HL Deb 13 June 1864 vol 175 cc1613-25

, in calling attention to the late decision of the Privy Council for the removal of the West Riding Assizes from York to Leeds, and moving an Address to Her Majesty thereon, said that this decision was entirely opposed to the evidence submitted to them. In 1829 a Commission was appointed to consider the advisability of removing the Assizes for the West Riding from York, and, if so, to which town they should be removed; and the result of the inquiry was unconditionally in favour of Wakefield. In 1857 another Commission was appointed, and the decision arrived at was different from the one which had been adopted by the Privy Council. In 1860 a Commission was appointed at the suggestion of Sir G. C. Lewis, and out of 107 magistrates who were examined upon the matter 99 were opposed to any change. In 1863 by the direction of Sir George Grey, a circular was sent to the magistrates of the West Biding of Yorkshire, and out of 329 magistrates answers were received from 266. The circular asked if the magistrates to whom it was addressed thought it desirable to remove the Assizes from York, and, if so, whether to Leeds or Wake-field, or to Leeds and Sheffield. The answers in favour of the last plan were so few that they might be entirely discarded, Of the remainder, 123 were in favour of retaining the Assizes at York, 87 in favour of a change to Wakefield, and 20 only approved the removal to Leeds. At the beginning of the present year a private circular was addressed to the magistrates of the West Riding, and 187 of those who replied were in favour, of Wakefield, and only 59 in favour of Leeds. He thought that the opinions of these gentlemen ought to be taken into consideration, as they came from men who took an interest in the subject, and whose opinions were dictated by experience. There were some other points to which he would call their Lordships' attention, as he believed them to be material to the question. The population of the West Riding in the immediate neighbourhood of Wakefield was over 900,000, while in the neighbourhood of Leeds it was only 623,000, thus showing an advantage of about 30 per cent in favour of Wakefield. Wakefield contained the county prison and almost all the other public offices, and it was of great importance that the Assizes should be held where these public buildings were to be found. Now, against all the public buildings of Wakefield, Leeds had nothing to urge but the presence of the Bankruptcy Court. If the Assizes were held at Leeds and the West Riding gaol remained at Wakefield as there was a distance of ten miles between the two towns, the prisoners would have to be conveyed by train in the morning and taken back in the evening until their cases had been decided, and these journeys would not unfrequently occur daily for an entire week. The country near Leeds was densely populated, the population being chiefly of an artisan character, and they might safely anticipate serious inconvenience from the necessity of carrying prisoners forward and back, especially in times of political riots or tumults; and in this opinion the governor of the gaol at Wakefield fully concurred. It was estimated that the expense consequent upon those frequent removals would amount to £150 an assize, and as there were three Assizes held in the course of the year, the Biding would be called upon to pay £450 because of the decision of the Privy Council. After giving the question a full consideration, he could not conceive on what grounds the Privy Council had come to a decision so opposed to that of all those whose experience Upon the subject entitled their opinions to respect. Wakefield was looked upon ad: the capital of the West Riding and if the Assizes were to be removed from York, a large majority of the magistrates were in favour of its selection in preference to Leeds; When they were told that the decision was to rest with the Privy Council, they did not anticipate that Yorkshire would be little represented the noble Earl the Secretary for War (Earl de Grey and Ripon), being the only Yorkshire Peer who was on the Committee of Privy Council by, which the decision was arrived at Every other Peer in Yorkshire was in favour of Wakefield. Under those circumstances he hoped that their Lordships would perceive that there were; good grounds of complaint against the decision which had been arrived at, and would give their support to the Motion.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the late Decision of the Privy Council, ordering the Removal of the West Riding Assizes from York to Leeds instead of to Wakefield, be re-considered.—(Lord Wharncliffe).


