§ 1. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £34, 694, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1901, for the salaries of the Law Officers' Department; the salaries and expenses of the Department of the Solicitor for the affairs of Her Majesty's Treasury, Queen's Proctor, and Director of Public Prosecutions; the costs of prosecutions, of other legal proceedings, and of Parliamentary agency."
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I wish to ask a very important question on a point of order. It is with regard to appropriations-in-aid. I believe the matter has already been under your consideration. As you are aware, what the Committee vote is the net amount after deduction of the appropriations-in-aid. What I wish to know is whether the appropriations-in-aid are granted by the Committee; whether the Committee can reduce the amount of those appropriations or any of them; whether it can alter them in any way or has any control over them whatever. These appropriations amount to, I believe, more than ten millions a year altogether, and I am anxious to know what power, if any, the Committee has over them. If the ruling of the Chair is that the Committee cannot reduce the appropriations in Committee or in any way touch them, I will ask if that applies to the particular appropriation-in-aid which represents the contribution of India to the military service, amounting altogether to some £1,500,000. My right hon. friend the Secretary to the Treasury once raised a discussion on this subject on the motion that the Speaker leave the chair, and it was ruled that he could do so.
* THE CHAIRMAN
As the hon. Member for King's Lynn has been good enough to give me notice of the question, 21 I have prepared a considered answer, which perhaps he will allow me to read. When a Vote is submitted to the Committee of Supply the net sum required is named. This net sum is arrived at by deducting the appropriation-in-aid from the gross sum required to be voted for the particular service, but the Committee, in voting the net sum, sanctions the expenditure of the gross sum. Appropriations-in-aid are regulated by the Public Accounts and Charges Act, 1891, Section 2, which provides that sums directed by statute or directed by the Treasury to be applied as appropriations-in-aid of money provided by Parliament for a particular service shall be deemed to be applied by Parliament for that service. The estimates submitted to Parliament are estimates for services which would not be performed if the Committee of Supply struck out or reduced the Vote. A similar result, however, would not follow if a reduction of an appropriation-in-aid were to be carried. The reduction of the appropriation-in-aid would not diminish the amount to be paid. Such amount would still be paid, and would still be payable, and would, under the Public Accounts and Charges Act, still be applicable in reduction of the gross amount to be voted. To give effect to such a reduction of an appropriation-in-aid would in fact be to repeal Section 2 of the Public Accounts and Charges Act. To put the matter as generally as possible —and I think this will answer the question the hon. Member put to me—the estimates of expenditure can be reduced by the Committee of Supply, but appropriations-in-aid which are estimates of receipts cannot. That will also apply to the question which the hon. Member put with regard to the appropriations-in-aid for India.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I am extremely obliged for the answer. In order to make it quite clear, may I further ask if the appropriations-in-aid are granted by the Public Accounts and Charges Act?
* THE CHAIRMAN
They are so granted either by that Act or by powers which are given to the Treasury under that Act.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said he rose to move a reduction in the Vote for the Salary of the Attorney General by £1,000. First, as a personal 22 matter, let him say that the relations between himself and the First Lord of the Treasury must henceforth be strained;. he could not continue to regard the right hon. Gentleman in that spirit of friendliness which one wished to prevail. The right hon. Gentleman made a promise that no question affecting Irish Members should be taken for at least a week after the Recess, and hitherto they had been able to rely on his promise; but the other day, prompted by an inquiring mind, he was induced to look at the business fixed for the House when it reassembled, and the first thing he saw was a Vote as to which he had given notice of motion. It might be suggested that the Attorney General's salary was not an Irish question; but could auld acquaintance be forgot? They could not but recollect the Pigott Commission, and he therefore had to leave his humble home in Ireland sooner than he had anticipated, in order to move a reduction of the hon. and learned Gentleman's salary, in consequence of his action in a case of contempt of court. A case recently occurred in which a journalist was fined for contempt of court, and he accused the Attorney General of setting in motion an ancient, rusty, and antiquated procedure scarcely known since the time of the Stuarts. He was not now referring either to the action of the Judges who inflicted the fine or to the conduct of Mr. Justice Darling, but he was complaining of the action of the Attorney General in moving the Judges to action.. The Judges having been moved were bound to act, but he maintained that the Attorney General in moving them strained the law. Justice Darling himself had a complete-remedy: he could have proceeded by an action for libel or by a criminal information. During the last thirty years there had been no analogous case. But before dealing with the facts he would like to refer to the enormous power vested in the Judges with regard to contempt of court, and in view of that power surely it was wrong and unconstitutional to ask the Judges still further to expand the law. Time after time he had adverted to the solemn promise made by Mr. Gladstone in October, 1882*—a promise cheered on* See The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], vol. cilxxiv., page 30. (Debate on Motion for a Select Committee on the commitment of Mr. Edmond Dwyer (hay, M.P., for contempt of court.)23 both sides of the House—that immediate steps should be taken to limit the powers of committal for contempt of court. Unfortunately, that promise had not been fulfilled; on the contrary, it was stated by Lord Chief Justice Russell in 1896 that the power had been extended during recent years both in England and in Ireland. He had in his hand a Return moved for in that House in which it was shown that during the last five years some hundreds of people had been committed for contempt of court in Ireland, and that one man had actually been in prison 743 days for that offence.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I do not think it would be in order to discuss generally the question of committal for contempt of court. That is a matter over which the House has no control. The law can only be altered by legislation, and that is not a matter which can be discussed in Committee of Supply.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said he was aware of that; he only mentioned the matter by way of illustration. What he was doing was to accuse the Attorney General of straining a common law right which had already, in its ordinary exercise, been overstrained. Now, what occurred? On the 15th March last Mr. Justice Darling was sitting as a Judge of Assize at Birmingham. He was to have before him a case of an unpleasant character, and he took the opportunity to warn the press that if they reported it strong proceedings would be adopted against them. The case was tried and disposed of. The next morning every paper in Birmingham commented on the action of the Judge, the Birmingham Post stating that his remarks were extremely impertinent. The Argus, an evening paper, however, indulged in personal references to the Judge which were altogether unseemly. Now, cases of contempt of court ought to be brought before the Court immediately, but, in the case of the Birmingham Argus, the Attorney General moved the High Court in London after ten days incubation under an old and obsolete procedure, reviving thereby the practice of the Judges in the times of the Stuarts. He wanted to know who instructed the hon. and learned Gentleman to do that. Did he move proprio motu, or was he inspired from other and higher sources? 