HC Deb 11 May 1956 vol 552 cc1595-9
Mr. E. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 3, line 1, to leave out subsection (1).

This is a composite Bill which is in the nature of an omnibus Measure, and the Clauses are not precisely related to each other. Though I have put down this and other Amendments, it must not be thought that I have any objection to the Bill as a whole. On the contrary, the Bill is one which in all its Clauses I cordially commend to the Committee. However, the subject is one of considerable importance and I am sure the Committee would agree that it would not be right or appropriate for it to be assumed that the details of the Clause had not received a good deal of attention from those both sides of the Committee who are interested.

The Amendment was put down to ventilate a point which, though perhaps not of any great immediate importance, seemed to me to raise a question of principle. The Master of the Rolls for many years past, it may be for centuries, has had a responsibility to supervise the activities of the profession. I think it is right to say that the Master of the Rolls has always had statutory duties about the admission of solicitors to the Rolls, with regard to matters of discipline and conduct while they are on the Rolls, and, I think, with regard to removal in certain cases.

1.15 p.m.

That system has worked extremely well. Successive Masters of the Roll—at any rate, within my recollection, which goes back to Lord Hanworth—have always taken a particular interest in the profession. This Clause provides that the Masters of the Rolls may in future delegate to a judge of the High Court the duty which hitherto has been special, personal and particular to him, of admitting solicitors

I ask myself whether that is necessary and desirable. Has the suggestion emanated from the present Master of the Rolls? What is its origin? Is it really necessary? Other things being equal, I should have preferred this subsection not to have remained in the Bill. I should have preferred to have seen nothing introduced which derogated from the particular responsibilities to the profession of the Master of the Rolls. I hope that the Amendment will be treated sympathetically.

Sir L. Joynson-Hicks

I appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has moved the Amendment. I say straight away that the provision in subsection (1) is not of vital importance to the Bill or in the profession. If the hon. Gentleman feels at the conclusion of our discussion that it is a matter which he should press, then I would not resist it to the ultimate degree, but I believe that when the Committee has heard the reason for the insertion of the provision it will be felt that it is desirable to include it in the Bill and that it would not be in the best interests to delete it.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the relationship which we as a profession enjoy with the Master of the Rolls. Like him, I cannot go back into the period of antiquity when this relationship first started, but I do know that it has been in existence for a substantial time. The other day I happened by chance to come across the certificate of admission of my own father. It was dated 1885 and I thought that it had peculiar relevance to the Amendment. It was sealed, and the seal was attested by someone whose name I was unable to decipher; but, quite clearly, there appeared to be above the signature another signature which I thought was "Esther ill". On seeing that, I thought that there must have been a provision for an alternative signature, but on closer examination I saw that the word "ill" was actually "M.R.", so that my father had been clearly admitted by the Master of the Rolls in person.

It is that exact point with which the subsection is intended to deal. Even the Master of the Rolls is a busier man today than he was in the last century. The number and burden of the duties which have fallen upon him have increased substantially. Although the Master of the Rolls has not himself sought or initiated a step for the inclusion of this provision—and I should be misleading the Committee if I suggested such a thing—it is correct to say that he has been consulted about the provision and that he sees no objection to it.

First, may I make quite clear to the Committee exactly what, by this subsection, it is proposed the Master of the Rolls shall be relieved from doing? It is not any discretionary or executive object concerning the relations of the profession as a whole; it is simply and solely the signing of certificates of admission. It does not deal with the merits of people with admission certificates but is merely the formal act of signing the admission certificates.

The reason for it is twofold. First, as actually happened in one case, the Master of the Rolls may be ill at the time when the admission certificates require his visa. A case arose when he was in hospital. There were two alternatives, either that the signing of the certificates should be delayed until his recovery—in which case the newly-admitted solicitors would be unable to initiate their practice because they had not got their certificates and would be disappointed after the conclusion of their period of articles and passing through examinations and might feel a certain sense of frustration.

The other alternative was that the Master of the Rolls might be interrupted in his sojourn in hospital to go through the business of signing certificates. So great was his feeling of responsibility towards the profession and so great was his sense of duty, that he insisted upon calling for the certificates—knowing that they would be ready for signature—in order that he should sign them.

I do not think that that is a burden which we, as members of the profession, would wish to lay upon any Master of the Rolls. It would not be inappropriate to call him the godfather of the profession. Our relationship with him is such that we regard and recognise what he does for the profession with the deepest sense of appreciation. The last thing we should want to do would be perhaps to add to his troubles when he is ill, or to add to his anxieties when—as happened in another case—the Master of the Rolls was abroad on his duties, in such a way as to cause him to feel that either his health was affected or his enjoyment of his duties was affected through the responsibility of having to perform this formal act.

That is the only reason we are seeking in this subsection to render it possible—that is all—for the Master of the Rolls to appoint a deputy and to delegate this duty of formal signing to that deputy.

Mr. E. Fletcher

I am very much reassured by what the hon. Member for Chichester (Sir L. Joynson-Hicks) has said. He has convinced me that it would be right to leave this subsection in the Bill.

I have the greatest admiration for the present Master of the Rolls. One knows not only his prestige in presiding over the Court of Appeal, how conscientious and how zealous he is in attending to the manifold duties that are obligations on any Master of the Rolls, but, also, the extraneous duties which from time to time get thrust upon him. I know that he would not wish to delegate any duty of this kind, even a perfunctory duty, except in the case of real necessity. I am convinced that in such a case it is right that there should be statutory provision to enable him to do so. In view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.