HC Deb 19 June 1903 vol 123 cc1460-72

As amended (by the Standing Committee) considered.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said the Amendment he proposed to move was to substitute £60 for £100 in Clause 3. The object of the Amendment was to insure that the reasons for which, the County Courts were established should prevail. It was thought desirable to give small suitors and people in poor circumstances a less expensive method of resorting to the process of the law, and therefore the County Courts were established with limited jurisdiction. He was afraid if the jurisdiction of those Courts was extended it might possibly deprive the people for whom they were established of the privileges which they now had. If the promoters of the Bill could show that the work the County Courts had to do was so small that the jurisdiction could be profitably extended, then he would be prepared not to press his Amendment to a division. He regretted very much that in the ordinary course invoking the assistance of the law should be so expensive, and he would be glad to hear from some of the Members, of what was called the senior branch of the profession, whom he saw present, whether a means of cheapening the cost of the law could not be invented. He had been told that the whole administration of the County Courts was bad; that the fees were higher in proportion than the fees in the other Courts of law, and that the proper course to pursue in a case of this sort would be to overhaul the administration of the County Courts. Whether that was so or not he did not know, but seeing so many eminent Members of the bar around him, he hoped they would be able to throw some light upon the question. With regard to the suggestion to increase the number of Judges at the County Courts, he did not think that was in the power of the promoters of the Bill. He begged to move.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 13, to leave out the words 'one hundred,' and to insert the word 'sixty.'"—(Sir Frederick Banbury.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'one hundred' stand part of the Bill."


opposed the Amendment. The hon. Member himself had expressed his desire for cheaper law and quicker administration, and anyone familiar with the block of business which had taken place at times in the Courts would see the great advantage of supplementing the higher Courts by increasing the jurisdiction of the County Courts. He pointed out that the clause had passed the House without a division, and with regard to the £100 all the discussion that had taken place upstairs was as to whether it should not be increased to £200. As the former registrar of a large Court he ventured to say, that while the Courts had fulfilled their original purpose they had also shown themselves capable of dealing with higher business with advantage, especially to the commercial community. In regard to the suggestion that more Judges would be required, he wished to point out that in many cases the present Judges, excellent as was the work which they did, had not their time fully occupied. As to fees, practice, and procedure, the Rules Committee of the Judges and the Lord Chancellor were able to deal with those matters. He hoped the Amendment would not be pressed.

SIR WILLIAM HOLLAND (Yorkshire, W.R., Rotherham)

said he would have preferred to have seen the limit raised to £500. He had been pressed by the Chambers of Commerce to come here to-day and say that they would very much rather see this Bill passed, even with the limit of £100, than that it should be hung up for another session. He opposed the Amendment.


said in his constituency no confidence at all was felt in this Bill. He thought a good case had been made out for the Amendment, and he supported it. It raised the limit by £10, and he did not see that any case had been made out for extending it further.


said the district of the hon. Member was singular in the respect of having no confidence in this Bill. If everybody had been of that opinion they would not have had resolutions passed so unanimously year after year urging this reform on the Government as had been passed by the various Chambers of Commerce. That was a convincing proof of what the country felt upon this matter. The principle of the Bill had been accepted over and over again in this House. The workman's liability and other Acts which incorporated this principle had been referred to the County Courts for decision. And under the Bankruptcy Acts they had practically an unlimited jurisdiction. Under the circumstances he was surprised that so retrogressive a course should be suggested as was proposed by this Amendment. He hoped the House would reject the Amendment.

*MR. SAMUEL ROBERTS (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

urged his hon. friend to withdraw the Amendment which, if carried, would, he said, practically render the Bill useless. At the request of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce he had ventured in Grand Committee to move an extension to £500. Our large centres of industry were demanding more economical and speedy methods of obtaining justice. The ability of our County Court Judges was great. They had to administer the same principles of law as in the High Court, and why should not the poor have the same advantages as the rich? Our County Courts had unlimited jurisdiction in bankruptcy, and in other special cases could go much beyond £50. Surely they ought to be considered competent to deal with a common law action of £100.

