House Of Lords
Tuesday, 25th July, 1911.
Earldom Of Oxford
BARONY OF LATYMER.
BARONY OF FITZWARYN.
BARONIES OF BURGH, STRABOLGI AND COBHAM.
Committee for Privileges met; incidental petitions considered and Counsel heard thereupon: Then the Committee resolved that the prayers of the said petitions be complied with, and the reports thereof to be made to the House.
The Right Honourable Aretes Akers-Douglas having been created Baron Douglas of Baads in the County of Midlothian and Viscount Chilston of Boughton Malherbe in the County of Kent—Was (in the usual manner) introduced.
Ipswich Corporation Bill
Reported, with Amendments.
Kingston-Upon-Thames Bridge Bill
Read 3a , with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.
Dundee Harbour And Tay Ferries Bill Hl
Handsworth Urban District Council Bill Hl
Returned from the Commons, agreed to, with Amendments: The said Amendments considered, and agreed to.
Marple Urban District Council Gas Bill
Returned from the Commons, with the Amendments, agreed to.
Electric Lighting Provisional Order (No 5) Bill
Read 3a (according to order): Amendments made: Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.
Local Government Provisional Orders (No 3) Bill
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROVISIONAL
ORDERS (GAS) BILL.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROVISIONAL
ORDER (GAS) (No. 2) BILL.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROVISIONAL ORDERS (No. 4) BILL.
DRAINAGE AND IMPROVEMENT OF LANDS (IRELAND) PROVISIONAL ORDERS BILL.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROVISIONAL ORDERS (No. 8) BILL.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROVISIONAL ORDERS (No. 9) BILL.
Read 3a (according to order), and passed.
Local Government Provisional Order (No 5) Bill
Local Government Provisional Order (No 11) Bill
Amendments reported (according to order), and Bills to be read 3a To-morrow.
Severn Fisheries Provisional Order Bill
Moved, That the Order made on the 29th day of March last, "That no Provisional Order Confirmation Bill brought from the House of Commons shall be read a second time after Tuesday the 4th day of July next," be dispensed with, and that the Bill be now read a second time; agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed.
Aberdeen Corporation Order Confirmation Bill
Read 3a (according to order): Amendments made: Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.
Small Holdings And Allotments Bill Hl
Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—( Earl Carrington.)
My Lords, on the Motion to go into Committee on this Bill I desire to put a question to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture. Your Lordships may remember that on the Second Reading I criticised the Bill as an infringement of the Act of 1908. That Act was passed to give county councils compulsory powers to acquire land from large farms in order to make small holdings, but a provision was added that holdings of fifty acres or less in extent should be excluded and that county councils should not have power to take them. This Bill proposes to alter that entirely and to allow small holdings of any size to be taken by county councils. The noble Earl did not answer fully my criticisms on that point but stated that there had been instances where individuals had broken up farms of certain sizes and distributed the land amongst various relatives with the object of evading the provisions of the Act. I said at the time that I did not think a sufficient case had been made out for breaking into the Act of 1908 in the way proposed. Other noble Lords put questions to the noble Earl on the same point, and the noble Earl concluded the debate by saying—
I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he has since inquired into the matter and whether he can give us the categorical cases to which he referred in justification of this measure."I shall be prepared, of course, to substantiate my claim. I had a great, many other instances to give, but I did not wish to weary the House. I will do my best to adduce categorical cases, because the only object of this Bill is to remedy these cases of hardship."
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Marquess for raising this question, because it gives me an opportunity of stating my position as regards this Bill before we go into Committee. I am sure it is the desire of all of us on both sides of the House that the subsection in question, which provided that no holding of fifty acres or less in extent should be authorised by an Order under the Act to be acquired compulsorily for the purposes of small holdings and allotments, should work as was originally intended. I brought forward on the Second Reading an instance where the Act had been deliberately evaded by a person cutting up a large farm into small portions of under fifty acres and then letting them nominally to different people, the farm continuing to be cultivated by the same person, and I promised that I would do my best to bring other cases before your Lordships at a future stage. The case in Buckinghamshire, to which I referred, was a flagrant case. I have done the best I could to obtain information about other cases; but the House will see that as the procedure is ultra vires we are the last people to whom such cases would be referred. That they do exist there is no doubt, but we should be the last persons who would be able to obtain information direct.My object—and I am sure it is the object of noble Lords opposite—is simply to protect bona fide small holders in their occupations. That was the sole reason why I brought forward the Bill. As I said before, we have had three main difficulties. There was the question of by-takes—that was the first difficulty—in which a coach-and-four was driven through the Act. Then there was the question of the occupier, and we also had the difficulty of the subdivision to which the noble Marquess referred. But I do think, on reflection, that perhaps this Bill as originally introduced by myself went too far. My advisers thought it was the best way of dealing with the subject, but when it was inquired into and debated I recognised that perhaps the Bill might have been misunderstood. It might—I do not say it would—cause difficulties to a very worthy class of persons, and reasonable doubts were expressed that the rights of small holders might be jeopardised. I see that there are three or four Amendments on the Paper this afternoon. Those Amendments, I am certain, have been brought forward in the same spirit as that in which I introduced the Bill, and I want to be permitted to receive them in exactly the same spirit in which they are offered. I hope these few introductory remarks will be satisfactory to the noble Marquess, who has the same cause at heart as I have myself.
My Lords, when this Bill was last before the House I ventured to say that I opposed it because I felt that the small holders throughout the country who now enjoy the protection which the Act gives them ought not to be deprived of that protection because of an isolated case of evasion in Buckinghamshire. The noble Earl met that by saying he had a number of other cases with which he had not troubled the House. The noble Earl has now been challenged to produce those cases, but he has not up to the present moment added a single case to the isolated case which he gave us on the former occasion. He has, moreover, admitted that the Bill goes a great deal further even than the necessities of the case require, and that, in fact, the Bill is a bad Bill.
Well, a Bill that goes beyond the necessities of the case cannot be a good Bill. Whether that is so or not, I do not think the noble Earl has made out any case for this Bill. Therefore, speaking for myself, I shall certainly oppose the Bill unless there is a good deal more to be said for it than has been said already.
The noble Earl has so frankly admitted that he was misled as to the facts of the case that I am sure we on this side would be reluctant to press him too hardly. But I am extremely glad that the matter was taken up as it was, because this really is an object-lesson to us. It shows how a Bill of this kind can be put forward upon charges which I must say were of a somewhat odious nature, and which appear to be entirely without foundation. The House will remember that the noble Earl told us on the Second Reading that there had been a number of cases where the Act had been evaded by means of bogus sub-division. He mentioned the case in Buckinghamshire, and assured us that he was aware that a number of other cases were in existence. It now turns out that not a single other case can be produced, and the basis on which this Bill was brought forward crumbles away altogether. I think the noble Earl ought to be grateful to us for having put the matter in its full light before the House, and we shall now be able to discuss the Bill in Committee with some knowledge of the actual facts of the case.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
Repeal of 8 Edw. 7. c. 36. s. 41 (3).
1. Subsection (3) of section forty-one of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908 (which prohibits the compulsory acquisition for the purposes of small holdings or allotments of holdings of fifty acres or less in extent), is hereby repealed.
moved to leave out the last three words of the clause, "is hereby repealed," and to insert, "shall not apply to any holding which has been created since the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and seven by the sub-division of a larger holding where the occupier who was in occupation of such larger holding at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any holding created by the subdivision aforesaid."
The noble Duke said: I am very much encouraged by what fell from the noble Earl just now to hope that he will be willing to accept my Amendment, because he told us that all he wanted was to do that which the original Act intended to carry out. Now the original Act defended the position of the landowner as well as that of the small occupier, but the Bill which is now before us does nothing of the kind, nor, as far as I have been able to follow it, does the Amendment standing on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl (Lord Carrington). I have drafted my Amendment in the hope that it might do something, although I am afraid it is not a complete protection, towards protecting not only the occupier but also the landowner, and in saying this I should like to emphasise what it is that we want to protect both the landowner and the occupier from. There is a strong desire on the part of county councils to multiply the number of small holdings, and where they, knowing the local circumstances, find it difficult to do so, the Board of Agriculture puts every kind of pressure upon them to exert themselves to discover people who want small holdings and then to discover small holdings for those people. Cases where the landowner has abused his power—if abuse of power it be, and I use the expression for the moment because that is the view which the noble Earl takes of the proceeding—have dwindled to next to nothing. I do not think I need add anything after what has fallen from the noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench with regard to this point, except to say that it seems to me very novel and rather disgraceful that a Minister of the Crown should come forward and tell us that there is a state of things serious enough to require legislation and then to tell us that the state of things is such that it cannot possibly come to his knowledge. Therefore it is only supposition and hearsay that we have to go upon. I have never before heard a Minister of the Crown submit a Bill with such a recommendation. Consequently it seems to me all the more necessary that we should guard against the innumerable cases of hardship that would accrue under this Bill owing to the pressure put upon county councils and the activities of county councils themselves in this matter.
Page 1, line 8, leave out ("is hereby repealed") and insert ("shall not apply to any holding which has been created since the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and seven by the subdivision of a larger holding where the occupier who was in occupation of such larger holding at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any holding created by the sub-division aforesaid."—(The Duke of Northumberland.)
