§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CALLAN,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he thought it would be necessary for him to say a few words as to the object and scope of the Bill. A similar Bill was read a second time in 1874 by a majority of 5G on a division; but the General Election taking place just afterwards, it did not reach a further stage. In 1881 the Bill was read a second time again; but again circumstances arose which prevented it being proceeded with. Once more it came before Parliament on the present occasion. The object of the measure was to repeal an Act of Henry VIII., made perpetual by an Act of Queen Elizabeth, requiring Irish Law students to come within the Realm of England for the purpose of studying Law. At the time those Acts were passed there was no School of Law in Ireland, and no Law lectures were delivered there. But now Professorships of Law existed in Trinity College and King's Inn, Dublin, and students preparing for the Irish Bar were compelled to attend lectures, to pass an examination, and to pay fees in Ireland; and yet, after all that, they must come to London, enter one of the English Inns of Court, and make further payments of fees. That system involved an interruption of the studies of the person whom it affected, and also entailed on them a useless expenditure of time and money. Those Irish Law students had to eat and pay for six dinners at four different periods of the year in London, but they were not required to attend lectures or to pass an examination in London; and he could not, therefore, see any possible reason why such an absurd and inconvenient practice should be continued. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the senior Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) had asserted on a former occasion that the old practice of requiring Irish Law students to eat a certain number of dinners in the English 419 capital was found to work very beneficially. For himself, he could not understand how that should be so; although, if the dinners were eaten in the salubrious air of Brighton, the case might perhaps be rather different. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, he believed, was a Director of the London and North Western Railway Company, and perhaps the existing system of compelling Irish Law students to travel to and from England for the purpose of keeping their terms here promoted the interests of that Company. Perhaps that was the reason why he looked upon those half-a-dozen dinners as being so beneficial? Now, those dinners were eaten just at a time when the music halls and theatres were open, and the students were prevented attending the music hall, though probably they would prefer the higher class of entertainment which was to be found at the theatre. A Petition numerously signed by Law students in Dublin had been presented to the Benchers of the King's Inns praying that the present system, might be done away with. In 1881 the Benchers unanimously decided against the Bill; and the Chief Secretary of that day (Mr. W. E. Forster) stated in the House that he could see no reason why the practice should exist of Irish Law students having to eat a certain number of dinners in London. On that occasion the Chief Secretary threw over the Solicitor General and the Benchers, and the Bill was read a second time. If the system was to be maintained, why should there not be reciprocity? Surely it was as essential that English barristers should know Ireland as that Irish barristers should know England? If English students were sent to Dublin he could promise them a kindly and hospitable reception. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Callan.)
§ MR. GIBSON
said, that the hon. Member had made his Motion with great good humour, as if he cherished pleasant memories of the good things provided for him at the King's Inns, and possibly also of the good things provided in the Inns on this side of the water. He should much have preferred seeing some Members of the Govern- 420 ment representing Ireland in their places on that occasion, and he certainly should have liked to see the Solicitor General for Ireland present, as the hon. and learned Gentleman was a Bencher of King's Inn. He was anxious that the Benchers of King's Inn should have an opportunity of being heard on the question. He gladly admitted that the education provided for Law students in Ireland was extremely good; and it might, at first sight, appear that there was no occasion for their visiting the English Schools of Law. He feared, however, that if the measure were passed without reservation or qualification it might be regarded by some as tending to the lowering of the character of the Irish Bar. [Laughter from Irish Members below the Gangway.] He meant that with some the Irish Bar might afterwards be viewed as a Provincial Bar instead of as part of the Bar of the United Kingdom. Irish Law students had distinguished themselves greatly at the English Inns, and obtained Law studentships and many of the greatest prizes there, and their sojourn in England had often been attended with many advantages. The hon. Member had mentioned a Memorial signed by Law students in support of the Bill. Such a Memorial had, it was true, been presented to the Benchers of the King's Inns; but a counter Memorial signed by a still larger number of students had also been presented in opposition to the measure. The whole subject would have been considered by the Benchers a week ago had their meeting not been adjourned out of respect to the memory of the late eminent Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Edward Sullivan. As it was, subject was being considered by them that very day. That being so, he held that it would be reasonable, before coming to a decision on the Bill, to wait for the opinion which those whose duty it was to supervise the education of Law students in Ireland would shortly announce. He, therefore, begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he would second the Amendment. Personally he had derived much pleasure from the Society of Irish students in the English Inns of Court. The dinners of the Inns of Court would lose all their salt without the Irish students, and he, for one, should be very sorry to lose them. A practice which was founded on an Act 421 of Parliament passed in the Reign of Henry VIII. should not be lightly laid aside. He thought the House would do well to wait, before agreeing to the second reading, until the Benchers of the King's Inns should have made public their views on the matter.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gibson.)
