I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is to bring into conformity with modern conditions to some extent, and to improve, the provisions relating to the general and professional education of solicitors. Solicitors hold a very high and responsible position. Their education, and the conditions under which they obtain the qualifications enabling them to practice, are safeguarded by a number of Acts of Parliament. One of the most important is the Act of 1877. The development of modern education, and the establishment of the new Universities afford an opportunity of meeting the needs of the present time. This Bill has the warm support of, and is recommended by, the Law Society, who have control of the conduct of solicitors, and are very anxious to get the Bill passed. It is a matter, largely, of domestic arrangement made among the solicitors, in order to secure that their members have the opportunity of a good education, and also have sufficient freedom to take advantage of modern institutions, and of the new Universities which provide degrees. At the present time a solicitor has to pass a preliminary examination, an intermediate examination, and a final examination. In Clause 1 there are provisions for giving a wider alternative than exists at present, by extending the number of institutions whose examinations will be taken in lieu of the preliminary examination. Clause 2, which applies only after the passing of the Act, requires that before any candidate is admitted to the final examination, certain requirements shall be fulfilled, and there shall be an attendance at a course of legal education. It may be difficult to enforce that course, particularly in the country, and therefore there is a proviso that the society, in their discretion, may exempt certain persons who have not the advantages which other may enjoy, and from the society there is an appeal to the Master of the Rolls. Who is, by ancient tradition, the authority entrusted with the final decision in matters concerning solicitors. Clause 3 provides that there shall be a larger number of Universities and other bodies, whose examinations shall be treated in the way which was limited, by the Act of 1877, to a smaller body of Universities.
I do not think that I need refer to the other Sections. I am conscious of the fact that a certain number of these matters will require examination in Committee, and I hope especially to have the assistance of the solicitors who are Members of this House, in examining those matters before the Committee. I have myself undertaker to look into one or two matters which are Committee points. But the general purpose of the Bill is to improve the conditions in which profes- sional education is secured by a solicitor, and to bring them more into conformity with modern times. I do not ask the House at the present time to give me more space in which to enlarge on the purposes of the Bill. I suggest that the Bill should go to a Committee, and I think that the House probably would desire to retain any further points which may emerge in the Committee stage for the Report stage and the Third Reading.
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."
I do not suggest that it will be necessary to take this Amendment to a Division, but I move it in order to bring out the highly controversial character of Clause 2 of the Bill, which is really the main point in the Measure. This Clause has the effect of depriving managing clerks to solicitors of the statutory right to sit for their final examinations which they have enjoyed ever since the year 1860, without having to satisfy the condition precedent of attending a recognised law school. This Clause destroys that cherished privilege, and the managing clerks are bitterly opposed to having it taken away. The Bill seeks to apply the same rules of admission to a young man fresh from a school or University as to the solicitor's managing clerk who is usually over 30 years of age and has had many years' professional experience in a solicitor's office. The distinction is recognised by the Act of 1860, by which managing clerks, who in these circumstances receive articles from their employers, need not give more than three years' service under these articles. Ever since 1860 they have had the right to sit for these examinations, without the examiners being concerned as to how they acquired the information to enable them to pass. The test has been whether or not they can pass the examination. It is no concern of the examiners whether they have acquired the knowledge in the practical course of their business or by going to a coach, or by working at home, or by going to a law school. The effect of the Bill is to impose an entirely new condition precedent on men in this position taking the examination, and they have to attend every year a course of instruction, which is no doubt very necessary for younger men, at certain recognised schools of law.
Before the House deprives a considerable body of men of privileges which they have enjoyed for over 60 years, we ought to know the reason why. The Attorney-General has given no reason why these men should be deprived of their statutory right. Taking the experience of the legal profession of the existence of this statutory right ever since 1860, I believe that the class of men, the type of intellect, and the standard of education of the solicitor's managing clerk, who has entered the profession during this period, have all been steadily rising. We have not heard whether any complaint has come from the solicitors or from the employers of these men that the standard has gone down in any way. If the standard has been satisfactory and the result of the enjoyment of this statutory right has been satisfactory, I cannot see how the Attorney-General can ask the House to deprive men of vested rights which they have enjoyed over a long period of time.
The effect of this alteration in the law would be to add considerably to the burden which these men feel in passing these examinations. That burden is already great for the man who has left his school years far behind and has occupied the whole of his working days in the routine of the profession. He has not that elasticity of mind or freedom of time to devote himself to working for examination that is enjoyed by the younger man not professionally occupied. It would be difficult for such men to find the necessary time to attend a law school. It would make it dearer for them to become solicitors. What is a school of law? It is left largely to the discretion of the Law Society to determine what these schools are. At present most of these men are not free until about 6.30 in the evening, and it would add greatly to the burden of their lives during their work for their examination to have this attendance imposed upon them. It is quite true that the Law Society, under the scheme of this Bill, has power to exempt men in such cases from attending the law school. But that power can be exercised at their absolute discretion, subject to a right of appeal. The effect of that is to substitute for a statutory immunity simply the right to ask for an act of grace entirely within the discretion of the Law Society, whose interest it is, no doubt, to build up a profitable and successful school of law and to force the largest possible number of men into the orbit of that school.
