§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
*THE DUKE OF ST. ALBANS
My Lords, the object of this Bill is to remove the property qualifications of persons serving as Justices of the Peace in counties. In my endeavour to induce your Lordships to agree with me that those qualifications are inconvenient, I wish to repudiate any desire or intention to reflect in any way upon the manner in which County Magistrates at present discharge their duties. I have in the first place to remind your Lordships that the appointment of County Magistrates rests with the Lord Chancellor; but the habit has grown up that he shall avail himself of the local knowlege possessed by the custos rotulorum of the counties, and custom from time immemorial has brought it about that the Lord Lieutenants nominate gentlemen for office, as Justices of the Peace, by presenting a list of names to the Lord Chancellor. 3 The Bill is short, and will not, I trust, by its brevity outrage the etiquette of legal drafting. It does not apply to Scotland or Ireland. It seeks to repeal those Acts which were founded upon the old Statute of Henry VII., which imposed territorial qualifications for persons serving as County Magistrates. The qualifications under the Act of George II. (which they have to state on oath) are £100 a year, free of all incumbrances, derived from land. Although they have to assert on oath that they possess that qualification they can dispose of it the next day after they have taken that oath required of them, and still remain Magistrates. To this qualification no condition of residence attaches, nor any necessity for attendance. The other qualification is a reversionary interest of £300 a year in land, and by the Statute of Victoria a two years' residence in a house upon which the rates have been paid during that period by the occupier of a value as rated for the Inhabited House Duty of £100 a year. As regards this condition, if the Magistrate ceases to be so resident he ceases to be qualified in that respect. Now those qualifications identify County Magistrates with the landed interest. I believe the decisions of the County Benches are impartial and without bias; but I would appeal to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether it is desirable that a judicial tribunal should be chosen necessarily—exclusively and solely selected—from those whose qualifications are leasehold or freehold qualifications in land, or houses, and that it should be in that way identified with a single interest. I mean the possession of capital, the employment of labour, a distinguished position in the Army, Navy, or Civil Service, even of a legal training, are no qualifications for a County Magistrate. The old Act of George II. says—Whereas the constituting persons of mean estates to be Justices of the Peace may be highly prejudical to the public welfare.Therefore anyone possessed of a million in Consols is legally, for the purposes of a County Magistrate, a person of mean estate. These qualifications belong really to a time when it was impossible even to go out shooting without a property qualification. I may be told that it is possible to amend these qualifications. 4 I prefer to follow the example set by Her Majesty's Government in the case of Chairman of County Councils who have been constituted ex-officio Magistrates of the county, and specially exempted from the necessity of possessing these qualifications. You do not require property qualifications in the case of Members of your Lordships' House; you do not require property qualifications in the case of your eldest sons or heirs-apparent to peerages who have really no legal status. In 1835 you abandoned property qualifications for Borough Magistrates, and I think I am quite correct—speaking in the presence of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland—in saying that for Resident or County Magistrates in Ireland there is no statutory qualification required. If you have confidence in the appointment of the Lord Chancellor, and if the Lord Chancellor has confidence in the recommendations of the Lords Lieutenant—and it is not the usual complaint that the recommendations of the Lords Lieutenant are too democratic—I trust you will be of opinion that "persons of mean estate" may in many cases be very properly appointed on their recommendation to the position of County Magistrates, without any danger to the community or to society. It is true that the selection may be made more difficult by the area being extended. I will trouble your Lordships with a statement of my own experience, having the honour to hold the position of Lord Lieutenant. The county with which I am connected is one of large estates and where great centres of population rise up, where there is no large body of wealthy residents, and where the houses are not of an expensive character. On my recommendation the Lord Chancellor appointed one gentleman who had held the position of Colonel of a Dragoon regiment, and another who filled a position of a County Alderman and of respect in a large town as County Auditor. Perhaps we are too conscientiousin Nottinghamshire, because I fancy in some parts of the country they are apt to get round these by fagot qualifications; but in those two cases which I have mentioned I can only say that the appointments were popular and satisfactory. Gentlemen who would have made excellent Magistrates have been un- 5 able to be appointed from not possessing the necessary property qualifications. On consulting many others who have the honour of holding the position of Lord Lieutenant, I find that their experience is the same—that these qualifications, and especially the rateable qualification of £100, excludes many good men. I have considered a proviso in the hope of meeting the objections as to non-residence and non-attendance, but grave and great difficulties were suggested to me. However, if the mind of man devise any proviso to deal with those questions, I shall be glad to give any suggestion my most earnest consideration in connection with this Bill. I trust your Lordships will consider it is not improper or unjustifiable for me to re-open this subject. Since it was last before your Lordships a great change has been made. There may have been some reason for these property qualifications when the county finances and the expenditure of the rates were vested in the Magistrates sitting at Quarter Sessions. At that time a territorial qualification for a Justice of the Peace may have been advisable. That reason however exists no longer, for by the changes which have been introduced in the law those duties and responsibilities are no longer vested in Quarter Sessions. I have only now to appeal to the indulgence of your Lordships' House. I have to the best of my ability brought this matter before you; but I understand that I shall be opposed by one who is a most eminent authority on every subject, and especially so, perhaps, on this which is now before the House. This proposal may by some be described as a Radical measure; but I can assure your Lordships that I move the Second Reading of the Bill with the true Conservative wish to strengthen the administration of justice by Magistrates in counties.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Duke of St. Albans.)
