§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It will be seen that the Bill is divided into two parts. The first part is designed to make new arrangements as to administration of justice in Lancashire, by the creation of new courts for the trial of criminal cases at Liverpool and Manchester. We have at the same time taken the opportunity to put forward in Part II of the Bill several proposals for amendment of the law, relating, in the main, to recorders, courts of quarter sessions, and stipendiary magistrates. This second part of the Bill is quite separate from Part I, but the reforms which it makes are, I think, necessary and the Bill offers a convenient opportunity for bringing them about.
First, I should like to say something about the problem with which Part I of the Bill is designed to deal. In 1952, the Lord Chief Justice approached the then Lord Chancellor and my predecessor about the congestion of judicial business in South Lancashire which had for some time given cause for concern. There had been a large increase in both the civil and criminal work at the assizes at Liverpool 1752 and Manchester and also in the work of the Liverpool and Manchester City Quarter Sessions.
In the three years 1950 to 1952, the judges had spent an average of 201 days a year on criminal work at those two assizes as compared with an average of 129 days a year in the pre-war years of 1937 and 1938—an increase of over 50 per cent. There had, it is true, been a large increase in crime throughout the country, but the effect was felt most acutely in the large centres of population and especially in South Lancashire. The judges on circuit had, as their first duty, to deal with this criminal work, since prisoners must be tried and cannot be left in prison or on bail without their innocence or guilt being determined. The result was that the civil work fell into arrears. This work had itself increased.
In the three years 1950 to 1952 the judges had spent an average of 248 days a year on civil work at Liverpool and Manchester. This compared with an average of 196 days in the pre-war years 1937 and 1938. The Lord Chief Justice had sent additional judges to Lancashire to deal with the civil work, but the arrears continued to accumulate.
The number of civil cases awaiting trial at Liverpool and Manchester increased from 288 at the end of 1950 to 565 at the end of 1951 and to 970 at the end of 1952; and by May, 1953, that figure exceeded 1,000. I do not need to tell the House of the distress and hardship which can be caused to litigants who cannot obtain a hearing of their causes.
At the same time, there was a large increase in the work of the Liverpool and Manchester City Quarter Sessions. In 1952 the number of court days required for dealing with the work at the Liverpool City Quarter Sessions was 92; in Manchester it was 55.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
Is the Home Secretary prepared to say, in considering these figures, that a substantial part of this work consisted of cases committed from what is now called the northern area of Lancashire?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I do not think that a study of the figures would sustain that. I hive the details of the committals from the northern area down to Manchester and Liverpool, and although they obviously make a contribution I do not think they can explain the figures.
This amount of work was more than could be expected of barristers having their own practice to attend to and drawing only a comparatively modest remuneration. Further, it placed a strain on officials of the courts and caused inconvenience to barristers and solicitors concerned with cases coming before the courts.
It did not seem to the then Lord Chancellor and my predecessor that this situation could be dealt with by any administrative means, nor did they think that it could be remedied by the comparatively simple method of increasing the number of Queen's Bench Judges. The appointment of more judges would not have helped the courts of quarter sessions and the sending of more judges from time to time on circuit to Liverpool and Manchester would have further strained the limited accommodation at those two cities.
It seemed to them that, as the situation in and about London at the beginning of the last century was remedied by the establishment of the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, so some such solution might be found for the difficulties in South Lancashire. They therefore appointed, in December, 1952, a Departmental Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Alexander Maxwell, with terms of reference requiring them to inquire into the need for the establishment in South Lancashire of a court on the lines of the Central Criminal Court.
The Committee did not recommend the establishment of a central criminal court. It found that there would be more than enough work for one full-time judge of such a court, but not enough for two judges. It also observed that considerable expenditure would be entailed by the establishment of a central criminal court. It recommended that there should be 1754 created two new full-time judicial posts and that the holders of these posts should have the double duty of assisting the Queen's Bench Judges by trying criminal cases as commissioners of assize and of performing the functions of Recorders in the two cities.
This was an ingenious solution of the problem, but it would not be wholly satisfactory. What the committee was proposing was that there should be two persons who, for part of their time, would sit as judges of courts of quarter sessions and at other times as commissioners of assize. This would mean that it might happen that on the same day one person was sitting as a commissioner of assize and as a recorder, having different jurisdiction according to the case he was trying. We have decided, therefore, to proceed with the Committee's proposals in a somewhat modified form.
If this Bill is approved there will be established in Liverpool a new court, to be called the Crown Court, which will combine the functions of the Liverpool Assizes, so far as criminal business is concerned, and of the Liverpool City Quarter Sessions, and a similar court will be established in Manchester, combining the criminal work of the Manchester Assizes and the functions of the Manchester City Quarter Sessions.
The Recorderships of Liverpool and Manchester will be made full-time pensionable appointments, with a salary of £4,000 a year, the same as that paid to the Recorder of London. Commissions will be issued constituting all the Queen's Bench judges and the two recorders as members of the Liverpool and Manchester courts.
Arrangements will be made for certain of the most serious cases, such as murder and manslaughter, to be dealt with by a Queen's Bench judge, who will attend four of the 11 sessions a year, at about the same times as those of the present four assizes. This will not delay the trial of a serious case beyond the length of time which it would have to wait under the present system, as the judges will visit Liverpool and Manchester as often as at present.
The city justices will commit to the appropriate Crown court all cases which they at present commit to the city quarter sessions or to the assizes, and also cases for sentence under Sections 28 and 29 1755 of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952; and the Crown court will hear appeals from the city justices. Other justices who at present commit to Liverpool or Manchester Assizes will commit to the appropriate Crown court. Finally, the recorders will continue to deal with any other business with which they deal at present as recorders.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
I am a little puzzled by the difference between the Report and the Government proposals. I understood the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that there was a difference of quarter sessions jurisdiction and assize jurisdiction in the case of the Report proposal, but there was a similar jurisdiction in the Government's proposals. So far as I can see, both from what he said and from reading the Bill, there are two distinct categories of jurisdiction to be exercised under the Government's proposals—the assize and criminal jurisdiction and the quarter sessions jurisdiction. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can explain the difference further I shall be obliged to him, because I am rather puzzled.
§ Major Lloyd-George
If the hon. and learned Member will wait, my right hon. and learned Friend will be very glad to go into technical details in connection with that point. I gather that these judges will always be sitting as recorders. I was dealing with the position of recorders, and I now come to the position of the staffs.
The staffs of the courts will be under the control of the Clerk of Assize of the Northern Circuit, and he will take over the functions of the Clerks of the Peace of Liverpool and Manchester. He will have assistants, one of whom will act as clerk of the court in each city.
As the work of the new court will be in part work now done at assizes and in part that of the city quarter sessions, the cost of the salaries and pensions of the recorders and their staffs and certain other expenses will be divided between the Exchequer and the Liverpool and Manchester City Councils. The civil assizes at Liverpool and Manchester will go on as at present, save that the judges, being relieved of all but the most serious criminal cases, will be free to devote much more time to the civil work.
1756 We have taken this opportunity to put on a more up-to-date basis the whole of the arrangements for the provision of accommodation for courts of assize in Lancashire. These arrangements are, for historical reasons, different in each of the three assize divisions of the county and are now in some respects anomalous. The court accommodation at Lancaster is provided by the Lancashire County Council and the costs are met by that authority. At Liverpool, accommodation is provided by the Liverpool City Council and the costs are met by them.
At Manchester the old assize courts building is owned by the county council, but controlled and manager by a joint committee of members of the county council and of the councils of all the county boroughs within the Salford Hundred, and expenses are met out of a special rate levied on the Hundred. We propose that the duty of providing accommodation for the new courts and for the civil assizes at Liverpool and Manchester should be placed on the two city councils. We have sought to find a method of dividing the costs among the authorities in the county which would have the approval of all of them, but I am sorry to say that this has not proved possible.
Three schemes have been discussed at conferences with the local authorities in Lancashire. In all three schemes provision was to be made for Liverpool and Manchester to pay that part of the cost of providing accommodation for the new courts which would be attributable to their work as successors to the present city sessions. The cost of providing accommodation for the Crown courts as successors to the criminal assizes and for the civil assizes was to be divided among several authorities.
The first scheme provided for the cost of court accommodation at Liverpool and Manchester to be divided among all the authorities in the area of each court, namely, the West Derby and Salford Hundreds. It was opposed by some of the county boroughs in the south of the county on the ground that, while they were being called upon to contribute, no contribution was to be made by the county boroughs in the Northern Division of the county, which sent some cases to the Liverpool and Manchester courts.
The second scheme provided for the costs at Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester to be divided among all the 1757 authorities in the county. While this scheme met the objections of the county boroughs in the south of the county to the first scheme, it was not acceptable to the county council, which would be required to make a larger contribution, partly because the Liverpool City Council made it clear that if this scheme were pursued they would charge a rent for the accommodation used by the courts at Liverpool for which under the first scheme no charge would be made.
The third scheme, which is the one embodied in the Bill, provides for the cost of court accommodation at Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester respectively to be divided among all the authorities in the area of each of the three courts.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I have not the names here, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I have a reference in one of these documents—the West Derby, and Salford Hundreds and the Northern area.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
Will not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that many cases are tried at Manchester and Liverpool out of the areas covered by the Lancaster Assize?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I am not an expert in these matters, but I gather that it is not unusual for a case to be tried in a place other than that where the man was committed. Particulars I have show that about 178 cases were sent to Manchester and 71 to Liverpool from the Northern area in the four years 1950–54. That brings me back to the point I made, that there was great opposition by many authorities to the various schemes, and that the one we have put into the Bill is that on which there is the greatest common measure of agreement. That was the only thing we could do. We know that it is vitally necessary to get these courts as best we can, and that time means 1758 a great deal. I do not think that the change makes all that much difference to the local authorities, either.
It was decided to include in the Bill the scheme to which I have referred because it was acceptable to a majority of the authorities concerned. That was all that we could do. The authorities included the county council and the city councils of Liverpool and Manchester and all the northern boroughs. We consider that it gives a measure of justice to all the contributing authorities. It goes some way towards meeting the objections of some of the county boroughs in the south of the county, in that it requires those in the northern division—this is an important point—for the first time to make a contribution towards the cost of the assizes at Lancaster. That cost has hitherto been borne in its entirety by the county council.
