HC Deb 07 August 1896 vol 44 cc154-66

5. £65,811, to complete the sum for Law Charges and Courts of Law, Scotland,—


said that there was a gratifying decrease in the total sum asked for under this Vote. That decrease was mainly due to the large reduction in the sum drawn by the Procurators-fiscal. It was also gratifying that there wore no extraordinary charges for the administration of justice in the Highlands. There was no part of the country where the law was more respected. There were also gratifying circumstances connected with the personal administration of the Minister in charge of the Vote. There were, however, two matters which he desired to criticise. There were certain courts in Scotland where there was habitually considerable delay before decisions were given in civil cases. Pressure ought to be brought to bear upon the officials who were responsible in order that that state of things might be put an end to. Another point which deserved attention concerned the county of Inverness. He had been informed that an unfortunate difference of opinion had arisen between the Sheriff and the Sheriff-Clerk, with the result that the Sheriff-Clerk was out of pocket for a considerable time in respect of the remuneration which he paid to the deputies whom he employed. Attention had already been called to this matter, and he had heard with pleasure that the Secretary for Scotland had at once taken action. He wished to know whether that action had been successful, and whether by the exercise of friendly pressure by the Scotch Department, the differences to which he had alluded had been composed. Another subject calling for consideration was the anomalous position where certain officials, especially procurators fiscal were in. In North Uist, for example, the Procurator fiscal was bound to reside in a particular place, but the proprietor of the island so used his power that it was only in a surreptitious way that this Crown official was able to obtain a residence befitting his position. The Lord Advocate, he knew, had no power to put an end to this state of things, but the right hon. Gentleman might do something by bringing a certain amount of pressure to bear upon the landlord. The gentleman in question, by his conduct, was showing the country what arbitrary powers landlords possessed. There was a considerable population in North Uist, for whom the law should have terrors, and a Crown official was not placed in a particularly dignified position, when he was compelled to take lodgings in a private house. Some Sheriff-substitutes also found themselves in a similar position. In his own county the Sheriff-substitute had found difficulties placed in the way of his residing in the part of the county where he was supposed to live, and the consequence was that he resided in Ross-shire and not in the county of Sutherland. The Lord Advocate might say that an official would have no difficulty in obtaining a feu where he could build a house. His contention, however, was that a Sheriff-substitute ought to be provided with an official residence. An official having a small salary was naturally loth to build a house which his successor might not care to take over. Turning to another matter, he saw from the Estimates that there were allowances for stationery for Sheriff-Clerks. The Sheriff-Clerks were provided with stationery within strict limits except in the case of Orkney, Sutherland, and Shetland. He did not contend that this was a very large point, but he thought that when the clerks in all other counties received an allowance in that respect, the Lord Advocate might consider whether he could not see his way to making the practice uniform in all counties.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

called attention to the want of residential accommodation for the Procurator Fiscal and Official Solicitor in Lochmaddy. At the present time the Sheriff was under threat of eviction, and the Fiscal had been evicted for years. He was compelled by law to reside in the district, but people who had taken him and the resident Solicitor in had been evicted. The Solicitor had to live in a boat, and the Fiscal was living over a Highland store. The landlord was king of the island and would not allow these officials to live in it. The only course that seemed to be open was to remove the court. There was, however, any amount of foreshore belonging to the Crown on which houses for these officials could be built, and they were perfectly willing to build them. He hoped that the Government would come to some kind of understanding with Sir John Orr, or provide a sufficient site on the foreshore where the Procurator Fiscal and the Solicitor could live in civilised conditions. If nothing could be done, the court should be moved down to Lochboisdale. He hoped that something would be done, so that this scandal in the "Western Hebrides might cease, and that the law might be carried out in that part of the country under the same conditions as in the rest of the country.


