HC Deb 16 July 1964 vol 698 cc1579-90

10.8 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Justices' Allowances Regulations 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 853), dated 11th June, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th June, be annulled. First, I would say that those hon. Members who feel that they have a more profitable way of spending the next hour or so at the television set might be well advised to do that rather than listen to what will be our rather technical discussion. Secondly, I want to apologise to the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State for what I confess to be the discourtesy of bringing her here at extremely short notice. However, I am sure that she will realise that the complexity of the negative procedure with Statutory Instruments sometimes means that one has not much time at the end of a Session to raise matters before a Statutory Instrument is enacted. There are some points on the Regulations which I want to put to the hon. Lady and ask her opinions about them.

The history of this matter is that as long ago as 1949 it was decided that justices of the peace might receive lodging allowance and travelling allowance, but they were not allowed to receive any normal subsistence allowance. This has been a matter of grave concern to justices for a great many years. One of the reasons why it has been of increasing concern to them is that the pressure of business on them has very much increased, partly through the regrettable increase in crime, which has led to longer court sittings, and partly because of work put on justices by this House, because of Measures such as the Licensing Act and the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, in dealing with the licensing of betting shops and of restaurants.

This has led to very long lists. In many cases it might be quite reasonable to assume that the magistrates' court would not meet very often and that when it did meet it would not necessarily meet for very long, but those days are past and it is now common, certainly in London, for licensing committees to sit not only for the whole of the day but for two days.

In my own petty sessional division of Park, which covers Paddington, Kensington, Fulham, Chelsea and Hammersmith, to take betting licences alone, we met on Tuesday of this week and sat right through into the afternoon, and we resume next Wednesday when we are quite likely to sit throughout that day. The question of subsistence allowance, therefore, has become a very real one for justices. At a time when more work is being put on them and at a time, particularly in London, of the integration of stipendiary courts and justices' courts, it is particularly important that they should be treated fairly.

It is a matter of considerable controversy whether or not justices should receive compensation for loss of earnings, but as a whole the body of magistrates, for better or worse, have not wanted that. They have wanted to remain an unpaid judicial body. If they are unpaid it is all the more important that they should be treated fairly and should not be put to severe inconvenience. There is an overwhelming case for saying that as a result of what has been happening justices have a considerable hardship to bear. This is a position which I want to mention to the House to explain the importance of these regulations.

Let us take a case coming before a licensing committee where the bookmakers will gain a substantial monopoly value as a result of the decision of the court. They employ legal advisers who receive anything from 50 to 100 guineas for appearing in court, but the only people who get absolutely nothing out of it, not even their lunch, are the people who are sitting in judgment on the matter and have to make a decision.

It is not a matter of serving the community. I sit, for example, on a juvenile court tomorrow, and I feel that this work is worth doing at some financial loss because I hope that I may be helping mothers and children with their family problems. I feel that I am doing as important a social service as any other, but when I sit in judgment between two warring bookmakers as to who should get a good site in the Park division and I am addressed on these matters by extremely well-paid and expensive gentlemen, I feel that I am not performing a social service at all. I am doing a duty placed upon me by Parliament.

But I feel—and I am sure many other justices feel—that if we are called upon to do this kind of thing, we ought to be able to afford a decent meal between the sittings of committees. There are justices who are not particularly well paid, and some are in retirement. A friend of mine sits as a justice and he has deliberately forfeited opportunities of getting a better paid job with the board by which he is employed; otherwise he would have to give up his work as a justice. He is a skilled craftsman, but he prefers to take a routine unskilled job while he is approaching retirement because he wants to make his contribution as a justice of the peace. He is deliberately giving up a good deal of financial emolument. A man in that position finds it extremely difficult to pay for a decent meal in the middle of the day.

These Regulations go a long way towards meeting the difficulty. As I understand it, they consolidate the old travelling and lodging allowances with the new subsistence allowances. I understand that a new code is being established. I should like to ask about the new allowances which are proposed for travelling and subsistence. Is the travelling allowance being increased, or is it to remain the same as under the old Regulations? How do they compare with the local authority allowances? Are they the same?

Then I want to know about the precise extent of these provisions. They provide for subsistence only when people are serving more than four hours at a session. I believe that is quite reasonable, and I would not quarrel with that provision. But this makes it particularly important to get adequate subsistence for one's meal, and the minimum rate is 10s. The difficulty is this. If one is sitting until one o'clock at a four-hour session, one does not say "Now I can go home and get my meal," because there is no time. One has to be back at 2 o'clock. The lunch break lasts only for an hour and, therefore, it is impossible to get home for a meal.