I am sorry that it was not possible to find a scheme which commanded the unanimous support of the authorities. Where some change has to be made in diverse and long-established arrangements, it is almost impossible to find a scheme which is equally acceptable to everyone. I am satisfied that the scheme in the Bill is practicable and reasonable. We have included in Clause 9 adequate safeguards of the interests of the contributing authorities.
The spending authorities, the Lancashire County Council, and the Liverpool and Manchester City Councils, will be required to submit estimates and accounts to them, and to consider any representations the spending authorities may make. The spending authorities have assured me that they will always be prepared to meet the contributing authorities to discuss annual estimates if such a meeting is desired by any of them. If, nevertheless, a spending authority reaches a decision which is not acceptable to a contributing authority, the latter may appeal to me.
There is one other provision to which I should like to draw attention. Clause 7 deals with the position of the County Borough of Stockport, part of which is in Cheshire and part of which is in Lancashire. Criminal cases from Stockport are now sent to courts in Cheshire or Lancashire, according to that part of the borough in which the offence was committed. The Departmental Committee recommended that all criminal cases from 1759 Stockport should be committed to courts in Lancashire. Clause 7 therefore makes this change, and it is acceptable to the Stockport Borough Council and to the Cheshire County Council.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that it is certainly not acceptable to the Wales and Chester Circuit? Will he not try to balance the interest that he has as Home Secretary against his interest as Minister for Welsh Affairs?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I did not know that Cheshire was part of Wales, but I am learning things every day. I was only dealing with that particular point and saying that this arrangement will be very useful.
Before I turn to Part II of the Bill, the House may wish to know whether there is now the same necessity for the measures which we are proposing as there was when the Departmental Committee reported in the autumn of 1953. I have given some figures of cases awaiting trial, and perhaps the House would like one or two more. There has been a considerable improvement in the civil work at assizes. There are now approximately 345 cases awaiting trial in Liverpool and Manchester, as compared with 1,036 awaiting trial in May, 1953, but we think it still desirable that the Queen's Bench Judges should be relieved of a good deal of the heavy criminal work with which they are faced at Liverpool and Manchester in order that they may devote themselves to the trial of civil cases.
I should say that there has been some reduction in the time spent on the hearing of criminal cases at assizes. The number of days so far spent on this work this year has been 148, as compared with 215 in 1952 and 1953. I understand that this reduction is largely due to justices having committed to quarter sessions instead. At Liverpool, there has been some increase in the work of quarter sessions. In 1952, the recorder and the assistant recorder sat for 92 days. This year they have sat for 118 days.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Has the Home Secretary any figures which would indicate the number of appeals to the sessions from the stipendiary's decisions; and the number of people in Liverpool who have elected 1760 to go for trial at the sessions rather than go before the local stipendiary?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I have not those figures with me, but I will see if I can get them.
I was saying that at Liverpool the recorder and the assistant recorder sat for 118 days this year as compared with 92 days in 1952. It will be agreed, I think, that this is far more than can be expected of a part-time recorder and assistant recorder. The work of the city quarter sessions in Manchester occupied 55 days in 1952 and 57 days this year. I should like to take this opportunity to pay my tribute to the recorders of Liverpool and Manchester, and to the assistant recorders for the services they have rendered.
Therefore, while the necessity for special measures to relieve the assizes is somewhat less, they are still desirable, and at quarter sessions the need is as great as, or greater than before. There is no indication that it will decline to such an extent as would enable a part-time recorder to do the work in a reasonable amount of time.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
Perhaps my right hon. and gallant Friend would give the comparable figure for the Manchester Sessions this year. For Liverpool the figure is 118 days.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I think I have referred to that. I said that the work of the Manchester City Quarter Sessions occupied 55 days in 1952 and 57 days this year.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Can the Home Secretary give any estimate of how much of this civil work may be transferred to the county courts under the transfer of jurisdiction? Has an estimate been made of how much that will cut down the civil work?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I am told that at this juncture it is practically impossible to give an estimate. I suppose it depends on how it works out.
Part II makes various amendments to the law relating to recorders, courts of quarter sessions, stipendiary magistrates and other matters. Clause 12 abolishes the distinction between the powers of a recorder of a borough having a population of over 50,000 and a recorder of a borough with a smaller population. The 1761 number of small boroughs with their own courts of quarter sessions was much reduced by the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, and there seems no need to retain this distinction.
There is at present no statutory retiring age for recorders, chairmen and deputy chairmen of the County of London Quarter Sessions and Metropolitan stipendiary magistrates. Clause 13 provides for a retiring age of 72, with possible extension to 75, which is the same as that of county court judges and provincial stipendiary magistrates.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
May I ask a simple question? What determines the retiring age in a lawyer? Why 72?
§ Major Lloyd-George
It is the age that is to be fixed, the same as for county court judges, and so on. What determines their retirement is the age which has been fixed, with a possible extension to which the Lord Chancellor could agree. There is also provision, to which I will refer presently, of removal from office, which at present can be done only for misbehaviour. In the Bill, we propose to provide for this on the ground of inability also.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Yes. This is a provision that the age may be extended to the age of 75 if the Lord Chancellor so determines. As I have said, provision is also made for the removal from office of a recorder or a chairman or deputy chairman of the London Quarter Sessions for inability. At present they may be removed only for misbehaviour.
At present, a recorder appointed temporarily as a result of the death or retirement of an existing recorder is entitled to only a fraction of the recorder's salary according to the number of days on which he has sat. These days may be three out of, say, twelve days in the year on which the recorder works and it is unfair that he should be paid only three three-hundred-and-sixty-fifths of the salary when he has done a quarter of the work. Clause 14, therefore, provides that the Lord Chancellor may determine what 1762 part of the previous recorder's annual salary shall be paid to a temporary recorder.
At present, a recorder has power to form only one additional court and an assistant recorder cannot be paid at more than a fixed rate for more than six days work at each session. Clause 15 will enable a recorder, if the borough council approves, to form more than one additional court and removes the present limitations on the remuneration which may be paid to an assistant recorder.
Clause 16 transfers to the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster certain of my functions in relation to the pensions of the chairman and deputy-chairman of the London Quarter Sessions, the salary, retirement and pensions of stipendiary magistrates and the appointment of deputy stipendiary magistrates. The Lord Chancellor is already responsible for making recommendations for the appointment of the chairman and deputy-chairmen of the London Quarter Sessions and stipendiary magistrates, and it is right that he should take over these additional functions.
At present, a non-county borough with a separate commission of the peace is, according to the view of the law which is taken in some areas, obliged to contribute towards the cost of the county magistrates' courts, and the county probation service, as well as paying for its own courts and probation service. This anomaly is removed by Clause 17, and in addition a borough having its own court of quarter sessions is relieved of the obligation to contribute towards the cost of the county quarter sessions.
The panel of lay justices, members of which may sit at quarter sessions in London to hear appeals, consists of one lay justice for each of the 16 petty sessional divisions, but if, as is proposed, the number of divisions in the county is reduced to eight, the number of lay justices on the panel will automatically be reduced to eight This will be too few, and Clause 18 gives power to alter by Order in Council the number of representatives of each of the petty sessional divisions on the panel.
I have tried to explain the provisions of this small but by no means unimportant Bill, and I hope I have not 1763 taken too long in doing so. The arrangements which are proposed for the establishment of new courts in South Lancashire should do much to improve the administration of justice, both criminal and civil, in that part of the country. The various amendments to the law proposed in Part II of the Bill, to which I have just referred, are necessary reforms. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House. It has already passed through another place, and I hope it will have a smooth and speedy passage through this House.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
My first and pleasant task is to thank the Home Secretary for his exposition of this Bill. Many of the Clauses are technical and difficult, but I am sure that even those who have not followed the Bill's provisions previously have been able, as a result of his exposition, to appreciate what we are endeavouring to do by the Bill. It is a dull Bill, but it is a very important Bill. It deals with the machinery of the law, with the mechanics of the law. The machinery and mechanics of the law are, perhaps, not as interesting to Members of the House who are not engaged in the practice of the law as are matters of criminal offences, but although the Bill deals only with machinery and mechanics it is of supreme importance.
It is divided, as the Home Secretary said, into two parts. Part I seeks to make new arrangements for the administration of justice in Lancashire. As regards Part II, the Home Secretary, assisted perhaps, by the Lord Chancellor, having obtained from the Lord Privy Seal time for the Bill in this House, has seized on the opportunity to add to Part I the miscellaneous matters which he, no doubt, desired to get through the House. He is to be congratulated on adding to the main Part of the Bill one or two very necessary administrative reforms.
I turn, first, to Part I. As a member of the Northern Circuit, I very much welcome the Bill and I think I can speak for all my hon. Friends on this side of the House when I say that it commands our support, although I must warn the Home Secretary that there will be one or two critics of Clause 9.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
Of Clause 7 I would say de minimis non curat lex. If the members of the North Wales circuit lose an insignificant part of their jurisdiction, I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) will have sufficient work without that coming from the corner of Cheshire which is now being included in Lancashire and, perhaps, his loss—you never know, Sir—may be my gain.
In 1950 and 1952, and indeed ever since the war, the conditions of work on the Northern Circuit have not been easy. They have been difficult in the amount of criminal and civil work which has been thrust upon the courts and there have been exceptional difficulties, in accommodation, about which I should like to speak later. Anything which can help the smooth flow of the law in Lancashire is indeed welcome. The criminal work at assizes has increased enormously. The civil work has been falling behind because the prime function of the judges was to clear the gaols, and in assize after assize judges have been taken away from civil work. Even the judge who was primarily at the assize for civil work has been taken away by the "red" judge to assist him to clear the gaols.
In May, 1953, there were over 1,000 civil cases awaiting trial. But it was not only the work at assizes which was overloaded. The position was even worse at quarter sessions at Liverpool and Manchester. The recorders of these two cities were both part-time recorders, both hardworking barristers who required time for work other than their functions as recorders. As the years went by, it became clear that no member of the Bar could accept the appointment of Recorder of Liverpool if he hoped to retain his practice. In 1952, the Recorder of Liverpool and his assistant spent 92 days on the duties of the recordership. I am sure that it was never contemplated that either he or his colleague in Manchester would be called upon to sit so often in their capacity as recorders.
