HL Deb 23 July 1861 vol 164 cc1341-3

House in Committee (according to Order).


said, that the Act of Elizabeth entitled "An Act for the good Government of the City or Borough of Westminster," amended by subsequent Acts, appointed, amongst other things, an Annoyance Jury, whose duty it was to inspect annoyances, obstructions, and weights and measures. The object of the Bill was to abolish the Annoyance Jury, and to vest its powers in the "Court of Burgesses" which constituted the local government of Westminster, with power to appoint inspectors to summon offenders, and to inflict penalties, which were to be paid one half to the Bailiff of Westminster, the other half to the Court of Burgess, for the purpose of defraying the expenses of the Act. The object of the Amendments he proposed to move was to place the duty of punishing offences of this kind in the hands of the stipendiary magistrates, as was the case in the other metropolitan districts; and to direct the fines to be paid over to the Bailiff. The noble Lord said that the inhabitants of Westminster objected to the continuance of this power in the hands of the Court, which was a self-elected body; and, while admitting that more persons were fined for; having deficient weights and measures in the City of Westminister than in other parts of the kingdom, explained that circumstance by stating that in Westminster the fines were not, as they were elsewhere, paid to the county treasurer, but were paid to the burgesses and applied by them. The noble Lord then moved an Amendment in Clause 5 to strike out the words" the said Court of Burgesses," and to insert "two Justices of the Peace for the County of Middlesex."


defended the constitution of the Court, which lie said had been established three centuries, and which had always attending its meetings a town clerk, who was usually a lawyer, and who was appointed by the High Steward. The Annoyance Jurors, as they were called, though their object was rather to prevent annoyance, had the power to enter into shops and examine the weights and mea- sures, and defacing or destroying those they found defective, and amercing offenders in penalties to the amount of 40s. But the Court of Burgesses, assembling once a month, had power to mitigate the fine. This jurisdiction had been conferred upon the Court of Burgesses by an Act passed in the 27th year of the reign of George II., and had been exercised most beneficially for more than a century. As the humble classes wore those who suffered most front fraudulent weights and measures, it was necessary that there should be constant supervision over the traders in particular districts. A return published in 1858 showed that in the previous year there were a greater number of convictions for improper weights and measures in Westminster than, with one exception, in any other division in the country. The fines received by the Court of Burgesses amounted to £50 or £60 a year. He left it to their Lordships to consider whether the Court was more likely to discharge its duties more diligently and painfully in consequence of this amount of revenue. No complaint had ever been made as to the practical working of the Court, but it had been objected by many of the inhabitants that the being compelled to serve on this Annoyance Jury was a very great burden. Accordingly, a Bill had been introduced to abolish the jurisdiction of the Court of Burgesses, and to substitute for them an Inspector of Weights and Measures. The Court of Burgesses themselves did not object— they considered the measure to be a relief and a benefit. No doubt it was most desirable that the Inspectors should act under a constant and vigilant superintendence, and if the Inspectors were not to be answerable to the Court of Burgesses he thought the door would be open to a great deal of connivance and partiality. There was nothing in his noble Friend's argument beyond this, that the Court of Burgesses was a self-elected body.


was of opinion that it was better to transfer the jurisdiction of the police magistrates than to continue it in the hands of the Court of Burgesses, It would, of course, be open to any of the inhabitants who thought they had reasonable ground for complaint against the Inspector, to prefer such complaint before the magistrates. It was but reasonable that the jurisdiction should he placed in the hands of the police magistrates, rather than in those of a self-constituted body like that of the Court of Burgesses.


thought that the police magistrates had quite enough business thrown upon them without being saddled with those additional duties of looking after the Inspector of Weights and Measures and hearing complaints respecting him.


said, he thought it would be a great improvement to have this jurisdiction transferred to the stipendiary magistrates; but he would not trouble their Lordships to divide upon the Amendment.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Amendment made; The Report thereof to be received on Thursday next.