HL Deb 28 June 1852 vol 122 cc1337-42

Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.


said, that he would take that opportunity of calling the attention of their Lordships to a matter personal to himself. Upon a former occasion when the Bill was under discussion in the Committee of their Lordships' House, some expressions had fallen from him which he regretted to hear had given pain to a learned Judge in the other House of Parliament, for whom he entertained the very highest respect—he referred to the Master of the Rolls. He had no personal acquaintance with that right hon. Gentleman, nor had he seen him, that he was aware, since the period when he (Lord Lyndhurst) was last in office; but from the opportunities which he had had, when he held the Great Seal, of constantly admiring his learning, great ability, and uniform courteous manner, he considered him in every way worthy his distinguished parent; and he had every reason to believe that his character since he had been raised to the Bench fully corresponded with that which he then so honourably maintained; and nothing could be further from his mind than, in any expressions which he made use of, to give the slightest pain to the feelings of so distinguished an individual. The matter arose out of a desultory discussion which took place in Committee on this Bill. The Committee sat at rather a late hour, and what was then stated was not very accurately reported. As an instance of this he was reported to have made some remarks as to the share which the Master of the Rolls had taken in the framing of the present Bill, and the care he had taken to except his own Court from its provisions; he having, in point of fact, said not a word upon that subject, that being entirely foreign to the matter under discussion. The facts of the case were shortly this. The Bill in question was founded upon the report made by the Select Committee of the House of Commons. The Master of the Rolls was a Member of that Committee, and that Committee recommended in the strongest terms the abolition of what were termed "orders of course." They recommended that "orders of course" should be abolished; but as it would be proper to except some, it recommended that they be transferred to the Registrar of the Court of Chancery. The evident object of this recommendation was to mitigate and abolish the office from which those orders issued. At that time Sir John Romilly held the office of Solicitor General; but since that time he had been raised—very properly raised'—to the Mastership of the Rolls. Now, in this Bill, founded on the report of the Select Committee, his attention had been directed to the fact that no notice whatever was taken of this recommendation. Nothing was said with respect to the offices which it was obviously the intention of that Committee should be abolished. Some gentlemen of great respectability in the profession—a society composed of eminent lawyers throughout the country, and many distinguished practitioners in London, and called "The Metropolitan and Provincial Law Association"—presented a petition to their Lordships, and requested him to introduce the subject to their notice. So far from there being any abolition of the office to which reference had been made, in accordance with the recommendations of the Commissioners, at the very time when this Bill was under consideration, the appointment became vacant, and the Master of the Rolls at that time—November last—named a young man to fill it who was then an articled clerk to some attorney in London, and who had not completed his articles. This appointment was made matter of complaint, and he was requested to bring the subject before their Lordships. He thought it his duty to do so, and accordingly impressed it upon the consideration of the Committee, but received no explanation. He had previously called the attention of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack to the circumstance, but received no explanation from any quarter. He asked their Lordships, therefore, if he had done wrong, under these circumstances, in impressing the case upon the consideration of the Committee, and whether the Master of the Bolls himself, if he had been in his situation, would not have thought it his duty to have taken precisely the same course? Now, if this matter had been referred to a Select Committee, as the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack had rightly said it could not he, in consequence of its coming up so late in the Session, the matter might have been easily explained; but they had no explanation whatever on the subject, and he thought it was but due to the House to have called attention to it. The Select Committee, of which the learned Judge was a Member, recommended a particular course to be pursued with respect to certain offices. That learned person was, after a short period, appointed to that Court to which the offices belonged. A Bill was brought in, founded professedly upon the report of that Committee, and no notice whatever was taken of that material and important recommendation. Now, so far as he could collect, what passed in the other House on the subject—and he had no doubt it was correct—was, that this learned person stated that he had had nothing to do with the preparation of the Bill, and knew nothing of its details. He assumed, however, that as a Member of the Committee he was present at the discussion upon that portion of the Bill at least, founded upon that report, which affected the court of equity of which he was the Judge, He (Lord Lyndhurst) trusted that in the next Session of Parliament, when he should move for the abolition of this office, he should have the support of that distinguished Judge in the other House of Parliament. It had been objected to him that he had said that while the offices of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack had been cut down with an unsparing hand; on the other hand, the offices of the Master of the Rolls had not been at all touched by it. Now, he appealed to any of their Lordships who had read through the Bill whether that was not strictly and accurately true. The utmost havoc—if he might use the expression—had been inflicted upon the offices of his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor; while not a single office mentioned in the Bill in connexion with the Master of the Rolls had been abolished. He did not impute any blame to any one: all he contended was, that what he had stated on a former occasion was strictly and literally true. He did not think that any observations could have been made upon his statements; but the learned person was reported to have stated, as this office was now paid by salary instead of by fees—a salary of 1,000l. a year—that there was no ground of complaint. He did not think it possible that such a statement could have been made by that learned person, for this reason, that in order to alter one of these "orders of course" the attorney must be instructed, the petition would require to be drawn up and presented at the office, and other steps for which fees would of course have to be paid. As to the fees formerly paid to the officer, as they are now paid into court, the officer being paid by salary instead of by fees; he admitted that he was not paid directly by the individuals who made the application. But what was the consequence of this change? A salary was established, instead of fees, of 1,000l. a year. From what fund did this salary come? From the Suitors' Fee Fund. Thus from the reduced fees of the Court of Chancery was derived a salary of 1,000l. a year for an office which the Select Committee recommended should be abolished. Was he not, then, perfectly justified in calling the attention of their Lordships to the circumstances as he had done? There was one trifling circumstanee stated to have been alluded to by the learned Judge, at which he was somewhat surprised. It was with reference to the statement he had made, that, while the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack was to have but one clerk, at a salary of 200l. a year, the Master of the Rolls was to have two clerks, at a salary of 300l. a year. What were the facts of the case? The Bill provided one clerk for the Lord Chancellor at the rate of 200l. a year, and 300l. a year was given to one clerk in the office of the Master of the Rolls, if only one was appointed; that was, that if the same number of clerks which were allotted to the Lord Chancellor were given to the Master of the Rolls, the clerk of the Lord Chancellor would receive but 200l. a year, while the clerk of the Master of the Rolls would receive 300?. Then there was a provision, that the Master of the Rolls, if he thought proper, might divide that 300l. and have two clerks, giving only 150l. to each of them. He regretted that in the "scrambling" discussion of the other night, he had not with sufficient clearness and precision pointed out this latter course to their Lordships. He thought he had now stated enough to satisfy their Lordships that he was justified in the statement which he had made on a previous occasion, and that it was his duty to impress upon the Committee the circumstances which had occurred; and he trusted that the explanations which he had made would be satisfactory to the learned Judge. He could assure their Lordships that he should feel the greatest regret if anything he had said on a former occasion, and still more upon this occasion, should have in the slightest degree hurt the feelings of that learned Judge. Before concluding, he trusted their Lordships would allow him to make one observation, for the purpose of putting the House upon its guard against the Bills which came up from the other House at a late period of the Session, and also against any alterations made by that House in the last stages of a Bill. He thought nothing was so mischievous as the course pursued in this respect. A Bill having passed through its various stages, and gone through Committee, it was generally considered that nothing further could be done to improve it. Some most important alterations, however, often crept in at the last stage of a Bill. Now, mark the effect of this. There was a clause in this Bill giving a certain amount of retirement to officers of the Court of Chancery, and a proviso was very properly added to that clause, providing that nothing therein contained should affect the retirement given by former Acts to any officer of that court. Nothing could be more fair than this. A man who accepted office upon the faith of an Act of Parliament granting provision for a retirement after twenty years' service, looked, and very properly so, to possessing a vested right in that retirement. The proviso, therefore, to this effect was agreed to in Committee, and went through the usual stages there; but afterwards, either upon bringing up the report, or upon the third reading, the proviso was cut out. What was the consequence of this? Those who were entitled after twenty years' service in one of the most valuable offices of the Court of Chancery to a retirement upon two-thirds of their salaries, would be, under the operation of this Bill, and in consequence of striking out this proviso, entitled only to a retirement of one-half of their salaries. His attention had been called to this circumstance, and he had consulted the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack upon the subject; but a difficulty arose in dealing with it, on the ground of its being a money clause, and the House of Commons claimed certain privileges over clauses of this description. He felt disposed, rather than do injustice to individuals in this way, to vote directly against the Bill, although many of its pro- visions were extremely advantageous to the country. They had, however, contrived, by a side-wind, to remedy the defect complained of, and he would now support the Motion for the third reading of the Bill. He apologised to their Lordships for having detained them so long in the early part of his observations upon a matter personal to himself, and hoped, so far as his latter observations were concerned, that they would receive the general sanction of the House.


