HC Deb 02 July 1965 vol 715 cc983-1052

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Bell. Page 18, line 29.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Does that mean that the first two proposed Amendments are not selected?

Mr. Speaker

It does.

Mr. Bell

No doubt it will be in order to refer to those matters on Third Reading.

I beg to move, in page 18, line 29, to leave out "upon" and to insert "At the time of".

Perhaps it would be convenient if the next Amendment, in page 18, line 29, after "documents", to insert "or within three days thereafter" is discussed at the same time.

Mr. Speaker

If the House so pleases.

Mr. Bell

This is an Amendment to the third paragraph of the First Schedule, which is a substitute for the First Schedule of the principal Act, the Solicitors Act, 1957. The Schedule makes certain Amendments, on which it would not be in order for me to comment at this point, in the Schedule in the principal Act.

The two Amendments relate to paragraph 3, which is not really a change in the principal Act. My Amendments should therefore be regarded as an attempt to improve the wording and operation of paragraph 3, not necessarily in relation to the fact that it is now a paragraph in a new Schedule, but possibly doing something that might have been done in 1957. When one is tightening up the disciplinary procedures, the enforcement procedures, under the Solicitors Act—and that is one of the purposes of this Bill—then it becomes even more important than it was before that there should be accurate wording, and wording which is fair to the solicitor against whom these disciplinary procedures are being evoked.

Paragraph 3 is the enforcement paragraph following on paragraphs 1 and 2. The general effect of paragraphs 1 and 2 is this. The Law Society may serve on a solicitor who has done something which attracts the provisions of the Schedule a notice requiring him to produce certain documents to officers of the Society or persons nominated by the Society. I will not go through the list of documents mentioned of which the Society is authorised to take possession. If he does not comply, paragraph 2 says: (a) he shall be guilty of an offence"; and (b) that the Law Society may apply to the High Court which may order the person to comply with the requirement within a time limit and may attach to the order a penalty clause if he does not comply within the time limit. The penalty clause is that the Society may enter the premises of the solicitor concerned and seize and take away the documents and deeds, and so on, which they may find.

Paragraph 3 of the Schedule says: Upon taking possession of any such documents, the Society shall serve upon the solicitor and every person from whom those documents were received or from whose premises they were taken by virtue of an order made under paragraph 2. a notice giving particulars and the date of taking possession thereof. The defect which I see in that paragraph is that the Society, which, after all, will have just taken the very drastic action—admittedly on the authority of the court, but, nevertheless, it is very drastic action—of entering by force the solicitor's premises and impounding documents. Under paragraph 3 as it stands, the Society is under no obligation within any particular time to serve on the solicitor or firm a notice of what it has taken from the premises or from the solicitor. The words used are "Upon taking possession".

That could mean at the time that the officers of the Society enter the office of the solicitor and take possession of the documents.

I suppose that on a strict interpretation of that wording one might say that at that moment they must leave the notice saying what documents they have taken. That plainly cannot be the intention of the wording. It would never happen in that way. In practice they would take a large number of documents which they thought were clients' documents back to the Law Society's office, mull through- them and list them and eventually serve a notice on the solicitor showing what they had taken.

11.15 a.m.

This could be a somewhat oppressive procedure. I am not casting the slightest reflection on the Law Society in saying that. Indeed, I think that everyone is grateful to the Society for, I believe, drafting the Bill and putting it forward for Parliament's consideration through the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), because it deals with many things which need dealing with and it is in the general public interest that the Bill should be passed. Therefore, I do not make this point in any hostile attitude to the Society. I am sure that it would not behave oppressively; that is the last thing that it would want to do. But when proposing these very potent enforcement procedures we must look at the procedures to see that they are scrupulously fair to both sides.

The first Amendment proposes to insert the words "At the time of". That is the strict interpretation of "upon". Paragraph 3 would then read: At the time of taking possession of any such documents, the Society shall serve a notice. However, because that would in isolation be too harsh, I propose by the second Amendment to add after the word "documents" the words or within three days thereafter". I speak as an outsider on the procedure of this branch of the legal profession. I hope that I speak with humility. I do not think that lawyers are necessarily characterised by humility—politicians are said very rarely to be so characterised—but I am conscious of my inadequacies on the finer points. I hope that my proposal to make provision for a period of three days makes sense. It will mean a certain amount of pressure of listing and preparing the notice and serving it. I accept that. On the other hand, a quite drastic procedure is proposed. Solicitor's premises may quite possibly be forcibly entered and documents taken away. He is entitled to know reasonably quickly what has been taken away. After all, these are documents of his practice—clients' documents and documents of such title such as those listed in paragraph 1 of the First Schedule.

I hope that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West will not regard this modest Amendment as a wrecking Amendment. I do not think that he will. I shall not shed inconsolable tears if it is not accepted, but I think that its acceptance would improve the wording of the paragraph. I think that it is fair and would make the position of the solicitor concerned clear to him and would allow him to decide what course of action he should pursue. I do not want to look forward to other Amendments which I have tabled, but the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West will, I am sure, bear in mind that on receiving the notice the solicitor or firm in question have certain rights of appeal and that until the notice has been received they cannot avail themselves of those rights. I think that that could, in certain circumstances, impose great hardship on the solicitor.

I hope that I have moved, not merely the Amendment, but also the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicestershire, North-West)

I entirely appreciate that the hon. Member for Buckingham, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) is trying to assist and that his Amendments are in no sense wrecking Amendments. On the other hand, the hon. Member was perfectly frank when he said, if I may put it this way, that he was talking without knowledge of the actual steps which are taken in these matters by the Law Society. Indeed, the hon. Member could not be expected to know those practical steps nor could anyone other than those who actually exercise the duty of carrying the Solicitors Acts into effect.

What we have tried to do is to make the position as clear as possible. Consequently, instead of merely making ordinary Amendments so that a considerable amount of reference to other Acts would be necessary, the Law Society—with the support of the Master of the Rolls, the Lord Chancellor and others—has endeavoured to produce a Bill which repeats what was contained in the 1957 Act and has repealed that Measure, so that the position and the intention shall be as clear as possible without having to refer both to the 1957 Act and to the Bill.

That is, perhaps, one of the reasons why the hon. Member may not nave known that these provisions have existed since the time of the Solicitors Act, 1941, and that no complaint has ever been raised about the procedure which is referred to in Schedule I. The hon. Member, therefore, need have no fear that anybody, at least since 1941, has felt aggrieved at the practical steps which it is proposed to continue.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I mentioned at the outset of my speech that I knew that this was not an amending provision in the Bill. Would not the hon. Member agree, however, that a solicitor who finds himself in this position—that is to say, who is being subjected to these harsh enforcement procedures—is really not the kind of person from whom one would expect to get complaints about these points of procedure? He would by that time be in such a vulnerable position that he would hardly be thinking of suggesting Amendments to the 1957 Act.

Sir B. Janner

That is not quite the full way of putting it. It may well be that the solicitor who has suffered in consequence, perhaps, of his own misdeeds—or perhaps not—might not have raised the complaint. Certainly, if he was suffering not in consequence of his misdeeds, he would have raised it. I have not the slightest doubt that during the past 20 or more years somebody would have raised the point in the council of the Law Society or during any debates or discussions relating to the matter.

I think that the hon. Member will be satisfied when he hears what the procedure is and how the steps are taken by the Law Society. The Society's agent, on taking possession of the documents under paragraph 1 of the Schedule, writes to the Society to that effect. The Society serves the notice upon the solicitor under paragraph 3. Although the Society usually serves the notice within three days of the date when the agent takes possession of the documents, it does not wish to be bound to a time limit in case, for good reason, the notice cannot be seved within the specified time.

It should be remembered that the Society is acting in the interests of the client of the solicitor who is alleged to be offending and will act reasonably and take all necessary action as early as circumstances allow. I have already pointed out that that has been the practice for many years. To bind the Society in the way that the hon. Member suggests might create difficulties which it would be impossible to overcome should they be contained within the Bill.

I assure the hon. Member that the matter has been carefully considered by those in the Law Society's set-up who are dealing with the Bill. They fully appreciate the point which the hon. Member has raised but, unfortunately for him, they do not agree with him concerning the Amendment.

The position as I see it is sufficient to cover the interests of the solicitor concerned. If it were not, there would be a considerable row in certain sections of the profession, which hitherto has not occurred. In the course of the proceedings both in another place and in this House the question has not been raised before. I have pointed out that the position commends itself not only to the solicitors, but to the members of the highest rank of the hon. Member's profession. In these circumstances, I hope that he will accept my explanation and not press his Amendment.

Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

Can the hon. Member say in how many cases this procedure of enforcement and seizing documents has been used during the past 20 years? Secondly, does it matter what is in the rules? Is there any sanction against the Law Society if it does not follow the rules?

Sir B. Janner

There would not be at present, because the Law Society would have time to follow the rule, which enables it to continue the practice of taking more time in respect of the notice. I am certain that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will excuse me if I do not have the number of cases readily available, but perhaps I can get the information for him fairly rapidly.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Within three days?

Sir B. Janner


Mr. Bell

I must admit that I am disappointed by the answer given by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner).

Sir B. Janner

May I interrupt the hon. Member to say that although the exact number is not known, the number of cases has been very few.

Mr. Bell

I am obliged. The hon. Member will understand from this little incident that occasionally one needs a little time to find things out or to take action.

I realised my difficulty in proposing an Amendment of this kind aft this stage of the Bill. That is always a difficulty. As I said earlier, I did not know whether three days was the right period to specify. In view of what the hon. Member has said, I recognise that three days might be a little short and that five days might be preferable, but I cannot alter the Amendment now.

I remain unhappy with the position. I do not like so much time being given that the Law Society will take action when it can and will. I do not suggest that the Law Society is being appressive. I merely suggest that in dealing with quite severe enforcement procedures, this is not quite good enough. Normally my instinct on an occasion like this would be to take the matter to a Division, but I have it very much in mind that this is a Bill which we all want to see go through and that one could not be quite sure how many would vote in the Division, and that, if there were not enough, serious consequences would flow, and for that reason, and for that reason only, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Bell

I beg to move, in page 18, line 33, after "particulars" to insert: of the documents so received or taken". This again is in paragraph 3 of the Schedule and it relates to the same notice. I would say at once that I have checked this wording against the wording in the former Schedule, and this phrase is repeated, so I am not complaining here again about something which is a novelty in this Bill; I think this is borrowed from the Schedule to the principal Act. That, of course, does not answer my objection. First of all, it may be that the 1957 Act could have been better done. Secondly, this is a Bill tightening up enforcement procedures, and when they are being tightened up it is right that those aspects of them which safeguard the interests of what I may call the defendant should be tightened up also.

At present it is merely said that the notice shall give the particulars, but it does not say what the particulars are to be of, and I am proposing that they shall be of the documents so received or taken". At the moment, I imagine, the Law Society would comply with the requirement to serve on the solicitor, in these circumstances, a notice specifying the officer of the Society or the person appointed by the Society entering the premises, the date and time he entered the premises, and the documents which he took away. It need not, as I see it, necessarily, on the wording of paragraph 3.

I have no doubt, again, that the hon. Member in charge of the Bill will get up and assure me that the Law Society always acts with the greatest responsibility in this matter, that it tries to give a list of the documents, but that it does not want to be tied to give a full list of the documents in case, following the hon. Member's phrase in the debate on the last Amendment, for good reason it finds it difficult to do so.

With respect, that is not good enough. The offending or allegedly offending solicitor is tied down with tin tacks all the way through. It may be quite right that he should be. This is all being done by the Law Society, which itself is a society of solicitors, against one of its own members, and in the interests of clients; and it is being fierce in the interests of the public, and that is very commendable, but it is, perhaps, right that we who are outsiders in the matter should attempt to temper the rigour of its system in favour of the accused, and I see no reason why we should not put in paragraph 3 of the Schedule what we think—undoubtedly, I am sure, on both sides of the House, because it is not a matter of party—ought to be the meaning of the Schedule.

I have very little doubt that the Law Society regards this as its rule and practice in the matter. I shall be surprised if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) gets up and tells me that of course the Law Society would not want to do all this, it just wants to say it has the documents relating to the client, Mr. Snooks, in a case for personal injuries, and that this should be a sufficient indication. I do not think he is going to say that. I think he will tell me it does not want to be tied down by the Schedule to have to list them all—

Mr. C. S. Silkin (Dulwich)

I am trying to follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman. I am not quite clear what his suggestion is, or how "particulars", as contained in the Schedule in its present draft differ from what he is suggesting.

Mr. Bell

I said a moment ago that I find no fault at that, because I quite understand that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West has been having urgent consultations, and it may be that some of my precious words went astray.

What I am suggesting as being the kind of meaning which could be legally, properly attached to the present phrase is that the Law Society could serve a notice giving the name of the officer of the Society or of the person appointed by the Society under under provisions in the Bill who makes the seizure, the place where he made it, the date and time at which it was made, and the classes of documents which were taken away, either by classification of documents or by listing the clients, and perhaps a client's claim—such as documents relating to the claim of Mr. Brown for personal injuries arising at such and such a date.

