HC Deb 16 April 1856 vol 141 cc1105-13

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3.

In reply to an observation of Sir ROBERT FERGUSSON,


said, there was nothing in the principle of the measure to give any reason why it should not apply to Ireland as well as to England, and he had proposed an Amendment at the instance of some gentlemen in Ireland to that effect. It was always desirable that the same law should be applied to both countries, when it was equally applicable.


said, the effect of the Bill in Ireland would be to disqualify those magistrates holding estates under ecclesiastical bodies, who had not converted their leasehold tenures into perpetuity. He thought it would be better to introduce a separate Bill for Ireland, and not in that summary way to extend the measure to Ireland.


said, he would suggest that the hon. Baronet should propose a clause on the third reading, to provide for the case which he had specified.


said, that the peculiar tenures to which the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Ferguson) had alluded, existed in England still more extensively than in Ireland. He wished the law of Ireland to be assimilated to that of England, thinking that exceptional legislation for Ireland was a great calamity.

Clause agreed to, as were also Clauses 4 to 6 inclusive.

Clause 7.


said, he wished to move the substitution of the words "such county, riding, or division," for "England and Wales." The object of the alteration was, by rendering it necessary that the property constituting the qualification of a justice should exist in the locality in which he exercised his functions, to maintain a local connection between the magistracy and the counties in which they had jurisdiction. The control which justices possessed over the county expenditure made it desirable that their property should be situated in the district from which the funds were levied.


said, he hoped the Amendment would not be pressed. Its adoption would embarrass the administration of justice by disqualifying magistrates living on the confines of two counties from acting officially in both.


said, he viewed the Amendment as an innovation which must work very inconveniently in the cases pointed out by the hon. Member who had last addressed them. Justices ought to be enabled to exercise their functions in conterminous counties.


said, he believed that the Amendment would disqualify one fourth of the magistracy of England. If magistrates were prohibited from rendering assistance to a neighbouring bench in cases of emergency, the restriction would often amount to a practical denial of justice.


said, he trusted that the Committee would support him in resisting the Amendment, which, if carried, would render it impossible to administer the law, particularly in cases affecting railways, which often ran through several different counties. Justices acting judicially in adjoining counties would, as at present, make it a point of honour to abstain from voting on questions relating to the rates of other counties than their own.


said, he thought that land in Scotland should qualify for the office of justice of the peace in England as well as the receipt of interest or dividends. A clause ought, however, to be inserted, expressly precluding magistrates, when acting in adjacent counties, from exercising any power over the county rates.


said, it was his intention if his Amendment were assented to, to move as a proviso, that any magistrate should be empowered to act, in all matters affecting the preservation of the peace, in any county bordering upon his own.


said, he objected to the extension of the Bill to Ireland.


said, he regarded the question as one not between real and personal property, but of local interest. The proviso suggested by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, would obviate the objection raised to the latter, and would merely have the effect of preventing magistrates from exercising jurisdiction in a distant county in which they had no qualification, real or personal.


said, he would recommend the withdrawal of the Amendment, and that a clause should be moved at a subsequent stage, if necessary, to divest justices of any power over the county rates of an adjoining county.


said, it was his opinion that the proposal to disqualify justices from affording judicial assistance at neighbouring petty sessions would be too restrictive; but at the same time he thought that there was nothing of which the farming class of ratepayers were more jealous than that members of the bench should have authority over the financial business of districts with which they were not locally connected. The feeling was, that, if those gentlemen were rated themselves, they would be more careful how they voted away the money of the taxpayers. The observation had been made to him repeatedly, "If Mr. A. or Mr. B. had to contribute his share to the county rates, he would be a little more careful in their distribution." Why should a man who had no stake in a county have a voice in the application of the funds of that county? He had heard it suggested that no person who was not assessed in his own name or in that of tenants to the poor rate or to the county rates, or who had not property in a county, should be qualified to act, either with regard to general or financial business, as a magistrate for such a county.


