HC Deb 15 April 1859 vol 153 cc1794-801

said, he rose to ask a question respecting the appointment of five new magistrates for the borough of Newbury, and, as he intended to make some observations on the subject, he would move that the House at its rising adjourn till Monday next. The last ease of the sort he had the honour of bringing under the consideration of the House was that of Huntingdon, where six magistrates were appointed, all Tories. It appeared, however, that he had been wrong in one particular, he had stated that four of them were clergymen whereas only three of them were so. Another case had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive) where six magistrates also were appointed, all Tories; and he now had to bring forward the case of Newbury, where five Tories had been appointed magistrates. The peculiarity of this latter case was that it was worse than the others. The Home Secretary had candidly, frankly, and honestly stated that whenever these appointments were in the hands of an individual the party friends of that individual were, of course, appointed by him, whether he were the Lord Lieutenant of the county, or the Lord Chancellor; and certainly no Lord Chancellor had worked out this principle better than the present. In November the corporation of Newbury received a letter from the Lord Chancellor or his secretary, stating that very serious inconvenience was felt at Newbury from the want of resident magistrates. The municipal body immediately met, and came to a resolution assuring the Lord Chancellor that there was no want of resident magistrates, and they sent the noble and learned Lord a resolution to the effect that they did not think the addition of magistrates necessary. There was a division in the municipal council on that resolution of seven to three. Nevertheless, in a very short time after, the Lord Chancellor intimated that he had appointed five magistrates,—and who were they? In the first place, they were not all resident, though non-residence was the pretext for their being appointed. Two of them were medical gentlemen and non-resident, and the other three were retail shopkeepers, and—strange to say—were the very minority which voted against the majority of the municipal council. These three individuals the Lord Chancellor appointed, and they have the high qualification of being Tories and active partisans. He had no doubt that they would do their duty by their party at the ensuing election. After these appointments were made, a resolution was passed at a meeting of the municipal council, expressing their strong disapproval of the manner in which the recent appointments of magistrates had been made, such appointments being contrary to the wish of the council. No doubt the Lord Chancellor had this power, but if the whole country was to be overrun in this way by magistrates appointed solely on political grounds, what was to become of the impartial administration of justice? He should conclude by asking the Secretary of State for the Home Department the names of the person or persons who, contrary to the wish of the municipal body of Newbury, urged upon the Lord Chancellor the appointment of five additional magistrates for that borough.


said, he had given notice of his intention to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether any subsequent information obtained by him will enable him to qualify his statement as to a public meeting alleged to have been held in Hereford previously to the recent appointment of Magistrates in that city; and if not, whether he will state his authority for the same; and to call the attention of the House thereto? That statement had caused astonishment and dissatisfaction in Hereford, though there was no person in that House who did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman was the last person who would willingly make a statement not consistent with the facts. It would be remembered that not long since his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Clive) presented a petition from the municipal authorities and other inhabitants of the city of Hereford, complaining of the appointment of six magistrates. The petitioners stated that there was no necessity for additional magistrates, that no application had been made for any, that they got no intimation of any intention to make the appointment, and that some of the gentlemen named were objectionable for special reasons, two being retail dealers, and one an un-certificated bankrupt. He was sorry to have to make a statement of a personal nature, but the petitioners made distinct mention of that matter, wishing it to be understood that their objections were made not merely on political grounds. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State answered that the appointments had been regularly made; that a public meeting had been held, and a communication made to the Lord Chancellor, which resulted in the appointments. It would be almost impossible for him strictly to prove a negative, but in this case he was prepared to do so as nearly as possible. Before he sat down he would be able, he thought, to show to the House that no such meeting had ever been held. He would first read a letter which he had received from the Mayor of Hereford, dated 12th of April, 1859:— Sir, I was greatly surprised to see it stated in The Times report of the proceedings in the House on Friday, that the nomination was the result of a public meeting held for that special purpose. I do not know how the Home Secretary came to be misinformed. I can say that no such meeting took place. The Mayor also enclosed a letter from the town clerk, stating that no such public meeting was ever called, and that he was first made acquainted with the intention to make an addition to the magistracy of the borough by the receipt of the following letter from the Lord Chancellor's Secretary:— Sir, I am directed by the Lord Chancellor to request that you will forward to the Crown office, through your London agent, the commission of peace for the borough of Hereford, in order that some new names may be added to it. As soon as they are finally decided on, the list will be sent to the mayor. The House would thus see that no public meeting had ever been held. But he believed the fact was, that a meeting of two or three solicitors took place. There was also present a gentleman resident in the neighbourhood who considered that he had great claims for services offered rather than rendered; and he proposed a list of names which, as the others could not agree upon a list, was forwarded to the Lord Chancellor. He felt confident that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to state that he had been misinformed, and further than that, that he would be able to add on the part of the Lord Chancellor that he had also been misinformed and deceived. There was a strong opinion in Hereford that the appointments had been made only for political purposes, and that the whole affair was one of the grossest political jobs on record.