That is what I thought and still think could be the present legal effect.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I take it that it follows from that that the hon. Member is suggesting that the interpretation of the Schedule as it stands does not relate "thereof", at the end of the paragraph to "particulars"?

Mr. Bell

Yes, I think "thereof" relates to "particulars". Let me put it this way: I think "thereof" will undoubtedly apply to the date; it might apply also to particulars. No, looking at it again, I do not think that is so. I think "thereof" applies to the date and probably not to the particulars. It must refer to documents, and the date of taking possession. "Thereof"—that is, the documents: it refers right back to the documents, and I think it jumps over "particulars".

That would be my view. If the hon. Gentleman does not agree with me, we have not a great deal of time on Report to differ. This is much easier in Committee upstairs. I was not a member of the Committee. If there is any room for doubt or disagreement about it the hon. and learned Gentleman will probably agree with me that it would be better that it should be clear that the particulars are the main particulars of the documents.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I quite agree with the hon. Member that the word "particulars" is not a very happy choice, but if one gets the dictionary meaning, surely it does mean rather more than it does in normal speech. It does mean details. I am wondering whether the hon. Gentleman would wonder for a moment whether on the whole this House would be justified in asking for this Measure to go back for further consideration to the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal—and the Lords "Temporary", ennobled in blood but not by semen—for them to consider this simple point, whether the word "thereof" refers back to the word to which it appears to relate or whether it does not.

Mr. Bell

Well, I think we have to thank the hon. Member for the phrase "Lords Temporal and Temporary", which is certainly an addition to our political vocabulary. He usually manages to enliven our proceedings. But I should think he would find it rather an attractive proposition that the other place should be put to answer such questions as whether "thereof" refers to the nearest possible antecedent or penultimate antecedent. I have gained the impression that some hon. Members opposite in recent weeks have felt that the House of Lords was better occupied in activities other than that, although I do not agree with such a view.

Perhaps I may come now to the substance of the interjection, or, at any rate, the anxiety which may be in the mind of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West. I agree that moving an Amendment—even, almost, a drafting Amendment—on the Report stage of a Bill which has come from the Lords is always awkward because one is virtually at the last point of the Bill's proceedings and if the phrasing is unfelicitous there is not a great deal that can be done about it. I realise, also, that, in the present state of the parliamentary timetable, the hon. Gentleman is not anxious to have the Bill going on another journey in either direction.

But, despite our respect for him, our attitude to a Bill cannot be governed by the knowledge that it did not originate in this House, but has come from another place. We have to go through the procedures just the same. I was not a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill, for the excellent reason that I was on another at the same time and, therefore, this is the first opportunity I have had of improving the wording. I think that the hon. Member will agree that I am not putting forward any Amendment which he could not, if he were so disposed, accept without doing serious injury to the Bill. It is merely a balance of opinion as to the value of the Amendment. I hope that he can accept the Amendment and will feel that it will improve the wording of this provision by removing an uncertainty.

Sir B. Janner

I have been relieved of a considerable amount of work on the answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). If he reads the Bill closely, he will see that the Lords Spiritual as well as the Lords Temporal were fully justified in not raising this point because the word "thereof" covers what he wants to achieve. I understand that it has done so for many years and that it has been the practice to give the particulars in the way he urges. In those circumstances, it is perfectly reasonable that, at this stage, we should not wish the Bill to be returned to the other place. I hope that, to get the Bill passed, he will accept that the practice so far has been what he really wants.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity of giving the figures of cases so far involved. I understand that the average number per year has been three. I hope that, in these circumstances, the hon. Gentleman will assist. I know that he does not want to prevent the Bill from going through. It would be cumbersome if we had to alter it now and send it back for the whole thing to be discussed again. The question of time arises and I would like him to assist if he can by accepting that this aspect has never been questioned and that no one has ever asked for particulars other than these. Perhaps his conscience may be appeased by the fact that, in practice, this point simply does not arise.

11.45 a.m.

Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)

Although I am a layman, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) on a point on which, not having the esoteric knowledge of other hon. Members, I would not normally intervene. I see the force of his Amendment in his endeavour to bring up to date and clarify the wording of the Schedule and thus make much more clear precisely what is to be taken away from the office of a solicitor who is alleged to have offended.

I must express some surprise that the main reason advanced by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) in objecting to the Amendment should be that it would be inconvenient and disadvantageous to all concerned if we referred the Bill back. He has my full sympathy, but surely the error lies not only with the other place but with the hon. Gentleman himself if the Bill needs tightening up in this Schedule.

I speak as a complete innocent, but it is surely right that, if the Law Society wishes to arrogate to itself the right of entry to the office of a solicitor alleged to have offended, it should be seen clearly before its own members and by the country as a whole to be acting above reproach in giving full particulars of any documents that it may remove.

Sir B. Janner

Would the hon and gallant Gentleman be good enough to look at the language—at the word "thereof", for instance? What can it mean? Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain what interpretation could be put upon that word other than that of the particulars of the documents? Very often, there are complaints that Acts of Parliament are unduly wordy. What the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) is doing is trying to put in a repetition of what is already in the Schedule.

Commander Courtney

This is a grammatical argument on which I must support my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, who contends that "thereof" applies to the date of taking possession and not to the word "particulars". The word "particulars" should be elaborated in the sense put forward by my hon. Friend to make it crystal clear that the Law Society, taking action in accordance with this Bill—which we all hope will become an Act—is above reproach because it is required to give full and clear particulars back to the solicitor alleged to have offended of any documents taken from his office.

From the point of view of the layman, my hon. Friend's Amendment has considerable substance.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Again, I have to express my disappointment at what has been said by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner). As I have said, we cannot argue across the Floor of the House, as we can in Committee upstairs, the precise meaning of words in a paragraph of this kind. To some extent the test is a matter of what is called in the courts primae impressionis. Since Latin is talked in this Chamber nowadays I am happy to have the opportunity of using it and not translating it.

The paragraph appears to me to mean that upon taking the documents the solicitor must be served with a notice giving particulars and the date of taking possession thereof. I agree that the word "thereof" refers to the documents, but I do not think that the same enlargement of meaning or the same definition of meaning necessarily attaches to the word "particulars". I would have thought that the terms of the paragraph could be complied with if the solicitor had served upon him a notice giving particulars, and the date of taking possession thereof.

It is merely a question of how one interprets phrases, but I would have thought that if it were intended that this should refer to the list of documents it should say giving particulars of the documents so taken and the date of taking possession thereof. That is what the Amendment seeks to do.

I am always a little puzzled when an Amendment of this kind is refused. One is sometimes told that the best opinion is that it is not necessary, but on such occasions I often feel that an even better opinion would be that one might as well be quite clear about the matter. Legal English in its best form is natural English. In this connection, the natural English would be giving particulars of the documents so received or taken and the date of taking possession thereof. Then the matter is clear. I can make a few more comments which the hon. Member is obtaining further advice.

I am sure that the Law Society administers these things fairly and that it would normally serve on an accused solicitor a notice giving particulars which take the form of a list of the documents which have been taken away. I have little doubt that that is what it does, and we can be reasonably sure that that is the case. But it will also rather like to be in the position of not being tied by the words of the Schedule to have to do this if, for what it feels, on particular occasions, to be a good reason, it does not need to do it.

I want to help the hon. Member as much as I can. I appreciate the procedural difficulties which arise, at this time in the Session, in the case of a Bill which has come from the Lords. Not wishing to embarrass him I would be content if he would give an undertaking to consider the question in consultation with the Law Society—except that there is no subsequent stage of the Bill from now on, and it is, therefore, a case of accepting the Amendment now or leaving the paragraph as it stands.

The hon. Member may feel that he is authorised to give a general undertaking or assurance on behalf of the Law Society—which will administer these provisions—that this will be its practice except in some quite exceptional case. It may be that he can set our anxieties at rest by giving an assurance that that is the way in which the Law Society will administer these provisions in practice.

If the hon. Member can say that, I may be able to help him by asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Sir B. Janner

The hon. Member raised a question of there being no opportunity to amend the Bill elsewhere. There will be such an opportunity. I have had an opportunity of obtaining some more information as to what happens in the Law Society itself. It is felt that the Amendment that he has moved may be interpreted in such a way as to provide much more than he himself would require it to do. At present, a list of documents must be given, and the person involved will know what that list contains. I have not the slightest doubt that in the event of anyone not knowing the contents of the documents which have been taken he could easily inquire, and I am certain that he would be given a copy of any document the contents of which he did not know.

I am informed that it would be extremely difficult to deal with the position which might arise in which every word or every sentence in a document was required. I can assure the hon. Member that the question of the actual identity of the documents is quite clearly covered by the word "thereof". I am sure that the Law Society will take note of what has been said today, and I have no doubt that questions of regulations or other such procedure could be discussed with it.

Mr. Ronald Bell

The point of substance is that the documents have been forcibly taken from the solicitor's office. Is the notice which he will receive an adequate receipt, showing that the documents have been taken? It must be a full list of the documents—not the contents thereof—identifying those documents so that it will be a kind of receipt for the solicitor in respect of those things which have been forcibly taken away. If the hon. Member can give me that assurance I will gladly ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to move, in page 18, line 34, after "requirement", to insert "made".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

It will be convenient to take with this Amendment the Amendment in page 18, line 34, after "notice", insert "given", and the Amendment in line 34, leave out "made".

Mr. Bell

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope that we shall have less difficulty on this occasion.

These Amendments refer to paragraph 4 of the First Schedule, and the Amendment that we are discussing with the one that I have moved—if I may venture to say so—simply improve the English grammar of the paragraph. I am sorry to put the matter so crudely, but the paragraph does not make sense as drafted. It reads: Any requirement or notice under this Schedule shall be made in writing … It is possible to make a requirement, but it is not possible to make a notice. It should read: Any requirement made or notice given under this Schedule shall be made in writing … I suggest that that is the way in which it should be drafted and, indeed, the only way it should be drafted and that anything else is just plain slovenly.

12 noon.

Sir B. Janner

I do not wish to introduce party politics into this debate, but may I appeal to the hon. Gentleman's sense of conservatism when I say that for I do not know how many years the words as they are here have been accepted as good English. They have not been disputed at all and except for the inclusion of the words. or by the recorded delivery service the wording of this paragraph has remained the same since the Solicitors Act of 1941. So far, no purist of the English language has ventured to suggest that what was intended was not intended. While I appreciate that language does not stand still in its pure form, it is felt, nevertheless, that the Amendments are unnecessary.

I do not wish to be in any sense offensive to the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that he will realise that the Amendments are not necessary at this stage, even though, as a good English scholar, he may have reason to believe, from the point of view of preserving the English language, that they are. I would ask him not to place further difficulties in the way of the steps to be taken here and to accept what another place has also regarded as the correct form of English for the purpose of carrying this Schedule into effect.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. I do not profess to be sufficiently scholarly to be able to dispute what he is saying concerning the purity or correctness of the English used, but I call in aid the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and all who participated in the Committee stage of the Bill, and I hope that in these circumstances the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdrawn his Amendment.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I do not intend to detain the House for more than a moment or two. I appreciate very much the desire of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) for purity of English, but in pursuing that desire I fail to understand why he proposes in the second of the Amendments which we are discussing to use the word "given" in respect of notice, because, as I read the Schedule, the only occasion on which the word "notice" is used is in Clause 3 and there is it is not "given" but "served".

I shudder to think of the arguments that might be addressed to the court on the distinction between the notice "given" by the hon. Gentleman's Amendment under Clause 4 and the notice which has been "served" under Clause 3. If we are interested in the purity of language, let us at least ensure that we use the same language throughout the Bill.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I wish that I could be more impressed by the last contribution made to the debate. Of course the notice can be "given". It is often said that a notice shall be given by being served, and so on. The giving of the notice is one thing and the serving of it is another. I think that it is a somewhat false point which the hon. Gentleman has made.

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) has come down to the bare bones on the defensive. I have never heard such embattled conservatism as that which has come from him this morning. The best thing he could say was that the wording had been there since 1941. It was drafted in the middle of the Second World War. At that time, no doubt, the best parliamentary draftsmen were in the Armed Forces. I was not here. I was in one of His Majesty's ships in Freetown Harbour when this form of words got on to the Statute Book, but I decline any responsibility for that.

Sir B. Janner

The hon. Gentleman has had 20 years in which to think about it. Why did he not do something about it before?

Mr. Bell

The hon. Gentleman is very kind to say that, but the fact is that in my occasional moments off duty in the Royal Navy I was not reading the Solicitors Act, 1941. I realise now that this was an error of judgment and that I should have been doing so. However, the first time that this form of words came before me was in July, 1965.