wished to draw attention to a matter which had excited a great deal of feeling amongst the farmers in his and the neighbouring constituency. He referred to the grievance of sheep-worrying. He wished to know what steps were being taken under the existing law to deal with this matter; and he would also like to ask the Lord Advocate, considering that the grievance had reached an acute stage, what special steps he would now take to deal with the matter. In the county of Banff the matter came recently before the County Council, and they went so far as to appoint a Special Committee to consider it. He was aware that a Select Committee was sitting to consider the law on the subject, but the deliberations of Committees took time, and something ought to be done at once to check this crying grievance. Almost all the mischief was done at night. The dogs came out at night and destroyed a great number of sheep, and it was very difficult to identify the dogs or their owners. On the occasion of the meeting of the County Council to which he had referred, one gentleman said that for three or four weeks six or eight sheep had been killed every alternate night, and another gentleman said that within his own experience one of the neighbouring farmers had actually lost half his sheep in this way during the last year. This was a very serious matter both for poor and well-to-do men, and the question was how the scandal was to be checked. One very natural remedy was that steps should be taken to get these dogs tied up. If the police took care to have all suspicious dogs tied up at night, that would do a great deal to check the evil. A great deal of mischief was done by dogs which ran after sheep in the day time—dogs following vehicles on the roads. They sometimes ran the sheep into quarries and other dangerous places, and when once sheep had been driven in this way it took a week for them to settle down and feed properly. What was wanted was that all stray dogs should be dealt with by the police. He was not sure that the police were aware of the power they had. Under the existing law any ownerless dog found wandering could be removed to the police station. There was a great uncertainty with regard to the law as to the killing of dogs addicted to sheep worrying. He believed there had been a number of contradictory decisions by the courts, and that the right to act against a dog was very restricted. Unless a dog was caught red-handed, or rather red-mouthed, nothing could be done. A man was not entitled to shoot a dog unless he believed that in that way he could save the sheep. There were various ways in which the matter could be dealt with. The Board of Agriculture had power to make regulations with regard to muzzling. If muzzling was wanted anywhere it was in these districts, where the dog was very apt to become as dangerous to the neighbourhood as the wolf.


, who was indistinctly heard, said the hon. Member for Sutherland had spoken in a commendatory strain of his action in regard to the appointment of Procurators-Fiscal and Sheriff-Clerks. While glad to have the hon. Member's approval, he wished to sound a note of warning in the matter He drew a great distinction between the two classes of officials, though in the case of both the object must be to get the best men for the public service. In regard to Procurators Fiscal, he was of opinion that, given an adequate salary, the Procurator Fiscal should not be allowed to engage in private practice, but even that rule must lead to the necessity of getting a good man, because, after all, the administration of justice, and the whole efficiency of his department depended upon being well served by the Procurators Fiscal, and unless a sufficient salary was provided them, in some cases they might be bound to take persons engaged in private practice. The case of Sheriff-Clerk was quite different. No restriction was needed to prevent him practising in his own court. What did it matter whether the Sheriff Clerk by himself or through a partner did a certain amount of conveyancing. Even if his client came into court the Sheriff Clerk had nothing to do with the determination of the case. Therefore he strongly held the view that in order to get the best men, it was well to allow the Sheriff Clerk to engage in private practice. But there, again, he did not want the rule to be made inflexible. In these appointments, the practical thing was to get the confidence of the public, and he would go against his own opinion in the matter if he was sure that the course he was taking would secure respect for the judicature. With regard to the delay in civil causes that was not a matter in which he had any practical jurisdiction at all. As to the difference that existed between the Sheriff and the Sheriff-Clerk, that was a question of the past. There had been a certain amount of friction, but through the good offices of the Secretary for Scotland, an arrangement had been made between the two dignitaries which would obviate friction in future years. Then the hon. Member spoke of the administration of justice at Lochmaddy. No doubt there was still a difficulty between the Procurator Fiscal and the proprietor, but he was not entitled to offer any judgment, for he had no powers in the matter. The general provision of official residences seemed to him rather an heroic remedy. They had been going on under the present system for a great many years, and except in the case of Lochmaddy, no one had ever known of a Procurator Fiscal or Sheriff-substitute failing to get a residence. The suggestion that a house should be put on the foreshore was not practicable. The foreshore was that portion of the shore whore the sea ebbs and flows, and an official residence there would be rather damp. With regard to the case in his own constituency, about which the hon. Member for Sutherland asked, that was also a matter on which he did not wish to make any pronouncement. So far as his opinion upon the administration of justice was concerned, he was all in favour of the Sheriff-substitute living on the spot, because the convenience of suitors was the thing that had to be studied. As to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Banffshire, it had no reference to the administration of justice. It was quite certain he could not prosecute a dog, and the only way in which the subject could be in order would be if it was urged that some people had been aiding and abetting their dogs to worry sheep and he had not prosecuted them. The hon. Member did not, however, suggest that. So far as the action of the police was concerned the hon. Member must remember that that question did not arise on this Vote but on that of the Secretary for Scotland. It was a very grave question, but at the same time there was no doubt—without throwing any doubt on the facts brought forward by the hon. Member—that there were such cases in other parts of Scotland. The Secretary for Scotland was at present making exhaustive inquiries of the chief constable to see what steps might be taken by the police to try to put a stop to this practice.

MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

, asked to what extent the law officers might engage in private practice. He called attention to the fact that while the salary of the clerk to the Lord Advocate was £400, the salary of the clerk to the Solicitor General was only £100. The Scotch Votes were he thought as a rule economical. But he thought the clerk to the Solicitor General was paid far too little, and that his salary should be doubled. He pointed out that the duties of the Solicitor General were made a great deal more onerous by the Local Government Act. He thought it was a good system for one of the law officers to be in Scotland. He noticed with regard to the legal Secretary that his salary was £500, and that of course he did not consider too high. His expenses in London, however, were £180, while the amount paid to him for preparing Scotch Bills was £800. Therefore although the salary was nominally £500 it was really about £1,500. There were not many Scotch Bills passed through the House, this Session, the only Bill practically had been the Agricultural Bating Bill. There was, it was true, the Housing of the Working Classes Bill, but that was a Bill to correct a blunder of the draftsman in 1892, and which would therefore, he supposed, be paid for twice over. He did not object to £800 being paid for Scotch Bills, but if it was paid they ought at least to get a reasonable time of the House allotted to them so that they might pass the Bills into law. Another point was in regard to appropriations in aid. The actual amount received last year was about £42,000, but the amount was now estimated at £32,000. With regard to the case of Lochmaddy, the Sheriff-substitute was bound to be resident by law in the locality, and yet the landlord to whom the island belonged had evicted him, and practically the Sheriff-substitute had no house. He thought that was not a very satisfactory position, and that the Government might do well to consider the matter. No doubt it was only in regard to these extreme instances that the law required to be amended. He wished to direct the attention of the Lord Advocate to a special matter which he had brought before his notice in questions. He referred to the case of the eviction in Kirkintilloch, where a miner was evicted from his holding without any warrant. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in reply to a question, had said that it was inconceivable that there was no warrant for the eviction. He certainly thought it was a most extraordinary thing that an eviction should take place in Scotland without a legal warrant, and I the matter was one of very considerable importance to a great many miners throughout Scotland. The miner had occupied his house for six years, and when out of employment had received a warning to remove. It was admitted that in this particular case the house was let from week to week, and as he was continued in his employment be was under the impression that the warning away had been withdrawn. Before the eviction took place some dispute had arisen between the manager of the mine and the men, and then he got notice to remove his goods before 12 o'clock, and he was then forcibly turned out by the manager and two men into the street. Notice had previously been given by the manager to the police for them to be upon the spot in case of any disturbance taking place during the eviction. All these proceedings were taken without any legal warrant whatever. His contention was that under the law of Scotland a warning away did not give a right to anyone to displace a man by force from his holding. To justify such action a legal warrant must have been previously obtained. In his view, this case was one of considerable importance. If men went into another man's house and removed his furniture without warrant, that was such an illegal proceeding that the Lord Advocate ought to inquire into it on account of the principle which it involved. It was also a matter for inquiry whether the police were justified in acceding to the manager's request to assist in the eviction as far as their presence was concerned. There was another matter that he desired to bring-under the notice; of the Lord Advocate. He had put a question on Monday on the subject to the Lord Advocate, and he now desired to emphasise that question by again referring to it. It appeared that a young man had been charged with an indecent assault, and that on his being tried for the offence the jury had given a verdict of "Not proven." He did not desire to discuss the merits of the case, but the point he desired to bring under the attention of the Lord Advocate was the length of time (hat had elapsed between the commission of the alleged offence before any action was taken on the part of the prosecution.


