§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
in rising, pursuant to Notice, to call attention to 1920 the Reports of the Judicature Commission, and to move—That the administration of the Law under the existing system is costly, dilatory, and inefficient; that a competent Commission having reported that the judicial organization is defective in all its branches, it is desirable that Her Majesty's Government should in the next Session of Parliament present to this House a measure for its reform and reconstruction, which, without increasing the public charge, shall provide for the more effectual, speedy, and economical administration of justice,said, it was not his fault that that important subject had been brought forward at such a late period. Had it related to the burning of a Judge in effigy, or to the discussion of a sensational Judgment, no doubt the attendance would have been very different. The last part of his Motion was the most important, and he wished to elicit some declaration from the Government that this great question should no longer be left in the position which it now occupied. No man would deny that the law was costly not only in respect to the public establishments connected with it, but was still more costly to those persons who had the misfortune to have recourse to it. The cost appeared on the Estimates to be something like £4,000,000. That, however, was an entire mistake. Owing to the unfortunate system of keeping the public accounts, the judicial establishments were classed with the police and prisons, which had no proper connection with them. In round numbers, they might take the cost of the judicial establishments of the three parts of the United Kingdom at £2,000,000 a-year. That was a costly establishment nobody could deny, and if he were to take up time in proving that it was dilatory in its administration of justice, he should of necessity be dilatory in doing so. Everybody who took an interest in the subject, on looking into the Report of the Judicature Commission would find that the existing administration of the law must be inefficient, because in nearly every branch of it reform was recommended. Substantially, however, nothing had been done, though that Report was presented nearly three years ago. Lord Palmerston once spoke of an ignorant impatience of taxation; but in this case there was what he would describe as an ignorant patience of the evils of the law. Persons who knew nothing of the subject regarded as inevitable evils which 1921 others who had paid attention to the matter knew to be capable of being remedied. They looked upon these evils as the Indians looked upon the smallpox—it had come from heaven, and submission was a duty; or in the spirit in which Mussulmans perished, exclaiming, "Allah is great." A distinguished lawyer (Lord Langdale) once accounted for the fact that so little was heard of the evils of the legal system—notwithstanding that these tended more than anything else to unfasten the links which bound society together in harmony—by the reflection that during the progress of their suit both parties feared to excite any unpleasant feelings in the mind of the Judge, and the decision once given, the successful party naturally saw in it the triumph of justice, or if he was conscious that his cause had prevailed through the error of the Judge, he was at least disposed to enjoy his triumph in silence. The disappointed suitor, on the other hand, like the discarded servant, was conscious that any representations of his would be viewed with suspicion. He, himself, had received from Liverpool very strong representations as to the dissatisfaction felt with the existing administration and defects of the law, and he was glad to see the hon. Member for Liverpool in his place, and hoped he would express his views upon the subject. With the object of endeavoring to remedy the evils complained of, and improve the existing condition of affairs, he had put down a few definite propositions which it seemed to him desirable to carry out. First, the consolidation of the multifarious Superior Law Courts with distinct jurisdictions into one Supreme Court, which should exercise universal jurisdiction, without technical distinction as to the form of remedy. That was a change recommended by the Judicature Commission, and he believed approved by everybody. His second proposal was the creation of a single High. Court of Appeal for the whole Empire constituted with a sole regard to judicial efficiency and severed from all political functions. That was a point upon which he believed the House of Commons, at all events, was agreed. In the third place, he proposed that there should be a reconstitution of the local tribunals, with a view to giving greater efficiency to the provincial administration of justice, embracing under this head a 1922 reorganization of the County Courts, and the establishment of Courts in the provinces which should possess a higher jurisdiction than the Courts which now exist. The fourth head of his proposal—and to, this he attached great importance, as the keystone of law reform—was a change in the office of Lord Chancellor on the basis of a separation of the judicial from the political functions of that office, so that the head of the law might no longer be a political partisan, and the administrative and legislative departments of the law might be assigned to a Minister responsible to Parliament. His fifth, and last proposal, was that there should be a consolidation of the manifold and separate subordinate departments of legal administration with a view to their greater economy and efficiency. Under this head he included the various offices in the Court of Chancery, a reorganization of the Masters' offices in the Courts of Common Law, and the establishment of some substitute for the existing and highly objectionable system of private arbitration. They had 35 Superior Judges, receiving from £10,000 down to £5,000 per annum each, and the astonishing thing was that with so large a number there should be such a deficiency in judicial power and accommodation; but it was due to defective organization and separate jurisdiction, and the want of that application and condensation of labour which made the efforts of able men practically inefficient in the administration of the law. By a redistribution of their duties their effective power would be greatly strengthened. If 10 men were taken for a Court of Appeal, 20 might be taken, and would be found sufficient, for the work of London, leaving five to be sent into the provinces to form centers of provincial Courts. The public had a right to expect that the Courts of Justice should always be open, and, by adopting the course proposed, that could be done, and at the same time give every Judge adequate time for vacation. The Appellate Jurisdiction had occupied the attention of both Houses of Parliament over and over again, and various schemes had been proposed, none of which had hitherto succeeded in obtaining the sanction of Parliament; but of all the schemes submitted for the consideration of Parliament, by far the most unsatisfactory was that which had come down 1923 within the last few days from the Committee of the House of Lords. It was proposed by that Committee to keep the Appellate Jurisdiction in the House of Lords, with all the objections to the political functions which belonged to that House of Parliament. The Lord Chancellor, an ever-changing officer, and who, from the nature of his office, was essentially a political partizan, was to be at the head of the Court; and to strengthen that Court it was proposed to create four salaried members at £7,000 per annum each, who were to be Peers for life, but who were only to vote on judicial questions, and by their Writ of Summon they were to be excluded from an equality with the other Members of that House. A more degrading proposition he could not imagine than that Judges who were sufficiently eminent to occupy these positions should be asked to accept them on terms such as he had described. They were not to add to the lustre of that House by becoming members, nor was the House to add dignity to their profession by allowing them to enter on an equality with the other Members of that illustrious House. These Brummagem Peers—these pinchbeck Peers were to be out-voted by the other Peers, but they were to come in as ornamental persons on show occasions. He doubted very much if any of the present Judges would assent to such a proposal. A second class of Judges were to be ex-officio Members of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords; but he read with amazement in the Report he had alluded to, that they were not bound to attend. The £7,000 a-year drudges, who were not to be Peers, were to do the heavy work, and the ex-officio were to attend voluntarily when they liked. The Lord Chancellor, when the Committee was sitting in two divisions, or when for any reason he might think it necessary for them to be present at Sittings in Error, might summon a sufficient number to attend, provided that no ex-officio Member should be required to attend more than 20 days in a-year, or "if