HC Deb 06 May 1862 vol 166 cc1336-9

rose to move for a Return from each of the Societies of the Inner and Middle Temple, of Lincoln's Inn, and of Gray's Inn, in a tabular form, and according to their seniority; of the names of the Benchers of each of the said Societies, the dates of their respective calls to the Bar, the dates of their respective calls to the Bench, the amount paid by each respectively on his call to the Bench, the date on which each Bencher who holds Bench Chambers was first admitted to Bench Chambers, the then annual value of each of such Bench Chambers, the position and annual value of the Bench Chambers now held by each of such Benchers, and the gross amount which, up to the date of the Return, had been received by each Bencher from Bench Chambers held by him as a Bencher; and a similar Return showing the amount of fees or other payment or emolument received by each Bencher who has held the office of treasurer. He should, probably, be told that the House had no power to order the return he required, and that the information asked for was contained in a report which was presented sometime back on the subject. But that information did not go far enough, while the fact that so much had been given to the House showed that more could be obtained if necessary. The Societies to which his Motion referred could hardly be called private societies. They held their property under a charter from the Crown, and the public were entitled to know how the duties devolving upon the Benchers were fulfilled, how their funds were administered, and what was really their position. His Motion was not intended as a hostile Motion; it was really made in the interest of the Benchers themselves, who, he believed, would court the fullest publicity; and he therefore hoped that the return would not be objected to on any technical ground.


said, it was too late at that hour (a quarter past twelve) to proceed with the second reading of the Inns of Court Government Bill, but it would be very desirable that the information comprised in the return should be presented to the House before the discussion took place upon that Bill, and he should therefore second the Motion. As things stood the public had no means of satisfying themselves of the proper administration of the Inns of Court.


observed, that the form of the Motion implied that the Government had power to give information. They had no such power, and it was for the Benchers to decide whether they would give it or not. If the Benchers consented to afford the information, of course the Government could have no objection; but as the Motion originally stood—namely, in the shape of an Address, which implied that it was in the power of the Government to order the information, lie could not consent to it. Much of the information, too, was already before the House in the shape of a Report of a Commission.


said, he hoped the Motion would be agreed to. He saw no reason why the information should not be given.


said, that on the part of the Benchers he could assure the House there would be no objection to the Motion. The number of Bench chambers now held was exactly the same as in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Formerly the Benchers paid nothing for admission; now they paid 300 guineas, for which they received no equivalent. He believed the fullest information had been given by the Benchers to the Royal Commissioners; but if any further detail were required, they would be happy to furnish it.


said, he saw no objection to furnishing the information asked for. At the same time, he would suggest that it should be extended so as to include an account of all the money received since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the mode in which it had been expended, and the names of the distinguished individuals who had filled the office, adding that he believed he should find in the result that he for one should be very proud to be one of their successors.


said, that as a Bencher of the Middle Temple, he had no objection to the production of the information asked for. He might, however, state that with regard to the possession of chambers, and the receipt of other emoluments, full information was given in the Report of the Commissioners appointed in 1854, printed in a blue-book. Other information might be desirable; but the Motion related to only one side of the question, and he thought it ought to embrace both. He had never heard a suggestion of misappropriation or misconduct with regard to the property of the Inns of Court since the time of Elizabeth.


said, the hon. and learned Member for Ayr would get much of the information he wanted in the Law List. The same volume would furnish him with the precise date of their call to the Bar, while in the Report of the Royal Commission he would find nearly all the other information which he required. The hon. and learned Gentleman must not therefore think that the public would acquire any extraordinary knowledge from the returns for which he moved. He should, however, offer no objection to their being granted, although he believed them to be completely unnecessary. Indeed, he thought nobody but the hon. and learned Gentleman himself wanted them.


said, he also wished to express his readiness, on behalf of the Benchers of Lincoln's Inn, to have all the information which the returns could give afforded to the House. In that Inn there were no Bench chambers, nor did the Benchers, as such, receive any pay or emolument. While, however, he had no objection to the information asked for being furnished, he would put it to hon. Members whether, as guardians of the public purse, they would deem it right to incur the expense of printing returns which would be absolutely worthless.


said, he thought it the duty of the Government to prevent the expenditure of the public money in so useless a manner.


said, it was clear from the observations which had been made that there was not the slightest reluctance on the part of the Benchers to give the information required. It appeared to him, however, to be equally evident that there was a strong feeling against the expenditure of the public money in procuring documents which, when obtained, could be of very little value.


said, it was for the advantage of the Benchers that the information should be given, and by giving it all difficulties would be removed. He wished the Motion had been extended to Ireland.


said, that as a member of the Temple he had no objection to the return, although it would not only be a frivolous return but a partial one. He could not help thinking the introduction of the names of the Benchers was for some invidious purpose.


observed, that the Report of the Commissioners, to which allusion had been made, contained no information equivalent to that for which he asked. He might add that the Law List was not an official document which could be quoted in that House as an authority.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 54: Majority 42.