24 By whom was he moved? Probably he never saw the Birmingham Argus, and neither would Justice Darling have done so under ordinary circumstances. Even if the learned Judge had seen it he would probably have taken no notice. But for some reason the Attorney General did take action ten days after the publication of the article, and sought to bring the writer and the publisher before three Judges, with the result that the gentleman who was actually responsible—the publisher being abroad at the time— surrendered himself to the jurisdiction of the Court, and was fined £100, with £25 costs—a most disproportionate fine in view of the nature of the libel. It only showed that the Judges of the High Court, having regard to the respect due to the Bench, felt bound to inflict some penalty, although they did not approve of the action taken in bringing the matter before them. Indeed, the Lord Chief Justice said as much. He said it was not the intention of the Judge to insult the press. But then, as they knew, the way to a certain place was paved with good intentions, and the mere fact of his giving unnecessary warning caused irritation and led to the use of strong language. Why did not the hon. and learned Gentleman leave Mr. Justice Darling to his remedy under the law of libel? It should be remembered, too, that when Justice Darling delivered the observations of which complaint was made he was not vested with any official capacity; the case was not before him at the moment. The Attorney General was usually a wise man; but in this instance he had badly served the administration of justice, and unwittingly and unknowingly he had tended to bring it into contempt. Again, he asked by whom and how the hon. and learned Gentleman had been inspired. The highest Court of Appeal had declared that the power to commit for contempt of court was necessary for the administration of justice, but was not to be used for the vindication of a Judge as a person. The Judge must resort to action for libel or a criminal information. Committal for contempt was a weapon to be used sparingly, always with reference to the administration of justice. Once a trial had taken place, both judge and jury were liable to be handed over to public criticism, ignorant and prejudiced though it sometimes might be. The offence committed in this case was nothing more or 25 less than a scandalising of the Court itself. In the Law Times, an authoritative organ of legal opinion, edited by the late Mr. Crump, they were told that trials for contempt of court by scandalising the Court had become obsolete in this country and were not to be used for the vindication of the Judge in person. Further, it was laid down by the writer of the article—It was undesirable that obsolete remedies, out of harmony with modern thought, should be galvanised into life to repress offensive public criticism.But by these proceedings the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had made the Judge the subject of gossip, had sot every tongue wagging as to how these appointments were made, and had brought the administration of justice into contempt. Even The Times was against him, and had lectured the hon. and learned Gentleman. In a leading article in that newspaper, on March 29th, hon. Members would see that, in the opinion of the leader writer, the Attorney General was a very good man gone extremely! wrong. No doubt, Justice Darling, in a speech on the preceding night, said he; liked the Attorney General. What a happy man the hon. and learned Gentleman must be, therefore! Again he asked who moved him in this matter. He appealed to him not again to place the Lord Chief Justice in an unpleasant and awkward position, and not to make a Judge the talk of the world at large. He begged to move the reduction of the salary of the Attorney General by £1,000.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I do not think the hon. Gentleman can move to reduce this salary, because it relates only to non-contentious cases; but I will put the reduction upon the whole Vote.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
suggested that the reduction should be moved on the second item of the Vote, as there might be other queries.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The motion will be to reduce the Vote by £1,000, in respect of criminal prosecutions.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item B be reduced by £1,000, in respect of Criminal Prosecutions."—(Mr. Swift MacNeill.)26
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
wished to know the amount paid to the Attorney General and the Solicitor General in respect of contentious business during the year. This matter was discussed last year. Under a former-Government the Attorney General was paid £9,000 and the Solicitor General £8,000 a year.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)
£10,000 and £9,000 respectively.
§ MR. CALDWELL
Yes; but under the present arrangement the salaries had been reduced to £7,000 and £6,000, with fees for business of a contentious character. He wanted to know what fees had actually been paid, and how it was that they did not appear on the Estimates. He did not propose to discuss whether the principle was right or wrong; all he wanted was the information as to the amount paid for contentious business.
§ MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said the point was one of considerable interest, as most hon. Members would like to know whether the new arrangement, by which contentious business was paid by fees, and the salaries of the Attorney General and the Solicitor General were reduced by £3,000 a year, had benefited in the long run the Crown or the officers of the Crown.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I will first deal with the last question raised. There is a little misunderstanding in the way in which the matter has been stated. The payment of contentious business by fees is not a new system; it is a return to an old system. More than once I have pointed out in this House that the payment of contentious business by salary has many disadvantages, and I believe nobody who has watched the working of the two systems would wish to revert to it. The Estimates are framed now as hitherto. Every two years a Return is made of the amount of contentious business, in continuation of previous Parliamentary Papers. The figures for the last two years are very large, owing to the Venezuelan Arbitration. I will take my own case first. My fixed salary is £7,000 a year. For contentious business I received in 1895–96, £3,916; in 1896–97, £6,030; in 1897–98, £7,563; 27 and in 1898–99, £10,264. The Solicitor General received for contentious business in 1895–96, £691; in 1896–97, £3,365; an 1897–98, £4,946; and in 1898–99, £5,844. I am prepared to lay these figures on the Table if any hon. Member cares to move for them. Of course the figures for 1899–1900 cannot yet be given complete. I now come to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for South Donegal. He did not give me notice he intended to raise it.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I do not make it any ground of complaint, as the circumstances are entirely fresh within my knowledge. The hon. Gentleman used some very strong expressions, such as we are accustomed to hear from those benches. He spoke of my conduct as straining the law; he said I had adopted a course not known since the days of the Stuarts, and he indulged in other flowers of oratory which sounded very well. But, unfortunately for him, the facts are not quite in accordance with the expressions he used. The jurisdiction of the Court to deal with these matters in the way in which the writer in this particular case has been dealt with has been recognised repeatedly during the last twenty-five years, and I may cite a case from the Bahamas and a decision of the Privy Council. The hon. Member, too, seems to have forgotten that the defendant, Mr. Gray, was represented by one of the ablest Queen's Counsel on the Midland circuit, Mr. Hugo Young, who is as competent as anyone to successfully maintain any question of legal objection to the jurisdiction of the Court, and he stated in Court that he was not prepared to raise any question as to the legality or the propriety of the proceedings. The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked why I did not leave Mr. Justice Darling to deal with this case in his own Court. If there is one thing which I object to it is to a Judge being the Judge in a case in which an attack has been made upon himself. If there is one thing we ought to avoid it is encouraging the idea that a Judge who may possibly be labouring under a feeling of irritation because of something which may have been said about him or his Court should constitute himself the 28 tribunal for trying the persons alleged to be guilty of the contempt. I should never endeavour to induce the Judges to act on the idea that they are competent to deal with such cases. On the day on which the libel was published it was sent to me by a perfectly friendly person, a County Court Judge, well acquainted with the facts. Representations were also made by solicitors, by members of the Bar, by the local civil authorities of Birmingham, that there was a very strong feeling that the licence of the press had been in this case wholly exceeded; and that it would be wrong if it were permitted to pass unnoticed. I do not say that Judges are not as open to criticism as any other men, but the question was, whether the judicial office had been held up to contempt, and spoken of in language which was not only in the worst possible taste, but went beyond anything that could be called fair criticism. Neither the defendant himself nor his counsel attempted for a single moment to justify what he had said.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The hon. Member attempted to palliate the conduct of the gentleman. Under the circumstances I considered that this was a matter which should be brought before the Court, and which ought to be properly treated. I need scarcely say that that Court, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice of England, is not likely to lay down any rule which will press with undue hardship or severity upon any single member or organ of the press. The hon. and learned Member for South Donegal asked why the learned Judge was not left to a criminal information fur a libel, but the hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that if we are going to stop unlicensed and unbridled abuse of this kind, action should not be, taken three or four months after the publication of the libel. The only procedure of value is that which is prompt and expeditious, and brings before the mind of the same public which reads such articles as are here complained of the fact that such writings cannot be allowed. In spite of the criticism addressed to me by the hon. and learned Member, I will only say that if the same 29 state of affairs were to occur again. I; should certainly adopt exactly the same course of procedure.
