HC Deb 23 July 1963 vol 681 cc1408-10
Mr. Millan

I beg to move, in page 23, line 27, to leave out "fifty" and to insert "twenty-five".

When we came to this Clause and this part of the Bill in Committee we were on the last day allocated to us for the Committee stage. We rushed through the Clause without any discussion. This was unfortunate because the Clause is quite important. It provides for certain changes in the powers of the summary courts other than sheriff courts, and that means the burgh police courts and J.P. courts. Under paragraph (a), it will be possible for the courts to deal with rather more serious offences than they can now.

The three categories of offence are set out in Section 4(1), paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act, 1954. They are, so far as the increase in limits is concerned, theft or reset of theft, falsehood, fraud and wilful imposition, breach of trust and embezzlement. For these offences at present, summary courts other than sheriff courts have been able to deal with offences only if they were in respect of amounts not exceeding £10. It is now provided that the same categories of offences will be dealt with by the lower summary courts but the new limit set is not exceeding £50.

This is a considerable extension of the powers of the burgh police courts. We are entitled to have an explanation from the Government of why this increase in powers is being granted. If for this category of offences a limit of up to £10 was reasonable in 1954, one wonders why, only nine years later, it is necessary to raise it five-fold. The Amendment to reduce the limit from £50 to £25 represents something much more reasonably in line with the fall in the value of money under this Government.

The interesting feature of the whole Clause is that, whereas paragraph (a) increases the powers of the lower summary courts, paragraph (b) restricts them. There is a contradiction in the Clause as a whole, and one has difficulty in understanding whether the Government wish to give an improved or a reduced status to the lower summary courts.

Lady Tweedsmuir

This is one of a number of provisions in the Bill designed to bring up to date the financial limits of one kind and another which are contained in earlier legislation and which have fallen out of line with changes in the value of money since they were originally fixed. Section 4 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act, 1954, imposes certain restrictions on the powers of courts of summary jurisdiction other than the sheriff court. The provisions with which we are here concerned are to be found in subsection (2) paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) which provide that, where the value of stolen goods or goods obtained by fraud or false pretences exceeds £10, summary prosecution may take place only in the sheriff court.

This financial limit goes back to 1908, since the 1954 Act was a consolidation Measure, and the increase to £50 proposed in the Bill is designed to take account of the change in the value of money since the present limit was fixed 55 years ago. The hon. Gentleman argued that the increase to £50 is unjustified and has suggested instead an increase to £25 as being more reasonable. I think the House will agree that from debates we have had earlier on monetary changes this cannot be, in fact, an exact mathematical calculation. What we are trying to do is to maintain broadly the distinction between the burgh and J.P. courts, on the one hand, and the sheriff courts on the other as provided in the older legislation. If the level is too low the burgh and the J.P. courts are prevented from dealing with cases which they might otherwise be able to dispose of, and an additional burden is imposed on the sheriff court.

We had thought, in drafting the Bill, that an increase from £10 to £50 was a reasonable recognition of the change in values since the figure of £10 was originally fixed. But, as I say, this is not an exact science and, therefore, I am quite prepared that we should recommend the House to accept the hon. Gentleman's Amendment.

Mr. Millan

May I once again—this is the third time today that I have been able to do this—thank the hon. Lady very much for accepting the Amendment?

Amendment agreed to