said, he had not been able to refuse the request of the noble Lord to give his support to this Motion. Upon this question, he, believed that the gentry of Yorkshire were so united, and their opinions were so well formed, that he could not understand what possible motives could have induced the Government to issue an Order in Council which was in entire opposition to their wishes and their supposed, interests. He trusted that it would not be supposed that in opposing the transference of the Assizes from York to Leads the gentry of Yorkshire were, influenced by personal feelings. They were ready to perform their public duties what-ever place might be selected. It was impossible to understand why the Government had made repeated requests to the magistrates for their opinions, when, at last they had acted in direct opposition to those opinions. A large majority of the magistrates of Yorkshire had decided that they were quite content with York as the assize town, and there could be no doubt that the cen- tral position of that city and other circum stances rendered it well adapted for the; administration of justice. It was true, however, that as the West Riding was more populous than the other Ridings, a considerable expense was incurred in bringing witnesses and. prisoners to York; but: if consideration of economy were to be permitted to override all other considerations, then assuredly the natural course would have been to remove the administration of justice to the place where justice could be most cheaply administered—to, the capital of the West Riding. At Wakefield there was a very large prison; it was a town of moderate size, and was singularly well adapted for an assize town; Instead of going to Wakefield, however, the Government had thought fit to transfer the Assizes to a town, with a large manufacturing population. The mere fact of Leeds being a larger town than York or Wakefield was no recommendation—if, indeed, its size ought not rather to operate against its selection. He thought their Lordships would do well to induce the Government; to reconsider, their determination, which was so much opposed to the general feeling of Yorkshire. He did not think the opinion of the magistracy of the county should be disregarded. He would -submit that this was not a time to cast discouragement upon the magisterial station, so as to prevent younger men from accepting, its duties and its responsibilities. It was the duty of Parliament, wherever it had an opportunity, to sustain the magisterial dignity, and he, therefore, felt confident that their Lordships would-give their support to this Motion.


said, he felt bound, in the first place, to thank the noble Lord who introduced the subject for his, singularly clear and able statement, and he hoped that in future they might frequently have the advantage of the noble Lord's, participation in their debates. The Complaints of the noble Lord referred to three points; first as to the removal of the Assizes from York; next to the selection of Leeds in preference to Wakefield; and, lastly, to a point which more immediately, affected himself, and with which he would first deal Their Lordships were, aware that Her Majesty was empowered by Act of Parliament with that advice of her Privy Council, to make division and arrangement as to holding Assizes at particular times. The question as to which particular town should be selected had been raised in the House of Commons, and the claims of Wakefield in preference to Leeds had been negatived; and after that the Privy Council had been called upon to deal with the subject. It would have been improper to delay bringing this subject below Her Majesty merely on the chance that their Lordships' House would express some opinion upon it. He might remind his noble Friend that it bad been quite open to him to moot this question at an earlier period, seeing that the decision of the House of Commons was pronounced some weeks since. With respect to the removal of the Assizes from York, the noble Lord had referred to the adverse opinions pronounced by two former Commissions. With respect to the first of these Commissions, he could only observe that it was impossible to attach much value to the Report of a Commission Blade forty years ago, when the circumstances of the country were wholly different—when no railways were in operation, and when no data existed applicable to the present times. With respect to the second Commission, its conclusions were no doubt entitled to full consideration; bat it must be borne in mind that there did not exist at that time the same strong feeling as now prevailed that the Assizes should be transferred. The noble Lord had referred to the opinions expressed by the Magistrates of Yorkshire, and he could assure the noble Lord that those opinions had received full and careful consideration; but the Privy Council had not felt themselves to be bound by those opinions as to the nature of the advice which they should tender to Her Majesty. The noble Lord had referred to the delicate question of the selection of Leeds, instead of Wake-field; and he asked what were the motives which had induced Her Majesty's Government to make such a selection? All he could say was that Her Majesty's Government had no motive whatever except this— when once they bad made up their minds that the West Riding was entitled to an assize town, to select that town which they thought the best situated for the purpose. It should be borne in mind that when it was proposed to make Liverpool an assize town there was the same opposition on the part of the magistrates of Lancashire, His noble Friend should remember that Wakefield and Leeds were not the only candidates—Sheffield had put in claim—and in selecting Leeds instead of Wakefield the only motive the Govern- ment could have was the public advantage. He might appeal to his noble Friends who sat on the Committee, whether they, were not of opinion that the balance of advantage was on the side of Leeds The noble Lord had referred to the petitions in favour of Wakefield; but he was aware that these had been strongly criticised on the other side, and the argument turned entirely in favour of Leeds. With regard to the accommodation of the two towns, the evidence went to this extent—the accommodation at Leeds was ample and excellent, whereas there was no accommodation at Wakefield for assize business. The decision was very much influenced by, that consideration. He did act know whether the noble Lord intended to press his Motion to a division; if so, he should have to oppose it. He did not think it could lead to any practical result.


addressed some remarks to the House, but the noble and learned Lord was, not heard.


said, he remembered far the last fifty or sixty years to have heard this subject frequently discussed by members of the profession and the public; and he certainly recollected that whilst the preponderance of opinion was strong amongst both learned and unlearned against any removal from York at all, yet if there were to be any assize town at all, the almost universal feeling was in favour of Leeds. Some few persons were in favour of Wakefield, hardly any were in favour of Sheffield, and there were none at all who were in favour of Hull.


