HC Deb 14 December 1945 vol 417 cc837-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pearson.]

1.19 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams (Croydon, South)

To the many shortages which have been reported to this House recently I beg to add yet another, the shortage of solicitors. I propose to show how that shortage has come about, to prove that it is likely to become even greater in the future, and to suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour a way in which this difficulty can be overcome. In accordance with the practice of this House I must declare my interest. I was, before I had the honour of being elected to this House, and I still am, a tutor in the Law Society's School of Law. It is not a financial interest, because happily the Law Society does not pay its tutors on quantity; it makes no difference to the tutors whether there are two students, or 20 or 200. My interest accords with the interest of the Council of the Law Society, that is to say, we desire that a regular supply of competent solicitors shall be produced year by year, in the service of the public. It may be of interest to the House to know that as a tutor I have to explain to the students the legislation which, as a legislator, I assist in passing in this House, and it is not always easy to do so.

I should like to say a word about the importance of solicitors to the community, because some persons have a rather naive view of the functions of solicitors. They are engaged in many Government Departments, particularly in the Inland Revenue. They play their part in the work of local authorities as clerks and town clerks, and as solicitors in town clerks' departments. They act as magistrates' clerks and as clerks to a variety of judicial and quasi-judicial authorities. The main business of the solicitor is the family solicitor's business, which is carried on in every town and city of this Kingdom. Litigation plays a small part in the work of the average solicitor's office, and, in fact, the normal family solicitor tries to discourage it as much as he possibly can, a procedure which, quite candidly, I cannot in any way criticise. So that from the cradle to the grave, as one might say, a large number of citizens of this country find the services of a solicitor of great importance to them in one way or another. It is our desire—and when I say "our" I mean the Law Society's desire and particularly the tutors' desire—to see that the public shall always be served by competent solicitors who are well versed in the theory and practice of the law.

The number of solicitors in this country before the war was approximately 20,000. I am not able to give exact figures, because they are not known, but the House can take that as being the approximate figure, and the exact figure is not likely to vary very much either above or below that estimate. More than 6,000 solicitors are serving or have served in the Forces in the war. Of the age groups of solicitors who were eligible to serve this is, as the House can imagine, an enormous proportion. I estimate that about 90 per cent. of those who were eligible to serve in the Forces were in fact serving, and I do not think any profession, trade or industry can show an equal figure. It so happens that before the war a very high percentage of solicitors were in the Territorial Army. In the brigade of which I was a member, there was one light infantry battalion in which no less than one-third of the officers were members of the solicitor's profession. So it is true to say of Army life before the war that solicitors took to it like ducks to water, and played a great part in the life of the Territorial Army. A large number have been decorated for service during the war, and, unfortunately, many gallant members of the profession have laid down their lives for their country.

The fact that so large a number of solicitors went into the Forces of necessity flung a great burden on those gentlemen who remained behind. Naturally they were elderly men who, in the normal course of events, would have been inclined to take things easily and to allow the burden and heat of the day to fall upon their younger brethren. They were not able to do so, and the Law Society has a large number of cases, which I am only too anxious to show to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, which are pitiable cases of elderly solicitors who have felt the great strain imposed upon them. This state of affairs has had a great effect on the work, because many firms are unable to take on any new clients. Only last week a constituent of mine asked my help in finding him a firm, as he had been unable to find one himself, and I had some difficulty in doing so. He was a man in the Forces and he had undoubtedly been victimised by a crook in this country who had taken from him his furniture to store and then had sold it. I am happy to say that matter is now in process of being cleared up; but it shows the difficulty which is felt by many people in obtaining the assistance of solicitors.

I come to the particular part of the subject I am discussing: that is, law students, the training of them and the position at the moment. The training of law students is of a twofold character. It thus differs from that of the ordinary university student, who merely undergoes one type of training. In the solicitor's profession the student has practical tuition in the office of his principal, getting to know the routine work of his profession, and on top of that he has the theoretical, the academic, tuition such as we give him at the Law Society's school or in the universities. So he has, in fact, a much harder time, and has a much harder type of examination to pass, than has the ordinary university student. We feel in the school that cramming should be discouraged. Cramming, we feel, merely stuffs facts into a student as you stuff feeding stuffs into a turkey before Christmas. When the examination comes enough of those facts are spilled out to pass the examination, and then the rest evaporates during the holiday which the student takes immediately after he has passed the examination. We are most anxious that all who are qualifying as solicitors should be fully competent in every way to advise their clients and that they should have a good foundation of the principles of law upon which our English system is based.

During the war slightly over 3,500 of these students were called up for the Army. Not one was reserved, because theirs was not regarded as a reserved occupation, and those 3,500 have served their country very gallantly during the war. None, or very few, of those students have come out of the Army. There has been no relaxation of the standard or the examination proposed for them; they will have to pass the final examination in all its rigour. I think that is a wise decision, because our chief concern is with the public service and not with the private individual, so we have not in any way relaxed the standard and the public can be assured that the solicitors of the future will be equally competent with the solicitors of the past. But we have relaxed to some extent the period which they will have to serve in training for their profession before taking their final examination. The Society have said that if a man has already, before he was called up. served in his principal's office for two years or more they will allow him to take the final examination without further service.

That is the only relaxation, and it will mean that he will, in fact, have to take a course of six months to prepare himself for the final. He would be a bold man who would be prepared to come back from the Army, after being away all those years, and go straight in to take his final examination without a course. The Law Society have had this position very closely in mind and have spent a long time over it. They have bought premises in London for a school and they propose that that school should be used by the students. Unfortunately after it was purchased it was damaged by enemy action, and recently a licence has been obtained to rebuild those portions which were damaged. It is hoped that it will be available in January. In addition they have collected a large number of tutors—or a large number in proportion to the size of the school—and they are ready to go right ahead with this legal tuition. They have spent a lot of money. The Law Society have shown great initiative in this matter. They have spent a lot of money and a lot of time and energy.

