HC Deb 27 June 1856 vol 142 cc2075-83

On the Motion that the House at its rising do adjourn to Monday,


said, he was anxious to speak to this question, for the purpose of putting a question to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, of which he had given him notice, upon a subject that required some explanation. He wished to obtain from the noble Lord a decided and explicit answer as to the course the Government intended to pursue with regard to the Appellate Jurisdiction Bill—a Bill he need scarcely say as important as almost any measure dealing with domestic legislation that could accupy the attention of that House. The Bill proposed to interfere with the High Court of Appeal, and to change the constitution and organisation of that Court, and it dealt also—by inuendo certainly—but at the same time most effectually with the prerogative of the Crown, which was distinctly limited by the Bill. Now, as a friend of the Government, and one of their sincere supporters, he wished to inform the noble Lord what was said very generally about the measure. He knew not on what authority, but it was nevertheless the fact, that the public and many Members of that House had been led to consider that the Bill in question was the result of a compromise which he would not characterise because he disliked using hard words. Besides, it was generally rumoured that as the Bill was the result of a compromise so it was to be carried by means of a coalition. It was also generally rumoured—he was now speaking of what was talked of in the lobbies of Parliament—that the noble Earl who conducted the Opposition in another place had called his followers together and energetically impressed upon them the necessity of remaining in London during the oppressive weather, under which they were now suffering, to support the Bill, informing them at the same time that it was one in which he took a deep, not a political, but personal interest. On the other hand it was equally generally stated, that the Government was bound in some way—how, he would not say, but by some pledge or arrangement from which they would find it difficult to escape—to pass the measure in its present shape. He mentioned these rumours as mere rumours that had come to his knowledge; but, as a Member of Parliament who seldom troubled the House, but who spoke with the experience of upwards of twenty years in that House, he felt bound to say that he did see some very awkward signs in the horizon; and he could not but feel a certain degree of suspicion from the indefinite delay which had taken place in the discussion of a measure of such great importance, that there might be an inention somewhere, when Members wearied and jaded with the fatigues of a protracted Session could not be induced to remain longer in town, he would not say smuggle, but to "ram" the measure through the House. In fact, he had himself received from a certain quarter that very pithy admonition—it had been said to him, "it is of no use to oppose the Bill—it may be a very bad Bill; you may talk against it till you are tired, but it will pass nevertheless." He would not believe that the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) meditated any such course. He could not believe it. The noble Lord had received from that House a liberal and a generous support. [Viscount PALMERSTON: Hear, hear!] The noble Lord knew well that he might continue to count on that support, and if he would only deal, as he (Mr. R. Currie) believed he intended to deal, firmly and fearlessly with the House, he would be the most influential and popular, as he undoubtedly was the most able Minister the Crown had ever employed. The Bill he referred to had come down from the House of Lords, and what he wished to know was, whether the Government intended to adopt it as it now stood? He hoped they did not; but if they did, he wished further to ask the noble Lord, whether they meditated passing that important measure, dealing as it did with the High Court of Appeal in the last resort, and in that way affecting the property of every corporation, and of every individual in the kingdom, and dealing also with the prerogative of the Crown by Parliamentary enactment; and if the noble Lord was determined to press it, then he would request him to fix an early day, in order that the measure might be fully and fairly discussed.


Sir, there is no doubt that the subject to which my hon. Friend has drawn the attention of the House is one of very great importance. My hon. Friend calls the measure a compromise. Well, Sir, nearly all the measures passed in Parliament are, in one sense at least, compromises, because they are the result of conflicting opinions, which lead at last to the adoption of a measure neither entirely in accordance with the opinions of those who proposed, or those who opposed the original measure. I do not mean to say that this Bill, in the shape in which it at present stands, is exactly according to the views which the Government, if they had entire power to deal with these things, and had not considered that they are the Ministers of a constitutional Government, might have proposed. It is, however, of the utmost importance, that the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords should as speedily as possible be placed on an efficient footing. It is not so placed at present, and this measure did receive the concurrence of those Members of the Government who are Members of the House of Lords. I, therefore, do intend, when the measure is discussed in this House, to give it all the support which I can as a Member of the Government, and I should undoubtedly be very glad if the assertion of my hon. Friend should be verified, and that in doing so I shall also receive the support of those who are generally opposed to the Government. I certainly think, Sir, that the measure is one of extreme importance, and I do not believe that the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords can, with advantage to the public interest, remain in its present imperfect state. I, therefore, accept this measure for the purpose of placing it on a more efficient footing. With respect to the day on which it should be discussed, it is certainly desirable that an early period should be fixed. There are, however, other measures of importance which will have to go up to the House of Lords, and which must therefore in some degree, necessarily have a preference in respect to the time of discussion, but no improper delay shall be allowed to intervene before the discussion of the Bill in question.


