HC Deb 21 July 1915 vol 73 cc1572-94

16. "That a sum, not exceeding £44,754, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries of the Law Officers Department; the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Solicitor for the Affairs of His Majesty's Treasury and King's Proctor, and the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions; for the Costs of Prosecutions, of other Legal Proceedings, and of Parliamentary Agency."

Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I desire to draw attention, on this Vote, particularly to the matter of the payment of the Law Officers. I think it hardly necessary, in opening this Debate, that I should disclaim any intention of attacking personally either the late Law Officers or the present Law Officers. I have had no cause to quarrel with either set of Law Officers. On all occasions that I have had any dealings with them, I have been invariably treated with the utmost courtesy. My sole reason for raising the question this evening is to draw attention to the method of payment, and to suggest that a different method should in the interests of the country be adopted. The House will observe that in this Vote we merely have an estimate of the salaries and allowances. We find, in 1915–16, the sum of £14,405, and a similar sum was voted in the year 1914–15. But unlike nearly every other Vote that appears in the Estimates, this sum does not cover the salaries of the Gentlemen for whom it is voted. There is no Estimate put forward here, nor has there on any occasion for the last twenty years been any estimate put forward, as to the total remuneration of the Law Officers of the Crown. If one is to discover what exactly the Law Officers cost, one gets no guidance from the Estimate. It is necessary to hunt through the Appropriation Accounts, which are usually issued twelve months after the close of the financial year. And it is only there that any Member of this House can discover the remuneration actually earned by the Law Officers.

This question of the method of remuneration has often been in issue in this House in the past. Twenty years ago the question at issue, the question most debated, was whether the Law Officers of the Crown were to be entitled to have private practice while they held their respective posts of Attorney-General and Solicitor-General. In 1892 a new rule was made whereby the Law Officers undertook to forgo private practice, and at that time the remuneration was fixed on the mixed basis of salaries and fees. But the result of the new system was severely criticised in the House by a number of Members on the Unionist side, and as a result of that criticism, when Sir Robert Reid, who afterwards became Lord Chancellor, was appointed Attorney-General, and Sir Frank Lockwood, Solicitor-General, a new Treasury Minute was issued fixing the salaries of the Attorney-General and of the Solicitor-General. The remuneration of the Attorney-General was fixed at £10,000 and of the Solicitor-General at £9,000. I think most people will agree that that is surely a fair remuneration for any public servant. However, when the Unionist Government came into power in 1895, one of its first acts was to change this system, and to restore once more the method of paying partly by fixed salary and partly by fees. The fixed salary represented their reward in respect of non-contentious business, the fees being earned in respect of contentious business. At that time my right hon. Friend the Member for West Islington raised the question of this change in the House, and in reply to him the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach (now Lord St. Aldwyn), intimated that the Government were of opinion that the system of remuneration partly by salary and partly by fees was the better system in the public interests, and that it was estimated that the cost to the public would not exceed the cost under the system of fixed salaries during the last year of the Rosebery Government.

When the same Gentleman again drew the attention of the House to the question, the then Attorney-General (Sir Richard Webster (now Lord Alverstone) made a statement to the same effect. He indicated that though in the current year he expected that the fees would exceed the sum mentioned, nevertheless in normal years the difference of £6,000 would in no case be exceeded. These were the representations upon which that system was founded. But as the years went on the remuneration earned by the Law Officers progressively increased. In 1897 it went up to £13,000 for the Attorney-General and £9,300 for the Solicitor-General; in 1898, £14,500 for the Attorney-General and £10,946 for the Solicitor-General; in 1899, it rose to £17,264 for the Attorney-General and to £11,814 for the Solicitor-General; and, finally, in 1900 it rose to £18,804 for the Attorney-General and £11,329 for the Solicitor-General. The combined payment amounted to £30,133 for the two Law Officers. That progressive increase obviously did not correspond with the promise made when the system was brought into existence, and consequently when the Vote for the Law Officers came up for discussion in Committee of Supply in 1901 the matter was raised. My right hon. Friend, who was the representative of Mid-Lanarkshire in this House, and subsequently become Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Caldwell), raised the question, quoting the figures which I have just mentioned to the House. A very interesting Debate took place on this subject, a Debate in which nearly all the leading members of the House took part.