said, he thought that if the proposal involved in the Bill were adopted, it would have the effect of exciting considerable jealousy, for two classes of magistrates would be appointed, the one class exercising magisterial functions in criminal cases, while the other class would be restricted to the control of financial affairs.


said, that on the understanding that the Government would consider the expediency of introducing such alterations as would meet his views, he would not press his Amendment.


said, he would now move the insertion of the words, "or within Ireland, as the case may be;" he considered that this was rendered necessary by the extension of the Bill to Ireland, which had been already agreed to; but he should propose to add, at the end of the clause, words providing "that no estate or interest in landed estate in Ireland, shall he a sufficient qualification for England and Wales, and that none in England and Wales shall be a qualification for Ireland." He begged to state to the Committee that all the Amendments had been very maturely considered by the law officers of the Crown.


said, he thought the best course would be to establish a general qualification, so that persons possessing a qualification in England might act as magistrates in Ireland, while persons possessing a qualification in Ireland might exercise magisterial functions in England.


said, he was of opinion that an English magistrate should possess a qualification in England, and that an Irish magistrate should have a qualification in that country.

Amendment agreed to.


said, he desired to have the words "United Kingdom" substituted for "England and Wales." He could not see why a person having landed qualification in Ireland should not have a qualification to act as magistrate in England, especially when a person having personal property to the extent of £300 was to be qualified.


said, the Bill would establish two distinct qualifications—a qualification in landed property of £100 a year, and a qualification in personal property of £300 a year. As he understood the Bill, landed proprietors would be qualified to act as magistrates only in the counties in which their property was situated, while possessors of personal property, which might be derived from estates in Jamaica or Trinidad, or from investments in the French funds, could be appointed magistrates in any part of the kingdom.


said, he thought it rather anomalous, according to the view of the Bill taken by the last speaker, that, while the receipt of £300 a year from the Tipperary Bank would be a qualification for an English magistrate, the possession of landed property in Tipperary to the required amount would not confer such a qualification.


said, he was of opinion that that a man should possess a qualification in the county in which he acted as a magistrate. What was the argument used by the Manchester gentlemen, who some time since brought forward a Bill upon this subject? They complained that magistrates who had no sympathy with the ratepayers voted away the public money at quarter sessions, and they contended that the ratepayers ought to have a voice in the application of the funds. The fact was, that the magistrates were generally the largest ratepayers, either themselves or through their tenantry; but now a parcel of retired tradesmen, who paid no rates except for their little trumpery lodgings, were allowed to squander away the money of the ratepayers, and completely to outvote all the landed proprietors. There was a good deal of justice in the scheme of the Manchester gentlemen, but the difficulty was to establish machinery by which their object could be attained.


said, he was one of those who supported the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman had just referred. He thought there ought to be a paid magistracy who should have cognisance of the criminal business, and that the other magistrates who attended to the financial business should have a property qualification.

Amendment agreed to.


said, the clause required, as one of the qualifications of a justice of the peace, that he should be entitled to an estate in lands, or in the rents and profits of lands for the life of some person living, or for a term of which not less than thirty years should be unexpired. The effect of the clause, if applied to Ireland, would be to disqualify a great number of most active magistrates, and he would therefore move the substitution of "twenty-one years" for "thirty years."


said, he would suggest, as there was so material a difference between the circumstances of England and Ireland, it was advisable that the present Bill should apply only to England, and that the Secretary for Ireland should introduce a separate Bill with reference to that country. They ought either to treat the Irish counties in the same manner in which they dealt with the English counties, or a new Bill applicable to Ireland should be introduced.


said, he thought that, whenever it was possible the same legislation should be applied to England and Ireland. He knew of no case in which such equal legislation could be adopted more simply and satisfactorily than with regard to the qualifications of justices of the peace, and he saw no reason why the qualification which this Bill would establish in England should not be equally applicable to Ireland.


