HL Deb 19 March 1918 vol 29 cc460-70

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Buckmaster.)

The EARL of HALSBURY had given notice, on the Motion for the Third Reading, to move, That the Bill be read a third time this day six months.

The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, I move the Motion which stands in my name. I confess that I am a little surprised that the noble and learned Lord who has moved the Third Reading of the Bill has not said anything about it. I do not know whether he thinks that the matter has been so discussed that it is not worth while discussing it any more. If so, perhaps he is right. I should like, however, to say, in justification of the Motion that I have made, that a great deal has been said with which I wish to express my thorough agreement. And I wish further to say that I feel grateful to the noble and learned Lord himself for the extremely interesting and useful speech that he made upon the Second Reading.

My objection is in a great measure to one proposition of his—namely, that this Bill is not inopportune. I think it is extremely inopportune for this reason, that the persons who are most concerned in this matter have not been consulted. Nothing has been done in respect of the examination or knowledge of what solicitors are doing at this moment—solicitors and attorneys, for we have got so much into the habit of speaking of those who proceed by petition and not by writ that we speak of them as if they were the only persons, and as if solicitors were not attorneys and attorneys were not solicitors. The solicitors and the attorneys together form a very important body in the State, and one would have thought that something would have been done. I will undertake to say that if it had been any profession or trade other than that of the law which was in question, we should have had some inquiry and some facts put before us, which would have rendered it easier for us to discuss this matter. But nothing of the sort has been done, and I think a great many of your Lordships would be extremely surprised to hear what is the number of solicitors in whose absence this question is being considered. So many of them have been now and for such a long time in the service of their country that it seems to be forgotten that they have an interest in the numbers of persons who are admitted to that which is described as a privileged class. No inquiry appears to have been made of these solicitors who are actually serving their country at the peril of their lives at this moment as to what their view is of the education which ought to be given to those who are privileged to appear in the Courts either by petition or by writ. I find that on December 31 last, 3,024 solicitors and 1,397 articled clerks were serving in His Majesty's Forces; and 440 solicitors and 285 articled clerks have been killed.

My principal—in one sense my only—objection to permitting women to be solicitors or attorneys is the fact that a great deal depends upon the correspondence between the parties in the first instance before the litigation is actually commenced. I am sorry to be obliged to state any objection which seems to be an objection merely on the ground of sex, but it is an objection. A woman has no recognition of any side but her own. If there is one thing more than another which is desirable in the commencement of litigation it is that you should avoid litigation if you can, and many and many a time in my own experience I have seen litigation avoided by judicious correspondence, and this can only be done by recognising that there is another side to the question, and that possibly a little modification on one side or the other would avoid litigation altogether. With the greatest respect for the sex, I must say that in my experience it is not easy to get a woman to understand that there may be another side than her own, and the extreme danger is that the correspondence which precedes litigation may sometimes end in producing an angrier spirit.

One noble and learned Lord spoke of this matter as a question merely whether you should charge 6s. 8d. for an interview or 3s. 4d. for a letter. I think nothing could be a greater misrepresentation of what is now in question. By a Statute there are certain things that the person who wishes to be a solicitor must go through—his articled clerkship, his education, and so on. All this is a thing to be considered, and if both sexes were admitted I believe there would be a considerable modification of this compulsory education. In these circumstances, I confess I think that the matter requires further consideration, though I will not absolutely say that I might not change my views, which at present are adverse to women being admitted, if it were shown that there was no difference made in the education required as between the sexes.

I do not want to make this matter in itself decisive, but with regard to the noble and learned Lord's speech—the merits of which I otherwise recognise—I want to call attention to the fact that he said the question of the perfect equality of the sexes was to be decided then and there. I think it must depend very much upon the particular thing we are discussing, and upon whether or not there ought to be a different education and a different preparation for that which is to come. In these circumstances I think the solicitors and the attorneys have been treated in this matter in a manner in which no trade union in the country would be treated; and for that reason I wish to abstain from taking a decisive opinion upon the subject until the proper time conies for this question to be determined, and after proper inquiry. At present I do not think that the subject has been properly considered.