§ *EARL COWPER
My Lords, I rise to second the Motion of my noble Friend that this Bill be read a second time. I have now been Lord Lieutenant of a county for a great number of years, longer probably than almost any Member of your Lordships' House—I hasten to add that I was appointed when I was 6 very young. Now, I am very much surprised, I must confess, to hear that this Bill is to be opposed by so eminent a man as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Sixteen years ago I supported a measure of very much the same kind introduced here by a noble Earl who has lately been taken from among us full of years and full of honours, Lord Albemarle. At that time, so unanimous was the feeling of your Lordships' House in favour of that measure, that the Second Reading of it was carried without a Division, though afterwards in Committee, when fewer Peers were present, it was so altered and changed and the marrow of it so completely taken out, that it resulted in nothing but the addition of the Inhabited House Duty Clause which included anybody, as my noble Friend has said, who possessed or occupied a house worth £100 a year in the place for which he was to be appointed to act as Magistrate. That clause has been of very little use, and has been almost inoperative. It has done very little to mitigate the evil. I supported Lord Albemarle's measure on the ground that I have found it very difficult in parts of my own county, Bedfordshire, to keep the different Benches up to their proper standard. I may add that since that time this difficulty has not diminished, and I am sure that some of those noble Lords, who are Lord Lieutenants of counties which are not very populous, have found the same difficulty as we shall probably hear by and by. I mention the great change which was made in the former measure in Committee partly as a warning to my noble Friend. Even if he is successful in carrying the Second Reading he must not forget to take care at the proper time that something like it does not happen again. Of course, I cannot anticipate the objections which will be brought forward to-night. I can only recall the objections which have been made on former occasions. The first objection which has already been alluded to by my noble Friend is that a man who is partly charged with the administration of the finances of the county should himself be interested in keeping down the rates. I do not think that was ever a very good argument because the land qualification was not required to be local, it might be possessed in any part of England, and I do not 7 suppose that a man who is appointed to act as a Magistrate in Kent, and who acts there merely because he happens to have property to the value of £100 a year in Northumberland, or in Cornwall, would be a bit more anxious to keep down the rates in Kent. But whatever weight that argument may have possessed at one time it has not the same force now, because the management of the county finances has been taken out of the Magistrates' hands since the County Councils have been established. Then the other point made was that the man who acts as Justice of the Peace should have a good social position. This may have had a good effect in the time of George II., but I do not think the ownership of land carries the same prestige in the present day as it did 150 years ago. There are many men of the highest social position who do not possess a single acre of land; and I think the experience of most of your Lordships will show you that a merely nominal £100 or £1,000 a year from land represent really much less than those incomes derived from any other source. But I will go further than that. I hope I shall not endanger my noble Friend's measure by being thought too Radical or too advanced in my views when I say I think the time has come when we may appoint as Justices of the Peace people of a rather lower social grade. My opinion in this respect is very much influenced by what I have seen as to the working of the County Councils. We see now on the County Councils men of a lower social position, tenant farmers, small professional men in our little county towns, and sometimes even tradesmen, acting and taking a leading part both in those assemblies themselves and in Committees—doing a great deal of work and inspiring confidence in all those whom they meet. If those men are able to make their way to the front in the County Councils, I think it will be very difficult to say they should be kept off the Bench. Then it has been said that these old Acts which it is proposed to repeal, strengthen the hands of the Lords Lieutenants and enable them to resist demands for putting improper persons on the Bench. Now I think that statement is rather