§ 8.20 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Matrimonial Causes Rules 1968 [S.I. 1968 No. 219], laid before the House on February 29 last, be annulled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first Prayer standing in my name on the Order Paper and, with the leave of the House, I should like to speak on the first Prayer and the second Prayer, because they are interrelated. Indeed, in the second set of Rules against which I am praying it is stated that these Rules shall be considered as one of the Principal Rules—the Principal Rules being the Rules referred to in the first Prayer. Perhaps I ought to explain what this is all about. The House will remember that some months ago we passed the Matrimonial Causes Bill, which became an Act, designed to give jurisdiction in undefended divorce cases 1425 to the county court instead, as had hitherto been the case, the High Court.
§ Under Section 7 of that Act, provision was made for a Committee to be set up, the Rules Committee, under the chairmanship of the Lord Chancellor, with not fewer than four other members, at least two of them to be solicitors. The purpose of this Committee was to make rules for the administration of the Act and also to make provision for the costs that would be payable to solicitors in respect of the undefended divorce cases which henceforth they were going to handle. I have no objection at all to the Rules relating to administration or what are called the Principal Rules, and I propose to devote myself therefore to the substance of the second Prayer and to say nothing more about the first of the Rules. Those Rules were agreed to by all the members of the Committee and there is no criticism of them; at any rate nothing of such a nature as would require me to say anything this evening.
§ As regards the Rules referred to in the second Prayer, the decision there was not unanimous. The two solicitor members of the Committee refrained from signing, and I am given to understand—I do not say this with complete authority—that certain other members of the Committee signed with reservations, and that these reservations have been minuted. No doubt my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, if he wishes, will be able to say whether that is correct or not. Perhaps I might summarise the whole substance of the objection to the Costs Rules, as I am going to call them, by saying that it is the opinion of the whole of the legal profession that the provision made for solicitors' costs is quite inadequate.
§ In 1966, and prior to that, the Law Society, which is the governing body of the solicitors' profession, had made representations to the Lord Chancellor, in whose hands our fate lies, regarding the inadequacy of the then existing scale of costs in the county court. These had not been changed since 1956, and I think it was agreed on all sides that they were quite inadequate, even at the time when the representations were made in 1966. My noble and learned friend referred this matter of the costs to the National Board for Prices and Incomes in order that they might consider not merely the question of the adequacy or otherwise 1426 of the costs in the county court but also the whole question of solicitors' remuneration, which was going very much wider than the solicitors' profession had asked. At any rate, the Board did make this investigation. So far as I know the only other professional body which has been investigated regarding its profits, not as regards fees, is the architects.
§ The National Board for Prices and Incomes had before them a sample of solicitors' remuneration in various categories: firms that were being conducted single-handed, those with several partners, those with more than five partners, and so on. Out of all that, the Board came to two specific conclusions one was that on average the remuneration of solicitors was not unreasonable in comparison with that of members of other professions. The remuneration was rather lower than that of doctors and a little higher than that of architects, but on the whole the Board expressed no dissatisfaction with the remuneration of solicitors, taking the average figure. But they came to the conclusion that costs in connection with county court matters ought very definitely to be reviewed.
I think I can best tell the House about these county court costs if I read out the actual recommendations of the National Board for Prices and Incomes which are contained in paragraphs 65 and 66 of their Report. They explain that:
nearly two-thirds of all the firms of solicitors transact an insignificant volume of county court work. It would be wrong if the new level of charges were determined by reference to the work of those solicitors who incur high expenses because they do not specialise
They go on to enlarge on this, but in the end they come to the conclusion that they could justify an increase in county court costs of 93 per cent. in the case of certain solicitors, and a lower percentage in the case of others. But they come down to the conclusion that a compromise would be an increase of 55 per cent. on the then current scale of costs of solicitors. The reason for that, of course, is that since 1956 the overheads of solicitors have increased enormously. Rents, rates, cost of staff, services and of course the selective employment tax, to which solicitors are particularly vulnerable because they tend to employ a greater number of staff than members of
other professions—all these have established that the scale of costs fixed in 1956 was hopelessly outdated and the recommendation of the Prices and Incomes Board was that there should be a compromise increase of 55 per cent. on those costs.
§ This Report was published last month, and I should imagine that the facts in the Report were not present in the minds of the Rules Committee over which my noble and learned friend presided, because they reported early in February and this Report was published at a later date or at about the same time. Unless they had private knowledge of what was going into the Report they must have come to a decision without reference to it. I wonder what conclusion they would have come to if they had known that there was this recommendation from the Prices and Incomes Board for an increase of 55 per cent.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend and I do so only in order to clear up the point. I heard that the Prices and Incomes Board Report was about to be published. We had three meetings of the Rules Committee and I think that this was after the second meeting. The third was deliberately put off for a week so that both the Bar Council and the Law Society could consider the terms of the Report before we came to any conclusion on the Rule.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, if that is so, I am shocked—completely shocked—that the Rules Committee should have so completely ignored the recommendation of the Prices and Incomes Board, put forward in such a strong form. If that is so, I think that it makes our case all the stronger.
I ought to point out, in addition, that prior to the coming into force of the Matrimonial Causes Act undefended divorce cases have been conducted in the High Court and solicitors were entitled to, and received, High Court scale costs, which are considerably higher than the scale which is laid down in the Report of the Rules Committee. The work they are now to do in the county courts, under the Act which comes into operation on the 11th of this month, will be exactly the same. They will still have to receive 1428 instructions from petitioners, whether the petition is on the ground of adultery, cruelty, desertion or any other reason. They will still have to take careful instructions from clients. They will still have to put in all the same kind of attendances at court. There will still be the same standard of proof required; and, as those noble Lords who are members of the profession will appreciate, where a case is undefended a judge will insist on a much stricter standard of proof than he would if the case were being contested. Then there are the ancillary matters which solicitors have to deal with, as they do now in the High Court—alimony, custody of the children and settlements. Yet not only do these Rules provide this inadequate scale of costs as remuneration but there is actually a reduction of some 15 to 20 per cent. in the costs which solicitors are at present receiving for exactly the same work.
