HC Deb 06 July 1875 vol 225 cc1001-10

rose to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that, pending future legislation on the subject, no vacancy in a salaried office in any of the legal establishments should be filled up without the consent of the Treasury. The noble Lord said, that in 1873, when economy was not so much at a discount as now, a Committee was appointed who inquired into the Civil Service expenditure. The Committee was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ponte-fract (Mr. Childers), and of it four of the Members of the present Government, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Solicitor to the Treasury, formed part. The first point to which they directed attention was the expenditure for the Legal Departments, and in their Report they stated that the cost for the United Kingdom amounted to £1,750,000 per annum. Of this sum, the suitors paid £940,000, leaving the net cost of the Courts at about £800,000, so that they were a heavy national burden. It appeared from the Report of the Committee that the power of the Treasury over these Departments was often very limited, being limited, indeed, in some cases by statute; and the Committee were unanimously of opinion that a strong primâ facie case had been made by the officers of the Treasury to the effect that both with respect to costs and administrative regulations these establishments should undergo a searching investigation. They further recommended that, pending future legislation on the subject, no vacancy in a salaried office in any of the legal establishments should be filled up without the consent of the Treasury. A Royal Commission was afterwards appointed and presided over by Lord Lisgar, and of which Mr. Law was a member, and which, from its composition, was eminently entitled to weight. It appeared that, owing to recent legal reforms and the abolition of offices, we were now paying £220,000 a-year for pensions to the former holders of those offices, and the Commission found that a very small number of those persons—only the receivers of £13,000 out of the £220,000—could be called upon to serve their country. On the other hand, they found that a certain number even of the persons who were not liable to service were patriotically ready to do something for their money, and the Commissioners, therefore, recommended that it should be the bounden duty of those who filled up legal offices to offer those persons suitable service when vacancies occurred. The Commissioners also expressed their entire concurrence in the recommendation of the Committee— That reductions should be effected rather by an entire cessation of appointments to the clerical service, and by transfer from one department to another, than by superannuating (on abolition of office) the clerks who may be found redundant in particular offices. In Ireland it was found that the expenses of the Court of Chancery were four times its receipts, and the state of things there was pronounced most unsatisfactory, and such as demanded searching inquiry. He hoped, therefore, that the Commission would resume its investigation into the Courts in Ireland and Scotland. In England, as might be expected in Courts which were fed by suitors and had grown up without certain control, a certain number of officials were found whose duties were almost nominal; there was also great diversity in the duties and salaries; and the hours of work were so limited that if these Departments were placed in the same position as other Civil Service establishments, a reduced number of officials might well perform the work. The Registrar of Married Women's Acknowledgments was paid £700 a-year, though his office was described as a sinecure; but, apart from this, the Commissioners reported that as the duties by Act of Parliament devolved upon the Court of Common Pleas, they should be discharged by the officer of that Court who was responsible for its administrative business generally. Then as to the eight Clerks of Assize, who received about £5,500 a-year, the Commissioners found that, though in past times this office might have been necessary and important, the changes in the law and procedure, and other causes, rendered it undesirable to continue the office. On several circuits," they said, "the Clerk of Assize rarely attends in Court, and it has been given in evidence before us that his presence is not required. On five of the great circuits the duties are wholly or partially "performed by his deputy. He would now pass to the recommendations with respect to the future administration of these Departments. And here it was to be remarked that it was found that in some places where the work was hardest the staff was weakest. In the Court of Queen's Bench, for instance, 20 clerks did 20 per cent less business than 18 clerks in the Court of Exchequer. In like manner, while the duties of the Masters in the three Courts were very unequal, those in the Exchequer being heaviest and in the Queen's Bench lightest, the number of officials charged to the country was in all cases the same. In this state of things the Commission suggested a very natural remedy—that of fusion of offices, with other reforms, so that four Masters might be dispensed with. The office of Associates should be merged in that of Masters, and the Associates should be merely Assistant Masters. They went further, and proposed one central department, which should provide for the administration of civil and criminal business in London and on Circuit. In the Court of Chancery the Commissioners found the same state of things. The Chief Clerks, whose duties were very arduous, received the very moderate pay of £1,200 a-year; while in offices where the labour was not heavier and the ability required not greater the salaries varied between £2,000 and £1,800. In this case, also, the Commissioners made a similar recommendation for the construction of an office common to the High Court of Justice and Court of Appeal. Baron Bram-well, who seemed more courageous than his Colleagues, recommended that the whole work of the Courts of Common Law and Chancery should be done by one department. Such a concentration of offices would produce a great economy and add to the efficiency of our administrative departments. The third evil pointed out by the Commission was the length of the holidays, and the short time during which many of these offices were open. This complaint seemed to come more from solicitors and those practising