HC Deb 15 February 1870 vol 199 cc331-2

said, he would beg to ask the Vice President of the Council, If he is aware that such doubts exist as to the power of summary jurisdiction of justices under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, that the Norwich and other magistrates have declined to hear any summonses under the Act; and if he will take steps to remove the uncertainty which now exists; and if, when the local authorities ask information from the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council, an answer, stating "that it is not within the province of this Department to interpret an Act of Parliament," is all the aid local authorities are to receive from the Privy Council in carrying out the Act and Orders for suppressing contagious diseases among cattle?


, in reply to the first Question, stated that the Privy Council officers were aware that some doubts had been expressed as to whether summary jurisdiction was actually given by the Act of last Session. He did not suppose there could be a doubt in any man's mind that a summary jurisdiction was intended to be given. It had been their duty to consult the Law Officers of the Crown on the point, and they were advised that such a summary jurisdiction does exist. He was aware that some magistrates at Norwich and other places did for a time refuse to grant summonses under the Act, and upon that decision an application was made by the town clerk of Norwich in the Court of Queen's Bench, by which tribunal the rule was made absolute. Under these circumstances the Government had not deemed it necessary to take any steps in the matter. In answer to the second Question, he could assure the hon. Gentleman that it was neither the intention nor the practice of the Privy Council to refuse assistance in the carry- ing out of that difficult Act. With regard to letters from the Veterinary Department referred to, he found that there was one letter which, purely by accident he believed, contained only the statement mentioned by the hon. Member. But, generally speaking, the reason why there had been no interpretation of that Act given was because it was the practice of the Privy Council, acting under the highest advice, not to attempt to give an interpretation of an Act of Parliament which might be disputed, and might only mislead, as it would not be an authoritative interpretation, and would have no force in a court of law. The directions issued to the officers of the Veterinary Department—which he had full reason to believe had been carried out—were to give every assistance in their power where any question as to fact was asked, and simply to decline to answer when an interpretation was sought that might mislead. He might mention that the Act had been sent round, with explanatory notes prepared with very great care, to more than 3,000 of the authorities concerned in the country, it being at the same time clearly stated that the notes were explanations and nothing more. He should be sorry if the House supposed the Department were not doing the utmost in their power to enable the Act to be carried out.