HC Deb 21 March 1849 vol 103 cc1066-71

Order for Second Reading, read.


rose to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The object of the Bill was to assimilate the law of Ireland for facilitating the recovery of small debts to the law passed in England for that purpose in 1846—namely, the 9th and 10th Vic, cap. 95; and which enacted, that persons bringing actions in the superior courts to recover sums below 20l. did so at their own peril as regards costs. The law of 1846 had given very general satisfaction to the people of England; and as it was the boast of the English Members of that House who professed themselves friendly to Ireland, that they were ready to assimilate the laws of the two countries, as far as was practicable, with any varying circumstances, he trusted that the House would now consent to extend the benefits of this Act to Ireland as well as England. If that enactment were good for England, it ought, he conceived, to be extended to Ireland. He had embodied in the Bill the clause of the County Courts Act, to which he had referred; and though professional men might be opposed to the measure, because it would reduce the expenditure of money in the profession, the great mass of the community in Ireland were most anxious to see this law carried into effect. The next provision of the Bill would enable the assistant barristers in Ireland to give the costs of witnesses in their courts. When the Act was passed for the abolition of imprisonment for small debts, the assistant barristers for the purposes of that Act could give the costs of witnesses to the amount of 5l.; and the Bill before the House went no further than to extend that provision of the Act of Parliament generally, and to give a general power to assistant barristers, with respect to the costs of summoning witnesses. In some portions of the county of Cork, a man might be processed for a debt of 40s. to a court sitting fifty miles from his place of residence. He must either pay or travel fifty miles, and bring his witnesses with him. He might be detained with his witnesses in that distant town for a whole week, and still the assistant barrister had not power to award costs in that case. He held in his hand a writ which had been served a few days ago on an industrious farmer in Waterford for a debt of 4l. 6s. 2d., and the amount of costs marked on the back of the writ was 3l. 10s. That was a most mischievous state of things, and to remedy it he introduced this Bill, enabling assistant barristers to award costs to witnesses, which, considering the distances witnesses had sometimes to go, was a very necessary provision. The next provision of the Bill was to enable justices of the peace at petty sessions to take under their jurisdiction civil-bill cases to the amount of 40s. At present they had the power to adjudicate in suits instituted for the recovery of wages to the amount of 6l., and also to decide in cases of arbitration in mortality societies; and it was thought that the extension of the power generally to debts not exceeding 40s. would be a valuable improvement in the law in Ireland in reference to the recovery of small debts. The third provision had reference to the jurisdiction of recorders in certain cases. It was intended by the Municipal Act to give to recorders the same jurisdiction that was possessed by assistant barristers at quarter-sessions; but it would appear they had not the power to decide cases of ejectment or of replevin. It would be most salutary if recorders had jurisdiction in those cases, and it was the intention of the Municipal Act that they should have such power. In conclusion, he begged to move the second reading of the Bill.


, admitting that the hon. Gentleman's intention was laudable, felt himself, nevertheless, compelled to oppose the second reading of the Bill, on the ground of the legal difficulties that stood in the way of applying the provisions of the English measure to the machinery now existing in Ireland. One great difference was, that England enjoyed all the facilities of direct and rapid railway communication, which was as yet very partially extended to Ireland; and this was an important consideration in regard to the attendance of witnesses. Under the law, as it stood, the debtor had great powers, and was entitled to no favour from the Legislature. When the creditor had recourse to vexatious proceedings in a superior court, the debtor had the power of staying proceedings on payment of the debt with a small amount of costs. One improvement in the existing law was very necessary—to give the judge the power of awarding expenses actually incurred. It was objectionable to convert the petty sessions courts of justice into a kind of civil tribunal; the effect would be to create a scene of turmoil from one end of Ireland to the other. He did not think any improvement could be made on the law as it stood without adopting the whole of the county-court machinery; and this he was not prepared to do.


