§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)
§ SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN
said, the subject was one of great importance to Ireland. The present Bill had been introduced so far back as February 12th. No one intimated any opposition to the second reading, with the exception of a formal Notice to prevent its being taken up after midnight from the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell). Still, although there was no opposition to the second reading, the Government neither took the stage, nor did they intimate their willingness to refer it to a Select Committee, as he had proposed. No intimation had been made by the Government as to the course they would pursue; but that day they had stated that they would have no objection to read it a second time pro formâ, and refer it to a Select Committee. It was, he thought, rather too late to take that course now. If his proposal had been accepted three months ago, the Committee might have met and agreed to a Bill which would have met with the approval of the House. He feared it was now too late; but as many hon. Members around him were desirous that the Bill should be read a second time, he deferred to their opinion, and would content himself with stating his objections to the Bill in general, and if it should be read a second time, would move that it be referred to a Select Committee, with special instructions to amend it on the points to which he objected, and which were enumerated in his Motion. He thought, however, it would be inexpedient to read it a second time under those conditions without having some discussion on the provisions. The objects of the Bill were four-fold. It proposed, firstly, to amalgamate the offices of the Clerk of the Crown and Clerk of the Peace. He agreed to that as a good object; but he objected to the manner in which it was proposed to 170 carry it out. The second object was to reduce the number of Chairmen from 33 to 21. To that he did not object, but he opposed the manner in which it was carried out. The third object of the Bill was to extend the jurisdiction of the Chairmen of the counties, which was well enough in itself, but badly carried out. The last object of the Bill was to prevent them from practising at the Bar. That was the only part of the Bill to which he objected; and he admitted that it was a point that could be discussed in Committee. With regard to the first point, the Bill would abolish the old Common Law tenure of office by the Clerks of the Crown and of the Peace, and the new official would hold his office, not as at present by good behaviour, but during the pleasure of the Lord Lieutenant. He would, as a matter of fact, be put upon the footing of a mere Civil Servant, a proceeding which he thought very objectionable, and he must contend that the old condition of tenure should be preserved. It was also objectionable that any future holder of the office should be subject to a Treasury certificate of his fitness for the post. The Treasury could know nothing about the fitness of a man for the office of Clerk of the Crown and of the Peace in Ireland. Then it was also objectionable that the salaries of these officers should be left to be fixed, not by the Bill, but by the Treasury dealing with the duties performed. The result of that would be that in one county a Clerk of the Peace and of the Crown would receive one salary, and in another county a different one. Then, although it might be right to reduce the number of Chairmen by amalgamating counties together, the amalgamation should be carried out by the Bill itself, and should not be left to be carried out by the Lord Lieutenant in Council, a mode of procedure which was certain to lead to jobbery and favouritism of all descriptions. The Bill ought also to contain a Schedule of the counties proposed to be amalgamated. To that part of the Bill which proposed to extend the Common Law jurisdiction of the County Courts from £40 to £50, the only objection he had was that the jurisdiction was not extended to £100. He approved of the proposal of the Bill to confer Equity jurisdiction upon the Chairman in 11 different matters or classes enumerated 171 in the Bill; but he complained that while they were taking steps to bring justice home to the doors of the people in regard to the first trial of causes, there should be no appeal except to the Lord Chancellor sitting in Dublin. He considered that the appeal in every case should be heard in the county where the cause was originally tried, which could be done by the Master of the Rolls and the Vice Chancellor going circuit for the purpose. He thought it also most objectionable that the stamp duties to be levied under the Bill should not be settled by the Bill; but, perhaps, the most extraordinary part of the measure was that which provided that the salaries of the Chairmen of Counties should be fixed, not by the Bill itself, but by the Lord Chancellor and the Lords of the Treasury. This was a proposal to which he should object. There were several other points to which he might have referred, but he refrained from doing so, as he had no desire to obstruct the progress of the measure. He must, however, say that those to which he had adverted were well worthy of the attention of a Select Committee.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHERLOCK
said, that he was not opposed to the amalgamation of the offices of Clerks of the Crown and the Peace, if efficiency would be secured, and at the same time justice done to the holders of these offices. The officers in question were at present called upon, under pain of their removal by the Lord Lieutenant, to perform duties never contemplated when they were appointed. This would be unfair to officers, many of whom were appointed 20 or 30 years' ago. The present occupiers of office should be permitted to retire on a good salary, and their successors might be appointed on any terms which might be considered necessary. With regard to the conferring Equity jurisdiction on the Chairmen of Counties, he did not object to the measure; but he wished to point out that great injustice would be done to the suitors if the Chairmen were not provided with sufficient Staffs of officers. As to increasing the number of Judges, he urged the necessity of its being in the Bill. The Treasury might induce some of the Judges to retire on a competent pension. The discussion of the mode of amalgamation would be of advantage, and they would receive suggestions from the people interested in 172 the country. The whole matter should be done openly, and then all questions of favouritism would be removed. The amount of the jurisdiction at present was £40, and the proposal was to increase it to £100. £100 was a serious sum for Ireland, and he believed in these cases the parties would prefer going to a Superior Court. And then they must take into consideration the costs of a panel; for it should be remembered that questions of account, of administration, of partnership, and the like, though affecting small amounts of money, might involve points of law as abstruse and as difficult as in cases where thousands of pounds were at stake. In those cases, the costs would be very great. He thought it would be better to have the appeal to the Court of Chancery He must further urge, in conclusion, the advantage of setting forth in the Bill the mode in which it was proposed the County Courts should be consolidated.
§ MR. MORRIS
pointed out that the Bill proposed to abolish the Recordership of Galway, which was a very ancient office. The Recorders of Galway and Derry were in future to be called County Court Judges, or something of that sort. He did not see why they should not bear the name of Recorders of Galway and Derry. There was an ancient historic interest in the Recordership of Galway, and something might be done in the way of preserving the title of the office, even if the duties were merged in the manner proposed.
