HL Deb 15 June 1920 vol 40 cc591-624

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, a few months ago this House, and afterwards the House of Commons, concurred in passing a Bill which, besides removing many other disabilities which then affected the position of women, made them eligible for the office of Justice of the Peace. Some discussion took place at the time, and a decision was arrived at. That decision necessarily carried with it the conclusion that, the sex disability—to borrow the language of the Act—having been removed, women were to sit upon the Bench with the same privileges as their male colleagues.

The question which confronted me was, What is the best use that can be made of the services of the new women justices? It is a problem which is not, of course, limited to London, though the Bill for which I ask a Second Reading to-day is so limited for reasons which I will presently make clear. But there is, as probably all your Lordships know, a great difference between the magisterial position in London and the magisterial position in the rest of the country, and I have observed that some criticisms have been directed at this Bill in The Times, and in one or two other papers, which seem to me to be founded upon a complete misapprehension. When your Lordships appreciate the points which it will be my duty to attempt to explain, and realise that the Bill which I now propose comes before this House with the assurance that I myself have given it my closest personal attention and recommend its progress, and that the ionic Secretary—who is, of course, advised by incomparable experience—takes the same view, I feel confident that this is a Bill which will receive the very careful consideration of your Lordships.

I said the conditions in London were different from those which prevail in the provinces. As your Lordships know, in London Justices do riot sit to administer criminal justice in the ordinary way. They have their own Petty Sessions which, in some districts, deal with such matters as weights and measures, and school attendance, and so forth. But their quasi- criminal functions are limited to such matters as I have indicated. They sit, of course, at Quarter Sessions to try cases on indictment which have been committed to the Sessions, and to hear appeals. But Quarter Sessions, as the House knows, have a chairman and vice-chairman, both trained lawyers, by whom the proceedings are for the most part conducted and controlled. The work of ordinary petty criminal justice (I am speaking now of London) is assigned exclusively to the Metropolitan Police Magistrates, each of whom sits alone and has jurisdiction to deal with cases either summarily, or by committing the offender for trial at Quarter Sessions or at the Central Criminal Court, as the nature of the case requires. Each Metropolitan Police Magistrate alone has the same powers as are possessed elsewhere by two ordinary Justices of the Peace.

In the provinces the case is entirely different. Over the greater part of the country there are no paid and trained lawyers sitting as Justices at all, and the work of the Petty Sessional Court is conducted by lay justices, two of whom, at least, must be present on each occasion to constitute a Court. I pause here to point out that under the provisions of the Sex Disqualifiaction (Removal) Act this result followed. In the provinces women are available to contribute their very special experience and gifts for the purpose of dealing with the problems which affect children. The situation, therefore, with which I had to deal, and for which I had to find a solution, was that in London under the existing arrangements (about which I will say more in a moment), it was impossible to use the services of a woman for the purpose for which those services would appear to be most specially adapted. In the provinces there was no such difficulty, because a woman lay magistrate had precisely the same rights as a male lay justice, and, therefore, all those problems which concern children would naturally engage the attention of the women justices.

I ought, perhaps, to add a further word. It is known to members of the House that in eighteen of our larger cities there is a Stipendiary Magistrate, and I may describe the position in those eighteen cities. The Stipendiary has the power of sitting alone under circumstances which give him the same authority as if two lay justices were sitting together. But his position differs from that of a Metropolitan Police Magistrate in one not unimportant respect. The lay magistrates may, if they think proper, sit with the Stipendiary Magistrate, and, if they decide to sit, they have an equal voice with him in the cases which arise in Court. That, of course, is not the case in London, as I have already explained.

The present position, therefore, is this. All over the country, except in London, women magistrates, when appointed, have full power to sit in Petty Sessional Courts and to deal with all matters which come before those Courts, whether they concern children alone or the ordinary criminal jurisdiction of a Court, and I cannot help assuming with confidence that when the Legislature entitled women to become justices at all it was the intention of the Legislature that they should discharge the same functions as male justices, and that it was most certainly the intention of the Legislature that their services should be made available for that class of cases, of all other cases. Because the argument, I think, hardly needs to be pressed upon your Lordships that the sympathy, the experience, the maternal instincts which may be expected from women justices can be-directed along no avenue which promises consequences so fruitful and so beneficial to the younger part of the community than by direction towards these Children's. Courts, and all matters affecting children. And the arrangements in the provinces, as I have said, enable those who are responsible for their direction in such matters to receive the experience of women in matters which interest them so much.

