HC Deb 12 May 1879 vol 246 cc216-25

Special Definitions.

Clause 47 to 49, inclusive, agreed to, and added to the Bill.

General Definitions.

Clause 50 agreed to, and added to the Bill.

Application of Acts.

Clause 51 agreed to, and added to the Bill.

Savings and Construction.

Clauses 52 and 53 agreed to, and added to the Bill.

Clause 54 (Application of Act).

SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON moved, as an Amendment, in page 32, line 4, to leave out from the word "recovered" to the word "under" in line 7.


objected to the omission of those words. A very strong feeling was entertained by all Members of the Select Committee, except right hon. Gentlemen representing Departments, with regard to this matter. He hoped the Committee would pardon him for a moment, while he explained the subject. The Bill, as drawn up, gave the magistrates power in every case, including those relating to Her Majesty's Revenue, supposing they thought fit to exercise their discretion, and even although they were of opinion offences had been committed, to refrain from convicting the person charged. The Bill gave the Justices the widest powers for a merciful dispensation of justice. At the present time, when a man was brought before the magistrates, charged with some offence against the Revenue, if the offence were proved, the magistrate had no option but to fine him the full penalty, which usually was very heavy. For some trifling offence against the Inland Revenue or Customs, the penalty would be £100, and the magistrate would have to fine the man that amount, although, if left to himself, he would only have awarded £40 or £50, or some less sum. The whole object of the Bill was addressed to giving the magistrate an option as to the infliction of the maximum amount of penalty, and they were required to use their good sense and rely upon their judgment in altering the penalty below the maximum. They might, however, inflict the maximum penalty, or go down, to the other end of the scale. The Amendment which had been proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury would have the effect of taking the Inland Revenue and Customs cases in this respect entirely from the power of the magistrates. A magistrate would have no option, but would be bound by the particular Statute under which the penalty was recoverable to commit the injustice of imposing it. He did hope in a Committee like that, where the Magisterial Bench was so numerously represented, a protest would be made against the refusal to trust it with the power to exercise discretion in these matters. No doubt, the answer to this would be that the Revenue must be protected, and that in all cases where the Revenue was concerned the matter should be left in the hands of the Revenue authorities alone. But he would strongly urge that if the magistrates were to have a discretion in such important matters as those dealing with the liberty of the subject, that discretion should be extended to cases where it was most needed, and enable them to have a power to abstain from the infliction of the full amount of penalties which they considered excessive.


must press the Committee to strike out the words, the omission of which he had moved. He might say that they were not in the original draft of the Bill, and only put in the amended copy. If the words were loft in the Bill, there would be great difficulty in carrying out the working of the Revenue Departments of the country. It would introduce too great an element of uncertainty into the Revenue, if all these cases were left to the decision of the magistrates. Were that done, the supposed uniformity of procedure under the present system would be at once destroyed. Another point was that costs in Excise cases were not recoverable, and he did not think that they should be made so. In every case of an Excise penalty, the duty was included in the penalty, which was fixed at a high amount in reference to the damage which was inflicted upon the Revenue by the offence. The magistrates could not be so conscious of the danger to the Revenue as those who had to deal with it; and it was, therefore, highly desirable to leave those matters entirely in the hands of the Revenue authorities. Then, again, taking the Custom House, there was a system in use which they did not propose to repeal, and there would be two systems at work at the same time under which these amounts might be collected. There would also be one system in use in Scotland, another in Ireland, and another in England. In Scotland and Ireland the Excise officer would be working under the old system, whereas in England the penalties would not be certain, by virtue of the clause. He thought that the danger to the Revenue would be very considerable if the infliction of those penalties was left to the decision of the magistrates; and he therefore hoped that the Committee would not assent to the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stockport.


observed, that this question was before the Select Committee, and was fully discussed by them. They determined that the Bill ought to stand as it was now. The Bill was a Government measure, brought in by the Home Secretary; the Committee was now, therefore, asked to reverse both the decision of the Select Committee and of the Government upon this matter. Although they had not been asked to give the magistrates a discretion in such important matters as the liberty of the subject, yet, when they came to offences against the Revenue, they were told that the magistracy could, not be trusted to exercise a proper discretion in those matters. The Government would be guilty of great inconsistency, unless it either gave the magistrates the same discretion in all cases, or else struck out the 16th clause altogether. The magistrates should either have the same discretion in all cases, or they should not be allowed to have the power in any case to say—"Although, technically, an offence has been committed, we do not think fit to award any punishment." It was in these Revenue cases, above all others, that the magistrates were continually saying—"We deeply regret that we are compelled to inflict this penalty—it is by virtue of an old Statute, which gives us no option in the matter; you must apply, by memorial, to the Department for a reduction of the penalty." But the Department now came and said—"Reverse the decision of the Select Committee, and give us this provision depriving magistrates of the power given them by the 16th clause in matters of much more importance." Under these circumstances, he trusted his hon. and learned Friend would take a Division on the point.


