HL Deb 12 February 1976 vol 368 cc223-5

4.41 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"I have recommended to Her Majesty The Queen that a Royal Commission should be established with the following terms of reference:

'To inquire into the law and practice relating to the provision of legal services in England and Wales and to consider whether any, and, if so, what, changes are desirable in the public interest in the structure, organisation, training, regulation of and entry to the legal profession, including the arrangements for determining its remuneration, whether from private sources or public funds, and in the rules which prevent persons who are neither barristers nor solicitors from undertaking conveyancing and other legal business on behalf of other persons'.

"The House will have seen this morning that the Bar Council and the Law Society have issued a joint statement saying that,

'they would welcome the opportunity to participate in a comprehensive examination of the structure of the profession, its funds, its remuneration and the services it provides'.

"The Commission will have all the usual powers to call for evidence and information, to make inquiries and visits and to submit interim reports.

"An announcement will be made in due course about the chairman and membership of the Commission."

My Lords, that ends the Statement.


My Lords, I am sure that the legal profession has nothing to fear from any form of inquiry before an impartial tribunal, if such can be assembled by the Prime Minister. I am also sure that the two branches of the profession have been wise to say that they will co-operate in any such inquiry. As to the composition and chairmanship of the Commission, we know nothing as yet, but I must express my own opinion which is, unequivocally, that this is a foolish and unnecessary inquiry. I believe that one of the important contributory causes of our present national unease is the number of inquiries which we initiate about our various institutions. Time was when our nation was proud of its institutions—proud of its Parliament, of its Judiciary, of its professions, of its Armed Services, and proud of itself. However, the disease of "inquiryitis" is doing us infinite damage and this is a particularly bad example of it.

I wonder when successive Governments will learn—and here I am not making a Party point—that inquiries are an infallible recipe for an increase in Government expenditure. One can see that writ large over the present inquiry. The British Legal Association wants professional judges in place of unpaid magistrates. The Legal Action Group wants more law centres in place of voluntary services. No doubt the two branches of the legal profession will make perfectly legitimate but enormous demands for an infusion of Government money into legal education. I am thoroughly sorry that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has had to submit to this idiotic process of "inquiryitis" and can only say that I expect nothing good to come of it


My Lords, may I take a slightly different view and say that we on these Benches welcome the establishment of this Royal Commission? We have become increasingly perturbed over the last few years at the fact that there are large numbers of people who are being deprived of legal aid and legal assistance, either because their means are inadequate or because legal aid is not available in certain courts. I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack whether it will be within the province of the Commission to recommend the extension of legal aid to all tribunals so that we can obviate the present situation in which, as the noble and learned Lord knows, there are a large number of members of the Bar who give their services entirely free of charge to litigants before tribunals because no form of formal representation is permitted?

I should like to add a word speaking under another hat—or wig. As a member of the Bar, I am happy that the Bar Council has willingly accepted the recommendation that there should be a Royal Commission. We at the Bar believe that it can only lead to the exposure of a number of malicious and ill-informed myths which are at the moment being propagated by certain people who are only concerned to obtain cheap publicity for themselves.


My Lords, the fact that two distinguished lawyers have taken opposite views on the announcement which I made is, I suppose, yet another illustration of the many-sidedness of truth. I should like to give an assurance to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, that it is certainly the intention to set up an impartial Royal Commission. The statement which was issued by the President of the Law Society and the Chairman of the Bar Council, said, In recent weeks there has been criticism of the legal profession in Parliament and the Press, coupled with demands for the setting up of a Royal Commission to examine legal services and the legal profession. The setting up of the Royal Commission is a recognition of those matters to which the President of the Law Society and the Chairman of the Bar Council refer. However, I feel that perhaps I owe it to them to say that their statement concludes with the words: What, however, is vital if the rights and liberties of the subject are to be preserved is that the legal profession should remain independent. In regard to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, about the extension of legal aid to tribunals, that will of course be one of the matters which will come within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. I would only say that the big block in advancing in this field of extension of legal services is the harsh fact of financial restraint, but I may myself be in danger of pre-empting any conclusion if I go further in indiscreetly expressing views on the matter at this stage.