Before we do this we ought to know what is the view of solicitors who are employing managing clerks, what is the view of the managing clerks themselves, and what amount of consideration has been given to the claims which they sent forward for consideration. Last week the Solicitors' Managing Clerks' Association submitted a detailed memorandum to the learned Attorney-General, stating what was their position on the matter. It is very difficult to reconcile the propositions which they put forward then with the provisions of this particular Clause. I cannot think that the House will carry Clause 2 in anything like its present form, without the consent of the only people whose interests are affected by it, and without giving infinitely more consideration than has been given hitherto to their claims.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I submit to the Attorney-General that it is impossible to give anything like fair consideration to this Bill to-day. I saw on the Order Paper yesterday a reference to the Solicitors Bill. Being interested in such subjects, I inquired at the Vote Office for a copy of the Bill, and found there was none available. I inquired later from a solicitor, prominent in his profession and a Member of this House, what was the Solicitors Bill. Although he was as well qualified to speak upon the affairs of the profession as, I suppose, most men in the country, he told me that he understood that the Bill was one to give to solicitors the same power as was possessed by barristers of charging without notifying what were the particulars of their fees. One can imagine, therefore, my surprise this morning in receiving with the Orders for to-day a Bill which is of the utmost consequence, a Bill which is very much more important than the introduction of the Attorney-General would lead one to believe. He spoke of it as being simply a domestic arrangement, or something of that sort. I cannot recall the adjective he used. It is a great deal more than that. It con- cerns not merely the solicitors who are now practising; it concerns thousands and tens of thousands of youths who are looking to the profession or will be looking to it in later years. In every Clause it effects considerable alterations in the law.
It may be difficult for those who are Members of this House and are not acquainted with the more intimate circumstances of the legal profession, to appreciate the position of the managing clerk. It sometimes happens that a boy goes into a solicitor's office from a poor home, and in the course of years exhibits alacrity of mind, intelligence and mental grasp, which, in the opinion of his employer, entitle him to the full advantage of admission to the profession. It is all to the good that the way should be made open for such lads. We want to secure that the legal profession, like every other career, shall be open to talent, without restrictions limiting the profession to those who are in the possession of means. I understand that between Scotland and this country there is a difference of method. I am told that in Scotland it is possible for a poor boy to become a member of the legal profession more readily than in England.
We have to take into consideration the fact that when a lad's articles are signed there is £80 to be paid on the stamp, and that there follows upon that the loss to his people if he should be for five years unable to earn anything. There are, in addition, the expense of obtaining his books and apparatus, the expense consequent upon sitting for his examination, and generally there is associated with it the premium to be paid to the solicitor, which in the country districts is generally about £200 or £250. It is obvious, therefore, that at present, in the case of a lad who enters the profession, parents have to undertake a liability which may amount to nearly £1,000. There ought to be a full opportunity for the boy whose father cannot provide any such sum. I suppose it is known to hon. Members that practically in every town, as well as in many smaller country districts, there is no premium for the articled managing clerk, and that many of the most distinguished members 0? the profession to-day are those who entered the profession after having been clerks. This Bill, in every one of its Clauses, makes the difficulty greater. In present circumstances it is possible for a youth to be exempted from the preliminary examination if he has passed the Oxford or Cambridge local examination. As far as I can see that privilege is taken away.
The privilege is enlarged. The effect of Clause 1 is to give the youth a greater choice of examinations, which will relieve him from the preliminary law examination. The Clause is to help him by giving him an opportunity of taking other educational opportunities, instead of restricting him as at present.
A large number of examinations are referred to in the earlier Statute. I quite agree to the list being extended, but will the Attorney-General give an assurance that if a youth, after the passing of this Bill, sit for the Oxford or Cambridge local examination, he will, without question, be entitled to exemption from the ordinary legal preliminary examination?
If the Attorney-General reads Clause 1, and particularly Sub-section (5), I think he will see that there should be an answer to my question as to whether or not, apart from any discretion or decision of the Law Society or any other organisation, or any officials, however highly placed, a youth who has passed the Oxford or Cambridge local examination shall be entitled, as of right, to become articled immediately to a solicitor. As far as I can see, there is a limitation of two years in Sub-section (5).
I know the old Act has been changed in one or two material particulars, and I am perfectly ready to associate myself with those who want to bring about such alterations as the passing of 60 or 70 years require. All will be agreed that we want to have available for the legal profession the best in the country. We are also agreed that no youth should be shut out because of his poverty. The profession should not be limited to those who come from the more wealthy homes. This career, like every other career, should be open as far as possible to talent. There is at present, in the Stamp Duty, a certain restriction, and I have no doubt the hon. Member who has just intervened will himself recognise that there are cases where that Stamp Duty is an absolute bar. Some who might have become distinguished members of the profession have been prevented from entering upon a life suited to their capacity, because of the condition requiring that £80 should be paid into the coffers of the State. A very important change is suggested in the Bill as far as law schools are concerned. Will the Attorney-General explain from whom this comes; what pressure there has been in this respect? Of course, boys or youths who desire to become solicitors vary in talent. There are some who could sit for the intermediate examination and the final examination without any help at all— youths of capacity and gifts who could, without the aid of any law school, meet all the requirements of the examination. By imposing the necessity for attendance for 12 months at a law school, we may be inflicting hardship upon those who live in country districts.
Take the case of a lad, in a village, articled to a country solicitor and living many miles from a town where there is a law school. It is not intended that in every provincial town there is to be a law school. If such a boy is required to attend school regularly he is placed in a very great difficulty. I know it is suggested that where there are certain geographical conditions, exemptions may be given by the Law Society. I think the applications for exemption will be very numerous. Either the examination which is now imposed is a sufficient examination or not. If it is not a sufficient examination, why not let those responsible extend the examination from two days to four days or six days? Let us have any examination which is necessary, to thoroughly and exhaustively test the capacity of those who are sitting for it, and if the tests thus imposed are satisfied, why should we concern ourselves about the- means by which the knowledge is obtained? The knowledge is the main thing. Why should we prescribe the processes by which it is obtained? It is an entirely new theory that such a thing should be done. My experience is smaller than that of many other legal practitioners who are Members of this House, but I have had youths articled to me, and I have noticed the marked differences which exist. One youth must go to London and attend his classes in order to sit for his final. Another young man of much greater grasp needs no help at all: he has a natural gift for the profession and for the acquisition of legal knowledge. All that he requires can be gained from the many text books which are published. If he went to a law school it might only be a hindrance to him. If at the end of five years such a lad can satisfy the examiners in every particular, why should we pass a Measure which takes him away from the ordinary work he can do day by day in an office, where he is acquiring a practical knowledge worth a hundred times as much as the theoretical knowledge which would be imparted to him in a law school? Why should he be taken away for 12 months from his articled service? If there is any necessity for this let the necessity be shown.