There were speeches from the present Prime Minister, the present Minister of Munitions, from the present First Lord of the Admiralty, and again from the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach). But I wish more particularly to draw attention to what was said by the present Prime Minister and the present Minister of Munitions. The House should remember that this matter at that time was being discussed under conditions very similar to those which prevail at the present time. We were then engaged in the South African War. There was then an urgent call for economy, not so urgent as the call at the present time. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day was, I think, equally persistent in his effort to impress upon the House of Commons and the country the necessity of economy in public expenditure. Consequently, in the course of that Debate, the leaders of the Opposition of that time, whom I have mentioned, took advantage of the opportunity to press upon the Government the advisability of reverting to the old system of paying the Law Officers by fixed salary, instead of the extravagant method of paying partly by salary and partly by fees. I wish, in particular, to quote what was said by the Prime Minister on the occasion of the Debate on the 26th April, 1901. He said:— I cannot imagine a fairer case for economy in these days, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer hardly ever comes down to the House without lecturing the House, the country, and his colleagues on the necessity of economy. I also desire to quote two passages from the speech of the Minister of Munitions. The first passage I will quote is as follows:— Considering the advisability of economy in every Department, he did not know where economy could be more sensibly and rationally commenced than in this particular Department. He then went on to say:— If the allowance of the fees was to be marked by the solicitor's clerk, whose promotion depended on the man who received them, they were bound to have these bills growing from year to year. The system was thoroughly rotten and unreasonable. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is that?"] The Minister of Munitions, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were all on economy at that time. I think that this is a very appropriate time to remind the House of the particular utterances of Ministers now so important and so influential. Only last week the Prime Minister practically challenged the House to take some measures in the direction of economy. When my hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) raised some questions about the desirability of discussing these Votes in Committee of Supply, the Prime Minister waived his intervention aside and said, "We have no expression of opinion in favour of economy from any Benches in this House except the Treasury Bench. Only here," he said, "is there any desire for economy. From other parts we only receive appeals for increased expenditure." Responding to that invitation I thought it extremely important at the present time on the case put forward by the Prime Minister himself, that we should press the desirability of economy, and I have no doubt in view of the expressions of opinion I have quoted that the present Government, under the influence of the desire of economy, will be willing to change this extravagant system. But, it may be said, why has the matter not been raised since the year 1901. I have taken the trouble to go through all the Appropriation Accounts since that year, and I think I find in those Appropriation Accounts the real reason why this question fell into abeyance. The figures I have already quoted, showed for the year 1900 an expenditure of over £30,000. In 1901 there was a drop to £21,000, or nearly a drop of £10,000. That continued till 1902, when the figures were £12,000 for the Attorney-General, and £10,000 for the Solicitor-General. In 1903 they were £11,800 and £9,700, respectively. With the exception of the year 1904, when exceptionally heavy work fell on the Law Officers in connection with the Alaskan Boundary dispute, the figures stood nearly stationary at something between £12,000 and £13,000 for the Attorney-General, and from £7,000 to £9,000 for the Solicitor-General.

But once more in 1909 and 1910 an increase began. Evidently the Law Officers had come to the conclusion that they had escaped the vigilance of the House of Commons. We find in 1909 the sum of £14,908 2s. 5d. for the Attorney-General, and £10,136 11s. 3d. for the Solicitor-General. Those figures include fees and salaries. In 1910 the figure for the Attorney-General was £13,845 4s. 10d. I do not know how the tenpences are arrived at, as it is not a usual figure on a brief. In 1910 also the figure for the Solicitor-General was £11,644 2s. 9d. Then we come to 1911, and we have £17,924 6s. 2d. for the Attorney-General, and £9,850 14s. 6d. for the Solicitor-General. In 1912 £16,761 19s. 8d. for the Attorney-General, and £12,415 4s. for the Solicitor-General. But the greatest figure that has been yet reached is that which appears in the last Appropriation Account. We have only, as I indicated, the Appropriation Account for the year ended 31st March, 1914, and it will probably be some months before we know the exact state of things for the last financial year. For the year ended 31st March, 1914, the figures for the office of Attorney-General, and although the office was divided during that period, I am lumping the figures together, were £18,397 6s. 6d., and for the Solicitor-General £19,037 16s. 6d., so that the combined Law Officers of 1914 received a total remuneration of £37,425 3s. An hon. Friend quarrels with my figures, but there is really no substantial difference between us. He has reckoned each individual's receipts, but the total amount of £37,000 is the combined earnings of the two Law Officers for that year. We do not want to go into the question of the personnel of the men who earned it.

