HC Deb 07 December 1949 vol 470 cc1910-43

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)

I beg to move, in page 7, line 31, at the end, to insert: Provided that two or more boroughs in the same county, each of which had at the aforesaid date a population of fifty thousand or over may join together in one group for the purposes of being included in a single commission of the peace. This is a matter which, I am instructed, has been brought to the Home Secretary's notice by or on behalf of the Stratford bench. It is a specialised case which, I think, requires careful consideration. I gave notice on Second Reading that I should be referring to this matter. I think that the problem which arises is peculiar almost to the situation which occurs in south-east Essex.

In that area there is the Becontree petty sessional division, and it includes a number of boroughs of substantial population. They are Dagenham, Ilford, Leyton, Wanstead, Woodford, and Walthamstow. In those six areas there are populations ranging from '60,000 in the case of Wanstead and Woodford to 183,000 in the case of the Ilford area, and so in the Becontree division, where they are dealt with as one unit, there is a total population of 700,000—indeed, nearly 750,000—all of which at the moment is entirely dealt with by the Stratford bench in the Becontree petty sessional division.

The problem which has been put with regard to these is that, as the Bill stands at the moment, each of those boroughs will be entitled to a separate commission of the peace. This is rather the reverse of the problem which we have met with in the other cases, in which boroughs threatened with the loss of their separate commissions of the peace have been struggling with the Government to retain them. In this case, I am told, all the local people involved in the administration of justice there desire, not that there should be six or seven different commissions of the peace all operating in this crowded area, but that it should be possible for those boroughs all to be united together in one commission of the peace.

As I understand it, at the moment there is no power under the Bill for commissions of the peace to be joined together in that way, and I have moved the Amendment with a view to endeavouring to secure such a combination. The Amendment speaks of "two or more boroughs." Actually, I had in mind all six boroughs, to be united into one petty sessional area to operate as one unit. I should like to reinforce the argument for that case with this information. I am told that the population in the Becontree petty sessional division area at the moment is approximately half of the population of the whole County of Essex. I take it that there is a population of between one million and 1,500,000 in the county, and half of that population is centred in this crowded area round about Dagenham and Ilford.

As matters stand there will be ultimately, of course, a magistrates' courts committee of 20 members for the county, but only one representative for this area against 19 for the other parts of the county. As the thing works at the moment a perfectly satisfactory arrangement has operated for a considerable time. It is economical, and it provides rapid and proficient justice in that area. If this proviso is not accepted, the result will be that this single unit as it is at the moment will be split into six or seven units. There is not even court accommodation, for one thing. If the proviso is not accepted it will mean separate commissions, operating in each of these six or seven boroughs, and six or seven courts; whereas at the moment there is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement operating centrally with one court.

The illustration that was put to me of what would happen if this proviso, or something like it, were not accepted, was that the situation there would be equivalent to having the court of Birmingham administered by the County of Warwick. The illustration is intended to convey the idea of a crowded urban area like that being operated from an entirely rural area whose interests are far removed from that crowded centre.

The problem is one which has been brought to the notice of the Home Office, and this is something which is strongly desired locally. As far as I know, there is no opposition. I see the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) is here. I do not know whether he has any information to the contrary from the local people. I want to make it plain that my information comes from those interested in the administration of justice; I have no information about the reaction of the local people to my suggestion. Nevertheless, it does seem to me to be a proper suggestion to keep this Becontree unit working, as it does at the moment, in a satisfactory manner. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to accept this Amendment, or something equivalent which would cover the point.

Mr. Parker (Dagenham)

I do not wish to object in any way to this Amendment, which seems to me to be a very sensible one, but I do want to object to the proposal made by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) that the Becontree petty sessional area should be retained as one unit. It is much too large for the satisfactory administration of justice in that district of Essex, and there is a strong demand that it should be broken up. I do not say it should necessarily be broken up into units, each consisting of an individual borough. While I think there is a lot to be said for the suggestion that it might be made possible for two boroughs to be combined for legal purposes, I do not wish to support the suggestion that the whole area should remain as one legal unit. My own constituency, the borough of Dagenham, now has a population of 113,000, and there is a very strong demand that it should become a separate legal unit, without prejudice, of course, to the fact that some of the surrounding boroughs may prefer to associate themselves together.

Mr. Marlowe

The hon. Member will appreciate that my Amendment does not compel them to unite if they do not want to do so. It is merely permissive; it enables them to do so if they find it convenient.

Mr. Parker

I am not opposing the Amendment; I think it is a sensible one; but I do oppose the suggestion that the whole of the Becontree petty sessional area should remain as one legal unit. We in Dagenham would like to have our own commission of the peace. Paragraph (c) of subsection (1) entitles us, having a population of more than 75,000, to make application to be a separate legal unit, and it is highly likely that when this Bill becomes an Act the Dagenham Council will make such an application. I only wish to make it quite clear to the Government that Dagenham does not necessarily wish to remain part of the Becontree petty sessional area, although I personally have no objection whatever to this Amendment; in fact, I should be prepared to support it.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

This Clause does not compel the break-up of the Stratford petty sessional area. I think the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) may not have been in touch, as it were, with both sides to this controversy. Undoubtedly there is a very strong feeling, but I think that on the Stratford bench, at any rate, a fair number of the magistrates would like to remain as they are. I suppose the instinctive conservatism of most people in office causes them to think it is a good thing that they should be there and to tremble to think of what would happen if anybody took their place. There is undoubtedly strong feeling about it.

Dagenham has been mentioned, and I have heard that at any rate some part of public opinion in the other areas takes the same" view; they think that this is too highly centralised. I do not want it to be thought that I am taking sides one way or the other; this must obviously be a matter for consideration when all the arguments on both sides have been heard; but my own view is that this is precisely the kind of matter which should be dealt with by the magistrates' courts committee, because they will have the opportunity of receiving representations, and I should not imagine that they would desire necessarily to break up a unit that is working well, provided that it is sufficiently localised in this very populous area to give everybody reasonable access to the courts.

My own view is that this Amendment is not required for the purpose. If the magistrates' courts committee think that it is desirable to divide Stratford in some way or other they will do so. If they do not, the situation will remain as it is. I think it is entirely a matter for the locality to deal with, and is not a matter for this Committee to interfere with.