Having referred to the venerable antiquity of these words, the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West pointed out that they had passed the scrutiny of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal. I must confess that I have heard more favourable things said about the Lords this morning by hon. Members opposite than in all the years that I have been in the House. The hon. Gentleman made out a very good case for a revising chamber whilst I, on the other hand, seem to be making out a case against it because that Chamber let these words through.

The hon. Gentleman did not attempt to justify the words. Of course, he is driven back to the old trenches of saying, "Well, if we accept the Amendment the Bill will have to go back to the Lords with an Amendment from the Commons. That would be very inconvenient, and, therefore, I hope that the House will not do so." The hon. Gentleman has appealed to the kindness of my heart, which has been unfailing this morning, and I suppose that in the end I shall be made an honorary member of the Law Society for my work in this matter.

The hon. Gentleman first referred to the defects which it is sought to remedy. I have no desire to drive the House to a Division in which possibly less than 14 Members may vote. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a sanction which he has against me this morning if I do not want to lose the Bill. There is really no more that I can say. In my opinion, the arguments in favour of the Amendment are incontrovertible. The words as they stand are just bad English, but I am not prepared to see the Bill lost for the sake of improving the English in this Schedule.

When one is knocking out the old Schedule and putting in the new one in the elbow room of peace time, I do not see any good reason why it should not be done properly. I very much regret that I did not have an opportunity of pointing this out in the earlier stages of the Bill when, perhaps, it could have gone forward from us in a somewhat less shaming form than it will now go. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to move, in page 18, line 37, to leave out "personally" and to insert "by personal service".

This is a drafting Amendment. The word "personally" might mean anything in this context. I expect the hon. Gentleman will tell me that this also was done in the stress of wartime. It might mean that, in line 35, … such person as may be appointed by the Society for the purpose should serve it in his own proper person, or that it should be served on the allegedly offending solicitor by personal service by anyone. The customary phrase wherever there is a risk, as there is here because of the anterior drafting of the previous lines, would be "by personal service". The word "personally" is used in this context only when there is no risk of ambiguity. Once again, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider accepting this.

The point will eventually be reached when I shall not be able to withdraw any Amendment. If the argument against any Amendment is that if it is made the Bill will have to go back to the Lords, there is no point in having a Report stage in the House of Commons. That is the logic of the hon. Gentleman's position. Indeed, there is no point in having a Committee stage here if it is said that the Bill must not go back to the Lords. If our Amendment had been made in Committee the Bill would still have to go back to another place.

The hon. Gentleman must realise that if we are to have any revising stages by the Commons, either in Committee or on Report, he cannot use this argument about not sending the Bill back to the other end of the building, particularly as the time is approaching when he will have to consider one of these Amendments on its merits. I have the perhaps optimistic faith that he will do that.

Sir B. Janner

I am sure that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) will be comforted by the knowledge that we shall be pleased to accept this Amendment. We think that it clarifies the position. If it is in order, I can also tell him that he need not make a long speech on the next one. That too, will be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to move in page 18, line 37, to leave out "forwarding it" and to insert "being forwarded".

What the hon. Member has just said has taken me so far that I am almost at a loss how to proceed. I am driven to say that, if the hon. Member is now reconciled to this very fleeting passage going back to the other place, why could he not have corrected the language in the first—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. We cannot go back.

Mr. Bell

I appreciate that, but I am just lamenting that this—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. Even the hon. Gentleman's lament must be in order.

Mr. Bell

I was about to make it in order quickly. I was about to welcome this receptive frame of mind. Perhaps it would not be out of order if I add the adverb "nostalgically". I am not sure whether I heard the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) accurately. He seemed to be saying that if I made a long speech on this Amendment, he would accept it. I do not know if that is what he said—

Sir B. Janner

I hope that the hon. Member will not provoke me, by what he is suggesting, to withdraw what I said. The point is that we are prepared to accept this Amendment.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Bell

I want to do only what the hon. Member wants me to do.

This is a drafting Amendment. I cannot say much about it, in view of the fact that it will be accepted. At present, the wording reads: Any requirement or notice shall be made in writing … and may be served on any person either personally or by forwarding it by registered letter … It is quite clear that one cannot move from the passive to the active voice like that without any ceremony on passing from one voice to the other. There is no ceremony here and it is, therefore, desirable that both should be in the passive voice. As it stands, "forwarding" is an unrelated participle. I am aware that this building is the home of the unrelated participle. One can collect 50 in any week here.

One example is: While thanking the Minister for that answer, does he think … One can collect almost a dozen such a day. However, it is unusual to have them in Acts of Parliament and by accepting this Amendment, as I understand he will, the hon. Member will be killing one unrelated participle in one Statute. If he had done nothing else in his years in the House—he has done much else—for this alone his constituency would have done something worth while in returning him to represent them.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to move, in page 18, line 40, after "after", to insert: or such longer period (if any) as the Court may allow".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that it will be for the convenience of the House to take with this Amendment that in page 20, line 4.

Mr. Bell

The two occasions are slightly different, but the point at issue is exactly the same. The Amendment to page 18 relates to the first line of paragraph 5 of the first Schedule, and its purpose is self-evident. The notice which we have been discussing on previous Amendments has now been served on the allegedly offending solicitor. He has to be and is given some right of appeal against the somewhat drastic procedure which has been enforced upon him. This right of appeal to the High Court is one which, by paragraph 5, he can exercise within eight days after the service of the notice upon him.

The House will observe that there is no flexibility here. This is not like the rule of court where there is, in the rules of the Supreme Court, a general power in the court to enlarge the time limit. I hope that I am right about this. There is such complexity in the modern rules of court that one can never be absolutely sure, but I think I am right in saying that, when there is a statutory time limit and no provision in the Statute for any enlargement of it, the court has no jurisdiction to grant an enlargement. If that is the position, there is a risk of considerable harshness here.

We are here dealing with a change from the Schedule to the principal Act. The principal Act allows a period of 14 days, and it is being reduced to eight days. Whether that is wise is another matter. I have no Amendment down about it, so I am, in effect, accepting eight days as the standard period within which an appeal must be lodged, though I conceive that the period of 14 days could well be fairer. To make it eight days is to give a harsh time limit for someone who already, presumably, is pretty deep in trouble. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain why the period is eight days in the revised Schedule instead of 14 days.

I have addressed myself to the problem not by moving to replace the period of eight days by 14 days but by proposing the insertion of the words in the Amendment, which would give a discretion to the High Court, in a case where it thought that there were special reasons justifying or explaining the delay, to accept a solicitor's appeal against this quite stiff procedure although the appeal had been lodged more than eight days after the date on which the notice was served on him.

I feel sure that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West will, on reflection, wish to accept the Amendment. We must consider the position of a solicitor who has a legitimate ground of complaint about the procedure but whose appeal is lodged, say, on the ninth day after service. He will have lost his remedy totally and irrevocably, as far as I can see, and I cannot believe that that is intended.

I may, through inadvertence, have missed a provision which permits enlargement of the time, so I move the Amendment somewhat interrogatively. On the other hand, if there is no such provision, I move it with the utmost confidence, because the present drafting goes quite against the justice of the case, giving no discretion for enlargement of the time if the court thinks that the notice was properly served.

Sir B. Janner

I have to disappoint the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and tell him that, unfortunately, the facts and circumstances relating to this matter do not, in the view of the Law Society, justify acceptance of the Amendment. The period of eight days has been put in the Bill in substitution for the 14 days in the principal Act because the Society has found in practice that the interests of clients are often prejudiced by the longer period as the Society cannot distribute or otherwise deal with the documents covered by paragraph 6 of the Schedule unless this period has elapsed.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is anxious, as I am anxious as a member of the profession, that a solicitor should not be put in undue difficulty. But there is also the question of the client's interest.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the hon. Gentleman answer this question, as a great deal depends upon the answer? Can he confirm or refute my understanding that there is no discretion to enlarge the time as the Bill is at present drafted?

Sir B. Janner

I do not think that there is, although I am not altogether sure whether the Society itself would have such power if it were approached. I shall inquire about that.

May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who is so anxious about the English being correct, that there is a defect in his Amendment? I ask him to forgive me for pointing out that to insert the words of the first Amendment after the word "after" in line 40 would make a grammatically imperfect provision, and they should come immediately following the word "days".

Mr. Bell

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. That is a mere slip, of course, and the Amendment should be inserted after the word "days".

Sir B. Janner

I do not propose to take advantage of the point.

Mr. Bell

I do not know whether it is a printer's slip or my slip, but I accept the correction.

Sir B. Janner

Reverting for a moment to the hon. Gentleman's question, I understand that there is no discretion in the court.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there has been only one case in 15 years in which an application has been made to the court. That may help him to come to the conclusion that we are not wrong. Even, if the Amendment were corrected as it is now admitted that it should be, the effect of the words would be that a solicitor would have to apply to the court for an extension of the eight-day period in which to apply to the court for an order under the paragraph, and further time would thus be taken, which might prejudice the interests of clients.

It is very difficult in these cases to know how to hold the balance, but we in the profession, as the hon. Gentleman is in his profession, are anxious that the public should be protected. The main interest here is rarely appreciated as it should be. In the course of their practice, solicitors are entrusted with an enormous amount of trust, if I may use the word again, and people put their reputations and vast sums of money—probably billions in the course of a year—into the custody of solicitors.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), will he look again at paragraph 4 and consider his answer? He will see that the notice may be forwarded by registered post or the recorded delivery service. Plainly, a notice sent by either of those means could be received quite late. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the sponsors of the Bill are sure that no discretion can be given in the circumstances? A notice might follow the solicitor round and take two or three days to reach him.

Sir B. Janner

I think that the actual date of service would be the date of receipt by the individual. I am almost certain that that is the position, but I shall make sure about it. Obviously, the postal service is not always as good as we should like it to be, and the notice might not be delivered for some time. I do not think that that point stands in the way here.

12.30 p.m.

Enormous sums of money come into the possession of solicitors. The House may not have realised that even if an individual without any professional qualifications were entrusted with the vast sums that pass through a solicitor's office, the amount which a solicitor charges for his services would be given readily to such an individual—even if that individual had no other work attached to his services in this connection—if he were only placed in possession as a trustee of these vast sums of money.

When one hears the sort of things that are sometimes said, even in Parliament, about solicitors and their activities one wonders how people can make such statements when, in reality, the facts are such as I have outlined.

I hope that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) will appreciate that the anxiety here is to protect the member of the public who places confidence in the solicitor who he has employed. If a prima facie case is made out that a solicitor has defaulted, not only is it the anxiety of the Law Society but also of all members of the profession that the client should be protected. It is also not readily realised that the solicitors as a whole themselves provide compensation to an affected person, and we are here concerned with the interest of the client.

I hope that, in these circumstances, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment and rely on the experience—which for many years has never been doubted—of the Law Society in dealing with these matters. The Society is not anxious to impose heavier penalties on the members of the profession. It may sometimes lean over backwards, perhaps occasionally too far, in its desire to take the steps to protect clients and the interests of the public. However, the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South will agree that the Society has vast experience of these matters.

I hope that I have explained to his satisfaction the reason which has impelled the Society to reduce the period and that he will not regard it as being anything in the nature of an attempt to be oppressive to members of the profession.

Mr. Miscampbell

I wish to return to the point which I raised in an intervention, because it may be that I have wrongly interpreted Schedule 1(4). As I read it, it will now state, in its amended form: Any requirement or notice under this Schedule shall be made in writing under the hand of such person as may be appointed by the Society for the purpose and may be served on any person either … by personal service"— That was the Amendment which we just passed and, up to that point, the provision is quite clear. It goes on: or by forwarding it by registered letter"— That is equally clear, because the person who receives it, if it is sent by registered post, must sign it personally. It continues: or by the recorded delivery service"— In that case, the person does not have to sign it. Anyone in the household can sign and accept the letter. The provision ends with the words: addressed to his last known place of business or residence". That indicates that he may or may not be there. That is why the words "last known" are included.

It may be that we have in the last line of Schedule 1(4) a situation in which, simply by sending a recorded letter which is received into the household in which the person last lived—or his last known place of business, whichever it may be—the requirements of the Bill for service could have been satisfied. This may not be the position. I do not hesitate to say that if the matter was pointed out to the Law Society it would not act upon it without ensuring service in person. However, there would appear to be an omission from the provision and I hope that the matter will be further considered. If there is no rignt for the court to give an extention, other than the eight days, if the letter should have been served within those eight days, the position I described would appear to be the case.

I make this suggestion with diffidence. I hope that I am wrong, but, since I may not be, I trust that further consideration will be given to it.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I rather think, as advised at present, that the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) is probably right. I would not wish to take a firm attitude on it, but it seems that it would be strange if, for example, the date of service to a … last known place of business or residence were other than the date of forwarding. That seems to be the grammatical effect of the words, but I may be wrong.

