HC Deb 08 April 1957 vol 568 cc854-908

Order for Second Reading read.

5.21 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill relates to procedure in magistrates' courts and, since about 750,000 cases are tried yearly in magistrates' courts, it is intrinsically a matter of importance. A great many of those cases are, of course, tried by lay magistrates, who in the past have many times been called the great unpaid. I sometimes think that they are not only the great unpaid, but all too frequently the great unthanked. We would all be glad to take any opportunity, particularly such an opportunity as a Bill of this sort gives us, to express the thanks of the Legislature for that great work which is carried on day in and day out in courts of summary jurisdiction.

The way in which we can best show our gratitude is by ensuring, as far as we can, that the procedure of these courts is as efficient as we can make it, that while we maintain—and this must always be our first consideration—the traditional safeguards for any accused man before a court, nevertheless the courts should transact their business with such expedition and with such economy of time and effort and such adaptation to changed circumstances as we as a Legislature can ensure.

The two weaknesses with which the Bill deals have shown themselves in the procedure of magistrates' courts. The first is the necessity of having the prosecution witnesses present in court even though the defendant has admitted his guilt. The second is the difficulty of proving previous convictions when the defendant stays away from the court. The Bill deals with those two matters. It is based on the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Summary Trial of Minor Offences, the chairman of which was Sir Reginald Sharpe. I know that it would be the wish of the House if I expressed our appreciation of the care and thoroughness with which the Committee went into these matters and the lucidity of its Report.

Perhaps it would be a help if I gave a brief history of the background of the two main matters with which the Bill deals. A magistrates' court has a statutory power to convict a defendant without hearing any evidence, if he appears before it and pleads guilty to the charge against him. Magistrates also have a statutory power, where they are satisfied that the summons has been properly served, to hear a case in the absence of the defendant. But what they have not got is the power to accept a plea of guilty from a defendant who does not appear.

In consequence, if the defendant does not appear, the prosecution must prove its case by sworn evidence, even though the defendant may have written to the court admitting the charge. In other words as the law stands at the moment, his letter cannot be accepted as a plea of guilty. In modern circumstances that is a great inconvenience. Up to the beginning of this century, an accused person almost invariably appeared before the bench where he lived and there was no real difficulty about absent defendants. But the coming of the internal combustion engine has caused a revolution in that, as in so many other matters.

Nowadays, a large proportion of the cases dealt with in magistrates' courts concern motorists who have committed an offence well outside the petty sessional division in which they live. That is true of all classes of motorists, of the lorry driver no less than the pleasure motorist. It is that which, on an increasing scale, has given rise to the problem of the absent defendant, the offence being charged where it occurred, which is frequently a place widely separated from the place where the defendant lives.

To cause the defendant, as the courts have power to do, to appear before them in every one of those cases would constitute a punishment which in many cases would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the case. It would involve expenditure on travelling and lodgings and the loss of one or two days' work. So it has long been the practice of the courts not to insist on the defendant appearing in those cases. As I have explained, that has the effect that the prosecution has to prove its case and that police officers and other witnesses have to attend the court, which may be some distance from their station or place of business.

That can amount to a very grave waste of time. The Sharpe Committee estimated that in London alone, in the Metropolitan magistrates' courts, the equivalent of the full time of 89 policemen each day was involved in cases in which the defendant pleaded guilty. In a large proportion of those cases the defendant himself did not appear, but sent a letter pleading guilty. Although the Committee did not work out the loss of time in those cases, I think that it would be round about the equivalent of 60 police officers in each day in the London district. One thinks of their heavy duties in these days in the prevention of crime. It is accepted as an axiom that the best way of preventing crime is not by the severity or even by the certainty of the punishment, but by having the policeman on his beat arid on point duty. One can therefore see the great loss in time and valuable duties that is involved by this procedure.

I would quote one other figure given by the Sharpe Committee. I have given the London figures; the Committee also gives the results of observations made in Sheffield, regarded as a typical provincial town. The Committee found that the equivalent of the full time of six policemen per day was involved. If we multiply that by the number of provincial towns that there are we get a great loss of time. When one goes into the rural areas it may be even greater, because of the travelling time taken by police officers when going to the courts. The problem has attracted attention for some time, and certain alleviations have been carried out by administrative action. The main problem can be tackled only by legislation. The Bill undertakes that task.

The second matter to which I have referred, and with which the Sharpe Committee dealt, is the difficulty of proving previous convictions where the defendant does not appear. If he is convicted in his absence the prosecution cannot prove that a person who is not present is the same person who was convicted before a certain court on a certain day. That has to be considered in relation to the provision for endorsement of driving licences, because many of these cases are of that description. But even that does not gat over the difficulty by a long way. At the end of three years without any fresh offence the endorsements on the licences are expunged. In the case of some offences that happens at the end of one year. I think that that applies to speeding offences, which is a very frequent type of offence.

The courts could get over the difficulty by issuing a warrant to bring a defendant before the court so that he could be identified, but, as I tried to point out earlier, that would be unduly harsh in relation to the gravity of the offence. In any case, the High Court has held that there is no right to issue a warrant where the accused man is already represented before the court by counsel or solicitor. As a result, people with bad records are able, by staying away from the court on the day of the trial, to ensure that they are dealt with as though they were first offenders. The House will agree that that is not a desirable state of affairs.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that in principle it is desirable that a defendant who has had previous convictions should, before he sends in his notification of a desire to plead "Guilty" to a charge, have been given notification of the previous convictions which may be taken into account?

Mr. Simon

I entirely agree with that. The hon. Gentleman will see that the Bill takes that matter into account.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

My hon. Friend's intervention was a question addressed to the Joint Under-Secretary of State. I do not know to which of the two answers that might have been given to the question the hon. and learned Gentleman was indicating his agreement.

Mr. Simon

I was agreeing to the question, which I thought was addressed to me, whether it was not desirable, before an accused man pleaded "Guilty" to having had previous convictions—

Mr. Ede

"'Guilty' to a charge."

Mr. Simon

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I see that we were at cross purposes. The point is that before a person who pleads "Guilty" admits previous convictions he should know what is alleged against him. I can see the point; that is obviously a matter that we shall consider. I was just turning to the provisions of the Bill.

Clause 1 (1) sets out the new procedure for accepting a plea of "Guilty" from an absent defendant. It will apply at the instance of the prosecutor and with the consent of the accused and of the court. It is limited to the sphere of summary offences for which the accused cannot be sentenced to more than three months' imprisonment. That is in accordance with the recommendations of the Sharpe Committee. In other words, it is limited to offences for which he cannot claim to be tried by jury and for which, by and large, he cannot be sent by the court to be tried by jury. Perhaps I can refer to paragraphs (a) and (b) to show that it must not be an offence which is also triable on indictment or an offence for which the accused is liable to be sentenced to be imprisoned for a term exceeding three months.… The reason for that is clearly that if the court is to exercise discretion to send an accused person for trial by jury, or if he himself elects to go for trial by jury, it is highly desirable, to put it no lower, that he himself should be present to hear or to make the election. I am glad to see that hon. Members who have court experience in these matters assent to that proposal, which is in accordance with the Sharpe Committee's recommendation. It will bring about 600,000 cases within the scope of the new procedure, about six-sevenths of the cases tried in magistrates' courts.

That is not to say that the procedure will be invoked in anything like that number of cases. The prosecution will not seek to use it in a proportion of cases. It is open to every court to decide not to adopt the procedure in the circumstances of any particular case.

One matter in Clause 1 (1) marks a departure from the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, the exclusion of juvenile courts. As hon. Members know, the juvenile courts deal with children up to 14 years of age and with young persons between 14 and 17. The Sharpe Committee made no recommendation relating to children, but it recommended that the procedure should be applicable to young persons before the juvenile courts.

There are special and real difficulties of procedure, which I know will be present to the minds of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are magistrates, in applying this sort of procedure at all to juvenile courts. In addition, the procedure before juvenile courts is being considered as part of the matter before a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Ingleby. That being so, it seems to the Government a strong and convincing reason for excluding juvenile courts from the operation of the Clause at this stage, quite apart from the difficulties which would arise in invoking the procedure for the juvenile courts.

The subsection provides, first, that the new procedure shall apply only where the accused has been served, together with the summons, with a statement of the effect of the Section—and that means a notice telling him that he may plead guilty in writing if he so wishes—and also a concise statement of the facts relating to the alleged offence which will be placed before the court by the prosecution if he pleads guilty without appearing and the court accepts the plea. The Departmental Committee considered that no defendant should be told that he has a right to plead guilty in writing without also being told what facts about his offence would be placed before the court if they accepted his plea and that no other facts would be placed before them.

I turn to Clause 1 (2), which is the main operative part of the Bill. It provides that where a written plea of guilty is made, the accused does not appear and it is proved that the statement of the effect of the Section has been brought to his notice and he has been served with the summons and the statement of facts, the court may dispose of the case in his absence as if he had appeared and pleaded guilty. Before so deciding, the courts are to consider the statement of facts and the written plea, including any statement that he makes in mitigation; and if they decide to accept the plea, then the statement of facts and any submission in mitigation are to be read out before the court. The subsection also provides that a court may so proceed in the absence of the prosecutor, and that is the object of the procedure.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

On a point of order. Would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, for you to have the temperature in the Chamber checked? It seems to be very cold.

Mr. Simon

I am glad to receive the reassurance that it was not I who was affecting the temperature. I always endeavour not to inflame the atmosphere, and this is not a particularly inflammatory matter, but perhaps I could try to engage in a little more controversy before the temperature is checked.

Subsection (2) also sets out various safeguards which were recommended by the Sharpe Committee. There are three provisos. The first is that at any time before the hearing the accused may withdraw his written plea of guilty. The second is that the court may in any case decide not to accept the written plea of guilty from an absent defendant and, if so, shall adjourn the hearing to give him an opportunity of being present. Hon. Members will know that in many cases one has a plea of guilty which is fallowed by an explanation which amounts to a defence, and the second proviso deals with that, among other cases.

The third proviso is that where the court accepts the written plea of guilty it shall not take into consideration any statement by the prosecutor with respect to any facts relating to the offence charged other than those contained in the statement of facts which has been served on the defendant with the summons, unless it adjourns the trial after conviction but before sentence. Further, if the court accepts the plea of guilty, it shall not without adjourning sentence the accused to imprisonment or detention or any form of disqualification. I think the House will agree that those are all obvious and necessary safeguards, and unless hon. Members wish I do not propose to comment further on them.