I have explained about the overheads which have increased so dramatically in the legal profession. They have increased all the more among solicitors because or the high rents which they have to pay, the larger amount of accommodation they need relative to other professions and the larger staffs required. The fact is that the Prices and Incomes Board came to the conclusion that the county court fees at present payable to solicitors were not sufficient to meet the overheads—in other words, that solicitors carrying out work in the county courts were carrying it out at a loss, not even recouping themselves for their outgoings. That is a position which is really not maintainable. It may be said, as I have heard one of my friends say, that solicitors can make up on the swings what they lose on the roundabouts. The kind of solicitors I am speaking for have few swings and few roundabouts, whichever is the more advantageous.
The Report refers to conveyancing costs. It says that the conveyancing costs, on which solicitors also depend, are inadequate in the lower ranges and ought to be increased. Of course, this is not before the House, but it is an indication of what those members of the profession in the lower income range are going through at the present time. I hope that my noble and learned friend will not argue that all is well in the profession because the average income is nearly equal 1429 to that of doctors, architects, accountants and so on. The fact is that there is a considerable number of solicitors who have very high incomes, because they are practising in the City of London and specialising in commercial work or company work and other well paid work of that kind. Some of them, I understand, are making £50,000 a year or more, and all that comes into the average, but it would he quite wrong to ignore the very much larger number with small incomes who go to make up the average. In fact, the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board is quite definite on the point: that there is a large number of solicitors, working single-handed or with one or two partners, who are in receipt of very low incomes and are undertaking work for which they are not even getting a proper compensation for their outgoings.
When this Bill was introduced in another place the question of solicitors' costs was raised and an assurance was given by the Attorney General that costs would be fixed on a fair and reasonable basis. Can anyone suggest that costs which involve practitioners carrying on at a loss can be fair and reasonable? I wonder how the Government or my noble and learned friend can expect solicitors to undertake work on which they are going to lose.
After all, the success of this Act depends upon there being a sufficient number of solicitors ready and willing and with the requisite skill and knowledge to undertake these cases. If solicitors will not come forward—and I can assure my noble and learned friend that there is already a strong movement in the profession that will involve quite a large number of solicitors not undertaking the work—the whole purpose of this Act will be frustrated and there will be great delay and heart-burnings among petitioners who have applied for divorce.
There is only one other thing I want to say, and it is this. I hope that the position as set out in these Rules does not represent the Government's last word. I am aware that paragraph 51 of the White Paper, Productivity, Prices and Incomes Policy, gives us a ray of hope that possibly this matter will be reexamined. It mentions the fact that the Government have referred to the Prices and Incomes Board the remuneration of 1430 solicitors, and architects' costs and fees, and then it says:The Board's report on solicitors' remuneration was published in February"—that is, February of this year—and its recommendations are being considered by the Government.If that is really a statement of the Government's intention; and if my noble and learned friend can give an assurance that that consideration will be objective and speedy, and in the light of the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board, then I shall feel that something has been achieved by this debate. But I can assure him that we shall not be satisfied with any lesser assurance. The legal profession is not content to let matters rest as they are; nor will the general public be, if they are aware of what is to be the likely outcome. I am hoping that my noble and learned friend will be able to give us the assurance that is set out in broad terms in this White Paper, and which I am seeking this evening. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Matrimonial Causes Rules 1968 [S.I. 1968 No. 219], laid before the House on February 29 last, be annulled.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ LORD TANGLEY
My Lords, I should like to add just a few words in support of Lord Silkin's Prayer. I spent 28 years of my life in the Council of the Law Society, and it taught me many things. Perhaps the most vivid thing it taught me was that it is impossible to get laymen interested in lawyers' fees at all, except in a negative sense, So I want, first of all, to remind your Lordships to-night that this is just not an argument about lawyers' fees; there is something much more deeply involved in this than a mere question of fees.
I had some doubts—and I am sure many other noble Lords shared my misgivings—about the idea of divorce going to the county court at all. To put divorce into a court which deals with small debts, rent collecting, hire-purchase and matters of that kind, was, I thought, a dangerous thing to do; and I know that many other noble Lords thought the same. After all, divorce is a serious thing, and there is no branch of the law which puts more 1431 responsibility upon lawyers acting for people who are thinking of getting divorced. They are officers of the court. They have to see to a great many things which have to be brought before the court if the court is properly to decide upon the matter and, particularly, to exercise discretion in those cases where discretion has to be exercised. This is a serious and difficult matter, and personally I think it was a mistake to send divorce to the county court. If I had known that it was the intention to send it to the county court in circumstances which made it impossible for the county court properly to deal with these cases, then I think the opposition to the Bill would have been much stronger. That is what is happening now.
The situation is that all these matters will go to the county court. What is being offered to lawyers is a fee of £40 for the complete conduct of an ordinary average divorce case in the county court. That is not much more than half what solicitors are being paid for exactly the same work and the same responsibility in the High Court. That means that the solicitor who has the ordinary, normal overheads will either make no profit—that is to say, he will not be remunerated at all—or else he will get only an absolutely nominal remuneration. In those circumstances, there is no doubt in my mind that the system will break down. It will be impossible to get people to do the work on these terms. That is my first point.
The second point I want to make is that it is utterly wrong to take the ordinary county court scale and apply it to this new jurisdiction of the county court. It is quite wrong to say that because a solicitor can get up to £40, or in certain circumstances £45, for conducting a little action involving £300 or £400 damages, that scale should per se apply to the far more difficult and responsible work of conducting a divorce case. In those circumstances, I am afraid it is quite clear that what we have done is to send divorce to a second-rate tribunal, with second-rate representation, at cut prices. And that is not, as I believe, what we thought we were doing when we passed the Bill.
It is on those grounds—not only the petty squabble about whether a man should be paid £40 or £50—that I 1432 earnestly support the plea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I share his shock at the behaviour of the Committee. When it was urged in the other place that this Committee should be given some directions, here is what the Attorney General said:The Rule Committee is not specifically required to have regard to the principle of allowing fair remuneration. It is unnecessary to require it to have regard to that principle. As the fixed costs will be related to the amounts which might be expected to be allowed if the costs are taxed, regard will in effect be paid to the principle of fair remuneration. I do submit that it would not be appropriate that the Rule Committee should be told to have regard to this principle. I am quite confident that, in practice, it will have due regard to it.In face of that undertaking given in another place by the Attorney General, the Rule Committee, knowing apparently what the Prices and Incomes Board was going to say (we have had that assurance to-night from the Lord Chancellor), expressly enforced a Rule 13 years old, which the Prices and Incomes Board committed to their knowledge and said was 55 per cent. too low. In these circumstances, it is quite impossible, in my submission, to go ahead with sending this work to the county court unless this proper provision is made for seeing that it is done properly when it gets there.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, I should like to declare a personal interest in this matter, as other noble Lords who have already spoken have done, in that I am a member of this profession. I wish to support the Prayer moved by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, very strongly indeed. I rather tend to share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, with regard to the Matrimonial Causes Act itself. But that has been decided by Parliament and, therefore, I am prepared to accept it, although I may not be feeling exceedingly happy about it. However, I take serious objection to the Matrimonial Causes Rules relating to costs. I consider that they are grossly unfair.