I think that, when the figures of the earnings of the Law, Officers have reached these colossal sums, that it is of the utmost importance that this House should enter a protest, and should see that a different system is brought into existence, so that we should secure the services of Law Officers at a cheaper rate. I do not desire, and I am sure no Member of the House desires, that the country should not have the services of the best legal men who are available for the country, but I do not believe that anybody in this House will contend that it is necessary to spend £37,400 in order to obtain those services. I believe with the Prime Minister in 1901, and with the Minister of Munitions in 1901 also that you could get equally good service by reverting to the practice in vogue during the last year of the Rosebery Government, of paying a fixed salary, £10,000 for the Attorney-General and £9,000 for the Solicitor- General I think nearly everybody will admit that that is adequate remuneration. It may be true that in years of prosperity certain leaders at the Bar have earned fees in excess of those amounts, and that to become a law officer, therefore, there would be financial sacrifice involved for such gentlemen accepting office. Personally I do not see why if gentlemen accept offices of honour like the office of Attorney-General and the office of Solicitor-General that they should not make some financial sacrifice, especially as we know that those offices are the regular orthodox path to the highest judicial preferment. We know that in the past very able and distinguished lawyers have been willing to make the sacrifice, and consequently I think the House is justified in concluding that even in ordinary times distinguished barristers and distinguished advocates would be willing to accept office on this condition. But we must remember this, that in these days the earnings I should say of even the most distinguished leaders of the Bar have considerably fallen owing to the diminution of legal business. Except in one particular department, the Prize Court, we all know that the amount of legal business is nothing like what is going on in normal times, and consequently under existing circumstances, even if the fixed salary I have mentioned would in normal times involve financial sacrifice, under present conditions I think we are safe in maintaining that the fixed salaries I have named would mean no financial sacrifice even to the leaders of the Bar.

I think I have made out a case that the services of the best legal men in the country could be obtained for a fixed salary, especially under present conditions. I think, therefore, we can assume that the public service would in no way suffer if we reverted to the system of fixed salaries. As I indicated earlier, it is surely incumbent upon this House to give due weight to these considerations when the necessity for economy is so urgent. When the Prime Minister and the Minister of Munitions advocated this proposal in 1901 there was a strong desire, and an urgent call for economy. But strong as was the desire then, and urgent as was the call, the necessity was not anything like as imperative as it is at the present time. I therefore hope that when the Government replies this evening they will indicate that under the conditions of the present time they are willing to effect this economy by reverting to the system of payment by fixed salaries.

8.0 P.M.


I think that of those who took part in the discussion in 1901 only four Ministers remain in Parliament, and hardly any Member sitting on the Front Bench at present was a Member of the House at the time. My hon. Friend who brought this matter to the attention of the House omitted to say that the present Prime Minister actually voted in 1901 against the salaries of the law officers, as did also the present Minister of Munitions, Richard Haldane, and the Foreign Secretary. And the Conservative Government, which had a majority at that time of 150, had only a majority in that division of 35. One hundred and fifty was their nominal majority, but at all events it was over a hundred. I wish to make it quite clear that this matter is perfectly impersonal, and I wish to associate myself with what the Prime Minister said in 1901 in order to make it quite clear that it is purely impersonal. The Prime Minister on that occasion said:— I cannot imagine a fairer case for economy in these days when the Chancellor of the Exchequer hardly ever conies down to the House without lecturing the House and the country, and his colleagues on the necessity for economy. I think a fair case has been brought before the House by my hon. Friends, and, without making any kind of personal reflection, I am compelled to vote for the Amendment. Then the Prime Minister went on to say:— I am very anxious, and I think we are all anxious, to discuss this question from an impersonal point of view, and simply from the point of view of the economical working of the Department. He then proceeded to show that under Lord Rosebery's Administration the total of the Law Officers' remuneration was £19,000. It is extremely distasteful to me to have to raise this question at this particular moment when the two Law Officers happen to be members of the party to which I do not belong. I do not know that I belong to any party. I hope therefore my right hon. Friend (Sir F. E. Smith) will regard this discussion purely from an impersonal point of view. My hon. Friend and I wish to make it quite clear that we have no desire to attack the existing holders of these offices simply because they happen to have come across the floor and are now sitting on the Treasury Bench. What did the present Home Secretary get last year? As my hon. Friend pointed out, in the Estimates presented to Parliament you cannot find how much is actually paid to these gentlemen: you have to go through the Appropriation Accounts. On page 254 of the Appropriation Accounts of this year I find that for the period the present Home Secretary drew in fees £3,406 as Attorney-General and £10,976 12s. as Solicitor-General. In addition to that he received remuneration as Solicitor-General at the rate of £6,000 a year, and for part of the period he was Attorney-General with a salary of £7,000. Therefore his total salary in fees amounted to £14,382, to which has to be added— taking the mean of the two salaries—£6,500, making a total of about £21,000. In point of fact, the Lord Chief Justice left this House some time in September, so that the present Home Secretary received over £21,000 as Law Officer last year. Who fixes these fees? When this question was raised in 1901 the Member for Edinburgh University was very anxious in regard to the statement made by the present Minister of Munitions on this point. What the Minister of Munitions said—and it was not contradicted: in fact other speakers confirmed it—was:— These fees are fixed by clerks in the Department, of the Crown Solicitor, whose appointment and promotion are in the hands of the Attorney-General. He then went on to say that the system was thoroughly rotten, and so on. We have this remarkable fact in political life in this country, that when one party is sitting on this side all that they do is wrong in the eyes of those who sit on the other side, and when those who sit on the other side cross the floor they take the opposite view to that which they took when in Opposition. That is the reason we do not get on. The views of Ministers all depend on the Bench on which they happen to sit. If there was this urgent necessity for economy according to the Prime Minister in 1901, how can the Government justify, in a time of much greater national danger, the payment of these immense salaries, which largely exceed those paid in 1901? The present Solicitor-General during the last year has been giving the greater part of his services to the country for no remuneration whatever, and he has undoubtedly damaged his practice by so doing; therefore he is the last person whom I want to bring under the bann.