prevented by any reasonable cause." This proviso was made on behalf of the Law Lords who were already receiving pensions of £5,000 a-year from the country, and it abundantly told its own origin. Altogether, the proposals which had been sent down were of a most extraordinary character, and he hoped the 1924 House of Commons would not assent to them. One other recommendation must necessarily call for attention—namely, that for the decision of Indian cases there was to be established Indian assessors, who were neither to be Peers for life nor to have power to vote, but they were to be paid out of the Indian Revenue; and they would have to decide on questions of importance affecting our Indian subjects, but they were not to be upon an equality with the second-class Peers. He hoped that when such a proposal came to be submitted to the House it would meet the fate of other propositions of a similar character. As to local tribunals, there were 60 County Court Judges sitting 134 days in the year, costing the country £500,000 a-year; and the Judicature Commission said that the staff was far larger than was necessary. He would suggest the creation of five or six centres, such as Liverpool, for Provincial Superior Courts, and that five or six of the County Court Judges of the district should act as suffragans under the superior Judge, disposing of the smaller business, both civil and criminal. It was monstrous that a Liverpool civil cause could not be tried between March and August except in London, where the witnesses might have to wait days or weeks before it came on. Half the delays were caused by the choking up the vestibules of the law—in Chambers, at Chancery, and at Common Law. A large part of the administrative staff both in Chancery and at Common Law, were disorganized and altogether inadequate for the duties they had to discharge. It might be asked whether his scheme would be an expensive one. Now, he believed that, though piecemeal reforms might be expensive, a review and consolidation of our whole system would affect great economies, both in the Courts of First Instance, the local Courts, and the administrative staff. The object of his Motion was not to develop any plan of his own, but to ask the attention of the Government and the House to the subject, because it was impossible for a private Member to deal in an efficient and effectual manner with such a subject. He therefore asked the House to assure the Government that they desired that the question should be dealt with by them; and that if they were disposed to deal with it, to assure them that the House would support them 1925 in doing so. The present Government had achieved great legislative triumphs, and they might achieve a still greater one by energetically addressing themselves to this question. He trusted that the Attorney General would crown the capital of his great reputation by a measure of law reform worthy of the subject and of himself, and that the Prime Minister, who had dealt with questions affecting a portion of the Empire, would apply himself with equal success to a matter affecting the whole Empire. The right hon. Gentleman recently spoke of the Government as growing old. Now, a great law reform would be a worthy crown of the old age of any Government; for its beneficent operations would be universal, and it would be un seamed by the scars of party conflict. He knew of no great question which would occupy the Government next Session, and, in the event of their taking up this question, he would advise them to take the profession, especially the Judges, into their confidence, believing that they would find no disposition to obstruct reforms. He had abstained from entering into details, desiring to leave the matter in the hands of the Government. The harvest was ripe; it was for them to put in the sickle, and he trusted they would gather into their garner this rich harvest. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the administration of the Law under the existing system is costly, dilatory, and inefficient; that a competent Commission having reported that the judicial organization is defective in all its branches, it is desirable that Her Majesty's Government should, in the next Session of Parliament, present to this House a measure for its reform and reconstruction, which, without In-creasing the public charge, shall provide for the more effectual, speedy, and economical administration of justice,"—(Mr. Vernon Harcourt,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GRAVES
, after thanking the hon. and learned Member for Oxford for bringing the question under the notice of the House, said, he should not have intruded himself upon the debate were it not for the reflection that, 1926 although the question partook of a professional and technical character, yet it was a question which ought not to be left entirely to the consideration of legal Members of the House, because it largely affected the interests of the trade and commerce of the country. What he ventured to complain of, on account of those whom he represented, was that in a commercial county like Lancashire there should be so great a deficiency in the facilities that were required for a thorough administration of the law. For Liverpool and the neighborhood there were now three Assizes; but as an interval lasting from March to August was allowed to take place, many most important mercantile causes had either to stand over or to be brought up to London for final adjudication. The House was well aware that that was attended not only with great inconvenience, but with great expense to the parties concerned. Moreover, a large amount of arrears had to be carried over at every Assize held in Liverpool. He was not prepared to state the exact proportion of the business there; but leaving out of the reckoning the Home Circuit, he believed he was near the mark when he said that the business of the Northern Circuit was equal to the whole of the circuits of England put together. In 1859 three Assizes were granted to Liverpool, including a winter one, and in 1864 Assize Courts were held also in Manchester; but such was the extraordinary increase of business that, notwithstanding the relief afforded by Manchester, the Liverpool causes were really more numerous than before Manchester got Assizes for itself. In 1866, he ventured to bring this question before the House, and he received from the Attorney General of that time, now a Member of the other House, the strongest assurances that it would have the careful consideration of Her Majesty's Government. More recently, important deputations waited upon the Prime Minister from the Chambers of Commerce of Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool as well as from the legal profession in those towns, and they were assured that the subject would have the anxious attention of the Government. He was aware that subsequently a Bill on the subject was introduced into the House of Lords, which came down to the House of Commons, where it was met by a Motion from the hon. and 1927 learned Member for Tiverton, which had the effect of causing the Bill not to be proceeded with. This year, again, although an Appellate Jurisdiction Bill had been brought into the other House, there was no High Court of Justice Bill introduced; and it was of that important omission he especially complained. Year after year Speeches from the Throne conveyed distinct assurances that large measures of law reform would be introduced; yet Session had succeeded Session without any fulfillment of those reiterated promises. About two years ago, he brought in a Bill conferring upon local Courts Admiralty jurisdiction, and enabling Judges of the High Court to visit Liverpool occasionally, in order to dispose of cases of that character. It was a fact worthy of remark that one-third, if not more, of the whole business of the Court of Admiralty came from Liverpool, and that a large number of the cases were local, occurring in the River Mersey from collisions and other causes. The witnesses were on the spot, yet the people of Liverpool were compelled in cases over £200 to bring their witnesses to London to have their cases settled there. The then Attorney General, Sir Robert Collier, took exception to the clause in the Bill dealing with that matter, and he (Mr. Graves) had, in order to get it passed at an advanced period of the Session, to content himself with a measure minus what he regarded as its most valuable part—namely, that which afforded facilities for trying Admiralty cases at Liverpool. All that remained was the jurisdiction conferred on County Courts and upon the Liverpool Court of Passage, the amount being limited to £200. What was really wanted in Liverpool was a continuous Judge sitting in that place. He did not mean that there should be one Judge sitting throughout the year, but a Court sitting through the year. It had been estimated that, if a Court sat there continuously, the amount of general business forthcoming would occupy it for 112 days. He submitted, therefore, that a sufficient reason existed for the early consideration by the Government of the question of law reform, with a view to its speedy application, and he felt persuaded that if it were left solely to the legal Members of that House—among whom, probably, there would be great difference of opinion—a satisfactory con- 1928 clusion might not be arrived at for some time; but if the commercial Members of the House came forward and stated their own grievances, and if the Government took up the question in a right spirit, the result would be an enormous convenience in the administration of justice and economy both of time and expense. On these grounds, he urged the Government in the coming Recess to prepare a measure on the subject to be introduced into Parliament early in the next Session, so that there might be brought about a more speedy and economical administration of justice in the country.