HC Deb 28 September 1841 vol 59 cc916-24

On the Order of the day for the third reading of the Administration of Justice (No. 2.) Bill.

Mr. Ward

said, he wished to take that opportunity of calling the attention of the House to a case which he conceived added much strength to the arguments he suggested the other evening against the proposed compensation to the hon. Mr. Scarlett, and which would recall to the minds of hon. Members opposite the course which they pursued, when, on a former occasion, a precisely similar claim to that of Mr. Scarlett was brought under their consideration. The case to which he alluded was that of Mr. Brougham, who was appointed in 1832, to the office of registrar of affidavits in the Court of Chancery. At the period of his appointment some intention existed of abolishing the office at a future period, which period was not defined, and respecting which no distinct proposition had been made to the Legislature no bill had been brought in, no one act had been done giving to the public a right to claim the immediate abolition of the office. The moment the vacancy arose the then Lord Chancellor filled it up by the appointment of his brother, Mr. Brougham. The late Member for Ripon, and present Lord Chancellor of Ireland, lost not a moment in calling the attention of the House to the subject, but that right hon. Gentleman was then sitting on the Opposition Benches, which might account, perhaps, for the change in his sentiments, as evinced by the opinion he had expressed with regard to the claim of Mr. Scarlett. As he had already said, no bill had been introduced in this, as in Mr. Scarlett's case, and no more than a simple opinion had been expressed by the Lord Chancellor upon the propriety of abolishing the office. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, upon calling attention to the subject said, "that it was very hard that these sinecure offices, which had been perpetually commented upon as a useless waste of public money by hon. Gentlemen, when out of power, should now be filled up. He supposed, that all their feelings of economy had subsided with their accession to power, and that, although their attacks had been freely enough made against those offices before, they now had no objection to their emoluments." After a lapse of eight or nine years the tables were turned, and hon. Gentlemen opposite were defending a precisely similar appointment to one of those then under consideration. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tarn worth upon that occasion said, "It was impossible to believe, that the appointments in question could be otherwise than merely provisional," and the Chancellor of the Exchequer made use of nearly similar terms. He found, that Lord Eldon in the House of Lords asserted, "that the office which had been filled by his own son was not a sinecure, could not be called so, and should be filled up immediately." Precisely the same argument had been used by the Attorney-general the other night. But there was no doubt that the appointment in this case was provisional, as in that of Mr. Brougham, who was appointed by his brother, the then Lord Chancellor, pro tempore only, and without compensation upon the office being abolished. Had Lord Abinger followed the example of Lord Brougham, he was sure he would have shown more consideration for the interests of the public service, while the present bill would not have been encumbered with a clause which was highly derogatory to the character of that House.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the hon. Gentleman deserved great credit for the diligence with which he ransacked the Parliamentary debates for the present case, but he could not give him equal credit for the analogy which he seemed to think subsisted between the two cases. The hon. Gentleman, he was sure, would recollect that Lord Brougham, who was at the time Lord Chancellor, had given notice, in the House of Lords, of his intention to abolish the office to which the hon. Gentleman referred—that he was the person moving the measure of abolition himself. There was, therefore, no parity between the two cases, for in the one case a person was appointed by another who had himself given notice that he would abolish the office, which he considered to be a sinecure. Lord Abinger, on the other hand, was no party to the arrangement by which the office to which he appointed Mr. Scarlett was abolished, and, therefore, in making the appointment he was not violating his sense of duty to the public. It was admitted on all hands that the office of master of the Court of Exchequer was one which could not be left vacant; it was absolutely necessary that it should be filled up if the business of the court was to proceed. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not very distinct in stating his opinions. He thought the hon. Gentleman must have known that when a Gentleman gave his vote in that House it was a clear index of his opinions. If the hon. Gentleman at any time misunderstood his expressions, he begged to refer him to his recorded vote. When this bill was before the House on a former occasion, he took the liberty of suggesting the necessity of making some regulation with respect to the office of Accountant-General of the Court of Chancery, stating that whilst compensation was awarded to the officers of the Court of Exchequer no provision was made for preventing a great increase in the emoluments of the officers of the Court of Chancery. Having consulted with the noble Lord, the Member for London, he abstained from making any proposition, in order that the bill might go up to the House of Lords as nearly as possible in the same state in which it came down. He had since understood that he should have an early opportunity upon the introduction of another bill, to give effect to the suggestion. He wished that the present holders of the offices affected should have all the rights which they had on their acceptance of them, but that succeeding holders should not have the advantage of the additional emoluments.