I presume my hon. Friend is a member of the Law Society. Clause 2 represents the considered view of the Law Society, who had the interests of solicitors in all parts of the country before them. They have deliberately come to the conclusion that Clause 2 embodies views which they think wise and prudent. I really care nothing about the Clause at all, but I understand that it represents the views of the Law Society, and it is from their demand that Clause 2 comes.
I am a member of the Law Society, but am bound to say I have no knowledge of this. I am just an ordinary member of the society, and not a member of any of its committees. After all, I am here, not as a member of the Law Society, but as a Member of Parliament, and I am entitled to bring to bear upon this Bill or any other Bill what criticism I can.
I am anxious to see the legal profession open to every intelligent lad in this country, as every public career should be open. A Bill of this kind. which requires reference to earlier Statutes, cannot be properly discussed in the course of an hour. We only received the Bill three hours ago, and we cannot be expected even to express an opinion upon it, let alone to vote upon its Second Beading, after such brief time for consideration. Whether the Bill be good or bad, it ought to be the considered work of this House. If it be passed on the Second Reading to-day, it is sent to a Committee, and there cannot be given to it on Second Reading that careful consideration which any Bill of this character demands. I therefore associate myself with the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Lieut.-Colonel Hurst).
I am sorry I was not present when the Attorney-General introduced this Bill, but by a curious coincidence this is the day of the annual meeting of the Law Society, and I happen to be on the Council of that body, and so had to be present there. But they have asked me to come here to ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading. I should like to answer one or two of the questions put by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). He spoke about the expense of becoming a solicitor, but, as a matter of fact, J think a man can become a solicitor more cheaply than he can qualify for any other of the learned professions—certainly more cheaply than for the medical profession, or the clerical profession, or to become a stock broker. It must be remembered that solicitors are in a peculiar fiduciary capacity in regard to their clients, and therefore it is essential that members of the profession should be persons of a certain standing.
No, I do not say that at all; but it is a fact that the solicitor's profession at the present time is one of the cheapest professions to enter. This Bill, I may say, has received a tremendous amount of consideration at the hands of the Lord Chancellor and the Law Society. It is not an idle Bill that was suddenly produced, but it has been the work of several years, and it is really a domestic Bill of the profession, bringing the conditions at the present time up to date. It is from the students that the demand for Clause 2 comes, and also the demand that there should be an easier way of getting degrees. I do not know that I personally attach much importance to the legal degrees; I do not know that they have very much influence, but we know that a great number of these students do prefer to have degrees after their names. If that very laudable ambition is to be brought about, it will have to take the form proposed in the Bill, and that is why we have suggested this Clause. We are very keen indeed that members of the profession should be able to increase their knowledge by means of these schools of law, and we think that the short time that has recently been introduced is hardly long enough to give a thorough legal training, and therefore all those who can take advantage of a school of law and take a year's training there should be able to do so, while there are many opportunities for anyone who cannot do so to obtain exemption in the ordinary way. We want to increase the fees payable from 5s. to £l, the difference of 15s. to go to the cost of legal education, and I am sure the House will sympathise with that In regard to Clause 9, that Clause defines the universities which are included in the list and enables the Bill to extend it to the new universities. Under the old Act these new universities were not in existence, and we want therefore to include the new universities which now send representatives to this House. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. The small details which have been criticised can be thrashed out in Committee, and I am sure the representatives of the Law Society will be very pleased to meet and confer with anyone who wishes to make any alteration in the Bill.
I have only had the opportunity of seeing this Bill within the last few minutes, and I am not therefore in a position to discuss any of its details very carefully. I think the Bill should certainly have a Second Beading and go to a Committee, where possibly some Amendments may be moved, but I want to ask one or two questions concerning it. I am in very great sympathy with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), who is opposing this Bill, in refer-
ence to Clause 2. I realise the difficulties to which he has referred. At the same time, I cannot help feeling that for anyone who is to enter the learned profession of a solicitor it would be a very great advantage to have had one year's attendance at a school of law. The numbers of schools of law, I take it, will have increased with the numbers of universities which have in recent times been added to the older universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London, but, at the same time, it must be recognised, in the case of a boy living in the country at some little distance from a town where any university exists, that this Clause would tend to prevent him to some extent from entering the profession. Exemptions may be obtained, but I am afraid the exemptions are likely to be very numerous, and they might cause some difficulty to those who have to grant them. At the same time, it must be admitted that it would be a considerable advantage to any youth to have the opportunity of going to a university or a school of law, wherever such may be found, and of attending the lectures at that school for one year before being admitted to the profession. I want to ask a question in regard to Clause 4 of the Bill, which states:
Section two of the Solicitors Act, 1860 (which enables persons who have taken degrees at certain universities to be admitted after three years' service) shall bare effect as Though—
That is a very desirable Clause, but I would like to ask the Attorney-General whether any youth who is articled for three years because he has obtained one of these degrees will, notwithstanding, be required to have passed at least one year at a law school before he will be able to be admitted to the profession. It might even happen that he had taken his degree in law at a university, and, notwithstanding that, would he have then to attend any other school? Even if he had only taken his B.A. or B.Sc. degree at a university, it would certainly seem that, having obtained a special university education, it should not then be necessary that he should have to spend a year at a law school. As the hon. Member for Bodmin has said, in a lawyer's office he will learn a great deal of law and obtain
practical experience, and I take it that the main advantage of this Clause is not that he may be able to obtain a wider knowledge of law, but that he shall have attended at a recognised law school under qualified professors. If he has taken a degree at a university, the same advantage will be obtained, and it should no longer be necessary that he should qualify for his final examination by having to attend a course of lectures in law at a law school. I should be glad, therefore, if the Attorney-General would assure us that a man, having taken a degree at a university, shall be exempt from the course at a law school. If he can do that, he will remove one of the abjections which I feel to this Bill.
