HL Deb 08 June 1832 vol 13 cc545-8

On the Motion that the House resolve itself into Committee on this Bill,

The Duke of Buccleuch

said, he was as anxious as any man to give the country the benefit of a cheap administration of justice, but he doubted whether the best way of attaining this object was to abolish the ancient judicial institutions of Scotland. He required, therefore, further evidence before he could consent to the present Bill. The evidence before the House related only to certain parts of the duty of the Court of Exchequer, while upon other parts they were left wholly in the dark. It was incumbent on their Lordships to inquire, whether the objects which the Bill had in view could not be obtained in some less objectionable manner than was proposed by the Bill. He had been taken by surprise on the second reading of the Bill, and he believed other noble Lords were in the same situation. He should, therefore, on the present occasion abstain from entering into the details of the measure, for he felt it impossible that their Lordships should proceed without further evidence. He should move that the Com- mittee be postponed, and, in case he succeeded in that motion, he should then move that a message be sent to the other House of Parliament, requesting a copy of the evidence taken before the Select Committee of that House.

The Lord Chancellor

had no objection to the production of the fullest evidence, and only regretted, that the noble Duke did not express his wish for it sooner. The communication of the evidence taken before the Committee of the Commons, if desired, was quite a matter of course. He begged to remind their Lordships, that this was the same Bill which they had themselves sent to the House of Commons in the last Session of Parliament, and which had been lost by the dissolution. He was convinced that the more the evidence was examined, the more satisfied would their Lordships be, that the Court of Exchequer ought to be dealt with in the manner proposed by the Bill. The evidence was clear upon the subject, and it proceeded from various quarters; from the late Chief Baron, the present Chief Baron, and a most intelligent and respectable officer of the Court. From this evidence it appeared, that upon the average of the last twenty years, the number of defended causes was six in the year, and of arguments, four and a half. The average of undefended causes, during the same period, was twenty-four annually. But this was not all; the business was much less at the latter part of this period than at the commencement, and presented a progressive and regular decline. Allusion had been made to the Treasury business of the Court. He maintained that this was business not fit for a Court of Justice to discharge. But altogether the entire business of the Court, ministerial and judicial, might be done in fifteen days of the year, at the rate of six hours' work a day. He was sure that the whole business of the Court as a Court of Justice, would be disposed of by his noble and learned friend near him in a few hours. The evidence plainly showed this. The object of the Bill was, to transfer the business hitherto done by the Court of Exchequer to one of the fudges of another Court.

Lord Tenterden

As my noble and learned friend has referred to me, I have only to say, that for the last twenty years the Chief Baron and the other Barons of the Scotch Court of Exchequer have been in a most enviable situation.

The Earl of Haddington

thought it would be better that the establishment of the Court of Exchequer should be diminished than that it should be put an end to altogether. It was a false economy to put an end to it altogether, and perhaps more business might be added to it.

The Earl of Camperdown

said, the present Chief Baron had given a decided opinion, that the business might easily be done by a Judge of the Court of Session. His predecessor (Sir Samuel Shepherd) had not spoken so decidedly, but there was every reason to believe, that the present Lord Chief Baron was right. It was a common saying in Scotland, that the Exchequer Court was useless. But, at the same time, it was fitting that they should have the Report of the Commons, and there they would find some valuable facts as to the collection of the revenue, and it might be of use in that way.

The Lord Chancellor

had not rested this Bill solely on the ground of saving to the public, although that was important, but principally on the ground that this Court was an anomaly in our judicial system—a sinecure Court of Justice.

The Duke of Wellington

observed, that having been a party in the preceding year to the change in the constitution of the Court of Exchequer of Scotland, he had felt great difficulty, when this measure was before the House last Session, in deciding upon the abolition of that Court. He agreed that at present this Court was, to a great degree, unemployed; but the question was, whether additional duties might not be thrown upon it with advantage. There was great anxiety in Scotland that the ancient judicatures should be maintained, and, as the Courts had been reformed only the year before last, he should have preferred it, had no further change been made so soon. He should read the evidence attentively, with a view to see whether there was any possibility of making the Court efficient.

The Earl of Roseberry

expressed the highest opinion of, and regard for, Sir Samuel Shepherd, but thought that on this subject the opinion of the present Chief Baron was entitled to more weight. There was not sufficient business to employ the Court, and it was unnecessary to preserve it. As to the Act of Union, that had been repeatedly trenched upon, where it appeared to be for the advantage of Scotland and the whole empire that it should be so. The Scotch Privy Council, for instance, had been abolished very soon after the Union, and afterwards the heritable jurisdictions were abolished, although in some measure private property.

The Lord Chancellor

was sure, that there was no additional business which could be added to the Scotch Court of Exchequer. Even during the Administration of the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington), two Judges had been taken from the Court of Session; and yet additional business had been imposed on the Court—such as that of the Commissary, Admiralty, and Jury Courts.

The Earl of Haddington

said, that the Lords Ordinary complained that too much business had been thrown upon them.

Committee postponed, and a Message sent to the Commons, to communicate to their Lordships the evidence taken before the Committee.