HC Deb 27 May 1936 vol 312 cc2143-50

10.35 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out the Clause.

Clause 58 contains two provisions which have no bearing at all on the major part of the Bill. They are, first, that the Standing Joint Committee of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions should have, for the first time in this country, the appointment of clerks to justices; and, secondly, that the Standing Joint Committee should have the power to revise the various petty sessional divisions in the county. The House will be aware that this is a complete innovation in county procedure in connection with the administration of the criminal law, and we feel that a matter of this nature should not find its place in a Bill the gravaman of which is the purpose of providing new roads and transport facilities. We feel that, although, as I understand, the promoters of the Bill have met my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley), in whose name this Amendment stands on the Order Paper, and have offered to delete in another place that part of the Clause which would alter the procedure regarding the appointment of clerks to justices, there still remains a ground of objection in the giving to the Standing Joint Committee of the power of alteration and revision of the petty sessional divisions, and this Amendment has been put down for the purpose of eliciting the opinion of the Home Office and of the House on these matters.

10.38 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The whole question of the revision of petty sessional areas has from time immemorial been in the hands of the Justices sitting in Quarter Sessions, and, although it may be said that in the Standing Joint Committee there are many magistrates, yet there is a county council element in it. It may be that at some future date measures will be necessary for the alteration of petty sessional boundaries and of the powers of local authorities in that regard, but I think it is most regrettable that such an innovation should be contained in a Bill the purpose of which, as we have heard for the last two hours, is to provide for the removal of bottle-necks, the use of the subsoil of streets, and the removal of human remains. This Bill is a Bill of the Ministry of Transport dealing with a specific point on which the House has just given its decision, but in the Bill there is hidden this new power to make alterations in connection with the criminal jurisdiction at quarter sessions and petty sessions in the county.

As my hon. and learned Friend has said, we have been told that in another place certain paragraphs will be deleted—that, in other words, Clause 58 will be so truncated that it will not have all the defects that we see in it at present; but even then it will contain this power of the county council to determine what justices shall try specific cases, and I think all Members of the House will agree that it would be a great mistake if local administration became embroiled in matters of criminal jurisdiction. I do not say that there should never be any alteration, but I ask that any change should be brought about by a public Bill and not by a private Bill at this late hour of the night.

10.40 p.m.


In accordance with long-established usage, the Home Office reported its opinion on this Clause when the Bill was in Committee and its report was in favour of the Clause. I understand that, since then, the promoters have made concessions to the point of view that has been put forward, which was that it was not perhaps desirable that a standing joint committee composed partially of elected people should have an extension of its functions in regard to the administration of justice, and in particular with regard to the conditions of service of officials connected with the administration. I think that that point has been met and it is now proposed thot the appointment of justices' clerks is to be made by the standing joint committee on the nomination of the justices, subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State and, on the other point, that the dismissal of a justices' clerk shall be made only on the representation of the justices, and shall also be made subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State. I understand that the promoters are ready to propose those alterations in another place.

With regard to Petty Sessional areas, the view of the Home Office is that there are practical advantages in giving power to the committee which has already the duty of fixing the clerks' salaries, to decide what in fact shall be the areas for which they have to provide accommodation and staff, and it is really for these reasons that we support the proposal. The standing joint committee of this county is in the unique position—perhaps this meets the objection that this proposal should not be included in a Bill with regard to a particular county—that it is not a police authority. I think it is the only standing joint committee which is not a police authority, because it is in the Metropolitan Police District and the Home Office is the police authority. I hope the House will agree to take the view of the Home Office.


Taking the Edmonton Division, which covers Enfield, Wood Green and Tottenham, would it be the justices of any one bench or of the whole division who will recommend the clerks?


It would be the justices of the particular bench.

10.44 p.m.


