§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, this Private Member's Bill comes to us from another place. It is a modest, even an esoteric, little measure. Amongst its numerous merits are, first, the fact that it is uncontroversial; and, secondly, that it will take me only two minutes to explain it to your Lordships. The object of the Bill is to enable a barrister who is a candidate for any office for which a prescribed number of years' standing at the English Bar is a necessary qualification to count for that purpose any period during which he may have been in practice as a solicitor, before his call to the English Bar. There is, my Lords, and has for a long time been, a corresponding provision in the Solicitors Act enabling solicitors to count any period during which they may have been barristers. It seems only right to me that Parliament should now recognise that traffic might flow in the other direction, and to legislate accordingly.
2 Let me hasten to add that this has nothing to do with the contentious doctrine of the fusion of the two branches of the profession. There are a number of offices for which a certain period of standing at the Bar is a necessary qualification. A Judge of the High Court, for instance, must be a barrister of not less than ten years' standing. So must a Master of the Queen's Bench Division; though, oddly enough, a County Court Judge is required to have only seven years' standing at the Bar—unlike a Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, who must be of no less than twelve years' standing at the Bar. Your Lordships will see that the whole problem is quite unconnected with logic, or any nonsense like that. An even longer period is required before a barrister is eligible for appointment to an election court to scrutinise a local government election. He, like a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in your Lordships' House, must be of not less than fifteen years' standing, such high regard does Parliament, unlike some people, pay to all matters relating to the conduct of elections.
I do not suggest that my Bill will make much difference, in practice, in the selection of people to fill these offices. The successful candidate will in most cases already have the requisite standing at the Bar without any need to rely on the provisions of this Bill. However, to the extent that it does recognise that people do transfer from one branch of the legal profession to the other more frequently than they used to do, the Bill does something to ease 3 that transfer. My Lords, it has the support of the Inns of Court, the Bar Council and the Law Society, and I can therefore cordially commend it to your Lordships' House. I can only hope that on this occasion nobody will tell me that my Bill is unworkable. My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Mancroft.)
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, in welcoming this Bill on behalf of the Government, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mancroft on the fact that he has been more successful in enlisting my support on this occasion than on the last occasion he brought a Bill before your Lordships' House. Taking a longer view, if my memory is right, this will mean that, in regard to the Bills he has introduced he leads by two sets to one, and I rashly wish him every success with the fourth set, whenever that may appear.
As my noble friend has said, this is a modest measure of reform, and it may be that there are not many cases when it will have to be brought into effect in practice. Nevertheless, I agree with him that it is a useful, if short, measure, not least in that it recognises the fact to which he drew attention: that the transfer from one branch of the profession to the other is now more frequent than it was in the past. I think he would agree with me that it may become even commoner in the future, particularly if it is decided to introduce some uniform system of education for all law students, whether they subsequently intend to practise at the Bar or as solicitors. My Lords, as my noble friend has said, the Bill has the backing of all the professional bodies concerned, and I need only say that I wish it well and commend it to the favour of your Lordships.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I must apologise for not having been in my place at the appropriate time. I, too, want to give this Bill my wholehearted blessing. It is obviously a Bill which requires very little advocacy, judging by 4 the very short time the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, appears to have taken in introducing it, and the equally short time that the noble and learned Viscount took in giving it his blessing. It is, of course, a Bill which is of advantage to the profession as a whole. It might even encourage barristers to spend a little time first in the "lower branch", if I may call it that, because it is a very useful experience. But since the noble and learned Viscount referred to the fact that this is becoming commoner, I would suggest for consideration generally, but not as an Amendment to this Bill, that it might be a two-way traffic. It might be quite a good idea for some people to start life as barristers and then to join my branch of the profession; and possibly, in certain cases where these things count, to allow their time as barristers to count if they are applying for positions which are open to solicitors only.
§ LORD SILKIN
Then if it does, there is no need to consider it. I am sure the noble and learned Viscount who has just intervened must know what he is saying. I was not aware that it was the case, but if it is, then so much the better. This Bill is then a matter of belated justice. At any rate, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that there will be no trouble at all from this side of the House with the passage of his Bill, and we wish it every good success.
My Lords, in the interests of unanimity, may I from this quarter of the House, and also as a layman, add my praise for this little Bill which Lord Mancroft has introduced? I think it would seem obvious to all of us that it is only a matter of equity that people who study the law in one branch should not sacrifice that when they wish to change to another. Furthermore, I think it is of great benefit that there should be a loosening of the difficulty between going from one particular branch of the law to another, and, if I may say so, an indication that there will be a lessening of any possible jealousy 5 between the two branches. I am quite sure that that was never a serious impediment, but at the same time there must be a little jealousy between the two branches, and the more it can be abolished, the better. With those words, therefore, I support this Bill.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I am most grateful to your Lordships for the support given to the Bill, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for accusing me of having made too short a speech. It has never happened before, and I can assure him it will never happen again. I am also happy to assure him that the point he raised is covered in the Bill. I think probably a larger number of barristers turn solicitors than vice versa; but the point is covered in my Bill. I thank noble Lords for their support. The mere fact that all sides of the House have supported my Bill gives me a nasty suspicion that there may be something seriously wrong with it. Nevertheless, my Lords, I am prepared to take the risk.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.