MR. SWIFT MAUNEILL
"He that is guilty let him be guilty still." The hon. Gentleman the Attorney General has not answered my question or given me a single precedent during the last thirty years for his procedure in this matter. The Courts, it is true, have recognised the principle of the Attorney General's procedure, just as it is admitted that the Mouse of Lords can throw out a Money Bill. The only case that could be quoted was "Regina v. Castro "(Q. B. D.); but in that case when the libel was published the Court was at the time sitting trying criminal cases. In this case the procedure did not take place till ten days afterwards. Was the Lord Chancellor consulted, or did Mr. Justice Darling himself take action? I maintain that the hon. and learned Gentleman has misused his position, and has converted himself into a Judge, or made himself the puppet of a Judge. The power of committal for contempt of court was declared by Lord Morris to be obsolete, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has re-galvanised that obsolete power, and tried as far as he could to revive judicial prosecutions. It has been said that I have attacked the Queen's Bench Judges. I have done nothing of the kind. I absolutely approve of the action of the Lord Chief Justice, but I object to the revival of an obsolete procedure for the purpose of vindicating anyone's lost self-love.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ * MR. WEIR (ROSS and Cromarty)
pointed out that, in regard to this Vote, there were several items which required some explanation. He noticed the item "three assistants" for which a sum of £1,000 is provided. One of those gentlemen is in receipt of a salary of £800, which appears to be a large amount; some explanation ought to be given us to how long that salary had been paid, and the age of the assistant. Another item to which he called attention was £450 for solicitor's clerks, an increase of £350 over the estimate of the previous year. He begged to reduce the Vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £33,694, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Weir.)
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
said he could give a very satisfactory explanation with regard to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Although there appeared to be some small increase in these items, there was really a decrease on the whole. A great part of the work of the Treasury Solicitor had formerly to be done on agency terms, a very well-known firm having done work of that character for many years; but a small Departmental Committee sat upon the question a few years ago, with the result that a Law Courts branch of the Treasury Solicitor's Offices was opened, which had resulted in a salving to the country of between,£3,000 and £4,000 a year. That was the explanation of the second item to which the attention of the Committee had been called. With regard to the first item, as to one of the assistants of the Queen's Proctor, that amount had appeared in the Estimates for many years; but it would be probably within the recollection of the Committee that there ceased to be a separate office for the Queen's Proctor some years ago. The office was abolished for the purposes of economy, and the work of the Queen's Proctor was undertaken by the Public Prosecutor, who took over certain officials from the office of the Queen's Proctor, among whom was the gentlemen whose salary had been called into question. When a vacancy arose the question of that salary would be considered. The work which had to be performed required some skill, and could not be done by an ordinary clerk. During the term of the present Government some, thousands a year had been saved for the country by the process of centralisation which had been adopted.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
I should like to ask one question. Is it proposed to extend the principle of centralisation? I noticed that when a vacancy occurred by the retirement of the solicitor to the Board of Trade another appointment was made.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
said that this was a very important question, and there was no doubt that in matters of this 31 kind centralisation could be overdone if move work was attempted to be put on to a Department than it could compass. It was true there was a separate solicitor for the Board of Trade, the Office of Woods and Forests, the Customs, and the Post Office, and it was not certain that centralisation had not been carried too far in connection with the War Office. There were certain offices under the Homo Office the work of which ought to be carried out by the Treasury solicitor, and a good deal in a small way had been done to bring about that result. At one time there was a separate solicitor for the Attorney General, but on the death of the late solicitor a few years ago a small Departmental Committee sat and transferred those duties to the Law Courts branch of the Treasury solicitors. So far as the Government could, they had adopted the idea of centralisation, but it would be a very great mistake to carry the principle too far.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ 2. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £22,689, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1901, for certain Miscellaneous Legal Expenses, including Grants in aid of the Expenses of the Incorporated Law Societies of England and Ireland."
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he desired to call attention to the amount of the item set down as a grant-in-aid to the Incorporated Law Societies of England and Ireland—£3,000. The Vote was first invented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but when it was first proposed it was opposed by the Leader of the Opposition, then the right hon. Member for West Monmouthshire. He (Mr. Gibson Bowles) also raised some arguments against it, and it was immediately withdrawn. But then a great lawyer's whip was issued, and a Wednesday resolution was passed, and in the next Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the item re-appeared, as at the suggestion of the House. He did not know whether there was any Incorporated Law Society of Scotland.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (continuing)
said the grant was a grant-in-aid for the purpose of enabling the Incorporated Law Societies, who were the greatest trades unions in the country, to strike solicitors off the rolls in case of misconduct. No-doubt the more there were struck off the fewer would remain to divide whatever fees there were to earn. But the pretext was that £2,500—which was the amount the English Incorporated Society received— was furnished to that body because, representing the solicitors, it took charge of the morals of the flock. It was constantly inquiring into the deeds, good and bad, of the flock, and whenever it found a black sheep it brought it before the council, and then before the Court, to be struck off the rolls, that power not being given to the Incorporated Law Society but to the Judges of the High Court. It was outrageous for the governing body of any society to-come to the nation and to profess to require from the nation payment in order to keep its own house clean, because that was what it amounted to. The barristers did not got a halfpenny. Was the Attorney General coming to Parliament to get another £2,000 (or what would be the relative proportion — £20,000?) to keep their house clean, for barristers? They did this without making any demand upon the nation at all, and so it always was with the solicitors up to a few years ago, when the proposal to give them a grant was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was outrageous that a body like this, professing to be animated by the highest principles of virtue and propriety, should come and ask for money to keep their house clean. Surely it was worth while to do this for themselves. The Committee would observe that there was a note to the grant setting forth that the expenditure would not be subject to audit. That meant that they were to pay £2,500 to the English society and £500 to the Irish society, and they were to have no knowledge whatever what was done with the money. They never had had any knowledge how the £2,500 was arrived at, and could not tell whether this was not a mon- 33 strously overrated sum to give to these societies for the purpose set forth. Let them assume for a moment that the purpose was a proper one, and that the nation should pay the solicitors for weeding out their evil brethren, what was there to show that this was the proper sum to pay for it? He had private and accurate information, which he did not feel at liberty to indicate in detail to the House, to the effect that £2,500 was largely in excess of anything that could properly be charged as the cost of the process of striking members off the roll and discovering their misdeeds. One of he most important questions he had to put was, how do you arrive at this £2,500 for the English society and £500 for the Irish society? Did the £2,500 include the rent of the buildings in which the society met? Did it include any proportion of their luncheons and other expenses of a purely personal nature? What were the items of which it was composed? Then again, why was this sum to be withdrawn from the Auditor and Comptroller General? That officer did not know how it was composed, he was not to be allowed to audit it, not a penny of any unexpended balance was to be refunded, and, there being thus no account, no audit, and no return, for aught the Committee could tell every halfpenny of it might be embezzled, or be applied to an entirely different purpose to that for which it was supposed to be voted. He had, of course, the highest opinion of lawyers, though he never dared to approach them until he was absolutely forced to do it. But he would entrust no man with £2,500 where luncheons, meetings, and rents of buildings were in the way unless he had a proper account at the end of each year. Here the proper method of audit contemplated by Parliament by an officer of the House was entirely thrown over. The Auditor and Comptroller General was the great and only check they had really upon the handling of the money after it left the hands of the House. The grants were appropriated by the Appropriation Act, but the House had always recognised that that of itself was not sufficient in order to the complete and proper security that the money had been applied to its proper destination. An officer was required. That officer was not an officer of the Ministry or the Crown; he was an officer of that House. 