Qualifying Bodies

Part of Clause 12 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th July 1976.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne 12:00 am, 8th July 1976

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

2.0 a.m.

I turn now to consider more widely the effect of Clause 12(2). After a galaxy of counsel, I hesitate, as a member of the more lowly branch of the legal profession, to address the House on this subject. I talk about the solicitors' profession and the responsibilities which will now fall on the Law Society and the Master of the Rolls because that is a pro- fessional body of which I have a little knowledge. Before a person can be admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court, he or she must satisfy the Master of the Rolls that he or she is a fit and proper person to act as a solicitor. It may surprise the House to learn that I passed the test.

Will there be a duty laid upon professional bodies, and notably on the Law Society and the Master of the Rolls, actually to make inquiries to see whether there is, in the words of the Bill, evidence tending to show that he, or any of his employees or agents, whether past or present, has practised unlawful discrimination"? Will there be a duty on the Master of the Rolls to make inquiries of employees, past and present, of the person about to to be admitted? What is meant by this requirement to impose on the authority or body a duty to have regard?

Even if I were the most enthusiastic supporter of the principles behind Clause 12, I would find it extremely difficult to justify the wording of subsection (2). It is a very imprecise duty on the Law Society and the Master of the Rolls. The reference to "evidence tending to show" and the duty to seek out that evidence is really legal phaseology for which there is no precedent, apart from the Act that we passed last year. This seems to me to be making a law which it is impossible to follow.

The actual wording of subsection (2) is very difficult to interpret. It is immensely difficult even for lawyers. We bring this House into disrepute and we lower the respect in which it is held when we pass legislation which is extremely difficult to interpret or which is, frankly, ludicrous, as the provisions of this subsection are. To impose a duty on bodies or authorities about the conferring of distinction or privilege on those who are otherwise suitable to carry out office is to seek to impose on them a duty which, with the best will in the world, they will find impossible.

To pass legislation of that kind when the laws we are passing do not commend themselves or command universal assent anyway, and to heap this absurdity on the mass of other absurdities, not only does great damage to the cause of race relations but serves to increase the sense of frustration, irritation, and incomprehensibility which our legislation too often causes in the minds of the people we are trying to serve.