§ Order for the House to be put into Committee, read.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
My Lords, before the House resolves itself into Committee, I should like to ask my noble and learned Friend who has charge of this Bill for an explanation of its object—that is to say, at, whose instance the change proposed is to be made. I unfortunately omitted to observe the Bill yesterday in the Orders of the Day for Second Reading. I would remind your Lordships that some years ago, owing to the Report of the Royal Commission upon these matters, the trial of all causes, whether arising in the City or in the County of Middlesex, was transferred to the new Law Courts, and the sittings for the trial of causes which used to take place at Guildhall were abandoned. It was thought at that time to be to the public advantage that the trials of causes which used to take place in the City Courts, as well as those in the High Court, should all be conducted under one roof. I want, therefore, to ask my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor at whose instance this proposed change is to be made? When I first saw that such a proposal was on foot, a proposal which 1583 I may say, as far as I can learn, was never explained in the House of Commons—I believe that the measure passed through the other House without any explanation at all, and that it was passed through all its stages very rapidly—I addressed myself upon the matter to those who were likely to know, thinking that perhaps the solicitors practising in the City, and who are engaged largely in commercial cases, had applied to my noble and learned Friend to make such a change. Now, as far as I can learn, there is no keen desire at all on their part for this change, or any pressure for a return to the old system of trying these cases at the Guildhall. I do not know whether the proposal proceeds in any way from the Incorporated Law Society. So far as I am aware, it does not, nor from the mercantile community generally. Therefore, I desire to ask my noble and learned Friend, before the Bill goes further, who is it that desires this Bill should be passed; what representations have been made to him on the subject; and whether he has consulted such bodies and persons interested in the matter, as those to whom I have alluded; and, if so, what information he has received from them?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
In answer to the questions put by the noble and learned Lord, I will explain that the necessity for the Bill arises from the fact that by an Order in Council it was arranged that no sittings of Judges of the High Court should be held in the City of London. My attention has been called by a great variety of persons to the diminution of City causes—that is to say, what are generally called commercial cases, and I have been told that one great objection to the present arrangement is the inconvenience it causes to business men in the City. It is stated that business men will not, if they can avoid it, go out of the City in business hours. I am not aware of any particular magic accompanying the trial of causes in the City of London, and it is rather the inconvenience which has been called to my attention that I have endeavoured to obviate and remedy. The noble and learned Lord acting with me and myself have agreed that, with that object, sittings in London should be tried as an experiment. Then our attention was called to the result of the 1584 Order in Council, that all trials should take place in the Royal Courts. One inconvenience is that when all the Judges are able to give full attention to their judicial work in the Royal Courts, there are not Courts enough for them, which naturally has extremely inconvenient results to suitors and parties concerned. Another great disadvantage at present is that it is difficult to ascertain precisely when causes will be heard; but if these trials were to take place in the City Courts proper, those who are engaged in commercial cases would know when they were coming on. I may say that I had a great variety of information given to me upon the matter, the details of which I am unable to give at this moment; but I came to the conclusion that at all events it was desirable to try, as an experiment, whether this would not remove the block of commercial causes, which is alleged now to be so great that people will not go to trial with their actions, and they do not like to go to arbitration. In the circumstances, I think it will be seen that the experiment is, at all events, a very desirable one to try, and it is in order to give the opportunity of trying the experiment that the introduction of the present Bill has become necessary.
House in Committee (according to order).