If one considers the substance of the matter one must look at the Schedule as a whole and not merely at subsection (4). As I read the procedure set out in the Schedule in its entirety, the first thing is that the Society requires the production of certain specified documents. The resort to the court follows only if the person who has possession or control of those documents does not comply with that requirement. If he does not do so it is open to the Society to go to the court and get an order.

Having got that order one might think that it would not even be necessary to serve a notice on him to inform him of compliance with the order, but as a greater protection the Schedule requires that a notice should be served on him to that effect—and it is at that stage that he is given, by way of even greater protection, the further right to go back to the court and say, "Please would you undo what you have done?"

In these circumstances, it does not seem necessary to provide more than the limited time which is provided in subsection (5)—eight days—because the circumstances are virtually inconceivable in which the person upon whom the notice was served would be prejudiced by his inability to make such an application after the end of those eight days when the whole of the proceeding procedure has been gone through. While I entirely accept the desire to be completely fair and impartial in this matter, I suggest that the proposal is not necessary and that the advantages might be outweighed by the delay which could arise.

This is particularly so in the case which has been mentioned, where a letter is addressed to someone's … last known place of business or residence because it might take a long time before he receives it. Then he might have the excuse for going to the court and saying that, notwithstanding everything that had gone before, he did not get it for two months and that, therefore, he should be able to reopen the whole matter.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I am not persuaded by these arguments. This is a change from the old Schedule. It is not finding fault with language which has been there for some time. The period is being brought down from 14 days to eight days. Looking through the earlier proceedings on the Bill, I find with some surprise that this is the first debate which has taken place on the provision. It was not mentioned in another place or in the previous proceedings in the House or in Committee.

The difficulties which exist cannot be put aside so lightly as the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) suggested. He is right in saying that one must look at the Schedule and bear in mind that this is the final stage in the enforcement procedure. If one looks at that enforcement procedure, it starts with a requirement by the Society to produce the documents. That requirement is just like a notice, and is dealt with in paragraph 4 of the Schedule. It is a requirement for a "notice under this Schedule". It has to be in writing, and it may be served on the person affected either by personal service, which raises no problems, or by registered post or by the recorded delivery service.

The only slight disagreement I have with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) is that it is true also of registered post that a person other than the addressee may sign acknowledging the receipt of the packet. Hon. Members have probably all had experience of this in their own homes. Anyone in the home can sign for a registered package. It is clear that once a letter has been received at the last known address and signed for as having been received there, service is completed.

That is the first requirement under paragraph 1. Let us suppose that the offending solicitor is not there. We do not need to trouble ourselves with whether he has moved to another address, because the requirement is simply that the notice shall be sent to his last known address, or whether he is on holiday or what it is. Let us say he does not get it. There is a time in the requirement. Let us say he does not produce the documents and does not comply with the requirement. That brings into operation paragraph 2.

Under paragraph 2(b), the Society then goes to the second stage and applies to the High Court. It appears from the language of paragraph 2(b) that that application could be, and I dare say often would be, made ex paste. If the solicitor has not been found, it is hardly to be imagined that the procedure under the Schedule should be defeated because it has not been possible to get personal service on him. I imagine it is envisaged that the application could be ex pate or at any rate heard without personal service on him. Then the various consequences follow, and certain documents are taken.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

If it were made ex parte and the person against whom it was made was able to prove that he had not had proper notice and so on, surely there would be an unassailable right of appeal from that order.

Mr. Bell

With respect, I do not think so. If I may continue, I think I will show that that is not the case. He will have had notice all right under the requirements of the Schedule, and there will not have been any breach of them. He gets it by post to his last known address. Then the documents are taken. The notice is served on him by the procedure that we are discussing by registered post or the recorded delivery service, and then he has eight days in which to appeal to the court. This is where the hon. and learned Member's intervention comes in. It is on this application to the court that he can have the original order set aside. That is the purpose of his application to the court.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that is in substitution for any right of appeal against an order already made, is he?

Mr. Bell

That is an awkward one. I am sure that this is an application for return of the documents. It will undoubtedly cover the same issues—inevitably. In any case, it must be intended that paragraph 5 should be his principal and praticable remedy for getting the documents back. It could surely be argued that where this express remedy for the recovery of documents exists, the courts are allowed to make any order they think fit. But that must be his exclusive remedy for the return of the documents. If he does not make his application within eight days, he is totally and finally debarred from it, even though he may not have actual knowledge of the situation.

My point here is a very simple one. Eight days without the possibility of extension is not enough. When it is being brought down from 14 days to eight, as it is in the Schedule, then, because eight days is so short a time, some possible escape clause must be left if the High Court thinks that there is an exceptional justification. The trouble about the present drafting is that it is absolute. Let us suppose that he did know about the earlier proceedings and about paragraphs 2 and 3 and then he was extremely ill, and accordingly he did not lodge his application within eight days. With the Amendment I propose, the High Court would say, "This man was knocked over by a motor car the day after he received the notice. He could not be expected to be bothering about applying to the High Court, but he applied 10 days later, which was the earliest anyone could expect him to. In those circumstances, we will enlarge the time." They cannot do that now.

If this were in the Rules of the Supreme Court, there would be an inherent jurisdiction in the court to enlarge the time in exceptional circumstances. I say "inherent": it is one of the rules. However, because it is statutory, there is no jurisdiction. It is not a case of the Law Society taking a broad and tolerant view and saying that they will not insist on the time limit. The Law Society would be quite powerless to do anything like that. This is an application to the High Court. Under the terms of the Statute, it has to be made within eight days. It would be quite useless for the High Court to say "This is an extremely hard case. It is most unfair that his application should not be heard, because we recognise that he could not reasonably make application within eight days. We do not agree wilt it, but he had no chance to apply within eight days, so we do not insist on the time limit." The court would have to say, "That may be so, but there is no power in the court to extend the time limit. His appeal cannot be heard."

I do not know how many of these absolute time limits we still have left, but there must be very few of them. It is only when it is a procedural time limit in a Statute, with no provision made for the courts to enlarge it, that we get this kind of situation. It must be extremely rare. When we are dealing with penal provisions like this, and they are penal provisions, it is quite wrong that there should not be this escape hatch, this jurisdiction in the High Court to entertain an appeal by a solicitor after the lapse of eight days.

I understand the anxiety of the Law Society to be fair to clients that has moved it to propose this change in the law by fringing down the period from 14 days to eight. I appreciate the solicitude for the interests of the client which is, I am sure, the sole reason for seeking this change—there could be no other. But here the Law Society is being really too harsh to its members in the interests of the outside public, and it falls to us to temper this enthusiasm with a little mercy for the individual solicitor who may wish to defend his honour, and professional interests and reputation—and, he may even think, his client's interests—by appealing to the High Court against the enforcement procedures that have been initiated. I ask the hon. Member to think again of this point, because I really think that he ought to accept this Amendment.

Sir B. Janner

I fully appreciate the anxiety of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) that justice should be done in all cases, but the fact is, although he may not accept this as a very strong argument, that there has been only one appeal in 15 years. Further, the point made by my hon.

Friend is substantial. There has already, obviously, been an application to the court. The court has made the order. A solicitor is a professional person, so we are not dealing with laymen, who may not know what the effect of an order is. The solicitor knows that it is an extremely serious matter for him. He has refused to produce the documents before, and the order is made. He will not be so foolish as to sit still. The hon. Member said that the solicitor might be ill, but he has someone representing him—

Sir J. Hobson

I should like to have one thing explained to me that puzzles me in this discussion. Do the powers in the Schedule generally entitle the Law Society to override the client's privilege? There was a case when I held office when, under a statutory provision, in a criminal matter possession of documents was attempted to be obtained by search warrant. The documents were subject to client's privilege. Objection was taken, but the matter was never litigated. If the powers here enable documents, including those subject to client's privilege, to be taken, what the hon. Gentleman said is correct, but if the powers here would not entitle the Law Society to seize documents, the subject not of the solicitor's but of the client's privilege, it may well be said that eight days would be too short—not for the solicitor to deal with the matter, but for the solicitor and the client to deal with the matter, because it would be the client's privilege that would be involved. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would clear that point.

Sir B. Janner

I do not know exactly what documents can be taken but I assume that any document which the Law Society considers to be necessary for the purpose of investigating a complaint that has been made can be taken. They might be client's privilege, but this is the case where client's privilege will have been abused. The whole purpose of this exercise is to protect the client who himself would probably raised the issue, or would have raised the issue for that purpose. I cannot see what privilege a client would claim in those circumstances—

Sir J. Hobson

There might be two clients, one of whom the solicitor had assisted to the detriment of the other.

Sir B. Janner

I am not sure even of that. If there were conflicting interests between two clients, one would hardly, from the practical point of view, have the matter dealt with in the same office. I think we would find that it would be to the interest of both clients that this step should be taken if it became necessary.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

If the Law Society invoked powers to seize papers in the possession of a recalcitrant solicitor, would it not be in exactly the same position vis-à-vis the client as that solicitor was? In other words, would not the Law Society be proceeding in the same way as the solicitor, and the client therefore be able to claim the documents he needed from the Law Society in the same way as from the solicitor?

Sir B. Janner

I rather thought that would be the position—for the Law Society to take possession of such documents as it considered necessary for the purpose of protecting not only that client but all the solicitor's clients. So the question would not arise.

I would point out to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South that there is the first application. The person affected would know that he was required to hand over the documents. He would not wait for the time to expire—

Mr. Ronald Bell

The hon. Gentleman says that the person affected would not know, but that implies actual knowledge. The hon. Member will bear in mind that any requirement or notice under paragraph 4 can be served on the solicitor not just in person but by one of the postal methods. He therefore might not have actual knowledge at all.

I know that the hon. Gentleman will also deal with the other point I made that a man might be quite ill. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the sad words of Cesare Borgia—and I am sorry to mention him here—who said that he had provided for every contingency except the one that actually happened; namely, his own illness on the critical day.

1.0 p.m.

Sir B. Janner

The hon. Gentleman will forgive my saying that he is dealing with hypothetical cases which, in the view of one who practises in the law, not in his elevated profession but in the humbler branch, could not arise in any conceivable circumstances. If a person is charged with having defaulted to the extent that his books and documents are being taken, he will certainly have someone in the office, or, if a married man, his wife, or someone, who will see to it that if it is necessary to appeal, the appeal will be lodged.

This is a matter of lodging the appeal within eight days, and the court would then be in a position to adjourn the matter, if it so wished. It would have to give the decision within eight days. The period of 14 days has been reduced to eight days because of the practical experience of those who have to deal with these matters and who have concluded that detriment to the client can arise unless the period is reduced. This is not being done out of a venomous or sadistic desire, but in the hope of avoiding what experience has shown to be possibly disastrous or detrimental to the interests of the client. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South will appreciate that the Law Society is the professional body of solicitors and, consequently, has to balance the interests of both the solicitors and those who are affected.

I should also make it clear that the period of eight days runs from the day on which the notice would ordinarily be received through the post. That is the legal position in respect of a service. I hope that in those circumstances the hon. Gentleman will realise that this has been the practice for many years and that there has been no agitation on the part of the solicitors themselves for the position to be altered.

Mr. Bell

What does the hon. Gentleman mean when he says that there has been no agitation on the part of the solicitors themselves for the position to be altered? It is the Bill which is altering the position. I would not have moved the Amendment if the period had been 14 days. It is the change to eight days which stimulates the Amendment.

Sir B. Janner

This is not the first day on which the Bill has been debated and if there had been any agitation or anxiety among solicitors, that would have been apparent from the day when the Bill had its First Reading and was available not only here, but to the various branches of the Law Society. So far as I know, there has been no objection.

In those circumstances and realising that the profession itself has not raised any objection to the proposal and that those who have considered the Bill from the highest quarters downwards have not raised an objection, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take that into account and accordingly withdraw his Amendment.

The Minister without Portfolio (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I do not want to embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), but one point has occurred to me arising out of the discussion and perhaps in the interest of clarity my hon. Friend will clear it up. Am I right in thinking that if circumstances arise in which effect is given to the provisions of the Schedule and the papers of a solicitor who is alleged to have committed an offence are taken by the Law Society, any client who wishes to obtain such papers from the Law Society will be able to do so?

Sir B. Janner

I am sorry, but I do not quite understand what point my hon. Friend is making. As I understand, he is asking whether if the Law Society has taken the documents, any client—ob-viously, a client against whom the allegation is made cannot—

Sir Eric Fletcher

I am talking about the clients of a solicitor alleged to have committed an offence and when the Law Society thinks it quite proper, in the interests of one or other client of that solicitor, to take certain documents and in the course of doing so quite properly takes documents belonging to some other client who would, presumably, be interested in having his affairs conducted by some other solicitor with despatch. What I am asking is for an assurance, which I imagine is quite easy to give, that in those circumstances any client on application to the Law Society would be able to get his papers and deal with them as he wished.

