HC Deb 05 July 1889 vol 337 cc1584-92

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 10 (Regulations as to convener and vice-convener of county.)

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 42, to leave out the words "or persons qualified to be such."—(Mr. J. B. Balfour.)

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


This question was discussed at considerable length during the latter part of last night's debate, and strong opinions were expressed against the enlargement of the powers of the County Council. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) tried an experiment which deserves the attention of the Government. He took a Division on the Motion to report Progress in order that the Government might have an opportunity of studying the disposition of the Scotch Members towards this proposal. We have studied the Division List, and we find that 25 of the Scotch Members voted with the Government and 20 against. I have no wish to misinterpret the opinion of the majority. I am quite aware that Members on the Front Bench who voted with us for going on with the Bill would have voted against us on this specific Amendment. But it affords the Government a good idea of the amount of resolute support they are likely to receive if the Bill is proceeded with in a spirit of conciliation and good humour. Fortified by that Division, whatever opinion may be expressed on minor points, I think the Government need not press this proposal. We take this course in complete reliance upon the general desire to proceed with the Bill without undue debate, and I shall, therefore, accept the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Clackmannan (Mr. J. B. Balfour).

* MR. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)

I need not say with what pleasure we have listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, not so much on account of the concession he has made as on account of the spirit which that speech manifests. As far as I am acquainted with the feeling and desire of those with whom I act, we have every desire to facilitate the progress of the Bill, and also to make the measure we are engaged upon as useful and as large a measure as possible. We have no desire to take advantage of any opportunity which may offer of treating the measure in the least, I will not say from a political point of view, because the whole matter is political in the larger sense—but with a view to any small political advantage. But we have insisted upon this point because it involved a question, as we thought, of principle. It is not a large point, because even if the County Councils were granted, the choice to which we object, they would not, I believe, exercise it. But it is characteristic of Scotchmen to be sticklers for principle, and this is why we have been so stubborn.

DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

I should net have thought it necessary to say anything if it had not been for the very pointed reference which the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate has made to me. The experiment which was tried last night has been absolutely successful. The right hon. Gentleman finds that 25 Scotch Members voted against reporting Progress, and 20 in favour of it. But he knows that, of the 25, six on the Front Opposition Bench and six behind him were dead against the proposal in the Bill, so that so far as the majority of Scotch opinion is concerned, it is largely in favour of the contention which we urged upon the Committee. But I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to confine himself to the particular Division to which he has referred, but to look through the whole of the Division Lists last night. If it had not been for the last Division we should have had this point carried against us with the probability of having to reconsider it on the Report. I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to look to the concessions he has made to Scotch opinion as far as the Bill has gone. The first Amendment was brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries (Mr. Reid) and 45 Scotch Members, including 12 Unionists who are habitual supporters of the Government voted for it, while only 12 Scotch Members voted against it. The next Division was to ask the Government to schedule the arrangements it was proposed to make in connection with the County Councils. Twenty-nine Scotch Members voted in favour of the Amendment, and only 14 against it. Yet it was carried by the Government against the wishes of the Scotch Representatives. Finally, we had another Division, taken by the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Lanarkshire (Mr. D. Crawford), the purpose of which was to leave it an open question whether the Local Authorities in police burghs might not be entrusted with the same power of licensing as those enjoyed by the Magistrates in Royal burghs. Again the Division went against us, although the majority of the Scotch Members voted in favour of the Amendment. Probably if I had not yesterday evening taken the course I did of moving to report Progress, this Amendment would also have been voted down by the supporters of Her Majesty's Government, and the decision upon it would have been put off until the Report stage of the Bill. If the Government propose to amend every part of the Bill on which they find themselves at variance with the large preponderance of Scotch opinion expressed in the Committee, I am afraid they will find that they will have a precious lot to do. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman therefore to study the Division List on every occasion.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I congratulate the Lord Advocate on the wise course he has taken in giving way on this point, as I believe it will materially facilitate the progress of the Bill. This was the thin end of the wedge, introducing for the first time the principle of non-election. As yet no Scotch baillie has ever been in the position of a Liverpool Alderman.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.


I have now to move, in line 43, after the word "and" to insert— And such convener shall possess all the powers and exercise all the functions possessed or exercised at the date of the passing of this Act by the Provost or Chief Magistrate of a Royal or Parliamentary burgh, and shall by virtue of his office be a Justice of the Peace for the county. The Amendment is designed to assimilate, as far as possible, the powers and position of the Municipal Authority in the county to those which are well understood in the case of the Municipal Authority in the burghs. The words "and shall, by virtue of his office, be a Justice of the Peace for the county," are taken verbatim from the English Act of last year. As it has been found necessary to insert it in the English Act, it may, I think, be well incorporated in the present measure.


There is a further Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member which is not admissible at all. I have some doubts as to the admissibility of this, but I will put it to the Committee.

Amendment moved, in Clause 10, page 2, line 43, after "such," insert— And such convener shall possess all the powers and exercise all the functions possessed or exercised at the date of the passing of this Act by the Provost or Chief Magistrate of a Royal or Parliamentary burgh, and shall by virtue of his office be a Justice of the Peace for the county."—(Dr. Cameron.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


The proposal, taken by itself, is not a matter of great importance, but on the other hand it relates to subjects which do not come within the scope of the Bill. As the Bill stands, the convener of the county will have certain functions to perform, but they will not include the administration of justice, and I would remind those hon. Members who are less acquainted with the Scotch than the English administration that the powers and importance of a Justice of the Peace in Scotland are very much less than in England. In Scotland the work of administering justice is done in the main by the Sheriff and the Sheriff Substitute. I speak particularly ofhe counties, and so far as the scope of the Bill is concerned, it is entirely outside the burghs. I do not think that the Committee have any desire to amplify or extend the administration of Justices of the Peace which, at present in Scotland, is most insignificant. There are great differences between the duties of Provosts and those of the proposed conveners who might have been made Justices of the Peace if it had been intended to hand licensing over to the County Councils. That, however, is not proposed to be done, and the tenour of recent legislation has been in the direction of introducing skilled and paid Magistrates rather than of increasing the number of amateur Justices of the Peace. I hope that at the proper time the Committee will support the Government in refusing to introduce into the Bill the burning and distracting question of licensing.