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that it was desirable to interest those hon. Members who were connected with commerce in a question of this character, which could not be settled within a reasonable time if it were left entirely in the hands of legal Members whose differences of opinion caused so much delay. He recollected, too, that in settling the Bankruptcy Bill, the lawyers received most effectual aid from Liverpool and the commercial Members of the House generally. Whenever a Lord Chancellor brought forward a measure of law reform, the very first difficulty he had to encounter was the opposition of other members of the legal profession, who set about picking holes in the Bill. The Government had, no doubt, other important questions to settle; but none was more entitled to their consideration than those relating to reform in the administration of the law of the land. When he found how measures of law reform were postponed he did not see any prospect of success for measures which might be introduced; and he therefore thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford was entitled to great credit for bringing forward the subject, and for the able manner in which he had done so. It was clear that any measure of law reform must proceed from the Government of the day, and it was the duty of the House to urge on them the necessity of introducing broad and comprehensive measures, and not to leave it to private Members to effect partial changes. He regretted that law reform had not been made a more prominent question in the programmed of the Government. The Judicature Commission, which was ap- 1929 pointed in 1868, made a Report in 1869, stating that the judicial system of the country was unsatisfactory, and ought to be reformed. The Speech from the Throne in 1870 pointed that out as one of the prominent measures to be introduced. The pledge given in that Speech had been partly fulfilled by the Lord Chancellor introducing a Bill for the establishment of a High Court of Judicature and of an Appellate Tribunal. That Bill passed the House of Lords; but on the 25th July, 1870, the Prime Minister was obliged to postpone the consideration of the Bill until the following Session. From that time to the present, however, nothing had been heard of that measure of law reform, which was intended to carry into effect the Report of the Judicature Commission. He therefore hoped and believed the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford would be useful in urging on the Government next Session to propose some measure which would be sound and beneficial, and calculated to accomplish the object in view. There were abuses now existing with regard to Liverpool and other places which must be remedied in any reform introduced on the basis of the recommendations of the Judicature Commission, and he wished to impress on the Government the necessity of introducing some satisfactory measure early in the next Session. There was one extensive measure which was not touched by the present Motion, and that was the alteration and amendment of the law itself. The law of settlement and the law of real property required considerable alterations, and those alterations would be greatly facilitated by the establishment of such tribunals as those contemplated by the Judicature Commission. He trusted the Government would give some distinct pledge of their intention early next Session to introduce such an amendment in the judicatory system of the country as would bring home to every man in the land a cheap and efficient remedy in the locality in which he resided, without compelling him to wait for months before he could obtain justice.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he hoped the House would not be led away by the eloquence of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) or of those who succeeded him from the terms of this Motion. They were asked to declare that— 1930 "the administration of the law under the existing system is costly, dilatory, and inefficient." ["Hear, hear!"] He heard something like a cheer from three or four hon. Members in a House certainly not largely attended, and he took the cheer of those three or four hon. Members to represent the amount of interest which was felt in the question. ["No, no!"] Well, six hon. Members said "No" in reply to those who cheered. But they could not get an alteration of a system of judicature which would make it efficient, unless the public would evince a proportionate interest in the question, and would support those who had not dilettante, but substantial reform at heart. Until the public took an interest in the question, it was quite impossible that measures could be successfully introduced and passed into law. Why had not measures of law reform been introduced and carried? Because they had been set on one side to make way for political questions which had greater interest for the country, which aroused stronger feelings among the constituents, and which, consequently, met with greater support in that House. It was not that there was any want of zeal, energy, or ability on the part of the legal Members of the House. They were quite as desirous as some of the hon. Members who talked of urging them on, to bring forward legal questions. It was of no use attempting it; there was no chance for them. The police supervision of public-houses had a great deal more interest for this House and for the country; and it was useless to talk of reforming judicature, until we had determined upon the style of the label which was to be put on the House of the publican who sold adulterated beer. ["Oh, oh!"] That was the plain fact. It was impossible to carry legal measures, because there was not sufficient feeling aroused in the country as to their necessity. He did not agree with the Preamble to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, for he did not acknowledge the whole of their system of law to be either dilatory or inefficient. He spoke of that branch of the law with which he was most familiar. He did not follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, in saying that those were best qualified to amend the law who were least acquainted with it; and, therefore, he did 1931 not profess to give any opinion on the amendment required in that branch of the law in which he had not practiced. But he would say that it was not true of the great branch of the law with which he was familiar that it was either dilatory or inefficient. ["Oh, oh!"] He said that from his own knowledge. Those who cried "Oh, oh," did so without knowledge. He asserted that the practice of the Court of Chancery could not be accused either of dilatoriness or inefficiency, and he defied anyone who was familiar with its practice to contradict him. That it was costly he did not deny; but it was impossible to make any complicated system of law like ours cheap—in the sense of costing little—in order to get great and difficult questions of fact and law decided. The Government had introduced into the other House of Parliament two Bills, for the purpose of carrying the Report of the Commissioners into effect; but those Bills were rejected, and there was no reasonable prospect that the Government would be more successful next year in that respect. During the present Session, a Bill was introduced by the Lord Chancellor with the view of giving effect to a portion of the Re-port relating to Appellate Jurisdiction; but the Lords threw out that Bill also. [An hon. MEMBER: Quite right.] If that was quite right, what became of the proposition of the Motion, that they should bring in a Bill next Session? [Mr. VERNON HARCOURT said, he meant a good Bill.] The Bill to which he (the Solicitor General) referred was intended to carry out the recommendations of the Committee; and if that was not desired, he did not understand the reference in the Resolution to their Report. The House of Lords, having thrown out the Bill, appointed a Committee to consider the subject. That Committee had just made its Report, and to convey an idea of it, he might state that it proposed to give to each ex-Lord Chancellor, who now received £5,000 a-year for attending the Sittings of the House of Lords at the hearing of appeals, an additional £2,000 for doing exactly the same work, or, as the Attorney General suggested, a little less. The proposition which had been adopted by the Committee of the House of Lords was that they should have four salaried Members of the Appeal Committee in addition to the Lord Chancellor, 1932 receiving £7,000 a-year, and the qualification was that each Member should have filled the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and Ireland. Then, it was also suggested that there should be another class, who would be, in fact, the present paid Members of the Judicial Committee of Privy Council, and who now received £5,000 a-year for sitting a much larger number of days, and doing a great deal more work than it was proposed the new Committee should be compelled to do. If that was the kind of law reform that the hon. and learned Member for Oxford recommended—
