Clause 20. — (Qualification of Justices' Clerk.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1949.

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Photo of Miss Grace Colman Miss Grace Colman , Tynemouth 12:00 am, 7th December 1949

I feel that the Attorney-General did not reply tonight to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Corlett) any more than he did when he spoke on the Second Reading of this Bill, except with regard to the possible shortage of the supply of clerks. During the Second Reading Debate, the Home Secretary appeared to me, reading his speech, to be doubtful about the wisdom and practicability of the Clause, and I cannot see that the reply of the Attorney-General tonight has proved that the Clause is either wise, or practicable.

In the Second Reading Debate the Home Secretary referred to the fact that the Clause would render the justices' clerks service much less attractive to the right type of man for the future. He went on: On the other hand, there must be balanced against this consideration the positive recommendation of the Roche Committee that eventually these appointments should be limited to professionally qualified men, … He then said of the Clause as it now stands in the Bill that it: strikes a fair balance between these considerations. … It does not; it means that no one who has become an assistant since 1945 has any hope of being promoted to the posi- tion of clerk unless he qualifies as a solicitor. That is perfectly clear.

That raises the question of the cost of qualification as a solicitor. I am not now speaking of assistant clerks who become clerks and who are articled to clerks but about the young man or woman who chooses the law as a profession and enters it from school. I am informed the normal cost of qualification as a solicitor includes an outlay of £100 to £400 for the premium, examination fees, etc., and on top of that he or she has to live for four to six years either on no pay at all or on a very small salary. That means that the cost is prohibitive in the case of sons and daughters of people without large incomes. Thus this Clause as it stands closes the profession of clerk to anybody who is not able to bear the cost of qualifying as a solicitor unless he had become assistant to a justices' clerk before 1945.

The problem of supply was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York. The Attorney-General referred to it but he did not seem to me really to deal with it. The Home Secretary referred to that aspect in his Second Reading speech, when he said: There is, therefore, a serious risk that if a requirement of professional qualification were universally applied upon the Bill coming into force it would not be possible to fill all the vacancies for whole-time clerks which may arise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 810–811.] I believe that that danger remains, that the Clause does not avoid it, because the source of recruitment for clerks will be limited to solicitors, who may still be unwilling to become clerks even though they have become qualified by being articled to clerks as assistants, and to the pre-1945 assistants who are considered to be eligible. The number of those is not large, so that it does not appear to me, and I am sure that it does not appear to my hon. Friends, that this very real problem of a shortage of the supply of clerks if this Clause is passed has been dealt with.

In addition, one has to recognise the real danger of a shortage of assistant clerks, because, as the Home Secretary said, the occupation will become much less attractive. The only other point I wish to make is that in the making of a good clerk experience is, as has already been said, of great importance. Many solicitors have not that experience. They may know the law, but they have not had experience of a court. This Amendment, if accepted, would provide an adequate safeguard against appointing the wrong person. The Government have already had first and second thoughts on this matter and I would ask them to have third thoughts, possibly on Report stage, and to accept the Amendment which my hon. Friends and I have put down.