HL Deb 08 May 1809 vol 14 cc405-8

On this bill being reported from the committee,

Lord Grenville

, rose, and expressed his surprize at the silent manner in which it had been introduced into the house, and passed through its stages. It was a bill of the greatest importance, and one that ought not to be smuggled through the house. The object of the bill was to extend the period already fixed by parliament for the report of the commissioners nominated to inquire into and report to that house the amendments practicable in the administration of justice in Scotland, and particularly to report upon the great question of extending the benefits of Trial, by Jury in civil as well as criminal cases in that part of the island. These commissioners were bound to report from time to time, and to make their final report by the 12th of November, 1809. But as yet he was in perfect ignorance of their proceedings, as their lordships had received no report whatever from them. It was of importance to know what was the great difficulty that stood in the way of the duties parliament appointed them to perform, and whether they had really been negligent or indisposed, or whether it was the fault of the king's secretary of state, who had not laid these reports from time to time on their lordships' table. A noble and learned lord, who was the predecessor of the noble and learned lord on the woolsack, and whom his majesty had been advised to appoint one of the commissioners, and whose great talents were an ornament to that house or any other place, and whose assistance in every instance must be great and beneficial, that noble and learned lord, notwithstanding his particular connection with, and knowledge of, the northern part of the island, did not, till yesterday, know any thing of this bill which had come so unobservedly and strangely into that house. He was sure that that noble lord would do his duty as a commissioner, and so he could say of another person named in that commission. The great majority of the commission his lordship was not acquainted with, nor even knew their persons. But it was desirable and necessary to know what they had done, for if this bill were passed without comment, they might come next session very probably requesting farther delay. He thought that those who had taken an active part in the proposed ameliorations in the administration of Scottish jurisprudence, were not treated with all that respect which was the usual courtesy of one noble lord to others, when they had no notice or intimation whatever of such a bill being about to be brought forward. He desired, therefore, to know what proceedings had already been had by those commissioners, before he could consent, in the very teeth of the conditions of their appointment, and without a single reason assigned, to this dangerous delay. It was desirable to know what disposition the commissioners had to perform their duties. The noble and learned lord on the woolsack gave hopes to the house that reports would be presented from time to time; but the house did not stand, towards those commissioners, upon the mere assertion or promise of the noble and learned lord. On the contrary, the house had embodied its wishes into the very legislative measure from which the commissioners derived their existence as such.—After many other observations delivered with considerable animation, his lordship intimated his intention to move something on the subject, in order to learn what the commissioners had done, and the real state of their inquiries.

The Lord Chancellor

, after some, comments upon the manner of the noble baron in making his remarks, slated the reasons for the delay proposed. When he advised the nomination that took place, he was acting in the way which he thought best for the purpose. He had recommended the names of those who were judges, or else barristers of great practice in Westminster Hall. The same course he had pursued with respect to the lords and the advocates in the court of session. Now, it happened, inevitably, that these persons resided at a great distance from each other, and that they had not those facilities that ensued from meeting all together in one common place; hence their communications must be much less prompt and frequent, and as so much must take place by written correspondence, it was absolutely impossible to be so quick as some persons might wish or expect. A great deal of information was wanted on a subject where the question was of the changing a part of the ancient laws. The noble and learned lord alluded to, and who was not in the house (lord Erskine) he had known so long, that he was sure that he would not have thanked the noble baron, for the censure he had pronounced on his (the Lord Chancellor's) conduct. The noble and learned lord made some observations upon the noble baron's charge of smuggling in the bill, which his lordship denied; as also upon the want of attention to himself, of which he appeared to complain. His lordship believed that he was not likely to be accused of shewing a want of attention to any noble lord, and he could hardly have imagined the possibility of such a charge.

Lord Redesdale

stated various reasons for the prolongation of the existence of the commission, and commented in strong terms upon the imputations thrown by the noble baron on some of the most respectable characters of the country. It was not fair or just to condemn the commissioners, and to assume that they had no wish to discharge their duty.

The Lord Chancellor and lord Grenville explained mutually several times, after which the bill was ordered to be recommitted for Friday next, Lord Grenville moved, first for an address to his majesty, praying that the proceedings of the committee might be laid before the house, which, after some conversation, was changed for a resolution, agreed lo, nem. con. that the commissioners should inform the house what progress they have made up to the present day.