HC Deb 20 November 1928 vol 222 cc1629-48

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.

[Mr. DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient—

  1. (a) to authorise the appointment of two additional members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and of one additional Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, and in connection therewith to authorise the charge on the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of—
    1. (1) yearly salaries not exceeding two thousand pounds to be paid (in addition to such sum, if any, not exceeding two thousand pounds in the case of any person, as may be provided out of the revenues of India by way of increase of salary) to each of the two persons so to be appointed as members of the Judicial Committee of the 1630 Privy Council and of yearly pensions not exceeding one thousand pounds to he granted to persons so appointed; and
    2. (2) a yearly salary to he paid to the person so to he appointed as an additional Lord of Appeal in Ordinary not exceeding in amount the yearly salary now payable to a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and of yearly pensions to be granted to persons so appointed not exceeding in the case of any person the amount of the yearly pension which may now he granted to a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary:
  2. (b) to repeal section thirty of the Judicial Committee Act, 1833, and section four of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1887"—(King's recommendation signified).—[The Attorney-General.]

The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

It will be remembered that at the end of last Session there was a Bill which, owing to want of time, was not proceeded with, although it had been three times introduced in another place and three times brought to this House. It was a Bill for reinforcing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and it will be perhaps sufficient if I remind the Committee quite shortly of the present position. The present position of the Privy Council with respect to Indian appeals is that there is only one member who can be said to have any real intimate experience of the administration of justice in India, but it has been the practice until recently for there to be two members who have been more or less at one time or another associated with the administration of justice in that country. Of recent years the number of appeals from India has increased so substantially as to make it necessary that the Judicial Committee shall sit in two divisions. Otherwise, the appeals from the other parts of the Empire would be blocked by the consideration of those from India. The circumstances have caused so much anxiety that in three successive Sessions a Bill was introduced in another place in order to enable two men of intimate and recent experience in the administration of justice in India to be appointed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The terms, on which the present Indian member of the Judicial Committee sits, were fixed by the Judicial Committee Act of 1833. He receives under that Act a sum which can hardly be described as salary but which was described by the Act as intended to be an indemnity in respect of the expenses incurred by him. If there are two members, as there may be under that Act, they each receive the sum of £400 by way of expenses. When there is, as at present, only one member, that member receives the sum of £800, being the total of the two sums of £400. It is obvious to anybody acquainted with the work of the Judicial Committee that nobody is going to sacrifice his time or, as so often happens, his time and his health and possibly a career in India for the purpose of earning the very meagre sum which the members of the Judicial Committee who represent Indian experience under the Judicial Committee Act of 1833 are allowed. In those circumstances, it was decided in 1926 that it was desirable to alter the salary and to secure men with a more intimate and more recent experience of India.

The Bill which was introduced in another place had the ardent support of Lord Haldane who described the existing provision for members of the Judicial Committee in respect of Indian appeals as so scanty as to cause great inconvenience. It is a fact of some pathos that Lord Cave, who was then Lord Chancellor, speaking upon the same Bill, mentioned the fact that Lord Haldane himself was one of those who supplemented the scanty ranks of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council without regard to considerations relating to his own health. One can but think that Lord Haldane, who devoted himself so much to the work of the Judicial Committee as well as to the judicial work of the House of Lords, did indeed shorten his life and his opportunity of service in consequence of the scanty provision, as he himself described it, for hearing the appeals before the Judicial Committee.

We all remember the position which the Judicial Committee occupies in the Empire. It is a great court. Nobody, even though he is ready to criticise the arrangements of the Judicial Committee, can but fail to recognise that. It not merely redresses personal wrongs and establishes the rights of individuals throughout the Empire, but it interprets constitutions and maintains the justice of the law in the furthest parts of our great Empire. The appeals come, not merely from India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but from Palestine and from such parts of our Empire as West Africa. I believe I am right in saying that from every single quarter of the Empire there come proofs of the confidence which subjects of the Empire have in this Judicial Tribunal.


Is it the case or not that India., which according to the Bill has to contribute £2,000 a year, has refused to do so?


