HC Deb 24 March 1908 vol 186 cc1239-51

Order for Second Reading read.


I shall perhaps meet the convenience of the House best if, instead of waiting for the discussion, I proceed at once to state very briefly the intentions of this Bill. In order to insure that this Bill shall not be discussed at great length at this stage, I may say I propose upon its passing a Second Reading to move that it be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. The object of the Bill is to separate the office of Director of Public Prosecutions from that of Solicitor to the Treasury, and to constitute an independent office. The measure is very urgent owing to the fact that the Criminal Appeal Act will come into operation next month and under the operation of that Act every appeal that reaches a hearing will have to be defended by the Director of Public Prosecutions. This it is quite clear will greatly add to the work of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is also Solicitor to the Treasury, and will put a great accession of duty on an already overburdened official. Quite apart from the Criminal Appeal Act, it has been obvious not only to my predecessors and myself, but to the Treasury, that some relief must be given to the Solicitor to the Treasury in the administration of criminal law. The House will scarcely appreciate how manifold are the duties of this officer. The Solicitor to the Treasury is also the chief responsible active solicitor for the Home Office, the War Office, the Admiralty, the Office of Works, and the Education Department. He has to act in any litigation that may arise in connection with the subordinate offices of the Treasury, such as the Stationery Office and the British Museum, and he also acts with the Solicitor-General in matters of the administration of charities, which is a very heavy and complicated branch of the public service. Besides that he is the King's Proctor, and it is his duty to intervene as such in divorce cases where it is necessary in order to prevent abuse of the Divorce Law. His duties have also lately been increased by his having to deal with questions of international law. As King's Proctor he is a member of a committee of the Hague Conference and as such has to preside over other committees. The result of all this is that in his work in the administration of the criminal law he runs the risk of being overburdened beyond endurance on the coming in of the Criminal Appeal Act. It is impossible that he can go beyond the act of supervision in the great bulk of his various offices. But his supervision must be real. He has to understand the issues that are to be tried; he has to be ready to advise upon the steps to be taken; and he must, above all, take care that prosecutions are not brought unless there is good reason to believe he will obtain a verdict. Of course he delegates some of his work, but delegation may be carried to such a point that effective supervision becomes impossible. It is to avoid that danger that the Government now ask the House to pass this Bill. Its provisions are very simple. It provides for the appointment of a Director of Public Prosecutions by the Secretary of State, and stipulates that he shall have such Assistant Directors of Public Prosecutions as are found to be necessary. The remuneration of the Director and his assistants is to be fixed by the Treasury, and paid out of monies provided by Parliament. The Director of Public Prosecutions is to be a barrister or solicitor of not less than twenty years standing, whilst his assistants must be barristers or solicitors of not less than seven years standing. I beg to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir W. Robson.)

*MR. COCHRANE () Ayrshire, N.

As a simple layman I hesitate to offer any remarks at all on a Bill of this character, especially when the object of it is to set up a new and expensive office to be filled by members of the legal profession. But I rise for the purpose of getting official information from the hon. and learned Gentleman. I wish to know why it is this Bill becomes necessary. This Bill re-enacts the Act of 1879 which was superseded. That Act separated these offices, but in the year 1883 it appeared that the continued separation of these two offices was costly and not efficient, and a strong Committee was appointed to inquire and report. They acquired a greater knowledge than I possess of the subject, and I call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to their remarks. The Committee was composed of Sir William Harcourt, Sir Henry James, Lord Herschell, Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir John Gorst, Sir Henry Fowler, and others. We have among them, therefore, the distinguished legal authority of Lord James of Hereford and Lord Herschell. They recommended that the system introduced in 1879 should be departed from, and that the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and of the Solicitor to the Treasury should be once more united. They did so on the ground of practical convenience and the saving of expense. They pointed out that the Director of Public Prosecutions with a salary of £2,000 a year was absolutely unnecessary; that he had also six assistants to help him to do his work; and that it would be much better to employ the services of the Solicitor to the Treasury which were immediately available. They said— We are of opinion that the existing system—which in its conception was necessarily of a tentative character—requires modification and development. At present the Director of Public Prosecutions is consulted and determines upon prosecutions, but takes no practical part in their conduct—a duty which is remitted by him to the Solicitor to the Treasury. I presume the Solicitor to the Treasury will still have to be consulted on the question of prosecutions—that he will still have to come in. The Report proceeds— By the light of experience since gained, it appears to us that it would conduce both to efficiency and economy if the duty of deciding in which cases the State should undertake the prosecution were united in the same department as that upon which is devolved the duty of practically conducting the prosecution when determined on. We have accordingly considered to which of the two existing departments the combined duties might be most conveniently assigned. If they were to be en- trusted to the separate office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as at present constituted, it would be necessary to create a new and expensive staff competent to conduct all the criminal prosecutions of the State. They went on to say that it was true the staff of the Solicitor to the Treasury was available, and could be used for the purpose, but that they did not see their way to an arrangement for dividing the two offices without a considerable waste of administrative power. The Report continues— We have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the better plan will be to unite the two branches of the work under the control of the Treasury Solicitor. If this recommendation is adopted there will no longer remain any duties for the Director of Public Prosecutions or his assistant to discharge; and the two offices could be forthwith merged and consolidated by appointing the Solicitor of the Treasury to the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions. These are questions to which I wish to direct the attention of the Solicitor-General, in order that he may explain, in view of this Report, signed with these names, why it is necessary to depart from the Act of 1884, which resulted from those recommendations, and revert to the Act of 1879. The cost of the office after 1879 was only £2,000; I have no doubt, if you again separate the offices, that in the present day the cost would be £4,000. The Attorney-General spoke slightingly of delegation, but under Section 5 of the Bill there is a rather sweeping power of delegating to the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions those powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions which he is authorised to exercise by or in pursuance of any Act of Parliament. The Assistant Director may do anything his Director may do. In the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions he has to have ten years legal standing; in the case of the Assistant Director he is only to have seven years standing, yet he is to carry out exactly the same work as the Director of Public Prosecutions. There seems to be room for explanation there. The main question is why it is thought necessary to repeal the Act of 1884, based on that Report to which I have referred, and revert to the Act of 1879, which the Committee condemned because it was inefficient and expensive.

SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)

said that the Attorney-General had supplied the answers which his hon. friend had asked for. He understood that there would be a great amount of work thrown on the Treasury by the new Criminal Appeal Court, and that it was necessary to separate the two offices. The Attorney-General had not alluded to this Report, but he presumed that with his great knowledge he was aware of it. The hon. and learned Gentleman assented to that; but he must say, after listening to his hon. friend's very clear exposition of the Report, that it struck him as affording very good ground for opposing the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman had told them that the amount of work which would be thrown upon the Solicitor-General by the Court of Criminal Appeal Act would be very great.


It will be enormous.


did not see why they should not wait for a year to see. He supposed that if they wait for a year they would then know what steps to take. As economy was the order of the day, it would be better to wait for a year to see what was going to take place under the Criminal Court of Appeal measure, before they went in absolute opposition to a Report signed by such eminent men, and set up another and extremely expensive office. As he understood, the hon. and learned Gentleman was going to take away from the Solicitor to the Treasury not only the new work which would arise under the Court of Criminal Appeal Act, but all the work which he did now in connection with public prosecutions. If that gentleman had been able to carry out public prosecutions satisfactorily up to the present time—he was not sure that they had always been caried out satisfactorily—he did not see why the work should be taken from him. Why not take away from him only the new work in connection with the Court of Criminal Appeal? It was evident from what the Solicitor-General said, that the Director of Public Prosecutions would have plenty to do, and, if they limited his work to that which arose from the Court of Criminal Appeal, they would not be obliged to appoint an Assistant-Director. All upon those benches desired economy, and they would do all they could to carry out the Government work with as little expenditure of public money as possible. Under these circumstances he thought his suggestion ought to be carried out, and that they should limit the work of the new official to the Court of Criminal Appeal, at any rate for a time. It would be perfectly easy to extend it afterwards if found necessary. There was one thing which always puzzled him when he looked upon the work of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It always involved the creation of a new post for somebody. Not a single Bill they brought in but created a post for someone. He believed that was a very bad thing to do, because if there was afterwards any demand to reduce expenditure it was always met with indignation by the people who received the salaries. The hon. and learned Gentleman was an exceedingly able debater, and he had listened with a good deal of curiosity to hear what he would say about some of the salaries to be paid to these gentlemen, and what he estimated the total cost of the Department would be. But he had not said a single word about it, except that the money would be paid by Parliament. Of that they were all aware, it was about the only place where they could get money at the present moment; but if they went on in that way even Parliament would have no money to give. Before they consented to the Second Reading of the Bill he asked for some assurance from the hon. and learned Gentleman that he would limit its expenses as much as possible, and that for the time being he would limit the duties of the new official, the object of course being that they should not appoint Assistant Directors. According to the Bill, not only was there to be a Director of Public Prosecutions, but assistants, though there was nothing to show how many or how few. The assurance asked for, that the work would be limited in the way he suggested, was most reasonable and businesslike. Any great firm worked at first in a small way and waited to see how the business was going before they extended it. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would give them that assurance. He hoped he would tell them what the salaries of the Director and his assistants were to be, what the total cost would be, and what answer he had to give to the Report read by his hon. friend. If these questions were satisfactorily answered, no doubt they would be very pleased to assent to the Second Reading.

MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said it was very much to be regretted that this Government continued the bad habit of previous Governments, drawn from both sides of the House, of hurrying legislation, and of saying that the Bill must be passed at once, the arrangements being such that they could not be carried out unless a new post was created. Not only did this Government pose as the friends of economy but as the friends of social reform, and he felt very strongly that before they authorised any further amount to be drawn from the Treasury for legal appointments the interests of social reform should be met. His hon. friends had emphasised the fact that the Attorney-General in his speech had not given the slightest indication as to whether the provisions of the Bill would result in a demand for £1,000 or £10,000 a year on the Exchequer, nor had they any notion how many appointments were to be made. Everything was left to the Treasury, and as far as he could see, once the Bill became law the House of Commons would lose all control over these legal officials. Ever since this Parliament had existed, the Treasury Vote had never once come up for discussion, so that once the Treasury got hold of the power to spend the money the House of Commons had lost all power of criticism or effective control. It was becoming a scandal, because the essence of the financial system had been each year that the House of Commons should criticise and control and direct the expenditure of the various public offices. He would be the last to grudge the hon. and learned Gentleman who now adorned the offices of Attorney-General and Solicitor-General the salaries which they enjoyed; he could not but think, however, that if they practised the economy which they emphasised so strongly on public platforms, and had regard to the votes which perhaps they themselves might have given when sitting on that side of the House, they would agree that some of the salaries necessary under this Bill should be taken from the fees and salaries which they enjoyed for their respective offices. He remembered in the last Parliament a heated debate and a division on the salaries of the Solicitor and Attorney-General. He had not had time to look up the records, but he would not be surprised if the present occupants of those offices both voted for the reduction of the salaries. He hoped they would take the proceedings of Parliament into account in that respect, and that this occasion would be seized to review the salaries of all the legal gentlemen connected with the Treasury. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for the City of London, that unless they could at this stage get full information as to the cost the Bill would involve it would be proper in the interests of economy, and having regard to the pledges which had been given by Gentlemen on both sides of the House, that they should not agree to the Bill.

VISCOUNT HELMSLEY (Yorkshire, W.R., Thirsk)

said it was surely rather unusual in bringing in a Bill of this sort not to state exactly what the salaries were to be. In the case of the Scottish Land Bill the salaries of the new offices were stated, and surely that was far more for the convenience of the House in such circumstances, especially when there were Reports which showed that the particular office in question had been abolished very largely because of the charges which it imposed. At the time of that Report the services which it was now proposed to set up again imposed a charge of about £6,000 a year on the Exchequer, and the Report said that the Committee were convinced that that amount could be very materially reduced by the consolidation of the Departments. That would certainly lead him to vote against the Bill unless they had a satisfactory explanation. Why was it necessary to set up a separate Department? If the Treasury work was as great as it was alleged to be it might have been met by the subsection which said that extra assistance could be provided. He would have thought there might have been far greater economy in appointing one or more assistants as might be necessary, keeping the matter under the control of the Solicitor to the Treasury, as head of the whole Department, than in setting up a new Department which was hound to involve additional expense beyond the salary of its chief official. If they had a satisfactory explanation of these points he would be prepared not to go into the division lobby against the Government, but pending that explanation he agreed that the position was unsatisfactory.

MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS (Kent, St. Augustine's)

I do not want to prolong the debate, but I want to ask one or two questions of one or other of the learned Gentlemen opposite. I am afraid I do not entirely share the views of my colleagues on these benches with regard to the necessity for this Bill. I look upon it as a necessary corollary of the Bill passed last year for the setting up of a Court of Criminal Appeal. Whether or not the Act will entail very great expense is another question. I ventured to express the opinion last year when that Bill was being considered that the work under it would be enormous, and I thought hon. Gentlemen opposite rather belittled the amount of work in order that they might not incur the charge of having recklessly gone into increased expenditure. But I remember perfectly well, on the Second. Reading of the Bill last year pointing out the very large number of cases which I thought would be raised under the Bill, and how nearly every criminal, especially the habitual criminal, the hardened offender, would take his chance of having a lighter sentence or having his case reversed. Therefore, I thought there would be a large amount of business and consequently a very considerable expenditure. The House passed that Bill last year; it was a very important Bill, devolving very important duties upon the Public Prosecutor, and therefore, although I was not entirely in favour of all the clauses of that Bill, I think that, having got it, in the interests of the country it ought to be carried out as well as it possibly can be. Therefore, it may be necessary for the Government to get an extremely efficient man to act as Public Prosecutor. In passing, may I express a hope that the present Solicitor to the Treasury, one of the very best public servants of the State, though I believe his time is getting rather short, may be able to start the proceedings under this measure, because there is in the country no man of greater experience than Lord Desart, and no man who could start the new machinery more efficiently or know more about the work. The Attorney-General in giving a clear explanation of the Bill explained how the Department of Solicitor to the Treasury was to be divided into two separate Departments, and he expressed the opinion with which I entirely agree, that it is necessary to preserve the position of King's Proctor. It might have been my own stupidity, but I did not gather whether the King's Proctor was to be in the new Public Prosecutor's Department, or to remain in the office of the Solicitor to the Treasury. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentlemen will tell me that. At all events I am quite clear, both from my experience at the Home Office and from my somewhat longer experience at the Treasury, that it is really impossible to load the Solicitor to the Treasury, without further assistance, with any more work in connection with the Court of Criminal Appeal. The Department has been extremely hard worked for a long time, and it will be necessary to increase its staff unless you take some steps such as you are taking in this Bill. So that, although I know the Bill will increase the expenditure, you cannot complain of that so much to-day as you could last year. It was in giving assent to the Act of last year that we pledged ourselves to increased expenditure. To me it matters little whether it is spent in increasing the staff of the present Solicitor to the Treasury or whether you combine the two offices and divide the amount of money necessary under two separate heads. At all events I do not think it will make much difference to the amount of money to be spent. I hope the Secretary of State will be fortunate enough to secure the services of an extremely able man to set up the exceedingly difficult and important work involved. I hope the Solicitor-General will assure me on the two points I have put before him. I will not trouble the House further on this stage of the Bill, though there are two or three questions I wish to raise at greater length when we come to the Committee stage.