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that this was not a question as to which Her Majesty's Government had any direct responsibility, or over which they sought to control. He confessed that he had no strong prejudices on the subject one way or another; but it would certainly appear at first sight that the burden of proof rested with those who sought to maintain the present system, which was necessarily in itself an artificial system. He was not, however, prepared to say whether it was advantageous or disadvantageous that the present system should be continued; but he thought there was great force in the observations of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson). As he said, it was now proposed to change a custom which had prevailed for a long period, and as to which there was a difference of opinion. The persons most interested and most entitled to form a judgment on the subject were the Benchers. They had received Memorials both for and against this change, and had met to discuss the subject; but owing to the melancholy death of the Lord Chancellor their meeting had been adjourned. As the Bill had been reached unexpectedly that afternoon and the meeting of the Benchers had been adjourned through no fault of their own, he thought it would be discourteous in the House of Commons to proceed with the Bill until it was in possession of the views of the Benchers on the subject. Under these circumstances, he should be prepared to support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. HEALY
remarked that he was extremely glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had at last come out in his true colours. He was delighted to find him supporting the Motion for Adjournment. In 1881, in the middle of the Coercion campaign, even the right hon. Member for Brad- 422 ford (Mr. W. E. Forster), in the teeth of the unanimous opposition of the Benchers, supported this Bill, and it was road a second time without a division. Now, four years afterwards, simply because the Benchers chose to let three months pass without coming to a decision which, when it would be come to, nobody would regard as being worth two pence, the Chief Secretary stood up there and supported a Motion to shelve this matter. The question had been before the public for some years, and everyone know what the Benchers' opinions on the matter were. He ventured to think that this question was one not for Benchers, barristers, or students, but for the general public to pronounce an opinion upon; and it was well worthy of the present Chief Secretary that, disregarding the course taken by his Predecessor, he should stand up and support the miserable subterfuge of the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University, in order thereby to insure the defeat of this Bill. It was of importance to the people of Ireland, who were prevented by the present mediaeval arrangements from going into the Profession in large numbers, that this Bill should be passed.
§ MR. R. T. REID
said, he did not rise for the purpose of denouncing the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but he thought it was a matter very much to be regretted that he should offer any opposition to this Bill until he know the opinion of the Benchers. He had some experience of Benchers. They were an excellent body of gentlemen, no doubt; but they were a body of men who had no more right to speak on behalf of the Bar than they had to speak on behalf of the House of Commons. This was a matter on which, in his humble opinion, the House of Commons were as competent to form an opinion as the Benchers or anybody else. If they had to wait until they had the opinion of Judges and Benchers for legal reform, they would have very little reform indeed. As regards the attitude taken up by the Chief Secretary, he would like to know what the right hon. Gentleman would say if no advocate could be called in Scotland until he came up to London to eat a certain number of dinners? Why, the Scotch would rebel against such an idea. Yet that was what now happened in the case of Ireland, and the reason for it probably was that in former 423 days it was presumed there was no adequate legal training to be had in Ireland. That reason had disappeared, and it was admitted that there were now admirable means of legal training in Ireland. For his own part, seeing the many distinguished men who raised themselves to positions at the Bar, notwithstanding great pecuniary difficulties, he did not understand why this burden should be left upon Law students in Ireland, especially when they get nothing in return for it.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, that he happened to be a Bencher, and he was glad to see that his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. R. T. Reid) still believed that there was some excellence left in Benchers. He did not think that the regulation complained of in this instance should still be maintained; and he ventured to hope, therefore, that his right hon. and learned Friend would withdraw his Motion for the Adjournment. His hon. and learned Friend behind him (Mr. Warton) said he had not made up his mind; but he (Sir Henry Holland) had made up his mind, and he was dead against Henry VIII., in whose reign this absurd regulation was made. There was no doubt that excellent legal education was now given in Ireland, and it did seem preposterous that in this 19th century Irish barristers should be compelled to come to London to eat a certain number of dinners before they could practise their Profession in their own country.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he did not propose to go into the merits of this Bill; but he agreed with his hon. Friend who had just spoken in appealing to his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) to withdraw his Motion. The reason accepted and enforced by the Chief Secretary for the adjournment of the subject seemed to him to be against it. He understood that the Benchers of the King's Inns had met that day to express their opinion on this matter. If they decided in favour of the change, the adjournment of the debate now would render it impracticable for the Bill to be passed this Session. On the other hand, if the Benchers were against the Bill, the entire force of the two Front Benches in the House could be brought against the Bill on its third reading.