said the answer to the first question of the hon. Member in reference to the salary and duties of the Lord Advocate was one for the Treasury. The duties of the office covered all business for the Crown and for Public Departments. Next, the hon. Member asked if there was any embargo upon private practice, and the answer was there was not. Then the hon. Member remarked upon the discrepancy between the salary of the Lord Advocate's clerk, £400, and that of the Solicitor General's clerk,£100. Of course, he had no wish to prevent the hon. Member taking such steps as he might think fit to raise the salary of the latter, but there could be no doubt that the Lord Advocate's clerk had a good deal more to do. When the salary attached to the office of Solicitor General was increased, the salary of the Solicitor General's clerk was raised from £73 10s. to £100. The last Member spoke of the Solicitor General not being in the House, and said this was not a grievance to him. It was, however, something of a grievance to the Lord Advocate. The hon. Member expressed a preference for the idea that the Solicitor General for Scotland should always be out of the House, but in that he could not agree with the hon. Gentleman, not only because of the advantage it would be in the conduct of Scotch business to have the assistance of another law officer, but because of the training presence in the House afforded. What a miserable condition would he have been in if he had to face the denunciatory forefinger of the hon. Gentleman without any previous experience. Next, the hon. Member called attention to the allowance of £800 in addition to the allowance of £500 to the Lord Advocate's secretary. The £800 was not paid to the Lord Advocate's secretary; it was paid in respect to the drafting of Bills, and simply distributed by the Lord Advocate's secretary among the particular persons who happened to draft the Bills. As a matter of fact, though the Lord Advocate's secretary might sometimes get some of the amount, there had been only one instance in modern times when he got the whole. In remarking on" this expenditure for drafting Bills, the hon. Member asked where were these Scotch Bills, and said that he only knew of one, the Rating Bill. But a great many Bills were drafted that did not pass, and one reason why more did not pass was because the hon. Member for Mid Lanark talked out the Bills in front and raised objection after 12 o'clock.


On public grounds.


said no doubt the hon. Member acted on public grounds; that he did so on private grounds was not suspected. But Bills had to be drafted, and when the work was done it had to be paid for. If more Bills were not passed, the hon. Member knew quite as much about the reasons for that as himself. As to the figures and items on page 65, the hon. Member had really solved his own conundrum; it was a simple arithmetical process. The next question of the hon. Gentleman was of more general importance, and had reference to cir cumstances attending the proceedings of a colliery owner to obtain possession of a cottage occupied by a miner. Upon that subject he had answered several questions from the hon. Member, and could not see that there was any grievance to complain of. The hon. Member had quoted one of the answers given to a supplementary question, and that answer was given on the assumption that the case was one of regular eviction under process, and in which there would be a warrant. But that did not turn out to be so. The owner wished to evict a man who had occupied the house as a condition of service—a common arrangement enough—and gave the man 40 days' notice to remove. Surely it was not a grievance that this notice was given instead of a week's notice? As time went on the miner again got work at the colliery, but he was not told that he could return to the house, and, in fact, he knew that it had been re-let. It was made a grievance that the man was turned out without process. Of course, a process of summary eviction meant a petition for ejectment, and the expenses would fall upon the parties. The proposition of the hon. Member came to this—that it was wrong for the man to leave the house without a warrant to compel him to leave it. The fact was the man left peaceably. No doubt the police were on the scene, but they were specially told by the Chief Constable that they were to take no part in the eviction, but that they were merely there to preserve order if a breach of the peace was threatened. The miner might have stayed in the house, and might have been subjected to the consequences and expenses of a petition of ejectment, but he went without that. There did not appear to be any grievance in the matter, and the action of the authorities could not be called in question. The last question of the hon. Member had reference to the delay between the informations and a certain prosecution, with the facts of which he was not acquainted, but no doubt on Monday information would be received to enable an answer to be given.