The noble Duke in this Amendment seeks to provide that the powers conferred on a county council for compulsory acquisition of land under the Act shall not apply to any holding which has been created since December 31, 1907, by the sub-division of a larger holding where the occupier who was in occupation of such larger holding at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any holding created by the sub-division aforesaid. I was glad to hear the noble Duke say that it was the desire of county councils to multiply small holdings and allotments, and I would take this opportunity of thanking the noble Duke for the assistance he has given to my Department in connection with farms in Northumberland which he has been good enough to offer for small holdings. But I must take exception to the language he used when he said that my action in coming forward with this Bill was disgraceful. What I said was that a coach-and-four had been driven through the Act to my certain knowledge. I quoted to the House one case, and I stated that I believed there were many similar cases in the country. Perhaps I ought not to have said that. It was, however, my firm belief, and I have no doubt in my own mind that other similar cases do exist though I confess I am not able to bring them before the House.There is no doubt that subsection (3) of Section 41 of the Act of 1908, which subsection I desire to repeal by this Bill, has proved an obstacle in three respects which were not anticipated. The first obstacle is this—it prevents the acquisition of the small by-takes held in conjunction with large farms under separate tenancies. Secondly, it prevents the acquisition of small holdings and allotments held by tenants under notice to quit where such acquisition is desirable to protect such tenants from disturbance. Lastly, it enables landowners to evade the operations of the Act by the division of a large farm into several small holdings under fifty acres still cultivated by the one farmer. I have given an instance where that has been done, and I think we ought to make it impossible for a sub-division to be made in those circumstances. The noble Duke's Amendment is not very easy to understand. I will state what I understand it to be, and the noble Duke will correct me if I am wrong. I understand it to be this, that so long as the occupier at the time of the sub-division remains in occupation of any part of the original big farm the county council can make use of the compulsory powers to acquire his holding or any portion of the holding, but the instant that that man dies or gives up his farm or goes out of his holding the powers of the county council lapse, and none of the lettings of fifty acres on any farm, some of which may be bogus, can be interfered with. I really do not think that that would be a very desirable Amendment to put into my Bill, bad as my noble friend below the Gangway (Lord Heneage) was good enough to describe it. I quite agree that the object which the noble Duke has in view is a good one, but it seems to me a very ineffective way of dealing with one only of the three defects which I think I have the sympathy of the House in trying to remedy. What we wish to make plain is this. If a man cultivates fifty acres or less, I think the House will agree that he is entitled to protection from compulsory acquisition; but if he cultivates more than fifty acres he is not entitled to that protection, and to endeavour to make that as plain as I possibly can I have withdrawn my original proposal and in substitution for it I have an Amendment on the Paper which I will explain when it comes to my turn to move it. Lord Clinton has put down an Amendment to my Amendment, and I would be prepared to accept the noble Lord's Amendment with a slight modification. I sincerely hope, if I have made myself intelligible, that the noble Duke opposite will not press his Amendment. If he does it will entirely wreck my hope of settling this vexed question. I respectfully hope, as I have said, that the noble Duke will not press his Amendment, but will allow the House to consider my Amendment in conjunction with Lord Clinton's Amendment, which as I have indicated I shall be happy to some extent to accept.
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture seems to have taken to heart the expression of my noble friend (the Duke of Northumberland) behind me, but I would point out that the noble Earl has not produced the further cases which he promised he would produce. I am considerably disappointed at that. I read out to the House a little while ago the promise of the noble Earl that he would produce to the House categorical cases to justify this Bill, but he has not produced a single additional case. I venture to say that if the noble Earl had told us on the Second Reading that he had only the one case, the case in Buckinghamshire, to produce, your Lordships would not have given a Second Reading to the Bill. There are a great number of small holders who view this Bill with apprehension. They have relied on the security of subsection (3) which was moved by Mr. Harcourt. They now recognise, however, that the Board of Agriculture, with an officiousness which was unnecessary, has appointed a number of highly-paid officials to, as was vulgarly said by one member of His Majesty's Government, "ginger" county councils in this matter. Before your Lordships agree to pass this measure as it stands we ought to have some assurance that these small holders will not be ill-treated.
The Amendment we are discussing is really the Duke of Northumberland's Amendment, but as the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has referred to his own Amendment, perhaps he will answer this question. What is the difference between the Amendment standing in his name on the Paper and the provision in the Act of 1908 as it stands? I have read his Amendment over and over again, and it appears to me to be the same as the provision in the Act of 1908 in different words. If there is any difference I should like to know what it is.
I do not in the least complain of what has been said about my mistake, but I do think the use of the word "disgraceful" is, to say the least of it, a little bit far fetched, and goes beyond what the circumstances of the case justify. In answer to Lord Heneage I can say that the Amendment standing in my name is worded in the best possible language that a very eminent member of the legal profession could put together to prevent a repetition of the difficulties to which I have referred. If the noble Duke will very generously not press his Amendment, then we shall be able to get on to my Amendment. I would then be able in a few words to explain to my noble friend what it really means, and I think we should come to a reasonable and proper solution of this difficulty.
I hope we may nave some clearer explanation from the noble Earl than we have had as to what he really wants to do by this Bill. The provision he desires to repeal runs as follows—
There is nothing there about value. It is purely area. The noble Earl wants to repeal that subsection, and in place of it he now proposes in the Amendment standing in his name on the Paper that the limit should be fifty acres, as is already the fact, and "where it exceeds that area if the annual value thereof for the purposes of Income Tax does not exceed £50." That addition may be perfectly right, but does the noble Earl mean to give value as a test as well as area? And how far does he mean to go towards meeting the views of Lord Clinton, who would allow an individual to occupy two holdings provided that taken together they were not more than 75 acres in area or more than £75 in value? I confess I am not quite convinced that there is any need for legislation at all."No holding of fifty acres or less in extent or any part of such holding shall be authorised by an Order under this Act to be acquired compulsorily for the purpose of small holdings and allotments."
Are we not on the Duke of Northumberland's Amendment, and would it not be well to settle that first?
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has appealed to my generosity. So great is the fund of generosity I possess that I believe it is equal to my withdrawing my Amendment. I will even go further and withdraw the term "disgraceful" if it hurts the noble Earl.
Thank you very much.
But if I were to tell your Lordships that I knew the noble Earl had once been overtaken in some fault, and that I knew he had been guilty of it very often but I could not prove it, I think he would say it was a disgraceful accusation. I withdraw my Amendment because I admit the situation is one very difficult to cover. There has been considerable difficulty experienced in drawing up this Amendment, and it is possible that it does not cover the whole ground. I am not sure that any Amendment which could be drawn would adequately protect owner and occupier from hardship. It has really been proved that there is no reason at all for this Bill, and I hope it will be rejected. The noble Earl stated that we all have the same object in view, but he has never said one word about protecting the owner of the property as distinguished from the occupier. Although I am willing to withdraw my Amendment at this stage, I reserve to myself the right to bring forward an Amendment of the same kind at the next stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
then moved to substitute for subsection (3) of Section 41 of the original Act the following new subsection:—"(3) The powers conferred on a council by an Order for the compulsory acquisition of land under this Act shall not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the Order and cultivated by him, if the total area, including such land, cultivated by him does not exceed 50 acres, nor where it exceeds that area if the annual value thereof for the purposes of Income Tax does not exceed £50."
The noble Earl said: This Amendment makes it absolutely impossible for a man who cultivates fifty acres or less to be interfered with in any circumstances. I am informed on the best authority that that would be, the practical result of this Amendment Lord Clinton, in his Amendment to my Amendment, suggests that the acreage should be raised to seventy-five acres, and the value, of course, in proportion. I think he is asking a little too much; but if the noble Lord would consent to make it sixty acres I would accept his Amendment.
Page 1, line 8, after ("repealed") insert ("and in lieu thereof the following subsection shall be substituted—
"(3) The powers conferred on a council by an order for the compulsory acquisition of land under this Act shrill not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the order and cultivated by him, if the total area, including such land, cultivated by him does not exceed fifty acres, nor where it exceeds that area if the annual value thereof for the purposes of income tax does not exceed fifty pounds").—(Earl Carrington.)
We are still somewhat puzzled as to the policy of the noble Earl. Let me remind the House what the condition of the present law is. Under the present law the holder of a farm under fifty acres in extent is immune from all interference by the Small Holdings Commissioners. The noble Earl does not wish to disturb that arrangement, but he introduced a Bill the avowed intention of which was to throw these small holdings open so that the small holder would no longer enjoy that immunity and might have a part of his small holding taken away from him in order to create a small holding for someone else. But now I understand that the noble Earl is ready to abandon his original proposal. Now his intention is not to deprive a small owner of his immunity but to increase that immunity, because if the Income Tax valuation of his holding happens to be less than £50 he gets a second dose of protection. The noble Earl appears now in a very different rôle from that in which he appeared when he presented this Bill to the House, and we want to be quite clear that we are under no misapprehension on that point.
We understood that this Bill was introduced to meet a largo number of cases of evasion, but those cases have now been boiled down to the single case in Buckinghamshire. As the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition said, the noble Earl began by proposing to do away altogether with the immunity which small holders enjoy. He now proposes to increase it. May I ask him what would happen in regard to the odious case in Buckinghamshire? In fact, the noble Earl has really boxed the compass, and I submit to your Lordships that this Bill ought not to proceed. The noble Earl has abandoned his case altogether and taken up quite a different case. The moment we on this side of the House saw this Bill we asked ourselves why in the world the Government proposed to do away with the exemption which they had so carefully given in their Act. They now propose to increase the immunity. Surely the noble Earl must see the absurdity of this proposal, and he must not be at all surprised if at some future stage of the Bill a Motion is made to stop the Bill, because it is quite patent that this legislation as now proposed is merely for the purpose of saving the noble Earl's face and for no other purpose whatsoever.
moved to amend Earl Carrington's Amendment by omitting the words at the end after "50 acres" and inserting "in one holding, or 75 acres in two or more holdings; nor where they exceed those areas if the annual value for purposes of Income Tax does not exceed £50 or £75 respectively."