I was rather surprised to hear the hon. Member for Bodmin say that he had not an opportunity of making himself fully acquainted with the contents of this Bill, seeing that it was introduced in the House of Lords a few weeks ago, and that all the stages of the Bill there were recorded in the newspapers. I am not a solicitor, but from the reports I saw I took sufficient interest in the Bill to get hold of a copy. I should have thought if I could do that, the hon. Member could have done it.
I saw it several days ago. The whole purport of the Bill was fully explained when the matter was discussed in the other place. The discussion this afternoon has turned more especially upon one Clause, which, I think, to some extent, does appear to limit the possibility of a young man getting into the profession with the same facility as to-day, but, taking the Bill as a whole, I think it must be admitted that it contains Clauses which will be of very great value to the profession. Everybody is anxious to see the profession maintained at as high a level as possible, and I, personally, think there is great value attaching to that Clause which ensures that an articled clerk shall, if possible, attend a course of study. It is possible for a young man to find himself in a small office which confines its work, say, to conveyancing, or he may find himself in a large office where work of all kinds is done, but where he himself is relegated to one department. I know of young men who have been articled clerks, and the result of their articles has been that they are very well informed, say, about conveyancing, but when it comes to general practice, and particularly the procedure of Courts, even at the end of their articles, they have very little knowledge of those matters. I should have thought that any man who is concerned with the welfare of the profession would have been only too glad to encourage these young men to attend classes, where classes are available. Clause 2 is very cautiously worded, and gives the society power to exempt, from the necessity of attending these classes men who can show, not only geographical reasons, but other reasons, for not being able to attend these lectures. Although it may be necessary to amend the Bill in one or two of the particulars referred to, I do think the whole purport of the Bill not only helps to improve the profession itself, but is really of great advantage to articled clerks who seek to enter the profession.
Taking the Bill as a whole, it facilitates, rather than hinders, the opportunities of a man who wants to enter the profession. It removes, instead of increasing, some of the existing obstacles. Clause 1 enables certain people to enter the profession without having to undergo the preliminary examination. I know men—not young men—-who have started work in trade, or some other profession, and then thought they would like to enter the legal profession, and I know more than one case where a man has been hindered from doing so, although he possessed many of the qualifications for a. solicitor, because it would be necessary for him to learn Latin, mathematics, and some other subjects required in the Law Society's preliminary examination. Clause 9 also comes to the assistance of young men, because it extends the number of Universities where a degree will give special facilities to those who are wishing to enter the profession. In the past, the tendency has been to confine these privileges to Oxford and Cambridge, and one or two other Universities. I wish to support what was said by the hon. Member who spoke last, in desiring to have cleared up the position as to whether a man who is a graduate of a University will have to go through a year's course as a law student. It does seem ridiculous that a man, with, possibly, First-Class Honours at Oxford, should be compelled to go through this year's course. Subject to that, and certain other Amendments, I hope the House will give this Bill a Second Beading.
From the short perusal I have been able to give this Bill, and from the discussion I have heard, the Measure appears to me to be a trade union Bill for the legal profession. I have no personal objection to the principles of trade unionism being applied to any profession, or any particular section of the community, but, from what I can gather, this Bill places a distinct impediment in the way of the poor young man. The clerk in the solicitor's office, or the son of a docker, like myself, would have no opportunity of getting into the profession if the principles in this Bill were accepted by the House. Therefore, the profession would become an absolute monopoly. The difference between the ordinary trade union, in the legitimate sense, and this suggested trade union of the legal profession is, that while we place no bar to any man, high or low— and even in the Dockers' Union we have barristers without briefs, and all sorts and conditions of men—this Bill creates an obstacle in the way of any poor man entering that profession. So far as the principle embodied in this Bill is concerned, if it were applied all round to everybody, there would be something to say for it.
Who have been subject during recent weeks to the fatherly interest of the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayrshire (Sir G. Younger) in the matter of the trade unions to which we belong. He and his colleagues, in Committee upstairs, have expressed on every opportunity their desire to give liberty and freedom to the trade unions of this country. I notice he is singularly silent on this Bill, We do not hear him to-day. And there are exceptions amongst the working classes in the way of rising in the world. In spite of all that has been suggested, in spite of the obstacles put in the way, there are exceptions, and one is in this House. I refer to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. A. Shortt) who commenced his life inside a boiler. [Laughter.] I mean his industrial life, and who by sheer ability has forced himself into the legal profession. We are proud of it. It would appear, however, to be much more easy to get into the barristers section of the profession than it is to get into the lower class, the solicitors'. To become a barrister you have to eat a certain number of dinners, and dinners are not always the repository of the wisdom of the country. Dinners and wisdom do not always go together. What, however, I do want to point out is that the principle of conserving to members of any profession all that that profession will give is one which we adopt ourselves. But when it puts obstacles in the way of intelligence and ability—and the legal profession has not got the monopoly of either intelligence or ability—it is the duty of every Member of this House who wants fair play for the youngsters of this country to enter his protest by claiming a Division on the Bill.
I would point out, firstly, that the speech to which we have just listened suggests that the hon. Member quite misapprehends the object of this Bill. The primary promoter of the Bill is the executive of the trade union to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. The law is organised as a trade union in both its branches and the head executive of the solicitors' branch is the Law Society.
It is not to make it difficult to get into this branch of the profession. That is what has been misapprehended by hon. Members. The object is to regularise the qualifications which a man must possess before he gets in. There are two sets of persons whom this Bill will affect. There is the young man beginning his career, and who becomes an articled pupil to a solicitor. There is another class of men whom the Bill will, no doubt, affect; that is the class of managing clerks who have been a long time in a solicitor's office, who have never gone through any particular examination, but who, we all know, in many cases are qualified men and deserving of the right which their employers now have of granting them their articles to become members of the solicitors' branch. In their case, I am sure, no one would wish to affect their statutory right without being very, very careful about it. When, however, you look at the way Clause (2) is framed, you will see what it really does is this: To a certain extent it transfers the discretion of a single employer to the Law Society, the object being to make it certain that the man shall be sufficiently informed and efficient and qualified otherwise to become a member of the solicitors' branch of the profession. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of Sub-section (1) of Clause 2 contain ample safeguards, and as similar powers have been exercised by the Law Society with discretion, I think we may have no fear that under this Bill they will not exercise a similar discretion.