asked, was it to be the position of the law in Scotland that if a colliery owner was the owner of a dwelling-house, and the tenant did not remove at the time he was bound to remove, the owner could forthwith remove the tenant and his furniture, and it would not be a breach of the peace, and that, so far as the authorities were concerned, the man was not entitled to protection or redress? In these days, when important questions arose on mining matters and led to disputes, that would be a dangerous doctrine for the Lord Advocate to give countenance to. It was not a peaceable operation that was carried out; the man struggled, and did all he could to prevent removal. It was a dangerous doctrine to countenance that such things could be done without any warrant. The man was forcibly dispossessed against his own exertions to remain, and yet the Lord Advocate said that that was not a case which called for the interference of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman accused him of having blocked Scotch Bills. He was not aware of having done anything of the kind. The only Bill he spoke upon was the Housing of the Working Classes Bill. The only other Bill was the Public Health (Scotland) Bill, and he did not speak a word upon that at all. The Government brought in the Bill and they dropped the Bill. No one knew why they brought it in, and no one knew why they dropped it. His complaint was that if they paid £800 a year for drafting Bills, they should at least have some value for their money.

MR. ALEXANDER URE (Linlithgow)

said he had listened carefully to the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lanark in regard to the eviction of a miner, and he should say that it appeared to him to be a question for a civil action between citizens with which the time of Parliament should not have been taken up. He protested against disputes between private citizens being brought before the House, and Members of the Executive Government being asked to intervene in matters which were wholly outside their province. In regard to the appointment of Sheriff - Clerks and Procurator fiscals, he was glad to hear that the Lord Advocate drew a broad distinction between the two, for really their work lay in different spheres of administration. He thought it would be a bad thing to allow a Procurator-fiscal to engage in private practice in a district in which he conducted prosecutions; but when they required a Procurator-fiscal to give up his private practice they should give him some compensation in the shape of an increase of salary. It was different, however, in the case of Sheriff-Clerks. Their official duties never brought them into conflict with their private practice, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would adhere to his resolution to appoint the best man to the post of Sheriff-Clerk without regard to the question of private practice.


said that he had never heard a speech more out of place than the speech to which the Committee had just listened, especially as it came from a Scotch representative. This case of eviction had aroused the greatest interest in every mining centre in Scotland. The Scotch Members were petitioned to bring it before Parliament; it was brought before Parliament, and the hon. Gentleman, who represented a mining constituency, lectured the hon. Member for Mid Lanark—who had been 12 years in the House, while the hon. Gentleman had been there only one year—for having brought the matter forward. When the hon. Gentleman returned to his constituency he would find some miners there who would want an explanation for his censure of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark. The point involved in the case was not at all a question of notice. The point was that the man had been evicted without a warrant. The whole question in the recent coal strike hinged upon the power of the owners to turn miners out of their houses with the aid of the law. But here was a case in which there was no warrant at all, and in which, therefore, the law was broken. The Lord Advocate had not dealt with that particular point.


submitted that no breach of the criminal law was committed. The matter was entirely one for a civil Court.


said the facts had evidently been misrepresented, and he protested against being lectured as he had been by the hon. Member.


said that if the matter had been merely one of civil right he would not have brought it before the Committee, but it involved a criminal offence which was within the cognisance of the Lord Advocate. A tenant occupied a dwelling-house for six years; a master came down with six men and, without any legal warrant, told him to go; his furniture was turned into the street, and he was dispossessed against his will. He would have been within his legal right in resisting this by force. He could have shot the man. [Loud laughter.] It was not in the interest of peace or order that men should be driven to defend themselves in this way by physical force. ["Hear, hear!"]

Vote agreed to.

6. £3,795, to complete the sum for Crofters' Commission—Agreed to.

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