HC Deb 16 May 1958 vol 588 cc826-30

After the commencement of this Act every person admitted as a solicitor shall have his name added to the roll or register of notaries public without further application, and no person shall have his name added to the roll or register of notaries public who is not also admitted as a solicitor.—[Mr. Malcolm MacPherson.]

Brought up and read the First Time.

Mr. Malcolm MacPherson

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

I apologise for the drafting of the Clause. It is clumsier than I thought, because it does not make clear the point that I wanted to make clear. In part, it is redundant. That was something I could not help, unless I was going to make it a very lengthy and roundabout Clause. But even at that, apparently, it does not make the point quite clear.

The Clause seeks to provide one common roll of solicitors and notaries public. At present, there are two separate rolls. I suggest that the two rolls should continue for those who are at present members of either, but that after the coming into force of this Act the rolls should be amalgamated. When an applicant becomes a solicitor he should also automatically become a notary public without further effort on his part or arrangement of any sort. In other words, from that time on the roll of solicitors and notaries public would be one.

I understand that my Amendment has been read in such a way as to suggest that the two rolls should continue separately and under rather more difficult circumstances than at present. That is not the intention. The reason why I think that there should be only one roll is that at present there seems no advantage in keeping a separate roll of notaries public. Indeed, to the public it is a disadvantage.

At present, no one may become a notary public unless he is already a qualified solicitor, and we find, therefore, that in a number of firms one member of the firm will become a notary public. The only thing he has to do is to pay about £8 for enrolment and registration. It is handy at present for a firm to have one member undertaking the duties of notary public; but these duties are so restricted that it does not seem to be at all necessary to have a separate roll. Therefore, there seems to me to be no reason why any member of a firm in this situation should not be able to carry out these duties, and it seems sensible that all solicitors should automatically be notaries public.

1.30 p.m.

The present situation is defended, if it needs defence—it is not such a serious matter that one need talk about it in terms of attack and defence, because it is a comparatively minor change which I am suggesting, and would not revolutionise the legal life of Scotland—on the grounds that notaries public have existed as a separate profession for some time, and that they are all, in any case, qualified solicitors, and, therefore, it does not matter. It is just that kind of thing, the persistence of an organisational arrangement, which does not seem to have any functional need in itself, which tends to make our professional life a little more complicated and make the position of members of the public, the chief persons concerned in these matters, more difficult than it ought to be.

I do not believe that if there was only one roll for solicitors and notaries public anything would be lost. I do not think the duties would be performed any less well, or that there would be any diminution at all in the service to the public. It seems to me, therefore, desirable that the two rolls should be merged, and that everyone becoming a solicitor should automatically become a notary public.

Mr. M. Clark Hutchison

I should like to say a word or two about notaries public. The office originated in Roman times, when the notarius, a slave or freedman, took down the proceedings in court in shorthand. I did not know that shorthand existed at that time, but it appears to be the case. The office has been known in Britain for many years and under the Canon law, it is interesting to note, that the evidence of a notary was worth that of two unskilled witnesses.

The office exists in every European country, whether its law is derived from the Romans or otherwise. In most countries, the status of notaries public is rather higher than we hold it in Scotland or England. They are nominated in France by the President of the Republic, and in the District of Columbia, in America, by the President of the United States, and in other States of America by the State Governor. It will be seen that in these countries they are officials held in considerable esteem. I think that we should remember this, because when documents are going back and forth between this country and foreign countries, if they have the seal of a notary here, they are likely to be accepted, whereas if simply stamped by a solicitor the foreigner might be a little suspicious.

A notary's functions in Scotland include help to people suffering from disabilities. They can act for the blind, the disabled or people who cannot read. But their more usual job is that of noting and protesting bills of exchange and noting maritime protests. These are jobs in which the ordinary solicitor may not be particularly interested. The hon. Gentleman opposite will agree, from what I have said, that the office is an ancient one. A notary's practice is not necessarily the same as that of a solicitor, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the point I made as to the status of notaries abroad and the way in which we regard them here.

I think that it would be wrong, in this Bill, to tinker with the status of notaries, and I would myself prefer to leave the situation as it is at present. If we did alter the position, there would be considerable confusion in the various rolls. To become a notary, a special fee is charged, and we should have to levy more money on solicitors. There are also administrative aspects which would have to be altered, and, it may be, altered by Statute. I would, therefore, ask the hon. Gentleman to agree that it would be better to leave the situation as it is at the moment.

However, I will give the hon. Gentleman two undertakings. First, if the hon. Member is of the opinion that in any parts of Scotland there is a shortage of notaries, I will ask the Law Society to look into this and see whether others can be appointed. Secondly, I would impress on the hon. Gentleman the point that the various Solicitors (Scotland) Acts will, we hope, soon be consolidated into one Act. Between now and then, I shall be quite happy to ask the Law Society to examine the status and office of notaries with all interested parties. If it is possible or desirable to amalgamate notaries and solicitors that could be done when the consolidation Act is brought forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be content with those two undertakings.

The Lord Advocate

I should point out that there is another difficulty to which I must draw the attention of the Committee. Before an Amendment of this kind could be accepted, there would have to be very full consultation with many interested parties, such as the Lord President of the Court of Session. I hope that, in the circumstances, the hon. Member will not feel it necessary to press his Motion.

Mr. Malcolm MacPherson

I realise that a consolidation Bill is in contemplation, and I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is, perhaps, not the best time to make this change. In view of what the learned Lord Advocate has said about the necessity of consolidation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule agreed to.