The remainder of Clause 1 contains restrictions on the court's powers to issue a warrant of arrest where the accused has acted on the intimation that he may plead guilty without appearing. The reason is that it would obviously be unfair, when an accused man has been told that he need not appear and has sent a written statement that he is guilty, immediately to issue a warrant to bring him before the court. It is considered right that he should have an opportunity of coming voluntarily before the court in answer to a summons. There is a special provision, too, to enable the new procedure to apply satisfactorily in relation to proceedings in respect of national insurance offences.

Clause 2 is not based on a recommendation of the Departmental Committee, but is linked with its recommendation. It provides that in certain motoring offences—and we have particularly in mind parking offences and obstruction—where the accused has admitted in writing that he was himself the driver, that admission shall be admissible as evidence that he was the driver at the time in question. That is an extension of the provision in the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, Section 41, which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will have particularly in mind and which provides that in similar circumstances a certificate of an oral admission by the accused that he was the driver shall be admissible.

It may be helpful if I give an example to illustrate the need for this provision. When the parking meter procedure system is set up, the local authorities will be charged with the enforcement and the local authority attendant will take down the numbers of the cars which commit offences. Very often he will not see the driver. The name of the owner will be ascertainable from the registration index and the police—a different enforcement authority from the local authority—will be able to find from the owner the name of the driver in most cases.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

The police will be able to find the owner.

Mr. Simon

They will find the owner from the index, and from the owner they will ascertain the driver of the vehicle at the time in question—the man who was responsible for the offence.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

If he knows.

Mr. Simon

Of course, there are cases in which he would not know, but in the majority of cases the local authority will eventually obtain a written admission from the driver. Unless that written admission is admissible in evidence, the local authority will have to arrange for the constable who has interviewed the driver, and who may be in an area far distant from the court, to attend the court. This provision is therefore within the spirit of the Sharpe Committee's procedure but is not precisely recommended by them.

Clause 3 carries out a further recommendation of the Departmental Committee. It provides that where a notice specifying alleged previous summary convictions is proved to have been served on the accused at least seven days before the hearing and the accused does not appear in person, the court may take account of these convictions as if the accused had appeared and admitted them. That overcomes the difficulty relating to previous convictions to which I have referred. The procedure will apply at the trial of any summary offence, and in respect of any previous summary conviction, and summary offences in this context includes those offences which are triable both summarily and on indictment, for example dangerous driving.

The procedure in Clause 3 is wider in scope than in Clause 1. It is designed to meet the difficulty I mentioned at the outset, that if the accused chooses to stay away from court, there is no effective way in which previous convictions can be proved. I understand that a similar procedure has been in use for some time in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and has proved successful.

Mr. Ede

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman help me regarding this point? Notice has to be given to a person within seven days of the case coming before the court.

Mr. Simon

More than seven days.

Mr. Ede

That merely emphasises the point I wish to make. Suppose a defendant does not write to admit that he is going to plead guilty until four or five days before the case is due to be heard and he has a very bad record. What is to happen then? Is there to be any compulsion on him to answer eight days before his case is due for hearing?

Mr. Simon

As I understand the provisions of the Bill, if he sends a written admission that he is guilty at any time, then, provided that seven days or more before the hearing he has been served with a notice of previous convictions and has not disputed them, they are admissible in evidence. I do not know whether I have made that clear.

Mr. Ede

Let us assume that the man writes so near to the date fixed for the hearing that seven days are not left. What will be the procedure for the bench to follow? Will the magistrates say, "We give you notice of these previous convictions, and we have adjourned the hearing from the date we originally fixed until seven or fourteen days later"?

Mr. Simon

Of course, the bench has complete discretion and power in all these cases to adjourn them, either in order for the accused to come lo plead or to adjourn after conviction but before sentence. To take again the case put to me by the right hon. Gentleman, it matters not, as I understand it, at what date the accused may write admitting his guilt. His previous convictions are admissible against him provided that he has been served with a notice of them seven or more days before the hearing.

I need only mention Clause 4, which clarifies a point in the Magistrates Courts Act, 1952, which was a consolidating Act. I do not think I need trouble the House with it at this stage. I am sorry to have detained the House so long with this short Bill and to have gone into matters of detail to a greater extent than is customary in a Second Reading speech. I have done so because the Bill proposes a fundamental alteration in procedure and I wished to make clear that that, while the Bill is aimed at avoiding waste of time, it does not do so at the expense of the accused; his position is amply safeguarded. I hope that the House will agree and will share the view of the Government that this is a useful Measure which will facilitate the work of these important courts and prevent a great many people having to waste valuable time going through the useless exercise of proving what nobody seeks to deny.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

In speaking on a Bill of this character—even though it be my first appearance at the Dispatch Box—perhaps the House may not think it necessary for me to ask for the indulgence of hon. Members. Obviously in a political sense there is no controversy between the two sides of the House at all.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State began his speech by expressing thanks to the lay magistrates—the great underpaid and unthanked. The hon. and learned Gentleman went out of his way to thank them, and as one of them, perhaps I may be allowed to have the temerity to accept those thanks, and to say that we appreciate them very much, although we agree that there are few occasions on which lay magistrates are thanked for the services that they render to the country. I join with the hon. and learned Gentleman in thanking the Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Reginald Sharpe for its excellent Report on which the Bill was based. I should like also to thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his full and lucid explanation of the Bill.

I shall certainly recommend to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we pass this Bill. As the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, the Report of the Departmental Committee is a very good one. It was produced only after a great deal of thought. But in spite of the fact that it is such a short Bill, its provisions will result in a minor revolution in the work of magistrates and of magistrates' courts. But in my view the suggestions are admirable. It is an old legal principle that it is not justice to try a case in the absence of the defendant, and it is true that we should not sacrifice justice for the sake of saving time.

If I may say so, the ability to use time in a good cause is an admirable trait, but under modern conditions we have discovered that there is justification for saving some time, and I think that the safeguards in the Bill, which were explained by the hon. and learned Gentleman, are sufficient.

We need to save the time of our courts. It would not be an exaggeration to say that from time to time there seem to be hordes of policemen in our magistrates' courts. Last Saturday week, when I was presiding over my own local bench—and Saturday is not a busy day—there were 17 cases to be dealt with. None was serious. As I took my place on the bench I saw that there were 24 policemen in court, and this in a comparatively small town with a population of 150,000. When the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted the figure of 89 for the whole of the Metropolitan area, I considered they were fortunate indeed compared with my own experience.

On that morning the cases included one involving a motorist who had driven in a controlled area at 40 m.p.h. Evidence was given by four policemen. They were the two patrolmen who were together in the police car; a policeman from another area, in which the defendant lived, who gave evidence about serving the summons and asking whether the defendant was in charge of the car at the time, and so on, and another police officer who gave evidence that the speedometer of the police car was in order at the time. That kind of thing is experienced by all who carry out magisterial duties.

Surely it is true to say that the police have many more important duties to perform than to attend court to give such evidence, and that is a consideration, quite apart from the question of their rest and leave periods. Often policemen are brought to court to give evidence during what is their rest or leave period. There is also the question of witnesses who are often taken from their work, which results in a loss of industry and expense, either to the defendant or the ratepayers, as the case may be. Is it not right that this House should consider even the time of the defendant? Is that not fair? People who appear before courts of summary jurisdiction on these technical offences are not habitual criminals. Even if they have offended against the law in a minor way, we have an obligation to consider their time and even their expense.

I should like to stress that the Bill is not intended merely to deal with motoring offences. Clause 1 explains the types of offence which can be dealt within this way. While it may be motoring offences which are generally dealt with under this Measure, many other kinds of offence will be decided under it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), in conversation with me before we began to debate the Bill, said that he had certain reservations about some of the offences which might come under its provisions.

The Bill represents a great improvement on the present position. Today, cases are heard in the absence of defendants, but, officially, no plea may be accepted in such circumstances. Officially, no letter may be read, except a letter of apology for absence, and in no sense may there be a plea of guilty or not guilty. As the Departmental Committee said, in paragraph 15 of its Report, at present the case must be proved by the prosecution, and, in effect, that is what takes up a lot of time. In fairness to the Bill, I must say that it will end many of these anomalies.

I should like to make a few detailed comments on what is in the Bill and what is not. First, I should like to express pleasure at the fact that the Departmental Committee has rejected the idea of fining on the spot. It has been held in many quarters that the time of defendants might be saved if the police were empowered to stop a motorist or any person suspected of having committed a minor offence, draw the fine and give the person a receipt. That is done in the United States of America and in other countries as well.

Although this saves time, it appears to me not to be in line with our ideas of justice. I do not believe that such a system—I will not put it any higher than this—would improve the relationship between the public and the police. In fact, I feel that there might grow up a feeling of hatred which does not exist at present. I am very glad that this suggestion was rejected by the Sharpe Committee.

In one of our previous Measures dealing with magistrates' courts we altered the name applied to courts of summary jurisdiction. No longer were they to be called police courts; they were to be called magistrates' courts. Whenever I see a reference in a newspaper to a "police court", I immediately write a letter to the editor and draw attention to his mistake. It should be stressed that the evidence of a policeman in the eyes of the justices has exactly the same weight as evidence given by anybody else. In the application of this Bill I trust that there will be a growing sense of the magistrates' court rather than of the police court.

I was glad when the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that the Bill does not relate to juvenile courts. I think that, generally speaking, it is wise to bring young offenders before the court and that it is a good thing for them to see the law in action. But I do not believe that it would be very satisfactory for young people to plead guilty in those circumstances. There might be some complications involving a case in which a person aged 20 and a much younger person were charged together, but I do not believe that that complication in itself would justify bringing juveniles within the scope of the Bill.

It is important to note that the Bill cannot be used in cases where the defendant decides to plead not guilty. We take steps in the Bill to make sure that a man knows that he is pleading guilty. If, in the magistrate's view, the explanation which an accused gives in the course of his letter indicates that he is, in fact, pleading not guilty, provision is made for an adjournment of the case.

It is interesting to note, too, that the most serious motoring case would be one which came within the description of "without due care and attention." No more serious type of motoring case may be dealt with under this Bill. For that offence, the maximum fine for a first offender can be £40, but I believe that the safeguard of adjournment as provided for in the Bill is quite sufficient. If a man felt that because of his previous record and, perhaps, because of the seriousness of the case, he would make himself liable to a fine of anything like approaching £40, I am sure that he himself would not plead guilty by letter.

When the Bill was being considered in another place, some discussion took place on the possibility of imposing a minimum fine of £5. An Amendment to that effect was not accepted. I feel that if a defendant fears a very large fine, it is up to him to appear before the magistrates and to make his mitigation appeal direct rather than to plead guilty by letter. In any case, I am sure that justices would adjourn a case before imposing such a large fine.