But the London situation as I have described it makes it plain that there was, no means at all of using the services of women unless one or other of several alternative expedients was adopted. Supposing, for instance, that to-morrow vacancies occurred, and I were recommended by those who discharge the duty of advising me in such matters to appoint women magistrates on London. Though so appointed magistrates, they will be unable to take any part in the administration of petty criminal justice, being confined to the matters at present dealt with by lay magistrates. I think it would be a very serious loss if it was impossible to utilise, for some purposes at least, the experience possessed by numerous and able women residing in London who are engaged in public life, and have special skill in dealing with certain types of matters, which come before a Police Court. And I certainly felt—and I am satisfied that this will be the unanimous feeling of the House—that it would be unreasonable, the Legislature having decided that women should be placed on the Commission of the Peace, that in London alone they should be denied the opportunity of taking their share in tire administration of justice.

So far as the work of the Petty Sessional Court requires legal knowledge and the special skill in dealing with evidence which comes only from long forensic or judicial training, one can see at once that the London system is preferable and that it would be a retrograde step to take it away from skilled hands, whether male or female, and commit it to others. But the work arising under the Childrens Act is not of this nature; it is far more analogous to those semi-administrative problems with which justices also have to deal. Moreover, it is work specially suited to women; and this Bill contains a proposal under which special arrangements can be made to enable women to take part in the work.

There has been some opposition to this Bill, though, if I may be allowed to say so, not in the least widespread. It is quite tine that some of the London magistrates object to its provisions, in circumstances which I will presently explain to your Lordships; but it is quite untrue to say, as I have seen it stated, that the London magistrates were not consulted. They were consulted at every stage; every possible weight has been given to such representations and objections as they have put forward; and I am able to tell your Lordships that the chief magistrate of all, Sir Chartres Biron, a magistrate with a great deal of experience, has been consulted throughout, as his colleagues have been, and he is a supporter of these proposals in the shape in which they come before your Lordships to-day.

The magistrates—who, as I have said, were most fully consulted—while admitting that women could fulfil the office and make, perhaps, an indispensable contribution to the Children's Courts, reply by putting forward a proposal alternative to that which is contained in this Bill, and a proposal which, it should be carefully noted, is the only alternative that has been put forward, and the only alternative which in my judgment could be put forward. It is proposed that women should sit as assessors to the Metropolitan Police Magistrates when dealing with these cases. The proposal of the Bill is a very simple one and is contained in the operative part of the Bill, Clause 1 (1)— An Order in Council made under subsection (5) of section one hundred and eleven of the Children Act, 1908, for the establishment of one or more juvenile courts for the metropolitan police court district may, notwithstanding anything in the Metropolitan Police Act, 1840, provide for any such court being constitued of a police magistrate (who shall be the president of the court) nominated by the Secretary of State, and two justices of the peace for the county of London, of whom one shall be a woman, and both of whom shall be chosen from amongst a panel of such justices nominated for the purpose by the Secretary of State. I ought to remove at once one erroneous impression which I have seen attempted to be given. It is that, instead of having these matters dealt with by local Courts in various parts of London, a great Central Court should be set up to which persons from considerable distances will be forced to bring their complaints and their witnesses.

This Bill, of course, contemplates nothing of the kind. It is expressed in this way: "to establish one or more Juvenile Courts"; and it is, indeed, proposed, in circumstances which I will presently detail, that there should be a Central Court—this is an indispensable part of the scheme—though there will be many Courts dealing with the matter. There will be branch Courts in every part of London where experience and convenience suggest there ought to be Courts, and each Court will be constituted in the manner proposed by the Bill—that is to say, with a London magistrate and with one male justice and one female justice. The only alternative, as I have said, which can be put forward is the one the magistrates put forward, and they suggest that the women should sit as assessors having no power to affect the decision. I am perfectly confident that in the days in which we live, and at the stage which opinion upon this question has reached, there will be no chance whatever of such a proposal receiving sanction. Can it be said that women justices, in a matter in which it will be conceded they can make a wholly new and irreplaceable contribution, should be placed in a position of inferiority with male colleagues; should sit there day by day empowered to express opinions without the slightest authority to give a vote or to influence the decision which is taken by their male colleagues? I do not think that it is the relationship which the Legislature intended should exist between the male and the female justices.

