§ [SECOND READING]
§ Order of the Day for Second Reading
LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL
This Bill is rather a formidable looking Bill in point of size, but I understand it is principally for the purpose of consolidating the existing law and that it only contains a very few new points. The principal new points are these—the duties of the Recovering Court as a separate Court is to be abolished and the limit of jurisdiction of the Small Debt Court is to be raised from £12 to £20. The pecuniary limit respecting actions which must necessarily be brought into the Sheriff Court is raised to £50, and the jurisdiction of the Sheriff Court is extended in the direction suggested by the Departmental Committee. Provision is made for trial by jury in the Sheriff Court in actions raised under the Employers Liability Act of 1880. The practice of appealing under the Act was considered to have led to considerable abuses, and it was provided in the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1903, that in 109 future those oases should remain in the Sheriff Court. The Bill makes provisions for the trial of those cases in the Sheriff Court by a jury if either of the parties to the action so desire, as in the case of similar actions in the County Courts of Engand. The Bill was considered in the Grand Committee in the House of Commons during three days, and it was there treated as an unopposed Bill. It has received very careful consideration from the Scottish Law Officers of the Crown, and I confess I am not sufficiently a lawyer to be able to explain it in detail to your Lordships. I know that other Lords are interested in it, and I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Hamilton of Dalzell.)
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
said he hardly liked the Bill passing through the House without a word, because it seemed to him that if no remark was made that it might be regarded as a bad precedent. This was a large voluminous Bill, there being something over fifty clauses, but he ventured to suggest that the history of it was such as to justify their Lordships in passing it. He thought they might very reasonably have complained of the late period of the session at which it appeared before them for the first time, but, if ever there was a measure on which both sides had collaborated to make it as perfect as possible, this was one. Some years ago, during his tenure of office as Secretary for Scotland, he appointed a Committee to consider the subject. The then Lord Advocate was in the Chair and when he succeeded to the office of Secretary for Scotland his successor took the Chair of the Committee. It was a mere accident, a general election having taken place, that the next step was not taken under a Conservative Law Officer of the Crown. As a matter of fact, the possibility of taking up the work of the Departmental Committee had devolved upon the present Law Officers of the Crown. They had had the constructive work, and the task of criticising had fallen upon the side to which he belonged. The drafting of the Bill had been carefully considered by the various legal societies. It would be absurd to say that the Bill 110 met with absolute acceptance at every point, but the outstanding points on which there was any real difficulty were extremely few, and he was quite sure it was in the interests of Scotland, of judicial procedure, and of the whole inhabitants of the country that the Bill should be passed into law as soon as possible. There was one considerable innovation made in it, and about which he knew some difference of opinion existed, namely, the introduction of a new procedure of jury trial in the Sheriff Court, chiefly in cases coming under the head of employers' liability. Some misgiving undoubtedly existed about that procedure, but it was carefully regulated by the statute. There were points where differences of opinion were likely to exist, but they were carefully safeguarded by means of possible appeal, and he thought he might say that all parties concerned acquiesced in giving the new procedure a full and fair trial. He did not think any Bill had received more thorough consideration outside Parliament than this Bill, and he thought the House might safely accept it. Rules of procedure were now in the schedule in a codified form, instead of their having to be searched for through sixty or seventy Acts of Parliament. To that extent the Bill was a Consolidation Bill in Court procedure. It would be very easy to speak at much greater length, but he was sure he would be consulting the best interests of the House by simply assuring their Lordships that he believed this to be a valuable Bill and by expressing the hope that their Lordships would consent to pass it.
LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL
expressed his thanks to the noble Lord who had just spoken for the help he had given him, and, if their Lordships would agree, he proposed to take the other stages now.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly. Committees negative; then (Standing Order XXXIX having been suspended), Bill read 3a, and passed.