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Clause 2—(Members, Officers And Expenses Of Lands Tribunal)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 22 March 1949

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I beg to move, in page 3, line 25, after "be" to insert:

"either a person who has held judicial office under the Crown (whether in the United Kingdom or not) or."
This is little more than a drafting Amendment. It would enable persons who had held judicial office to be appointed, although they might not have had the necessary number of years of professional qualification.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 4, line 24, leave out "Committee," and insert "Branch."—[ The Attorney-General.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

We have here another very important question to consider. Subsection (2) says:

"The President shall be a barrister-at-law of at least seven years' standing."
It is very noticeable how the legal fraternity pay so much attention to holding on to jobs. "Jobs for the boys" is a notable feature of the legal fraternity. It will be seen that the Lord Chancellor is responsible for appointing members of the tribunal. He will appoint so many barristers, after which he will appoint a number of people who understand the job and what has to be done. Well, that is all right; we must give the unfortunate barristers an opportunity to live the same as others. But suppose the president cannot function, as may be the case for perhaps months, then under subsection (3) the Lord Chancellor can appoint any member of the tribunal to take over the president's functions.

Now, what is the qualification for doing that job? Is it that he has held office under the Crown? Is it that he is a barrister of at least seven years' standing? No. Under subsection (3) the only qualification is that he is a member of the tribunal. And of course, if the Lord Chancellor is sensible, when appointing a member of the tribunal to do this job he will appoint, not a barrister but a man who understands the business. He need only be a member of the tribunal to qualify to take over the job of the President; there is nothing in subsection (3) to suggest that he should be other than merely a member. Surely, if there is on the tribunal a barrister who does not understand the business and myself who does, then I am the man the Chancellor should choose. I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider that between now and Report, when he might decide to bring subsection (2) into harmony with subsection (3), leaving the position of president open, not necessarily to a barrister, but to someone really competent to deal with the subject upon which the tribunal is to act.

I will give consideration even more quickly than the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has asked. Indeed, I have already given consideration to it. Accordingly, I will acquaint the hon. Member with the result of that consideration. We had not the advantage of the hon. Member's presence during the Second Reading of this Bill, otherwise he would realise that one of the purposes of this Bill is to transfer the jurisdiction that has hitherto been vested in persons of lay experience to a tribunal which contains, among other members, those with legal qualifications, and to transfer it to that tribunal because these problems not infrequently involve difficult questions of law. That is the object of the Bill, and it is for that reason that the president has to be a person of legal qualifications. When a decision has to be taken on legal matters, and that decision is subject to appeal to legal courts, a lawyer is usually appointed to take it and not a haberdasher.

The fact that the president is a lawyer does not mean that he will always preside at every case with which the tribunal has to deal. It may be that in particular cases it is a matter of valuation which does not involve any legal question at all, and in such a case the tribunal will probably be composed of a surveyor only. If the president is temporarily absent and the work of the tribunal has to be conducted while he is away, it is most likely, although the Bill does not bind my noble Friend in this matter, that another lawyer will be appointed to take his place so that he too may be able to give a decision. As the tribunal will very often have to deal with legal matters in respect of which an appeal will lie to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, I adhere to my view that the proper person to preside is a lawyer.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.