I should like to comment on Clause 3, relating to the reading of previous convictions. This will be a great improvement. Previously in law, records could not be read in the absence of a defendant, and that has proved to be an incentive for the defendant to stay away from court. If an accused has known that his past record could not be divulged to the magistrates in his absence, it has been a big temptation not to appear in court.

There is a tendency on the part of magistrates when a man does not appear to impose a fine perhaps of an extra 10s., because he has not attended the court; or, to put it the other way, if a man has taken the trouble to appear in court there has been a tendency to be more lenient with him.

My next comment is an important one, and it is a comment which, I hope, will reach the ears of the chiefs of police. I hope that the Bill will not lead to chiefs of police ceasing to issue warnings to offenders. In my view, there is some danger of that in what the Bill proposes. It might be thought, "We are giving the man an opportunity to plead guilty by letter", and chief constables and superintendents might be inclined to prosecute in any circumstances rather than give a warning.

I am told that in 1955, taking the whole of the United Kingdom, chief constables and superintendents of police issued 176,389 warnings in motoring offences, and did not prosecute. That is a very valuable provision which we possess, where normally law-abiding people are involved.

The 1952 Magistrates Courts Act takes means into consideration. This is something with which we should be concerned. When a defendant appears, it is quite regular to find out what is his ability to pay before imposing a penalty. Making the penalty fit the purse is perhaps fairer than sticking to Gilbert and Sullivan and making the penalty fit the crime. Under the Bill, of course, magistrates can adjourn to find out about means, but the other Act is relied on for the power, and justices may not have this information under this Measure. We shall have to fall back on the 1952 Act. I have a little doubt as to whether full consideration has been given to giving magistrates full opportunity of knowing what the means of a defendant are before they proceed to impose a penalty.

I have more doubts about delivery of notifications, particularly notification of an adjournment. I have been appeased to some extent by the statement of the Lord Chancellor in another place. Since he was speaking for the Government, I am in order, I believe, in quoting what he said. On 28th March, the noble Viscount said: I can confirm that when I consult the Rule Committee for magistrates' courts or. The making of the rules which will be necessary to implement this Bill, I will suggest to them that service by this method ought not to be treated as proved unless there is evidence that the summons did come to the accused's knowledge; that is, that service by this method should be put on all fours with service by registered post. A little later he said: I can assure the noble Lord that every step will be taken to see that an adjournment such as is contemplated under the Bill will be brought to the notice of the defendants, and I shall give that point personal consideration once again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 28th March, 1957; Vol. 202, c. 870.] That is very wise. It is very desirable that that assurance should be given.

I want to make a point now in the interests of simplicity. This is one of my doubts about the Bill. The process of notification within the terms of the Bill seems to be rather complicated. The initial consideration of the two documents envisaged in Clause 1 (1) must be done without the documents being read aloud at the early stage. The magistrates will have these two documents mentioned in Clause 1 (1) before them, and they will read them. If there is no adjournment, the court will convict immediately.

Thus, the first words which will be spoken from the bench, indeed, the first words to be spoken by anyone in court, will be, "We convict." Then, after conviction, and only after conviction, those two documents will be read before the whole court. Presumably, the clerk will read them. My fear is that this might possibly give the impression of a very close relationship between the police and the court. In my view, it is rather undignified and perhaps suspicious for justices to consider documents whose contents are unknown to anyone else in the court. The Bill, in effect, substitutes a written document for an oral statement in mitigation.

Why should not the present form of trial be continued, with the reading aloud of the documents instead of oral statements as we have now? The Bill could authorise the prosecution to read the statement of fact; the clerk could read the defendant's submission. The court could then announce conviction and penalty, and in that there would be nothing sub rosa. The Bill is concerned with expediency. Its object is to save time and avoid attendance at court. Unless the method in these cases is rendered more expeditious, the Bill could quite conceivably make the overall position worse than it is at the moment. I feel that even the reading of the documents is superfluous, and I think that we could do without it.

Finally, I would just say, in passing, that we recognise that Clause 4 was added in another place. It has nothing to do with the main principle of the Bill, but it was introduced only to bring the consolidation Act up to date.

This is a good Bill. I would recommend my right hon. and hon. Friends to give it a Second Reading, in spite of the few reservations which I have named; perhaps the Committee stage could deal with them if necessary. I congratulate the Government on introducing the Measure, and I am sure that I speak for my right hon. and hon. Friends in wishing it a successful and, if I may say so, speedy passage in all its stages.

6.19 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) on the position which he has occupied at the Dispatch Box. I hope to see him there on many occasions speaking as ably, pleasantly and courteously as he has this evening. With one exception, I agree with every word he said, which is something which cannot always be said of the words of an hon. Member speaking for the Opposition in this House.

I will deal at once with the one exception, wherein I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. He said that the documents provided for in Clause 1 (1) should not be read in court. One of the fundamental principles of British justice, be it at a serious trial or at the trial of what we sometimes call a trivial offence, is that the proceedings should be public. If a particular type of offence is becoming too prevalent, even if only such an offence as riding a bicycle without lights, it is necessary that one should at least know who are the offenders, what the fines are and the reasons for them. Otherwise, it might appear that someone has been over-fined for what is said to be a trivial offence.

But, when the full facts are heard and recorded, it may well become quite obvious why the defence took a certain course and why the magistrates acted as they did. Therefore, in the interests of the publicity of justice—that everything should be done in public and that the Press should, if necessary, be at liberty to report the happenings in their local courts—although I respect the hon. Member's sincerity, I disagree with just that one remark in his able and pleasant speech in support of the Bill.

All of us who have attended courts for many years realise the great waste of time that is caused, both to those who are interested in what is sometimes called the prosecution—namely, police and witnesses—and to the defendants as well, not only in attending court but also in waiting, sometimes for an hour or two hours, before their not very serious offences are brought before the bench of justices or the stipendiary magistrates. It is to avoid this waste of time that this excellent Bill has been introduced.

The Bill is a half-way house between the two aspects to which the hon. Member referred, namely, the speedy administration of injustice by fining on the spot, which can only be done either on the opinion of a policeman or by a standard which has been laid down beforehand, and lo which, I am sure, everybody, on both sides, would object as strongly as I do myself, and the other factor that every case must be tried in full, even when a bicycle is alleged to have been ridden without a rear light. Every case must be heard to the full and every person must be able to be heard in his own defence.

Another matter to which I object is the suggestion that because an offence is trivial, a person is not entitled to be heard just as fully in his defence. The Bill preserves that right to the full. It may well be that people will still wish to appear and to contend that they were riding a bicycle with a rear light, were not exceeding the 30 m.p.h. limit or were not committing whatever other less serious offence is charged against them. I hope that no criticism will be levelled at people who do appear that they are wasting the time of the court. I do not believe that that will happen. British justice does not work that way.

For a variety of reasons—partly the introduction of the internal combustion engine and partly as the result of legislation passed in this House by the present and previous Governments—there are now more offences and, therefore, magistrates of all kinds throughout the country have more cases brought before them. To meet the difficulties which that presents, the Bill steers the right and correct course while maintaining the interests of publicity, the interests of the accused and the proper administration of justice.

I am sure that all hon. Members will regard the Bill as an advance in the administration of justice, always remembering that 95 per cent, or more of the people who come before the courts are concerned with trivial offences and, as defendants, are by far the greatest majority of people who are concerned with the administration of justice. We must, therefore, consider them very fully. I am sure that the Bill does so and I give it my full blessing.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Unlike previous speakers on the Bill, I view it with grave misgivings. Both the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who introduced the Bill, and the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) brought into their speeches the phrase "internal combustion engine". While my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) was not as technical, it was quite clear that he also recognised that the real reason for the Bill is the number of motoring offences that come before the courts. That is not unconnected with the terrible toll of life and the number of injuries that are caused by mechanically propelled vehicles in various parts of the country. It is significant that with the lessening of the number of these lethal weapons on the roads the number of deaths and accidents has fallen.

Enough inroads into the recognised procedure of the courts have already been made owing to the presence of these weapons of destruction on the roads. Prior to their appearance, everybody knew what was meant by being drunk in charge of a vehicle. Doctors knew what being drunk was. But no sooner did middle-class clients begin to be charged with being drunk than doctors said, "'Drunk' is a colloquial word. It does not mean anything. I can tell you the symptoms that I observe and it is up to the justices, either at the petty sessional bench or at quarter sessions, to decide whether that is drunk."

When I was a sergeant in the Army I had a good working definition of what it was to be drunk. If a man could take his boots off before getting into bed, he was not drunk. That would not, however, be a standard that could be applied in civilian life. Therefore, we have this wonderful phrase now about being sufficiently under the influence of drink or drugs to be incapable of properly controlling the vehicle. One gets expert witnesses on both sides as to the exact condition of the man.

When it was a humble carter driving a horse and cart home from a market or from a fair who was charged with being drunk, no police doctor had any doubt about being able to certify one way or the other. Now, however, we are brought into these new conditions. In spite of what he said, that they will apply to other offences, the speeches of the three hon. Members who have preceded me, two of them hon. and learned Members, indicated that but for motoring offences the Bill would not have been brought forward.

I hope that what my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West suggested should be the procedure under the Bill—that the magistrates should consider these matters in silence and then announce at the end the punishment they intend to inflict—will not be the practice of the courts. The first thing to happen will be that when my hon. Friend presides over a bench and, after studying the documents and having consulted his colleagues on either side, he says that there will be a fine of £5, somebody will say, "Well, of course, but for the fact that we know that the fellow who was charged, is rather sweet on the learned chairman's granddaughter, the fine would have been much heavier."

One has to protect the bench on occasion, and it can only be done if al! that is before the bench is made known in open court. When the Bill says, in line 14, page 2, that the court may proceed to hear and dispose of the case", I assume that some audible sounds would be uttered that would not merely inform the bench but would inform everybody else present in court what is, in fact, in front of the court and the ground on which the court rests its decision.

Mr. Doughty

Has the right hon. Gentleman read lines 34 and 35?

Mr. Ede

Yes. I hope that that is what will happen. As I understood my hon. Friend, however, he suggested that that would not happen.

Mr. Royle

I said that I regarded that as the danger in the Bill, and that I opposed it and was seeking much better safeguards by asking that there should be a real statement of the case before any announcement concerning penalty or even that there was to be a conviction.

