HL Deb 19 July 1949 vol 164 cc142-4

3.36 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. I have very little to say to-day because, fortunately, the controversy on the Bill has been exceedingly limited. I count it great good fortune to myself that it has fallen to my lot to introduce the Bill. It has been a long time since Lord Rushcliffe's Committee reported, and it has not been altogether easy to get the Bill as far as this stage. But we have succeeded. It is a great experiment, and I devoutly hope that it is going to be a great success —as, indeed, I believe it is.

I count myself very happy that in introducing this Bill I have been able to introduce it with, I believe, the complete good will of both branches of the profession in this country, in spite of the fact that the Bill confers on the Lord Chancellor very wide rule-making powers. Somehow or other, people do not seem to be disturbed by my having these wide powers. I recognise that that has nothing to do with myself, but the more I see of these things, the more I think there is something to be said for this rather illogical office of Lord Chancellor. Whether or not Scotland would be equally happy if the Secretary of State had the same powers as I am given, I am not sure. But illogical though my office may be—and certainly is—the fact that I have two capacities—I am both judge and politician—and that I try to separate myself into two and have the appropriate half available on the appropriate occasions, does, I think, make the office one of some value. I say quite frankly that I shall be very sorry if I live to see a day come when the Lord Chancellor is supplanted on the ground of logic and good sense and gives place to a Minister of Justice.

For the rest, we had some little talk about emergency certificates. With regard to the magistrates, what I propose to do is to promulgate regulations which will enable certain officials of local committees, chairmen and vice-chairmen and so on, to grant emergency certificates for legal aid, so that in urgent cases the aid may be given straight away. In particular, that will be so where a magistrate who is hearing a case recommends that legal aid should be granted. He will be able, if necessary, in a proper case, to telephone one of these officials and get an emergency certificate. It will not follow that a certificate is given as a complete rubber stamp. Something may be known of the marl concerned: his name may have previously come to the notice of the committee; he may be a notorious litigant, who may have to be restrained in the matter of his litigation. All sorts of things may happen, but in normal circumstances I anticipate that if a magistrate says that it is an urgent case in which legal aid ought to be granted, steps will be taken to see that the man is properly represented within the limits for which legal aid is available.

There is only one other matter about which I wish to speak. As I said to the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Norwich, I am anxious that probation officers should come in at a very early stage, particularly in matrimonial cases. If the applicant first goes to the magistrate, he will find that the magistrate has available to him, and will continue to have available to him, the services of a probation officer; but it may be that in some cases, before going to the magistrate, the applicant will go to the local committee for legal aid, and it may well be useful that they also should have at their disposal the services of a probation officer, so that in proper cases they can adjourn the case in order that the probation officer may make inquiries and see what he can do. That we can do by extending the rules governing the duties of probation officers. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary intends to make the necessary rules so that where a local committee think it necessary they can avail themselves of the services of a probation officer.

I have nothing more to say except that both branches of the profession are determined to do everything they can to make this scheme a success. We are not so foolish, of course, as to think that it can be a success unless it benefits the public, and not merely the profession: benefit to the profession is wholly secondary to benefit to the public. I have a sufficiently high regard of the profession to which I have the honour to belong to believe that they are determined to try to make this legal aid scheme a success—not in order that they can feather their own nests or make money out of the scheme, but in order to do everything they can to see that even the humblest of His Majesty's lieges have proper access to the courts of the land.

On Question, Bill read 3*, and passed.