HC Deb 07 December 1949 vol 470 cc2029-32

(1) Nothing contained in Part III or Part IV of this Act shall modify or affect any of the provisions of Part XVI or Part XVII of the Middlesex County Council Act, 1944, and such provisions shall continue in full force and effect.

(2) In so far as the repeal of any of the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1888, is consequential on Part III or Part IV of this Act, such repeal shall not extend to the county of Middlesex and the said Act of 1888 shall continue to have effect in regard to that county as if the provisions in question had not been repealed.—[Mr. Pargiter.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Pargiter (Spelthorne)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

We are seeking here to protect a position in the county of Middlesex where we have already largely done, and have been doing for many years, what is proposed in this Bill in regard to magistrates' courts and clerks. In the London and Middlesex Improvements Act, 1936, we sought to obtain powers to regulate magistrates' courts and clerks, petty sessional divisions, and other matters, through the Standing Joint Committee. The Roche Committee, in considering the matter, paid tribute to Middlesex on the way the courts were run and the method that had been adopted. In effect, we provided that all future appointments of clerks should be whole-time; we separated the clerk's staff from the clerk and appointed them separately to their jobs; they were put into a superannuation scheme; the Standing Joint Committee were responsible and the responsible officer was the clerk of the peace. If there is no saving Clause for Middlesex, it will mean that there will be another public appointment of a clerk to the magistrates' court to do the job that has been done admirably by the clerk of the peace, as is admitted on all sides. It will also involve certain additional staff.

I am not suggesting that to Middlesex, with a penny rate producing about £90,000, that is an insuperable barrier. But we do say that, whether it is a large amount or a small amount, if the job is being done well and can continue to be done well, there appears to be no reason why Middlesex should not be excluded. There is a further reason and a rather important one, that Middlesex is a peculiar county and it is very peculiar indeed in the position of its Standing Joint Committee. It is, I believe, the only Standing Joint Committee in the country which has no police functions, and it is perhaps that point that I might commend to my right hon. Friend; that not having any control at all over the police, the important point that the bodies concerned with the police shall not be concerned in any way with the administration of justice is not involved at all so far as Middlesex is concerned. I do not think I need detain the Committee any longer. I could explain it at greater length, but perhaps the Home Secretary is as well seized of the point regarding Middlesex as I am.

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friend has moved this Clause and I have had an opportunity of receiving a deputation from the Middlesex Standing Joint Committee, which he accompanied, who laid the position before me. I can see no reason why the magistrates of the county of Middlesex should be placed in a different position with regard to the control of the arrangements in their county from that which we are proposing to make for the magistrates in all other parts of the country. It is true that the Standing Joint Committee of Middlesex has no police functions, because the whole of the county is within the Metropolitan Police area, but that does not alter the position that, if the arrangements that now exist in Middlesex should continue, the magistrates will not be the only persons who will be concerned in the arrangements of the magistrates' work.

There will be certain persons appointed by the County Council forming half the Standing Joint Committee, some of whom, it is true, may be magistrates but will not of necessity be magistrates. These people will be having an influence in the county of Middlesex with regard to the arrangements of magistrates' courts and work, which does not apply elsewhere. With regard to the position of the clerks, it will be competent for the magistrates' courts committee to ask the clerk of the peace to fill the office of clerk of the magistrates' courts committee, and I should hope that they would do so in the first place. I should hope, too, that if they do it, there would be no objection on the part of the Standing Joint Committee to the clerk of the peace acting in that capacity.

I think it is desirable that the responsibility placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of magistrates elsewhere in the country should be shouldered by the magistrates of Middlesex. It is true that the Middlesex County Council, I think, in a most enlightened way when magistrates' courts committees were not in the picture, did obtain a private Act which enabled the present arrangement to be set up. That arrangement, as the Roche Committee pointed out. has been used as one of the stepping-stones towards the proposals made for the country as a whole.

I can see no reason why, having set the good example which has led the rest of the country into this good path, the Middlesex magistrates should not join their colleagues and the rest of the country in escaping from the shackles of the Standing Joint Committee and have an autonomous body which, I am sure, would administer the county both efficiently and economically.

Mr. Pargiter

I am sorry the Home Secretary cannot see his way clear to grant this small request, but I fully appreciate the reason he advanced. The shackles to which he referred are merely shackles of love rather than shackles of bondage, and we had no difficulty at all in maintaining that part of it. I would just like to ask one question on this which does matter considerably. In our arrangements we have brought the county treasurer into the picture to the extent that the internal audit of magistrates' courts and so on is done as pan of the normal duties and routine of the county treasurer's department. That internal audit has been, I think, from the public point of view, very useful from time to time. He says that we might be able to agree that the clerk of the peace should be used. Would that apply to such other services as we have found most useful in the general administration of the machine?

Mr. Ede

If the magistrates' courts committee—which will, I have no doubt, include some members of the standing joint committee and possibly some members of the county council—desire to use certain county officers for their administrative purposes, for the oversight of bills and for the repair and design of buildings and so on, and they make application either to the standing joint committee or to the county council or whoever may be the employers of those people, then I should have thought that that was eminently a matter on which there could be a Satisfactory arrangement. In fact, I hope throughout the country there will be an effort to use the existing officers in that way rather than that a number of people should be given part-time or whole-time appointments, so duplicating work that is already being done.

Mr. Pargiter

May I, more in sorrow than in anger, beg to ask leave to withdraw my new Clause?

Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule agreed to.