34 Without his fiat not a halfpenny could be drawn from the Bank of England, and when it was drawn out he had in every other case the absolute power to go into every single item and ask questions of the most minute kind. Then he made his report to the Public Accounts Committee, and again the whole thing was brought under review. Now, forsooth, they were called upon to vote this sum and not to know where a single halfpenny of it went! It was monstrous to ask them to continue the grant without the slightest information. It was conceivable that a wave of virtue might flow over the solicitors this year, and that no one of them would embezzle any of his client's money, or commit any of those acts which would render him liable to be struck off the roll. He did not expect it himself, but even if not a farthing of the £3,000 was expended for the purpose for which it was voted, they would never see a single farthing of it back. Under those circumstances, and also because this Vote had never been defensible, he moved the reduction of the Vote to the extent of £3,000.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item L (Grants-in-aid to Incorporated Law Societies of England and Ireland) be omitted from the Vote."— (Mr. Gibson Bowles.)
§ MR. CALDWELL
said that in Scotland the system had been to include in the salaries the expenses of Judges who went on circuit. They provided the expenses of their own lodgings. In England there was no control over the expenses of the Judges, and they did not know how much the charges came to in the case of one Judge or another. Perhaps the Attorney General would be able to say how many Judges went on circuit, and how much the expenses amounted to per head. The sum in the Estimates seemed a very large one. There was no need now for the paraphernalia and ceremony which formerly took place when Judges visited particular districts on circuit, and the sum of £21,300 seemed rather inordinate. It seemed also liable to abuse, because they had not got particulars regarding the expenditure of every item. The amount for revising barristers in the case of England was £25,463 (page 215), and then, on the 35 next page, they found that the local authorities repaid £12,731, or practically one half. He did not understand why it was that in the case of England revising; barristers should be paid out of the Imperial funds. In Scotland they had to pay nothing whatever. The charges were provided for out of the local rates entirely, and he failed to observe any principle for dividing it in the case of England between the Imperial Government and the local ratepayers. If there was any charge at all, why should it not be upon the local rates in England, the same as in Scotland? It was always advisable and necessary to call attention to these discrepancies between the two kingdoms, because it was certainly found that England got a large amount of subsidy out of the Imperial funds for which there was no corresponding payment to Scotland. With regard to the matter to which the hon. Member for King's Lynn had called attention, he said that in Scotland there was an Incorporated Law Society, on all fours with the Incorporated Law Societies of England and Ireland, and there was nothing in the Estimates going to that society. Possibly the Attorney General would tell them that the lawyers in Scotland were so virtuous that they did not require this supervision at all. He failed to see upon what principle the sum of £2,500 was given, but, if such a payment was to be made to private individuals—for that was what it came to—a regular detailed statement should be submitted and the money accounted for in the usual way. If the purging of the Roll of Solicitors was a public duty, which ought to be paid for by the country, let the amount actually spent be paid out of public funds under the usual supervision. The hon. Member had that morning received an invitation to a dinner of the Law Society, and he would be extremely interested to know, before accepting, whether any part of this money went to defray the cost of such functions. The system was altogether a wrong one, and he should support the reduction.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I was not aware until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn that this subject would be raised this afternoon; but, as a member of the council of the society, though not of the discipline committee, I think it right 36 and due to my colleagues, I should say a word on the question. My hon. friend can scarcely be serious in suggesting that money given for this specific purpose is used for what he called lunches (which is immediately magnified by the hon. Gentleman opposite into dinners, and so on), and still less in suggesting the misappropriation of public money, which any acts such as those imputed would undoubtedly be.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
May I correct the hon. Member? What I said was that there was no security against it.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
My hon. friend will excuse me, but I do not think it is for any gentleman to impute fraud in dealing with matters of this sort. I thought it was part of his passing humour, but apparently he means it somewhat seriously. It is an easy part to play— that of evoking feeling against a particular class—but I cannot help thinking that the feeling which animated the hon. Gentleman is as old as the fifteenth century, when Jack Cade, another demagogue, said, "The first thing we do, let us kill all the lawyers." The history of this matter has been entirely forgotten. This is a payment of public money for a public service—a service imposed upon the Incorporated Law Society by statute. In pursuance of that statute the council of the society appoints a discipline committee, which acts judicially, and the findings of which may have to be approved by the court. In every sense of the term this is public work, performed, as I venture to suggest, in the public interest. It is contended that the payment is very excessive. I have no personal knowledge of the exact time demanded by the actual duties of the discipline committee, but I know that the committee has, unfortunately perhaps, to sit frequently, and I remember one case— that of a person named Beall, who was ultimately convicted—upon which the discipline committee sat for some twenty-eight or thirty days at intervals. Counsel were employed; the man was afterwards heard before the court itself, and counsel had to be again instructed. The fees for all these purposes had to be paid, and to say that there should be a detailed accounting for this money—not, after all, a large sum in itself, and there are lump sums quite as large in the Estimates 37 which are similarly dealt with—every year is, I think, under the circumstances, putting a somewhat small matter rather too high. The fact is that the question was considered very carefully by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and this amount was agreed, upon an average based on previous work and experience, as a fair remuneration for the service to be rendered by the society. I am told that, so far from there being any surplus, quite the reverse is the case. When my hon. friend asks whether there is any payment for rent of premises—of course there is, or ought to be, in one sense though perhaps not in terms. The investigations are held at the Law Institution.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
was understood to dissent from the statement that there was a payment for rent.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