Mr. Ewart

said, that the office to which Mr. W. Brougham was appointed was not a sinecure, but was prouounced by Lord Eldon to be one of great utility and importance. With respect to the argument that Lord Abinger was no party to the abolition of the office in the Exchequer, it was completely met by the case of the Welsh judges referred to the other night, whose situations were abolished without -compensation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

recollected the case of the Welsh judges perfectly. His brother had been appointed when he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was in the Government, and knew of its intention to abolish the situation, His brother, therefore, received no compensation, and the case was precisely parallel to that of Mr. Brougham, but not at all to the appointment made by Lord Abinger.

Mr. Pemberton

said that neither the Welsh judges nor Mr. Brougham had made any sacrifice in accepting their offices. Neither had been obliged to abandon the bar. But with respect to the situation held by the hon. Member for Horsham, it was absolutely necessary that it should be filled up, and that the person filling it should give up the bar, and sacrifice his professional prospects. Before the present bill passed, he wished to press upon the attention of her Majesty's Government that whatever merits the measure might have, it was by no means all that the public had a right to expect for the improvement of the Court of Chancery. He was extremely anxious to take the earliest opportunity of expressing his hope that her Majesty's Government would pay early attention to the subject, and that they would be prepared to introduce early in the next Session some measure which would afford more satisfaction to suitors and the public than was possible in the present condition of the Court of Chancery, the appellate tribunal of the House of Lords, or the privy council.

Mr. F. T. Baring

thought that the distinction drawn on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman, as well as by the right hon. Gentleman, formed no justification nor explanation of the case in point. The right hon. Gentleman had put the case on its right footing when he instanced the case of his brother. There the party was informed that it was the intention of the Minister to bring in a bill to abolish the office, and of course he had no right to compensation. Here the learned Gen- tleman took the appointment knowing that the office was about to be abolished. In this case, not only had the Lord Chancellor actually brought a bill into the House of Lords, but he believed that bill had been read the second time. Indeed, he was not sure but that the bill had actually passed. It was to be remembered that Lord Abinger was sitting in the House of Lords, through which the bill was passing. He did not hear of it in his court merely; but he was a member of the House of Lords that gave its sanction to the provisions of the bill. The bill had, he was quite sure, actually passed the second reading before the appointment. He could not, then, conceive a stronger notice to a party than the bringing in of a bill by Government, and that bill receiving the sanction of one branch of the Legislature. He was bound to say this—-that this was the strongest case of compensation improperly granted that he had ever heard of.

Sir James Graham

stated, that he could only form an opinion of the cases adduced from analogy and from the arguments as he had listened to them. In the first case, Lord Brougham was, as Chancellor, the head of the law, and upon his responsibility was about to bring forward a me as re Doing so, he announced his intention of abolishing a particular office, and he nominated his own brother to that office. The whole authority of the Government was pledged to the passing of the measure. The measure passed, and then the question was this—was Lord Brougham's brother entitled to compensation? He said—no. This was not the case with Mr. Scarlett. He had nothing to do with the passing of the bill. He was appointed by Lord Abinger, and he did not think it material at what stage of the bill the appointment took place. Lord Abinger was no party to the measure. So far was Lord Abinger from being a consenting party to it, that he decidedly objected to the abolition of the equity jurisdiction of the Court of Exchequer; so did Sir E. Sugden and other high law authorities. Now, in the case of the appointment of Mr. Brougham, the person who conferred the appointment was not only a consenting party, but he was the very author of the bill which abolished the office. His fight hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who had been alluded to, had also been one of the authors of the bill which abolished the office that his brother had held, so that it must be quite evident to the House that neither of those appointments bore any analogy to the appointment of Mr. Scarlett. The appointment of Mr. Scarlett was one which was necessary for the transaction of business, and the difference between it and the others that had been mentioned was this, that Lord Abinger objected to the bill which abolished the office; but Lord Brougham and his right hon. Friend had both consented to the Bills under which the respective offices that had been alluded to were abolished. It was not a sinecure office, but an office which it was necessary should be filled, and one that had been established by Act of Parliament, and in his opinion it would be a great injustice if that compensation were not granted.

Bill read a third time.

On the question that the Bill do pass,

Mr. C. Buller

had seen no reason to alter the opinions which he formerly expressed; and if he had been present at the division he certainly should have voted for the compensation. In any changes, such as that which this case had reference to, it was sound policy as well as justice for the House to act with liberality to persons whose vested interests were concerned in any reforms which they might think necessary to make. In pursuance of this principle he should call the attention of the right hon. Baronet opposite to the situation of the copying clerks, who, by this bill, would be materially affected. If they looked to large interests, he hoped that the interests of poorer persons would not be overlooked. Those copying clerks, to whom he wished to direct the attention of the right hon. Baronet opposite, had, by their constant exertions, been enabled to procure an income of from 100l. to 120l. per annum; and some of them had been for a period of so long as twenty or thirty years engaged in those pursuits. The claim which they made now was not for compensation, but merely that the Government might consider them as having a prior claim for employment under the new system. They only wished to be assured of the intentions of the Government in this respect, and they asked no other compensation. Let them show to the public that whilst they were anxious to make such reforms as would be of advantage to the public interests, they would not forget the interests of those poor people who might be exposed to distress and destitution by the system which was about to be established.