If the hon. Member will be good enough to wait until I come to that point in clue course, I will tell him the facts. The Financial Resolution, which I am submitting, proposes that, in order to remedy this state of affairs, there shall be two additional members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. They are to be paid a sum which, so far as this Committee is concerned, amounts to £2,000 to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. With regard to the rest of the emoluments, they will be provided out of Indian revenues under a vote which has been approved in the Indian Legislature to that effect. It is, therefore, contemplated that they shall receive a salary of £4,000, payable as to half out of the revenues of the Imperial Exchequer and as to the other half out of the Indian revenues. It is provided also by the Motion that they shall be paid a pension of £1,000. That pension will be payable, so far as this Committee is concerned, out of the Consolidated Fund. If other arrangements are made, as may be suggested but of which I have no information, they will be paid out of the Indian revenues. But hon. Members may rest assured that, whether there is any arrangements or not, the extent of the pension payable out of the Consolidated Fund will only be £1,000. That is the substance of the proposal contained in this Motion so far as the additional members of the Judicial Committee are concerned.

It will be recognised that it is proper and usual that this Tribunal, important as it is, should not sit except when there are five members present to hear an appeal. It is possible, of course, to hear appeals when there are only three members present, but the invariable practice has been, except when man-power was absolutely lacking, that each division of the Judicial Committee should consist of five members of that Committee. In order, therefore, to provide for the hearing of the appeals from India as well as from other parts of the Empire, it is absolutely essential that these two additional members shall be appointed. They will for the time being be in addition to the one member representing India who, as I have stated, receives £800 for his services but in time, when that member retires, these two additional members will be regarded as taking his place.

The real object of this part of the resolution is to reinforce the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by securing from India men who have that personal and up to date experience of Indian customs and law which is so essential to enable a fair and just decision to be given in regard to disputes from India.

The other part of the proposal is that an additional Lord of Appeal shall be appointed to enable the House of Lords to continue the hearing of cases from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I should like the Committee to understand the present position in regard to the man power available for both these tribunals. It is desirable that each tribunal should consist of five persons. If there be two divisions of the Judicial Committee sitting at the same time as the House of Lords there must therefore be 15 persons sitting. In 1927 Lord Haldane recognised that there was not a sufficient number of qualified men to man the tribunal, and he proposed to provide an additional Lord of Appeal to supplement the services of those who were available. May I call attention to the number available in 1927, remembering that at least 15 persons are required. The Lord Chancellor with six Lords of Appeal made seven members. There were four volunteers—Lord Wrenbury, Lord Phillimore, Lord Darling, and Lord Warrington—all of whom have had a very long judicial experience and have earned the comparative repose to which they became entitled, but all of whom, have given the most ungrudging and willing service in the House of Lords and on the Judicial Committee.

In addition to those 11 persons there were three Privy Councillors who were ready to sit on the Judicial Committee. They were Lord Salvesen, Lord Sinha and Sir Lancelot Sanderson, making 14 persons. If two new members had been appointed in 1927 that would have made 16 persons to man these three tribunals. That is taking no account of absences on account of illness and the absences which may be expected in the case of persona who have reached the age of 80. There were also three ex-Lord Chancellors which brought the number up to 19. But even 19 does not provide a sufficient margin to provide three tribunals. Let us notice what is the position at the present time. What is the position now? There is the Lord Chancellor and only one ex-Lord Chancellor, Lord Buckmaster, who performs judicial duties, because Lord Haldane is no longer with us to the sorrow of us all. Lord Finlay after a career known to everybody cannot be expected at 86 years of age to continue to give further service on the Tribunal in the House of Lords.


Lord Finlay still sits in the House of Lords.


