HC Deb 06 June 1961 vol 641 cc1035-53
Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

I beg to move, in page 24, line 44, at the beginning to insert: (1) A justice having an interest in the profits of any premises shall not be thereby disqualified under subsection (4) of section forty-eight of the Licensing Act, 1953, or otherwise from acting under that Act or this Act, if he would not fall to be treated as having such an interest but for the fact that he has a beneficial interest in shares of a company or other body having an interest in those profits, and if his beneficial interest in the shares of the company or body does not extend to shares of a total in actual value greater than two hundred and fifty pounds. This subsection is to take the place of the original Clause 13 (1) which was in the Bill as presented to the Committee before amendment. I notice that in the argument on the Clause there was a measure of opposition by both sides of the Committee. Rather than test it by a Division, the Minister agreed to delete that subsection with a view to having a look at it again. The original subsection allowed a justice to sit on the bench and adjudicate on a matter provided he had not a total of shares of more than £500 value.

This Amendment is to try to meet the opposition which was raised by cut-ting that value to an actual value of £250. I recognise that the hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. W. Clark), Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) and Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) were worried about the large amount of £500. I am hoping that now that I have out it to £250 I may be meeting them half way. Had the original subsection—Clause 13 (1)—been fully explained in Committee I think the opposition would not have been as great as it was, but it was not fully dealt with, and therefore I should like to take this opportunity—very briefly, because of the lateness of the hour—to explain how acute the position is in Barnsley, and the difficulties arising in 12 other towns, which have prompted me to sponsor this new subsection.

Early in 1959 the Barnsley British Co-operative Society applied for a new off-licence to retail spirits and the application was opposed by the Licensed Victuallers Association and by the Off-Licence Holders Protection Society. Opposition was based on the fact that every member of the bench was a co-operator. Indeed, every magistrate in Barnsley is a co-operator. Anyway, their objection was upheld and there was a long legal battle which went to the divisional court and then to the Court of Appeal. I shall not go into all the details, but the conclusion was that the society won its off-licence on the merits of the case. The divisional court and the Court of Appeal found that the pecuniary interest was so small that it had not swayed the magistrates' opinions at all. The licence was granted.

However, in view of the law as it now stands and because co-operators do have a pecuniary interest, it was impossible for them in future to adjudicate on these matters when sitting on the bench. Consequently, we have no bench in Barnsley to grant the annual renewal of licences for a31 the society's off-licence shops. Six members of the society have recently had temporarily and voluntarily to give up their membership of the society in order that we could have a bench there. Obviously, as all Members of the House will appreciate, this has been a tremendous wrench to many of them. These are usually men who have served a long time in public life before becoming magistrates. They have been members of the co-operative movement and society for many years. They have therefore sacrificed much to form this bench.

11.30 p.m.

They were aware of the original subsection 13 (1) of the Bill to rectify the anomaly, but that has been deleted. It the House does not accept at least the principle of my Amendment these six will rejoin the society and there will be no bench for Barnsley Co-operative Society matters in the future. If they are debarred from joining the society, this will place a restriction on the freedom of magistrates and will discriminate against every member of the society in the town.

Hon. Members should know how large is the Barnsley British Co-operative Society. It has 140,000 members, although the population of the town is only 76,000, which means that the membership ranges far beyond the county borough boundaries. The society's annual turnover is £12½million and it has at least 50 per cent. of the town's total grocery trade. We estimate that 99 homes out of every 100 in Barnsley and district contains a co-operator.

This is very much not a political question. The chairman of the Barnsley and District Conservative Party is a magistrate and a co-operator. He is not one of the six who have resigned their membership of the society to continue on the bench. If this anomaly is not removed, it will still be possible for the six members to rejoin the society for the major part of the year and, when the annual renewal of off-licences arises, to resign from the society and join the bench. After the licences have been granted they can rejoin the society. This makes a mockery of the law, and, because of this situation, we want the House to accept the principle of the Amendment.

The Minister's Department is fully aware of the problem, for we have had shoals of correspondence and there have been many deputations. Because he recognised the legal entanglement the Minister tried originally in the Bill to find a way round it. If hon. Members suggest that we should try to find some non-co-operators as justices of the peace, I point out that apart from the obvious discrimination, this would shatter the principle of selecting magistrates on merit. It would be hard in Barnsley and district to find any who are not co-operators.

