HC Deb 20 March 1895 vol 31 cc1486-517
MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)

rose to move the Second Reading of this Bill. He said that the subject with which it dealt was admittedly one of great importance. Justices of the Peace had to transact a large part of the judicial business of the country, and they were also intrusted with a comparatively large share of administrative work. The constitution of the Magisterial Benches was, in the opinion of many people, unsatisfactory at present. The system under which appointments were made was out of date. The Lord Chancellor had the power of appointing to the Judicial Bench both in town and country, but he acted in two different ways. For towns the appointments were made by the Lord Chancellor of the day upon the recommendation of men who belonged to the Party to which he belonged himself. These recommendations were, in fact, made by the wire-pullers of the Party which was in Office. Political considerations thus affected appointments which ought to be free from political influences. A man was often recommended for appointment as a reward for mere pecuniary Party services, for the contribution of so much money to the funds. Appointments to county Benches were now made upon the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenant or upon the recommendation of the Member or candidate for a constituency. Here again Party considerations entered where they ought not to enter, men being appointed on account of their political opinions. As long as Lords Lieutenant, who were mostly Members of the House of Lords, should possess the power of recommending persons to the Lord Chancellor, so long would Party and social considerations enter into this question. But people ought to be chosen to sit on the Bench on the grounds of fitness and capacity. Because a man possessed great wealth, it did not follow that he was better qualified to discharge the important functions of a Justice of the Peace than a man of more modest means. Too often under the existing system men were appointed, not because they were suited to the Bench, but because the Bench was supposed to be suited to their position. It would be remembered that about this time last year a deputation waited upon the Lord Chancellor, and asked that his hands should be strengthened and that he should be allowed to appoint directly to the Bench without the intervention of the Lord Lieutenant, and the Lord Chancellor then said:— That the constitution of the Bench in many counties was extremely unsatisfactory and prejudical to the public interest, that Lords Lieutenant were too much in the hands of the local magistrates, and that the present system was in many cases virtually one of co-optation, subject to political proclivities. He might be told that a change had been introduced since that time, but the change was not completely satisfactory. The Lord Chancellor had now the power to appoint directly, it was true, but it was impossible for him to make appointments which would be satisfactory to all the inhabitants of a county. The Lord Chancellor was, after all, a Member of the Government of the day, and as such, it was extremely difficult for him to make other than political appointments. In his opinion the best way to exclude Party considerations from these appointments, would be to allow the representatives of the people in different localities to make nominations to the Lord Chancellor, a power of veto being given to him in order that he might prevent men from sitting on the Bench who were not fitted for the position. The power of recommendation ought to rest solely with the representatives of the people. Then arose the question, which were the best local bodies to intrust with this power? It might be argued that the smaller bodies ought to be chosen, because they were more in touch with the localities which they represented. On the other hand, it might be thought that it would be better to choose a body responsible to the whole county in respect of county matters. His proposal was that the County Council should make nominations to the Lord Chancellor, and that if the Chairman of a District Council should send up names to the County Council, such names should be considered by the County Council for recommendation. This would insure the County Councils keeping in touch with the wants of the districts. He proposed, then, to empower the Town and County Councils to make the nominations, and the Bill provided for the formation of committees, to be called "Nominating Committees," and to consist of not less than four and not more than ten Councillors. Upon these Committees would be the Chairmen of County Councils and Mayors of Town Councils, and it would be the business of the nominating Committees to nominate men who were suitable for the positions of justices of the peace. The Lord Chancellor would have the power to veto any unsuitable person, but neither he nor the Lord Lieutenant would be able to place on the Bench any man who was not nominated by the representatives of the people in their district. The Bill proposed to remove any Magistrate who had not attended once in the year, unless within twelve months he furnished a sufficient excuse for such non-attendance to the Lord Chancellor. It was further proposed to entirely abolish the property qualification, and he thought both sides would agree that it ought to be abolished in all these appointments. Men should be chosen, not because of the amount of property they possessed, but because of their hearts and brains, and because they were people who were considered best able to manage the affairs of their localities, or perform the functions attaching to the position of a justice of the peace. It was not work which required any great ability, but it did require that those who performed it should be men possessed of common sense, fair-minded, and of good, sound judgment. Again, what they required to have on their benches were men of all classes of society. The fault of their system today was that the justices did not represent all classes. They were too much of one class. They had got the Bench full of the land-owning class, with only a few tradesmen, who had been appointed lately. What they wanted were men of all classes, and they might depend upon it the Bench would not be sufficiently respected by the people of the country, and be in touch with the feelings, wants, and desires of the masses of the people until this change was brought about. He did not make any accusations against the present justices of the peace. He believed they were men who were faithfully doing their duty, and giving up a large amount of their valuable time in order that they might devote attention to the administration of the judicial affairs of the country. He thought they ought to be proud that they had men who were willing to give up so much of their time at no expense to the country. But he contended that on account of the position of these men they were not able to look at questions in the same way as many of the humbler people of the country could. A man, for instance, who was a great sportsman, would be rather apt to look upon poaching as too great an offence. Many of their justices regarded the matters which were brought before them with, perhaps, too narrow a view. They wanted on the Bench not only the landowners of the country, but the tradesmen of the country, not only people belonging to one church, but people of different views as to religion, so that when questions came up they might be looked at, not with one set of eyes alone, but that many sets of eyes and different views might be brought to bear upon the consideration of the matters arising. If their Benches were now more representative of the people they would, he was convinced, he more highly respected by the people, and it was because he was anxious to make the Bench more in touch with the people, and more widely composed of men of different opinions and views that he had no hesitation in submitting this Bill for the consideration of the House, and he hoped they should pass it.