I very strongly sympathize with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow in this matter, though I admit that the Government may have difficulties in at once accepting the Amendment. My idea is that in dealing with this entire subject we should take the municipal government of the towns as our model, and apply it, as far as possible, to the counties. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of licensing. We regret that the Government do not give the County Councils the control of the licensing; but the point will be raised later on. I think it would be advantageous to place the convener and a certain number of elected Magistrates in the same position as the Magistrates of the burghs. The right hon. Gentleman says that the whole current of opinion runs in the direction of introducing skilled and paid magistrates, rather than of increasing the number of amateur Justices of the Peace, and I quite agree with him. Burgh stipendiary Magistrates are being more and more employed. But there are still certain functions which it has never been proposed to transfer to paid Magistrates and which remain in the hand of the Provost and elected Magistrates; and on the ground of the general symmetry of the arrangements, I think it would be prudent to extend to the counties a system which has worked so satisfactorily in the burghs. For these reasons I shall support the Amendment.

* MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I desire also to say a word in support of the Amendment. I admit that there is a distinction between a Justice of the Peace in England and in Scotland, and, so far as the Scotch Members are concerned, we prefer the decision of a Court presided over by a Sheriff in Scotland to that of a Court presided over by a Justice of the Peace in England. In regard to the licensing question, the argument of the Lord Advocate scarcely applies. Let me take the present position of licensing in the burghs of Scotland. The Court of Appeal is the Court of Quarter Sessions, and that is the final tribunal in regard to burgh licences. The appeals are heard by the Chief Magistrate and the senior baillie is ex officio a member of the Court of Quarter Sessions. What harm, then, could take place if the convener of the county holds the position of ex officio Justice of the Peace for the county? Leaving out all reference to the burghs, I submit that the case of the convener of the county has been fully made out by the hon. Member for Glasgow. The Lord Advocate has taken a somewhat too extended view of the matter. All that is wanted is that the person who is appointed convener should be ex officio a Justice of the Peace, and I hope that in a spirit of conciliation the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see his way to make this moderate concession.


I have listened with attention to all that hon. Members have said. The Amendment, however, goes a little too far, and I strongly deprecate the carrying by process of analogy of the powers enjoyed by a Chief Magistrate in a burgh into the counties, considering that the whole situation is different in the counties from what it is in the burghs. As I do not think there would be much harm in making the conveners Justices of the Peace, I have no objection to accept the latter part of the Amendment.


I have no desire to interfere with the functions of the Sheriffs' Court or the burghs Justices of the Peace.


The Provost of a burgh is a Justice of the Peace, but although he is entitled to sit in the Police Court he does not usually do so.


As a matter of fact I never knew the Lord Provost of Glasgow to sit in the Police Court. In the English Act there are different sorts of representatives on the Council—Aldermen as well as Councillors.


The office of Alderman does not necessarily carry with it magisterial functions.

Question, "That such convener shall by virtue of his office be a Justice of the Peace of the county," put, and agreed to.

* MR. STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)

I have to move an Amendment in the clause to provide that the tenure of office of the convener, instead of being for one year as proposed by the Bill, should continue for such period of time as the County Council exists. The term for which the County Council is to be elected is three years; and it will be convenient to have the convener's term of office fixed for the same period. I hope the Government will accept the Amendment, which is a very simple one, although, in my opinion, a very important one.

Amendment moved, Clause 10, page 3, lines 1 and 2, leave out "be one year," and insert "shall continue for such period of time as the County Council exists."—(Mr. M. Stewart.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'be one year' stand part of the Clause."


I do not know whether the Government intend to accept the Amendment, but I am bound to say that there is a good deal to be said in favour of it. I think it would be a pity to put the Councils to the trouble of resettling their administration every year. The gentleman who accepts the office of convener should be allowed to run through the period of the County Council's administration without the turmoil of re-election every year.


The reason why one year has been inserted in the Bill is because the present convener of the county is elected annually. It is quite true that his re-election is generally undisputed so long as he retains the qualifications which commended him to the choice of the Commissioners of Supply; but the proposal of one year has been adopted primarily because it would give a freer hand to the County Council; and I should have thought, therefore, that it was more consonant with the views one often hears of the Chairman representing the opinions of the County Council, that he should be elected year by year instead of for three years. The preponderance of argument is, I think, in favour of one year.

MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

I believe that the preponderance of Scotch opinion is in favour of the convener being elected during the existence of the County Council. I hope therefore, that the Government will give way. At the same time, I think the words of the Amendment will require alteration. The duration of the School Board and other Boards in Scotland is for three years, and the chairman is appointed to act during the existence of the Board. But in the Bill as it stands it is not the County Council that is elected for three years, but the Councillors.

* MR. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrew)

For my part I am in favour of giving to the County Councils as free a hand as possible.


The custom of the Commissioners of Supply is to elect the convener annually.


The annual election is a mere matter of form. The convener when once elected retains the office.

MR. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, S.)

supported the Amendment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Amendment moved, Clause 10, page 2, line 15, after "occurred," to add— (5) If a County Councillor is elected Convener he shall not thereby vacate office as a County Councillor."—(Mr. J. P. B. Robertson.)

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Forward to