Mr. Ede

As I understand it, that is what the Bill provides for. If it is not, I shall regard it with even more misgiving than I do now, because I am certain that if it appears something is to be hushed up, or if there is unnecessary whispering, sometimes for a prolonged period, between the clerk of the court and the chairman, that may give rise to an opinion among the public present in court that somehow the course of justice is being deflected.

I am still not quite clear how the question of previous convictions will be dealt with. This is what I understand happens. The clerk of the court sees that when the summons is issued a statement accompanies it that if the person so desires he can plead guilty; and that on this statement to the defendant there will be a statement—sometimes, I imagine, in rather reduced form, though I hope that it will be fairly full—of the evidence to be tendered. In the case of a summons for driving without due care and attention, that may involve a statement of several witnesses who are going to be called. Then the defendant has a right to say to the court in writing that he does not propose to attend but that he pleads guilty. If it is known to the prosecution that there are previous convictions, I understand he has to be served with a notice of those previous convictions.

Mr. Simon

Perhaps it would be convenient if I elucidated that now, as the right hon. Gentleman puts it in interrogative form. The notice of previous convictions may accompany the summons, but it may not, because the evidence of the previous convictions may not by that time be in the hands of the prosecutor. So it may follow afterwards, or, in the case where the prosecuting authority has all the records, it may accompany the summons.

Mr. Ede

It is quite evident that the course I am indicating is not impossible under the arrangements proposed.

That has to be done seven days or more before the hearing, but defendants are often very slack in answering this kind of communication. I sit on a bench which has a considerable number of motoring offences before it, and it not infrequently happens that a letter arrives by the second post on the day of the hearing and during the hearing of the case.

There is one other thing I want to know. It is quite important that the bench hearing the case should not know of the previous convictions at too early a stage. Of course, this is all complicated now by the seven days' notice. The bench, giving its first attention to the case, will have before it, as far as I can see, a statement of what the previous convictions are. I admit that, the defendant having pleaded guilty, the statement cannot influence the mind of the court on the question of guilt or innocence, but personally I prefer the old way of doing things, by which guilt is either admitted or found, and then the magistates turn to the senior police officer present and ask, in the hackneyed phrase, "Anything known?" And then the police officer reads out what, if anything, is known. At any rate in the theory of the law, that is the first that the bench knows of the accused man's previous record.

I regard with some misgiving this arrangement by which the bench, as soon as the court assembles and the chairman begins to go through the business of the day, knows what the past records of some of these people are.

Mr. Doughty

In fairness to those who may receive summonses and notices of previous convictions, as provided in Clause 3, I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Clause provides that it is not until after conviction and after proof of service of the notice that the court is allowed to see what the previous convictions were. I think he will agree with me that there is no change from the old practice, that the knowledge of previous convictions comes to the court only after the case has been heard and the accused found guilty, perhaps on his own admission.

Mr. Ede

That is what I started with, that that is how it would be done, that he would write to the clerk of the court and say, "I desire to plead guilty. I do not intend to come. Kindly fill in the blank cheque I enclose herewith, and beg the magistrates to be moderate in the sum they ask you to insert." But we were told that the notice of previous convictions might or might not accompany the summons. That is what the Joint Under-Secretary of State intervened to say.

This is so important a matter in the assessment of penalty that I hope the Joint Under-Secretary of State will so accept it, because I have heard my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) often say that the question of guilt or innocence is comparatively easy to settle in the majority of cases but that the assessment of the proper penalty to inflict after a verdict of guilty has been made presents a real problem. Those with any experience either as advocates or as members of benches of magistrates know how true that is. I regard the matters I have raised as matters of procedure and matters which in the clearest possible terms should be found in the Bill and which should be most carefully defined in any rules which are made or in any circulars which are issued to the magistrates.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, I desire to thank the Joint Under-Secretary of State for his kind words about whom he called the "great unthanked" rather than the great unpaid. We occasionally get thanks. I recollect that a friend of mine who sat in this House in the Parliament of 1929 to 1931, Mr. Egan, who, at the time I last saw him, was Mayor of Birkenhead, gave me a wonderful example of the way in which a bench is thanked on occasion. A separation order had just been made at the instance of the wife, and the chairman of the bench said to the wife, "And we award you 30s. a week." The defendant said, "Thank you very much, Sir, on behalf of my wife. I was going to give her a bit myself."

No one desires that the time of witnesses, defendants, prosecutors or magistrates should be wasted in the court. But it is very important that any economy made in time shall not be at the expense of the justice to be done. It is a necessary safeguard in the Bill, and I hope that it will be scrupulously observed, that no sentence of imprisonment or detention shall be passed in the absence of the defendant. I am not quite sure what remedy the defendant will have if a bench, being impressed by the enormity of the driving without due care and attention or some other offence that entitles magistrates to do so, inflicts imprisonment. I take it that any action before a superior court would be for the quashing of a particular sentence in the circumstances in which it was passed and would not affect the conviction that had previously been recorded.

I mention that because it is one of the matters in which a bench of magistrates, ignoring the advice of the clerk, may proceed to administer justice rather than law, with results that cannot be defended. It is a further example of the need for the utmost care in giving advice to those who have to adjudicate, if this Bill is passed, so that errors shall not be committed. I regret that the Bill has been introduced, though I think that the Government had very little option but to introduce it.

At the same time, we ought not to think that in the twentieth century we can deal with these matters with less care than that applied to them in the nineteenth century. Modern inventions have placed in the hands of large numbers of people opportunities of committing breeches not merely of the law of the land but of the social law than hitherto was available for so large a section of the population. I regret that the Bill had to be introduced, and I hope that during its passage we shall make every effort to see that the necessary safeguards are inserted in it to secure that justice shall be done.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I am sorry to hear that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) regrets the introduction of the Bill, because I think that most people on both sides of the House will agree that it is a practical and much-needed Measure. I am sorry, also that the right hon. Gentleman should drag in cases of "drunk in charge", because, as far as I can see, the Bill would have no application to such cases. It refers to cases of offences which are not triable on indictment and those for which the accused is not liable to be sentenced to imprisonment exceeding three months. I think that the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, will agree that the Bill deals with trivial cases.

Mr. Ede

I introduced that only as proving that there is no "drunk in charge" now. The doctors wiped that out themselves.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I can only be charitable and hope that it is the right hon. Gentleman's well-known love of the horse that leads to his apparent dislike of motor vehicles.

Obviously, the Bill is of great importance to magistrates and to those who drive motor vehicles, because 60 per cent. of cases which come before the magistrates today are motoring cases. The Bill will simplify the procedure and lead to elimination of waste of time. These cases sometimes can be a waste of time. I might recall to the House an occasion twenty years ago when I was the witness of a trivial incident which occurred a long wav from my home. I had to motor 170 miles to the magistrates' court for the hearing of that trifling case, and when I got there the defendant pleaded guilty and there was nothing for me to do but to go home again. Unfortunately, defendants can be charged in relation to offences which occur a very long way from their homes.

I should like to reiterate some of the points which have already been made in the debate. The first is that I hope that the warning system to drivers of motor vehicles will continue and that the Bill will not lead to more prosecutions in the minor types of cases. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), whom I congratulate upon his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, said that last year there were 175,000 warnings out of 600,000 cases.

Mr. Royle

In addition to the 600,000 cases.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

It is obvious that a person coming to London can make small mistakes, such as driving in Hyde Park at 30 m.p.h. instead of 20 m.p.h., and it is perfectly proper that such a person should be warned and not be prosecuted for such an offence. I should like an assurance from the Minister that it is intended that that system of warning should continue.

I am puzzled about the procedure relating to the adjournment of the court before the court orders disqualification or imprisonment. There does not appear to be in the Bill any provision for service of notice of the adjournment of the court. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] How it should be done is not explicitly stated. There should be guidance for magistrates and clerks on the exercise of the powers relating to the adjournment of the court. Has the court power to adjourn if it has in mind to impose a very heavy punishment by way of fine rather than imprisonment?

Mr. Royle


Mr. Gresham Cooke

Another point relates to the provision of the serving of notice of previous convictions seven days before the hearing of the case. I should like to see the notice of previous convictions served at the same time as the summons. Men who have been driving 10,000 or 20,000 miles a year for, perhaps, forty years come before the court. That is a very high mileage and in the course of his driving history a man may have committed a small number of offences such as exceeding the speed limit and parking in an unauthorised place.

It is only right and proper that a defendant, before making up his mind whether to plead guilty when he receives a summons, should have before him a list of the offences to be taken into account. If he can remember only one offence, he may feel that he can plead guilty with impunity, but if there is quite a long list of minor offences, he should be reminded of them at the time of the receipt of the summons so that he may make up his mind whether to plead guilty. It seems to me that the serving of notice of previous convictions at the same time as the serving of the summons would also save costs, would be easier and would save the time of court officials.

Subject to those minor points, it appears clear that this Bill will simplify procedure. It will save the time of defendants and witnesses, having regard to the fact that we now live in a complicated system of civilisation in which witnesses and defendants may be drawn from all over the country to take part in small cases. On all these grounds, I think this Bill is much required and should go through at the present time.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I welcome this Bill because I consider that these changes in the procedure in magistrates' courts are essential if we are to be able to enforce the traffic laws against which motorists offend so frequently.

At present, it is quite impossible for the traffic laws to be enforced, particularly minor traffic laws, such as parking, obstruction, and the like, with which the Bill concerns itself. Unless there is some means, as provided by the Bill, of relieving the police of the necessity of attending courts and of making simpler the procedure for summoning those who commit offences, I do not see how it will be possible to enforce the increasing number of restrictions imposed on motorists because of increasing traffic congestion.

The private motorist, in particular, is the offender because there is a larger number of private motorists concerned with driving vehicles, and that number is increasing very considerably. During the present period of petrol rationing we have seen, in London in particular, a great improvement in traffic conditions generally. In reply to a Question of mine last Wednesday, the Minister of Transport gave in the OFFICIAL REPORT a summary of improvement in these conditions as estimated by the Road Research Laboratory. It was clear from that that there are fewer private cars on the London streets, both in movement and parked, and that that has been responsible for the improvement.

The laboratory found, by taking a sample over the district between Knights-bridge and the City, that whereas the number of goods vehicles had been reduced only very slightly and that buses and taxis had actually increased in volume by 15 per cent, compared with last autumn, before petrol rationing was introduced, there were 36 per cent, fewer private cars on the streets and 28 per cent, fewer private cars parked. It is clear that if the parking restrictions on private vehicles were fully enforced traffic conditions would be substantially improved.