wished to give an instance of the necessity for this discretion being exercised by the magistrates in Revenue cases. A case was once brought before him, as a magistrate, of some persons charged with smuggling. A vessel had been boarded, and a seizure made, under somewhat mitigating circumstances. Still, he had no option but to inflict fines amounting to £1,500, a most preposterous sum.


stated that at Liverpool the necessity for the Bench having some discretion was much felt. He was strongly in favour of the clause remaining in its present shape.


said, that the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) went a great deal further than he seemed to think. If there were, as he said, danger to the Revenue in giving the magistrates a discretion in these cases, then there was danger in allowing the magistrates to adjudicate at all on Revenue questions. He could not see why, if the magistrates were empowered to adjudicate on Revenue matters, they should not have the same discretion as was given to them in other cases to regulate the punishment. Either they should take away from them the right to adjudicate at all, or else they should give them a certain amount of discretion as to the penalties they were to inflict. Otherwise, they were placing the magistrates in an invidious position by forcing them to inflict penalties which in their consciences they knew to be too severe. He hoped the Amendment of the Government would be withdrawn, for the only argument that had been advanced in its favour would go a great deal farther than was proposed.


said, that the question before the Committee was a very curious one. On all punishable offences the magistrates were allowed by the Bill great latitude; but when they came to touch what were called Revenue questions, no discretion whatever was to be allowed. This was not the first time that the Revenue had been treated in this exceptional manner. He thought that it was fair and right to trust the magistrates in this matter as in others. There was no doubt that very great injustice had frequently been done in those cases, simply because the magistrates were unable to help themselves. They had been obliged to inflict the fines, which they had no power to remit or reduce. If trusted at all, the magistrates should also be trusted in this instance. After the Bill had been so carefully considered by the Select Committee, and this clause bringing Revenue questions within the magistrates' discretion had been inserted by them in the Bill, he thought the Committee should accept it.


observed, that the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) had compared this clause with the 16th clause. He regretted that he did not divide the Committee upon that clause; for if he had, he should have voted with him. Speaking with very great diffidence—for he had not had very much experience in these matters—he could not but think that it would be the better course for the hon. and learned Member to raise the objection he did before to the 16th clause upon Report. It seemed to him that it would be better to raise the whole question of the desirability of vesting this discretion in the magistrates by objecting to the 16th clause rather than to take the opinion of the Committee upon a clause which was at variance with the principle of the 16th clause.


was in favour of the magistrates having a discretion in all cases.


remarked that this was not a Bill to increase Her Majesty's Revenue. The Bill professed to be for the purpose of giving the magistrates certain increased jurisdiction in criminal cases; but it seemed that, according to this Amendment, it was to be a Bill to facilitate the collection of Revenue. Unless the hon. Gentleman would consent to the repeal of the 16th clause, he should strongly object to the omission of the words proposed to be left out from this clause.


must remind hon. Members that the Revenue was an abstraction for which no one felt any sympathy. He believed that there was very widely spread throughout this country a feeling that offences against the Revenue were of a more venial and trivial character than offences against the person or property. It did not surprise him that the Treasury, who had been under the necessity of calling the attention of the Committee to the consequences of the legislation which was now proposed, should find that it was in a minority, as it evidently was, upon this question. After the expression of opinion, first from the Select Committee, and now from the Committee of the House, it would be useless to put hon. Members to the trouble of a Division. At the same time, he was bound to say, as his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury had already said, they considered that in taking this step they were putting the Revenue to a by no means inconsiderable inconvenience.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to, and added to the Bill.


Clause 55 (Repeal of Acts) agreed to, and added to the Bill.