MR. A. J. WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)

supported the Bill. In Committee on the Local Government Bill of 1888, he observed, he moved an Amendment which proposed substantially to give the nominations for Justices of the Peace in counties to the County Councils. He entirely agreed with his hon. Friend that the modification of that proposal adopted in the Bill—namely, that thought the nomination should be made by the County Council, the work of selection, should be entrusted to a Committee of the County Council, was a very desirable one. The Amendment he moved in 1888 was really disinterred from a Bill brought in more than 50 years previously. It was, substantially, an original clause in the Municipal Corporations Bill of 1836, as brought in by Lord John Russell. It was defeated in the House of Lords, but as far back as the time when the Liberal Government proposed to reform their municipal corporations, that democratic proposal was introduced by Lord John Russell that the County Council for any borough should nominate as many persons as it thought fit, to be placed on the Commission of the Peace for the Borough. His hon. Friend had referred to the very important new departure which had been made upon the Resolution of this House by the Lord Chancellor. During the last two or three years most Members, he had no doubt, had been called upon more or less to take some part in reference to the work of selection by the Lord Chancellor, and he was bound to say that anything more invidious than that duty he did not think it possible to conceive, nor, in his opinion, could there be a position so unsatisfactory as the present position of the Lord Chancellor with reference to these appointments. He had to rely, more or less, upon information which he could not test; he had to rely to a great extent upon the suggestions and information afforded him by the Party to which he belonged. He did not think that was the way in which they should go about the selection to these important judicial posts. They had, therefore, to consider what, with reference to the great democratic movement which had taken place in their local government, was the best course to be adopted. During the last five years it had been his privilege to be a Member of the Committee of the County Council of Glamorganshire. That Committee was entrusted with the framing of a scheme of education, under the Intermediate Education Act, for the whole county. Under that Act the County Council Committee was composed of three nominated members appointed by the County Council and two appointed by the Government. The Government of the day was Conservative at the time of the formation of this Committee, and they put on two Conservative Members. The Committee sat five years, doing most important work, and his experience had been that a Committee of that sort, acting under a grave sense of responsibility, whatever its political opinions might be, came to the discharge of those duties under that sense of responsibility, and would discharge them without reference to political leanings. A Committee of the County Council would, he believed, do admirable service in obtaining information, and ultimately in nominating those who should be put upon the Bench. He was convinced, after careful consideration, that this expedient would be of the greatest possible service to the Lord Chancellor. A change in the present system could not be long delayed, and he commended the present proposal as worthy of the consideration of the House. The only way in which they could avoid the exercise of political and social influence in the appointment of Magistrates was to devolve the duty of nomination, as well as of selection, upon the responsible representatives of the people. Then they would have the primary element of a proper unpaid magistracy—a representation of all classes without reference to position and without reference to property qualification. He could not conclude without bearing his personal testimony to the manner in which, under most serious difficulties, the Lord Chan-Chancellor had endeavoured, at all events in the County of Glamorgan, to make a selection which represented all classes; and there could not be a more conspicuous instance of success upon the Petty Sessional Bench than the appointments made from among the working men of that county. In supporting this Bill he was adopting a self-denying course, because the effect of the first section would be that he would cease to be a Magistrate. But he frankly admitted that he did not feel he was fitted to be a Magistrate, and he would gladly be relieved of what was to him an unpleasant duty.

MR. J. GRANT LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)

rose to move that the Bill be read a second time on this day six months. If a Bill of this character was required, it ought, he thought, to be brought in by someone of very considerable legal qualifications, and he did not think the gentlemen whose names were on the back of the Bill possessed those qualifications. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading stated that the Bench at present was in an unsatisfactory condition, but he did not give one instance where the administration of justice by the local Bench was opposed by the people of the district. Hon. gentlemen seemed to consider that the Lord Chancellor acted only on the advice of wirepullers. But the Lord Chancellor was not bound to accept the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenant. There was no reason why every Parish meeting in England should not send a list of names to the Lord Chancellor. Both the mover and the seconder poured unlimited praise on the present state of things; and yet they sought to abolish the whole system. He agreed with the mover that magistrates were discharging their duties faithfully, and that politics ought not to enter into the question of their appointment. But the hon. Member's manner of carrying out his desire was most singular. The Lord Chancellor was a political officer; but he was an officer of immense dignity, and the officer least likely to be influenced by political considerations in discharging most important functions. The Bill divided itself into three parts; and the principle of the Bill was so much involved in each that it would be impossible to make it acceptable by amendment. The first part of the Bill disqualified any Magistrate who, without due and sufficient cause, did not attend once a year to his duties. He was not indisposed to agree with that condition. Such an arrangement would give a man an opportunity of retiring gracefully from a position which possibly he did not seek. But the whole Bill proposed to restrict the power of the Lord Chancellor. He believed that the deputation to the Lord Chancellor last year desired to set his hands free in the exercise of his authority, but this Bill tied his hands. The second part of the Bill prevented the Lord Chancellor from appointing anybody except those who had been nominated by a Committee of the County Council. The Lord Chancellor, however, had the power of vetoing the nomination. That was not trusting the people. Of all the methods of nominating magistrates the proposal of this Bill surely was the worst. There were political parties in every County Council, and they had seen cases where a party with a majority of only one or two had made nominations to public offices entirely from its own side. One or two illustrations had been afforded very recently. He fancied that, when that Committee was nominated by some of the County Councils, they would nominate persons only of their own views, and they alone had the slightest chance of being made magistrates. The third portion of the Bill dealt with the qualification of magistrates. He was not altogether anxious to fight against that particular part of the Bill. He was no great believer in property qualifications; but, on the other hand, he was not altogether opposed to the property qualification. To have a competency was, at any rate, likely to indicate a person who would be impartial, and who would be incorruptible. He did not deny that men without any such competency were perfectly honest and straightforward, just and fair-minded; but he did not believe anyone would contend that, if a man possessed nothing, he was the more likely to make an impartial Judge than if he had property of his own. He should prefer to hear some sounder reasons for interfering with the present condition of affairs than had been adduced; and certainly he should like to hear the views of the Government. It was a question of the greatest importance, because politics should be left out of account in the appointment of Magistrates.

MR. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)

formally seconded the Motion.