The noble Lord said: The noble Earl has told us that under his Amendment every small holder of fifty acres will be quite as safe as he was before, but I am very doubtful if that will be the result of his Amendment. If your Lordships will read it carefully, you will see that it provides that an Order for the compulsory acquisition of land under the Act shall not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the Order and cultivated by him if the total area, including such land cultivated by him, does not exceed fifty acres, and so on. But while that Order may not be put in force against him, yet there is nothing to prevent the Order being made. Apparently an Order can be made for the compulsory purchase of the I small holding, and it is quite obvious that if the holding has been compulsorily purchased and the council or the Commissioners or whoever it may be get into possession of the land they will exercise full right of ownership over the land and get rid of the tenant. If a county council have a passionate desire for a piece of land it is obvious that they will use their compulsory powers under this Amendment to acquire the land, and having got it into their own hands will split it up for small holdings. We really ought to go back to the older exemption which kepi the small holder safe. I heard with pleasure the statement of the noble Earl that he is willing to accept some part of the Amendment standing in my name on the Paper, but that does not wholly do away with my objection to the noble Earl's Amendment as it is drawn, because I still say that it does take away the proper exemption from the small holder which it was the policy of the Act which the noble Earl himself passed to give him. Under the noble Earl's Amendment that protection is very largely taken away. I suggest that we should put in the extra exemption suggested in my Amendment so as to protect the small holder who is progressing and probably on the up grade. As I say, I am glad that the noble Earl will accept my Amendment, but at the same time I object to his Amendment as it stands because it does take away from the small holder the protection which the Act originally gave him.
To amend the Amendment as follows—
Line 8, leave out from ("acres") to the end of the subsection and insert ("in one holding or seventy-five acres in two or more holdings; nor where they exceed those areas if the annual value for the purposes of income tax does not exceed fifty pounds or seventy-five pounds respectively"). —(Lord Clinton.)
I will accept the Amendment if the noble Lord will take sixty.
It is seventy-five for which I ask.
Well, will the noble Lord take sixty?
Very well. I amend my Amendment accordingly.
On Question, Amendment to the Amendment, agreed to.
My Lords, I take exception to the noble Earl's Amendment as amended being added to the Bill because the little difference there is between this and the Act itself will render the Bill an absolute absurdity. The Bill ought to carry out, if it was thought necessary that it should be introduced, the original purpose of the Bill. To simply put the old words of the Act back again with a slight difference is to render the Bill an entire absurdity.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
Remaining clause agreed to.
An Act to repeal Subsection (3) of Section Forty-one of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908.
moved to omit the word "repeal" and substitute "amend."
Leave out ("repeal") and insert ("amend").—(The Duke of Northumberland.)
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
The Report of Amendments to be received on Thursday next, and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 146.)
Official Secrets Bill Hl
Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, I have to explain to your Lordships briefly why this Bill is introduced. The subject is no new one. It has been under consideration for a long time by the Defence Committee, and the Bill is their work arrived at after consultation with the naval and military authorities and with the legal advisers of the Crown. It is a Bill that has been prepared alter a good deal of deliberation. Its purpose is to strengthen the law for dealing with the violation of obligations with regard to official secrets and with espionage generally. It is a Bill that applies to our own countrymen as well as to strangers, and its purpose is not to enact any large body of new restrictions, but to make more effective the law as it was intended to be made by the Official Secrets Act of 1889.The main change which the Bill makes is a change in procedure. In order to convict any one under the Official Secrets Act, 1889, it is necessary to prove a purpose of wrongfully obtaining information. If a man is found in the middle of fortifications he may say he strayed in in the dark or was only there by accident. You have to prove that he was there for the purpose of wrongfully obtaining information, and that is difficult to prove. This Bill adopts a method for which there is a precedent and which is much more effective. We still, of course, keep the criminal purpose, but the criminal purpose under this Bill is any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State, and if a person is in a place where primâ facie his presence is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State, he has to satisfy the jury that his purpose was a right one. That, as I have said, is nothing new. It is a section taken from the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871. Under that section certain classes of offenders have to justify themselves when their character and conduct raise suspicion. I will give one or two instances showing what our difficulties have been. Not many months ago we found in the middle of the fortifications at Dover an intelligent stranger, who explained his presence by saying that he was there to hear the singing of the birds. He gave the explanation rather hastily, because it was mid-winter. Then there was another case, in which somebody was found looking at the emplacement of guns in a battery at Lough Foyle, and he declared that he was there for the purpose of paying a call upon somebody. Then there was another case of a man who was sketching fortifications. He ran away, but was caught. The case was one which attracted attention at the time, but our means of proving his purpose were extremely inadequate. Again, we have found photographers taking photographs of things of which they ought not to be taking photographs, and they said they were merely taking photographs of an interesting object. There have been cases in which we have found people close to magazines—very convenient targets for dropping explosives from above. There, again, they have claimed to be there by accident, and because the burden of proving that there was a purpose of wrongfully obtaining information lay upon us we could not prosecute with any hope of success, though in most cases we were convinced that there were good grounds to prosecute. Now under this Bill what has to be shown is that there was a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State, and if your Lordships will look at Clause 1, subsection (2), you will see that it is enacted that a person's motive may be inferred if from the circumstances of the case or his conduct or his known character he may be taken to have been there to no good purpose. Of course, he has the opportunity of clearing his character in the fullest way, but the circumstances are such as to throw the burden of proof on him. That is the main provision of the Bill. The other provisions are shortly these. Under the Official Secrets Act the places which were barred from public access were but few. For instance, it may be just as important that strangers should not go into a private dockyard where a Government warship is being built as it is that they should not go into a Government dockyard; and there are many other places which have grown up in importance in the last twenty years which were not covered by the limited descriptions in the Act of 1889. Therefore it is proposed to widen the definition of these places and to give the Secretary of State the power—a power which will only be exercised in time of emergency—to prescribe other places. There is a provision in the Official Secrets Act of 1889 which we keep—the provision that you cannot prosecute without the assent of the Attorney-General. That provision was construed to mean that you could not arrest without the fiat of the Attorney-General. The result was that many of these persons with whom we wished to interfere were a long way off before any warrant could be obtained for their arrest. Therefore there is a provision in this Bill analogous to that which exists in the present law in the case of all felonies. Then there is also a power of searching, which is essential. I think I have now told your Lordships the extra provisions except one, and that is that harbouring spies is made an offence, and that is necessary for concrete reasons. As I have said, the Bill is not directed against anybody in particular, but applies to our own people as well as to people of other nations. If I were asked whether there is much espionage in this country I should say that foreign Governments direct espionage in this way very little indeed; but I do believe that a great many zealous people of all nationalities are anxious to obtain information by which they may recommend themselves to their Governments, and that there is a great temptation to people with expert knowledge to acquire this information. I have certain knowledge of persons—who may have done it, and probably did do it, in an entirely private capacity—making maps which they ought not to have made, and it is not desirable that that power should remain unchecked. This Bill is a carefully considered attempt to deal with the subject on an official footing. I hope it is a Bill which will commend itself to your Lordships as not being brought in through any excess of caution, but merely one which marks the stage in these things which, with the necessary evolution of matters, we have now reached.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Viscount Haldane.)
My Lords, it is now twenty-two years ago since the late Mr. Stanhope pressed the original Official Secrets Bill upon the attention of Parliament, and I remember that grave apprehensions were then expressed that the Bill had been drawn too severely and would bring too many people within its clutches; but, as the noble Viscount has said, it has been proved that there was no ground for that apprehension. There is no real difficulty in preserving official secrets if you know and fix your mind on the fact that they are desired by somebody else and determine to preserve them by the exercise of all possible care. The Brennan torpedo, for which a large sum was given by our Government about the time that the Official Secrets Act was passed, did, I believe, remain a secret for a long period of years, and certainly the advantage which we expected from it we had the monoply of during that period. But our difficulty always has been that our officials are inclined to take things very easily. There is of course no difficulty with regard to special questions on which the minds of the military and naval authorities are so set that every officer is aware of the danger that would be incurred in letting the secret out of his possession, but practically almost all other questions are open.The noble Viscount has given some instances, and I will state one which perhaps he does not know, and I will give him the names privately if he desires them. An officer of very high rank told me some little time ago that he had taken two young officers in his command and said to them, "There is a particular fortress. Go in plain clothes and bring me back sketches of every place where there is a gun in that fortress. I will give you, to be used at the last moment when you are being hailed into custody, this safe conduct pass to explain what you are doing and that you are doing it by my orders." In a week they returned with the disposition of every gun in that fortress, having had no credentials with them except that they spoke English glibly—and such men could, of course, be obtained by any foreign Power. I think, therefore, that this Bill which is not an extension of powers but merely the adoption of existing powers with the necessary amendments to make those powers effective is urgently needed. On the other hand, I do think that our military and naval authorities must take care that the sort of openings and undue confidence which we have shown in the past are not allowed in the future. I congratulate the noble Viscount on having taken up this subject. It is always difficult for anybody in his position who is not a lawyer to feel sure that he is not asking for something which those who have to administer the law may feel to be unduly burdensome and dangerous to the; public interest. The noble and learned Viscount has taken advantage of his own knowledge to fill up most necessary gaps, and I can only say from my own experience that I feel this Bill is urgently needed in the interests of the country.
My Lords, having had a great deal to do with the drafting of the original Act, I should like to say that it was pointed out at the time that there were several gaps not properly stopped but it was thought that we had better see the working of the Act before any Amendments were made. I was Attorney-General for several years after the Act was passed, and I should like to endorse what has been said as to the extreme difficulties we experienced in instituting prosecutions. Consequently I am very glad that the noble Viscount has brought in this Bill. There are, however, one or two matters in the Bill to which I hope the noble Viscount will pay attention before the next stage. I would call his attention, first, to the words "known character as proved" in subsection (2) of Clause 1. It is opening the door of criminal law for which some justification will be required. It is quite true that when people are found under certain circumstances their previous record as actually proved can, under the Prevention of Crimes Act, be given in evidence; but I have never known any Act to go so far as to say that a man's known character may be proved and I am afraid that in the working of the Bill this will create difficulties. I think the words will be found too wide unless some indication is given. The only other point I wish to raise is with regard to Clause 3. I think the definition of "place" will require a little more careful consideration. I think it will be found from some points of view very narrow. I may add that I shall be glad at any time to discuss these points with the noble and learned Viscount.