said, that in reply to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe) he had to state that the person who, he would not say urged upon the Lord Chancellor the appointment of five additional magistrates for Newbury, but upon whose application that appointment took place, was no other than the Recorder of the borough. That gentleman wrote to the Lord Chancellor to say that there was such a deficiency of magistrates that very often a bench could not be formed, and he suggested that his Lordship should write to the town council and ask them to send up the names of competent gentlemen. The Lord Chancellor did so; but the town council could not agree upon the names, and so resolved that no additional magistrates were wanted. The Recorder afterwards wrote a second time to the Lord Chancellor, declaring more magistrates to be absolutely necessary, and upon that application five names were added to the commission, two Liberals, and three Conservatives, the Lord Chancellor consulting in the choice of those names the chairman of quarter sessions, and some of the neighbouring magistrates. With reference to the question put to him by his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Clifford), he could not of course pretend to know anything of these matters himself, but upon the information furnished to him, he was sorry he could not comply with the request that he would modify the statement which had fallen from him a week ago. A letter signed "Philip Ralph," and dated from High Street, Hightown, Hereford, had been addressed to the secretary of the Lord Chancellor, in which the writer said:— I was present at a meeting of about twenty persons, of whom seven were town-councillors, held at Hereford early in April, 1858, for the purpose of considering who should be recommended to the Lord Chancellor as additional magistrates. He added, that another meeting was held on the 13th of that month, whereat several town-councillors and others attended, and there were other subsequent conferences on the subject. The question was, whether he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) would qualify his expression that a "public meeting" was held. Possibly the word "public" might have been an incorrect term; but he could not say that was his opinion. When a meeting of twenty persons, of whom seven were town-councillors, was held on a subject of interest to the whole community, he could not characterize that as a hole-and-corner meeting. He could only say that, according to the information furnished to him, he adhered to the expression which he had formerly used, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman, either now or hereafter, could show that he was mistaken, or could prove that the Lord Chancellor had been misinformed, he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) should be perfectly ready to make the acknowledgment due not only to the truth of the matter but to the courtesy with which it had been brought forward.


said, he might refer to a local newspaper of Radical or Liberal politics for a proof of the necessity for the appointment of additional magistrates in Hereford. It stated that on the 4th of March, 1858, two summonses for assault were returned, which could not be heard because only one magistrate was in attendance. On Monday, the 27th of the same month, no magistrate at all was in attendance, and the parties having business at the court were dismissed. They retired, making many observations on the value of time, and the necessity of having a stipendiary magistrate. When a Radical paper began to discuss the necessity of having a stipendiary magistrate it was a good proof that some additional magistrates were required, and that it was high time for the interference of the Lord Chancellor. The objection that all the six new magistrates were of the same political party came with a very had grace from the hon. Members for the borough, who were returned principally through the influence of a corporation which never nominated any but Whigs for the magistracy. It was true they once sent up the names of two Conservatives, but they took care to ascertain first that one would not serve, and that the Lord Chancellor would not appoint the other because he was a distiller.