The first statement I have to make with reference to this Bill is that I have received to-day from the Lord Chancellor, who is probably a better judge than I am of this subject, an intimation that he is favourable to it. What is the position which the hon. Member has taken up with reference to this matter? This Bill contains three propositions. One is that magistrates who do not attend to their magisterial duties should be removed from the Roll. The hon. Member does not object to that proposal; and there are other assemblies besides magistrates who do not attend very often unless it is on a question in which they are interested. I refer to an Assembly not very far removed from our own. In many counties there is never a great attendance of magistrates except when there is some place to give away. Then I have observed that all the magistrates who do not attend on other occasions, say, when there is a Chief Constable to be appointed, put in an appearance. That is a scandal which ought to be removed, and the men who hold these high judicial appointments ought not to become in public opinion mere walking gentlemen on the stage. I go to another point; and that is the qualification. I do not understand that the hon. Member objects to the removal of the qualification. He says men who possess nothing are not persons who would be very fitted to be magistrates. What does he mean by "nothing"? Does he mean that the necessary qualification is to be a qualification of real property, and that everyone who has no real property of a certain amount is a person who has "nothing"? I cannot understand why a man who has £100 earned by weekly wages should not be capable of becoming a magistrate. Why is it to be property of a particular description? I do not want to have a man in receipt of relief a magistrate, but the class of magistrate in a county should a magistrate who represented all classes of the community. That is the important point. There is nothing more injurious to the administration of justice than—I can speak from long experience—a prevalent belief that the administration of justice in the counties is confined exclusively to one class of the community. That belief has a most injurious effect on the public mind, and though I know and believe that the magistrates do their duty in all respects, it is a prejudice against them that they only represent one particular class of the community. I remember in old days, when Sir James Graham was at the Home Office, he stated in this House that it was found necessary, in consequence of public opinion in the country on the subject, to provide that all convictions under the Game Laws should receive a special review of the Home Office. Why? Because he knew from public opinion that no convictions under the Game Laws were enforced in consequence of the magistrates being confined to one particular class of the community. That is a great objection, and when you have a responsible Lord Chancellor, he ought to have the liberty to appoint persons of all classes of the community whom he thinks fitted for the Magistracy, apart altogether from a special qualification in any particular class of property. On that ground, therefore, I do not see that any objection whatever can be taken to those two parts of the Bill. Then it is said that the recommendations coming from the Lord Chancellor should go through the local authority. That is a very important part of the Bill. There have been proposals made for elective magistrates. I have always been against them. It would be a very evil principle to introduce in this country; but I have said that in my opinion an election of the character proposed in this Bill would be a very proper election. Let us consider what is the position of the Lord Chancellor at present. It is quite true that he is not bound to receive or to act on the nomination of the Lord Lieutenant. That is absolutely necessary. The history of the nominations of the Lord Lieutenants in many counties is such as to have unquestionably, in present and past generations, excluded to a great degree from the Magistracy, persons who belonged to all classes and all creeds. It is useless to deny the fact that in a great many cases the appointments have been made of those belonging to one creed, to one class, and to one political opinion. That may be denied, but the denial would be contrary to the experience of anyone who knows the country life of this country. It is quite true that the Lord Chancellor is not bound by those recommendations; he may go outside them. But to whom is he to go? The Lord Chancellor has not the local knowledge, and therefore he is obliged to rely on recommendations that are made to him, not always very trustworthy. I suppose hon. Members know the kind of pressure under which Members of Parliament are placed in order to recommend persons who are political supporters in the counties, of whom they themselves know very little. That is the source of information which the hon. Gentleman describes as wire-pulling; but the present system is more exposed to wire-pulling than any system you can conceive. I hope we shall get rid of that, just as we have got rid of recommendations by hon. Members for places—a source of great evil to the men who had to make them. I should like to see the recommendations to the Magistracy put beyond the reach of hon. Members on both sides of the House. What does this Bill recommend? It recommends that the responsible Local Authority should vouch to the Lord Chancellor for the men whom they think are fitted for such a position. What can be more reasonable or sound than such a principle as that? They are the men who know the persons. Prima facie, they exercise that responsibility, not privately or secretly, but in the face of day; and the Chairman of the County Council and the Committee are responsible, in the presence of their constituencies and of the locality generally in which they live, for the recommendations they make. It is quite true that in many County Councils there is a political predominance—a political predominance of which Gentlemen opposite have no reason to complain. But I have faith in local government of this character, and I do not believe that County Councils will abuse that power. They will use it in the presence of people who know what they are doing, and they will vouch to the Lord Chancellor men who from their position and their character are likely to be good and worthy magistrates. Surely that is a much better system than any that at present exists. It is better than the sole recommendation of the Lord Lieutenant, of which nobody knows anything. It is far better than the private representations to which the Lord Chancellor must now necessarily have recourse in the nomination of magistrates. You will have responsible local authorities sending in lists of gentlemen to the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor is not bound to appoint everybody who is there nominated, and I myself a n not disposed to support the proposal that the Lord Chancellor should be limited to those nominations; the discretion of the Lord Chancellor ought to be unlimited. It is very desirable the Lord Chancellor should not be responsible only to the local bodies, but that he should preserve his present responsibility, which is a responsibility to the Executive of Parliament. Therefore I recommend my hon. Friends who are promoting this Bill to alter the measure in that respect. But if you are to have a commending authority, how can you have a better one than the responsible local body, whether in a county or a borough? What objection is there to such a proposal? The hon. and learned Member said that if the county Members had had sufficient notice they would have come down to oppose the Bill. On what ground are they going to oppose it? Because they think magistrates who do not attend are people who ought to be supported in their present position? Because they will have nobody on the Bench who has not got a real property qualification?

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

It is not so now.


What is not so?


It is not now confined to a real property qualification.


