HC Deb 04 July 1899 vol 73 cc1493-501

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


On a point of order, I should like to ask whether this Bill should not originate in a Committee of Ways and Means. The proposal of the Bill is that the liability of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to pay the salary of the Chancellor of Durham should be transferred to the Consolidated Fund. Under these circumstances should there not be a Resolution in Committee?


I have not yet got a copy of the Bill; but I do not think the hon. Member has read the whole of it. It is quite obvious, however, that coming from the Lords it cannot be a Money Bill.


My objection to the Second Reading arises from the first mud chief clause, which proposes that the salary of the Chancellor shall be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. I believe these words were not inserted in the Lords.


I have now a copy of the Bill, and it is quite clear that the ordinary practice has been followed. The Bill contains some clauses which require the preliminary resolution of a Committee before they can be dealt with by the House. These clauses are under-scored, and are really not yet in the Bill at all.


We have had no explanation as to why this Bill should be passed, and it is obvious that it cannot be passed without some discussion. The proposal of the Government is to introduce in Committee a clause that the salary of the Chancellor should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. Up to now it has been paid by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and it is provided in the Bill that the Commissioners shall pay to the Treasury a certain capital sum to be agreed upon by the Commissioners and the Treasury. That is an objectionable system, because when the Treasury deals with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners it is very likely to make a bargain favourable to them. When that sum is paid the liability of the Commissioners will cease altogether, and the salary will be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. I am afraid all this is done in order to take from the cognisance and purview of this House certain debateable matters. You are constantly bringing grounds forward as to why the machinery of Bills should be left to the Lord Chancellor. Clause 3 of this Bill provides that the salary of the judge shall be such an amount as the Lord Chancellor shall direct. Is there any precedent for saying that the salary of any particular judge is not to be fixed by this House but by the Lord Chancellor with the sanction of the Treasury? The clause also says that at the expiration of five years the salary will come up for re-vision, but the House will have nothing to do with the matter. As long as his salary is paid out of the Consolidated Fund a judge cannot be removed if he behaves himself. But this case the Lord Chancellor may vary the salary as he thinks fit. A further clause proposes that the jurisdiction of the Palatine Court shall be such as the jurisdiction exercised by the High Court through the Chancery Division. That, again, is not only an extension of the jurisdiction of the Palatine Court, but it may also extend or minimise the locale of the jurisdiction by extending or diminishing the locality over which the jurisdiction extends. I should have thought the best thing to do would have been to abolish the Palatine Court, altogether, and make it an ordinary court. We know that the history of the Palatine Courts is a very old one, but it is only because of the vested interests connected with them that these courts have lasted as long as they have. I have pointed out matters which are objectionable in this Bill. The House loses all power under it to discuss the conduct of the judge or to diminish his salary. I object entirely to legislation by means of reference. It is done, I believe, in order to stop discussion in this House. I am informed that the usual instructions now given to the Parliamentary draughtsman by a Government—whether it be Conservative or Liberal—is to put as much as possible into the schedule, and to make the Bill as short as he can. The result of this is lamentable, as is shown by the Compensation Act of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. I believe he takes the credit for drafting the Act himself. He probably said to the draughtsman, "I Will draft this Bill myself in such a way that common sense will work it." The judges in the Court of Appeal say that it is the most complex Act they have ever had to deal with. I merely mention that in order to show the difficulties the House is constantly faced with by allowing these matters to go outside its own power and referring them to the Lord Chancellor and the Treasury. We have had no reason given us why the House should pass the Second Reading of this Bill. The fact that it comes from the Lords may show that it is not a Money Bill, but it is to be a money Bill before it passes this House, and we should have some explanation concerning it.


; I think that every hon. Member with a knowledge of the locality concerned will agree that the existence of this court is desirable. The objections taken by the hon. and learned Member are three. First, he says that the provision with regard to the judge is objectionable, but it has been felt, and properly felt, that it was desirable that an arrangement should be made with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners whereby they should pay a certain sum to the Treasury, and that the salary of the judge should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. The hon. and learned Member complains that the salary is to be fixed by the Lord Chancellor, but it is to be fixed by the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Treasury. It is also necessary that there should be a provision for the revision of the salary according to the amount of business dealt with by the court. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that this provision is inserted by way of reference, in order to prevent the criticism of this House. It is nothing of the kind; it is necessary that there should be some provision for the revision of the salary according to the amount of the business of the court. The hon. Gentleman criticised the clause as to the Registrar. At present there is no qualification for the Registrar, and he is paid by fees. That is very objectionable. It is very much better that the fees should be accounted for, and the Registrar paid by salary. The provision as to the local limits of the jurisdiction of the court has been agreed to by those gentlemen who take a local interest in this Bill. I hope the House will feel that this is a measure which ought, to have a Second Reading.


; I cannot say I am entirely satisfied with the explanation of the Solicitor-General. In the first place, this court, which is the Court of Chancery for the County Palatine of Durham, is a very small court. I do not go the length of saying that it is entirely useless, but in point of fact there is very little business done from one year's end to the other. It seems to me that the entire object of this Bill is to place the judge on the Consolidated Fund. At present he is paid by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and it is now proposed to give the Lord Chancellor power to give such a salary as he sees fit, and also to vary the salary in such a way as may involve a loss to the Consolidated Fund. The salary of the Registrar is also to be on the Consolidated Fund, and like wise the expenses incurred in the maintenance of the court. It may be true that a system of payment by fees is not a very good system, but at all events it has this advantage—that the Consolidated Fund is not a loser by it. As the business is very limited indeed, the probability is that the salary which will have to be paid will be Very much in excess of the fees obtained in the court. But my objection to the Bill is not limited to mere details. I maintain that this is a tinkering little Bill, which merely touches the fringe of a much larger subject. In point of fact, the country is dotted over with Courts of First Instance which have no relation relation whatever to the Judicature Acts. If the Government really wanted to produce a useful measure, they would endeavour to bring all these isolated courts, with their peculiar procedure, into one form, which would relate them to the judicature Acts, and so secure a uniform system through- out the country. For these reasons I oppose the Bill.