a slur on the Lords Lieutenants in this country. I think they ought to be able to say "No" when necessary, without sheltering themselves 8 behind Acts of Parliament; and, what is more, if they cannot say "No" without sheltering themselves behind Acts of Parliament, they will still be in actual danger of crowding the Bench with unfit and incompetent persons. Besides, I go as far as to say that in some points of view it may strengthen the hands of Lords Lieutenants (though it may sound a paradox to say it) to remove the shelter. At the present moment the men so qualified are comparatively so few that it is rather a slight to refuse to appoint one of those gentlemen if he has the qualification; but supposing there should be three times or five times as many men qualified and thoroughly fit for the post of Magistrate, then there is room for selection; for it would no longer be a slight to refuse a man. I think, particularly in populous counties, it may help the Lords Lieutenants to refuse a man without hurting his feelings; whereas in counties like mine, not so populous, it would enable the Bench to be very much strengthened. One or two arguments have been used upon this question which I will not enlarge upon. There has been a suggestion made that the present state of things leads to a certain amount of evasion of the law, artificial qualifications are made up to enable people to act. I do not think that is so often done or to such an extent that it is of very much consequence, still I do not think it is a good thing to encourage an evasion of the law, even chough the law that is evaded may not be a very good one. Then there is another argument raised:—that the present system very often forces Lords Lieutenants to appoint clergymen upon the Bench. Now, I am quite willing to admit that clergymen have sometimes made very good Magistrates. I am quite willing to admit that primâ facie perhaps a clergyman is, at least, as fit, and possibly more fit, for this office than a mere landowner, or anybody else, because he is, to a certain extent, a picked man, and he is pretty sure to have received a fair education. But it is chiefly for the sake of the clergy themselves that I must confess I dislike having them upon the Bench, because I think it interferes with the exercise of their spiritual functions, and with that position in the parish which a clergyman ought to hold, in order to perform those spiritual functions properly. However, 9 I will not go into this point or the other one I have mentioned, because my chief reasons for supporting my noble Friend are that in the first place, as I have said, in my county, and I believe in many others, while the Bench is practically in need of being reinforced, there is a difficulty in finding men to fill the vacancies upon them; and there are many men who are perfectly willing to come forward and act as Magistrates whom we might appoint. I could myself send in two or three names to the Lord Chancellor (who, as I understand, will oppose this Bill), and I am sure he would not refuse to appoint them, if, unfortunately, that qualification did not stand in the way. Another thing is that since the County Councils have been appointed it seems an anomaly to keep men who have obtained a leading position in them off the Bench. Really I think the only argument that can be advanced in this matter is that of safeguard afforded to the Lord Lieutenants, that the existing property qualifications enable them to refuse unfit men, and I have given an answer to that. I shall expect to hear better reasons than I have heard yet against this proposal. Up to the present time I must say I have never hoard any good arguments brought forward against this change in the law. For these reasons I beg to support the Motion of my noble Friend for a Second Beading of this Bill.
*THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
My Lords, no one who has heard the Debate to-night, as far as it has proceeded, can question that the matter has been presented to your Lordships' notice with the most persuasive moderation; still I cannot but think that the speeches which have been addressed to the House would have been more applicable to a Bill constructed on entirely different lines to those which are contained in the three small clauses of the noble Duke's Bill. The question of the qualification for an unpaid magistracy is an important one, and this Bill only deals with a portion of the subject. The Bill purports to be for the amendment of the qualifications of County Magistrates.
*THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
"Jurisdiction of the Peace Qualification Amendment" is its title, 10 and that is what is spoken of in the body of the Bill.
*THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
Yes, that is the substance of it. But the speeches of the noble Duke and of the noble Earl were speeches in favour of the amendment of the qualification, though the substance of the Bill is for the abolition of all qualification. Now that is obviously a very serions matter. It is no doubt unintentionally disguised by the word "Amendment" appearing in the title, and the speeches which have been addressed to your Lordships so moderately are speeches suggesting that in some details, in some particulars, and in some counties it might be desirable to make an amendment in the law. But that is quite a different thing from the substance of the Bill now before us, which proposes to abolish all qualifications whatever. The question of the qualifications of an unpaid magistracy in a country like this is wide and far-reaching. What is the necessity or reason for going into it now? Does not the present system work well? Is there any outcry; or any deficient supply of gentlemen fully qualified? It is obvious that many things have to be considered, that one has to consider what it would lead to, and how far that is directly dealt with in the measure submitted for consideration. It is plain that if this Bill passed into law Lords Lieutenants of Counties would have their task very largely increased; there would be left little or no clue to guide them as to how they should use their power of recommendation, and certainly the Lord Chancellor would have little assistance when he came to exercise his power of making appointments on that recommendation. Now, would it be wise or reasonable to abolish at once all the qualifications required for the Magistracy? I am not at all in favour of limiting the Magistracy to large landowners, rich men, or men of high social position; I am quite in favour of every latitude of choice being exercised from those of moderate means, and not of high social position, if they are otherwise qualified in the opinion of the Lord Chancellor to sit on the Bench and take part in the 11 administration of justice. But this is not a Bill which proposes another qualification. It does not say that £100 a year rating qualification is too high, and that another figure not so high should be accepted in its place. It is not a Bill which proposes that if a man's chances not to have land, but possesses a moderate sum of money, that moderate sum of money should be accepted as a sufficient substitute Nor is it a Bill which proposes, as in the case of Chairmen of County Councils, to treat certain people in certain official positions as being qualified for the Magistracy: it does nothing of the kind. It is not even a Bill which proposes to substitute a residential test for the property qualifications now demanded, but it is a measure which proposes at once to abolish all qualifications whatever for the Magistracy. It might, therefore, be road thus: That it is desirable for the Lord Chancellor, in the exercise of his discretion following the recommendations of Lords Lieutenants of Counties, to appoint men who are unqualified and without any safeguard whatever in the way of the possession of property. I venture to think there are very few of your Lordships who would consider that would be a wise declaration to make, and not a safe method in which any Lord Chancellor would be justified in exercising this high power of making appointments to the Bench. The state of matters in Ireland in this respect has been referred to; and, therefore, I should like to explain exactly how the case stands there. It is true there is no Statute requiring a property qualification at the present time; but as every noble Lord who has held the office of Lord Lieutenant in Ireland at any time for a great number of years knows very well, as a matter of practice Lords Lieutenants of Counties ascertain with precision, and submit for the consideration of the Lord Chancellor, what are the qualifications by way of property—it may be in land or it may be in money—particulars as to residence, and otherwise, with regard to the positions of the persons who are submitted for appointment by the Lord Chancellor. And thus it is that as a matter of practice—perfectly settled practice—the prudence of which I am sure will commend itself to all your Lordships, no gentleman would be appointed unless 12 there were circumstances connected with him indicating that he is in a pecuniary position with regard to solvency and means, as well as of residence, which would enable him to exercise the functions of an unpaid Magistrate, without burden, and in a way to command the confidence of those among whom he lived. It is obvious from that, that the further practice, which rests on Statute, should follow, that if a man gets into pecuniary difficulties, becomes bankrupt, or settles with his creditors, he ceases to have the right to exercise magisterial functions. As I have said, this is not a case of an Amendment which has been presented to your Lordships proposing to substitute one qualification for another, to widen the discretion of the Lord Chancellor so as to enable him to say that although a gentleman whose name is submitted to him has not £100 a year from land, still, having regard to the circumstances, he thinks it is a case which justifies him in making the appointment desired. It is not a case of suggesting even that Amendment or any Amendment whatever, but it is a Bill which proposes to enact that it is desirable to abolish all the qualifications which exist at present, which would be interpreted as meaning that it is desirable to appoint men without means and without such qualification as will be a reasonable safeguard that they will enjoy the confidence of those among whom they live, and in whose affairs they will have the administration of justice.