What do you call a real property qualification? Can a man who gets two guineas a week at wages become a county magistrate? I know men who were as fit as any man to be on the Bench, and the only reason why they were not appointed was that they had not the qualification now required. Is it intended by this qualification to keep such men off the Bench? I think the present disqualification ought to be removed. I cannot understand what it is county gentlemen oppose. Is it the fitness of the County Council to recommend men for appointment? I should have thought, after the experience they have had, that they would have had confidence in their County Councils. I certainly can answer for the boroughs. They have confidence in their Councils. Those Councils know their fellow-citizens, and they are far better able than anybody else, than any Lord Lieutenant, than any Member of Parliament, than any private individual, to tender to the Lord Chancellor counsels he ought to have in selecting men as magistrates. I therefore entirely resent what the hon. and learned Member said—namely, that we are weakening the position of the responsible magistrates to administer justice in this country. On the contrary, in my opinion, we are taking the proper measures to see that the fittest men are appointed magistrates. We are not doing anything to introduce a political element into the question; we are making the best possible provision against it. We leave the responsibility where it now is—viz., upon the Lord Chancellor, who is the highest executive judicial officer in the country; and as to the advice and the information he is to have on the subject, we recommend that that should rest with men who have the best means of knowing and of exercising that responsibility in the face of day and of the community in which the magistrates are to administer justice. The Lord Chancellor, so far from feeling that the proposal is any impeachment of his authority, so far from feeling that it makes his task more difficult, feels it would be in principle one that will assist him very much in the performance of his duties. Under such circumstances I, on the part of the Government, give a hearty support to Bill.

MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said, the right hon. Gentleman, as the Leader of a great Party, would not consent to the inclusion in the Bill of Clause 13. If that was gone, what was left of the operative part of the Bill? What was there now in the present law to prevent a Town Council or a County Council from making nominations? Those who had experience in these matters knew perfectly well that unofficially, and, indeed, sometimes openly and with all the appearance of official action, such nominations were made. His purpose was to show that the evils produced by such nominations were quite as great as the evils produced by private recommendations usually sought in these cases. He knew of a case in which, on the Lord Chancellor seeking to make appointments in a borough, it was decided locally to place the thing on what was called a non-political footing, and, accordingly a joint list was was agreed upon; the Liberals nominated their men, and the Conservatives theirs. One of the Parties—the Liberals—did not select their best men, and would not contend they selected their best men, and the result was that better men were put on the Bench than the Liberal Party had themselves recommended. If the recommendations were made by representative bodies chosen, as they must be chosen in the present day, upon political grounds, it stood to reason that the nominations must be made, and would be made, as a reward of zealous political services. Suppose that a County Council had a certain political party in a clear majority, did anyone suppose that when there was a chance of making nominations to the Lord Chancellor, and active political men put forward their claims, the majority of the Council would dare to disregard those claims? Speaking to a deputation in November, 1893, the present Lord Chancellor said that names had been put before him by Members of Parliament of those who were grossly unfitted to be put on the Judicial Bench. The nominations were avowedly made on political grounds, and made by responsible persons, such as Members of Parliament. Was it contended that a Member of Parliament was less responsible than a County Council?


I venture to say he knows less about the matter than a County Council.


undertook to say that was not so. A County Council was subject to, and was swayed by, motives which were often more likely to mislead it than the motives which, according to the Lord Chancellor, misled Members of Parliament in making the recommendations. Of course the Lord Chancellor was in favour of the Bill. Why? Because the action of his Party had placed him in a very ridiculous and [...]miliating position, and burdened him with duties which no Lord Chancellor would be expected to discharge. It had been said there was positive evidence that these political recommendations had resulted in disaster. They had the actual placing on the Bench of men who were not fitted to be there.


I made no such statement.


(referring to his notes) said, he was obliged to say the Lord Chancellor only stated that such men were recommended. No case could be shown of a Lord Lieutenant having recommended a man who had been convicted of an indictable offence, as was admitted to have happened in the case of one of these political recommendations to the Lord Chancellor. The Bill was not honest enough to propose direct popular election to the Magistracy, but it was none the less bad, because it would bring about popular election in substance if not in form. There was nothing in the Bill, for instance, to prevent a political majority, politically elected on a local public body, from nominating themselves to the Bench as Magistrates. It was said that at present Lords Lieutenant made appointments to the Bench solely on political grounds. That he denied. What would be said by hon. Gentlemen opposite if he were to contend that the Lords Lieutenant appointed men of one political party because men could not be found in the other political party who were fit to sit on the Bench? And yet one statement was not less ridiculous than the other. Personally, he had no desire to fight hard for the retention of the property qualification; but there was something to be said in its favour. There were other things besides popular election, which conferred representative character, and one of these was the possession of property, which gave not only a representative character, but an interest in local affairs. However, if it were not going to be laid down by the Bill that the Lord Chancellor was not to be allowed to go outside the nominations of the local authority, it did not become necessary to fight so hard for the property qualification. To sum up, his objections to the Bill were that it would stereotpye and perpetuate the system of nomination on political grounds; that while it would give the preponderance of nominations to one political party, it made no provision to bring that preponderance to an end after the lapse of time; and that it made no provision either for the representation of political minorities on the Bench, which the promotion of the Bill professed to be the object they had at heart.

MR. CYRIL DODD (Essex, Maldon)

was glad to hear the statement from the other side that politics should have nothing to do with appointments to the County Benches. That was what the Liberal Party had been striving for for many years; but unfortunately politics had had a great deal to do with the appointments to the County Benches, with the result that when the present Government came into power only from 8 to 10 per cent, of the Magistrates in England and Wales belonged to the Liberal Party. The hon. Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield said He was anxious that the minority, whatever it might be, should have representation on the County Benches. The Liberal Party were also anxious that that should be the case. But what had been the state of things in the past? It had not been a question, of minority of the majority, but simply a question of the politics of the Lord Lieutenant. He was sorry to say, that as a general rule, it was hopeless for anyone to expect a nomination to the county bench unless he was of the same political Party as the Lord Lieutenant. He was, therefore, glad to hear in the House a general consensus of opinion that the fitness of a person, and not his politics, ought to influence the Lord Lieutenant in nominating him a magistrate; and he was also pleased to find that the property qualification had apparently no defender in any quarter of the House. He pointed out that there was a very considerable difference between the modes in which magistrates were appointed in the boroughs and in the counties. In boroughs there was no property qualification, and the appointments were made by the Lord Chancellor, who sometimes, but not generally, paid attention to the wishes of the Town Councils. In the counties the nominations were made by the Lords Lieutenant, and there was a property qualification of either an income of £100 a year from freehold or long leasehold land, or the occupancy for two years of a house which was assessed for the Inhabited House Duty of t£100 a year. Therefore, while in the boroughs justice could be administered by men of all classes, in the counties no one could administer it but persons of considerable social position. The promoters of the Bill contended it was a good thing to have justice administered in counties and boroughs by men of all classes, if proper men in all classes could be found to do it. The Bill had, therefore, four main propositions—first, the abolition of nominations by the Lord Lieutenant; second, empowering local authorities to nominate; third, the removal of the property qualification; and, fourth, the removal from the Bench of gentlemen who did not take the trouble to attend. With regard to the third proposition, he did not think there was any one in the House who would venture to say that a property qualification was the sole qualification necessary in a man to administer justice. What really was required in a magistrate was a sense of justice and a determination to do right, and if that could be combined with some knowledge of the law, a perfect magistrate would be obtained. He thought the Bill on the whole an excellent measure, and he was prepared to give it his heartiest support.