It so happens that after all this energy and time and money has been spent, the final course which has just ended to produce solicitors for this country had seven students, of whom one was a woman. That is totally inadequate to supply the needs of the profession. The average deaths of solicitors over the past 10 years is 500 a year. There are, in addition, retirements and solicitors going into other businesses—going to the Bar and so on—which must equal another 100 to the year at least. Those admitted as solicitors dropped from 932 in 1938 to 104 in 1942, 117 in 1944 and 180 in 1945, so that there has been an enormous drop in solicitors who have been admitted to the profession as opposed to the natural wastage, from one cause or another, and, of course, those people who have been admitted will still in the ordinary way have to do their military service in the Forces. They are not excused from that. Those articled—that is, the new entries coming into the profession—dropped from 964 in 1934 to 179 in 1944 and again, even those 179 in most cases will have to serve in the Forces. They are not excused either.

What I am asking for today is that a certain proportion—I am not asking for the whole lot—of the 3,500 to 4,000 of our students who are in the Forces should be released under Class B. On 9th October in this House the Minister of Labour indicated that university art students of scholarship standard, certain special categories of science students, certain categories of students in medicine, dentistry and veterinary surgery, and certain theological students were to be released under Class B, and I maintain that if theological students—I do not deny for a moment their importance— are to be released, if dental students, art students and the others are to be released, we have an equally good case for the release of the solicitor-students who are now retained in the Army.

I will take the position of a boy aged 18 who had just entered into his Articles in 1939 and was a member of, or immediately joined, the Territorial Army. He would now be in group 28. He would be out, we assume—we are not quite certain when group 28 is coming out—in July. I take it that is about the date, that is, if he is a private soldier or another rank. That boy will still have to do two and a half years after his release before he can qualify as a solicitor, so the public will not get his services for two and a half years after he has been released. That is the very earliest, even though he passes all his examinations.

Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)

Have they any opportunity whilst in the Army for continuing their training?

Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams

The Army does have a scheme but it is of a general character. I do not think for one moment that it would really assist him in passing his academic examination, and, in any case, it would not be accepted by the Law Society as qualifying him for the two-year period that I have mentioned. Supposing he is an older man and has done his two years and comes out after January, it so happens, owing to the academic year and so on, that even if he comes out after 1st January, he is unlikely to be able to sit his examination until November, which means that he will not be admitted to the profession until probably the following January, because passing the examination does not mean that he is entitled to practise as a solicitor. After he has passed the examination he then has to go to the Noble Lord the Master of the Rolls and ask him to admit him. In my case, I qualified years ago at the June examination. The then Noble Lord the Master of the Rolls went on a visit to Canada and did not come back until October, so I had to wait until the Noble Lord returned before I could be admitted. If a man comes out of the Forces, therefore, the very earliest he can be admitted, I believe, is in a year's time, that is, when the new term starts in the new year of 1947. Of course, this means that he has got quickly off the mark. It may be that many of these men, though they have done their time under the articles, will not qualify until the summer or autumn of 1947.

The position of the public is likely to be embarrassed by the fact that we are not supplying either the law school or the public with solicitors in the proportion in which they are being wasted. The Law Society's position is one of extreme difficulty. They have gone to a large amount of trouble in this matter, and they do not feel they are having the support that they are entitled to expect. I would ask the Minister also to consider that most of the young men are practically all in the same age groups, between 26 and 28. Many of them are officers; between 80 and 90 per cent. have obtained commissions from the ranks. That is a most creditable performance. As it stands, we will get an enormous rush of these young men all coming out together because they are all in the same age gropus, and we will not be able to handle them in the Law Society's school in the numbers in which they are coming out. That will mean further delay to the public in the supply of solicitors. I have always found that the Minister and the Under-Secretary are most sympathetic. If you put up a good case they look at it from the public point of view and, if they are pleased with it, they will help you in every possible way. I suggest that the case I have put up is a good one, and I feel certain that it is one which the Minister and the Undersecretary will consider most sympathetically.

1.39 p.m.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)

As a practising solicitor and one who has seen the difficulties that have been experienced in the course of the war in respect of practice and the service necessary to be given to the community by the profession, I think the House will perhaps bear with me for a moment or two. I was very impressed, and I am sure the House must have been, with the presentation of this matter by the hon. and gallant Member for South Croydon (Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams). He knows the position very well because daily he is in contact with the matter in the course of his tutorial duties. There are a number of matters, however, that he has not touched upon, and.I hope that the Minister will realise how serious this position is. Of course, one knows that the public from time to time is apt to make certain remarks about the profession in a somewhat light vein, but the fact of the matter is that there is practically nobody in the whole of the community who does not, at one time or another, seek legal advice, or, what is much more important, who ought not at some time or another to seek legal advice and so prevent himself from getting into difficulties which otherwise he might have to face.

I think everybody here will appreciate that, in view of the tremendous amount of Orders and the vast quantity of legislation passed in recent years, it will be an extremely difficult matter for the public to be properly assisted unless men who are trained in the law—particularly on the solicitors' side—are in a position to understand as nearly as they possibly can what those Regulations mean, so that they can advise the man in the street or the man in business or the unfortunate person who finds himself in difficulties as to what is his legal position. We are to have more legislation. It is hard for people to imagine that the average man will understand exactly what this legislation means. There are many Members of this House, after having heard the arguments adduced in respect of. the various items which later appear in Acts, who will still find themselves in difficulties when they come to try to interpret what the Acts actually mean. The solicitor is trained to be able to do so— I do not say on all occasions he is able to find his way through the mass of legislation—but his training is such that he is able to do much better, putting it at its very lowest, than the layman can do in respect of these matters, and he can accordingly give advice.

The House has heard of the shortage that exists. What are we going to do about this position unless we can get men released, first in order to undergo the training to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred, and then to advise? There will be a hiatus which it will be difficult to remedy unless something is done immediately. The profession has been over-burdened, and I hope the House will agree with me that it was literally impossible for those men who remained to wade through the mass of Regulations that appeared on the Statute Book. Many of us tried to get our opinions from our friends the barristers, and of course, they were in an almost similar position to ourselves because, in many cases, a barrister would refuse to give a definite opinion on Regulations or Acts, because he had not the time to study them sufficiently closely.

