HC Deb 28 November 1979 vol 974 cc1435-9

Order for Second Reading read.

10.15 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Ian Percival)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is the first Consolidation Bill to come before the House in this Parliament and I want to take this, the earliest, opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I think that most of those who have served on that Committee would agree that it is a rewarding task because its members feel that they really are contributing to the improvement of the statute book.

What is regrettably certain—and perhaps emphasised by the lack of attention in the Chamber at the moment—is that 99.9 per cent, of the time most of the important work of this Committee goes entirely unrecognised by the House. I wish to make it as clear as I can that, in my view, the work of the Committee should be more widely and more fully recognised, and I hope that it will be in future by both Front Benches.

Despite all the expert advice and assistance regularly given to members of the Committee by the Officers and Parliamentary Counsel, its work is still a heavy, and at times difficult, task even for the ordinary members of the Committee. I know that all members of the Committee, past and present, would like me to stress that the burdens placed upon the Chairman of that Committee are immense and that we have been unbelievably fortunate in the manner in which those burdens have been accepted and discharged by a series of most distinguished Chairmen, culminating with Lord Keith of Kinkel who now occupies the chair. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.

This Bill consolidates certain enactments from 1742 relating to justices of the peace, justices' clerks and the administrative and financial arrangements for magistrates' courts and connected matters. In addition to the consolidation effected by it, the Bill gives effect to some recommendations made by the Law Commission. Save for those recommendations, it makes no change in the existing law. It has, of course, been considered by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

In its second report to both Houses, made on 18 July, the Committee reported that it had made two amendments to bring the Bill into conformity with existing law. It now consists of pure consolidation plus the implementation of the recommendations of the Law Commission. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.19 pm
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

The House will forgive me if at this late hour I merely endorse the remarks of the Solicitor-General and his praise for the Committee and its Chairman.

10.20 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

The Bill should not be accepted without a debate. It is an important Bill and goes wider than a normal consolidation measure. It incorporates recommendations by the Law Commission. It would be imprudent at this stage simply to accept it as a consolidation measure. A number of aspects require more thorough examination. I regret that the Law Commission did not examine the method of choosing justices of the peace. In many areas, including Bradford, too many justices of the peace are selected from too narrow a part of the community.

The consolidation measure deals sensibly with payments to justices of the peace, and the existing position is maintained. That is important, because justices should represent a cross-section of society. They should not be chosen from those who can afford the time off because they are managing directors of breweries, or housewives, for example, who do not have to go out to work. It is important that the financial provisions are maintained.

I regret that the Law Commission did not cast its eye over the system of secret committees which are involved in the selection of magistrates.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

Order. The hon. Member is referring to part of a White Paper. Will he indicate exactly to what he is addressing his mind?

Mr. Cryer

I am dealing with the administrative and financial arrangements for magistrates' courts. The Law Commission makes a specific reference to that. What I am saying is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman be more specific and say to which part of the White Paper he is referring?

Mr. Cryer

Pages 8 and 10 are relevant. The Law Commission refers specifically to justices of the peace for the City of London. I cannot say exactly where that appears in the White Paper. The consolidation measure also provides for the appointment of magistrates to the City of London. It has always been a matter of concern that officers of the City of London are automatically appointed as justices of the peace, in contrast to what happens in other parts of the country, where justices are appointed by secret committees. That method of selection is open to bias.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is entitled to address us only on the matters in the White Paper.

Mr. Cryer

Surely I can also say why I do not believe that consolidation should take place. Clause 19 specifically sets out the areas in which magistrates courts' committees can operate, including all metropolitan districts. I represent a metropolitan district, where a view is expressed—and the previous Lord Chancellor expressed the same view—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should be indicating whether the consolidation measure is effective. Other matters are not relevant to the discussion.

Mr. Cryer

I should be grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your clarification of what is meant by "effective". My argument is that the consolidation measure is not effective in that, by drawing together various enactments and consolidating them, the administration of the justices of the peace is not effectively improved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going beyond the scope of this debate, which is related to whether the arrangements set out in the White Paper and in the Bill have effectively consolidated the various matters.

Mr. Cryer

I do not think that they have effectively consolidated the various matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The various matters that the Law Commission was considering have not been effectively consolidated, because the question of more open selection of magistrates has not been effectively covered—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a matter which is included in the White Paper.

Mr. Cryer

Consolidation is normally put through the House on the basis of a few brief comments from either side, but it is an important matter and it has to be carried out effectively. A consolidated Bill is often kept in that form with very little change. The comments of the Law Commission have been incorporated into this consolidation measure. I hope that the Solicitor-General will state that this consolidation does not rule out any possible future change and that the Law Commission is continually reviewing the position of justices of the peace. I hope that this measure will not be accepted by the House on the basis that there can be no further change, because some of the matters that I have raised tonight are of serious concern to millions of citizens in this country.

10.27 pm
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I note your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about keeping strictly to the question of consolidation. I understood that the Bill was expected to go through all its stages this evening. We are now having the Second Reading of a financial clause—[Interruption.] We are debating a consolidation measure, but we have before us for discussion a financial clause—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. At the moment we are on the Second Reading of the Bill. The money resolution will follow. Other stages of the Bill will take place at some other time. There is no indication of proceeding further today than Second Reading and the money resolution.

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However. I was under the impression that on Second Reading we would at least have an explanation of why changes may be needed in respect of the money resolution. It may be better to raise that subject when the money resolution is debated. Will that be this evening or later?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman should look at the Order Paper. The money resolution comes next.

Mr. Prescott

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall reserve my comments until then.

10.28 pm
The Solicitor-General

Perhaps I might comment on what has been said. In introducing the Bill—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon, and learned Gentleman requires the leave of the House to speak again.

The Solicitor-General

I thought that I had asked for it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If I did not, I ask for it now and hope that it will be given.

In opening the debate I referred to the regrettable lack of knowledge in this Chamber about the work of this Committee. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) lost no time in reinforcing the validity of what I said. He was complaining that changes have not been made in the Bill. The one thing that cannot be made in a consolidation Bill is a change in the law—

Mr. Cryer


The Solicitor-General

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue since I had the advantage of being a member of this Committee for a long time and therefore of having seen what it does. It must seek to ensure that the Bill does not make any changes in the law except those recommended by the Law Commission. No recommendation by the Law Commission relating to any such changes could have been made under that procedure.

I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second Time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. MacGregor.]

Committee tomorrow.