees which its own public officers received from private clients. To take the Sutherland case:—The Chancellor of the Exchequer fold him, in answer to a question specifically directed to the Sutherland case, that the Attorney General had received his retainer before he accepted Office. This statement came from a Minister who was responsible for the Public Purse, and not only that, but from a Minister who was specially responsible in this case, because by his own Treasury Minute be constituted himself the sole check upon the Law Officers of the Crown. Obviously the Chancellor of the Exchequer had paid no attention to this case, and it seemed that the Attorney General was in ignorance too, not as to the Treasury Minute, but as to the date of the death of the Duke of Sutherland.
§ MR. HANBURY
Everything, because the right hon. Gentleman said that the retainer was given before the present Government took Office, and that the retainer was in reference to the litigation in the Sutherland case. [Sir W. HARCOURT dissented]. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shook his head. What, he said, was this—In each of the cases a retaining fee had been, given before the acceptance of Office and in reference to the litigation referred to in the question.What was the litigation in the Sutherland case? If arose out of the will of the late Duke of Sutherland.
§ Mr. HANBURY
Is the hon. and learned Gentlemen only going to deal with a part of the case? Is he going to 946 deal with the business arising out of the will of the Duke of Sutherland?
§ MR. HANBURY
What I want to point out is that the Attorney General lid not take Office until six weeks after the Duke of Sutherland died. The Chancellor of the Exchequer laughed at that. Well, they knew how trustworthy a guardian of the Public Purse he was. Surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to guard the Public Purse particularly well when he was under a Treasury Minnie to be sole judge as to bow far it must be departed from, and the public money expended upon his own colleagues without the return which they had been led to expect. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not entitled to laugh at that. It was a matter with which the right hon. Gentleman ought to deal stringently. If was certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was ignorant as to those two cases, although they were cases which ought to have been referred to him. The Minute said that in all cases of doubt—and surely the Sutherland ease is one of doubt— reference was to be had to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was this question ever brought before him?
§ MR. HANBURY
That showed the loose way in which this business had been transacted. Somebody was to blame in the matter. This Treasury Minute had been very loosely interpreted. He must ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the Treasury Minute had been carried out, and whether any case of this kind had been brought before his notice? The Treasury Minute from first to last had been a gross deception, and it was under a misconception that last year they voted a large sum of money for the support of a new office and to raise the amounts of the fees of the Law Officers of the Crown, which he was told were upon an enormous scale, and based upon the fees paid to the Attorney General for private practice. Nobody was more ready than himself to acknowledge the abilities of the Attorney General. It should not be supposed that be wanted to depreciate the enormous talents of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but be would say that it was dangerous to set 947 up such a standard as that. Having once set up a standard of that sort, they might hereafter have men of inferior ability filling the office, but yet the standard of payment must remain the same. His chief object in bringing this matter before the House of Commons was to get information, and to whom to appeal for information he really did not know. The Chancellor of the Exchequer upon his own confession was ignorant, and did not know what was going on. He did not know the circumstances in regard to the Sutherland case. He was not aware that this case had arisen after his own Government had come into power.
§ MR. HANBURY
Then they knew how this Treasury Minute had to be interpreted. They knew the loose way in which it was to be interpreted. If that was the case—if they had the distinct statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in his opinion, under the Treasury Minute, the language was so loose that it was quite possible for the Attorney General or the Solicitor General to get large fees in connection with the will of a man who died six weeks after the Government came into Office, although that Treasury Minute distinctly said that they might act only upon retainers given before the Government came into Office, then he said that this Treasury Minute was not worth the paper upon which it was written and was a mere farce, and that the public was entitled, in view of the confession of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to have more definite information, and that they ought to have laid upon the Table of the House the terms of the precise arrangement come to between the Treasury and the Law Officers of the Crown, so that the House, when upon the Estimates they voted the salaries of the Law Officers, should have the full information before them. He begged to move his Motion.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words,
This House regrets that the public remuneration of the Law Officers having been increased in consideration of the arrangement as to private practice therein specified, that arrangement has been widely departed from."—(Mr. Hanbury.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ * THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir C. RUSSELL,) Hackney, S.