It may possibly be of interest to your Lordships that in my own firm the managing clerk in charge of the department came to the partners and said that we must give up doing all legal aid work in divorce cases because it was going to be run at a dead loss. The partners 1433 said that they considered we had a public duty to perform and we could not arrive at that decision straight away. But how long they would be prepared to continue and how much they would be prepared to expend in order to support their attitude towards performing a public duty, I do not know.
We have been told that the trouble stems from the fact that the Rules Committee have decided to base the remuneration of solicitors and of lawyers in divorce cases in the county court upon Scale 4 of the county court scales of 1955. They, as we have been told, have been unaltered for 12 years, and since 1955 practically every expense of a solicitor has risen out of all recognition. Not only have we had, in common with many other people, selective employment tax imposed upon us, but the contributions which we have to make under National Insurance have risen astoundingly. All salaries and wages have risen—and that we cannot regret in our own case because, generally speaking, the standard of salaries and wages in the legal profession was very low. I recall very well that when I first entered my firm, upwards of forty years ago, the standard salary of a typist was £2 10s. Now, of course, the standard salary of a comparable typist is about £15. The salaries of the secretaries run up to £20 plus. I do not say that that has all happened since 1955, but certainly I think that since 1955 the standard of those salaries and wages has risen by about 33⅓ per cent. And, of course, the standard of salaries of the clerks who carry out their duties has risen comparably.
In addition to that, all postages, telephone charges and charges of that sort have gone up; and stationery and printing charges have also gone up. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, in a great many cases rents have gone up, and in every single case rates have gone up. All those additional charges have to be borne by the solicitors, because if the 1955 scale was fair in 1955, it certainly can no longer be remunerative to solicitors at the present time.
The seriousness of this situation with regard to county court charges has been kept before the notice of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and his predecessor, for it was as long ago as 1963, nearly six years ago, that the Law 1434 Society submitted a memorandum proposing an increase in county court costs. That did not achieve any satisfactory result, and so two years later, in 1965, further amended proposals were submitted on account of the increased jurisdiction of the county courts which by then had taken place. But even that, my Lords, was not the end, because as recently as July last year further proposals for a general revision of county court costs were submitted by the Law Society to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
In view of the Government's statements, to which my noble friend Lord Tangley has referred, which were made during the course of the passage of the Bill in another place, it really is quite incredible that the Rules Committee should have failed to take into their cognisance the inherent duty to prescribe costs which would reflect fair remuneration to the profession. That was an undertaking twice given by the Attorney General. In fact, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack himself expressed his very serious recognition of the state of affairs when he was speaking in 1966, and he made it quite clear that the profession had been so strongly hit by the additional charges which had been laid upon it that it was incredible that it was alone of all the professions and of all other businesses in that it had not been allowed to increase some of its charges for 11 years. So the noble and learned Lord was fully seized of the seriousness of the situation to our branch of his profession.
In addition, there are the statements which have been made by the Prices and Incomes Board, to which reference has already been made. But it is quite clear from them that contentious business is unremunerative, and if, as they say themselves, Supreme Court work is excluded from the remuneration the position is very much more marked. They recommend, as we have heard, that there should be an increase of 55 per cent. in all the county court charges for work which is done there. And in paragraph 66 of their Report, to which I think my noble friend referred, they mace this clear. They said, after referring to the fact that they by then knew it was intended that these divorce cases should be referred back to the county court:Determination of the charges for divorce work in the county court which have yet to 1435 be fixed should be consistent with our recommendation for an increase in the level of the county court income.That recommendation has been completely and utterly disregarded, unless, as Lord Silkin intimated, it is possible for the noble and learned Lord to give us an assurance to-night that the recommendation for the increase of 55 per cent. will be accepted by the Government and will be applied to the scale which we are now being asked to pass. It certainly cannot be argued that a new scale based on a 12-year-old scale, which is already hopelessly out of date and which it has been recommended should be increased by 55 per cent., can in any event fulfil the recommendation made by the Prices and Incomes Board.
We feel that a good deal of this difficulty has come about as a result of the statement made by the Government during the passage of the Bill, that in consequence of the Bill when it became an Act there would be a saving of £400,000 per annum to the Legal Aid Fund. That is a very desirable thing to bring about if it is possible. But it ought not to be brought about at the expense of under-remunerating the people who do the work. The increased cost on the Legal Aid Fund has not been caused by increases in rates of remuneration to the legal profession; it has been caused entirely by the increase in the number of aided cases. In 1956 27,750 petitions for divorce were filed. In respect of 12,981 of those 27,000, certificates for legal aid were granted; that is to say, of the total number of petitions which were issued, 44 per cent. were legally-aided cases. Ten years later, in 1966, the total number of petitions filed had risen to 45,610, of which 31,188 had legal aid certificates granted, showing a rise to 69 per cent. in the proportion of petitions which were supported by legal aid. That is the reason for the tremendous increase in the operations of the Legal Aid Fund: that more people have become legally eligible for legal aid.
Therefore we feel strongly that this is something which is quite outside the responsibility of the legal profession. It is something for which the Government and Parliament are responsible, and for which they should pay the cost. The cost should not be forced upon the legal profession itself, for if that is so, only one 1436 of two courses can possibly be open to the profession: first, that they shall skimp the work in order to try to avoid making a loss on it. That would be quite disastrous, not only from the point of view of the reputation of the profession, but, more important, from the point of view of the welfare and happiness of the public who consult the legal profession in these cases. It would mean that work which is of the most serious and responsible character that the profession has to undertake would not be dealt with in a proper, right, reasonable, thoughtful and responsible manner.