I am sure that the police are willing and anxious to co-operate with the motoring public in enforcing parking and other restrictions, but at present they have an impossible task to fulfil. They are undermanned and it is quite impossible for them to summon all the people who commit these offences. It is also necessary, in most cases, for the police to confront the driver of a car when he returns to his parked vehicle. That means that police have to patrol the streets and wait for the owners of cars to return to them. That is a terrible waste of the time of the police when they could be occupied in far more valuable and useful duties.

As I understand the Bill, the saving of time of the police in the operation of traffic laws would be very considerable. First, there is the attendance of police at court. The Joint Under-Secretary gave some very convincing figures to show how much time is unnecessarily spent by police waiting in courts—far more time waiting for cases than in giving the necessary evidence.

Secondly, if I understand Clause 2 correctly, it means that it will not be necessary for the police to wait for the return of the owner of the vehicle. The police will be able to take the registration number to ascertain the ownership of the car and, if the owner admits his guilt, he will, at the same time, admit that he was the driver and the case can be dealt with straight away. In that way, considerable time would be saved.

The Samuels Committee, which was appointed to take a survey of parking in inner London, published a Report a few months ago in which it pointed out on the proposal put forward for parking zones, which would include parking meters, that it would be quite impossible effectively to carry out the schemes unless the proposals of the Sharpe Committee were also carried out. The Bill, by implementing the recommendations of the Sharpe Committee, meets the requirements of the Samuels Committee. I am sure that the speed with which the Bill has followed publication of that Report and the enactment of the 1956 Road Traffic Act is a consequence of that. I congratulate the Government on bringing in the Bill at this time and enabling that admirable Report on parking in inner London to be carried out, as is the intention of the Minister.

I shall quote two statements from the Report which make it clear that if we are to implement its recommendations and bring about an improvement in traffic conditions in London more severe restrictions and their enforcement will be essential to the effectiveness of any parking restrictions. The Samuels Committee said: The effect of parking meters will undoubtedly be to cause more motorists to seek parking space on restricted streets where there are no meters and, unless enforcement in these streets is from the start really effective, the whole system will fail in its object. It is no secret that enforcement of the character we envisage as necessary, if parking meters are to be a success, simply does not take place today … The police are unable to enforce the conditions. Often a sign saying "No Waiting" or "No Parking" is a temptation to a motorist to draw up to the side of the road and leave his vehicle there.

The second quotation I make from the Report is: … the extent to which the success of parking meters is bound up with the effectiveness of enforcement elsewhere, and that effectiveness may well hang on the rapidity with which the Sharpe reforms are implemented. In the view of these experts who investigated parking conditions in central London, the recommendations of the Sharpe Committee, now being implemented by this Bill, were essential. Enforcement must be universal. It is no good simply enforcing regulations about parking meters, which this Bill simplifies; it is essential to have enforcement of restrictions on the side streets and elsewhere, where no enforcement takes place today.

I do not wish to exaggerate the effects of the Bill in relation to traffic conditions in London, but it seems to me that it will prove helpful in present circumstances. It will prove helpful in assisting the police to ensure obedience to the parking laws, and it will make experiments and extensions of parking schemes worth while. It is no use attempting to impose more restrictions on the motoring public, because such restrictions will be ignored if they are not enforced, and as long as it is possible for people to park their cars in central London or other urban areas they will bring their cars in and clutter up the streets. Enforcement of the law will be a deterrent to people bringing in cars, because they will find parking difficult and they will know that if they infringe the law they will suffer a penalty.

The advantage to the motorist of sufficient enforcement of the law and of adequate parking schemes is that it will not be necessary to impose greater restrictions, such as the banning of cars in central London, which some people advocate, and which would certainly be adopted only as a last resort.

I welcome the Bill because of the contribution which it can make, in its small way, to improved traffic conditions in London. Far greater measures, with which the Bill has nothing to do, are necessary, but the Bill, although its field is limited, is welcome because of the reforms in the procedure of magistrates' courts which it brings about.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I like the Bill. It creates expedition and pursues a policy of "fines, not crimes". It avoids trivialities. Also, it is v/ell timed. That is all admirable. In the matter of expedition, it is admirable from the point of view of the police. It will save not only the police but the bench a great deal of time and will enable both the bench and the police to turn their attention to other more important cases and that will benefit the public. It will also save the time of the public, none of whom wants to go to court.

However, there is one thing about the Bill which I do not think my hon. and learned Friend intended. It is also a most attractive charter for prostitutes. In future, prostitutes will not have to go through the degrading spectacle at Bow Street and Marlborough Street on certain days of the week, as they do at present.

Mr. H. Hynd

Is that the case? Would not a prostitute be brought to the court on a charge? Surely the provision refers only to summonses.

Mr. Rees-Davies

No. If I am correct, I think that the prostitute will be dealt with by means of a summons in respect of which the maximum fine is 40s. Therefore, a prostitute will be served with a notice and her previous record. Therefore, I feel that the Bill will be a charter for pimps and prostitutes. It may be that in the not-far-distant future the House will consider that matter and whether these penalties should not be reviewed.

However it may be, we are all in this together. I think it will be found that the public, the motorists, the bench, the publicans, the prostitutes, the good citizens and the bad, will all welcome the Bill for its proposals for expedition. I welcome the Bill because I believe that it puts into the right perspective what are regarded by the public as trivial offences for which there are fines—not those which ought to be called "crimes"—and may prevent a great deal of unattractive local publicity for people in respect of offences which they very often cannot avoid.

The timing of the Bill is superb. I congratulate the Home Office on having borne that in mind, together with the Ministry of Transport, over the past twelve months. We discussed the question of fines on the spot during the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Act last year. I believe the Bill will meet the position in the immediate future. I still think, however, that the day will come when the purely penalty issue of a fine for using a parking place for too long will require a penalty to be exacted on the spot, more in the nature of a civil penalty than anything with any type of criminal background to it. The Bill is admirably timed because it comes forward when we are anticipating the installation of parking meters in the summer or the autumn. It will act as a very effective weapon meanwhile.

If one is to use collectors, and collectors mainly in relation to parking meters, who are more in the nature of debt collectors than the police are—I believe that is the intention—it may well be that in time we shall have to consider whether some type of automatic penalty should not be collected in respect of the misuse of a parking place by using it for too long a period. I feel that we should be wise to reserve our position about that, and that we should not commit ourselves entirely at the moment as to the long-term policy.

I listened attentively to the observations of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who has had a long experience as a member of a bench. I would not—nor would any of my hon. Friends who have spoken—support the Bill if I felt that it would lead to any injustice. It appears to me to be admirably drafted. It has every effective safeguard that is needed. One safeguard relates to anyone driving under the influence of drink. I do not want to fall into the trap concerning whether or not a man is drunk, and I do not want to follow the dissertation of the right hon. Member for South Shields on whether they drive with their boots clean or not. I merely want to say that it is plain that where a disqualification or a sentence of imprisonment is to be imposed there is a categorical provision in Clause I that the accused shall attend before any such question arises. There is complete discretion on the part of the bench to reserve a case where it seeks to impose a high fine, which it would no doubt do in most cases. If it seeks to impose a very high fine, there is a right of appeal to a higher court.

The situation arises under the Bill only if a person pleads guilty. He is not obliged to do so. I rather agreed with the practical point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) that one wants to know one's history before one decides whether or not to plead guilty. Certainly, counsel or a solicitor advising someone pays a great deal of regard to his client's previous record before arriving at a decision. I am not sure that it is practicable for the record to be delivered with the summons. Administratively, it might be extremely difficult to do so in every case.

However, I should like to put a practical suggestion to the Minister. I would ask him carefully to consider treating trivial offences of parking, speeding and so on in much the same way as licence endorsements are dealt with, in that after three years the slate is wiped clean. It has always seemed grossly unfair to me that reference should be made to one's offences sixteen years previously. A good stipendiary magistrate takes no account of offences after a certain time has elapsed. I do not ask that that should be done in the form of legislation. It would not be right, but I would invite my hon. and learned Friend to consider whether there should not be that encouragement through the police, by the known methods of the Home Office, so that in cases of that kind a reasonable period of time should be prescribed after which a further increased penalty should not attach.

I suggest that three to five years would be a reasonable period to go back in cases of that kind. I do so in the presence of, and with all respect to, a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who might like to take up and consider this point, and who have infinitely greater experience than I have.

7.11 p.m.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

May I take up straight away three points raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies)? First, I thoroughly agree with him on the possible time limit in regard to various offences, and I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that not only stipendiary magistrates' courts have a time limit in regard to previous offences, but that at least one bench of magistrates, on which I have the honour to serve, also has.

The hon. Gentleman also suggested that it would be desirable, where possible, for the list of previous convictions to be sent to the accused person along with the summons. I am not sure that I agree with that suggestion, for the reason that I think the summonses should be sent as early as possible after the offence. If the summons is to be held up until the police are ready with the list of previous convictions, I think that that would be a bad thing.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I said that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) who suggested it and that, although I found it at first attractive, I did not think that it was administratively practicable.

Mr. Hynd

I am glad that we are in agreement on that.

The third point to which I want to refer is the assurance given to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in regard to cases of "driving under the influence." That, of course, would not come in the Bill at all, because there is a period of imprisonment of four months attached to it. Therefore, that would be outside the scope of the Bill, and we need not worry about it.

Mr. Ede

I never said it would. I only brought it in as an example of the way in which the law has been altered since the arrival of the internal combustion engine as the golden calf of the modern age.

Mr. Hynd

May I join with other hon. Members in offering my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Sal-ford, West (Mr. Royle) on his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box? I disagree with one hon. Member who expressed the hope that he would see him there often: I hope that my hon. Friend will be at the other Box, not this one.

I am one of those who welcome the Bill. Indeed, I have a feeling that I may be to a small extent responsible for it, because, arising our of my own experience in seeing so many police attending a magistrates' court, I raised the question as far back as December, 1952. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was, was Home Secretary, and I confess that, somewhat to my surprise, my question met with a very sympathetic response. Indeed, it transpired that the Home Secretary had already set up a Departmental Committee in 1951 to go into the question of the waste of time by police officers in attending at magistrates' courts to give evidence in uncontested cases. At that time, I was concerned only with motoring offences, such as speeding and parking. We have had the Report of the Committee, and subsequently the Bill has gone beyond that, and I am very pleased that it has been found possible.