Observe another anomalous consequence of the only alternative proposal. In all, or most, of our largest centres of population, we have to-day Childrens Courts where the business is transacted with great humanity, experience, and despatch. In every one of those large cities, except London, women take their part and contribute equally with men to the decisions; but in London, the centre of the enlightenment of the Empire, where there are certainly to be found as many gifted women as in any provincial centre, it is gravely to be suggested that they are to he placed under a stigma of inferiority which is not attempted to be imposed on them in any other city of Great Britain. I cannot think that your Lordships would believe that the suggestion made by the magistrates in this respect is happily conceived.

It is open to objection from another point of view, and one which is at least as much deserving of your Lordships' consideration. You cannot expect to obtain the voluntary services of the best type of woman in a capacity which is of so subordinate a character. It involves, after all, a great deal of sacrifice, in the case of a busy man or busy woman, that be or she should go, day after day, to sit in one of these Courts and give attention to the matters, often very troublesome, which are brought before them. You can persuade public-spirited men and women to undertake these ditties if they feel that they are making a real contribution; that they have responsibility; that the expenditure of time is worth while; but to suggest that you will obtain the type of woman we want in London for these purposes, when she knows that an inferior function is committed to her as compared with that committed to her sisters in the provinces, seems to me to be ridiculous. I think that the attendance of the assessors would fall off and that the class of woman who would be obtained as assessors would not be very high.

It has been suggested, on the other hand, that the work connected with the Childrens Courts should be removed from the Metropolitan Police Courts and added to the category of matters which could be dealt with by lay magistrates. That would be another method of dealing with the difficulty. For the reasons that I have already given, this particular kind of work does not require semi-legal training in the strict sense of the word. The question before the Court is not so much, Has the child been guilty of this particular offence? but What, in all the circumstances, is the best course to pursue in the interest of the child itself, and to what reforming influences can it best be subjected? These are questions upon which the layman and woman who have experience of social work, and perhaps special experience of the nature of children and the homes of this particular kind of children, are eminently fitted to form a judgment. In many cases they may be more fitted to form a judgment than some at least of those who are appointed to the Bench after a life spent in dealing with ordinary legal problems and the ordinary criminal classes.

But this line of reasoning might have lead to the conclusion that the special functions of the London magistrates should be removed front them. I was unwilling to adopt that course. Many of the present Metropolitan Police Magistrates have taken a great interest in the subject and have been connected with the work of Childrens Courts ever since they were established. There are also obvious advantages in the continuity which follows from the fact that at least one member of the Court has been in constant touch for many years with a particular class of work; and it has been felt that to exclude the experience which is at present to be found among Metropolitan Police Magistrates would be as wasteful as to exclude the experience of the layman and woman. I, therefore, propose in this Bill a middle course; in one sense a novel course. Such novelty as there is lies in the fact that both these experiences—of the Metropolitan Police Magistrates and of the layman and woman—are combined in this particular kind of work. In the provinces the Stipendary Magistrates and the lay justices act together. Any alternative plan I say plainly—I have examined and reexamined them all—is doomed to failure. It is impossible to exclude the lay woman of experience in London alone from taking part in this kind of work.

I know that some of the London Magistrates are opposed to these proposals. It is also the case that some of the women who are employed in advising magistrates, and whose business it is to inquire into the cases which come before the Courts, are also opposed to the proposal. The view they take is that they do not wish in future to discharge these duties with women upon the Bench, and prefer that their present relationship with the Metropolitan Magistrates should remain. This feeling is, of course, not unnatural. The feminine contribution to the Courts, which is always indispensable, lots been admirably rendered by these ladies for a long period of years, and it is quite easy to understand that they would rather serve under a system in which the whole of the feminine contribution was made by themselves. I have given this matter all the consideration of which I am capable and I am sure that this position is not one which ought to carry any weight. After the decision that women should be given magisterial responsibility has been taken the susceptibility of these women cannot count when once that decision has been taken. I am sure that after the proposal now made has been given a fair trial we shall find these ladies continuing the admirable services they have rendered with as much cheerfulness as in the past.

The scheme in the Bill is one of such enormous advantage that, even if the objections were greater, I think it should carry great weight with the House. It removes once and for all Children's Courts from any contact with the Police Courts. It will not involve any additional expenditure at all because it has been found possible to devote a Court, which has hitherto been a Police Court, entirely to the purposes of a Central Court in order to deal with charges against children. We shall, therefore, be able to carry on the business in London with one Court less than we have to-day, and a Central Court will be devoted to the purpose of dealing with child cases in the metropolis.