The other alternative is that the profession would simply decline to accept legal aid divorce cases at all, and that is a very real possibility, as I have indicated, bearing in mind the feeling in my own firm at the present time. But for the smaller solicitor who specialises in the workings of the county court above all, it is a very likely thing to happen, and representations have been received by the Law Society from a great many of the local law societies in opposition to these new Rules. Therefore, my Lords, I hope your Lordships will agree with the mover of this Motion and that these Rules will not be passed.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ LORD CHELMER
My Lords, your Lordships may feel that, after the careful deliberations you have given to the niceties of the definition of the law of theft, to devote as much time as this to a consideration of the cost of administering the law is, so to speak, a surfeit of legal riches, but I make no apologies for detaining your Lordships for one moment to make what I think is a useful point.
First, in the current economic context solicitors are no strangers to a prices and incomes policy, because they have been subject to some form of statutory limitation since 1883. My second point is this. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and others have said, the Prices and Incomes Board made it quite clear that the costs in these matrimonial causes—so-called "divorce", in common parlance—should be increased, and indeed recognised that by the increase of 55 per cent. which they proposed in other county court matters.
The Prices and Incomes Board is by no means animated by any sense of bias 1437 towards the solicitors, because in another field, that of conveyancing, they have proposed quite substantial reductions in their fees. They reached their conclusions without taking into account the operation of the selective employment tax or the more recent increase, and they defined the rewards for professional work as follows:Solicitors' remuneration is a price for services rendered. The proper criterion for looking at the price of a product is whether it adequately covers costs…and in addition produces a profit which makes for adequate investment and for an efficient allocation of resources.One can almost hear the convolutary rumblings of the late Sir Edward Marshall Hall, wherever he may now rest, on this definition of the rewards for professional skills. So I think it could not truthfully be said that the Prices and Incomes Board was prejudiced in favour of solicitors. In fact they came out with this recommendation to which noble Lords have referred, and which was ignored by the Rules Committee.
The point which follows from that is that in 1939 the average party and party costs of an undefended divorce action was £46. In that year the average weekly wage of a wage earner was approximately £3 12s. In 1968, the Rules Committee propose that the party and party costs for an undefended divorce action shall be £40, and in 1968 the average weekly wage of a wage earner is something like £21. It may be said by many who argue against this proposition that this is represented by the change of jurisdiction from the High Court to the county court, but I do not believe that noble Lords can accept that in a period when weekly wages have risen by something like 600 per cent. it is a proper appreciation of the difference between those jurisdictions, bearing in mind the considerable responsibility which lawyers bear in this regard and which has already been referred to. I cannot believe that the increase of 600 per cent. in wages is properly measured against a decrease of 13 per cent. in the remuneration proposed in these undefended divorce actions, which represent the great bulk of such actions.
As has been said, it is not just what may be the brief formality in the divorce court which is the summation of the 1438 work done by the solicitor. That is the culmination of a great deal of preparation, of careful administration by Her Majesty's Judges and their staff, and preparation by the lawyers involved, which produces the brief formality. That represents countless hours of work done, including listening, very often, to the irrelevant outpourings of people who are deeply concerned about this critical period of their lives upon which advice is needed, and, very often, the counselling to prevent such a break-up taking place. Your Lordships will appreciate that work such as this requires skill and judgment of the highest order, and I suggest very sincerely to your Lordships that support for the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will make sure that that skill and judgment is maintained.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
My Lords, although I would not support my noble friend Lord Silkin if his Motion were taken to a Division, I nevertheless feel, like the other speakers, that the Rules that have been made in connection with the solicitors' branch of the profession provide totally inadequate remuneration for the work they have to do. Indeed, I think one could say as a provincial solicitor that county court work has rarely ever paid. I might mention that even though at the present time I am prepared to accept the Rules as they are, the remunerations which will be received under the existing Rules are inadequate and in due course are bound to create great resentment throughout the profession. My desire not to support my noble friend in the Division Lobby is simply due to the fact that this is not the time for a professional body to seek an increase immediately in the remuneration which is proposed, when at the present time the workers of the country are being restrained in their wages. Nevertheless, I feel that there will in due course be a strong case for a revision of the scale which is proposed in connection with the county court costs as a whole, as well as a revision of the scale which is proposed for divorce costs in the county court.
Perhaps I should mention that as a member of the profession in my early days, in the days of depression in the 1930s up until Legal Aid was introduced, I know that solicitors and counsel, in 1439 order to assist poor persons, undertook divorce cases for nothing. We expected no remuneration at all, either counsel or solicitors, because we regarded it as a social service and we were content to play our part in the social services of the country. I think it can be said that in the Provinces much work is done by solicitors without thought of remuneration. But, of course, conditions in these days are different from what they were in the early days. As has been stated, rents and rates have increased, salaries have gone up, and it is indeed a very difficult time for provincial solicitors.
We have come to the conclusion that the county court scales cannot be accepted or worked in the future. We find that many of the young solicitors whom we article and train in the profession are leaving the practice of the profession and taking appointments with companies, with the national boards, with industry, because they realise that the prospects and the security in such occupations are far better than they can expect as practising solicitors. I would therefore urge the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, to give very careful thought to the difficulties that provincial solicitors, in particular, will suffer as a result of the application of the Rules now before the House. Speaking for myself and, I believe, for many of the members of my profession, I say that we have the best will in the world to try to make this work, and to try to see that the unhappy and unfortunate people are well served; their their difficulties may be overcome by proceedings which we have to take. But unless these Rules are reviewed and these scales reconsidered, I am afraid that many of the provincial solicitors will have to give up county court work altogether.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, I think it would be rather regrettable if this debate were concluded without one person who did not belong to the honourable profession of solicitor making his comments. I will therefore, very briefly, say that I very much hope that the strong case that has been made out by noble Lords will receive Government attention. I know that there are some firms of solicitors, very respectable people, who do not take divorce 1440 work. That seems to me very regrettable. I know well that solicitors who do take divorce work are quite often able to reconcile the parties and prevent the break-up of marriages. I know, too, of the good work that solicitors do on marriage guidance councils; and I am not ignorant of their work as "poor man's lawyers", and of the help they give, without remuneration, to deserving cases. I share, therefore, the hope of other noble Lords that their case will receive most careful consideration.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, as we draw towards the conclusion of this debate I should like to add a few words in support of this Motion. I would say to your Lordships at the outset that I do not relish the opportunity of speaking on the subject matter of the remuneration of solicitors, because it might appear that I am engaging in a piece of special pleading on behalf of my own profession. I do not like doing it, but this debate has been largely carried on by members of my profession, because, of course, this question of legal fees raises considerations which are quite specialised and esoteric, and only solicitors and people who have some knowledge of the profession can understand the issues that are involved. However, I should like to approach the matter briefly from what might be the layman's point of view. It seems to me that if it is looked at from that point of view, the history of these Rules has in it some elements of farce or low comedy which may have an entertainment value appealing to a wider public than solicitors and lawyers themselves.