said, the noble Lord had referred to what took place in March, 1858, to prove the necessity of the new appointments. But they were not made by the Lord Chancellor until ten months after, and at a time when it was evident, from the good attendance on the bench, that there was no necessity for any additional magistrates whatever. He believed it was not true that only two Conservative names had been sent up by the corporation. It was utterly untrue that they had any reason whatever to believe that Lord Chancellor Cranworth would not appoint the gentleman alluded to, who was a wine-merchant in large business, and a man of the highest respectability. On the contrary, their feeling was that the Lord Chancellor had been extremely hypercritical. He took it upon himself, therefore, to give the flattest contradiction consistent with the rules of the House and his respect for the noble Lord to the statements he had just made. The right hon. Gentleman had given no answer to the allegation that one of the gentlemen recently appointed had been a bankrupt. As to the meeting, the right hon. Gentleman might as well say that the meeting held the other day to decide who was to go to Dovor was a public meeting.


said, he had listened to numerous discussions that had been raised on the appointments to the magistracy made by the Lord Chancellor, When the Government sat on the opposite side of the House he did not recollect anything like this amount of interference; but hon. Gentlemen who now sat on the Opposition side were constantly objecting to the magisterial appointments of the Lord Chancellor, and complaining that they were tainted by political designs. He would ask what could tend more to the tainting of justice with political feeling than the course persevered in on the other side of the House? He could only say, as an independent Member, that if such a course were persevered in, it might be found that a similar course would be adopted with respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite. He could conceive nothing more mischievous than the course that was being followed, and nothing more calculated to render necessary the appointment of stipendiary magistrates throughout England, which, along with other disadvantages, certainly would not increase public economy. He knew what the appointments of the Lord Chancellor were in his own part of the country, and believed his conduct had tended to balance political opinions on the bench, and was calculated to produce beneficial results.


said, that when the same proceedings took place on the part of other Lord Chancellors the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Newdegate) would be justly entitled to complain. There could not be a breath of suspicion in reference to the way in which the late Lord Chancellor had exercised his patronage. He must altogether repudiate the theory just laid down by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire as to the justice of effecting a balance in the political views of the magistrates. It should be recollected that in most of the towns political feeling ran strongly in one direction, and the consequence was that if the leading gentlemen of those towns were put in the commission, the larger portion of them must necessarily be of one political opinion. If politics were to be regarded in this matter, which he did not think they ought to be, he could never concur in the doctrine of his hon. Friend, that however small a party might he in a borough, nevertheless that an equal number of gentlemen representing that party should be appointed magistrates, as had been appointed from the party of the great majority. In Scotland they never heard such complaints. In that country the appointments of the magistracy were in the hands of the Lord- Lieutenants, who were never influenced by any political feeling. He had heard with very great astonishment a statement made some time since by the hon. Member for Canterbury, that he had actually waited on the Lord Chancellor to ask him to appoint some political partisans to the bench in that city. If the present system of appointing magistrates went on, he thought that the House would feel itself called upon to take away the patronage from the Lord Chancellor, or any other Minister, for the purpose of placing it in the hands of some more impartial authority.


said, he must express his surprise at hearing it stated by the hon. Member for Hereford that one of the magistrates to whom the commission of the peace was given was an uncertificated bankrupt. If that statement were true, he thought no appointment could be more disgraceful, and that this House was bound to call upon Her Majesty's Ministers to institute an inquiry into the subject, and if it were proved that the appointment had been given under such circumstances, then such appointment should be revoked.


said, his simple answer to this charge was this:—The gentleman alluded to was a bankrupt some thirty-two years ago, in consequence of the failure of his brother. That gentleman had been carrying on business ever since, without the slightest stain having ever attached to his character.


said, the facts of the matter as regards Bristol were shortly these:—The Whig Administration had always made their appointments to the magistracy upon fair and equitable principles: whereas the Tory Administration, in making those appointments, were influenced by party feeling, and nothing else.