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Viscount has brought forward this Bill, and I hope that, it will be persevered with in another place and become law this year. Too many people in this country appear to consider that preparation for war is a mere question of payment of money. There are many other preparations necessary. A recent occurrence near Portsmouth has shown that it is quite clear that our law needs strengthening. As far as I have been able, to ascertain, the codes of other countries as regards spying are far more severe than ours.I regret that His Majesty's Government do not appear to be taking any steps towards bringing in a Bill to prevent the dissemination of news during war or emergency. I have no doubt that when war is once declared a most stringent Bill will be brought in and passed; but inasmuch as naval surprise in time of peace or during the first week of a war is the greatest danger to which we are exposed it would be much wiser to pass such a Bill in a time of profound peace and give the Government the power of bringing it into action by an Order in Council. If the noble Viscount cannot give it now, I should like an assurance before going into Committee that the captains of our gunnery, torpedo, and submarine and wireless establishments have been consulted. If they have not yet been consulted, there will be time enough to consult them before taking the Committee stage and of embodying their suggestions if thought proper in the Bill. I wish also to call attention to the wording of paragraphs (b) and (c) of Clause 1. It might be argued before a Justice of the Peace not learned in the Jaw that as we are at peace with all the world we have no "enemies," and that an accused person would therefore be entitled to an acquittal. The wording of those paragraphs should, I think, be altered by substituting the words "foreign Power" for the word "enemy" in a drafting Amendment. I hope that the noble Viscount will proceed with the Bill, and that it will receive a good reception in another place.
On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.
County Courts Bill Hl
Amendments reported (according to Order).
moved to leave out Clause 1, which ran—
Unlimited jurisdiction subject to right of removal.
1.—(1) County courts shall, save as hereinafter provided, have jurisdiction to hear and determine any action which can be commenced in the High Court, notwithstanding that the debt, demand, or damage claimed is not limited to one hundred pounds or under.
(2) Where an action is commenced in a county court which could not but for this section have been so commenced except by agreement of the parties, the action shall, if the defendant or one of the defendants makes an application for the purpose within such time and in such manner as may be prescribed by rules of the Supreme Court, be removed into the High Court and shall proceed in London or in a district registry as provided by such rules.
(3) Nothing in this section shall extend the jurisdiction of county courts as respects any action of ejectment, or in which the title to any corporeal or incorporeal hereditaments or to any toll, fair, market, or franchise is in question, or for any libel or slander, or for seduction or breach of promise of marriage, or as respects any action on a judgment in the High Court.
(4) Nothing in this section shall extend the jurisdiction of county courts as respects actions of a class for the time being assigned to the Chancery Division or the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division of the High Court, nor shall anything in this section affect any revenue proceeding or appeal.
(5) Where, in an action commenced in, or remitted to, a county court, the defendant or one of the defendants counter-claims an amount of money not limited to one hundred pounds or under, and the plaintiff objects in writing in accordance with the provisions of section eighteen of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1884, the following provisions shall have effect:—
(6) Where any action or proceeding is, under this section, removed to the High Court, the record shall be transmitted by the registrar of the county court to the proper officer of the High Court in manner prescribed by rules of the Supreme Court, and the action or proceeding shall thenceforth be continued and prosecuted in the High Court as if it had been originally commenced therein. The removal of any such action or proceeding shall not affect the validity of any order made or act done in the county court prior to such removal, and any such order may be enforced by the High Court as if it had been originally made therein.
(7) Section one hundred and sixteen of the County Courts Act, 1888 (hereinafter referred to as the principal Act), which relates to costs in actions brought in the High Court which could have been commenced in a county court, shall not apply to any action brought in the High Court which could have been commenced in a county court by virtue of this section or by agreement, but not otherwise.
(8) Section sixty-four of the principal Act, which confers jurisdiction on county courts by agreement of the parties to an action, shall not apply in the case of any action which may be commenced in a county court under this section.
The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, I appreciate the difficulty that a great many of your Lordships are in in having to discuss this Bill without sufficient information from those who are familiar, not only with the law, but with the administration of the law, and I think those noble Lords who are members of the profession to which I have the honour to belong would do well if they would give us the result of their experience. Happily I think I may say that this Bill is beyond the reach of Party controversy; and I would equally welcome from the other side of the House information on the subject. It is not desirable that we should again discuss this matter at great length, and I will, therefore, put the broad points as shortly as I can before your Lordships.
My first broad point is that County Courts are already too crowded, and that the effect has been to crowd out the small people for whose sake the County Courts were originally instituted. On the last occasion a most valuable piece of information was given to your Lordships by an ex-Attorney-General (Lord Robson), and I would desire no better advocate than himself of the view that I take. I believe his experience is the experience of almost everybody in the County Courts. On the last occasion that this matter was before your Lordships my noble and learned friend Lord Gorell mentioned that this Bill was the outcome of a Report of a body of Commissioners in the year 1872. My noble and learned friend mentioned one or two great names as recommending this change, but I do not think he sufficiently distinguished between those who approved of it and those who did not.
My noble and learned friend is under a misapprehension. I mentioned no names at all.
A man does not always remember what he said. I think I caught the name of Lord Cairns.
If the noble and learned Earl will refer to the Official Report he will see that I mentioned no names at all. I merely mentioned that a majority of the Commissioners were in favour of the Report.
I am now told that it was the Lord Chancellor who mentioned the names. Whoever it was, I am bound to say that it would have been as well to have mentioned the names of those who disagreed. Among those were Lord Cairns, Lord Penzance, Chief Justice Erle, Mr. Justice Blackburn, and the then Attorney-General, Mr. R. P. Collier. They all disagreed, and gave reasons for their disagreement. Some of those reasons, I think, are very relevant. Lord Penzance wrote—
The authority of Lord Penzance is somewhat high. Mr. Justice Blackburn wrote—"I am entirely opposed to the substitution of Registrars for County Court Judges in the hearing of contentious cases, however small the amount in dispute. … The economy to be effected by these changes would not, in my opinion, prove great in the end, and would be too dearly purchased by lowering the standard of Judicial excellence."
Sir Robert Collier, afterwards Lord Monkswell, said—"I have great doubts as to the expediency of establishing any such intermediate class of Courts at all. I attach much importance to the keeping up of the great central Bar of England. The only real practical check on the Judges is the habitual respect which they all pay to what is called 'the opinion of the profession,' and the same powerful body forms, as I think, the real and the principal check on the abuse of patronage by the Government."
I have other authorities, but I do not want to pursue this. I may add that I had a very large practice in the County Courts and know of what I am speaking, and I would be glad if any lawyer familiar with the County Courts would give your Lordships such information on the subject as he possesses. Consider what it is proposed to do. You are about to add to the jurisdiction of the County Court every ease of litigation in the State. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says, "Yes, but the defendant can have the case removed to the High Court if he desires." There comes in the vice of costs, which largely depend upon these interlocutory proceedings. Does anybody believe that a person who is sued in the County Court will himself apply to have the case removed to the High Court? He will go to an attorney, whose advice will cost him money. That is one of the difficulties. Then the noble and learned Lord pointed out that anybody could bring a case of the kind in question in the County Court by consent, but he added that it was necessary that there should be a little pressure. The object of this Clause is to force upon litigants something which you cannot get them voluntarily to do, and to then place upon the defendant the obligation of objecting and having the case transferred to the High Court. Then the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack adds a provision which would enhance to an infinite degree the amount of costs and delay, because one of the sources of difficulty is as everybody knows the number of appeals. The noble and learned Lord now opens the door to the whole inquiry being taken over again, for he proposes to enact in this clause that there shall be a right of appeal upon questions of fact in cases above £50. It appears to me that if you want to destroy the system of County Courts you could not go a greater way in that direction than by passing this provision. At present when once you have the facts found by the County Court Judge they are, as it were, facts found by an arbitrator; you cannot go behind. Now it is proposed to give a right of appeal upon questions of fact in all cases above £50, and we know how considerable is their number. I protest against that very much. I dare say your Lordships hardly know the class of work that is done by a County Court Judge, and it was upon that point that what the late Attorney-General (Lord Robson) pointed out when this Bill was last before us was so useful. He referred to a case where the time of the County Court Judge was occupied until 3 o'clock in the afternoon hearing judgment summonses. Now do your Lordships know what that means? It means an examination into the pecuniary resources of every man who was summoned before him, into how much the people earned, and how much they could afford to pay. In view of the, nature of the work which County Court Judges have to do, to force every other kind of litigation into the County Court seems to me a monstrous abuse. This clause would prove a destruction to the Junior Bar, and besides that it would, in my i opinion, entirely destroy the real purpose for which County Courts were instituted. It has become quite a common thing for a County Court case to be adjourned over and over again. In saying that, I must allude to one observation made by Lord Gorell. He referred to the statistics that had been collected, and I think he was a little hard upon those who had supplied those statistics. They were I collected, I think, at the instance of a Commission appointed in connection with the proposal to confer upon County Courts jurisdiction in regard to divorce. Lord I Gorell presided over that Commission, and perhaps his tendency towards this may have been a little tinged by his desire to show that County Courts were efficient to be entrusted with divorce jurisdiction. However that may be, those statistics were given by gentlemen who had no interest whatever one way or the other. The information was given to the best of their belief, and they are entitled to have the evidence which they gave at the instance of the Commissioners treated with respect and treated as if it was accurate, as I believe it to be. I do not wish to argue this matter over again as it has been several times before your Lordships. I therefore conclude by moving the Amendment standing in my name."The County Courts were established as Courts for the trial of small causes, and as such have been successful; if they be raised to a position intermediate between superior and inferior Courts and be entrusted with the trial of a large number of important causes in substitution for the Courts of Assize, I doubt the continuance of their success. I think that their jurisdiction has already been extended somewhat too far, and that it at the least deserves consideration whether under an improved circuit system some portion of that jurisdiction might not, be conveniently re-transferred to the superior Courts."
"To leave out Clause 1."—(The Earl of Halsbury.)
