§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, I beg to move that the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill be read a second time. This Bill is an even shorter one than that which has just been moved so successfully by my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir. I hope that I shall not detain your Lordships any longer than he did. In the first instance, I must mention to your Lordships that I am a solicitor, although I sincerely hope that this Bill will not have any effect upon me personally.
This is a domestic Bill, which concerns our profession. In the course of time, Parliament has laid upon the Council of the Law Society the responsibility for ensuring that the members of the profession observe certain rules and regulations and subject themselves to the discipline of the Law Society. The object of this Bill is to increase the size of the Disciplinary Committee of the Council of the Law Society—that is, the Committee through which the Law Society ensures that discipline is maintained throughout the profession. It can be increased in size or varied only by Act of Parliament, because it is a Committee which has statutory recognition. It was most recently referred to in Section 46 of the Solicitors Act, 1957, under which the limit of the Committee was fixed at the maximum of nine members.
The Committee is entitled to sit in divisions and the minimum number of members who can sit in any division is three. It has been found, particularly during inclement weather and because of difficulties of travel, that it is sometimes exceedingly hard to man a division when the whole Committee can consist of only nine persons, some of whom—for instance, whoever is serving in the office of President of the Society—are not available to sit upon the Committee. I think that your Lordships will appreciate that the Committee can be manned only by senior practising members of the profession, because they carry out an exceedingly responsible duty, not only to the profession but also to the public whom we serve, and it is difficult to get people of that sort to perform these voluntary 395 duties if they are too frequently pressed to do so. We therefore find it necessary to seek your Lordships' authority for an enlargement of the size of the Committee. Most of the offences I have dealt with are of a purely technical character infringements of what have now become rather complicated sets of rules concerning accounts, and matters of that sort; nevertheless, they are offences, and have to be dealt with by the Committee.
I have reason to hope that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will regard this measure without disapproval. I know that the proposal meets with the blessing of the fairy godfather of our profession, the noble and learned Lord the Master of the Rolls; and I hope that we shall not meet with any opposition from the official Opposition in this House. I shall be grateful if your Lordships will accord a Second Reading to this small but, I believe, meritorious Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Viscount Brentford.)
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, I rise, as a member of the Council of the Law Society, to support the plea made so admirably by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. It is obviously a heavy burden on busy practitioners to sit on this Committee, as we all know is the case with sitting on any Committee. It has been found in practice that the number of nine is too small, having regard to the fact that each division requires a quorum of at least three. During recent months, as the noble Viscount has said, it has been found difficult to man the Committee. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it would appear to be desirable, in the interests both of the profession and of the public, that the Master of the Rolls should be authorised to appoint to the Committee a maximum of twelve members, instead of the present maximum of nine. Therefore, I also venture to hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading and unopposed approval.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships will accept the assurance of my noble friend Lord Brentford that the Law Society approach the problem of so important a Committee with a due sense of responsibility. As to the composition and numbers, I think 396 your Lordships will agree also that that is a domestic matter on which we should be content to accept the view of the Law Society. We have had that view justified most ably by my noble friend Lord Brentford to-day, and on behalf of Her Majesty's Government I have pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.