protested against the statement of the noble and learned Lord who had just spoken. When he had the honour of representing Yorkshire, between thirty and forty years ago, the question of the removal of the Assizes from York was largely discussed; and in the coarse of his canvass he was frequently asked whether he would support Wake-field as the assize town for the West Riding, but he had never heard the town of Leeds put before Wakefield. To remove the Assizes from York would be an act of gross injustice—an act opposed by the great majority of the county magistrates, and calculated to subject the population generally to grievous inconvenience. Some time ago he took the liberty of asking whether the Government intended to persist in their determination to convert Leeda into an assize town to the prejudice of York; but he was sorry to say that the President of the Council, with Some slight discourtesy, did not favour him with an answer to his question. He did not wish to impute, motives, but he knew the influence which had been, at work. Leeds had been written up by one of its representatives, whom he now saw standing at the bar. ["Order!".] And he did not intend to impute any motives but a sense of public, duty to that gentleman; but he had worked long and zealously at the matter, and it was no doubt through, big influence that the Government had been brought to countenance a measure for which no valid reason could be urged.


said, the noble Lord (Lord Faversham) had referred to his canvass of the county in 1826; hut he trusted their Lordships would not decide a question of this kind on a consideration of the state of things which existed between: thirty and forty years ago. One of the questions raised in connection with this subject was whether a separate Assize should be given to the West Riding of Yorkshire, and a large portion of the opposition to the decision of the Privy Council sprung from, those who desired to have no transfer of assizes at all from York, He (Earl De Grey and Ripon) sympathized with the, feelings which actuated them; because, in the first place, in favour of the retention of the Assizes at York there were obvious considerations of personal convenience and comfort which, if great public interests were hot concerned, it would be undesirable to overlook; and because, in the next place, the sentiments were very natural of those who looked upon the Assizes as the last link which bound the three Ridings together—for the Assizes, and the High Sheriff were all that remained of the united county. But it was not upon considerations of this nature that the Privy, Council could decide the question. They had to consider the amount of population and the amount of business to be done. The population of the, West Riding was one million and a half, or scarcely less than the population of the whole of Lancashire, which would have three assize towns — Lancaster, Liverpool, and the newly created Assizes at Manchester. It seemed impossible, with this state of things, to resist the claim of the West Riding to have a separate Assize. Accordingly, the Privy Council decided that a separate Assize should be given to the West Riditig. The: question then, to be raised was, to what town these Assizes were to be given. It is said that the opinion of the Privy Council in favour of Leeds was against the opinion of the majority of the magistrates; but then the majority of the magistrates was against having a separate Assize at all. He knew from his own observation that; there was a widespread feeling among the mercantile and manufacturing classes in the West Riding in favour of having justice brought nearer to them, and although, as had been said, a majority of the county magistrates were against the removal of the assizes from York, yet of those who thought otherwise by far the larger number preferred Leeds to Wakefield. Since then the Government had decided to have a separate Assize for the West Riding, they must consider how best their wishes to consult the convenience of the population were to be acted upon. Their object was to bring the Assizes to the bulk of the population. Their Lordships had been told that the population in and around. Leeds was less than that in and around Wakefield. Statistics prepared by rival parties were necessarily of a very doubtful character, but it was only fair to mention that the statement on the other side was precisely the contrary, and that the Privy Council arrived at their decision; with the fact before them, that the population of Wakefield was only 23,000, as against 207,000 at Leeds. It had been pointed out by Mr. Reeves that sufficient accommodation did not exist at Wakefield, and if the Assizes were taken there it would be necessary to build a new court, whereas at Leeds the present courts were amply sufficient. With; regard to railway, accommodation, the communication by rail was more direct and speedy with Leeds; front the various parts, of the Riding than it was with Wakefield There was another point —that, if, the Assizes were removed to Wakefield it would bar for all time the claim of Sheffield on account of the, proximity of Wakefield to that town, whilst Leeds was so far away that if the Assizes were removed to that town Sheffield-would not be prejudiced by the decision. He had understood and heard the learned Lord (Lord Wensleydale) — whom, however, he had heard very indistinetly—to say that it was very undesirable to hold Assizes in large towns; but all modern changes had been in that direction—for instance, appointing Assizes to be held at Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastle; so that the Committee of Council could not be charged with having established a new principle. The question was, no doubt, one on which much could be said oft both sides; but on the whole, he believed that the Committee bad adopted the arrangement which was best for the cheap sad speedy administration of justice.


