HL Deb 30 May 1911 vol 8 cc983-95

*LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention had been called to the removal of Mr. Caldicott from the Commission of the Peace for the City of Worcester, and to call attention to the circumstances attending his removal.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it my duty to ask your Lordships to listen for a few minutes to what I am afraid is a very ugly story. I do so with the most profound respect for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and underlying a great deal of what I am going to say is a desire to protect him and his successors from a recurrence of the kind of thing which I am going to relate to the House. Mr. Caldicott is a well-known and respected inhabitant of the city of Worcester. He is an old and tried public servant of that city, and has been on the town council for twenty-eight years and a magistrate of the city for nineteen years. At the beginning of this month—I think on May 2, as the letter is dated May 1—he received this letter from the Lord Chancellor's secretary— I am desired by the Lord Chancellor to inform you that his Lordship, acting on the advice of the Advisory Committee recently appointed to deal with the Commission of the Peace for Worcester City in accordance with the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Selection of Justices, has given directions for the removal of your name from the Commission on the ground of non-attendance. We know that from time to time Justices are removed from the Commission of the Peace on the ground of non-attendance. We also know that before this is done it is usual for the gentlemen whom it is proposed to remove to receive some intimation from the Lord Chancellor that their removal is about to be effected. In this case the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, following the usual precedent, caused to be written to Mr. Caldicott a letter advising him of his intention, but owing to some mistake that letter was never sent; it was not put into the post. But that is not the point on which I desire to lay particular stress.

We need not enter at any length into Mr. Caldicott's qualifications as a Justice of the Peace. It is quite true that he has not attended on the Bench very often, but this has been due to other work. I will ask your Lordships to listen to the defence which Mr. Caldicott makes for his non-attendance— My excuse for non-attendance is that I have been busily engaged on corporation work pretty well every day of my life … I had to neglect something or give up business altogether, and I thought the work I was engaged on was more important in the interests of the city than sitting on the Bench, which was never short of a magistrate during my time, and I have often provided a substitute when impossible to go. If non-attendance was the only plea for the removal of Mr. Caldicott, it is quite clear that a great many other gentlemen, including the noble Earl who sits on the Front Government Bench, Lord Beauchamp, ought also to have been removed on the ground of non-attendance. The noble Earl can contradict me if he is in a position to do so, but I am informed that, although he has been a magistrate of the city of Worcester for, I think, fourteen years, he has attended but a very few times, and has not sat on the Bench at all since 1906. I am not finding fault with him on that ground, but if non-attendance is to be the ground for removal then the noble Earl, equally with this unfortunate gentleman, is open to that charge.

Mr. Caldicott is a strong supporter of the Conservative Party, and my deliberate suggestion is, whether or not his removal was of an invidious character, that it at least has in the public eye that appearance to a considerable extent. So much so, that Mr. Caldicott's removal was very strongly resented by his fellow magistrates and by all his fellow-citizens. When they heard that he had been removed from the Bench public opinion would not stand it. Indignation meetings were held, and following upon that, though I do not say as a result, Mr. Caldicott's name was reinstated by the Lord Chancellor. The noble and learned Lord wrote to Mr. Caldicott reinstating him on the Bench, and I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to read the Lord Chancellor's letter, because the sequence of these letters is really important to an examination of the ease. The Lord Chancellor's secretary wrote on May 8— I am directed by the Lord Chancellor to acknowledge receipt of your letter of May 6. His Lordship has looked into the business and thinks there has been a misapprehension. It is a pity that you did not receive the letter which I wrote to you on April 10. … At the same time, the Lord Chancellor will replace your name on the roll. No one has ever made any suggestion against you personally, and it was only in the belief that you were unable to attend to Justices' business that your name was removed. This letter, which the Lord Chancellor intimated could be made public by Mr. Caldicott, if he so desired, in order to show that no reflection had been intended, is only another instance of the invariable fairness and courtesy always extended by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to those with whom he comes in contact, though I do not think that in this matter he has received at all times the assistance he might have received from his political friends. The point I put is that if a few days after the removal of this gentleman it was necessary to reinstate him, then his removal cannot have been altogether a just or proper proceeding.

