HC Deb 26 October 1966 vol 734 cc1021-4

3.32 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North West)

I beg to ask leave to bring in a Bill. To remove the limit of three miles from residence in respect of subsistence allowances payable to magistrates under section 8 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1949. I rise for the third time to ask leave to introduce a Bill which I consider to be one of very considerable importance to the community.

If I were delivering a sermon on this particular topic I think that I would use the text, "If I had the wings of a crow". My reason for that would be this, that the principle of flat-rate subsistence allowance to justices was agreed several years ago. The regulations say that a justice is not entitled to subsistence allowance if the duties are performed not more than three miles from his usual place of residence, and those three miles are as the crow flies.

The last time I asked for leave to introduce my Bill, leave which was given, I referred to the fact that it was wrong to talk about a crow flying; that it would be more appropriate if, in referring to a justice in a court in London, shall we say, I spoke about a crow starting at the end of Piccadilly in the peak time and either walking towards the courts or taking a bus there. That, I think, would be a more appropriate standard of measurement of what a justice has to contend with if he happens to be living three miles or just under three miles from the court.

I am pleased to say that a statement on this matter was made quite recently by the Lord Chancellor himself, when he delivered his presidential address to the Magistrates' Association at the Guildhall on Friday, 14th October. He said this: A subject on which many of you feel very keenly is the three-mile limit which is imposed on justices who wish to claim subsistence allowance. For some time it has been urged that the limit should be abolished, as it places an unnecessary and unfair burden on justices when attending their courts, especially when there is only a short break for lunch, and it also deters justices from attending meetings and courses of instruction. In your Annual Report the Council say, 'We hope that this unfair restriction will be removed.'". The Lord Chancellor continued: Well, you will be pleased to hear that the Government, who have always been sympathetic to this"— I must say that some Ministers of the Government have been, but I think that the Treasury has not been altogether over-helpful in this matter— have agreed to accept it in principle. He said, however: But I must add there can be no question of implementing this decision while the present economic conditions last. I am hoping that the modest amount which is required to meet what is a silly regulation should be provided even though conditions are stringent in the country today. It is absurd to expect a magistrate who happens to be living three miles from the court to rush home to lunch, prepare a meal, rush back to the court, and continue with his work. Anyone with a grain of sense, I am sure, will admit—and I am sure that this must have been overlooked at the time the regulation was made—that this is an absurd position—a bachelor, a spinster, rushing home at a peak time and trying to get back again to the court in order to administer justice in a proper way on returning there.

The provision itself, in many provincial places, does not really make much difference, because there people can get home fairly easily, in many cases. I am not talking about the larger cities. People can get home fairly easily, and many of the courts sit only in the morning. But it is a very different thing for busy magistrates attending courts in London, or various places outside but within the precincts of the county, and also in the larger cities throughout the country. They cannot, and do not, in fact, get home for the purpose of getting a meal. What they have to do is what many hon. Members before had to do, that is, bring sandwiches so as to be able to have some kind of a meal.

I am talking about most people who really are not in a position to buy a meal for themselves, while their colleagues on the bench, who live within a matter of only 100 yards further away from the court, are entitled to have their meal.

I am asking that the Government should take this into consideration even at the present time, and not use the position which has lasted for a considerable time, and which ought never to have been in existence, to say that this expense allowance should not be paid. After all, it is not a question of prices or of income. It is a question of expense and of an expense allowance.

People do not realise that our lay magistrates do 90 per cent. or thereabouts of the work in our magistrates' courts. If it were estimated what that saves the country in terms of fees which would otherwise have to be paid to stipendiaries, people would come readily to the conclusion that a figure near to £30 million a year would result. That is a considerable item.

We are anxious to have the right kinds of magistrates. It was said by the learned Attorney-General a few minutes ago that we need more of them in consequence of the increase in crime. We need many people who cannot possibly afford to come forward and offer their services because they are not in a position to stand the expense.

I am not asking that a loss of earnings allowance should be included in my Bill for the time being. That is why I have continued with my appeal to the House to permit me to introduce the Bill. I understand from a recent statement by the Lord Chancellor that that is under consideration and will probably be brought into effect. However, there is no reason why a small Bill like this should not be eranted, because it would make an immediate adjustment to the position and would not cost the country a large amount of money.

I have spoken on this subject on several occasions. A Second Reading of the Bill was permitted by the generosity of the Government a few days before the Recess, without any comment. However, I am hoping now that a genuine gesture will be made by them.

I wish to quote one instance to the House. I know of a lady who is a justice of the peace and who garages her car 100 yards from her home. The garage is outside the three-mile limit, whereas her home is a few yards within that limit, as the crow flies. Her application for subsistence has been refused on the ground that she resides within the three mile limit, in spite of the fact that she has to walk to a point outside the limit to her car. As a result, she is not given the allowance. There are many other similar illustrations. If hon. Members are not satisfied with the one which I have just given, they can read about others in previous speeches that I have made on the subject——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that he is seeking leave to introduce a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule.

Sir B. Janner

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. As a matter of fact, I was intending to close my remarks straight away.

I ask the House, in these circumstances, to give me leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Barnett Janner, Mr. Charles Pannell, Mr. Eric Lubbock, Mr. John M. Temple, Mr. Arthur Davidson, Mr. William Robinson, Mrs. Braddock, Mr. Winterbottom, Dr. Winstanley, Mr. Marcus Lipton, Mr. George Craddock, and Mr. Charles Mapp.