HC Deb 13 March 1827 vol 16 cc1173-8
Mr. D. W. Harvey,

in bringing forward his motion on this subject, referred to the statement which he had made on a former night; namely, that the fees which the lord Chancellor received on account of his jurisdiction in bankruptcy amounted to 20,000l. a-year. That statement had been met by a strong contradiction from the hon. member for Corfe Castle, who was presumed to speak with all the accuracy of family information, and who had said, that the lord Chancellor received only 3,000l. a-year from bankruptcy. Now, he considered that it was right for the House to know whether the lord Chancellor did or did not receive 20,000l. a-year from the exercise of one branch of his jurisdiction; especially as the hon. member for Durham had given notice, that he would move to separate all matters in bankruptcy from his lordship's jurisdiction. Notwithstanding the contradiction which he had received, he still believed that he was not in error in the assertion which he had made. He had shown to several professional gentlemen the paper which he then held in his hand, and which contained an account of the number of bankruptcies which had occurred for some years past. Judging from the grounds which it afforded them for calculation, they were of opinion that he was right, and that the hon. member for Corfe Castle was mistaken in his statement. The return of the amount of fees for one year would serve his purpose as well as the return of it for many. He had, therefore, selected the last year; not because there had been a large number of bankrupts in it, but because it would give them the most recent information as to the amount of the lord Chancellor's fees in bankruptcy cases. Without troubling the House with the details, he believed it would be found, that, from the 1st of October, 1825, to the 1st of October, 1826, the lord Chancellor had received, in bankruptcy matters alone, fees to the amount, not of 3,000l. but of 30,000l. [hear, hear]. He was aware that, out of that sum, the learned lord paid his secretary of bankrupts, and certain subordinate officers, for the fact appeared on the returns of 1816; but he wished to know the nett amount of what his lordship received, in order that the country might judge whether any feeling of self-interest was likely to influence him in opposing the separation of the matters in bankruptcy from his equitable jurisdiction. With this intention he should move, "That there be laid on the table of the House, a return of the total amount of fees received for 3,549 dockets, struck between the 1st of October, 1825, and the 1st of October, 1826; also, a similar return of the amount of fees received on 3,272 commissions of bankrupts, issued within the same period; also, similar returns with regard to 276 super-sedeases, 1,281 certificates, 832 petitions in bankruptcy, and 832 orders upon petitions made within the same period; also, a return of the total amount of fees received for private seals upon commissions and supersedeases, and for office copies of affidavits in support of or against petitions; also, a return of the total amount of fees in bankruptcy, received at the Bankrupts'-office, not particularly specified in the above returns; together with an account of the specific appropriation of all the foregoing fees and payments during the same period."

The Attorney-General

said, that the hon. member had not merely repeated his former assertion, that the lord Chancellor received 20,000l. a-year from fees in bankruptcy, but had even gone beyond it; for he now, unappalled by former contra-dictions, ventured to assert, that his lord-ship received 30,000l. a-year from them. There could be no doubt as to the amount of the lord Chancellor's emoluments, as they had been made a subject of inquiry by three different commissions; of which the first had sat whilst lord Rosslyn was Chancellor, and the last in 1811, when lord Eldon was Chancellor. From those reports it was apparent, that the lord Chancellor had never received, upon an average, 4,000l. a-year from his fees in bankruptcy, and that his whole emoluments did not, in the long run, exceed 15,000l, a-year. He did not rise, either on his own account, or on account of the lord Chancellor, to object to the present motion. The noble lord was as desirous as man could be, that no information on this subject, which it was in his power to communicate, should be withheld from the public. Neither had the noble lord, as far as he knew, declared himself to be averse to the separation of the business in bankruptcy from the other business of his court. The hon. member, therefore, laboured under sonic delusion when he said that his motion would enable the country to decide whether the noble lord opposed that separation from motives of self-interest or not. If the hon. member had no other object in view than to elicit correct information as to the amount of the lord Chancellor's emoluments, he should be glad to do every thing in his power to assist the hon. member. With that intention, he would suggest to the hon. member, that, instead of moving for a return of the amount of fees taken during a year, when the number of bankrupts was unusually large, he should move for a return of the amount of fees taken since 1811, when the last returns were made, distinguishing the amount in each year. If the hon. gentleman should not incorporate that suggestion in his proposition, he would himself submit it as a distinct motion to the House.

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

culogized the great talents and unimpeachable integrity of the present lord Chancellor. He likewise defended the Commissioners of Bankrupts from the attacks which had been recently made upon them, and contended, that, so far from their being either incompetent from youth, or stultified by age, they were some of the most able and distinguished members of the profession.

