HC Deb 15 December 1942 vol 385 cc1784-6
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with that of the House, I will now make the statement referred to by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in, the answer which he gave last Thursday to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden). It is most regrettable that the magistrate, Mr. Mullins, should have made a remark which appeared to cast opprobrium upon women following an honourable occupation, and the practice of making from the Bench general observations which are not strictly relevant to the issues before the court is strongly to be deprecated. The magistrate has explained that his remark was not intended to be taken at its face value. The term "housekeeper" is, he says, frequently misused in his court, and it appears that the real object of his casual and ill-considered comment was to suggest that the word ought not to be so misused. The trouble and misunderstanding which may be caused by the reporting of unguarded and inapt comments should be present to the minds of all magistrates, and the Motion which has been put on the Order Paper will, I am sure, serve to drive that lesson home. While I fully recognise that serious notice must be taken of any departure from the standards which are expected from those who exercise judicial functions I do not think that the incident raises issues calling for a general discussion, and I hope that the hon. Members who are responsible for the notice of Motion will agree that the public object they had in view has been attained by the publicity given to this matter and by the statement I have just made.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that excellent reply and for the statement which he has made, and while asking him to accept the assurance that neither I nor my hon. Friends associated with me in the Motion on the Paper are anxious to occupy Parliamentary time in debating at length this unpleasant subject, may I ask him to keep in mind that since the magistrate made this explanation in court, he made a further attack on the integrity, honesty and reputation of the two journalists who were in the court and reported faithfully what he did say, as distinct from what he may have had in mind; and is it not unfortunate that he should try to drive home at the expense of two honest journalists what probably was a mis-statement which never should have been made?

Mr. Morrison

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I had seen that there were lively interchanges between the Press and the magistrate, and it is always to be regretted if any false accusations are made, but I am sure that both the newspapers and the journalists are well able to look after themselves, as are the rest of us whenever we are attacked by the newspapers.

Miss Rathbone

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if Parliament and the Press spent their time in discussing all the silly things which silly men say about women, there would be little time for anything else?

Major Milner

Is my right hon. Friend aware of a similar case in which a reflection on the competence of a well-known trade union official, Mr. Bernard Sullivan, was made by the Old Street magistrate; and what does he propose to do in that case?

Mr. Morrison

I do recall that case. I think that also was unfortunate. Knowing the trade union official concerned, I think the critical observations made about his capabilities were wrong and inappropriate.

Earl Winterton

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in view of the last question, he could not issue some statement or memorandum not only to stipendiary magistrates but to other magistrates on the growing practice of making obiter dicta of this kind and also to chief constables who frequently address the court, even when they have no right to do so, since they are not prosecuting? May I say that some of us magistrates are seriously concerned about this tendency to moralise on the part of both chief constables and magistrates?

Mr. Morrison

I will give consideration to the suggestion which my Noble Friend has made.

Mr. G. Strauss

While acknowledging the valuable work which this magistrate has done in London, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that I have frequently got complaints about the remarks which this magistrate makes about people attending the court—witnesses, interpreters and all sorts of people?

Mr. Morrison

I hope that what I have said will be effective. I know that my hon. Friend has drawn my attention to one or two points.

Mr. Gallacher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the most stupid remarks made by magistrates and chief constables in courts have been made in connection with Communists and that in those cases they have not been condemned but have been commended for their stupidity? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Nobody can deny that.