HC Deb 07 December 1949 vol 470 cc2032-5
The Attorney-General

I beg to move in page 47, line 45, after "recorder," to insert "or court of quarter sessions."

This and the following three Amendments are consequential.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 47, line 46, leave out from beginning to second "may."

In page 50, line 21, leave out from "the," to first "and," in line 23, and insert: coming into force of section twenty-five of this Act.

In page 50, line 24, leave out "that committee," and insert: the magistrates' courts committee acting for the county."—[The Attorney-General.]

Lord Willoughby de Eresby (Rutland and Stamford)

I beg to move, in page 50, line 36, to leave out paragraph 16.

This Amendment stands in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) and I think I can move it quite briefly, if not with the same clarity as the right hon. Gentleman would expect from my hon. and learned Friend. Our purpose is to try to get an assurance from the Home Secretary that the property of a non-county borough will not be transferred in the event of its losing its quarter sessions to the county against the wishes of the borough concerned.

I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that the magistrates' courts of many of these non-county boroughs are often held in places of great antiquity and great local interest. In my own non-county borough of Stamford a magistrates' court and petty sessions are held in the Town Hall. I think it is quite plain that, under paragraphs 14 and 15 of this Schedule, the non-county borough of Stamford, in the event of its losing its quarter sessions, would be entitled to have its magistrates continue to use the property and sit in the court with the consent of the local authority concerned. When we come to paragraph 16 it does seem to go very much further because, as I see it, under that paragraph the Secretary of State has power to transfer property to the county council against the possible wishes of the county borough or non-county borough concerned. Possibly our fears are groundless and I hope that the Home Secretary can give us an assurance that this is not intended, and, in point of fact, will not be done.

11.0 p.m.

The Attorney-General

I can give that assurance to the noble Lord. There could be no question of transfer to the county of premises which the borough used for other purposes in addition to the purposes of the courts.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

What then are the words "transfer of property" intended to contemplate?

The Attorney-General

They are intended to contemplate the case where proper arrangements cannot be made between the county and borough for the transfer of premises which are used for the sittings of courts, not, in the case of the town, used for other purposes, but court premises required by the county and not the borough.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

In some cases these premises are of great antiquity and boroughs would resent strongly being deprived of them. Would the Attorney-General not have another look at this before the Report stage because I am sure it would be possible to use these premises without depriving the boroughs of ownership.

The Attorney-General

That certainly will be possible. We hope that the power will rarely be used, but if a borough adopts an obstinate or dog-in-the-manger attitude about their use and thereby prevents the convenient administration of justice in the borough then it is necessary that the Secretary of State should intervene, but his powers are only to be used when there is no agreement.

Lord Willoughby de Eresby

In view of that explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Schedule, as amended, be the Second Schedule to the Bill."

Mr. Tiffany

I wish to draw attention to paragraph 20 of this Schedule. I am not seeking its withdrawal otherwise I would have put down an Amendment to that effect, but in the original Bill there was no provision to this effect. An Amendment, however, was inserted in another place. The reasons for its acceptance have caused me to raise the matter now. One of the reasons the Lord Chancellor gave for accepting it was that the Amendment was in some sense a most disgraceful Amendment. It is news to me that one accepts Amendments, either in this Committee or another place, simply because they are disgraceful. Another reason the Lord Chancellor gave was that the present custos rotulorum was a unique person.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

On a point of Order. Is it in order to discuss reasons why Amendments were accepted in another place?

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman, as I understood him, is giving his objections to a part of this Schedule on the Question that the Schedule be the Second Schedule to the Bill. I see no reason why he should not do so.

Mr. Tiffany

The custos rotulorum in some people's minds may be unique, and in others not unique, tout it does seem peculiar to accept Amendments on those grounds. Going a little further, another reason makes the whole position even more paradoxical, because we have been told in another place that if the powers given in the paragraph are used the Lord Chancellor will be the first person to remove these powers. I did not know that the Lord Chancellor had power to remove a paragraph from a Schedule without the consent of either House, and it seems to me that peculiar and flimsy reasons were given why this paragraph should be included in the Schedule.

The Attorney-General

I believe it is a fact that in a moment of ebullience, occasioned by the prospect that the discussions on the Bill had almost reached their conclusion, it was said in another place, in a spirit of frivolity unusual there, but I am sure very enlivening, that the proposal was a disgraceful one. The real reason for the inclusion of this paragraph, however, was to preserve a most unusual, curious, and ancient situation which existed in the Soke of Peterborough. It has no practical result on the administration of justice, but preserves a long and interesting tradition.

Question put, and agreed to.