My Lords, I shall not venture to trouble your Lordships with a speech at any length because I spoke on this subject very fully a short time back, but I should like to summarise quite shortly what I conceive to be the real position of this matter. May I say at once, with regard to the statistics to which the noble and learned Earl has referred, that I have never questioned their accuracy for one moment. They were supplied for the purpose of the Divorce Commission to show what was the state of business in the County Courts.The summary of what I should like to say about this clause is this. In substance it only changes consent into want of objection, which gets over difficulties where people are asked to consent who do not like to consent to anything in law. If a case is started against them and they are asked to consider whether it is easier, cheaper and more convenient to try it in the County Court, they have to face the question of transferring it to the High Court if they object to its being taken in the County Court. There will be no additional expense necessarily than if the suit had been entered in the first instance in the High Court. Next, this proposal has been before the country for a very long time. As to the Report of the Judicature Commissioners of 1872, to which reference has been made, the noble and learned Earl is quite correct in saying that there were five or six objectors. But the fact remains that there were eighteen signatories on the other side. I do not propose to mention names, because all that it came to was that a majority decided to report in favour of a proposal practically on the same lines as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has put into this Bill. It is also important to remember this. I stated on the last occasion that this clause met with favour from the various law societies in the country. Since then I have received a communication from the secretary of the Law Society which practically amounts to saying that it meets with the approval of the Law Society and, what is perhaps more important still, of all the provincial law societies in the country. The next point is this. The real objection to this clause is the block which it is suggested it will create in the County Courts. The noble and learned Earl has suggested that the experience of those engaged in the County Courts should be brought forward on this point. I have received a communication from Sir Mackenzie Chalmers. He was on the Committee over which I presided, and he was for twelve years County Court Judge at Birmingham. He had also had other Judicial experience, for he was a Commissioner of Assize, and I think he held a Colonial Judgeship for some time. At any rate for twelve years he held the position of County Court Judge at Birmingham. He found exactly the difficulty which is set forth in the reports of the gentlemen who furnished the statistics to the Bar Council and he instances exactly the kind of thing that happened and which I venture to suggest is met by this Bill. When he went to Birmingham, one of the largest County Courts in the country, ho, found a case which had to be adjourned and the result was that eight months went by before it was finished. He thought that a great scandal, and he did exactly what this Bill if carried would bring about. He proceeded at once to institute for the heavy cases a counsels' list and set apart a week for it, and by giving a week in each month he was able, without any interference with the ordinary work of the Court, to dispose of all the substantial business which the Court had before it. Clause 7 of this Bill is drawn for the special purpose of meeting the difficulty of the heavier class of work being brought to these Courts, and it provides machinery by which substantial cases shall be taken at special sittings for the purpose of getting rid of the block referred to. And if at the larger centres where the Judge is continuosly sitting that can be done, the only difficulty to consider is what is to happen in the smaller places. The answer to that is again suggested in this Bill. It is that cases which are of substance shall not be taken necessarily at each tiny County Court, which only requires a visit of a day once a month, but shall be concentrated at the nearest county centre so that the Judge can there make a list which will enable him to deal with that class of case; and if that is done the difficulty of blocking and the danger of expense and adjournments of cases will be got rid of. That, it seems to me, is the answer to the whole of the statistics which have been put forward on this point. There ought not necessarily to be any great difficulty in the concentration of this work; and I think, with all respect to those who take a contrary view, it would be an immense advantage to the Bar. They would be able to concentrate their energies at one spot, and convenience would be immensely increased to all parties. I wish to say that I was in error on the last occasion when I said that the only changes that had been made lately in regard to the High Court were at the last places on circuit. I was not aware that an Order in Council had been passed a day or two before I spoke which made changes of a substantial character advantageous to the general administration of the circuit system. What I was aiming at was that, although I firmly believe that the Lord Chief Justice and those who assist him are ready to make every change which can be made to work the circuit system as it stands properly, an adequate change is not possible while the present system endures on its present footing. As far back as 1892 the Judges of the King's Bench Division recommended that the fifty-six places, I think it is, at which Assizes are held for civil business all over the country should be concentrated in eighteen. Local opinion was against that, and nothing was done. In 1896 a further attempt was made and some changes were brought about, though they did not amount to very much. And in the Report which my Committee prepared on this question we expressed the opinion that the circuit system should be entirely remodelled, that the principle of the concentration of civil business should be applied, and that so far as possible, having regard to the convenience of access afforded by railway communication, civil cases should be grouped at suitable centres. And we pointed out that this would have the effect of giving almost continuous sittings locally at those centres. That is a suggestion which cannot be met by preserving civil Assizes at places where the work is trifling. If that is not done it seems to me that the proposal as to County Courts would be a great advantage, because it would enable these eases to be brought fairly continuously and at much less expense. Therefore I venture to suggest that this clause would be an advisable one to pass, and that the difficulties where they exist are got rid of by the provisions to be found in the later part of the Bill.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble and learned Earl opposite has drawn attention to the fact that this is in no sense a Party measure. I am not ashamed to confess that by conviction and habit I am accustomed to obey Party calk, but this is a matter within my own personal knowledge as to which I have a strong sense of responsibility, and I feel bound to give such assistance as I can to your Lordships in dealing with a matter of this kind.We have to consider this matter from two aspects, as to one of which little need be said. The Bill proposes to transfer a large quantity of business from the High Court to the inferior Court. As far as the High Court is concerned, no one has suggested that there is the slightest necessity for any transfer of business. Owing to the increased Judicial staff the High i Court is able to get through its business with expedition. That is the state of things in the High Court from which this work is proposed to be taken. Now look at the state of things in the County Courts, to which the work is proposed to be trans- ferred. That was the main subject of discussion when your Lordships dealt with this Bill in Committee. There was then produced a body of evidence on this point which has been rather obscurely referred to to-day. Reference has been made to a statement issued by a number of barristers at the request of the Bar Council. The suggestion having been made that jurisdiction in divorce proceedings should be given to County Courts, my noble and learned friend Lord Gorell asked the Bar Council to collect for him statements as to how far the state of business in the County Courts would admit of this increase of jurisdiction. What the Bar Council did was to approach twenty-eight barristers having County Court practice and ask them to give their own personal experience, collected from their fee books, and to state what they thought of the proposal to increase the jurisdiction of the County Courts. As my noble and learned friend has stated, the statements made by these gentlemen have not been impeached. They cannot be impeached. They are accounts of specific cases with specific dates, and the time over which the cases ranged is given in each particular case. These twenty-eight barristers have shown how in each of the cases mentioned there was delay, costs, trouble and inconvenience owing to cases suitable for the High Court being taken in these small debt Courts for which their machinery and time are not adequate. My noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury has said that these statements were not interested statements on the part of the Bar. I would go further. Not only were these gentlemen not making their statements from interested motives but they were making them against their own interests, for they were. County Court practitioners and the more business the County Court had the better it would be for them. The proposal to allow divorce proceedings in the County Court was professionally to their benefit; but the whole twenty-eight of them to a man pointed out, in the most explicit and careful way, what the result has been of the many recent increases of County Court jurisdiction. Their experience is unanimous. I mentioned the other day the evidence of the first two, and I took them simply because they were the first two. One of those instances contained the experience to which the noble and learned Karl opposite has referred, where a batch of counsel with heavy cases proper to the High Court were kept waiting while 200 judgment summonses were being tried. Those summonses were dealt with with great rapidity—at the rate of fifty per hour, or nearly one a minute—and then at three o'clock one counsel's case was taken and at six o'clock was adjourned, and the hearing extended over three or four successive days. As I have said I took the first two cases when I addressed your Lordships last upon this subject. I will take the last two on this occasion. One barrister says—
And here is the final case. The barrister states that the case was down for hearing at the County Court on a particular circuit on November 28, 1908. It was not reached. He then goes through a series of dates which end in judgment being delivered on October 11, 1909. It is beyond all doubt that the primary purpose of the County Courts, which is to give to the poorer classes in this country a rapid and cheap means for the settlement of their disputes for small amounts, is already being adversely affected by the enormous mass of work which has been thrown on the County Courts. Therefore the proposal to take work from the not overworked High Court and throw it upon the very heavily overworked County Court in particular districts is not exactly what strikes me as a model law reform. What is the difference which Clause 1 makes? Many of your Lordships might think from the course which this debate has taken that this is a clause to enable persons to have their cases tried in County Courts who are not able at present to have their cases so tried. That is not the object of this clause. At present County Courts have full jurisdiction up to £100, and beyond £100 they have unlimited jurisdiction by consent. Now how is consent signified? It is signified by a mere letter. The plaintiff before putting his case down writes to the defendant and says, "I am going to sue you. You have to be sued somewhere. Will you take it in the County Court?" The defendant says "Yes" or "No" to that, and the matter is ended. But under this clause the defendant is not asked for his consent beforehand. The plaintiff is permitted, I might almost say invited, to put down his case in the County Court—the writ is cheaper and the practice would become common—and then instead of the jurisdiction of the Court depending on the defendant giving his assent, the Court has only jurisdiction where the defendant does not dissent. You might say that that is so small a matter as not to be worth troubling about. But the defendant is not allowed to intimate his dissent by merely writing a letter. He is compelled under this clause to go into the High Court at once and to make in the High Court, or in some district registry of the High Court, an application to have his case transferred—a purely superfluous interlocutory proceeding, and precisely the class of proceeding which law reformers are anxious to get rid of. He is thereupon as I have said, compelled to make an application to have the case removed, and such application the High Court must grant. It is a purely superfluous, expensive and unnecessary proceeding to put upon the defendant in order that he may be discouraged from entering the Court which exists for the purpose of trying his case. And notice this also. His lawyer is obliged to be put into operation at once, because the application has to be made in accordance with rules of the Supreme Court within so many days and in a manner to be prescribed. And if the defendant fails to obey these rules then he is compelled to have the case tried in a Court to which he does not wish the case to go. It is suggested that the defendant would only want to get into the High Court for the purposes of delay. The defendant who desires delay is not afraid of extra interlocutory proceedings. He will take them gladly. That is not the defendant you would hurt by this Bill, but the defendant who seriously and honestly wants to have his case tried in the High Court. He is the man who will find it inconvenient, expensive and troublesome to have this extra interlocutory proceeding unnecessarily put upon him. A man who has an important case which may involve his fortune or his character wants to go to the High Court where he can get the case fully tried, or it may be a case involving the technique of his trade or business. He would naturally desire to have the case tried in a Court where he could get continuous sittings, and not in a Court where he was badgered by judgment summonses one day and workmen's compensation cases the next. The plaintiff may have a very different wish. He may prefer a Court where the justice is not only summary but very unsatisfactory. Plaintiffs get a great advantage in English Courts of Justice. They get the first word and the last word. The defendant's lot in an English Law suit is not a happy one, and the defendant is far more interested in the excellence of the tribunal than is the plaintiff. He wants a Judge who can keep his mind open, and that is not such a common faculty as is generally supposed. By this clause the defendant is to have put upon him this absolutely superfluous proceeding for the purpose of preventing him from getting his case heard in the High Court. *It is true that the law societies, which are composed of solicitors, are not unwilling to have the business of the High Court transferred to the tribunals in their own localities, but their evidence must be weighed a little, and I am not aware that they have more than expressed their own opinion. My noble and learned friend has an excellent provision in this Bill for special sittings. I do not, however, think that they will cure the evil. But still it is a good provision. The law societies, however, do not approve of special sittings and have expressed their disapproval. There has been a good deal of discussion on the Report of the Judicature Commissioners of 1872. I would like to take the Report of the Committee appointed by the Lord Chancellor to inquire into certain matters of County Court procedure and presided over with such distinction by Lord Gorell. It is dated 1909, and this is the last Report, according to Lord Gorell's statement, on which this Bill is founded. Lord Gorell told us on the last occasion that he thought those who were opposed to this clause had not given that Report adequate consideration. I am prepared to base my case upon this Report. There is a little inconsistency between the premise and the conclusion which not infrequently happens. The Report begins with a long list of Acts which have increased the jurisdiction of, and thrown extra burdens upon, County Courts The list contains something like seventy Acts. Then under the heading "Effect of in crease of work and added duties" I find this passage—"My experience in the County Courts in and about London is that there is great congestion and considerable delay. Rarely is a case heard on the original return day, while a case of any magnitude has to be taken piecemeal. The County Court Judge's engagements on his circuit preclude him taking a lengthy case de die in diem. In a fairly recent case in which I was engaged we spent one day without being reached, and five subsequent days were given to the case by way of special sittings prolonged over a period of six weeks."
