HC Deb 04 May 1951 vol 487 cc1517-21
Mr. Heald

I beg to move, in page 4, line 29, at the end, to insert:

6. Geo. 4. c. 50 The Juries Act, 1825. Section forty-six

This is a simple Amendment. It merely adds to this Schedule of 46 Acts, a reference to a 47th Act of Parliament, the Juries Act, 1825, which had been overlooked. This Act contains the ordinary common informer provision, and, therefore, should be included in the table of Acts. We hope that the table is now complete, or may reasonably be assumed to be complete, but no guarantee can be given, I am afraid, that others may not be discovered later.

Mr. Hollis

I beg to second the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

11.18 a.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Heald.]—[King's Consent on behalf of the Crown signified.]

Mr. Heald

There is very little I wish to say at this stage, except on one or two points. The object of the Bill is, of course, to abolish a form of legal procedure which is unnecessary and obsolete, but which has, nevertheless, been productive in recent years of a very mean form of blackmail. The Bill, as amended, carries out this object in the simplest possible way. All I wish to do, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, is to express my very sincere thanks to all those who have so kindly assisted me in this matter. I wish, particularly, to mention the officials and officers of the House conected with it who have been so very helpful.

I am bound to say that had I realised, when I originally conceived the idea of abolishing the common informer procedure, that I should have to provide for the amendment of no fewer than 47 Acts of Parliament, and that I should have to obtain the King's Assent to be bound by a Private Member's Bill—it took me at any rate some little time to find out how it was done, and indeed I learned today for the first time how it was done—and that in addition, it would be necessary to make provisions for the Northern Ireland Parliament to take power to legislate, I might have been deterred. But, with the wise guidance and kind help of the officials of the House and of the Parliamentary draftsmen, I have been able to surmount these troubles.

Even so, I could not have done that without the co-operation of His Majesty's Government. In addition to thanking the Ministers personally concerned for the assistance they gave me, I would also like to say that my association with this Bill has brought me into contact with a number of hon. Members opposite with whom I have discussed the matter. In so doing, I have been able to find, what so many before me have found, that it is possible to have friendly and interesting associations with those with whom, on other matters, one has strong divisions of opinion.

The only thing that remains for me to do is to stop talking, because time is pressing and the one thing I still desire to do is to get the Bill on to the Statute Book. The sooner it goes to another place and is dealt with the better, because if the political prophets are right it might be truthfully said that the end of this Parliament is nigh.

11.21 a.m.

Mr. Hollis (Devizes)

I hope it will not be considered presumptuous of me if I say that I speak for all hon. and right hon. Members in this House, certainly for large numbers, in expressing my congratulations to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Mr. Heald). This common informer legislation was a type of legislation which has been on the Statute Book for many centuries and of which we are not proud, and it was the kind of legislation that it is very difficult for Parliament to find time to amend.

As my hon. and learned Friend has indicated, to deal with this kind of thing in the way everyone would like to deal with it, takes an enormous amount of time and patience, which he has ungrudgingly given and shown. There has been no kind of opposition in any quarter to what he has suggested and I am sure that every quarter of the House would wish to congratulate him.

11.22 a.m.

Mr. Hoy (Leith)

It is only right that a Member from this side of the House should extend our congratulations to the hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Mr. Heald) who has piloted this Bill through the House. It is quite true that he could give no guarantee about the Acts which had to be referred to in promoting the Bill: indeed, one has only to look at the Schedule and all the references it contains, to accept the word of the hon. and learned Gentleman. This is a very large step forward in this type of legislation. The contents of the Bill have been approved by both sides of the House, and from this side I should like to congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on the considerable success he has achieved in having brought the Bill to this stage.

11.23 a.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

I should like to take this opportunity of adding my word of congratulation to the hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Mr. Heald) for the extremely useful work he has done in piloting this Bill through the House. It removes a feature which has for long attracted the unfavourable notice of all shades of opinion. No doubt the common informer procedure had its use in times gone by, but I think it is the common accord of all persons who have thought of this matter, that it has long outlived any useful purpose it may ever have served.

The Bill might have raised a number of controversial matters which, however, do not come strictly within its scope. It has the limited objective of removing the particular type of procedure with which it is immediately concerned. During our discussions reference has been made to the impact of the Bill on, for example, the Sunday Observance Act and it might be useful if I say a few words on this point.

The question of the Sunday Observance Act has always been regarded as a matter primarily—I say primarily—of local concern. I believe that when the Bill, as I hope, reaches the Statute Book the position will, roughly speaking, be as follows with regard to that Act. Prosecutions under the Sunday Observance Act in the past have not been undertaken generally by the police and it is not thought that the change of procedure brought about by the Bill will alter the position in this respect. It is, of course, for the police officer to decide in any particular case whether or not we should institute criminal proceedings in respect of a suspected breach of the criminal law, and this is not a matter on which the Government either could or should issue instructions to the police. It is perhaps reasonable to assume, however, that chief officers of police generally will take the view that proceedings in these cases can best be brought by private persons rather than by the police.

I thought it might be useful if I just gave that general indication of the view we have formed, but, as I have said, it is not a topic which is strictly germane to or immediately involved in the provisions of this Bill. As the hon. and learned Member for Chertsey has reminded the House on more than one occasion, the provisions of the Bill are of a much more limited scope and a scope which I think everybody will feel has an extremely useful objective.

In conclusion, by way of farewell to the Bill at this stage, I would like to say to the hon. and learned Member for Chertsey that I am grateful for the remarks he has made about such co-operation as it has been possible to afford to him in his labours. Also, having had some experience of the tremendous work and research which are involved when one begins to look backward over the statutes which still form part of our legislative system, I think he deserves to be congratulated and complimented on the assiduity he has shown in compiling the Bill that we now see before us. I very willingly add my word of congratulation to the hon. and learned Gentleman and hope that the House, of common accord, will give the Bill its Third Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.