My hon. and gallant Friend has just referred to the profession as it deals with the family side. I quite agree with him that most solicitors have a fair amount of trials and tribulations, but on the litigious side it is even worse than on the conveyancing and probate side. The solicitor has not only to advise but he has to prepare the case, and the judges are not, if I may say so with respect, very favourably inclined towards the solicitor whose case is not quite in apple-pie order. They make comments, which in some cases are unjustified, because one's staff has been unable to prepare the papers in the way in which they were prepared before the war. The difficulties created by the war are in many cases not regarded as sufficient explanation by the courts. Of course, there are not sufficient solicitors in the offices to work up every detail, so that a case can be presented in a full and correct manner on all occasions to the courts. A solicitor is an officer of the court, and even in this honourable House there are certain matters on which he is entitled to plead his duties as an officer of the court. I stand to be corrected, but I do not think a solicitor or barrister can be compelled to serve on any Standing Committee. In any case it has been the practice not to compel a solicitor or barrister to do so. He has a tremendous responsibility. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, it is the only profession in which deferment was not granted automatically to members, no matter what kind of case might be put forward. There were, of course, temporary deferments, but on the ground of the national necessity of the profession itself, there was no deferment. No com- plaint was or is made about that, and those who remained did their best to cope with the difficulties which presented themselves. Now that the war is over, the Minister ought to realise that there has not been continuous experience, either through training in solicitors' offices by articled clerks or by men who will be coming into the profession later, or, indeed, by many of those who were already in the profession when they joined H.M. Forces. It is essential that this profession should be regarded as an important asset to the community, as it is, and that releases should be granted accordingly.

There is another point. The solicitors' profession does a considerable amount of free work under the Poor Persons Rules— much more than the average layman realises. In many instances the cases that come under the Poor Persons Rules are very much heavier than those which come in the ordinary way. In consequence there has been a large amount of work which cannot be coped with because there have not been sufficient solicitors available, and in many offices those anxious to help the litigant who was not able to stand legal expenses have had to tell the Poor Persons Department that they could only take a portion of the work which they dealt with before. It is very important indeed that professional men should be available so that they may deal with the situation and further help the litigant who is not in a position to pay, and who has to apply for poor persons' relief. In those circumstances, I would ask my hon. Friend: Why not release them? There is no urgent need to retain this small number of men in the Forces. Among the officers whose releases have been deferred there are a number of men who are in the legal profession or training for the legal profession. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was quite right. They cannot come straight back into an office because, if they do, the already overburdened solicitor in the office has to control and supervise their work. They have to take some kind of refresher course first, so as to make themselves adequately available for general use in the profession. By deferring their release for months it means deferring the possibility of the work being coped with for the same period.

I could offer suggestions as to how this position could be met in the Army, if I might be allowed to do so. For example, I do not see any reason why men in the ranks and non-commissioned officers should not be given a greater opportunity of training for officer rank so as to be able to release men already of officer rank. That is a matter which ought easily to be dealt with by those who know the methods much better than I do because of their inside information. There are plenty of capable men in the ranks who should be given an opportunity of rising. My hon. and gallant Friend has already said that of the young people who went into the Services from this profession a very large percentage rose not only to officer rank but to eminent rank as my hon. and gallant Friend and others have done. It is not such a serious difficulty. I hope that the Minister will not feel that the public is against him on this matter. The idea that legal people make the laws in order to help themselves, if I may say so with respect, is absolute nonsense. This House makes the laws. Does it take so much notice of the legal profession in doing so? Ministers get up and give their views and hon. Members who are members of the legal profession often have to unravel many of the difficulties created because insufficient notice has been taken of them. He should tell the public that the profession is an important profession, as it is, and as he knows it is, and if there is any public feeling on the matter he could by dropping a proper word in the proper ear get all the publicity he requires. It is essential that the profession should be supplied with as many men as it can possibly get at the present stage so that matters will not get worse. Offices are full up with work which awaits attention. The courts are bound to be delayed in consequence. That could be got over if young people were allowed to come back to do their job and I hope that my hon. Friend will do all he possibly can to enable this to be done.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)

The House, I think, will agree that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who initiated this Debate has raised a subject of very real importance. I feel also that the House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway for his expert views on the subject of the difficulties obtaining at the moment in the solicitors' branch of the legal profession. I should like to thank him also for his heartening observations on behalf of the legal profession of one of the branches of which I happen to be a member, although that branch was rather harshly referred to by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite as "wastage." The subject of this Debate, as I understand it, is the retention of officers due for release. My hon. and gallant Friend has put forward an appeal on behalf of one section, and one alone, of such officers. I would desire to deal with the matter rather more broadly, although I agree entirely with the appeal that has been made. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consider the whole position with great care of all the professions, members of which are so badly needed in this country at the moment, and in the cases, for example, of lawyers, accountants, medical men and so on, see whether the extent of Class B releases could not be greatly widened and increased. Here, may I say a special word for the student? A young man, with a university, or articles, in prospect, who may have volunteered at the age of 18, is now in a very real difficulty in starting his career. I hope that the Government will consider that point.

On the wider subject of the retention of officers due for release, I would say a word or two. I think most hon. Members must have had representations on this subject from officers, who anticipated that the Bevin plan would go through strictly and equally in accordance with age and length of service group, and who have been disappointed, often in circumstances of great hardship when they have made their plans and these plans have been cancelled at the last moment. We are told that it is necessary to retain these officers. It is to meet that objection that I wish to direct these remarks. Whether the hon. Gentleman can answer these questions is very doubtful. It may well be a matter for the War Office, and as one is sure that there is proper coordination between the Departments, my observations may eventually find their way to the proper quarter.

The two suggestions which I have to make are these: One has been raised by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. I believe, after some service in the Army, that there is a vast field among other ranks and non-commissioned officers from which many could well be appointed to commissioned rank and take the place of those in or about to enter the professions and in other spheres who are due for release. We have all had representations in this regard made to us. In particular, I know myself of one case of a Regular soldier who has been a senior non-commissioned officer for the whole of the war in a position of authority and responsibility. Those in this House, and there are many, who have served in the Forces, know why he has not been granted a commission; it is because he is too valuable in his own job. That is a great hardship which we know obtains in the Services. There is a man who served overseas, always in a position of trust and responsibility, who has merited a commission. I hope that those who deal with these things will look carefully at such cases in order to relieve officers due for release and substitute for them men commissioned from the ranks.