How did all this start? How did it all originate? It originated in this way. The Government woke up to the fact that there was this increasing burden upon the Legal Aid Fund and upon the State, by reason of the expenditure on legal aid in matrimonial cases. That that was the origin of these Rules is made perfectly clear in the correspondence that took place between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Law Society. In the course of one letter the noble and learned Lord said this:I am bound to say that much of the criticism of the Government's proposals, both in Parliament and outside it, seems to me to have been pretty wide of the mark, if it is accepted, as I think it must be, that something 1441 has got to be done to reduce the total cost falling on the Legal Aid Fund in matrimonial cases.So that the way in which the argument proceeded was this: that something had to be done to cut down this increased burden in legal aid in matrimonial cases.
If, of course, it could have been contended that this increased burden was due to the fact that the scheme was ill-administered or uneconomically administered; or if it could have been said that there was some waste of public money which ought to be stopped; or if this had been another of those scandals that ought to be brought before the Accounts Committee; or if it could have been said that this increased burden of cost was due to the cupidity of the legal profession, that would have been one thing. But it was not due to that. Inquiries were made, and they disclosed that the reason why the burden of legal aid in matrimonial cases had increased was that there were more of them.
What was the Government's reaction to this? One might have thought that the Government would say, "Well, if more people are in a position to take advantage of the Legal Aid Scheme, if more people can bring themselves within its ambit, if more people want to take advantage of it, then we must accept the increased burden." After all, it must have been within the contemplation of the Government, must it not? when legal aid was introduced in the first place, that the burden falling upon the Fund would vary according to the number of people who took advantage of it or who might be in a position to take advantage of it from one time to another. But that was not at all the Government's attitude. They said "No; this is intolerable. Something has got to be done to reduce this burden".
If they wanted to reduce the burden of legal aid in divorce cases, what steps might they have taken? They might have tightened up the divorce laws, so as to make divorce more difficult. But that would have been contrary to all the trends of the time. As an alternative, they might have tightened up the legal aid regulations, so as to make legal aid not available to the less indigent applicants or to increase the amount of the contributions. These were things which they might have done. Instead, the 1442 solution which they hit upon was to say, "We will take it out of the lawyers." I said earlier that the matter had in it some elements of farce. The title of this farce is, "How to win friends and influence people without actually paying for it."
The machinery to do this lay to hand because, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has explained, from time immemorial the remuneration of the legal profession in matrimonial cases has been on the High Court scale. That is a scale which attaches a particular sum to particular items of work but, for the most part, leaves the decision as to what remuneration is to be paid to the legal profession, both solicitors and barristers, to the discretion of the taxing master or the registrar, who looks at the amount of work done and decides what is a fair remuneration for that work. If it was contended that the scale was too generous, then the solution would have been to scale it down. But it could not be contended that the scale was too generous because it has recently been found by the Prices and Incomes Board that in general terms litigation—that is to say, contentious business—is unremunerative to the legal profession. Therefore it could not be said that this scale is too high.
What did the Government decide to do? They said, "Well, we cannot get away with that, so we will transfer the matrimonial causes—at any rate undefended divorces and ancillary matters—to the county court, which will enable us to pay the lawyers on the county court scale." This had two effects. In the first place, under the county court procedure there is no need for counsel to be engaged. In the county court solicitors have a right of audience, and therefore the expense of counsel can be got rid of, and the burden, obligation and responsibility—a burden which previously was carried by the Bar—can be thrown on to the solicitors. Secondly, the county court scales have always been lower than the High Court scale, and therefore one will be able to bring the matrimonial business within the lower scale of the county court.
This transfer of matrimonial causes to the county court had two great advantages from the Government point of view. First, it threw additional burdens and responsibilities on solicitors; and, secondly, 1443 the Government were going to get all the work done at cut rates—at rates which have been declared by the Prices and Incomes Board to be quite unremunerative and inadequate. This affords an interesting commentary on the White Paper which appeared to-day, in which the Government reaffirm that they are prepared to reconsider an increase of remuneration if it is strictly tied to an increase in productivity. What is being done under these Rules, however, is something quite different. What is being done here is that the legal profession, the solicitors, are having required of them an increased productivity, and the consideration for it is an enforced reduction in their remuneration. The increased cost of Legal Aid to the State is to be met by requiring solicitors to accept a scale which has been found by an independent body to be wholly unremunerative.
That, no doubt, is what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, had in mind when he was speaking at Cambridge in October, 1966, on the occasion to which another noble Lord referred earlier. I think he was addressing the Labour Party and he said, speaking of solicitors' fees in general and referring in particular to the county court scale:Show me any other body of men in the country who, with rising overheads and staff on whom they now have to pay selective employment tax, have not been allowed to increase some of their charges for eleven years.I imagine that the challenge there was rhetorical. If he wants to find any other body of men who are in that plight, I can only suggest that he might direct his inquiries to the Charity Commissioners.
I should like to conclude—and I am sorry that I have detained your Lordships for longer than I intended—with a footnote to what the noble Lord opposite was saying just now. I should like to speak now as one of those general practitioners in the law, and a provincial practitioner at that. We do not claim to have any excess of virtue or sense of public duty, and I should lose your Lordships' patience if I claimed any such thing. But the fact remains that, in common with all other reputable professions, we from time to time have 1444 to do work for nothing or for inadequate remuneration because of the particular circumstances of the case, because we are confronted with a client who is without adequate means and does not come within the ambit of the Legal Aid scheme. We are faced with the alternative of doing the work for that person or turning him away, and I like to think that the great majority of my profession do not turn people away in such circumstances. There is nothing remarkable about that. There is nothing greatly to our credit about it. It is something which is done by members of all reputable professions.
