HC Deb 12 May 1868 vol 192 cc161-71

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, that he was reluctant to initiate opposition to a Bill introduced by his hon. Friend (Mr. Norwood) to which the Government were giving, if not an active support, at least, a tacit acquiescence. He felt bound, however, to ask the Government whether they had fully considered the scope and extent of the Bill, and the important transfer of jurisdiction which it contemplated. He felt the more justified in asking this question on account of the policy of the Government upon other questions. Upon a very important subject the Government had expressed their opinion that it was unwise to legislate before the Report of a Royal Commission which was sitting upon that subject, although the powers of that Commission did not enable it to deal fully with the question in all its bearings. But, in this case, how stood the matter? This Bill proposed to transfer the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Courts to the Comity Courts, But only in September last, a Royal Commission was issued, which was directed to make full inquiry into the operation and effect of the constitution of all the principal Law Courts (among which were specially enumerated the "High Court of Admiralty in England and the Admiralty Court of the Cinque Ports "), with full powers, to report whether by separation of jurisdiction or otherwise, provision might be made for the more speedy, economical and satisfactory dispatch of the judicial business now transacted by the same Courts. That Commission would, ere long, report, and in what position would the House be if its recommendations should turn out to be entirely opposed to the present Bill? The County Courts were originally formed in order to give cheap law to the people. The law given might have been cheap; but inasmuch as the salaries of County Court Judges were not such as to secure the highest legal talent, he was inclined to believe the information which had reached him to the effect that such law was not very certain or satisfactory. And if, to the cases now tried in the County Courts, the House now added a very numerous and important class of cases such as those contemplated in the Bill, the interests of those who at present occupied the time of the County Courts might possibly be neglected, or, at all events, the law dealt out to them was not likely to be more certain and more satisfactory. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) understood that what was really required was a local Court, whose decisions, upon the spot, could be speedily and economically obtained. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugesseu) re- presented a large class of persons interested upon this question—namely, the boatmen of Deal and of the Kent Coast. ["Hear, hear!"] He understood that cheer, and he wished to say that, although much abuse had been showered upon the Deal boatmen by anonymous writers in the public Press, he was prepared to say that those men were as brave, as enduring, and, as a body, as honest a class of men as could be found. He did not desire to introduce irrelevant matter upon this Bill; but if those who abused the boatmen in the Press should ever bring the matter before the House of Commons, he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) would be ready to defend them boldly in his place. And what did these men ask? That salvage cases and matters in which they were concerned should be tried by nautical men who understood such matters rather than by lawyers who knew nothing about them. He would give an instance of what he meant. He had lately been at Deal when lbs afternoon was fine and calm, but at night there was rough weather and a real gale, during which time the boatmen were out, risking their lives and their properties for the sake of saving the lives and properties of others. Now, these men would rather have their claims dealt with by a local Board upon the spot, composed of naval men who knew the circumstances of the case, than by some County Court Judge who had been sleeping quietly in his bed some miles inland, and could hardly understand the perils to which they had been subject. With great respect to the County Court Judges, they were not persons likely to understand these matters. And then came the serious question of delay. The County Court might not be sitting for some days after a case occurred, and was the captain of a ship to be delayed until the sitting of this Court? Such delay would be most detrimental. Now there was, in the Cinque Ports, a Court appointed by the authority of the Lord Warden, composed of naval men and merchants, quite competent to try and decide these cases—they were summoned at two hours' notice—they were bound to meet within twenty-four hours, and were sworn before trying a case. What Court could be more speedy or more economical? Formerly, this Court dealt with these cases largely, but some fifteen years ago, a Lloyd's agent had been sent to Deal, before whom parties preferred to go for arbitration, because the awards he gave were generally larger than those of the old Court. But, if properly worked, this Court was admirably fitted to serve as a local Court to deal with these matters. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) would prefer that, upon general principles, legislation upon this subject should he postponed. But, if the House determined to go into Committee, he should feel bound to move words which would prevent the abolition of the Lord Warden's Court, which might, at least, exist as a concurrent jurisdiction with the Comity Court, so that people should not be driven to the latter if they preferred to settle their business before the former. If the House determined to abolish the Lord Warden's Court, it would be his duty to urge the claims to compensation of the officers who had vested rights in such Court. He hoped, however, that the Court would be left in existence, and in what he had said, he felt that he had been doing his duty to his constituents and also to the country.