This year it is clear we cannot have an alteration. But for the following year the Government ought really to tell us that they will treat this matter in the way in which the Prime Minister said in 1901 it ought to be treated. If what the Prime Minister said in 1901 stands good to-day we shall be able to say that at last a Member in office is consistent with the views he held when in Opposition. But I am afraid we shall not get that answer, so that there will, at all events, be consistency with the usual policy of politicians. I will not trouble the House with a. number of quotations from speeches of responsible Ministers in 1901. I voted then for this reduction in the Estimates; as also did my hon. Friend near me. When the necessity for economy is urged the first people to set an example ought to be Ministers themselves. It is no use the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling the working-classes that they must be economical if the Government forthwith proceed to grant pensions to Members of the Cabinet which has recently been broken up. That is not business. Real economy ought to begin at home. If the Prime Minister wants economies to be made, let him start in his own household. [Laughter.] Of course, I mean his political household. No one will suppose that I meant his domestic household. This is no laughing matter. If we, here, set an example of wasteful expenditure, it spreads through all sections of the community. You cannot expect the working-classes, or any other section of the community to start making sacrifices when you at the head set an example of extravagance.


This discussion is one of which notice has been given. Notice was given to the Prime Minister himself owing to the way in which we started on the Estimates, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Treasury knew that the matter was coming on. I want once more to draw attention to the fact that when we are discussing this very important matter there is on the Treasury Bench no one connected with the Treasury and no representative of the Prime Minister. We cannot expect a reply from the Solicitor-General on a question in which he is himself concerned. He may have very strong views on the matter, but obviously he would desire to remain outside any discussion of the kind. He has already been assured, and I believe he understands it to be true, that there is no personal animus towards the present occupants of these offices in the remarks that have been made. In the hope that some remedy may be found, I draw attention to the absence of anybody on the Front Bench able to deal with this matter. The Lord Advocate is a Law Officer for Scotland, on a fixed salary without fees. His Department is one of the most economical as well as one of the ablest institutions that we have in Scotland. There is nobody else on the Front Bench—including those who have disappeared since it was pointed out that a reply might be asked for—able to deal with this extremely important point. I understand that the Chief Secretary for Ireland made a speech on this question so long ago as 1896. Possibly he may repeat the very sound views on economy which he then expressed in regard to the way in which these offices should be conducted. The late Sir William Harcourt referred to the question in these terms:— It is said that it is necessary for the acuteness of a Law Officer … that he should feel the fee in his hand. But if we fix the salary sufficiently high we may surely expect that both his learning and his eloquence will be at the service of his country for a less amount, than he now receives. My hon. Friend has pointed out that last year we spent £37,000 on the two Law Officers. I would remind the House that that is the price of seven Prime Ministers. Surely the House recognises the fact that a Member who occupies the position of Prime Minister in the Government of the day is most frequently an individual who could, at the profession which he has adopted, be making an enormous amount of money, but who sacrifices that to assume the post of Prime Minister. I think, therefore, it is worth while emphasising the remarks made by my hon. Friend, that so long as you pay the Law Officers a substantial amount—and I would remind the House that my hon. Friend's proposal pivoted on the fact that he was willing to allow £10,000 to the Attorney-General and £9,000 to the Solicitor-General—so long, I say, as you make that ample provision, the fact of the extra honour that is conferred upon two gentlemen of high distinction in their own profession in serving their country in that capacity is worth more than its weight in gold. After all, there is something in standing in the line of a distinguished succession of Law Officers in this House. It counts for something. So long as the House is not stingy, or does not attempt to augment the salaries so that they will not stand criticism, I think we are entitled to ask that the honourable position should also count for a great deal.

