HC Deb 02 March 1966 vol 725 cc1297-8
37. Mr. Robert Cooke

asked the Attorney-General how he discovers the political views of magistrates and those whose names are put forward for consideration as magistrates.

The Attorney-General

I am informed by my noble friend the Lord Chancellor that the Committee which advise him on the appointment of justices of the peace normally ascertain the political views of the candidates either from the candidates themselves or from persons who recommend them for appointment. This is done in order to avoid the appointment of a disproportionate number of justices from any one group.

Mr. Cooke

The Attorney-General has not answered the Question. This may apply to new candidates, but what about those people who have been appointed for many years? Would he not be better advised to look at the whole scheme, instead of tinkering about with it in this party political fashion?

The Attorney-General

These records go back a very long time, and the hon. Gentleman will recollect that in respect of the county in which he is particularly interested there was a grossly disproportionate representation of justices who were avowed members of the Conservative Party, and a grossly inadequate representation of those from the wage-earning classes and, curiously enough, from the Labour and Liberal Parties.

Mr. Snow

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is a very important matter, particularly in county constituencies? Is he further aware that, on the very best authority, I was told that a farmer in my constituency was recorded as a Labour Party member when in fact he was nothing of the sort and never has been?

The Attorney-General

If there is any complaint with regard to any particular bench, I am sure that my noble Friend will be glad to hear of it.

Mr. Frederick Harris

Should not the Lord Chancellor seek to appoint local people on the basis of their ability to do the task rather than on political persuasion?

The Attorney-General

I entirely agree. When I replied to Questions on 2nd February, I pointed out that my noble Friend has emphasised time and again that the paramount consideration in appointing justices of the peace is fitness for the discharge of judicial duties. Nevertheless, if a bench is particularly over-representative of one political persuasion, it seems fitting that there should be some adjustment. What is most important is that all sections of the community should be represented on the bench.