§ Clause 1.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
I must say I cannot regard the answer of my noble and learned Friend as in the slightest degree satisfactory. It seems that a certain number of unnamed persons, in whose views my noble and learned Friend pro fesses absolute confidence—
§ LORD HERSCHELL
Well, I omit "absolute," and I will say that it seems a number of persons, in whom my noble and learned Friend, for the purposes of this Bill, places confidence, have told him that they consider that City causes will become more numerous, and the disposal or administration of them more popular, if this change is made. Now, surely the persons who are best able to judge in such a question as that are the solicitors who are chiefly engaged in these commercial causes. They know best whether 1585 the reason which the noble and learned Lord has given for the diminution in the number of these causes is really that which he suggests, namely, the inconvenience of the present place of trial. I am informed by those who are as competent to advise on the matter as any of the persons who, I suppose, have been giving information upon it to my noble and learned Friend can be, that that is not really the cause of the diminution of City cases, that the reason for it has nothing whatever to do with the place of trial, and that to transfer them to the City for trial is not likely to add to their number, while it has still more obvious disadvantages. I should have thought that upon such a question as this the noble and learned Lord would have considered it right to consult the Incorporated Law Society, or those members of that body who are more especially conversant with such a subject as this. One would like to know, too, whether he had made any inquiries, or had received the views of the Bar upon the subject. I do not, of course, for a moment suggest that the views of either of those bodies, as representing the legal profession, should be taken as conclusive in such matters affecting the public interest generally — I hope they never will be—where any question with regard to the conduct of litigation is concerned; but I would submit to your Lordships that if a change of this kind is to be made without an opportunity being afforded of ascertaining what their views are, the House will be legislating in the dark, especially when we are not even told who those persons are whose authority has been quoted, but whose names, whose means of knowledge, whose situation and calling in life are absolutely undisclosed to us, although they seem to have convinced the mind of my noble and learned Friend.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
My Lords, the observations of the noble and learned Lord open up rather a wide vista of new constitutional practice. This Bill comes from the House of Commons. In the House of Commons there sit two Members for the City of London. I presume they know something of what their constituents desire. In the House of Commons there sit a considerable 1586 number of solicitors, who are probably at least as able as other members of their profession, and I presume it may be taken that they would have found out any objections to the measure if they had existed, but the solicitors were silent. The Attorney General sits there as head of the Bar; and if the Bar were strongly averse to this measure, probably he would have had something to say to it. But the Bill has passed through the House of Commons with absolute unanimity. I must say the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken is calling for a large amount of that faith which we are, I am sure, always desirous of putting in him when he asks us upon his own authority simply to dispel this cloud of witnesses by whom the Lord Chancellor has considered himself justified in being persuaded, having also, I believe, consulted the heads of the law, and having, as I have said, satisfied himself with the authority of persons whose evidence he believed. The noble and learned Lord seems to have consulted nobody; and not having fortified himself with the authority of anybody, asks the House now, upon the ground that he has not had the opportunity of doing anything to refute the testimony of all those persons whom I have enumerated, not to accept this measure. Last night we were a good deal blamed because we had not, before introducing a Bill into this House, laid it before another Assembly; but the doctrine is going further, and apparently we must not introduce Bills into this House until we have laid them before the Incorporated Law Society in order to obtain its assent.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
I protest against the noble Marquess putting into my mouth. words which I have never used. The noble Marquess says I have proposed a new principle of constitutional practice; but it is a new principle to me that, because a Bill has passed the House of Commons without discussion, your Lordships should pass it without a sufficient explanation from the noble and learned Lord who has introduced it into your Lordships' House. My noble and learned Friend has, I submit, introduced it without giving the reasons upon which it is founded, and without showing that it is a measure which is called 1587 for, and is likely to work well. That was what I asked for, and what I think one has a right to ask for in this House; because one knows this perfectly well, that frequently at the present time measures which are of a character not gravely controversial pass through the other House without any discussion whatever. Owing to new Regulations which have been made, measures of this description are not discussed—there is no opportunity of discussing them, and they pass through without discussion. I think it not unreasonable, therefore, that when those measures come before your Lordships' House it should not be taken for granted that there is nothing to be said on the subject. Very often it happens that the only information which the public obtains that such a measure is in progress is when it comes before your Lordships' House, and then it is sometimes seen to be open to grave objection, even by Members of the other House, who may have allowed it to pass, when it comes to be considered here. Therefore, I cannot assent to the proposition of the noble Marquess, that when a Bill passes through the other House without discussion, we ought not to discuss it here. The fact that it has so passed is a reason why one should hesitate much before asking your Lordships to reject it; but it does not prevent one asking for a statement of the reasons for the measure, which I must confess in this case do not appear to me to be overwhelming.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I do not think we need discuss this Bill at greater length. The noble and learned Lord has, I think, exaggerated the nature and effect of the Bill. It is a very little one, consisting only of two clauses in a few lines, and is, as I have explained, simply for the purpose of enabling these causes to be tried in the City of London; which, I may say, had, until the recent change, always been done in my experience. It enacts that sittings may be held in the City of London by Judges of the High Court tinder commission issued for the trial of issues or inquiries in cases at Nisi Prius. It is desired that this experiment should be made, and, after all, the responsibility of asking for power to try the experiment must be upon the Minister who introduces the Bill. I do not deny that my 1588 noble and learned Friend is entitled to ask for explanations, and I have given him such information as I thought right, without giving the names of people who would not be at all desirous to have a discussion raised about them as to whether they were fit or competent persons upon whose information to act. If the experiment is not found to be successful, I do not think there would be any desire on the part of Her Majesty's Government, or anybody else, that it should be continued. But I think, my Lords, it is desirable that it should be tried.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment; Standing Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a on Thursday next.