§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 26, line 30, at the end, to add:5. Regulations may provide that for the purposes of this Schedule, instead of costs being taxed in the ordinary way,—This Amendment is associated with that to Clause 21 in page 20, line 6, and is consequential. It enables the Lord Chancellor to make regulations in the terms of the Amendment.
- (a) they shall be taxed by the prescribed person (whether an officer of a court or not); or
- (b) the amount of the costs shall be fixed (whether by an officer of a court or not) by an assessment made without a taxation but with a view to allowing as nearly as may be the same amount as on a taxation."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[King's Consent signified.]
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
Before we finally part with the Bill and speed it on its way to another place, there are a few comments I should like to make about it. It has, perhaps, not been a very exciting Bill. Its passage through this House has inevitably been characterised by a great many speeches by lawyers, upon whom the lay Members look with healthy suspicion; and it has of necessity involved a good deal of rather technical and legal discussion.
We ought not to underrate the considerable importance of the Bill. It is true that it has not given rise to any of those scenes, which, judging from the headlines, some people think occupy the whole of our Parliamentary time. It has not necessitated the use of the Guillotine or even the Closure, which 1368 only goes to show how well we can conduct our legislating activities in this House when hon. Members opposite accept reasonably the proposals, always beneficent, which are put forward by the Government. Judged by any proper standard it really is an important Bill, which accomplishes a much-needed and significant social reform and which is worthy to take its place with the great code of social legislation which has been passed by this Parliament.
We attach—and rightly attach—great importance to the rule of law, to the high regard in which the courts and judges are held, and to the fact, particularly after the passing of the Crown Proceedings Act, that the little man can not only have recourse to the courts for the just settlement of his private disputes as between himself and some other citizen, but that he can go to the courts and appear before His Majesty's judges on complete equality with the highest officers and Departments of State. I say that we attach great importance, and rightly so, to these principles, but too often in the past these things have for a large section of the community been theoretical advantages rather than real ones. The cost of litigation, the inability of the poor—and, indeed, of the not so poor—to face the risks and expenses that litigation involves, have in practice, as I think we recognise on all sides of the House, and as was recognised by the Rushcliffe Committee, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) was so distinguished a member, made the courts and the law of the country largely inaccessible to a very large part of the community.
This Bill, without in any way encroaching on the freedom and independence of both sections of the legal profession, will go a long way to removing that reproach, as reproach it was, which has previously been made against our system. I say it will go a long way; it will not go the whole way. Later on, by one method or another, I hope we may be able to do more to make the courts readily accessible, and inexpensively accessible, to everybody. I hope, for instance, when the Committee now presided over by Lord Justice Evershed has made its Report, we shall find means of cheapening and simplifying the procedure of the courts so that the burden imposed upon 1369 those—particularly, perhaps, members of the middle classes—who will still have to pay their own legal expenses when they engage in litigation will be diminished. In the meantime, we have gone a considerable step forward and made a very significant improvement in our legal arrangements; we have ensured that those who could not bear the burden of legal expenses at all would at any rate be able to obtain assistance.
I think it is correct—there have been figures published about this—that the average wages earned now amount to something of the order of £6 10s. or £6 14s. a week. Such a man, earning that average wage, married and entitled to the various disregards and allowances which are taken into account under this Bill, will now, in a proper case, receive free legal advice and free legal aid. Above that, on a contributory basis, people with a gross income amounting to as much as £700, or perhaps £800, will be able to receive some assistance from the State in the conduct of their litigation.
This is a Bill which will bring benefit, improved benefit, to the great majority of the community and will make the theory, that the doors of the courts are open to everyone, rich and poor alike, a greater reality than it has been in the past. Now that the Bill leaves us, after the various Amendments made to it upstairs and here, I think it is a good Bill. It is by no means the last word. The last statute—and I mean not the first, but the last statute—which purported to deal in a general way with the provision of legal aid to the poor was passed in the year 1494. I do not hold out any such expectation of longevity for the present Bill. It may be that before very long we shall find means, either by regulation or amendment, of improving it, because, of course, it is in many respects and of necessity an experimental Measure. It may very easily be that when we have had some more experience of its operation we shall be able to improve upon it. But, allowing for that possibility, I think we can say with some confidence that this Bill, based as it was on the recommendations of the Rushcliffe Committee, will be found by experience to provide at least a framework which will stand the test of time and lead to a system of legal aid and advice unequalled in any other country in the world.
