HL Deb 28 March 1844 vol 73 cc1593-6

On the Motion "that the Report on the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill, be agreed to,"

The Marquess of Normanby

said, that as he intended to give his negative to this Bill, and as he could not be present at the third reading, he should take that opportunity to state the reason on which his opposition, both to the principle and the manner of the Bill, was founded. He did not know why the discussion of such a Bill should be left solely to the noble and learned Lords in that House; and having listened attentively to every word that had been uttered on the second reading, he must say, that never was a Bill brought forward with so little title to their Lordships' support. The only ground on which it was supported was the not very creditable one, that a better Bill could not be brought forward, because it would be opposed by the country practitioners. In his opinion, the House of Commons had been much wronged on this subject. The opinions had been declared very strongly, last Session, against the Diocesan Courts, which now they proposed to perpetuate. The right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, had said, on the measure which, last Session, he had introduced for abolishing those Courts, "Upon principle I cannot yield to the opposition against the Bill, the provisions of which rest upon the highest authority; and if the House reject this Bill, I cannot offer any other likely to be more acceptable." And the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had said, "We are told that if we proceed with this Bill, there are powerful parties who will remember it in the hour of trial. We know well how wide-spread are the interests connected with these Courts; and no executive Government can undertake to reform a legal abuse without for a time forfeiting, I will not say, 'public opinion,' but a very valuable support. We expose ourselves, however, to that danger in asking the House to consent to this attempt at reformation; and we will not purchase a continuance of that support by shrinking from what we conceive to be our duty." That measure had been decided on, on the division for the second reading, by a majority of 80, the numbers being 186 to 84, a much larger majority, in proportion to the numbers present, than any which even the present strong Government had had since they came into office. Now; what had become of all that courage and determination not to shrink from their duty? Why the Bill had been referred to a Select Committee, and so far from being recognised and adopted by the House of Commons, it was reported by that Select Committee on the 28th May, and from that period to the end of the Session no steps had been taken on the subject. And why were their Lordships, who had not been at all inconsistent on the matter, to consent now to the perpetuation of courts which had not much business to perform? but the few cases which came before which required the highest legal knowledge. Why should their Lordships be required to imitate the example of the other House in submitting to repeated at- tempts at reversing solemnly affirmed decisions? The Government, indeed, did not pretend to have adopted the opinions of the other House upon the subject; and the course taken by Ministers on the measure would be deemed by the country one of the most humiliating necessities to which a "strong Government" had ever been reduced.

Lord Wharncliffe

observed, the noble Marquess had adduced no argument against the measure, but had merely made an attack upon the Government for having introduced it without the stringent provisions which accompanied the measure of last Session. He partook without hesitation of the responsibility of that course, which he considered to have been a wise one under the circumstances. The former measure had experienced the opposition not only of the provincial practitioners but of the public, who conceived it would expose them to inconvenience, and therefore it was not persevered in. And certainly Government must consider what it could carry, and must submit to do all the good it could, if it was not able to do all it would. He was not at all moved by the lecture of the noble Marquess.

Lord Cottenham

said, the noble Baron had claimed credit for the course the Government had pursued, as having been wise. It might be so; but the question was, had it been proper? The noble Baron had talked of the objections entertained on the score of anticipated inconvenience. Why, it was matter of history now that for the long period (since 1832) during which the subject had been under investigation, the result of all inquiries conducted by Committees of either House, or by Commissions under the Crown, had been, that the advantage of the measure would amply compensate for the inconvenience apprehended. It could have been no new discovery, then, that had altered the decision of the Government, which had formerly condemned these Courts, and only consented to their continuance when it appeared "wise" so to do.

Lord Brougham

suggested that five years' standing (instead of seven) should be the qualification of the Judges in the Diocesan Courts.

The Lord Chancellor

assented to the proposition, observing that five years was the qualification for Recorders. He took occasion to remark, that he had attentively considered the case of Taunton, as to which a Petition had been presented for exemption from the Diocesan Jurisdiction; and he could not accede to a proposal which might expose him to similar application from every "peculiar."

Lord Campbell

(who had presented the Petition) had neither personal nor party motives in the matter, but regretted that the request could not be conceded, and wished that either all the courts should be abolished or all retained, for in many cases (as in that before hire) it would be easier to go to the Metropolitan than to the Diocesan Court.

Report agreed to.