The Recorder of Manchester sat for 28 days in 1952 and his assistant sat for 22 days. That was an intolerable burden on part-time recorders. Sir Noel Goldie, Recorder of Manchester, and one time a Member of this House, who is held in the greatest respect and affection on the 1765 Northern Circuit, has manfully carried on at Manchester. In fact, I gather that this year he has put in more days even, than he did in 1952. I am sure we should express our thanks to Sir Noel for the great burden of work which he has carried, and I would remind some of my colleagues, who much abuse lawyers, that there is no overtime pay for the job.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
The position was such that something had to be done to assist the proper despatch of criminal work and the clearing up of the arrears in the civil list. In December, 1952, the Maxwell Committee was appointedto enquire into the need, in order to relieve pressure on Courts of Assize and Quarter Sessions, for the establishment in South Lancashire of a court on the lines of the Central Criminal Court … to report upon its composition, the nature of its jurisdiction, the areas … from which persons might be committed thereto.…The Maxwell Committee reported on 31st August, 1953. It is a matter for regret that the Bill has been held up for so long. It is a cause of deep concern on the Circuit, and I have hardly been present at an assize when I have not been asked when the Bill was coming forward. However, we have since had a General Election, and there were political matters which the Government thought of much greater concern than this relief for the courts in south-west Lancashire. The Bill went through another place during the last Parliament, and has had to wait until now.
Now we are to have established, as a result of the recommendations of the Maxwell Committee, the two Crown Courts in Liverpool and Manchester. The Committee came to the conclusion to which we on the Northern Circuit knew it would be forced to come, thatRelief is needed to enable the judges to keep abreast of the civil work.The Committee's further recommendation and conclusion was:There is undue pressure on the City Sessions at Liverpool and Manchester. The volume of work at each of these courts is so large that a Recorder who is in practice at the bar ought not to be expected to cope with it.1766 Those are strong words, with which I entirely agree. The Committee went on:We recommend that in place of the part-time Recorderships at Liverpool and Manchester there should be created two full-time judicial posts, and that the holders of these posts should have the double duty of trying criminal cases as commissioners of assize and of performing Recorders' functions.…On the basis of those recommendations we have this Bill.
As I said earlier. I regret that the Government have not followed paragraph (7) of the Committee's recommendations, which says:Legislation will be needed. In our view it is urgent that relief should be given to the assizes and city sessions, and we hope that it will be possible for legislation to he introduced at an early date.That hope, unfortunately, was not fulfilled.
The jurisdiction which is given is covered by Clause 1. I note with satisfaction, that it is still to be the case that murder and other serious and difficult cases will be taken by High Court judges. The cases are referred to in the Report as ones of "special gravity."
The Bill fixes something which I do not think the Home Secretary mentioned, and that is a salary of £4,000 a year in respect of the recorder in each city.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
Yes, it will be the same as in London. The jurisdiction will be all indictable cases which have previously been committed to assizes at Liverpool and Manchester.
We are to have these courts, I trust, and the sooner the better. The problem has undoubtedly been eased, as the Home Secretary told us. In May, 1953, there were 1,036 civil cases awaiting trial at Liverpool and Manchester; in June, 1955, 460, and I am told that the figure now is 345. There are reasons why these figures have fallen. They are not permanent reasons, at least we on the circuit hope that they are not permanent reasons.
I have already mentioned the first reason, which is that the Recorders at Liverpool and Manchester have sat far more days than they ever should have sat as part-time Recorders. In Liverpool, the burden was so intolerable that my friend, Mr. Nelson, found that he had to 1767 retire from the appointment because he just could not carry on his practice. Mr. Rogers, who is now the Recorder of Liverpool, by sitting many more days than previously, has managed to cope with the burden of the criminal work at Quarter Sessions. At Manchester, as I said, Sir Noel Goldie has also been called on to do more work than he should have done as part-time Recorder. That is one reason why the figures have fallen.
The reason why cases have fallen in the civil list is also worth looking at. For assizes on the Northern Circuit we used to have one judge doing civil work all the time and then being assisted on the civil side by the criminal judge for the last week or so of the assizes. At the present Manchester Assizes, two judges have been sitting continually doing criminal work and only one judge has been doing civil work. I assure the Home Secretary that the number of civil cases will mount again.
I hope that we shall not resort to the practice which, unfortunately, has been all too common on the circuit in the last two or three years, of sending a judge to Liverpool and Manchester out of assize time to sit and hear civil cases from, say, the 10th of January to the 28th when the assize proper commences, doing a fortnight's work sitting as a civil judge in Liverpool, while assizes are also proceeding in Carlisle or Lancaster. That has caused great inconvenience to solicitors, counsel and litigants. It is unfair on the circuit that we should have a court of that kind, and two courts of assize sitting in different towns on the circuit at the same time. By adopting that device, the figures have fallen to 345. I hope that when we get the Bill through, it will not be necessary for judges to be sent up for the special civil assizes as we have in the past.
I welcome Clause 7 of the Bill and the inclusion of that part of Stockport which is now to be added to Lancashire. It may be for the inconvenience of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Ham, but I am sure—
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
On a point of order. My constituency has been called many things, but I have never heard it called North Ham. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to correct himself upon that.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
I am sure that officials in Stockport will welcome the change which is proposed by the Bill.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Barons Court)
My hon. and learned Friend has called attention to the part of Stockport which is in Cheshire and welcomed it into the Northern Circuit and looked for the approbation of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones)—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I hope that we shall not discuss Committee points before we have reached the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Williams
I was only going to say that in so far as my hon. and learned Friend would not find his anger difficult to assuage—
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. W. T. Williams) did not complete his statement. For the lack of a word or two, it was entirely unintelligible.
May I be allowed to say one word about Clause 9? This is a Clause which is really contentious. So far as the Opposition is concerned, it is not a contentious Clause. I understand that the opposition comes from both sides of the House and is partisan, constituency opposition. It is certainly not party opposition.
§ Mr. R. Williams
Is my hon. and learned Friend entitled to pass judgment upon the arguments before he has heard them, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have nothing to do with the validity of the arguments. I deal only with their order.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
Ever since the Bill was in print, I have been bombarded by certain town clerks with the arguments for and against. I am in full possession of all the arguments before they are uttered by my hon. Friends. I am sure that this matter will be thrashed out in Committee, and that no doubt there will be some Amendments. It certainly should not hold up the Second Reading.
I said that I wanted to say something about accommodation on the Northern Circuit. Accommodation in Liverpool is 1769 now reasonably good. St. George's Hall has been repaired. We have four courts, and I think that we can contend with the work very well.
I am sure the Home Secretary is well aware that conditions in Manchester are little short of intolerable. We suffered the loss of our assize courts at Strangeways and, since the war, we have been accommodated at Minshull Street for the criminal work and in the Town Hall for the civic work. Minshull Street has adapted its courts, but in Manchester we sit in the committee rooms with the judge at a green baize table, which is not a dignified situation.
There are no proper retiring rooms for the judges, who have to share. Only on Friday of last week it was embarrassing to the two judges, because one had an application and the other did not want to leave the room. He had to be escorted to another convenient place to sit while his learned brother heard the application. That kind of thing really should not happen. There are plans for new courts at Manchester, but I noticed that the Lord Chancellor said in another place that it would be a matter of years before accommodation at Manchester would be suitable.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever
I appreciate the difficulties to which my hon. and learned Friend has rightly referred and which should be altered at the earliest possible moment, but I should like to make it perfectly clear that the Manchester City Corporation has done everything possible to provide as much comfort as possible for the learned judges and counsel. I do not want it to appear as if we have been indifferent to the situation. We have done our best and we shall continue to do our best.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
I am sure that we all agree that conditions have been difficult for the Manchester City Corporation, but they have been exceedingly difficult for Her Majesty's judges and for the Bar and solicitors. There are no conference rooms. There are not even proper cloakrooms. If something could be devised to give more dignity to the courts in Manchester, it would be something that the Government ought to look into. I believe that the learned Attorney-General has been in Manchester recently, and that he has had an opportunity to 1770 see the conditions under which judges and counsel, solicitors and litigants are trying to perform important work in that city.
I turn to Part II of the Bill. As I said at the outset, this is an opportunity seized by the Lord Chancellor to do a number of things which are not connected with the major part of the Bill. I do not intend to go over them Clause by Clause, for that would take too long. I have not heard of any objection to any of these matters. They all seem to me extremely reasonable, especially the Clause which allows recorders to have a second court if necessary. The lack of power to do that has been felt on many occasions, and I am sure that this provision is welcome.
Speaking as a recorder, I am not sure whether I entirely approve of Clause 13, which extends the power of the Lord Chancellor to remove me for inability. That power has not been present before. I have no doubt that the House will accept the Clause and I only hope that in future, if I have to be removed, it will be for physical and not mental causes. On behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House, I welcome the Bill. I hope that these courts will be set up and these appointments made with as little delay as possible, and I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John C. Bidgood (Bury and Radcliffe)
I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary that he has found it very difficult to please all the people all the time in connection with this Bill. I wish to thank him for his courtesy in having seen me on two occasions when I pressed the claims of the smaller county boroughs which consider they have not had a square deal regarding this piece of legislation.
I wish briefly to recapitulate the situation which led up to this Bill. On 30th October, 1954, Home Office proposals with regard to the new Crown courts in Manchester and Liverpool were circulated to the Lancashire County Council and the county boroughs in the West Derby and Salford Hundreds. On 14th December, 1954, a conference was called at Preston where the proposed financial arrangements were made known. At the conference it was stated that the cost of the courts would be shared between Manchester and Liverpool, the Lancashire County Council and the county boroughs 1771 of West Derby and Salford Hundreds on a percentage basis.
Certain points were raised by the interested county boroughs and an alternative scheme put forward by the Home Office. A number of people at the conference expressed their preference for the Home Office alternative scheme. Ultimately a conference was held at Preston on 15th February of this year, and, much to the surprise of the county boroughs, proposals were put forward by the Lancashire County Council which had not been previously circulated to the county boroughs concerned. It was made fairly certain at that meeting that the Home Office was prejudiced in favour of the county council's scheme.
I am speaking on behalf of Bury in Lancashire, one of the smaller county boroughs, which happens to form part of my constituency. We feel that this Bill provided a wonderful opportunity to remove some of the anachronisms and anomalies inherent in this part of Lancashire. We know that the Hundreds serve no useful purpose whatever in these days of modern travel. A century ago, when travel was difficult, it was probably a good thing that we had these Hundreds boundaries. But today, when we are more mobile, I feel that the Hundreds boundaries should not have been applied to a Bill of this type. To prove my point regarding mobility, I wish to give one or two figures showing how anomalous is this Bill with regard to the continuing of the Hundred boundaries.