in the Courts than anybody else. He was not certain whether that evil would be diminished by the Judicature Act; if not, it was a matter which required to be taken in hand. It appeared that whereas in the Civil Service generally there were 310 working days of six hours each, in the Legal Departments few men worked more than 190 days of six hours. In other words, allowing for the holidays, which were different in the Civil Service establishments, the clerks in some of the Legal Departments only worked two-thirds of the time which the clerks in the Civil Service Departments generally worked. He would here call attention to the Resolution— That, pending future legislation on the subject, no vacancy in a salaried office in any of the legal establishments should be filled up without the consent of the Treasury. A Committee of the House of Commons in 1873 recommended that a Bill should be introduced by Her Majesty's Government to effect that object. Their Report was made at the end of June, 1873. Many important points had to be considered in connection with the subject, and the Government then in office found it impossible to carry the recommendation into effect that Session; but they issued a Circular to the Judges and the holders of patronage in these various Departments, in which they stated that— Placing confidence in those who have to appoint to the various offices in question, they have thought it better to request that, in the event of a vacancy in any legal office of the character referred to, the right of appointment to which is vested in yourself by statute or custom, a fresh appointment to such office may be suspended and temporary provision may be made for the discharge of its duties, if such a course can be adopted without serious inconvenience to the public service. Then the Circular adds— If, however, it is indispensable that a fresh appointment should he made, it should, if possible, be conferred in such terms as will leave it subject to the pleasure of Parliament. Favourable answers were received from most of the Judges. He had mentioned various offices the abolition of which had been recommended by the Select Committee. Of these three had since become vacant, and they had all been filled up by the Judges. It was clear, therefore, that the Circular had not been attended to by the Judges, and unless the House wished the recommendations of their Committee and also of the Royal Commission to be disregarded, it was necessary to take some further step. He admitted that it was useless at this period of the Session for any private Member to attempt to do anything in the matter, and his only object in calling attention to the question was to strengthen the hands of the Government as far as possible in any course they might consider it desirable to adopt. He hoped the House would adopt his Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that, pending future legislation on the subject, no vacancy in a salaried office in any of the legal establishments should be filled up without the consent of the Treasury,"—(Lord Frederick Cavendish,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, he accepted, with the most perfect good faith, the assurance of the noble Lord that he had brought forward this Resolution with the intention of strengthening the hands of the Government, and not for any factious purpose. No one could be more sensible of the importance of the Report of the Royal Commission on this subject, which was made last year than he was; and he felt that the House was under an obligation to the noble Lord for the manner in which he had introduced the subject to their notice. The recommendations contained in the Report had received the anxious consideration of the Government, with a view to their being carried into effect; much, however, must depend upon the consolidation of legal offices and the rearrangement of the whole of our Judicial system, which would be consequent upon the coming into operation of the Judicature Act. Though, as he had assured the House, the matter had already received the earnest attention of the Government, the mode of dealing with it and the time of dealing with it required careful consideration. It was a subject that could not be disposed of by a Re-solution of the House. It must be borne in mind that, when an Act of Parliament provided that certain appointments should or might be made, the theory of the Constitution was, that such appointments were necessary and ought to be filled up. A large portion of these appointments were offices created by Act of Parliament, and could only be abolished by Act of Parliament; and provision must be made for filling them up from time to time until the Act creating them had been repealed. At the same time, as far as appointments affecting the general administration of the government of the country were concerned, the recommendations of the Royal Commission ought not to be lost sight of; and, as a proof that they were not absent from the mind of the Government, he might mention that a valuable appointment in the Court of Chancery, that of one of the registrars, at a salary of 1,200 a-year, which had recently become vacant, had not been filled up. With reference to the three appointments mentioned by the noble Lord, it must be borne in mind that the patronage did not rest with the Government, but with the Judges and others on whom it had by Act of Parliament been conferred, and the Government had no power, beyond that of recommendation, to prevent their being filled up as they became vacant. If the Supreme Court of Judicature Act Amendment Bill passed this Session, a convenient opportunity would be afforded for the consideration of the whole matter, and it might become necessary to obtain the aid of Parliament to deal with it. But a Resolution of the House of Commons could not alter the law of the land. The only way in which effect could be given to the noble Lord's Resolution, in a regular and constitutional manner, would be the passing of an Act, either suspending future appointments or providing that they should not be filled up without the consent of the Treasary, and, as soon as a general scheme of this nature had been framed and settled, no doubt an Act would be passed for giving effect to it. Under these circumstances, the noble Lord would probably feel that he had discharged a useful duty by bringing the matter under the consideration of the House, and would not think it necessary to press his Resolution.