Sir B. Janner

I am informed that the client could apply within eight days of the time within which the appeal could be made, so that the client is protected and the Law Society would then hand over the papers to him.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Did the hon. Gentleman say within eight days? It seems to be very harsh if a client is to be limited to eight days within which to apply to get his own papers. Is the hon. Gentleman sure that he is not making some confusion?

Sir B. Janner

Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I meant any time after the eight days. I am sorry if I said anything different.

Mr. Bell

I thought that it may have been inadvertent, but the hon. Gentleman did say within the eight days. I think that he means after the period of eight days.

Sir B. Janner


Mr. Bell

Here, again. I am sorry to have to express my disappointment. Some of my other Amendments were of a drafting or even a stylistic character, but this is an Amendment of substance and relates to a change which is being introduced by the Bill, a change very much to the disadvantage of the individual solicitor. Of course, I recognise that the Law Society is the professional association of solicitors, but, as I have said before, it is being extremely rigorous with its members in the interests of the public and of clients and it is possible that on this occasion its enthusiasm has gone too far.

I cannot find it in me to believe that it is right that we should consent to this period being reduced from 14 to eight days with absolutely no discretion in anyone to enlarge it for any reason whatever, so that this would be the last opportunity for a solicitor to appeal. I find that inexplicably harsh. I cannot think of any eight-day period with no escape clause.

The hon. Gentleman says that mine is the first voice which has been raised against the proposal, but, as I pointed out, this has not been mentioned in any of the earlier debates on the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is rather misleading himself when he says that anyone with an objection would have raised it when the Bill was published. I do not think that that is so. A solicitor may have had time to read through the Bill when published, but would he prick up a little change like this, which has not been noticed in the debates in the other place and which was not noticed in Standing Committee when hon. Members were engaged in the scrutiny of the Bill?

Would a solicitor say, "One day I might find myself in the situation of a defaulting solicitor and I think that I would like to have more than eight days in which to lodge my appeal"? That is not the way in which people's minds work. They do not think of themselves as being in such a situation. I do not think that a solicitor would decide to write to the Law Society about such a matter complaining that he should have more than eight days and that there is a dreadful risk of being knocked over by a bus on the wrong day with no one having jurisdiction to let him through and present his appeal to the High Court. I am encouraged by hopeful signs I see opposite.

As I said, the other Amendments were moved in a spirit of improvement. This one I regard as being to do with substantial justice, and I think an individual member of the Law Society could be very harshly treated under this. I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), will be advised that those who originally sponsored the Bill see no indefeasible objection to what is proposed. It will not hurt the Bill at all, but will merely give to the High Court the discretion we think it ought to have. The reforming changes in the Bill and in the Schedule will be unaffected.

Commander Courtney

On a point of order. I have felt at times during this interesting debate that I was at Wimbledon. Would it be for the convenience of the House, and perhaps save a lot of shoe leather for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), if such learned advisers of his as are available could go to the Box? Is there any rule of the House which debars such normality? I must say the Wimbledon parallel occurs very strongly to me.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Forgetting the reference to Wimbledon, I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised a point of order.

Commander Courtney

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, could I, without referring to any sporting activities, ask whether there is a rule of the House which debars learned advisers, available to hon. Gentlemen opposite, from being more conveniently situated to them, by being in the Box over there?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The answer is that it is impossible to accede to the request of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and remove the advisers from their present position to the place that he would like them to be.

Sir Eric Fletcher

On that point of order. I was wondering whether this is a point worth considering. There are other occasions, when a Private Member's Bill is under discussion in the House, and when what is normally called the Box—I imagine it has some other official designation—is empty. It might certainly be for the convenience of those in charge of the Measure in the House to have the most convenient access to those advisers responsible for promoting the Bill. I wonder whether you would be good enough, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to consider, as the hon. and gallant Member has inquired, whether there is any rule of the House which forbids this, and whether it is a matter within the discretion of Mr. Speaker or the Serjeant at Arms? There is also the question whether the convenience of the House itself might not be served if some facilities of this kind were available in connection with Private Members' Bills on Fridays.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope that the House will not misunderstand me. I am not commenting upon the merits or otherwise of the suggestion. There is quite a lot in what has been submitted, but I have no powers to change the rules or customs of the House on an ad hoc decision. This might be a matter that could be considered some time by the Select Committee on Procedure, or by the House itself.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Bell

I had reached the conclusion of my remarks and I sat down because I had the impression that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West was ready to give me the answer which he had been indicating by various cryptic signs was formulating in his mind. If that is the case I gladly sit down. If the process has not yet finalised I would not want to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar.

Sir B. Janner

The indication I gave to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) was that it would, perhaps, be useful if he kept on speaking a little longer. I think that the point which has been made this morning, with regard to the assistance given by those who are most intimately concerned with the matter, is extremely important because, obviously, a private Member who is endeavouring to assist such a society as the Law Society is bound to seek its advice on points which he cannot necessarily have at his finger tips, in the same way as the Government have a Department available to turn to in respect of matters which are raised in the course of a debate, and in respect of which the Minister cannot commit himself without having its assistance.

I think that at the moment it would be of some assistance if we could hear what the Government's views would be on such a matter, so that we may come to a decision which will meet with everyone's desires.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

May I just say a word about the point raised in an intervention, and referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson)? The point is as to the rights of a third party to papers which are his own papers, and which are in the custody of a solicitor to whom this procedure applies. It is apparently dealt with by paragraph 5 of the Schedule, which gives the Society the right, in circumstances there set out, to ascertain the person to whom the documents belong and to deal with those documents in accordance with the directions of that person.

It gives the Society the right, in those circumstances, to make copies from the documents. I think that it will probably generally be agreed that that, taken on its own, is not a satisfactory solution, because it remains entirely within the discretion of the Society, as I read the paragraph, as to what it will do in those circumstances. Unless there is some other power, not apparently appearing from the Schedule itself, which would enable such a person to apply to the court to get his own documents back, there seems to be a case for the insertion of such a power.

Unfortunately, I do not think that the Amendment which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) is moving, will cover that case. I suggest before the Bill finally passes into the law, it might be considered whether there is any way of making provision to ensure such a person does have the right, which I think he ought to have.

Sir Eric Fletcher

It will be appreciated that in a matter of this kind the Government are completely neutral. This is a Private Member's Bill and the Government's main desire is that the Bill should pass into law. With regard to these Amendments, the House has to weigh in the balance the necessity of doing justice to a solicitor alleged to be defaulting, on the one hand, and, on the other, to preserve the right of any client of that solicitor alleged to be defaulting who may be affected.

I understand that conflict arises in this way. It should be open to the solicitor concerned to make an application to the High Court within a short time. If that time is unduly lengthened under Regulation 11 or, I suppose, Regulation 5 the period within which it would be open to a client whose interests are affected to apply would be changed because, I suppose, the Law Society would not feel prepared to hand over any papers to a client until the time available for an application to the High Court by the solicitor had expired.

On the other hand, since this is a change from the existing practice, it seems to me that this is entirely a matter for the House to decide on its merits. Like the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), I would, above all, hope that we can avoid a Division, because if there were to be a Division I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West would be the first to appreciate that unless the number of hon. Members taking part in the Division reached a certain minimum number—which is by no means certain on this occasion—the House would automatically be counted out and the Bill would lapse. In my view, that would be the most disastrous of all consequences.

It might well be that my hon. Friend would think that, rather than risk that undesirable event happening, the better course would be to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I am obliged to the Minister without Portfolio for what he has said. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House have had an opportunity of considering what would be the best course to take. The Minister said that it is extremely desirable that there should not be any clash on detailed Amendments which could imperil the Bill. I am sure that no hon. Member on either side of the House intends to do anything to imperil the Bill.

I understand that this difficulty, which we all recognise exists, could be resolved by agreement and if I were to withdraw the Amendment and to move, with your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, a manuscript Amendment. If that is acceptable to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as a matter of procedure, I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment and to move a manuscript Amendment which I have handed to you, namely, in Schedule 1, page 18, line 40, after "Within" to leave out "eight" and insert "fourteen".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The occupant of the Chair does not usually accept manuscript Amendments unless he is satisfied that they commend themselves clearly to both sides of the House. I understand that that is the case today. Is it your pleasure that the Amendment be withdrawn?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Amendment proposed as a manuscript Amendment, in Schedule 1, page 18, line 40, after "Within" to leave out "eight" and insert "fourteen".[Interruption.]

This is the difficulty about manuscript Amendments. It is pointed out to me by the Clerk that those interested in the manuscript Amendment will have to deal with the matter in some other way. We were dealing with an Amendment to insert words after the word "after". The manuscript Amendment proposes to insert "fourteen" after the word "Within", which is two words before "after". The manuscript Amendment therefore proposes that we should go back in the Bill.

Sir Eric Fletcher

May I offer to help you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on a highly technical point? I understand that it is not open to us under the rules of order to insert any words before the word "days" in line 4 of page 18 because we have withdrawn an Amendment to insert some words after the word "days". Therefore, we cannot change the word "eight" to "fourteen", and we can secure the result which we all desire only by adding words after "days".

I am sure that it would not be your wish, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or the wish of any hon. Member, that the clear desire of Members on both sides of the House should be frustrated by technical points of order. Therefore, I should like to suggest for your consideration that the only way in which, within the rules of order, we can secure the result that we all desire is by adding words after "days".

Perhaps the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) would be willing to move an Amendment to insert after "days" the words "or a further six days". Paragraph (5) of the First Schedule would then read: Within eight days or a further six days", making 14 days in all.

I appreciate that this would be inelegant, but if the House has to choose between having its wishes frustrated by a technicality, on the one hand, and inelegance, on the other, I would prefer inelegance.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Amendment which we disposed of just now came after the word "after". This is our technical problem.

Mr. Ronald Bell

That was a mere slip.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I cannot interpret the rules of order. I am bound by them. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) is learned in the law, and he must know that that is true.

Mr. Bell

Has it not been the practice of the Chair to take account of slips, whether made by printers or otherwise? There is a printers' error in one of my later Amendments of which the Chair has been officially informed and of which, I think, the Chair will take account, because it would be wrong if the proceedings of the House were to be impeded by a printers' error or an autographic error.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Chair is bound by the rules of order. I cannot follow Shakespeare and do a little wrong to do a great right. I must abide by the rules of order.

Sir Eric Fletcher

On a point of order. You said a moment ago, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we had reached the word "after". With respect, the word "after" does no: appear in line 4.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

We are talking about line 40.

Sir B. Janner

May I make this suggestion in trying to overcome the point, which we fully appreciate is a difficult point? Could we insert after Within eight days after the service of a notice under paragraph (3) of this Schedule the words or a further six days on an application to the court"?

Mr. Bell

I think that to put in line 41 the words or within a further six days thereafter would meet our procedural difficulty and would do what we all want to do. It would perhaps be open to their much maligned Lordships in another place to correct the wording. May I therefore ask leave to move a manuscript Amendment: In Schedule 1, page 18, line 41, after "Schedule" to insert: or within a further six days thereafter"?

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am grateful for the ingenuity of hon. Members, on both sides, in solving this technical problam. It will be solved if we follow the course which both hon. Members have suggested.

Amendment proposed: In Schedule 1, page 18, line 41, after "Schedule" insert: or within a further six days".

Mr. Ronald Bell

"thereafter" should be added, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry. This is a classic illustration of the difficulty of manuscript Amendments.

Amendment proposed: In page 18, line 41, after "Schedule", insert: or within a further six days thereafter"—[Mr. Bell.]

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to move, in page 18, line 43, to leave out "those" and to insert: all or any of the documents referred to in the notice and any other document or documents which the applicant alleges should have been referred to in that notice. It is comforting to get back to an Amendment which is on the Notice Paper. The Amendment need not detain us long. It is of a drafting character and it is moved in the hope that it will improve and clarify the sense of the Bill.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

So far from improving and clarifying paragraph 5, the Amendment would make it obscure, because it would lead to what the hon. Member would probably call unrelated documents. He should, I think, omit "documents" as well as "those".

Mr. Bell

At this stage of the proceedings, I am prepared to believe anything. Before we get down to little difficulties like that, however, it might be well to develop the substance of the matter and see where I get with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner). If I have any success with him, it may be that I will have success with Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Let us cross our bridges when we come to them.

My objection to paragraph 5, in line 43, is that "those" does not seem to relate to anything. It is obviously one of these nostalgic "thoses" which goes back about three paragraphs to paragraph 1, which is a rather long way for any word to have to go back to its antecedents. It leaves open to a good deal of doubt what "those documents" means.

On an earlier Amendment of mine, we had a discussion to try to clarify what should go in the notice. I wanted a list of documents to be included in the notice, and we were left with "particulars". Exactly what "particulars" means, I am never sure. It ought to mean everything, but I and others in the law know that when one has particulars, one then asks for further and better particulars, which suggests that particulars are not everything.