MR. DUKE (Plymouth)

said all who had any knowledge of the Chambers of Commerce in our great towns were well aware of the strong public demand for some change to expedite the administration of justice, especially in commercial suits, and he regarded this Bill as more of a protest against the present system than as a practical means of remedying the existing evils. He could not help feeling at the same time that there was a desire for an extension of the jurisdiction of some of the County Court Judges in some towns where there were Chambers of Commerce. It would be idle, however, to disguise the fact that, there was a great deal of difference in the constitution of the County Court bench in various districts. At the present time any two suitors who really desired to settle a dispute could give the County Court Judge in any common law matter unlimited jurisdiction, but what was proposed in this Bill was that the plaintiff, at his own will, should be at liberty to bring an unwilling defendant into jurisdiction which was not the ordinary jurisdiction of the country. There was a strong local demand in some districts for this extension, but this Bill was so defective in failing to provide the necessary means for carrying out the scheme—for instance in not providing for the payment of salaries to County Court Judges corresponding to the very great extension of their duties. They were appointed Judges of small debt Courts forty or fifty years ago at precisely the present terms of remuneration. It might be desirable, if the change proposed by the Bill was to be made, to remodel the County Court system, and to appoint County Court Judges with a view to their discharging the duties which High Court Judges were now appointed to fulfil. It might also be necessary, seeing that the Bill would transfer a great volume of work from the High Court, to revise our present circuit system, which was the foundation of our administration of the common law. There was no doubt a strong feeling in this country in favour of some change in the administration of justice, but he was not satisfied that this Bill, if carried, would have those beneficial results which its promoters anticipated. He regarded the Bill with a good deal of apprehension, though he did not intend to vote for the Amendment.

MR. CHARLES McARTHUR (Liverpool, Exchange)

said the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and the Liverpool Law Society had expressed opinions averse to the extension of the jurisdiction of County Courts. They said these Courts were originally organised for the collection of small debts, and as such were effective, but that their usefulness in this respect would be impaired by the introduction of High Court business which the Courts had not the machinery to deal with and which the Bill did not provide. If a complete change were made in the County Court system, and if it were affiliated to the High Courts, it might then be provided with an organisation fitted to deal with both classes of cases, but that was not provided in the Bill now before the House, and therefore if the matter were pressed to a division he should support the proposal to extend the jurisdiction by only £10 instead of £50.

MR. EUGENE WASON (Clackmannan and Kinross)

said that so far as Liverpool was concerned that city already had a Vice Chancellor's Court as well as two County Courts; it was therefore well provided with machinery for dealing with all kinds of cases. He hoped the Bill would be allowed to proceed, and mentioned the Sheriffs' Courts in Scotland as analogous, to show that such Courts were well qualified for the business. He saw no reason why the extra labour should not be put on the County Court Judges.


desired to make a few observations, that it might not be imagined that if the Bill went through it would be possible to carry it out in practice. He was not saying that our County Court system might not be enlarged, but he wished to point out that there was absolutely no machinery in the Bill which would make it operative. With an extension of the jurisdiction, it became absolutely necessary to survey the whole system of County Courts, which were originally established as a poor man's Court for the collection of small debts in a rapid way, and the enlargement of the jurisdiction would not be equally satisfactory in all parts of the country, for the work would be clogged by the Court having to deal with larger cases. A serious question arose whether there should be no appeal from the decisions of the Court except on points of law. In its present shape, so far as he could see, the Bill would not be a workable measure. There was no provision for machinery or for the appointment of the necessary officers, and he did not think it right to let the Amendment pass with the idea on the part of the House that the Government thought there was the least possibility of the Bill working in a satisfactory way.

SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said those Members who had interested themselves in the subject were familiar with these arguments, which were those used when the extension of the Courts to the present limit was made in 1888.


You set up your officers then?


No, it was a great measure of consolidation. These very same objections were raised, and the answer was that experience in the working of the Act would show what additional machinery was required. But he had not since heard of any public inconvenience having arisen, and in reply to the present objections, therefore, he might again say that experience would show what additional machinery would be required. He quite agreed with the Solicitor-General it was necessary to overhaul the whole County Court system,

and a promise was made that this should be done in 1888, but never fulfilled. Chambers of Commerce and the mercantile community were anxious for the change; Liverpool, with its Court of Passage with unlimited jurisdiction, with its two County Courts, and with its Vice-Chancellor's Court, was the only exception. The feeling in Manchester was very different, and he did not think the House would be well advised to allow this Bill to drop simply because of difficulties which were purely administrative. Such difficulties the Treasury could provide for. A rearrangement and redistribution of staff might be necessary, and it was not the case generally that County Court Judges were overworked. The Government had not opposed the Second Reading, and it was too late now to declare the Bill unworkable. The House of Commons was bound to respond to the desire of the mercantile classes, and the responsibility for further Amendment should be left to the Government in the other House.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 197; Noes, 53. (Division List, No. 124.)