SIR H. FLETCHER (Sussex, Lewes)

said, that as one who had been a county magistrate for 35 years, and a member of the County Council since its formation, he must take exception to some of the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The County Council would not, in his opinion, be a proper body to entrust with the nomination or the recommendation to the Lord Chancellor of gentlemen who should be justices of the peace. He would point out that there was in existence a body which in his own county sent to the Lord Lieutenant, or to the Lord Chancellor, the names of persons qualified to act as magistrates. In Sussex it had been the practice during many years for the chairman of the petty sessional division to send in the names of gentlemen whom he knew—and there were none in a better position to know—to possess the proper qualifications for a justice of the peace. Some months ago he, as chairman of his own petty sessional division, sent in the names of three gentleman to the Lord Chancellor—two of them Conservative and one a Liberal. The Lord Chancellor placed upon the commission of the peace one gentleman holding Conservative principles, and one holding Liberal principles, whose name he himself personally sent in, struck out the name of his other Conservative friend, and placed on a gentleman belonging to the Liberal Party.


That is co-optation.


retorted that it might be co-optation, but he was perfectly satisfied with the arrangement that had been made. He objected to the County Council being the nominating body, because, in his opinion, they had quite enough to do at the present time; while, with regard to the idea of placing working men on the commission of the peace, from his long experience of country life as a magistrate, he was satisfied there were very few bonâ fide working men who would be able to find the time for the duties. He knew many men who had to come up to attend Committees on some 33 days during the year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might think he spoke as an old Tory, but he was not that in the least. He was ready to go with the times so long as the times advanced steadily and did not make any too radical change. But the present Bill was a most extreme measure. The property qualification ought to be supported. What would happen if there were on a County Council a large preponderance of the temperance party, and they recommended the placing on the commission only those who supported temperance views? The Bill was bad in its main principle, and he should consider it his duty to give it every opposition in his power.


said, that if the friends of this Bill had been anxious to obtain some arguments in its favour, they could not have found anything that would more heartily satisfy them than the very frank speech of the hon. and gallant Member. He had let the House into the secrets of the petty sessional division over which, no doubt, he very admirably presided in the county of Sussex. He had the honesty to tell the House the condition of things in this particular division. Now, it might be impertinent to inquire into details, but he might assume there were, at any rate, a fair proportion of Tories upon that Bench, and that every now and again, just for the sake of appearances, they let in a Liberal. But how did they get him in? Why, it was a little club. These gentlemen considered when they met at Petty Sessions— Now who would be a pleasant fellow to have amongst as a Justice of the Peace? Shall it be A or shall it be B? B is a Liberal, but still he is a good fellow; let's have him, and so the little matter was arranged. And this was how justice was administered in the petty sessional division of Sussex over which the hon. and gallant Gentleman presided! Surely he must admit that, except under very special circumstances that must be connected with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's presidency, such a system would be very likely to prove a failure.


(interposing) reminded the learned Solicitor General that the system, as he had said, obtained in the whole county, and not merely in his own district. And as to only now and then letting in a Liberal, they had great difficulty in finding any Liberals at all.


said, that was because they could not find them with the property qualification. They either did not live, these unfortunate people, in sufficiently highly-rated houses, or they had not got £100 a year from lands and buildings, or they were not good fellows. It turned out, too, that this was a bigger club than he had thought, because it was not only attached to one petty sessional division, but was a big county club. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said this was a terrible Radical measure. It would probably surprise the hon. and gallant Member to know that in 1835 a provision that the appointment of borough Magistrates should rest with the Town Council—not with the Lord Chancellor—was included in a Bill brought before Parliament in that year, and no doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite would at once appreciate why it did not become law. It was rejected by the House of Lords. Lord John Russell, in dealing with the Lords' Amendments on September 7th, 1835, made a speech in which he pointed out that the House of Commons, in the last Debate on the subject, approved, by a large majority, that the power of nomination should be in the hands of Town Councils, but this proposal did not become law because the House of Lords rejected it. Yet the hon. Member was surprised that such a proposal should be made. He respected the hon. and gallant Gentleman for having the courage of his convictions, but what real grounds could be advance for retaining a property qualification? There was no property qualification in Scotland for the election of Justices either in borough or county. There was no property qualification required for the post of Her Majesty's Judges. Then why should it be persevered in in the present instance in this part only of the United Kingdom, when, as he was confident the hon. and gallant Gentleman must admit, it operated in many cases very disadvantageously for the public good in preventing men who were otherwise fitted for the position from taking their place on the magisterial bench?