I thank the hon. Member for his tone of personal courtesy to myself. He has travelled considerably wide of the Resolution which is on the Paper. I wish to call the attention of the House to the precise point which is raised. It is no longer a discussion on the original arrangement in the Treasury Minute of 1893. The complaint is that the Minute has not been observed by the Law Officers. The question of the new arrangement was discussed, and discussed at considerable length, upon two separate occasions in the month of March 1893, and the House approved of the arrangement which had been entered into with the Law Officers. The point now is whether the Law Officers have observed the terms of the contract with the Treasury. I will say in a sentence that not only according to the letter but according to the spirit of that arrangement the Law Officers of the Crown have adhered to the terms of that Minute. I will say more—and I speak for my colleague and myself—that we have not exercised the rights we might have exercised under the Minute, and have declined to act in many cases in which, under the Minute, we should have been entitled to act. The hon. Member also complains that he has had no Return of fees paid to the Law Officers. Let me remind him that he has had that information in the most specific form in which it could be given for the only complete year of Office of the present Law Officers. On the 12th of January he put on the Paper a question which asked for the fees paid in previous years, as contrasted with the amounts paid to the Law Officers under the new arrangement, and on the 12th of January these figures were given by me in answer to the hon. Member for Islington; and that answer was given in full, and will be found in the Parliamentary Reports of the 13th of January. I come to the question of what this Minute means. On two occasions in March—the hon. Member for Birmingham will probably 949 recollect it—I stated that according to the construction of this Minute the Law Officers were entitled to act upon the reservation expressly made—namely,Except upon retainers delivered before the acceptance of Office.I was asked the question whether that included general retainers as well as what are called special retainers. At that time the hon. Member for Preston, who knows a good deal hut does not know everything, was under the impression that a retainer was the retainer of the solicitor.
§ Mr. HANBURY
What I said was that a retainer for a Railway Company or a company of that kind would cover the cases in which they might engage, but I did not say from a solicitor.
§ SIR C. RUSSELL
I thereupon pointed out that a retainer was not the retainer of the solicitor hut the retainer through the solicitor for a particular client; in other words, that it was the retainer of the client. In regard to the case of general retainers for Railway Companies or other bodies of the sort the question was asked, Are the Law Officers to act upon such retainers? My answer was Yes, they are entitled to do so, hut speaking for myself, I should not act upon any general retainer for a Railway Company or any other similar body in frequent litigation.
§ SIR C. RUSSELL
My colleague was not here, hut I added that I had not the least doubt that he would come to the same conclusion. I have never admitted that we should not he entitled to do this as a right, so far as it is consistent with the discharge of our public duties. But, as I say, we have not insisted upon it. The hon. Gentleman has said that under this new arrangement enormous fees are paid to the Law Officers of the Crown for the contentious work that they do—fees vastly in excess of what they got under the old system. I only wish that that were true. My clerk has furnished me with five specimen eases showing the amount of fees paid by the private litigants as against those paid by a liberal Treasury and by an extravagant Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, it is said, does not safeguard the Public Purse, to the Law Officers of the Crown. The counsel engaged in those five eases were Sir Horace Davey, Sir Edward Clarke, Sir Henry James, Mr. Findlay, and Sir 950 Richard Webster—counsel who are leading men at the Bar and of the same standing as ourselves. The total fees paid in those cases to the leading private counsel were 585 guineas. According to the hon. Member for Preston, the counsel for the Crown ought to have had at least 080 guineas. He received, as a fact, 235 guineas. Therefore, I complain that tinder the parsimonious influence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Treasury do not act up to the spirit of the Minute.
§ SIR C. RUSSELL
Yes, they did appear; and not only did they appear, but they are not even entitled to be briefed, and are not briefed, unless they are expected to appear.