Someone connected with the Treasury has, I see, at last scented the fact that a discussion is going on about money in the House of Commons and has come on to the Front Bench. I hope he does not want us to repeat the speeches that we have made to acquaint him with the facts of this discussion. Before I sit down I want to say now to that representative of the Treasury that the Members of this House do feel continually, and are feeling it more and more, that when matters which concern the House, and which the House is entitled to discuss on these Estimates, come up for discussion, we have this continual absence of the Minister who matters from the Front Bench, and we have this continual scouting by some official on the Front Bench, who makes a hurried foray into some of these Lobbies and returns with some sort of capture to the Front Bench. That representative in due course gets up and, with urbanity and courtesy, replies. He suggests to the House that he has not heard the whole of the discussion, which, if he had heard, would have put him in a position to make a much more adequate reply. That is not treating the House of Commons as it ought to be treated on this question. The right hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury now will agree that the House of Commons made a valuable surrender of time to the Government in allowing three days to be taken off the legitimate number of days for Supply. That being so, and this being one of two questions for discussion of which notice was fully given, I think we are entitled—as we ought to have been, I think—to the presence even of the Prime Minister, or, at any rate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I do not think my hon. Friend was entitled in himself to the presence of a Minister, because, after all, we cannot expect that Ministers will be present for every subject that is discussed. But on a big subject which is raised as a point of which notice has been given, I think the House is entitled that the Minister in charge of that subject should be present, and that Minister in this case is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We feel great sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman the Solicitor-General who has had to sit there and listen to what we have been saying about his profession. We regret that we have had to say these things in his presence, because we might have been more free in his absence. I would remind this House that we are in an atmosphere of economy. As a matter of fact, the Deputy-Speaker of the House, if I remember rightly, both spoke and voted against the very proposal that we are now discussing; so that with that memory of what the present Deputy- Speaker did on that occasion, and the presence of the Irish Secretary, who also committed that offence in 1896, and who has been maintaining the tradition down to the present, I hope the effect of this discussion will be that, though this year no change can be made, we shall have some definite undertaking given by the Government that something will be attempted to avoid in future this casual way in which the Law Officers of the Crown, in addition to their substantial living and trade union wage, accumulate the luxury of several other thousands.


I had not intended to take any part in this Debate, although I have given some attention to this subject in days gone by. I remember twenty-one years ago, as my hon. Friend has reminded the House, that there was a Debate here, and I well remember my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions on that occasion displaying an enthusiasm which had a marked impression on the whole House. So far as I remember, it had the effect of drawing into the Debate a number of distinguished Gentlemen who have been quoted to-night by my hon. Friend. I rose, however, at this time principally to complain of the Cabinet treating the House of Commons with such a lack of courtesy that they have not fixed a Minister to reply to this question. If I am wrong in that, I will, of course, at once withdraw that remark; but I rose just as the Question was being put. I must say that this is part of a policy which has been pursued just a little bit too long. We know we have a Coalition Government. We know that they have practically the full confidence of the House. But the House of Commons is still the House of Commons. There are many things the Cabinet can do. But there is one thing it cannot do, and that is to treat the House of Commons, the representative organ of the nation, with supreme contempt. I hope, therefore, that there may be some Member of the Government, however humble, think it is his duty to get up and say that he will report to his chief, probably to the Prime Minister himself, the matter that has been raised here to-night. We have reason to complain that provision was not made beforehand as to who was to reply.

