HC Deb 19 March 1866 vol 182 cc564-8

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [16th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed:—Debate resumed.


said, he must object to their proceeding at that late hour (quarter to twelve) with a measure of so important a character.


said, he concurred in the objection, and moved the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—{Mr. Whiteside.)

The House divided:—Ayes 55; Noes 99: Majority 44.

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he moved the adjournment of the House. He complained of the way in which it was unfortunately the usage to bring Irish questions on for discussion. The Bill which the Government now proposed to read a second time at ten minutes to twelve o'clock contained 193 clauses, and he would ask the House, as a deliberative assembly, whether it was possible for them at so late an hour to do justice to the measure. He must further state that the Bill, under the mask of a great arrangement, would, in reality, perpetrate a great Government job, inasmuch as its operation would be to create a Vice Chancellor a place worth £4,000 a year, thus adding to the legal establishment in Ireland, which was notoriously already overmanned. He knew he should have the support of the senior Member for Brighton (Mr. White) in resisting a proposal in which a question of such importance as a matter of economic arrangement was involved at so late an hour of the night. It should be introduced at a time when it would have deliberate discussion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Lord Claud Hamilton.)


(Mr. LAWSON) said, he thought the House would be surprised to learn that a measure which had been stigmatized by the noble Lord as a Government job had been framed with the view of carrying out the recommendation of a Royal Commission, consisting of some of the most distinguished men both in Ireland and in this country. The noble Lord had, doubtless, great experience in Chancery reform; but the names of the Commissioners and the fact that they had unanimously reported in favour of such a proposal as that under discussion would, he thought, relieve the Government in the opinion of every impartial man from the charge which he had made. The Report was signed by, among others, the present Master of the Rolls. Lord Romilly, by the right hon. Francis Blackburne, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland, Mr. Brewster, the right hon. Joseph Napier, who, if he were sitting on the Benches opposite, would naturally be surprised to hear that Bill characterized as a job, by Mr. Justice Willes, Mr. Baron Hughes, the late Sir William Atherton, Sir Roundell Palmer, and Sir Hugh Cairns. It was hardly credible that such men would have lent the sanction of their names to a job. As to the allegation that it was unreasonable to ask the House to proceed with the discussion of the Bill consisting of 193 clauses at that hour, he could only say that the vast majority of those clauses involved merely matters of detail. The principle of the Bill—which had on two previous occasions been fully discussed—which had last Session passed the second reading, and only been lost in Committee through the species of obstruction offered by hon. Gentlemen opposite—was simply whether the office of Master in Chancery should be continued in Ireland or a Judge substituted instead, whose duty it would be to manage the whole of a case coming before him from beginning to end, and the law be thus assimilated as far as possible to that which prevailed in England.