§ MR. ELTON
said, that he, too, was dead against Henry VIII. The reasons 424 given in support of the Motion for Adjournment were totally inadequate, and the House would not consult its dignity by upholding a Motion meant to kill a Bill which they might expect received the support of the barristers and students of Ireland. He agreed with the remarks which had been made with respect to the Benchers. They were a self-elected body, and in this country so little represented the views and interests of the Bar that they had to be assisted by a Committee elected by the Bar at large.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
remarked that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin would have been more successful in his plea for delay if he had omitted expressing any opinion on the merits of the Bill. When, however, he told the House that the Bill would tend to lower the Bar of Ireland, he showed that there were other grounds on which he opposed the Bill. He hoped, however, the result of the division would give a direct negative to the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If the Chief Secretary succeeded in getting this Bill defeated today, he would be bound to provide facilities for legislation later on in the Session. A great deal had been said with regard to the opinion of the Benchers. As a Member of the Middle Temple, he had had plenty of opportunity of forming an opinion as to the estimation in which the Benchers were held. No one having any knowledge of the views and wishes of the Bar would think of bending to the authority of the Benchers for a single moment on questions of reform. The Irish Benchers, he had no doubt, occupied a like position, and on a question of reform no one would think of asking the opinion of the Benchers either in England or Ireland.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, that this question was, no doubt, of considerable importance to those who were immediately interested in it. He could not, upon a Motion for Adjournment, enter into the merits of the proposal; but his opinion was that the advantages of the present system were very obvious. He supported the Motion for Adjournment on the ground that the question was now under the consideration of the Benchers in Dublin; and it was perfectly plain that the Bill had been brought on quite by surprise. He had the honour to be one 425 of the Benchers of the only Inn of Court there was in Ireland—the King's Inns —and the statement that the Benchers were not a good authority to pronounce an opinion and give advice on this subject seemed to him to be one of the most extravagantly Radical propositions he had ever heard. The Benchers knew the practice and working of the Bar in Ireland, and he was quite sure that they enjoyed the confidence and represented the general opinion of the Bar. [Cries of "No!"]
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, it appeared that a Petition had been presented by certain students who desired to have the law changed; but a Petition on the other side, rather more numerously signed, had also been presented, and he thought it would not be decent under such circumstances to pass over and take no notice of the opinions of the Judges and distinguished members of the Bar upon the subject. They were told that because the Chief Secretary supported the adjournment that he had appeared in his true colours, and that he desired to tyrannize over the Irish people. The imputation was perfectly ridiculous. It did not in the least matter to the Irish people what the opinion of the Chief Secretary on this particular subject might be. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members said so over and over again. He hoped the House would agree to the very reasonable proposal for adjournment, which did not decide upon the merits of the case, and that the debate would be delayed until they received the opinion of the Benchers.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, he entirely disagreed with the two right hon. and learned Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench. He wished to point out that this question had been discussed on a previous occasion; and the Bill had not, therefore, taken them entirely by surprise. If the students could get a proper education in Ireland without coming to this country he failed to see why the Bill should not be read a second time. It appeared to him that no facts had been adduced to show that the Bar would in any way suffer by the change contem- 426 plated. This was an Irish grievance which ought to be remedied, but it was evident that the Bill could not be brought on again this Session if the House now carried the Motion for Adjournment.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he hoped the Motion for Adjournment would be withdrawn. The question was not a new one. The Bill afforded an opportunity of removing a very irritating grievance felt by the Irish people, and the House had now an opportunity of doing what was just and right. The opposition to this Bill had always been in inverse ratio to the social and legal position of those who had spoken about it. The people who felt the grievance were the students, who had to go to the expense of coming to England. The Judges and Benchers did not feel the grievance, because they had obtained rank and emoluments, and did not wish to make admission to the Bar too easy. He hoped, under these circumstances, when there was an opportunity to agree to popular wishes which were reasonable, the Chief Secretary would not support the proposal of an adjournment. If anybody proposed at this moment to impose the restriction now sought to be removed no one in the House would support it; but when there was an opportunity of removing it, distinguished legal Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench opposed it. If they were successful it would be a great disappointment to the bulk of the Irish Members.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 122: Majority 92.—(Div. List, No. 121.)
§ Original Question put.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 30th April.