That I am not here to answer for on behalf of the Law Society. But I can say it has carefully controlled solicitors in the past and with very great discretion. What I am now pointing out is that they are well-fitted for that discretion. The criticisms we have heard to-day are very largely, may I suggest, Committee points. With the principle of the Bill I thoroughly agree. Although as a member of the other branch, I would not wish to interfere unduly, of this I am perfectly certain: It is a Bill which will commend itself to the other branch, and, therefore, I have very great pleasure in supporting it.
I was not as fortunate as my hon. Friend who spoke just now in having seen a reference to this Bill in the newspapers. The first time I heard there was such a Bill was last night. Then I discovered it was not yet printed and one could not obtain copies till to-day. I do, therefore, think the House has a real cause of grievance in being asked to carry the Second Reading of this Bill now. I listened with very great interest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull). His speech had very great importance, because the Attorney-General himself practically abandoned the sponsorship of, at least, Clause 2 of the Bill, and said it was a matter he did not care about: it was one which the Law Society wanted, and consequently—
I hope I did not convey a wrong impression. It was suggested, I think, by an hon. Member that the Government was responsible for Clause 2, and I was disclaiming any desire on the part of the Government under that head. I merely said it was a matter for the profession itself—that it was the Law Society who asked for the Bill, and for this Clause in particular.
Quite so. The Attorney-General says the Government is not very anxious about this Clause. He says it is the Law Society who want it. That is my point. Therefore, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hammersmith, who did speak on behalf of the Law Society, assumed very considerable importance.
I listened to that speech to hear reasons in favour, particularly of Clause 2. I am afraid the reasons given were not very convincing, to me at least. There was one argument the hon. Member used which did appear to me to be very convincing in favour of the Adjournment of this Debate. He told us that this matter has been under the consideration of the Law Society for many years, and evidently it was a matter that they thought required a great deal of consideration. This Measure has evidently raised a good deal of discussion and difference of opinion in the Law Society itself, and now we are asked to pass this Bill after it has been in our hands only for a few hours. The whole modern tendency has been in the direction of opening wider the portals and the avenues to all the professions. It is undoubtedly true that in many respects Clause 2 raises a new barrier to entrance to the legal profession. We are all in favour of students about to enter the profession having the advantage of entering a law school. I suggest, instead of this Clause being made compulsory, that it should be made optional.
No doubt we shall be told that there are ample safeguards, but I doubt very much if they are adequate. They are left entirely in the hands of the Law Society with an appeal to the Master of the Rolls. I say that such a power as that ought not to be left in the hands of the Law Society, and the Clause ought to be-optional. The hon. Member who put be- fore us the case for the Law Society did not give sufficient reason why it should be made compulsory. He did not attempt to establish that point at all. If we had been assured that the present examination and the present standard had proved not to be high enough that might have been a very good argument in favour of this Clause, but he made no attempt whatever to do that.
It has been said in this Debate that many of the most distinguished members of the profession are those who obtained their articles in the usual way without having either the advantage of a university education or of going to a school of law. After all, the advantage of spending a year in a law school is open to argument when it involves having a year withdrawn from the student's experience in the office. In the country a student generally likes to spend the last year of his articles with London agents. I do not think that we have had sufficient evidence to show that there is any case whatever for making Clause 2 compulsory, and if this Bill is going forward I hope the Attorney-General will give us an assurance that he will permit that Clause to be amended in Committee.
I agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that it is very unfair that we should have to consider this Bill now without having had a better opportunity of seeing what it contains. I saw this Measure for the first time this morning, and it is too early to consider it on this occasion. I do not propose to follow the argument which has been used as to trade unionism, because it appears to me to be irrelevant. What we have to consider is whether, in regard to a profession in which you must acquire a qualification of knowledge, as you must in the legal and the medical professions, or any other profession of that kind, you ought to impose an additional difficulty in the way of a young mar. who wants to enter. It is true to say that the only tangible asset of a great many of these young men desiring to enter this profession is their brain, and it is beyond question that a great many of them satisfactorily pass their examinations and do work at the same time. It is their only means of getting through and of earning their livelihood meanwhile. They have no financial resources, and no parents who can provide for them. Therefore, they go to a solicitor's office and work for their articles on small pay. That a young man thus situated should be called away at some hour of the day, possibly most inconvenient to his employer, to attend these lectures is most arbitrary and unjust. What does it all mean? What is it all done for? Is it done in the interests of these young men? Not a bit of it. If the Bill said that if one attended these lectures he should become a solicitor, that would be ridiculous enough, because no one would say that attending these lectures would qualify a man to become a solicitor. But to say that, though one passes his final examination entitling him to become a solicitor, he must attend these lectures, whether they are of use or not, is absolutely absurd It means money.