Mr. Marlowe

The proposal I have made is only permissive. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that without some such Amendment it would be possible for them to combine in the way I have suggested? That is the first point about which I wish to be satisfied. The second is this. The Home Secretary will appreciate that under Clause 16 each of these will get a separate magistrates' court committee. I have put down a consequential Amendment to that Clause which it might be convenient to consider now, because it is not proposed that there should be a separate discussion on it.

I had in mind that they should first of all be allowed to unite into one commission of the peace, and having done that to have one magistrates' court committee. That would be suitable machinery for arriving at just the position the Home Secretary has in mind. I have the feeling—and so, I think, have those who are concerned about this matter locally—that if there are half-a-dozen commissions of the peace, and incidentally half-a-dozen magistrates' courts committees, there is unlikely to be the agreement which I think is required to solve this problem. On the other hand, I think we are more likely to get that agreement if there is one magistrates' courts committee. However, if the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the present unified control can be operated under the Bill as it stands without any Amendment, then I and those interested in this matter would be entirely satisfied.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I have listened carefully to this argument, and while I am not interested in the case of Dagenham, I think that from a wider point of view there is something in this Amendment, which would make it possible for amalgamation to take place if necessary. I wanted rather to emphasise that under the Bill it is possible for two, three, or more places to amalgamate for their common convenience.

Mr. Ede

I think that can generally be done through the magistrates' courts committee. This Amendment would, I think, require some examination, because I am sure the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) will agree that, generally speaking, it would be desirable that the two boroughs should be contiguous to one another.

Mr. Marlowe

Oh, yes.

Mr. Ede

As the Amendment is drafted, it might be possible for, say, Torquay and Barnstaple—if Barnstaple had a sufficient population—to form a common committee of this kind, and I am quite sure that that is not what is desired. Seeing the hon. and learned Gentleman's name down to this Amendment, I thought he was trying to make some arrangement for Hove—

Mr. Marlowe


Mr. Ede

—and I have been looking round Sussex to see what bride he was trying to find for that particularly vigorous bridegroom, but I have failed in that. I recognise that there is a difficulty to be met here, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman will arrange to see me about this between now and the Report stage, I will see whether there is something we can do to meet the narrower point. I am sure he now agrees that any arrangement of this sort must be for contiguous boroughs. On that understanding, I hope he will consent to withdraw his Amendment so that we can get on.

Mr. C. Williams

In view of something the right hon. Gentleman said, I must add this, which might save a lot of trouble. I assure him that there is no intention on the part of Torquay to amalgamate with Barnstaple, or vice versa. If I left that unsaid after the Home Secretary's intervention following my earlier remarks about amalgamation, there might be trouble. The Home Secretary is sometimes rather adept at making trouble in this respect, so I felt I must at once protest that there is no intention of that sort.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Marlowe

The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in his suspicion as to my motives with regard to Hove in this matter, but that comes later. I agree with what he said about the contiguous boroughs. I had the same point in mind, but I found it almost impossible to draft it in appropriate form. I am much obliged for what he has said, and in those circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Marlowe

I beg to move, in page 7, line 40, to leave out "seventy-five," and to insert "fifty."

I should satisfy the right hon. Gentleman that there is in this particular case again no local interest. I merely thought it would be more logical that the figure which appears for existing boroughs of 50,000 should also apply to future ones. Since putting down the Amendment, the circumstances are altered by the fact that 50,000 has been reduced to 35,000, and if the principle is accepted, I would ask that my Amendment of 50,000 should be treated as 35,000.

I do not find it easy to understand that if a figure is accepted as a reasonable size for a borough to retain its commission of the peace, whether it is 50,000 or 35,000, why an entirely different figure is chosen for the future. If we fix the standard of a borough at 35,000, as we have done, as the appropriate size for the borough to have its separate commission, then why limit it to those already in existence? This subsection contemplates the future days when growing boroughs expand to the size where they should have a commission of their own. If it is accepted that 35,000 is the adult stage at which they are entitled to a commission, I am unable to understand the differentiation between those of the past and those of the future. The general principle of this Bill has been to try to arrive at a logical basis for the commissions of the peace, and it seems to me to be more logical that they should be the same. I have, therefore, put down this Amendment, which I hope will be accepted, to arrive at uniformity, or, if not, that we may have some explanation of the differentiation.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

I am terrified at the hon. and learned Gentleman's passion for uniformity. I am always a little shy of proposals which are designed to secure uniformity for uniformity's own sake. We have adopted the figure of 75,000 in the Clause for future commissions of the peace because that is the minimum figure under the scheme of the Bill as it now is for the possession of a separate commission plus a separate magistrates' courts committee.

We thought it would be undesirable to give new separate commissions of the peace to new boroughs which would not be independent and have their own committees but which would have to work in with the county magistrates' committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that 75,000 was the figure suggested for that by the Royal Commission, and the fact that we have reduced the figure for separate commission from 50,000 to 35,000 makes it all the more difficult to understand his proposal. We think that the right course now is to give commissions to those boroughs which when they reach that size would be independent boroughs with their own magistrates' courts committees and not have to work in with the other county districts.

Mr. Marlowe

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a reduction of 15,000 should apply to this subsection and that at least the 75,000 ought to be reduced to 60,000? Will he consider that point? There seems to be a logical case that the two should bear the same relation as they did before.

Mr. Collins

Will the Attorney-General also deal with the question which, if this Amendment is refused, is going, in due course, to lead to a fresh crop of anomalies; where we shall have a number of non-county boroughs with populations considerably in excess of 35,000 as they expand which will not have a commission of the peace, whereas those which have been protected by this new arbitrary line will continue. Although the case for uniformity may not be desirable, we shall have a whole crop of new anomalies even less desirable.

The Attorney-General

That will, of course, happen and was one of the main reasons why we agreed on both sides of the Committee to reduce the figure from 50.000 to 35,000. It was felt that in those boroughs which had existing commissions of the peace there was a real tradition in the administration of justice, and the existence of the commission helped to form that esprit de corps which is so desirable in local authority areas; and to take the commission away from boroughs that had already got it would be a serious affront to them and tend to diminish the tradition and corporate sense that those boroughs had.

That was a very strong case, and it impressed itself upon us on both sides of the Committee. I think that was the principal reason that we made the concession and agreed to the figure of 35,000; but that consideration does not apply at all to the new borough which has never had a commission of the peace. We certainly think—and I am afraid that we would adhere to this view—that it would be most undesirable to multiply the number of separate commissions. Once a borough has reached the status of 75,000, it is perhaps a different matter. Then it is a very large and self-contained area which justifies the appointment of its own magistrates' courts committee which could certainly afford to have at least one whole-time clerk and which is—I can only think of the horrible phrase which is used now—viable for this purpose on its own.