My second suggestion is this. It is nearly three years now since, upon my return from the Middle East, I raised in the House the point that we should call for volunteers to undertake the policing and occupying of territories overseas necessary after the war. One has had cases of men who, not of their own volition very often, but who have perforce remained in civilian occupations, and who have desired after the war to take the place of those who have served and are due to come back. I hope that someone will tell us one day whether such volunteers are being called for, and, if so, how they are responding, because if the conditions and terms of service are proper and adequate, I feel that there is a fruitful supply of officers who will take the place of those, many of whom have been overseas much too long, and who are entitled to release. I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for raising this matter, and I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will consider the more general aspect which I have endeavoured to put with his usual sympathy.

2.5 p.m.

Dr. Little (Down)

The House owes its warmest thanks to the hon. and gallant Member for bringing this matter of students to the notice of the House. It is one which causes me much disturbance. My correspondence is very disturbing in regard to these men—arts students, medi- cal students, theological students, science students and all the others. I fear that if the Minister does not face up to this issue quite a number of these men will be getting on to mid-life before they are privileged to enter upon a profession. That is a very serious matter. For these young men every day that is passing since the moment the war was over is a day lost, and I hope that the Minister will face up to that, whether on his own account or in conjunction with the War Office, the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, and see to it that these men who have given their services so graciously and so valiantly in time of crisis, are released now that the war is over.

No man entering upon his career when he is going on towards mid-life can be expected to do his best, and we want these men to do their best. I hope that the Minister will go into this question anew. I have been in correspondence over this matter again and again. There is a hard and fast rule which I feel must be broken, because it is in the interests of the country that these young men should be set free and that in law, theology, arts, science, medicine, etc., they should be preparing for their work. The years are passing, they are growing older. If a man reaches mid-life he is not able to tackle work in the way that a man of youthful years is, and I make the strongest possible appeal to the Minister to go anew into this matter, and consider the feelings and aspirations of these brave men who have faced all they have faced for the good of the country, and who did not draw back in the day of battle. I hope that this will be counted to them for righteousness, and that they will receive from the Minister very favourable consideration, and that no man who has a long course before him in arts, theology, law, science, medicine, or any other branch of learning will be held back, that the Minister will say, "The war is over, we desire to help you because we know it is in the interests of the country. God bless you. Get to your work." I hope that will be the answer.

One thing that worries me is the position of solicitors who gave their sons readily to the country, sons who were in partnership with them in some cases, and who in other cases were carrying on the work. I have had a serious case in Northern Ireland brought to my notice more than once. Again and again I have brought it to the notice of those in authority, but still that aged man is compelled to carry a burden which he is unable to carry, and his son is still in the Forces. There are cases of men having built up a practice after long and laborious work, who see them today beginning to disappear because they are no longer able to carry them on as they formerly did. I hope that the Minister will take this into account and consider these brave men who are aged today, and who were no less heroes than their sons who volunteered. These men sacrificed their leisure and health and practically all so that their sons might serve their King and country. I make a strong appeal for those aged men that their sons should come back to them again and that their practices should not suffer further because of the absence of their sons. I make this appeal with confidence for our students and for our solicitors who are no longer young, whose sons have been in the Forces, where they have done their duty faithfully, and are required to take up duty now that the war is over. I hope the Minister will face up to the issue and consider it to be not only in the interests of the young men and those who are aged who require the services of their sons, but that it is in the interests of the country that these young men should again be engaged as soon as possible in their life work.

2.8 p.m.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

I wish to make only one short point, that is, that the lack of staff in solicitors' offices today is operating in a number of instances as a denial of justice. A number of people who have complicated claims have for months been taking those claims from office to office without being able to get one solicitor to take them on. In the liquidation of the war contracts situation there are a number of cases in which the claims are of a complicated nature. They are often the claims of sub-contractors in cases where contracts have suddenly been broken off. In this type of case the big people are all right. They have solicitors who are actually on their staffs or to whom they are such important clients that they get special consideration. It is the sort of middle contractor with a complicated claim who simply cannot get his work done. It is said that it is essen- tial to the working of any civilised system that people should have access to the courts, but it is the case that today that access is being denied, because a number of people with good, just and well-founded claims are being refused the opportunity of bringing them before the courts, simply because no solicitor can take on the job. If justice is considered important in this country, and if free access to the courts is considered as being a priority in this country, then the opportunity of that access should be provided and some relief should be given to solicitors' staffs.

2.11 p.m.

Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)

I rise to say a very few words directed to two classes of men about one of which I would like to make a few observations and about the other to ask one question. What fills me with a great deal of disquiet is the revelation that a number of men, about whose release there is no dispute, are, in fact, not released. On 25th July the Minister of Labour took the decision to release some 3,000 students of various universities, but over three months later less than a third of that number had been released. I know from inquiry at Cambridge, and no doubt it is true of Oxford and of other universities, that tutors who have applied for releases of their men have had a very unsatisfactory proportion of those applied for coming back. I have been considerably disturbed about the prospects of men whose release has been acceded to but who have not been released. There is the case, for example, of a man whose release was ordered by the War Office on 30th July; yet when, at the end of October, I began to make inquiries, I found he was still being traced from record office to record office, and his whereabouts had not been discovered. There was a discharge granted on 30th July in England, I believe, and the man had not been discovered at the end of October. Fortunately, he was given a fortnight's embarkation leave before going to India, and after being due to sail on 5th November, was released in the nick of time on 3rd November. There was a man about whom there was no dispute, and, if it had not happened that a Member of Parliament had intervened, he would have been sent to India for an indefinite period although his release had been ordered four months earlier.