said, that while entirely acquitting his right hon. Friend of any intention to mislead the House with respect to the real facts of the case, he must point out that a noble Marquess in another place (the Marquess of Clanricarde) who had taken it into his head to become a Chancery Reformer—had moved for a Commission, which was appointed in 1854, and on which he (Mr. Whiteside) had declined to sit, as he disapproved of a Commission consisting of fifteen or seventeen Members. It had reported that the business of the Incumbered Estates Court should be put into Chancery. A Committee was subse- quently nominated to investigate the validity of that recommendation, and he found on that Committee the names of Sir James Graham, the right hon. Edward Ellice—one of the keenest men of his day—Mr. Walpole, Mr. Henley, Sir Erskine Perry, and other men of first-rate capacity. Many years age the House of Commons determined not to be cheated by the lawyers, and selected two laymen to be Members of the Committee to insure the thorough reform of the Court of Chancery. That Committee investigated the question, the Attorney General of the Government of the day in the chair, who, although he acted most fairly, was overruled. The Commission afterwards instituted sought to overthrow the decision of the Committee. He had the highest respect for the names of the Gentlemen composing that Commission, but his judgment was not to be influenced by mere names. In the last Session there were one or two divisions in the House of Commons on the subject, showing very clearly that the House was of opinion that it was not necessary to create new Judges in Ireland. There were three Judges in the Landed Estates Court, who were also Judges in Equity, but he was not sure that one would not be able to discharge the duty now devolving upon them. Hon. Members were now told that they were obstructives if at twelve o'clock at night they stated their opinions upon the costs of the suitor, concerning which not one question had been asked of any witness by the Commission. The costs of the suitor according to the procedure proposed by the Commission would be one-half greater than those now entailed upon him. The Lord Chancellor of the present Ministry had declared in the other House that the costs of an action in which but £500 was involved, absorbed nearly the whole of the money. Much had been said upon the subject in England; but the representatives of Ireland were not even to be heard in reference to it. His hope was that the same fate which had overtaken the Bills introduced in the two previous Sessions of Parliament would overtake that now before the House.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) had made statements in regard to the Bill which were not borne out by its provisions. He had stated that fifteen new places were to be created; but that was a most egregious mistake, seeing that four only were to be created by the Bill, while it abolished several. It was not a Bill, too, founded simply upon the opinions of the Commissioners, whose names had been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, but it rested on the approval of the whole equity profession in Ireland. It was of the greatest importance that the law of Ireland should be assimilated to that of England; and the conclusion he had arrived at from his own experience was, that the present administration of equity law was most disastrous. His right hon. Friend had not met the Bill on its merits. Some time ago the proposal was made to abolish the office of Master. For some years the equity jurisdiction in Ireland had given rise to many abuses, and most of these sprung from the jurisdiction of the Masters, and the number of appellate tribunals by which their decisions in small suits could be corrected. In Ireland there was but one opinion in the legal profession, and that was that the Master in Chancery ought to be abolished; yet the right hon. Gentleman set himself up against all the other authorities, and said he would not have the Bill. Up to the year 1850 the Chancery practice in England and Ireland was identical. After that time a new system was introduced for Ireland which had ever since given the greatest dissatisfaction. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman himself proposed to abolish the office of Master, and to create three Vice Chancellors, and yet he objected to this Bill as expensive, while it only proposed to create one Vice Chancellor. Even last year the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposed a Bill to appoint two Vice Chancellors. [Mr. WHITESIDE: I proposed to appoint two of the Masters.] That explanation only made the matter worse, because Mr. Napier and the right hon. Gentleman himself brought in a Bill to abolish the office of Master on the ground that it was pernicious.


said, he rose, not for the purpose of prolonging the discussion, but to correct his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Lawson) on a matter of fact. From what his right hon. Friend had stated, he should be disposed to infer that he had not read his own Bill. From the very clauses of the Bill it would be seen that it was proposed to appoint a Vice Chancellor with one chief clerk and two junior clerks; in addition to that, the Master of the Rolls was to have power to appoint a chief clerk and two junior clerks, and there was further power given for the appointment of a chief clerk and two junior clerks for the Lord Chancellor. [Mr. LAWSON: If the Treasury consents.] He most sincerely hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's attention would be called fully and fairly to the Bill, which would make an additional charge upon the public funds of £12,700, while it preserved in full as long as they lived the salaries of the Masters who were to be discontinued. It was quite true that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Whiteside) by the Bill of last year proposed to create two Vice Chancellors, but one of them was to be an existing Master, and the other a Judge of the Landed Estates Court, as it was considered that two Judges would be quite sufficient for a long time to discharge the duties of that court.


said, he had referred to the Report of the Commission upon which the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Lawson) had relied as conclusive, and he there found that it was appointed in the first place to inquire into certain matters "with a view to reduce the cost of suitors and the expenditure of public money." The second branch of the inquiry was with a view "to assimilate as far as practicable the administration of justice in England and Ireland." Now, he could state without fear of contradiction that the Commission overlooked altogether the first branch—namely, the question with reference to the cost of suitors and the expenditure of the public money, and confined themselves merely to the second branch—namely, the assimilation of the practice and procedure in both countries, because the Commissioners themselves stated that when they had inquired into the latter point they thought it right to make their Report. The Report, then, on which the Attorney General for Ireland so much relied was utterly valueless as regarded the important points of the cost to the suitors and the expenditure of the public money.


said, that he objected to the discussion of Irish Bills at such a late hour.


said, he thought it useless to prolong the discussion, and he would agree that the Order of the Day should be postponed till Wednesday.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Debate arising; Debate adjourned till Wednesday.