My Lords, I am not a Yorkshireman, and although I have come physical knowledge of the locality in question, yet I know nothing of the merits of this case except from an examination of those papers which have been kid before the House. agree with the noble Earl who has just tat down (Earl de Grey and Ripon), that this question ought not to be decided by reference to the state of opinion that existed thirty-eight years ago; and still more, think, that we ought not to be guided by the state of feeling which existed fifty or sixty years ago, and to which the noble arid learned Lord (Lord Brougham) referred. But let us consider what has been the state of feeling for the last few years; and think it is quite impossible to deny the fact, that the great balance of opinion on the part of the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the subject, on the part of the Magistrates who are interested in the administration of justice, and a great proportion of the inhabitants of the county, and also on the pan of the surveyor who was sent down by the Government specially to report upon the matter, was strongly in favour of the Assizes being held at Wakefield. The noble Earl who has just sat down has expended a good deal of time upon the question whether the local magistrates were or not in favour of removing the Assizes from York; and it my well be admitted that a great majority were in favour of retaining the Assizes at that place; but it being decided to remove them from York, and that the West Riding should have Assizes of its own, the question arose whether those gentlemen were of opinion that the Assizes should be removed to Wakefield, Leeds, or Sheffield, as the most convenient place? As to Sheffield there were to few in favour of it that it may be put out of the question; and as between Wakefield and Leeds, the majority in favour of Wakefield was 187 to 59, So far, therefore, as the opinion of the magistrates is to be taken for guidance, there is a very strong preponderance of feeing against Leeds. Although, as stated by the President of the Council, the Act of Parliament does not require the Council to consult the magistrates, yet, on the other hand, they are required to make such arrangements as, in their opinion, are most conducive to the convenient administration of justice; and know be persons who could-form a more satisfactory judgment upon that subject than could the local magistrate who are mainly concerned in carrying out the administration of public justice. The original Commission undoubtedly reported in favour of retaining the Assizes at York; but, presuming a change, not a single individual on that Commission reported in favour of Leeds, whilst a large number were in favour of Wakafield. Then, you had the Lords Lieutenant of two Ridings, and the Vice Lieutenants of three, all in favour of Wakefield; thus coinciding with the great majority of the magistrates. Mr. Reeves, the surveyor who was sent down, it is true, reported that the accommodation for holding Assizes at Leeds was superior to that at Wakefield; but, on the other hand, he pointed out that the gaol accommodation at Wakefield was infinitely superior to that at Leeds; go that in one case it would be necessary to build an additional court, whilst in the other it would be necessary to add greatly to the gaol. Mr. Reeves reported that, looking to all the circumstances of the locality and the convenience of the great majority of the population, he was decidedly in favour of Leeds. In the face of Mr. Reeves's report, it certainly required considerable courage on the part of the noble Earl the Secretary for War to quote Mr. Reeves aft a witness against Wakefield. There is only one consideration that induces me to hesitate as to the course which should recommend my noble Friend (Lord Wharncliffe) to take. If the matter were resintegra, should not hesitate for a moment to advise him to press his motion to a division. As to the merits of the case, have no doubt at all that they are strongly in favour of Wakefield; but the question which raises doubts in my mind is, that some difficulty might occur in consequence of the House of Commons having, by a small majority, expressed an opposite opinion to that embodied in this Motion. But that was done in the absence of those papers which are now before your Lordships. Then we have been given to understand by the now Earl the Lord President of the Council, very (decidedly, though hardly with any great courtesy, that whatever we do will not Meet the decision which has been come to —that the decision is final; and though we may address the Crown, yet it rests with the Ministers to advise the crown, and consequently it is a matter of discretion on the part of my noble Friend whether he should go to a division; but still if he should decide on going to a division. I must record my vote in favour of his Motion. But at the same time I would suggest whether it might not he wise not to divided considering the inconvenience which might not he wise not to dived considering the inconvenience which might arise from the two Houses of parliament expressing different opinions and whether your Lordships would do well to send up an address to the Crown when you have a positive intimation on the part of the leading Minister in this Houses that the Crown will not assent to your recommendation. I leave this matter, however, entirely in the hands of my noble Friend; and as I said before, If he divide, I shall, thought with some hesitation, divided with him; but I think that it is a question upon which he would do well to reflect before he calls upon the House to divide.


said, that standing there as he did in this case as the representative of the West Riding, he could not abandon its interests and he should therefore take the sense of the House on his Motion.


