HC Deb 06 March 1934 vol 286 cc1749-54

Order for Second Reading read.

8.30 p.m.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a Bill to prepare the way for a consolidation Bill by removing a number of difficulties in the law pertaining to county courts. There has been no consolidation Bill since 1888. Experience has revealed a number of difficulties, and legislation concerning county courts has produced a certain number of anomalies all of which it is necessary to remove before the desirable consolidation Bill can be prepared. It is not intended to put this Bill into immediate operation. Its operation will be suspended in order that its provisions may be included in the consolidation Bill and in that way brought into force. It contains 36 Clauses, and it covers a great variety of points. I may, perhaps, give one or two illustrations of what may be called the major points dealt with. One is the question of the transfer of proceedings either from the High Court to a county court or from a county court to the High Court. New provisions are made facilitating what in practice it is often convenient and necessary in the interests of justice to do. Another matter dealt with is the form of actions for recovery of land. At present there are two, or perhaps three, forms of proceedings and the Bill simplifies them. The Bill has received the approval in the main of the county court judges, the Law Society, and other representative bodies, and, if the House sees fit to give it a Second Reading, it will proceed in due course to enactment, as it has passed in another place.

8.32 p.m.


I merely rise to give a tentative blessing to the Bill on behalf of those who sit on these benches. I gather that it is really a preliminary Measure with a view to clearing up anomalies and obscurities in the present law and that it is the intention of the Government at a later date to introduce a Bill consolidating the law relating to county courts. That, of course, is a much needed reform, and, while I have not had an opportunity, nor have other Members of my party as yet, of examining the Bill in detail, we must reserve any comments or Amendments to it. Generally I think it should meet with the approval of all parties and be passed into law as soon as possible with a view to the much needed consolidation Bill being brought before the House.

8.34 p.m.


I wish to give my support to the Bill, which I think is a very good one, and I am particularly glad to hear that it is going to be followed by a Consolidation Bill. It is especially good, it seems to me, in conferring extra jurisdiction in small equity matters on County Court Judges. There is one point on which I should like it to be further extended. Clause 7 gives power to a County Court Judge to act in the administration of the estate of a deceased person. I rather doubt whether those words will cover the construction of a will which only leaves a very small amount, and I would suggest the addition of the words "the construction of a will." It will make a great difference if in these small matters the County Court Judge can not only act in the administration of the estate but also construe the will upon which the final administration of the estate may rest.

There is a further small point on Clause 19. I should like to see the registrar of the County Court given jurisdiction in small cases under £10 whether the approval of the County Court Judge is obtained or not, as long as the consent of both parties to the action is obtained to the matter being tried by him. There are one or two of our County Court Judges who are very keen on trying all matters themselves, and they keep parties, although they have consented to go before the registrar, at the bottom of the list for a long time. It seems to me that in small matters where both parties consent, the approval of the Judge should not be a necessity before the matter goes before the registrar to be dealt with.

Another point to which I would like to refer is the new provision in the First Schedule which allows the County Court Judge no discretion to give immediate, or more or less immediate, possession in a case where he is giving judgment for a house or land in respect of non-payment of rent. He cannot give a less order than four weeks from the date of the order. There is much to be said for making the statutory notice in cases of small tenants, who, for obvious reasons, pay their rent week by week, because their wages are received week by week, a fortnight or four weeks' notice before they are turned out of their houses. I think that in general cases that might mean an amendment possibly of the general law, but to give it only as we are doing now in this Bill, where the tenant has not paid his rent and is therefore failing in one of the obligations of his tenancy, seems to be moving in advance of the general law. There may be some cases where, although the action is brought because of the non-payment of rent, there are other circumstances which may make it better that the County Court Judge should make a more immediate order than the four weeks. After all, it is giving time to the tenant—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member may refer to these points concerning the Committee stage of the procedure, but he must not argue a matter which is merely a point for discussion in Committee.


I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I understood that on the Second Reading of a Bill we were allowed not only to comment on what was in the Bill, but what, in our view, should be in the Bill.


That is allowed, and it is common practice by rather stretching the rule to permit hon. Members to call attention to points which they would desire to have amended in Committee. But if the hon. and gallant Member wishes to labour those points with arguments in support of them, it is better that such a debate should take place in Committee. I am only calling attention to the fact that, although he may mention these points, he must not bring forward arguments to support them or anticipate arguments against them.


Of course, I bow to your Ruling. I think I have already made the point I wished to make on this provision in the Schedule, and with regard to the two or three points I have raised, I hope that I have been able to bring them to the notice of the learned Attorney-General. In the main, I think that the Bill must have the general support of Members. It brings up-to-date various points of the law which need amendment, and it gives an extended jurisdiction in small matters in the county court, which, I think, all will agree the judges of those courts are quite fitted to administer, and with those words I beg to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

8.40 p.m.


As far as I have been able to read the Bill and to consult with my hon. Friends, manifestly it ought to have a Second Reading, although I suppose that in Committee upstairs there will be consideration of the several Clauses. Nothing is raised here of a very contentious nature. Inasmuch as the Measure deals with some points with which the profession has been concerned for some time, the profession will welcome the introduction of the Bill, and wish it a speedy passage through the Committee.