Sir, I think it is of great importance that on a subject of this nature there should be no mistake whatever by this House as to the circumstances under which a Bill of such moment is about to be introduced to its notice. Sir, it is unnecessary for me to say—for I should only express the feeling of every one present if I were to give utterance to that opinion—that the subject to which this Bill refers is one of paramount importance. No one can be more deeply impressed with that conviction than myself. Sir, when this Bill shall be brought before the House, certainly I shall vote for the second reading, because I think it is absolutely necessary that the House should consider the condition of the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords, and because we shall have an opportunity in after stages to consider the details of the Bill which it is proposed to us to adopt. However, Sir, it is not either on the purpose or on the details of the Bill that I would on this occasion venture to address you; but it is because I think the extraordinary terms in which his question has been put by the hon. Gentleman who commenced this conversation, and the answer of the noble Lord at the head of the Government to that question, have left the House in an ambiguous, equivocal, and unsatisfactory position. The noble Lord tells us that the Bill, which has not yet been brought under our consideration, is the result of a compromise, and that compromise is a part of our constitution. Sir, I am not prepared to demur in the abstract to this position and those principles of the noble Lord; but I do contend, Sir, that we cannot be influenced by those vague and general dogmas in our practice here. In our Parliamentary practice we must hold those responsible for a measure who introduce that measure. I understand that this is a measure of the Government—I understand that it has been introduced by a noble Lord of the highest authority on such subjects—a Member of the Government and a Member of the Cabinet; and when I am called on to consider it here, I assuredly shall have to consider it as a measure of the Government. Therefore, Sir, I do not clearly understand why the noble Lord should bring us behind the scenes of legislation, and tell us that the Government have adopted a measure which they consider a compromise, and that that is the spirit of the constitution. I hold, Sir, that the Government have adopted this measure, having, after a full consideration of the matter, come to the conclusion that it is, on the whole, the one most beneficial for the public interest. We are to consider this measure, then, as a Government measure, and as a measure which the Government believes to be best adapted for the public advantage; and in that spirit I shall have to consider it. I should be very sorry, important as this measure is, if it did not receive a fair and ample discussion. It would be a matter of very great injury if measures of such vast importance should be not only "smuggled," to use the language of the hon. Gentleman who has introduced this question, but "rammed" through the House. But allow me to remind the hon. Gentleman who is so pathetic as to the sufferings of the "jaded" Members of "independent" position, who are, however, "sincere friends" of Her Majesty's Government, that there is an easy remedy for this inconvenience. The constitution could never be more securely guarded than when "independent" Members "friendly" to the Government remain in their places, and I do not understand that the fatigues of this Session have been of so oppressive a character that the nerves of hon. Members of the most "independent" character, and the most "friendly" sentiments to Her Majesty's Ministers need be in such a "jaded" condition that they cannot remain at their posts—this being only the month of June—to do their duty to the constitution. Whatever, therefore, may be the excursions which the hon. Gentleman contemplates, I shall hold him responsible to his constituents and to the country if he and the Gentlemen opposite, of whom he appears as the representative to-night, are not here to argue this question on its merits, the measure being one of the utmost importance, and having been introduced by the Government, as I understood it, upon its responsibility, and being strictly and properly a Ministerial measure.


Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has entirely mistaken the import of what I said just now. He seems to imagine that I was letting the House into the secret of this Bill; that I was revealing to them something which had passed behind the scenes. But I only referred to those scenes which had been played upon the stage—acted, indeed, as one may say, up to the very lamps. I referred to those very active and animated debates in the House of Lords which have resulted in the measure which has now come down to us. Undoubtedly, in proposing this measure to the House, I propose it as a measure which the Government recommends to the House, and which it is anxious to see passed.