This is not an isolated case. Twelve other towns have already indicated that they are getting into the same difficulty. They are Birmingham, Lincoln, Rugby, Bury, part of Nottingham—and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. W. Clark) who led the protest in Committee is present—Kettering, Preston, Wigan, Scunthorpe, Haltwhistle, Peterborough and St. Helens. Some of them have only just a quorum left. One has three magistrates who can still adjudicate but two of them are private traders and it might be said that they might have a bias.

The idea embodied in the Amendment is not new but is copied from that used in local government by which councillors can speak and vote on matters in which they have an interest provided that it is not more than £500 in shares. We are trying to solve the problem by copying that to a lesser degree. Because of the Clause originally in the Bill, I realise that the Government recognise the seriousness of the position. They have wrestled with the problem during the past twelve months in an effort to help.

In view of the fact that our Amendment is a watered-down version of the original intention, I hope that it will receive support from the Government. I understand that we could not have comprehensive legislation to cover this anomaly within the next two years. By that time, of course, we shall have had this mockery of the law in Barnsley continued still further, and it will be bound to spread unless the law is amended. Moreover, even in some of the other twelve towns there will be developing difficulty of the kind we have in Barnsley.

This is not purely a co-operative matter. Many other enterprises or even some sections of private industry might be involved. Because the difficulty is acute in my town, and because many other towns will be affected before very long, I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to come some way towards accepting the principle embodied in the Amendment.

The Solicitor-General

This Amendment raises very important issues and principles. The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has put very persuasively and forcefully the weighty considerations on the one side. There is the fact that at present it is only by an artificiality that one can assemble a bench in Barnsley which can adjudicate on any matter where the Co-operative Society is concerned.

The artificiality is such that it really strikes at the base of the opposing principle, which we have rightly insisted upon, that our benches at all levels should not only be unbiassed but should be seen to be unbiassed. The real objection to the proposal that the Government made originally, and that the hon. Member makes now, arises from the danger that an objector may not feel that he has a really unbiassed bench adjudicating on his application.

It is said, "Why not send the application, whatever it may be, to a neighbouring bench of magistrates?" Against that there is the argument that the best people to determine a local issue are a local bench of magistrates—another principle deeply established in our system of local lay magistracy.

Against the view of the rigorists, that no one in respect of whom there might be even the remotest appearance of bias should sit on a bench in these circumstances, there is to be set the fact that the Barnsley justices' case was considered by the divisional court and by the Court of Appeal, the finding being—I do not suppose that anyone would wish to quarrel with it—that there had been no bias in fact. Further, it could be asked—What could be more artificial than what has happened in Barnsley? Six of the justices have resigned in order to provide a bench of magistrates not all of whom, if I may put it in this way, are tainted with co-operation. It is to provide at any rate a forum which can judge on matters concerning the co-operative society. But on the other hand, surely any litigant before that bench will know that they have been life-long members of the co-operative society and have resigned from it that they can at any time rejoin, and that it must be in their hearts to rejoin.

Under those circumstances, it seems to me that the point of view of the rigorists, although I respect it, when measured against the reality of the situation may not have quite the force that at first sight appears to be the case.

When we discussed this matter in Committee upstairs it was on a proposal by the Government to deal with this problem, which is not, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, confined to Barnsley. It is a potential danger in other parts of the country. The Government proposal was that a justice should not be disqualified if his financial interest did not extend to shares of a total nominal value of more than £500, or more than one-hundredth in nominal value of the issued share capital.

It was rightly pointed out that a nominal value of £500, which was already a very considerable sum, could represent an actual value of very much more. Because of the views expressed in Committee upstairs, my right hon. Friend accepted the Amendment to delete the provision, so that the matter could be reconsidered.

The hon. Gentleman now proposes an alternative approach, an actual value of £250. I have two objections to that. The first is on the amount. I think that £250 is very considerably too high. It is a sufficient stake for an objector to have a genuine feeling, an understandable feeling, a reasonable feeling, that the bench has a financial stake in the matter on which it is adjudicating.

Secondly, I do not think that the actual value is a feasible test. One knows that there are three alternative methods of getting at the value of shares for Estate Duty purposes. I do not think that anyone has found any of them very satisfactory. One has only to think of a justice buying his newspaper as he goes towards the court and finding that the premises in which he has a small number of shares, say 200, have been the subject of a take-over bid and that his shares have suddenly shot up to double their value. Therefore, for that reason it seems that actual value is not the right approach.

I still think that, if we are to deal with this, the best way to approach it is by a nominal value of some very small amount, say £25. I know that the rigorist, even if he brushes aside the argument that I ventured to put forward about the artificiality of the present position, will say that there should be no interest at all. But I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Amendment so that we can reconsider it before the matter goes to another place.