The population of Bury is 58,000 and, under the Bill, Bury will be required to contribute an annual sum of about £1,053 as its contribution towards the upkeep of the Manchester Assizes. Burnley has a population of 83,000 and is asked to contribute an annual sum of £250 as contribution towards the Lancaster Assizes. The amusing part, if it were not so serious in this instance, is that in the four years to which the Home Secretary referred, 1950–54, Burnley did not send a case to the Lancaster Assizes, and, quite by coincidence, sent 18 cases to Manchester, which is exactly the same number as the County Borough of Bury sent to Manchester during the four years under review; and yet the County Borough of Bury is asked to contribute over £1,000 towards the Manchester 1772 Assizes whereas Burnley, with a larger population, is asked to contribute £250. Blackpool has a population of 146,000 and yet is asked for only £440 a year as its contribution towards the Lancaster Assizes.
I could give countless examples of similar anomalies. My reason for intervening tonight is not merely to press the financial claims of the County Borough of Bury, but to point out how strongly the small county boroughs object to the fact that they have been steam-rollered by the Lancashire County Council and the cities of Manchester and Liverpool into accepting this anomalous position.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument and to reconcile it with the document which I have in my hand. If he is dealing with Clause 9, as I think he is, I wonder how he reconciles his argument with this:The basis of Clause 9 is that these costs are to be divided and borne by the local authorities concerned in each of the three groups according to the populations in that division of the county council.It goes on to say:Population was chosen as the basis because when one is considering not only crime but also civil litigation, including divorce, it is only to be expected that the volume of work occasioned will be more closely related to population than to any other factor.If that is so, how can there be these discrepancies between Bury and Burnley to which the hon. Member referred?
§ Mr. Bidgood
There is a very simple answer. I can best explain it in this way: the county borough of Bury objects to the fact that we are still retaining the old-fashioned Hundreds system. We say that the whole of the county of Lancashire should be treated as one unit for assize courts and that it is wrong to surcharge an authority for its contribution towards an assize to which it will probably never send a case. My county borough is quite prepared to accept a scheme on a population basis or on a rateable value basis—we do not mind which—as long as it is an equitable scheme and the burden falls equally upon the Lancashire County Council, the two large cities and the rest of the county boroughs throughout Lancashire.
I am the first to concede the difficulty which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary has had in obtaining 1773 a general agreement upon this point—I know how hard he has tried—but I deplore the fact that we have lost this wonderful opportunity of getting rid of the old-fashioned Hundreds boundaries and concentrating upon the County of Lancashire as a whole. I hope that the representations which will be put forward this evening, and which I know have been put forward by the county boroughs, will, even at this late hour, persuade the Home Secretary so to amend Clauses 6 and 9 in Committee as to enable the county boroughs to have an equitable deal and to see that the larger authorities will not ride roughshod over them.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
I am in complete agreement with the general principles of the Bill, as is the city council of the constituency which I represent. Those who have been concerned with the work of the courts in that area of Lancashire have been very worried about the constant delays which have taken place, especially during the past few years, where petty sessional courts have had to commit to higher courts. Lay magistrates have been very worried about the question of bail. Witnesses have been inconvenienced, to say nothing of prisoners, and we have also been concerned at the fact that in some cases prisoners have had to wait a long time and then, ultimately, have not been convicted, or, at least, have not been imprisoned. The fact that in future the Crown courts are to be established in regular session will cause general satisfaction to all concerned. In that sense, I welcome the Bill.
In relation to Clause 7, we have had many interruptions from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones), who seems to be very concerned about what will happen to Stockport's relationship with Wales. As one who is, probably, the only native of Stockport in the House, I should like to point out that Stockport is essentially a Lancashire town. The River Mersey divides Lancashire from Cheshire, and the larger part of the town is in Lancashire even if the larger part of the population happens to be in Cheshire. Every part of the life of the town is Lancashire in character. It is an industrial town, and it should be included in Lancashire from 1774 the point of view not only of litigation but also of geography. I say, almost with bated breath in the presence of my hon. and learned Friends who have been speaking upon this subject, that as a Stockport magistrate I hope that Lancashire will now include Stockport in its court's activities.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams
Does not my hon. Friend feel that Stockport will suffer a great loss in being denied the services of the Wales and Chester circuit?
§ Mr. Royle
I am prepared to take that risk. I think that we might possibly manage.
Having said some complimentary things about the Bill in general, I now want to refer to what has been said by the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood). I am in complete agreement with everything he said about Clause 9. I want to register my complete disgust about the way in which some county boroughs have been treated in these negotiations. They have been ignored in the consideration of the revised scheme. Consultations have gone on behind their backs.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever
I want to repudiate that. The consultations have related only to the question of the previous jurisdiction of quarter sessions in the respective cities of Liverpool and Manchester, and not to the question of assizes.
§ Mr. Royle
I say that the consultations have gone on behind the backs of the county boroughs. They have been presented with a fait accompli. Their representations have been ignored.
However, I will carry on where the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe left off, and relate in chronological order the course of events The Home Secretary told the House how the Departmental Committee was set up in 1952. On 30th October, 1954, each local authority was informed by the Home Office that the suggestions of this Committee were now going forward, with modifications. In the main, all the local authorities agreed to 1775 the proposals, but they asked for a conference on the details of finance.
This conference, arising from that request, took place, on 14th December, 1954, after a financial basis for discussion had been sent out by the Home Office. That basis, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has pointed out, was that Liverpool and Manchester were to provide and maintain the Crown courts and share the cost with the county and certain other county boroughs, subject to the two cities first paying an agreed fraction of the cost in respect of their own quarter sessions being taken over.
In passing, I would remind the House that in the past the Liverpool Corporation has borne the weight of the Liverpool Assize costs, and that the Manchester Assize costs have been borne by the City of Manchester and the county boroughs of Salford, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Stockport. The costs of Lancashire have been borne by the county council. The conference on 14th December, 1954, provided an opportunity to look at the general financial structure, and the Home Office representative heard all the suggestions and promised consideration. The most attractive suggestion was the one already referred to—and it seemed to get the support of all who were there at the time—that the costs of the three courts should be shared by the local authorities in the area after charging Liverpool and Manchester for the quarter sessions being taken over, and the proposal that there should be a governing body, with all the local authorities represented.
On 1st February, 1955, the Home Office informed all the local authorities that the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary thought that effect would be given to these alternatives if the local authorities preferred. The only amendment they would suggest at that time was that Liverpool and Manchester should become the governing body and that the other county boroughs should be contributors after consultations about the estimates.
A further meeting was suggested for 15th February this year. This is where I come to the point just raised by my hon. Friend. At this meeting, the county boroughs were shocked—that is not an exaggerated description—to be confronted, without any notice at all, with a 1776 new scheme, which was accepted and almost insisted upon by the Home Office representative at the meeting. It had been expounded by the clerk to the county council. In effect, that scheme is what appears as Clause 9 of the Bill. It provides that the local authorities in the northern district, in the West Derby Hundred and the Salford Hundred, should be responsible on a population basis for their respective district courts, with certain fractions from Liverpool and Manchester.
I say with deliberation, and advisedly, that the scheme had been put up to the Permanent Under-Secretary by the county and the two large cities, in the absence of the other county boroughs and had been accepted by him without consultation with those county boroughs. I am in possession of a full report of that meeting. Protests came from all parts of the room and they were very strong indeed. The reply was that the protests were too late because the Bill had to be put on to the Statute Book. That was before the General Election. The Bill is before us, after a delay of ten months, so there was not the very great urgency which was suggested at that time.
In spite of all the protests, the Home Office representative said that he would recommend the proposals to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. One can only assume that influence was brought to bear at some interim meeting. Against these hole-and-corner methods in a matter of such vast importance and affecting so many authorities in the County Palatine I protest as strongly as I can. The proposals in this Clause are completely unacceptable to the county boroughs and are most unfair.
At the meeting to which I have referred the representative of the Home Office said—I quote:The scheme introduced was the best possible compromise.He went on to say that it provided for rough justice to be done. Let us look how rough. An hon. Member has told one or two cases to show how rough it is. Perhaps I may cite one or two other illustrations. Salford has a population of about 173,900, on the 1953 figures. It is asked to pay £3,150. Blackpool, with a population of 146,700, is asked to pay £440. If the computation had been on a rateable value basis, as before, Salford 1777 would have been contributing £2,134 and Blackpool £3,512.
It will be argued, I know, that Blackpool is in the North and not either in the West Derby Hundred or the Salford Hundred, but let us look at the court figures In 1953–54, Salford sent 79 cases to either Liverpool or Manchester while Blackpool sent 152 cases; yet Salford must pay £3,150 and Blackpool only £440. It is ridiculous to suggest that the northern towns should contribute only to Lancaster when in those years they sent 249 cases to Liverpool and Manchester, and only 234 to Lancaster.
Blackpool sent more cases to Liverpool and Manchester—84—than any other county borough in those Hundreds. Southport sent 33; St. Helens, 35; Warrington, 17; Wigan, 16; Salford, 79; Bolton, 29; Bury, 18; Oldham, 51; Rochdale, 22; and Stockport, 33. Nevertheless, Blackpool does not pay half as much as the least of those, and only one-eighth the amount paid by the largest. I assert that the population basis is quite unfair. The poorer towns with the high rates are punished. The rateable value basis would be much more equitable, but the really just way is to take the county as a whole and divide the cost according to the cases committed to any of the three courts in the county. Revision would be perfectly easy, say every five years, on a basis of cases sent.
I apologise for having to speak in this way, but this is a matter of great importance to places such as Salford. Every county borough in the county is having a raw deal. I have tried to quote as few figures as possible, but I think that the whole suggestion—and the methods employed—is preposterous. The Committee stage of the Bill should be very interesting indeed.