I feel that it would be wholly inconsistent after all the study which has taken place on this problem and on the recommendations made by the committees and the Royal Commission to multiply the establishment of new commissions for comparatively new areas. I will consider the point put by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe), but I do not hold out much hope that we can make a concession on it. I think that the two things are not really closely related, and because we made a concession on the 50,000, I do not think it is quite reasonable of him to expect us to make a concession on a figure which really relates to another problem and which is based virtually on the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Mr. Marlowe

I have down another Amendment dealing with the magistrates' court committee on the same basis. I should be satisfied with a magistrates' court committee for 60,000, which seems to me to be a reasonable figure. I entirely agree with the basis of arriving at some figure such as the Attorney-General has suggested—and it may be that the 50,000 I have suggested is too low. I would ask him to keep open the question of bringing the disparity, as it were, between the present and the future into line, and as the difference as suggested in the Bill was 25,000 originally—50,000 for the old boroughs and 75,000 for the new—I ask him to keep that proportion and now that the figure for the old borough has been reduced to 35,000 to allow 60,000 to be the figure both for the new borough and the magistrates' court committee. I urge upon him that that is a perfectly reasonable figure for a magistrates' court committee.

Mr. C. Williams

I agree with the Attorney-General that there is a very big difference when it comes to taking away a commission of the peace from a borough. I should be the last person to wish to break the continuity of history. I am not one of those who believe in a perpetual past, like the Attorney-General. I am all for progress, and so is my party. In the progressive boroughs which are developing, we should give every encouragement to help them to build up their traditions by granting them their own courts. My hon. and learned Friend's Amendment refers to a figure of 50,000, but surely the original figure was 75,000, which last night we reduced from 50,000 to 35,000? The Attorney-General is doing what he so often does, putting a great barrage in the way of progress. I am glad he has intimated that he will look into this matter again, although I have very little hope that he will do anything progressive, now or at any other time.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 7, line 42, at the end. to insert: Provided that the provisions of this section shall not apply to a borough in which, in the opinion of the Lord Chancellor, it is desirable for geographical or historical reasons or to secure the better administration of justice that a separate commission of the peace or a Court of Quarter Sessions should be retained. In moving this Amendment, there is no need for me to indulge in anything in the nature of special pleading. I am not a recorder, and there is no commission of the peace in my constituency to be abolished in consequence of what this Bill contains, either in its original form or in its amended form. There is no recordership in my constituency which will be extinguished under this Measure. But, listening to the Debate we had yesterday on Clause 10, I am not satisfied that by drawing this arbitrary line, based upon the population in June, 1948, we shall not in some cases impede the efficient administration of justice, and in some instances cause additional expense to be incurred and considerable inconvenience to jurors.

I am not satisfied, even though some boroughs have now been given a new lease of life as far as commissions of the peace are concerned, that this will not be the result in some instances. Yesterday, the Attorney-General refrained from picking out the resemblance between the Home Secretary and the late Lord Strafford. I am sorry the Home Secretary is not here, but today he appears to be emulating the Red Queen by saying "Off with their heads" to so many recorders. Are we sure it is wise to draw this hard and fast line without any possibility of departure from it?

This Amendment seeks to give the Lord Chancellor a discretion to depart from that hard and fast line where cases for departure really exist. I am inclined to agree that as a general rule recorderships should go where the population is under 20,000. I do not think that to be a bad general rule. But the Attorney-General himself recognised in his speech last night that some of these recorder-ships, where the population is below that level, serve a useful purpose. He said: I very deeply regret that some of these old recorderships are to go. As one who has been a recorder, I regard them with great favour. They are not only useful as judicial tribunals in areas where they are trying a reasonable number of cases, but even in those towns in which they are not doing much judicial work they are a link with the historic past and to some extent the centre of that local tradition and esprit de corps which I referred to in connection with commissions of the peace, and to which it is quite right to attach great importance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 1837–8.] Some of these he has said are useful tribunals, but as the Bill now stands their existence will be terminated.

5.15 p.m.

This Amendment seeks to give the Lord Chancellor power to retain these useful tribunals in existence, while letting the wholly useless ones disappear. It may be that the Attorney-General will say, as it is sometimes said, that the Amendment is badly drafted. I shall not be too keen to resist criticism on the drafting, but this is an Amendment designed to try and state principles which should be applied in determining whether a recordership or, indeed, a separate commission should be retained when the population is below the ceiling specified in Clause 10.

What are the arguments in favour of retaining a recordership in spite of a low population figure in a borough? It is really of great importance that local inhabitants should have an opportunity of seeing British justice in operation, not only in the magistrates' court, but also in a local court of quarter sessions where the more serious cases are tried. I attach great importance to that. I believe that the trial of serious cases in a town that is not an assize town, which may have a small population, is in itself a considerable deterrent to the commission of crime. I should have thought that in these days when crime is increasing we cannot dispense with any deterrent that exists. I would put in the forefront of my argument for the retention, in some cases, of recorderships in towns below that level the desirability of having justice administered locally in the more serious cases.

There is yet another argument—the inconvenience to the jurors resulting from the abolition of courts of quarter sessions in a small borough. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Lord Willoughby de Eresby) is present, but Stamford lies just at the north-east end of Northamptonshire. I think I am right in saying that the borough of Stamford is in three counties, Rutland, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. At the present time jurors of Stamford go to the court in Stamford, but when the recordership is abolished the jurors who live in that segment in Northamptonshire will now have to travel to the quarter sessions at Northampton. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks it is an easy journey to make on British Railways he will find that it takes the greater part of a day to travel from Stamford to Northampton by rail.

The Attorney-General

I should have to take one of British Railways' new cross-country buses.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The right hon. and learned Gentleman would find it almost equally difficult.

What about the other segment of Stamford? Jurors from one segment would go to Oakham and jurors In another segment would go off to Lincoln. It is not a very easy journey to Lincoln from Stamford, either. These are the sort of places where geographical considerations are of considerable importance, irrespective of the total population of the borough. Banbury was referred to in the Debate yesterday. It is an important city and has one merit, among others, in that it adjoins my constituency. I am sure it is a great convenience to the jurors of Banbury that they should not have to travel to the quarter sessions held at Oxford. It is a convenience so far as the total cost is concerned, and inasmuch as cases can be committed so close to the borders of Northamptonshire. Quite apart from the inconvenience to jurors there is the additional expense of transporting witnesses. There is another reason for the retention of these Recorderships. They form a useful training ground for the performance by barristers of judicial duties.

