§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Sir Charles, I should like to ask a Question on Clause 1. I should like to know rather more about this Bill——
The hon. Member should have done so on Clause 1. I am afraid that we have now passed that.
§ Mr. McAdden
I think that the Committee ought to have some explanation. I must say that I do not like Measures going through "on the nod", as it is called. I should like to be informed of what the Bill does. As I look at it, this measure seems to me——
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Perhaps I may say that I was proposing, if the Bill passes through its Committee stage and is reported, to say a few words in explanation on Third Reading. Sir Charles, we have now passed Clause 1, and I would find it very difficult to make any very substantial explanation on Clause 2, which relates merely to the title of the Bill. Perhaps, therefore, the Committee will allow me to reserve what I have to say until Third Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Perhaps I may begin by saying that I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) that no Bill ought to pass through this House without some explanation. The House 1364 will be aware that, for highly technical reasons, it was not possible to have a debate on Second Reading. Owing to exigencies of time, it had to have its Second Reading "on the nod", to use the time-honoured Parliamentary phrase. If there had been any attempt at explanation at that stage, the Measure would have been talked out. I am now very happy to be able to repair that omission by saying just a word or two about the objects of the Bill.
This very short Bill deals with a domestic matter, namely, discipline, and the size of the disciplinary committee of the Council of the Law Society. Here I ought to declare an interest, although, I hope, only an academic interest. The House knows that for a long time Parliament has entrusted to the Council of the Law Society responsibility for the discipline of all members of the solicitor's profession, and has done so in the interests both of the profession and of the public. As the disciplinary committee of the Law Society is set up by Statute, which provides that there shall be a maximum of nine members of the committee, and as it has been found necessary to ask for power to increase that maximum from nine to twelve, a Public Bill is required.
All that this Bill does is to enable the size of the disciplinary committee of the Council of the Law Society to be increased from nine members to twelve. I ought to point out that the committee has power to sit in divisions, and the minimum number of members who can sit in any division is three. It might have been thought that nine was an adequate number, but experience has shown that it is not. I hope that it will not be thought that this Bill means that the Law Society is expecting to deal with an increasing number of disciplinary cases. That is not so, and there is nothing here that should alarm the public.
The reason for the passing of this Bill is much simpler. For purely domestic reasons, the disciplinary committee has to consist of senior practising members of the profession. It would not be right that they should be entirely drawn from the Metropolitan area. All these gentlemen devote their time voluntarily to this work, and some have to travel long distances. Experience has shown that.
1365 on occasion, owing to difficulties of transport and the like, it has not been possible to constitute the court at the time expected, and that has caused inconvenience. It would, therefore, be a matter of great convenience if the maximum number of members could be increased to twelve.
The House may like to know that the kind of offences with which the committee deals relate, in the main, to the highly technical form of accounts that solicitors, quite properly, have to keep, and the work of the committee is very valuable. I hope that, with that explanation, the House will give the Bill its Third Reading.
§ 11.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
As the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has said, this is purely a domestic Bill, although it is necessary for it to come forward as a Public Bill, the number of members of the disciplinary committee having been laid down by State as long ago, I think, as 1932. Since then, the solicitors' accounts rules have become a lot more complicated and extensive, and the committee has a considerable amount of work to do. In fact. I understand that it sits in two sessions on Thursday of each week.
The result is that senior practitioners—and it would, as the hon. Member has just said, be unfortunate to draw the members only from the Metropolitan area—have to travel long distances to al tend the sessions. This is all voluntary service, and I understand that any one member of the committee has to set aside at least eighteen days a year from his practice in order to attend.
The enactment of this Measure will result in greater expedition in dealing with the committee's work, and so to greater protection to the public. The solicitors' accounts rules are there for the benefit of the public, and if any question arises on them it is right that the question should be settled as quickly as possible by a committee that Parliament has charged with the job.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) for recognising the importance of explaining to the House any 1366 legislation that it is proposed to pass. This is particularly important in the case of legislation which has something to do with the legal profession. As we all know, we have a large number of hon. Members in that profession, most of whom are extremely adept at finding fault with legislation drafted by simple laymen. If the legal Members of the profession were to allow a Measure of this kind to go through without an explanation being given to ordinary laymen of what it is all about, extraordinary ideas might go around as to the purpose of this Measure.
Looking at it at first glance and without the explanation which has been given, and which I readily accept, it would appear that since 1957 it has been necessary to have a much stronger disciplinary committee for solicitors. This might be for one of two reasons. It might be found that the existing number is too small for adequate working, but the suspicious might think that solicitors have gone off the rails since 1957 and that therefore a larger committee is needed to keep them in check. Without the explanation which has been provided, a false impression might have been given to the general public. I am satisfied with the explanation.
I am delighted to support the Third Reading, and I am glad that we have had the recognition from both sides of the House that legislation is something which ought to be discussed and should not go through on the nod.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I agree with what the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) has said. I knew that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) was going to give this explanation on Third Reading because he had found that that was the simplest way and most appropriate occasion on which to do it.
It is right to say that it is no reflection on the profession in one respect that there may be more disciplinary inquiries, because the new procedure in relation to accounts and the speeding up of hearings may well mean that the disciplinary committee is considering some technical breaches in the accounts rules which might, had they not been detected and dealt with, have led to something more 1367 serious. It is true to say that this committee now enjoys the confidence of the profession to a greater extent than ever before and is really trying to do a great deal in this connection. Probably the hon. Gentleman may not know—I do not think it is generally known—that solicitors now not only have these very strict rules about the keeping of accounts in relation to all their moneys but also have to provide an insurance fund which is designed to reimburse any victims of any error.
I cannot resist the temptation, before resuming my seat, of addressing to the sponsor of this Bill those felicitations which are so customary on a Friday to anyone who is about to give birth to a public statute:Say not, the straggle naught availeth.No one can accuse my hon. Friend of the untrimmed lamp and the ungirt loin. He has explored every avenue and has dealt with every relevant fact. He has even looked them firmly in the face, and I am sure that all hon. Members will join with me in agreeing that when he leaves this House today he will be happy in the reflection that his great grandchildren, if the use of the H-bomb does not prevent their coming, will, in revering his memory, remember with particular pride that he impressed his legislative footsteps upon the political sands of time.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.