HC Deb 14 February 1895 vol 30 cc777-82

MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough) moved as an Amendment to the Address,— And we humbly express our regret that Your Majesty has been unable to inform this House that the Resolution of this House of the 5th of May 1893, relating to the appointment of County Magistrates, has been fully carried out by Your Majesty's present advisers. He explained that the Resolution of May5, 1893, declared that appointments of magistrates should no longer be made only on the recommendation of lords lieutenant. The Lord Chancellor, replying to a deputation before that Resolution was passed, said that if a Resolution of the kind were carried he would consider all nominations that might be sent to him and make appointments without regard to the nominations of lords lieutenant. At least he was understood to say that. The Resolution was then carried by that House, but the grievance of which its supporters complained did not thereupon disappear, as they hoped it would. The present practice was this; when nominations for any district were, made to the Lord Chancellor, he sent in the names of the parties to the lord lieutenant and endeavoured to induce him to nominate them. If the endeavour failed, nothing further was done. In fact he doubted whether the Lord Chancellor had really made any appointment without first getting the consent of the lord lieutenant. He had heard of one case in which an appointment had been made in final opposition to the Lord Lieutenant, and that one case proved the rule. At any rate, the Radical Party objected to the existing practice, under which the Lord Chancellor made the nomination to the Lord Lieutenant, and really claimed the credit of the appointment. Under that practice, too, active and vigorous Radicals were, as a rule, excluded as far as possible. "What he wanted and sought by his Amendment, was some assurance from the Government that, in future nominations to the Bench, fair consideration should be given to qualified men of the Radical Party and to Nonconformists. They were perfectly content that the Lord Chancellor should make the fullest inquiries concerning the persons nominated, so long as those inquiries were not of a political character; for Radicals were quite as anxious as the Lord Chancellor, or as Tories, that unfit persons should not be placed on the Bench; and he believed there were very few cases of the kind on one side or the other. Only about 10 or 15 per cent, of the County Magistrates were Radicals or Nonconformists; and that, he contended, was a most unfair proportion, for Radicals and Nonconformists had as much right to a share in the administration of the law of the country as Tories and Churchmen. The Lord Chancellor had admitted in a letter to an hon. Member that he had a difficulty in finding a sufficient number of Radical gentlemen in the counties who possessed the necessary qualification. He recognised that such a difficulty might exist; but, at the same time, he thought more appointments of Radicals might be made than had been done. Tins property qualification handicapped the Party, and it ought to be abolished. He knew that the Government had promised to make an effort to do so, but time must be found for the purpose. In the meantime, however, something might be done to remedy the existing injustice. It might be said that Radicals and Nonconformists were not good enough for Justices of the Peace, but if they were good and strong enough to put a Government in power, and to appoint a Lord Chancellor, they ought certainly to be capable of filling the position of Magistrates. It was a curious state of things that, while a property qualification was required in England, none was necessary in either Scotland or Ireland. Why should this difference exist? Why should Radicals in England be thus handicapped? How would the argument with regard to the predominant partner apply in this matter? They did not expect that the discrepancy in the number of Tories and Radicals on the Bench could be at once redressed, but they did claim from the Government that, until the balance was to some extent corrected, Tories should be nominated to a much less extent than at present. As far as he had been able to ascertain, as many Tories as Radicals or Nonconformists had been nominated for the Bench since 1893, and that he urged was most unfair under the circumstances. He had no objection to Tories being appointed; all he claimed was that Radicals had a right to equal consideration. The demands on the time of the Government might be too heavy to enable them to properly deal with the question at the present moment; but, having admitted that the Radical Party were acting fairly and justly in this matter, it was their duty to assist them in their object as far as they could. It might be said that many of the Magistrates recently placed on the Bench had been appointed through the District Councils. To this he did not object, though the men appointed might be Tories, because they were practically elected by the people. He did not bring this matter forward by way of censure at all events on Members of the Government sitting in this House, but the present was the only opportunity open to him. He asked the Government, therefore, having regard to the rights of the Radical Party, and especially the Nonconformist Party, to do their best to see that the Crown carried out the Resolution of the 5th May, 1893, which they themselves on that day voted for.