I hope my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) will not press this to a Division. This point was first raised about A fortnight ago as the result of a chance discovery by my hon. Friend the Member for East Cardiff (Mr. T. Morris) that this provision had been spatchcocked into a Bill devoted to road improvement. My name appeared to the original Motion, which was subsequently withdrawn. It is entirely improper in such a Bill to introduce something which affects the administration of justice. As a result of the notice of Motion which some of us tabled, negotiations took place in which my hon. Friend the Member for East Cardiff was concerned. He subsequently told me that he could not be here and that everything was reasonably satisfactory, and I have done my best to induce those who attached their names to the Motion not to object to the further consideration of the Bill. In making this appeal to the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester, I should like make a protest. It is entirely wrong that, when a, Bill is promoted primarily for a road, there should be casually inserted something Affecting a very much bigger constitutional issue. The offer made by the Middlesex County Council substantially meets the case. They are in rather a, different position from any other county council, but I hope that what we are being asked to agree to to-night will not be regarded as something which any other county council may bring forward, because I do not think that it will be suitable in any other case.

10.46 p.m.


It is most unfortunate that this Clause is in the Bill, and I confess that the explanation which the Under-Secretary has given is wholly inadequate. There is a well-known phrase in the reports of the Home Office on private Bills upstairs, to the effect that such and such a Clause raises a matter of general policy which ought to be the subject of a public Bill. If there is anything which ought to be the subject of a public Bill rather than a Clause in a private Bill of this kind, especially as it is mainly concerned with another purpose altogether, it is a change in the law relating to the administration of justice. It is wholly improper that this Clause should have been put into the Bill and that the Home Office did not call the attention of the Committee to the fact that it affected the general law. If it is passed in this Bill, notwithstanding anything which may be said at this stage of the proceedings, it will undoubtedly be quoted as a precedent for other local authorities to attempt to get some sort of foothold in the field of the administration of justice.

This matter ought to be properly considered before the Clause is allowed to proceed. It is no argument at all to say that the Middlesex County Council is not a police authority, that its standing joint committee has nothing to do with the matter, and that, therefore, it should be entrusted with this particular job. This is bringing the elected local authority indirectly into touch with the permanent appointments relating to the administration of justice, and it is wholly wrong that that should be the case. It will be a very bad day for the administration of summary justice in this country if the local authorities, being elected bodies, are allowed to interfere in the administration of justice. I cannot understand why the Home Office have not reported more fully to the Committee on this matter, and particularly why the Under-Secretary has not seen fit to develop the theme more thoroughly and expansively to the House than he has done. If the question is pressed to a Division—and I certainly hope that it will be—I am sure that the House will be maintaining the best traditions of the administration of justice if it refuses to allow this departure from the usual practice. It is wholly improper to bring in the indirect association of the local authority in this matter, and I am sure that the Bill will not be in any way interfered with in its general purpose if this Clause is struck out.

10.50 p.m.


I would like to protest strongly against the growing habit of local authorities endeavouring to insert in Private Bills matters of this kind. It is all very well for the Under-Secretary to tell us that it is all right, but this is a complicated matter and one on which we should have the best legal opinion, and so far we have not heard any of the great lawyers explaining where we stand. The one thing we do know is that this is an innovation and that the Home Office approves it. We also know that there is this difference between Middlesex and the other counties. I would like to support strongly what has been said by my hon. Friend that it is not in the best interest of the House or the country that local authorities should tack on to a Private Bill innovations of this kind which escape the notice of the average Member. The House would be well advised to omit this Clause as a warning to local authorities that if they bring in these Bills they have no business to tack on sueh Innovations. These innovations are precedents. This one might be simple, but the next one might be harmful. Unless we have much greater authority for allowing this precedent I hope the House will turn down this Clause.

10.53 p.m.


I agree that it is extremely undesirable that matters of importance and general application should be inserted in a private and local Bill. We considered this point carefully in Committee, and we had an important witness called specially to help us on this point. The Middlesex County Council have nothing in common with the average county in this matter. These courts sit six days a week and we were advised that it was desirable that the clerks should be appointed locally. Having regard to the fact that the area was practically the same as the London area, we thought it important that their status should be raised and that they should be placed on a superannuation basis. We felt that this scheme could easily be distinguished from the case throughout the country in general, and that the present compromise is a wise one which the House can approve.


Is the hon. Member laying it down that this is not a precedent, but is an exception which applies only to Middlesex and the County of London and not a matter which applies to other counties?


That is precisely what I wanted to convey.


Having regard to what was said on behalf of the Home Office, and to the statement now made by the hon. Member, I would like to withdraw the Amendment. I join with what has been said by the two hon. Members opposite.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That Standing Orders 240 and 262 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read the Third time"—[The Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.