said, that in the first instance this Bill was intended to apply solely to England, and, if its operation were extended to Ireland, he thought that object ought to be accomplished by provisions which had been carefully prepared and well considered.


said, he had been somewhat surprised at the proposal to apply this Bill to Ireland, and would suggest that, unless great caution were exercised, the effect of that application would be to disqualify a great number of most valuable magistrates. He would recommend that a separate Bill should be introduced with reference to the qualification of Irish magistrates, and he believed that if such a measure were prepared by the law officers of the Crown for Ireland, it would be passed in half the time that would be spent in discussing the mode in which the present Bill should be applied to Ireland.


said, the Bill would operate in Ireland precisely the same as in England. It would prevent justices of the peace acting without qualification.


said, he thought that the Bill ought to be extended to Ireland. It would not disqualify existing magistrates, because it was prospective and not retrospective in its effect.


said, the object of requiring magistrates to possess a property qualification was to insure their sympathy with the ratepayers of those counties in which they exercised a control over the local taxation. The Bill before the Committee, however, did not provide that magistrates should have qualifications in the particular counties in which they exercised magisterial functions, for their qualifications might be derived from colonial estates, from investments in foreign stocks, or from personal property. He really thought the most simple course, and that most in accordance with common sense, would be to abolish the property qualification for magistrates altogether, rather than maintain an ineffective system of qualifications, which would afford no security for the proper administration of the county funds.


said, that a qualification by leasehold tenure was an expiring qualification, so that a man might be qualified one day, and disqualified the next.


said, he suggested that the better course would be for the Government to take up the question, and upon their own responsibility to bring in Bills applicable both to England and to Ireland. He did not think that magistrates had been required to possess a property qualification, simply because they had to transact the financial business of counties, but in order that if, in the exercise of the extensive powers vested in them, they caused persons to be improperly imprisoned, those who complained of their wrong-doing might find that they were "worth powder and shot." It was no satisfaction to a man to put a magistrate in gaol, because he had himself been wrongfully imprisoned; but he would feel the benefit of being able to put damages in his pocket. Their best course would be to go on with that part of the Bill which related to England, and agree to its recommittal at some future day for the purpose of its being considered as it related to Ireland. It was desirable, as far as possible, to have the same law for both countries.


said, the Bill as it now stood would have a retrospective effect. According to the wording of the 7th clause a magistrate would be required to possess the stipulated qualification at all times, and not merely at the date of his appointment.


said, that to prohibit magistrates from acting in counties where they had no property would be to disqualify many of the existing justices of the peace.


said, he objected to the Bill altogether, and would, at the proper time, move the omission of the last three paragraphs of the 7th clause.


said, he hoped the Committee would come to a distinct understanding as to whether the Bill was to be retrospective or not. Nothing could be more unjust than to declare old magistrates disqualified because they did not possess the new qualifications set forth in the present Bill.


said, his own individual opinion was that the Bill would have a retrospective effect. The 7th clause would prevent magistrates qualified under the existing Acts from continuing to act, unless their qualifications coincided with the provisions of the Bill. On the other hand, the 6th clause seemed to have a different meaning, and it was important that the author of the Bill should explain his intentions.


said, it was not the intention of the promoters of the Bill that it should be retrospective, and words to be construed in that sense had been introduced into the 8th and 11th clauses.


said, he would suggest that a postponement should take place until the Law Officers of the Crown had been consulted on the question.


said, that if any doubt was entertained as to the prospective character of the Bill a few words introduced at the beginning of the 7th clause would settle it.


said, that, as regarded England, the Bill was reasonably retrospective, because, here it would leave existing magistrates where it found them; but in Ireland, where the present qualification was very low, it would doubtless make a considerable change, and it was a question for consideration whether it should be made retrospective in that country.

MR. GRANVILLE VERNON moved, that the Chairman Report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 115; Noes 74: Majority 41.

The House resumed.

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