No one will deny that my hon. Friend's case, as stated, was a watertight case. I think he was well advised in treating the matter as an entirely impersonal one. My hon. Friend is a distinguished member of the Bar himself, and I think he showed that he, at any rate, was anxious to place the matter on a thoroughly House of Commons basis. I am glad he had the courage to bring it before the House. I desire to associate myself very fully with the remarks made as to the present occupants of the office. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman who has paid us the courtesy of being present to-night—although he showed no inclination to speak—has not been a participant of the large war profits which have been made during the last year. He, at any rate, made a very big financial sacrifice—I suppose the biggest financial sacrifice that any member of his profession has made. At the beginning of the War he practically abandoned his profession, and since that time, I understand, he has practically taken no part in his profession, except to take up the post that he now holds. We can, therefore, discuss this matter without the slightest suggestion that there has been any political feeling about it; in fact, such feeling does not exist. It comes when we are being lectured by the Government on the need for economy My hon. Friend has suggested that this is a direction of economy which might occupy the attention of the Prime Minister. I think the case is complete. The matter is one which might come before the new Committee on Economy. Personally I am not prepared to say that the sum fixed before is the right sum. That is another matter. But there should be a fixed sum. Let the amount be what may be determined. It is wrong in principle, as I said years ago, that however high and distinguished the lawyer may be, who occupies the post, he ought not to be placed in this position: that he may have to recommend a prosecution, that he himself will have to conduct, which may mean the putting of £4,000 or £5,000 in fees into his own pocket. I say we ought not to put any man in that position, and that is one of the reasons I would urge against it. My case has been so fully stated that there is nothing else to be said, and I rise principally to ask that someone on behalf of the Government—I would even press for the Solicitor-General himself; we have not heard his voice for a very long time—would tell us that he would carefully weigh the arguments put forward, and see that they are considered in the proper quarter. At any rate, that would be some recognition on the part of the Government that some attention had been paid to this Debate, and that Members of the House received that courtesy to which, I think, they are entitled.


The Government may be open to the criticism of making an unfortunate selection of their spokesman to-night, and, indeed, I am strongly of opinion they have done so, but they are not open to the reproach which the hon. Baronet levelled at them of not having sent anyone, because, as I have said, their selection, under the circumstances, is open to the criticism which another hon. Gentleman indicated. I was asked last night to be here to listen to this Debate, and to make any observations which it seemed possible for me to make. I begin by saying that, so far from resenting the introduction of this subject by the hon. Gentleman and the speeches which have been made by him and by other Members who have spoken in the same sense, I recognise first of all the personal consideration and kindness with which they were good enough to speak about myself, and, secondly, that the subject which they have raised is one which has repeatedly engaged the attention of the House of Commons. No one can for a moment contend that at the present time there is anything unreasonable in the hon. Gentleman calling the attention of the House of Commons to the matter.

One hon. Gentleman pointed out that it would not be consistent with the delicacy by which one's actions should properly be governed, that I should address arguments to the House of Commons on behalf of my own salary, but I think he may be reassured by the reflection that if it were a question of my standing here to-night in order to recommend to the House, and to support by argument, the system under which Law Officers at the present time are remunerated, I should certainly have asked that these arguments should be presented by some one else, if it were desirable that they should be presented at all. I do not propose, however, in the very few observations with which I shall trouble the House, to put forward any strenuous contention of that kind, but I think I may usefully remind the House that it is important in dealing with the matter to distinguish between the two considerations which, I think, were unintentionally a little confused in some of the speeches which have been made. There is a broad question to be discussed, and one on each side of which arguments can be found as to whether, quite apart from the present War and under normal circumstances, we have devised that system of remunerating Law Officers which, under all the circumstances of the case, is the best. There is the further question whether, having regard to the fact that we now find ourselves in the middle of a great War, and having regard to the fact, as several Members have reminded us, that responsible Ministers have recently advocated economy, as a matter of temporary stress some step ought to be taken in the matter which the House is now discussing. There are two questions, and they are distinct, one is whether the system on its merits in time of peace is a good or a bad one, and the other is whether in the stress and financial urgencies in which we find ourselves to-day some arrangement could be made of a temporary character.

I am not going, of course, to attempt to argue to-night the whole case, but I would point out that as to the question whether under normal circumstances this is a good system—without pronouncing any final conclusion on it, because very distinguished members of my own profession have taken different views—very many considerations require to be borne in mind, and it is not irrelevant to recall that the House has itself tried three different systems. It has tried the system of allowing Law Officers to continue private work, and many Law Officers made enormous fortunes by their private practice at the same time as some large part of their time ought to have been, and I dare say was, mortgaged to the public requirements. That system was tried for a considerable time, but Parliament became impatient of it, and, if I may place on record my own impression, I think Parliament was right. It lent itself to abuse, even if abuse never followed. When that arrangement was altered, one Law Officer—a very distinguished lawyer—was so resentful of the change that lie resigned his position, or refused to accept the position of a Law Officer because the permission to practice privately was withheld.