But it is not so touch the fact of Mr. Caldicott's name being removed from the Bench that I desire to call attention to. What I want to direct public attention to is the manner in which his removal was effected. These Advisory Committees for the purpose of advising the Lord Chancellor with regard to the appointment of Justices are, I believe, appointed in the counties on the combined suggestion of himself and the Lord-Lieutenant of the county. I am not aware what the particular machinery is, but what the country wishes to see is that those who are responsible for recommendations of this kind shall not be grouped into bodies which have a distinctly political bias. The Advisory Committee in the city of Worcester is constituted as follows: First there is Lord Beauchamp, whose appointment to the committee it would be an impertinence in me to criticise except to say that he is, and quite rightly from Iris own point of view, the leading Radical in the place and chairman of the Radical Party there. The next name is that of Mr. Fairbairn. His appointment as a member of the Advisory Committee caused very serious thoughts. Mr. Fairbairn was at one time, and I believe is now—I stand open to contradiction if I am overstating the case—the paid agent of the Radical Party in Worcester, and he was at one time the Radical candidate for the city of Worcester. The third name is that of Mr. Evans, also a leading Radical of the city of Worcester. Then there is the Mayor, who is supposed to have, and I suppose has, officially no politics at all; and then there is a Mr. Allsopp, who was, I believe, at one time a Conservative candidate for Parliament, but who is now looked upon by his friends and acquaintances as something like a Socialist. But it does not matter very much what he is, because he never goes near the Advisory Committee at all. Noble Lords laugh, but this is no laughing matter. What I wish to place before you is that this Committee has a distinct political bias. But that, again, is not really the point.

Even if this Committee had been properly consulted with regard to the removal of Mr. Caldicott's name from the Bench, the removal would not have become a matter of notoriety; but I have material at my disposal to prove that two members of the Committee were not consulted at all with regard to the removal, and this is the crux of the whole matter. Both of these gentlemen say that the first thing they heard of Mr. Caldicott's removal was when they saw the announcement in the public Press. Mr. Evans, one of the members of the Committee to whom I have referred, wrote to Mr. Caldicott on May 4— You are under a wrong impression in thinking that I have been in any way a party to the removal of your name from the list of magistrates. I, of course, saw the announcement in the newspapers, but until the receipt of your letter to-day I thought the removal of your name was made at your own request. Here is another letter, a most remarkable one, from the Mayor of Worcester, who is a member of the Advisory Committee. He wrote to Mr. Caldicott as follows— The first intimation I had that your name had been removed from the Commission of the Peace was the announcement in the public Press. I have only been asked to attend one meeting of the Advisory Committee for this city, and at that meeting no recommendation was made that your name should be removed from the Commission. If such a proposal had been made I should have strenuously opposed it.—Yours faithfully, E. THOMAS, Mayor. I think I have said enough to show the kind of thing which must have taken place. The impression which must be left on our minds, and on the minds of anybody who has followed the sequence of the story, is that Lord Beauchamp and Mr. Fairbairn were, by the process of elimination, the only two members of the committee who were privy to the recommendation that Mr. Caldicott should be removed from the Bench; and without wishing to overstate the matter—because you cannot get rid of the suggestion that a letter was sent by one or other of those gentlemen to the Lord Chancellor advising him to remove Mr. Caldicott's name—there must have been a letter from those two members of the Advisory Committee purporting to come from the Advisory Committee as a whole. It may be that I misstate the terms of that letter, but I cannot be very far out because we have the letter of the Lord Chancellor, dated May 1, in which he said that in removing Mr. Caldicott's name he was "acting on the advice of the Advisory Committee." As I ventured to remark just now, this constitutes a very unpleasant episode, and the best way, if the noble Earl opposite desires to clear it up, is for him to produce the letter which was written to the Lord Chancellor purporting to come from the Advisory Committee. I do beg that in the public interest both Houses of Parliament and the public may have an opportunity of seeing this letter.

I have ventured to bring this matter forward, my Lords, because there has been a great deal of suspicion, and after what has happened to Mr. Caldicott a great deal of well-grounded suspicion, with regard to the manner in which the Lord Chancellor is being advised as to the creation and removal of magistrates; and I trust that Parliament at no distant date will see fit to go into the whole matter of these Advisory Committees in order that the Lord Chancellor and his successors may have protection in the future from what at least is a very irregular manner of conducting the public services of this country.