Eight or nine years ago we passed a Bill with a large number of clauses putting this Court under the High Court of Justice; and now we are asked to pass a Bill to amend that Act. The curious condition is that the Bill places a contingency on the Consolidated Fund. At the present time contingencies have to come before this House on the Estimates, and thus we can have a voice in regard to them. But When this contingency is placed on the Consolidated Fund the House can have no control over it, but it will be controlled by an Officer in the House of Lords. That is a revolutionary practice. I object also to bringing on the reading of such a Bill by the mere lifting of the hat. There are some very important questions involved in this Bill. In the form in which it stands the Ecclesiastical Commissioners may pay a lump sum or an annual sum, but there is no indication as to what the salary is to be. Probably the Government know, are keeping back the facts from the House of Commons. I do not like the present association of the Treasury and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for any purpose of this kind. I think they are too friendly altogether towards each other, and that the Treasury is likely to do what will please their friends the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I hope the House will not consent to read this Bill a second time until we have very adequate information from the Solicitor-General.

MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

It seems to me that we are fully entitled to have this Bill read a second time this day three months. Obviously it is meant to perpetuate a court which would be much better merged in the judicial system of the country, and to make a grant from the Treasury as a relief to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It is a thoroughly unsound policy to keep up courts which are practically of very little use, and to draw on the Consolidated Fund for their maintenance. Moreover, we are making a fresh draft on the Treasury for the use of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at a time when the Ecclesiastical Commissioners ought to be called upon to give relief to the tithe rent-charge owners. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months.


I rise to second the motion. The first clause of the Bill introduce, a novel position. Hitherto the salary has been paid by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but the clause provides that it is in future to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund without any intervention of Parliament whatever. We ought to have some explanation from the Government as to the amount of salary the judge receives from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at present, and as to how much it is proposed that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should give in order to be relieved from that responsibility. It is hardly treating the House fairly that on such an important Bill no information is vouchsafed to us, and that its Second Reading should be moved without explanation. And when we are driven to ask an explanation, none is given. We shall afford the Solicitor-General opportunity of giving us full information. As to the Registrar, will the Solicitor-General tell us the amount of fees he gets at the present moment, how much business is done, and what salary it is proposed to give him? Although the business done is very little, the Registrar is to have the power to appoint a deputy—that is to say, having little to do he is to have a man to help him to do that little. In Clause 2 another altogether novel position is introduced. I always understood that when a judge was appointed to an important position he had a salary fixed until the end of his tenure of his office; but this salary is to be subject to review every five years, although it is not said that it is to be increased if the business increases, or diminished if the business diminishes. Then, it is altogether novel to put into an Act of Parliament a provision giving power to the Lord Chancellor to fix salaries. If the Bill is read a second time to-night, the Committee stage should be postponed for some time in order that the Solicitor-General may give the House fuller information.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months.''—(Mr.Channing.) Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.'

* MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)

There are some things certain about this Bill, and some things quite uncertain. One thing seems to be certain, and that is that this change is to be effected solely between the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Treasury. As regards the Treasury, my view would be very much affected by which Party was in power. As regards the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, I know they are most excellent hands at driving a bargain in the interest of the Church, and I should be disinclined to place full trust in the Treasury for the purpose of checking them. Another thing certain is that the fees which have hitherto gone to support the court are now to be abolished and, at any rate, the Registrar is to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, and it is left to the Lord Chancellor to determine what the amount of the salary is to be. It is quite possible that the motives which prompted the production of this Bill are perfectly innocent; but it is equally possible that some job is contemplated. I observe that there is no provision for placing before Parliament the results of the negotiation between the Lord Chancellor and the Treasury. If the Bill becomes law the whole thing passes beyond the control of Parliament, and the Lord Chancellor will be in the position of authority which should be vested in this House. We ought to have more information than is before us in regard to the reasons why this Bill has been brought in. Seeing the Ecclesiastical Commissioners derive very large revenues from that portion of the kingdom to which this court belongs, I think we are entitled to insist that adequate precautions should be taken against the easement of the Commissioners from their present responsibility. I submit that the Bill ought not to be read a second time to-night, but that we should have in our possession much more information than has been vouchsafed to us.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

This Bill savours very strongly of a job. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners are to be relieved of a charge which they have hitherto paid, and the charges are to be placed on the Consolidated Fund. Having regard to the fact that the Treasury means a Conservative Government at the present time, and having regard also to the record of this particular Government in the way it has treated the Church so favourably, I feel strongly inclined to distrust these secret arrangements between the Government and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. There is nothing to prevent the Lord Chancellor paying a thousand a year to the judge. We know that the Government of the day frequently finds extraordinary reasons for saying that some people are very badly treated, and for dipping their hands into the public pocket in order to pay their friends. There is no restriction or safeguard whatever in the Bill as to the amount of salaries, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners may make the best bargain they can secretly with the officials of the Treasury. Another strong objection to the Bill is that the jurisdiction of the Local Court may be enlarged by a simple Order in Council. These Small courts ought really to be swept away altogether. There should be no court which is not uniform with the other courts in the country. It is the greatest inconvenience when parties living in other parts of the country have business before these courts, and do not know the special procedure in these courts, and how their rights are to be defended. They feel themselves very much as an Englishman who is obliged to go before the courts in Belgium and France.

It being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.