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
, interposing, said, if the Solicitor General had paid him the compliment of being present when he addressed the House, the hon. and learned Gentleman would have heard that he strongly objected to that Report. Having been absent, the hon. and learned Gentleman read that which he (Mr. V. Harcourt) had objected to, and held him responsible for adopting it. That was not the way to deal with law reform.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
, said, he was dealing with the proposition of the Motion, which was that the Government should bring in a Bill next Session which would have some chance of passing. But as it was of no use to bring in a Bill who would have no chance of passing both Houses of Parliament, the Resolution must mean that they should promote a measure to a great extent in such a form as had already been approved by the House of Lords. The Committee of the House to which he had referred was composed of 26 of the most authoritative Members of the House, and he thought that its opinion was not likely to be shaken in the ensuing Session, even if another Bill should be introduced. That being the state of matters, was it fair to reproach the Government with not bringing in a Bill? Having twice brought in Bills which had failed to pass, they had not received encouragement in the matter, and it would be vain to occupy the time of the House of Commons when there was not the slightest prospect of passing any substantial and effectual measure through the other House of Parliament. He did not blame the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) for bringing forward just grounds of complaint; for 1933 he thought that the great town of Liverpool had a right to say that its business had so increased that more efficient means should be provided for disposing of the numerous cases which arose in that town. That, however, was an independent proposition, quite different from the recommendations of the only Report which the Commission had yet made. Those recommendations were, first, an alteration in the Appellate Jurisdiction, and secondly a change in the nature of the Superior Courts of Law and Equity at present located in London. The Commissioners proposed to give the Courts new names, to alter their procedure in some general and indefinite manner, and to merge or fuse what were commonly called the branches of Law and Equity. But when those recommendations were submitted to the Judges of the Superior Courts, they met with almost universal disapprobation, and the criticisms passed upon them prevented any effectual legislation. What was the present position of the Government? It was stated that another Report of the Judicature Commission was signed and about to be presented; but surely no one could expect the Government to pledge themselves to carry out the conclusions arrived at by the Commissioners before they knew what those conclusions were? [Mr. VERNON HARCOURT remarked, that his Resolution said nothing of the kind.] He was aware of that; indeed, the Resolution was of that vague and indefinite kind which said nothing. It committed the Government to nothing; it told the House nothing. It was framed in that vague, general, and deceptive manner, which was the means usually adopted for acquiring cheap popularity at the expense of utility. It proposed a Utopian scheme. Suppose some hon. Member proposed that the Government should bring in a Bill for providing roast pig for any individual who desired to eat it, such a Resolution would be just as useful and practical as the one now offered to the House. He admitted that if anyone would tell them how to prepare a measure of improvement which it would be possible to pass, a duty would be cast upon the Government to carry it out; and when they were told that it was desirable to make things better than they were, how could anyone dispute the assertion? But by carry- 1934 ing this Resolution the House would merely allege that the present system was to some extent defective; that it was capable of being reformed; that they would like to reform it—upon which they were all agreed—and that they did not know how to do it, upon which they were also agreed. That was a very safe Resolution; but if the hon. and learned Member would give them a draft of a Bill, they would consider it, with an earnest desire to carry it into effect. They had no wish to recoil from a difficult task, or to appear to refuse a Motion for reform either in the Judicature or anything else. All they asked was that those who said it was their duty to bring in an effectual measure of law reform should give them at least some outline of what they desired the Government to propose. If the House passed the Resolution it would encourage learned and unlearned Members to weary the House with long speeches, and to curry at small expense of time and labor the favor of the public, under the notion that they were law reformers, and to propagate the idea that the Government were not, forsooth, desirous of carrying out any law reform. Now, that was not the case. The lawyers were all agreed that defects existed; but they were not all agreed about the means by which those defects were to be remedied. He believed he might say they were disagreed. It was not possible to get the lawyers in the House of Commons to agree, and it was still less possible to get people who were not lawyers to agree upon any plan. When the subject came to be considered in a fair and dispassionate spirit, it would be found that all the law reforms which had been carried out during the last 40 years had been initiated and carried through by lawyers. It was utterly untrue, therefore, to say that efficient aid was to be expected from persons who knew nothing of the subject. All the Commissions of which anything was to be expected must be composed of lawyers, and all effective law reforms must emanate from those acquainted with the principles and practice of the law; and if lay Members of the House of Commons could only induce their constituents to take a quarter as much interest in the great question of law reform as they took in other questions, there would be no lack of lawyers, whether they were aspirants for personal distinction, or 1935 were animated by the love of their profession, or by the desire of benefiting the community at large, who would do their best to accomplish the object in view; but law reform would not be accelerated by general abuse of the existing system, or by vague propositions like that which the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had submitted to the consideration of the House.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
, in supporting the Motion, said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General had managed to rub them all the wrong way, and had argued that the Report of the Committee was a bad Report; but the hon. and learned Gentleman was not bound to take the recommendation of the Committee; and if the Report was bad, in Heaven's name let him bring in a good Bill. They ought, however, to be just in this matter, as some of the inaction which had occurred was due to the House of Commons itself; and the time of the Government had been occupied with first-class political measures. The present system of legal legislation was like an Irishman's cabin, a patch here and a patch there, and the whole without symmetry or system. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman that Chancery procedure was costly, but he also held that it was dilatory. He would not say that it was inefficient; but its efficiency was not an adequate recompense for either its costliness or dilatoriness. He believed that cheap law in England would continue a mere dream, and must contend that clients did not get their money's worth for their money, and he ridiculed the idea of lawyers being paid by the length of their pleadings. If they were to make justice more expeditious, they must lighten the labors of the Judge by simplifying the procedure; or they must increase the number of Judges, which would involve an additional charge to the country; and if they wanted cheap justice, they must adopt the plan shadowed out by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) and localize the Courts. He most earnestly pressed Government to take up this matter without delay, as by so doing they would earn the gratitude of the country.
