§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1) whether his attention has been called to the proceedings of the committee appointed by the Cork Corporation to inquire into the procedure of the Court of Conscience in that city, at which it was proved that the Court was used almost exclusively by money lenders to recover money lent at exorbitant interest to the very poorest class of the community; that the president of the Court is not a lawyer and has had no legal or official training; that the Court has habitually exceeded the jurisdiction conferred on it by law, granting decrees where the original debt exceeded £2 without production of the promissory notes sued on, allowing fines not payable by law and a rate of interest warranted neither by the law nor the individual contract; that all this was done against the protests of the registrar, who happens at present to be a lawyer; that the decrees of the Court are executed by irresponsible persons, sometimes with violence; and that in a recent case the Recorder of Cork commented severely on the conduct of the bailiffs executing one of these decrees; (2) whether the statutory protections for poor debtors which exist in the Civil Bill Court and the Petty Sessions Court apply to decrees of the Court of Conscience; and (3) whether, in view of the fact that the small debt jurisdiction of the Petty Sessions Court is now the same as that of the Court of Conscience, that the Court fees in it are less, and that the Petty Sessions Court sits in Cork on every week day, the Lord Lieutenant will consider the advisability of exercising his statutory power of abolishing the Court of Conscience?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
My attention has been directed to the proceedings of the special committee appointed by the Cork Corporation to inquire into certain allegations affecting the Court of Conscience. Before deciding what action it may be necessary to take in the matter, the Government 1558 will await the report of the Committee of Inquiry. I may add with regard to the Inquiry in the second paragraph, that statutory protection is given by the Municipal Corporation (Ireland) Act 1840, to the execution of orders of the Court of Conscience.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
asked the right hon. Gentleman if the late mayor of Cork, Sir John Scott, the first Unionist Member for 18 years, had not put an end to this grievance in respect of rates of interest?