Mr. George Bunkes

wished to know, whether the motion referred to the amount of fees received by the Chancellor alone, or to the amount of fees received both by him and the subordinate officers of the court?

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, that if the hon. member would refer to the last of his motions, he would find in it an answer to the question which he had just asked. His belief was, that five-sixths of the fees included in his motion were received, not by the subordinate officers, but by the head of the Court, of Chancery. The returns, however, for which he moved would, if granted, settle that question beyond all future power of discussion. He again contended, that the fees of the lord Chancellor, in bankruptcies, were not 3,000l., but 30,000l. a-year. It was a notorious fact, that on every docket a fee of 2l. 1s. was paid. Now, by common arithmetic, the amount of those fees, on 3,549, were 7,275l. 9s. On every com- mission of bankruptcy a fee of 4l. 10s. was paid. The fees, therefore, on 3,272 commissions of bankruptcy were 14,724l. These fees, added to those which were received on petitions, orders, &c. amounted, in the last year, to 32,212l. 11s.5d. He saw no reason why he should be diverted from the course which he had originally intended to pursue, and he should, therefore, press his motion, regardless whether the hon. and learned gentleman should or should not meet it with a negative.

The motion was agreed to.

The Attorney-General

said, that if the object of the hon. member had been to elicit truth, he would have consented with readiness to the suggestion which he had made to him. If the returns had been ordered in the manner in which he proposed, it would have completed the returns made in 1811, on the emoluments of the lord Chancellor, up to the present time. Out of the 2l. 1s. mentioned by the hon. member, only 1l. was paid to the Chancellor; the remaining sum was paid to a grantee, appointed during the chancellorship of lord Thurlow. The hon. and learned gentleman concluded by moving, for an account of all Fees in the different branches of bankruptcy business, received by the lord Chancellor, from 1811 to the present time; and he said, that he had no doubt but that it would appear, from this account, that the average of the Chancellor's receipts in bankruptcy did not exceed between 3,000l. and 4,000l. a-year.

Mr. Batley

took the same view of the matter as the Attorney-general, and could not but express his surprise at the mis-statements which were abroad respecting the lord Chancellor's income. He knew it was the opinion of commercial men, that some alteration should be made in the administration of bankrupt cases; but for himself he was quite satisfied that things ought to remain in their present state.

Mr. Baring

concurred with the original motion, and trusted, that by the returns thus called for, the House would be able to know exactly the amount of fees received by the lord Chancellor, and to ascertain who were the grantees spoken of by the Attorney-general, as having been appointed under lord chancellor Thurlow, and who, from his statement, appeared to be deriving large emoluments from a system which he could not but designate as most disgraceful. When he recollected what had taken place in the discussions upon the subject of granting increased salaries to the judges, he could not but remember, that one of the arguments principally relied on in support of that measure was, the necessity of taking away the fees that were then paid to the judges, and that were supposed to create an idea that those learned persons might feel an inclination to encourage litigation for their own advantage. Now surely, if such an argument could with the least propriety be applied to the common-law judges, with how much more force did it apply to the lord Chancellor, who was a judge sitting to administer equity, without the intervention of a jury—whose power was in no instance equalled among the other judges—whose fiat was conclusive; since, from his decisions, there was no appeal but from himself in his own court, to himself in the House of Lords? Some idea of the jurisdiction intrusted to that noble lord might be formed from the fact, that property to the amount, of forty millions was now the subject of litigation in the court of Chancery. Surely, when the House were deliberating upon the fees received by such a person, they could not but agree, that it was of the utmost importance that his judgments, and the whole administration of his most important office, should be free from the most remote suspicion of interest; for let men talk as they pleased about the high characters of individuals, there would be suspicions entertained by the people, whenever public and private interests seemed to clash together. For that reason, he was of opinion, that the lord Chancellor's salary should be put on the same footing as those paid to the judges of the common law; that was to say, that it should be fixed at a certain sum, and rendered totally independent of fees. By putting it upon that footing, the House would be conferring a benefit upon the Chancellor; since they would prevent him from becoming, night after night, the subject of such discussions as the present. He was not prepared to say that the Chancellor was over-paid, even if it should be proved that he did actually receive 20,000l. per annum; though the inclination of his mind was, that 12,000l. per annum would be an ample compensation for the labour of the office. However, he thought at all events the emoluments of the office, be they what they might, ought not to be re- ceived in fees, but in some less objectionable manner.

The motion was agreed to.