My Lords, I have not the smallest complaint to make of the noble Lord for bringing forward this or any other subject relating to the administration of my office. The suggestion is that there has been some political bias, and that an injustice has been perpetrated of which I must be apparently the innocent instrument. The facts are these. The names of two gentlemen were removed from the roll under a misapprehension. One was the gentleman referred to, Mr. Caldicott, and the other was a gentleman who I believe is a Liberal. I think I am right in saying that he is a Liberal. The noble Lord has only referred to the case of the gentleman who happens to be a Conservative. It was a misapprehension which would not have happened but for the miscarriage of a letter.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, but my information, which he will have ample opportunity of testing, is that at the same time that Mr. Caldicott was removed three other gentlemen were also removed. One of them is an undischarged bankrupt, one has unfortunately lost his reason, and the third was removed entirely at his own request and on his own initiative.


That only shows the delicacy and difficulty of the duty which I have to discharge in regard to putting magistrates on and removing magistrates from the Bench. As I have said, two gentlemen were removed under a misapprehension, one of whom is a Liberal and the other a Conservative. Both names were restored, and in the case of neither would there have been anything of the kind had it not been for the miscarriage of a letter, a thing that may happen in any department or in any business. The only ground of removal in the case of the two gentlemen I have referred to was the belief that they would not be able in future to discharge the duties of a Justice of the Peace. Immediately I ascertained that a mistake had been made I sent the same day to Worcester for the Commission roll, which was sent to me by return of post, and I instantly reinstated the names of these two gentlemen. I never heard anything about anxiety and unrest in the city of Worcester on the subject at the time. At least I do not think I did. I only learned that a mistake had been made, and it was instantly rectified. I did not know whether Mr. Caldicott was a Conservative or a Liberal, and I did not care. From the beginning to the end no one has ever suggested to me, either by letter or by word of mouth or otherwise, any single word against the character or standing of these two gentlemen, and the only ground considered was that to which I have referred. As soon as I knew what had happened I wrote a letter to the gentleman in question saying that he had been reinstated and that he might use the letter publicly, if he was so pleased, to show that no sort of reflection had been intended. If the noble Lord wishes to convey that members of the committee had done or said anything unfriendly or offensive to this gentleman, I can assure him that there is no foundation for it.

With regard to the composition of these committees, I would like to say that I have to appoint, on the recommendaton of the Royal Commission, committees in ninety-eight counties and 227 boroughs. In some counties more than one committee has to be appointed, and in London I expect there will be at least fifteen. I have to get the information from the best sources I can, and I believe the committees are so appointed as to give no partiality to any one person on account of his political opinions. Just consider the delicacy of the work that has to be done when not merely the names of persons who are taken off or put on the roll, but the names of the committees are to be brought forward in Parliament and canvassed. I do not know how it is possible to carry on a business of this kind under a perpetual bombardment of criticism of that kind. In point of fact I believe that on the committees that have been appointed there is practically an equality. I get the best and most suitable men in the particular place. In this case there were three Liberals and two Conservatives. I ascertained that before I appointed them. Probably in the next borough there would be three Conservatives and two Liberals. But this is not a question of voting. Any committee-man who is dissatisfied with what proceeds can come to me, and if anything is wrong I will investigate the matter as I did in this case and set it right. I do not rely upon numerical relations at all, and it is not unfair that there should be three of one side and two of another.

As to the removal of names, I am sure the noble Lord has read the Report of the Royal Commission, or he may consult some of the Lords Lieutenant sitting around him and they will tell him that it is most undesirable that the Commission roll should be encumbered by a number of names of men who are absent or quite incapable of discharging the duty, or by gentlemen who regard the office as a decoration instead of as a duty. I will leave any man who knows the subject to judge. I am sorry to say that no one can know this subject so well as I do, unless it be my predecessor, who has to perform the most weary and trying duty in the face of constantly conflicting opinion of supplying the Benches of England, Scotland, and Wales with an adequate number of magistrates. Anybody who knows the difficulties will know that the only method of preventing ultimate corruption is by obtaining efficient local advice which can be given by impartial local committees. I cannot impart to any human being the experience which has led me to that conclusion, but experience led to the same conclusion those who investigated the matter in the Royal Commission, consisting of sixteen men of great experience who were absolutely unanimous on this point.

I do not in the least regret that the noble Lord has brought this subject forward, and I thank him for the kindly expressions which he used towards myself. But let me remind him that there are enemies of the system of Advisory Committees—I am not speaking of the House of Commons or of Members of Parliament, for I should never think of being guilty of such a discourtesy—but all over the country there are many persons who are anxious to see this system fail, because hitherto the appointment of magistrates in some parts of the country has been treated as a matter of political reward and has been thought to be used by both sides in political life as an instrument and weapon in political controversy. It is that which I have always condemned and sought to avert and always will seek to avert as long as I retain my present position. I ask the noble Lord, who I am sure will sympathise with my view, to consider that the kind of criticism which he has brought forward about an accidental misapprehension relating to a single man is the very sort of weapon which will be made use of outside Parliament by those who are hostile to the reform which has been undertaken in the interests of purity in the administration of justice.

If I am alone with a single secretary living in London, with no possible knowledge of the different parts of the country, and if I am deprived of the information and advice, given always in confidence—a confidence which I would never betray under any circumstances—which I am able to obtain from local committees, what chance have I of preventing the appointment of magistrates from degenerating into a mere question of reward for and incentive to political services? I hope I have answered the observations that were made by the noble Lord, and I trust that he will feel that it is desirable in the public interest that these committees should prosper and should be encouraged. I believe that all dissatisfaction will, in the course of a short time or within two or three years, disappear if only I have access to impartial, fair, honest local opinion, not only from Lords Lieutenant, who have always given me their honest opinion and the best advice in their power, but from those who move about among the people in the neighbourhoods concerned and are able to interpret their feelings and desires.


My Lords, I rise mainly for the purpose of assuring your Lordships that nothing is further from the thoughts of those who sit in this part of the House, and I am sure nothing is further from the thoughts of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, than to make any complaint of the conduct of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, either in regard to this particular incident or in regard to the manner in which he has dealt with the whole of this important question of the selection of Justices. That duty is, as he truly said a moment ago, a most delicate and difficult duty, and I am sure that every one of us must feel that in his efforts to discharge that duty dispassionately he deserves the full sympathy of every member of the House. But, my Lords, in this particular case it is evident from what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord that a misapprehension arose, and as soon as that misapprehension was discovered the noble and learned Lord at once corrected it, and, judging from the terms of the letter which was read to the House by my noble friend, corrected it in a very full and handsome manner.

But while I say that we have no complaint whatever to make of the noble and learned Lord, I cannot help saying that I think the noble and learned Lord has some complaint to make of the manner in which he has been served in connection with this transaction. It is to be remembered that in the first letter read to the House by my noble friend, the secretary to the Lord Chancellor states distinctly that the removal of Mr. Caldicott from the Bench had been "recommended by the Advisory Committee." We have yet to learn by whom and in what form that recommendation reached the noble and learned Lord. He will, I am sure, not be surprised that we should watch the operation of this new system of Advisory Committees not only with interest but with some slight measure of anxiety. We are all anxious that this experiment should succeed, and we shall none of us spare any pains in order to make it succeed. We recognise that it is desirable that these committees should, so far as may be, be constituted upon the most impartial basis possible. I say so far as may be, because we most of us realise that it is difficult in a case of this kind to balance with mathematical precision the different elements of which an Advisory Committee may be composed. But it does seem to me essential, if the new system is to work that each member of these Advisory Committees should have a full and sufficient opportunity of making his views known either in regard to the appointment of a magistrate or in regard to the removal of a magistrate; and I must say that my noble friend seemed to me to establish clearly that in this particular instance the members of the Advisory Committee did not have the full and sufficient opportunity to which they were entitled. He quoted to the House the names of several members of the Committee who distinctly state that they took no part whatever in the recommendation with regard to Mr. Caldicott. That really is, to my mind, the only weak point in the case. There was what purported to be a communication from the Advisory Committee to the noble and learned Lord, and we should like very much to know, if we can be told, what form that communication took. When I say this I trust I shall not be understood as suggesting that the procedure of these committees should be of too rigid or formal a character. In my view their proceedings should, on the contrary, be informal, confidential, and as little as possible impeded by anything in the nature of red tape. But I do hold very strongly that the consultation of the Committees should be an effectual consultation, and, as I said a moment ago, there does seem some reason for supposing that in this particular instance the consultation was not of the full and complete character to which members of the Committee, were entitled.