At present the inclination of my right hon. Friend is to go some way to trying to meet the hon. Gentleman's problem. I have suggested one possible way, which is to have a very low nominal value. In any event, anything that we do on these lines will have to be the subject of an Amendment in another place. It will have to come back to this House for reconsideration, so that in accepting that course the House would not be coming to any final decision.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I have talked this matter over with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). I understood that he had been in touch with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and that in all probability the amount which he had inserted in the Amendment would be acceptable to the Government, particularly as it is only half—it might be less than half—of the amount originally in the Clause.

The Solicitor-General

I am sure that the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) will bear me out when I say that we have not discussed the matter of the amount at all.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I did not want to give the impression that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had accepted the Clause as drafted, or the Amendment. I said what I did as a preface to the rest of what I have to say, namely, that in the original draft the Government made the amount nominally £500, which is considerably more than my hon. Friend has put in the Amendment. I do not know whether we shall ever reach finality about this. It is, however, obvious that we shall have to do something.

As I said during the Committee stage discussions, the co-operative society is in a different position from an ordinary company or other organisation, and it might be possible to deal with the Society in some acceptable way which would avoid the difficulties indicated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But £25, the amount he suggested, might be subjected to a take-over bid, particularly as he would make £25 nominal in amount and not actual money value, and the figure might be a great deal higher. We should then run into the difficulties which were foreseen when we discussed this matter in the Committee.

The Solicitor-General

I should make it clear that I think that there would have to be in addition a proportion of the total nominal value fixed, so that there could not be £25 in a £25 company.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

That is an additional reason for my suggesting that perhaps my hon. Friend would be well advised to withdraw the Amendment on the assurance given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that this matter will be attended to in another place in a manner satisfactory to those whom my hon. Friend represents and to the Government, and to all who wish to see justice done. As my hon. Friend said, at is not only the co-operative society which would be in difficulties but other people also, and we might as well settle this problem.

Sir C. Black

I will not deploy the arguments on this matter which were deployed during the Committee stage discussions by some of my hon. Friends and myself and which led to the decision at which the Committee arrived. However, in view of what has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend, I should like to make it clear that this is not a matter which is influenced in my mind by the amount of the interest. That was not the point. The point was, would a person who was opposing an application by the co-operative society feel that he was getting a square deal, and that justice was being done, if he knew that all the justices, even though it were only to a small extent, were financially interested in the matter on which they were having to adjudicate? I do not want to repeat the arguments, but I want to make it clear that for my part—and, I think, my view is shared by some of my hon. Friends—when this matter comes before us again I would not be influenced by the amount of the investment. To my mind, there is a principle here which is unaffected by the amount of the interest.

Sir F. Soskice

Whatever our views, we would all agree that there is a serious problem. The Solicitor-General put it admirably. One has in mind the consideration to which the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) has again referred, but, at the same time, there are the practical difficulties which make it difficult to give full effect to the principle of rigour to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred.

As a person who has considered this sort of problem, it seems to me that what the Solicitor-General proposes is the right approach. He mentioned a nominal figure of £25. One wants to strike a figure which is neither so high that it may give rise to legitimate apprehension on the part of objectors, on the one side, nor so low as, in effect, to deprive it of all result. If we put it below a certain level, we still may disqualify a large number of justices, if not all of them. I know that if the Solicitor-General feels able to pursue further the course which he has suggested, he will carefully consider the necessity of trying to find the right mean.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who moved the Amendment and who has done us all a service in bringing it forward, will ask the permission of the House to withdraw it in view of what the Solicitor-General has said. We are faced with a problem, and what has come from the Government Bench is the only practical approach to an efficacious solution.

Mr. A. Bourne-Arton (Darlington)

In Committee, I said that it was my instinct to leave matters as they were unless I could find out a good deal more than we knew at that time and get my mind cleared. Since then, I have done so, and I support the principle of the Amendment.

In Committee, I declared that I was an interested party in that I am one of those magistrates who are debarred from being a licensing justice because of a technicality, the financial value of which is infinitesimal. If the Amendment or something like it is passed. I shall still be so disqualified, and I think that probably that must be right.

Mr. Mason

In view of the assurances given by the Solicitor-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Objection being taken, the debate continues.

Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

I greatly welcome the approach of my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. I am sure that it is necessary to have a small minimal figure which no one could consider would influence anybody in exercising his judicial office. The main principle is not whether it is £25 or any other figure of nominal value, but that it should be a tiny proportion of the total issued share capital. That is the important thing. Nobody could suppose that if a person has an interest of less than one-hundredth part of the capital of a company, the result of an application would very much affect his interest in the company.

I therefore ask the Solicitor-General if he will consider as the guiding principle the proportion rather than the amount. Apart from co-operatives, there is the question of unit trusts, which I ask him to consider. Someone may have a large block of units in a trust which bought a large proportion of brewery shares. The managers of the trust might have bought shares in a brewery without the knowledge of the holder of the units in the trust. He might be disqualified without having the faintest idea that he was disqualified. I do not know the answer to that except to say that shares in a unit trust should not be considered.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I disagree with the Amendment. I disagree with it because I disagree with the whole principle. It is not to me a matter of the amount, whether it is 6d., 6s. or £600, which a person has in the Barnsley Co-operative Society or any other co-operative society, but the fact that someone can go to the court and say, "How can justice be done? The bench has an interest in the matter."

I do not want to be destructive, but constructive. For that reason I make two small suggestions. The first may not meet with much approval. Could not stipendiary magistrates be used in Barnsley or in other courts where this question came up? If that is impracticable and if Barnsley is an exception—I know Nottingham very well and I assure hon. Members that Nottingham, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. W. Clark) will confirm, never has and never will have difficulty in finding a number of estimable people who are not co-operators to serve on the bench—would it be possible to help Barnsley if the Home Office took powers to grant a special dispensation in Barnsley or some other city which had a similar problem and for this Amendment to be adopted for a specific case?

Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)

As I have indicated before, I am not at all happy about this matter. I have been very quiet today, but not at all stages of the Bill. Generally in discussions on it I have not found myself near agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). Although we sit on the same side of the House, in a way we have been on opposite sides in discussion on this Bill, but I am in full agreement with what he has said on this question.

I do not mind one bit what the amount involved is. I am not impressed with what the Solicitor-General said about a twenty-fifth part. It is a question of whether one has a direct interest. I have never heard anything so ridiculous as to suggest that Barnsley cannot do anything about this question because all the (magistrates are co-operators. What on earth is Barnsley doing electing all co-operators as magistrates? It should arrange its affairs on a sounder basis than that.

The Solicitor-General

I think that my hon. Friend does not appreciate the difficulty of the situation. I understand that all the Barnsley justices, not only the licensing justices, but all the justices, are co-operators. They are not, of course, as my hon. Friend suggested, elected. They are appointed because they are thought to be the best people for appointment to the bench.

Mr. Hirst

I know that my right hon. and learned Friend does not take me for a fool. I know a good deal about how justices are appointed. I do not propose to go into the details now. What I said before stands. There is no need whatever for all the justices of the peace to be co-operators whereby they are debarred in effect from judging these matters. I am not prepared to compromise in this matter in the slightest. I shall oppose it at every stage.

12 m.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I did not want to intervene, because I felt that most of us had the sense of the Solicitor-General and were prepared to allow the Amendment to be withdrawn so that the matter may be looked at again in the light of the discussion that occurred earlier this evening. As some hon. Members have said, some important points of principle have arisen, and our difficulty at this time is that if we are to have a fully-fledged debate it could last a good time, whereas most of us are anxious that the debate should be terminated and the question looked at again so that some accommodation can be made.

Hon. Members opposite made a great deal of the point whether or not a person has an interest, and how much the interest is. But I think that, with a joint stock company and a friendly society under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, there is surely a vast difference between whether a share has a changing value and whether it can be the subject of capital appreciation and take-over bids, compared with a share which retains its nominal value and receives only a fixed interest.

Many organisations have contributed to the voluntary services in the community and in public life—the co-operative movement, as well as others. We are seeking in a democratic society to get more people to do voluntary service—to sit on benches and to take part in work on committees and welfare organisations and societies. What has happened here on a small point within the Bill is a discouragement for people so to do.

The co-operative society of which I am a member has 1,300,000 members. The position will be extremely difficult, when we remember that there are 13 million members of co-operative societies out of a population of 52 million—or one in four. As the societies grow we might reach the stage where it is impossible to find people of good will to serve on benches who are not in touch in some way with a co-operative society.

There is also the point made by the Solicitor-General of the right amount of interest. With the co-operative movement the dividend on a share accumulates instead of being drawn out, and this speedily comes to £25. I hope that if this point is looked at again the Solicitor-General will bear in mind that, in the present affluent society, perhaps £25 is a bit low.

