HC Deb 06 April 1852 vol 120 cc793-7

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


would suggest to the hon. Member (Capt. Fitzroy) who had charge of this Bill the propriety of only going into Committee upon it pro formâ. Two-thirds of the Bill related to the appointment of the County Courts Judges as Masters of the Court of Chancery, to the powers with which they were to be invested, and to the provisions for carrying out their jurisdiction. Now, it was perfectly well known the Commissioners who had sat upon the Court of Chancery had reported in favour of reforming that Court by abolishing the Masters altogether; and as a Bill founded on that Report was to be introduced, it would be better to postpone the consideration of the measure now before the Committee.


said, that he should quite concur in the suggestion of the hon. and learned Attorney General if they had any definite expectation of the Chancery Reform Bill coming before Parliament, and being passed during the present Session; and he would therefore take the liberty of asking his hon. and learned Friend what prospect there was of obtaining that great desideratum, a reform in the Court of Chancery during the present Session? If there was any chance of the Chancery Reform Bill being introduced immediately after the holidays, he thought it would be better to postpone the present Bill, the machinery of which must necessarily be altered if the Chancery Reform Bill were passed. But if that Bill were not likely to be passed during the present Session, he hoped that his hon. Friend (Capt. Fitzroy) who had charge of the present Bill, would not consent to postpone it.


said, that he could not give a very distinct answer to the question of his hon. and learned Friend under the peculiar circumstances in which the Government were placed. But he had no doubt whatever that if an opportunity were afforded to them, they would be able to introduce the Bill for the reform of the Court of Chancery during the present Session.


said, the curious point in the whole matter was, that both Bills had originated, or were to originate, in the House of Lords. Now, although the two Bills no doubt had originated with different parties, still the Members of the Government had probably been consulted upon the present Bill, and he thought it was rather extraordinary that after allowing it to pass through the House of Lords, and to proceed in that House up to the present stage, they should then oppose it.


said, that the circumstances under which he had brought in the Bill, would, he thought, justify him in refusing to accede to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Attorney General. The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had, upon the second reading of the Bill, distinctly stated that the Government did not mean to oppose it; and now the hon. and learned Attorney General coolly proposed that it should be postponed for some indefinite period, on the contingency that some day or other it might please the Government, if their term of office were prolonged, to introduce a Chancery Reform Bill. That seemed to him one of the most monstrous propositions that could be made to the House. It was the general opinion out of doors that the Chancery Reform Bill, upon which the Government plumed themselves, was brought forward to enable the Government to stop private measures for the reform of the law, that they might be able to say, "We have large measures in contemplation—by no means interfere with us." This Bill had gone through both Houses last Session, and had only been lost eventually in the House of Lords on account of the late period of the Session at which it went back to that House. Two or three clauses which were in the Bill when originally introduced in the House of Lords last year, but which were omitted in its progress through Parliament, had indeed been again inadvertently inserted, but he intended to propose their omission. He thought that by pressing this Bill he should be doing his duty, by carrying out a real Chancery reform, and if before it was passed the other Chancery Reform Bill was introduced, and its propositions were found to be antagonistic to those of the present Bill, it would then be time enough to withdraw it. The purposes of its proposers would then be obtained, for he had always stated that, although there were no doubt some advantages attendant on a system of local courts, yet that he should prefer a thorough reform in the Superior Courts. Unless He heard some better reasons for delay than had yet been given, he should persist in going on with the Bill,


said, he concurred with the hop. Member for Finsbury (Mr, Wakley) in thinking that the Bill came before them in a singular way, and he thought it seemed more extraordinary than ever, after the statement of the hon. Member for Lewes (Captain Fitzroy), for it seemed that it was intended that the Bill should be materially altered in Committee. It appeared from the "Votes of the House of Lords that a Bill called the County Courts Further Extension Bill No. 2, had been introduced into that House on the previous evening, or on Friday evening; and as the Government intended to introduce a Bill, founded upon the Report of the Chancery Reform Commissioners, to abolish the very jurisdiction which the Bill before the Committee proposed to confer, he thought that it would surely be reasonable to allow these two Bills to overtake the present measure, so that they might consider them together. He did not see for what useful purpose they could sit there as a legislative body if they acted in the way in which it was now proposed, and proceeded with this Bill. From a sense of the respect due to the position of their own proceedings before the public, let the Committee proceed calmly and deliberately first to consider whether the jurisdiction of these Courts should be extended, and, if so, how that extension should be carried out.


