HC Deb 02 April 1900 vol 81 cc1038-40


Order for Second Reading read.


said the Bill was the same as that introduced last year. It proposed that instead of the judge of the Palatine Court being in receipt of fees his salary should be fixed by the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Treasury, and that the jurisdiction of the Court should be fixed by Her Majesty in Council. The practice of the Court would also be assimilated to the practice in other Courts. The fees now amounted to about £2,000.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read a second time."—(The Attorney General.)

MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

asked, was it usual to fix the salary of a judge before the office was created. Under Clause 6 Her Majesty in Council would have power to extend the jurisdiction of the Court, and he believed that it was the intention that that jurisdiction should be considerably extended. He thought both the salary of the judge and the jurisdiction of the Court ought to be fixed in the Bill.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

This is one of those English Bills the full effect of which is not apparent from merely reading it. The Attorney General has not given the House very much enlightenment. He did not state, for instance, that the first clause took away from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners all responsibility with reference to the Court of Palatine. It is important that we should know if the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are to be relieved of the arrangements which, at present, obtain, because they got the property in Palatinate for the purpose of paying the salary, and they have, as a matter of fact, paid that salary down to the present time out of the funds which they received. Will the Ecclesiastical Commissioners be able to appropriate these funds for the general purposes of the Commission or otherwise? No doubt, some bargain has been struck between the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the Treasury, and the House is entitled to know what that bargain is, in regard to this judge's salary. The House of Commons is asked to pass a Bill leaving it to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Treasury to fix the salary. That is the confidence trick; and it is asking too much of the House. I may say I had not the remotest idea that this Bill was going to be run on to-night. It is very unfair that we should be started on a Bill of this kind when nobody expected it to come on. I know something generally of the matter, however, and I am hardly ever taken much at a disadvantage. Now, we come to Clause 3, which is the most extraordinary that could be put into a Bill. It says that the salary of the judge shall be of such an amount as the Lord Chancellor may, with the consent of the Treasury, direct. Now the Court of the Palatinate is equal to the Common Law Courts, and is therefore a Supreme Court; and yet the salary of this Supreme Court judge is not fixed by this House as are the salaries of other Supreme Court judges. That is a most extraordinary thing. The next section provides that at the expiry of any period of five years the Lord Chancellor, with the like concurrence of the Treasury, may vary the said salary with reference to any variance in the amount of the business of the Palatinate Court. It is an extraordinary thing to say that the salary of a Supreme Court judge may be varied. I always thought that the salaries of judges were fixed by statute, and that they could not be reduced, so that the judges might hold their office without fear or favour. But no; this judge is to be paid according to his work, and his salary may be either increased or reduced according to the variation in the amount of business in his court. In that way if a judge wants to keep up his salary, he must keep up the business of his court. If he lets down the business of his court by dispensing justice in half an hour instead of lingering over it for two hours, he will find his salary reduced at the end of five years. I think that is an extraordinary thing to put into an Act of Parliament. These two clauses are quite sufficient to justify us in saying that a Bill of this importance should not be sprung upon the House at twenty-five minutes to twelve, and read a second time. But the Bill goes further. It is a Bill to extend the jurisdiction of the Court. The jurisdiction may be extended, it says, by the Queen in Council. I think it is not a very usual, and not a very appropriate thing that the jurisdiction of the Law Courts should be left to the haphazard Orders in Council. The jurisdiction should be fixed by Act of Parliament. Who knows about Orders in Council? Where can you get them if you go to search for them? Everyone knows about an Act of Parliament, and nobody can be excused of ignorance of an Act of Parliament. Nobody but an expert lawyer knows anything about Orders in Council, and if you ask an expert lawyer he would charge a fee for it. I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned till Thursday.