It can be asked, "What do you normally do if you are not sitting?" The answer is either that one has time to cook one's meal or that one has more time later to have a meal. But it is not possible to go home, cook a meal and then get back to court by 2 o'clock. Therefore, it is necessary to employ somebody to do it. That person may be one's wife, if one is fortunate enough to have one; I am not. Therefore, I should have to employ a housekeeper, or else do it myself. However quick and good at cooking I am, I cannot go home, provide a lunch for myself and get back to court by 2 o'clock, and this, of course, would be the usual situation if a court were sitting in the afternoon.

It is in the public interest for justices to be back on time. It is not in the public interest that they should come back at about a quarter to three in a somewhat mellow state, having taken a long time and had a leisurely meal prepared at home. The parties, witnesses and everyone else expect them to be back on time, and they have only a bare hour for getting a meal.

What has struck terror into the hearts of justices who have read the Regulations is what is to be found in Schedule 3 which gives particulars about the form of application for subsistence allowance. There is a note: A justice is not entitled to subsistence allowance if the duties are performed not more than three miles from his usual place of residence. This is wholly irrelevant to the question whether or not one can prepare one's own lunch. I live about three miles away from this House but I cannot get back home in less than half an hour by public transport, and I have no car. Therefore, the three-mile limit will mean that people who have no hope of providing a meal for themselves will still, for some reason, be penalised and not be able to lunch in the middle of the day. This has caused great concern to many justices because they were led to believe that they would receive fair treatment and they find that they are not.

Finally, what is the definition of the duties of a justice? These allowances are available if necessarily incurred in the performance of one's duties. Does this include training? The Lord Chancellor has been making a great to-do lately about the importance of training for justices. Presumably, therefore, training will be part of a justice's duties. Justices want an assurance that, when they go away for a residential course or attend lectures some distance away, they will be able to claim expenses for that as part of their duties.

I apologise to the hon. Lady for having brought her here at short notice. I have not the least intention of pressing the Prayer to a vote, because we greatly welcome the Regulations and are delighted to have them before the House, but I profoundly regret the gap in them to which I have referred, which will be a great disappointment to many of my fellow justices.

10.23 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North West)

I go a little further than my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). I entirely agree with what he has put to the House, but, as an old practising lawyer, I consider that our magistrates deserve the very greatest consideration. They have performed and still perform an excellent service to the community. I gather that if magistrates were dispensed with or people could not be persuaded to undertake these onerous duties about £20 million a year for the cost of stipendiaries would be incurred by the nation, taking the rate at which a stipendiary magistrate is now paid. This is a large consideration and one which should affect our minds in discussing these Regulations for travelling and subsistence allowances.

In my view—and I think it is the view of the majority of people—magistrates perform a voluntary service of the highest order and we should not take advantage of the fact that they are prepared to give their time in doing it. This is particularly so today, because in addition to their ordinary duties, which are increasing daily, they are expected to attend courses to make themselves proficient. We understand what this means to my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes, who is a very well known magistrate and who has given remarkably good service to the bench and to the community, and we understand what it means to his colleagues. It is in that light that we have to approach Regulations of this description.

I do not suppose that we shall press this matter to a division. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes has intimated that he does not want to do that. But I am not altogether sure whether a parsimonious provision is good enough. I am not sure whether it should be accepted, particularly when it does not deal with every difficulty concerning subsistence which faces a magistrate. A juror is allowed a certain amount for the days that he is in court. His subsistence does not depend on where he lives. It is true that he gets a very meagre allowance, but no distinction is made between one juror and another because one may live further from the court than the other.

In a place like London, how can one check the position by reference to distance? It is literally impossible. A mile in London may, in time, be the equivalent of two or three miles in the provinces. I am not altogether happy about the four hours. After all, four hours may mean two sessions. A court may sit in the morning for a few hours and in the afternoon for a few hours. The total time involved may be only four hours, and a person who lives less than three miles from the court is expected to go home, prepare a meal, have it and return to the court and carry on with his duties. That is preposterous. In most cases it is literally impossible for a person to do this. What my hon. Friend said about attending a court in London, going home and returning to the court twice in the same day is correct.

It is extremely important that the subsistence allowance should be adequate and should not be restricted. I suppose that I shall be told by the Under-Secretary of State that the Act says that there must be certain limits regarding distance. I should not accept Regulations made under the Act if I were a magistrate unless and until there was some improvement of the Act. I would reject the order out of hand rather than be told, "Because you live 2¾ miles from the court, you are expected to go home, and you cannot get anything."