admitted there was force in the statement of the Attorney General that these appointments were held under special Act of Parliament, and that no Resolution passed by the House of Commons could make any alteration in respect of them; but he must remind him that the Select Committee of 1873 had recommended that a Bill should be brought in by the Government either suspending appointments to such offices, or providing that they should not be filled up except with the consent of the Treasury. That was an alternative the Government should take now. He understood from the Attorney General that that step was to be taken at a later stage; but it was extremely important that vested interests should not be created pending that decision of the Government. At any rate, it was desirable that a measure should be introduced by the Government giving effect to the recommendation of the Select Committee to which he had referred.


said, that having had the honour of being a Member of the Committee which inquired into this subject, and having paid a good deal of attention to the matter, he thought it right to say a few words to the effect that he entirely approved of the course taken by the noble Lord. The disclosures which were made before the Committee were of an exceedingly startling character, especially in regard to the amount of patronage in the hands of the Judges. They had evidence that the salaries paid to all the officers connected with the Probate Court amounted to about £42,000 a-year, and that all these offices were in the gift of the Judge. Then the number and amount of pensions were also very startling. There was not time for the Committee to inquire with regard to the Courts of Ireland and Scotland; but if that matter had been looked into, he believed it would be found that, as regarded pensions, there were 23 judicial pensions for offices formerly held in Scotland. Now, he did not think anyone would deny that the amount of strictly legal business in Scotland must be greater than the strictly legal business in Ireland, because trade in Scotland was so much larger, and litigation arose mainly from trade transactions. He knew there were exceptional circumstances in Ireland, but supposing that double the number of Judges were required, that would only give 46 pensions for Ireland; but hon. Gentlemen would be surprised to learn that there were 171 judicial pensions in Ireland. In fact, judicial offices in that country seemed to have been created with a view to their being held only for a short time and pensions granted for retiring from them. In England, no doubt, the business was much larger in proportion than it was in Scotland, the population being 6½ times larger. But, supposing the judicial power of England ought to be 10 times larger than that of Scotland, that would be only 230 pensions, yet there were in England about 700 judicial pensions; in fact, the judicial pensions in England nearly equalled the amount required for the judicial system of Scotland. The public officers in Scotland appeared to pay more attention to the Report of a Committee and a Treasury Circular than was done in England; because in Edinburgh there was the office of sheriff substitute, which had remained in abeyance in consequence of the Circular of the Treasury and the Report of the Committee. This being so, he did not see why offices in England should continue to be filled up. It was said that the Government could not prevent the Judges filling up offices under the statutes; but the Treasury had the power to fix the salary, and if the duties of an office which was once worth £1,000 a-year had become trivial, the Treasury could easily make the salary £250 if the Judges insisted upon making appointments to the offices. Altogether the present state of matters loudly called for relief. He should be very glad to extend the inquiry to Ireland and Scotland; and as regarded Scotland, he was sure the House would find that for the last 30 years offices had been continually cut down, and several Courts had been abolished. The salaries of the Judges of the Supreme Court in Scotland were £3,000, and one of the alterations which ought to be made was to raise these salaries to at least the amount paid to the Judges in Ireland (£3,800), who had far less work than their brethren in Scotland.


, while deprecating comparison between Scotland and Ireland, said that if the Scotch Members would help the Irish Members to obtain justice for Ireland, the Irish Members would assist the Scotch Members to assert the claims of Scotland. For his own part, he thought the judicial expenditure in Ireland was far too large. Many appointments of a legal and judicial character were made there for no other purpose than jobbing the Government of Ireland. On the part of the majority of the Irish Members, he expressed a hope that endeavours would be made to cut down the overgrown judicial appointments in Ireland. In the Life of Sir Robert Peel his executors had preserved a letter setting forth that the best way of governing Ireland would be to extend judicial offices to members of the Roman Catholic Bar, and thus to keep them always looking to the Government for promotion; and this policy, which was acted upon at the time, seemed to have been adopted by successive Governments. There were many pensions which ought not to be granted, and many offices which ought to be suppressed. Any Government in reviewing these appointments in a spirit of equality towards the three Kingdoms would be supported by the Irish people and by the majority of the Irish Members. He would support the noble Lord if the Motion were pressed to a Division.


said, he did not know what consultation the hon. Member for Galway had had with Irish Members; but he was much mistaken if he thought that in what he had said he had the concurrence of Irish Members. He entirely dissented from the hon. Member's view; he did not think that the judicial establishment of Ireland was at all overgrown in point of either numbers or salaries. The Judges had only £3,500 a-year, and those of England had £5,500, and yet the Irish Judges had to perform duties equal to those of the English Judges.


regretted that the Government were not prepared to deal with the question, but he was satisfied with the general tenour of the debate, and, therefore, would not trouble the House to divide.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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