HC Deb 07 December 1949 vol 470 cc1958-62
Mr. Marlowe

I beg to move, in page 13, line 32, to leave out "seventy-five," and to insert "fifty."

I will not detain the Committee for more than a minute or two on this matter because I touched upon it when we were discussing Clause 10, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that the object of this Amendment is to permit a magistrates' courts committee for a non-county borough having a population of 50,000. As I said earlier when discussing the matter, I would equally be content with 60,000. My point is in relation to the restriction with regard to the commission of the peace for non-county boroughs. The original figure of 50,000 for the retention of the commission has now been reduced to 35,000, and I would be content if the same ratio were observed with regard to magistrates' courts committees, that they should be reduced from 75,000 to 65,000.

The right hon. Gentleman earlier on said, not without justification, that I was interested in the Borough of Hove. On that occasion, I was not, but on this, I am. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows by heart, the population of that non-county borough is in the region of 69,000, and it is in the difficult position of being the only non-county borough in Sussex. Eastbourne and Hastings, with much smaller populations, are county boroughs and, therefore, are not affected by this matter.

I want the figure reduced to 60,000 for the purpose of magistrates' courts committees. That would leave a very satisfactory position because this non-county borough would then have its magistrates' courts committee along with its commission of the peace. It already has its commission of the peace, and that is safeguarded by the number which is now accepted as the desirable standard for a commission of the peace. But unless the figure is reduced to 60,000 the two will be divided; the borough will keep its commission of the peace but will have no magistrates' courts committee.

I think this is a standard which should be accepted. The area over which the court administers justice has a population of 85,000, and if the figure for the magistrates' courts committee were retained at 60,000 the position would be safeguarded. Hove is in a peculiar position in some respects. For the purpose of the administration of justice it also takes in the urban districts of Portslade and two or three rural areas inland. In fact, it administers justice for an area of 85,000. The curious thing is that although the area covered has a population of 85,000, it would not be saved for the purpose of the magistrates' courts committee by the figure of 75,000, because the basic figure for the purpose of considering the population is the figure of the borough itself. The fact that the jurisdiction extends outside the borough and brings the population of the area in which justice is administered up to 85,000 is of no avail. The test is the population of the borough.

It seems to me that as there has been a reduction of some 15,000 in the original standard adopted for the commission of the peace, there would be nothing illogical in reducing the magistrates' courts committee standard also by the same amount. That would produce a satisfactory position. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that 60,000 is a substantial population and that a borough having such a substantial population ought to be considered worthy of having its own magistrates' courts committee. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look with sympathy on this appeal.

Mr. Ede

I think if Hove stood by itself, it would be easier to meet this Amendment than by proceeding on the basis of population because, in my view, Hove is on the wrong side of Brighton to be in East Sussex. I am quite sure that the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) will understand what I mean. The great County Borough of Brighton spreads out to the east, and well up beyond that on the north of the boundaries of Hove. There are of course, other places in the country which would be brought in if I accepted the Amendment either for 50,000 or 60,000. It is essential that these places should be within the scope of the magistrates' courts committee for the county so that the county can be properly divided into petty sessional divisions by the magistrates' courts committee.

Another point is that we regard 75,000 as about the population that justifies a full-time clerk. If the figure was reduced to 50,000 or 60,000 there might be places where there would be a magistrates' courts committee with a population insufficient to justify the employment of a full-time clerk, which I regard as one of the more desirable reforms that we shall effect by this Bill.

However, I will have a look at this point to see if there is some way in which I can meet the peculiar position of Hove. I will bear in mind the fact that there is this larger population totalling 85,000 which is, in fact, served, and which from the mere geography of the matter probably ought to be served, by the court at Hove.

Mr. Marlowe

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his undertaking. I should like to make this one further point. Hove has its own full-time justices' clerk. That, I think, adds weight to the argument. Having regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

I should like my right hon. Friend, if he can, to clear up a point which has been worrying my local authority concerning the figure of 75,000. My town clerk has written to me stating that his interpretation of this Clause in its present form is that the population of a non-county borough at the date on which a magistrates' courts committee is first formed will determine once and for all whether a borough is entitled to have a separate committee. The population of the area with which I am concerned is now 73,000. Does that mean that if we attain 75,000 we are ruled out for ever from having a magistrates' courts committee, or that if we reach 75,000 at some time, say in a year or two which we are likely to do, we are entitled to have a magistrates' courts committee set up?

Mr. Ede

I think it depends on what the size of the borough is today. If a subsequent increase takes place it will not entitled the borough by itself to have a separate magistrates' courts committee.

Mr. Chetwynd

Would my right hon. Friend have a look at the position with reference to those towns the populations of which are nearly 75,000, and which are likely to attain that figure shortly?

Mr. Ede

If they attain the figure of 75,000 they can make an application to have their case considered, and it will be considered from the point of view of the needs of the administration of justice in the whole population of the area.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.