HL Deb 06 August 1874 vol 221 cc1383-9

Order of the Day for the Third Beading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Lord Chancellor.)


said, he did not rise to oppose the third reading of the Bill, but he was compelled to confess his extreme disappointment at the failure of the expectations which they were led to entertain in the early part of the present Session as to the legislation which might take place on subjects closely connected with this Bill. When they knew that his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack had the opportunity of exercising his great powers and his great influence in the promotion of valuable and useful measures of legal reform; and when they reflected on the perfect concord which existed between a considerable majority in their Lordships' House and a considerable majority in the other House, it seemed that the time had come when they might look forward with confidence to the successful prosecution of that kind of legislation to which he referred. He was aware that the present Government acceded to office without being able to prepare measures in prospect of the Session, and that thus a considerable part of an important period of the Session was lost. He was willing to take that circumstance into account. His noble and learned Friend had, however, brought forward the legal Bills to which he (Lord Selborne) alluded at an early period of the Session, and in doing so spoke in very kind terms of the communication made by him to his noble and learned Friend on the subject of one of those measures at the time of the change of Government. His noble and learned Friend had not at all disappointed the expectations which had been formed respecting his anxiety and ability in the cause of Law Reform; for, after giving full consideration to the subject, he did introduce two important measures for facilitating the transfer of land and two Judicature Bills. Both the former Bills were considered in their Lordships' House, though they did not undergo any very great amount of discussion in consequence of the general concurrence in their various provisions. The Judicature Bills, however, did undergo discussion in their Lordships' House on several occasions—both the Bill relating to Ireland and the Bill to amend the English Act of last Session; and he should have thought that they went down from their Lordships' House in sufficient time to pass the other House in the present Session. Indeed, there was no doubt they would have become law, if it had been considered worth while to press them forward. Under those circumstances, and with the advantage arising from the concurrence of that and the other House of Parliament in supporting a powerful Administration, if time could not be found for the discussion of such measures sent down under such circumstances and under such auspices, until the last fortnight of the Session, he utterly despaired of seeing justice ever done to such Bills. There were no Bills of greater importance, or more desired, so far as their objects were concerned, by the public at large. On the other hand, from the technical character of their details, they would be always outside of the category of those measures which excited great Parliamentary and public attention, and therefore the mere exigencies of party would not be likely to push them forward; but if there was any use in a Government strong in both Houses, surely it was that measures of this kind might have a fair chance of being sufficiently and properly considered, and that they should not be thrust aside for measures which as compared with them were really of no more than ephemeral importance. He was unable to appreciate the reasons which prevented those Bills receiving due consideration in the House of Commons. It might be that there had been a prospect of much more discussion in the other House of Parliament on the Bills relating to the transfer of land than he should have anticipated, and that, as to those Bills, which were not immediately pressing as to time, the Government might have exercised a wise discretion; but as regarded the Judicature Bills, which he believed had proceeded to almost the last stage—the English one having passed half through Committee—he could not but express his opinion that if there was everywhere the same zeal in the cause of law reform which he knew to be pos- sessed by his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack, those Bills would have passed through the House of Commons. What was the consequence? One which must be regretted by his noble and learned Friend himself. The Bill which passed last year, and which the whole of the legal profession had expected would come into operation this year, was, by the measure now before their Lordships, proposed to be kept in suspense for a whole year from November next. He must say that he could not see that there was a necessity for such a postponement. Even if, in the judgment of his noble and learned Friend, some postponement was necessary—if it were desired that there should be a longer period than the interval between this and November for the consideration of the new Orders and Rules—would not a short postponement to the beginning of next year have been sufficient? He admitted the advantage of having that Act itself and the Amendment of it proposed by his noble and learned Friend this Session come into operation simultaneously; but he could not think that it was at all so considerable as to counterbalance the disadvantage arising from the doubts to which the postponement of the Act for another year would, he apprehended, give rise in the minds of many persons. The principles of that measure would again become topics in the arena of discussion, and surmises would get abroad that there was an intention on the part of the Government and Parliament to reconsider these principles and the whole of the plan which had been already sanctioned by both Houses and had become law. That idea would give encouragement to those who were opposed to the change so decided upon by Parliament, and the result might be that at the beginning of next Session they might find themselves further off than ever from the reform which they had expected to see effected before the close of the present year. He was sure that in the mind of his noble and learned Friend there was no intention to depart from the principles on which that legislation had proceeded last Session, and in their Lordships' House during the present year; but, for the reasons he had referred to, it would give him great satisfaction to hear from his noble and learned Friend that his views were unchanged, and that their Lord- ships might look forward to a serious and earnest attempt next Session to pass the measures he had introduced this year, and that the Act of last year would be brought into operation without any further delay than was now absolutely necessary.


said, he also regretted the postponement of the Act—an unfortunate circumstance arising from the delay in the constitution of the New Supreme Court of Appeal was that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council would continue to hear ecclesiastical appeals, and that, as Judges, the two most reverend Prelates would continue to assist in the hearing of those appeals. It was most unfortunate that the public should have any reason for not accepting the decisions on those appeals, as being decided on purely legal grounds on account of the presence of persons who could not be said to be entirely free from prejudice in the matter.


said, he was glad the delay took place, and was glad of it for the reasons which made the noble and learned Lord (Lord Selborne) regret it. In his opinion, the decision already come to by Parliament with reference to the Supreme Tribunal of Appeal was not the best which could be come to. He said that because he believed the tribunal proposed did not meet with the entire approbation of the legal profession in this country, and he hoped that during the Recess, there would be a fuller expression of their opinion on the matter. It certainly did not meet with approval in Scotland and Ireland, in both of which countries the profession had had the courage to speak out. He hoped his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack would not by any statement commit himself further than he was already committed to the transfer of the Appellate Jurisdiction of the House of Lords.