§ MR. WEST
thought, after the speech they had heard from the hon. and taught Solicitor General, that the Government had gone back very much in- 1936 deed from the promises they had held out in 1870. They had been told that the Government despaired of effecting any legal reform. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL denied having said that.] The hon. and learned Gentleman at least argued that it was vain and useless for them to embark in legal reform, because they could not get up such an excitement on that subject in the country as arose when they dealt with a question affecting public-houses. The hon. and learned Gentleman further told them that the Government could not undertake any law reforms, because their great scheme sent down from the House of Lords to that House in 1870 failed. Now, if he recollected rightly, the scheme of 1870 was so miserable that the Lord Chancellor could not even get either of the Law Officers of the Crown in that House to support it. It was said, indeed, that the small measure of 1870 was an attempt to carry out the recommendations of the Commission of 1869; but really that was a statement made, to say the least, without sufficient consideration. The hon. and learned Gentleman had further alleged that the administration of the law was neither costly, dilatory, nor inefficient; and he talked about dilettante lawyers; but if the present system was so perfect as the hon. and learned Gentleman would lead them to suppose, surely the Judicature Commission, which had been so long engaged upon that subject, must have been entirely wasting their time. Neither could he see how the hon. and learned Gentleman could find such fault as he had with their Report, if he reflected on the fact that the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General represented the Government on that Commission. In his (Mr. West's) view the first step towards law reform was to reform the highest Court of Appeal to which suitors had to go. If, however, the Government were never to introduce a measure of law reform until all the lawyers were agreed upon it, they would have a fair reason for despairing—as they appeared to do—of being able to achieve any legal reform.
said, that in venturing to make a few humble observations upon the subject under notice, no one felt more than he did the risk that an unlearned man like himself ran in venturing to mix up in a discussion of that kind. But he felt compelled to do so 1937 by the consideration that the unlearned portion of mankind were quite as much interested in those questions, and perhaps more so than the learned, for there were in that case the shearers, and those who had the chance of being shorn. He had heard the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General with great dismay. It left on his mind—and he feared it would also leave on the minds of those who read it—the impression that it was difficult to come to a conclusion whether or not the hon. and learned Gentleman felt that the Government of which he was a Member were most unable, or most unwilling, or both, to undertake the question. The warmth with which the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke made it impossible to doubt that he was sincere in what he said; and seeing how much that matter had been bandied about for the last two or three years, it seemed that what they had heard that night did not hold out a very hopeful prospect for the laity at large. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the country was interested in public-houses, and that the Government could legislate respecting them. Whether they would be successful in attempting to deal with the publicans and sinners remained, however, to be seen. The hon. and learned Gentleman further told them that the great learned men, so far from being agreed about law reforms, were all disagreed. That was offering them but poor consolation. But having himself seen something of legal reform, and especially of the Court with which the hon. and learned Gentleman was most conversant, he (Mr. Henley) ventured to say that if the Government, or any man in the Government, had an honest, strong conviction that legal reform was necessary, and joined to that conviction a resolution which turned neither to the right nor to the left, but endeavoured to carry it out, that man would be able to achieve, with the assistance not of the learned, but of the unlearned, such reforms as he could show were necessary, and would be beneficial to the public. If, however, they were to wait till the learned men all agreed, that never had happened, and never would happen, because the instant one said "White" another said "Black." There was but a poor lookout, therefore, for the unlearned part of the community, when they heard the 1938 mouthpiece of the Government make such a confession of weakness as had been made that evening. It was a confession which he had never expected to hear, and which he sincerely hoped he should never hear again; but he must say that if the Government really felt weak in the matter, it was an odd way of inviting external aid to cast ridicule in the manner in which it had been done upon the recommendations made on the subject of legal reform. It seemed to excite the indignation of the Solicitor General that anyone should dare to ask the Government to do something next year. If that were the opinion in high places, the House could not have much hope that anything would be done, unless there was pressure put on the Government from without. The reforms made during the last 50 years had not been made through pressure from without, but by the energy of some able men from within, who, seeing what was wanted, did it. Probably, the hon. and learned Member knew what reforms had been instituted by Lord Romilly. [The SOLICITOR GENERAL dissented.] The hon. and learned Member shook his head. Perhaps he did not know as well as those who were on the Commission that it was owing to Lord Romilly's resolution and singleness of purpose that the reforms hitherto made were carried out, despite great discouragement, under a Whig Government. Therefore, if the present Government had connected with it as able and resolute a man as Lord Romilly, law reform would not be wanted.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, the public need only to ponder over and inwardly digest the hon. and learned Gentleman's (the Solicitor General's) speech to discover why they had no law reform. Not only did his hon. and learned Friend not listen to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) but from beginning to end he entirely misstated what had been said, for a great part of his hon and learned Friend's (Mr. V. Harcourt's) speech was devoted to expressing disapprobation and dissent from the recommendations of a certain Committee of the House of Lords. His hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, however, occupied himself by referring to that Report as if it had been the foundation of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for 1939 Oxford, and could not conceive the Government had any chance of passing a measure of law reform, because the House of Lords rejected one two years ago. Could not the Government introduce a better measure? Were all measures introduced by the Government the embodiment of their final and unalterable conclusions? And if the argument were carried to a legitimate conclusion, what would have been the fate of the Ballot Bill? The Government had reintroduced that Bill, although once rejected by the Lords; and the Lords had passed that Bill in deference to popular opinion, although strongly disapproving its principle. Then he had objected to the introduction of abstract Resolutions. That was a strange argument to come from the Treasury Bench, considering the Government owed its position to abstract Resolutions. The Government should, above all others, be grateful to abstract Resolutions. Then it was asked why did not independent Members introduce measures of their own? Surely, however, that could not be asked in sincerity, when it was taken into consideration that the time at the disposal of independent Members was reduced to a minimum, and when they could not pass measures of even secondary importance except by the merest chance. The Solicitor General had also construed the Motion into a censure on the Government. It was no such thing; it simply expressed a preference for law reform over other promised measures; and as for the plea that there was no feeling in favour of such a measure in the country, the very object of the Motion was to express such a feeling through the medium of the House. Besides, it would be no difficult task for the Government to create a feeling in favour of law reform. The House knew how successful influential and leading Members of the Government could be in getting up a platform cry in favour of anything. They might in all truth point out the doubtful utility of some of the paltry measures passed; but that there could be no doubt as to the utility of making law less complicated, less dilatory, and less expensive. The working man might be told the question affected him as vitally as anybody else, and it would not take much to awaken enthusiasm for law reform. The Government had always two ways of dealing with a question. 