said, he thought the hon. and learned Member had scarcely convinced the House that there was any demand for the Bill. He admitted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had no great difficulty in showing that the present state of the law with respect to the appointment of magistrates was eminently unsatisfactory, and certainly nobody would be concerned to defend, in every detail, the existing system. The right hon. Gentleman had given instances of the abuses which had come to his knowledge in connection with partisan appointments, but it certainly should be recognised that those abuses, relevant as they might be to a remote period, could hardly be validly urged in relation to the present time, so far, at any rate, as Lords Lieutenant were concerned. Now, as to the property qualification, he was free to confess that he did not see that any very great advantage was to be secured by retaining it as it at present existed, yet he believed that in many instances a property qualification might fairly, and with advantage, be enforced in spirit in the appointment of Justices, a qualification which, under 38 and 39 Vic., cap. 54, was no longer confined, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had inadvertently stated, to that of real estate. He said just now that the present state of things was eminently unsatisfactory, and they had recently had proof of the fact. They had witnessed the spectacle of the Lord Chancellor being practically mobbed in his own official room in connection with this matter, and of a deputation who pressed upon him receiving a well-deserved snubbing at his hands. He was not surprised at the Lord Chancellor being reluctant to receive advice tendered to him in such a fashion, though, unfortunately, he virtually accepted and acted upon it in too many instances. What was the result of the reluctant compliance of the Lord Chancellor with the suggestions which were conveyed to him in this disrespectful and dictatorial manner? Cases had been mentioned more than once in the House in which men appointed through this dictation made their first appearance in Court, not on the bench but in the dock. Another and more remarkable case still had been quoted, in which a person, who first made his appearance in Court in that particular part to which he had referred, was a man whose nomination had been declined by the Lord Lieutenant of the county, and who had been appointed over the head of the Lord Lieutenant at the dictation of the hon. Member for Peterborough and his friends. Those facts, he thought, went far to prove the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the present system was eminently unsatisfactory. Then, as to the system proposed by the Bill, that a popularly elected local body should be the authority for recommending persons for nomination to the Bench, they had recently had some evidence in London how a popularly elected body set about to discharge its judicial duties. He would not go into details of any particular case, but it had been indubitably proved before the High Court that, at any rate, one leading member of the local body to which he had alluded, entered into a back parlour conspiracy and into collusion with one of the parties to a suit which it had to judicially determine. If recent experience had taught them one fact more plainly than another, it was that popularly elected local bodies—elected as they were amidst all the controversies of partisan disputes inseparably connected with such elections—were ipso facto disqualified for such a duty as the Bill sought to impose upon them. He remembered that in 1867 the then Lord Chancellor—Lord Chelmsford—laid down a rule for his own guidance in those matters, to the effect that, in consequence of a Vote of that House, he would not appoint any borough magistrates unless he had, beforehand, the approval of the Town Council. Now, he thought at that time that that was a monstrous decision for the Lord Chancellor to arrive at, and he did not conceal his opinion. The result was that several thoroughly qualified gentlemen upon a list equally representative of both Parties, whose names he had presented to the Lord Chancellor for nomination to a borough bench withdrew their consent to serve. He could conceive nothing less calculated to conduce to the dignity of the magisterial bench than that its members should have to pass through the ordeal of an indirect popular election, and have their claims and qualifications openly canvassed, in no reserved terms, before a popularly elected local body. That, in his opinion, was the most objectionable part of the Bill. They had been told that under this Bill all classes would be represented on the Bench. What actual foundation was there for such an allegation? Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer undertake to assure them that the popularly elected local bodies should so set to work as to accept for nomination persons of all classes? What had been the general experience as to the election of Aldermen of Municipal Corporations all over the Kingdom? There had been one point which almost all those elections had in common, namely, that, while Party influences were usually supreme, the nominations had been almost entirely confined to one class. Instances where Municipal Corporations had chosen any persons outside their own social surroundings were few and rare, and those who were elected were almost invariably members of the middle class, to the exclusion of what was generally known as the landed class, while he did not remember any instance in which working-class members had been placed on the Corporations. If, therefore, popular election by local bodies was likely to have this effect, it would certainly be a new departure. With regard to the provision for the removal of non-attending justices, he thought that would operate very harshly, and would in many cases be inimical to the public interest. It would in the first place, he thought, lead to the removal of active useful men who had other occupations. It would introduce a system very like the practice of scoring divisions in the House, and judging therefrom of the legislative activity of members, for Justices of the Peace would put in an appearance, perhaps for one day, just to qualify under this Bill. Justices had other duties to discharge besides going to Quarter and Petty Sessions, and some of the most essential of such duties were those in connection with the granting of summonses and formal proceedings of that kind. To sum the Bill up, it seemed to him there was no requirement for it at all. The Lord Chancellor now was perfectly entitled to consult any person he thought fit with regard to the appointments to the County or Borough Bench. He would not, at this moment, say anything as to the unwise departure from the old constitutional usage under which the Lord Lieutenant of the County was held responsible for nominations, but even as the law had been interpreted in recent years, there was nothing to prevent the Lord Chancellor, if he thought fit, from applying to the Chairman of the County Council, or of the Standing Joint Committee, or anyone well versed in county affairs. He understood that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was opposed to Clause 13 of the Bill; but under this Bill, even with the omission of that clause, the Lord Chancellor would find himself placed in the unpleasant position of having either to accept en bloc a list of persons submitted by the local authority, or incur the odium of discriminating between a selection. The position now of the unpaid magistrates was an unsatisfactory one. He believed that there was a great risk of the public confidence being withdrawn when magistrates were appointed on avowedly political grounds, or as the result of lobbying and intrigue, and all the devices associated with a popular election. He confessed he should regard the extension of the system of the appointment of stipendiary magistrates for judicial work as a step in the right direction. The idea that the Bench ought to be composed of a certain number of members of one class and a certain number of another was a farce. What we required were honourable and conscientious men to discharge their duties without fear, favour, or affection. He thought this was a most unnecessary and mischievous Bill, and hoped the House would not consent to it.

SIR A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

said, he could give the right hon. Member a very ready explanation of the fact that municipal bodies had drawn their aldermen from the same class as themselves. It was because they had almost universally elected aldermen from amongst themselves. Thus only those were selected who had undergone the ordeal of election, and the supplementation of their number was left to a further ordeal of election. Thus there was nothing in the right hon. Gentleman's argument from the action of the Corporations. There seemed to be a very general impression that the existing system of appointing magistrates was open, not only to criticism, but almost to condemnation. The appointments were not, in the boroughs, almost absolutely political; they were made by a high political official, who was a Party politician, and the qualification was generally Party services. It had been suggested that the nominations should be made from a joint list, but this also seemed to be open to objection. The result of the present system was very often that there was no qualification whatever that could be alleged in favour of an applicant, except that he had rendered some Party service. In the counties it was better, but there, too, the appointments were undoubtedly apt to be too much based on social considerations, and the result was the restriction too much of the magistracy to the landed classes and chiefly to that one class; and there was the graver objection, also, that many who had done really good public service had been overlooked in consequence of their not being personally known to the Lord Lieutenant. The Bill would obviate this and give the honour to the best men and those most entitled to it. The Bill, he thought, would be of great service in subjecting the appointments to the influence of public opinion, and in substituting the qualification of public work for private self-seeking. There were many things that would justify the nomination of magistrates by the Local Authorities. Borough Councils were now consulted about nominations, and could place objections before the Lord Chancellor. Some members of Local Authorities were ex officio magistrates, like the Mayors, who were the chief magistrates in boroughs, and also sat ex officio on some county benches; the Chairmen of District Councils, and ex-Mayors after their year of office. He was aware that Local Authorities recommended persons as magistrates now, but it was a privilege and not a right to do so, and probable strictly ultra vires, and it was chiefly done after the Lord Chancellor had consulted the Council, and then only rarely. He believed that the nomination of magistrates by local governing bodies amenable to public opinion would have its advantages. The pecuniary qualifications that had hitherto been required for magistrates were against the whole tendency of the times. No qualification was required for a Mayor or Chairman of a District Council. They did not want qualifications, but qualification—familiarity with public work and service, an intuitive instinct in the administration of justice, and some legal knowledge. The Bill would add the qualification of public service to the pecuniary one which at present existed, and by securing the representation of a larger number of classes upon the magisterial bench would give greater confidence in the administration of justice and create a deeper sympathy with the administration of the law. He objected to Section 11, and thought the Bill should only give an additional public channel of nomination in place of the present private and secret one, which was irresponsible and not open to criticism. But, subject to this, he would not interfere with the existing system, but would, by erasing the 11th clause, give the double opportunity of nomination.

MR. J. C. MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)

said, that in the constituency which he represented, containing 9,600 working men, there was not a single resident magistrate, and many of these working men would make as capable magistrates as many of the Members of that House or the other. They returned two Moderates at the recent County Council election, and he would have no hesitation in intrusting to a constituency like that the recommendation of magistrates.

MR. A. F. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)

said, that, before attendance in that House occupied so much of his time, he regularly attended two county benches, and was struck with the efficiency and the self-sacrifice which the magistrates showed in the discharge of their duties. He had never heard any complaints against them nor of their being influenced by petty motives in the administration of justice; and, speaking for himself, he had great admiration for the way the magistrates discharged their duties. It had been said there should be more magistrates. A great many more magistrates had been appointed. A return was moved for last week of those who had been appointed magistrates by being elected chairmen of District Councils. That return was granted, and until it had been prepared he thought they were premature in pressing that Bill. An hon. Member had said that nearly all the magistrates were landowners, and that if a man was not a landowner he stood little chance of being appointed. From a return of the county magistrates elected last year, taking the county of Chester, he found among the magistrates there was a retired merchant, a farmer, a surgeon, a woollen manufacturer, a tanner, a felt-hat maker, an iron merchant, and an ironmonger. This showed that all classes in the county were drawn upon. In the county of Durham, he found among the county magistrates a doctor of medicine, a public accountant, a brickmaker, a butcher, an engine builder, a glass manufacturer, and a timber merchant. In Herefordshire there was an auctioneer, a retired draper, a farmer, a manure merchant, a Member of Parliament, a retired grocer, a newspaper proprietor, a retired officer of the Army, and, lastly, a landed proprietor. If he had had more time, he could have proved that in all the counties in England the magisterial bench was well filled, and there was no necessity for the proposed great alteration in the law. It would hardly be denied that the present law had worked well. In former days some Lord Lieutenants might have appointed magistrates in a haphazard way, and from social and political reasons. But that was not so nowadays. In many counties it was said— Why should there be such a preponderance of Conservatives on the magisterial Bench? With equal truth it might be asked why should there be a preponderance of Conservatives and Unionists on the County Councils. Why did a county return Conservative Members of Parliament except that they represented the general feeling of the electors? There were counties in England in which the Bench of Magistrates, the Members of the County Council, and the Members of Parliament were of the same politics. That was because the great majority of the people were of one way of thinking, and it could not be said that the elected Representatives were unworthy to sit in this House or on the County Council. There might be parts of Wales in which most men were of Liberal politics, and there you would find many magistrates were Liberals, as were also County Councillors and Members of Parliament. But who would, therefore, lay down a hard-and-fast rule, as the Lord Chancellor had done, that a man should not be appointed a magistrate unless he were a Liberal. ["No, no!"] Well, when a Conservative was proposed for the County Bench, the Lord Chancellor said he could not appoint him unless he could appoint a Liberal at the same time; he would appoint a pair, but not one without the other. This was giving a political complexion to the appointments in a manner inconsistent with justice. What the County Councils would do in this matter was shown by what they had done in electing Aldermen. During the last three years the Aldermen in the London County Council had been of one way of thinking. If they were to take to appointing magistrates according to the political majority there would be an end to all idea of justice. After what they had done in appointing Aldermen he should be afraid to give the proposed power to County Councils. They did their proper work well, and there was no reason why this fresh task should be put upon them. We must leave the selection of county magistrates subject to an arrangement which had worked well. If a Lord Lieutenant felt called upon to make fresh nominations he looked about for the right man in the locality in which the magistrates were needed, and he chose men who possessed the confidence of their neighbours, without asking whether they were Conservatives or Liberals. In his own county, whenever a Liberal was found who was worthy of confidence, he was sure to be made a magistrate. He hoped the present mode of appointing magistrates would be continued, and he regarded the introduction of this Bill as an unnecessary waste of time.


said, that he was connected with two counties, the North Riding of York and Durham, and he had no fault to find with the method of appointing magistrates. It was true there was on the Bench a majority of Conservatives; but he had yet to learn that they had failed in their duty, and when they were on the Bench they acted with impartiality. There were appointed a number of gentlemen who were, at the time, of his own principles; but they soon turned out to be either Conservatives or Liberal Unionists. But they were none the worse magistrates for that. He would be sorry that the practice which had hitherto prevailed should be interfered with.

