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Third Reading

Volume 217: debated on Tuesday 22 July 1873

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Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—( Mr. Attorney General.)

in rising to move ''That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to extend the jurisdiction of the new Supreme Court of Appeal to the whole of the United Kingdom," said: I wish to say a few words as to the effect which has been produced by this Bill in Scotland; and I am desirous of doing so, because this has been in no way an exceptional but rather a typical example of the method in which Scotch business is conducted in this House. A very limited experience of the House would satisfy anyone that a country like Scotland, having distinct laws and institutions of her own and only a small number of Representatives, must labour under considerable disadvantages when any great measure of reform is brought before the Legislature. So great do these disadvantages appear, and so hopeless is any attempt to remove them, that I and others have come to regard with great satisfaction any agreement which may tend to assimilate the laws of Scotland to those of England. Now, one of the most important influences for bringing about a gradual assimilation of the two systems has been the existence of an Imperial Court of Appeal—a Court of Law for the whole Empire. So long as the House of Lords continued to be an Imperial Court of Appeal, the tendency of its decisions was to bring about an assimilation of this kind. But if this Bill becomes law, as far as Scotland and Ireland are concerned, I think they have good reason to complain of the manner in which they have been treated throughout the whole discussion of this Bill. When the Government first introduced the Bill in "another place," no pains appear to have been taken to ascertain what might be the views of the people of Scotland in regard to the retention of the House of Lords as a tribunal for Scotch and Irish appeals only. The opinions enunciated by distinguished gentlemen a few years ago, that the House of Lords should exist as an Imperial Court of Appeal seem to be held to settle the question entirely. A few weeks ago, some steps were taken to ascertain what might be the opinion of the Scotch people on this question. The Representatives of Scotland expressed their opinions with wonderful unanimity, and the result was that the Government resolved to accept the Amendment to the Bill which was proposed by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). Then came the claim of Privilege put forward by a distinguished lawyer in "another place," and although Government and all its supporters stigmatized this claim of Privilege as untenable and preposterous, still they resolved to concede the point for which the claim was set up; and once more, in accordance with the advice of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, the course of the Government was changed, the Bill was not recommitted, and Scotland and Ireland wore excluded from its scope. Now, Sir, I think that this is rather a typical than an exceptional example of the method of conducting Scotch business. In order to find an- other example, we need go no further than the Rating (Liability and Value) Bill. In that case also, Scotland is left out in the cold till a more convenient season. I may be told that we are to have a measure of our own to deal with the subject; but we know by experience what that means. It will not be a great Ministerial measure, taking precedence of all others; but it will be in the hands of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate. It could not possibly be in abler hands; but unfortunately the Lord Advocate is not a Cabinet Minister; and he seems to be very little consulted when the Government Orders of the Day are arranged. No doubt, the Bill will appear on the Notice Paper; but possibly it may be discussed in the small hours of the morning, or, if it is particularly fortunate, it may get a Morning Sitting in the month of July. There is, however, one course which, if the Government would undertake to pursue, would reconcile me to the present state of affairs. If we could receive a promise front the Prime Minister that next Session a measure will be introduced affecting Scotland, and not dealing only with the ease of the ultimate appeals, or even the intermediate appeals, but embracing the whole question of judicial procedure in Scotland, I think we should be satisfied for the present. And it must be borne in mind that this is a matter which has been thoroughly inquired into and reported upon recently by a Royal Commission, and that the subject has long been ripe for legislation. Should we receive an assurance of this kind, I think we might very well rest satisfied with the determination to which the Government has come, to pass this Bill, leaving out of its scope entirely both Scotland and Ireland. Failing such an assurance, it seems to me that, so far as the Scotch people are concerned, we shall be placed at a disadvantage by the Bill, and therefore I shall feel it my duty, by way of protest, to ask the opinion of the House upon the question. On the other hand, if I were to ask the House to vote upon this question, I need hardly point out that the Amendment of which I have given Notice is in no sense a hostile Amendment to the Bill, but rather a supplement to it, taking it for granted that the Bill will pass into law. If it were to be accepted by the House it need not delay the Bill at all. It would merely ensure that next Session, before the Bill should have come into legal operation, Scotland also might reap the advantage of this new tribunal of appeal which Parliament in its wisdom has thought proper to provide. I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name.

in seconding the Amendment, begged to say that he cordially concurred in what had been so well stated. He hoped it would not be forgotten that Scotland and Ireland had consented to forego their just claims in order to allow the Bill to become law. The House of Lords had always been considered the last Court of Appeal by the people of Scotland, and they did not wish to see any change effected; but the moment the prestige of that House was taken away in the case of English appeals, it became plain that its jurisdiction over Scotch and Irish cases must be given up. He hoped, therefore, the Government would pass a law making one Court of Appeal for the three countries, so that they might be all together, as they were before. It would never do for Scotland and Ireland to go to the House of Lords, and England to go to the Court of Appeal. Another grievance they had to complain of was that Scotch measures were never taken till 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. He knew that there was a general opinion that Scotland by some final arrangement got whatever she wanted. He could assure the House that was far from being the opinion in Scotland. There was hardly a day in which there was not a leader in the Scotch journals stating that Scotch Members were "a set of incapables" and that they did not unite in the way in which Irish Members did. Well, it gave great annoyance to Gentlemen to make themselves troublesome; but they were urged to take a different course from what they had taken, and he hoped the Government would not forget to reward them for their past forbearance.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to extend the jurisdiction of the new Supreme Court of Appeal to the whole of the United Kingdom,"—(Sir David Wedderburn,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

as one of those who thought that Scotch and Irish, as well as English, appeals ought to be dealt with in the same measure, would vote for the Amendment if the hon. Baronet went to a division.

said, all parties ought to unite in urging upon the Government the propriety of taking up next Session the question of equality of laws with regard to trade and commerce between the three countries.

was sorry with regard to the complaints in reference to the treatment of Scotch business that the only consolation he could give that country was, that it was not singular in its misfortune, others being in a position just as bad. The real question was, whether Scotland was equitably treated as compared with other portions of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member thought that Scotland suffered from the Lord Advocate not being a Cabinet Minister; but the Chief Secretary for Ireland was a Cabinet Minister, and were the Irish Members better contented than the Scotch as to the manner in which their interests were upheld? The Lord Advocate, though not a Cabinet Minister, endeavoured to secure for Scotland a full share of the consideration of Parliament and the Government. As for giving a pledge that the question of Scotch Appeals should be dealt with next Session, it was a rule of his never to give an unconditional pledge six months in advance, and there was nothing as to which Parliament should be more on its guard than in allowing a Government to escape from present difficulties by drawing Bills on a future Session. But with this reservation, he would state frankly that he thought the case was one in which his hon. Friend would hardly require an assurance from him in order to satisfy the hon. Member that the Government were most anxious to follow up, extend, complete, and consummate the present measure by the extension of similar principles to Scotland and Ireland. He trusted that the hon. Member would be satisfied with that declaration and desire on the part of the Government that they would complete the entire work. It was plain that the Government regarded their work as incomplete till the present scheme was extended to the other two countries, so that one and the same system of judica- ture might prevail over every portion of the United Kingdom.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.