HC Deb 15 August 1882 vol 273 cc1852-7

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.


said, the Bill stated it was to come into operation on the 1st October, 1882. When the Bill was in Committee, a suggestion was made that its operation should be to some extent delayed, because it might operate with a certain degree of hardship upon a very merito- rious class of persons—namely, the messengers-at-arms and other officers—whose emoluments would be curtailed materially by the Bill. He did not then see his way to assent to the proposal; but it had since been represented to him that some of these officers were under arrangements of some duration with assistants and otherwise, and it might be a hardship if the Bill were brought into operation immediately. He would therefore ask leave to substitute the 1st January, 1883, for the 1st October, 1882. The Amendment would be proposed on Clause 2.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(The Lord Advocate.)


said, he rose to move that the Bill be considered that day three months. He felt bound to protest against the manner in which this Bill—the object of which was to deprive many highly respectable persons in Scotland of part of their income—had been forced through Parliament. It had not even been heard of until yesterday week. It had been almost smuggled through the House of Lords, and it came upon the people of Scotland with very great surprise. The Bill had been brought into this House in such a form that the Lord Advocate had found it necessary to set down no less than 34 Amendments. He thought it the most disgraceful specimen of hasty legislation which had happened during the Session. The persons affected by the Bill were the Queen's messengers, whose office was one of great antiquity, dating from the 14th century. On a person being appointed to the office, he had to find security for £500, and to pay £20 in fees, and had also to pay an annual fee of 17s. 8d. It was now proposed to substitute law agents, which might, perhaps, have the effect of cheapening justice, but would cause great injustice. He very much doubted whether the ends of justice would be attained by the proposed change; for, whereas summonses were now served by the Queen's messenger, who was an independent person, the service might in future be intrusted to the clerk of the plaintiff's solicitor, or might be made by registered letter—modes of service which might open the door to fraud and collusion. He held in his hand a letter from one of the most respectable solicitors in Glasgow (Mr. Murray), who had written to the Lord Advocate on the subject of this Bill. It was not the messengers alone who complained of this Bill, but the Legal Profession in Scotland. The Faculty in Glasgow had not been consulted, and all those solicitors who had been consulted were opposed to the Bill. Mr. Murray, in his letter, pointed out the frauds which might be committed should the Bill pass, by means of dishonest law agents acting in concert. He granted that in some cases the service of citations by these messengers might, perhaps, be a little more expensive than the system proposed; but that was no reason for their abolition. The service of citation by post would be less secure, for he held in his hand no fewer than 99 registered letters which had never reached the persons for whom they were intended. All the respectable solicitors were against this Bill. If it passed, these officers would be impoverished to the extent of two-thirds of their income, and they would have no compensation. Moreover, an opportunity would be afforded to dishonest persons to trump up charges against their innocent neighbours. If the change was so very urgent, why had they not heard complaints before? He moved that the Bill be read that day three months.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he only rose for the purpose of thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the concession he had made with regard to the extension of time he had allowed to these messengers before the Bill came into operation. There was one other thing he desired to allude to. He thought it was perfectly certain the Bill would tend to fraud. In Glasgow, for example, the large majority of the people lived in flats, and, just as in London, many letters were returned with the inscription—"Not known at this address." So it was doubtful, in many cases, whether these posted summonses would ever reach the persons for whom they were intended. He hoped the Lord Advocate would delay the Bill altogether till next year.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Warton.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he did not wish to delay the Bill, but desired to correct some mistake that had been made. With regard to safety of the citation, the letter containing it required to be a registered letter, of which care was taken in delivery, and receipt being got both when the letter was posted and when it was delivered; and, therefore, there was not the smallest risk of fraud on that ground. The hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) said that all the respectable solicitors in Glasgow were opposed to the Bill. He (Mr. Anderson) had never found that the respectable solicitors in Glasgow were averse to expressing their opinions to him when they were opposed to a Bill, and he had not seen one letter from a solicitor complaining of the Bill. The only letter he had received from a solicitor was in favour of the Bill. The Bill was a great improvement in practice. He did not believe the Bill would be so destructive to the interests of the messengers-at-arms as the hon. and learned Member supposed. Though it might in some cases deprive the messenger-at-arms of a certain number of services, on the other hand, those who continued in the service could do it a great deal cheaper. It would cost him a great deal less to post a registered letter than to walk four or five miles away to serve a summons. There was, therefore, some compensation to the man for what he lost. He thought the Bill was an extremely good one, and it only extended a provision which was found to work well in small debt cases.


said, that, instead of there being no demand for legislation of this kind, he was two years ago instructed by several of his constituents to bring the matter before the Lord Advocate of the time, and to press upon him the necessity of bringing in legislation to cheapen the cost of the process, especially in country districts, where Sheriff's officer and messenger-at-arms were a long way off. He knew the subject had been under the consideration of the Government since that time, and he agreed that the Bill was a good Bill, and ought to pass. At the same time, he sympathized with the messengers; but it was reform, and in many just reforms individual interests might suffer. He was glad, however, the Lord Advocate had postponed the operation of the Bill until 1st January, which would be some relief to those men as giving them more time to consider their arrangements. There was something to be said in favour of registered letters, because it appeared that summonses were sometimes served open as a means of extorting money. He might mention the case of a most respectable man who had gone to the country, and his servant, who was left in the house, received an open summons against her master for a particular offence. The servant, of course, read it, and the solicitor for the gentleman had not the slightest doubt that summons was served generally for the purpose of extorting money. The new system would make it impossible for those designing persons to extort money from respectable people by this practice of serving open summonses.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 78; Noes 6: Majority 72.—(Div. List, No. 335.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered.

Clause 2 (Commencement of Act).

On the Motion of The LORD ADVOCATE, Amendment made, in page 1, line 11, by leaving out "October one thousand eight hundred and eighty-two," and inserting "January one thousand eight hundred and eighty-three."

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 (Execution).

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 1, to leave out the words "twenty-four hours after."—(Mr. Warton.)

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause agreed to.

Clause A (Fees).

Amendment proposed, In page 2, line 36, after the word "taxation," to insert the words "except when a Messenger at Arms or any officer of Court is obliged to travel to effect such service, when his customary fees shall be allowed."—(Mr. Warton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, that, as the Bill provided for the posting of registered letters, the question of travelling expenses did not arise. The allowance of fees was pro- vided for at the discretion of the Judges by Clause 6.

Question put, and negatived.

Clause agreed to.

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