Why should a magistrate be subjected to that? What earthly right have we, any of us, to say that a person is not even entitled to be paid for a meal if he happens to live less than three miles from the court? It is an absurd position, and I hope that whatever happens to these Regulations tonight, the hon. Lady will put her mind to it to see whether some remedy can be made, whether by means of another Act or by whatever means are necessary. Surely, £20 million saved to the nation should justify giving 10s. to a magistrate to have a meal.

Who are affected by this? My hon. Friend has said, quite rightly, that there is a large number of magistrates to whom 10s. is a considerable sum, or to whom the difference between being paid for a meal and not being paid for a meal is a very considerable one. They make their sacrifices, particularly the poorer, and particularly the poorer ones in those districts where poor persons live. I am not begging for charity. It is not a question of charity. It is a question of common sense and understanding. These people make sacrifices. My hon. Friend gave a very interesting illustration just now. A person should not be told that he has to go home for a meal. He may be a bachelor, and that would mean that to prepare it would take a little longer.

Mr. MacColl

Oh, no.

Sir B. Janner

Well, I do not know; but I should have thought a man would take a little longer to provide himself with a proper, satisfying meal. Perhaps not if he were a practised cook, but I should have thought it would have taken longer than if he had a wife to look after him.

Mr. MacColl

My hon. Friend will appreciate that if I had a wife I should send her out to work, so that she would not be there at all!

Sir B. Janner

That makes the argument even stronger.

But so, too, for a woman who has to look after a family. During the day in court, she goes home to prepare a meal for her family and she has to look after herself, too, and has to rush from and to the court—and cannot be late. Those of us who know what happens in court know what happens when a magistrate turns up late and some counsel is in a hurry to get to another place. We know what happens when comment is made by counsel in respect of the delay which occurs.

There has been very considerable pressure for years on us in Parliament to see to it that a reasonable and proper outlook is taken of this very important work and that justices are not embarrassed by being told that they should be placed in a position in which they themselves have to pay for their subsistence, taking meals in some spot—shall we say a hotel or public house which provides meals?—whilst the clients before the court, to whom my hon. Friend referred, who are applying for liquor licences, can go off to the Savoy for a meal. I am not suggesting that magistrates should be sent to the Savoy or anywhere like that, but they have a right to a decent meal—and, in a sense, I do not see why they should not go to the Savoy, but I am not arguing for that.

The whole purpose of raising this matter tonight is to bring home to the House the importance of dealing with a certain amount of respect—when subsistence allowances are considered—with this very useful set of men and women who sacrifice themselves in the service of the public. Instead of feeling that it is an embarrassing hand-out and given without understanding of the position, they should know that they will not be put to this additional loss, which in many instances is considerable, apart entirely from any question of subsistence.

These people want to serve. They do serve, and they serve well. Rarely does one hear complaint. On the contrary, the Home Office and everybody concerned, certainly we as a nation, are indebted to them for the service they render. I hope that when the Joint Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate, she will answer the points raised by my hon. Friend and will say that she will, if possible, ensure that something is done concerning the note that a justice is not entitled to subsistence if his or her duties are performed not more than three miles from his usual place of residence. I hope that, if necessary, the hon. Lady will undertake to introduce amending legislation speedily to remove the difficulty.

I gather that this provision was left in owing to an oversight. The House of Commons and the House of Lords are just as much to blame as anybody for not having noticed that when the change was made from the old terms which were used about lodgings and the rest, a proviso was not included to remove the difficulty. However, there it is. It looks mean. It is mean.

A person who comes a distance of less than three miles is frequently put to much greater disadvantage than someone who comes four or five miles. People from a longer distance might come much more easily to court. In particular, this involves a deprivation for a large section of the magistracy, because a magistrate is supposed to live within the vicinity of his court. Consequently, in many cases people might be excluded. In London in particular, there is the difficulty of the tremendous amount of traffic. It is not a question of going as the crow flies. People who have to come through the London streets are frequently held up and their journeys can take a considerable time.

I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary does not want to leave the office which she occupies, perhaps even for a considerable time—I say no more than "perhaps"; I give her that much consideration—feeling that she has left a bad taste concerning a matter which affects, as the hon. Lady would be among the first to realise, those who serve us so well.