Lord Finlay has not sat in the House of Lords for some time and it is unlikely that he will sit there again. He is a member of the Permanent Court of International. Justice but no hon. Member can expect a man of that age to continue to give the services which he has given to the country for so long. There are there six Lords of Appeal. As for the volunteers, Lord Wrenbury and Lord Phillimore, although they still enjoy the fullest measure of intellectual agility which they have always exhibited in the course of their efficient public service, are aged 82 years respectively. Lord Darling and Lord Warrington are available from time to time, but not unnaturally they desire according to their private convenience to enjoy the repose to which they are entitled but which they are willing to interrupt in order to give volunteer services on this Tribunal.

Unhappily Lord Sinha is not now living, and Lord Salvesen and Sir Lancelot Sanderson are volunteers. Therefore, even if you add the two members of the Privy Council whom we propose to appoint to sit on the Judicial Committee, that will only make 14 persons to man three tribunals which require at least 15 persons if they are to be manned efficiently. In these circumstances, it seems sailing as near the wind as we can to ask the Committee to provide the necessary money for only one additional Law Lord. We shall then have only 15 persons, even if all the volunteers come to the rescue who are reasonably able, to man the tribunal. In those circumstances it has been decided to supplement the Bill that was introduced in 1926, 1927 and 1928 by providing that the salary necessary for an additional Lord of Appeal, who will receive the same figure as the other, that is, £6,000 and a pension of £3,750 to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. The Bill will be introduced in due course if the Committee gives the necessary authority for the salaries I have mentioned. I commend this proposal to the Committee because nobody can suppose that it is wise, in the interests either of the country or of litigants, to starve our judicial tribunals. At the present time they are working on a margin of manpower which makes it almost impossible for the Lord Chancellor to make such arrangements as will adequately provide for the administration of that justice which everybody believes to be necessary.


I have had opportunities of carefully considering all the data on which the case put forward by the Attorney-General is founded, and I have come to the conclusion that in every particular what he has told the Committee is accurate. That being so, it seems to me that it is absolutely necessary, if these tribunals are to be properly manned and do their business, that the extra appointment for which financial authority is now asked should be made. Many hon. Members on this side have consistently supported for several years the proposal for strengthening the Judicial Committee. Speaking for myself, I was very disappointed that the Government did not see their way last year or even the year before, through the exigencies of time, to put this matter through.

As the Attorney-General has said in speaking so kindly of my late leader, Lord Haldane did as much as any other man in the country to strengthen the work of the Judicial Committee and the Privy Council, and he was always of the opinion that the Privy Council needed strengthening. The plan before us is one to appoint a new Law Lord, and what the Attorney-General has said is that as things are we are very largely dependent for the manning of these two bodies on the work of ex-Lord Chancellors. That is a very proper thing which we all appreciate, and which arises from the fact that under a Statute of William IV, every Lord Chancellor is paid a pension of £5,000 a year, and very properly has always felt that that pension is paid really, though not actually in law, for the consideration of services in the Judicial Committee. The Government are now proposing the appointment of an extra Law Lord at a cost of £6,000 a year. The Attorney-General has pointed out that of those who are left Lord Finlay is no longer able to serve. I feel sure that I shall be voicing the feelings of a good many members of this Committee and the taxpayers if before we definitely agree to this proposal—and I think we ought to agree to it—I ask the Attorney-General one question. There is one ex-Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, who is riot, I understand, serving in a judicial capacity. He, therefore, does not give that consideration which we all think fit and proper in an ex-Lord Chancellor who takes advantage of the Statute and draws the £5,000 a year. If, as I hope to hear from the Attorney-General, Lord Birkenhead, holds the view, which all other ex-Lord Chancellors have held, that he is not really morally entitled to draw this £5,000 a year if he does not perform judicial work, and if we could he informed that Lord Birkenhead will not draw the £5,000 a year, as we hope he will not in the circumstances, the amount to be voted would become considerably less, and we shall only be voting actually £6,000 a year for the extra Law Lord. On the other hand, if the State is going to pay £5,000 a year to any ex-Lord Chancellor who does not so serve, we shall be burdened in fact with a cost of £11,000 a year, and shall get no consideration from that particular person. I have no doubt that the Attorney-General will he able to assure us that Lord Birkenhead is going to follow the excellent example of his predecessors and decline to draw this pension when he is not doing judicial work; but we on this side, and I am not sure that I am not speaking for some on the other side, would like to know quite definitely on this matter, aye or no.

