§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is purely a consolidating Bill. At present the law governing solicitors is to be found in no fewer than 232 Sections which are scattered in 27 Acts of Parliament passed during the last century. The Bill is designed to bring those 232 sections into one Act containing 83 sections, and the Bill if passed will repeal no fewer than 16 Acts of Parliament.
§ Sir A. M. SAMUEL
Who has backed this Bill in Parliament? How did it arise? Who gave the initiative? Did it come here on the initiative of the Law Society or the Law Officers? I know it comes from the House of Lords. I have been through the Bill as a layman, and I cannot see in it a single word to give protection to the public beyond that which is already given by existing Acts. Indeed it is so stated in the Memorandum. Is this the precursor of another Bill to fulfil the objects which were advocated by my hon. Friend the senior Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) and also were put forward in a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Watford (Sir D. Herbert) in the last Parliament? Those Bills did not pass. 1433 One went to Second Beading. It was designed to protect the public against the result of defaults of solicitors who were convicted of fraud in the criminal courts.
I do not see a single word in this Bill to give effect to the feeling not only of the House but of the country that something must be done to give better protection to the public against losses by fraud. I want to put this view on record. I think that the Law Society and those who are behind this Bill are singularly wanting in susceptibility to the definite feeling throughout the country that legislation should be introduced to reduce the risk that solicitors convicted of fraud in the criminal courts should make victims of the public. The hon. Member for Cambridge University introduced a Bill which had the backing of a great many Members on this side. I think the opinion of the House ought to be conveyed to the Law Society, that they are not fully alive to their duty if they make no attempt to give stronger protection to the public against those frauds of which we have heard so much in the last few years.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
We shall support the Second Reading of the Bill. I understand that it is purely a consolidating Bill, and that it would be impossible to introduce the matter raised by the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel), into a consolidating Bill. There must be a foundation laid before one can proceed further. We welcome the Bill as a monument to the success of this great trade union in getting its working rules embodied in a legislative enactment.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
I wish to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel). It is a matter of common knowledge that many frauds are perpetrated on the public by the black sheep amongst solicitors. There are black sheep in every profession. One is rather surprised that the Incorporated Law Society has not moved more energetically in the matter. As my hon. Friend said, there have been two Bills introduced into this House, one of them brought forward on behalf of a group of Members who are interested in this subject. Then the senior Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers), introduced a Bill with definite provisions to guard against certain well-known evils in the practice of some solicitors. In many cases solicitors, 1434 and particularly country solicitors, do not keep separate accounts for their clients.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member is speaking in favour of some Bill that is not now before the House. This Bill is merely a consolidating Bill.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I apologise for being out of order. This is a disappointing Bill, not because of what it contains, which is all to the good, but because of what it does not contain. I want to express the hope that even now in Committee it will be possible to introduce provisions to guard against the evils I have mentioned—provisions for separate accounts and a periodical audit of solicitors' accounts.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[The Solicitor-General.]