1370 Before we part with the Bill I should like to express my appreciation of the great assistance which we have had from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and in particular from the hon. and learned Member for Daventry, who brought to our assistance, in discussing the details of the Bill, the great knowledge which he acquired on the Rushcliffe Committee.
There can be no doubt that in accepting the heavy responsibilities which are cast upon them by this Bill, the Law Society and the Bar Council, working as I hope and am sure they will, in very close and harmonious co-operation, are undertaking a task of great importance and difficulty. Fortunately the Law Society have already had great experience in problems of this kind in connection with the operation of the existing schemes under the poor persons' rules. I take the opportunity of saying that it is very gratifying to observe from the report which the Law Society published a day or two ago on the operation of the existing poor persons' procedure that the work under these rules is well up-to-date. The statistics which have been published in the report illustrate that the work of the London Committee is completely up-to-date, and that even in the Provinces, where there is a substantial increase in the number of applications which have been made, the number of cases pending at the end of the year was fewer than it had been at any time for several years past.
The Law Society are making every effort to ensure that there may be no arrears of cases anywhere in the country so that when the new legal aid scheme comes into operation the fewest possible number of cases will have to be transferred from the old to the new procedure. The Law Society are, as I am sure the House will agree, much to be congratulated on the way in which they conducted and discharged their duties under the existing rules. I should like to take the opportunity on my own behalf, and on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and I am sure on behalf of the whole House, of expressing our appreciation to the Law Society, and also to the members of the Bar, for all the work they have done both in the operation of the existing poor person's procedure and in the preparation of this great new scheme. I feel confident that we can entrust this great new scheme to the legal profession with full confi- 1371 dence that they will administer it wisely, efficiently and successfully.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I should like to begin by thanking the Attorney-General for the kind things which he said about me and about such assistance as I have been able to give in making this a better Bill. I should like to express my thanks to him for his receptiveness to the ideas that emanated so frequently from this side of the House. If I might make a rejoinder to one of his other observations, I would say that Bills would leave this House very much better and vastly improved if the Government would always adopt such a receptive attitude to our suggestions.
I should like to make a few observations on the Third Reading of this Bill because it was shortly after my election to this House that I was asked to become a member of the Rushcliffe Committee. That was an interesting and enjoyable experience, although it entailed many hours of hard work. That was in 1944. Five years have elapsed, and those of us who served on that Committee now have the satisfaction of knowing that our work was not in vain—it is so largely embodied in this Bill which, unless any unforeseen event occurs in the immediate future, has a very good prospect of reaching the Statute Book. That is not by any means the experience of every committee. Reports are so often pigeonholed and forgotten.
The fact that that has not been the fate of the Rushcliffe Committee's Report indicates two things; first, the merit of the report, and secondly the need for the provision of legal aid. We all agree as to the necessity for legal aid for people whose means are not sufficient to enable them to defend themselves in proper cases, or to commence litigation for the recovery of damages as compensation for serious injury. But any scheme for legal aid should not, of course, encourage quarrelsomeness or bickering, or indeed facilitate the ventilation of every petty squabble in the courts. It would not be in the public interest that legal aid given at the expense of the taxpayer, should stimulate a vast increase of trumpery litigation; or indeed that it should be used as a method of extortion from a wealthy and unassisted litigant.
1372 In my belief this Bill avoids those dangers and contains adequate safeguards, both in the fact that the assisted litigant will have to make a contribution from his own income and capital, and from the fact that he has to get the approval of the local committee as to the reasonableness of his conduct in defending or commencing litigation before he receives legal assistance. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that a great burden will be thrown upon those who staff the local committees. As soon as this scheme commences they will probably get a large number of applications for legal aid which they will have to consider with great care. I believe it is a burden that the lawyers on those committees will shoulder willingly. We have often been the subject of ridicule, but lawyers of both branches have been in the past, and are now, ready to assist those in difficulties. I do not think that any fair-minded person can say that this is a Bill for the benefit of lawyers for it should not be forgotten that in addition to the work they will have to do on those committees, they will be undertaking legal work at considerably less than what is regarded as a reasonable remuneration for the work they do.