, as one of these who were asked to advise the committee of council, said, that he must observe that he knew of no motive which influenced the decision arrived at, except such as were apparent upon the papers. No doubt the opinion of the magistrates in favour of Wakefield had great weight, so far as the criminal business was concerned; but the evidence showed that mote than four civil causes to one arose in and near Leeds as compared with Wakefield. This latter consideration naturally had very great weight with the Privy Council.


said, that he had no interest, and that he had shown no partiality in the matter, and he could assure their Lordships that, in arriving at the decision to which they had come, the Privy Council had not been biased by any consideration other than those which were apparent on the papers. He must, how ever, earnestly deprecate the course which was about to be prused by the noble Lord; and he begged him to reflect on the position of conflict with the Houses of —a position of conflict with the to recollect Commons. He begged him to recollect also the position in which he would place the Crown, The. Crown had already, received the opinion of the other Houses, and that opinion was in favour of the decision arrived at by the Privy Council. Encouragement had already been given to the people of Leeds to prepare for the removal of the Assizes to their town; and now that they had laid out money for the purpose of making the necessary arrangement common justice forbade that the decision of the Crown should be reversed. What answer could the Crown should be reversed. What answer could the Crown make to the people of Leeds? Was the crown to say "we preferred the Address of the House of Lords to that of the Commons?"


observed that the House of Commons had sent up no Address.


The noble Earl was perfectly right —there had been no Address; but the House of commons had expressed its opinion. He earnestly hoped there would be no division; but if there was, he appealed to their Lordships not to put the Crown in the predicament in which they would place it if they agreed to the Motion.

On Question, their Lordships divided:— Contents 80; Not-Contents 54: Majority 26.

Motion agreed to.

And the said Address to be Presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.

York, Archbp. Malmesbury, E.
Mayo. E.
Manchester, D. Morton, E
Richmond, D. Nelson, E.:
Rutland, D. Powis, E.
Romney, E.
Bath. M. Rosslyn. E.
Normanby, M. Sandwich, E.
Salisbury, M. Shrewsbury, E.
Stanhope, E.
Amherst, E. Tankerville, E.
Bandon, E. Wilton, E.
Bantry, E. Zetland, E.
Carnarvon, E.
Cawder, E. De Vesei, V.
Chesterfield, E. Hardinge, V.
De La Warr, E. Hawarden, V.
Derby, E. Melville, V.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry) Sidmouth, V.
Oxford, Bp.
Effingham, E
Erne, E. Abinger, L
Fitzwilliam, E. Bagot, L.
Graham, E. (D. Montrose). Blayney, L.
Bolton, L
Grey, E. Castlemaine, L.
Harewood, E. Churston, L.
Lucan, E. Clinton, L.
Colchester, L. Polwarth, L.
Colville of culross, L. Ravensworth, L.
Crewe, L. Redendale, L.
De Marfley, L. Silchester L. (E. Longford).
De Ros, L.
De Saumarez, L. Somerhill, L.(M. chanricarde).
Digby, L.
Dansany, L. Sondes, L.
Egerton, L. Stewart of Garlies, L.(E. Galloway).
Foversham, L.
Heytesbury, L. Templemore, L.
Houghton, L. [Teller] Thurlow, L.
Houghton, L. Tyrone, L.(M. Waterford).
Leigh, E.
Lyttelton, L. Wenlock, L,
Moore, L. (M. Dregheda). Wensleydale, L.
Wharncliffe, L.[Teller.]
Mostyn, L. Wynford, L.
Westbury, L. (L. Chancellor). Clandeboye, L,(L, Dufferin and claneboye)
Conyers, L.
Armagh, Archbp. Cranworth, L.
Dacre, L.
Saint Albans, D. Dartrey, L. (L. cremorne).
Somerset, D.
De Tabley, L.
Ailesbury, M. Ebury, L.
Foley, L.[Teller.]
Chichester, E. Harris, L.
Clarendon, E. Hathenten, L.
De Grey, E. Hunsdon, L. (V. Falkland).
Ducle, E. Lismere, L. (V. Lismore).
Harrowby, E.
Lichfield, E. Llanover, L.
Minto, E. Methuen, L.
Russell, E, Overstone, L.
Saint Germans, E. Ponson by, L. (E. Bessborough).
Shaftesbury, E.
Spencer, E. Portman, L,
Rossie, L. (L. Kinnaird).
Leinster, V. (D. Leinster).
Seymour, L. (E. St. Maur).
Stratford de Redcliffe, V.
Sydney, V. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Suffield, L.
Cork, &c., Bp. Sundridge, L. (D. Argull)
Down, &c., Bp.
London, Bp. Talbot de Malahide, L.
Taunton, L.
Belper, L. Wentworth, L. (V. Ockham).
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Camoys, L. [Teller.] Wodehouse, L.
Chesham, L. Wrottesley, L.