MR. T. L. WHARTON (York, W.R., Ripon)

complained that the Bill had not been obtainable until that day, although if it was passed its operation might be fraught with very serious consequences indeed. There seemed to be an idea that Lords Lieutenant were ipso facto Tories, but in the North Riding of Yorkshires the Lord Lieutenant was the Liberal Marquess of Ripon, and, if this Bill was passed, the manufacture of magistrates would pass into the hands of a County Committee, which would probably be presided over by the right hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. James Lowther). Thus the framers of this Bill jump from the frying pan into the fire. Magistrates ought to be educated men whom the nation could trust. The Lords Lieutenant had done their duty in appointing the best men they could, and magistrates had not regarded politics as interfering in any way with their duty. What might be called the disestablishment portion of this Bill got rid of magistrates who did not attend to their duties; but such magistrates did not appear to be in the way of anybody else, and they had disestablished themselves. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said some magistrates never attended unless there was something to be given away; but magistrates now had nothing to give away; they had no places of profit left in their hands, appointments having been transferred to the County Committee. As to the qualification of magistrates, he had always felt that that was too narrow, and that, although a man might not possess £100 a year from land, or live in a house of the value of £100 a year, he might yet be qualified to act as a Justice. Medical men, officers of the Army and Navy, and holders of University degrees, might be appointed irrespective of their property or income. As to nomination by County Councils, he had seen a good deal of these bodies, and admitted that they did their work well, but he believed that this duty was the last of all that should be put upon them.

MR. J. H. JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham)

said that, as a Sussex magistrate he took a strong view, which was, that the Bill was unnecessary and in operation would be mischievous. The property qualification might perhaps be widened, but there was one consideration to be kept in view, and it was that a magistrate should be a man of substance rather than a man of straw; otherwise, if he made a mistake or were guilty of misconduct in his office, the aggrieved person would have no remedy. He must emphasise the protest against nomination by County Councils, who were administrative bodies and whose usefulness would be interfered with if they were called upon to take part in selecting men for distinction on party or personal grounds. What more unhappy position of things could there be than that a County Council should be made a battle-ground of party or the arbiter of social distinctions, instead of attending to its administrative functions.


I shall not detain the House more than a very few minutes, but I desire, before the Debate terminates, to express my own view on the very far-reaching subject which, under the auspices of the Government, we are asked to take up. The House is now attempting to deal with a very old institution, an institution not without anomalies—for all old institutions have anomalies—but with an institution which is, after all, very closely bound up with the whole social life of England, so far as we can trace it back in the past; and I do not think we ought to make any fundamental alteration in that institution without looking very carefully in the direction in which it is proposed to move. I have no personal prejudice in favour of administering local justice by unpaid magistrates. In Scotland the great bulk of the judicial work is not performed by the magistrates, but it is done by paid lawyers of great eminence, the sheriffs and deputy-sheriffs of the counties. If you wish to alter the English fundamentally—and I think you are going to do so by this Bill—you will have to do it in the direction of paid magistrates. There are grave objections to such a course. In the first place, it is very expensive; it is very novel in England in the second place, and you will find it very difficult to give to stipendiary magistrates in England the same authority which the sheriffs in Scotland have through traditional prescription so long enjoyed. But what is it you propose? You propose to do by this Bill that which we in England have always prided ourselves in not doing—namely, to make the appointment of those who have to administer justice depend on the fortune of popular election. Disguise the matter as you may, if you pass the Bill in its present form, you will, to all intents and purposes, give Parliamentary directions to the Lord Chancellor of the day to take the magistrates suggested to him by the County Council. We cannot hope to keep politics out of the election of County Councils. As regards boroughs, we all know that the elections take place on Party lines; and, though I am thankful to say that in the counties that is not so much the position of things as yet, it has arisen in some counties, and it may become as prevalent in counties as it is now in the boroughs. If such a state of things occurred, could you contemplate with satisfaction having so altered the ancient mode of electing magistrates as to hand them over to the changes and chances of stray Party majorities? The accusation has been made against Lord Lieutenants that they recommended persons for the magistracy because they shared their political views. I am not prepared to deny that some such gross derelictions of duty may have been committed here and there. It has been done by Lord Lieutenants of both colours, and it ought never to have been done. But observe that the action of Lord Lieutenants now comes under the searching light of public opinion. Such Lord Lieutenants as I have consulted, have constantly told me that they have made every effort to find persons differing from themselves in politics who, to the best of their judgment, will be well qualified to carry out the duties of magistrates. Lord Lieutenants, as I have said, come under the light of public opinion, and are amenable to the tendencies which govern the whole community, and I am convinced that we need have no fear that they will use their power of recommendation for the purpose of promoting the interests of their own party; but popularly-elected bodies are not amenable to public opinion. They are corporate units which have no conscience. Lord Lieutenants are far more amenable to the influence of public opinion than any popularly elected body could possibly be. Therefore I earnestly press upon the House the extreme undesirability of meddling with this ancient institution in a manner which I believe will destroy its usefulness; and if the House comes to the determination that that institution is no longer fitted for the work it has to do, let them consider the matter from the top to the bottom, and substitute for it some other system better fitted to meet the necessities of the age in which we live; but whatever change we may desire to introduce, let us not, for the first time in English history lay ourselves open to the charge that we have made the magistrates, whose duty it is to administer the law without regard to Party, the nominees of popular authorities and the creatures of popularly-elected assemblies.


The original question was, "That this Bill be now read a Second time." Since which an Amendment has been moved to leave out the the word "now," and to add at the end of the question the words "this day six months." The question I have to put is that the word "now" stand part of the question.

The House divided:—Ayes 201; Noes 163.—(Division List No. 33.)

Bill read 2°.