When I repeated the question a year later, in December, 1953, I was told that the Working Party had reported. No time was wasted by the Home Office, because in March, 1954, a circular was issued to magistrates' courts which not all magistrates' courts adopted. However, some of them did, and I am glad to say that the court with which I am associated did so. From what I have heard this afternoon, it seems that we have operated a large portion of what is now proposed in this Bill. Some courts have carried on under the old system, but we have done our best to save the time, at any rate, of the defendants, although it was not possible to do anything about saving the time of the police.

This Departmental Committee, which was set up under the chairmanship of Sir Reginald Sharpe, drew attention to the waste of time of the police in a very graphic way, which was referred to by the Minister, although I think it would be useful if I read into the record exactly what was said about it. The Report said this: A check was kept on five consecutive days from Monday, 29th November to Friday, 3rd December, 1954, at all Magistrates' courts in the Metropolitan Police District. During that period it was disclosed that 3,556 hours of police time were spent in attending the Courts in connection with 1,410 cases in which defendants pleaded guilty. This represents a daily average of 711 hours, or the equivalent of the full time of 89 policemen each day. In 993 of these cases, involving 2.372 hours, the defendant could not himself appear but sent a letter pleading guilty. An analysis of the 1,410 cases referred to in which there was a plea of guilty discloses that 1,346, or 95 per cent, of them were for motoring offences. I was surprised to find that the time amounted to the equivalent of the time of eighty-nine policemen, for my own impression was that it involved many more police than that. However, we cannot argue with statistics.

Mr. Rees-Davies


Mr. Hynd

Yes, full-time, but even then I should have thought that it would have involved more than the full time of eighty-nine policemen from what I have seen in the courts day after day.

One point which I do not think has been mentioned is that many of the police have had to attend the court after coming off night duty. I think it is pretty hard on the police, in addition to the fact that they were being taken away from other more important duties.

At the court at which I have the honour to serve, we have an average of something like 50 speeding cases a week, and we have given the defendants the opportunity of sending a letter to plead guilty, thereby saving their time and the time of any witnesses whom they might want to bring along. But it still means that the police have had to go into the witness box and give their statements of what happened before we could legally find the person accused guilty and impose the necessary penalty. With other hon. Members, I shudder to think of what might happen when parking meters get under way and we get a flood of cases from that.

If the police can be released from some of these court duties, they might at any rate be able to overtake some of the work which they have not been able to do up to now. I would give one example. I think it is fairly generally known that no summonses are being issued in connection with the illegal use of radio sets in motor cars. I should imagine that the number of motorists who have licences for radio sets in their cars is not very high, yet the police are so overwhelmed with other work that they are not able, at any rate, in the London district, I am informed, to attempt to prosecute in these cases.

I should also like to mention that, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, and, I think, also the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet, have said that this Bill would save the time of the magistrates, I myself am not so sure that it will. The magistrates who have been using the shortened procedure under the 1954 circular of the Home Office have been able to deal with these cases of speeding much more quickly, and I should imagine that, by the time we have read these various documents in the court, we shall not save very much of the magistrates' time. Indeed, it may take a little longer under this procedure than is possible under that provided in the 1954 circular.

However, it is not the magistrates' time which is of greatest importance. The time of the police is of more importance, because the police have important duties and we all know that the police forces in London and in the provinces are badly under-staffed. From a magistrate's point of view, I am satisfied that adequate safeguards for defendants are provided throughout the Bill. That, of course, is the important thing.

I want to ask one or two questions which the Joint Under-Secretary might be good enough to consider before Committee stage with a view to possible Amendments. I want, first, to return to my interjection. I made it with some temerity as I was interrupting a lawyer. It was whether there is a difference between a summons and a charge. In my innocence, I have always imagined that there was a difference and when the Bill specifically mentioned summonses I imagined that that meant anything that was the subject of a charge would not come within the Bill. However, I should like to be advised about that by the hon. and learned Gentleman and, if there is anything in that point, perhaps it will be considered.

I have already mentioned the possibility of a time limit for previous convictions, but there is a more serious aspect which worries me. It is that if in every case we are to send a list of the accused's previous convictions to his address, there is a danger that the list may be seen by people who should not see it. The procedure for the serving of a summons is not always very clear. It may be sent by registered post, it may be served personally, or it may be left at the last known address. I can see possible dangers and the criticism that the lists of previous convictions will be seen by people who might make a wrong use of them. I should be very glad if the hon. and learned Gentleman would see whether something could be done about it.

I see no difficulty at all about the doubts expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields about whether the bench should have any knowledge of previous convictions before announcing the penalty in a case tried under the procedure laid down in the Bill. After all, the chairman of the bench at quarter sessions always has the previous record before him. In any event, the person concerned has written to plead guilty so that that knowledge could not possibly influence the minds of the magistrates. I see very little difficulty about that.

There is one snag about motoring offences where we might not be able to save the time of the police. In my experience, very often a block of speeding cases is handled by a solicitor representing one of the motoring organisations. It is a very good thing that a motorist should have this protection and should have that legal representation, but what happens in practice? A solicitor has this block of cases and says, "I appear in this case," and that is about all he has to say. He must earn his money very easily.

I say this with some temerity in the presence of solicitors, because this is taking the bread and butter out of their mouths, but, after all, there will not be very much difference between this block representation, where very little needs to be said, and a defendant writing a letter admitting his guilt. Nevertheless, where we have these block cases represented by a solicitor from a motoring organisation, presumably the police will have to be present in court in force and police officers will have to stand in the witness box to give formal evidence lasting for a second or two. I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman has thought of that and whether he can see a solution.

Another matter which was raised earlier is that the Bill does not apply to cases in the juvenile court and yet there may be a case where two young fellows are charged with a motoring offence, one being just over seventeen and one just under. I believe that in such cases, where the two are charged together, they would both appear in the adult court and the procedure of the Bill would, therefore, apply. I should like a ruling on that.

Subject to those questions, I have very great pleasure in supporting the Bill. I do not believe that it will have the harmful effects which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields suggested. After all, magistrates who have been appointed in recent times have had the advantage of the new procedure of some tuition given through the Magistrates' Association. That is tuition which they did not have before. It is an advance and procedure is now far better understood.

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friend is obviously directing his remarks to me on the ground that that applies to magistrates who have been recently appointed. I was appointed as long ago as 1920. Let me say that a little knowledge gained at one of those courses can be a very dangerous thing when applied to the bench.

Mr. Hynd

Of course, we all have great respect for the long experience and knowledge of my right hon. Friend, but I think he will agree with me that it is better that magistrates should have some knowledge at the beginning rather than no knowledge. At any rate, that is some advance.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I will detain the House for only a few minutes, because the matters which arise under the Bill have been very fully discussed. This is a Measure designed to reduce the expense, the time and the formalities which attend legal proceedings and as such it has to be watched very carefully so that we may be quite sure that those savings do not result at any point in undue casualness in the administration of justice.

I have no critical comments to make about Clause 1 and Clause 2, but I am anxious about Clause 3. I feel that larger questions arise under Clause 3 than have hitherto been considered by the House. Where there are several previous convictions, even for minor offences, a point comes when it is desirable to require the attendance of the defendant in court. That is a factor in cases where there is a succession of previous convictions, of which the Bill loses sight. It may become very desirable in those instances, although only minor offences are affected, that the accused should be present in court. If the accused is not there it will still often be desirable for the bench, before passing a sentence which reflects the previous convictions, to receive a fuller statement of the facts than that which has been sent to the accused. The magistrates are not under the dispensation which the Bill contemplates—

Mr. Simon

They are free to get it, provided they adjourn, but not without adjournment.

Mr. Irvine

I appreciate that by adjournment they can, but in a whole host of instances where there have been many previous convictions and the accused has not been present there will be a disposition to be rid of the matter that day. I say that, although no one has a higher regard than I have for magistrates' services.

The position is envisaged in which the appropriate sentence cannot be determined that day upon any more information than the list of previous convictions and the statement of facts which has been sent to the defendant. The suggestion rather is that the magistrates will think in terms of an automatic, actuarial increase in sentence based upon the scale of the previous convictions. Magistrates should still have regard to all the circumstances. No matter how considerable the list of the previous convictions, they ought to have regard to all the circumstances of the particular case. Some of these may be outside the statement of facts which has been sent to the accused and not admissible.

I agree with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), although for reasons which I regard as different from his, that it is desirable, if practicable, that the summons should be accompanied by the list of convictions. I do not like the idea of a man sending in his intimation to the court of a desire to plead "Guilty" to an offence and then receiving immediately thereafter a notice as to the previous convictions which may be taken into account.

7.33 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

Let me say, at the outset, what pleasure I feel in rising from the side of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) to follow in the footsteps which he traced in appreciating the Bill. All hon. Members on both sides felt, I am sure, that the speech was admirable. There is very little I can add to what he said, as he so perfectly expressed my views.

This little Bill has been subjected to a minute analysis by hon. Members on both sides. They have, with the sole exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), welcomed its advent. I join with them and disagree with my right hon. Friend. The introduction of the Bill is, in my view, a measure of elementary common sense.

In the magistrates' courts it has for years been the experience of those who have had occasion to resort there in any capacity that they have regretted what has seemed to be a dreadful waste of time. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) referred to the fact that many police officers have to go straight from night duty to wait, perhaps for the whole morning and sometimes the whole day, only to hear the accused person plead "Guilty". Their attendance might have been dispensed with had provisions such as we are now considering been on the Statute Book. I therefore cordially welcome this step which the Government have taken.

I would call attention to one or two features of the Bill. Clause 1 was spoken of by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies); he raised the question of the offences that fall within its scope. This is a topic on which I would follow him. We have been discussing the Measure upon the basis that it relates solely to motoring offences of a trivial character.

Mr. Simon indicated dissent.

Sir F. Soskice

The Minister shakes his head. I know that it does not do so in terms, but I think that it has been generally assumed that the objective of the Bill is to obviate unnecessary waste of time in the consideration before magistrates' Courts of motor offences of little importance.

We have all been assuming that, on both sides of the House, although, as the Minister indicated by the shake of his head which I observed a moment ago, the Clause is not limited to offences of that sort. It relates to offences where proceedings have been initiated by summons and which are offences not also triable on indictment" or offences in respect of which the accused is liable to be sentenced to be imprisoned for a term exceeding three months. The Sharpe Committee gave considerable consideration to the scope which should be adopted for Clause 1. They agreed with the views which the Government have adopted in framing their Clause and rejected the alternatives, one of which was to limit offences to those under the Road Traffic Acts. The other alternative was to list offences in a summary contained in a Schedule to the Bill. I would ask the Government to give further consideration to this question.