I have taken more time of the House than I should have dreamed of taking if I had not received from more than one quarter indications that some doubt was felt as to these proposals. I cannot believe that these doubts will survive a careful examination of the considerations I have attempted to place before your Lordships. Once it is realised that women will be empowered to deal with children's cases on a basis of absolute equality with their masculine colleagues it becomes not only impossible but absurd to stereotype the women of London in a position of inferiority compared with that which is occupied by their sisters elsewhere. I bring forward these proposals with a full sense of responsibility in my own Department and also with the earnest recommendation of the Home Office. I hope that, on reflection, your Lordships will support me in giving a Second Reading to this Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I have given some thought to the proposals contained in this Bill, and I find myself in accord with what the Lord Chancellor has introduced to the House. The root question, as he said, is, What position is to be given to women in the metropolis as magistrates? We have the usual kind of opposition to giving them the full position of Judges, but that question was decided when it was settled that they should become magistrates, and to go back on that now, as the opponents of this Bill propose, is really to raise a controversy which is belated. It is suggested that in London, and only in London, the position of women in Childrens Courts should be that of assessors to the magistrates. That would, indeed, be to introduce a most extraordinary anomaly. It is no new thing that a Stipendiary, who is a trained lawyer, should sit with lay justices. They sit with them every day in the London Sessions; the trained lawyer and the civilian sit side by side, because they are magistrates. Why should any difference be made in the case of women? Why give them only the role of assessors to the Stipendiary Magistrate when, in the ordinary case, the lay magistrate is his equal?

Practice shows that the experience and training of the Stipendiary Magistrate enable him to make his views heard, and I have not the least doubt that that will be the case in the Childrens Court also, with the women who are his colleagues; but there is a, very special reason for bringing women into all these Childrens Courts. It is a great delusion to think that the bulk of the business which the Metropolitan Magistrate has to transact is business which requires high legal knowledge and the application of abstruse principles. As a matter of fact a great deal of that business is really of an administrative kind, dependent upon the exercise of common sense, knowledge of the world, sympathy with the kind of persons brought before him, and ability to deal with things from a practical point of view. Fortunately, we have got plenty of these qualities among our London Magistrates, who are illustrations of how good a class we can produce if we set ourselves to do it; but when you come to children, you have business which is apparently designed to be done by women. Women are able to bring knowledge to bear, which the magistrate has to apply from experience and intuition, but subject to disadvantages which will not oppress his women colleagues.

The noble Lord on the Woolsack showed that in this Bill there is sufficient elasticity. The Bill also has the great advantage that it gives effect to the principles to which I have referred, and takes the only course which could be taken consistently, having regard to the status which we have now given to women. In Scotland this question hardly arises, because there the business performed by the magistrate and by the Stipendiary, where there is a Stipendiary, is performed by the Sheriff and the Sheriff Substitute, and the criminal jurisdiction is mainly, though not entirely, in the hands of the Sheriff. It does, however, arise in the greater part of England outside the large towns, and it is a question which can only be answered one way, so far as it deals with the question whether women should sit on the same footing as men. The noble and learned Lord has taken the only rational course in bringing in this Bill, and I hope that he will secure a smooth passage for it.


My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to the explanations of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack with regard to the intention of this Bill, and, having heard him, and having taken considerable trouble to ascertain opinions outside with regard to this Bill, I desire to move its rejection. The noble and learned Lord seems to have difficulty with the appointments that he has made of women justices, and he desires to find them something to do. In that effort he has found it necessary to attach them to, and lower the status of, Stipendiary Magistrates. In the metropolis the magistrates have the reputation of having conducted children's eases setter than they have been conducted by any other set of magistrates in this country. There may have been complaint of some of them, but that has gradually died away.

A strong feeling exists that there should be local justice, and as quick justice as possible, with regard to these cases. From all parts of the suburbs, in local newspapers, you will find letters and complaints against the suggestion of a Central Court, or new men coming down, with perhaps women justices from other parts of the town, in order to deal with children's cases in a particular locality. Further, in the worst instances children's cases are often mixed up with the cases of parents or seniors, which the Police Magistrates are trying every day, and it is of the utmost importance that the magistrate who tries one case should also try the other. It is these cases of a serious character that it is so important for the Stipendiary Magistrates, with knowledge of the law, to try. You are proposing to put women magistrates to sit side by side with them, and to give equal power to women, who do not pretend to have any knowledge of the law, but are simply placed on the Bench because they are women, and, therefore, know more, perhaps, than men about children. I would have been prepared to agree that women should sit as assessors with Stipendiary Magistrates, but both the noble and learned Lords who have spoken have said that they consider that a most unsatisfactory idea, and that it would be unwise for women to sit as assessors.