It seemed to me that if there is to be a notice, the contents of which have not been clearly defined and which now will not be clearly defined, in the power to order the return of the documents one should at least try to reach some kind of precision.

Let us assume that the solicitor has had his documents impounded. That must be the starting point. He then has served upon him a notice under paragraph 3. The notice is in the form of listing documents, some individually, some by series by reference to clients. Bearing in mind that that notice will be in some way the solicitor's receipt for the things that are taken from him, one has to remember that he goes upon his appeal procedure. Let us say that he wins his appeal, because unless he does my Amendment does not matter. The question of ordering the return of the documents or some of them arises.

Suppose that there are documents which were taken by the Society and which are not mentioned in the notice. Under the appeal procedure of paragraph 5, is the solicitor entitled to ask for their return? That is really the point. Had my first Amendment been accepted and had it meant all that I hoped it meant, this Amendment would not have been important; but because the earlier Amendment was not accepted, this one is necessary. A solicitor might say that 16 documents were listed in the notice but that another four documents which were not named in the notice were also taken and that he wants the return of all 20. Is that within the jurisdiction of the court? My Amendment would make it clear that it was. I believe that the present wording leaves it obscure and doubtful.

I hope that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) will feel that he should accept the Amendment.

Sir B. Janner

I have again to point out to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) that if he wanted to add the new words they should come after "those documents" and not after "those". Apart from that grammatical correction, paragraph 5, except for the words or from whose premises they were taken, as the case may be", which are new in the Bill, have been used for the last 24 years, since the passing of the Solicitors Act, 1941. No criticism has at any time been made on the construction of the wording, nor has the paragraph been challenged in that respect.

The Law Society is of the opinion—and it seems to me that it is correct—that the Amendment is unnecessary and that what the hon. Member wants is already provided for. So that we may make further progress in this matter, and particularly as we have met the hon. Member on an important matter of substance, I hope that he will agree to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Bell

I am sorry, but I did not hear the hon. Member's concluding words.

Sir B. Janner

I said that I hoped that the hon. Member would see his way to withdraw the Amendment. I said, if I may repeat it, that what the hon. Member really wants is actually being done in practice. I do not want to have further Amendments, nor does the Law Society, which would encumber the Bill.

Mr. Bell

I asked for the repetition because I thought I heard the hon. Member say that in view of all this he would accept the Amendment, but that was not so: he was asking me to withdraw it. Never mind, he has been very receptive; and we have made some improvement to the Bill, I think. I do not in any way withdraw from my view that what I am proposing would be a good thing to clear up an ambiguity. At the same time, I have no desire to hold up the Bill unduly, as I said before. I think that the hon. Member has been very fair and helpful, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to move, in page 19, line 19, after "redirection" to insert: not being postal packets addressed to the solicitor at his private residence". The object of this Amendment is self-evident. This relates to the power of redirection which the Law Society is given under the Schedule. It is in very wide terms indeed at the moment, terms so wide as really to make me feel they could be oppressive. If a redirection order is made in respect of a solicitor's place of business no one can complain. If it is made to cover also ordinary letters going to his private residence then I think that this is becoming a little hard.

I see that this leaves a loophole in an important procedure. It will not be the only loophole in procedures. In the course of procedure we have to balance between the reasonable rights and liberties of the individual and the enforcement of the law in the interests of other people. Somehow, I find it a little equivocal to think that, because a solicitor has done something which is not, I suppose, a criminal offence, but which has attracted the attention of the Law Society in its protection of the interests of clients, and its rigorous procedure has been gone through, it should also be entitled to have an order for the redirection of all post, not merely that from the place of business of the solicitor, but also his ordinary private personal letters, all of which the Society would be fully entitled to open, and, indeed, would open, to see what they were.

Of course, it would, I imagine, send them back to him—any personal family correspondence; but it would have opened them first. I think that this is going too far, and that somebody else's interest may have to be considered at this point. I would, therefore, ask the hon. Member if it would not feel it possible to accept this Amendment.

Mr. Grant

I would be glad if my hon. Friend would clarify the position which would arise if the solicitor, as might very well be very likely in cases such as this, practised from his own home. How would that be?

Mr. Bell

That is exactly the problem I have had in mind. It is a real one. Quite frankly, I do not think that there is any answer to it. At the same time, there is no answer to my point, either. If all the personal letters are to be taken to the Law Society and examined, and so on, that is rather harsh, also. We have a clash here between the interests of the solicitor and the interests of the client.

My point is that this is a procedure in addition to and outside of the ordinary criminal law of the land; it is a very special procedure. I do not think that one should give overriding and comprehensive priority outside criminal jurisdiction to third party interests. I think that one has to trim the law to take account of people's personal rights, also.

1.45 p.m.

Sir B. Janner

I suppose that everybody in the House would regard the suggestion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) as being on the face of it something which should be considered. I am sorry that the view of the Law Society in this matter differs from his, because it put this paragraph in as being both reasonable and necessary in practice. The Society objects to limiting words being inserted in the paragraph, as the court, in making any order, will naturally take into account all the circumstances of the particular application, and the court is not going to be influenced by anything in the nature of prejudice, or which might prejudice the solicitor concerned.

As the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) has already explained, the solicitor may have an office at his residence, and, consequently, it would be difficult to distinguish between what is his residence and what is his professional place of business. The profession, as the hon. Member knows, is a responsible one, and those who are in charge of matters in the Law Society are mainly professional people. They are certainly professional in the sense that they are carrying out the duties of an office which requires the utmost secrecy. If there come to them letters which contain information which is extraneous to the purpose of their investigation, they are likely to—indeed, I would say with certainty they would—return immediately those letters to the individual concerned, without themselves taking any note of the content of those letters.

Of course, the interests of the clients are paramount, and not the interests of the solicitor against whom the allegation is made. I am sure that the hon. Member, on reflection, will realise that difficulties could arise if packets which are of importance to the investigation were sent to another address and were never obtainable by the investigating authority.

I would again emphasise that the court, in these circumstances, would take this into consideration. I am perfectly certain of that. I hope that in these circumstances the hon. Member will not press his Amendment.

Mr. Grant

I am sure that practising solicitors and all solicitors in the House will appreciate the keenness with which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) has sought to protect their interests. I hope that he will appreciate that there has been a desire of hon. Members here who are solicitors, as well as of the Law Society, to put the interests of the public first. I myself thought that this Amendment my hon. Friend proposes is another example along those lines.

In agreement with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), I very much hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the Amendment, because it creates far too big a loophole in the procedure. We must realise, to get this in perspective, that we are concerned here with an infinitesimally small section of the profession. In the last 15 years only one notice has been served.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I think that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) will agree that that was an appeal notice under paragraph 5. I think that there have been a good many more of the others.

Mr. Grant

I appreciate that. Nevertheless, I am right in saying that this undoubtedly affects only a very tiny section of the profession. If my hon. Friend's Amendment is accepted, the loophole will be enormous. All that the solicitor involved will have to do is instruct people who might send him correspondence to direct it to his home address. Such a loophole could utterly defeat the purpose of the Bill, which embodies the desire of all solicitors and the Law Society that the interests of the client should be protected.

I hope that my hon. Friend, as a member of the Bar and whose enthusiasm on behalf of my profession we all appreciate, will accept that we in that profession are concerned with the public interest in this case and that he will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

While I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), there is a point here which rather worries me and which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) will be able to clarify. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) made reference to what happens to the postal packets if they have been taken by the Law Society. That induced me to look at the Schedule to see whether I could see the answer.

There are certain paragraphs of the Schedule, from paragraph 10 onwards, which give certain rights to the Law Society to take possession of certain monies and if this applies in relation to paragraph 8 then that supports the view that the Amendment should not be accepted because, otherwise, it would be so easy for money to be sent to a solicitor's private residence and thus become unavailable to the Law Society to make use of for the benefit of those who may have been defrauded by that solicitor.

Paragraph 9 says: In any case where the Society has taken possession of documents under paragraph 1 of this Schedule and has not been required to return them by virtue of paragraph 5 thereof the following paragraphs shall apply … It would seem that paragraphs 10 and after apply only to circumstances in which the Society is required to produce certain documents under paragraph 1. Possibly an order has been made under paragraph 2. But, as far as I can see, these provisions do not apply, certainly in terms, to what happens after an order has been made under paragraph 8.

If that is the case—and I hope that I am wrong—it would seem that the only consequence of an order being made under paragraph 8 is that the postal packets concerned are placed in the custody of the Law Society with apparently no right of doing anything with them except to keep them in its custody. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into this matter and explain, if I am wrong, why I am wrong, as I hope that I am.

Sir B. Janner

The answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) is that it is not beyond the power of the court, if an application is made to it, to order these postal packets to be returned to the solicitor concerned. If the postal packets were not returned by the Law Society I understand that application could be made to the court.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Perhaps my hon. Friend is misunderstanding me. I hope that the provisions of the Schedule are wider and give the Law Society greater powers than at the moment they appear to do. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into that and see whether the rather narrow construction which at the moment appears applicable under paragraph 8 is really appropriate.

Mr. Ronald Bell

On this occasion I feel persuaded by the arguments. I am, of course, as are all hon. Members, unhappy about the situation where an order of this kind applies to a private resident, including his personal post. I understand the answer to that feeling is that this is anyway an unhappy situation which presumably is extremely rare and that there is no way of dealing with it except by unhappy measures. Perhaps I realised that in putting down this Amendment. I did not quite like the provision and I hoped that it might be a little less difficult than has proved possible to meet the point.

In view of what has been said, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I beg to ask leave to move a manuscript Amendment which is consequential on the manuscript Amendment which has earlier been accepted and incorporated in the Bill, Mr. Speaker. I think that you, Sir, have a manuscript copy.

Mr. Speaker

I accept the Amendment.

Mr. Bell

I beg to move, in page 20, line 4, to leave out "eight" and to insert "fourteen".

I do not think I need say anything about it, Mr. Speaker.

Amendment agreed to.

1.58 p.m.

Sir B. Janner

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank the House for the manner in which it has accepted the Bill and add how much we are obliged to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) for the manner in which he has dealt with the various points he had in mind, for the help he has given to the House in expediting the Bill's progress. We are always anxious in this House to see to it that every point of view is closely examined and we have been helped to certain conclusions in respect of some of the matters today.

This Bill was given a formal Second Reading—there was no discussion at that stage. In the circumstances, perhaps the House will forgive me if I make reference to some of the Clauses, as it is proper that the House should know from the sponsors what is the purpose of the Bill. In Committee upstairs, discussion was virtually confined to Clause 1, in regard to the education and training of prospective solicitors, and Clause 8, with regard to the interest earned on clients' money.

I should accordingly like to refer to the more important provisions of the Bill, which were fully debated in another place. As the House knows, the Bill has the approval of the Government; the Lord Chancellor and the Master of the Rolls have examined its provisions, and eminent judges and other lawyers also have been engaged in examining it. The main purpose of the Bill has been readily accepted.

This main purpose is to keep the statutory law governing solicitors up to date in these fast-changing times in which we live. No other profession is so regulated by statutory provision, in the interests of the public, as is that of solicitor.

It is not readily understood throughout the country—and sometimes in this House—solicitors carry a tremendous responsibility on behalf of their clients. They have in their custody enormous sums of money—I suppose, more than any other group of individuals—and they are custodians of vast assets which are placed in their hands. It is remarkable that the amount of defalcation on the part of those who have these vast sums of money in their hands is so small. The public do not realise this, and it is time that they did. They often talk about solicitors charging exorbitant fees, and so on; I wonder how many of them, if they placed £1 million or £500,000 in the hands of an individual to look after for a period of six months, 12 months, or longer, would quibble about paying a fee very much greater than that which a solicitor is entitled to receive in accordance with the rules for the services which he renders.

I am certain that if the public realised this they would see that the profession plays an enormous part in guarding the interests of the public—both individuals and groups—not only from the point of view of advice, which is highly important, but also from the point of view of confidence and security. These are important matters—much more important than is realised. Most people who understand the position agree that that is so. Apart from one small Amendment made in 1959 no legislation concerning solicitors has been passed since the Solicitors Act, 1957—a consolidating Measure following the amending Act of 1956.

Clause 1 gives a wide regulation-making power to the Law Society so as to admit of regulations being made for the education and training of prospective solicitors to cover not only the existing or any other system of service under articles but also possible alternatives. Such an alternative might be a system which is at present under consideration by a committee of the Law Society, set up to examine the training of prospective solicitors, whereby graduates with a law degree would, instead of serving as articled clerks, have a year's postgraduate practical training at the university and then attend at the College of Law and sit for their final examination.

On passing his final examination the prospective solicitor would be admitted as a solicitor, but if he wished to go into private practice he would be granted a limited certificate for three years and generally would not be allowed to hold or receive clients' money during that time without the permission of the Society. Few solicitors in fact practise on their own account in the first few years after qualifying nowadays, but there is nothing to prevent their doing so. More than half the entrants into the profession in these days hold university degrees and have accordingly only to serve two-and-a-half years' articles—and in certain circumstances only two years—instead of the full five years before admission, and their office experience is thus often somewhat limited.