My Lords, I venture to think this measure is entirely unnecessary. I happened to have seen in a newspaper a statement that a working man had been appointed as a Magistrate for Leicester. In passing through Leicester yesterday I inquired as to the status of that man, and I was told there was not the least doubt as to his solvency, and that he was secretary to a Trades Union of Shoemakers. Until the position of the magistracy is proved to have been injured by having a property qualification, I think it is perfectly unnecessary to do away with the property qualification. It will always be assumed that Magistrates have sufficient property for their position; it is to nobody's interest to inquire into their circumstances, and as long as they conduct themselves in a proper manner I think 13 they ought to remain as they are, and that we ought not to overload the Statute Book with such a measure as this. If no one else moves, I will do so, that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months.")—(The Lord Denman.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I regret not to be able to concur in the proposition of the noble Duke who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill, or in the recommendations of its noble seconder. I hope, in the first place, to be able to convince the noble Duke of the inaccuracy of his recollection of the course of the Debate which took place on a former occasion on this subject. That Debate, I think, exhausted the matter. It is now fifteen years since it took place, and the noble Earl's recollection is, I must say, very imperfect, because instead of being passed by the general consent of your Lordships' House in the form in which it had been presented, it obtained a Second Reading—without a Division—because of what was said by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Cairns. He had pointed out that the Bill as then introduced for the first time proposed a qualification of £300 a year in personalty, and that that was a qualification which might be entirely unconnected with the county, as the £300 a year might be obtained from bonds or what not. From the observations made by Lord Cairns in pointing out the necessity of some qualification which should entail connection with the county, it was suggested that there might be a qualification constituted by reason of an occupation as tenant in the county. That qualification was suggested to the noble Earl, and at that time the Second Reading was passed without a Division. Then when it came on in Committee, so far from the Bill being mangled in Committee in the direction which the noble Earl states, the qualification proposed by Lord Albemarle, who moved the Bill, was that there should be a rating qualification of £200 a year; to which Lord Cairns moved an Amendment that it should be reduced to £100 a year. So that the noble Earl will see, so far from Lord Albemarle's valuation being taken out of the Bill the 14 amount was diminished by the action of Lord Cairns, who then occupied the Woolsack, and that was accepted by the House as a settlement.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Certainly, an inhabited house. That was Lord Albemarle's proposal, and, as I have said, what Lord Cairns did was to reduce the £200 to £100. Therefore the noble Earl will see that his recollection of that Debate, which I have looked up in Hansard, is exceedingly imperfect. Upon that main question I suppose this was the reason for enforcing a qualification of that kind; that it was not adopted from any idea of enforcing the dignity or importance of the County Benches, but it was done because it was thought that persons who were not to be paid for their work and who had to perform duties of some importance should be persons of some position and education at all events, and should be able to give their time in attending upon the County Benches for the administration of justice. It seems to me that is a very reasonable view. Now, my Lords, this question, having been fully debated 15 years ago and settled at that time, is proposed to be raised again by the noble Duke without, so far as I know, any cry for it, and without any desire for a change from any quarter. The noble Duke has said that other Lords Lieutenants have taken the same view as himself. I can only say that during the five years out of those 15 years which I have passed in my present office I have had no complaints from Lords Lieutenants of difficulty in finding qualified persons to fill the position and discharge the duties of County Magistrates. I have looked into the roll and I see that there are 11,000 Magistrates on the Bench in England and Wales. Roughly dividing that number among the various counties would give from 200 to 250 Magistrates for each county. Does the noble Lord suggest that there is any necessity for more than 250 Magistrates, taking that as an average for each county? If there had even been a case of that sort made, I confess I think it would be more satisfactory to your Lordships that we should have some evidence of facts in support of it. Then, is there any difficulty in getting Magistrates? I am 15 not saying there may not sometimes be a difficulty in getting the Magistrates who have been appointed to attend on the Bench—that is another and an entirely different question, and if the noble Duke had suggested that after