But these Rules confront us with something which is quite different. They are writing into an Act of Parliament, and writing into Orders made under that Act of Parliament, that over a wide range, a not insubstantial part of the business they do, solicitors are to be required from now on to accept a remuneration which involves them in an actual loss. That is a very different matter indeed, and I respectfully submit to your Lordships that as a matter of public policy it is wrong that a Government should handle a matter of that kind in that way.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, after the very persuasive and eloquent speeches which your Lordships have heard on this subject, which I think we must all agree, whatever importance we attach to it, is not the most important subject in the world, you might conclude that no further arguments could conceivably be devised on the matter; or that if human ingenuity, and even solicitors' ingenuity, could devise further arguments you would tolerate being deprived of them even permanently. But there are one or two things which I should like to say quite briefly on this subject, in support of the Prayer of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.
The first point I should like to make is this. I would hope that a profession which has a very honourable record of public service, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, may have said —and I do not think he was saying anything to the contrary—will not over-stress the suggestion that it will not participate in these matters on account of questions of remuneration. I do not believe that, in the end, lawyers in any 1445 category, and solicitors in particular, will be deterred from rendering public services by any selfish consideration arising from their remuneration. But if I may say so, to my mind that makes it doubly important that solicitors should not be penalised in this fashion, because they will, I think, undertake the work whatever may happen. Solicitors have an exceptionally fine record in the way of organising the whole of the Legal Aid Scheme, which is a very splendid social feature of the services we now provide in this country. The Law Society in particular—and I can speak in praise of the Law Society without any suggestion that I am praising myself, since I have had no formal association with it except as a mere solicitor member—has, I think, carried for years the brunt of the administration of the whole of the legal aid system, and was very actively and primarily engaged in devising the system. I think it is fair to say that but for the activities of the Law Society and the activities of solicitors as a whole the legal aid system would not have been a success and would not be shaped as it is to-day.
The second point I want to make is this. I find myself unusually in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Tangley on the question of the transfer of divorce cases to county courts. This is something which I personally welcome very much. I thought it was an important sign of the democratisation of our legal system. If I may say so, it was a development introduced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in key with the many reforms which he is introducing. I think it is an important reform, and I think it is extremely important that it should work. I think, therefore, that it behaves the people who have made this change to see that it works, and one of the requisites for making it work is that no one should have the feeling that this is justice "on the cheap", or that any litigant concerned in having his matrimonial affairs adjudicated upon in the county courts is having a less careful, less accurate and less meticulous trial than would have taken place in the High Court.
I have on previous occasions alluded to what I have myself regarded as the excessive arguments addressed to the question of retaining matrimonial causes in 1446 the High Court, because the nature of the administration of justice in the High Court in relation to matrimonial matters did not invest it with any particular dignity. Lawyers who practised in those courts will remember the hastily contrived, nissen-type huts and quarters in which cases were conducted. They will remember that the cases were admirably conducted by county court judges—the self-same judges who will conduct them now. It seems to me that to have devised a rate of remuneration which is demon-strably inadequate—one has only to mention the amount to see how, by current standards, it is inadequate—gives rise to something more than an apprehension that people coming into those courts to have this most important matter dealt with, this most vital matter in relation to their personal lives, will have a very distinct suspicion that they are not receiving the same service, that they are not receiving the same care and attention, that they would have received previously. I think it is on these aspects of the matter, and not on the narrower question of the remuneration of solicitors, that the real importance of this debate attaches.
It is also important that the Government should realise the difficult position in which professions as a whole, and solicitors particularly, are placed 10-day through the various economic trends and tendencies. Office rents are enormously increased and rates of pay of clerks and other employees are greatly increased, but rates of remuneration have not increased proportionately. Solicitors as a profession—and, if I may say so, I think that in this respect the Bar are worse treated than solicitors—have little or no opportunities of saving, have little or no opportunities of amassing any kind of provision for their futures, except those provisions which arise under the Finance Act insurance schemes of which the House will be aware. It is very important that these professions, which are so vital to the maintenance of so many features of life in this country, and particular to the maintenance of very crucial liberties in this country, should not have placed upon them a burden which they cannot sustain.
Therefore there is a much wider question involved in this debate than the mere question of whether a particular piece of work done by a particular person 1447 should be remunerated at a rate of 6s. 8d. or 10s. 6d. It is, I think, a question of maintaining the standards of a profession whose standards are now seriously challenged. It is on this general ground that I hope the Government will reconsider the matter and give heed to the persuasive arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and those other Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken in his support.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ LORD WRENBURY
My Lords, I, too, am a solicitor, but I do not practise in divorce. I wish to make a few short points. It seems to me that if this remuneration is to be just, it should provide a decent living for somebody who specialises in this kind of work. The normal country solicitor, if he is in a modest way of business, hopes to earn a gross annual income of around £3,500. His overheads are probably 70 per cent, so he retains only 30 per cent, for himself. Working on those figures, I think that he must earn over £11,000 a year at this kind of work if he is to earn a decent living for himself. If one works on the basis of each case being remunerated at £55 and on his being an advocate and not employing counsel, he must do some, thing like one case per working day in order to make ends meet. Allowing for the fact that he does not do the whole thing himself but has to employ a secretary and a clerk to do the filing in the court, I calculate that the amount of time he is going to have to spend on each of these cases is not more than between five and six hours. This may seem a reasonable amount of time if you never leave your office; but if you go to the county court—and this applies to any kind of county court practice—it cannot be done by appointment. You turn up at the beginning and you await your call. You may be unlucky or you may get in quite early. But you can spend a whole morning waiting about in a county court, and that could represent some three or three-and-a-half hours of your time.
What I should like to know is this: has the calculation been done in reverse? Has anybody tried to calculate how much time is going to be allotted to the client for this kind of case? It seems to me that this is an important calculation; 1448 for once you get to the stage that the principal cannot handle this work economically then divorce practice is going to be relegated to the managing clerk, who is paid about half as much and who therefore can take twice as long to do the job. I cannot believe that divorces in this country should be run on a sort of managing clerk level; that a kind of debt collectors' service is really the way to do it. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has said: that there is a limit to how far down the scale one ought to go in this type of work. That is all I have to say; but it seems to me that even on the basis of the Law Society's suggestion it is cutting it as fine as it possibly could be. If sufficient time is to be given I do not see that this work can possibly be dealt with at the level now suggested.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have listened with great interest and with sympathy to the eight noble solicitors and to the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. There are some things which all lawyers know and which perhaps I ought to explain. The first is that the Government do not leave it to the lawyers to decide what is a High Court case and what is a county court case. That has always been dealt with by Parliament. Secondly, the lawyer gets higher costs in the High Court than in the county court. Thirdly, at all times there is a movement one way or the other. Either the lawyers are doing this year for higher fees what they did last year for lower fees, or vice versa.