There is no payment of a specific item for rent, but the agreed sum covers the use of the hall for the purpose of hearing the investigations. The discipline committee sits there as a tribunal. To suggest, as did the hon. Member opposite, that the money is paid to private individuals is altogether wrong. On the contrary, this is the administration of a public duty in the public, no less than a professional interest. If my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn, instead of saying his information is from a private and accurate source, would tell us whence it comes, I venture to say it would be found that though private it is altogether inaccurate —so inaccurate that when similar representations were made through the same channels which are well known to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the society was at once most properly called upon to vindicate its position, an admittedly and absolutely conclusive answer was made to the allegations. I cannot help thinking that it is going much too far to make against a public institution charges such as have been suggested this afternoon without the slightest foundation, and that such a course of action is a very poor return for the performance of a compulsory public service.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
In regard to this matter I can put the House in possession of certain facts which will show my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn that he is really quite mis- 38 informed. I will not say anything with regard to the tone of his speech except that I regret the hon. Gentleman should have thought fit to speak of the Council of the Incorporated Law Society in the way he has, and to say that they were receiving an outrageously larger sum than is ever expended.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
To use even hypothetically such words as "embezzlement" and "spending the money on luncheons, rent, and other unlawful purposes" certainly does not conduce to the fair investigation of the matter. The hon. Member below the gangway has stated quite accurately a certain part of the story, but he has omitted one or two rather important points which I would venture to supply so that the House may understand the position. Prior to the Act of 51 and 52 Vic.—that is, prior to the year 1888—the work of investigating the conduct of solicitors against whom complaints were made was done by an officer of the High Court. The Masters had to investigate the charges in Chambers. Having in days gone by appeared for and against solicitors in such proceedings, I can say that the inquiries were long and tedious, and were not, perhaps, carried out under the most satisfactory circumstances, because, skilled though the Masters were, they had not the mass of knowledge that the leading members of the legal profession would have of such matters. I have known cases to last forty or fifty days, so that the charge on the public time was very considerable. A most careful investigation was made into the matter, and it was found in the year 1888 that the average cost of the disciplinary duties was no less than £4,500 per annum. I say, so that there may be no misunderstanding, that not one farthing was included in that for luncheons, dinners, or other corrupt payments, or even for any rent properly so called. Nothing was paid to the Incorporated Law Society for rent. It is perfectly true that the society placed their premises at the disposal of the discipline committee, but the hon. Member con- 39 veyed an erroneous impression if he was understood to say they made any charge for the premises. No charge of any sort or kind was made. The amount having been fixed at £4,500, an application was made to the Treasury, and, so far from taking a figure largely in excess of the sum expended, the Incorporated Law Society receives, after a resolution of the House of Commons recognising the principle that a portion of the expense should be borne by public funds, a payment of £2,500 a year. I have not got the actual figures for the present year. I do not know who saw fit to instruct the hon. Member for King's Lynn to bring these charges.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The expenses every year have exceeded the £2,500, and not one single farthing has been made by the Incorporated Law Society on this account. I do not complain of the principle of the hon. Member, for he is perfectly entitled to say that the Incorporated Law Society ought to do this work for nothing. I had something to do with representing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the position of matters was, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolver-hampton was good enough to assist me in investigating this matter to see what would be a fair contribution to the Incorporated Law Society for taking upon themselves this work. With regard to the way in which the work is done, I believe that the actual investigation by the Incorporated Law Society is much more satisfactory than any inquiry before the Master. I am perfectly satisfied that there is no real and substantial ground for the objection which the hon. Member has raised with respect to this work. With regard to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, I am quite willing to give the information he asks for. The figure quoted by him has nothing whatever to do with the payments made to the Judges. The sheriff's have to find the Judges' lodgings, and a number of other expenses have to be incurred by them when Judges are on circuit, and of late years we have found very considerable difficulty in getting men to serve in this capacity. In Lancashire there are now ten assizes where there used to be 40 only two; in Yorkshire there are six where there used to be only two; and in Bristol and many other towns there are now four where there used to be only two. Some years ago a contribution was made in the shape of an allowance to the sheriff for these expenses, and I am informed that these allowances have been revised by the Treasury, and that the sheriffs are paid upon a fixed scale. These expenses have increased from £13,000 in 1890 to £21,000 in 1899, and they have been paid according to the scale.
§ MR. CALDWELL
That was not my point. My point is that in Scotland these expenses are included in the salaries.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
In Great Britain the sheriffs have no salary; not-only this, but they are actually out of pocket.
§ MR. CALDWELL
When a Judge goes on circuit in Scotland there are no such allowances, for he pays these expenses himself, and it is all included in his salary.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The High Sheriff is the gentleman in respect of whom the expenses are paid, and I think it is a proper contribution, and it is authorised by law. With regard to the revising barristers, they have previously had to deal with Parliamentary elections only, but when county elections were included in their work an arrangement was made by which half of the increase in their salaries should be paid by the county.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I do not think the Attorney General has been very successful in the answers he has given. He professes to be in a good temper, but he has an amiable and oleaginous manner of insinuating most irrelevant things. He says I have been instructed to bring these charges, but I have not been instructed by anybody. I bring forward matters which are worthy of the attention of this Committee without any instructions at all, and I have taken no fee. I am not an Attorney General or a barrister, and as a Member of this House I act upon nobody's instructions. The Attorney General in his reply is as irrelevant as he is offensive. What I want is an account. What I said at the beginning is that we are asked to vote £3,000 and we have never been 41 told how it is made up. Let us have some figures as to how this sum is composed. The Attorney General makes his very long, very righteous, and very slippery speech, and he never gives a single figure of this operation by which one solicitor is allowed to assassinate another. I want to know how this sum is made up. I believe the hon. Member for South Islington is a member of this virtuous Star Chamber.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
My hon. friend is a member of this superior council, and he told us that this item includes an agreed sum of £2,500, which covers the rent of the hall; but the Attorney General says it does not.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
I am sure that my hon. friend does not intend to misrepresent what I said. I said that of course the item included some consideration for the use of the place in which the
§ tribunal sat, but not as any part of an agreed sum.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
The words used by the hon. Member were that the agreed sum covered the rent of the hall, and the Attorney General says it does not. There is an easy way of settling this question, and it is by giving us an account. Surely the Attorney General can tell us how this £3,000 is composed. I shall be quite satisfied if this is done, but it is perfectly absurd for the hon. Gentleman to try and throw odium upon me because I claim no more than a proper audit. Will he give us the items or allow a proper audit? If he will do this I will at once withdraw my motion. As he has made no attempt to meet me in this matter except by insinuations as baseless as they are ridiculous, I shall divide on the motion for reduction.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 45; Noes, 149. (Division List No. 102.)43
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Green, Walford D (Wednesbury)||Runciman, Walter|
