HC Deb 11 March 1859 vol 153 cc29-34

said, he would bog to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the Government intends to bring in a Bill to enable Serjeants, Barristers at Law, Attorneys, and Solicitors, to practice in the High Court of Admiralty, without compensation to Proctors; and whether the yearly compensation to Proctors and other officers of the late Ecclesiastical Courts, made and to be made under the Probate Act, has been ascertained, and, if so, the probable yearly amount thereof; and what yearly amount has been received by way of contribution, in fees or otherwise, in diminution of such compensation to Proctors and other officers, and of the new Court of Probate, from suitors and parties proving Wills and taking out Administrations; and what may be the probable yearly amount of the expenses of the said Court of Probate, and of the compensation to Proctors and other officers.


It is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government at present to introduce a Bill for the purpose of enabling Serjeants, barristers-at-law, and attorneys and solicitors, to practice in the High Court of Admiralty. If such a Bill should at any time be introduced I think that will be the fittest period for considering the conditions under which that admission should take place. But I may state, in passing, with regard to compensation to proctors—in case that question should have to be considered again with respect to the opening of the Court of Admiralty, that the profits of the Proctors in that Court were not taken into consideration by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the amount of compensation which the proctors should receive. There are other inquiries of the hon. Member for Sheffield to which I will venture to give an answer. The hon. Gentleman seems to consider that a very exaggerated estimate was laid before the House of the amount which would be required to compensate the proctors for their lost privileges. When the matter was first brought under my consideration an estimate was submitted to me which was necessarily drawn from vague and imperfect materials; it was essentially what is called a rough estimate; and it stated the probable amount which would be required to make good the total compensation to the proctors and the various officers of the court at £250,000 per annum. In the financial statement which I afterwards submitted to the House I found it necessary to provide a sum of £200,000 a year to meet that charge. Under those circumstances I thought it best to appoint a Commission, of which the Judge Advocate and my hon. Friend the present Secretary to the Treasury, who had then a seat in this House, were members. That Commission was nominated at the commencement of April; and at the commencement of July the Judge Advocate, in answer to an inquiry from an hon. Member, informed the House that the proximate estimate of the amount of compensation which the Commissioners were able to form, after three months' labour, was £170,000 a year. The inquiry is now almost completed; there are only a very few claims unsettled, while a very near estimate can be made of the amount of those claims; and the aggregate annual compensation to the proctors and all the officers of the Court may now be taken at not more than £130,000 a year. It is due to the Judge Advocate and to the present Secretary to the Treasury that an acknowledgment should be made of the public service they have rendered by the searching investigation which they instituted into those claims. I believe it is to that investigation we owe the large reduction which has been made in the charge. Perhaps I may as well state a fact which will show the searching character of that investigation, and the aid which has been received from the records of the Income Tax Commissioners during its prosecution. They had before them claims based upon incomes of many thousands a year, on which the compensation was to be calculated; but on a private reference to the records of the Income Tax Commissioners they found that the gentlemen who were alleged to have been in possession of those large incomes had reported themselves to the Income Tax Commissioners as having been in the receipt of incomes of a very different character. So much has been said against the income tax that I thought it right to state an instance in which it has operated with so much advantage to the public. With regard to the fees and stamps to which the hon. Gentleman had alluded which are to be received from suitors, and are to go in diminution of the claims of the proctors, I think I may say that their amount is something between £50,000 and £55,000 a year; this is about the sum which will be required for the maintenance of the new Probate Court; so that the result of the whole transaction is that it will cost the country a sum of £130,000 a year.