The reason, in the main, is that the county court jurisdiction depends on the amount in dispute, and this has gone up with the fall in the value of money. As a matter of interest, in 1846 it was £20; in 1850, it was £50; in 1903 it was £100; in 1938 it was £200; in 1955 it was £400; in 1966 it was £500. When Parliament is making no change, then as the value of money, in terms of goods, is always going down (or, if you like to put it the other way, the cost of an average secondhand car is going up), all the time it is happening, a car about which an action last year could have been heard in the county court this year will have to go to the High Court. Lawyers do not always complain that it is not right that for doing exactly the same case, in 1449 exactly the same way, they should be paid High Court costs when last year they were doing it at county court costs, and nobody expects them to complain. But it is always happening one way or the other. The moment that Parliament puts up the county court limit, immediately the lawyers have to do at county court rates work for which the day before they got High Court rates. Then again, when the value of money falls they are getting paid on a High Court scale for what they previously did in the county court.
Ultimately, the result of all this at the present time, assuming that £200 jurisdiction was about the right figure just before the war, as it was, the county court jurisdiction to-day ought to be £700. It is £500. So to some extent the lawyers are still getting as High Court cases some cases which really ought to be heard in the county court.
My Lords, perhaps I may just say a word as to divorce history. It is quite true that one of the things in the Government's mind has been legal aid, because until 1960–61 we always spent on civil legal aid £1 million. The total went up every year. In 1960–61 it was over £1 million; the year after that it was £2½ million; the year after that it was £3½ million; the year after that it was £4½ million; the year after that it was £5 million, and the year after that it was £5½ million. Now, it is running at the rate of £6 million; which is for civil legal aid, apart from criminal legal aid; and there are limits to the taxpayers' pocket. But the suggestion that undefended divorces are being sent to the county court simply to save money is not true.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that this is the right thing to do. After the war, in 1949, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, will remember, there were so many divorces that the High Court Judges simply could not try them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was Chairman of a Committee which sat to decide what was to be done about this problem. I myself suggested, on behalf of the Society of Labour Lawyers, when I gave evidence before that Committee, that undefended divorce actions ought to be tried in the county court. This was on principle, because, after all, these cases are undefended, 1450 twelve-minute cases, and they did not seem to me to justify High Court costs, even in those days.
Your Lordships may remember that when the recent Act was introduced as a Bill the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said he was rather embarrassed at having to agree with everything I said, but that had there been a Conservative Government they were going to do exactly the same thing—only, he said, they would have cone it more quickly. If these cases are transferred to the county court, obviously the lawyers are going to get less. I said at that time that I estimated the saving at £400,000 a year. My noble friend Lord Silkin said he warmly welcomed the Bill; he was entirely in favour of it. He did not say that it could not be right for the lawyers to get £400,000 a year less than they are getting at the moment. He welcomed the Bill; he thought that it would save more than I had suggested because people would have their cases tried locally.
My Lords, on the timetable, if I may get this right, the Bill which is now an Act was ready for introduction in October, 1965, but owing to the pressure on legislative time, had to wait until the October, 1966, Session before being introduced. It became law in July. In the summer, Rules were drafted, and I intended to bring them into operation on January 1. But then the Law Society (whom we naturally always consult about Rules), said that they had a very great deal to do, and that when the Rules are published solicitors have got to understand them and get used to them. I thought that was reasonable, and agreed that we should not start until April 1.
I do not want to get involved in quantum. I do not accept Lord Tangley's £40. In a legal aid case I should say that it is more like £59. But I agree—and I have said this publicly for the last two years—that solicitors are having a difficult time. They are overworked. There is a great shortage of solicitors. The Law Society themselves reckon that they are short of 5,000 solicitors—about 25 per cent. There are 30 jobs for every newly qualified solicitor now. They cannot get staff. Their overheads go up all the time, and they are subject to S.E.T.
1451 One thing that is quite plain is that county court fees—and this applies to both barristers and solicitors—could not possibly be right, because they have not been increased for twelve years. Anything fixed twelve years ago, when we think of the increases in salaries, in telephones and every sort of thing, could not be right now. Therefore I was not at all surprised when I received an application from the Law Society for an increase in county court costs. Unfortunately, we are subject to a prices and incomes policy and, as this morning's White Paper says:Many individual salaries and other forms of remuneration, including that of company directors and executives, are fixed outside the usual process of collective bargaining. The principles of incomes policy should, however, be applied equally to them as to other forms of income. The incomes and scales of charges and fees of self-employed persons, including all forms of professional fees, are expected to conform with the policy.Therefore, any Minister with power to fix remuneration has to comply with the prices and incomes policy.
The Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and I had to refer this matter to the Prices and Incomes Board. What the Board said was fairly indicated by my noble friend Lord Silkin. Having carried out an extensive sampling of solicitors' incomes and compared them with what they were at the time of the Pilkington Committee about nine years ago, they found it untrue to say that solicitors were earning enormous incomes. They found that about one-quarter were earning over £6,000 a year and a quarter less than £2,500. What they said was that solicitors have kept up with the Joneses. Looking at the increases in earnings between the time of the Pilkington Committee and the present, they found that the increase in solicitors' incomes was just about the same as those of other professional men. They have fared a little better than the architects, and not quite so well as the doctors. Therefore, there was no justification for any general increases in solicitors' incomes. But they said that solicitor's earnings were too little in county court work, and too much in other forms of work. They said that county court costs were obviously too low and an increase of 55 per cent, would be £2.4 million. Then they said that lessee's solicitors 1452 should get the same as the lessor's solicitors. That would be another £0.9million. Finally, the increase which they thought necessary to encourage the conveyancing of lower priced houses would add a further £0.8 million to total income. These increases would total £4.1million and the reduction elsewhere was therefore appropriate. They then said that in the middle ranges of conveyancing there should be the same total reduction as they were recommending increases. This is a package deal.
I do not think it is generally understood that the result of this is this. First of all, obviously, this being a package deal, the solicitors cannot get the increases and pay no attention to the decreases. Secondly, nothing can happen in any case unless and until the Government have decided whether or not they are going to accept the Report. I am not in a position to make any statement about that, because it has always been the right of anyone affected by a Report to make representations to the Government against the Report.