§ SIR C. RUSSELL
The total fees in the five or six cases I have mentioned paid to the private counsel were 585 guineas. The amount paid by the Treasury to the Law Officer of the Crown was 235 guineas; in other words, considerably less than half. Therefore, it is all moonshine—this extravagant and ridiculous statement about the enormous fees paid to the Law Officers. I feel a little strongly upon this point, because I have taken the liberty of insisting that, if it is a proper provision of the arrangement that the counsel for the Crown should be paid foes in contentious business at all, it is not right they should he paid on an inferior scale for the same class of work. Therefore, it is that in the Minute it expressly provides that in contentious business the counsel are to be paid such fees as counsel of like standing would properly expect to receive from clients under like circumstances. The figures I have quoted show that the Minute is not acted up to by the Treasury.
§ * SIR C. RUSSELL
I have shown the hon. Member how this proposed new scale works out in fact and in practice. Now, with regard to Chamber practice. Let me say for myself that I do not believe I have earned or received five guineas for Chamber practice since I 951 became a Law Officer of the Crown, nearly two years ago. My hon. and learned Friend's business in advising was always greater than mine. He will tell you that he has practically abandoned giving opinions in Chambers altogether —not that he has not the right to do so, but because of the demands on his time by reason of his public duties. As the House knows, I was not in favour of the change personally, and I came into the arrangement with a certain amount of unwillingness; but I feel bound to say that with the enormous increase of business of a public character which the Law Officers have to deal with, especially within the last five or six or 10 years, I believe this Minute points in the right direction, and that in order to do the public work well the Law Officers of the Crown must be practically confined to the discharge of their public duties. I say this, although I felt, and feel, strongly that the Law Officers of the Crown should be, in fact, the leaders of the Bar as well as the titular leaders of the Bar. Now with regard to general retainers. It happens, in my ease, that I have a general retainer for a very large number of newspapers in London. In the case of the hon. Member for Northampton, for whom I have had the honour of acting for many years, and who has been considerably engaged in litigation, I have had recently, in the Zierenberg case, to refuse to act upon a general retainer. Only a few days ago Sir E. Lawson, of The Daily Telegraph, was brought up for alleged contempt of Court. I have had also the honour of a general retainer for that journal for many years, but in this case I felt that I could not act upon it, because it came within the category of clients who may be in frequent litigation. I could mention many other illustrations. Now I come to the next question. With regard to the Sutherland case, my retainer from the present Duke, the then Marquess of Stafford, was given on the 29th of January, 1892. I did not accept Office until the 20th August, 1892. That general retainer was in relation to litigation between himself and the late Duke—I am sorry to go into all this—which litigation was considered important in the interests of the Marquess of Stafford, and which has culminated in the disputed will case 952 now pending. The state of the facts is, that I received the retainer on the 29th of January, 1892; I accepted Office on the 20th of August, 1892; the late Duke died on the 27th of September, 1892; and the Treasury Minute is dated the 5th of December, 1892. These are the exact facts. I received the Salt Union retainer on the 10th of May, 1892; the writ in the specific action was issued on the 11th of July, 1892; and as I have said, I did not accept Office until the 20th of August, 1892. Now, I do ask whether it is not monstrous, in view of these facts, to make such a charge as the hon. Member has made? Not only have we acted up to the letter, but I say we have acted entirely up to the spirit of this Minute. I know, speaking both for my learned Colleague and myself, that our sacrifices have been considerable. We have tried, in discharge of our public duties, to do our best, and certainly with the most thorough desire to fulfil them in good faith. The point of this Resolution is an assertion on the part of the hon. Member, which, if he will forgive me for so saving, he ought not lightly to make, that the arrangement made has been widely departed from by the Law Officers. I absolutely deny that there is any foundation for such an assertion, and I assert again that we have acted entirely up to the spirit of this Minute.
§ * MR. J. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
said, the Motion conveyed to the House the idea that the Law Officers of the Crown had trespassed beyond the limit with regard to private practice. That was an accusation which it was necessary to meet, and he was bound in fairness to say that the hon. and learned Member in the cases mentioned had given an effective answer. But after all, that was not the real question. The real question was, what was the amount of public money which the Law Officers of the Crown were receiving from year to year?