This Bill had a favourable reception on Second Reading, and I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it has been much improved in Committee and today. I do not suppose for one moment that this is the last word. We may experience further difficulties which we have not anticipated would arise. But in my opinion this is a good Bill; it is as good as we can make it. At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that it is not leaving this House with a large part unconsidered and undiscussed. I welcome this departure of His Majesty's Government from the precedent which they created in respect of other major Bills, and I hope that it will be followed more frequently in the future. I regret that legal aid is not at present to be available before tribunals, which are numerous and varied in character and have a very great bearing on the life of the ordinary individual. I regret also that legal aid is not to be immediately available in cases of defamation. I appreciate the reasons why the scheme has not been extended to cover—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
The hon. and learned Member cannot discuss in a Third Reading speech what it would be desirable to include in the Bill, however much he may think so.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was aware of that, but the hon. and learned Member must discuss only what is in the Bill; I think he knows that.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I thought I was keeping within the rules of Order by discussing the First Schedule which refers to excluded causes of action and specifically excludes them. I was regretting their exclusion. I recognise the reasons why that is done, but I hope the time will soon come when instead of being, excluded, they can be included.
This Bill is not just the fruit of the efforts of the Rushcliffe Committee. Many other bodies have from the beginning taken a great part in working out this scheme. The numerous bodies which gave evidence before that Committee obviously took a very great deal of trouble. In particular, I should like to join with the Attorney-General in the tribute he paid to the Law Society, to the Bar Council and to the members of the Bar. This is no party Measure. It would be wrong for any single party to seek to claim sole credit for it. I should also pay a tribute to Lord Simon who appointed the Rushcliffe Committee.
I conclude by saying that if it had not been for the disaster which in my view overcame this country in 1945, we should have had the pleasure of introducing this Bill. In my belief, this Bill will go far to prevent the suffering of injustice through lack of means. It has been welcomed in all quarters of this House. It will be welcomed throughout the country. If all the Measures of this Government brought equal benefit to the people, then indeed they might win the next Election.
§ 8.56 p.m.
Because of the other Business which we must get through tonight, I do not intend to delay the House for more than a few minutes, but I think it would be a pity if nobody speeded the Bill on its way except the Attorney- 1374 General and other Members who are also members of the legal profession. One or two of us have had some part to play in other stages of the Bill, although with our Amendments we have not met with the success which has been achieved by the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller). We who are not lawyers but who have been associated with this Measure wish it well. We regard it, in principle, as an excellent Bill. We feel that it will be of tremendous assistance to vast numbers of men and women. Because of that, as it goes forward to another place, all of us say that we sincerely hope that it may have an easy passage so that it may be put on the Statute Book quickly. That is what I say with regard to the principle of the Bill.
I wish that I could be as enthusiastic with regard to its administration when it becomes an Act of Parliament. I am still concerned. The Attorney-General has already referred to my persistence on one or two points. At the risk of being accused of repetition and persistence, I wish to express regret that the committees as constituted under the Bill will deal with matters which I consider could be dealt with in a much more efficient way if we used other people in addition to lawyers in the administration of this Measure. I would only say that I think that it is regrettable that in civil cases which are heard before courts of summary jurisdiction, the decision whether or not legal aid and advice shall be given will be in the hands of a committee rather than in the hands of the magistrates—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt. That is exactly what the House, on the Report stage, decided not to put in the Bill. Therefore, I am afraid the hon. Gentleman cannot discuss it now.
§ Mr. Royle
I thought that I was getting dangerously near the line. At the same time, I submit that I might be in Order if I talked about what the Bill is actually doing. The Bill is laying down that these cases will be heard by a committee. I express the view that that is not the correct way in which to deal with the matter. I wish briefly to express that regret and to hope—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
However winning his ways may be, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot go any further than that.
I accept your Ruling, Sir. Some of these points were made during the Committee stage. Therefore, I will content myself by saying that all of us really desire full success for this Measure, and I hope the time may come when people who are not lawyers may have an opportunity of playing a part in its administration.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
I am particularly happy to follow the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) because I have some special interest in the constituency which he so ably represents. Those of us who are members of the legal profession would be the first to welcome the views of laymen on a subject of this kind. The object of this Bill, namely, to make legal aid and advice more readily available for persons of small and moderate means, is one which will be found commendable in all quarters of the House. Hon. Members will all agree that we hope for a state of affairs where none will be precluded by lack of means from pursuing or defending his legal rights.
In such a scheme, there are two dangers to be guarded against by those administering it. First, there is evasion of the means qualification, and, secondly, there is the question of vexatious litigation. On the first point, it is very proper that there should be a penal clause to deal with those who make false statements and misrepresentations as to their means in order to obtain the aid which we desire should go to those who need it. So far as the vexatious, frivolous and vindictive litigant is concerned—and he does unhappily exist—there are safeguards against him, as the House will appreciate.