When I took my articles, which was many years ago, five years was the period during which a person had to be articled unless he has a university degree in arts or in law, when the period was reduced to three years. Today the period may come right down to two years, and it is extremely important that the individual should be trained not only in the knowledge and in the practice of the law, so that he can be in a position to carry out his duties as a solicitor in a proper manner.

The House will be interested to know that, as was indicated in Committee, the young man or woman of humble means who nowadays wishes to enter the profession should find no difficulty in obtaining a grant from his or her local authority, based on a means test, to cover the expense of the compulsory attendance at the Society's College of Law or an approved law school to read for Part I of the Final Examination, while, even as regards voluntary attendance to study Part II of the examination—and the examination is also different from what it was years ago; there used to be an Intermediate and a Final Examination but now there is a Final Examination which is divided into two parts—grants are so made by the local authorities in the great majority of cases. Furthermore, it is no longer the general practice for a solicitor to charge an articled clerk a premium, which is not paid back. It has become the exception, and in fact articled clerks are normally paid a small salary.

I next refer to Clause 5, which amends Section 11 of the 1957 Act so as to give the Law Society wider scope for the application of the practising certificate fee for the purposes of the Society, as under present-day conditions the scope is too narrow to permit the Society to apply the fee to its many statutory and extra-statutory activities for the benefit of the public and solicitors generally. However, provision is still to be retained whereby the Master of the Rolls, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice can keep a watchful eye on the application of the fees.

While talking of practising certificate fees I should mention the increase, under Schedule 2, in the maximum amount of the fee that can be required of a solicitor. In a time of continued inflation, from which the Society is no more immune than any other professional or business organisation, the present maximum of £5 per annum under Section 11(1) of the 1957 Act is quite inadequate. This maximum is accordingly raised to £20 by the Bill. I understand that the Law Society has no immediate intention of requesting the maximum; this somewhat high figure is taken so as to avoid the necessity of coming back to Parliament whenever there is need to increase the fee payable. Any increase of the fee up to the maximum requires the approval of the Master of the Rolls and the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, or one of the two latter if there is a difference between them.

Clause 8 gave rise, on an Amendment tabled in Committee, to a good deal of discussion. This Clause has been included in the Bill to overcome the difficulty for solicitors created by the judgment of the House of Lords in the case of Brown v. Commissioners of Inland Revenue That House decided that interest earned in a bank on moneys in a solicitor's general client deposit account belongs to each of the clients whose money is in that account, however small the amount, and that the solicitor is not entitled, without the express consent of the clients, to retain such interest towards his office expenses. While solicitors accept the principle of his decision, it is well-nigh impossible, in practice, to give effect to it. The Clause, with the rules to be made by the Council thereunder—of which a draft has already been approved by the Master of the Rolls, the approving authority under Section 29 of the 1957 Act—is considered to be the best solution to the difficulty.

The effect of the Clause and the rules will be that a solicitor will in future where, in fairness to the client, interest should be earned for him, have either to pay the client's money which he receives into a deposit account in the name of the client and credit the client with the interest, or himself pay to the client the interest which would have accrued if the money had been put on deposit. Except in such cases, the solicitor can pay the money he receives from a client into a general client deposit account and be entitled to the interest. Under the Clause, all this is to be without prejudice to any written arrangement there may be between the solicitor and his client.

I should also draw attention to Clause 9, which amends Section 30 of the Principal Act. That Section requires a solicitor to deliver annually to the Law Society what is termed "an accountant's certificate" that he, the accountant, has examined the books and accounts of the solicitor and is satisfied, from such an examination, that the solicitor has complied with rules as to the keeping of client's accounts. Under the Clause, the accountant's certificate is in future to be referred to as "an accountant's report".

The proposal giving rise to this Amendment originated from and is strongly favoured by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. The reasoning behind the proposal is that the certificate certifies the facts, whereas the accountant's report under Section 30 is in concept and fact a report, in that, among other things, it includes the opinion of the accountant. Accordingly, it is said, the use of the word "certificate" gives a false impression both to the accountancy profession and to the public. The Law Society proposed to accept this and that the necessary amendment should be made to the Section.

Clause 10 to 13 provide for greater control to be given to the Society and, hence, greater protection to the public, by including control over moneys in the hands of solicitors as well as over the books, accounts and papers in their hands. Such control can in future be exercised not only in the case of the dishonest solicitor under Section 31 of the principal Act, but as regards solicitors who show undue delay in dealing with particular matters or solicitors practising on their own who, for example, are patients under the Mental Health, Act, 1959.

The personal representatives of certain solicitors are also to be subject to the similar control of the Society. Again, under Clause 14, further control is given to the Society by taking away from the personal representatives of the solicitor practising on his own account immediately before his death the right to operate certain banking accounts of the solicitors and vesting the right in the Society. The right becomes exercisable immediately on the death of the solicitor, whereas personal representatives could operate the accounts only when a grant had been obtained. Without this right, the Society would have little control over the personal representatives and the Clause will, accordingly, be of benefit to the public. I might mention that the Committee of London Clearing Bankers approves the Clause.

Clause 15 enables the Society to make grants out of the Solicitors' Compensation Fund in cases where a solicitor is unable to account for money due to persons in connection with his practice or with any trust of which he is trustee, and hardship occurs. At present, under Section 32 of the Act, grants can be made only in the case of victims of the dishonest solicitor. The compensation fund consists entirely of contributions made by solicitors. The fund has, in recent years, occasionally only just succeeded in meeting claims in one or two cases of large frauds. It is for this reason that Clause 16 has been included in the Bill to enable the Society to impose a new special levy up to a maximum of £50 on every practising solicitor who handles clients' moneys. I am assured by the Society that it is not the intention to impose this levy unless and until need arises, but it is essential to have the power in reserve.

Clause 18 amends, in certain respects, Section 38 of the principal Act. That Section relates to the control and employment of clerks who are or were clerks to solicitors but not themselves solicitors. The first Amendment I would mention is to paragraph (a) of subsection 1. That paragraph provides that where a clerk is convicted of larceny, embezzlement or fraudulent conversion or any other criminal offence in respect of any money or property belonging to or held or controlled by the solicitor by whom he is or was employed or any client of that solicitor, an application may be made to the disciplinary committee by or on behalf of the Society with respect to the future employment of the clerk by a solicitor in his practice. Experience has shown that paragraph (a,i) is too narrowly drawn, especially as it specifies only three offences. It would, however, be extremely difficult to list all the offences the Society has in mind and the circumstances supporting them. Paragraph (a) has accordingly been rewritten, tying the criminal offence to dishonesty and not limiting the offences to a solicitor's practice. The second amendment in Clause 18 to Section 38 is in subsection (2). This provides a new subsection (2A) in Section 38. Subsection (2) of that Section enables the disciplinary committee to make an order forbidding any solicitor, without the permission of the Society, to employ or remunerate a former solicitor's clerk convicted of a crime specified in Section 38. While at present the Society will always grant consent in proper cases under the subsection for the clerk to be employed within the profession, the stigma of the original order remains with the clerk until the end of his life, because the original order of the disciplinary committee cannot be revoked.

He is, therefore, in an even worse condition than a struck-off solicitor who is able to apply for restoration of his name to the roll. This situation has given rise to a good deal of criticism from, amongst others, Her Majesty's judges. The new subsection (2A) accordingly gives the disciplinary committee power, on the application of the society or the clerk, to revoke by a subsequent order the order originally made by them.

I am sorry if I have kept the House longer than I would normally have done on a Third Reading, but I thought, and the Law Society thought, that it was important that these matters should be made clear on the Third Reading, so that this information at least should be available on record.

2.19 p.m.

Mr. Miscampbell

I intervene only briefly in this last stage of the Bill. I do not wish to deal with the many technical points about solicitors and their professional relationship. I think that it would be worth while for someone who is not a solicitor to comment on Clause 8. I do so to encourage the Law Society, when it comes finally to decide on the amounts and the time which a solicitor may put to his general fund and not be accountable particularly to his client, to use larger figures and longer times than have at present been suggested.

I know that this matter was discussed at some length in Committee, but I feel that no harm is done if something more is said about it on the Floor of the House on Third Reading, because it is a matter about which the public could be mistaken and entertain quite erroneous views.

In general, as the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) has very forcibly said today, it is a good thing to encourage people who wish to make deposits for purchases or other transactions and set money by for a comparatively short time to do so through the professional hands of solicitors. Indeed, there is no way in which they can more effectively be protected if anything goes wrong than by the solicitors themselves and the compensation fund which stands behind them. We should encourage this, but, on the other hand, we are asking the profession, the public are asking the profession, to lower its professional costs and charges.

It seems to me that the public interest in this latter respect will not be served if we ask solicitors to indulge in a whole series of transactions and pay to people the small amounts of interest which accrue on sums remaining in their hands for quite short periods. Common sense tells us that even with a sum of £500 remaining in a solicitor's hands for two months—those are the figures suggested—the amount accruing to the client is very small indeed and will be largely taken up, and rightly taken up, if the solicitor charges the client for the labour and difficulty of allocating that interest to him.

The position of the solicitor is made doubly difficult because, as one knows from one's association with solicitors or seeing them working in their offices, the ordinary well managed practice today cannot readily secure the services of a book-keeper of the standard which has always been demanded and secured in the past. The book-keeper in a busy practice is one of the most overworked men in the office. If this added burden is put upon his practice, the solicitor may well be forced to take on extra staff, or, perhaps, allocate some existing member of his staff to devote some of his time to the work. Nothing is more likely to raise the costs to the public.

The Law Society's proposal, as understand it, is to set the limit at £500 for two months. I shall not deal with it in detail. I merely comment that both figures are too low. The time seems to me to be ludicrously short. I appreciate the difficulty which a professional body had in coming to Parliament, faced with a decision in the House of Lords last year which made things very awkward for everyone, for the public and for solicitors, and brought no benefit to anyone other than the banks. In that situation, the profession felt constrained, no doubt, to propose very modest figures when coming before the other House and before this House.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that even quite reasonable amounts up to, say, £5,000 put in the hands of a solicitor for only a few days will raise all manner of problems in calculating the amounts of interest to be allocated. In my view, both the time and the amount should be reconsidered, and a more flexible approach adopted. Perhaps much larger sums that the profession has felt it right to propose could in the 'ordinary way be allowed to go to the general fund if they remain in a solicitor's account for only a short time.

I say this because I cannot help feeling that, in the end, those of us who are looking for lower legal charges will not do the public any service if we put too great a burden on the solicitor. The best of solicitors have always given to their clients interest on large sums of money due to them. This is generally well known. I hope very much that the Law Society, when it comes to make up its mind on what the final limits should be—the Master of the Rolls, of course, will have to give his approval—will not decide on sums as low as have been proposed or a period of time as short as is at present suggested but will set the limits very much higher. In the end, I am sure, this will be for the public benefit.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Grant

As a practising solicitor, I support the Third Reading of the Bill, and I endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner). The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the way in which he has seen this piece of legislation through Committee and the House.

It is probably right to say that there is no profession which is subject to such stringent statutory control as the solicitors' profession. Certainly, no profession is so rigorously controlled in relation, to the money which it handles. It is probable true, also, that there is no other profession which is subject to such ill-informed and, if I may say so, prejudiced criticism as the legal profession as a whole and the solicitors' profession, in particular. We do not mind that criticism. We understand it and we think that, in a free society, there should be this criticism. But it should be made absolutely clear that the Bill imposes additional burdens upon the profession. For the benefit of the public, and quite voluntarily, the profession is accepting the imposition of stricter rules on its practising members.

The public should understand the purpose behind the Bill. It is not designed necessarily to help solicitors, but to assist the public and safeguard the service which they receive. As the hon. Gentleman has said, it raises the standard of education required of people wishing to enter the profession, it raises the standard of professional qualities, and it deals with the question of moneys held by solicitors on behalf of clients in a more stringent way than hitherto.

I follow the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) and I echo the misgivings which he expressed about the operation of Clause 8. I expressed my anxieties about it in Committee. In my view, the suggested rule is too strict upon solicitors primarily for the reasons which my hon. Friend gave.

The public requires a speedy, efficient and, as far as possible, cheap service from their legal advisers. Anything which increases solicitors' costs of administration, anything which causes them to have more work of, so to call it, a non-productive kind, will slow up the service which the public receives. As I said in Committee, it is much more important that people should have an efficient and up-to-date service from their solicitors than that they should have to be given piffling sums of interest as of right. For this reason, I consider that £1,000 and, a period of six months as the limit beyond which solicitors must account for interest to their clients would be much more realistic. But I accept what the Minister without Portfolio told us in Committee, that this is a rule which can be reviewed and changed from time to time. I hope that the working of it will be watched by the Law Society. We have made our point, and I leave it there.

