HC Deb 07 March 1895 vol 31 cc619-31

On the Vote for a supplementary sum of £5,125 for Law Charges and Courts of Law in Scotland,

SiR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

said, a Supplementary Estimate was a disagreeable necessity, and all Governments desired to avoid it as much as possible. But he noticed that there was an increase in the remuneration of the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor General, and the Clerk to the Solicitor General; and he desired to know what was the reason that this increase was not foreseen during last Session, and included in the ordinary Estimate?

MR. W. BROMLEY-DAVENPORT (Cheshire, Macclesfield)

also asked for an explanation of one of the items of the Vote—for a sum of £3,000, which, it was said, was required owing to a change in the system of accounting?


With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Wigan, I have to state that it has been, for a long time, felt that the remuneration of the Law Officers of Scotland has been entirely inadequate. It was strongly pressed upon me, naturally by the late Law Officers more than by the present Law Officers, that the inequality of the remuneration of gentlemen who had given up their private practice, and had necessarily to reside in London, as compared with the remuneration of the Irish Law Officers, should be redressed. The matter was brought to my consideration towards the end of last Session, when I felt that the salaries of the Law Officers of Scotland should be placed on their present footing, and that is why a Supplementary Estimate is necessary.


said, he was not disposed to quarrel with the decision at which the right hon. Gentleman had arrived. Indeed, he thought the inequality should have been long since redressed. Until recently the Lord Advocate was the sole Representative of Scotland in the House; but, having been relegated to a secondary position in the House, he thought the Lord Advocate should be allowed to retain his position at the Scottish Bar.


referring to the extra sum of £3,000 rendered necessary in the office of the Procurator Fiscal, owing to a change in the system of accounting, said, he noticed that it was for one quarter of the year the sum was claimed. But he found, on referring to another part of the Paper, that the original Estimate was £18,500 for the whole year, and he was unable to see how anyone could have arrived at £3,000 as the quarter of that amount. It seemed to him that £4,625 should be the sum.


said, the change in the accounting was made on the suggestion of the Auditor General, who wished to bring all the accounts in question within the year. It appeared that those accounts were always a quarter in arrear, and, therefore, in order to bring them within the year, it was necessary to provide for five quarters' payments in the current financial year in which the change had been introduced.


My point is not that the sum represents five quarters, but that it is considerably less than a quarter.


That is a matter of accounting.


It seems to be the same as Mr. Lowe's Income Tax, who got five quarters out of the year.


asked whether the regulations affecting the Scotch Law Officers allowed them to take private practice?

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR, Clackmannan and Kinross)

They are entitled to take such private business as they can attend to without in any way interfering with the performance of their public duties, as the Irish Law Officers are.


said, he did not object to the increase in the remuneration of the Scotch Law Officers, as he had no doubt they were better men than the English Law Officers. But, looking at the matter from an economical point of view, he should rather have seen the salaries of the English and the Irish Law Officers reduced to the scale of the Scotch Law Officers.


asked whether "the duties to the public" referred to by the Lord Advocate were supposed to be discharged in London or in Edinburgh?


said, it had been the custom in past years for the Scotch Law Officers to take what private practice they thought it right to take. He certainly did not make any criticism in regard to any of the Scotch Law Officers of the past; but he thought it right to say what his right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate could not say, perhaps, that when his right hon. Friend came into Office, on the very meagre salary which he received, he gave up a splendid practice in Scotland, to spend day after day, week after week, month after month, at the Scotch Office, attending to his business as closely as in the days when the Lord Advocate was the sole administrator of Scotch affairs. He was quite certain that his hon. and learned Friend would not, in accordance with the Treasury Minute, go to Scotland during the Session to take private business. Any business which, during the Recess, fell to the lot of the Scottish Law Officers they would be allowed to take. But they might be quite sure that under the new dispensation the Lord Advocate would give the whole of his time to Parliamentary work. With regard to the Solicitor General, the Treasury Minute had been drawn up with a little greater latitude for obvious reasons, as he had to attend to the Government law business in Edinburgh, for which there were no fees whatever. The Solicitor General was frequently obliged, therefore, to go up to Edinburgh. He hoped this explanation would be satisfactory.