|Brigg, John||Griffith, Ellis J.||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Burns, John||Gurdon, Sir Wm. Brampton||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Caldwell, James||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Cameron, Robert (Durham)||Holland, William Henry||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)||Steadman, William Charles|
|Colville, John||Langley, Batty||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Crilly, Daniel||Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cumb'land)||Tanner, Charles Kearns|
|Dilke, Lit. Hon. Sir Charles||M'Crae, George||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Duckworth, James||Maddison, Fred||Warner, Thos. Courtenay T.|
|Dunn, Sir William||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Weir, James Galloway|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Woods, Samuel|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Nussey, Thomas Willans||TELLERS FOR THE AYES— Mr. Gibson Bowles and Mr. E. J. C. Morton.|
|Gold, Charles||Palmer, George W. (Reading)|
|Gourley, Sir Edw. Temperley||Price, Robert John|
|Acland-Hood, Capt Sir. Alex F.||Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Doxford, Sir William Theodore|
|Arnold, Alfred||Bullard, Sir Harry||Evans, Samuel T.(Glamorgan)|
|Arrol, Sir William||Butcher, John George||Evans, Sir F. H. (Southampton)|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Campbell, Rt. Hn. J A (Glasgow)||Fardell, Sir T. George|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Carson, Rt. Hon. Edward||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.|
|Balcarres, Lord||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lanes.)||Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r)||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.)||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, K.)||Fitz Wygram, General Sir F.|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Flower, Ernest|
|Barry, Rt. Hn. A H Smith-(Hunts)||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Forster, Henry William|
|Barry, Sir F. T. (Windsor)||Charrington, Spencer||Foster, Harry S. (Suffolk)|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Coddington, Sir William||Foster, Sir Michael (Lond. Un.)|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Coghill, Douglas Harry||Fowler, Right Hon. Sir Henry|
|Beckett, Ernest William||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Galloway, Wm. Johnson|
|Begg, Ferdinand Faithfull||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Gartit, William|
|Bethell, Commander||Cornwallis, F'iennes Stanley, W.||Gedge, Sydney|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H.||Giles, Charles Tyrrell|
|Billson, Alfred||Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)||Goldsworthy, Major-General|
|Blake, Edward||Curzon, Viscount||Gordon, Hon. John Edward|
|Bond, Edward||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon|
|Boulnois, Edward||Dickinson, Robert Edward||Goschen, Rt. Hn. G. J. (St. Geo.'s)|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Goulding, Edward Alfred|
|Gunter, Colonel||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye|
|Haldane, Richard Burdon||M'Arthur, William (Cornwall)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.||M'Killop, James||Ryder, John Herbert Dudley|
|Hanbury, Kt. Hon. Robt. W.||Malcolm, Ian||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard|
|Hanson, Sir Reginald||Manners, Lord Edward Wm. J.||Seton-Karr, Henry|
|Heath, James||Maple, Sir John Blundell||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Hedderwick, Thomas Charles H||Maxwell, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert E.||Simeon, Sir Harrington|
|Hoare, Edward B. (Hampstead)||Middlemore, John Throgmort'n||Smith, James P. (Lanarks)|
|Horniman, Frederick John||Mil ward, Colonel Victor||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Howell, William Tudor||Monckton, Edward Philip||Spencer, Ernest|
|Hudson, George Bickersteth||Monk, Charles James||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez E.||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Sutherland, Sir Thomas|
|Jones, David Brynmor (Sw'nsea)||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt. Hn. Sir U||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Tomlinson, Wm. Ed. Murray|
|Kimber, Henry||Murray, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Bute)||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Kitson, Sir James||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Ure, Alexander|
|Knowles, Lees||Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay||Warde, Lieut.-Col. C. E.(Kent)|
|Lafone, Alfred||Pease, H. Pike (Darlington)||Webster, Sir Richard E.|
|Laurie, Lieut.-General||Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Crn.)||Pender, Sir James||Williams, J. Powell-(Birm.)|
|Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Percy, Earl||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Leese, Sir Joseph F. (Accrington)||Pilkington, R. (Lancs, Newton)||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-|
|Leng, Sir John||Plunkett, lit. Hon. Horace C.||Wyndham, George|
|Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn (Swansea||Pretyman, Ernest George||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Liverpool)||Pym, C. Guy||Young, Commander (Berks, E.)|
|Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Rentoul, James Alexander|
|Lowther, Rt. Hn. James (Kent)||Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Anstruther and Mr. Fisher.|
|Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson|
|Maclure, Sir John William||Robinson, Brooke|
Resolution agreed to.
§ 3. £185,490, to complete the sum for Supreme Court of Judicature.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
Before this Vote is taken I desire, not to move a reduction, but to endeavour to elicit, if possible, some information as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the circuit system. The system in vogue at present, by which the country is divided into a number of areas, is provided for by the Judicature Act, 1875, which empowers Her Majesty by Order in Council to make the necessary arrangements. Under such Orders in Council a circuit may be recast and the places and dates for holding assizes may be changed. It is admitted even by so high an authority. as the Lord Chancellor that the attempt to combine the present circuit system with London business has not been altogether satisfactory. A great deal remains to be done to economise the time of Judges, jurors, and witnesses, to accelerate the administration of justice, and to save public money. As between £30,000 and £40,000 is included in this Vote for circuit expenditure, it is an opportune occasion for raising the general question of the intentions of the Government with regard to the circuit system. The dates for holding assizes are now so distributed that at the winter assizes held in January there is only a small accumulation of cases. At the spring or 44 summer assizes in May or June there is a larger accumulation because of the longer period which intervenes between the two assizes, and at the autumn assizes, which are held about the middle of November, there is a very large accumulation of cases. The result is that there may be as many as forty cases at an autumn assizes, whereas there may be only half a dozen cases at a winter assizes. This unequal distribution renders it difficult to provide for the anticipated requirements of the circuits, and it also involves an enormous waste of the time of the Judges and of the grand and petty jurors who have to attend the assizes. It involves, further, a very great social mischief, inasmuch as where there is a very heavy list all the parties concerned and all the witnesses have necessarily to wait about the precincts of a criminal court from day to day for perhaps a whole fortnight. But the greatest injustice is not done to the counsel or professional men or witnesses, but too frequently to the prisoners. Many of the prisoners committed after the summer assizes are detained in prison for periods extending from eight to twenty weeks; and yet after all they are found to be perfectly innocent. The arrangements for the circuit are at present dependent on an Order in Council of 1893, supplemented by an Order in Council of last year. The latter Order goes but a very small way towards removing 45 the injustice, as it only deals with three counties—Kent, Sussex, and Surrey. In order to get through with their work, the Judges have frequently to sit from ten o'clock in the morning till ten, and eleven, and sometimes twelve o'clock at night. Now, is it fair to expect Judges, counsel and jurors to sit these long hours and do justice to the cases brought before them? Mr. Justice Hawkins stated a short time ago that in three cases of acquittal the prisoners had already suffered more punishment than he would have inflicted had they been found guilty. The cruelty and injustice of the prolonged detention of prisoners is not only admitted but deplored by the Judges on the bench. So much for the strain on the Judges and on the prisoners. The judicial statistics for the last complete year show that of the men who were acquitted, forty-eight had been detained between eight and twelve weeks awaiting trial, twenty-three had been detained between twelve and sixteen weeks awaiting trial, and no fewer than fifteen had been detained for more than sixteen weeks before trial. All these men, be it remembered, were innocent men. On the 18th July last the Home Secretary, in reply to an hon. Member on the other side of the House, said that the question of the long detention of prisoners should not be lost sight of.