HC Deb 06 April 1881 vol 260 cc839-42

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was to apply to the petty sessions clerks of Ireland the principle of payment by salary, instead of their remuneration being dependent on the amount of fees received by the Courts. That principle was adopted with regard to justices' clerks in England in 1877, and petty sessions clerks in Ireland corresponded with justices' clerks in England, being appointed under the Petty Sessions Act. The Lord Lieutenant had power to classify the petty sessions clerks in proportion to the importance of the districts in which they served. The salaries of petty sessions clerks were provided out of the fines and fees, and hon. Gentlemen would thus see they were open to the objection of fluctuation. At the end of every three years, the Registrar of petty sessions allocated to each class of clerks a certain proportion in advance of the salary; or, if it should have so happened that the fees were not sufficient to cover the advance, a diminution was made. That was the objectionable part of the system, and could not be better illustrated than by the fact that Mr. Wingfield, the Registrar occupying an official position over the entire body, had written a circular to the petty sessions clerks of Ireland, in which he said it was evident that the amount of salary must depend on the amount of the fund arising from the productiveness or not of the petty sessions stamps; and in case of any diminution of fees, the salaries would have to be reduced in proportion. Mr. Wingfield added that the clerks would thus see that the amount of their salaries largely depended upon their own efforts to increase the fines and encourage an increase of the litigious business of their Courts. He (Mr. Litton) was happy to be able to say that the petty sessions clerks in Ireland acknowledged the evil, and felt how objectionable the system was, inasmuch as it placed them in a false position. They were open to the suspicion, no doubt unjustly, of issuing two summonses instead of one in cases which were capable of being regarded as a double offence, although arising out of one transaction, for the purpose of increasing the amount of the common fund. In further confirmation of the evil arising from the present system, he would read an extract from a letter he had received from one of those gentlemen, whose name he could not give, but who put the case very fairly and strongly. The writer said— I think it would be just, and an encouragement to hard working clerks who have been endeavouring for the last three years to increase the consumption of stamps, &c., in order that their salaries should be increased. So the very reason why he asked the House to pass the Bill was the fact that it was assumed, under the present system, that the clerks worked hard to increase the fees and fines, and through them their stipends. He had said enough to show how objectionable the system worked in Ireland, and he had only to say that his Bill had received the approbation of all the petty sessions clerks in Ireland. Mr. Humphries, of Cork, President of the Society of Petty Sessional Clerks, and Mr. Atkinson, of Maryborough, the Secretary, were both in favour of the Bill as representing the clerks of the country, and they had come over here to show their interest in the passing of the Bill. They had suggested one or two Amendments with regard to superannuation, which he (Mr. Litton) would be very glad to propose for acceptance when the Bill got into Committee. With that exception, the Bill had been universally approved by all parties, and he understood Her Majesty's Government was prepared to support the Bill in principle. There was only one objection to the Bill, and that was standing in the name of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Beresford); but it did not seem directed against the principle of the measure. He had handed over the duty of making the objection to the hon. Member for Portarlington (Mr. Fitzpatrick). The principle of the objection was this—that in order to have a sufficient fund out of which to pay the salaries, it was proposed to take advantage of portion of the dog duty. That was a duty amounting to £30,000, and it was objected that certain local authorities, to whom portion of the dog tax was allocated, might be deprived of the benefit of it towards the relief of local taxation. The Town Commissioners of Armagh made an objection to the duty being so appropriated through their Representative; but it should be remembered that the Lord Lieutenant already had the power, under the Dog Licence Act, to take a portion of the tax for the payment of the petty sessional clerks, and hand over the balance to the local authority. There was, therefore, no substantial objection to the Bill in principle, and he hoped the House would read it a second time.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Litton.)


said, he did not think it was desirable to interfere with the progress of a measure which was likely to improve the position of the petty sessions clerks in Ireland. He was aware the Town Commissioners of Armagh had some objection to the 2nd clause, on the ground that it interferred with fines which would otherwise go to them. That, however, was a matter which could be dealt with in Committee.


said, that, on the part of the Government, he entirely agreed with the objects of the Bill. Nothing was more undesirable than to have the salary of any public official depending upon the contingencies of fees. At one time, public officers were generally paid by fees; but it was found the system so interfered with the public interest that, almost in every instance, they had been commuted for salaries; and there was no case in which it was more important that fixed salaries should be paid than in that of petty sessional clerks. As regarded the opposition made to the Bill, it would be time enough to deal with the Amendment to the 2nd clause when they got into Committee. On the question of superannuation, it was, he thought, only proper, in the interests of the public, that some scheme of the kind should be provided. Through the absence of such a fund at present the petty sessions clerks were obliged, in some cases, to continue in office when they were past work. For these and other reasons he would agree to the second reading of the Bill.


also supported the second reading, considering that it afforded some measure of justice to the petty sessions clerks in Ireland. No portion of the remuneration of public officers should be derived from fees. He ventured to hope further that, in Committee, the Bill would be improved in one or two directions with regard to superannuation, so that those who had devoted their lives to this particular work should, when worn out, be rewarded for their services.


was very glad to find that the Bill had received such a unanimous approval. He hoped that it would soon become law.


thought that these officers ought to have their salaries fixed. A bad effect was produced by fluctuating remuneration, such as had existed, where these officials were paid by fees.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday 4th May.