I listened to the right hon. Member for Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull), who said that he came down to the House at the instance of the Law Society. It is strange that a gentleman of his high position in the profession should not have taken more interest in the Bill, and should have required to be urged at the last moment to come down and support it. Let hon. Members look at Clause 8. You begin with a fee of 5s. for a certificate. Surely that is enough, but it is going to be increased to £l, and they are going to apply the increase to their law schools. Will any member of the solicitors' profession say that these lectures are going to be given gratuitously? I undertake to say that there will be fees for attending them, and they will be an additional charge. I believe that I am right in saying that in every Inns of Court attendance at lectures is optional. One has to pass his bar examination, and to become a solicitor one has to pass his final examination. Many a young man goes in the evening to a coach and gets far better training than he would at these lectures. That can be done without inconvenience to his business, and he can earn his livelihood and articles too. Why should we pass a Clause making this more expensive? It is bad enough now to pay £100 when you are called to the Bar and £80 for your articles as a solicitor, and I object to every penny of expense that is added. Has the Law Society really come to a just or wise conclusion? We are told that they have been considering the matter for three years. If this matter has required consideration for three years by the Law Society, how is it that we have only had this Bill in our hands a few hours? It is not right. Let me ask a practical question. What is to happen under Clause 5? Apparently there is to be an approved school in London, and under Clause 8 it is provided that the difference between the 5s. fee for a certificate and the increased amount of £l shall be applied in such manner as the Law Society may think fit towards the expenses of the society's school in London, and making grants to approved law schools elsewhere. Where are these approved law schools elsewhere? Where do they exist? Suppose they do exist. Assume that the great cities of Liverpool, Birmingham, and Manchester and other large rich centres of that kind are provided with approved law schools. Who is going to undertake to find the necessary fee for the lecturers? They will be sweated out of those who attend the lectures. Look at the absurdity of the position. Are we going to have approved law schools in country towns? I could name some towns where there are solicitors miles from a railway station. Is not the young student employed in an office there to have open to him this avenue to the law? Why should he have to go hat in hand to the Law Society and try to get exemption from attending the lectures? They tell him it is practicable for him to attend. They may not consider the matter from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence. They may say it is necessary for him to attend in the interests of the maintenance of the school. That, so far as I can gather, is how the money for maintenance of the school is going to be obtained. It is going to be got out of these young men and it is going to make their career more? difficult and much more arduous.
Let me continue my point as to country towns. I doubt whether, in the whole county of Kent, there will be an approved law school set up anywhere. They will say that the students can go to London, and that there is a good railway service to London of which they can avail themselves. How many days in the week are they to go up. Two, three or four? All these things ought to be considered. It is no wonder that the society have been debating this for three years. Apparently outside members on the governing body of the society do not know anything about this, and I should like to hear the views of a country solicitor or of his society on the question. I am pointing out what I consider is most unjust. Is it proposed to set up approved law schools in every county in England? Of course not. The fact is, people will be forced to attend in London. They will be told it is quite practicable for them to do so. I have, however, mentioned cases in which it is impracticable. We have to consider the poorest of the poor, men with ability and brains, who ought not to be denied an avenue to this profession. If this is essential to ensure ability in the men who are going to practise the law. then the provision ought to be universal. There ought to be no ground for exemption. But it cannot be made universal, and therefore it is proposed to excuse men where, in the opinion of the Law Society, it is geographically impracticable for men to attend the lectures. I believe that in Kent at this moment there are some 20 towns as to which it would be deemed impracticable, from a financial point of view, for young men studying for the law and seeking to enter the profession to come to London for the lectures. It would mean a whole day for him and to this his fare must be added. Would any solicitor take an articled clerk on those terms? He would say, "Of what use are you to me? Yon may be away two or three days a week in London, unless you can get exemption. I cannot give you articles on those terms."
Then we have to consider how many are going to be exempted. Supposing that the Attorney-General, speaking on behalf of the Law Society, says: "We will exempt all of these people." That means that two different standards will be set up for the same profession. Was anything ever so ridiculous and absurd? In my judgment it is not in the interests of the men who are going to be called to the profession. It will operate as a financial bar to the man who has nothing but his brains to depend upon. There will be two standards set up. and the result will be that really and truly there will be a law school provided in London, which will be an impediment to these managing clerks, out of the fees thus to be raised, and that such small grants as still remain will be sent here and there throughout the country. I say that it is an absolutely retrograde Measure, and I shall certainly vote against it. This provision is to be made absolutely compulsory, so that no man, even though he have the most brilliant abilities and excellent qualifications, will be able to get into the profession unless he has attended these lectures. It is a retrograde Measure, and when we find that it is brought in almost by a back door, being handed to us at eleven this morning and called on somewhere about half-past two, I think it is quite time that we protested.
Mr. S. ROBERTS:
I want to say a word or two, not as instructed by, but from the point of view of, the country solicitors. I myself, until 18 months ago, was a country solicitor in the North of England. I happened to look through this Bill this morning, and as soon as I saw it, Clause 2 struck me as perfectly ridiculous. I do hope that the Government will not simply take what the London Law Society says, but will take the Measure back and send it to the country solicitors and let them state their views on it. I should like to tell the House one or two things that cams to my own mind in regard to Clause 3. I have a nephew who is an articled clerk in the city where we were practising. There was a law school there, and he went to a certain number of the lectures, but he told me that they were no good, and he took a correspondence course from the neighbouring town of Halifax. With this he got through his examination quite satisfactorily, and was at the same time able to stay in the office and learn office work, which practical knowledge was far more useful to him than the theoretical knowledge he would have got at the law class. Now let me refer to my own case, and say how this provision would have affected me. Before I was articled, I was at Cambridge University, and took an Honours Degree in Law. Then I was articled. Under this provision I should have had to go to the elementary law lectures at the University of Sheffield, and it does not seem to me that there would have beer any possible exemption from that. That, again, is perfectly ridiculous. I hope that the Bill will be withdrawn altogether, and brought in again after the country solicitors have had time to consider it.
I am proposing, if the hon. Member will allow me, to try and explain why I think it should have a Second Reading. One reason is that one of the most important parts of the Bill is that which concerns exemption from law examinations by reason of other examinations which have been passed at the newer Universities. That, undoubtedly, will be very much to the advantage of a number of very deserving students.