There is another factor which has been ignored in the Bill. A line is drawn from the population figure in June, 1948, as returned by the Registrar-General. That figure does not take account of the population in military camps and such like, which may be very close to the borough. For instance, I suggest it is a convenience to retain a court of quarter sessions in Richmond, Yorkshire, for the purpose of dealing with the more serious cases which arise, unfortunately, from the military camp at Catterick. That seems to be a factor which has not been taken into account in fixing this arbitrary population ceiling, and it is one which would be taken into account if this Amendment were adopted.

The Attorney-General will no doubt seek to attach great importance to the number of cases that have been tried by the recorders of the towns I have mentioned during the last two years. I do not think that that is a proper criterion to attach; I do not think too much importance should be attached to that, for this reason: as he himself has said, the amount of work done at a particular quarter sessions often and chiefly depends on the date fixed for the holding of that quarter sessions. What is really wanted is not the wholesale abolition of recorderships but greater co-ordination throughout the country.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke yesterday of the difficulty of telling recorders that they must hold their sessions on particular dates. I entirely agree, but I see no reason why the Lord Chancellor, when an application comes before him under this Amendment for the retention of the recordership, if it is carried into the Bill, should not say, "If you fix the dates of your sessions within a particular fortnight of each quarter I think the retention of your court will be a convenience in the administration of justice." I do not see that it is necessary for the Lord Chancellor or the Home Secretary to specify dates with any greater precision. If the Amendment were carried I think the Lord Chancellor would be able, formally perhaps, to prescribe some condition of that sort so that in that way we could have, throughout the country, courts sitting at different intervals, a more speedy administration of justice and cheaper administration than will be the case if all these Recorderships are abolished.

I should like to draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to another part of the Midlands circuit—Warwick, Coventry and Birmingham. Birmingham has a heavy list at quarter sessions, Coventry has a substantial list and Warwick, which is close by, has tried few cases at the city sessions during the last few years. But I cannot help thinking that if the dates of the Warwick sessions were slightly altered we would find that Birmingham would be relieved to some extent, and also Coventry, of the burdens now cast upon them. It would be an advantage to retain the quarter sessions at Warwick for that reason.

Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

And Lichfield.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I know Lichfield only from the pleasure of passing through it; I have never been in it. Like the hon. Member, my acquaintance with it is purely temporary.

Mr. Poole


The Deputy-Chairman

This has nothing to do with the Amendment.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I apologise for being led from Birmingham to Lichfield. I was using Birmingham as an illustration, and I was led off to the Oxford circuit.

I hope I have made out a strong case for the retention of some of these recorderships where the limit of population is below 20,000. I do not think that the Attorney-General made out a case for wholesale abolition last night. He talked about the difficulty of jurists in the case of a recordership being retained with a population of under 20,000. But if a recordership and a court of quarter sessions were retained in such boroughs jurors would be drawn from within the limits of those boroughs and not, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, from the country as a whole. I have explained the object of the Amendment—the geographical point of view, the securing of the better administration of justice, and the desirability of retaining these recorderships for historical reasons. The Amendment does not compel the Lord Chancellor to retain one recordership where the population is under 20,000, but it gives him power to do so where that retention is desirable for the better administration of justice.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)

I hope the Government will consider a long time before accepting this Amendment. Under it the Lord Chancellor will be given the power to reject the whole object of this part of the Bill. If he can retain a recordership for historical reasons, does not that give him power to retain just those very courts which it is the object of this Bill to do away with, courts where there really is not any substantial business and where the holding of the court is more a social occasion than for the administration of justice? It would defeat the whole object of the Bill if the Lord Chancellor were given power to retain a court merely on historical grounds.

The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) mentioned various courts, among them the court at Richmond in Yorkshire. I can remember an occasion when the whole paraphernalia of justice was brought out, The small courthouse was full of the public, jurors, police and justices coming to listen to the administration of justice. There was one case which was a plea of guilty, and after the short proceedings in the court a good time was had by all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Why not indeed, but excellent though it is, do not let us have it under the heading of administration of justice. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is allowed to get away with this Amendment, there will be maintained in existence all the fusty traps which the Bill sets out to abolish.

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

On some occasions in courts which are usually quite busy there are no cases at all. Would my hon. Friend suggest that that is a good reason for closing those courts down?

Mr. Mallalieu

Of course not, but my hon. Friend indirectly has given the reason why they should be maintained. He said that such courts on some occasions had no business. The court I mentioned has generally but one or two prisoners at the outside, and all this expense and elaborate paraphernalia is brought into existence in order to give the appearance of the administration of justice, though generally it fails in providing that impression and gives the contrary appearance of a social gathering. I hope the Government will not accept this Amendment. One could imagine a Lord Chancellor of a certain political complexion wishing to keep these courts in existence because they give a certain sort of patronage traditionally associated with a certain political party. I hope the Government will not have any sympathy with an Amendment which would permit the existence of things which are against the intentions of the Bill.

Brigadier Thorp (Berwick - upon - Tweed)

The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), did not make out a very good case even though he spoke in a sneering manner. He may not like the historical traditions of this country and obviously he does not appreciate the whole point of the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), which is that the Lord Chancellor should have the power to consider any points that were put forward—on historical grounds, for convenience sake, in the interests of the administration of justice, to save public expense and because of geographical situations. The Lord Chancellor in those circumstances would not necessarily decide to keep on a recordership for purely historical reasons.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

One of the reasons in the Amendment is "for historical reasons." Could the Lord Chancellor not act solely on such reasons?

Brigadier Thorp

The words may be so, but as my hon. and learned Friend explained, we are prepared to accept any alterations in the wording of the Amendment. That clears up that point.

I want to put a particular case. I am not going to talk very long about the history of Berwick-upon-Tweed, because the Home Secretary, who I see in his place, has a very great knowledge of that history. He told me all about it once before upstairs in Committee. Like so many other non-county boroughs, Berwick-upon-Tweed got its charter a long time ago from James I, but that replaced an earlier charter issued by Robert the Bruce. That granted various rights to Berwick-upon-Tweed, and there is one point which many feel about Berwick-upon-Tweed—if it had not been for that place on many occasions today we should be sitting in a Scottish House of Commons having an occasional English day, which I do not think many hon. Members in this country would like.