10.39 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Mervyn Pike)

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) will, I am sure, appreciate that I do not wish to leave any bad taste in anybody's recollection of my tenure at the Home Office. I remind the hon. Member that I hope and believe that I shall be there for a considerable time.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) was courteous in his apologies for bringing this matter forward at such short notice, but I am grateful that he has done so, because it will serve a useful purpose in allowing us to put straight for the record the substance of the Regulations.

I have listened carefully to the arguments that were put forward. I should probably be out of order if I followed some of the complexities of the cooking difficulties of bachelors, or even of wives. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West, whose wife gives valuable service in the London courts, speaks from experience. It would not be in order, and I do not think it would please Mr. Speaker, for me to start explaining the advantages of casserole cooking and so on, but we appreciate the difficulties that the hon. Members have brought forward. I assure the hon. Gentlemen that my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Minister of Housing and Local Government who are both concerned in the matter, will have this drawn to their attention.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the Regulations. They are identical with the local authority Regulations. He also asked about travelling allowances. Again, the answer is that they remain the same as before. They are simply being consolidated. He also asked about the scope and content of them and what constitutes the duties of a justice for the purpose of claiming a subsistence allowance. There are a variety of duties, including, apart from sitting in court, attendance to the business of magistrates' courts committees and the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees, as well as attendance for the purpose of training, about which the hon. Gentleman was particularly concerned. All those things are covered.

I should for the record give a resume of these Regulations. The Justices Allowances Regulations, 1964, were made on 11th June, 1964, immediately the Administration of Justice Act, 1964, had been passed, because we were anxious that they should come into operation immediately. I think that anybody who listened to the debates during the Committee stage of that Measure would realise that we were all anxious to make subsistence allowances readily available under the powers which we now have under Section 8(3) of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, as amended by Section 31 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1964. Section 31 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1964, allowed the payment for the first time of subsistence allowances to justices and members of probation and case committees. It therefore became necessary to re-enact the existing Regulations which dealt with travelling and lodging allowances to include the new rates of subsistence allowance.

Apart from restating the rates of travelling allowance, the Regulations provide rates of subsistence allowance identical with those already provided for local authority members under the Local Government Allowances to Members Regulations, 1954. If a justice is away from home for between four and eight hours in pursuance of his duties, he is entitled to claim a payment of 10s. to cover the cost of meals, and there are higher rates for longer periods of absence from home, culminating in a rate of 55s. for overnight absence. Subsistence is not payable if the duties are not performed more than three miles from the usual place of residence. The restriction applies to both subsistence allowance for justices and subsistence allowance for local authority members. This is laid down in Section 113 of the Local Government Act, 1948, as amended by the Public Authorities (Allowances) Act, 1961, and for justices it is contained in Section 8(3) of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, as amended by the Public Authorities (Allowances) Act, 1961, and the Administration of Justice Act, 1964.

Sir B. Janner

Would the hon. Lady tell us whether she is prepared to recommend that that provision should be altered?

Mr. Speaker

No, we cannot do that on the Regulations. The one thing that we cannot debate is proposals for amending the parent Statute.

Sir B. Janner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not putting it forward in that particular way. I was putting it forward in the circumstance that if the hon. Lady was prepared to do this it might very much affect us in deciding whether we are prepared to accept the Regulations or any Regulations at all.

Mr. Speaker

That may well be, but under the rules of order we cannot discuss an amendment of the parent legislation on this Prayer.

Miss Pike

Perhaps it would help the hon. Gentleman, and be in order, to remind him that I said at the outset that I would draw all these matters to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I am sure the hon. Member appreciates that that is as far as I can go tonight and, indeed, as far as I would be in order in going. But I will make sure that these matters are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friends. I want now to finish stating the position for the record, for it will be useful for magistrates and others who are claiming if I state clearly the basis of these Regulations.

The Local Government Act, 1948, as amended by the Public Authorities (Allowances) Act, 1961, provides for a three mile limit in the Regulations applicable to local authority members which are made under these Statutes. Therefore, there is, of course, no difference in substance between the Justices Allowances Regulations and those which apply to local authority members. The three-mile limit applies in both cases.

That is the background of the substance of these Regulations. As I have said, we all welcome the fact that there is subsistence and we all wish to be as sympathetic as possible in this matter. The hon. Member for Widnes has done a useful service in bringing this subject forward tonight.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. MacColl

I think that the hon. Lady has gone as far as she possibly could, and possibly a little further than the rules of order really allowed. I have no desire to hold up the Regulations and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.