a certain number of non-attendances a Magistrate should cease to act, that might be a totally different thing; but to propose that there should be an abolition of all qualifications seems to me to be asking your Lordships to take a leap in the dark. The noble Lord has not told us how many Benches at Petty Sessions he has to supply; but I cannot help thinking that if there had been this difficulty experienced one would have heard of it. The limitation of the area of choice diminishes the difficulty of Lords Lieutenants in making recommendations, while the enlargement of the area of selection might make it more difficult to acquiesce, as I have always cheerfully done, in the nominations of the Lords Lieutenants. Given the limited area in which a Lord Lieutenant has now to make his selection, the Lord Chancellor may well assume that the Lord Lieutenant is acting on his own personal knowledge of the propriety of the recommendations he makes; but if you enlarge it and take in everybody throughout the county, I am not sure that the Lord Lieutenant would know more about the persons he recommended than the Lord Chancellor, though I quite admit that within the limited area which the Lord Lieutenant has now to select from he would be able to select desirable persons for the Magistracy. I cannot help thinking it is undesirable that, without any call on the part of the public, without any evidence of public inconvenience, and without any discussion being raised outside upon the subject, or the Lords Lieutenants themselves having debated the matter, a principle of selection which has for many centuries prevailed in this country should be suddenly changed when nobody has, so far as I know suggested that the Magistrates act otherwise than with complete justice, and with general satisfaction. Is it quite certain, I would venture to ask, that when you have changed that system you will have the same unanimous feeling which exists at present, that the Magistrates do their duty? The other topic which the noble Lord has referred to, 16 namely, the appointment of clergymen to the Bench, was also argued on the former occasion. It was urged that they should be appointed, because it was stated that in some places the number of landed proprietors in the county possessing the necessary qualification was limited, and that, therefore, the clergy who lived in their parishes, and were, therefore, on the spot, should act, though not qualified in regard to possessing the same amount of land. It seems to me that the amendment made at the suggestion of Lord Cairns got rid of any difficulty of that kind. It was suggested that persons who had made large sums of money in commerce, or who were engaged as engineers or bankers, or what not, in counties ought not to be excluded. But they are all included now. Does the noble Duke, or does the noble Earl, suggest that in any county in England there are not enough persons occupying houses which are rated at £100 a year to fill the posts of Justices of the Peace? I should desire also, if that were the ground on which this proposition is put, that we should have some statistics placed before us in order that we may know the number of such inhabited houses in each county. I confess I should be surprised to learn that there is not a very large number, more than would justify leaving the matter as it is. It seems to me this is an effort really to abolish the property qualification, which has worked so well for so long a period, without any reason for it at all. The noble Earl as Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire appears to be in a somewhat singular difficulty. As I have said, I have not heard any complaints from other Lords Lieutenants, and until I hear that they are in difficulties in regard to the selection of suitable persons, I cannot assume that that is the case. In that case I should have expected that, as a proposition of this kind was to be made to the House, some of the Lords Lieutenants, with whom I am in constant communication, would have made some intimation of the fact; but without anything of the sort a Lord Lieutenant now comes forward with a statement which happens to be applicable, I suppose, to his own county, and without giving anybody notice of it, and affording an opportunity of inquiry into the facts. Sixteen 17 years ago, when he made the speech which I had the pleasure of reading in Hansard this afternoon, he made a very strong case when he said there were many persons in the position of those I have mentioned who have, nevertheless, not got £100 a year from land; but that was answered by Lord Cairns, when he said—We will introduce a rating qualification which is confined to the county, and not leave solely the land qualification,which, as the noble Lord has said, might qualify a person whose property was in Cornwall for acting as a Magistrate in Northumberland. The proposition was that it should be a qualification in the county where the jurisdiction was to be exercised, and that was unanimously accepted by this House. My great objection is to the disturbance of a system which seems hitherto to have worked very well, and to have procured for this country a body of unpaid Magistrates, such as, I believe, no other country in the world possesses, and I should be very sorry if such a system as that were interfered with except for adequate reasons.
§ LORD KENSINGTON
My Lords, I must first apologise to your Lordships and ask you to excuse me for venturing to rise after the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; but it is only in reference to one sentence in that speech that I desire to make one or two remarks, bearing upon one point which has been referred to by the noble Lords who have spoken, that is with reference to the House Duty qualification. In fact, I think he rather made an appeal to any Member of your Lordships' House to stand up, if he could, and say there is any county in England or Wales in which there are not plenty of houses rated at £100 a year, and he said he would be surprised to hear from any noble Lord that that is the case. Well, I have not, of course, made an examination of the rate books throughout Pembrokeshire; but I am prepared to affirm that there are not a dozen houses in the entire County of Pembroke rated at £100 a year. I will give the noble and learned Lord an example. On the last occasion on which I sent a list of names up to him of gentlemen for appointment to the Commission of the Peace in Pembrokeshire, there was among them the name of only 18 one gentleman residing in a town where I particularly wanted some Magistrates. I wrote to that gentleman asking him if he could furnish me with the name of another gentleman living outside the town. I obtained the name, but they both wrote back saying they had not the necessary qualification, and I am quite certain that in that town there would not be a single house which had the qualification rating. I may say that I consider the gentleman who resided outside the town would have made a very desirable Magistrate, though in some quarters there might have been exception taken on account of his strong political views; but that is an objection which I should not myself consider valid. Perhaps I may say that the gentleman is a strong Conservative; indeed, I do not think I am wrong in saying that he is Chairman of the Conservative Association of that town. I have in my pocket at this moment a bundle of seven letters in reference to appointments to the Magistracy; the last one is written by a gentleman who says he believes he is qualified, but that it would give him a great deal of trouble to prove it in Quarter Sessions; another gentleman writes that he thinks he is not qualified. So that I had the extra trouble of finding out other people to take the places of those I then asked. As I have said, I only rose in response to the remark made by the noble and learned Lord that he did not think there was any county which has not a sufficient number of houses rated at the required qualification to enable the Magistracy to be supplied, and that he believed there would be found on inquiry to be more than sufficient in every county. I cart only say that I feel perfectly confident there is nothing of the kind.
*THE EARL OF CORK
As I should not wish your Lordships to think that every Lord Lieutenant sitting in this House is in favour of the measure introduced by the noble Duke behind me, I rise with great diffidence to tell your Lordships that my experience is entirely different to that of my noble Friend. For 27 years I have been Lord Lieutenant of the County of Somerset, and certainly I have never found the least difficulty in getting proper men to fill the Bench of Magistrates for that county; and I cannot help thinking that the 19 grounds on which both my noble Friends are seeking now to so entirely change a system which has worked well over an enormous number of years are very weak indeed. The noble Lord behind me said he wished to appoint a distinguished cavalry officer and a gentleman who, I think, has made a fortune in trade.
*THE EARL OF CORK
Very well; but is it necessary to go outside the present qualification? I have looked at a little book which gives the names of the Magistrates in each county, and I find that in my noble Friend's county there are only seven Petty Sessional Divisions, and somewhere about 100 Magistrates to attend them. When I find that that is the case, I really cannot think there can be such very great difficulty in finding a sufficient number of Magistrates in the County of Nottingham. Then there is the County of Pembroke, of which my noble Friend Lord Kensington has spoken. I find that in that county there are only seven Petty Sessional Divisions, while to attend them there are no less than 115 Magistrates. Now those facts, I think, prove the necessity for what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack suggested, namely, that we ought to have had something in the shape of statistics brought before us before we were asked to make this great change, but we have had no figures produced on which to go. I believe there is not the least necessity for this change. It is not one that is demanded by the people at large. Perhaps it may be thought that I am speaking as one of what may be called the old Tory Party upon this question; but I am not at all ashamed of being a Tory in defending a system which, as it at present exists, has worked well for so long a time, against a change such as that proposed, which I am not at all sure will work well, and which some Members of your Lordships' House who are well able to speak on the subject think will not do so. People like to feel that their affairs are adjudicated upon by those who are connected with the land, and who are of some position. Take one case, for example: farmers are being constantly brought up before the Magistrates for contravening local Acts in reference to the moving about of 20 cattle, and I venture to think that the fact of the Bench being constituted of large owners gives those men confidence in the judgment of the Magistrates. I do not think they would at all like to have their cases settled by gentlemen having no qualification whatever, living perhaps in lodgings in a small town. If gentlemen in that position were to be appointed Magistrates I venture to think that confidence would be lost. I think I may venture to appeal to any noble Lord who is a Lord Lieutenant, and who at an agricultural dinner has been called upon to respond for the Magistrates of his county, whether the toast is not always well received. And that is so, because the people know that they can rely upon these men, who are men of position, whose decisions will not be warped by any prejudice whatever. I believe that this change, which is not called for, is a dangerous step. It would probably soon lead to the selection of the Magistrates by the County Councils; and once their appointment is left in the hands of the County Councils, I believe the day is not far distant when the ratepayers will themselves demand to have the appointment of the County Magistrates. Therefore, I feel compelled to vote against the Bill of my noble Friend, as he has given no reason whatever for changing a system which for a great number of years has worked well, and has given general satisfaction.