* On the 4th July last a request was made from this side of the House for the appointment of some kind of tribunal or Royal Commission, or Departmental Committee, to inquire into the matter. The First Lord of the Treasury replied "that there was no reason for such an inquiry, as all the facts were in the hands of the public; some remedy had already been devised, but he understood that that remedy was insufficient; the matter was under the consideration of the Lord Chancellor, who would have some proposal to make before long of a legislative character."† Now, I have sought in vain for any indication of any legislative proposal either here or elsewhere. I am not aware of any proposal which meets the case of injustice that I have put before the House. The grievance is an old-standing one; the Bar Committee have over and over again condemned the unreasonable length of time which prisoners*See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxiv., page 1172.† See Ibid., Vol. lxxiii., page 1424.46 are detained awaiting trial. I hope the Government will give some information to the House as to what they propose to do in regard to this matter.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I am sure no one who has listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman but must recognise the extreme importance of the question brought before the House. I am quite satisfied that you cannot effect a reform in the circuit system without doing something to delegate some part of the circuit Judges' duties to other officers. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the question is intimately connected with County Court procedure, and includes matters over which I have no personal control, and therefore I can only discuss it in general terms. I believe that County Court procedure has had very careful consideration of the Lord Chancellor and the Judges, although, unfortunately, I am not able to go into details on the matter. Our old circuit system does not adapt itself to modern requirements, and no part of our judicial procedure has more occupied the thought of the Judges, barristers, and solicitors, but it is unfortunate that no change has yet ever been suggested which did not offend some local interest, and excite strong opposition. I believe that if half a dozen or a dozen practising lawyers, independent of party, were to sit down at a table and draw up an ideal circuit system, they would be able to get rid of many of the anomalies to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred; but as soon as the plan was promulgated it would meet with strong opposition from many quarters. One of the grievances referred to is that Judges are frequently taken to towns where they have little or nothing to do; but we know that these matters have to be arranged beforehand, and dates have to be fixed in ignorance of the amount of business that will come on. I agree that the system cannot be adapted readily to the present circumstances, but it is extremely difficult to devise any improvement without inflicting some injury or slight on some person or another. A change in the system is certainly needed, whereby waste of time, expense, and late sittings would be avoided. Since I first came into office in 1885 five of the most hard-working and ablest Judges of the Queen's Bench Division have devised schemes of reform, but they have not met 47 with any support. One Judge of the North-Eastern Circuit spent months in devising a scheme, and submitted it to the judgment of Lord Coleridge. But no sooner was the scheme published than it excited the strongest opposition in various parts of the country, simply because it interfered with a long-standing state of things. A good deal has been done in recent years, but I quite admit that much remains to be done when the House of Commons is sufficiently stalwart to resist the pressure of interested constituencies. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the existing circuit system is incompatible with continuous judicial work in London. I think there is a grievance in London in that respect, although it has been exaggerated. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of repeated visits of Judges in one part of England compared with other parts. All I say is that these repeated visits may lead to too much centralisation. Another difficulty is that some Judges say the present system is perfect. I do not agree with them; but at the same time where you have different influences permeating the country and coming from different persons it is very easy to talk of reforms, but very difficult to get them accomplished. So far as I know, it is the intention of the Government to do the best that can be done by cutting down the number of places to which Judges go unnecessarily, and to frame rules to give more elasticity, and avoid those spurts of work which frequently put undue pressure upon the court. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the period prisoners were detained in prison before trial. A few sessions ago the Home Secretary issued instructions, the result of which was to largely reduce the period during which untried prisoners wore detained; and it is the practice of Judges to grant bail unless there are paramount reasons for refusing it. At the same time, I agree that that does not remove all the grievances of delay, and it is possible, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, that innocent men have been detained before trial for a period longer than the Judge would have sentenced them to had they been guilty. Personally, I am strongly in favour of minor charges being speedily tried, and the prisoners brought before a Court of Quarter Sessions. That would be a means of relieving the assize courts of many of the trumpery 48 charges which are brought before them. The House of Commons has not yet made up its mind to extend the jurisdiction of quarter sessions, and if there were more stipendiary magistrates it would lead to a considerable increase in expenditure. The subject bristles with difficulties, and I cannot hope to give the hon. and learned Gentleman much satisfaction; but I can assure him that the desirability of a satisfactory arrangement being reached is in the minds of Her Majesty's advisers as much as his own.
§ 4. £19,246, to complete the sum for Land Registry.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
said he proposed to move the reduction of the Vote by £1,000 in order to raise a question with regard to the considerable increase in respect to the Vote for the Land Registry. The present Estimate of Expenditure showed an increase of 50 per cent. compared with the fees received for the transactions which took place at the Land Registry. He failed to discover why, for ordinary purposes, the increase was necessary. The Registry, judging from personal experience, took a very considerable time in doing its work. There was no pressure upon it, and he could not see any reason for the increase which appeared on the Estimates. He also noticed that there was a Bill before the House under which it was proposed to take a large sum of money—some £33,000, he thought—in addition to the tem the Committee was now discussing for the purpose of new buildings. He did not propose to raise the whole question of land registration and land transfer in the slightest degree, for there were some differences of opinion about it within, as without, the profession, and he wished for no general controversy, but there did appear to be an enormous increase in the Estimate, and he hoped the Committee would receive a satisfactory assurance that there was not, as there appeared to be on the face of the Estimate, any departure from the arrangement entered into advisedly by the Government, with the knowledge, if not through the direct intermediation, of the Attorney General, under which the Land Transfer Bill was allowed to go through, and by which there was to be a trial of compulsory land registration, limited to one county 49 (London) in the first instance, for three years. The system came into operation in part of the county of London in 1899, and the partial experiment therefore would not be concluded until 1902, and the whole trial not until some two years later. And yet there was this new building and this largely-increased sum. Having regard to the arrangement which had been entered into, it would be convenient to the Committee to have the assurances for which he asked. He could not congratulate the Land Registry on the speedy manner in which it had conducted its work, and he thought it would be interesting to hear first of all whether the assurances given at the time the Land Transfer Bill was passed had been, and would be, fully carried out; and secondly, how far land registration had succeeded up to the present time which was a matter not only of professional but of much public interest.