My Lords, I am sure the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will have heard with very much satisfaction the expression of the noble Marquess who has just sat down, that these Advisory Committees should in future meet with success, but I share the fear of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that if discussions of this kind become frequent the success of these commitees will be very gravely imperilled. In the first place, let me touch on one of the points raised by the noble Lord—the point about the composition of the committee of which I have the honour to be chairman. He told your Lordships, quite correctly, that on that committtee sat the last Radical candidate for the representation of the city of Worcester. He is universally respected, and I think the oldest magistrate representing that interest in politics. On the other side there was the present Mayor, who is a Conservative and always has been a Conservative. Then there is Mr. Percy Allsopp. It is with some difficulty that one speaks of the personalities of people and it is not a pleasant thing to do, but I think your Lordships will agree that the Allsopps are generally members of the Tory Party and I have never had any reason to suppose that this gentleman is any exception. I noticed that on Saturday last his nephew, Lord Hindlip, speaking in Worcester, expressed the opinion that the Liberal Party were pests who ought to be swept altogether from this country. I can quite understand that he would say that of his political opponents, but I cannot imagine that he would say it of so near a relative as his uncle, and I confess I feel convinced that Mr. Percy Allsopp is a member of the Conservative Party.

As to the proceedings of the Advisory Committee, here I confess I find myself in a difficulty created by the noble Marquess opposite, who expressed the opinion that the proceedings of the committees should be of a confidential nature. Yet I am asked for an explanation as to the proceedings in this case. Let me suggest to the noble Marquess that it is not easy to combine proceedings of that nature with a full explanation. On the present occasion I am glad that I can, without violating what took place at the meeting of the committee, say sufficient to make the position clear. An Advisory Committee never recommend the removal of a magistrate, and are not asked in any circumstances to do so. What they are asked to do is to inform the Lord Chancellor whether any Justice ought to be requested to resign. The noble and learned Lord has explained the unfortunate mistake that occurred in this case. The letters sent to the two gentlemen in question never reached them, and I think it says something at any rate for the impartiality of the committee that on this occasion they should have treated a Liberal and a Conservative in exactly the same way. The mistake arose, as I have said, through a letter sent to these gentlemen never reaching them, and as soon as the mistake was brought to his notice the noble and learned Lord restored the two names to the Commission roll. That seems to me to have been a very generous and fair step, and one for which the noble and learned Lord deserves every credit. In these circumstances noble Lords opposite will not be surprised if I say that I do not think the question would have been raised if it had not happened that the friend of the noble Lord who introduced it was a member of his own Party.


I have never seen the gentleman.


My Lords, I hope the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will not understand, though we on this side of the House have never hitherto raised this whole question of the appointment of magistrates, that we have not felt very strongly about it. The reason we have not raised it is that we did not think we should be of any assistance to him if we did. For the same reason we have made no comment upon what has been said by certain gentlemen elsewhere, and for the same reason I make no comment to-night. But I am glad of this opportunity of giving an illustration of how utterly different is the working of the system which the noble and learned Lord has inaugurated from what, so far as I can judge from their utterances in other places, certain gentlemen believe it to be. As far as I can understand, they think that the noble and learned Lord, the Lords Lieutenant, and the Advisory Committees are in a conspiracy to put as many Tories on the Bench as possible and to keep off as many Radicals as possible. I happen to be able to give an illustration, of no interest whatever except as an illustration, of how this system is really working. I wrote to my Lord Lieutenant at the end of last year asking him to put my son, who is now a member of the other House of Parliament, on the Commission of the Peace. The Lord Lieutenant replied that the Lord Chancellor had requested him to make no recommendations at all until the Advisory Committee had been appointed and was in working order, and then only to make such recommendations as the Advisory Committee would join with him in presenting to the Lord Chancellor. I need hardly tell your Lordships that I was wholly satisfied with that reply. My son has never yet been appointed. I make no kind of complaint of that, and I leave the matter with the utmost confidence in the hands of my Lord Lieutenant, the Advisory Committee, and the noble and learned Lord.