said, as it might be convenient that the House should know what course the Government proposed to take, he rose thus early in the debate. His hon. Friend (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had made a speech which would have been more appropriate on the second reading. If his hon. Friend had been in the House when the Bill was read a second time, he might have been saved the trouble of making many of the observations he had just delivered, because similar remarks had been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond, and were answered by the Government at the time. It was unnecessary for him to defend the course of those who desired to legislate upon this subject while a Commission was inquiring into it, seeing that on a more important question than this, the House was willing to legislate without waiting until the Commission now sitting upon it had made their Report. The reason why the Government had assented to the second reading of this Bill was that they had been informed that there was considerable pressure for legislation upon this subject. The provisions of the Bill were only intended to serve a temporary purpose, and they could be easily altered in the event of their being inconsistent with the recommendations in the Report of the Commission. He agreed with the hon. Member that the boatmen of the ports on the East and South coasts were a much abused race, and probably they deserved a good deal of that abuse, but got rather more than their de- serts. They were most undoubtedly a very gallant class of persons, and without their aid the loss of life and property upon our coasts would be far greater than at present. Still it would be better if they were put under greater control, and were not allowed to be quite so extortionate as they were at present. He believed that the faults with which they were charged, were mainly to be attributed to defects in the system under which they acted, and by an alteration of that system it might be possible to turn their good qualities to the best ac count, without prolonging a state of things which had given rise to the French saying, that one of the greatest calamities which could befal a man was to be totally wrecked, but that a still greater was to be saved by English boatmen. He was bound to say on the other side that the chances of being saved were very much greater on the English than on the French side of the water—a fact which had been frequently proved, and which ought not to be lost sight of in these discussions. He was sorry he could not speak equally favourably of the local Courts of the Cinque Ports, which were in many instances not constituted of persons who were conversant with nautical matters. It was said that no case need be brought before the existing Courts, unless both sides were agreed upon adopting such a course, and it appeared that both sides seldom did so agree, so that the Courts were practically useless. They were told that Lloyd's agents usually decided these cases by means of arbitration. But that was a still worse mode of proceeding; inasmuch as the arbitrators were most extravagant in their charges, and for this reason that they were paid according to the amount which they awarded. In one instance that had come to his knowledge, the arbitrator awarded £3,000 damages in a case which was afterwards settled for £30. It was essential to a shipowner in most cases that the question in dispute should be speedily settled; and this necessity, taken advantage of by the claimant, obliged him frequently to accept very unfavourable terms. Under these circumstances the promoters of this Bill were endeavouring by its means to transfer these cases to the County Courts, where they would be decided not only with reasonable despatch but also according to the ordinary principles of justice. Under the Bill, the appeal lay from the County Courts to the Admiralty Court, but possibly that provision might be modi- fied after the Report of the Commission was published.


said, he objected to any temporary legislation upon this subject, and hoped that the Law Officers of the Crown would favour the House with the reasons which had induced them to advise the Government to assent to the second reading of the Bill. He could see no reason why the Bill should be passed before the Report of the Royal Commission was obtained. He therefore moved that the House should go into Committee that day six months. There was at present the option, in salvage cases where the property did not exceed £1,000, of applying to two magistrates or to the Comity Court; but he had been informed that at Liverpool the latter course had never been resorted to. Nor would the Bill lead to any more speedy despatch of business; for the County Courts were already overloaded with the Equity and Probate jurisdiction which had been conferred on them, and he believed the addition now proposed would lead to greater delay and vexation than attended proceedings in the London Court of Admiralty. He doubted, too, whether County Court Judges were competent to deal with such recondite questions. The Judges, who had generally been barristers in limited practice, were not likely to be versed in the mysterious and recondite questions that would be submitted to them. Lastly, the ports that would be chiefly affected by the Bill were all in the highest degree averse to the proposition.