I conclude by listing my objections. First, the Hundreds boundaries are completely unrealistic in these days. Secondly, it is not equitable for authorities in the northern area to contribute only to Lancaster when they send so many cases to Liverpool and Manchester. Thirdly, all the authorities should govern as well as contribute. Fourthly, on the one-eighth and one-twelfth basis for taking over their quarter sessions, Liverpool and Manchester get off far too cheaply. My appeal is that, in Committee, justice will be done 1778 in the administration of justice in Lancashire. As the Bill now stands justice is not being done to the county boroughs, and I hope that that will be rectified.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I hope that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the details of the financial arrangements. I feel that it would be not inappropriate for me, as one who practises at the Liverpool Sessions, to put some considerations before the House.
The Maxwell Report, which was limited entirely to the disposal of criminal cases, rested the case for additional help upon (a) the desirability of relieving the High Court judges of substantial portions of criminal work; and (b), the excessive pressure which Liverpool and Manchester Sessions put on their part-time recorders. That was the position when the Maxwell Report was published in 1953. Anybody who practises at quarter sessions knows how very important it is that there should be adequate arrangements for dealing with the work, but we ought, perhaps, to hesitate a little as to what should be done, bearing in mind the change that has taken place since the figures were made available by the Maxwell Report. The number of days of criminal work at the assizes has decreased substantially from 215 days in 1952 to, I am told, 148 days this year. I was given the figure of 123 days, but the difference may be caused by the fact of two judges sitting at Manchester Assizes during the last few days. However it is a substantial decrease.
The difference in the number of civil cases awaiting trial is much more marked. In 1952, 861 cases were awaiting trial. In 1953, as we have heard, the number had gone up to 1,031, but in 1955 it has now come down to 345, which represents a reduction of practically two-thirds. In addition, at some time in the near future, there will be the extension of county court jurisdiction. Moreover, in Liverpool we have the Court of Passage and in Salford there is the Court of Record.
§ Sir E. Errington
From these facilities, there would appear to be no reason to expect that civil cases will increase to such an extent as will require the High Court judges who try them to be relieved. This seems to me to deal a difficult blow at the findings of the Maxwell Report. An important part of the considerations that that Committee had in mind have largely, by co-operative efforts so far as civil work is concerned, been brought to what I would describe as normality.
The relief however of part-time recorders is very much overdue. It is fair to say that different recorders vary very much in the speed with which he deals with the cases before him, but for a long time it has been an almost impossible position for any body who has had to administer justice through the Liverpool Quarter Sessions. Not only has the recorder had to devote a great deal of time to this work, but there has been his deputy also, who was paid for only six days at each sessions but sat very often for a large number of days without payment. That, of course, is entirely unsatisfactory.
It is as well, I think, to consider the figures. As I understand them, in 1952 the recorder and his deputy in Liverpool sat for 92 days and in 1955 for 118 days; in Manchester, in 1952, the recorder and his deputy sat for 55 days, and this year they sat for 57 days. The total of the days both the recorders and their deputies sat this year was 175 days. That was fewer than the number of days which the Maxwell Report, I think in paragraph 47, says that the holders of full time judicial appointments may be expected to sit. It says they should not normally sit more than 180 days, though may be less. The Maxwell Report reckoned work of 220 or 235 days as the basis on which it recommended the appointment of two full-time judges. It seems to me one ought to have regard to the fact that at neither Liverpool nor Manchester do the days they sit amount to the 180 days suggested by the Maxwell Report as the suitable number of days for a judge to sit.
That brings me to a matter I would put to the Attorney-General in the hope that he will deal with it when he replies 1780 to the debate. It arises from paragraph 59 of the Report, which says:In any Bill it would, we suggest, be advisable to make the power of appointing full-time Recorders permissive, so that there may be a return to the system of a part-time Recordership if in the future the criminal work at Liverpool and Manchester should be so reduced that two full-time judicial appointments are no longer needed.I think that, perhaps, there was less necessity at the time that paragraph was written than there is today for us to be assured that, in the event of any change in the amount of work at Liverpool and Manchester, there is power to make the necessary changes. Once again I would stress the importance of not having two full-time judges at the Crown Courts who are occupied in fact only half their time.
I should like in conclusion to say how much I agree with what has been said about the accommodation not only for judges but for advocates, witnesses and everybody else, which really is extremely unsatisfactory in Manchester. The sooner it is put right the better it will be for all.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
Let me at the outset make a comment upon the observations which were made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) when he opened the debate for this side of the House. As I understood him, he felt, in welcoming the Bill, that the objections to it fell under two headings.
Under one heading my hon. and learned Friend said de minimis non curat lex, and he thought that that disposed of the very weighty interruption which was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones). The other objection was that many of us were concerned solely with constituency points which could be better put in Committee, and he knew what the substance of the arguments were going to be because he had certain communications from town clerks.
It is necessary for me to dispose as quickly as I can of the assertion that my contribution this evening could be dismissed under either of the two headings which were used by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe. I can assure the House that my arguments will not be addressed to Committee points at all but to the underlying principles of 1781 the Bill. In the course of those arguments I hope to clear up one or two points which I know are remaining in doubt in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Droylsden, a fair-minded man, who felt there was some objection to any criticism of a principle based on population.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
That would be very nice if my hon. Friend got my constituency right. It is Openshaw.
§ Mr. Williams
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. He has been a Member of the House for so many years, and I have been so used to thinking of him in those terms that I made that error.
As to the county boroughs and their significance in this matter, I should like to make it clear that although I shall be certainly putting forward points which are of vital importance to the constituency of Wigan, that constituency is accompanied in most of its objections by county boroughs which represent over 900,000 people, and I would say to the Minister, "You should take a lot of notice of what one million Lancastrians are saying."
My main objection arises out of the observations made by the Home Secretary when he said that the necessity for the Bill came because of the congestion of work in the courts. In that, of course, he was absolutely right, but he did not go further and make inquiries about the origin of that suggestion. Had he done that, he would have come to the conclusion that whilst it was right at a certain point in history to divide Gaul into three parts, it was not necessarily the right thing to do to Lancashire at present in relation to the administration of justice. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman might have felt that there were other ways of getting at this problem.
Wigan and Warrington, for example, are two county boroughs with extremely good records in the number of committals. It so happens that they did not make a large contribution to the congestion in the courts but, by jove, they have to make a contribution of a very substantial and unfair nature to the price of providing a new service of administration. If the Bill were based on the principle of population and there were an assessment of costs equitably on that basis, my 1782 hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw would feel that he would be right in asking, "What is the objection?" But the objection is that this is only part of the calculation.
A population rate is taken, but then Lancashire is divided in effect into three separate counties, and if one happens to be in an area labelled the Northern Area one is in a part of the county where, up to the present, the county council has paid all the charges. The Home Secretary therefore says, "In that part we will charge them something, but we will impose very small charges upon them because, since we are imposing a charge for the first time, we cannot apply to them the principle applied to other parts of the county."
As a result of doing that, a Bill which is basically a good one is turned into a Gilbertian effort. We find that certain parts of the county which, in relation to congestion in the courts, send very substantial numbers of cases, have to pay very much less than other places which send very much smaller numbers of cases.
Taking together my constituency of Wigan and the constituency represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), their total population is about 160,000, and under the Bill's proposals they have to pay more than £2,000, whereas Blackpool, with a population of 146,700, because it is in the northern area, will have to pay the astonishingly small sum of only £440 per annum. Whatever arrangements have been made by the Government, they are clearly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw will see, not based purely on population. Another principle has been introduced, and as a consequence the proposal put forward is absurd and unfair.
The representatives of nearly one million people in Lancashire did not have a fair opportunity of voicing their objections or of having them considered. I wish to express in the strongest terms that I can my condemnation of the way in which the Minister and his Department have dealt with the county boroughs. The county boroughs have not yet had a full reply from the Minister to the proposals which they put forward and the principles which they suggested.
1783 What has happened is that the Minister has taken a certain scheme. Hon. Members might as well know that we in the county boroughs know it as the "county councils' scheme" because it emanated from the county councils. However, we do not know the reasons underlying some of these extraordinary proposals, because they have never been disclosed to us. All we know is that Wigan having, on average, over the years from 1950 to 1954 committed sixteen cases to assizes, will have to pay, on the basis of a population of 83,000, £1,154, whereas if we had been in the northern area we should have had to pay only a microscopical proportion of that sum.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
While the hon. Gentleman is giving the figure paid under what he calls the "county councils' scheme," will he state what Wigan would pay on the basis which he advocates?
§ Mr. Williams
Yes, indeed, but perhaps the Attorney-General will allow me to make my own speech. If he has heard the representations which have been made, and if he has acquainted himself with the history of this very important matter, he will know that certain representations have been very strongly made to the Home Secretary. I myself have made representations during the last few months and have put alternatives to the Home Secretary, and the Attorney-General knows as well as anybody, or should know, that they will necessarily be part of my submissions this evening. But it does not follow that I must include that part of my speech in the part in which I am merely criticising the steps which have been taken by the Government. When I have the Floor, it is for me to decide when I shall propose certain constructive things, as I will before I sit down and when I am addressing myself to demonstrating how discourteous the Home Secretary and those advising him have been in their treatment of the county boroughs. The sad thing about it is that the differences could have been composed, I am convinced, had a little more time been taken in discussion and consultation.
Surely there is none in the House more courteous than the Home Secretary. I have known him for many years and I would say that, however much one might disagree with his political views, he is a 1784 most courteous individual. How has it come about that the Home Secretary should have a reputation for discourtesy among county boroughs representing nearly one million Lancastrians? It comes about because he has accepted—I am sure in good faith—proposals which are not based upon any clearly defined principle.
In reply to the Attorney-General's point about what I would propose, I would say first that there are several ways of approaching this. I put as one way the submissions which have been made by Wigan. Until tonight I thought that these submissions were made only by Wigan and were not supported by the other county boroughs. I do not mean that they were opposed by the other county boroughs, but that it was as it happened only Wigan which put them forward. I was delighted when my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) put forward these proposals indicating that there are other county boroughs who now support this point of view.
The suggestion which I make as one possible way which would be equitable would be to look at this question of congestion in this way. The courts are being used more by some than by others. The use of the court has to be paid for, and it should be paid for upon the principle of its being used, that those who are using it more shall pay more and those who are using it less shall pay less. It would follow from that that at least there would be a clear principle in the Bill whether Members agreed with it or not.
