HC Deb 24 April 1959 vol 604 cc763-7

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time. —[Mr. Mawby]

11.4 a.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden), whose name appears on the Bill, has been prevented, unfortunately, from being in the House to move the Third Reading. Frankly, if I had had a little more time in which to consider the matter I could have assisted the House further in explaining the details of the Bill, although, as no objection was raised on Second Reading or in Committee, I do not expect many difficult questions. If any questions are put to me, I will do my best to answer them.

I have to declare an interest in this matter, because, as a recorder, I am one of the people who might be affected by the Bill. The Bill is primarily intended to enable a third court of quarter sessions to sit at Birmingham as and when it is required. It would ill become me to speak at great length on the tremendous amount of work which has been done at all quarter sessions, particularly in big towns such as Birmingham, because the whole question is being considered by the Streatfield Committee, whose Report we anxiously await. I have no special knowledge of Birmingham Quarter Sessions, but I know that throughout the country the number of indictable offences is about three times as high as before the war and twice as high as it was ten years ago. Certainly, in my own court it is twice as high as it was ten years ago.

We therefore see the necessity for additional courts. To my own kn6wledge, the Recorder of Birmingham has to sit very late every time he sits in his court. I hope that the Bill will enable Birmingham City Council, where the proper conditions are satisfied, to order a third court to sit for the ensuing year. The general question will be the subject of the deliberations of the Streatfield Committee and I know that the House will await that Committee's Report with great interest.

11.7 a.m.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I take no strong exception to the Bill, but I must confess that I find it very surprising that the House should be asked to give a Third Reading to a Bill when none of its sponsors is present in the House and when not a single representative of the Birmingham constituencies, which, presumably, are most vitally interested in the matter, has thought it fit to attend. In those circumstances, I wonder whether the House is doing service to itself in passing legislation of this kind without a more adequate explanation than can possibly he given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), who has done his best, at short notice, to assist the House in the matter.

I suggest that unless we have some advice from my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that the Bill is essential, we ought carefully to consider whether we should give it a Third Reading. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will not think that I am in any way casting any reflection upon him. I am sure that he is here to be of service to the House in the matter, and we are grateful to him, but it is wanting in courtesy to him that the promoters of the Bill, even if it is private Members' day, have not thought fit to acquaint the House with the purposes which they seek to achieve by the promotion of this Measure.

11.9 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)

I am here to have insults hurled at me if necessary, and, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) is not being discourteous to me. What I suspect is that he may have forgotten at such an early hour in the morning is that the purpose of the Bill was explained by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) on the last occasion, when, I dare say, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East was not here. As memories may be short, I can perhaps indicate briefly what this extremely useful, and, I submit, obviously necessary, Bill does.

The Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, which is the Statute which the Bill proposes to amend, provides for establishing a second court of quarter sessions. It provided that a second court could be formed in certain circumstances, but all that procedure could be brought about only if before each quarter session it had been certified to the recorder in writing, signed by the mayor or two aldermen or the town clerk, that the council had resolved that it was expedient that the powers should be exercised.

Birmingham, being under great pressure in this matter, and to avoid the bother of having to have that special resolution every time, eventually enacted in a special Act, the Birmingham Corporation Act, 1954. that it could he done without a resolution, on the recorder taking certain steps. When the House enacted the Criminal Justice Administration Act. 1956, it extended the power under the Municipal Corporations Act to enable the drill there laid down to operate for more than one additional court. When this House did that it forgot the special provisions of the Birmingham Corporation Act, with the result that the Birmingham Corporation, having put it out of its power to pass the necessary resolution, has not been able to avail itself of the powers which the House intended to confer generally in the 1956 Act. All the Bill does is to go back, as it were, to the 1882 drill for a third court in Birmingham.

The second matter, dealt with in Clause 1 (2), relates to the remuneration of assistant recorders. The history of that matter, shortly stated, is that originally under Section 168 (8) of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, provision was made that An assistant recorder, assistant clerk of the peace, and additional crier shall have the remuneration as appearing by the Fourth and Fifth Schedules. For the assistant recorder the Fourth Schedule provided that he should have a certain number of guineas for every day not exceeding two, or, by resolution of the council with the sanction of the Secretary of State, not exceeding six— Section 61 of the Birmingham Corporation Act, to which I have referred substituted a new subsection for subsection (8) of the Act of 1882. This was a provision that, An assistant recorder, assistant clerk of the peace and an additional crier shall have such remuneration as the council may resolve. One would have thought that Section 15 of the 1956 Act implicitly repealed that special enactment in the Birmingham Corporation Act. This Bill, in effect, expressly repeals it, to avoid any doubt in the matter. The practical effect is that the remuneration of the Assistant Recorder in Birmingham will be, as is the remuneration of other assistant recorders under the 1956 Act, subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor.

That is all that the Bill does. I strongly commend it to the House. It is purely a legislative accident, as it were, that this misfortune has happened to Birmingham, and I conceive it to be our duty to remedy their distress.

11.13 a.m.

Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)

I am on record as having said on many occasions that I thorough disapprove of legislation being passed through the House by the procedure known as "on the nod". This morning, I feel, we have seen something worse than that, because we have a Bill submitted for Third Reading without any of its promoters here to give us an explanation. The Bill has my full support, but it so happens that I have a question to ask about it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) stepped into the breach at the last minute, and I should like to congratulate him on the explanation which he gave, but I do not think it fair to expect him to know the answer to this question, nor do I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General knows the answer.

When this type of legislation is passed through the House we have a duty to the taxpayer. I am all for extending the scope and working of recorders, but I should like to know what the cost of the Bill will be to the taxpayer, as far as it can be ascertained. On a Measure of this sort we are entitled to be told by the promoters of the Bill what they think it will cost. If they have no idea, we should be told so. I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend has any idea of the cost or whether the promoters of the Bill know it. I shall have to fall back on my right hon. and learined Friend the Solicitor-General and put the question to him.

I am fully in agreement with deputy recorders being adequately paid. Subject to some idea being given of the cost of the Bill, I support it, but I do not think that this is the right way for legislation to be passed through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.