My Lords, I am not surprised that my noble and learned Friend (Lord Selborne), even at this stage of the Bill, should have called your Lordships' attention to the subject to which he has referred. The only thing in the discussion which has caused me some regret is the reference by the noble Earl (the Earl of Limerick) to questions which deeply agitate the public mind. I can conceive nothing more unfortunate—I hope the noble Earl will excuse me if I say more unseemly—than that there should be in this House any reference to matters which may become the subject of legal discussion and decision—that it should be suggested by any Member of your Lordships' House that two Members of the Episcopal Bench, who must, as Judges or assessors be concerned in cases to which he refers—that it should be suggested they cannot discharge that duty with unbiassed minds, I leave the noble Earl to consider whether a suggestion of that kind made in your Lordships' House is in furtherance of the best interests of justice. I turn to the remarks made by my noble and learned Friend on this Bill, and I must say I entirely agree with him as to the course which the Bills he alluded to took in this House. I feel, and have felt throughout this Session, deep gratitude for the earnest consideration given in this House to all of those Bills. Even by those of your Lordships who did not agree with the proposals which they were intended to carry out, the various questions arising on them were fully discussed, and those questions were distinctly decided by the judgment of the House. I should be very ungrateful, also, if I did not take this opportunity of recognizing the great and valuable assistance I received from my noble and learned Friend in presenting and forwarding those measures; and I think I need not apologize for taking this public opportunity of returning my thanks in another quarter. The country is deeply indebted to the learned Judges, who, though having to discharge important and laborious duties more immediately connected with their office, gave during the year a great deal of their valuable time to the preparation of those Rules and Orders in connection with the Judicature Bill which have been recently laid before Parliament. With regard to the course taken in "another place" in respect of the Bills to which my noble and learned Friend has referred, the history of it, though it did not come under my own eyes, appears to me to be extremely simple. When those Bills wont down from this House, the Government had every reason to suppose that they would meet with very general approval in the other House of Parliament, and being Bills which had been brought down from this House, that course was taken with them which, in every Session within my experience, has been taken with Bills under similar circumstances. Precedence before them was given to Bills which had originated in the House of Commons, and had not boon brought down from this House. That course, if not carried too far, appears to me to be a convenient and wise course. But after a time it was found that a number of Amendments were to be proposed to the Land Transfer Bill; that as regarded the Judicature Act Amendment Bill some opposition would arise, not on the main principle, but on questions of detail; and that as regarded the new Tribunal of Appeal, certain questions would be raised as to judicial appointments for Scotland and Ireland. But, notwithstanding all that, I have not the least doubt that those Bills would have passed through the other House, if towards the close of the Session, and during the few days when they could have been forwarded, there did not come before the House of Commons a Bill, which, though not a Government measure, was one of great public interest, and which occupied the energies and attention of that House to such an extent that the Government found that any opposition sustained by however limited a number of hon. Members, would, at that period of the Session, have prevented the passing of the Bills to which my noble and learned Friend has referred. But my noble and learned Friend says that, oven suppose we could not have passed the Irish Judicature Bill and the Judicature Act Amendment Bill, he cannot see why the English Act of last year should not have been allowed to take its course and come into operation at the time originally fixed. He asks why that could not have been done? For this simple reason—In order to bring it into operation, it would have been necessary to complete the constitution of the Appellate Court, and in order to complete the constitution of the Appellate Court, it would have become necessary to consider the questions raised in respect of the representation of Ireland and Scotland. It was with the greatest regret—regret on the part of the whole of the Cabinet, but I need not say particular regret on my part—that we arrived at the conclusion that it was useless to attempt to proceed with those Bills this Session. In reply to what my noble and learned Friend has said as to our intentions, on the part of Her Majesty's Government I can say that Her Majesty's Government have no such intention as that which he has mentioned as one likely to he attributed to us by some persons. We have no intention to present those Bills in a different form to this or the other House of Parliament. The Bills in their present shape embody the intentions of the Government on the great questions to which my noble and learned Friend refers, and in that shape, or substantially in that shape, they will be again brought before Parliament. It is true that the Bill now before your Lordships suspends till the month of November, 1875, the coming into operation of the Act of last year. As the Bill was introduced in the other House, it was to suspend it till November of next year, or such other time as Her Majesty by Order in Council might appoint. That last Proviso was objected to as being irregular in a matter of such importance, and it was accordingly omitted. But it is the intention of the Government to present those Bills at a very early period of the next Session, and if Parliament will address itself to them without delay, there is no reason why the Act of last year may not come into operation long before November—may be by the 1st of May—and it will be entirely competent to Parliament to alter the date in the Bill before your Lordships, and decide on a much earlier one.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed.