HL Deb 22 June 1906 vol 159 cc469-80

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(Earl Beauchamp.)


My Lords, before the House resolves it-self into Committee I desire to say a few words upon this Bill, as circumstances over which I had no control prevented my being present to take part in the debate on the Second Reading. I do not propose to utter one jarring note after the harmonious discussion which took place upon the last stage. I concur entirely in all that was said by my noble friend the Leader of the House, and I sincerely hope that with the disappearance of the property qualification in England we shall not see the dignity or efficiency of the Bench impaired.

The property qualification was instituted many years ago for the purpose of preventing any possible corruption on the part of those appointed as magistrates. I think I am justified in saying that our system of an unpaid magistracy has worked exceedingly well for many years, and to my mind it would be a very deplorable thing if, owing to assimilating the qualification in England to that in Ireland and Scotland, the dignity of the Bench were lowered. It is, therefore, with great regret that I should see appointments to the local benches made simply as a reward for services of a political character. I have read with great interest the debate which took place in your Lordships' House a week ago, and I noticed that in the very lucid, and may I say moderate, speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack the statement was made that Members of the Party to which I have the honour to belong predominate on the Bench. I do not deny that. My own experience tells me that that is the case, but I think it is generally found that the reason for that is that those who have been more specially qualified to occupy a seat on the Bench in the various districts have as a rule belonged to that Party.

I have had the honour of being His Majesty's representative in the County Down in Ireland, and until recently in the city of Belfast, and I have always endeavoured to appoint gentlemen to the Bench, regardless of what their political or religious views were, so long as they could perform satisfactorily the duties of the position. But in the County Down I have been obliged to select Protestants because I have experienced difficulty, in that Protestant county, in finding gentlemen of the opposite faith who were in every way qualified for the fulfilment of the duties. The debate which took place the other day was undoubtedly a very interesting one, but I confess I read it with a certain amount of surprise. I am one of those who consider that an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory, and I had hoped that we should have heard from someone how justices of the peace discharge their duties in Ireland and Scotland where no property qualification is insisted upon. I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would have given us his experience on that point.

Of Scotland I know very little, but I have had some experience with regard to Ireland, and in the part with which I am particularly associated there is no complaint whatever to be made of those appointed to the Bench. But I am sorry I cannot speak in the same congratulatory tone as to the south of Ireland. It is well known that in the south of Ireland, between 1892 and 1895, there were appointed a large number of magistrates solely on political grounds. I believe that will not be denied. They are now recognised as Morley's magistrates; and I do not know that they added very much to the credit of the various benches to which they were appointed. I have heard it said that some of the gentlemen appointed to benches in the south of Ireland had themselves in previous years appeared before those benches. I have also heard that so little confidence was felt in those gentlemen that the inhabitants would rather appear before the resident magistrate. There is one occurrence I should like to bring before your Lordships for which I can vouch, though I will not mention any names. The present Lord Chancellor, of whom I speak with the greatest possible respect, in the days to which I allude sent a list of names to a Lord-Lieutenant in the south of Ireland asking him to recommend them to be justices of the peace for his county. The Lord-Lieutenant asked for an interview, and explained that he could not take upon himself the responsibility of recommending those gentlemen, as many of them had themselves appeared before the magistrates.


The noble Marquess is referring to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland.


Yes, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The Lord-Lieutenant came upon two names and absolutely declined to recommend them. The Lord Chancellor urged that he should do so, but the Lord-Lieutenant still persisted in his refusal. "Why not recommend them?" asked the Lord Chancellor. "Because," replied the Lord-Lieutenant, "they died a fortnight ago of delirium tremens, one of them a bankrupt." I mention this to show what might be the condition of things on the Bench if appointments are made to the magistracy purely as-a reward for political services. The dignity of the Bench should be maintained, and I mention this instance to show that if we do assimilate the condition of things in England to that in Ireland, we must not go to the extreme of rewarding, political services by putting on the Bench gentlemen who are not qualified. I trust that Lords-Lieutenant will be very careful in submitting names to the Lord Chancellor. I do not oppose the Bill now before your Lordships, but I have brought this matter forward in the hope that nothing will be done to impair the dignity and efficiency of the Bench.