said, that on some points the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman were satisfactory. In former days, when the Lord Advocate was the only representative, so far as the House was concerned, of the Scotch Executive, his continuous attendance in Parliament was a necessity, in order that questions might be addressed to him, but he failed entirely to see why the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland should, under the present arrangements, need the attendance of the Law Officers on either side of him. He would ask if it was likely that in future the Government would get the best members of the Scotch Bar to devote themselves to the public service when they were practically precluded from following up their private practice. He spoke as a layman in regard to the matter, but he did not think it likely that the best interests of the public service would be secured by such an arrangement. As he understood it, one of the Law Officers had to go backwards and forwards to Edinburgh during the Session, not to keep himself in touch with the Scotch Bar, nor with his ordinary practice, but for Government business, for which he received nothing at all. That was to say, that for his fixed salary he had to do whatever he was told, either to remain in London, or go back to Scotland, as circumstances might dictate. That seemed to him to be a very one-sided arrangement. It might answer on the present occasion, but he did not think it was an arrangement likely to secure the best legal talent in the future. He could not subscribe to the doctrine that the Secretary for Scotland laid down, that he ought to have two Law Officers in attendance upon him. [Several hon MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] If the hon. Member for Somersetshire had any articulate observation to make, no doubt the House would be glad to receive it.

MR. T. C. T. WARNER (Somerset, N.)

said, he had made no observation, articulate or inarticulate, since he came into the House.


said, that as to the first category named by the hon. Member, he could confirm his statement from his own knowledge; as to the latter, he readily accepted his assurance, but when he was interrupted he only wished to point out that if an arrangement of this kind had been assented to by the Committee generally, it might have been considered as having received the assent of the House.


said, the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland came as a surprise to many Members on that side of the House. When they saw this increased vote on the Paper for the Scottish Law Officers they naturally assumed that it was conceded to them on the same terms on which an increased salary had been also conceded to the English Law Officers—namely, that they should not in future privately practice. This was not merely a question as to their Parliamentary work, or their not practising during the Session; it was a question of principle, and he thought the same principle ought to apply in both cases. It was an unsound principle to pay certain Officers of the Crown high salaries, and at the same time allow them to carry on their private professional business. They had carried their protest in the case of England to a successful issue, and he hoped any future Government would adhere to it. But the same rule ought to be applied to the Scottish Law Officers, and he would therefore move to reduce the Vote by £100.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy)

said, he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Preston that it was a sound principle to lay down, that the Law Officers of the Crown ought not to carry on private practice while in Office. But if they insisted on this condition being observed, they should, in fairness, make the position of Law Officer sufficiently remunerative as not only to get the best talent, but to induce the leaders of the Bar to abandon private practice on entering the service of the Crown. The condition was made in the case of the English Law Officers—["No, no!"]—except in relation to such exceptional cases as those in which they held briefs at the time of their appointment. Practically, therefore, they abandoned private practice while in Office, and when the condition was made, their salaries were increased considerably. What was the case with regard to Scotland? The salaries of the Scotch Law Officers were miserably low compared with those of the English Law Officers—in one case £2,000 a year as compared with £9,000 a year a least. The predecessor of the hon. and learned Member who now occupied the Office of Solicitor General for Scotland, received the miserable salary of £900 a year, and the holding of the Office involved so great a sacrifice to him that he felt bound to give it up. He would give one fact by way of illustration. In the recent well-known case of Monson, who was charged with murder, the Solicitor General for Scotland prosecuted for the Government. Now, it was a fact that the gentleman who defended Monson got more on his brief for that trial, which lasted a week, than the Solicitor General would get as a Law Officer for the whole year. Was he to understand that hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House would be prepared to make it worth the while of the Law Officers to give up private practice? [Opposition cries of "Hear, hear."] Then, if that were so, he only hoped the Government would note this expression of opinion by the Committee, and consider the matter in framing the next Estimates. It was well worth consideration whether an arrangement could not be carried out to meet the case which would be satisfactory to all parts of the House.


hoped that, under the circumstances, the hon. Member for Preston would not press his Amendment. Surely the hon. Member did not desire to put himself in an ungenerous position with regard to the Scottish Bar. It might be urged that the salaries of the Law Officers of Scotland should be much less than those of England because Scotland was much smaller than England, but surely they should be paid at the same rate. The present salaries of the Scotch Law Officers were generally admitted to be on an extremely moderate scale, and, for his own part, he would much rather further increase than reduce them. He was sure the Secretary for Scotland must have carried with him the sense of the Committee in the most lucid explanation he had given with reference to the position of the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland, and he hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn.