§ *EARL SPENCER
My Lords, as I am one of those who have the honour of being Lord Lieutenant of a county, I should like to say in a few words why I very heartily support the Bill which the noble Duke has introduced to your Lordships. I am sorry to find that I differ from my noble Friend who has just spoken in regard to this subject; but if I differ from him in one respect, I agree with him in another, which is this—that I hold very strongly to the opinion of the necessity for having Magistrates who will command respect in the county where they have jurisdiction. But my belief is that property qualifications have nothing whatever to do with that. I believe you can get men of independent spirit, of integrity, of impartiality—men who have leisure to attend to their duties, and who will have influence with their fellow- 21 countrymen, without the necessity of having the present property qualification. No doubt, the fact of not having this property qualification will throw some little more responsibility on the Lords Lieutenants of Counties; and as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says, it may possibly throw greater responsibility on the Lord Chancellor; but I feel sure of this: that if Her Majesty's Lords Lieutenants in Counties are fit to exercise their duties, they will take care to recommend men just as good as the men who now fill the office, notwithstanding the passing of the Bill which the noble Duke proposes. I cannot at all agree with the noble and learned Lord in saying that the Lord Chancellor will probably in that case know as much of the men recommended to him by the Lord Lieutenant of a County as the Lord Lieutenant himself. The Lord Lieutenant must necessarily have a local knowledge of those whom he recommends, and he would be neglecting his duty most grossly if he recommended to the Lord Chancellor for the Commission of the Peace any gentleman with whom he was not acquainted, and for whom he could not vouch as being perfectly respectable, perfectly upright, and perfectly fitted for the post, which is an exceedingly responsible one. Now, I have had some little experience in regard to this matter, and though I do not pretend to say it has been so in many cases, certainly in my experience there have occurred some cases where I have been obliged to give up the idea of making appointments, because the gentlemen who were perfectly competent to fill the post had not the qualification required by the law. This Bill will enlarge the field of choice which a Lord Lieutenant has, and I maintain that it will be of enormous importance that he should be able to make a selection of Magistrates from more than one class of the community. It is not merely a question of being able to get a sufficient number of Magistrates. I maintain that it is of great importance to get on the Bench—so loner as you get them of the description which I have attempted to describe—men of different classes of the community. You will strengthen the Bench by doing that, and you will inspire greater confidence 22 among the public in the Magistrates who have this important jurisdiction. There is another point which I should like to urge before your Lordships: I believe there is no property qualification whatever required for Borough Magistrates. Why should Borough Magistrates be put in a different position to County Magistrates? Surely County Magistrates would be as well selected as the Borough Magistrates. The Borough Magistrates do their duty, I believe, with satisfaction to the public; and if the County Magistrates were selected without a property qualification they would equally do their duty and equally give satisfaction. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of Ireland referred to the position as regards these matters in Ireland, and certainly as far as his speech went I thought his arguments were in favour of the proposal of the noble Duke. He said that in Ireland there was no property qualification necessary for the unpaid Magistracy, and yet there the very class we have been speaking of would be appointed.
§ *EARL SPENCER
Exactly; and that would be the very position in which the law would be in England if this Bill were passed. Therefore, I maintain, if my noble and learned Friend is right in regard to the men selected being always fit and proper men for the post, his argument may be claimed on our side to-night. I will not detain your Lordships at any greater length; but I thought it my duty, as one who has the honour to fill the post of Lord Lieutenant, to give my reasons why I very heartily support the proposal of the noble Duke.
§ On question, whether ("now") shall stand part of the Motion, their Lordships divided:—Contents 39; Not-Contents 62.
§ Bill to be read 2a this day six months.