HC Deb 20 September 1948 vol 456 cc506-7
53. Mr. Keeling

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware that the Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace recently reported that it was in the public interest to maintain the Lord Chancellor's practice of inviting Members of Parliament to refrain from sitting as justices in their own constituencies; to what extent the invitation has been complied with; and whether the Government propose to take any action to enforce this principle.

The Solicitor-General

The practice prevailing for many years has been to refuse to appoint as justices Members of Parliament or candidates for constituencies comprised in the area of the Commission concerned. The reason for this practice is that it is felt the two positions may not be compatible. But there has never been a practice to call upon an existing justice either to resign on his becoming a Member of Parliament or to refrain from sitting; this has long been regarded as a matter for his own discretion. The statement therefore in paragraph 139 of the Royal Commission's Report in so far as it purports to state the existing practice is not quite accurate. In answer to a Question by the hon. Member on 14th November, 1945, I made it plain that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor would not regard a Member of Parliament as neglecting his magisterial duties if he felt that it was on the whole better for him while he is a Member not to sit on a Bench in his constituency. My noble Friend has not at present taken any steps to depart from the existing practice: but in view of the definite recommendations of the Royal Commission contained in that paragraph, he is arranging to give this matter further consideration.

Mr. Keeling

Is the Solicitor-General aware that the Lord Chancellor expressed the opinion, which was endorsed by the Royal Commission, that a Member cannot satisfactorily combine serving his constituents with the exercise of judicial functions in his constituency? Will the Solicitor-General say whether an invitation to comply with that advice has been sent to the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) who habitually sits on the Bench there, and frequently occupies the Chair?

The Solicitor-General

I have stated the practice, which is that it is left to the discretion of the hon. Member concerned. That practice has been followed. It has been followed in the case of the hon. Member mentioned by the questioner.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Can the Solicitor-General say whether Members of Parliament who happen to sit on advisory committees to advise the Lord Chancellor on the appointment of new justices have been asked to resign from those advisory committees?

The Solicitor-General

That does not arise out of this Question.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Will the Solicitor-General bear in mind that there are considerable differences of opinion on this subject and that, on the whole, the wisest course is to treat it as a matter of the personal discretion of the magistrate concerned?

Mr. Hector Hughes

Can the Solicitor-General say conveniently how many Members of Parliament exercise the right to sit as justices?

The Solicitor-General

No, Sir. Some exercise the right, but I have no accurate figures before me.