A clear, basic principle would be established under which the contribution would vary with the number of cases that came along. That would be a solution to satisfy the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but it is significant that when the proposal was put forward the reply was most extraordinary. It was that that would be contrary to the principle of justice, as if there were some relationship between a magistrate sitting as a Bench and deciding whether to sit or not, and a finance committee in another part of the county altogether functioning in another time or place to decide whether the contribution levied on them was fair.
I put it to the Home Secretary that with a little thought it would have been possible to answer courteously and clearly 1785 the perfectly sound proposal which Wigan put forward; but he did not do that. He made a reply which, frankly, was absolutely shocking. Let us suppose that Wigan is unable to carry other county boroughs with it in that proposal. Is there another? When one is considering the administration of justice and setting up courts in relation to a particular area, and when one bears in mind that many of the committals which are made to Manchester and Liverpool are from the Northern area, one can ask what is the local authority for the purpose of finance.
Surely it is a body, the strength or weakness of which depends not on a counting of heads but on considering the rateable value. If one considers the rateable value, it is possible to marry the rateable value idea to the scheme which was put forward by Home Office. The advantage of that would be that there would be a consistent principle applied in the Bill and we would not have these ridiculous differences in the figures.
I hope that when he comes to reply the Attorney-General will be able to tell me how he reconciles the astonishing differences in the figures, differences which have been supplied to him. Details of all those figures have been quoted tonight and were supplied weeks ago to the Home Secretary. He has, as far as I can see, if not completely ignored them, at any rate decided to take this or that other scheme and not to give any convincing reply to the proposals of the county boroughs. I make no assertion that the county boroughs are necessarily right in what they are suggesting. I simply say that they have put forward very powerful reasons to which the Minister has not replied. He did not reply to them in the representations made to him. He merely said that he was considering the matter, and he came to the House tonight and did not make any statement at all at any time to show the reasons why he had rejected them.
He pointed out the difficulties. He said that in a case of this sort where we are making a fresh advance we cannot please everybody; but he should have considered the very substantial arguments put to him by Wigan, Warrington and other county boroughs. Turning to Warrington for a moment, I would say that it is significant that the first time the suggestion came of the contribution being based upon a rateable value it came from 1786 the representatives of Warrington. Now every county borough which has made objections—representing all these people in Lancashire, representing I would say not the majority but such a substantial number—is entitled to a reply. The Minister is not entitled to be silent upon this. We are entitled to have a reply in the House to the arguments which have been put privately and during the debate today.
In these circumstances, I ask the Minister, even at this late stage, to turn this basically good measure into a measure which will receive general acceptance. That could be done by a slight alteration which would be of such a nature that it would be related to a principle, whereas what had happened is that basically the Bill, in relation to the administration of justice, rests upon principles, but particular parts of the Bill—notably Clauses 6 and 9—rest upon an arbitrary decision. It has been decided quite arbitrarily to put this point forward without any supporting arguments at all.
Therefore, I say with all the force that I can that the Minister has made a dreadful mistake here and that those who have supported him from this side of the House, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe have made a great mistake in not going into the underlying principles upon which these Clauses depend and testing them and seeing whether there were precedents for them. There is a precedent for rateable value. There is a precedent for putting this on a case basis. There is no precedent whatever for simply deciding the matter arbitrarily and applying to modern Lancashire the divisions which were more appropriate to ancient Gaul.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
I did not attack at all. I was trying to take a non-partisan view. I merely said that from a party point of view there was no attack upon the Bill. I neither attacked nor commended it.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of one of the larger authorities which seem to have been much maligned, either in thought or in word, today. First, I wish to welcome the Bill because it meets a situation which has been one of very great difficulty in the City of Manchester and 1787 the areas which have been concerned and which have strangely enough been heard in complaint today.
When one looks back on post-war years, one realises how the congestion at the assizes, certainly with regard to civil cases, has caused a great deal of grievance among the litigants who came to the High Court for justice. I speak not only as a member of the local authority in the City of Manchester for nearly a quarter of a century, but also as one who has practised as a solicitor at the assize courts in Manchester for nearly thirty years. In the whole of my experience I have never known a time when the difficulties for litigants have been so marked. Happily, this situation has been somewhat relieved in the last few months and is certainly likely to be relieved by this Measure.
It is understandable that Her Majesty's judges of assize should be concerned with what has been called clearing the gaols. It is important in the administration of British justice that those incarcerated and uncertain of their fate should know that their trial will be as speedy as possible. There has been a great deal of confusion about this Bill, and especially about the parts played by the Cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Two aspects are covered by this Measure. First, it deals with the criminal work usually done by the assizes and secondly that at quarter sessions. In so far as it relieves the criminal work done by assizes my hon. Friends have had a great deal to say.
But this Bill does not only deal with the work committed to assizes. It deals also with the quarter sessions normally held in the Cities of Manchester and Liverpool. No grievance seemed to relate to the Bill on principle, but when it comes to the question of paying for it, that matter appeared to cause concern. I submit that the proposals contained in the Bill are not unjust. In the past, Liverpool Quarter Sessions have been held at St. George's Hall. There are four courts and one court has mainly been occupied with the work of quarter sessions.
Under this Bill, it is proposed that the quarter sessions and the assize work combined should occupy one of the four courts. If quarter session work alone is apportioned as only half of the work of 1788 the newly appointed recorder, it is not unreasonable that Liverpool should be called on to pay one-eighth of the costs of overheads and on a similar basis Manchester one-twelfth. In Manchester, we have been very unfortunate. We did not invite Hitler's forces to Manchester. I can assure those who criticised the facilities provided there that we should have been the last to welcome them. But they came and we lost our beautiful assize building. It may have been a little old-fashioned in some respects, but it was a very beautiful building in which the administration of justice was carried on successfully for many years.
As soon as the new situation arose, the city council did everything it could to place all available accommodation at the disposal of Her Majesty's judges for the administration of justice. We took work out of the petty sessional court and, rightly, emptied large, ornate and beautiful committee rooms to enable justice to be administered. I do not say that the conditions are ideal, but they are certainly the best possible in all the circumstances, and as a city we are very happy to do all we can to promote speedy justice and the comfort and convenience of Her Majesty's judges and litigants.
There is a project to build a new assize court. It has been under consideration by both the local authorities concerned and the Minister and has now been approved. It seems to me that the bogey for local authorities is what they will have to pay for the maintenance of the new assize court, which has not yet been built.
I think I should say a word about the system under which the assizes in the county have been proceeding all these years. Assizes in Lancashire were formerly held only at Lancaster in a building leased to the county by the Duchy of Lancaster. The county council used to ask for contributions through the justices of the peace for the holding of assizes in Lancaster.
Subsequently, Liverpool applied for assizes of its own, and I must pay a tribute to Liverpool; the City has been most generous in the way it has contributed ever since assizes have been held at Liverpool. St. George's Hall has been maintained by the Liverpool Corporation, which has never asked for a penny from anyone for the purpose ever since assizes 1789 have been held there. Nor has Liverpool asked for contributions towards the cost of Her Majesty's judges' lodgings. That is the case despite the fact that the assizes serve not only the City of Liverpool, but the area around Liverpool and what is known as the Hundred of West Derby.
When Manchester applied for assizes the situation was quite different. The Lancashire County Council and the county boroughs of what is known as the Salford Hundred, and the City of Manchester, all became joint contributors to the assizes held in Manchester. As the Home Secretary said, a joint committee was appointed to administer this assize court. Contributions were made on a rateable value basis.
Is it right that this situation should continue—that although these local authorities are paying on a rateable value basis towards their own assize court in Manchester, and Liverpool is bearing all the cost of the Liverpool Assizes, yet the City of Liverpool is also making a contribution to the assizes being held at Lancaster and Manchester and the county boroughs in the Hundred of Salford are also making a contribution towards the assizes held at Lancaster? It seems to me that the whole situation is an anachronism, and we ought to face the situation fairly and squarely.
I think that the hundred division is a proper division because, after all, Lancashire is quite a big county. Suppose, for example, there were an assize courts conjoint committee consisting of every county borough from Barrow-in-Furness down to Stockport, all contributing on the basis of rateable value. Whenever some new linen or crockery had to be bought—because that is all the conjoint committee will have to do, make provision for crockery and linen in the judge's lodgings—the representatives of all those contributing on the basis of rateable value would have to travel miles and miles in order to approve the purchase of a cup or a saucer.
The functions of these assize committees are only those which would normally be performed by a steward—engaging porters and minor officials of one sort or another. It seems to me that in making provision for county representation of the assizes at Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster, use is made of grandiose language for a situation which does not warrant it.
1790 It has been suggested that contributions should be based on the rateable value as heretofore. It should be remembered that the question of rateable value was settled many years ago, and there is now a new situation. There is now a central Exchequer equalisation grant, which was never taken into account when the rateable value basis was settled. If this were paid out of the general rate fund, as it would be under the proposal in Clause 9, all those local authorities who are complaining would receive an Exchequer equalisation grant from the central Exchequer on the contributions they pay towards the overhead maintenance of the Crown courts. However, it seems unreasonable that rateable value should now be the basis of financial contributions. Surely population would be the proper basis, in that in the administration of justice we are dealing with human beings.
I believe that the Cities of Manchester and Liverpool are being very, very generous indeed, because they are both agreeing to pay half the costs of the recorders and the provision of superannuation benefits connected with the new Crown courts in respect of work to deal with the criminal cases, and the central Exchequer is paying the other half. We are not asking for anything from the local authorities who have complained in regard to that part relating to work formerly done by quarter sessions in Liverpool and Manchester. It is worthy of note that their representatives have not waited to listen to the argument that might have been put forward on behalf of Liverpool and Manchester. They have merely made their little county borough speeches, to please their constituents or town clerks who have sent them communications; their little party speeches will be very fully reported in their local papers and everybody there will think, "What magnificent Members we have to have put our case so cogently." They have all run away, except the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams). The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), who is not in his place, was a severe critic.
§ Mr. R. Williams
Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) entitled to go to the HANSARD room to make quite sure that his speech has been properly reported? Since he has not returned, perhaps that fact will be recognised by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Lever
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), speaking on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, all the more confirms what I thought, that he had gone to the HANSARD room to make sure that his speech was as cogent as I complained it was on behalf of his constituents.