Another point about Berwick-upon-Tweed is that unlike certain other non-county boroughs, it is rather exceptional. Under an Act of 1835 certain legal changes were made, but it also gave a grant to the borough of a court of quarter sessions. Of course, it is mentioned also in the Act known as the Wales and Berwick Act, 1836, when it was made a county on its own. There are, I believe, only three other such boroughs in England and Wales—Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and Lichfield.

From a convenience point of view Berwick-upon-Tweed is situated between 67 or 70 miles from Newcastle where the county quarter sessions will be held in future. Those sessions will last certainly two or three days, and the various jurors and witnesses will have to travel to Newcastle-on-Tyne. They will probably have to stay there the two or three days, because it is never possible to know when their own case will be called. That is a great inconvenience to people who have to be away from their work and home, and it will increase greatly the public expenditure.

One final point is that the Boundary Commission, when making its report, suggested that the three petty sessional divisions contiguous to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Norham and Islandshire, Glendale and Belford should be considered as a local government unit centred on Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Boundary Commission been has done away with for the time being, but the sort of suggestion put forward then, which I have mentioned, may be advanced again and might be agreed to. If that did happen it would mean a total population for Berwick-upon-Tweed and those three petty sessional divisions of over 30,000. Those people in the area if that came to pass would only have to travel up to 10 or 12 miles to Berwick-upon-Tweed instead of having to go 60 or 70 miles to Newcastle. In Berwick-upon-Tweed the average over the last three years has been four cases a year, but in the other petty sessional divisions that I have mentioned the average has been five per year, so that that would increase the numbers.

I feel that this Amendment appeals to the country as a whole, and I believe that most Members on both sides of the Committee would like to see it accepted by the Government. It gives a sense of fairness to the small people, and though it gives no guarantee to keep any court going, it does suggest that full consideration shall be given to the matter from an historical or convenience point of view. It would not commit the Lord Chancellor in any way. He has only to consider the various points, and I feel that my own case as well as others would be carefully considered by the Lord Chancellor with the result that he would maintain the position of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Mr. Richards (Wrexham)

I find myself in considerable sympathy with the Amendment. This is a case where we ought to be very careful about doing away with some of the old traditions with which we have been so long associated. I feel very strongly for the non-county boroughs, who are gradually being deprived of their privileges. Here is another case. The commission of the peace is being taken away from them. An arbitrary figure has been selected, as the mover of the Amendment suggested, and if these localities fall below it they are to be deprived in future of the privilege they have had of having a commission of the peace of their own.

I have in mind particularly the town I happen to represent, which is the centre of a very considerable industrial area in which there are many instances of local commissions having hitherto acted in a very fair manner. Other old privileges they have been losing in recent times. The roads have been taken away from them and also education. They no longer have their own education committees. We are gradually taking away from these people rights that they have enjoyed for many years I hope for this reason that the Amendment will be favourably considered by the Government. It seems eminently reasonable that the Lord Chancellor should review some of these cases, and that if he comes to the conclusion that some of the privileges ought to be retained, they shall be retained.

Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)

I wish to reinforce the case that has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) in moving the Amendment. I would appeal to the Attorney-General to reserve to himself some discretionary power. I am certain that if he does so he will give satisfaction to a great many hon. Members who represent boroughs from which the commission of the peace is to be taken away under the Bill. It is always rather difficult to stand before the House of Commons and plead the cause of a particular place. I have had the honour of representing an ancient borough for a great many years in this House, and it is very rarely that one gets the opportunity of putting forward the case of one's borough in particular.

The borough of Saffron Walden is threatened under the Bill. Its people are afraid not only that their recorder will be taken away but that this is only the beginning of a process which will in the end result in the borough being destroyed as well. This eating-in process is very much feared by my friends and constituents in Saffron Walden. I support the argument which has been put forward by my hon. and learned Friend. I cannot plead the case on the grounds that there is an excess of crime in Saffron Walden. Were I to do so, I might destroy the very basis of the reason for which I have risen in this Committee. Nor can I say that the authorities are overladen in Saffron Walden, because that would not be the case.

I would remind the Attorney-General that, were the recorder to be taken away under the Bill, nobody knows the extent to which crime might spring up in this ancient borough. After all, if we take away the keeper, poachers immediately come upon the land. If we take away the policemen, crime shows its head. If we take away the guardian, the children misbehave. The Attorney-General should really take great care in the course which he is obviously intent upon pursuing, and before he removes from them so eminent a representative as the recorder, who is regarded locally as part and parcel of the life of the borough.

5.45 p.m.

I should like to reinforce the argument put hitherto in regard to the geographical situation of Saffron Walden. It is in a north-western pocket of Essex. The travel arrangements between Saffron Walden and Chelmsford, to which it would be necessary for jurors to travel, are extremely difficult. As it is, the transport services of this country are not only very expensive but grossly overloaded at the present time. The taking away from a locality of characteristics which make up its local life should be very strongly resisted by this Committee. Further, on the grounds of history referred to in the Amendment, I do not think that any corner of England is more historical or more worthy of the respect of the Attorney-General and of this Committee. The whole atmosphere of Saffron Walden is instinct with history. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who seems so determined, should persist on his way, he will be slighting the reputation of this borough, and he will be taking away from it one of its characteristics which it regards as most precious.

If the case of Saffron Walden itself does not prevail, I conclude by coming back to my original plea, which is a very serious one. It is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should reserve for himself a discretionary power, in that he may, justly and fairly as he said to us this afternoon after Questions, arbitrate upon the many cases of decapitation, of which the miserable victims are sitting all around the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Can he soften his heart and have mercy upon some of us? If my borough is to be destroyed, do let others be saved in respect of their commissions.

The Attorney-General

After the speech of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) my heart certainly bleeds for Saffron Walden. I realise that the learned recorder must have had a most salutary influence upon potential law-breakers in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, if indeed any such there be. Last year, at all events, the learned recorder did not have a single case before him. I do not know whether I should do anything to encourage the large expenditure of public money which must, and I hope is, incurred in Saffron Walden, in adding to the enormous collection of white gloves which must be possessed by the learned recorder.