I think I ought to mention another set of statistics that I have here, because it is only justice to the profession of which I have spoken that they should be commemorated for the way they have done their duty in this war, which, as I say, has given them no opportunity, and will by reason of their sacrifice to their country give them no opportunity, of opposing this matter. I find that 224 solicitors and 44 articled clerks have been mentioned in Despatches; 117 solicitors and 90 articled clerks have won the Military Cross; and 45 solicitors have received the Distinguished Service Order. In these circumstances this question is merely incidental. I think that to have a matter so important to solicitors, and to those who hope to be solicitors and attorneys in time, considered now is not right; it should be considered at another time and in other circumstances, when those who represent this profession will have an opportunity of being heard and of urging their claims upon the Legislature. It is for this reason that I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment moved— Leave out "now" and insert at the end of the Motion, "this day six months."—(The Earl of Halsbury.)


My Lords, I need not assure the House that I have listened with close attention to every word that has fallen from the noble and learned Earl; and I may add that I listened with some anxiety, because I thought it might be that his unrivalled experience might place before your Lordships some facts, some circumstances, and some arguments which, on the previous occasions when this Bill has been considered in this House, had been overlooked. I cannot find that any of the arguments which the noble learned Earl has laid before your Lordships is an argument which was passed by in any of the previous debates. Let me, if I may, quite briefly recapitulate what they were. There were two main arguments directed to the unfitness of women for the profession itself. The noble and learned Earl, in his kind and generous references to former observations of my own, admitted that those arguments were of a class that he thought time might possibly remove. But if one regards them at the present moment, what are they? The first is a fear lest the educational restrictions which are now placed upon the entrance to this profession might be relaxed. What possible reason is there for thinking anything of the kind? The regulations that control admission of solicitors are in the hands of bodies on which women have not, and I should imagine for the best part of a generation or two never will have, any representation at all; and anybody who knows anything about those examinations will admit that they in themselves afford a very effective and complete barrier against anything like an inundation of the profession by the admission of women. The period of qualification, as I have pointed out to your Lordships more than once, is normally a period of five years, during which time three examinations have to be passed. All of those examinations are in subjects which, I thoroughly agree with the noble and learned Earl, do not form part of an ordinary woman's training. But all this means is that you make it the more difficult for them to enter. It means that there is, in fact, no danger whatever of flooding the profession if this Bill be passed.

The next argument was one which, if the noble and learned Earl will forgive roe for saving it, appeared to me to be rather a personal one. He seemed to think that there was some personal incapacity in a woman which prevented her from writing conciliatory letters at the commencement of a law suit. It is really impossible to answer that. Women have not had an opportunity of trying, and I do not see why their letters should be less conciliatory than those of a man; women are certainly conciliatory enough if they think that conciliation will gain the purpose they have in view. The final argument undoubtedly is—if I apprehended the noble and learned Earl's speech aright—the one which has the most profound weight with him at the present moment. He thinks that this is an inopportune moment for the discussion of this Bill; and the noble Earl thinks so because of the number of solicitors who have, most valiantly and patriotically, given their services to the national cause. Pride in one's profession is, I think, the possession of every one who has practised the profession of the law. It is a pride that is not always shared outside the profession itself. But the pride that we feel at this moment in the magnificent response that was at once given by both branches of the profession to the call of duty at the outbreak of the war, is one which we share with the nation; and certainly no word of mine could be—and I am sure the noble and learned Earl did not think that it had been—used in any way to depreciate the splendour and the glory of that effort.


Hear, hear.


But does it follow that this is an inopportune moment for the introduction of the Bill? As I pointed out to your Lordships on previous occasions, the demand that has been made upon our reserve of man-power in this country has already caused women to be taken into solicitors' offices, where they are, in fact, doing legal work; and they are doing legal work not necessarily in the place of men who are qualifying for the law, but in the place of a large and more humble body of men—in the place of the solicitor's clerk, who is not, and never will be, qualified; and if the noble and learned Earl were right in saying that the absence of these men on military duty to-day was a reason why this Bill should be rejected, I cannot help thinking that logically he ought to move that no woman should at this moment be admitted to perform the legal duties that were formerly performed by the unarticled clerks who have no hope whatever of becoming solicitors. The fact that such a thing is impossible is, I might submit to your Lordships, a reason why the real foundation of the argument of the noble and learned Earl fails. To say that this Bill is going to deprive of their work men who are now at the Front is, with all respect, something that the barest examination will prove to be a mistake.