We have shown the fullest measure of good will about the contributions that will be made under the Bill. We want to be friendly with our neighbours; we always have been. There has never been an argument between us until this question of the cost of the new assizes arose. For all these years we have been working amicably together, and I hope that my hon. Friends and their authorities will continue to work amicably with us. I suggest, with great respect, that it is ludicrous that contributions should be based on the number of people committed. Such a capitation basis—or perhaps I might call it a decapitation basis—seems unreasonable and ought to be dismissed as of no serious account.
All these authorities that hon. Members represented in this House want I am sure to be fair and to see justice well administered. Justice is very well administered in this country. There is no other country in the world where it is better administered than here. When all these authorities realise what the Bill involves and how much they need to play their part in the administration of justice and to feel that they are part and parcel of the scheme on which our new Crown courts are to be established, they will realise that Manchester, Liverpool, and the county council have been reasonable and fair.
We have to live with them for many years to come in harmony on many questions, and we are anxious to do so on this. When they carefully consider the situation, I hope that they will appreciate that our proposals, reflected in Clause 9, are as fair a basis as can be conceived. Discussions have been going on, in spite of what has been said to the contrary.
Almost in conclusion, I want to rebut the suggestion that we have done anything, behind the backs of other authorities. What we have to say, we shall say in their presence. We are an important authority, a responsible and just authority, and we are not dictatorial in 1792 any way. When we, together with Liverpool, discussed the matter with the Home Secretary we were concerned only with the cost we should have to bear in relation to our own responsibilities for the work formerly carried on by quarter sessions in Manchester and Liverpool and not with the whole question of the setting up of these Crown courts for taking criminal work normally at the assizes.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for giving me the opportunity of saying this. I hope that I have been fair even to the critics of Manchester, which I am very proud to represent in local government and in Parliament, and that the amicable relations which have existed among all these authorities will be continued after these matters have been further considered.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
I was rather shocked to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) charge his colleagues, to whom he is generally kindly disposed, with saying their little party pieces. Did he at no time during his excellent speech envisage the thousands in Manchester who will next week read with great interest the remarks which he has just made? I hope that my hon. Friend will not charge me afterwards with making my little party speech, because I declare forthwith that what I have to say—and I shall be very brief at this late hour, and will not be guilty of tedious repetition—is in consequence of representations which have been made to me by my local authority, the County Borough of Warrington.
I confess that tonight I encroach with a little nervousness on the province of the lawyers—this Bill is, of course, highly technical. Furthermore, I am here as one representing a Lancashire constituency, but I confess, also, that I have only done so for a very few months. I have listened with respect to my colleagues who have detailed knowledge of the administration of justice in Lancashire. I have not that detailed knowledge, and I would not presume to pronounce upon Lancashire's needs, and on what has happened in the past, with the same authority as have my colleagues.
It is quite clear that these new Crown courts have been welcomed by both sides of the House. About that there is no 1793 argument. I want to focus attention, if I may, on what is, in my opinion, the most important charge. In the first place, I recall that some years ago I had the honour and privilege in this House to pilot through certain Bills. I am surprised that the Home Secretary has not discovered something which I discovered very early in my Ministerial career—when framing a Bill it is a fundamental mistake to by-pass important local authorities, associations or organisations.
Here there was, apparently, a first scheme, of which the southern part of Lancashire subsequently complained on the ground that it was inequitable. The Minister then produced a second scheme, but the county boroughs then complained. Apparently he then got impatient—a fatal mistake. It is a fatal mistake to get impatient, because the final result is that there is no saving of time. The House sits, the various constituency representatives want their say. Later, in Committee, a Bill which might have passed through without any controversy whatsoever is delayed. That was the Minister's great mistake.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) quite rightly said that Wigan's position is very similar to that of Warrington, and he reminded the Minister of certain figures. As I think that the Minister was not present when one set of figures was mentioned, I shall repeat it and ask that it may be justified in the closing speech. Wigan and Warrington—both very poor areas in comparison with some of the other towns in Lancashire—will, by this Bill, be called upon to pay £2,000 a year against wealthy Blackpool's £440. These are the figures which I want to be borne in mind.
As has been said, it was Warrington that first made representations to the Minister to base his castings on rateable value rather than on population. Warrington feels rather affronted, of course, that this division has been ignored. But I have no intention of reiterating the cogent arguments which have been advanced tonight, arguments with which many of us concur. I want the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General to consider them very carefully, and, in Committee, to reconsider Clauses 6 and 9 in order that Lancashire, while welcoming these two courts, will not at the same time feel that there has been any injustice in allocating the costs.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
We have had an interesting debate, dealing very largely with local matters, but matters of considerable importance. The debate has been concentrated upon the division of cost among local authorities. I myself do not intend to pursue that, but I would emphasise the obvious importance of it to the local authorities.
Serious charges have been made against the Home Secretary, as he will recognise, particularly by my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) and Salford, West (Mr. Royle), in their very powerful speeches. I am not going to enter into the merits of the case, but what they have said is that the Secretary of State has acted with lack of courtesy, with lack of consideration, and that he has eventually founded his costings upon some compromise in which, they say, they can find no principle at all. These are serious allegations to which, I am sure, the Attorney-General will give his attention in his reply to the debate. They are obviously matters which will arise in Committee, but it would be helpful to have at this stage the Government's full reply to the speeches which have been made upon that aspect of the Bill.
I should like to turn to the wider considerations for which the Bill is designed. We accept, of course, the general principles of the Bill, and we shall accept the Motion for its Second Reading, but I am myself a little concerned about certain aspects of the Bill. We all recognise that something has to be done about the administration of justice in Lancashire. The root difficulty has been, I understand, that in South Lancashire there has been a mass of criminal assize litigation, too much work for one full-time judge, not enough work for two full-time judges.
The suggested solution of this problem is, in order to provide sufficient work for full-time occupation for more than one judge, to put in the same court sessions jurisdiction as well as criminal assize jurisdiction. That appears to me to be the essence of the problem and the essence of the solution proposed of it. What the Maxwell Committee proposed was that there should be full-time Recorders for Liverpool and Manchester and that they should be, in addition, commissioners of assize to assist the High 1795 Court judges when the High Court judges go to assize.
The proposal in the Bill is that there should be full-time recorders for Liverpool and Manchester in a central criminal court which should have sessions jurisdiction and criminal assize jurisdiction and to which the High Court judges should continue to go to exercise in addition criminal assize jurisdiction. In each of these proposals we have recorders doing quarter sessions work and we have recorders doing criminal assize work. The only difference that I can see between the Maxwell Report proposal and the Government's proposal is that the High Court judges under the Government's proposal would go to the recorder's criminal court, whereas under the Maxwell proposal the recorders would go to the criminal assize court. But the jurisdiction of the recorders would be precisely the same. I may have been mistaken, but that is how I understood the Bill and the opening remarks of the Home Secretary.
I understood the Home Secretary to say that there is a difference in jurisdiction. I should like to have enligtenment from the Attorney-General about the difference of jurisdiction between the Maxwell Report proposal and the proposal in the Bill with regard to sessions jurisdiction and criminal assize jurisdiction. I do not at all like a proposal which confers criminal assize jurisdiction upon anyone less than a High Court judge. It seems to me a proposal which we ought to approach with caution. In this suggestion we are having conferred upon recorders, who are less than High Court judges, a criminal assize jurisdiction, not just merely as a temporary arrangement, which is often made to deal with some temporary congestion, but as a permanent part of the regular jurisdiction of the country.
I appreciate that a similar thing is done in the London Central Criminal Court, but in that court there is no sessions jurisdiction and in that court we have a criminal court based in London in the centre of the country's jurisdiction. I will come to the importance of that in a moment. Therefore, I should like to have some indication, much more detailed than we have had so far, of what criminal assize jurisdiction will be exercised by the recorders.
1796 As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) pointed out, there is power in the Bill for the recorder to postpone cases coming before him in order that they may be heard by High Court judges. What cases will be so postponed? Are all murder cases, for instance, to be so postponed? Are all cases of other categories to be so postponed? If so, of what other categories? If all cases of other categories are to be postponed, why cannot we have it stated definitely in the Bill?
If all cases of some categories are not going to be postponed to the High Court judge, by what criteria are some cases in those categories going to be postponed to the High Court judge and others not postponed? The decision will have to be made not after the recorder has heard the case but before he hears it. Therefore, I should like to have a much clearer indication of what the Government have in mind about this than is possible at present. I hope that the Government will consider, as we on this side of the House shall consider, the desirability of including in the Bill clearer provisions for the division of functions between the recorder and the High Court judge.
The establishment of a court in Liverpool and Manchester and south Lancashire has been regarded in some quarters as an experiment in establishing local high courts. I have the greatest misgivings about any such suggestion, and, certainly this experiment in South Lancashire will be followed with very considerable interest. I think it is immensely important that judges should go on assize. I believe that it brings home to the people of the country, in the strongest possible way, the detached, impersonal, powerful, and even the dramatic administration of justice. I think it impresses on the people of the country the majesty of the law, and the integrity and detachment of the law, in a way in which it would be extremely difficult to do otherwise.
I think that it is desirable to have changes of judges among those who administer justice locally. I think it is important to have in the administration of justice, as we have in this country because we are a small country and because of the history of our country, centred in London in the Inns of Court, in the central courts of our country, Bench and 1797 Bar, knowing each other, living together, contributing to the collegiate life of the place and the life of the Inns, contributing towards the formation of a sound, high, professional standard—and professional standards are not just accidental attributes.
They are developed over years, by men who live together and who contribute towards each other's development, intellectually and morally, too. It is of the greatest advantage to this country to have centralised administration of justice. After all, the great reputation of this country has, in the administration of justice, developed from the King's justice. It has not developed, as our political systems have so largely, from a collection of several local courts. It has developed from the central administration of justice, and I hope that that will be maintained and that departures from it will be made with considerable care.
We all hope—we are all sure—that in South Lancashire this court will develop successfully. But it is quite a different thing to have a Central Criminal Court in London and to have a court of this kind in Manchester. It is quite a different thing to have the administration of justice throughout the country decentralised in local, provincial courts in place of the central administration of justice here in London, with assize judges going out from that.
There is just one other remark I wish to make, and that is about Part II of the Bill. I very much welcome the small but, nevertheless, significant transfer of powers from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chancellor. I think it is important to apply, as far as we possibly can, the fundamental principle that the Judicature should be independent of the Executive, and that is a principle which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has applied tonight.