Within 48 hours of the Report's being published I asked the Law Society whether they wanted to do this. I told them that I could not tell them whether the Government would accept the Report or not. I said: "All I can tell you is that, on the one hand, if they do not accept the Report it will be the first time the Government have not accepted a Report from the Prices and Incomes Board. On the other hand, it may seem wrong—I do not know—to some of my colleagues to implement a Report which means that poor people buying houses will be charged more and richer people will be charged less. But it will be for the Government to decide". They said they wanted to make representations against the Report. So at the moment the matter is entirely in the court of the Law Society. I have told them that I hope they will let me have their representations as soon as possible, because the sooner they get the increase which in county court cases they ought to have, the better, so far as I am concerned.
I have also said to them: "We do not want further delays. If you are going to consult local law societies, and so on, about your representations, I hope that you will save time by thinking about two things: first, how exactly you are going 1453 to work the reductions in conveyancing; and secondly, how exactly you want to work the increase in county court fees. If you are going to get an increase of 55 per cent., do you want it straight across the board, or do you want an increase of 70 per cent, for debt collecting work"—which solicitors say is worse paid than anything else—"and 10 per cent. for divorce, or what?" I hope that this is being done. But it is for those reasons that there is nothing further I can do at the moment.
Three Orders were made on February 21. First, an Order bringing the Act into force on Thursday of next week. That is an Order which cannot be annulled and which the Government have no power either to withdraw or to amend. The second, on the same day, was the Rules Order—that is, the Rules other than costs—and that is the first of the Orders which my noble friend Lord Silkin would wish to annul. But nobody suggests that there is anything wrong with the Rules. I think one or two speakers have gone out of their way to explain that they do not quarrel with the Rules; they are only quarrelling with the Costs Rules.
The other Order which my noble friend seeks to annul is, of course, the Costs Rules. As I have said, I have great sympathy with solicitors, and to some extent the Bar, too, in so far as all county court costs are too low. All I can say is that, having a Prices and Incomes Act, the application had to be referred to the Board. The Board have now made the Report, and nothing can be done until the Government have decided whether or not they are going to accept the Report. For that I am waiting for the representations which are being made by the Law Society.
There are two other points that I should like to mention. It is not accurate to say that solicitors who work in the High Court and who used to have an average of £65 a case are now getting less for doing exactly the same work. It will not be exactly the same work for this reason: that in some dozen different ways we have simplified the new Rules. We have taken out steps which used to have to be taken, like an affidavit to support a petition, like the solicitors having to find the petitioner and serve him. The court is now going to do the 1454 serving, so it will not be exactly the same. Solicitors will not have as much work as before.
The other thing which I think I should mention is this, because nobody has mentioned it at all and those who are not lawyers would not know it. For years and years solicitors, particularly young solicitors, have said to me, "You know, it really is absurd that I am not allowed to do my divorce cases. For twenty years they have been tried by my local county court judge. It is this monopoly of the Bar. I have to get a barrister to do these cases, and it is absurd, really, because I do personal injury cases, factory accident cases, cases which may last a day, or two or three days, before my county court judge, some involving medical evidence, and difficult questions of law. Yet here is an undefended case that lasts 12 minutes and I am not allowed to do it". The persons who are really affected by this are the barristers, because for the first time every solicitor will be able to do all his undefended divorce cases himself. You would not think that, because in the large brief which has been sent out by the Law Society, which I have seen, to every solicitor Member of the House, this seems to be the one relevant thing which is not mentioned. There is a Birmingham solicitor who has engaged a young solicitor to do all his divorce cases. After all, you can do a dozen in a morning at £60 a time. It is not all that bad. And whether they do them all themselves is entirely a matter for them, but they could. If so, of course the Bar—this is a straight transfer of money from one branch of the profession to another—will lose the whole of this work—
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, but he may be so carried away by his enthusiasm that he may be giving a rather unfortunate impression, that a dozen divorce cases can be completed in one morning from beginning to end by a solicitor. I think that would be an unfortunate impression to convey to the public at large.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I did not mean of course that he prepares the whole case in a morning. I am talking about the hearing. A dozen cases can be done at one hearing, but of course the 1455 fee he gets, like the barrister's, covers work previously done. As I said, I am very sympathetic to lawyers about county court fees; they are obviously not enough, having been fixed 12 years ago. I am anxious to help in every way I can to see that in this respect the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board is implemented. It means, I am afraid, so far as solicitors are concerned, that some of the conveyancing fees will also have to be reduced. But it may be that both courses are right, because we must face the fact that the value of land has gone up so much. But, of course, being paid on a scale is of great assistance.
My Lords, I do not think I can say any more, except that these, of course, are Government Orders, and about public expenditure, because so far as Section 9 of the Act is concerned (which is the section under which these Costs Rules are made), this was, I think, subject to a Privilege Amendment, and as this concerns money it is peculiarly a matter of the other House. On those grounds, I would ask the House not to accede to my noble friend's Motion.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, as a matter of fact I was going to ask the House to do exactly the same; that is, not to accede to my Prayer, because, for one thing, this House has never since, I think, 1911 successfully prayed against, or even divided against, a Statutory Instrument; and I should hate to create a precedent after all these years. Secondly, my noble and learned friend has to some extent given us a little satisfaction; and I think fully justified the Prayer which I put down. I hope he was not meaning to draw any particular significance from the fact that eight of the speakers were solicitors. After all, they know where the shoe pinches, and they are in the best position to say—far better, even, than barristers—that a gross injustice has been done. Therefore I was glad to find that my noble and learned friend was in sympathy with that view and that there is a hope that something will be done.
I am sure the Law Society will make their representations, and I am equally sure that we, as a profession, will be very willing indeed to look at the other aspects of solicitors' costs, such as conveyancing, where on the one hand in the case of the 1456 smaller conveyancing transactions it is proposed to increase the fees, and on the other hand in the case of the larger ones it is proposed to decrease the fees. We are perfectly willing to consider all these things sympathetically. But the purpose of this debate was to draw special attention to this particular Rule which was asking the members of the solicitors' profession to undertake work for fees which admittedly not only were unremunerative but would have involved them in a loss; and if there is any hope that that state of affairs is going to be remedied then I am sure we have justified the purpose of this debate. In those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw this Motion, and I do not propose to move the second Motion standing in my name.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.