§ MR. J. POWELL WILLIAMS
was not proposing to argue that question now, which must be raised at another time upon a specific Motion to reduce the Vote for the remuneration of the Law Officers. He might be allowed to say, however, 953 that there was a prevalent impression that the present arrangement gave the Law Officers of the Crown no less a sum annually than about £27,000. If that was so, it would be a very serious matter for the House to consider, when the propel time arrived, and it would then have to be determined whether that was a, rate of payment which could be continued. They could get three Archbishops for that sum, and the House would have to consider whether the services of two Law Officers of the Crown were of equal value to those of three such eminent ecclesiastics. This matter could not be allowed to rest where it was, for there was a far wider and more important question behind it, which, if nobody else would do so, he would raise when the proper time arrived.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, when the time came to vote upon the remuneration of the Law Officers he should have no hesitation in regard to the Lobby he should go into. However, that was not what the House had then to deal with. What they had to do with at the moment was a deliberate accusation against the Law Officers of the Crown of having done for their own personal advantage that which they ought not to have done, and which he certainly ought to have restrained them from doing under the terms of the Treasury Minute.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he had distinctly stated that he made no charge whatever against the Attorney General, but that the Treasury Minute had not been conformed with That was all he had said.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, the hon. Member had said quite enough, and a great deal too much, on the subject. He had made an accusation, for which he had no foundation whatever, against two as honourable men as ever filled these important Public Offices—made it on grounds as ridiculous as the were unfounded. He had referred to the mare's nest called the Sutherland case, and had asked whether the proceedings of the Attorney and Solicitor General had been watched, and whether they were entitled or not to the fees they took. He could only inform the hon. Member that he had other things to do, and that that was no part of his duty. He had simply, knowing the Attorney and Soli- 954 citor General to be men of honour and integrity, handed to them the Treasury Minute, relying upon them to act upon it both in letter and spirit. They had acted upon it both in letter and spirit, and the accusation that they had departed from it was baseless—founded upon no facts whatever: and he asked the House without further discussion to negative the Motion.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, that no such charge as the right hon. Gentleman had stated had been made against the Attorney General. The allegation was that a Treasury Minute having laid down the conditions under which the Law Officers of the Crown were henceforth to be employed and remunerated, the meaning of that Minute, so far as appeared to any outside layman, had been departed from. How did it start? It started by saying that an arrangement had been made—and this was the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—limiting the business in which a Law Officer might appear as counsel for private clients to cases in the House of Lords and Privy Council. The whole Minute was founded upon that principle: that was the main part of it, and the rest was mere ornament. Was the Duke of Sutherland's case a case before the House of Lords or Privy Council? Certainly not. It was the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who had just run away from the House) to satisfy himself whether the cases mentioned came within the true meaning of the Minute or not. The Attorney General had given illustrations of a case in which larger fees were paid to the other counsel than to the Law Officers. Yes, but the other counsel had not £13,000 a year, like the Attorney and Solicitor General, to divide between them. That fact had a very important bearing upon the case. What was complained of was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not performed his duty as guardian of the Public Purse. The right hon. Gentleman was always inveighing against extravagance, but in this particular instance he had not acted properly as guardian of the public money. As to the question of general retainer, they quite understood the principle which the Attorney General had laid down, that he and his colleague had a right to accept general retainers from public 955 companies exposed to constant litigation, though they did not exercise that right. But the Attorney General was not the judge in the matter. The Treasury Minute laid down the broad principle he had stated. Foreseeing, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer did, that questions might arise it laid down two things—first, that any question arising should be submitted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose decision should be final; and, secondly, that a copy of the Minute should be rent to each of the Law Officers. When the question was raised whether the Duke of Sutherland's case came within the Minute, the Attorney General and Solicitor General knew that it was their duty to submit the case to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was not done, and thereby they had all failed in their duty. The Law Officers had acted upon what they conceived to be their right, but they were not the judges; the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the judge, but again in this as in many another case the right hon. Gentleman had abandoned his post and had not fulfilled the duty imposed upon him.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.