In the case of another man—I hold the War Office letter in my hand—I find that actual instructions for the release were given on 3rd September. Something went wrong, and instructions did not reach the unit. I was told of the case and made inquiries at the War Office, with the result that at the beginning of December he was released. And so it goes on. A man away in the Middle East, applied for on 22nd September, heard nothing more until a Member of Parliament intervened, late in November, whereupon he was immediately released by the War Office. It is not justice that men like these should depend on the chance intervention of a Member of Parliament and, failing that, be left where they are until the end of the emergency period, or whatever period might be involved. I would like to have some reassurance from the War Office, or from the Ministry of Labour, that this capacity for losing men completely will in some way be corrected.

The one question I want to ask is in regard to the position of a certain class of teachers. No one can doubt the importance of getting teachers out of the Forces as soon as possible, in view of the shortage there is in every branch of the teaching profession. What I am not clear about is the position of the teacher who is not coming back to a definite post. I have in mind a case concerning a man serving in the Far East. By his length of service and the nature of his employment, he is entitled to be released under Class B, but he wants to apply for a post at another school, and, obviously, he cannot do that in the depths of the Middle East. I would like to be told whether there is any machinery, and if so what the machinery is, by which a man of that kind can make his case known and have it considered by the appropriate Department, and ultimately by the War Office. If the Parliamentary Secretary could answer that point, I would be extremely grateful, because it affects a number of men whose cases are rather urgent, and who are needed here much more than in the positions they are holding at present in the Forces.

2.16 p.m.

Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)

The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner), who I am sorry to see is not in his place at the moment, has just done a brilliant piece of advertising for a profession which has far too few opportunities of advertising its great work to the community. He made an eloquent plea for more solicitors, in view of the spate of legislation which now confronts the citizens of this country. I must confess that I have every sympathy with what he said. There are so many rules and regulations and delegated legislation about that I myself find it increasingly difficult to remain out of jail, and that is what is happening to so many people in this country. At this moment there are more people in jail than at any time for the past 25 years. I thought that was possibly due to the postwar crime wave, but, having listened to the hon. Member for West Leicester, I think it is partly due to the shortage of solicitors. Therefore, everyone will have sympathy with the eloquent plea he has made today. I would like to deal with this question a little more generally, and to make a plea for all officers who are being kept back far longer than they expected. I suppose every hon. Member receives hundreds of letters from men all over the world who expected to be demobilised with their age group, but who are now being kept on beyond that time. It is all the more galling to many of these men, because they do not appear, to their minds, to be doing anything useful where they are stationed. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give some facts and figures as to what is to happen to many of these men. The real trouble is quite simple. It is that the Government have not yet made up their mind as to the size of the postwar Army, Navy and Air Force. Until they do so, these men, presumably, must remain in the Services. The hon. and learned Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Nield) said quite rightly that there are many officers who would be prepared to remain on in a voluntary capacity if they had the faintest idea of the sort of conditions which would face them in the Services. Some of them would stay for short term commissions, and some would stay on permanently, but I do not think there is any solution to this problem until the Government can come out and say exactly what is to be the size of the post-war Army.

Mr. Paget

Is it in Order to discuss general questions of release of officers from the Forces upon the Motion which is before the House? I understood that the Motion was concerned with the release of law students.

The Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

It is perfectly competent to discuss general questions of release, although I think the original notice to the Minister of Labour was restricted to law students, and it will be appreciated that no representatives of the Services are present.

Mr. Gammans

On that point of Order. I think the Motion for the Adjournment is for the retention of officers when due for release. I hope that, as a result of this Debate, we may succeed in prising out of the Parliamentary Secretary some indication of the Government's plans with regard to the postwar Army and also its conditions, because it is the point which is most relevant to what we are discussing today. Only last week I had a case of an officer who wanted to stay on. I thought it was difficult to get a man out of the Army, but I discovered it is even more difficult to get him back—that is, if he wants to go back. I assure the Parliamentary Secretary that there are many thousands of officers who would be prepared to stay on if only they knew the conditions.

I think this Debate goes even deeper than discussing the actual date of release or the conditions of release. What is worrying many of these young men in the Forces today is, what is going to happen to them when they come out. Are they going to have facilities for training and for starting a profession? We have to remember that many of these young men went into the Forces practically from school. They will come out at the age of 23 or 24, with no profession whatsoever behind them. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, if not today, at any rate in the near future, will give some indication of what are the courses available for them. I know he has a very nice little blue book with him which is supposed to offer these facilities to officers, but my experience is that very much more than what is. contained in the Ministry of Labour pamphlet would be required to deal with the large numbers of men who are entirely untrained for civilian occupation. I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate has brought forward this subject. I know he is particularly interested in law students. I am not a lawyer and, therefore, I am prepared to accept all that he has said, but I hope the effect of this Debate will be that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give the House more assurance than has hitherto been forthcoming.

2.22 p.m.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for. Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) for contributing to this Debate and enabling us to direct our minds to the more general question of releases from the Forces, instead of centralising the Debate on lawyers. I think there was one intervention from the hon. Member for Down (Dr. Little) who dealt with the question of the release of students at large. There was also a previous complaint that students of law had not been granted parity with other students in their release, and there is a very good reason for that. I think the hon. and gallant Member for South Croydon (Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams) listed a number of students who had had priority in release over students of law. Who were they? They were students of medicine who are very necessary in the life of our people. Then dentists are very necessary, because curing a toothache is more important than the headache which the lawyers are likely to give us. A veterinary surgeon is most important. A student of architecture is most important; accordingly—and quite rightly—the Ministry of Labour give precedence to those students over students of law who are not productive at all.

Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams

Would my hon. Friend say that an arts student was more important than a legal student?

Mr. Austin

With my great appreciation of the aesthetic side of life, I would certainly say that an art student is more important to the life of the community than a legal student, who only involves us in more longwinded difficulties. I think my hon. Friend probably has in mind other students of a different complexion. Art students contribute more to the gaiety, beauty and joyousness of life than these sombre advocates of the law who make a nuisance of our lives in the manner which we know so well. Great play has been made in the Debate of the fact that there was almost no deferment for members of the legal profession, and quite rightly, too. They have been of no productive use to the community in peacetime.