Apart from that, as I have said, the case which the Attorney-General has made out seems to me to be unanswerable. He omitted, however, to say one thing. I understand that, owing to the shortage of Law Lords and members of the Privy Council in the earlier part of this year, the House of Lords was actually unable to hear appeals at a time when it otherwise would have, and appellants in the House of Lords were actually unable to come before that body after, I think, last June, although normally, if the two bodies had been sufficiently staffed, appeals would have been heard right on until the Long Vacation. Appellants, therefore, are being kept out of their decisions because the tribunal is insufficiently equipped, and there can be no case for opposition to this Resolution. The Attorney-General seems to me to have entirely made out his case, and, so far as I and my Leader are concerned; we shall offer no opposition at all.


Perhaps I may answer at once the question which the hon. and learned Gentleman has put to me, but at the same time I do not want to admit that such a question is really germane to the much bigger question whether the Judicial Committee and the House of Lords are properly manned. I cannot conceive that this Committee would fall into such a grievous error as to refuse to provide the service for which we ask, because someone might take advantage of something to which he was entitled by law.


The learned Attorney-General will, of course, appreciate that I make no such suggestion; I shall support the Resolution.


I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I thought it right to say so much, because I conceive that it would be an unhappy practice if the House of Commons were to complicate questions of great general importance by personal questions such as this is. The hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to inform me that it was possible that this point might be raised, and I have, therefore, been in communication with my Noble Friend, and have asked him a question, which he, of course, was perfectly free to decline to answer if he thought fit. He has, however, authorised me to say this, that in the course of time he will be undertaking new duties—new employments—and will receive in connection with them emoluments which will be substantial. He proposes to receive the pension to which he is entitled during the period of transition from his old duties to his new duties, and he anticipates that the period during which he will receive the pension will not be at all prolonged.

At the same time, he makes that statement without derogating in any way from the right of his successors, which he does not want to prejudice or affect, in any way at all, to draw the pension to which they will he entitled by law. I believe I am right in saying that my Noble Friend takes the view—and, so far as my authority carries any weight with the Committee, I respectfully think that the view is right—that these pensions are awarded, not for services presently performed, but as a reward for services already performed; and, indeed, it would be strange if an ex-Lord Chancellor receiving the sum of £5,000 a year were to be expected to sit as a matter of obligation in a tribunal over which, as an ex-Lord Chancellor, he would often preside, with a number of other Law Lords who were in fact receiving £6,000 as salary. The disparity shows that the £5,000 is not intended to be a salary for services performed in the House of Lords or in the Judicial Committee, but is, as my noble Friend says, and as constitutional authorities have always stated, a reward for past services. That statement having been made out of courtesy to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I hope that his advice to the Committee will be accepted, and that we may be allowed to receive this service of public money for the purpose of manning the House of Lords and the Judicial Committee.


May I ask for what length of time these gentlemen will have to serve before they get their pensions? In two cases the pension will be;.(l1,000, and in one case £3,750. For what period will they have to serve before they get that?


If anyone becomes an ex-Lord Chancellor, he becomes entitled to the pension on vacating his office.


in the first case he is not an ex-Lord Chancellor.


Did not the hon. Gentleman's question relate to the pension of an ex-Lord Chancellor?


No; I was asking whether the two gentlemen who are to be appointed, and who will be entitled each to a pension of £1,000 and the Law Lord who will get £3,750 will have to serve before they get those pensions.


So far as the Financial Resolution is concerned, no time is provided during which a judge will have to serve. It depends, of course, upon the age at which he is appointed to serve. In the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the pension is proposed to be granted at the age of 72, and it is quite obvious that, as the intention is to appoint men in the full vigour of life, a man will not be appointed a member of the Judicial Committee for this purpose a year or two before he becomes entitled to his pension. The persons appointed will no doubt be expected to serve, and will be required to serve, if they are going to earn their pension, up to the age of 72.


