HC Deb 09 July 1875 vol 225 cc1237-42

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."


in moving, as an Amendment, to leave out the words "now taken into Consideration," in order to add the words "re-committed," said, that by the Act of 1872 an arbitrator, who must be a retired Judge, was appointed, but after the lapse of three years and the expenditure of a large amount of money everything remained practically undecided. By the Act of 1872 the late Lord Westbury was appointed the first arbitrator to the Society under the liquidation, and upon his death the late Master of the Bolls, Lord Romilly, was appointed arbitrator. On the death of Lord Romilly, again, there was a temporary appointment of Lord Justice James as arbitrator. These various appointments had led to contrariety of decisions as between one arbitrator and another, and even by the same arbitrator; for whereas the decisions of the late Lord Westbury were, as a rule, in favour of creditors of the Society, in those of the late Lord Romilly, that noble and learned Lord ultimately separated himself from the line taken by his predecessors, and decided substantially in favour of the shareholders of the Company. In this way nothing was really decided, and every person who had under decision paid or received money might find himself put in the wrong by the decision of the arbitrator who was now to come into power. The Bill under consideration proposed two great changes. In the first place, instead of requiring that the arbitrator should be of judicial rank, it enabled the Lord Chancellor, without exhausting the list of those qualified under the Act of 1872 to act as arbitrators, to appoint a person who had been simply a barrister of 15 years' standing. It also gave certain powers of appeal, and he complained that the appeal given lay not on legal grounds but from one unfettered discretion to another unfettered discretion. But the most remarkable thing was, that neither the promoters nor the opponents of the Bill gave any evidence in favour of its provisions as now settled upon this subject of unfettered discretion; and yet the Committee on the Bill had, without any evidence, settled it in the way he had described. In his opinion, the reason of that was that the Committee were affected by some of the statements not made in evidence. He had in his hand a letter from a distinguished ex-Judge, formerly a Member of that House, stating his willingness to act as arbitrator. If those who had charge of the Bill would allow it to be postponed, he would give the Notice required by the Standing Orders he proposed to move, and that would allow the matter to be considered next Wednesday, so that there would be no unnecessary delay. If not, he hoped he should find many hon. Members to go into the Lobby with him, and to vote for its re-committal. The question involved in the European and the affiliated Companies affected thousands of persons and hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it was thought by the Legislature that there ought to be a speedy and effective way of getting rid of such troubles and litigation, that the arbitration should be placed in the hands of a Judge of first-class reputation; yet it was now proposed to give it into the hands of a barrister of 15 years' standing, with the power of appeal. Under those circumstances, he moved that the Bill should be re-committed.


seconded the Motion, observing that he was sure the people of Ireland would not be satisfied with having as arbitrator a barrister of 15 years' standing, and that the name of the arbitrator ought to be in the Bill and not left to the whim of any man.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "now taken into Consideration," in order to add the word "recommitted,"—(Mr. Charles Lewis,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words 'now taken into Consideration' stand part of the Question."


in opposition to the Motion, observed that the House was placed in a very difficult position in this matter, and that his hon. Friend's objection in regard to the appointment of a barrister of 15 years' standing as arbitrator went to the root of the matter. Still, the objection ought to have been taken on the second reading. That was not done, and the parties who came before the Committee had not urged the objection before they declared the Preamble proved. The Committee had therefore to decide according to the evidence produced. Even if passed, the Amendment of his hon. Friend would be perfectly useless. By the original a past Judge of great eminence (Lord Westbury) was appointed with absolute discretionary power. He was succeeded by Lord Romilly, and on his decease Lord Penzance was appointed, all of them having the same absolute discretion. He wished to say that the Lord Chancellor had tried to get a person of similar position to Lord West-bury and Lord Romilly, and failed, and under those altered circumstances this Bill had been introduced, which proposed to give a barrister of 15 years' standing, appointed as umpire by the Lord Chancellor, when there was a difference of opinion between two arbitrators, the same discretionary powers, but with an appeal from his decision to two of the Judges. Even now, if the Lord Chancellor should find such a person, the Bill would allow of his appointment. The Bill did not admit of a general appeal, but only of an appeal when one arbitrator differed from another, or when the same arbitrator differed from himself. What was wanted was that one uniform system should be established. As Chairman of the Committee, he denied that it was in any way influenced by the statement of counsel, and desired to say that he did not believe that any Committee could have shown greater interest or a stronger desire to do justice to all the parties concerned, and in the absence of any contention to the contrary, they decided upon the plan contained in the Bill to which his hon. Friend had so strongly objected. For one, he should certainly vote against the Amendment, as he considered that it would, in fact, necessitate either the appointment of a new Committee, or a reference to the former Committee, by which all the points had been fully considered. Both courses would be very objectionable.


said, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be under a misapprehension as to the effect of the Bill. According to its terms, the person appointed arbitrator must at the time of his appointment be a barrister of 15 years' standing, and it was consequently not competent to the Lord Chancellor to appoint an ex-Judge.


pointed out that the words in the Bill were "the Lord Chancellor may," not shall, appoint a barrister of not less than 15 years' standing, and that parties might appeal to any two past Judges. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee in the objections he had taken to the Amendment, and hoped the House would support him in it.


said, that, having been called upon to take some part in this matter, and having been the mover of the Select Committee, he would venture to state his views as to the result of their deliberation. He felt that no time had been wasted by this discussion, because he hoped that it would result in this being the last occasion on which Parliament would sanction the taking away matters of this kind from the ordinary Courts, and creating these special tribunals. In this case there was, in his judgment, a bargain between Parliament and the classes of persons interested in the European Insurance Company, under which, in consideration of waiving their right to the decision of the Courts, they got a speedy judgment without appeal, and, if necessary, without being bound by strict legal rules. The Bill, as brought in, not only subjected these suitors to an appeal, but actually removed that discretionary power in the arbitrator which was so essential an element in the original Act; and that seemed so grave an objection that he had thought it his duty to intervene and to secure a full consideration of the Bill. The House acceded to his proposal for the appointment of a large Select Committee, and nothing could exceed the care and attention which that Committee bestowed on this most difficult question. No doubt the inability of the Lord Chancellor to find a competent arbitrator imposed a formidable task on the Committee. They had, however, considered and altered the Bill, and, rejecting what seemed to be its fundamental vice, had retained the discretionary power upon the faith of which the tribunal was originally constituted. He did not like the idea of an appeal in connection with arbitration; but he would bow to the decision of the Committee, thinking it would be dangerous to ask the House to re-consider the matter, and to interfere with the discretion of those who had much better opportunities for making themselves acquainted with the subject than the House could possibly have. They had dealt with the question of the arbitrator after hearing the parties, and as the Appeal Court could still exercise the discretionary power originally conferred, it seemed to him that the objection on the ground of alteration of jurisprudence had been removed from the Bill. He advised the House not to accede to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Londonderry.


said, he hoped that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) would not press his proposal, particularly after what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Jackson), who was the first to take an active part in bringing the question, in the first instance, before the House; and it was to the hon. and learned Member that they were mainly indebted for the searching investigation which had taken place. That investigation had been conducted by a Committee whose authority was equal to any ever appointed by the House, and he thought that the House should pause before setting aside the decision of the Committee, merely at the suggestion of a private Member.


said, the question was one of the greatest importance, considering the magnitude of the transactions involved, and the proceedings ought to be carried out in the best possible manner. Speaking on behalf of a large number of policy-holders in the European office in Ireland, he thought their wish ought to be complied with, that a person holding the highest judicial position should be appointed as arbitrator. Under the present Bill it was provided that a barrister of not less than 15 years' standing should be appointed arbitrator, and therefore it was possible to select a man who might be totally inexperienced in dealing with such questions as would come before him, in which were involved hundreds of thousands of pounds. He should therefore support the re-committal of the Bill.


also supported the proposition of the hon. Member for Londonderry, and remarked that evidence was laid before the Committee that an ex-Judge of great eminence was willing to act as arbitrator.


said, he would not press his Amendment to a division, being satisfied with the discussion that had taken place.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered.

Standing Orders 224 and 248 suspended.

Bill read the third time, and passed, with Amendments.