HC Deb 18 February 1857 vol 144 cc802-4

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to a paragraph which appeared in the newspapers, and had excited much interest on the other side of the Channel, announcing that a certain eminent lawyer had been appointed to the office lately held by Baron Richards, at a salary of £3,000 a year. The House would remember that about two years ago a Commission was appointed to get at the true state of affairs in the Incumbered Estates Court, and this Commission, oddly enough—though certainly it was only following the recent fashion of law reform in this country—had proposed to get rid of the arrears by throwing the whole Court into Chancery. A difference arising in that House when legislation was proposed on the subject, a Select Committee was appointed, on which some of the most eminent Members of the House sat, with the Attorney General for Ireland in the chair. The proposition made by the Government before that Committee was rather a strange one. It was asserted that two Vice Chancellors could transact all the business of the Court of Chancery now done by four Masters with their staff of clerks, all the business of the Incumbered Estates Court, and clear off all the arrears. Two of the Commissioners—Dr. Longfield and Mr. Hargreave—were examined before the Committee, and gave evidence in support of this proposition. When pressed on the amount of "arrears," they objected to the term altogether, and preferred to call them by the name of "business undone," but in the course of transaction; and they further stated that they were able to clear off all the business of the Court as it came in. Baron Richards was not summoned over, but it was taken for granted that the business in Court was pretty much in the same condition. It turned out that these two gentlemen were engaged two days a week in hearing appeals from each other, and it naturally suggested itself to the Committee that if a new court of appeal were appointed, and these two Commissioners sat separately every day in the week, they might be able to do all the business of the Court, and Baron Richards might be sent back to his own Court. It was understood that this arrangement would be carried out, and it might therefore have been expected that some formal notice would be given to the other two Commissioners that Baron Richards was to be sent back to his own Court in order that they might make arrangements for the disposal of the business in the absence of Baron Richards. But no such notice was given to them—this he had from one of the Commissioners—and to the surprise of everybody a notice was posted one fine morning on the door of the learned Baron's Court announcing that he was removed altogether. On inquiry, it turned out that there were 700 petitions in Baron Richard's office and 500 abstracts of titles which were unread, and which it was absolutely necessary should be read before any of the estates to which they referred could be put up for sale, and 200 schedules were unsettled which should be settled before a farthing of money could be paid in respect of them. No information as to this enormous amount of arrears had been laid before the Committee. The Bill brought in by the Government was one to create two Vice Chancellors, with all their staff, who were to transact all the business of the Court of Chancery; and, according to report, it appeared that a third Commissioner was to be appointed. He trusted that the House would not suffer a new place to be created until they knew the whole facts. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving— That there be laid before the House, Returns of any Communications addressed to the Commissioners for the Sale of Incumbered Estates in Ireland, or to any of them, relating to the removal of Baron Richards from the office of Chief Commissioner, and of the dates of the said Communications, if any: Of the Order or Communication addressed to Baron Richards, containing his removal from said Court, and of the date of same: And, of any Order or Warrant for the appointment of a third Commissioner since the removal of Baron Richards.


seconded the Motion.

Question proposed, That, &c.


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had evidently founded his statements upon a newspaper report, without taking the pains of ascertaining the accuracy of them by putting a simple question across the table. Although the hon. and learned Gentleman had now thought proper to speak in terms of praise of the two Commissioners, they have had on former occasions reasons to complain of the charges which he had brought against them. The Commissioners had performed their duties faithfully, zealously, ably, and beneficially, to the country as well as to the Government, and the Government were desirous of giving them every assistance in their power. As to the arrears in Baron Richards's office, it appeared to him (Mr. Horsman) that all the returns relating to them had been laid before Parliament. Why, the First Minister of the Crown, in answer to complaints made against the Incumbered Estates Court, had long ago stated that Baron Richards would be removed from that Court to the seat which he had before occupied in the Court of Exchequer. Why, the hon. and learned Gentleman himself had frequently complained of the way business was transacted by the three Commissioners, and stated that two were amply sufficient for the discharge of the duties. The Attorney General had refused to give any pledge that a third Commissioner would not be appointed. It appeared that his right hon. and learned Friend was entirely in the right, and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, as was not unusual with him, entirely in the wrong.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

The House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.