SIR. J. T. HIBBERT (Oldham)

said, the hon. Member for Preston had said that those Estimates had taken him by surprise. He could only state that the Minute dealing with this matter was laid on the Table at the end of last Session.


said, he had moved the reduction of the Vote in order to assert a principle, and with a view to getting, if possible, the salaries of the Law Officers of England, Ireland and Scotland placed on a sound and permanent basis. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy that if the Law Officers of Scotland were to be denied the right to private practice while in Office, their salaries should be increased in fair proportion. Their present salaries, enlarged as they were, were not by any means adequate if they were to be denied the right to take private practice. He could not allow, however, that the Law Officers of Scotland should be paid at the same rate as the Law Officers of England. [An hon. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Scotch talent was, no doubt, as great as English talent, but the Scotch Law Officers had not as many opportunities of exercising their legal talent as the English Law Officers had. No one could contend that private practice was as valuable in Scotland as in England, and therefore the salaries of the Law Officers should not be so high in Scotland as in England. But a proportionate salary ought to be agreed upon His object was to place the salaries of the Law Officers on a permanent basis.


said, he had heard the reply of the Government in great surprise, because he naturally thought this increase of salary was to be accompanied by the same conditions that attached in the case of England. He believed that private practice interfered with the discharge of public duties.


No, it does not.


said, that was his opinion.

MR. M. H. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrew)

hoped the hon. Member for Preston would not press his Amendment to a Division. If he did he would have all the Scotch Members on both sides against him. It might be true that the Law Officers in Scotland had less practice than the Law Officers in England, but the Solicitor General for Scotland was very often a young rising lawyer, and a prospective Lord Advocate, and it was in the interests of the Scotch Law business that the Solicitor General, whose presence was not always required in the House, should keep in touch, by private practice, with the Courts in Edinburgh.

MR. CYRIL DODD (Essex, Maldon)

also hoped the Amendment would not be pressed to a Division. He thought they were all agreed that the Law Officers in England should not take private practice, and that if the Scotch Law Officers were as amply remunerated as the Law Officers in England they should be placed under the same restriction. But they were not so well paid, and they were obliged to be in England during the Sitting of Parliament, and consequently would not take, private practice in Scotland. The private practice they had hitherto taken had generally been of a kind which did not clash with their public duties—private practice in the House of Lords. While in favour of the principle laid down by the hon. Member for Preston, he suggested that this was not a favourable opportunity of raising the question.

SIR J. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)

said, he had some hesitation in intervening in the Debate, because this was peculiarly a Scotch question. He thought the Scotch Law Officers were paid very much less than the English Law Officers in proportion to the duties they performed. It was quite impossible to expect to get members of the Bar to give the best advice to the Government unless the Government was prepared to pay for it. When they considered the great disadvantages under which the Law Officers would be placed if they were prevented from taking private practice he thought it was absolutely necessary if they were to get the best talent to advise the Government that they must pay, at all events, a fair and reasonable equivalent. He had always been astonished that the Scotch Law Officers should be content to go on with the miserable pittance, they had received up to the present time for the duties that they had to perform. The only reason that he could find why these gentlemen had been content to accept the small salary they had hitherto received was that they believed that the position they occupied was a stepping-stone to something better. Take the late Solicitor General for Scotland, who had been receiving something like £900 a year for the last 13 years. He had been deprived to a large extent, owing to particular circumstances, of promotion, and no one would persuade him (Sir James Joicey) that the £900 a year he had received was a fit and proper compensation for what that gentlemen had sacrificed. He was no great friend of Scotchmen, particularly after the Question that was asked to-day with regard to Mining Inspectors in Scotland. The Home Secretary was asked whether he would insist upon the appointment of more Mining Inspectors for Scotland, and that Scotchmen alone should fill these positions.


The hon. Member must confine himself to the Question before the Committee.


said, he was giving this as an illustration, and he thought it was a fair illustration of the question they had to deal with. He was no friend of Scotchmen in this matter, but he must say that the Law Officers for Scotland had not been fairly treated. He hoped the Government would reconsider this question. He believed that it was often a very great disadvantage to the Government that the Law Officers should be allowed to take private practice. But, if private practice was prohibited, he trusted that the Government would compensate the Law Officers in such a way that they would, at all events, have to submit to no real financial sacrifice. He believed that in giving a good salary to the Law Officers they would get the best men to advise the Government.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said, that, rightly or wrongly, pluralism was becoming very unpopular with public bodies throughout the country, and he trusted that the hon. Member for Preston would press his Amendment to a Division unless the Government gave a practical pledge that they would take this matter into their consideration before the next Estimates were presented. The Government had already affirmed the principle of "One man one job." It was a very good principle, not only for the employer, but for those barristers who were now unable to get briefs, simply because the star artistes at the Bar, especially at the Parliamentary Bar, had five or six jobs in one afternoon, with the result that they were unable to fulfil any one of them. He trusted they would see their way to follow the example of what had been done in the case of the English Law Officers—namely, that no private practice should prevail. They had no right to have Law Officers to look after the business of the country, when perhaps there might be some fat briefs to pay them better, and then of course there would be a deputy to do the Government business. While some 80 per cent. of barristers were unemployed he did not think they should assent to dual salaries or incomes, and he should vote for the Amendment unless the Government gave a pledge to rearrange this matter in next year's Estimates.


