HC Deb 02 February 1832 vol 9 cc1194-7
Sir George Clerk

, pursuant to notice, moved, that the names of the Lord Advocate, Mr. Cutlar Fergusson, Mr. Cumming Bruce, Sir George Warrender, Mr. Pringle, and Mr. Dixon, be added to the Committee on the Scotch Court of Exchequer. He had no objection to the Gentlemen who at present composed the Committee, and his only object in making the Motion was to obtain a full inquiry into all the circumstances connected with that Court; but he thought that object could not be obtained without a considerable portion of Scotch Members being attached to the Committee, to counteract, in some degree, the influence which the Government had in the majority of those who now composed it.

Lord Althorp

had no other objection to place several of the Gentlemen named by the hon. Member in the list, but that they had already expressed opinions which shewed they had prejudged the question.

Sir George Warrender

had no desire to be placed on the Committee; but in reply to the noble Lord, he must say, that he had not come to any conclusive opinion on the subject. Several years since, he had advocated the wisdom of giving additional business to the Court of Exchequer, and last year he had offered some objections to the Bill then proposed. Nevertheless, he was disposed to enter into the inquiry with an unbiassed mind; and whether he was placed on the Committee or not was of very little consequence to him, but certainly more Scotch Members ought to be attached to it.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

was sorry his name had been mentioned, for he had formed no opinion upon the matter; and he was somewhat surprised that the noble Lord had made such an objection to him. He desired to have a Committee to judge whether the abolition of the Court was advisable: all the opinion he had ever given was in reply to the Lord Advocate, when he had asked him the question, whether the Court could not have new powers given it so as to be made useful.

Sir William Rae

was sorry the Motion was resisted, particularly as the inquiry in question was now proposed by Government, though it formerly resisted all investigation. Last Session, a bill to abolish the Court of Exchequer was sent down from the House of Lords, without the shadow of an inquiry, and it was resisted on that ground. He had then given notice that he should move to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, but nothing further was done, and the Bill was put an end to by the prorogation. Then came the present Bill, which was also brought forward without inquiry, and when he had applied to the noble Lord to ascertain whether investigation would be allowed, he was answered, yes, and the matter was then taken out of his hands and placed in those of the Lord Advocate, who appointed a Committee composed almost exclusively of the supporters of Government. This looked more like a plan for quashing an inquiry than for promoting it.

The Lord Advocate

felt himself in the painful situation of being obliged to oppose the Motion; and he trusted he should satisfy the House that there was no necessity for the addition proposed. He had heard, with some surprise, that the Bill of last year was to be opposed on the ground that it was an indignity to Scotland to abolish one of her superior Courts without inquiry; and that topic was urged by the right hon. Baronet, who had himself introduced and advocated much more important alterations in the tribunals of Scotland, without any investigation whatever. It was now proposed to add several Gentlemen to the Committee, on the grounds that the great majority of the present members were supporters of Government, and that there was not an adequate proportion of Scotch Members. With respect to the first objection, this was no party question; and, with regard to the second, it did not require local knowledge to understand whether there was enough business before a Court to justify keeping it up. It would be invidious to make personal objections, and fortunately there was no necessity for it; for he rested his objections on the ground that it was unusual for those who were opposed to any specific object to be in large numbers on a Committee to inquire into a measure on which they had previously made up their minds.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, the Motion had reference to an important change in the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, and he begged to call the attention of the House to the circumstance, that hitherto there had been no instance of any change in the Supreme Courts of any of the three kingdoms, without a due and solemn inquiry, in which party feelings had no share. But of late they had the Reform Bill—that indecent proceeding, the Bankruptcy Court Bill—that nasty job—and now the Scotch Court of Exchequer Bill—a hurried contrivance. He would leave the first alone for the present, but with regard to the second, his opinions were so decidedly against it, that he thought the strongest language alone could adequately express them, and he had no doubt the thing was managed in the way it had been, because no respectable man could be found to declare on oath that the alteration was necessary, and the sole principle was, to upset ancient rules and customs, and to induce the House of Commons to set a precedent of acting without due information. In the third case that came before them, the principle appeared to be, to abolish a court, and pension two individuals, who, he had no doubt well deserved the pensions, but he should have wished to have had some inquiry put, whether they deserved them or not. He was not arguing the question with any feelings of nationality, and his sentiments were entirely abstracted from party; he would, therefore, content himself with remarking, there had been no general changes in this country without being productive of greater evil than good; and if they did not legislate on sounder principles than they had recently done, the Law Courts of the country would become the arena of political parties.

Mr. Keith Douglas

said, a royal commission which had been established for the purpose of inquiry, had decided that the Court of Exchequer ought to continue, and yet Ministers in opposition to that commission called upon the House to abolish that court. It, therefore, became necessary to have the most full and deliberate inquiry, and certainly the Gentlemen proposed were well qualified for the task. In opposition to the learned Lord Advocate he must assert, that Committees were frequently enlarged when there appeared a necessity for a more full inquiry.

Mr. Croker

said, the question was not whether an inquiry should be undertaken, but whether it should be conducted by persons competent to discharge the duty; and he thought, if the House would look to those already composing it, and the names of those proposed to be added, they could come to but one conclusion.

The question was put that the Lord Advocate be added to the Committee. Agreed to.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

and Mr. Cum- ming Bruce were also added to the Committee.

Upon the name of Sir G. Warrender being proposed, a division look place, when there appeared, Ayes 56; Noes 100—Majority 44. The names of the Gentlemen proposed were negatived without a division.