The exclusions referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) are directed to this aspect of the matter. Certain causes of action are placed outside the purview of this Measure, and on that point I would like to reiterate a point which I raised on Second Reading and in Committee concerning the words "wholly or partly" in Part II of the First Schedule. The point which I ask should receive some consideration is that one may find two causes of action joined, one which is covered in the Measure and another which is excluded. One knows 1376 that there are such cases in which most hon. Members will take the view that assistance should be given, and this Schedule would prevent it. There is here a flaw in the Bill which might possibly receive attention later on.
It has been rightly said that the Legislature here is placing a great trust in and a great responsibility upon the legal profession. The Law Society is to prepare and administer the scheme, in consultation with the General Council of the Bar. It is right, of course, that both branches of the profession should co-operate. I merely desire to say that I feel that the profession will respond to that confidence which is being reposed in it. Panels of lawyers who will undertake this work are to be set up but there will be retained to the litigant the right of choice, which is very important.
One matter which caused some of us concern was the proposal for the removal of lawyers from these panels for misconduct. Both branches of the profession have their disciplinary machinery for dealing with those members of the profession who are guilty of some misconduct. It would seem that those who are not fit to be upon the panels could well be dealt with in this way. However it is salutary that there is now included a right of appeal to the High Court against removal from the panels. In conclusion, I repeat and feel quite certain that the legal profession will do their best to make this scheme work successfully for the benefit of those whom it is designed to assist.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
I shall watch with very great interest this experiment by which the State gives this trust to both branches of the legal profession. I may be optimistic, but I hope some day to hear that the Miners' Federation will be given a similar trust in connection with the nations' coal resources. I am extremely interested in the experiment. This is a Measure which will be welcomed throughout the country for the simple reason that people of small means, or of no means at all, will at last have an opportunity of resisting injustice which they have had to accept because they lacked the means with which to defend themselves.
I hope that the regulations will be framed wisely and after full consultation 1377 with those voluntary organisations which have done much to help people who could not protect themselves. I refer particularly to the trade unions, which have done much good work in this connection. I am sceptical whether the local committees are sufficient in number for the task they will have to perform. It is a matter of experiment, and I have no doubt that it can be adjusted in the light of experience. However, I should like to see the closest relationship developed between the local committees and the voluntary organisations, particularly the trade unions, with their local offices, because they know in this connection that quick action is the essence of protection, particularly in cases of accident.
I wish the Measure success. I hope that those responsible for the regulations will always be ready to listen to those with suggestions to make for improvement, and I shall watch how the legal profession responds to this trust. I hope that this precedent may be extended so that some day the nation will not be suspicious and jealous about the prerogative exercised by trade unions and trade unionists.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Hogg
I only want to add three or four sentences to what has been said. Like other hon. Members, I wish this Bill success, and I believe it will attain it. One of the things which will give it success is the fact that the Government and those responsible for it can count on the loyal co-operation of the members of all branches of the legal profession, an absolute essential for the success of a scheme of this kind. For the profession, it is perhaps, to some extent, a leap in the dark, perhaps more a leap in the dark than people yet realise. But although that is known by members of the profession—and I speak now not so much as a Member of this House, but as a working member of the junior Bar—I know and can testify to the fact that there is no member of the Bar or of the other branches of the profession who will not do his best to see that this scheme wins the success that is hoped for it.
There are dangers. I hope that no one will ever come to think that by the introduction of schemes of this kind litigation can ever be made a good thing. It is, in its nature, an evil and a concession which we make to the follies and wickedness of mankind. It can never be anything 1378 else. It can never be other than something which we should wish to avoid, even though we make the courts open to rich and poor alike, paint the doors bright and, as the Attorney-General said in his speech tonight, encourage plenty of people to come in. I hope as few people as possible will come in, but I hope that those who do come in will get justice.
It is not only important to realise that litigation is an evil; it is also important to realise that neither speed, nor cheapness nor universality are the ultimate ends of litigation. The ultimate end is justice and the only foundation upon which a scheme of this kind, or any other scheme for the improvement of litigation, can be founded is the knowledge that justice, when it comes, will be the best and nearest approach to the truth and to the right assessment of liability that human wisdom and skill can give. Nothing short of that will give prestige or respect to a system of litigation or dispensation of justice in any country.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
I do not detract from the excellence of this Bill when I describe it as a skeleton Bill. I do so because it provides a framework around which we all hope, I think, to build up a legal aid service which will give satisfaction to those of our fellow citizens who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of the facilities which are to be provided.
