§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that as their Lordships were aware, there was a large number of documents of a public character which were deposited in the Public Record Office, and were there under the charge of the Master of the Rolls. Of course, the preservation of those documents was a matter of great public interest. On the one hand, it was obvious that while a large portion of these were such as should never be destroyed, but kept with the most jealous care, on the other 1076 hand, there were a large number which could never be of any value. It was, therefore, important that provision should be made to prevent the destruction by any means of such of them as ought not to be destroyed; and, on the other hand, to take steps for getting rid of those the preservation of which could serve no useful purpose. He was not now proposing any positive scheme for the production of documents; but, following a suggestion which had been made on the subject, he was asking their Lordships' assent to a Bill which would enable the Master of the Rolls, as the head of the Record Office, with the sanction of the Treasury or head of the Department to which the particular class of documents might belong, to make rules for the destruction of such documents as were of no, or of small, value. Such rules were, however, not to be acted on until they had been laid before Parliament for the usual time—40 days. Two years ago there was laid on the Table of their Lordships' House a memorandum on this subject by Sir Duffus Hardy, the Deputy Keeper of the Records. In a schedule attached to that memorandum their Lordships would see samples of documents which would illustrate what he had said as to the inutility of papers which now occupied a large amount of space. It included documents connected with legal proceedings three or four centuries ago, and which could never by possibility be of any use.
Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ THE EARL OF HARROWBY
urged that very great care should be used in dealing with the public records of the country. It was much more prudent to act on the principle of preserving too much than of destroying too much. There had been in former times a great loss of such records by careless handling. The fact that the public records were now in the custody of the Master of the Rolls was a security against such handling; but danger might arise after the passing of such a Bill as this if the liberty of destruction were not surrounded with strict precautions. Documents which at one time might appear to be of no importance whatever might in the course of legal proceedings subsequently adopted turn out to be of ex- 1077 treme importance. He did not think much of the precaution of laying the Rules on the Tables of both Houses of Parliament, because experience had frequently shown that there was no revision; and, practically, the Rules would be those of the Master of the Rolls only. The Deputy Keeper of the Records had suggested a standing Committee of three persons, who should all be men of practical and general knowledge, as well as of legal and historical acquirements, without whose consent no document could be destroyed, and he regretted that there was no provision in the Bill for the appointment of such a Committee.
§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
thought that the Bill provided due precautions against the destruction of useful documents.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
reminded their Lordships that the Bill contained no schedule of documents, and that the schedule annexed to the Memorandum referred to was merely an illustrative one. The Master of the Rolls might adopt the suggestion for the appointment of three persons, or frame any other plan which he might think advisable, subject always to the consent of the Secretary of State or other head of the particular Department and the subsequent sanction of Parliament.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.
§ House adjourned at half-past Five o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.