Law Charges and Courts of Law, Scotland.

Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at on 15 February 1929.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Lord Advocate's Department, and other Law Charges, the Salaries and Expenses of the Courts of Law and Justice and of Pensions Appeals Tribunals in Scotland, and Bonus on certain Statutory Salaries.

Photo of Mr John Gilmour Mr John Gilmour , Glasgow Pollok

The Committee is already aware of the circumstances which necessitate this Supplementary Vote. The Slater case has been brought to the notice of the House very fully and the Government's intention to pay a sum of £6,000 as compensation, after the result of the finding of the Appeal Court, is already known. This sum has already been advanced from the Civil Contingency Fund, and this Vote is merely required to make good that payment. There has been sufficient Debate both by question and answer on this subject already, and I, therefore, beg to move.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Linlithgowshire

I want to elicit some information from the Secretary of State regarding the allocation of this sum as between costs and compensation. The right hon. Gentleman has said that there has been sufficient Debate already by way of question and answer in this House, but there has been no actual Debate. All that has happened is that some questions have been put to him and to the Lord Advocate, and the question as to whether the answers have been satisfactory or not is for the moment beside the point. I want to know this—and much will depend on the reply as to the subsequent proceedings in this Committee—what actual amount was expended by Mr. Slater by way of costs associated with the actions, and how much remains for actual compensation? I submit that that is a very proper point to make. This man has suffered considerably because of his imprisonment. I need not go into the merits of the case beyond saying that the learned Judges quashed the conviction. That is quite sufficient. He suffered 18 years' imprisonment. Surely in such circumstances a reasonable amount of compensation should be paid to enable Mr. Slater for the remainder of his days to live in some measure of comfort.

That I understand is all that Mr. Slater asked for. Now we find that all he has been paid is a sum of £6,000, and although I am not acquainted with the whole facts of the case—I stand to be corrected by the Secretary of State or the Lord Advocate—it is supposed that a very large sum of money was expended in costs. That is hardly fair to Mr. Slater.

I submit that the £6,000 should have been paid over to Mr. Slater as actual compensation and that whatever costs have been incurred should be met by the Government. I should like to know whether Mr. Slater remonstrated with the right hon. Gentleman when he was informed that all he was to be paid was £6,000 to cover costs and compensation. Has he protested? If so, what was the nature of his protest, and what was the reply? Was any protest made by his legal advisers and those associated with him in the action? That is a proper, point to put, because some controversy arose after the action had been disposed of; it appeared in the Press and was also mentioned in this House, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. The whole thing in my judgment is profoundly unsatisfactory. It is all very well for the Lord Advocate to quote precedents. Precedents in a matter of this kind have very little virtue and ought not to be quoted at all. It is idle to pretend that because someone years ago suffered similarly and was granted compensation that this ease should be treated in the same way. This case was unique and deserves unique treatment. The right hon. Gentleman is not providing sufficient amount of compensation if the costs are to be included in the amount provided.

Photo of Mr William Watson Mr William Watson , Carlisle

I should first of all remind the Committee of the basis on which payments for compensation are made. The Government, of course, is in no way responsible for the verdict in any case. It has always been thought best and wisest in the interests of the country that judicial proceedings should be entirely independent of the executive. There have been one or two exceptional cases in which the Government have made a grant, purely an ex gratia grant, a, compassionate grant. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that in the present case, when the Secretary of State was being pressed, shortly after the decision last year when the conviction was quashed, as to whether he was going to make compensation, that my right hon. Friend said he would prefer to wan, until some claim was made by Mr. Slater. If Mr. Slater had made such a claim and specified the details and costs we should have known then what the actual costs were. After an article by Mr. Slater himself had appeared in the public Press saying that he intended to make no application at all we decided on the usual and customary lines in regard to a compassionate allowance, and the allowance that has been paid is the largest ever paid in any such case.

When the question as to whether costs had been included was raised in the House by way of questions in the autumn

Excess of Expenditure over Gross Estimate.Deficiency of Appropriations in Aid realised.Total Amount to be Voted.
Class V.£s.d.£s.d.£s.d.
Vote 10Old Age Pensions88,8821741,2651390,147187

a letter was received from Mr. Slater on that very topic, to which the Secretary of State replied to the effect that no additional payment could or would be made and that the question of any costs incurred was generally taken into account in calculating the compassionate allowance. To that reply no protest was made by Mr. Slater; no reply has been made by Mr. Slater since.

Obviously it was quite improper for the Government to write and ask for Mr. Slater's bill of costs. But we do know, again from the public Press, that one of Mr. Slater's solicitors stated that the total expenditure of the appeal would not exceed £1,500, and that Mr. Slater would not be called upon to pay anything towards that sum. We have further seen a statement that a certain amount was subscribed towards the fund for expenses, and that there was raised nearly £700. I am amazed to hear any suggestion made that the total expenditure would be £1,500. I do not know how such a bill could be made up. The expenses are likely to have been more than the Crown costs, but those were very small. Still I fail to understand it. If the Committee want some practical test as to what this £6,000 means, I would inform them that even if you take the whole £1,500 from the £6,000, there is left £4,500, and with that Mr. Slater would be able to buy from the Post Office an annuity which would bring him in a sum of £351 a year, or nearly £1 a day for the rest of his life. In the circumstances I think that that is the fair test, and it confirms the view of the Government that what they have given is entirely adequate in the circumstances.

Question put, and agreed to.