In this connection, an important responsibility will devolve in the initial stage upon those who are entrusted with the task of devising the regulations under which this scheme will operate. Those regulations will be of the utmost importance because they will affect the whole tone and atmosphere of the scheme which is contemplated under this Bill. The local committees will have a particular responsibility, especially the certifying committees. Before these certifying committees will appear the applicants for legal aid. I trust that, as the first contact between the applicant and the legal aid scheme will be the certifying committee, very great pains will be taken by those who sit on the certifying committee to make the applicant feel at home and not to subject him to any unnecessary strain or unnecessary examination. I feel we all want to avoid a situation in which 1379 the applicant feels that he or she has, in the first instance, to undergo some sort of trial in the case before the certifying committee and then to undergo a trial before the particular court in which his or her case will ultimately be heard.
Perhaps I may, at this juncture, remind my right hon. and learned Friend of the very excellent work which hitherto has been done by the poor persons' committee of the London Law Society. This Committee has been operating for very many years and it has been able to dispense legal aid on the most extensive scale without the necessity of having the applicants appear before it at all. My right hon. and learned Friend knows that certificates were granted in very many cases by the London poor persons committee without the committee seeing the applicant in person at all. I hope that this particular form of administration will, as far as circumstances permit, be followed also by the certifying committees that are to operate under the new legal aid scheme.
One further point to which I should like to draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend, and which I mentioned on Second Reading, is that this scheme owes something to the experience that was gained in the Services' legal aid scheme, which was the first attempt on a large scale to provide legal aid to a very diverse and numerous section of the community. I trust that those persons who have voluntarily stayed on in the Forces for the purpose of continuing the Services' legal aid scheme until this new scheme comes into effect will not have their claims overlooked when it comes to filling the various paid appointments which will have to be filled under this scheme when it is put into effect. The date of the implementation of this scheme we do not know. That is left, so far as the civil side is concerned, to the Lord Chancellor who will, by Statutory Instrument, appoint the date of the official commencement, and, so far as the criminal side is concerned, to the Home Secretary, who will appoint the date by Statutory Instrument.
I hope that that date will not long be delayed. I know that considerable preparations have already been made to narrow the gap between the passing of the Bill and the actual implementation of the legal aid scheme. It is rather a shock to 1380 me to learn from the rather bulky correspondence I have been having lately that very many people do not know yet that the legal aid scheme has been under consideration and is likely to be put into operation in the not-too-distant future. I would ask the authorities concerned in the matter to make quite sure that the widest possible publicity is given to the date on which this scheme is put into effect. It is quite suprising how many many people do not know even that the Legal Aid and Advice Bill has been under discussion at all in this House.
I should like, in conclusion, to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the successful accomplishment of his labours in this regard, and to express the hope that when he looks back on his record of achievement in this Parliament he will—as I think and hope he may—place fairly high upon the list the putting into effect of this Legal Aid and Advice Bill.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I feel that this House can seldom have given any ex-Lord Chancellor such a happy birthday present as we are giving tonight to the right hon. and learned Lord Simon; for it is exactly five years to the day since he appointed the Committee which came to be known as the Rushcliffe Committee, and it really is a very great tribute to the Chairman of that Committee, to its members, to the legal societies that set about building up the framework of this Bill, and, ultimately, to the Government as well as to the Opposition and all Members of this House, that within a period of five years from the day of the appointment of that Committee the Bill passes its Third Reading in this House. A good deal has already been said about the general contents of the Bill to which I thought I myself might refer. Consequently the House will be saved the time and the trouble of listening to it again.
I desire to draw to the attention of the Attorney-General some points in connection with the Third Schedule to the Bill. I do not propose, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to fall into the trap of enabling you to call me to Order by making referance to the Amendment which I had down for the Report stage to that Schedule and which was not called. I desire to make some reference 1381 to the actual contents of the Schedule which deal particularly with the remuneration of lawyers who are operating this scheme. Needless to say, what I shall say emanates solely from myself and I have no idea whatsoever whether my views will be in conflict with the opinions of the Law Society or whether they might share them.