§ MR. CALDWELL
pointed out that, from the point of view of expense, whilst on the one side there was an increase in the expenditure of £9,000, on the other there was an increase in the receipts of £13,000, so that on that ground there was no deficit. Looking at it from another point of view, it was necessary to see how far the fees were in excess of what was really legitimate, because in questions of registration it was expected that the receipts should balance to a very large extent the expenditure, and if the large expenditure of £13,000 was deducted from the receipts there was a balance of £20,000 to the bad. Having looked at the matter from all points, he came to the conclusion that the increase of £3,000 was due to the extension of the Land Registry Act of 1897. The system of registration in England was far better than that of Scotland, and in his opinion the increase appearing in the Estimates would pay all the expenses of the Land Registry and the expenses of building as well.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
thought the hon. Gentleman was a little mistaken as to the figures when he pointed out that there was a credit balance; for the last three years the receipts had been stationary at £20,000, whilst the expenses had risen from £23,000 in the previous year to £32,000 in the present.
§ MR. BILLSON (Halifax)
invited the Attorney General to tell the Committee 50 what was really the position. Hon. Gentlemen had spoken mysteriously of changes which had taken place, but very few hon. Members knew anything of the matter. He was very anxious to know how far the system had succeeded in London up to the present. It had been applied by the London County Council, the experience of which was to be the test and guide to indicate to other county councils as to whether or not they would be wise in adopting the system. He thought it would be found that some pressure would have to be brought to bear by the Government on the county councils of the country in order to get them to adopt the measure. What the Committee really wanted to know was what was being done.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said he desired to supplement the questions already addressed to the Attorney General by one with regard to possessory titles. He would ask the Government to say to what extent the owners of real estate had availed themselves of the provisions for registering possessory titles, which, in the course of time, would become absolute titles.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
regretted that the information asked for was not at the moment available, but undertook to have inquiries made before the Report stage, and give the House full information of the actual business done. He thought that possibly the information was not forthcoming owing to the fact that the system had been working for so short a period. The statistics asked had not been supplied, those which were supplied being general in their character. With regard to the second point which had been raised, he could not help thinking that a large increase in the receipts must have been anticipated, otherwise there would be no justification for such a large increase appearing in the present Estimates. There was not the slightest intention of departing from the understanding which had been arrived at at the time of the passing of the Land Transfer Act, and no step had been taken to depart from it. In point of fact, in consequence of that understanding, the Act had not been put so fully into force as might otherwise have been the case had no understanding been arrived at. The Act had come into force over the county of London not all at once, but by instalments, which would not otherwise have 51 been the case. The increase of expenditure was due to the increase of staff necessitated by the increase of business which had taken place, and also that which it was anticipated would take place. Although one ought not to be too sanguine at such an early stage, the increase in the work had been such that it was confidently anticipated it would continue to increase. The object and usefulness of the Act had been made apparent. He was afraid he could not answer the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire with regard to the actual number of those who had availed themselves of the privilege of registering possessory titles. But there had been a very large increase in the ordinary work of registration. The transactions under the old Registration Title Acts, which were Acts to which the hon. Member referred, wore, in 1897, 934. In 1898 there were 1,120; in 1899 there were no fewer than 5,535. Under that one head alone, therefore, the business in 1899 was five times as great as in the previous year. Unfortunately he was not able to say what proportion of these, figures represented the actual registration of new titles, but there had been very substantial progress and a steady growth of business under the Land Registry Act, because the searches for charges and discharges showed in the last year an increase of 2,000. He did not know that he could at the present moment say more than that. The estimated increase of the expenditure was required by the absolutely necessary increase of staff, having regard not only to the Land Transfer Act but also to the work which was conducted under the Land Charges Act. This increase would be more than met by the estimated receipts, assuming the estimate not to be an unduly sanguine one. Perhaps he ought to add that the increase of the building and accommodation of the Land Registry Office would have to be undertaken quite independently of the Land Charges Act, in consequence of the increase of business and the amalgamation of the offices.
§ 5. £19,925, to complete the sum for County Courts.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
called attention to the points he had raised from time to 52 time with regard to the fees of the County Courts. He said he had so often addressed the Government on the subject that it was idle to labour the question at this stage, and he would just ask the Attorney General what he proposed to do.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
said it was perfectly true that in some undefended cases the fees in County Courts were higher than they would have been in the High Court. The question of the fees charged in certain cases in the County Court was being investigated by a committee of County Court Judges. They had not yet reported, and he was rather-surprised that their report had not been received.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
pointed out the necessity of an extension of the County Court jurisdiction. Under the present circuit system we were always talking of wanting Judges, and at the same time were continually wasting Judges. Local interests and feeling ought not to be allowed to supersede national interests, which were paramount. The time and possible services of the chief officers of County Courts were also much wasted. When he was a Registrar of a County Court, on one side proofs of debt amounting to £30,000 or £40,000 could be dealt with by him, whilst on the common law side his jurisdiction was limited to the paltry amount of forty shillings. In his opinion no real reform could take place in the County Courts until they were recognised as Courts of First Instance and as branches of the High Court. If that were done a great deal of business would be transacted locally without much expense, and if the present rule that the jurisdiction could only be extended by consent were reversed, and suitors were permitted to enter their causes for any amount, subject to a right of removal above a certain sum, either as of right, the County Courts would be much more used for the local administration of justice. But probably at the present moment all the House could hope for was. some moderated extension of the present very anomalous jurisdictions of the County Courts. He was glad to hear that a committee was investigating the subject, but the natural corollary of that was that no legislation could be expected during the present session. He hoped, however, that something would be done in the matter 53 very early next year, and he should give notice to that effect.
§ MR. BILLSON
said he did not think the Attorney General knew how very seriously the question of County Court reform weighed upon the people in the north of England. It was a subject which came before them constantly. There was never a meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce nor a conference of the various tradesmen's societies unless this question was raised. When private Members brought in Bills, other local Members were inundated with applications from their constituents to support the Bill brought in. Constituents did not seem to understand, however, that a measure of this kind could not be passed at the instance of a private Member. He hoped that next session a County Courts Bill would be put into the Queen's Speech and receive the serious consideration of the Government. They knew that these matters were not attended to, because party capital could not be made out of them and no pressure could be put upon the Government with regard to them. He hoped, however, the Attorney General would crown his career by bringing in a Bill of this kind and by making a reform in the law which would be hailed with acclamation in commercial circles.
§ *THE CHAIRMAN, interposing, said it was quite irregular to discuss in Committee of Supply a question of proposed legislation.
§ 6. £31,778, to complete the sum for Police, England and Wales.
§ 7. £358,964, to complete the sum for Prisons, England and the Colonies.
§ 8. £121,623, to complete the sum for Reformatory and Industrial Schools, Great Britain.
§ 9. £23,946, to complete the sum for Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.