The five years that have to elapse, the extremely limited number of women who at the earlier stages of this opportunity will be able to avail themselves of the chance, the small class of work that they will begin to do—all these are things which I trust will satisfy your Lordships that the interference with the men who are away from London, and away from England, at the present moment, is of the slightest and most negligible character. But is it right to state that these men who are away have no chance of having their case represented? There is left in this country the whole body of formidable law societies, the very people who would represent on their behalf their case. If I had presented this case to your Lordships as one in which I asked you to assume that this is a measure which every one out there would welcome and accept, I think there might be some good reason for saying, Let us wait until they return and then see. But I have, throughout, placed this matter before your Lordships upon the assumption—an assumption which I do not believe to be justified but which I think it fair to make—that the people who are away will oppose it, and I have asked you to deal with it upon that hypothesis. It is that which leads one at once to examine the merits of the matter, and I submit that when the merits are examined there is no longer any reason why a woman should be able at this hour to do the work of a solicitor for somebody else but be prevented from doing it for herself. This Bill will enable her to do it for herself, and I trust your Lordships will not now, when the Bill passed through all its stages in this House on its first advent, and on its second advent was given a Second Reading without opposition—I trust your Lordships will not now reject it because of the arguments of the noble Earl, the force of which I recognise, as I do the unrivalled experience which lies behind them.


I had not intended, my Lords, to speak on this occasion. I should not have done so but for the Motion made by my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury, and I shall say only two sentences. On the last occasion when this Bill was before the House I stated my views, and I have seen no reason to alter them, and I shall not repeat them. On the other point made by my noble and learned friend I must express my agreement, and that is as to the inopportuneness of the Bill. The grounds for thinking so have been so

Resolved in the affirmative; Bill read 3a accordingly.

Clause 1:

Women not disqualified from acting as solicitors.

1. A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being admitted as a solicitor or for acting or practising as a solicitor under the Solicitors Act, 1843, and the Acts amending the same, and the other enactments for the time being in force relating to solicitors.

LORD STUART OF WORTLEY moved after "A woman shall not," to insert "after the expiration of twelve months from the termination of the present war." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not move this Amendment with the smallest intention of defeating, delaying, or obstructing this Bill by dilatory tactics. The best proof I can give of that is the fact that I have just voted on the substantial question for the Third Reading of the Bill. But I move this Amendment in the interests of those to whose relation to this subject clearly stated by my noble and learned friend that I shall not weaken them by repeating them.

On Question, whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 47; Not-Contents, 19.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Devonport, V. Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)
Curzon of Kedleston, E. (L. President.) Haldane, V. Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)
Peel, V. Parker of Waddington, L.
Parmoor, L.
Crewe, M. Balfour, L. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
Lansdowne, M. Buckmaster, L. [Teller.] Pontypridd, L.
Lincolnshire, M. Carnock, L. Queenborough, L.
Chesterfield, E. Cawley, L. Revelstoke, L.
Grey, E. Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.) Ribblesdale, L.
Loreburn, E. Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Rowallan, L.
Russell, E. Colebrooke, L. Shaw, L.
Selborne, E. [Teller.] Courtney of Penwith, L. Strachie, L.
Verulam, E. Elphinstone, L. Stuart of Wortley, L.
Farrer, L. Suffield, L.
Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.) Harris, L. Sumner, L.
Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.) Leigh, L. Sydenham, L.
Bryce, V. Leith of Fyvie, L. Wrenbury, L.
Finlay, L. (L. Chancellor.) Falkland, V. Lamington, L.
Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.) (L. Privy Seal.) Mersey, V. [Teller.] Roundway, L.
Portman, V. Saltoun, L.
Stanmore, L.
Halsbury, E. [Teller.] Armaghdale, L. Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
Lindsay, E. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Forester, L. Sudeley, L.
Allendale, V. Hylton, L. Templemore, L.

such eloquent reference was made by the noble and learned Earl who moved the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. I say that though this is a proper Bill to be passed, it is not a proper Bill to be rushed; least of all, to be rushed in the circumstances in which the nation, and therefore also the profession principally concerned, at present stand owing to the state of war.