as a Member interested in the Cinque Ports, opposed the Bill. County Court Judges had already quite sufficient to do. It was clear that they could not be conversant with every department of law, and this was a matter in which they were likely to be especially ignorant. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Cave) seemed to be very ill informed as to the constitution of the Cinque Ports. There was in them an Admiralty Court as ancient as the High Court of Admiralty, and it was presided over by Sir Robert Phillimore. The Cinque Porte, moreover, had a peculiar local Court. The Lord Warden had power to select "substantial men," any three of whom could determine claims for salvage. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred these claims were very trivial, and were decided readily and promptly. A power of appeal to the Court of Admiralty existed, but was rarely exercised. A local tribunal of this kind was surely much better than the County Court, which often sat at a distance, and not more frequently than once a month. On these grounds he seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Gorst,)

—instead thereof.


said, he wished to point attention to the provisions of the Bill as at present printed. He could not but think that many hon. Gentlemen had not read the reprint of the Bill. The avowed object of the original Bill was to facilitate the trial of cases which, from the small amount at stake, it was inconvenient to carry to the Court of Admiralty. To remedy the failure of justice which consequently occured, the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull proposed, in the first instance, to confer Admiralty jurisdiction, in all Admiralty cases where the claim did not exceed £500, on twenty-two County Courts named in the Bill, appointing a Judge to each of these with a salary of £2,000 a year. This would have involved an expense to the country of £44,000 a year, and the jurisdiction thus given would have been rather formidable. The grievance, he had thought, might be met by a much less cumbrous machinery than the original Bill contained. The object to be desired was to give a local and speedy trial in certain, not in all cases, by an Admiralty mode of procedure, not by means of Admiralty jurisdiction. He had therefore suggested to the author of the Bill certain alterations, which would in his opinion greatly improve it, and he hoped render it acceptable to the House. First of all he said there should not be twenty-two County Courts named in the Bill; but where it was thought necessary or desirable a jurisdiction should be given to a County Court, similar to, but not the same as Admiralty jurisdiction. That should be done by Order in Council, and without increasing the charge on the country. Jurisdiction would be given not in nil but only in some Admiralty causes. Wherever a cause of action mentioned in the Bill arose within the County Court district so appointed, the suit would be commenced, not by seizing the ship, but by a summons served on the captain of the ship or on the owner if resident within the district. There should be a list of nautical assessors laid before the Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, and confirmed by him, so that, in cases of salvage and collision, the County Court Judge if he thought proper, or if required by either party, would be assisted by two nautical assessors. Originally the Bill gave Admiralty jurisdiction in all Admiralty cases above £500; but under the Bill it was no longer an Admiralty but a County Court jurisdiction. He had thought that jurisdiction in cases of the amount of £500 was inconsistent with the other cases of their ordinary jurisdiction which the County Court entertained, and the hon. Gentleman had consented to lower that amount to £300 in collision and salvage cases, and to less in others. Judging from his own experience where in collision and salvage cases the claim was for £300, the decision would not be for more than from £50 to £100. He had also inserted in the Bill a clause giving a power of appeal to the High Court of Admiralty where any difficulty arose. Under these circumstances he thought that the Bill was one which the House should pass; and he hoped it would not be supposed that the Government had acted in the matter, as the hon. Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had stated, merely to satisfy the hon. Member for Kingston-on-Hull (Mr. Norwood), and other Members who supported the Bill.


thought, with regard to the Cinque Ports, it would be objectionable to have two tribunals in the same district.


pointed out that the retention of the Cinque Ports Court would be perfectly consistent with the principle of the Bill—namely, the establishment of local courts; and as the jurisdiction would only be a concurrent one—and there existed a strong feeling in favour of retaining it in the district—ho suggested that it might be desirable to continue it.


wished, in correction of a mistake that had been made, to say that the Commissioners of the Cinque Ports were not mere tradesmen. They thoroughly understood the questions which came before them, and their decisions were well worthy of confidence. He should be glad to know when the Commission On this subject were expected to make their Report.