The statements get stronger as material accumulates. On page 15 the Committee say—"It is not surprising to find that, with the increase in the ordinary work and the numerous duties cast upon the County Court Judges in many Courts, the amount of work to be done has reached a point at which the strength of the Courts as a whole is heavily taxed to cope with it, and the information which the Committee has been able to obtain shows clearly that attempts to try cases of any length have frequently resulted in serious inconvenience and waste of money."
Then the Committee submit this conclusion—"It must be observed that the vast mass of the work of the County Courts has been, and is, the enforcing of the payment of small debts and claims; that, no more work should be placed on these Courts which would interfere with their primary and most important duty; that almost all their work is in eases which are either without any defence or without any substantial defence, and that a very simple and inexpensive procedure, such as prevails in the County Courts, is absolutely necessary for such cases, whereas cases in which there is any real contest usually require procedure of a more formal character."
Then a little lower down the Committee say—"The County Courts, with the mass of small cases which are brought in them, must continue to dispose of the poor man's cases, This is their primary business, and the statistics above given show how us population increases the work of these Courts also increases, and may be expected to continue to increase. It is essential that that work should not be interfered with by attempts to deal to any serious extent with larger cases taking up much longer time in hearing, when the Courts which were originally constituted only as small debt Courts hare already had added to their primary duties a quantity of other work and have their time practically fully taken up. As it is, the Committee understand that great inconvenience and waste of time and expense are occasioned by cases in which there is any lengthy contest, as the small debt cases must be disposed of at once, and parties in contested cases may or may not have their cases reached and disposed of on the day fixed, or may have costly and inconvenient adjournments."
Again they say—"The conditions under which a local Judge must work in a Court with a district which is necessarily limited in order to deal with the aforesaid primary business of the Court, are not likely to make such a Court prove a satisfactory tribunal for the trial of cases of legal difficulty or of importance. In most cases he is out of touch with the other Judges and leaders of the legal profession, without opportunities of discussing legal cases with them, will not have any, or hardly any, opportunity of hearing cases argued by eminent counsel, and, as a rule, has not an adequate library with books or works of authority at hand."
Those are the opinions of the Committee, and I am glad to think they are the opinions of Lord Grorell and of Sir Mackenzie Chalmers. But what was the recommendation which the Committee made? And I ask your Lordships to notice the difference between the Committee's recommendation and Clause 1 of this Bill. In this Report it was not suggested that the defendant should be driven to make this unnecessary interlocutory application. What was suggested was that the plaintiff might be empowered to issue a plaint in the County Court, but that the defendant should have an absolute right, to be indicated to him in the plaint—there is nothing of that sort in this Bill—to have the case removed to and tried in the High Court, and to effect this all he had to do was to give notice thereof to the Registrar of the County Court out of which the plaint was issued. So that in their recommendation the Committee keep as nearly as possible to the letter. There would be no necessity for the defendant to make an application to the High Court. He could send a letter to the Registrar of the County Court to say that he was not entering an appearance in the County Court. But instead of that we have in the clause this interlocutory application, which casts upon the defendant an unnecessary burden, and a burden which I really think under all the circumstances can scarcely be called quite fair to him. It is only Clause 1 to which we object. We have no objection at all to the rest of the Bill. I think no case whatever has been made out for this clause. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said on the last occasion on which we discussed this subject that the average sittings of County Court Judges numbered 153 days in the year. I pointed out at the time that there are, of course, many underworked Courts. Courts in rural districts are underworked; Courts in districts where the Judges do not happen to have found favour with the business community are underworked; but that is not so in the large and important centres. Moreover, County Court Judges have to do a great deal of travelling. A County Court Judge often leaves home at six o'clock in the morning to travel to his Court and gets home late at night. A man cannot keep that up every day in the week. These are considerations which I invite your Lordships to take into account in dealing with this clause. As I have said, if this clause is deleted there is no reason why the rest of the Bill should not have a safe and easy passage."We are strongly of opinion that the true remedy to be sought for is not by encouraging litigants to contest their cases in Courts which were not intended to deal with these cases, and must for the reasons already given find difficulties, and be at a disadvantage in attempting to do so, but to provide that completely adequate facilities should be given by the High Court for disposing of every case which it is reasonable should be both commenced and continued in it."
My Lords, may I say a few words about Clause 1? It is the only clause in the Bill to which any real objection can be taken, and I will state what I understand the effect of that clause to be. Hitherto the jurisdiction of the County Court has properly been limited to comparatively small cases. Clause 1 of this Bill opens the doors of those Courts to all actions whatever the amount involved may be. I am going to say nothing as to the block which such an introduction of new work into the County Courts would cause. It is sufficient to remind your Lordships that the County Courts were originally instituted, and in my opinion are still intended, for the cheap, satisfactory, and speedy disposal of poor men's cases. I turn to the particular provision in this clause. The Lord Chancellor on the last occasion, if I may say so, quite accurately stated that the clause gave to a defendant who was brought into the County Court an opportunity of at once taking the case out of that Court, for he could by an intimation to the plaintiff claim to have his case tried in the superior Court. So he could. But in my opinion that protection, if it can be called a protection, is quite illusory. I will tell your Lordships what in my opinion would happen, and I speak from considerable experience. The plaintiff is represented by an advocate-solicitor in the County Court district out of which the Summons is issued. The solicitor for the defendant—a defendant who probably also resides in that district—is himself practising in the district and in that County Court. It is to the interests of both the solicitor for the plaintiff and the solicitor for the defendant that the case should be retained in the Court in which they practise. The lay defendant will never know that he has an opportunity of having his case removed from the County Court into the High Court. It is not to the interests of his solicitor that it should be removed, and the result will be that the so-called protection will be illusory and the defendant will know nothing of it. That is all I have to say about this matter. I think the Bill in other respects a most excellent measure; but I do hope that this driving of large cases into the County Court against, as I believe, the will of defendants, will not take place.
My Lords, I argued this matter at length the other day and I only rise on the present occasion to make one or two observations on points which are really new. I must first be allowed to make a correction, although there bus been a slight withdrawal by Lord Gorell to-day of the statement which went out with the great weight of his authority as to the reluctance of the King's Bench Judges to meet the necessities that had arisen. The noble and learned Lord stated that nothing had been done except altering some dates at the last places of Assize. On the contrary, we have arranged for extra civil assistance at a large number of places on circuit. The point I make is that the proper place for the trial of these cases is the High Court. Nobody suggests that they ought not to be tried by a Judge of the High Court, by juries of the High Court, and with the advantage of the Bar of the High Court. I respectfully submit that no case has been made out for taking King's Bench actions, and King's Bench actions alone, and sending them to be tried in the County Court. If the circuit system requires alteration and amendment, by all means let us have legislation to alter it. But the circuit system stands, and there is no reason why a poor person in the | North or in the West should be deprived of the opportunity of having the advantage of a High Court Judge going down and trying his case at his own door. I submit that no case has been made out for this special and sudden interference with the jurisdiction of the Court of King's Bench. The more I think over this proposal and the more I learn from all parts of the country the feeling regarding it, the more I am satisfied that this clause ought not to stand in the Bill.
My Lords, this discussion, apart from the speech of Lord Gorell, shows once more how lawyers are against law reform. I remember that the same dreadful forecasts were indulged in with regard to the Criminal Appeal Bill when it was before your Lordships, but that Act had not been a week in operation when it was proved to be a great success, as would this Bill also. We have heard a speech lasting three-quarters of an hour from Lord Robson, but if I may have six or seven minutes I will endeavour to put my reasons before the House for asking you to allow this Bill to become law.The clause in question, as has already been explained, means nothing beyond this—that if a plaintiff likes he can begin his case in the County Court, but that if the other side desire to do so they can remove the case to the High Court by an application provided for by a rule of Court. A letter would suffice; the defendant could remove the case to the High Court, and the arguments about interlocutory proceedings are all stuff and nonsense. I ask, Who is in favour of this clause? The Judicial Commissioners of 1872 were in favour of it. Lord Cairns, Lord Selborne, Lord Hatherley, Lord Blackburn, were all in favour of it. The Committee over which my noble and learned friend Lord Gorell presided were in favour of it. The law societies are in favour of it. I have received many letters from chambers of commerce and other commercial bodies all in favour of it. And why? For this reason, that it means cheap justice. I do not complain of the justice administered in the High Court, but it is a very expensive luxury. You may have £150 or £200 to sue for, or even a larger sum; but it is an expensive luxury to have the case tried in the High Court. The costs are treble in the High Court. Cheapness is all that I want to secure, and I know very well that the commercial community and the solicitors are in favour of this clause. In fact, the only people against this clause are the Bar Council, but I think none of those eminent lawyers would pretend to have any personal knowledge of the County Courts. All they do is to quote the statements of twenty seven barristers, who are not named, and whose opinions were collected by the Bar Council in reference to another matter—namely, divorce business. It is said that business in the County Courts is congested. That is the sole argument that there is. I say that the County Courts are not congested. It is part of my duty as Lord Chancellor to look after the business of the County Courts and to inquire into complaints of congestion of business there. I have had complaints from time to time since I have been Chancellor, and my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury in his time no doubt received complaints. Population shifts or increases and one County Court gets more congested with business than another, or the County Court is not judiciously managed and the business gets mixed up. As I say, some complaints in this respect have been made to me, but they have been few. There is one before me at the present moment with which I shall deal in due time. If all this knowledge and information about congestion would come to anybody, would it not come to me? Of course, I would be the very first person to hear of it, because it is part of my duty under the Act of Parliament to rearrange and reorganise the County Courts when such rearrangement or reorganisation is required. The congestion spoken of is this, that too many cases are put in one day's list, that there are different classes of cases put in the same list, the long and the short together. The remedy is to put different cases in different lists and take a few more days to try them. The average work done by County Court Judges is 153 days in a year—that is all.
Yes, actually sitting. You may have to add a few days in the year for travelling. Will any one suggest that there ought to be added more than eight or ten days for travelling? Why they all live in their counties and have the easiest time in the way of days of work that you could have. I have come across a County Court Judge who sat 170 days in a year and made a grievance of it. But no County Court Judges except two in this country have ever complained to me of excessive work. Those two cases I investigated, and there was nothing in them. What is the proper remedy? This congestion is mere fancy. I say there is no County Court in the country—I suspend judgment as to one case now before me—in which it would not be perfectly easy, by adding a few days sittings a year, to make the whole thing work. I ask your Lordships, Are you prepared to lay down for County Court Judges that their critics can speak of congestion when they have an average of 153 days, and when nobody is able to quote a case of a single County Court Judge who sits for more than 170 days in the year? Surely we have not become such a degenerate and effeminate race that we cannot do a little more work than that!What is the real reason of this opposition as to which we have heard such clouds of words repeated over and over again and dealing with technicalities which your Lordships cannot be expected to understand, and which to my mind are more appropriate to pleadings in a County Court than to speeches in the High Court of Parliament? The real reason is that the Bar have the sole audience in the High Court and no solicitor can plead. But in the County Courts the Bar are confronted with the competition of solicitors. I should greatly regret if the putting of work into the County Courts had the result of injuring my own profession; but I know it would not. There would be more work to do in the County Courts, and the High Court would be left more free to do really important business which is required of a Court of greater authority and with the highest training. That is the bottom of this opposition. It is an interested professional opposition, and I feel it my duty to say so. I ask your Lordships to treat this matter as you think fit, and I will respectfully bow to your decision.
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will not suspect me of any intention to inflict upon the House arguments of my own with regard to the legal aspect of this matter, but I do not like to give a silent vote if we are indeed to divide on the Amendment of the noble and learned Earl. This clause has been for some time in suspense before your Lordships' House, and I can say honestly that it has been to me a kind of nightmare that I should be called upon as a layman to decide between the high legal authorities who are ranged on either side in this controversy. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was good enough to remind me the other day that I had had the honour of serving, I think in 1879, upon a Select Committee of this House on which many illustrious members of the legal profession also served. I must apologise to the noble and learned Lord, but I have to admit that my memory is a blank upon the subject, and I am perhaps not altogether surprised at that because I find that the Select Committee in question only sat for one day, and I have been quite unable to find any trace of the proceedings which took place. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is quite right, however, in saying that the result of our investigations was to report a Bill which I believe was more stringent than that now upon the Table. But, my Lords, thirty-two long years have passed since the proceedings of that Select Committee, and I may say, in passing, that it does occur to me that if the matter was quite obvious and plain sailing it is rather remarkable that during those thirty-two years nothing should apparently have happened in the direction which was then suggested.What can we laymen take note of in regard to this matter? In the first place, I think it is generally conceded that the Bill is a good and useful Bill. I think my noble and learned friend (Lord Halsbury) said that at any rate the greater part of it has his hearty support. It is a Bill which obviously represents a great expenditure of time and trouble, and most of us would, I conceive, desire that it should take its place upon the Statute Book. Then we also note that there is a considerable amount of concurrence as to the objects with which the first clause which we are now considering has been framed. It has been defended as an attempt to cheapen litigation in the interests of those poorer litigants who, as has been said, are bled by heavy costs and whose grievance we should all desire to mitigate. But we find diametrically opposite opinions as to whether the clause will or will not produce the desired effect. It is held, I understand, by my noble and learned friend and by others to whose authority we cannot be impervious, that the Bill, far from producing the results anticipated by its authors, will produce results of an entirely different character. In these circumstances I admit that it would have been a great relief to many of us if the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had been content to take his Bill without the first clause. But I gather from what happened with regard to this Bill two years ago and from the noble and learned Lord's language this evening that nothing is further from his intention than to abandon the clause. May I also say, in passing, that there is a reason—I do not know whether it is entitled to any weight—which might lead some of us to desire to suspend our judgment with regard to this clause. It is the case that a Royal Commission presided over by Lord Gorell is at this moment inquiring into the whole question of divorce and matrimonial causes. Unless I am wrong, that Commission arose from a Resolution in this House, moved, I think, by the noble and learned Lord himself (Lord Gorell), in favour of conferring upon County Courts jurisdiction in regard to divorce. It is, therefore, it seems to me at least conceivable that the result of the Report of that Commission may be to throw upon the County Courts new and additional work, and if that be so, might it not be desirable and prudent to allow this question of extending the jurisdiction of the Courts and the question of their staffing to stand over until the Report of the Royal Commission is before us? I confess that I say that really because I am anxious to find a pretext for not being called upon to vote "Yes" or "No" on the Amendment of my noble and learned friend. If, however, the Lord Chancellor does adhere to his clause and if my noble and learned friend behind me insists upon his Amendment, I feel that, in view of the great division of authority upon the subject and the doubts whether this clause really will effect the purpose which its authors have in view, I should not be justified in giving my vote for a proposal which would impose new duties upon already overburdened tribunals. For that reason if my noble and learned friend goes to a Division I shall, though I admit not without misgiving and doubt, feel it my duty to vote with him.
On Question, whether the clause proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill.
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-contents, 21.
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Allendale, L.||Haversham, L.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Armitstead, L.||Herschell, L. [Teller.]|
|Balfour, L.||Ilkeston, L.|
|Winchester, M.||Barnard, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Blyth, L.||MacDonnell, L.|
|Burghclere, L.||Pentland, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Charnwood, L.||Reay, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Colebrooke, L. [Teller.]||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Craven, E.||Courtney of Penwith, L.||Rotherham, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Shaw, L.|
|Desborough, L.||Southwark, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, V.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)||Swaythling, L.|
|Glantawe, L.||Welby, L.|
|Gorell, L.||Willingdon, L.|
|Bangor, L. Bp.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Knutsford, V.||Hindlip, L.|
|Bath, M.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Alverstone, L.||Lamington, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Mersey, L. [Teller.]|
|Cromer, E.||Clonbrock, L.||Muskerry, L.|
|Halsbury, E. [Teller.]||Ellenborough, L.||Robson, L.|
|Waldegrave, E.||Heneage, L.||Sanderson, L.|
Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Amendment of provisions of the principal Act as to appeals.
14.—(1) In addition to the right given by section one hundred and twenty of the principal Act, to appeal to the High Court against the decision of a county court on a point of law, any party to an action or matter in which the sum claimed or the amount involved exceeds fifty pounds shall have the right to appeal to the High Court against the decision of a county court on a ground involving a question of fact alone or of mixed law and fact.
(2) Section one hundred and twenty-one of the principal Act shall not apply to any action or matter in which an appeal is brought by virtue of this section, and in lieu thereof the following provisions shall apply to such an appeal:—
(3) In section one hundred and twenty-two of the principal Act (which relates to the powers of the High Court on hearing an appeal), after the words "any inference of fact" there shall be inserted the words "and where the appeal is an appeal on a ground involving a question of fact, to receive further evidence upon questions of fact, such evidence to be either by oral examination in court or by affidavit or by deposition taken before an examiner or commissioner or a registrar of a County Court as the High Court shall direct."
(4) Notwithstanding anything in section forty-five of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873, and subsection (5) of section one of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Procedure) Act, 1894, contained in all cases (except cases in bankruptcy or under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906) where there is an appeal to the High Court from a County Court, the appeal shall be heard and determined by a Judge of the High Court in such manner as may be prescribed by rules of the Supreme Court, and his decision shall be final unless he reverses or alters the decision of the County Court Judge whose decision is appealed from, or unless the Judge of the High Court hearing the appeal or the Court of Appeal gives leave to appeal.
I move to leave out subsection (4) of Clause 14. This subsection, I believe, is universally condemned.
Page 10, line 34 to line 3 on page 11, leave out subsection (4).—(The Earl of Halsbury.)
I do not agree that this subsection is universally condemned, but it is not one that I should think it right to insist upon against the opinion of the noble and learned Earl. I therefore accept the Amendment.
On Question, Amendment agreed to:
Appointment of Registrars.
20.—(1) At any place where there is a district registry of the High Court the district registrar shall, notwithstanding anything in section twenty-five of the principal Act, be the registrar of the County Court, unless the Lord Chancellor by reason of the amount of business to be transacted otherwise directs.
(2) On any vacancy occurring in the office of district registrar after the passing of this Act, the right of filling the vacancy shall be vested in the Lord Chancellor, and any person qualified to be appointed a Master of the Supreme Court shall be qualified to be appointed a district registrar.
(3) A person appointed to be district registrar may be removed from his office by the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Chancellor may make it a condition of appointment that the whole of his time shall be given to the public service.
(4) Section sixty of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873, from "and Her Majesty" to the end of the section, and section twenty-two of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1881, down to "of not less than five years' standing," are hereby repealed.
(5) This section shall come into operation on the passing of this Act, but nothing in this Act shall affect the tenure of office of any district registrar or registrar of a County Court who holds office at that time.
had three Amendments to this clause. He first moved to omit from subsection (1) the words "notwithstanding anything in Section 25 of the principal Act" and to insert "if a solicitor." The noble and learned Lord said: Clause 20 gives rise to considerable difficulty. I have been studying it for some time and am not sure in some respects what its effect will be. The Amendments which I propose are substantially to leave the position as it is at present until it has been further considered, with this one exception of the Lord Chancellor's power of appointment. The clause deals with the appointment of Registrars. There are three lots of Registrars in the country. There is the County Court Registrar, who must be a solicitor of five years' standing and is appointed by the County Court Judge with the approval of the Lord Chancellor. The second set of Registrars are the High Court Registrars, and they may be appointed from three or four different classes of people, but I believe as a matter of fact the High Court District Registrars are practically appointed from the County Court Registrars. But there is a further provision that if the nature and the amount of business show that it is expedient to appoint, a person not so qualified, the Lord Chancellor may, with the concurrence of the Treasury, appoint a solicitor of live years' standing. The Lord Chancellor, in effect, has practically to appoint the County Court Registrar and does so in nearly all cases. Then there are the third class of Registrars—the District Registrars of the Probate Court. The Probate Court has forty Registries throughout the country, and according to the Statute of 1857 the District Registrars are to be appointed from advocates, barristers, proctors, solicitors, and, under another Act, from clerks of the principal Probate Registry who have been clerks for five years. The result is that there are three different sets of Registrars; and in some cases difficulties, I think, will arise if this provision is adopted. I will point out one. A Probate Registrar in the country may now be appointed a High Court District Registrar, and that has been done at Manchester and Liverpool with advantage so as to combine the offices, and he may be and is in one of those cases a solicitor and in the other he was a clerk from the Probate Registry. This clause as it stands would to a certain extent prevent the power to amalgamate the offices of the District Probate Registry with the High Court District Registry. That power to consolidate seems to me to be affected by the provisions of this clause. The second effect is this. County Court Registrars are all solicitors at present, and the High Court District Registrars are solicitors, or may be appointed, as I have said, from the Probate Registry. This clause opens the power of appointment to persons who may be Masters of the Supreme Court, and that includes the Bar. I should be glad to see the appointment entirely open to both branches of the profession, though it may meet with opposition, but I cannot see how this clause would work out having regard to the points I have mentioned. There might be a chance of giving rise to difficulties, and therefore I think the better course would be to consider the position of these three different sets rather more fully and carefully in some subsequent Bill.
Page 12, line 12, leave out ("notwithstanding anything in section 25 of the principal Act") and insert ("if a solicitor")—(Lord Gorell.)
I really have nothing to add to what my noble friend has said. I think he is right in regard to these Amendments. On the whole it would be better if we could get what we desire in this Bill, but I do not think it is at all vital, and I have no wish to create unnecessary friction in a matter of this kind. I therefore accept the Amendment.
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
I now move to delete from subsection (2) the words, "and any person qualified to be appointed a Master of the Supreme Court shall be qualified to be appointed a District Registrar." I also move to leave out subsection (4). These two Amendments form part of the same Amendment.
Page 12, line 19, leave out from ("Lord Chancellor") to the end of the subsection.
Page 12, line 19, lines 26 to 30, leave out subsection (4).—(Lord Gorell.)
On Question, Amendments agreed to.
33.—(1) The persons in whom the power of making rules under section one hundred and sixty-four of the principal Act is vested shall, in addition to the five judges appointed by the Lord Chancellor under that section, include four persons appointed by the Lord Chancellor, of whom one shall be a representative of the Treasury, one a barrister, one a registrar of a county court, and one a solicitor.
(2) Rules made under the said section, as amended by this Act (which rules are in this Act referred to as County Court rules), shall be laid before Parliament, and section one of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, shall apply accordingly.
(3) The power of making rules under the said section shall extend to making rules—
I move the insertion of a new subsection at the end of Clause 33, but I have no desire to press it. I move it formally, because I hope I may induce my noble and learned friend on the Cross Bench (Lord Gorell) to make a statement which will be of interest with respect to the subject-matter of my Amendment.
Page 17, line 5, after ("referred") insert the following new subsection—
(4) Special rules shall be made with respect to the bearing of suits for the enforcement of agreements of separation between husbands and wives, and such rules shall provide that the practice, procedure, and costs in and of such cases shall be assimilated, as near as may be, to the practice, procedure, and costs in and of the hearing by courts of summary jurisdiction of applications for the enforcement of orders made under the Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act, 1895.—(Lord Courtney of Penwith.)
This Amendment deals with the question of the enforcement of agreements of separation between husbands and wives, and that subject forms part of the matters which are being considered by the Divorce Commission. It is a matter which is being very carefully considered, and I hope that suggestions will be made which will meet with the approval of the noble Lord. It would certainly at present be premature to embark on an Amendment of this kind.
I do not press the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill to be read 3a on Thursday next, and to be printed as amended. (No. 147.)
Bishoprics Bill Hl
Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, I could not ask your Lordships to read this Bill a second time at this hour were it not that an identical Bill has been in the last two or three years twice passed by your Lordships' House with the assent of His Majesty's Government, and has only failed to receive the consideration of the House of Commons through want of time. The Bill is word for word the same Bill that passed your Lordships' House last year. Its object is to facilitate the formation of new bishoprics by substituting another procedure for the existing system, by which separate Bills are necessary with the creation of every fresh Bishopric or even an alteration of boundaries. The procedure proposed to be substituted is that of an Order in Council. It would be made on the recommendation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who would first obtain the assent of the Archbishop of the Province and the Bishop of the Diocese and satisfy themselves that sufficient income was provided for the new Bishopric, no part of such income being allowed to be provided from their common fund. The Order in Council would then have to be approved by the Government of the day and to lie on the Table of both Houses for thirty days, and if objection was taken to it by either House it would not become law, but if no such objection was taken it would obtain the force of law. There are three new bishoprics, I believe, already provided for so far as funds are concerned which might be created within a comparatively short time if this Bill became law—the Bishopric of Sheffield, to relieve the enormous diocese of Yorkshire, and the five Bishoprics for Norfolk, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridge and Huntingdon, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to relieve the present dioceses of St. Albans, Norwich, and Ely. I hope I need not detain your Lordships with any further observations on the Bill this evening, but, of course, I shall be very happy to consider at a future stage anything that your Lordships may desire to say with regard to it. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Viscount St. Aldwyn.)
My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a moment, but I should be sorry if silence were misconstrued into apathy on this subject. The noble Viscount has explained that this matter has been more than once before your Lordships' House, and every month that has since elapsed has made the need of passing such a Bill more urgent. The reasons in favour of it are overwhelming, and I hope no difficulty whatever will attend this Bill on its way to become part of the Statute law of the realm, for I am certain that the gain which would result from it in every way would be immense. I cannot conceive that any one would be wronged or harmed in the smallest degree if it became law.
On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.
Places Of Worship (Enfranchisement) Bill Hl
Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, there are three reasons why I should not detain your Lordships at any length in asking you to give a Second Reading to this Bill. The first is the state of the Benches, the second is the hour of the evening, and the third and most important reason of all is the fact that the Bill has already in principle received the approval of your Lordships' House in a previous session. It is quite possible that when we come to consider the Bill in detail Amendments may be desired. I shall be very glad to consider those Amendments when we reach the Committee stage; and subject to the passing of any Amendments that may be necessary I venture to hope that this Bill will have a speedy passage through both Houses of Parliament.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Earl Beauchamp.)
My Lords, when this Bill came before us last year I gave it my support and stated the reasons for which I did so. I do not feel called upon on the present occasion to repeat what I then said. But the noble Earl will remember that when the Bill was last before us many of us took great exception to some of the provisions which it contained and indicated very plainly that we would have to press Amendments in Committee. I think the same observation holds good now. There are a number of points which it seems to me may well be considered by your Lordships in detail, but criticism upon those points is obviously better reserved until a later stage is reached.
On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.
Intestate Husband's Estate (Scotland) Bill
Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
My Lords, this Bill has arrived at this stage without amendment in either House of Parliament, and I ask your Lordships to be good enough to give it a Third Reading.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a .—( Lord Southwark.)
On Question, Bill read 3a and passed.
House adjourned at twenty minutes past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.