said, that in the Bill originally introduced by him, when the scheme for testamentary jurisdiction was of a much larger character than at present, he proposed compensation for the proctors. The last Bill, which was introduced by the Government, made no such provision. But the proctors had many influential friends in the House, and they compelled the Government to give them compensation as the price of the passing of the Bill. He at that time calculated the compensation to the proctors at about £60,000 a year, but that was only estimating their profits in causes relating to the administration of estates and to the probate of wills. The compensation which was ultimately given to them extended not only to that department but to the profits derived from marriage and divorce causes, which were the subject of another Bill; and he understood from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the aggregate amount of compensation to the proctors in both departments and to all the officers of the court amounted to £130,000 a year. In that was included, he believed, no less than £8,000 a year to the late registrar, a very considerable sum to his successor, Lord Canterbury, and large sums to the registrar, Judges, and officers of the abolished Court. Deducting these amounts, and the amount upon the marriage and divorce practice, he believed that there would not be much difference between his original Estimate and the sum which had been just named by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It might, therefore, be perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that this measure, in consequence of the kind and charitable interposition of Gentlemen opposite, would cost the country £130,000 a year but deducting the fund which he had provided in order to pay the compensations, he ventured to think that there would in reality be little or nothing to pay on account of the change of testamentary jurisdiction. He (Sir Richard Bethell) had consented to the insertion of a clause throwing open the Admiralty Court; but it was struck out in "another place," and in consequence of the pressure of the Session he was compelled to assent to its omission. He had intended to bring in a measure for the same purpose, but when he quitted office the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) had undertaken the task.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had estimated the compensation to the proctors and all the officers of the court at £130,000 a year. Now he should be glad to know what portion of that sum was to be paid to the proctors alone. He wished to obtain that information, because he believed it would show that the compensation of those gentlemen—a compensation of which he had been a decided advocate—was not by any means of the extravagant amount which many people at one time supposed. It should be recollected that certain fees which were paid for proctorial bills were to go to the fund for providing that compensation, and he believed that those fees would be sufficient or nearly sufficient, to meet the whole of the charge which the compensation would impose; so that no new burden, or at least no new burden of any considerable amount, would be thrown by that operation upon the consolidated Fund.


said, that it was no part of the duty of the Compensation Commissioners to inquire what would be the amount paid by way of fees in the new court; and he could give no information upon that subject. He could, with considerable confidence, state to the House that the whole amount of the compensation in that case for the proctors and all the officers of the court would not exceed £130,000 a year in England and Ireland. The sum to be paid, as far as the Commissioners had already ascertained, was £123,260 a year, of which £52,000 were to go to the London proctors; £12,500 to the English country proctors; and £8,900 to the Irish proctors, making a total for the proctors of £73,400 a year. Then there were for the Judges and officers of the court £42,010 in England, and £7,850 in Ireland; making a total for Judges and officers of £49,860. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir R. Bethell) had said that the proctors had found influential friends on that (the Ministerial) side of the House; but the fact was that their claim had been strenuously supported by some hon. Gentlemen now on the Opposition benches, and more especially by the noble Lord the Member for London, who had evinced remarkable steal in their cause, and who presented their petition for compensation. Before he resumed his seat he wished to bear his testimony (and he was sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have done so had he posessed any practical knowledge on the subject) to the valuable character of the labours of Mr. Follett, the taxing master of the Court of Chancery, while serving as a Member of the Commission. That Gentleman possessed special qualifications for the due discharge of the duty with which he had been entrusted, and he had turned those qualifications to the most useful account.


believed that eventually it would be found that not a single shilling would have to be paid by the country for the compensation of these officials.


said, that Mr. Raikes, the Registrar for the diocese of Chester, had had £3,300 awarded to him as compensation. As soon as that gentleman heard that that amount had been awarded to him he wrote a letter (which appeared in the public journals) to the Bishop of Chester, stating his great surprise that the public money should be voted in that way, and promising to devote £1,100 every year out of the £3,300 to proper and charitable purposes in the diocese of Chester. He wished to know what sum had been given as compensation to Mr. Moore?


said, the amount was £7,990 per annum, that being the exact amount of Mr. Moore's income upon an average of three years before the passing of the Act. In all these cases the same principle had been applied in awarding compensation. As to Mr. Raikes, that gentleman had behaved with the greatest liberality, and said he did not wish to press his claim for any exorbitant amount. But it was impossible to proceed upon any different principle in considering his case from that adopted in other instances. Mr. Raikes was not entitled to the whole of what he received, but only to a certain proportion; but in consequence of the large amount of his business and of his receipts he received the sum mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. He had since devoted one third of his compensation, or £1,100 a year, to purposes connected with the church. This was much to the honour of Mr. Raikes, but surely it reflected no discredit on those who allotted the compensation.