The point which I particularly want to bring to the attention of the Attorney-General is with regard to the right of the solicitor to recover, in circumstances in which it is applicable, 85 per cent. of the costs, taxed upon a solicitor and client basis as payable out of a common fund. I do not want to go deeply into this matter but, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman made clear upstairs, there is a great number of scales of costs to which the law is subjected. For the purposes of ordinary litigation in the High Court there are four scales. They can roughly be described as; the solicitor and own client scale; the solicitor and client scale when costs are being paid out of a common fund; the solicitor and client scale: and the party and party scale.
If I may put those scales into language which the House will understand, they may be translated in this way: Those various scales give to the solicitor remuneration upon the following basis: the party and party scale gives him his bread; the solicitor and client scale gives him bread and scrape; the solicitor and client scale when paid out of a common fund gives him bread and butter; the solicitor and own client scale gives him bread, butter and jam. [An HON. MEMBER: "And caviare."] The scale which is applicable under the Bill is the solicitor and client scale when paid out of a common fund, which I have described as bread and butter scale.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I do not desire to suggest that the legal profession should get any greater benefit from the costs than is proposed under the Bill. The House knows that they are getting only 85 per cent. of that scale, which was the figure proposed by the Rushcliffe Committee. In the days when the Rushcliffe Committee reported—this is worth observing because it was more than four years ago, in the early part of 1945—to the effect that 85 per cent. of the scale 1382 represented about one half of the actual profit which the solicitor would otherwise get, they were working upon the assumption that, on a total bill of costs paid to a solicitor, the overhead expenses for wages, stationery, rent, and so forth, absorbed approximately 70 per cent. Upwards of four years have passed since that time and the rate of overhead expenses has increased very considerably indeed. Now it is not unreasonable to assume that the overhead expenses absorb about 80 per cent. of a bill. Consequently the remuneration proposed to the solicitor cannot be considered excessive being, roughly speaking, a five per cent. rate of profit on the whole of the bill submitted.
So I would like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider, before the Bill goes to another place, whether this rather complicated basis of taxation which, after all, emanates mostly from the Chancery Division and is not in common practice on the King's Bench side—the taxation of the cost as between solicitor and client paid out of a common fund—will not impose upon solicitors, particularly in the country, a rather greater burden that it is worth. To begin with, it may be that they are not familiar, or their staffs are not familiar, with the technicalities of the basis of the taxation and that they have to employ outside assistance which is costly.
In any event it will generally be necessary for them to prepare two bills of costs; first, the party and party scale for taxation itself in connection with the litigation; secondly, the solicitor and client scale bill for submission for the recovery of their own costs. That will involve a substantial amount of additional work. In addition to the actual preparation of the bill it may well be that the copying of the bill alone will occupy a typist a day and a half. It may well be that the occupation of that time, together with the possible delay in getting bills on that scale taxed or assessed, may make the solicitor feel that it would be better to sacrifice the slight benefit which he gets from that scale at 85 per cent. and resort solely to the ordinary party and party scale with much less complication. May I, therefore, leave this thought with the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his consideration: whether or not it might not be 1383 feasible to give the solicitor the option of choosing which of these alternatives he prefers.
With those remarks I should like to join with my hon. and right hon. Friends in their commendation of the Bill, and particularly of the societies who have put in such a tremendous amount of work and such a high degree of skill in order to build up this framework which we shall now proceed to implement through the legal profession.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
Successive Parliaments and all parties over the last 50 years have been endeavouring to build up a wall of security for the common man. It started in 1897 with protection against the hazard of accidents at work. That was the Workmen's Compensation Act, and then came various other Acts to protect him against the hazard of unemployment. In this Parliament we have protected him against the hazard of sickness, but the one hazard against which he has not been protected to any degree in the past has been the hazard of needing the services of the law.
This Measure will not affect such a large number of people as those who are afflicted by sickness or even unemployment. Anyone with imaginative sympathy and anyone who has played any part in assisting in the social services, particularly in large towns, will know that the social worker was on many occasions completely frustrated by the man or woman seeking his aid on a legal problem. In the big cities there were poor men's lawyers who could give advice, but they were lamentably short of money and legal help, and on most occasions they were unable to give the help and succour the little man needed.
