HC Deb 27 October 1919 vol 120 cc393-6

A woman shall be entitled to be admitted and enrolled as a solicitor after serving under articles for three years only if either she has taken such a university degree as would have so entitled her had she been a man, or if she has been admitted to and passed the final examination and kept under the conditions required of women by the university the period of residence necessary for a man to obtain a degree at any university which did not at the time the examination was passed admit women to degrees.—[Major Hills.]


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The object of the Clause is to allow women the privilege of qualifying as solicitors in three years instead oh five if they have fulfilled the conditions and passed the examination which would have qualified them for degrees if they had been men. The Clause is taken from a Clause in the Representation of the People Act, by which a vote was given to women who had qualified for degrees, but owing to the constitution of the university could not get the degrees, since some universities do not grant degrees to women.


I think this is a reasonable Clause. In view of the admission now of women to the rolls of solicitors, I think that if a woman has got a university degree, or what is equivalent to a university degree, she ought not to lose the advantage which is given to a man in those circumstances, namely, that instead of having a five years' period during which she has got to serve articles, she should only have three. It seems to me to bring the matter as between men and women into line. I have looked at the words carefully. I think they are the same as are used in either Section 4 or Section 5 of the Representation of the People Act, and as they have already stood now and, so far as I can find, no objection has been taken to them, I think the Committee will be well advised to accept this Clause.


I entirely, if I may say so, agree with the -position taken by the Solicitor-General, but might I ask him if there is any similar disqualification of women in getting called to the Bar, because as I understand this Bill, under it women will be able to be called to the Bar? If men are not given any advantage in the way of examinations for the Bar through having taken a degree at a university, there is no need to say anything about the women, but if they do get some advantage from getting a degree and get their call facilitated thereby, I think similar provision ought to be made for women getting called to the Bar under those circumstances.


As I understand the rule as regards the calling to the Bar of persons who have attained a reasonable standard of education, no examination is remitted except what is called the preliminary examination, in which the examinees have to satisfy the examiners that they have reached a reasonable standard of education both in history and Latin, and no particular or special qualification is necessary, and I cannot believe the benchers of any of the Inns would fail to make that apply both to women and to men. It seems incredible that that restriction would be made, and therefore I should imagine, with deference to the views of the learned Solicitor-General, that it is quite unnecessary for us to make any particular arrangement in this Bill.


To answer the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher), I think the difference is this Students who come to the Bar, if they come from a university, are excused from one of their preliminary examinations as the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Smith) has said, and the number of terms they are required to attend is reduced from twelve to nine. But that is done by regulation of the Inns of Court, and my impression is that that is not the subject of Statute at all. On the other hand, I think I am right in saying that the period of time for articles to be served by a student seeking admission as a solicitor is the subject of Statute. Under these circumstances, I think this provision is necessary, but I think we may say also that if this Clause is accepted by the Committee it would be a clear indication of the course which ought to be followed, and which I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Warrington would be followed by the benchers of the Inns.


If women are going to he called to the Bar I think there ought to be no regulations which would make it more difficult for them than for a man. Is there anything in this Bill which would ensure that it would not be made more difficult? If not, I think the provision ought to be made. Now that we are going to welcome women to the Bar I do not think any benchers ought to be allowed to impose regulations or restrictions upon them which are not imposed upon men, and I would ask the Solicitor-General whether it would not be right to put something in the Bill to that effect?


Would I be in order in asking the Solicitor-General whether, in view of the obligation imposed upon women to serve as jurors, they would be exempt from jury service on attaining the age of sixty-five, the same as men are?

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)

I do not think that arises at this point.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause accordingly read a. second time, and added to the Bill.