said, there was evidently a feeling in the Committee that the principle which had been applied to the English Law Officers should be applied to those of Scotland, and it was a curious thing that the only way in which they could assent to an increase in the salaries was to vote for the reduction of the Vote. That was a rather curious anomaly, and he hoped the Government would save them from it. An hon. Member had said that they could not expect distinguished lawyers to make sacrifices in undertaking Government work, but, as a matter of fact, they knew of several cases where distinguished lawyers had accepted Judgeships at considerable pecuniary loss. He should like, however, to see the same principle applied to the Law Officers in both countries, and hoped the Government would make some such declaration in the matter as would save the Committee going to a Division.


said, a statement made by the hon. Member for Battersea obliged him to take part in the discussion, which otherwise he had not intended doing. That hon. Member had suggested that the Law Officers had, by the attraction of fat briefs in private practice, neglected the interests of the public, and the due performance of public work. He wished to say at once, both on his own behalf and on that of the right hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight—with whom he had served in the law offices of the Crown for a longer period than any other Law Officers for the last 100 years—that such an accusation, if applied to them, was absolutely without foundation.


Does the hon. and learned Gentleman deny that the right hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight, whilst a Law Officer of the Crown, took up a brief for The Times? Did he do his best for the public then?


said, that with both his right hon. Friend and himself it was an unbroken rule during their term of Office that public work should come first, and no public work was ever neglected for the sake of private practice. If the attraction of private work had ever disturbed him in the course of public duty, he should have dismissed it unhesitatingly, and have devoted himself to that work for which the country paid him. But such a thing never occurred, and on no occasion during the history of those six years could it be said that either in opinions given to the Government on important questions which arose for the Law Officers to deal with, or in the matter of the representation of the Government in trials in Court, had there been any failing whatever on the part of his colleague or himself in their duty to the Government. To his mind, the remark of the hon. Member for Batter sea was a personal imputation.


thought the hon. and learned Member need not assume that imputations had been made; and, although he did not wish to interrupt him, was obliged to point out that he must confine himself to the question before the Committee.


thought that, under the circumstances, he might claim the indulgence of the Committee. With regard to the Law Officers for Scotland, he thought they were inadequately paid; but there was no occasion for them to surrender their private practice. They were compelled to be in London for the purpose of discharging their Parliamentary duties, and most of the work which came to them while Parliament was sitting was in connection with cases heard in the House of Lords, where their appearance involved no interference with the proper discharge of their public duties. He had not intended to take part in the discussion, but it was impossible for him to remain silent while imputations had been cast upon the conduct of his right hon. and learned Friend and that of himself during their term of Office.

MR. H. T. ANSTRUTHER (St. Andrews Burghs)

supported the appeal not to press this question to a Division. It appeared to him that the Motion of the hon. Member opposite was made on somewhat inconsistent grounds, because the increase of the salaries was made and accepted by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. and learned Friend on the express understanding, under the Treasury Minute of last August, that they should not engage in private practice if it prejudiced the public service. He should support the Vote as it stood, and he hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn.


said, his one object in moving a reduction was what happened as to the practice of allowing Law Officers of the Crown not only to draw large salaries, but to engage in private practice. If the House abolished the private practice of the Law Officers, then their salaries should be increased. He fully saw the difficulty there was in raising the question by moving a reduction. In spite of the support, then, that he had got, he thought he might prejudice the case by going to a Division. He should like to have some promise from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the matter would be considered by the Government, and that the same conditions would be enforced as to the Law Officers of Scotland and Ireland which were enforced as to the Law Officers of England. He appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give them some hope, at any rate, that this sound principle would be applied all round.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn, and Vote agreed to.

The following Votes were also agreed to:—A sum of£5,125 for Law Charges and Courts of Law in Scotland; £500 for the Register House, Edinburgh.

On the latter Vote,

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

hoped that clerks from the outside would be employed rather than overwork the staff.


said, sometimes the clerks were harder worked than at other times, but he should see that there was no abuse.

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