Hon. Members opposite have also raised the point about being seen to be fair and unbiassed. This question does not really arise in a non-profit making society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, whereas it might arise under a joint stock company or private concern registered under ordinary profit-making techniques. Barnsley has been quoted, but it is not only there or in the twelve other towns that this occurs or where there are cases of difficulty. If the House wishes to give leave for this Amendment to be withdrawn, I hope that that course will be pursued.

Mr. William Clark (Nottingham, South)

I was responsible in Committee for moving the Amendment to delete this Clause. While I agree with the Solicitor-General that the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) put a persuasive case, I would say that he put a persuasive case for Barnsley. The hon. Member mentioned twelve other towns which are, he said, near the same position, and he mentioned Nottingham. I can speak for Nottingham only, and I can assure him that Nottingham would never have any difficulty in finding magistrates for the licensing bench who did not have an interest in licensed premises. His argument that there are twelve other towns more or less in the same position as Barnsley is entirely fallacious.

I cannot understand why, in this debate, interesting though it is, we have had the same reasons pot forward as were adduced upstairs in Committee. It was because of those reasons and the advocacy of both sides that the Committee came to the conclusion that this provision should be deleted from the Bill. I regret very much that the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) has turned round in his attitude towards this, because when I moved an Amendment in Committee he was among my greatest supporters, as were his right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher).

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The proposition then was very different from the one we are now considering.

Mr. Clark

No. The proposition we are considering now is that the limitation should be £250 rather than £500, actual value. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, his speech in Committee was entirely opposed in principle to people sitting on the bench and being judges and advocates in their own causes.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

In dealing with the availability of magistrates, would my hon. Friend say also that there will never be any difficulty in getting magistrates to serve unless they are prepared to undertake never to buy a brewery share, or a share in a catering business or in a unit trust?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton), like the right hon. Member for Colne Valley, has switched round, and I regret it. I appreciate that many of my hon. Friends will still stick to, and are still consistent about, the principle that a man should not be judge and advocate in his own cause. Whilst there may be difficulty in Barnsley, I cannot see why the Bill, which affects England and Wales, should be changed for the sake of one town. Although Barnsley has a difficulty, I cannot see that it is insuperable, and that it cannot find magistrates for the licensing bench or have its licences dealt with in a neighbouring town.

What a furore there would be if somebody here said that we must alter the Bill because the only people we could get for a licensing bench were brewers, I cannot see that the argument put by the hon. Member for Barnsley holds water when he says that all the available people in Barnsley are co-operators.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has said that the Bill will go to another place and that an Amendment will be put down. I will oppose any Amendment that gives additional benefit to any particular section of the community. The licensing bench system has worked well for many years, and I cannot see why, at this stage, we should change the procedure. We shall look forward with interest to the Amendment that is to be put down, and will then decide upon our course of action.

Sir D. Glover

I did not intend to intervene in the discussion, but if anything has come out of it, it is that the Home Secretary can produce a Bill in the next Session to modernise the system under which magistrates are appointed, because it is utter nonsense to say that in a great town like Barnsley one cannot find magistrates who are not members of co-operative societies.

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend must realise the implications of what he is saying—that if the best available man for appointment to the bench, is selected, he shall nevertheless be disqualified because he has an investment in a co-operative society.

Sir D. Glover

If my right hon. and learned Friend will allow me to continue my argument, I have no doubt that—as he knows, magistrates are appointed and not elected—if Mr. A is known as an outstanding man for the appointment and realises that if he is given the appointment he will have to deal with the question of licences for a co-operative society and that he holds £100 worth of shares in the co-operative society, there is nothing in the world to prevent him from selling his holding and thereby removing the interest which he has in that organisation, just as every Minister of the Crown has to resign his directorships when appointed. There is no reason at all why a magistrate, who realises that he is too involved in this large organisation which appears to dominate the whole of Barnsley, and wants to be an independent individual, should not resign his small interest. He can put his money into a non-profit-making organisation and then his shares will not appreciate in value. He will not lose a great deal. On the other hand, he will gain complete freedom of action.

Mr. Mason

But he will lose in principle.

Sir D. Glover

He will not. I come back to what has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) and Shipley (Mr. Hirst). It is not what a person does; it is what the people who are in front of him think he is doing. What is important is that if a person goes before a bench of magistrates he must feel and know that the magistrates are not financially interested and are unprejudiced. Otherwise, if the case goes against him he will lower the status of the magistrates in the district by saying for months and months afterwards, "Oh, yes, I lost my case because the magistrates were prejudiced against me. They had a vested interest in turning me down."

