§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. MONK (Gloucester)
I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which, generally speaking, may be said to extend the jurisdiction of county courts in common law cases from £50 to £500, and I hope the House will accord it a second reading, with a view to the measure being sent to the Grand Committee on Law. This Bill differs essentially from the Bill which I introduced in 1898. That Bill proposed to create special circuits as well as special machinery, besides increasing the limit of the jurisdiction, and would have cost the country something like £45,000 a year. The present Bill does nothing of the kind, as it deals simply with the extension of jurisdiction, the limit being reduced from £1,000 to £500, and the proposal for the establishment of special circuits having been eliminated. Last year the Attorney General did not object at all to the principle of the extension of jurisdiction, but objected to the machinery which is now eliminated from the Bill. I had hoped the Government might have brought in a Bill themselves; but in reply to a question which I addressed to the Attorney General the other day, he stated that the Lord Chancellor had neither the time nor the inclination to frame a Bill on this subject. This Bill will not cost the Treasury a single penny. It merely extends the limit in common law cases from £50 to £500; in equity cases from £150 to £500; and in Admiralty cases from £300 to £500. At the present moment in bankruptcy cases the jurisdiction is unlimited. The Bill is promoted by the Association of Chambers of Commerce, consisting of 100 Chambers, who have 1175 unanimously expressed their approval of this Bill at their recent annual meeting, and I believe the Members representing those constituencies will for the most part support the Bill. Under these circumstances, I would urge on the Attorney General the desirability of accepting the Second Reading and allowing the Bill to be referred to the Grand Committee on Law.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Monk.)
§ MR. WARR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
The object of this Bill is to enormously increase the jurisdiction of the county courts, while of course proportionately diminishing the work of the High Court. My hon. friend has said that the Bill has the support of 100 Chambers of Commerce, but I can assure him it has not the support of the Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool, and I doubt exceedingly whether it has the support of the Chamber of Commerce of such a large centre of population as Manchester. These great centres of population feel very strongly indeed that nothing——
§ MR. WARR
The effect of this Bill will be to increase the jurisdiction in Admiralty cases from a limit of £300 to £500, and in other cases from £50 up to £500, and to confer jurisdiction in cases in which there is now none, so that in cases of great importance suitors will find themselves deprived of the opportunity of having their cases 1176 tried before judges of the High Court. and for juries of twelve accustomed to deal with such cases County Court juries composed of five persons will be substituted. That is not a proposal which will commend itself to commercial bodies in our great cities, and it will not commend itself, I believe, to the Law Societies. Personally, I object to the proposal altogether. I think it is a totally wrong principle. I know there is power of removal, to which I do not attach much importance. I doubt very much whether my hon. friend has sufficiently investigated the class of cases now tried in the High Court. I should imagine that 50 per cent. of them are concerned with amounts under £500. On these grounds I shall strongly oppose the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
I feel it is impossible for the House in the few minutes now remaining before midnight to give sufficient attention to a very drastic change in the procedure of our Courts, which will intimately affect the interests of every one of Her Majesty's subjects. Enormous interests are involved, and I think my hon. friend will see that it is unreasonable to ask the House of Commons to affirm a principle of this character without having had time, I will not say to study, but even to read and grasp the effect of this measure.
§ It being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed on Tuesday, 1st May.