I welcome the Bill. I am glad that the Government have found time to add this further cornerstone to the security of the little man. It is a great Measure of reform and it ought to be recognised as such. This is not a small matter. Free legal aid has been available in the criminal courts, and on the whole it has been satisfactory, although this Bill improves it; but unfortunately on the civil side there has not been that aid for the man who could not afford the benefits of legal advice and legal help, particularly 1384 in the courts. The poor man's lawyer in the big cities could give advice, but in most of the countryside and most of the small towns the man went unaided because he could not afford legal advice. I am glad that by this Measure that kind of thing will cease to happen and that anybody who reasonably requires the help of the law will be able to secure it.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Price-White (Caernarvon Boroughs)
I am in rather a difficulty in following the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) who has mentioned a further "cornerstone" of the Bill. I rather gathered that the Bill, judging by its welcome, had already achieved four cornerstones, and therefore I did not anticipate our being able to lay a fifth or sixth. I feel that this is really an unusual Parliamentary occasion. There is almost balm breathing over the benches.
While I am not prepared to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) in the technicalities into which he entered, I should like to say that the scales of remuneration proposed by the Bill are adequate and in many respects represent a practical expression of the old saying:A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.This Bill must inevitably have come along. It is built upon something which has been rather forgotten not only tonight but throughout the proceedings on the Bill, and that is the tremendous amount of work done by both branches of the profession to help very many men and women under the existing poor persons' procedure. A great deal of very noble legal and social work has been done under that procedure, but it was not wide enough, and I feel—I am certain that the Attorney-General will agree with me—that the Bill at last brings within the purview of possibility and practicability everything that should be available to the unfortunate litigant.
I could not help feeling that the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), who has unfortunately left the House, rather set the seal on the Bill, in a speech which for him, was in utterance, unusually equable. However, it must not be forgotten that whatever work has been done within this Chamber or upstairs, tremendous work towards the achieve- 1385 ment of getting this Bill on the Statute Book has been done by those outside the House who unfortunately must remain unnamed, that is, those within the Bar Society and the Law Society. A tremendous amount of work has been done and a tremendous amount of contact has been achieved with those whom the Bill will affect. It is through those efforts that this Bill should prove a success.
I would issue this warning. The tonsorially-perfect Member for Oxford warned against litigation. Litigation is an evil thing. [Laughter.] Yes, litigation is an evil thing. We are told that in the perfect State, into which we are about to emerge if we are not there already, it will be impossible; that in the perfect social sphere litigation disappears. But let it not be thought for one moment that the Bill will be followed by a tremendous upsurge of litigation—I do not believe it; I think and hope that it will result in no greater amount of litigation than exists now.
In passing this Bill through its final stage in this Chamber, let us not think that we have tied the knots, put down the amulet and affixed the seal. It is a beginning, an experiment; we must not think it is the answer. It is an experiment to produce what those who have to seek litigation should have—the assurance that they can seek that recourse with no handicap and with the assistance which will be generously and most ably afforded to them by both branches of the profession and by all those who serve on the various committees. But let us hope that, whatever may be the results, it will not bring about more litigation than we have now, because what we have now is sometimes more than we can stomach.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I should like to join briefly in the hearty welcome which has been given to the Bill. I could not let this occasion pass without referring to the very kind reference by the Attorney-General to the Law Society. In my constituency the branch of the Law Society—the Merthyr and Aberdare Law Society—have rendered an enormous service, particularly in the inter-war years, when for 15 years the overwhelming proportion of our men were unemployed. In those days they rendered service to 1386 hundreds of people and carried on their splendid work without a break. I shall never forget the small pride I felt in this House when on one occasion in the years immediately before the war the Home Secretary paid an unsolicited tribute to those splendid members of the legal profession who gave their services so ungrudgingly to the people who were so badly in need of them. Very rarely does a person who is not a member of the legal profession ever pay a compliment to that profession, but I cannot let this occasion pass without paying whatever tribute I can, and with all sincerity, to those splendid men who served our people during those long, dark, lean years.
As a supporter of the Government I take considerable pride that the present Government have at long last come along to place upon the Statute Book a Measure that may protect the poor man when litigation is thrust upon him. There can be no shadow of doubt that this is a Measure for which people in such areas as mine will feel very grateful, as it provides a sound foundation for a structure which, I hope, will be built upon it as occasion calls.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I wish to say a couple of pleasant words on the Third Reading of this Bill. This is a Bill to enable people to get into court. I do not require aid for that; I could do with aid to keep out of court. Nevertheless, the Bill will have its values because we have to face the fact that, under this deplorable system of legal robbery of man by man, litigation is a necessity and legal aid will be required. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) set before us the very high standard which will be maintained by the legal fraternity. The hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White) and others weighed in and associated themselves with the hon. Member for Oxford. We all have hopes that the lawyers will rise to this high eminence set before them, but I would remind the hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs of what Daniel Quilp had to say when Samson Brass asked for a glass of water:Water for a lawyer? Molten metal for a lawyer.I think the Bill will be very useful and I am certain that lawyers, with all their limitations—which are manifold—will 1387 try to do a good job for those who have to seek their assistance.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The interest taken in this Bill by both hon. Members of the Communist Party will, we hope, convert them to the idea that the rights of the individual are important and should be upheld in all cases. The debates on this Bill seem to prove that our discussions proceed most smoothly when carried out by lawyers and when lawyers are spending a great deal of time patting each other on the back. It was certainly a very pleasant contrast to occasions when doctors who are Members of this House have a go at each other.