I am afraid that I shall never be a good politician. I see the other side too readily. I must confess at once that I have great sympathy with this Amendment, and that I do not resile for a moment from what I said yesterday—in the quotations which the hon. and learned Gentleman made—when I was dealing with these matters. Moreover, I am impressed with the view that if certain of these courts, I think a comparatively small number of them, were to fix the dates of their sessions at a more convenient time in consultation with the other recorders in the county and with the chairmen of the county sessions, some of them might be useful for cross-committals under the Criminal Justice Act, 1925, and so save time and expense. One of the troubles, as some of us and especially those who belong to the legal profession, must recognise, about some of these old recorderships is that their courts have not been of much use because the sittings have not been fixed at convenient times.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the case of Stamford. I am not saying that that is a case in which the recorder has not done his best to fix his sessions at suitable times. I do not want it to be thought for a moment that my criticism relates to that case, because I know nothing of the circumstances. I observe, however, that that recordership, for which the hon. and learned Gentleman made a strong plea, dealt with only three cases in 1948. I realise that these recorderships are paid at a salary which is entirely nominal and, in a great many cases, does not cover the expenses of travelling to and fro, expenses which are not allowed for Income Tax purposes.

But those who apply for appointment as recorders—it is an appointment carrying some distinction—must and, I am sure, do recognise not only that the possession of a recordership is an honour, but that it is one which entails the discharge of public and judicial duties, sometimes at inconvenience and even at some little expense. If we were to accept the principle of the Amendment in considering particular cases it would have to be made quite clear that that consideration was carefully borne in mind. That is the other side of the case, which I confess I see because I generally see both sides.

On the side against the Amendment there are considerable difficulties, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu). If one gave the Lord Chancellor discretion in this matter without providing some very definite criteria or very clear tests as to the manner in which he is to exercise his discretion, one would be putting a considerable burden upon him, and I have no doubt that in making distinctions between one borough and another he might cause a good deal of local heartburning. If the power were too widely given, the Lord Chancellor would obviously be exposed to the risk of a good deal of undesirable canvassing and pressure.

On the other hand, the hon. and learned Gentleman has sought to put in his Amendment certain criteria by which the Lord Chancellor may judge the matter, and on the whole we* are prepared to accept the principle of his Amendment, though not necessarily in the terms in which the hon. and learned Gentleman has put it upon the Order Paper. We should like to look at this again and see whether we can draw up rather more precise terms and more definite criteria as to the manner in which the Lord Chancellor should exercise his discretion, and in doing that I think we should have to make it quite clear that there is no intention whatever of exercising this discretion in every case. It will have to be exercised with very great care and very great jealousy, but there are a few instances—I have had this in mind, as I indicated in our discussion yesterday—where it might be desirable, possibly not only for historical reasons but because historical or geographical reasons were combined with the interests of justice, to make an exception in a particular case.

In those circumstances, with a view to finding an appropriate formula which will result in the various tests being conjunctive rather than disjunctive, as they are in the Amendment, we are prepared to consider the matter if the hon. and learned Gentleman will now withdraw his Amendment. We undertake to accept his Amendment in principle and to put down an appropriate Amendment on the Report stage.

Mr. Collins

May I put a point to my right hon. and learned Friend before he sits down? While I thank him for the manner in which he has dealt with the matter, I should like to point out that he mentioned only recorderships. In accepting the principle of the Amendment, does he also accept that part of the Amendment which refers to separate commissions of the peace?

The Attorney-General

Yes, Sir. We have taken the view that it would be impossible, without a considerable and complicated alteration in the law, which certainly could not be accomplished in the scope of this Bill, to separate a recordership from the commission of the peace with which it is associated.

Several hon. Members


The Deputy-Chairman

May I appeal to the Committee, in view of what the Attorney-General has said about the Amendment, that the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) might speak?

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the way in which he has met the spirit of this Amendment. I am sure that, while there may still be those who wish to put particular points to him affecting certain recorderships, the whole Committee welcomes his acceptance of the Amendment in principle. I agree with him that each case will have to be most carefully considered on its merits. It seems to me that the retention of such discretionary power by the Lord Chancellor may enable an improvement to be made in the dates of sessions and also perhaps in the remuneration of certain recorders, bearing in mind the fact that if this power is exercised it will probably mean that they will sit for longer times at different dates and that it will ultimately result in a speedier and more efficient administration of justice. Having regard to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, I propose to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. I feel that we can leave any further discussion on it or any point on it until a further Amendment is tabled on Report stage. I beg to ask leave to withdrawn the Amendment.

Mr. C. Williams

There are other points to be raised about this. I shall not object to the withdrawal, but this is the second time some of us have been prevented from putting our points of view simply through the speed with which—

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has announced that he does not object to the withdrawal of the Amendment which has been proposed. Is it in Order for discussion to continue in these circumstances?

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) is quite entitled to speak. I only expressed the opinion, which I thought was that of the Committee, that we might get on with the Business.

Mr. C. Williams

Thank you very much, Mr. Bowles. I shall not carry on the discussion more than to put one point. This Amendment brings in geographical position. I see opposite two hon. Members—I hope they have come to support the Amendment—who in their time have tried to represent the borough of Dartmouth. That borough is completely cut off by a river on one side. It has a terrific history as well. Towns in the centre of the country have been cited but that is the kind of illustration which should be given. Geographically that community is entirely separated from the district around. I have listened to the whole of the Debate but I have not yet heard one instance of that sort, of a town which is completely cut off, has completely different qualities and also has a terrific history. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland) will be only too pleased to give me the sort of support for Dartmouth that I have always given him for Plymouth-

The Deputy-Chairman

Is it the wish of the Committee that the Amendment be withdrawn?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I have been asked to put a question on this. I am not quite sure that I understand it. It has been raised by the Association of Municipal Corporations. If a petition is granted for the creation of a new commission, does the Bill contain sufficient machinery in regard to the transfer of costs and expenses consequent upon the creation of the new commission? I believe that is the shortest way of putting it. Presumably until that new commission is granted the expenses which arise consequent upon the Bill will fall upon the county. Does machinery exist for securing the transfer of the responsibility for the expenses when a new commission is issued?

6.0 p.m.

Mr. York (Ripon)

I have waited until now in order to put a case to the Government which could not strictly be put on any of the Amendments. It refers to the Liberty of Ripon, which is possibly one of only two pre-Norman jurisdictions left in this country. As it refers to a liberty which is an area of land and not to a borough, it was not in Order on any of the Amendments, and I want to put this case to the Government because, although what the Attorney-General has just said on a previous Amendment makes a difference, this is a case which will have to be considered as a special and unique case and not amongst the many cases which will be considered when boroughs are dealt with.