I do think, without pretending in the least to prejudge the final decision which the Government or the House may take, one or two considerations might usefully be borne in mind. It is true, as one speaker says, whether it is right or whether it is wrong, whether it is an arrangement which the House of Commons approves or disapproves, that the men who are at the very head of the Bar do make salaries which are comparable with those which in the aggregate have been paid to the Law Officers in the past. I might, perhaps, make one observation in regard to two figures which were quoted in reference to the two highest years. I believe that the highest year which the hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject to the House mentioned first was a year in which there was a very important international arbitration, which lasted for a very long time, and raised the figure to a height unknown before and unknown for many years afterwards. And I think that the hon. Gentleman confused the very high figure which he quoted with reference to the late Attorney-General. I think the hon. Baronet who spoke said that the figure was £21,000. I understand it was not quite so much as that, but it ought to be explained, so I am told, that in that year was included a very long and very difficult telephone inquiry, which lasted for weeks—and, indeed, I think for months—the fees of which ought to have been paid in the previous year, but which, owing to some accident, was delayed. Making all deductions, there is no doubt at all, I suppose, that the average that has been paid to the Attorney-General—the figures that have been given in relation to the Solicitor-General are comparatively so modest that the change indicated would have no particular terrors for me personally—but the figures that have been put before the House in the case of the Attorney-General have shown—I have only worked them out in my head—an average of something about £14,000 or £15,000 a year, and perhaps a little less, if you take the figures of the last ten years, with a tendency to increase in the last few years.


Might I condole with the right hon. Gentleman, but if I were the Solicitor-General I would get £18,000.


Oh, no; I can assure the hon. Baronet that up to the present I cannot give him any experience based on facts in the slightest degree—I need not remind the House I am attempting to speak, as every previous speaker has attempted to do, quite impersonally—but I think the hon. Baronet is quite wrong about that matter. When I was asked to take duties in the Coalition Government, I would greatly have preferred at that moment an office the emoluments of which were very much more modest, but when I was invited to accept the position I hold, and which I regard as a great honour, I was not so disinterested as not to inquire what the fees and the salary amounted to. Certainly no such figure as the hon. Baronet has referred to to-night was ever dangled before my eyes.

I was attempting to point out that there are some considerations which the House would do well to bear in mind. Let me call attention to one of these considerations. The Law Officers are now advising daily on subjects in which many millions of pounds are involved. At the present moment I am conducting, with the assistance of the Attorney-General, a case in the Prize Courts, the result of which means £3,000,000 to this country. Only last week in the Court of Appeal I had to argue a case as to the basis of compensation to be given under the various Defence of the Realm Acts, and I think it was considered that the result was that a sum of many millions was saved to the Government. I am not making any personal claim in this matter, but I think that everybody will admit that whatever system you adopt you must have one which makes it quite certain that the very best lawyers and advocates in the country will be available for the service of the nation. I rather agree with what fell from an lion. Gentleman who said that so long as this condition is fulfilled the House of Commons is perfectly at liberty to make any arrangement which commends itself to the House in dealing with the Law Officers. It should be remembered, however, that the best lawyers and advocates practising at the Bar make sums ranging from £15,000 to between £22,000 and £23,000 a year in cases of very successful men. Those men are often willing, for obvious reasons, to hold these positions of Law Officers of the Crown, although they can make more at the Bar; but having regard to the high position they accept the office, although they may get less than they were getting before. There must not, however, be so wide a disparity that a lawyer will say that it is not worth his while to leave his practice at the Bar. I agree that this subject is one of immense importance. You must have advocates for these positions who possess high prestige, which comes from practice at the Bar, although I am not saying that the House always gets them.

Perhaps I may make an observation on what is really uppermost in the minds of hon. Members who have spoken, and that is the circumstances in which we find ourselves at the present time. Any decision arrived at ought to be come to without prejudice to the general and ordinary arrangements, unless hon. Members propose to alter it in reference to war conditions only. There are those who take the view that, having regard to the circumstances of the War and the necessity for economy, this is a time in which these large payments should not be made to Law Officers. I can only say that if a Debate takes place on this question I shall take no part in it, and I am sure the Attorney-General would take no part in it, and as far as the present holders of the office are concerned there will be a complete readiness to fall in with the decision of the House of Commons. The House of Commons has decided to give the Law Officers larger salaries than are given to ordinary Ministers. Some hon. Members may think that that is a large assumption, and one hon. Gentleman has reckoned how many Prime Ministers you could get for a Law Officer's salary. May I say that you would get into very large figures if you contrasted the Law Officers with an Under-Secretary. If the House of Commons was right in the course which for so many generations it has adopted, if it is right that there should be this disparity between the salary of the Law Officers and ordinary Ministers, it would, of course, be a question for the House to consider whether in a time of war like this the reductions made should be proportionate and should apply to the case of all officials and Members of the Government. I know that, in the opinion of a section of the public, there is a feeling that this reduction ought to apply to Members of the House of Commons. If the House of Commons takes that view, I assure hon. Members that there will be no special opposition forthcoming from the Law Officers, but I think the question ought to be considered as a whole. One hon. Member made a request that the views which had been expressed should be laid before the Government. In reply to that request, I may say that I will make it my business to lay the arguments used very fully before my colleagues.