I would like to take this opportunity of pointing out that the proposal of the Attorney-General falls far short of the views expressed by successive Lord Chancellors as to what constitutes an adequate supreme tribunal of the Empire, namely, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. For many years past counsel and litigants from the Dominions and Colonies have expressed their views to successive Law Officers and Lord Chancellors and other judicial persons, to the effect that the present position is, and the position for years past has been, something approaching a scandal, to use the word used by the late Lord Haldane about a year ago, speaking in another place. The proposal of the Attorney-General goes some way to remedy the present unfortunate state of affairs, but it does not go far enough. I am precluded by the Rules of the House from moving to increase the Vote, but I do regret that His Majesty's Government, every member of which stands for a united Empire and for a strong supreme tribunal of that Empire, should not see their way clear to introduce a Measure which I believe would appeal to all quarters of the House. So far as I know, no Member of the House—and I have canvassed many—has any objection to the strengthening of this tribunal. As it stands now, it is impossible to be certain of getting five men of eminent judicial standing to take respectively the three divisions into which this great Court is naturally divided. You are dependent upon some men who are so aged that it appears to be difficult for them to see or to hear the counsel who appear before them. I am reflecting the view of counsel from the Dominion of Canada when I say—


On a point of Order. Is it in order to say that a learned Judge of this realm is so blind or deaf that he cannot see or hear counsel?


Of course, I make no personal reference to any judicial person. If I have said something which oversteps the boundaries of courtesy, I withdraw at once. I would put it in this way. Many of these eminent jurists have earned, and long since earned, their pensions and their reward, and it is not fair to counsel and litigants who come thousands of miles from all parts of our Empire that they should have to appear before men who, however eminent in their prime, no longer make that impression upon the litigants or counsel before them which every one of us would like a Judge to make. I have no desire for a moment to reflect upon any Judge, but I am stating what is sincerely felt by men who come to this country, and I am speaking this evening in order to point out that the proposals of the Attorney-General and the Government do not remedy this state of things.

The state of things, even with this reinforcement, will be worse than it was a year ago, because we have had during the past year an unhappy casualty list among some of the most eminent members of the Judicial Committee. This reinforcement will not make up to the fullest extent the casualties that unhappily have occurred. I would say one other thing as to the actual Resolution that is before us. I am all in favour of the appointment of a new Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. I would appoint several more, and I think it is a calamity that the Government cannot take greater courage, and make, as I think they would successfully make, an appeal to all parties in the House to put this Court once and for all beyond the criticism of anyone in regard to numbers and in regard to its judicial strength. The proposal before the Committee makes, for the first time in our history, a distinction in the appointment and payment of Judges. The two persons of judicial standing to be appointed in connection with India are to be paid, as to half their salary, by a Vote of this House, and as to the other half by a possible Vote of the Indian Legislature—

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Earl Winterton)

An actual vote.


An actual Vote passed annually by an Indian legislature. I think I am right. My point is this. It has hitherto always been the rule to put the salaries of judges on the Consolidated Fund. The appointment is made by the King, advised, of course, by the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General. Now, however, a judge of the Judicial Committee is made dependent for half his salary on the vote of an Indian legislature, a body the decisions of which, or the members of which, might come before him as litigants or as representatives in some issue. I think that that is a most unfortunate suggestion.


My hon. and learned Friend is really mistaken about this matter. There is no question of any annual Vote of the Indian Legislature. The Indian Legislature have agreed to this sum being paid; that is all.


That is a different thing from putting the Vote on the Consolidated Fund. My point is that the money should all come from the Consolidated Fund voted by the House of Commons. I hope I make myself clear. My point is that. it is not right that, for the first time in our history, in the case of men occupying these posts in the Judicial Committee, one-half of their salaries should be dependent on the Consolidated Fund, which, of course will be unalterable, and the other half dependent, I think I am right in saying, on an Indian legislature.