1940 They could treat it with indifference, or put their backs to it. Let them treat a measure of law reform as they treated the Bill for the Reorganization of the Army. Let them say the interests of the country were wound up in it—that it must be passed if the House were kept sitting late in the autumn, and then if no response came they would be justified in repeating the statement of the Solicitor General. Mr. Fitzjames Stephen, who had done as much in the way of law reform in another country as anyone, had recently addressed a letter to The Times, in which he said that there was no question which so vitally affected the interests of everyone in this country as making our law simple, less complicated, and less costly. He referred to the Church Building Act and the Sanitary Acts as being so numerous and complicated that it was impossible for anyone to express a confident decision upon any point raised in connection with them. And as an instance of the necessity for codifying our law, Mr. Stephen referred to the fact that our legislation was so complicated that it was impossible to define the power of the Secretary of State for India. Mr. Stephen had added that any adequate measure of law reform would be impossible until some Representative of the Government was able to devote his whole time to such matters, an opinion with which he (Mr. Fawcett) cordially agreed. He thanked the hon. and learned Member for Oxford for having taken up this subject, for his hon. Friend could speak on it with a weight of authority and influence to which he could not pretend. After the speech of the Solicitor General, the taunts he had addressed to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford, and the misrepresentation of his motives, his hon. and learned Friend owed it to the House and to the great subject he had taken in hand to ask the House to express its opinion upon the question, and, if possible, to obtain a definite instruction to the Government that law reform next Session should take precedence of almost any other question.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
thankfully accepted from his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) the assurance that the Resolution was not brought forward in any spirit of hostility to the 1941 Government, but rather in order to obtain a general expression of opinion from the House that the views which his hon. Friends had put forward with so much clearness and ability, should in some shape or other be made the subject of legislative action before long. He thanked his hon. and learned Friend personally for having brought the question forward, and he begged him to understand that in the few observations he should make he would speak in no spirit of hostility to his hon. and learned Friend, or to the cause which he advocated. But, filling the official position which he had the honour to hold, it was his duty to look at matters from a somewhat different point of view, and to consider the difficulties which lay in the way of effective action. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley) said that the speech of the Solicitor General had filled him with dismay. But the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself did not bring much comfort to his (the Attorney General's) mind, because the right hon. Gentleman said it was very difficult to do anything in the matter as long as the lawyers disagreed, and that in the course of a long experience he never knew a subject on which the lawyers agreed. That speech was not calculated to infuse much hope into others. Those who had heard the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General would be of opinion that its scope and object had been misunderstood. His hon. and learned Friend was a great Equity lawyer; he practised in the Court of Chancery, and, if second, was second to none but one great and distinguished man who practised in that Court. His hon. and learned Friend, therefore, was naturally enamoured of the system with which he was familiar, and of which he was so conspicuous a part. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford, and the hon. Member for Brighton would admit that the Solicitor General directed the main scope of his observations to the defence of the judicial system of the Court of Chancery. The Resolution before the House, however, was addressed to the reconstruction of our entire judicial system, which was described as costly, dilatory, and inefficient. His hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, while admitting that the Court of Chancery was costly, denied that it was either dilatory or inefficient. Well, 1942 he would leave the defence of the Court of Chancery to his hon. and learned Friend. But in that branch of the legal system with which he (the Attorney General) himself was connected, he admitted that large and extensive reforms might be made. He had admitted that before, and no one who remembered the statement which he laid before the House would deny that there was in it materials for law reform, and law reform for a long time. But hon. Gentlemen must not run away with the notion that the wishes of his hon. Friends the Members for Oxford and Brighton could, despite of experience, be easily carried into effect. The House must recollect that, in order to make anything like an efficient alteration in the administration of the law, the Bill which proposed to make it must pass both Houses. It was also necessary to the same end that the highest Court of Appeal should be dealt with. The House of Lords was in possession of that jurisdiction, and he would repeat now what he had said elsewhere—that he did not believe that any plan for the reconstruction of our judicial administration would have a chance of success in the House of Commons which preserved in anything like its present position the judicial functions of the House of Lords. But then it should be borne in mind that we had to deal with an ancient, honourable, and proud Assembly, which treasured its judicial functions as its most precious inheritance, and which, as far as present indications of opinion went, was resolved not to part with it. If, therefore, he had stated the case fairly, it would be seen that the task which his hon. Friends proposed was one of no little difficulty. He did not make these remarks with the view of conjuring up difficulties; but any man who wished for success in what he attempted must be prepared in a candid spirit to take into account the conditions of the problem with which he had to deal. This was what the House of Lords thought of law reform. The Lords appointed a Committee, consisting of 27 of their most distinguished Members, including all the Law Lords except Lord St. Leonards, whose age precluded his attendance. Their notion of a Supreme Court of Appeal was, that there should be four ex-Lord Chancellors receiving £7,000 a-year each instead of their present £5,000; 1943 there were also to be certain life Peers—lawyers, who were not to take part in the legislative functions of the House; who were to have titles, but would be semi-noblemen; and the persons who suggested that these lawyers should be appointed on such conditions, sitting mute while the House was discharging its legislative duties, and taking an inferior position in the Tribunal of Appeal, were two noble and learned Lords of his own profession. It had been said that the river Lethe ran