I am not at all sure that the Government are right. I am not asserting my opinion that they are wrong, because the matter has obviously been carefully considered. Speaking for myself, I should have thought the objective which was being compassed was to deal with these offences which it could not be said involved any moral turpitude on the part of the guilty person.

I can think of a number of offences which might be within the scope of the Clause as to which there may be danger about applying this new, summary method of process. There is the case of a man travelling with intent to avoid payment of a fare, an offence in which a dishonest purpose must be established. If a person is convicted of it he has a serious black mark against his character for years. It may result in his losing his employment. Other offences of the character of malicious damage may involve an element of serious moral condemnation. It is at least open to question whether this type of rapid, summary process should be available in respect of those kinds of offence.

Another offence which I would mention in this context is that of careless driving as distinct from dangerous driving. I should imagine that offence to come within the scope of Clause 1, but if one considers the very large number of persons who make their living by driving vehicles, such as commercial vehicles, it is clear that a conviction for careless driving is serious in their case. It is not a matter to be laughed off. It might, in certain circumstances, even affect their employment.

I therefore throw out for consideration the question whether the Government are right in including offences such as careless driving within the scope of Clause 1. That is, perhaps, a matter which could more appropriately be considered in Committee, but I put it forward as one which is possibly deserving of further review and consideration when we reach the Committee stage.

I turn to a point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West and in respect of which I must confess that I felt very much disposed to agree with him. I do not think that I have heard an answer in the debate to the point which he made. As paragraph (ii) of Clause 1 (2) reads, it would seem that the magistrate or magistrates, if he or they decide to accept the plea of guilty, will, after arriving at that decision and not until that time, read out, under the terms of this part of the proviso, the statement of facts and the accused's intimation of his readiness to plead guilty.

Surely, as my hon. Friend said, that is hardly desirable. As many hon. Members have said, the conception that justice must be public, unless there is the strongest reason in an individual case for it to be otherwise, is so deeply engrained in our concept of judicial propriety that one would have thought that here is a departure from that principle which is not altogether easy to understand or justify.

The Minister will, I hope, correct me if I am wrong in thinking that what these words contemplate, in that part of the proviso to which I have called attention, is that when the matter comes before the court, the magistrates will read the statement of facts first, I presume silently to themselves, and will consider the intimation which in the assumed case has been received from the accused that he is prepared to plead guilty to a charge founded on those facts; and when they have performed that process, which, I assume, will be done silently among themselves, if I have correctly understood the working of the Bill, they will then announce their intention. They are then enjoined by these words, at that stage and not before, to read out the statement of facts.

It seems to me that that is not a very satisfactory process. It gives the impression, or it might give the impression—and it is an impression which, under no circumstances, ought ever to be contemplated for a moment—that something is being read which is not made public and divulged to everybody present in court. The lurking suspicion might grow that something has been considered or read, under the desk, shall I say, before the decision is pronounced.

There is, I think, a danger that a little uneasiness may develop amongst those who are present when this proceeding is gone through. I should have thought that it is an uneasiness which should be avoided. I wonder whether there is any reason why the statement of facts should not first be read before the magistrates announce their decision whether they will accept the plea of guilty. No doubt the Government have considered this question, as I think the Sharpe Committee also considered it, but I put it forward as a matter which could perhaps be further explored in Committee.

I, and, I think, probably most hon. Members, if not all, have received what seems to be a most helpful document from the Standing Joint Committee of the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club. I should like to put to the Minister some points which that Committee makes. When one looks at paragraph (iii), of Clause 1 (2) one sees that if the court decides to convict the accused it must not proceed to punish him without adjourning if it contemplates a punishment consisting of any imprisonment, detention or disqualification.

The document to which I have referred puts the view that perhaps it would be desirable to add to that category of punishments what the Standing Joint Committee describes in general terms as severe lines and heavy fines. In that respect I agree with the Standing Joint Committee. I should have thought that a case might well arise in which a person who has been summoned for an offence of this sort thinks, and perhaps is rather led to think by the notice that he receives, that the matter is trivial and could be easily disposed of by the admission on his part of the facts which are brought to his notice in the indication which he is given on the facts. He may readily plead guilty, expecting that there may be only a small fine.

His views may not coincide, however, with the views formed by the bench when it considers his indication that he is ready to plead guilty. The Minister says it often happens—indeed, it very often happens—that those who have committed an offence think they might be more gently fined than is, in fact, the case. Circumstances may therefore arise in which a person who pleads guilty receives what he considers to be a swingeing fine, which may give rise to ill-feeling among persons who feel that, in these circumstances, they have been unfairly dealt with and perhaps misled by the intimation given to them that they might plead guilty, if they wished, to a certain set of stated facts brought to their notice.

Mr. H. Hynd

In such a case, the defendant always has the right to appeal to a higher court.

Sir F. Soskice

That is perfectly true. He can appeal. But I think that experience not infrequently brings out that it is not easy for a person, especially if he is of limited means, to go through the motions of instructing legal representatives to appeal purely on the question of penalty. It is somewhat hard sometimes to put him to that necessity.

I am simply asking whether the Government cannot devise words which would require that the magistrates should not proceed to the infliction of a severe fine, whatever the appropriate definition of "severe fine" would be in that context, without an adjournment. I simply put it forward as a matter which could be further explored in Committee and which has occasioned doubt in other quarters than this House, as I have indicated.

I turn to Clause 1 (3) which provides, if I correctly understand it, that in the case of any adjournment, whether it is an adjournment because the magistrates are not prepared to convict and, therefore, adjourn under subsection (1, b), or whether it is an adjournment on the ground that they feel disposed to inflict a sentence of imprisonment or a like punishment, the reasons for the adjournment must be given in the notice that the adjournment is to take place. I should have thought that it might be desirable in the terms of the Bill to indicate what sort of reasons are intended.

The words in the Bill are: shall include notice of the reason for the adjournment. Those words can be interpreted strictly or they can be interpreted generously and. particularly having regard to what I have said, I should have thought that words should be chosen in the Bill which would make it necessary for the justices or the magistrates to state particular grounds—to state that they propose to adjourn on the ground that they feel that this is a case in which they think there should be a sentence of imprisonment or a case in which they think there may be reason to suppose that the accused person has not correctly understood the situation or something of that kind. I would suggest that those words should perhaps be further considered in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) raised what I thought was an important point about Clause 2. He said that upon his understanding of the Bill there would be two types of saving of time for the police. One, he said, was the saving of time which would result from their not having to attend when the case came on for trial; and the other was that which would result from a policeman not having to wait until the owner of a car came back to the car, supposing that the police officer thought it was a case in which there should be a prosecution for leaving a car unattended in such a way as to cause an obstruction. I should be grateful if the Minister would indicate whether my hon. Friend and I are right.

Mr. Simon indicated dissent.

Sir F. Soskice

The Minister shakes his head, but it is an important point and the House would be grateful for further enlightenment on the subject.

I suppose my hon. Friend was apprehending circumstances in which a policeman saw a car left unattended, and saw that it had been left for an unreasonable time, and he would not have to wait until the owner came back, but would cause a notice to be served on the registered owner of the car requiring information about the person in charge of the car on the particular occasion. If an answer were given in response to that requirement by the police officer, the answer could be used in evidence. If that is so, I should have thought that my hon. Friend was right in saying that there should be that twofold saving of time and I should be grateful for a word of enlightenment from the Minister about whether our understanding of the intended working of Clause 2 be right or not.

There is a final point which I should like to cull from the memorandum of the Standing Joint Committee to which I have referred. It is concerned with the method of service which would have to be adopted for serving on the accused person the notice of adjournment, in the case of proceedings which magistrates decided to adjourn, and also the notice of a proposal to read the list of previous convictions. Those two documents will have to be served under the terms of the Bill upon the accused person, and the memorandum raises the question about how those notices should be served.

Rule 76 of the Magistrates' Courts Rules of 1952 prescribe three methods of service and I have no doubt that the Minister will have them in mind. I should have hoped that he would have been able to say the method of service, without my going into the technicalities of the rule, which would be requisite in the case of these two notices would be a method of service which would be effective only if it was established perfectly clearly that the accused person had received them.

Under sub-paragraph (2) of the rule to which I have just adverted there is a provision that a notice shall not be effective unless there is some evidence, in the form of a letter or something of that sort, showing that the defendant in a particular case actually got the notice. The Standing Joint Committee suggests that that requirement should be requisite in the case of both the notices to which I have referred. I should have thought that to be a view very well grounded. I hope that the Government will adopt it and that we may hear something about that from the Minister.

Those are the further suggestions I wish to add to the many suggestions which have been made in this debate. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary, if he is given leave to address the House again, or the Solicitor-General, if he is to reply, would be so good as to satisfy our craving for information on those various points. Perhaps the Solicitor-General is not going to reply. I draw that conclusion. I take it that probably—I fear that I have awakened the right hon. and learned Gentleman—the Minister will probably ask for the indulgence of the House in order to address hon. Members again, and I hope he will. I hope that the House will grant him that indulgence so that our curiosity may be satisfied on the various points to which I have referred.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Simon

I ask the indulgence of the House to reply to the very helpful points raised in the debate. If I do not respond to them all, it is merely because in some cases they are points which we should like to consider before the Committee stage, and I propose only to deal with the main points. First, I should like to thank the House for the reception given to the Bill. It has been welcomed by every right hon. and hon. Member, except for the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The right hon. Gentleman, in a fine, vintage, crusted Tory speech, which warmed my heart, even if it did not convince my judgment, stood alone in disliking the provisions of the Bill. But even the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the Government were virtually bound to bring it in; but rather than have the Bill brought in, he would have preferred to see the abolition or suspension of the internal combustion engine.

I should also like to congratulate—as have so many other right hon. and hon. Members—the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) on his speech from the Opposition Dispatch Box. It was made with the courtesy and constructiveness that we have learned to expect from the hon. Gentleman when he speaks from the back benches, and it was a great joy to hear him speaking officially for the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman raised a point, which was taken up by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), about what happens where an adult and a juvenile are accused of joint complicity in an offence. It is proposed, the Government having decided—I think with the universal approbation of the House—to except proceedings in the juvenile courts from the terms of the Bill, that a circular shall be sent to the courts and police recommending that the new procedure be not applied Where a juvenile and an adult are charged jointly and tried in an adult court. I think that is what the hon. Member for Accrington suggested should be done, and that is our intention.