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West said that solicitors were custodians of great sums of money. That is true. They carry a great deal of responsibility and great trust is put in them. It is right that they should indicate—as is done in the Bill—to the public that these sums of money can be safely entrusted to them. However, they are custodians of things that are equally as important as money, particularly human problems. They indeed have great responsibilities in dealing with these problems and I recall that when I first started in practice I felt as anxious about cases which involved children, the guardianship of infants, and the problems of married life, the relations between husband and wife, as I did about cases which involved money. Solicitors therefore carry a responsibility which goes far beyond matters concerning finance.

If it is not too high-flown a phrase, they are also custodians of our liberty —the bulwark against the encroaching powers of the Executive. In a free society, they are able to resist the encroaching powers of the State for the benefit of the citizen. If anything is done to weaken the legal profession rather than strengthen it, either by prejudice or misconceived ideas, the only sufferers in a civilised society will be the public.

2.32 p.m.

Mr. William Wilson (Coventry, South)

As a practising solicitor I support the Third Reading. I do not agree with the criticisms that have been voiced about Clause 8. After conducting investigations in my office and having spoken with my legal brethren, I believe that it is reasonable to accept the figure of £500 and the period of two months. I should not like it to be thought that the whole of the legal profession agrees with the views expressed on this issue by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) and the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant).

I welcome the Bill. The legal profession is subject to a substantial amount of ill-informed criticism and the Bill gives to we solicitors a real opportunity to improve our public image. When I have the opportunity, as I frequently have, of sending a telegram to a bride and bridegroom I always send the same message of congratulation—"May you never need a lawyer". I send it in those terms because it expresses the feelings of the general public; that they need go to a lawyer only when they are in trouble because he will get them out of trouble. The strange thing is that while we are the individuals to whom they turn when they are in trouble, we carry a poor public image. I hope that, as a result of the Bill, there will be an improvement in that image.

2.34 p.m.

Sir J. Hobson

Like all hon. Members, I come to praise the Bill and not to bury it. And I will not bury it in many words but try to praise it in a few. It is a good and useful Measure. We are not able to discuss it on Second Reading and, therefore, I now officially, on behalf of the Opposition, say that we welcome it and think at it will effect and achieve a useful purpose.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) on the way in which he has conducted the Bill through Parliament. We appreciate the difficulties he had in keeping connection with his base, but I assure him that he could always change sides, for we would welcome him over here. Apart from that, we wonder whether the enormously inflated fee of £20 was due to the forecast and anxieties of the Law Society, which is promoting the Bill, or to the anxieties of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West at the prospects of inflation under a Labour Government.

We genuinely congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the way in which he has conducted the Measure through its earlier stages and I strongly agree with him that the solicitors' profession undertakes very heavy public responsibilities on behalf of their clients and the public generally, not only—as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) said—in respect of finance, but also in respect of the interests, honour, family affairs and businesses of very many people who rely on the skill and integrity of the members of the profession.

Anything that can be done to increase their skill, to modernise them and to make the disciplinary controls on the profession more effective is in the public interest and, to that extent, I welcome the Bill. As I said, it is a good Measure and will achieve a useful purpose in helping to modernise and bring up to date the very strict codes of conduct and rules under which the solicitors' profession carries on its business, on behalf of the public.

I will not go into the details of the Bill. Clause 8 caused a great deal of discussion, but at this stage I will not endeavour to embark on the disagreement that exists about whether the figures proposed to be put in the rules are too high or too low. There is a point about the Clause which the Minister without Port-folio or perhaps the Lord Chancellor should consider. It is that this is a form of delegated legislation which will affect not merely the organisation of a profession and the way in which it behaves, but the mutual and interrelated interest of members of the public and that profession. Normally the rules made by the Law Society affect how one should keep books, the forms one must fill in and who can be admitted and struck off. However, in this instance the right to interest on moneys deposited with a solicitor is a question of the cash interest of clients against the administrative inconvenience of solicitors —of solicitors keeping accounts of those sums of money and so on.

This is a matter which affects not only the profession but individual members of the public as well. What we are in fact doing is delegating to the Law Society a power to make rules which will remove the necessity of solicitors paying over sums of money which would otherwise belong to individuals. It may be perfectly right that such rules should be made, but I should have thought that this was the extreme limit to which this House should commit delegated legislation which is not subject to Parliamentary control—and to persons who are not subject to question, or to any form of responsibility to this House or to the other House for the rules they make affecting the interest of citizens.

I appreciate that this is too late a stage to raise this point as a question of principle, but the Bill as it stands enables the Law Society, with the consent of the Master of the Rolls, to legislate so as to affect the interests of individual citizens. I should have thought that that was the extreme limit to which this House should give delegated legislation to others without maintaining any power over what that legislation should be. I have no doubt that the Law Society and the Master of the Rolls can be trusted to hold the difficult balance which will be necessary between the interests of those who have deposited money and the administrative inconveniences which may be caused to solicitors if they must produce accounts for very small sums indeed.

As I say, this is a good and useful Bill. It touches the question of the public and how they are served by one of the great professions in this country. So far as it produces improvements and increases the discipline of the solicitors' profession, I am sure that it will be welcomed by all hon. Members and that we are all grateful for the work done in another place in preparing the Bill before sending it to us. The Lords had considerable discussions on the matter and I am sure that, to that extent, they alleviated our task.

2.40 p.m.

Sir Eric Fletcher

I should like to follow what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) has just said by paying my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) for the way in which he has piloted this Bill to its final stage. I should also like to say how much I value the tribute which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just paid to members of my profession. It is perfectly true that they are sometimes maligned, but, by and large, they have the confidence of the public. That is indicated by the way in which the public confide in them and entrust very large sums of money to them—a thing they are not always disposed to do in connection with other professions.

It is because of the very great responsibilities that solicitors have in matters of confidence and in connection with sums of money that the profession is subject to very rigid rules of discipline administered by the Council of the Law Society, and the Bill is to be welcomed in that it strengthens the powers of the Council in making arrangements for the education, training, admission and discipline of solicitors.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, as other hon. Members have done, to what has proved to be the only really contentious Clause in the Bill. Clause 8 was introduced at a relatively late stage in another place to rectify the inconvenience caused by the decision of the House of Lords in Brown's case. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a form of delegated legislation which ought not normally to be encouraged, because it goes beyond giving a professional body power to make regulations of a purely professional kind. It affects the legal rights between a solicitor and his client. The power of delegated legislation to the Council of the Law Society is in the public interest. That is buttressed and verified by the fact that any ruch rules should require the consent of the Master of the Rolls.

It is also important to take the opportunity of saying that the net result, once this Bill is passed, will be to improve the position of all clients and solicitors over and above what it has been in the past. In the past, clients have not, except by express agreement, received interest on moneys left in the hands of solicitors. Rules will be made under the Bill the guiding principle of which will be to do what is fair to the client, and although it is within the discretion of the Law Society to fix limits on the amount and the period of time which will be the criteria of fairness, it is important also to observe that it will always be possible for any client to make an express agreement with his solicitor.

I imagine that there will be a number of cases in which the client will say that he does not want any interest, because he may think it is to his advantage that if the solicitor keeps the interest on sums deposited the legal charges will be lower. It may well be that, where there are large sums involved, an express agreement for the payment of interest at a prescribed figure will be made, but in cases where there is no express agreement, the criterion will be whether in any given case it is a matter of fairness to the client that interest should be paid.

In deciding what are the right limits, the Council of the Law Society will have to consider whether the rules that it makes both produce fairness to the client and, at the same time, do not prejudice the general body of clients by imposing on solicitors the duty of keeping very detailed books and accounts in order to calculate minimal sums of interest on relatively small sums that have been in their hands for a period of a few months.

Misgivings have been expressed both today and in Committee about whether the figures of £500 and two months which were mentioned in another place and by myself in Committee as being the figures which the Council of the Law Society, with the approval of the Master of the Rolls, has it in mind to make, are the appropriate figures. I express no final opinion on that. I am sure that the misgivings that have been expressed and perhaps other views that will be made manifest in due course will be carefully considered by the Council and, if it desires to make recommendations, then by the Master of the Rolls. But, since these figures are experimental and may well be thought to be on the low side in some quarters. I cannot do more than repeat what I said in Committee, namely, that the first regulations to be made under Clause 8 will not be in any sense final. They will be open to review in the light of experience, and I have no doubt they will be reviewed by the Council of the Law Society.

Having dealt with that particular subject, I conclude as I began, by congratulating my hon. Friend for having piloted the Bill through.

Mr. Ronald Bell

I should like to join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) who guided the Bill through its early stages with great skill, and I speak as one who has proposed a series of Amendments this morning with which the hon. Member has had to deal. It is not an easy operation to conduct through the House as a Private Member's Bill something which might be called an adopted child. It started in another place and was not entirely drafted by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West. As many hon. Members have said, it would be a pity if the impression were left that the Bill is dealing primarily with defaulting solicitors, disciplinary procedures and the supplementation of the compensation provisions.

Those are some of the elements in the Bill, but they are not the whole content. It will not have escaped the attention of the hon. Member that every one of the Amendments I moved was in aid of the solicitor and against the public. I think the comment one wants to make on Third Reading is that it is a Bill which has come from the Law Society and that perhaps the only hesitation in our minds is whether it is too severe on members of the profession and too zealous in its regard for the interests of the client. That is the sort of fault one expects—rather happily, expects—in a Bill supported by a professional society. In a way, it reflects great credit on the Law Society that this should be the characteristic of this Measure.

In addition to that element, there is also Clause I, about which very little has been said in earlier debates. This has an effect on the future training of solicitors. It is, perhaps, not a matter on which I should speak, as I am not a member of that branch of the legal profession, but there has been a good deal of talk during our debates on the Bill about the shape of the future education for the two branches of the profession.

I must, in passing, confess that I am not one—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is nothing about that in this Bill, and this is the Third Reading.

Mr. Bell

I thought that I was speaking on Clause 1, Mr. Speaker, which enlarges the power of the Council to make regulations about legal training and instruction, to which a good deal of reference was made earlier. I would submit, if it were necessary, that power to make regulations for education would be the vehicle used if anything were to be done in that direction. However, I only wish to make that passing reference, and to say that I am not terribly enthusiastic about this provision.

The Clause to which attention has been directed, and on which I put down two Amendments which were not selected, is Clause 8, and it is probably in order for me briefly to refer to views I had hoped to express on those Amendments. Clause 8 has the defect, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) referred, that it leaves the whole mechanism of this precaution in the hands of the Law Society. In expressing any disquietude about that situation, and in putting down the Amendments I have mentioned, I do not wish to cast the slightest reflection on the Law Society. I am quite sure that it will administer the Clause with the utmost responsibility and in the public interest.

My anxiety is that this provision may work out somewhat to the detriment of practising solicitors and, through detriment to them, possibly to the detriment of their clients. We do not know how it will be used, though we have been told that regulations exist in draft, having been made by the Law Society and provisionally approved by the Master of the Rolls. We must therefore consider Clause 8 in the context of its practical application; that is to say, it is envisaged that it will be used in respect of sums of, I think, £500 and above, and a period of two months.

I hope that second thoughts may prevail. I should be sorry if the Clause were to be applied to so short a period as two months in respect of almost any sum of money; in practice, it should be applied only to considerable sums of money and to periods of over three months. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West will have it in mind that as the Clause is framed it will so operate that the solicitor's general clients' account is saved from being affected by Brown v. Commissioners of Inland Revenue. That account will continue as before, and solicitors will not have to account for interest on moneys paid into it. That is provided for by subsection (3).

Therefore, the way in which Clause 8 will operate will be that the Law Society in respect of certain sums may direct through these regulations that a special account in the name of the client shall be opened; the money put on deposit, and the interest held to the credit of the client. That means that whenever Clause 8 comes into operation, a special account will be needed for each client—I think that this must be so—and it will be a very considerable burden on the operation of a very busy practice. Clause 8 can work only by taking the designated sums out of the general clients' account and putting them into special accounts. I speak without practical knowledge of how solicitors offices are run, but I think that it will prove a very great nuisance if special accounts have to be opened for sums as small as £500 and periods as short as two months.

In as much as we were earlier informed that the Law Society would wish to read what hon. Members have to say, as it would welcome such guidance—if guidance it could be called—in its administration of Clause 8, and in as much as my right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out that Clause 8 is a very remarkable example of delegated legislation, I have thought it appropriate, I hope not wrongly, to mention this on Third Reading, as I could not mention it on Report.

I am sure that the Clause will work well in practice, and will be used responsibly. Nevertheless, it is an extreme example of this House delegating legislative competence to an outside body without the usual provision that the regulations, as would otherwise be the case, should be subject at least to the negative procedure.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West on the way in which he has brought the Bill through the various shoals which he might have thought at one stage had wrecked it, but which have not wrecked it, and I hope that the Bill will be given its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.