My second point on that is this. These new judicial members receive a salary of £4,000 for doing work which is exactly the same as that done by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who receive £6,000 with a pension. I think there again it is an unfair discrimination to pay men doing practically the same duties different salaries. I know those men may not sit in the House of Lords. I know they do not rank as Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. My point is that the Government are ill-advised to appoint members of the Judicial Committee with different salaries, of different status, and with the sources of their salaries different.

There is another point. You appoint two new members from India,. That is an odious discrimination against the rest of the Empire. This is an Imperial tribunal, the only one, and the case could have been met if the Government would simply have added, if they wished to restrict the number to three, three Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, keeping of course the appointment in their own hands and the payment on the Consolidated Fund. As the plan stands now, I very much regret that they have broken an old tradition. I think they have weakened the prestige of the Judicial Committee, and all for the sake of saving £8,000 to the taxpayers of the country. I do not think this sacrifice of the prestige of the Judicial Committee is worth while. I regret that the Government has not taken this opportunity to strengthen the greatest link of Empire next to the Crown itself, and has brought in a Measure which does not reflect the views of any ex-Lord Chancellors or of any leading jurist in any part of the Empire.


I want to ask the Attorney-General to make a little plainer the case of the pension of the ex-Secretary of State for India. I understand my hon. and learned Friend below me (Sir H. Slesser) pointed out that the need for these new judges was partly due to the fact that ex-Lord Chancellors might have been available but were not intending to give service, and that gave rise to the question whether the ex-Secretary of State for India was intending to perform judicial services or not. I understand, in the first place, that the ex-Secretary of State for India does not intend to perform any services of this kind. That being so, it is strange that he should say he is protecting the rights of his successors.


The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I did not say the Noble Lord was protecting the rights of his successors. What I said was that he wanted to have it quite plain that in abandoning, as he proposes, his right to draw the pension he is not to be understood as derogating at all from any rights of his successors. That is a very different position from saying he is taking a course of action in order to protect the rights of his successors.


It is a very important point, but it is more a matter of wording than of intention. In any case the intention of the Noble Lord was that no action of his should derogate from the propriety of a future Lord Chancellor drawing his pension. If anything is calculated to jeopardise the rights of a future Lord Chancellor to draw his pension it is for a precedent to be set up by which the Lord Chancellor draws his pension and does not perform the ordinary judicial service which it has been the invariable practice of ex-Lord Chancellors to perform.

The second point is by way of question. Here is a transition period. The ex-Secretary of State for India, having been a Lord Chancellor in time past, and having now ceased to be Secretary of State for India, and his salary as Secretary of State having therefore ceased, proposes in his quality of ex-Lord Chancellor to draw his pension as ex-Lord Chancellor for a transition period. What is this transition period? It is not for services on the Bench. We do not know how long it is to be drawn. We have not the least idea. It is apparently to be until he has secured some quid pro quo for his commercial services. He is already director of three large industrial concerns. Will the Attorney-General tell us exactly how many of these directorships are to be accumulated by the ex-Secretary of State before the transition period comes to an end? Then supposing his commercial ventures come to nothing, what is the Noble Lord's intension about coming back and saying. "It may have escaped your notice, but I was Lord Chancellor some years ago and I should, therefore, like again to enjoy the pension to which Lord Chancellors are entitled." It is extremely important, in view of the very frank way in which the ex-Secretary of State has dealt with his own finances and explained everything, that we should have a definite answer to these two questions.


I think hon. Gentleman is getting a little beyond the terms of the Motion. The question of whether an ex-Lord Chancellor is going to exercise judicial duties or not is one thing, but the question of the Lord Chancellor's pension is not one that can be discussed generally on this Motion.


I accept your ruling, Sir, and I will put my question in another form. For how long is the ex-Secretary of State going to fail to perform his judicial duties, and is he intending later to come forward in the event of other things failing and offer to perform judicial duties? I think those questions will be in order.