The hon. Member for Salford, West also dealt with the question of warnings, which was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). I am able to say that it is not intended that the provisions of the Bill shall derogate from the present system the police use of issuing warnings in suitable cases. The hon. Member for Salford, West then dealt with the question of tines, which was taken up from a rather different angle by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham and the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). Regarding the point of the hon. Member for Salford, West about whether the Bill would interfere with the present system whereby the court tempers the fine according to the means of the accused, the answer is that it does not. The provisions in Section 31 of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, will apply to cases under this Bill; that in fixing the amount of the fine, the magistrates' court shall take into consideration, among other things, the means of the person on whom the fine is imposed, so far as they appear or are known to the court.

I think I can answer the question which the hon. Member for Salford, West may be about to put to me as to how the court can know anything about the means of a defendant if the defendant does not appear. The court is in the same position under the Bill as it would be under the existing procedure where the defendant does not appear and the prosecution have to bring their witnesses. The answer is that in a case where the court is undecided and the means of the accused may well be relevant, the court, I apprehend, will certainly adjourn for evidence of means, as I think I am right in saying courts do at the moment.

Mr. H. Hynd

Will advice to that effect be included in the proposed circular to magistrates' courts?

Mr. Simon

I do not want to give a categorical answer, but the hon. Gentleman's suggestion will certainly be borne in mind.

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham dealt with the question of heavy fines. That was considered both by the Government and by the Sharpe Committee, and it was decided that the difficulties of definition were almost insuperable, particularly as a heavy fine in the case of a man of one type of means is very different from a heavy fine in the case of another man. It was for that reason that the Sharpe Committee—and the Government have endorsed this—decided that we should only draw the line at imprisonment, detention and disqualification; but wherever the court is going to impose a heavy fine—a fine that is heavy in all the circumstances of the case—I take it that in that case the court would certainly adjourn for the presence of the accused man, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) pointed out. As the hon. Member for Accrington further pointed out, there is the provision for appeal where the court is thought by the accused to be in error.

Mr. Ede

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman deal with the question of an appeal? When the case gets before an appeals committee of quarter sessions, will that be an ordinary hearing in which evidence which was not before the lower court can be brought in, or will it merely be a rehearing of what was heard below?

Mr. Simon

The proceedings before quarter sessions are, of course, a rehearing. I do not want to give a snap answer to that, but I should have said myself that that would be outside the provisions of the Bill because they apply only where a summons has been issued, and these proceedings would be initiated by different process. I should like to consider that point further, and perhaps we can reconsider it in Committee.

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport and the hon. Member for Salford, West criticised the procedure whereby there is first a reading of the documents silently in court by the magistrates, and then the documents after an intimation of conviction are read out. The procedure in the Bill was laid down with good reason, but I do not think it would be profitable if I were to rehearse those reasons at the moment because my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor indicated in another place that we had taken note of the criticisms of that procedure, which have been so cogently put forward this evening, and the Government will reconsider the procedure before the Committee stage. I could, if the House wished, give the reasons that support the present procedure as laid down in the Bill, but I do not think it would be necessary in view of the undertaking, and perhaps we can discuss the matter further in Committee.

I now want to turn to the right hon. Member for South Shields. He first of all drew attention to the matter of previous convictions. I can state quite categorically that under the Bill the court cannot consider previous convictions until the court has determined to convict. The matter arises in this way. First of all, let me deal with the initiation of the notice; of previous convictions which was raised by a number of hon. Members in cluding my hon. Friends the Members for the Isle of Thanet and for Twickenham, and the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine). Those hon. Members wished that notice of previous conviction should be served at the same time as the summons, with the object that nobody should plead until he knew what previous convictions were alleged against him. That is administratively virtually impossible—

Mr. Ede indicated assent.

Mr. Simon

I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman approves.

Mr. Ede

I do not approve; I think it is inevitable.

Mr. Simon

That, I know, is as far as one can go with the right hon. Gentleman in his present mood of disapproving the present age. But at any rate, that is some comfort. The reason was given by the hon. Member for Accrington, namely, that it is essential that a summons should be served as early as possible after the offence. At that time the prosecutor may not have the evidence of the previous convictions because the previous convictions may be only at the disposal of the police authority at the place where the accused man resides, and not at the place where the offence was committed and where the prosecution will be brought. Therefore, in some cases it will be necessary to serve the notice of previous conviction after the summons. There is no central register of convictions of this type.

But there is sufficient safeguard, I think, to meet the point that was made by the hon. Member for Edge Hill and by my hon. Friends the Members for the Isle of Thanet and Twickenham, because the accused can at any time up to the trial withdraw his plea of guilty. If, having had brought to his recollection what had previously been veiled by a merciful oblivion, a long list of previous offences, he realises then that he was very ill-advised in making a plea which might be visited in the circumstances by very heavy penalties, all he has got to do is to withdraw his plea; and indeed it is our intention that he should be informed of his right to do so in the notice which is sent to him. In that respect we propose to follow the type of form that the Sharpe Committee recommended.

If he does that, the court knows nothing of the previous convictions. Nor, indeed, does the court know anything of the previous convictions which are in the hands of the prosecutor only and not in the hands of the members of the court until they have decided to convict, because, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) pointed out, the opening words of Clause 3 are: Where a person is convicted… It is only where a person is convicted that the evidence of previous convictions is admissible under this procedure, just as much as under the existing law.

Mr. Ede

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman help me in another matter? Who is to serve this notice on the defendant—the prosecutor or the clerk of the court?

Mr. Simon

The prosecutor. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the form on page 48 of the Departmental Committee's Report, he will see that it is signed "(for) Chief Constable". We intend to follow that form.

Mr. Ede

At the time when the magistrates are considering the matter in order to make up their minds whether or not they are going to accept the plea of guilty, the clerk of the court will not know that a notice has been served giving a list of previous convictions.

Mr. Simon

That is so. There is no reason why that should come to his knowledge in any way. The procedure for serving notice of previous convictions is outside the cognisance of the clerk of the court and of the court itself.

Some misgivings were voiced, mainly by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, about the scope of Clause 1 of the Bill. It was, of course, very carefully considered by the Sharpe Committee, and I must say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was almost alone in wishing to see it further restricted. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet referred to the case of prostitutes and procurers, strikingly describing the Bill as a "charter for prostitutes and pimps". They will not, I think, get the benefit of this procedure. Normally, they would be arrested and charged. Anyone who is arrested is outside the scope of the Bill. That, I think, answers also the question which the hon. Member for Accrington specifically asked me to deal with. It is only on summons, when the proceedings are initiated by summons, that this procedure applies, and not when proceedings are initiated by warrant. The procedure is at the initiative of the prosecution, and it seems most unlikely that the prosecution would agree to it being used in the type of case to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I am much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way. This is an important matter; I should not otherwise venture to put it to him. In the overwhelming proportion of cases in London of charges of soliciting, a fine is imposed; in hundreds of these cases, the maximum fine of 40s. is imposed. There is an unattractive and sordid sight to be seen in the courts every day of the week. Would it not be far better if these girls were summoned and, in that way, this rigmarole could be consigned to the oblivion to which my hon. and learned Friend has rightly consigned other matters?

Mr. Simon

My hon. Friend will certainly not expect me to answer that question, because it goes far beyond the scope of the Bill and, in any event, it is under active investigation by the Wolfenden Committee. He will excuse me from answering whether the procedure should be altered so as to bring it within the Bill.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The Bill has power to do it, though.

Mr. Simon

The hon. Member for Accrington referred to cases where a solicitor appears for the motoring organisations, and asked whether the prosecution would have to have its witnesses there in such circumstances. It seems to me that the procedure under the Bill would not be invoked in such cases. The procedure would be exactly the same as the present practice when a solicitor appears. With the procedure under the Bill being available, we think that it is less likely that accused persons will appear by a solicitor, and we hope that, in a substantial number of cases where they intend to plead guilty, whether they will appear by a solicitor or not, they will use the procedure under the Bill.

Mr. H. Hynd

Perhaps the motoring organisations, being well disposed and public-minded bodies, might take the opportunity to advise their members to use this procedure.

Mr. Simon

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will remember that, in the form suggested by the Sharpe Committee, the notice ends: If you intend to appear by counsel or solicitor, you would be well advised to consult your solicitor before writing to the court. We hope that in that type of case, where there will be a plea, the solicitor will advise that the procedure under the Bill might be used.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

Section 1 (2) specifically says that the clerk of the court may receive a notification in writing purporting to be given by the accused or by a solicitor acting on his behalf… Would not the motoring organisations, in fact, through their solicitors, send such notification?

Mr. Simon

It is not for me to speak for the motoring organisations, but merely to express a hope that my hon. Friend's suggestion would be adopted.

There is one point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to deal with, which arose out of the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, East, relating to Clause 2 of the Bill. He asked whether it would result in a double saving of time. It would, in fact, result in only a single saving of time. The procedure we envisage for the parking meter offence is that the local authority enforcement officer will take the registered number of the car without necessarily waiting for the driver to come back. Obviously, if he is on duty there, he will sometimes see the driver, but otherwise he will merely take the registration number.

There is, however, power under the Road Traffic Acts to require the owner of a vehicle who can be traced through the register to give information as to the driver. It will be an admission by the driver that he was the driver that is admissible under the Bill. In other words, it will not result necessarily in a saving of time on the part of the enforcement officer, but it will result in a saving of time on the part of the police officer who interviews the driver and who has not, under the procedure in Clause 2, to be called.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I am not quite clear about this. Would it not be possible for the police officer to use this procedure for obtaining the name of the owner, and, through the owner, the name of the driver of the car, without waiting to see him personally? It seems to me that if that procedure can be used in the case of parking meters, it could be used in ordinary parking offences. They are both parking offences and, if the same procedure could be used, there would be a great saving of time.

Mr. Simon

What the hon. Gentleman has in mind, I understand, is that the officer, instead of calling on the driver or on the owner, should write a letter to him. That is a matter which we shall consider. I am not certain whether it comes within the terms of the Bill as at present drawn, but I agree that it is a matter which we could consider. We will look into it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, echoing what was said by the hon. Member for Edge Hill, asked about the method of service of the notice of adjournment and of the notice of previous convictions. There is a distinction between those two in the terms of the Bill. So far as previous convictions are concerned, the method of proving service is by certificate that a letter has been posted. So far as an adjournment is concerned, where it is a matter of bringing an accused man before the court, a higher onus is put, and this is done in accordance with Clause 1 (3), when the court must be satisfied that the parties have had adequate notice.

I hope that I have dealt with the main points about which I have been asked. If I have omitted some, I ask to be excused. We will certainly examine, before the Committee stage, what has been said in the very helpful debate we have had today. I am very grateful for all the comments and suggestions which hon. Members have made.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).