Mr. Paget

What does the hon. Gentleman think he is doing here if he has those views on lawyers? What is the point of making laws if you are not going to allow them to be interpreted?

Mr. Austin

I welcome the interjection.??? hold the conviction that in previous Parliaments there were two elements which were predominant and which could very well be lessened. The first—and I say it without bias—was the trade union leader element, and the second was the lawyer element. We have, to a degree, dissipated the trade union leader element, and now I hope we shall deal with the lawyer element, because I feel we need in the House representatives from the man in the street who can put a plain and straightforward point of view with regard to simple law, moral and ethics.

Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)

Would the hon. Gentleman perhaps start on the President of the Board of Trade?

Mr. Austin

I have a great admiration for the President of the Board of Trade, and I am not castigating the whole of the legal profession.

Mr. Harris

On a point of Order. Is this within the terms of the Motion?

Mr. Austin

I am addressing myself completely to the Motion. I am speaking from the point of view of the right of other members of the Forces to release, not only in parity with the members of the legal profession but to take precedence over members of the legal profession in regard to release. Some weeks ago I put down a Question as to whether the Minister of Labour would consider the release from the Forces of those who had served five years, and I maintain, with all due respect, that members of the Forces, whether they be dustmen, engineers, agricultural workers or miners, all have a greater right of precedence to release from the Forces, particularly if they have served live years, than members of the legal profession.

Mr. Janner

Does the hon. Gentleman not know that, in fact, preference has already been granted, and in common sense these men will not be able to deal with their various difficulties from the legal standpoint unless they have someone to help them?

Mr. Austin

I grant the point made by the hon Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) to a degree, but the fact is that lawyers have been found necessary in the past because in the social structure there are certain inherent weaknesses, and we shall do our best to avoid those weaknesses in the future. It is a fact that the legal profession functions only on the basis of people's difficulties, whether it be between one person on another or between one business and another, and, accordingly, litigation is called for.

If we are to talk at all about the question of the release of members of the Forces, I think we ought to bear in mind the Debate that took place yesterday. We should bear in mind that of greater value to the economy of this country would be the release of any person who would be useful in our export trade. He should take precedence over any member of the legal profession, or of any other non-productive profession which has had no real constructive or useful place in the function of our society. Would hon. Members submit for one moment that a law student should take precedence in release over a miner or an agricultural worker, or any other member of the community who is concerned with productive work? I ask hon. Members who belong to the legal profession to bear this point in mind. The economy of this country needs, above all, productive workers, and the incidental fact that certain difficulties in the private lives of those productive workers may be alleviated by the intervention of members of the legal profession is a secondary consideration. I cannot see why priority of any kind should be granted to members of the legal profession in their release from the Forces. I ask the Minister of Labour to harden his heart against this plea, and to switch his activity to the further release of all those who can be of real service, particularly in industry, to the community.

2.31 p.m.

Major Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-on-Thames)

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) has no doubt eased his feelings a good deal by his observations, feelings as to whose origin and cause one may perhaps speculate, but his argument, based upon what he believes or does not believe to be productive work, is a very dangerous one. It is only too easy to take the view that people who do work other than one's own are not producers, but I warn the hon. Gentleman that the argument is a most dangerous one, and that it can easily be applied far more widely than he may think. I do not intend to be led up that diverting bypath which the hon. Member so gaily and lightheartedly walked.

This Debate gives an opportunity for discussing matters somewhat more serious than even the prejudices of the hon. Member opposite. It enables the House to give vent to feelings, widespread and by no means confined to any one section of the House, affecting the lives and existence of a considerable number of our fellow countrymen. It is to that matter that I respectfully invite the attention of the House. I do not think it is necessary to add to the advocacy which has been lavised upon students of the solicitors' profession, save to comment that the argument of one of my hon. Friends that everybody sooner or later has to come to a solicitor might be applied with equal force to the undertaking profession. The case of students of the solicitors' profession has been so well put that it is not necessary for it to be reinforced. The case I desire to urge upon the Minister is that of students generally. The meagre and inadequate concessions that have been made by his Department and the Service Departments to the needs of students call for consideration and an expression of opinion. The very small concessions which have been wrung from the Minister touch a very small number of students, and now that we have the Minister here, I wish to put one or two considerations to him. My plea is for a much broader and more generous attitude towards students generally.

I wish to put the case on two grounds; first, the point of view of the individual himself, and secondly, that of the community. As to the individual, not only in the legal profession 'but in architecture, accountancy and many other professions, prolonged and difficult training is required before a man is fit to earn his living. The student, in any of these and many other professions, who returns from the Forces cannot, as most other people can, immediately start to earn his living. He has to spend years fitting himself to earn his living. That fact alone should give to the case of the student some degree of special consideration. Let me take, for example, the case, with which hon. Members will be only too familiar, of the student of 19 years who joined the Army in 1939 and who is now a married man of 25 with two or three children. That man is faced with several years in which he cannot earn if he is to go on with his profession. Those years will only begin to run from the date of his release from the Army and it is more than possible that he will pass 30 before he has earned a penny. I think the ordinary sense of justice of the Services and the country would regard it as right to expedite the release of such a man from his own point of view.

There is, then, the interests of the community. It is vital to the functioning of our society, and particularly vital in view of the legislation and intended legislation of hon. Members opposite, that the maximum quantity of skilled, professional technique should be available in the coming years. The man whom I gave as an example, the student of 19 in 1939 and now the married man of 25, will be very much tempted, when he is released, to abandon his profession and take up some job in which he can earn something at once. Surely, it is very much in the interests of the community that he should be encouraged in every way to continue with his profession, not for his own sake necessarily, but in order to secure that there is a sufficient reservoir of technical skill available. We know only too well that the casualties of war have very much diminished that reservoir. Surely, in the broad interests of the community—I do not make this plea for any particular profession or section of the community —it is most important that the fullest possible encouragement should be given to men to qualify themselves in the more difficult and more skilful trades or professions.