After all, the office of Home Secretary is a political appointment. The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Cabinet and he has his political aspect, but he is also the head of the Judicature, and it is important that the Judicature in all its aspects, in the appointment and removal of judges and the control and the administration of judges, should be carried out entirely independently, as far as it can possibly be done, of the Executive. Therefore, I welcome the transfer of these comparatively small, but nevertheless 1798 important, items from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chancellor.
It is extremely important that there should be no political aspect at all about the appointment and administration of judges, and that is a small but valuable contribution which is made in Part II of the Bill. The other proposals in Part II do not raise matters of such general principle, but they are valuable contributions towards the administration of justice.
We on this side of the House welcome the Bill. We welcome Part I, with regard to the South Lancashire court, because we believe that something drastic has to be done about the congestion in South Lancashire. We also welcome the provisions in Part II. We shall certainly not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), I was glad to note, concluded his speech by saying that he welcomed the provisions of the Bill in relation to the administration of justice in south Lancashire. When I heard some of his earlier observations, I rather began to wonder whether that was the conclusion to which he would come.
He spoke a good deal about the desirability of the assize system. I entirely agree with him about that. But then he seemed to indicate that the creation of the new Crown courts would do something to diminish and alter the assize system. Of course it will not. The judges will still be going on assize as they have done over so many centuries. However, what the provision of the Crown courts will do is enable the judges to deal more speedily with the more serious criminal cases, and with the civil work, which has suffered so extensively because of the pressure on the judges of the criminal work.
In the course of our debate, it seemed to me that hon. Members were not perhaps paying enough attention to the problem of the civil work, particularly in relation to discussions on Clause 9, when the basis of the argument was how many cases have been committed from this particular part of Lancashire to Manchester and elsewhere, without regard to 1799 the extent of the civil work, which may go to Lancaster, Liverpool or Manchester.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said something about the advantages of a centralised administration of justice. He seemed to imply that that was essential for the maintenance of sound, high professional standards. I am sure that every possible effort is made, and, I think, with great success, on the Northern Circuit to maintain the highest possible professional standards. I speak as one not a member of that circuit.
The hon. and learned Member asked what difference there was between the Report of the Maxwell Committee and the scheme in the Bill. He suggested that the only reason for the scheme was to seek to secure work for more than one new recorder. I think that is what he suggested. I made a note of it at the time. Of course the object of the Bill is not to provide more work for lawyers; it is to enable justice to be administered more speedily.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I cannot allow one misrepresentation after another to go on like this. Every single point the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made has been made just slightly off the straight from what I said. I did not say anything of the kind. Of course I make no allegation against the Northern Circuit—nothing of the kind. Of course it has the highest possible standards. I was addressing myself to entirely different matters.
§ The Attorney-General
I am very glad to hear that, but I think that when the hon. and learned Member sees the report of what he said, he will find that I took a fairly accurate note. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will find that he did say that the object of this system—and here I think that I am quoting him correctly—was that in order to provide work for more than one judge, quarter sessions and assize activity was to be put together. Surely he will agree that that was the effect of his words.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. and learned Gentleman does not agree, but he said that the only difference between the Bill and the Report of the Maxwell Committee was that judges would go to the recorders' courts in one case and that recorders would go to the 1800 judges' courts in the other. What is true is that the difference between the scheme in the Bill and the findings of the Maxwell Committee is not very great because the Bill is to a very large extent founded on those findings. But a difference is that, under the Maxwell Report, there would be somebody sitting as a recorder for one day, or just part of that day, exercising the jurisdiction of the ordinary recorder of a city and with the jurors coming from the panel for that city; and then, in the afternoon, he might be sitting in the same court not as a recorder, but as a commissioner of assize, with an enlarged jurisdiction and with jurors summoned from a different panel.
In the view of some who have great experience in these matters on circuit, it would not appear to be a good thing to have that transition taking place, and the difference between the Maxwell Report and this Bill can be summarised perhaps best in this way. Under the Government's scheme, there will be a recorder comparable in status and position to the recorder of London, who will exercise the same jurisdiction the whole time; whereas, under the findings of the Maxwell Committee, there would be one person exercising a different jurisdiction in a different capacity at different times.
I do hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is satisfied that this is an improvement. Another point which was raised concerned the transfer of cases from one part of Stockport to Manchester away from the North Wales Circuit. One sympathises with those concerned when these transfers have to take place, but the case for making it in this instance is a strong one. It is not the first time that such a transfer has taken place; there was a transfer when Birmingham became a great city, and members of the Oxford Circuit were allowed rights of audience in the Midland Circuit. Some arrangement could perhaps be made between the Northern and the North Wales Circuits, but that is a matter for the Circuits themselves.
Now I come to the main subject of our discussion tonight, and which the hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to deal with at length. I hope he will forgive me if I do not speak on it at great length, but I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) when he said that this was an important Bill and one which would help 1801 to reduce delays in the law; and I agree with him in his view that it is a matter for regret that the Bill was held up for so long. But there was only one thing which held it up, and that was the failure to get agreement among all the authorities in Lancashire as to who would pay for these proposals, welcomed as they are throughout Lancashire. I think that my right hon. Friend has been attacked in a manner which cannot be justified. He has been condemned for taking the county council's scheme, and it has been suggested that he should have allowed more time for discussion.
The right hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) said the Home Secretary made a fundamental mistake in bypassing the local authorities. Nothing of the sort took place. A scheme was proposed; then an alternative scheme, very like that which the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) thought a good one; and then that scheme met with objections. Then the next alternative scheme was put forward. That met with the objections which have been voiced tonight. There were bigger objections to the first alternative—much bigger objections; and, naturally, if it had any prejudices in the matter, the Home Office was prejudiced in favour of the scheme which commanded the more general acceptance.
For my right hon. Friend and the Home Office, the main thing is to get the Bill on the Statute Book, and it is indeed unfortunate that agreement has not been reached between all the authorities in Lancashire.
§ Mr. Royle
Is it not a fact that the negotiations about what kind of financial scheme should be adopted took place between October, 1954, and February, 1955? In view of the fact that the Bill is brought before the House 10 months later, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggest that that was too long a period for discussion of the financial Clauses when such great issues were at stake?
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Member has omitted to mention that my right hon. and gallant Friend had also received deputations on more than one occasion and that efforts have been made—and I hope that more can be done even now- 1802 to produce agreement; but the Bill cannot be delayed on that account. It is required.
I do not want to say very much about the scheme put forward by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) expressed surprise that the hon. Member for Salford, West came to his support. I was astonished that he should do so, because I have here the representations of the County Borough Council of Wigan on the proposed new arrangements. I think the hon Member for Wigan must have stopped before he reached the end of them, because the last paragraph reads:It is understood that the county borough councils of Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport and Warrington also seek to secure the same provisions.
§ Mr. R. Williams
The Attorney-General must be aware that he is not now referring to the specific point which my hon. Friend made. If he reads the document which he has in his hand he will find that it is addressed to a different point.
§ The Attorney-General
It is addressed to a good many, but one point which appears from the document is that which the hon. Member for Wigan would not answer when I put it to him. He said that under what he called the county council's scheme in the Bill it would cost Wigan £1,154 a year. I asked him what it would cost under what is called the Home Office alternative, namely division among all local authorities. He would not tell me, but the figure is £1,165, so that the county council scheme, to which Wigan objects, would cost Wigan £11, less than the other scheme.
The same applies, according to the figures produced in this document by the Borough Council of Wigan, in relation to the County Borough of Warrington. The scheme in the Bill will cost Warrington less than would otherwise be proposed.
§ Mr. Williams
In the interests of accuracy and to ensure that we have a correct report, will the right hon and learned Gentleman not read the column which I am sure appears in the document in his hand, which is not the Home Office alternative but the Home Office alternative on a rateable value basis? He will see that he is making a wrong distinction and misleading the House.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Gentleman should not say that, because when I look at paragraph 9 of the document, dealing with the alternative scheme to which I have referred, I read:The…third scheme…came as a shock to the authorities who had gone to discuss the Home Office alternative scheme, which earlier had appeared to meet with considerable approval.The only difference is the rateable value point, which has been mentioned. I agree with what the hon. and learned Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) said, namely, that rateable value in relation to criminal and civil cases is not really such a good yardstick as population. I think that one recognises from the figures published that it would bring a slightly greater benefit to Warrington and Wigan. No doubt we shall hear a great deal more about the method of payment in Committee. All I would say to the House is that the Government have no view about which way should be adopted. All one wants to see is agreement between the local authorities concerned. Failing agreement, after the time which has elapsed, I do not think the Government can be criticised for putting into the Bill the scheme which has obtained the majority's support. I do not think that that has been denied, or disputed, by anyone who has spoken against the scheme.
I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, and that although we may argue about Clause 9 everyone will do his best to see that this Measure, which has been delayed for a considerable time, will not be unduly delayed in reaching the Statute Book.
§ Sir E. Errington
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, may I ask him to reply to my question about the suggestion in the Report that it would be advisable to make the power to appoint full-time recorders permissive, so that there may be a return to part-time recorderships if there is a reduction in criminal work in Liverpool, Manchester, or Lancaster?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Will he at the same time deal with the question I raised 1804 about cases which will be postponed by the recorder to the High Court judge?
§ The Attorney-General
I listened to the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir. E. Errington). I was not sure whether he was speaking for or against the Bill. When I rose I did not see him in the Chamber, so I did not feel it incumbent upon me to reply to the point which he raised. In my view it is a Committee point. Perhaps the hon. Member will raise it in Committee.
Regarding the hon. and learned Gentleman's point, I am sorry that I did not answer it. The answer is that one will get the same kind of division as one gets at the Old Bailey. It is not possible, and not desirable, to try to draw up a distinct category of cases which will be tried by the "red" judge. It works well at the Old Bailey. No one criticises the system there. I believe it will work well in these Crown courts. There will be no additional delay in dealing with the cases, because the judge will be coming at the same time as he would normally come to the Assizes. It will merely mean that the cases which are to be tried by a High Court judge will be so tried, and that also other more serious cases than are usually dealt with by recorders will be dealt with by these two recorders, who will have a higher status, and greater jurisdiction, than the ordinary recorder of a city or borough.
§ Sir E. Errington
I must press the right hon. and learned Gentleman to indicate whether appointment of these judges of the Crown courts is to be permissive. That is not, I would suggest, a Committee point. It is a serious question which goes to the root of the matter.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.