I think we may all congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon having treated a very delicate subject in a very diplomatic way. Incidentally perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is congratulating himself that he has got hold of a much better thing than he thought, always providing that the hon. Member for Mansfield is right and not the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure that I am expressing the Solicitor-General's sentiments if I say that he is open to be persuaded on that point, even by the hon. Member for Mansfield. At the same time, I do not agree that this question ought to be considered from the abnormal period of to-day. I think the hon. Member, and every one of those who have spoken, has presented the case, not because of the economic pressure of the War, and not on account of the urgency of economy, but I think a case has been presented that a change is desirable, even in normal times, as distinct from the abnormal period. Viewing it from the point of view of labour, we are opposed to the principle that anyone should have a direct personal interest in settling affairs of this kind. In every town council we have made propositions, which have been generally accepted, that in every municipality in the country no one shall sit upon any committee where he is likely to be affected by his personal interest. We have done this not because we challenge the honesty of the individual but because we submit that it is an unfair position in which to put anyone. Surely that same principle should apply to the Law Officers of the Crown. I agree that if we develop the argument we can make out that about 100 Members of Parliament are the equivalent of the Law Officers of the Crown, but as against that I would submit this proposition: If a member of the Bar, the highest in their profession, takes the position of a Law Officer of the Crown, he is not making any more sacrifice than the Prime Minister or Lord Chancellor, who equally may be the head of any particular profession. It cannot be argued that the honour of the position is an all-important factor, and from that point of view I most certainly think that the fixing of an inclusive salary is the best way out of the difficulty.


There is really only one question in regard to this matter. It has been debated over and over again in the House. It is absolutely necessary that the nation should get the very best legal advice that it can, or, to put it in the other way, it is absolutely necessary that there should be no better advice against them. The whole question is whether that can be obtained by the method which we prescribed before of a fixed salary for these two Law Officers of the Crown. I believe it was in Lord Rosebery's Administration, of which I was a humble supporter, that the method of a fixed salary was tried. I think the salaries were £10,000 and £9,000. If it answered at that period, why should it have been changed? I never knew why it was changed. We have now a Coalition Government, and we have all the wisdom of both Front Benches. Surely they can put their heads together, and at a time when we are told to save all the national money we can they ought to endeavour to put this subject of the remuneration of the Law Officers on a permanent, sound, and satisfactory basis!

Resolution agreed to.

Resolutions reported,

17. "That a sum, not exceeding £23,166, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for certain Miscellaneous Legal Expenses, including Grants in Aid of the Expenses of the Incorporated Law Societies of England and Ireland."

18. "That a sum, not exceeding £180,995, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for such of the Salaries and Expenses of the Supreme Court of Judicature and Court of Criminal Appeal as are not charged on the Consolidated Fund."

19. "That a sum, not exceeding £24,497, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Land Registry."

20. "That a sum, not exceeding £5, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Trustee."

21. "That a sum, not exceeding £68,982, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries and Expenses connected with the County Courts."

22. "That a sum, not exceeding £35,308, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1916, for Criminal Prosecutions and other Law Charges in Ireland, including a Grant in relief of certain Expenses payable by Statute out of Local Rates."

23. "That a sum, not exceeding £67,744, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for such of the Salaries and Expenses of the Supreme Court of Judicature and of certain other Legal Departments in Ireland as are not charged on the Consolidated Fund."

24. "That a sum, not exceeding £470,320, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish Land Commission."

25. "That a sum, not exceeding £68,685, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries, Allowances, and Expenses of various County Court Officers and of Magistrates in Ireland, and the Expenses of Revision."

26. "That a sum, not exceeding £40,914, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Commissioner of Police, the Police Courts, and the Metropolitan Police Establishment of Dublin."

27. "That a sum, not exceeding £774,267, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Expenses of the Royal Irish Constabulary."

28. "That a sum, not exceeding £68,974, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Expenses of the General Prisons Board in Ireland and of the Establishments under their control, the Registration of Habitual Criminals, and the Maintenance of Criminal Lunatics confined in District Lunatic Asylums."

29. "That a sum, not exceeding £50,516, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Expenses of Reformatory and Industrial Schools in Ireland."

30. "That a sum, not exceeding £4,452, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Maintenance of Criminal Lunatics in the Dundrum Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Ireland."

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