HC Deb 18 December 1912 vol 45 cc1644-6

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[Mr. Ure.]


Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what the Bill means? Since the previous Bill was passed a few years ago I can quite understand that there may have been certain circumstances that require to be dealt with. To what extent does this Act alter the original Act? I do not think there will be any opposition from this side of the House, but we ought to know exactly what the Bill means.


Since the Sheriffs Courts Bill was passed in 1907 certain defects in the procedure have been by practical experience discovered. The object of this Bill is to remedy those defects. The changes proposed have all been suggested. The Superior Courts of Scotland and the legal profession, both advocates and solicitors, have been consulted in regard to the changes which are confined to procedure.


I heard precisely that speech delivered in 1907 on the Sheriff Courts Bill of that year by the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman. That Bill was passed almost sub silentio owing to the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that it was perfectly safe, that it carried out no material changes, that it had been well considered, and that it would relieve the House from any legislation on the matter for some time. On that assurance we passed the Bill without debate. We find now, after these years, that the Act did involve defects and contradictions. It was passed by the laxity of the House, without due consideration. In a few years we shall probably have a new Bill to correct the errors of the present one.


I am not at all surprised that a Bill passed in 1907 has turned out to be unworkable, but I do not know that it is a good argument that because an unworkable Bill was passed we should now pass another Bill which may also prove to be unworkable, especially when nobody in the House knows anything about. This Bill consists of six Clauses. The first Clause is as follows:

"Section nine, Section twenty-eight, and Section thirty-two of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act, 1907 (hereinafter referred to as the principal Act), are hereby repealed."

No one knows what that means except he has made himself acquainted with the Act of 1907, and has carefully gone through the whole of it. I am sure the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) does not know what that means. Then we come to Section 2, which is rather a long Section, and says all sorts of things must happen, amongst others, "Listing an action." I do not think that is a very clear expression. The other four Clauses are very small, and apparently do not amount to very much. But there are six pages of Schedules, all closely printed. The Lord Advocate has not told us what all those closely printed pages mean. Here, according to the Lord Advocate, we have an example of legislation in a hurry. He says the Act of 1907 has not worked well, and it must be amended, and my hon. Friend Sir H. Craik says the self-same assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman were gisen by another Lord Advocate when the 1907 Act was passed. The House of Commons is now asked to pass this Bill on trust without any explanation. I am not well up in Scottish law, and it may be that it is necessary to make these alterations, but if it is necessary to make these alterations they should be made at a time when a reasonable and clear explanation could be given by the Minister in charge, especially as the whole of this Bill is legislation by reference. It should not be brought on at what is a comparatively late hour after we have been engaged in discussing very important matters. In making this protest I am glad the Patronage Secretary is here. I make no complaint of the Patronage Secretary. I think he endeavours to meet the views of the Opposition upon these matters, but I hope we shall not continue to take Bills of this complicated nature at late hours in the evening. Nothing is worse for a country than bad legislation. It would be far better to be without legislation than to have bad legislation.


The hon. Member opposite (Sir H. Craik) is entirely in error in saying this Bill was not discussed in 1907. It was referred to a Committee upstairs, where we had discussions upon it. Is this Bill to go to a Committee upstairs or is it to be considered in a Committee of the Whole House?


It will go to the Scottish Committee upstairs.

The Orders for the remaining Government business were read and postponed.

Whereupon, Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the Order of the House of 14th October, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."