§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD SCHUSTER
My Lords, in rising to propose the Second Reading of this Bill, I feel obliged to begin by expressing great regret that the Motion is not being moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Greene. I am sure that the whole House will share my regret not only because it is the state of his health which prevents his being here to perform this task, but because, furthermore, the high authority which comes from the great office which he occupies and the great office which he occupied up to a year or two ago—that of Master of the Rolls—would certainly have eased the 200 passage of the Bill and, I think, commended it to your Lordships to an extent which I cannot do. I am, however, allowed to say that though we cannot have his visible presence here with us, I have the support and the approval of Lord Greene in these proposals. I have also the support of the two great Judges to whom, with the Lord Chancellor, is committed a task under this Bill—the Lord Chief Justice and the present Master of the Rolls, Sir Raymond Evershed. I have great hope—though I am not overconfident— that the Lord Chancellor himself, on whom duties lie under the Bill and under other Statutes dealing with solicitors, will give his approval to these proposals.
The Bill is a very simple little measure. It proposes to enable the Law Society, with the approval of the Lord Chancellor and one, at least, of the other two great Judges, to increase the amount of the fee payable by a solicitor when he takes out his practising certificate, which he has to take out every year in order that he may carry on his practice. It does not propose that the Law Society should do that of its own sweet will but only when proposals so to do are approved by two of those Judges. I need not spend a great deal of time describing to your Lordships the work of the Law Society. I am sure the Society is known to every noble Lord as having in the past been a constant counsellor and friend to every Government Department and as having done much beneficent work for the litigant generally, and particularly with regard to poor persons and the incubation of the scheme for legal aid which is shortly to come into operation. But these matters—general advice to the Departments and dealing with poor persons' business—are outside the scope of this Bill.
The money to be collected under this Bill, if it receives the approval of your Lordships and of the other place, will go to assisting the Law Society in performing those duties imposed on it by Statute, or by rules made under Statute. Your Lordships probably know that directly a young man begins to try to be a solicitor up to the moment when he ceases to practise, the Law Society watch continually over every step he takes. They look after his education, they examine him, they admit him if he is thought suitable, they have supervisory functions, 201 they take the trouble to see to what firm he is articled. They have a statutory duty to keep the roll of solicitors and when he is practising they have a duty to see that his accounts are kept in a certain way and that money which comes into his hands on behalf of clients is handled in a particular way. All these things, I am sorry to have to add, cannot be done without expenditure of money, without possessing a building of considerable size and without having a skilled and highly-equipped staff. The statutory duties have been largely increased in recent years. Particularly have they been increased by the duties involved in the rules relating to solicitors' accounts, in seeing that, in fact, injunctions which the rules lay upon solicitors as to the manner in which accounts should be kept are observed, and in dealing in an appropriate manner with solicitors who do not observe them.
But although these duties have been increased, the value of money has fallen and the cost of everything has gone up. No further source of revenue has been open to the Society whereby the increased expenses are to be met. The Bill therefore proposes that, subject to the judicial sanction which I have mentioned, the Law Society should be entitled to exact in respect of each practising certificate an increased fee above the £I which is now allowable, a fee which is not, however, to exceed £5 in all. I am not suggesting—indeed I do not know—that it is proposed immediately to raise the fee to £5. It will, no doubt, he for the three Judges to consider proposals laid before them by the Society and to consider in the light of these proposals and the general financial position of the Society what increase of fee should be allowed. The maximum allowed under the Bill will he £5. That is the simple and the sole purpose of the Bill. I do not want to take up your Lordships' time further by talking about it at any greater length. With considerable confidence, I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2*.—(Lord Schuster.)
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, so far as I am concerned, I think that this is a good Bill, and I would lend it such support as I can, for what that 202 is worth. I emphasise the phrase, "For what it is worth" because, of course, this is a Private Member's Bill, and I do not know what is proposed to be done in another place with Private Members' Bills. Therefore, I must make no sort of promise that this Bill will find its place on the Statute Book. As I have said before, that would be more than my place is worth! But I can say that this is a good Bill. It is a good Bill if for no other reason than this. I understand—the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—that at the present time there is some small Treasury subsidy being paid to enable this work to be carried on. If this Bill is passed, that, Treasury subsidy will no longer be necessary. Of course, it is a very small matter, compared with the vast sums of money we deal with to-day, but the old adage "Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves," is sill true. We can fairly say, if my facts be right, that here we are taking care of one of "the pence." If for no other reason than that, I personally support this Bill.
I should like further to say this about the Law Society and what they are doing. While I was at the Bar I had a very great experience of all sorts of tribunals. I do not think I have ever come across a better tribunal than the Disciplinary Committee of the Law Society. If I had been a guilty person, there is no tribunal which I would less rather have gone before, and had I been innocent, there is no tribunal before which I would have gone with greater readiness. I say that in all sincerity. Though I am now speaking of a long time ago, I have no reason to think that the Law Society is rot just as it was in those days. In my opinion it is the best of all the tribunals before which I had ever to appear. As the noble Lord has said, every Lord Chancellor and every Government Department have received in every way possible the fullest and most efficient assistance from the Law Society. It behoves us to do everything we can to support them in their reasonable claims, and I think this is one of the reasonable claims. Therefore, subject to the qualification which I have expressed to the noble Lord, because I am most anxious never to say anything save what I can make good hereafter, I shall do what I can to get the Bill through your Lordships' House.
§ LORD SCHUSTER
My Lords, may I thank the noble and learned Viscount for what he has said? I hope that his heart will remain as well disposed towards the Bill during the weeks to come.
§ On Question, Bill read 2*, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.