It is not true—the hon. Member for Barnsley knows this as well as I do—to say that it is impossible to overcome this problem. It is perfectly easy to overcome.

Mr. Mason

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the Home Office has been struggling with this problem for twelve months to find a way out and this is the only possible immediate method of overcoming the acute situation which has arisen in Barnsley and which is gradually spreading elsewhere? Also, the hon. Gentleman must not draw a false analogy between a Minister of the Crown and a justice of the peace where one is asking public-spirited men to work for nothing in the service of the public, because a Minister of the Crown at least is well paid.

Sir D. Glover

I am very glad that I gave way to the hon. Member for Barnsley, because I have never yet found all these public-spirited men who would turn the appointment down. In every district of which I have any knowledge people come to me and say "How do you become a justice of the peace? How are you appointed? What happens?".

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I should like to inform the hon. Gentleman that there are hon. Members who have turned down such an appointment. Perhaps he has not had experience because the wrong kind of people have been approaching him.

Mr. Pavitt

I am happy to tell the hon. Member that I am one of those who have turned down the appointment.

Sir D. Glover

I always realised that the hon. Member for Willesden West (Mr. Pavitt) was a strange bird, but he is the first one that I have ever come across. In every case, of course, one can find an exception, but every hon. Member knows that people approach us, as Members of Parliament, about how justices of the peace are appointed. They want to know how people become justices of the peace. If anybody is going to tell me that we shall find difficulty in discovering good, sound and responsible citizens to take on this duty—an onerous one, I agree, but one with enormous honour in one's own district, ranking just about as high as, if not higher than, a Member of Parliament, with the letters "J.P." after their name which they will cherish—I just do not believe that we shall get people without lowering the status by saying that they may have a vested interest and that the public will accept it.

Mr. Mason

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if we are to do as he suggests, the principle of selecting a magistrate on merit must immediately be shelved, because 140,000 people in Barnsley and district will not be included in that selection at all, and, consequently, there will be very few people from whom one can choose?

Sir D. Glover

We are not now talking about the general bench of magistrates. We are talking about licensing magistrates. If the hon. Member's no doubt very worthy friend is a staunch co-operator in Barnsley and is offered an appointment to the licensing bench, there is no reason in this world why he should get rid of his share in the co-operative society so that he can deal with these matters as a completely independent person. I still do not believe that we bring a sense of justice into these affairs if we accept the principle that a person who is a magistrate has some sort of vested interest.

12.15 a.m.

Let me make the case more strongly. Today it is the co-operators. We talk glibly about £100 worth of stock in a co-operative society which is worth £100, but if we now accept that, in five years' time how are we to turn down someone who has £100 in a brewery company— stock which may be worth £10 a share and which may be a substantial amount in his income? If we accept the co-operator to the licensing bench, how in the world can we say that that man cannot stand or is not eligible? Thus we open the way to a flood of persons who have an interest in turning down applications, and people will have a deep feeling that justice is not being done.

Mr. Mason

With the assurance I have received from the Solicitor-General, and on the understanding that the principle of my Amendment will certainly be seriously considered by him, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 24, line 44, leave out subsection (1).—[Mr. Vosper.]

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I beg to move, in page 25, line 34, at the end to insert: (f) a list of all new applications and for renewal of licences shall be made available for inspection at the office of the clerk to the licensing bench at least fourteen days prior to the hearing of such applications. All that is proposed is that a list of applicants and applications for renewal should be made available fourteen days or earlier at the office of the clerk to the licensing bench. This Amendment has a very happy parentage. The licensed victuallers, I understand, want it. It was they who brought it to my notice, and I understand that also the Temperance Council of the Christian Churches' Council thinks that it would be a good idea. I hope that with these commendations the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept the Amendment without a great deal of discussion.

Mr. Vosper

With certain reservations I am agreeable to accept the intention of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment. It has respectable sponsors other than himself. I think that the Amendment should go further and extend to removals. I am a little doubtful whether it should extend to renewals because there might be some case for making available applications for renewals which must be automatically known to those who wish to object. Thirdly, I think that there is a case for a small fee for inspection, which is payable in these cases. Fourthly, the Amendment is technically defective. If the right hon. Gentleman is agreeable and the House, too, I will have an Amendment tabled in another place to meet the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and, of course, I accept what he has said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 26, line 28, leave out subsection (5) and (6).—[Mr. Vosper.]