Abraham, W. (Cork, N. E.) Crombie, John William Godson, Sir Augustus Fredk.
Allan, Sir William (Gateshend) Cross, Alexander (Glasgow) Gordon, Hn. J. E. (Elgin and N'rn
Allsopp, Hon. George Cross, H. Shepherd (Bolton) Gore, Hn. G. R. C. Ormsby-(Salop
Ambrose, Robert Cullinan, J. Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Eldon
Asher, Alexander Dalrymple, Sir Charles Goulding, Edward Alfred
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbt. Hy. Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardign Griffith, Ellis J.
Atkinson, Right Hon. John Delany, William Groves, James Grimble
Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir H. Denny, Colonel Hare, Thomas Leigh
Austin, Sir John Devlin, Chas. Ramsay (Galway) Hatch, Ernest Frederick G.
Bain, Colonel James Robert Dewar, Sir T. R. (Tr. Haml'ts Hay, Hon. Claude George
Baldwin, Alfred Dickson, Charles Scott Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale-
Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey Doogan, P. C. Helder, Augustus
Beaumont, Wentworth C. B. Dorington, Rt. Hon. Sir J. E. Helme, Norval Watson
Bentinck, Lord Henry C. Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark) Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Chas. H.
Bill, Charles Doxford, Sir Wm. Theodore Hoare, Sir Samuel
Black, Alexander William Dunn, Sir William Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristl, E.
Bryce, Right Hon. James Edwards, Frank Hobhouse, Rt. Hn. H. (Somerset E.
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Emmott, Alfred Holland, Sir William Henry
Caldwell, James Faber, E. B. (Hants, W.) Hornby, Sir William Henry
Cameron, Robert Farquharson, Dr. Robert Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry
Campbell, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Glasg.) Fenwick, Charles Howard, J. (Midd., Tott'ham
Causton, Richard Knight Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk.
Charrington, Spencer Flower, Ernest Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.)
Coghill, Douglas Harry Foster, P. S. (Warwick, S. W. Johnstone, Heywood
Collings, Right Hon. Jesse Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Joicey, Sir James
Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole Fuller, J. M. F. Jordan, Jeremiah
Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) Furness, Sir Christopher Joyce, Michael
Cox, Irwin Edw. Bainbridge Garfit, William Kearley, Hudson E.
Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark) Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert J. Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H.
Cremer, William Randal Goddard, Daniel Ford Kennedy, Patrick James
Kilbride, Denis O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.) Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Kitson, Sir James O'Brien, William (Cork) Sloan, Thomas Henry
Knowles, Lees O'Doherty, William Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.)
Lambert, George O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.) Stanley, Edw. Jas. (Somerset)
Laurie, Lieut.-General Palmer, Sir Charles M. (Durham, Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart
Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall Parkes Ebenezer Strachey, Sir Edward
Layland-Barratt, Francis Peel, Hn. Wm. R. Wellesley Stroyan, John
Leamy, Edmund Pemberton, John S. G. Thomas, Sir A. (Glam., E.)
Leese, Sir Jos. F. (Accrington) Perks, Robert William Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr
Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage Pilkington, Lt.-Col. Richard Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)
Leng, Sir John Platt-Higgins, Frederick Thorburn, Sir Walter
Leveson-Gower, Fredk. N. S. Plummer, Walter R. Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.
Lewis, John Herbert Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Tuke, Sir John Batty
Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Power, Patrick Joseph Ure, Alexander
Lonsdale, John Brownlee Priestley, Arthur Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. H. Sheffi'd
Lowe, Francis William Pym, C. Guy Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)
Lundon, W. Randles, John S. Wanklyn, James Leslie
Maconochie, A. W. Rattigan, Sir William Henry Wason, E. (Clackmannan)
M'Fadden, Edward Rea, Russell Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
M'Kenna, Reginald Redmond, William (Clare) Whitmore, Charles Algernon
M'Laren, Sir Charles Benj. Reid, James (Greenock) Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Mappin, Sir Fredk. Thorpe Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine Williams, Rt Hn. J. Powell-(Birm
Martin, Richard Biddulph Rickett, J. Compton Wilson, Chas. H. (Hull, W.)
Maxwell, W. J. H. (Dumfriessh. Ridley, Hon. M. W. (Stalybridge Wilson, H. J. (York, W. R.)
Mellor, Rt. Hn. John William Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield) Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh., N.)
Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh. N. Robertson, Edmund (Dundee) Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Mitchell, William (Burnley) Robson, William Snowdon Woodhouse, Sir J. T. (Huddersf'd
Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) Roe, Sir Thomas Worsley-Taylor, Hry. Wilson
Morrell, George Herbert Royds, Clement Molyneux Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart
Moss, Samuel Russell, T. W. Wrightson, Sir Thomas
Mount, William Arthur Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander Wylie, Alexander
Mowbray, Sir Robt. Gray C. Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland) Young, Samuel
Murray, Charles J. (Coventry) Saunderson, Rt. Hn. Col. E. J. Yoxall, James Henry
Myers, William Henry Sharpe, William Edward T.
Nicholson, William Graham Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Nolan, Col. John. P. (Galway, N. Shaw, Thomas (Hawick, B.) Sir Albert Rollit and
Nussey, Thomas Willans Shipman, Dr. John G. Mr. Brynmor Jones.
Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Ed. Morgan, Hn. F. (Monm'thsh.)
Anstruther, H. T. Finch, Rt. Hon. George H. Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer
Balcarres, Lord Fisher, William Hayes Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)
Bignold, Arthur Fitzroy, Hon. Edw. Algernon Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Blundell, Colonel Henry Forster, Henry William Pease, H. Pike (Darlington)
Bowles, T. Gibson (Lynn Regis Gordon, J. (Londonderry, S.) Purvis, Robert
Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H. Goschen, Hon. Geo. Joachim Seton-Karr, Sir Henry
Cautley, Henry Strother Gunter, Sir Robert Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew
Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh. Hall, Edward Marshall Simeon, Sir Barrington
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashfd Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth)
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Hoult, Joseph Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward
Chaplin, Right Hon. Henry Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool Warde, Colonel C. E.
Chapman, Edward Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead) Welby, Lt. -Col. A. C. E. (Taunton
Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E. Macdona, John Cumming Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Coddington, Sir William M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool) Wilson, John (Glasgow)
Cook, Sir Frederick Lucas Malcolm, Ian
Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon Manners, Lord Cecil TELLERS FOR THE NOES:—
Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir Wm. Hart Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants) Sir Frederick Banbury and
Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire) Mr. Griffith Boscawen.