Time is passing, and the plea for the student has received so far only a meagre response. If more time passes it will be too late to do anything constructive. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to give us some encouragement in the matter, and to give also some encouragement to the very large number of students involved. If some new steps are not taken in the next few weeks, it will probably be too late to take them effectively. I appeal to the Minister to put out of his mind any prejudices that there may be on the subject or any prejudices which the hon. Member for Stretford may have attempted to raise in the Minister's mind, for some reason or other. I ask the Minister to say that, on consideration of the matter, it is right, in the interests of the community and in fairness to individuals, to widen to an enormous extent the early release of students who are prepared to continue with their studies to fit themselves for responsible and difficult positions in the State.

2.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)

We have had an extremely interesting Debate, and probably for the first time in my experience in the House we have had a unanimous legal opinion. Not one of my hon. and learned Friends who have spoken has differed from any other, and even hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite have agreed with them. That so many members of the legal profession should talk to the same brief without disagreeing is indeed a remarkable achievement, I was asked to come to the House to answer the narrow point put, very ably, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Croydon (Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams). During the course of the Debate, however, a number of other suggestions and claims have been made. I had never suspected that I looked like the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War until I heard some of the Debate, and I am sure it will be appreciated that the matters which have been raised affecting his Department ought not to be dealt with by myself, even if I could deal with them. All I can do is to undertake to draw his attention to those contributions to the Debate which affect his Department.

I am rather alarmed at the impression this Debate will create outside. I think, if my legal friends will permit me to advise them on this—gratis—there ought not to be created outside an impression that any section of our community can come to this House and make a preferential plea for their own profession. I am afraid that that is what they have succeeded in doing. I do not charge my hon. and gallant Friend who opened the Debate with that, but during the course of the Debate that was the impression created in my mind—that here was a piece of special pleading for a special section of the com- munity, and to that I could not acquiesce at all. To all sections of the community we must give the same measure of equity, we must try and treat them all alike, and wherever there is any divergence from that principle it must be on the basis of national and not individual interest. It was that line to which my hon. and gallant Friend applied his mind in his opening statement on this matter.

In the first place let us consider it from his point of view, that there must be avail able within our society an ample and continuous flow of members of the legal profession. That is extremely necessary in the highly complicated society in which we live. Legal aid should be readily available, and from that point of view I entirely agree with his contention. He went on to say that there were some 20,000 practising solicitors in this country prior, to the war. I think he would agree that that figure is a slight exaggeration. The number was probably some thousands less, but it does not really matter and dots not affect either his argument or mine. The figure I quote is supplied by the Law Society itself —

Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams

I think I know the figure which my hon. Friend is going to quote; it is probably 17,000 or thereabouts. Those are the people who took out practising certificates. In addition to them, however, there were a number of others, employed by local authorities, who did not take out practising certificates, and I can assure him that 20,000 is a fairly accurate figure for the whole number of solicitors engaged in legal work, though not necessarily practising.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am not in conflict with my hon. and gallant Friend, and I appreciate that the figure of 20,000 includes legal gentlemen in administrative posts—clerks to local authorities, and posts of that sort. Of the number who are practising, some 6,000 have joined the Services, and I think it is true to say that they have made a remarkable contribution to the staffing of our Armed Forces, and one for which I am sure the country will show proper gratitude. My hon. and gallant Friend then went on to describe the sufferings of certain family solicitors whose sons have gone to the Forces. Those family solicitors have now become aged and overworked, and are in urgent need of the return of their sons. They are in urgent need of assistance. That is a story which could be duplicated in all walks of life in Britain It is not limited to the legal profession, and we must not give a greater measure of relief to the legal profession than we give to any other section of the community.

There is provision for that. There are class C releases—compassionate releases, and on that matter we accept the advice of the best and the most expert body in the country, the Law Society, which can make its representations through the Lord Chancellor's Office and, if the Lord Chancellor is satisfied in an individual case that it is a proper one for compassionate release, I do not know of a single case in which his advice has been turned down. Then there is another method, the nomination of individual specialists, to deal with our local administration. Both the Ministry of Health and the Lord Chancellor can make representations in such cases, and so far as my information goes, those representations have never once been rejected. On compassionate grounds, therefore, there is no special case to be made out for the legal profession which cannot be made out for every other section of the community, and we are treating them on a par with the other professions.

I was interested in another figure quoted by my hon. and gallant Friend. He said that 3.500 students had been called up. the vast majority of them, if I recollect correctly, were in groups 26 to 28. 3,500 is a very large number for the training capacity of this country, and we shall be faced in the spring of next year with the return of the majority of those men, for whom facilities will not be available. I want to make it quite clear that I am certain our Department will not be a party to putting in now civilian students who will exclude the men who are to return from the Forces. That is the difficulty we are up against, not only in this profession but in many other professions. Our training capacity may be entirely inadequate to meet the demands of the men returning from the Forces. I am sure this House would not stand for an increase in the intake of civilian students at the expense of keeping out men discharged from the Forces. We think that those groups, 26 to 28, will be out in the spring of next year, probably all of them by the end of May.

Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams

Even the officers?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am advised, even the officers—and if that is the case, the Law Society has a big job of work in front of it to prepare for the reception of all those returning students. In those circumstances I do not think any special claim ought to be made for a larger intake of students direct from civil life.

Now I come to the next point. What is the picture from the national point of view? Is there really a shortage of solicitors? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] There are 60 now registered with the Appointments Section of the Ministry of Labour, with an average increase of four or five every day. That is the position. There are 60 unemployed solicitors, and that number is being increased by four or five every day. We say that those men must be absorbed. If there is such a gross shortage in this profession as is alleged, why is it that by the end of this month we shall probably have a hundred unemployed solicitors, some of them ex-Servicemen?

Mr. Janner

I think my hon. Friend has overlooked the fact that many of those men have not had an opportunity of retraining themselves for their profession. They have to take courses before they can be employed.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Then we come to training. They could certainly go into solicitors' offices. I think I am right, but I speak subject to correction in saying that a discharged soldier, or anyone discharged from the Armed Forces, who had trained himself completely before going in is entitled on coming out to a refresher course, in order to resettle himself.

Mr. Janner

That is why they are at present unemployed.