between the Bar and the Bench, and certainly a very deep and broad Lethe must run between the Bar and these noble and learned Lords when they made such a proposition. If any persons supposed that he, the present leader of the English Bar, would submit any such proposal to the House of Commons on the part of the profession to which he belonged, they had greatly mistaken his character. The facts he had mentioned showed the chance which an efficient measure of law reform had in the present state of opinion in the House of Lords. He thought he heard his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich say—"Then go out!" If his going out were followed by the coming in of his hon. and learned Friend, he would go out with great pleasure. His hon. and learned Friend should have his office for the asking to-morrow; but he did not know that his going out would much advance a measure of law reform, unless his hon. and learned Friend would pledge himself to carry those measures, which was not to be expected. The difficulty he had mentioned was one of the almost insuperable obstacles in the path of anyone who wanted to reform our judicial organization. His (the Attorney General's) notion of law reform was, to take particular portions of the law which might not touch the prejudices and excite the passions of an Assembly over which they had no influence, and try to improve these portions. That was a humbler, but it was a practical duty, and might lead to good results. Such a duty he had already undertaken, and in this very year had carried through a Select Committee an important amendment in the law relating to juries. Then there was the law of evidence, which he should certainly endeavour to reform another year. But he was not prepared to propose a large change in our system of 1944 judicial organization, because he could not put the keystone to such an edifice; it was not his duty to do so; the task of initiating such a change must rest with the Lord Chancellor, and must be undertaken in the other House. He would not enter into the details touched on by his hon. and learned Friend; but as to one of them he did not agree that it would be well to create a High Court of Appeal entirely free from political influence. He should be sorry to see his profession cut off from all connection with the political world. Such a separation could not tend to the advantage of the public, of the profession, or of the Bench. The Bar and the Bench were all the better for their contact with the current of political opinion in this country. Nor did he think it was well for the Common Law branch of his profession when it was dominated by that most able, upright, learned, but, he must add, somewhat narrow-minded man, Lord Wensleydale. With all respect for that learned Judge, his influence in the profession was not at all a healthy one, and would have been much better had he been in this House and mingled with political parties. He was one of those lawyers whose epitaph some one had written and had said—"Summâ industriâ, et summo acumine, leges Angliœ ad absurdum reduxit." He did not agree with his hon. and learned Friend in other respects. While thanking him for the way in which he had brought this question forward, he really could not see how anything would be gained at this period of the Session by reviving a matter of this kind; and he therefore hoped his hon. and learned Friend, as well as the hon. Member for Brighton, would be satisfied for the present with the opportunity they had had of drawing out debate on the subject, and would allow the Motion to be negatived.
§ DR. BALL
said, he was disposed to agree with the Solicitor General, when he viewed with jealousy abstract Resolutions on law reform, and also with the Attorney General, in attaching more value to patient and laborious investigations of detail connected with the administration of the law, than to any heroic remedies which might be suggested to meet the defects complained of. As an Irishman, however, he must express his decided dissent from any proposition to make the appeals from 1945 the Irish Courts he represented not to the House of Lords, but to English Judges of the same calibre as in the Courts appealed from. Scotch lawyers entertained the same opinion on the subject. It was a serious matter to meddle with a tribunal which had in its favour all the sanction of antiquity—the sanction of acquiescence on the part of other portions of Her Majesty's dominions—and which was respected not merely on account of the superiority or wisdom of its decisions, but for those very adjuncts and sources of respect which his hon. and learned Friend could not, in a moment, create in the new Court he proposed. For his own part, he most emphatically advocated the maintenance of the external name, authority, power, and dignity of the House of Lords as the appellate tribunal. With regard to the expense attending the transfer of property, he had witnessed a variety of changes in connection with law in Ireland, but with no real good result, except in the case of the Landed Estates Court, which considerably cheapened the cost of transference, and at the same time rendered litigation, in regard to title unnecessary, if not impossible. The fact was also notorious that land sold in the Estates Court brought a higher rate of purchase than any land that was sold on private title, because the purchaser obtained the land free from the burdens that were inseparable from a want of finality. Lord Westbury evidently had these advantages in his mind when he brought in his Bill for the registering of titles. He thanked the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Wren-Hoskyns) for the efforts which he had made to cheapen the expense of the transfer of land, and would say, if they wanted a real practical law reform, let them extend the Parliamentary title of Ireland to English property.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he would endeavour to bring the debate down from the high altitude which it had attained. He believed that the reason why landowners had refused to carry their land into Lord Westbury's Court, was that it cost more to get an indefeasible title than what it was worth. No doubt, when an indefeasible title was obtained, it added to the value of the estate; but gold might be bought too dear, and he thought it would be impossible and undesirable to compel persons to register 1946 their property so as to give an indefeasible title. The reforms of the Judicial Committee and the Appellate Jurisdiction of the House of Lords were comparatively unnecessary to the mass of the people in this country. Not one case in a thousand would come before any ultimate Court of Appeal. What was wanted to be got rid of was the intervention of the London and the local attorney. Every person was occasionally driven into a Law Court; but so long as the County Courts had jurisdiction only to the extent of £50, that limitation operated as a denial of justice. County Courts ought to have almost unlimited jurisdiction; they ought to have power over the transfer of property, the Judge having power to reserve any question that came before him to a higher jurisdiction. The County Courts were perfectly competent to deal with cases either of £50 or £5,000, and plaintiffs would be glad to bring their actions in them. What was wanted was a local jurisdiction, and that could be easily given, for the County Court Judge visited every market town in his district every month; whereas the Assizes were held only three times in a year. Supposing an action of ejectment to be commenced, the tenant was served with a notice, and he had not a leg to stand on. He admitted this; but he said he would stand over till the Assizes came in September or October; he would gather in his crops. The landlord could do nothing with him. The landlord was driven into a corner, for the Assize Courts were held only at long intervals. What was wanted was local justice. Instead of reforming the Judicial Committee and the Appellate Jurisdiction of the House of Lords, what was wanted was that the County Court Judge should decide all cases, unless the Judge decided that they ought to be heard before the superior Judges, or the defendant, upon removing the cause to a Court of Superior Jurisdiction, gave security for costs. In that way they would ensure prompt and inexpensive justice.
