§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, he moved an Address to Her Majesty for Copies of all Letters addressed to the Lord Chancellor in 1853–4, containing proposals for a plan to consolidate the statutes, which were not contained in the printed copy of Mr. Bellenden Ker's Reports. The subject of a digest of the law had recently been referred to in an able article in The Times. That journal stated that it would be worth while for Parliament to vote £30,000 a year even for so long a period as ten years—though, probably, five years would be sufficient for the purpose—in order to secure so important an object as the digest of the law. He had a strong feeling that the House of Commons had been trifled with by the delay in carrying out this work, and that the interests of the country had been materially injured. In 1854, when the subject was pressed strongly on the attention of the Government, a Commission was appointed, upon which were placed individuals of high legal authority. It would have been utterly impossible to get men better qualified for the work, if they had chosen to do it. But it was vain to expect legal reform to spring from legal men. The result of the appointment of that Commission had been really nothing. Certain gentlemen were directed by Lord Cranworth, one of the members of the Commission, to set to work and furnish specimens of their ability in consolidating the statutes. Mr. Bellenden Ker was appointed, with a salary of £1,000 a year. Four other gentlemen were associated with him, at salaries of £600 a year, to submit proposals for the consolidation of the statute law into one code or digest. These gentlemen were only appointed for one year. They succeeded in preparing a digest from the time of Henry III. to the 17 & 18 Vict., in sending in a draft! Bill for the consolidation of 963 Acts relating to the National Debt, and in arranging a plan for the future amendment of the law so as to secure uniformity. But the rapid way in which the business was done seemed to astonish the Commissioners, and these gentlemen were got rid of. The Notice which he had placed on the 1595 paper referred particularly to a letter from Mr. Chisholm Anstey and Mr. Rogers, two of the gentlemen who had been employed in the work, in which they stated that they would undertake in four years to complete everything that was intrusted to the Commissioners, or, if they had two others associated with them, to do all that was required by Parliament in two years, which would be about 1856–7. The reason that nothing had yet been done was that the consolidation had been intrusted entirely to legal men. If they appointed one or two barristers and as many laymen for the work, and placed Lord Westbury at the head, the revision would be finished in a very short time. He fancied there would be no objection on the part of the Government to the production of the letters. He trusted that the result of attention being directed to this matter would be that an impetus would be given to a work the completion of which must be conducive to the interests of the country.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a Copy of all Letters addressed to the Lord Chancellor in 1853–4, containing proposals for a plan to consolidate the Statutes, which are not contained in the printed copy of Mr. Bellenden Ker's Reports."—(Colonel French.)
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, it was impossible that the present Government could be acquainted with a letter, which it appeared was addressed to the Lord Chancellor so long ago as 1853–4. He did not believe that the document in question was now to be found in any office connected with the Lord Chancellor. The importance of the consolidation of the statutes would be admitted by every one. That work had been proceeding under the direction of the Government, and very considerable progress had been made. He trusted the Motion would not be pressed.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, that if the Government had not the letters, they could not, of course, produce them. Would the Government be prepared to produce the document in case they should find that it was in existence?
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, in that case they should of course be ready to produce it, unless there was some special reason for not adopting that course.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.