said he had listened very carefully to his hon. Friend's speech, but he failed to appreciate what it was he charged the Government and the Lord Chancellor with. The Resolution to which he referred had been carried out in hundreds and thousands of cases, and, therefore, the complaint of the hon. Member fell to the ground. No doubt there had been a certain amount of disappointment where gentlemen had recommended a list, and the whole list had not been adopted. The truth, however, was, that a person in a responsible position like the Lord Chancellor, must make inquiries, and must be careful to satisfy himself as to the qualifications of those whom he placed on the Bench. The old system was, therefore, a bad one—as bad as it could possibly be. Some years ago he went into a certain county, which he would not name, and said to a fellow-traveller, "Do you think the Lord Lieutenant of this county would make me a Magistrate?" "I don't think he would," was the reply," because he never made a Liberal a Magistrate in his life, and never will. "The very last thing he ever desired was to be a Magistrate; he was not one, and never would be. He might mention, as a fact not generally known, that a man who was a Privy Councillor could swear himself in as a Magistrate at any time. That was a privilege he had never taken advantage of. He was quite sure the desire of the Lord Chancellor had been very largely to extend the limits of the appointments of the Magistrates, that there should be no distinction of creed in the matter, and that classes who had not been freely chosen in the past, should in future have a place on the Bench. A considerable number of artisans had been placed on the Bench with great advantage. Therefore it was not the case that the Resolution had not been acted upon, and it was being more fully acted upon every week and every month.

MR. CYRIL DODD (Essex, Maldon)

thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer was mistaken when he informed the House that artisans had been placed upon the county Bench. The Resolution dealt not with the Borough, but with the County Bench, and the reason why in England no artisans had been put on was that there was a property qualification, which practically closed the County Bench against working men. Nor could he admit that the Resolution of the House of Commons had been fully or adequately carried out, although it might be that sufficient time had not yet elapsed. He did not speak as having any personal grievance, because in the County of Essex, which he represented, no difficulty had been experienced in arriving at a list satisfactory to all parties. But, moving about the country a good deal, as he did, he found that a very considerable grievance existed. People had not been placed on the County Bench, for example, because they were Nonconformists. What it was hoped the Resolution would do, was this—that it would throw open the County Bench to men of all parties, and thereby to strengthen the sense of justice among all sections of the community. Instead of Magistrates being appointed by the Crown, on the nomination of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chancellors had in latter days come to abandon this part of their duties, and the lord lieutenant of each County had practically become the arbiter of who should and who should not be on the Bench. The time had come when the whole subject must be considered. The Chairmen of District Councils became Magistrates during their year of office. At the end of that term they would come off the Commission of the Peace, and, in many cases, they could not be re-appointed unless the property qualification were abolished. All they desired at present, however, was to impress upon the Government that it was its duty to do the best in the present condition of the law, and to urge on the Lord Chancellor that he should not restcontent with what he had done in some counties, but should endeavour more thoroughly to carry out the Resolution of the House. He did not ask that the Lord Chancellor should put as many Liberals as there were now Tories on the Bench; that would neither be possible nor desirable. But Liberals should no longer be debarred from serving their country as Magistrates simply because they were Liberals. It was unfortunate that there should be a feeling in the country that one Party was not being fully or fairly dealt with in the matter of the administration of justice. The House was concerned in seeing what effect was given to its Resolution. There were rumours of another Resolution, though he did not know when it was to be proposed. But, no doubt, it was a Resolution of the utmost importance. They wanted to know how Resolutions were carried out. The value of a Resolution depended on the force behind it. What was the force behind the Resolution with regard to the Magistrates? (An hon. MEMBER: "Very little.") It was the force of the Government who voted for it, and, as a supporter of that Government, he held that it was his duty to see that the Resolution was fully, fairly, and thoroughly carried out.


said would not put the House to the trouble of a Division, but he hoped the Government would take into consideration the feelings of their own Party, and endeavour to carry out the Resolution, of the House.

Amendment withdrawn.