, as he understood that it was the intention of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) to take the judgment of the House on the Amendment, must venture to say a few words to show that the course taken was highly impolitic. In the first place, the hon. Mover of the Resolution intended by a vote of the 1947 House to assert that the administration of the law under the existing system was costly, dilatory, and inefficient; and then the Resolution went on to assert that a competent Commission having reported that the judicial organization was defective in all its branches, it was desirable that Her Majesty's Government should, in the next Session of Parliament, present to the House a measure for its reform and reconstruction, which, without increasing the public charge, should provide for the more effectual, speedy, and economical administration of justice. With regard to the first of these points, did the hon. and learned Member think that it was wise, as a practical measure, to call on the lay Members of the House, who must feel that they were unacquainted with the subject, to assert for their own credit and in their legislative character that the administration of the law under the existing system was costly, dilatory, and inefficient? [Mr. WHALLEY: Oh!] The hon. Member for Peterborough knew everything, and propounded as matters within his own knowledge many things known to nobody else on the face of the earth. He (Mr. Gladstone), however, was not prepared to put an opinion in the scale in such a matter. It was not a wise, a circumspect, a dignified course of action to call on hon. Members who knew nothing practically of the working of the law to say that it was costly, dilatory, and inefficient. The position was worthy of examination, but it was not fit for a legislative declaration from the House. As to the second point—that, a competent Commission having reported that the judicial organization was defective in all its branches, it was desirable that the Government should in the next Session of Parliament present to the House a measure for the reform and reconstruction of the existing system, which, without increasing the public charge, should provide for the more effectual, speedy, and economical administration of justice—he thought the proposition was a reasonable one to entertain. But was it proper that the House, at the close of the Session, should introduce a cut-and-dry measure for consideration next Session? The policy was at least questionable, and it was unwise, because it had a tendency to diminish the responsibility of the Government. It was simply to receive an order from the House that a 1948 certain measure was to be produced. Was that the mode of obtaining successful legislation? Why, it would enable the Government to shelve the responsibility off their own shoulders, and to lay it on his shoulders and the shoulders of the House. Let not the hon. and learned Member steal a march on the Government; but let him remember that in a similar manner the hon. Member for Brighton had already ordered the Government to introduce a measure for elementary education in Ireland. Was it not better that the Government should be left to act upon their own responsibility than that the function should be taken from them, and that they should be directed by means of abstract Resolutions proposed by private Members to introduce Bills dealing with questions upon which they, as responsible Advisers of the Crown, were not prepared to take action? If he desired to indulge in a tendency to ease and repose—which was not unnatural in one who grew old—he should like nothing better than to be relieved of the responsibility of directing action by a line of conduct similar to that which was being pursued by his hon. and learned Friend. He would admit he had a leaning to the views expressed by his hon. and learned Friend; but he felt it to be his duty to warn the House against entangling itself in the consequences of passing abstract Resolutions. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton seemed to be of opinion that, in reference to the Irish Church legislation, the Government acted upon an abstract Resolution. To an extent he was right; but his hon. Friend, who possessed a good memory, must remember that the action taken was not delayed until a Session after the passing of the Resolution, but came on the following day. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would not put the House in the false position in which it would be involved by agreeing to the Motion he had proposed, and that the House itself, if the proposal were pressed to a division, would agree to the original Motion, which was, that Mr. Speaker should leave the Chair.
§ MR. SPENCER WALPOLE
expressed his opinion that the view taken by the hon. Member for Brighton with regard to the Irish Church was correct, and that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government really did propose and 1949 act upon an abstract Resolution, upon which he brought in a suspensory measure with regard to the property, position, and functions of the clergy, rather than to the general question of the position of the Church itself. At the same time, he agreed in thinking that abstract Resolutions were so unadvisable that it would be unwise in his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) to ask the House to divide upon his Motion. If, therefore, the Motion was pressed he should vote, not against it—for he agreed in the main with the principle involved, more especially with reference to the propositions which had come from the Judicature Commission, which could not remain suspended for many months, and which, under any circumstances, ought to be dealt with in the next Session of Parliament—but he should vote in favour of the proposition that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair, for that was nearly similar to the Previous Question. It ought also to be borne in mind that his hon. and learned Friend had not asked the House to vote upon a question of reforming the law generally, but merely as to the machinery by which the law should be administered, and, until he (Mr. Spencer Walpole) knew more clearly what that machinery was to be, he could not vote for an alteration in its processes. He hoped the Government would soon be able to see their way to take up the question, which had long been under consideration, in its broadest sense, and deal with it comprehensively and as a whole.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had asked the hon. and learned Member for Oxford to leave the matter of law reform in the hands of the Government; but, for his own part, he would entreat the hon. and learned Gentleman not to yield to that appeal. After the speeches of the Solicitor and the Attorney General it was manifest that the cause of law reform could not be advantageously intrusted to the Government of which they were Members. Nothing was more directly opposed to anyone's experience than the Solicitor General's statement that the Court of Chancery was a perfect model, and that though it might be costly, it was certainly not dilatory, and was most efficient. It was an absolute anomaly, and the best thing to be done with it would be to treat it as the Court of 1950 Chancery in Massachusetts was treated—shut it up, and put a notice on the door—"No more Business to be done here." An eminent American Judge had told him that that course had worked extremely well, and that the State was now rid of an unmitigated nuisance. There was no wrong that the Common Law would not provide a remedy for. As an instance of the delay which occurred in the progress of cases through our Law Courts, he might instance a case in reference to which he had placed a Notice on the Paper—the Tichborne case.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that it was irregular in the hon. Gentleman to refer to a Motion not yet before the House.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he only wished to give it as an instance of the costliness, delay, and inefficiency of the present administration of the law. It was the case of a man who for five or six years had been ranging the country.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he had already stated that the hon. Gentleman's reference to a Motion not yet before the House was irregular.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he had abandoned that Motion, and he believed he was at liberty to refer to the Tichborne case as one of the greatest scandals to the administration of justice in this country. He wished to ask the Home Secretary, if he would not put an end, with as little delay as possible, to that great scandal.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, this was irregular, and he must call upon the hon. Gentleman to proceed with the subject immediately before the House.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he had great pleasure in supporting the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
said, he was aware that he had no right of reply, but wished to say just a sentence in answer to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. The Solicitor General having put the issue on this ground—that neither the House of Commons nor the country cared about law reform, he (Mr. V. Harcourt) thought that that point ought to be tested. There was no doubt that the Solicitor General did not care about law reform.
§ MR. WHITWELL
remarked that although only one Gentleman connected with the commercial interests of the 1951 country had had an opportunity of taking part in that discussion, yet commercial men were particularly alive to the importance and also the urgency of reform in the administration of the law, and would not long remain content with the law as it stood. If the Report of the Judicature Commission stimulated the Government into action, it would do great good to the community; but as he saw no practical issue to the Resolution which had been moved, he should vote against it.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 45: Majority 15.
§ Original Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.
§ Committee deferred till Monday next.