My Lords, my noble friend has referred to the appointment of magistrates, which may no doubt often have been pressed on the Lord Chancellor of the day or the Lord-Lieutenant of a county, on account of political services. But there is one point in connection with this question which does not seem to be touched by the Bill, to which I should like to call your Lordships' attention. As Member for a large city, I have often had the names of gentlemen brought before me for recommendation to the Lord Chancellor, and those recommendations have usually come, by arrangement, from both political parties. As a rule, I think, there is a feeling that appointments of this kind should be recommended, to some extent at any rate, on political grounds, I do not say in the minds of those who make them, but in the minds-of those who recommend them. I think everyone must have noticed, in looking into this subject as it affects the English counties and boroughs, that there is an extraordinarily high proportion of names of persons who appear on the lists but who never do a stroke of work. They probably have been appointed for some such reason as I have alluded to. These persons when appointed probably thought of nothing beyond the fulfilment of their desire to have what is locally considered the great honour of writing "J.P." after their name; they never thought that the honour also carried with it the fulfilment of duties. If it were possible for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack or for Lords-Lieutenant from time to time to remote such names from the list, I think that a great reform might be achieved.


My Lords, when the duty devolved upon me of exercising the office now discharged by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack I repeatedly requested that an undertaking should be given by the person appointed to the magistracy to do his duty as justice of the peace, and although I have not actually removed the names of those who have not done their duty I have caused letters to be written to them from time to time pointing out that if they did not do their duty they were not fit to be magistrates and should be removed, and I have found that the hint has been invariably adopted. Undoubtedly the person appointed should undertake to perform the duties.


My Lords, I should like to say one or two words in view of what has fallen from my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn. I entirely concur in what he says as to the difficulty of procuring the regular attendance of magistrates on the Bench, and I have been impressed in Ireland with the fact that this is a growing difficulty in the manning of the county benches. A somewhat different system prevails in Ireland from that which obtains in England with reference to the appointment of magistrates, and I am not sure that my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack might not find it desirable to inquire of the very efficient officer who is in charge of that branch of the Lord Chancellor's duties in Ireland what are the actual details connected with the appointments there.

For a great many years we have had no such property qualification in Ireland as that which has existed in England; but the custom has been, ever since I was first appointed Lord Chancellor and for many years before, for I did not initiate it, to send to Lords- Lieutenant in Ireland forms which they would forward when they desired to invite a gentleman to join the magistracy. This form, which would be filled up in the candidate's own handwriting, would contain a statement as to his name, age, residence and property in that particular county or in other counties, and information on various other matters which would be of assistance both to the Lord-Lieutenant and to the Lord Chancellor when the time came for considering his fitnessfor appointment. One of the questions asked of a candidate was as to the petty sessional districts he proposed to attend, and personally I have very rarely sanctioned more than three. Another question asked was whether, if appointed to the magistracy, he proposed to give a regular attendance in the petty sessional districts named. All these questions are in the direction of getting that regular attendance which my noble friend has indicated.

My noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury has stated that he occasionally directed the attention of those who were negligent to their duties as justices of the peace, but I am afraid it is not very easy to secure compliance with such requests. My attention on one occasion was directed by Lord St. Aldwyn when Chief Secretary for Ireland to this matter, and I applied myself to ascertaining those magistrates who had gone away and those who had ceased to take any part in the work of the county, and I was thus able to remove many names that had become perfectly useless so as to obtain a more effective list. The matter is one beset with a great deal of difficulty and requires much tact and prudence.


I should like to ask whether the law is not perfectly clear on this point, that clerks of the peace are obliged to make out a list of magistrates who have not attended for two years, and that these magistrates are put on the nonresident list.


I may state, in view of the observations of the noble and learned Lord the late Lord Chancellor for Ireland, that personally I have never appointed any magistrates without asking for the information referred to, and an undertaking that the persons whom I recommended would perform their fair share of the duties attached to the position. That undertaking has invariably been given, but I am sorry to say it has not always been carried out. With regard to the remarks of my noble friend below me, I think one word ought to be said in defence of the magistrates themselves. It is this, that many of our benches are now so crowded that there is not seating accommodation for all of them.


My Lords, I have had considerable experience of the magistracy of Ireland and full opportunity of knowing how the justices generally have discharged their duties. I am not aware that there have been any complaints at all against the unpaid magistracy of Ireland, either in regard to non-attendance or insufficient attention to the discharge of their duties; and if there were any grounds for supposing that improper persons had under the existing law in Ireland been appointed to the Bench surely instances could have been adduced to your Lordships. I would remind noble Lords that the existing property qualification is not of such a nature as to prevent the abuses apprehended. If corruption, political or of any other nature, could creep into the appointment of magistrates the existing qualification would not be sufficient to prevent it. Therefore it occurs to me that no argument whatever has been advanced against the present Bill.

No qualification has been necessary in Ireland for more than a century at least, and after long experience, having lived all my life in Ireland and had the opportunity of knowing how the magistrates act in the southern counties, I can hardly call to mind any instance where abuses have been shown to exist. If we search the records of the Court of the King's Bench in Ireland it will appear that it is very rarely indeed that the decisions of the magistrates are called in question, except in occasional differences of opinion on questions of legal niceties. I think, therefore, that this is one of the cases in which, if possible, the laws of the three countries should be assimilated, and there is no fear of abuse. It is necessary that the people should have confidence in the magisterial administration of justice, and it is desirable therefore that the justices should not all be of the same way of political thinking.


The noble and learned Lord the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland has informed your Lordships that in Ireland there is a form which has. to be filled up by the applicant and is sent by His Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant to the Lord Chancellor. That is perfectly correct, but I wish I could say that it was of much use. Unfortunately, although the applicants do sign this form and say they will give as much of their time to the actual work on the bench as is compatible with their other duties, they do not fulfil their promise. The result is, at all events in my own county, that at least, one half of the magistrates do not attend at all. I always feel most reluctant to recommend anybody to the Lord Chancellor, because I know that the bench is already overcrowded. Yet at the same time there are many whose claims are brought before me who ought to be magistrates, but I cannot see my way to recommend them. I am sure I am speaking what is in the minds of a great number of Lords-Lieutenant in the populous districts both of Ireland and of England when I say that it would be conducive to the public service if some arrangement could be made by which magistrates who did not attend should automatically cease to be magistrates after a certain time.


My Lords, the noble Marquess who spoke first appealed to me to say something with regard to one or two points. As to the point raised by the noble Viscount, that there ought to be some means by which magistrates who do not attend should cease to be justices of the peace without any reflection upon them, I agree that this suggestion is well worthy of consideration. I am afraid, however, that I am myself disqualified from expressing any opinion on the subject, because I am one of the delinquents, I was appointed eleven years ago a magistrate for the county of Kent. I did not give- any undertaking that I would attend, but the real pressure of work has prevented me from putting in one solitary appearance from that day to this. Therefore, my first duty would be to remove myself.

There ought, I think, to be an understanding, if not an undertaking, that when a magistrate accepts the position it should be with the intention of discharging the duties. It is quite correct that there is a constant correspondence on matters relating to the magistracy going on in the Lord Chancellor's office, and there are frequent requests to know whether gentlemen intend to perform their duties or are willing to be removed from the Commission of the Peace, but they never display any alacrity to be removed. With regard to the absence of qualification in Scotland and its effect, it must be remembered that in Scotland justices of the peace have fewer duties to discharge than in England; the Scottish analogy, therefore, is not absolutely to the mark. I believe the absence of qualification makes no difference there, nor would it make any difference here. It must be remembered that there is no qualification necessary now in great boroughs like Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds. The magistrates in the boroughs are appointed without qualification; they discharge most important duties, and I have never heard that the absence of the property qualification has made any difference.