, in moving the insertion of a new clause, said, its object was to protect Clerks of the Peace who held a freehold office on their appointment. Everyone knew that this Bill, if passed into law and carried into operation, would have the effect of depriving Clerks of the Peace appointed since 1855 of a great number of the fees which they now en- joyed. Gentlemen accepting the office of Clerk of the Peace gave up everything else and devoted their whole time to it. Within his knowledge gentlemen belonging to his own Profession had given up practice and accepted offices of this kind under the express understanding that they would continue always to receive certain fees which those offices entitled them to. The effect of the present Bill would be to deprive those gentlemen of a large portion of their income. With regard to the Clerk of the Peace for Middlesex, if the Bill passed in its present form he would lose between £500 and £600 a-year, and those fees would go into the pockets of the Clerk to the Justices. It was the same with regard to other Clerks of the Peace. There was ample precedent for the introduction of a clause protecting the rights of Clerks of the Peace; and he hardly thought it could be the intention of the Government to deprive those gentlemen of so large a portion of their emoluments and to give them no compensation. The clause he should propose would only give them compensation during their lives, and when they died out the payments would cease, as, of course, in all fresh appointments, the gentlemen accepting the offices would take them with no right to anything more than they would then be entitled to under the present Bill; but it was extremely hard that gentlemen who had accepted office under the old system should be deprived of a large portion of their emoluments without compensation. He might say that he had numerous authorities in former Acts where similar provisions had been inserted protecting the interests of those affected. The only Act, however, to which he would refer particularly was 14 & 15 Vict., c. 55, s. 9. He begged to move the insertion of a clause providing for compensation to the Clerks of the Peace who would be deprived of their fees by the Act.


said, that, in his opinion, Clerks of the Peace had no vested right to the fees of which the Act would deprive them. He was aware that in some Acts passed some time ago a clause similar to that moved by the hon. and learned Member had been inserted; but he (Mr. Cross) entirely differed from the reasons put before the Committee for inserting the clause in the present Bill. Although the Bill would have the effect of making some cases which were now tried at Quarter Sessions before a jury be in the future disposed of in Petty Sessions, yet, probably, a great many fresh cases would go before a jury at Quarter Sessions, and appeals would be brought in the Quarter Sessions. He might say that those gentlemen had never rendered the slightest account of the fees which they received from various sources. Moreover, in the Bill before the Committee, it was proposed to bring many cases to the Quarter Sessions which were now triable only at Assizes. If, therefore, any compensation were to be given to the Clerks of the Peace for the fees which they would lose under the Bill, it would also be necessary to ask them to disgorge the fresh profits they would make by it. To his mind, Clerks of the Peace had no kind of vested right in these fees. They had a vested interest in their offices to do all the duties that that House imposed upon Quarter Sessions—no more, and no less. If the duties were added, to or diminished it was immaterial, for they had no vested interest in the business put before them.


would advise his hon. and learned Friend to withdraw his proposed clause, as he would have a much better chance of bringing it up on the Report, if there were a good case in favour of the Clerks of the Peace.


also had a clause to the same effect as that already moved, but in different terms. He was quite willing to take the course suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James), and bring his clause forward upon Report. When both clauses were printed, hon. Members would be better able to judge which clause they preferred.


said, he would withdraw his clause upon that occasion, as that course was considered advisable, and bring it up upon the Report. He was somewhat surprised at the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that Clerks of the Peace were not entitled to compensation. He would point out, with reference to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, that these gentlemen only wished to obtain compensation for what they would lose by the proposed alteration of the law. Most Clerks of the Peace were now paid by salaries, and very few wore still paid by fees. That made the case of those few the stronger, and on their behalf he wished to add to the Act, which would deprive them of a portion of the remuneration they derived from fees, a clause which would, in some way, compensate them for what they lost.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1.

MR. PAGET moved, as an Amendment, in pages 34 and 35, in the heading, to leave out the words "children or."


did not think that at that late hour they should be called upon to go into these Schedules, which proposed to extend the power of the magistrates to a much greater length than at present. He would move to report Progress.


trusted that the Committee would go on and finish the Bill. Every question could be raised upon Report, and he did not think that any member of the magistracy would say that the Bill placed anything in their hands which they were not competent to deal with. He had been asked the object of the Bill; and he might say, briefly, that its object was to enable the magistrates to dispose of numbers of those petty cases which now went before Quarter Sessions.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


observed, that the magistrates now had the power given them of dealing with many cases summarily by penalty; and it was a question which he thought ought to be carefully considered and enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary how far magistrates ought to go in that direction. The first line of the Schedule was somewat indefinite in giving jurisdiction to impose a penalty for the offence of simple larceny when, in the opinion of the magistrate, the value of the property stolen did not exceed 40s. He supposed that by that was meant such cases as an old woman stealing a bundle of faggots; but he considered that it should be made more explicit.


stated that the magistrates would still have a discretion to send cases of simple larceny to trial.

Amendment agreed to; words struck out accordingly.

Schedule agreed to, and added to the Bill.

Remaining Schedule agreed to, and added to the Bill.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 169.]