, while giving credit to the hon. Member for Cork for his good intentions, hoped the Bill would not be pressed. There were great legal obstructions in the way of any attempt to assimilate the law on small debts of the two countries; and he was convinced that the adoption of such a measure as the one before the House would be attended with great danger. Recently, the Solicitor General for Ireland and himself had minutely considered the subject; and they found that the difficulties were almost insuperable. In the discussion of the Small Debts Bill of last Session, it became evident that there was a large and influential party in Ireland opposed to an assimilation of the law. There were useful provisions in the measure; but upon the whole, it would be better to withdraw it.


regretted that the Bill would not be allowed to go into Committee, as then many of the objections raised by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin might have been removed. It was quite natural to suppose that gentlemen of his profession would be opposed to any measure which went to facilitate the administration of the law. The hon. and learned Member had objected to the magistrates having jurisdiction in cases of small debts; yet he himself had a Bill on the Paper giving them cognisance of contracts, than which nothing involved more nice legal questions.


said, it had long been the complaint that the Legislature had not acted fairly towards Ireland; and as we had recently adopted an important measure in this country for facilitating the recovery of small debts, which had upon the whole succeeded well, it was desirable to extend the same principle to Ireland. With this view the principle of this Bill, at least, ought to be adopted; and if there were legal objections to the details, it was for the Government to get over those difficulties, by referring the Bill to a Select Committee. It was no answer to say that a party in Ireland was opposed to the change; why, every attorney in England had opposed the County Courts Bill.


supported the recommendation that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, who might also direct their inquiries to a general assimilation of the civil law of both countries.


said, he must express his sincere opinion of the great advantages which had been produced by the County Courts Act, which he thought might be still further extended. It had been no injury to the legal profession, but, on the other hand, a source of great remuneration. There was no doubt it was desirable to extend the same measure to Ireland; the only question was, whether this could best be done through the assistant barristers, or by a totally new machinery. He deprecated the practice of reading Bills a second time, and referring them to a Select Committee, when no one agreed upon any one of the details, but simply thought the object of the Bill a good one. The better course would be to bring in a Bill with nothing but a title or a preamble, and refer it to a Committee to draw the clauses. In this case no answer had been attempted to be given to the objections of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University; and he would suggest to the hon. Member for Cork, whether it would not be better to withdraw the Bill, and reintroduce it after the clauses were settled by competent parties. The provision for giving magistrates jurisdiction over small debts, he thought particularly objectionable; and there was nothing on which the House was agreed but the title of the Bill.


would recommend the withdrawal of the Bill, provided the Government would promise to take the matter into their hands, and bring in a Bill having the same object.


, while supporting the principle of this Bill, was opposed to the clause giving magistrates jurisdiction. He should vote for the second reading, with a view to the Bill going before a Select Committee.


said, he would withdraw the Bill, if the Government would pledge themselves to introduce a measure having the same object. If not, he should press the measure to a second reading, with the view to send it upstairs to a Select Committee.


said, the matter should have his best consideration, but he could not undertake to prepare and bring in a Bill himself.


said, in that case the right hon. Gentleman ought to consent to the second reading, a distant day being fixed for the next stage.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The House divided:—Ayes 29; Noes 31: Majority 2.

List of the AYES.
Arkwright, G. Kershaw, J.
Armstrong, R. B. King, hon. P. J. L.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Martin, J.
Meagher, T.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Milnes, R. M.
Brotherton, J. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Crawford, W. S. O'Connell, J.
Duncuft, J. Pilkington, J.
Ellis, J. Strickland, Sir G.
Forster, M. Thompson, Col.
Gaskell, J. M. Thorneley, T.
Greene, J. Walter, J.
Harris, R. Wawn, J. T.
Heald, J.
Heyworth, L. TELLERS.
Hindley, C. Fagan, W.
Hume, J. Scully, F.
List of the NOES.
Blair, S. Moffatt, G.
Buck, L. W. Mullings, J. R.
Divett, E. Napier, J.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. O'Brien, Sir L.
Ellice, rt. hon. E. Palmer, R.
Fuller, A. E. Pusey, P.
Greenall, G. Romilly, Sir J.
Hayes, Sir E. Sotheron, T. H. S.
Headlam, T. E. Stafford, A.
Heneage, G. H. W. Sullivan, M.
Henley, J. W. Tenison, E. K.
Herbert, H. A. Tollemache, J.
Hood, Sir A. Vesey, hon. T.
Hope, Sir J. Watkins, Col. L.
Lacy, H. C. TELLERS.
Lewis, G. C. Bellew, R. M.
Maitland, T. Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.

Bill to be read 2° this day six months.

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