HC Deb 23 July 1963 vol 681 cc1410-4
Mr. Speaker

I think it would be to the convenience of the House to discuss with the Amendment in page 23, line 45, the next three Amendments: In page 23, line 46, leave out "eighteen" and insert "seventeen".

In line 46, after "eighteen" insert: after approval of an order to that effect by the Commons House of Parliament". In page 24, line 3, leave out "eighteen" and insert "seventeen".

If that be acceptable to the House I will save the second, third and fourth and call, ii; necessary, for Divisions the second and third.

Mr. Willis

I understand that we are to discuss all the Amendments on Clause 48. The only point of clarification that I should like to ask for is that if I move to leave out Clause 48, and if that is agreed to, does that mean that none of the three following Amendments can be made?

Mr. Speaker

What I propose would be to leave out the words to "eighteen" in line 46. That saves the others. Anyhow, we will look after the mechanics of the matter if the hon. Member will move the first Amendment and we discuss the group.

Mr. Willis

I beg to move, in page 23, line 45, to leave out Clause 48.

In doing so, I am bound to object to the very subtle form of intimidation to which the Opposition are being subjected by the Government. I refer, of course, to the intimidation in that we are being compelled to deal with the hon. Lady who has not been allowed to get a cup of tea for 7½ hours. Naturally, we are rather upset about this, and we do not like to discuss these matters too long. It is really intolerable on the part of the Government that they cannot manage to provide the hon. Lady with a relief in order that she may get a cup of tea.

I had intended to make a longish speech on this matter, but I feel that I am being restricted and intimidated by virtue of the fact that I do not like to see the hon. Lady sitting there so long. However, I made two or three very long speeches on this matter in Committee and I will therefore confine my remarks to a very limited compass.

In the first place, I do not think that the Government have made out any case for the appointing of additional judges at all. The second point I wish to make is that the present judges do not seem to me to be properly occupied. In other words, we have increased the number of judges in Scotland in the higher courts from 13 to 16 and now we propose to increase the number to 18, and that within a very short time indeed, I cannot believe that the work of the courts has increased to that extent.

11.30 p.m.

I also made the point during the Committee stage, which I will repeat, that I believe Scotland has far too many judges in its various courts. I pointed out, giving the figures, that Scotland, with one-tenth the population of England, has one-quarter the number of judges, and that seemed to me to be far too many. I suggested during the Second Reading and in Committee that the whole of the procedures of the Court of Session ought to be examined. What is the position in the Court of Session at present? The court does not sit on Mondays. It sits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but Fridays and Saturdays are devoted to undefended divorce cases—business which, incidentally, some of us think ought to be dealt with in rather a different fashion, but it would be out of order to discuss that point now. Nobody can suggest that this is a very weighty programme.

I also pointed out to the hon. Lady that during the summer term last year the Inner House did not sit at all. We had no Lord Justice Clerk at that time. He unfortunately died, and the Government had not plucked up the courage to appoint the then Lord Advocate to that position. They took three months to do that because they were afraid they might be defeated in Glasgow in a by-election.

Mr. T. Fraser

As they were.

Mr. Willis

Yes, they were. I suggest to the hon. Lady that in the light of the evidence that has been placed before her in debate and at the Scottish Office, there ought to be some consideration of the practices and procedures in the Court of Session—that is a perfectly reasonable demand—before any additional judges are appointed.

The only argument adduced during the Committee stage of the Bill which seemed to me to be a valid reason for seeking powers for appointing additional judges was the argument that, arising out of applications for legal aid in criminal cases, there might be a considerable increase in the number of appeals. That would appear to have been borne out by a Clause—Clause 32, I believe—which was later dropped by the Government. I would accept that as being a reason why it might be necessary to appoint an additional judge, if it were not for the fact that that particular section of the Court of Session appeared to have less to do than the Outer House. The Inner House, I understand, has less to do than the Outer House. Therefore, I am not prepared to accept that argument. If the hon. Lady examines the situation as it has been placed before her, I think she will hesitate before wishing to appoint two additional judges.

I have tried to compress the main points of my argument into a very small compass indeed. I could speak at length on this subject, but I have compressed my arguments in order to save the time of the House. I think the Government have justified the necessity for having the powers asked for in this Clause, but before proceeding further they should examine the whole procedures and practices of the Court of Session.

Thanks, I think, to a great deal of criticism from these benches during the past year or two the Government are in process of examining the sheriff courts and their practices. It may be inappropriate to examine the Court of Session position till that review has been carried through, but what is being done in the case of the sheriff courts ought to be done in the case of the Court of Session, and the Government should not seek powers to appoint additional judges till that has been done. I hope that the hon. Lady will tell us tonight that the Government are considering this, and that after the inquiry into the sheriff courts there will be one into the Court of Session, and I hope she will have some better news for us now than she had in Standing Committee.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I understand that we are discussing with the Amendment to leave out Clause 48 the Amendment to alter the number of judges from 18 to 17, and if that is so I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) will be glad to know that I am prepared to advise the House to accept that latter Amendment, and, of course, the consequential one in page 24, line 3. I must confess that I do so advise the House not only because of the eloquence of the hon. Gentleman, to whom I always listen with great attention.

We argued this in Standing Committee, when I suggested that I felt that we should keep the power to appoint two additional judges. Since the debate in Standing Committee, as the House will recall, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced, on Wednesday, 19t.h June, the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry under the Chairmanship of the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Grant, to review the functions of the sheriff courts in the administration of the civil and criminal law of Scotland. The Committee's terms of reference do not refer in terms to the jurisdiction of the Court of Session and the High Court, but it is at least possible—I put it no higher than that—that the Committee's recommendations as regards the proper functions of the sheriff court may lead to changes in the volume of business in the High Court and the Court of Session.

In these circumstances, it does seem sensible to take power now to appoint the additional judge who is likely to be required within the next year or so as a result of the introduction of criminal legal aid, but to leave over the appointment of the second judge till we see the outcome of the sheriff courts inquiry, because I have little doubt that inquiry will lead to legislation, and therefore the question of further judicial appointments could, if necessary, be dealt with at that time. Therefore I am prepared to accept the second Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Willis

I beg to move, in page 23, line 46, to leave out "eighteen" and to insert "seventeen".

I thank the hon. Lady for going some distance to meet us. I hope that the committee set up to inquire into the sheriff courts will consider the possibility of the sheriff courts doing certain work at present done by the Court of Session which would affect the work to be done by the Court of Session and make it possible for us not to have to increase the number beyond 17.

As I said, I accept the argument that the introduction of legal aid for criminal cases might involve greater work. Because of that, I am probably happier to accept the compromise offered by the hon. Lady than I might otherwise have been. I thank her for having met us partly.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 24, line 3, leave out "eighteen" and insert "seventeen".—[Mr. Willis.]