did not intend to enter on the subject of the explanations given in so clear and lucid a manner by his noble and learned Friend; but he entirely agreed in all he had said in commendation of his right hon. and learned Friend the Master of the Rolls. He greatly regretted the absence of a noble and learned Friend (Lord Truro) who was prevented by the great labour he had undergone that morning, since half-past 9 o'clock, from remaining to give an explanation on the part of the Master of the Rolls, but which no person unacquainted with the Bill and with its history was capable of giving. As a sample of the explanations which might be given, he might state, with reference to the 200l. and 300l. a-year salaries, that he understood the Master of the Rolls had the power of appointing one or more clerks at a salary not exceeding 300l for all, whereas the Lord Chancellor had the power of appointing only one clerk at 200l. a-year. But if, as he understood, the duties of clerk in the Lord Chancellor's office could he performed by one, whereas the duty of clerk in the Master of the Rolls Office required more—say two, if not three—the Master of the Rolls had not the power of appointing two at a salary of 300l. each, but he had the power of appointing two at a salary of 150l. each.


stated, that shortly before he came to the House he informed the noble and learned Lord the late Lord Chancellor that he intended to make the statement he had made; hut the noble and learned Lord was so unwell and so exhausted by his judicial duties during the day, as to be obliged to leave the House. With reference to the clerks in the Master of the Rolls' office, he (Lord Lyndhurst) begged to state, from information he had received, that if orders of course were abolished, one clerk would be amply sufficient.

Bill read 3a, and passed.