The noble and learned Earl drew your Lordships' attention to the claims of the class of young solicitors who have taken service in this war. He reminded your Lordships of the services they have given, of the losses they have incurred, of the distinctions they have gained, and of the sacrifices they have made, of which the country has had the benefit. I may remind your Lordships that there is no doubt that they have supplied, even among the splendid personnel of the officers of our regiments fighting at the Front, some of the very best material that we have sent to the war. As your Lordships all know, they have, added to their University training and all that that means both physically and mentally, all the qualifications which come from a specially severe and exacting professional training which has followed upon their University training. That being what they are, my Lords, let us consider what they have done, or rather what has happened to them or what is likely to happen to them in consequence of their having taken up service for their country. It is clear that in many cases they must have abandoned promising prospects of establishing high reputations; they have interrupted the formation of growing business connections, and they have forborne for what is now a long period unfortunately, and may be a still longer one, the acquisition of that experience which is so extremely necessary as a condition of successful practice. I submit that these are matters which we should remember if we are considering what this absent class deserves of this House and of Parliament.

What will be the effect of the Bill if it passes without my Amendment? These young men who went out to fight for us will come back to find not only lost businesses to be picked up again, but also they will find their professional market profoundly changed against them by this sudden and incalculable increase in the supply of the services and qualities which it is their business to offer to the public. Having supported this Bill, I do not for a moment say that women are not qualified to be solicitors—far from it—and, of course, no one will be obliged to employ them if they are, so that the question of fitness will settle itself by the ordinary rule of supply and demand. It may well be that a woman in legal matters might prefer in certain cases to have the more intimate consultation which she would get from a qualified member of her own sex than she could get otherwise. I submit in moving this Amendment that the least we can do when changing, as we shall be changing in their absence, the position of male solicitors who have gone to the war, is to give some interval of time in which on their return they can look round to regain the business connections which had been suddenly abandoned and which they seek to resume after a lapse of time which can be counted not merely in months, but, unhappily, in years. These business connections are surely not to be restored without long days of hard work and some opportunity for turning round, such as my Amendment will give. My Lords, I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after ("not") insert ("after the expiration of twelve months from the termination of the present war").—(Lord Stuart of Wortley.)


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved this Amendment seems to be possessed with the idea that the effect of this Bill will be at once to open a vast reservoir which will flood the solicitors' market and deprive these young men who are away of the advantages of their training. I cannot but think that if he had studied a little more closely the conditions which regulate the admission of solicitors, he would have realised that except in wholly exceptional, and, we must all trust, impossible circumstances his Amendment will effect nothing of the kind that he desires. I pass by the argument, with which I have already dealt, as to the number of people who will enter under this Bill. At the beginning they must obviously be extremely few. What the ultimate prospect may be is another matter, but in the early stages it is quite plain that they cannot enter in anything like the numbers that the noble Lord anticipates. He overlooks in the first place that no persons can become admitted as solicitors unless they have been articled. Some existing solicitor must grant them their articles, for which a considerable sum of money must be paid. They then have to pass the examinations to which I referred, and, except in rare cases, where there is some special exemption given—it applies only rarely in the case of men and would apply still more rarely in the case of women—they must train for five years. It must be five years before they can be admitted as solicitors. There fore, unless this war is going to last another four years, the Amendment effects nothing at all, and, indeed, would suggest that the period of qualification may be shortened from five years to three years if the war ended at a earlier day. I submit that this Amendment effects nothing; if introduced, it would make the Bill confused, and would certainly suggest that women might be admitted at an earlier date than would be possible under the Bill as it now stands.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.