I have not, Sir, been "behind the scenes," nor do I know anything about the "secrets" of this measure; but I agree with the hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me that it is impossible to exaggerate its importance, and I can only say that the country which does not like "coalitions," does not like "compromises" between great parties in respect of measures of this description. I agree also with my hon. Friend (Mr. R. Currie) that it is of the utmost importance that an early day should be appointed for the second reading of this Bill; and if I sought to illustrate the necessity of its discussion not being postponed, I would only refer you to what occurred last night upon the Motion for the second reading of the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill. A measure is brought forward by Her Majesty's Government which seeks to transfer the appellate jurisdiction of all the inferior Courts of England with respect to testamentary matters from the Judicial Committee of Privy Council, which, up to the present time, has proved itself a most satisfactory tribunal, to the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords. I ventured last night, in commenting upon that Bill, to remind the House with respect to this proposed transfer what is the position of the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords at this moment. We have before us a Bill in which it is distinctly admitted that that appellate jurisdiction, as now exercised in the last resort, affecting the administration of justice throughout the United Kingdom, is, in the opinion of the House of Lords themselves, unsatisfactory, and no longer tenable; and that House appeals to us to aid them in rectifying its defects, and in rendering it an efficient tribunal. Now, I contend, Sir, that we cannot deal with any such measure as the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill until we have first decided that question as to the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords; and I therefore hope the Government will, without loss of time, fix an early day for the discussion of the second reading of the Appellate Jurisdiction Bill, which certainly, in my humble opinion, ought to have precedence of any further progress with the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill. Now, I know that towards the end of July there may be a very general disposition on the part of Members of this House to seek some amusements more agreeable than that of prolonging our discussions and our Session to the month of September. My noble Friend at the head of the Government, like myself, no longer takes the same interest in the 12th of August, or, perhaps, the 1st of September, which we used to do formerly; but, speaking generally of this House, I do not think that the disposition will be cordial on the part of hon. Members to remain here until either of the periods I have mentioned. Than my noble Friend at the head of the Government I do not remember, certainly in all my long experience in Parliament, any one who has been more constant in his attendance here, or more sedulously attentive to his duties as a leader of this House. He has always given us his presence and attendance to an extent of which I have never witnessed another instance. He is, therefore, peculiarly well qualified to call upon us to remain here so long as the interests of the country require it. Yet, Sir, there are limits to this; and I hope, therefore, that this important Appellate Jurisdiction Bill will not be postponed. There are one or two other topics to which, before I sit down, I would venture to call the attention of my noble Friend. A few days ago we had a measure before us with respect to charging the revenues of India with an annuity of £15,000 a year in perpetuity; and when, on that occasion, I said that this measure involved a great constitutional question, an hon. Gentleman observed, that I made use of words without meaning—that what I said about treating it as a constitutional question was as "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal." But, Sir, what I stated then I repeat now: that measure did involve a constitutional question of the highest importance. I do not, at the same time, wish to revive that subject, or the merits of that measure. I gave to the question my most deliberate attention. I thought that, as a question of justice, it was indispensably necessary to read the Bill a third time since the compromise tendered was refused; and the passing of the Bill appeared to be the only avenue to justice that was left open. But I again repeat, that the constitutional objections to that Bill appeared to be very grave. By a Standing Order of this House no charge whatever can be imposed on the Crown property of this country, nor on the revenue of this country, without the previous consent of the Crown, notified by a Minister in his place. Nay, so jealous is this House in this respect, that no person is entitled to present a petition asking for the receipt of public money. The Stand-Order runs thus— That this House will not receive any petition for any sum of money relating to the public service, or proceed upon any Motion for granting any public money but that which is recommended from the Crown. Now, the possessions of the East India Company are held by them in trust for the Crown; and the revenue of this country in the last resort is responsible for any deficiency in their revenues. I cannot see in principle, therefore, any difference between charging the revenue of the possessions held in trust for the Crown in India, and a direct Parliamentary charge upon the property of the Crown itself. Now, at the end of every Session of Parliament the Standing Orders of this House are revised by a Committee of the House appointed for that especial purpose; and I would ask my noble Friend at the head of the Government to consider the expediency of bringing under the review of that Committee the proposal of an extension to Indian revenue of the rule which is applicable to the direct revenue of the State and the property of the Crown itself. I am extremely anxious that no time should be lost in coming to such a Resolution upon the subject; for I am afraid that the tendency of measures of the description to which I have alluded is to degenerate into jobs. I am also afraid lest the example of this Session may be followed in future Sessions upon that rank soil of India, and that claims of this description may increase and multiply to an alarming extent. It is wise, therefore, while there is no particular question of this nature pending, to provide a remedy, and that remedy is completely within the power of the House. Having said so much upon this subject, I may perhaps be allowed to mention another which is exactly germane to it, and to make a suggestion to my noble Friend the Member for London (Lord J. Russell). I refer to the question on Addresses from this House requiring an answer from the Crown. That, too, is a matter, I consider, which might be advantageously brought before the Standing Orders Committee. I think, that whenever an Address is agreed to by the House which requires an answer from the Crown, the same precautions should be taken with regard to it as are taken at the opening of the Session—that the Address should be referred to a Committee, and that an interval of at least twenty-four hours should elapse before it is sent up for presentation to the Crown.


said, that both the points raised by the right hon. Baronet were very fit subjects for consideration by the Standing Orders Committee. The last point was already in the hands of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and, no doubt, when the Standing Orders Committee was appointed at the end, of the Session they would take it into their consideration. With regard, to the former question, he had before stated that his opinion entirely coincided with that of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) as to this being a great constitutional question. The East India Company being little more than trustees for the Crown, he thought that the Indian Government was entitled to the same protection as the Government of the Queen. He had mentioned the subject to his hon. Friend the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee (Mr. FitzRoy), who said that he thought the Committee appointed at the end of each Session to revise the Standing Orders would take up the question without a Resolution of the House, and he (Mr. V. Smith) therefore thought that it would be better to leave the matter to be dealt with by that Committee.