§ MR. FAY
said, he did not see much in the Bill, except that it seemed to create offices for hon. and learned Gentlemen on the other side of the House. The unfortunate County Court Judge, with £1,000 a-year, was to have everything under his jurisdiction, from dealing with divorces to matters of account. The cattle dealers of Ireland often disputed over matters of account; but it would be unfortunate to have such a Judge dealing with their cases. If this Judge was to do this work properly, he ought to have an immense Staff; and if that was so, the unfortunate suitor would have tremendous sums to pay in fees, and would find the procedure more expensive than the Courts in Dublin. This Bill abolished Chairmen of Sessions who were practising as barristers, and well up in all the latest eases, and he could affirm that they were very popular 173 in Ireland. He was opposed to the Bill. As to its being cheap, his opinion was that cheap things were generally the dearest, and he thought that this cheap law would turn out to be very dear law. He hoped that if they had a Committee on the Bill, they would appoint gentlemen well acquainted with the legal offices, who could advise upon the subject, and who had all the experience which the practice of the law could give them.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
supported the Bill. He thought there had been too many objections to what he would call the poor man's Court. This Bill had been thought of for years, and the necessity for it was well understood in Ireland. They were bound to bring justice home to the poor man's door. That was the professed object of this Bill; and, if he had the honour of being elected a Member of the Select Committee, he would do his best to make it effective for that purpose. He would not go into details, because that was a matter for the Committee. He objected to, for instance, raising the jurisdiction from £40 to £100. The further power given in the Bill would bring justice to the poor; but the alteration would compel that man to go to Dublin to obtain justice. The jurisdiction stopped at a farm of the annual value of £30; but the House should remember that a farm of that value in Ulster was very different from a farm £30 in value in Munster. He was sorry to see that the Bill had had the Equity jurisdiction reduced from £500 in the Bill of last year to £300, and he could not see why the change had been made. He should therefore propose an Amendment, to render it more in conformity with the Bill of last year. As to the officers, the Bill would certainly be unworkable with the present proposals. There would have to be a Registrar in connection with the Court, or otherwise the Circuits would never be gone through.
§ MR. LAW
said, he would not go into details, but he might say that he understood the chief object of the Bill was to give an Equity jurisdiction to the County Court Judges in Ireland equal to that which had for some years been exercised by the English County Court Judges. He must say, however, that he more than doubted whether this Equity jurisdiction could be efficiently worked 174 by the Irish chairmen with only the official assistance which the Bill provided. It was proposed that one man should act as Clerk of the Crown, Clerk of the Peace, and Registrar of the Civil Bill Court; that was to say, they allowed one-third of a man to do the official work of a County Court in Ireland, whilst they had several competent individuals to do similar work in England. He entirely agreed with what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken, and hoped that the measure would be so amended as to render it acceptable and beneficial to the great body of the people of Ireland.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY,
while taking exception to some of the details of the Bill, would give it a general support. He trusted the Government would give a local Admiralty jurisdiction to two or three large towns in Ireland—to Limerick, Waterford, and, perhaps, some others. The Bill would not, in his opinion, lead to such an increase of officers as was suspected; and he hoped that where there were found men occupying the position of Deputy Clerks of the Peace the assistance of these officers of experience would be secured, and their rights, which were almost vested, recognized.
§ MR. MELDON
said, upon the understanding that the Bill upon being read a second time was to be referred to a Select Committee, and that the House would hereafter have a full opportunity of discussing the Bill, he would not enter into a discussion of its provisions. But he thought it was futile to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, who without the consent of the Treasury could not provide for the appointment of additional officers. He considered an extended County Court jurisdiction for Ireland absolutely necessary, and regretted that such a measure had been so long delayed.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
complained that the Government had rolled up several distinct subjects in one Bill, and had in consequence put Irish Members in the dilemma of either rejecting all, or accepting all. Against that he protested. He was afraid the measure would place a great deal of patronage at the disposal of the Government, and pressed the Government to keep up the office of the Recorder of Galway.
§ THE ATTORREY GENERAL foe IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, the course of the discussion was very satisfactory, in that it had shown the confidence which was felt in the distinguished position of the County Court Judges, and he trusted that under the more important jurisdiction to be conferred upon them by the Bill that confidence would continue. For his own part, he did not anticipate there would be any of that substantial increase of patronage hinted at, and he was at a loss to understand, looking over the surface of the Bill, what prospect there was for suspecting it. The 33 Chairmen were to be cut down to 21; and at present there were two important officers—the Clerk of the Crown and the Clerk of the Peace—these were to be cut down to 32, so that, indeed, instead of there being more there was less scope for patronage. It was not contemplated there should be any immediate resignation of county officers; but from time to time, from inclination, age, or infirmity, they might take advantage of the provisions of the Act. The various observations which had been made upon the increased jurisdiction provided in the Bill showed the advantage there would be in asking the House, as he intended, to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. Those observations would receive the utmost attention; and he would say, on the part of the Government and of the Treasury, that they had no wish to withdraw the Bill from the most searching examination and careful consideration upstairs. In reference to the observations as to a sufficient Staff, this Bill contained a clause not found in any previous Bill on the question, and there was every desire on the part of the Government and the Treasury to give a fair working Staff. The 8th clause provided that the Lord Chancellor, with the consent of the Treasury, could add additional Registrars where they were found necessary. Without committing himself to the figures, he might say there would be a very considerable saving in public expense by the passing of the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON),
in moving that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, remarked that it was the 176 object of the Government that the Bill should become law this Session.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill committed to a Select Committee.