Mr. Ness Edwards

But even then, if the student is fully trained and has passed his examination, he is available to take up employment. Surely, if solicitors' offices are so overwhelmed with work, a man of that sort would not be unhelpful or unuseful to them? I should have thought he would be of the greatest help.

Mr. Asterley Jones (Hitchin)

Will the Parliamentary Secretary not agree that a six-year gap in the life of any solicitor is a most serious matter? Will he not also agree that the vast majority of solicitors who have been serving during this war have served in a non-legal capacity, and have not been able to keep up their legal knowledge?.

Mr. Ness Edwards

That may be so, but they are under no greater handicap than members of any other profession. Take for example doctors. Lots of doctors have been doing medical work in the Forces and lots of solicitors have been doing legal and administrative work. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] On the advice that has been given to me, I believe that many of them have been doing substantial administrative work, in which the law was involved.

We are anxious, in the first place, to do nothing unjust towards the legal profession and we do not want to place students in an unfair position. The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-on-Thames (Major Boyd-Carpenter) raised a very important consideration about students generally, and I felt a great deal of sympathy with his point of view. We had a meeting with the Vice-Chancellors of the Universities and we are due to have a meeting with the headmasters, to consider this new field. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member would appreciate that the matter cannot be considered in isolation. It must be considered in relation to the intake that we have to find for our Forces.

Major Boyd-Carpenter

I might not have made my submission quite clear. It had nothing to do with the intake to the Forces. It related solely to accelerated release.

Mr. Ness Edwards

If it refers entirely to release, then we are up against an entirely new consideration. In release, one has to consider more particularly the sense of equity. We are up against a much more inflammable situation than we might be at the other end. We do not want to create the impression that some men, because they have soft hands, shall come out more quickly than other men who have hard hands. We do not want to create a division in the Forces between the professional and the manual. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member does not want to create such an impression.

Major Boyd-Carpenter

The principle of the release of students has already been conceded by the Department. My plea was in regard to the practical application of it.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Department has conceded that principle not in the interests of students but in the national interest. We are anxious to tune up the universities and the colleges to such a degree as to enable those institutions to make immediately available places for the men discharged from the Armed Forces under Class A. We shall not get such a flow of students under Class B as to make it impossible for the universities and colleges to take men who are discharged from the Armed Forces under Class A. The hon. and gallant Member says that we are a long way from that. I am sure that we are not. I should like to speak from this Box with complete confidence that we have a training vacancy for every man who will come out under Class A. One of the matters that we discussed with the Vice-Chancellors was this important question. We must make room in our universities and colleges for the men discharged from the Forces under Class A. We have given an undertaking to these men when we were in dire danger, and we must redeem those undertakings now.

I believe I have covered most of the points that were raised. I am sorry that I could not be more helpful. I want to assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Croydon that we shall look at the report of this Debate closely. If there is anything we can do to relieve special pressures on any profession in this country, in the national interest, and to raise the general standard of technical equipment and knowledge, we shall do it. It is from that point of view that we shall look at it. In that sense I am very grateful to the hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate, so that we can get a general, broad picture of the ideas that are influencing the minds of Members.

Dr. Little

Before the Minister sits down may I ask him a question about solicitors being able to appeal to the Lord Chancellor? I want to know whether that can be done by solicitors in Northern Ireland when a solicitor requires his son home. Would he please answer the question as I should very much like to know?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am afraid I shall have to ask for notice of the question, as it particularly refers to Northern Ireland. I will undertake to let the hon. Gentleman have the correct answer to his question.

Mr. Driberg

Can my hon. Friend say a little more about the point raised by the Junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris), the delay in the release of teachers in the Forces, in India and elsewhere, who seem to be already overdue for Class B release? Although I know his Ministry is only on the threshold of Service Departments, so to speak, is his general interest in the working of Class B releases not such that he can say to the Service Departments: '' Please let us know what you are doing about these people inside your Service?"

Mr. Ness Edwards

With regard to teachers, that is a matter for the Minister of Education and the Service Departments direct. All we do is to make certain allocations. I am afraid the question should be addressed to the right. Hon. Lady concerned with that Department.

Mr. Driberg

But it is a blot on your system.

Mr. Wilson Harris

I think the Minister was not in the House when I made my few remarks. In regard to block release, I recall that the Minister of Labour stated that the release of 3,000 art students was decided on on 25th July. Yet four months later, fewer than a third have actually been released. What is the Ministry doing to get the remainder of those people out? Can the Minister tell me how many have now been released?

Mr. Ness Edwards

Notification has been sent in regard to every one of those asked for by the Minister of Education. They have been sent to the members of the Services by the Service Departments. We are assured of that, but it does appear that it is taking a very long time to reach some of them in the distant places and theatres of operation. We have looked at this matter and we are pressing the Departments. The allocations have been made and it is the business of the Service Departments to see to it that they take up the whole of their allocation. Otherwise, the whole of our figures are upset. More than press them I am afraid we cannot do.

Mr. Driberg

Kick them hard.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Does the Ministry do anything to check the releases in order to see that the War Office have, in fact, released people whom it was agreed should be released?

Mr. Ness Edwards

We check only numbers. We do not check persons. The hon. Gentleman has already mentioned the figure which we had obtained from the Service Departments. I agree that the result is not satisfactory.

Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams

I should like to put a further point to the Parliamentary Secretary. I am not sure how far the hope he expressed in the last part of his statement is illusory. Can he tell me whether the Law Society may have a trickle of students now, straight away, so that a large body coming out at more or less the same time can be avoided? Otherwise, there will be great congestion in the training of the students, and it will mean that the public will be deprived of their services because they will not be able to get trained in these circumstances.

Mr. Janner

Would the Parliamentary Secretary make an inquiry of the Law Society to ascertain whether the large flow of cases is being adequately dealt with in the national interest?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am very conscious of the shortcomings of the operations of the Act, especially in South Wales, where, I am sorry, provision is not made for more. With regard to the trickle, here is the difficulty we are in, and hon. Members must face it. If one pushes one man out before his turn, he will be keeping someone else back. If it can be done without keeping someone else back, we will look at it sympathetically, and if we can meet the point of my hon. and gallant Friend, we shall certainly meet it.