It would be a mistake if it were to go out from this House that in this Bill we have a simple form of redress for all people who have rights to assert and are of modest means. The truth is that the scheme envisaged by the Bill, which I fully support as a useful social reform, is divided into three parts, for which there are three different sets of fairly complicated regulations, which it will not be easy for the members of the Law Society to explain to the public in pamphlets. There are three separate rules in regard to contributions and three separate means tests. So we should not give people the impression that they have only to attend at a legal advice centre and say that they have limited means and all will be well. As we who have had to study the Bill know, the matter is fairly complicated. In the first stage it will not be too difficult and anyone wanting legal advice will go to the centre and take reasonable steps to satisfy the solicitor there that he is not a person of great means and, presumably, will be asked to bang half a crown on the table and, provided he is not too well dressed, he will get the advice straight away. But when we get to the next two stages we find that people will have to go through a most complicated procedure. It is as well that they should at this very early stage be warned about it.
The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) claimed this Bill as a great triumph for his party. It should be recorded once more, as it has already been recorded earlier tonight, perhaps 1388 when the hon. Member was not present, that the work without which this Bill would have been impossible was begun by a National Liberal Lord Chancellor some five years ago. That is a fact which should not be forgotten. Also, we must bear in mind that great as has been the very valuable work which has gone on during the past five years, to which all parties and both branches of the legal profession have contributed, it is only a beginning and will prove to have been comparatively easy compared with the very difficult practical work which now faces the Law Society in getting this scheme on to its feet and working properly.
The hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) appeared to think that this Bill was adding to the already extensive list of human rights. He seemed to see that the Bill was granting freedom from fear of being fleeced by lawyers. But lawyers have been of value in many ways which are frequently not recognised. They were recognised by the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. H. Wallace) when speaking about the work of the trade unions. I should like to follow up one or two of his remarks. The trade unions, whose work in dealing with the claims of their members is to be praised, as is also the very large amount of help given by both branches of the legal profession for very little remuneration, will have to be radically altered when this Bill becomes law and the operation of its provisions gets under way. It is not for me to venture to say what the policy of the trade unions will be but the success of this scheme will to some extent be measured by the way in which the trade unions decide to make use of the scheme and thereby perhaps save their funds some money and reduce to some extent the contributions from their members. This will mean a big departure from trade union practice, and it will be very interesting indeed to see which way it goes.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
I would not like it to be thought that I suggested that lawyers fleeced their clients. I neither said nor suggested anything of the kind.
§ Mr. Renton
I trust that the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I misunderstood his speech, but to me he seemed clearly to give that impression.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
I wish to make only one observation in connection with Part II of the Bill, which deals with legal aid in criminal cases. That is the part of the Bill which will have the greatest impact upon the common man. It is the part of the Bill which has been least discussed in this House. It certainly affects the rights of the common man so far as his liberty is concerned far more than does any other part of this Bill. I have some doubts as to the adequacy of that part of the Bill in dealing with legal aid in criminal cases because the existing procedure for the provision of legal aid is only altered in certain small particulars. The discretion which is to be exercised in the giving of legal aid is to be exercised by precisely the same people as before, although the machinery is slightly different.
Under Clause 17 the guiding principles in accordance with which that discretion must be exercised are different, but that discretion is still vested in the same people who have previously exercised it. How that discretion is to be exercised will determine the success of that Part of the Bill. It is a matter which has already been observed by many people that the discretion as it has been exercised under the existing regulations has been exercised in such a way as to give legal aid in only a comparative minority of cases. I hope that magistrates will exercise their discretion under this Clause in the spirit which I believe is intended. I hope the Government will keep an eye on the administration of this Clause, which can make a very valuable contribution to the effectiveness of the Bill. I wish to add my voice in commending the Bill as an important addition to our whole system and structure of social service in this country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.