hoped that the hon. Member for Lewes (Captain Fitzroy) would not be persuaded to postpone the consideration of the Bill. It was asked, why proceed with this Bill when a reform in the Court of Chancery is promised? But he had the most distinct recollection that for the last forty or fifty years a reform in the Court of Chancery had been solemnly promised either by the Government of the day or by private Members of that House, and yet not a single step had yet been taken to accomplish that most desirable object. This, which would be a very useful one, was an attempt to get that done by the County Court Judges which the Masters in Chancery now professed, but did not do. If a suit now got into the Masters' offices it stayed there for years, without the Masters doing anything, all that was done being that the Master's clerk signed hour warrants, putting off the business from one time to another till the unfortunate suitor was worn out. The Bill gave these Judges power to inquire into matters of account which never could be done in the Masters' offices, but which there was some hope might be done in a rational manner by a vivâ voce examination. By the proposed Chancery Reform Bill founded on the Report of the Chancery Reform Commissioners, the Masters' offices would only be abolished in name, for the same work which their clerks had been in the habit of doing would in future be done by a clerk to the Lord Chancellor. He believed that that Bill would only substitute another set of unintelligible technicalities for those which existed at present, which constituted a total denial of justice, and which the country wished to see entirely swept away. As, however, there was no chance of getting such a reform in the Court of Chancery as he thought was desirable, he hoped the hon. Member would press this Bill, which would effect a real reform as far as it went.


said, that this Bill was a fac-simile of that which had last year passed both Houses of the Legislature, and it was not, therefore, necessary to discuss the question whether the County Courts should be extended, as the hon. and learned Member for Newark (Mr. J. Stuart) had proposed. That question had already been discussed and decided, and he hoped, therefore, that the Committee would allow this measure to proceed.


said, the Bill, in its present form, was a complete mass of confusion. First came some clauses about Chancery, then some about County Courts, and then it jumped back again into Chancery, It would be practically useless to proceed with the Bill at present. It gave power to the Lord Chancellor and Lords Justices to frame certain rules; and this was the foundation of the measure. But if the Lord Chancellor and Lords Justices thought the measure not capable of being worked, by reason of a contemplated general measure of Chancery reform, of course they would not make these rules. He recommended that the Bill be reprinted with the Amendments.


said, he concurred in the course which had just been suggested by the hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. Mullings). It seemed clear that there was, now, or would be shortly, before the House of Lords a Bill for the complete alteration of the present system of the Court of Chancery, and for the abolition of the Masters' offices. Now as this Bill proceeded on the principle of referring to the County Courts all work done by the Masters in Chancery, it was clear that if the Parliament adopted the proposals of the Chancery Reform Commissioners, it would be absolutely necessary, if this Bill passed, to alter its machinery in order to adapt it to that of the larger measure. He thought it would, therefore, be expedient to allow the Chairman to report progress, and to keep this Bill in reserve, ready to pass it (having reprinted it with such verbal amendments as were necessary) if Parliament did not adopt the Bill for the reform of the Court of Chancery. If that Bill should be adopted, then his hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Captain Fitzroy) would pass so much of the present measure as still remained necessary, striking out so much as the other Bill superseded.


said, that the Bill for the reform of the Court of Chancery had not yet been introduced, and as they did not even know whether it was the intention of the Government to introduce it, and press it through all its stages in the present Session, he thought it was very unreasonable to 'propose that this Bill should be delayed until the other Bill came down from the House of Lords. He would therefore recommend the hon. Member for Lewes to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. Mullings), but by no means to hang up this Bill in order to wait for the other.


said, that he would accede to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mullings), that the Chairman should report progress, for the purpose of reprinting the Bill; but he should certainly fix a day for proceeding with the Committee, unless sufficient reason could be shown for any further postponement. He thought that if the objection of the hon. and learned Attorney General was good for anything, it was fatal to the principle of the Bill, and might just as well have been urged against the second reading.

House resumed; Bill reported; to be printed as amended.