I will outline briefly the history which attaches to this liberty because it probably originated in a grant of land to Saint Wilfrid in about 670 and certainly by the time of the Conquest, it consisted of an extensive number of privileges granted to the Archbishop of York and administered by him. In fact, until the Reformation it was a county and was known as Riponshire, but subsequent to the Reformation the privileges and courts and powers of the courts of the liberty have slowly decreased in value until today the only remaining part or function or franchise of the Liberty of Ripon is the court of quarter sessions.

Perhaps my hon. Friend who will succeed me as the Member for Ripon will be able to elaborate that brief outline. With regard to the extent of the liberty, it consists of the Borough of Ripon, about 22 or 23 parishes outside, and a considerable area of wild country of two dales which are two quite separate geographical features. It is, moreover, the north-eastern section of the West Riding of Yorkshire. The population today is somewhere about 15,000 people. If the liberty court is abolished, the people committed to quarter sessions will have to go to Wakefield, which not only is more than 40 miles away but, in order to get there, one has to go through the large City of Leeds. Another important point is that the chairman of the court is the county court judge. That meets the point of view expressed on several occasions by the Attorney-General that the meetings of these quarter sessions should be staggered. In this case they must be staggered because the same judge deals with both the county court and the quarter sessions of the liberty. Therefore, by the retention of this court we get public convenience for the jurors and prisoners and also good justice from the county court judge.

Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)

Must we have it?

Mr. York

Yes. History is good for the hon. Member, but I promise him it will not last much longer. The objections that there are difficulties about juries are non-existent because the area is so widely scattered and the geography is so varied that there is a wide selection from which to choose. Of course, it may be thought that non-county boroughs who may lose their recorders will be jealous if this old institution is retained, but I am certain that none of these non-county boroughs would object, because none of them has the unique history which attaches to the liberty court. Secondly, of course, it is much easier to get from some of these non-county boroughs to the county quarter sessions than it is to get from this isolated district. If the Lord Chancellor comes to consider this point, he will find that it is an area which should be covered by this quarter sessional court, and that can be brought about by making this court serve an area slightly wider than the present liberty area. That can be done simply by the inclusion of all the rural districts in which the liberty is now situated, namely, the Rural District of Patley Bridge and the Rural District of Ripon, in addition to the Borough of Ripon. I take those districts because, although they are not today the effective districts, they are the only districts for which I could get accurate figures from the 1931 Census, and the total population of those three areas is well over the 20,000 mark, which would then enable the area of the liberty to retain its commissioner of peace and, therefore, its quarter sessional court.

I hope I have said enough to make the case for the Liberty of Ripon to be one of the cases which will be considered under the dispensation to which we have just listened. I am convinced that it would make for good justice, for the convenience of the people of that area—where, I am glad to say, we are not very criminally-minded people—and moreover it would maintain and preserve one, if not the only, pre-Norman jurisdiction left in the country today.

Colonel Stoddart-Scott (Pudsey and Otley)

I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York). This ancient Liberty of Ripon, which was given in the Seventh Century, was one of the first examples of part of the Prerogative of the Crown passing into the hands of the subject. It gave people in that area the liberty to hold their pleas in courts of their own. That was about the first example of this happening in the country. Certain other liberties, of course, were given to bishops and archbishops, and some actually passed into lay hands, but the majority of the liberties disappeared at the Reformation. Probably only three other liberties survived the Local Government Act of 1888, St. Edmunds, the Isle of Ely, the Stoke of—

Hon. Members


Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is misreading his guide book.

Colonel Stoddart-Scott

I should have said the Soke of Peterborough. The only remaining power that the Liberty of Ripon has is the quarter sessions and the commissioner of peace. Unlike the boroughs, there is no recorder for that quarter sessions, and therefore the argument of the Attorney-General about the expense of a recorder would not have any weight in this case. As my hon. Friend has said, the Liberty of Ripon covers about 150 square miles and has a population of over 20,000. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, when he comes to word that part of the Bill which is to convey the meaning of the Amendment which he has in principle accepted, he should be prepared to frame it so as to include these ancient liberties. as well as boroughs.

Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)

I wish to ask the Attorney-General one very short question. I observe that the Soke of Peterborough has had certain ancient rights expressly preserved, and I understand from what happened in another place that one of the grounds for that was that, although very extensive, they were never exercised. Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us quite clearly what is the difference between a "liberty" and a "soke"? Is it merely a question of amount?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman answers that question, upon which I feel sure he will require considerable advice, I am somewhat tempted by the remarks of my hon. Friends on this side to inform the Committee in some detail of the history of Chichester, particularly having regard to the reference to St. Wilfrid, which was most interesting, as St. Wilfrid was first Bishop of the primary diocese of Selsey, which was subsequently incorporated in the diocese of Chichester.

Mr. York

He was also Bishop of Durham.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

That is a mere bagatelle. Nevertheless, I do not propose to take the Committee through the early history of Chichester, which goes back a long way in comparison with these upstart cities of the North, in view of the exceedingly generous attitude of the Attorney-General towards the position and experience of the courts of the smaller boroughs.

I want specifically to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what is particularly referred to in subsection (6), where all other existing commissions of the peace and appointments of deputy recorders and other officers are being abolished, if they are not amongst the categories referred to in subsection (1). It is quite possible that there may be a certain number of ancient and, perhaps, small but important commissions of the peace and officers covered by the subsection whom we are about to cause to pass out of existence in ignorance and without regret. I feel sure the Committee would wish to have from the right hon. and learned Gentleman what information he can give us concerning those with whom we are about to part without obsequies.

Mr. C. Williams

I should like to assure the Committee that whatever else happens I am not going into the merits or demerits of recorderships. As far as I understand, recorders are a very respectable body of people, and I would not like to say any more than that. [Interruption.] If hon. Members want a closer definition, it is that they are the sort of thing, as far as lawyers are concerned, which is very highly commended at the local show.

It would be gravely discourteous of me if on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," I did not say a few words about the improvement which has been made in the Clause. One certain fact about the Clause as it was originally drawn was that it would have had considerable opposition from myself and a good many other people, for it would have taken away the commission from Torquay. As that was put right in another place, this defect in the Clause no longer existed when the Bill came to the House of Commons.

6.15 p.m.