confessed that he was not disposed to wait for the Report of the Judicature Commission. He begged leave to remind his hon. Friend that there was a Report presented to that House not long ago, relating to transactions at Deal, which were not altogether of a satisfactory nature, and ns to the observations of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Gorst), he must remind the House of the significant fact that the only petition against this Bill was from the Amalgamated Law Society. He would briefly state the reasons that had induced him, with his Friends, to introduce this Bill. The question of Admiralty jurisdiction by local Courts had been discussed for several years past, and it was a question which they, in the North of England especially, felt strongly upon. In the year 1865, a Bill, emanating from Newcastle, was introduced, which was withdrawn on the undertaking of the Board of Trade to deal with the question. The re presentatives of the seaports still continued to press the wants of their constituents upon the Government, and last year the Board of Trade introduced a Bill which contained provisions almost identical with those of his Bill. It gave, for instance, complete Admiralty jurisdiction to the County Courts, fixed upon limits precisely the same as his; and, in point of fact, the only difference between their Bill and his was this, that they proposed to give extended jurisdiction to the High Court of Admiralty, which was objected to pending the inquiry of the Judicature Commission. His Bill avoided all those points of dispute, and merely confined itself to giving to the local Court certain jurisdiction. Now, with regard to the selection of the County Courts, it would he impossible to find a tribunal better suited to the object in view. They were Courts that existed throughout the entire country, and to which there was every facility of access. With regard to the Courts of Record at Liverpool and Hull, the objection to them was this, that they sat only once in three months, and they could not, therefore, give that summary jurisdiction which a County Court would afford. He could not sufficiently impress on the Committee the importance of this point. Take the case of a foreign ship entering an English port—she might, under present circumstances, be detained, and the case tried in the Admiralty Court of England, whereas, if this Bill became law, the captain of that foreign ship would be able to have recourse to the local Court at an expense consider- ably lessened. He need not go fully into the various questions and objections which had been raised. They had, he thought, been fully and completely answered by the Solicitor General and the Vice President of the Board of Trade. As a large shipowner, and connected with the mercantile interest of the country, he could only say that he had listened with respect to the opinions of the hon. Member below him, and the hon. Gentleman opposite; but it appeared to him that the legal interest ought not to have more than its due weight in a matter of this kind. They came to the House and asked for what they believed to be a great boon, and without taking up the time of hon. Members any further, he could only say that he hoped the House would consent to go into Committee on the measure.


said, that the Bill in its present form was not acceptable to the commercial community of Liverpool; but, after the explanation of the Solicitor General, he would not object to considering it in Committee, with the hope that the Amendment of his hon. Colleague (Mr. Graves), conferring the requisite jurisdiction on the Passage Court of Liverpool, might be agreed to.


thought that he was quite safe in saying that the Judicature Commission would not report in time to influence the legislation of the present Session. Indeed, if they reported during the winter, it was hardly probable that the Government would be able to pass any measure founded upon its Report next year. While he did not agree with many of the provisions of this Bill, yet on the question of delaying it till the Commission reported, he was not in a position to oppose it.


said, he did not know when the Judicature Commission would make its Report. This Bill might be entirely upset by subsequent legislation, or it might be in harmony with the Report of the Commission. He thought a strong case had been made out for providing a remedy for existing evils, and it seemed right that the Bill should be considered in Commitee.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause I to 3, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 4 (Repeal of Acts and Parts of Acts).

MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN moved the addition of words to the effect that nothing in. the Act should affect the power of any Court appointed under the provisions of any Act of Parliament, and under the jurisdiction of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Vice President of the Board of Trade was in error as to the constitution of the Cinque Ports Courts, such Courts being composed of naval captains and persons well acquainted with the subjects coming before them, and in the case of the settlement of a claim referred to it was an agent of Lloyd's, and not the Court of the Lord Warden, who acted on the occasion.


assented to this suggestion, and the Amendment was withdrawn in order that the Cinque Ports Admiralty jurisdiction might be retained by an alteration in the Schedule of the Bill.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

MR. GRAVES moved the following new clause (Port of Liverpool and the Court of Passage):— The port of Liverpool and the district within the jurisdiction of the Court of Passage of the borough of Liverpool shall not be included in any County Court district for the purposes of this Act, but the said Court of Passage, upon such an Order in Council being made as Her Majesty is by this Act authorized to make with respect to County Courts, shall have the like jurisdiction, powers, and authorities as are by this Act conferred on County Courts, and as if that Court were a County Court; but nothing herein shall be deemed to enlarge the area over which the jurisdiction of the Court of Passage extends, or to alter the rules and regulations for holding the said Court, or to take away or restrict any jurisdiction, power, or authority already vested in that Court; and fees received in that Court under this Act shall be dealt with as fees received in that Court under its ordinary jurisdiction.


said, the Court of Passage sat quarterly only, and that would lead to a most unsatisfactory state of things.

Clause amended and agreed to, and added to the Bill.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday.