HL Deb 12 May 1896 vol 40 cc1126-8

asked the Lord Chancellor whether Naval and Military Officers on retired or half pay are eligible to be placed on the Commission of the Peace irrespective of any property qualification; and whether, should an alteration of the law be found necessary to render them eligible, the Government would support legislation having that object? The noble Lord said that the subject of this Question was brought before the House during the term of office of the late Liberal Government, and the proposal was objected to by the then Lord Chancellor. But since that time a very considerable alteration had been made in the appointments of County Magistrates. He thought he was justified in saying, without casting any reflection on the noble Lord who was then Lord Chancellor, that a very considerable alteration had been made in the social status of the magistrates appointed. There were gallant officers who might not have the property qualification required by law, who, nevertheless, were eminently qualified to act as magistrates. There were few men who, when they first came upon the Bench, would have had more opportunities of sifting evidence in crucial cases. Many of them had a great deal of time on their hands, and would be able to give more attention to the duties than some who are on the Commission of the Peace. They were men of great experience, they desired to be publicly useful, and many of them would be found specially qualified to act. If the noble and learned Lord found he could not appoint them without such qualification as the law prescribed, would he object to legislation in their favour, always understanding, of course, that the Lord Chancellor would select only fit and proper persons?


said he was afraid he must answer that at present the law requires from all persons of whatever profession one of two qualifications, either the possession of property yielding a certain amount annually or the occupation of a house in the district in which they were to act as magistrates rated to a certain amount. These two qualifications existed. There were the official qualifications, such as being a member of the Privy Council; but, apart from these, there was no power to appoint the persons referred to in the question. As to any intention to alter the law, he was afraid he could not give the noble Lord any encouragement.


said he did not gather whether the noble and learned Lord would object to legislation.


replied that he could hardly answer that question until the proposed legislation were put before him in a concrete form; he could not answer the question in the abstract.


said that if a proposal were made to do away with the property qualification in the cases of those to whom the question referred it would be impossible to stop there. It was certain the existence of the property qualification had prevented the appointment of certain persons who were well fitted for the Bench and would have been exceeding useful upon it. He spoke, not only of cases he had known of, but also from communications that had passed between himself and lords lieutenants, some of whom had experienced the same difficulty. He did not see how it was possible to make a change, referring to Naval and Military officers, because there were others who, if the law were to be relaxed, ought to be included. He remembered one curious case of a gentleman who was well qualified, and the appointment of whom would be extremely desirable. He farmed a large number of acres, paying a rental of £1,200 a year, and being rated at £800 or £900, but as the house he occupied was rated only at £70 it was impossible to put him on the Bench.


on behalf of the EARL of ROSEBERY, moved:— That a Seect Committee be appointed to inquire into the power and authority Which the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod exercises, and has in the past time exercised with reference to the appointment and control of the doorkeepers and messengers of this House, and the origin thereof; and whether it is legally competent for this House to transfer such appointment and control to any other person; and to move the following Lords be named of the Committee:—

L. Chancellor. L. Watson.
D. Richmond. L. Herschell.
M. Salisbury. L. Macnaghten.
E. Jersey. L. James of Hereford."
L. Rosebery.

The Committee to appoint their own Chairman.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at Twenty-five minutes before Seven o'clock to Friday next, a Quarter to Ten o'clock.