Mr. Hawes

supported the claims of these parties. They saw on the one side Mr. Scarlett, after eighteen months' service, about to receive ample compensation; and on the oilier were these parties who had served for thirty years receiving nothing, and demanding sympathy and assistance. Would it be given to them? Might he ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if these poor men were to be deprived of the emoluments of their office— if they were to be left destitute of the means of subsistence, and not even one civil word said of them; but then when they had before them the case of a son of a peer—of a man of high rank and of ample means—they beheld one right hon. Gentleman after another, and cabinet minister after minister rise to take up such a case; while there was no one to take up the case of these parties. He hoped he might elicit from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester that the services of these men would not be overlooked.

Sir James Graham

must be allowed to say, and without meaning the least offence to the hon. Member for Lambeth, that his advocacy of these claims was not so judicious as that of the hon. Member for Liskeard. He agreed with the hon. Member for Liskeard that there could be no greater impediment to any reform, such as that which was more immediately connected with the subject before them, than to refuse to consider the interests of those affected by it, rich as well as poor. That was not, however, the view which was taken by the hon. Member for Lambeth, who repudiated the vested rights of a gentleman, who had filled a regular appointment, and spoke of those who had no regular appointments, but were employed from day to day. It was extraordinary that he never heard those claims till now; he never heard them in the last Parliament, when the hon. Member for Liskeard and the hon. Member for Lambeth might have been able to render great assistance to those persons whose claims they advocated. He understood that those persons were occupied day by day in the Office of the Six Clerks copying, and as the object of the Bill was to give greater facility to equity business generally, if those gentle- men as copyists were well established by their thirty years diligent attention, he had no doubt that it would be sufficient to secure them employment. He was afraid it would be carrying a principle too far to make any legislative arrangement to provide for those gentlemen, or to give them any assurance from the Government. If he gave such an assurance he might raise hopes which could not be realised. He should be sorry that those who had earned their livelihood in an honourable and praiseworthy manner should suffer any loss, but he did not think the House ought to give any pledge on the subject.

Mr. Hawes

observed that he had made no representation on any former occasion, on behalf of these parties. There was so little ground for hope, in the answer of the right hon. Baronet, that he must turn to the Attorney-general.

The Attorney-General

understood that the principle on which compensation was granted of late years was founded upon an inquiry as to whether the party seeking compensation had a legal vested interest in the office or not, and that whoever had not was disentitled to compensation. Those persons to whom the hon. Members alluded had no legal rights, as they were merely employed from day to day, and had no fixed employment. Mr. Scarlett held the office to which he had been appointed on a footing as certain as any gentleman in that House held his estates, and he was to receive compensation according to all the rules that were established for granting it. With respect to the copying clerks, he believed that this Bill would increase their business.

Sir C. Napier

had noticed that that House was always most liberal in dealing with any case where any gentleman of the law was concerned. It was not long since they voted 3,500l. as the retiring pension for a Vice-Chancellor. Now, that would just be the retiring pension which would be given to eight admirals after fifty years' service. He would mention a few of the pensions given to officers on the abolition of the Navy Board some ten years ago, and the right hon. Baronet deserved much praise for its abolition. There was Sir F. Seymour, a very old officer, who had lost an arm; he had a patent place, which being abolished, he was compensated by being sent out to the Brazils, where he died. Another officer, who held a patent place, which was abolished, was compen- sated by a transportation of three years to South America; and another officer under the same circumstances, was compensated by five years' employment, and to remain the rest of his life on half pay. He might also mention the case of Captain Hornby; he enjoyed a patent place of 1,000l. a-year; it was abolished, and he was compensated by five years' employment at Woolwich. He only mentioned these things to show the difference in the way of dealing with gentlemen of the long robe, and gentlemen with short jackets.

Mr. C. Wood

could not understand the law laid down by the Attorney-general, with respect to the case of Mr. Scarlett. When Lord Brougham appointed his brother to the office that had been referred to, the greatest opposition was given to it by Gentlemen on the other side of the House. The Attorney-general's doctrine was, that persons who had a legal title to a place, and being in possession of that place, were entitled to compensation. Now, he wanted to know how Mr. Scarlett was entitled to compensation and Mr. Brougham was not?

Bill passed.