moved an Amendment to Clause 3, providing that in actions brought within the limits of the jurisdiction of a County Court by the provisions of the Act, and in which proper steps had been taken by either party to require a jury to be summoned, Section 102 of the County Courts Act, 1888, should be read as if the word "twelve" were substituted for "five." He freely admitted that the County Courts possessed, and deservedly so, a large amount of public confidence, but still there was one element in their administration which was not fully approved by the public. At the present time, if a case had to be tried by a jury, only five jurymen were empanelled, and if the jurisdiction of the Courts were to be extended as proposed by the Bill the result would be to bring in a class of case which now was tried by an ordinary jury. He did not think that suitors should be deprived of their constitutional right and privilege to have a jury of twelve, and his object was to give the parties this right. It was impossible for five men to thresh out the questions brought before them in the same manner as twelve.

Amendment proposed— That in actions brought within the limits of the jurisdiction of a County Court by the provisions of the Act and in which proper steps have been taken by either party to require a jury to be summoned Section 102 of the County Courts Act 1888 shall be read as if the word 'twelve' were substituted for 'five.'

*MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)

recognised the spirit in which the Amendment had been moved, and freely admitted that there was no magic in the mere number five; but there were very strong practical objections to increasing the number to twelve. It would impose great additional burdens upon persons residing in our different country districts and large towns. He had never in his own experience heard of a case in which the mere fact of the jury being composed of five had in the least degree diminished the weight of the verdict of the jury. Cases under the Employers' Liability Act, for instance, involving very large sums were decided by juries of five, and he failed to see that the hon. Baronet had made out any case for increasing the number to twelve.

MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)

agreed that there would be considerable inconvenience in increasing the number of jurors to twelve, and pointed out that very few, if any, County Courts had accommodation for so large a jury. It would be out of order to discuss the question of whether actions involving large sums should be tried in the High Court or in the County Court, but if they were to be tried in the County Court it would impose a heavy obligation on persons liable to serve on juries if the number of jurors were raised to twelve. It would be a different matter if some number between five and twelve were suggested, but he did not think the suggested number would be practicable.


recognised the practical difficulties which had been referred to, but thought there was a great deal in the contention that as the limit of the actions was being raised from £50 to £100 the number of jurors should be correspondingly increased. He suggested, as a compromise, that eight should be substituted for twelve.


said that if the proposal was to be taken as evidence of a desire to meet the feeling of the House, he would not object to the clause being amended, but he thought the number should be an odd number.


moved the substitution of "nine" for "twelve." Most people were accustomed to think of a jury of twelve as one of the institutions of the country which was never departed from, but they had learnt this afternoon that that was not the case. It was one of the advantages of such debates that Members were instructed in these matters. But if actions involving sums of £100 were to be decided by juries of either five or nine, he really could not see why there should be a jury of twelve in any civil action whatever.

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment— To leave out the word 'twelve' in order to insert the word 'nine.'"—(Lord Hugh Cecil.)


said he would accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment as amended agreed to.


moved to omit Clause 4, which, he said, had been added by the Standing Committee. The Bill was described as one extending the jurisdiction of County Courts. Clause 4 had nothing whatever to do with extending the jurisdiction of County Courts, but had a great deal to do with the rights of suitors within those Courts. The clause raised the limit in the cases which might be heard by the registrar from £2 to £5, a provision which he thought would be liable to work prejudicially to the poorer suitors, who were entitled to have their cases tried by a Judge. There was no appeal from the decision of the registrar, consequently it was very necessary that the interests of the poorer suitors should be carefully watched.

Amendment proposed. To omit Clause 4."—(Sir William Tomlinson.)


said the essence of compromise was give and take. The supporters of the Bill had yielded on the last Amendment, and he hoped the hon. Baronet in return would not press the Amendment he had now moved. The clause was fully discussed in the Grand Committee, and its form as it stood in the Bill was the result of a compromise. The exigencies of time might compel him to accept the Amendment, but he would appeal to the hon. Baronet to concede the point.


pointed out that the Amendment just accepted dealt with an entirely different subject from that now under discussion. If the extension proposed in this clause was agreed to there was no reason why at some future time the limit in the cases which might be tried before the registrar should not be further extended to £20, £50, or even £100, and just as the County Court Judge was now taking the place of the regular tribunal, so in a short time the County Court Judge might be superseded by the registrar.


I will accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.


moved that the Bill be read a third time, and appealed to the Solicitor-General to offer no opposition to the Motion, having regard to the numbers in the last division.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—Sir Albert Rollit.)


said it would be impossible at that stage, in a comparatively empty House, so to argue the matter so as to bring home to hon. Members the reasons why the Government thought the Bill unworkable. However, having made the protest that the Government considered the Bill unworkable, and that it would not be a useful addition to the Statute-book, he would not offer further obstacles.


expressed the belief that there would be much difficulty in the working of the Bill, and the hope that the measure would be carefully considered in its future stages.


thought it was very unreasonable to press for the Third Reading of a Bill at the conclusion of a stage in which it had been substantially amended. The difficulty was not made at all less by the attitude of the Solicitor-General who had declared the Bill to be unworkable.


moved that the question be now put.


said that under some circumstances he might have assented to the Motion, but it was hardly worth while to put the House to the trouble of two divisions when the Bill could be put down as the first order on Friday next, and a decision certainly obtained.


said he would not press the Motion.


said his object was simply to protest against reading the Bill a third time at the end of a sitting in which it had been substantially amended, against the protests of people who were entitled to be heard in the matter, and without a proper opportunity for discussion.

And, it being half-past five of the clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.

Adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before Six o'clock till Monday next.