I am not referring to managing clerks. Comparatively few managing clerks become qualified solicitors. They are a special class of their own. I spoke of articled clerks, students who propose to enter the profession in the usual way. With regard to expenses, there are very few indeed of the articled clerks who do not themselves go to the expense of going to an unofficial crammer in order to learn the law they have to learn. As I understand it, these proposed schools of law are to relieve them from that and to put that side of their education on to a more satisfactory basis than it is at present, when they have to rely entirely upon an unofficial crammer. With regard to those in the country I have a rather strong view to the effect that it ought not to be made too easy for a man to become a fully qualified solicitor without any experience at all outside his own small provincial town where he may be articled and proposing to practise, and indeed it is most unusual that that should be so. Certainly in my time it was practically unknown for a man to go through his five years' articles without spending at least one year of that time in London. If it be the case that some are to be exempted by reason of the fact that they are serving their articles entirely away from a town where there is not a school at all, may I point out the very different position there is there, and the oppor- tunity which such a man would probably get, which is denied to the man who is articled to a large firm in London. I do not use the word "small" in any derogatory sense, but the comparatively small provincial solicitor, practising by himself in a small country town, or perhaps with one partner, knows his articled clerk well. He is presumably living close by. If he is not a relation, he is the son of a client or a neighbour, and the solicitor and the clerk are constantly meeting entirely outside office hours.
The solicitor in a case of that kind is usually much more a student of law than a busy practising solicitor in London, and he would have the opportunity of giving the articled clerk instruction and assistance in the evenings or at times when he is not actually employed in office work. The need for some schools of this kind is shown, not only by the fact that these clerks generally have to go to a crammer at present, but also, I regret to have to say, by the lack of legal knowledge which characterises a large number of members of my branch of the profession, not even excepting myself, because I always feel very strongly that the lower branch of the profession in the past have not had and afterwards had not got the opportunity to have that training in the real learning of law and jurisprudence which is the only thing which can make a really satisfactory foundation upon which they can build up the knowledge that is necessary to make them efficient practising solicitors hereafter. I suggest very seriously that even if my view be wrong and even if those who have opposed this Clause so strongly should be in the right, they should nevertheless give the Bill a Second Reading and deal with this as a Committee point. We shall have more opportunity in Committee to learn about the Bill, and I hope to learn that some of my hon. Friends are wrong in thinking that those to whom this Bill will apply do not wish for it, and would not welcome its passage into law.
The main purposes of the Bill in Clause 1, Clause 3, and other Clauses, are to enable us to give a wider range to young men wishing to enter the solicitor's profession, and to secure for them exemption from the preliminary examination if they are able to offer in lieu of it a certificate that they
have passed some examination at certain universities At the present time, the universities through which that immunity and exemption can be obtained is very limited, and in order to give a wider range and to bring the list up to date, the universities to which this Act applies are defined in Clause 9, as
Any university which, at the time of the passing of this Act, is entitled to representation in the House of Commons whether alone or jointly with any other university.
It is also provided that the Board of Education, after consultation with the Law Society and with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, or any two of them, may add any university in the United Kingdom to which the Act shall apply. First of all, we give, by Clause 1, a far wider range and choice, and a great number of persons who have not had the means or opportunity of going to Oxford, Cambridge, or Durham, but have had the opportunity of going to some of our important but modern universities, will not remain under the disadvantage to which they are subject at the present time. They will not be able to say that they have to go through a preliminary examination because they have not had the advantage of going to one of the older established universities. We, surely, want to remove that disability from those young men who have not been so fortunate as to go to one of the older universities. In Clause 3 there is power to grant admission in certain cases after four years' service, so that a man may become qualified after four years instead of five years. The object is to bring the system of admission to the solicitor's profession up to date.
Objection is taken to Clause 2. During the last hour I have realised what an advantage it is to attend a, course of legal education. I have listened to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) and other hon. Members opposite, and I feel that I have attended a course of legal education and instruction. I have been instructed, and I mean to pay attention to the instruction I have received. I had already intended, as I stated in my first speech, at the solicitation of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Lieut. -Colonel Hurst), who introduced certain matters to me, to look into the question between now and the Committee stage. I said that I would see a deputation from a very important body, the Solicitors' Managing Clerks' Association. The hon. Member asked me if I would receive a deputation. I am writing to-day that I will receive a deputation, and we can discuss Clause 2 in all its bearings. It is clear that the Clause must receive careful consideration in Committee, but are we not to have the Bill at all, and to grant the exemptions provided in other parts of it, because of Clause 2, which can be modified out of all recognition, if need be, in Committee? It would be unfortunate to refuse to pass this Bill because there is opposition to Clause 2, which opposition is probably more serious because the safeguards introduced are not appreciated fully. If these safeguards are not sufficient they can be strengthened. At any rate, the whole matter can be discussed in Committee.
This Bill contains parts which by common consent are good, parts in the interest of the more humble entrant to the legal profession, which were intended to remove difficulties, and it might fairly be considered in Committee. When we are dealing with a Bill of this kind we often find considerable opposition manifested. The general practice of the House is to say, "The Bill has got merits. Let it be examined carefully before a Committee, and on Report and Third Reading the House may exercise its full judgment." I want to have the opportunity of meeting the Solicitors' Managing Clerks' Association, and of giving careful consideration to what they say, and also of considering carefully the suggestions made in this Debate, and I shall certainly afford hon. Members a full opportunity of considering the matter. The hon. Member for London University (Sir P. Magnus) has raised a very important point which I shall also consider. I trust that those who are going away for the week-end will do so with the feeling that this Bill, so far as it is good, shall have the opportunity of passing, and in so far as it is bad shall have the opportunity of being amended, and I hope that it will now receive a Second Reading.
The points of this Bill seem to me to merit further discussion. I have never known a Government insisting on the Second Reading of a Measure like this after they had taken such Orders as they have taken to-day. From the machinery point of view, in spite of the Attorney-General's declaration that he will do this, that and the other in Committee, and even will delay the Committee stage in order to consult people who have not yet been consulted, it is improper to ask the House for the Second Reading to-day. I wish to deal with the suggestion that this Bill in any way makes it easier for the poor man to become a solicitor. If there is any more difficult task for any youth leaving school to enter the professions, I should like to know what it is. I know hundreds and thousands of young men who, having left the schools and universities, are at this moment in possession of all the qualifications required for such professions as the solicitor's profession and the Bar, but they are unable to take their places in either of these professions because of the barrier of money erected between them and the profession. There are no two closer professional trade unions than the professions of solicitor and barrister. What does it cost? The learned Attorney-General was careful to say nothing about it. He talked a great deal about exemptions from examinations. I am amused at some of the exemptions. I have never attempted to sit for the preliminary solicitor's examination, but I imagine that it is an examination in general knowledge, such as the London University has for matriculation. But look at the impertinence of the solicitors' profession, which says that any man who has taken a Degree at a university, so long as that Degree is not an Honorary Degree, is sufficiently well informed to be exempt from the preliminary examination for a solicitor. It is really ridiculous that a profession should come to this House and ask us to exempt such men.
I am talking about the ridiculousness of a profession wanting to raise the standard of their preliminary examination, which is a mere paltry examination in general knowledge, to such an extent that a man who has a university degree may be exempt.
That is going beyond the point as to the general knowledge examination. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General can move the Closure, if the Government so desire, but in the meantime I am entitled to discuss the Bill as long as time permits. The point I wish to emphasise is, that this Bill is supposed to open the portals of a close profession, but we are not dealing with the real reason why the doors of this profession are closed to the ordinary boy leaving school. I know all about it, because I have been through the mill myself. Many years ago I could have been a member of one of these professions, so far as educational tests were concerned, if my father had been able to put down the money to pay the fees of the society which otherwise keeps people out of the profession. The English Bar, the Scottish Bar, the solicitors' profession—all erect a money barrier, and in spite of the fact that a boy may be absolutely qualified to enter one of these professions, he cannot do so because of economic considerations. If the Attorney-General and the Government had devoted their attention to the real obstacle instead of to the paltry considerations of this Measure, then one could have believed they were in earnest. The ordinary way of entering this particular profession is to become a law clerk. This usually requires a premium, and the average premium is £250. Then the boy has to serve five years as an articled clerk, during which time he receives nothing, unless he gets the premium back in some form of weekly wage. Then he starts passing his examinations, and he has to find the money to pay the fees of admission. I am told that is £80.
We are discussing, solicitors now, and if I compared it with other professions the Attorney-General would say I was wasting the time of the House. Therefore, all this hollow pretence of hon. and right hon. and learned Members opposite that this Bill is making it easier for a poor boy to enter this profession is so much camouflage. It is not the case, and this Bill in no sense at all-makes it easier and more convenient. There are plenty of criticisms from Members opposite about the tyranny of trade unions, but there is no greater tyranny in this country than the tyranny of these professions, with their money barriers to prevent the sons of working men from entering them. It is a hollow pretence and a farce, and hon. Members opposite know it.
I cannot allow the speech of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge to go unanswered. If the hon. Member will help me in making the entrance to the profession cheaper, I shall be very glad of his assistance, but I would point out to him that a great many of the sums of money which he has mentioned are not payments to the profession, but to the Exchequer, which, in my judgment, entirely unreasonably exacts an undue fee from the articled clerk and in other ways imposes a burden on those who enter the profession. When the hon. Member says the solicitor's profession is the exclusive preserve of the rich, I, who have been through the mill to a greater extent than he has—through the mill itself, and not through something like it —say it is and always will be a poor man's profession. It is one of the great professions in which ability, from wherever it comes, can get to the top. The hon. Member speaks as though these restrictions were imposed by the profession itself to keep its ranks select. That is entirely untrue.
In regard to the hon. and gallant Member's first point, if Mr. Speaker could give some indication that we could do the kind of thing he suggests and relieve the profession from the payment of these stamps and so on, I would withdraw my objection to the Second Beading. I would like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether, when the Bill has left this House and gone to a Committee, we could deal with the question of stamp duties and admission to the profession in order really to widen the admission?
I do not wish to encroach on the jurisdiction of the Chairman, whoever he may be, of the Committee to which the Bill goes. All I can do is to ask the hon. Member to read the Title of the Bill—
An Act to make further provision with respect to the qualifications of persons proposing to become or to practise as Solicitors.
I think it is fairly wide.
I am glad to hear that, and I hope my hon. Friend opposite and I can meet upstairs, and combine in an attack on the Government to make this Bill wider. He spoke as though all these restrictions were imposed by the profession itself in order to keep people out of it, but the contrary is the case. These restrictions—the necessity of five years' articles, or three in certain cases —are imposed by Act of Parliament, and they are imposed because Parliament found great evils existing, due to the fact that men who were not qualified as lawyers could practise as solicitors, and it is entirely untrue to say that the profession itself is trying to close its doors. I served for many years on the Council of the profession, and I spent the whole of my working life as a member of the profession. I have the highest opinion of it. I met men there who had devoted themselves to the service of the law from the highest motives, and with great ability, and it has always been the great pride of the profession that its doors are open wide. There are certain points which I may suggest in Committee, or get somebody else to raise, but I do hope the House will pass this Bill. It is entirely an enabling Bill, and if it be rejected or postponed now, the very object the hon. Gentleman opposite wants to serve will be obstructed.
I join in the opposition to this Measure, and my chief reason is that this Bill ought to have been in our hands long ago. Another objection is that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are mentioned specifically in Clause 1, and I am wondering why the new Universities are not included there by name. And still another objection I have to the Bill is that in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, it says that the Board of Education, after consultation with the Law Society, shall do certain things. I object to any society of this kind having the right to say that the Board of Education shall not proceed to lay down a curriculum for young boys in any branch of education without consultation with this Law Society, because the Law Society, so far as I know, is made up exclusively of lawyers and solicitors. Clause 2 is the most objectionable of all. It reads:
A person articled to a solicitor after the passing of this Act shall not he admitted to the final examination, unless ho satisfies the Law Society.
Strangely enough, in another Clause of the Bill, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Bolls appear to be entitled to lay down Begula-tions, but in this Clause you have it very definitely stated that the Law Society itself shall determine certain things. Then the Bill states that the schools which teach law to young people, shall be such schools as are approved by the Law Society. Where do the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Bolls come in, when the Law Society itself is the only authority that shall determine which law school shall be approved? For those reasons, I hope that the House will not agree to the Second Beading of this Bill.