HC Deb 23 June 1876 vol 230 cc338-42

Bill, as amended, considered.


moved, as an Amendment, to substitute £40 for £45 as the qualification for jurors of the first class.


said, he was not quite sure that he understood the alteration which was to be made in the Bill. What he understood to take place on the previous day was, that the qualification originally proposed in the Bill was £50. In respect of certain counties, he understood, however, that £45 was, by a large majority of the House, placed in the Bill as the qualification. If Her Majesty's Government, from the information they had at command, had advised that £40 was a better qualification, he should probably have been willing to take their advice and vote for it. He had never thought a high qualification necessary for juries, provided they got into the box thoroughly competent men. On the contrary, it was his wish to get on the jury list as many competent men as could be got. At the same time, to prevent a miscarriage of justice, they should not put incompetent men into the jury box. It was clear that this rating qualification was only a means to an end. The end was a competent jury. This means was decided to be a high rating qualification. He should have preferred different means, but was perfectly ready to accept what the Government had decided to do. It had been said that he wished to exclude from juries a large portion of the population of Ireland. He wished nothing of the sort; he wished for nothing but that which experience had shown was absolutely necessary for the administration of justice. That was his sole object, and he had no wish to set up any opinion of his own in that respect against the advice of Her Majesty's Ministers.


said, the Amendment was proposed in order that the understanding arrived at on the previous night should be carried out. Reasons were given showing that £45 was too high for all classes, and it seemed to him desirable that the same qualification should be adopted throughout. He preferred £45, but there was a strong feeling the other way. The difference between £45 and £40, however, was not one of principle, but one on which hon. Members had as good means of arriving at a decision as he had himself.


said, he sympathized with his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow, and thought he was quite right in protesting against the attacks made upon him on account of the course he had thought it his duty to take respecting this Bill. It must be remembered that the hon. Member for Cork had delivered a long speech to show that the qualification ought to be reduced below £45, but he failed to convince the Committee, which had decided by a large majority against his proposal.


said, he did not think hon. Gentlemen opposite had any ground for feeling dissatisfaction, because dissatisfaction was equally felt on his own side of the House. They on his side did not wish for the £40 qualification. On the contrary, they wished that the law should remain as it was at present, at a qualification of £30. Never, he ventured to say, had a change of so great magnitude been proposed without more information being given as to the ground of the change. With regard to the reasons for adopting £40 instead of £50, the hon. Member for County Cork (Mr. Downing) gave figures and statistics which were irrefutable, and could not have failed to convince the majority of the House, had they waited to listen to the argument. No doubt a large majority had voted against that proposal; but many of the hon. Members composing it had voted without hearing the discussion, and had mostly given a Party vote in order to back up the Government in their proposals, and thus a large majority was made up against those who represented the Irish people. The qualification had been raised from £30 to £40 without any reason being adduced. Nothing was more grievous than that jurors should refuse to obey the law laid down by Judges either at quarter sessions or Assizes, but he could not agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that, in disagreeing to a verdict in a doubtful case of murder, the Irish jury he referred to did not act properly.


said, he had hoped the discussion on the subject had ended on the previous evening. He was sorry to hear the observations of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen). The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary thought it would be a fair compromise to accept £40 when he (Mr. Downing) moved to omit the five from £45. The hon. Gentleman the Chairman was under the impression it was challenged, and but for the mistake the whole would have been over in a short time. He was glad to find that those who supported the Government approved of what had been done, and admitted that the facts brought forward were not answered by the Government or by any one on their side of the House.


protested against the statement that hon. Members on that side had voted on the question without understanding it. He for one had listened, as he always did, most attentively to the arguments of the Irish Members when speaking on the affairs of Ireland, and it was unjust to charge him with unfairness. He objected to being lectured by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) merely because he had voted in accordance with his own convictions and had not been deferential to those of the hon. Gentleman.


said, that he also had listened to the debate, and had arrived at the conclusion that either the Irish Members were wrong in fixing £40, or the House was wrong in fixing £45.


thought the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon) should not have taken to himself the observations of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Henry), who did not accuse hon. Members opposite of refusing to listen to Irish Members, but simply stated the fact that a number of hon. Gentlemen did come into the House last night and vote upon the question who had not heard the debate.


said, the practice to which the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Henry) referred was not confined to Irish, questions, but applied equally to Scotch and English Business. As a matter of fact there were at least 46 Members who voted in the majority last night who did not hear the arguments. He confessed he himself had often voted without knowing anything of the subject, though it was not a very moral thing to do. He maintained that, whatever the faults of Lord O'Hagan's Bill were, he was entitled to the highest credit for his Jury Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Words substituted.


said, he wished to make an unusual application in respect to the Bill. The present law in Ireland relating to the qualification of jurors was of a temporary character, and would expire on the 1st of July. It was therefore essential that this Bill should come into operation on that day. It had yet to pass through the House of Lords, and in order to do that it would be a great assistance if the House would give a third reading to the Bill at the present moment.


On condition that there should be full opportunity for considering the Procedure Bill?



Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)


said, he was glad that the necessity for the immediate passing of the Bill had given the advantage of enabling them to discuss another Irish question at a reasonable time of day, and he ventured to ask the Government (for he knew the Chief Secretary was not responsible) whether they could not give equally good time on other Bills. Irish and Scotch Members would be very grateful if their business could be conducted at a time when they were not thoroughly worked out. Shortness of time had, do doubt, much to do with the informal way in which the question was decided on the previous day. If more time had been given they would not have voted a particular figure, and in the next moment turned right-about-face and reversed the decision.


said, he would be glad to join in the application on behalf of the Scotch Members, provided that the Irish Members did not take the lion's share of the time. He hoped the Government would consider the proposition, and give as many Morning Sittings as possible to Scotch, and Irish Business.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.