I do not think there is any real advantage in any money test. It is not a question of how much money a man has, but whether he is a man of education, of firmness of character, and one who is looked up to and respected by his neighbours. About the relations of politics and the magistracy, I wish there were no such thing, and that we heard no more about the political opinions of the magistrates than we do of the political opinions of doctors. But we all know the actual situation, and it would be uncandid if we did not admit it. There is an enormous preponderance of one political opinion on the Bench in the counties. I cannot accept the suggestion thrown out by the noble Marquess who spoke first that persons of the Conservative party are more likely to administer justice than those of the other Party. Personally I do not think there is any difference between fair-minded men on one side of politics and the other. My feeling is that this preponderance causes a sense of injustice which ought to be redressed. For my part I have no sympathy whatever with the idea of appointing as magistrates, as a reward for political services, undeserving persons. I really do wish to see the administration of justice in this country carried out in a way that will secure the affection and the respect of the people at large, and I would not be a party to placing on the Bench a man who was not an honest man and a proper person for such a position.

House in Committee (according to order).

[The Earl of ONSLOW in the Chair].

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:—


suggested that the words requiring residence within seven miles should be struck out, and that a man should not be disqualified for being a justice of the peace for a county on account of residence outside the county area. What happened, especially in large industrial districts, was that the persons engaged in them who were most qualified to act as magistrates resided elsewhere. In these days of rapid locomotion seven miles was practically no distance at all; it was merely a twenty minutes journey in a motor-car. He therefore hoped, before the Third Reading stage was taken, the Local Government Board would consider a provision in this form— that a person, if otherwise qualified and having a large interest in an industrial centre, should not be disqualified as a justice of peace on account of residence outside the county area. He thought that would be a far more satisfactory provision.


said there was some danger of the county bench being swamped by the incursion of gentlemen who did not live in the county. He thought they were quite sufficiently governed by the towns already, without enabling gentlemen resident in the towns to become county magistrates and interfere in the administration of justice in the counties. He agreed that there were circumstances under which it was to the advantage of the public that gentlemen living outside the county should be appointed magistrates, but he was afraid that if the clause were passed in its present form it would open the door too widely. There would be the danger of a great many magiatrates being appointed from outside, with the result that the county magistrates would be swamped. He suggested that the clause should read— A person, if otherwise qualified, may tie appointed a justice of the peace for any county, notwithstanding that he does not reside in the county, if he resides within seven miles thereof and if it is for the public interest in the administration of justice that such an appointment should be made.


hoped the rather vague Amendment suggested by Lord Dartmouth would not be accepted. He was of opinion that those who sat on the local bench should be gentlemen residing close by. They were more likely to attend regularly, and to be in real touch with the neighbourhood. It rested with the Lord Chancellor and the Lord-Lieutenant whether too many magistrates were appointed, and he thought that in this matter both would be guided by what they considered best for the county.


thought that the Amendment suggested by Lord Dartmouth was too vague, and that the clause as it stood would be more useful. The direction to the Lord Chancellor was in the Statute of Henry V., that justices of the peace henceforth to be appointed within the counties of England should be "most sufficient persons dwelling in the same county" That was the old law, and he imagined that it was as binding upon him as it was upon his predecessor in the time of Henry V. The persons to be appointed should be competent, trustworthy, and reliable individuals.


said he did not move his Amendment. He only offered it as a very humble suggestion, and was sorry it had not met with any favour.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3:—


moved an Amendment stipulating that solicitors, "if otherwise qualified," might be appointed. According to the clause as it stood, a person, if otherwise qualified, might be appointed, but a solicitor could apparently be appointed whether he was qualified or not. Those who lived in the counties did not want to have any cuckoos in the home nest, and it seemed to him that this suggestion of dumping down outside solicitors on local benches was not one that would meet with approval. It seemed to him to extend the principal of Free Trade in a manner that was never intended by the originators of that system, and he thought that without treading on anybody's corns in this particular instance they might ask to be allowed to adopt the principle of Protection.

Amendment moved— In page 1, line 11, after the word 'solicitor' to insert the words 'if otherwise qualified.'"— (The Earl of Dartmouth.)


did not understand the clause to mean that solicitors, merely because they were solicitors, could be appointed without any other qualification. He would not enter into the point as to whether or not that was a true construction, for he saw no objection to accepting the Amendment in order to make it quite clear that no such special privilege was intended to be accorded to any particular class.


said that probably the reason why the words in the clause were used was that a solicitor was, under certain circumstances, disqualified, and it was proposed to remove that disqualification.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill recommitted to the Standing Committee, and to be printed as amended. (No. 135.)