When it reached here, however, I naturally had to look at the Clause from other angles, and it has been my wish and the wish of very large numbers of people, both inside and outside the House, to know which, and how many, boroughs are having their courts taken from them. It is quite likely that the people serving in those courts have very little knowledge that this privilege is to be taken away from them. I am supported in this belief in that even up to a comparatively late hour last night the Attorney-General had not the haziest idea what they were. I refer now to column 1842 of HANSARD, because I feel sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be the last person in any way to break his word. I asked him last night if we might have a list of the boroughs affected. He replied that he would communicate it to me. I am perfectly justified in asking for that list to be published fully, and I ask whoever is representing the Government on the Front Bench whether that will be done.

I should like also to ask the representative of the Government whether there has been any kind of communication with the clerks, or whoever may be the right persons, of the individual courts to explain their position. In every single case there should have been some connection between the local authorities and the Government who propose to legislate in this way. To take an axe and lay down a figure, and then to say that every place which is not up to that figure should be cut away, is an entirely arbitrary procedure. If my contention needs any reinforcement, I would refer to the many excellent and Tory-minded speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite on some of the objections we have made to the Clause. Now that the Attorney-General has returned, let me say that I was thanking him most sincerely for the promise he made to me last night. I am looking forward to the list and I hope that it will, as it should, be made public.

There is one point—I am not dealing with the case of Ripon—which should be covered in our discussion on the Clause, because it has not so far been dealt with. There is a considerable number of small boroughs which have had no chance whatever of putting their case before Parliament or in any other way. Before a local borough has its power taken away, there should be a reasonable chance for its case to be put before the House. We have had many instances. I have already referred to Dartmouth, but let me refer to two ancient capitals, far older than Ripon and places of that sort. One is Launceston, which is the ancient capital of north-east Cornwall. Surely, it should have had its case represented before the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the same applies to Truro, another centre of the greatest country in England. Simply because their Members take no interest and are leaving the county—for the county's good—these two towns of terrific historical importance have no chance whatever of having their case put before the House. I say it is a gross unfairness. I doubt if the hon. Members themselves even know what is happening, for they are so disunited and so absolutely and entirely divorced "from what is going on in Cornwall.

Although certainly this Clause has been improved from time to time—and I thank the Attorney-General most sincerely for what he promised just now and last night—I still feel that many hon. Members opposite more particularly those who are absent would, but for the fear of the Patronage Secretary, have lifted up their voices against the abolition of these many small boroughs.

The Attorney-General

The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) raised a point in regard to costs in connection with the commissions. As I understand the position, the Clause does not alter the existing law in this respect, but we will look at the point and make quite sure that it is covered.

The hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) made a vigorous piece of special pleading for the constituency with which he is concerned. We naturally listened with sympathy and interest to the historical details which he provided for the Committee. I hope the Committee will feel that we have not been unyielding or obstinate in regard to the proposals put forward by hon. Members opposite, but I really cannot allow them to "soak" me with this one. There are no grounds on which we can make an exception in the case of Ripon. It is a town with a comparatively small population; less than half that which we agreed yesterday was the proper optimum figure for a separate commission of the peace.

Mr. York

I ask the Attorney-General not to refer to the Liberty of Ripon as a town.

The Attorney-General

I am sorry to have fallen into error in regard to this important, historical and traditional matter. The liberty is at all events a small one.

Mr. York

May I interrupt again? The Attorney-General has not got this right. The effective figure as far as the Liberty of Ripon is concerned is 20,000 and not 35,000 because the liberty has its own petty sessional as well as its quarter sessional court.

The Attorney-General

But the population is half that which we decided was an appropriate one for a separate commission of the peace. I think the hon. Member will agree that if he sought to make out a case for Ripon to be treated exceptionally, he would have to make it with reference to that figure of 35,000—

Mr. York

No, 20,000.

The Attorney-General

I see the point which the hon. Member has in mind, but once one makes an exception, one has to look at the figure which we decided yesterday as the optimum figure. The 20,000 is already an exception in itself to what appears to be the optimum figure for a separate commission of the peace.

Mr. York

I am sorry to interrupt, but if the Liberty of Ripon were today as large as it has been in the past, that is to say, more than 20,000, would it not then be allowed to retain its petty sessional and its quarter sessional powers?

The Attorney-General

That is a hypothetical question and, as I said earlier this afternoon, I must be careful about answering hypothetical questions. The fact is that, great as the liberty used to be, it is rather smaller at present and I am afraid that if we accepted the proposition that liberties were to retain their separate commissions, we should be driving a horse and cart right through the principle of the Bill. Interesting as these old authorities may be, great as their historical tradition no doubt is, we really cannot accept the view that they ought to be treated exceptionally and brought back into a position in which they enjoy a separate commission.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say anything about subsection (6)?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) raised the question of what was embraced in subsection (6). I think the two main cases are the Liberty of Ripon and the case of Romney Marsh, which is also a very interesting historical place where four jurats and a bailiff are elected annually to perform various judicial functions as justices. I think they are also coroners, but, of course, the commission is very small indeed. I have had associations with that area and look at it with sympathy, but, interesting as it is, I am afraid it would be impracticable to keep a separate commission.

Mr. C. Williams

The right hon. and learned Gentleman promised a list last night. He promised it to me, but I do not feel that I should have a unique list in my possession. Will he have it published, so that everyone may know the details?

The Attorney-General

We will give that suggestion consideration such as any suggestion coming from the hon. Member deserves.

Mr. Williams

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is carrying too far this complete incapacity of the Government to make up their mind whether they can or cannot produce a list of about 100 names which could be published. It is really unique, even for this Government and even for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, not to be able to make up their mind on whether they can, or cannot publish a list of that sort. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean that next he will say this kind of list is a matter the publication of which must be approved by the Cabinet, and all that kind of thing? I have no doubt that he has to be cautious, and I quite appreciate that he ought not to be incautious after the appalling mess he made of certain things today.

Mr. Tiffany

In view of some of the statements made about the Soke of Peterborough, I was hoping my right hon. and learned Friend might be able to enlighten some hon. Members opposite about the position there and inform them that it is not a "stoke"—that may be a Yorkshire way of pronouncing it—but is a soke, and also that a liberty and a soke are the same thing. I have heard it referred to as the "Sewerless Soke." I hoped that my right hon. and learned Friend would make a reference to this, in view of the rather tasteless humour brought into the matter.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)


The Chairman

I think the Committee must agree that we have had a long discussion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.