, who was indistinctly heard in the gallery, was understood to say that anybody who had had experience of Lord Desart would re-echo the words kindly spoken of him by the right hon. Gentleman. He was a most excellent public servant and it would be a great loss to the State when it was no longer able to avail itself of his services. The chief dividing line between the two officers would be that the civil work would belong to the Treasury Solicitor, and the Criminal Department would be vested in the new office. He remembered that the right hon. Gentleman had prophesied last year that the work under the Criminal Appeal Bill would be very large indeed, and he agreed that it would be enormous. That necessitated that they should have a fresh Department to deal with the fresh work. Everybody who was in favour of the Criminal Appeal Bill had spoken very strongly last year against the possibility of any delay in the working of its provisions. It was of the utmost importance that people who had a right to appeal to the law as it now stood should have the right to go to trial as early as possible. For that purpose it would be well to arrange now for the setting up of machinery under the supervision and control of one man who would have the responsibility, so that when the Act came into force, as it would do on 18th April next, they would have it in order and there would be no delay. Reference had been made to the Report of 1884. It was quite true that the Report was made and was vouched for by the very eminent legal names to which the hon. Member for North Ayrshire had referred, but he had only one answer to make. It was that that Report was made twenty-four years ago, and since then they had all had time to be born again and to attain their majority. A great deal happened in twenty-four years, and the work of the Treasury Solicitor had enormously increased in connection with the Admiralty, the War Office, and every Department of the State. No public servant had much harder work than the man at the head of this branch; and now, with the enormous work which would devolve upon him under the Criminal Appeal Bill, it was absolutely necessary to make some provision of this kind. He would only say one word further with regard to the question of expense. First of all, in answer to the noble Lord who had cited an instance where the salaries were stated in the Bill, that measure was one in which Special Commissioners were appointed by the Act of Parliament itself. In this case they were merely creating new public servants and their salaries would be ascertained by the Treasury. It appeared to him that the proper time for discussing that would be upon the Resolution which they must have before going into Committee on the Bill. One thing that was certain was that if there was a desire for economy exhibited on the other side they would have assistance from hon. Members on the Government side, and between the watch-dogs on both sides of the House and the watch-dogs of the Treasury, he felt pretty sure the salaries of these gentlemen would not be excessive.

*MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallara)

said it was no answer for the Attorney-General to tell them that opportunities would arise for discussing this question on some other stage. He refused to believe that no kind of estimate had been formed of the probable expense of the measure. They all knew how extremely visionary the opportunities of discussing money Resolution were. Why was there such an unwillingness to produce the estimate of the probable cost? That was the one thing which the House was entitled to know before they were asked to read the Bill a second time. The discussions in Committee of Supply of the Vote for the Director of Public Prosecutions were not very easy, because they had on the one hand to guard against anything like a re-trying of the cases, and on the other hand against insinuating that in taking up or not taking up particular prosecutions he had been actuated by corrupt or scarcely less worthy motives. He did not see why the valuable protection afforded by Section 6 of the Act of 1879 was being repealed in the present Bill.

EARL WINTERTON (Sussex, Horsham)

said it was not at all clear that the question of these salaries could be referred to on the Financial Resolution. The House would remember that on the consideration of the Scottish Land Bill it was held that the Land Courts and their officials could not be discussed. The Committee stage of the Bill might be taken in the small hours of the morning some time in July, and it would be much more convenient to have the matter discussed now. They ought to be given some information as to the number of these officers and their salaries.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Thursday.—(Mr. Attorney-General.)