I do not wish to appear to show any discourtesy to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but his questions really are irrelevant, and I do not think he really expects me to be able to answer them. One of his questions actually was as to what would happen if my Noble Friend wishes, if the time ever comes, to abandon the occupation which he has lately undertaken. That is a hypothetical question requiring a gift of prophecy which I do not possess. The other question is how long what he calls the transition period is going to last? That again is a question which I cannot answer. I have already said, merely repeating the words of my Noble Friend, that it is a period which he does not expect to be of a prolonged nature.


Is it till he gets 30 stamps?


The hon. Member has asked me a question which I am endeavouring to answer out of courtesy to him.


Could an ex-Lord Chancellor who has given up his claim to this pension of £5,000 reclaim it at any later period?


There have been cases where that has been done.

Captain O 'CONNOR

As I was successful enough to elude the Ruling of your predecessor, Sir, last year so far as to speak for a moment or so about strengthening the Privy Council, I want to reinforce what I said then on this topic and to regret that the Government have not taken their courage in both hands and attempted a much more radical strengthening of the Privy Council and of the House of Lords appellate tribunal than they have found it possible to do. With much of what the hon. Baronet below me (Sir H. Greenwood) said I am in entire agreement. In the Judicial Committee we have possibly the most illustrious tribunal that has ever been known in history. There is something so spectacular and romantic about that tribunal, its power is so clear and its possibilities so extensive that it seems to me we are failing in our duty if we fail to recognise the opportunity that exists of strengthening it and so cementing the whole bonds of Empire. The only parallel tribunal that occurs to one's mind is that of the Prize Court during the War, when belligerents and neutral nations all over the world were content to lay their case before the Prize Tribunal, and if we are to maintain that ascendancy of the Privy Council which in the real interests of Empire it is desirable that we should maintain, we cannot do it by patching it up with an additional man here and there and in the parsimonious manner in which we have dealt with it to-day. It is manifest that the Attorney-General has understated his case. The mere recital of those advantages ought to be enough to convince not only us, but the young and growing Dominions that something must be done to put that tribunal into something more nearly in accord with the views of the younger parts of the Empire. For these reasons I hope the matter will not be left here, that we shall pass this Resolution without any dissentients at all, but that the Government will recognise that it has only begun upon a task which we hone it will continue to attempt to achieve.


I wish in a sentence to press upon the Government the desirability of taking a little larger view of the functions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I think it very likely that the average layman does not appreciate the full value and significance of the Court. As the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir H. Greenwood) said, next to the Crown, it is really one of the greatest links in the Empire. On all hands tributes are being paid to the impartiality and the great value of the services it renders. On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself I should like to say that, while I believe much more could be done than is being done by this Resolution in supporting the Committee, yet we desire to support this particular strengthening that is now proposed in the hope that it will add still more luster to that body.

8.0 p.m.


The Attorney-General said just now that he was not able to define the transition period which Lord Birkenhead laid down during which he would draw his pension of £5,000 attaching to the office of ex-Lord Chancellor. In view of that fact, may I take this opportunity in saying from my place in the Committee that there will be very keen disappointment on the part of the tax-paying public if, in view of Lord Birkenhead's many activities, this transition period extends beyond a period of a very few weeks.


I want to say only a few words from the point of view, not of a lawyer but of a layman. It would be almost indecent, I am afraid, for a mere layman to intervene in a Debate which has so far been sustained with such brilliance by lawyers, but I think, perhaps, it is permissible for one who has taken some interest in the work of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council from the point of view of the maintenance of our inter-Imperial relations to say a few words in a very courteous form on the Motion which is proposed to the Committee. An hon. Friend below me spoke of the work of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as spectacular. That is the very last word which I should like to use, for I never knew any more striking contrast in my life than that between the dingy surroundings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the apparently complete absence of formality in their proceedings and the enormously important work which, as a matter of fact, they are called upon to perform. I imagine that no Member of this House, and that no party in this House, can for one instant doubt that in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council we have an institution of the very highest importance to the Empire as a whole. Anyone who as a layman strayed into the Judicial Committee cannot fail to have been impressed not by the spectacular but by the importance of the work which they are called upon to perform. From the layman's point of view may I, therefore, add my single word in cordial support of this Resolution?

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.