In such cases as have come within my knowledge I have found that there has been extraordinary kindness and sympathy shown for children in such small cases as, for instance, where they are brought up under the Gaming Act for playing pitch and toss in the streets, or for playing football in the streets, or for smashing a window by means of a heavy ball. Those cases are usually discharged, and the children seem to be impressed by the proceedings, and leave the Court without any stain as, or connection with, criminals. I am speaking at the present moment of the satisfactory way in which the Stipendiary Magistrates treat these minor cases.

With regard to the criminal taint which may arise from going into the Police Courts, in a large number of Police Courts in this metropolis there are separate entrances and separate rooms, where the children are tried. The magistrate sits at a table, the police officer is not in uniform, and the parents are behind the child. There is talking over the table. Of course, it is in the same building, but very often quite removed from the ordinary criminal entrance. If another building is desired, then it is merely a question of taking another or using say the Y.M.C.A. room, or any other room, which is available. Where the Police Court in London has no separate entrance or separate rooms for the children it might entail a slight expense for them to be made, but I think it would be a good thing if they were made. That, however, is no reason for making this alteration in the position of the Stipendiary Magistrate, who comes down without local prejudice, quite as a friend of the children, trusted by the locality to which he comes, and whose work in the past has been done thoroughly well.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months").—(Lord Askwith.)


My Lords, probably every one of the noble Lords present has read criticisms, in some newspapers at any rate, with regard to this Bill. Speaking for myself, if it had not been for those criticisms I should not have dreamed of intervening in this debate. But the criticisms appear to me to be not quite fair to the intentions of the Bill, or to the manner in which it would certainly work. Also they seem to me to be unwise in the view which they appear to take of the situation, and I would wish to say at the outset that, applying the limited experience—of course, it is very limited—which I have in connection with this matter, I am absolutely and without qualification of the same view as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack who has introduced the Bill.

The clause which was especially attacked in one quarter at least was subsection (3) of Clause 1—— (3) The Order may for the purpose of facilitating the establishment of juvenile courts provide for the discontinuance of any of the existing police courts or for the use of an existing police court solely for the purposes of a juvenile court. There was read into that, and into the general trend of the Bill, a construction which has been stated by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to be without foundation, and which, I think, is manifestly without foundation. It has been suggested that the idea was to set up some great Central Court in, perhaps, a part of London not easily accessible from outlying districts, and to dispose of all juvenile cases in that building.

There is, of course, nothing of the kind in the Bill. But there is in the Bill a provision which is entirely in accordance with the conclusion f have come to myself in a humble way, having enquired into this very question, with regard to small places, no doubt, but I am not quite sure that there is much difference between the real conditions in small cities and in London which is only an aggregation of small cities. I am rather inclined to think that what might be true, if it be true—I thought it was—of a city of about 300,000 inhabitants, might fairly be true of the many component parts of this great metropolis which are in themselves separate cities.

My attention was directed during the time I held office to the great difficulty in working the Act of 1908, owing to the fact that the business in connection with juvenile offences had to be carried on in the same building as the ordinary, general, daily routine of criminal work. It is practically impossible for any magistrate to upset the ordinary work of his Court in such a way as to make—whether it be in another room or in an obscure part of the building itself—the necessary special provisions for these juvenile offenders which his experience shows to be necessary. I state my view positively; I do not claim infallibility for it; I merely state it as the result of the inquiries I made in consultation with our local magistrates and from what I saw for myself. Magistrates know that it is possible to have juvenile offenders. It is not a case of boys and girls—I say it with the utmost respect—playing games in the street, throwing balls and breaking glass windows, and things of that kind. Where the difficulty arises is where the offences are real offences—as they would be very real, perhaps, if the offender was an adult—and where the offenders have to be dealt with on a real criminal basis. Our desire in our modern legislation is, I take it, to deal with these juvenile offenders in such a way that we shall try, if possible, to take them apart from the criminal surroundings in which they are, and that we shall do it front the very inception of the proceedings against them in our Police Courts.

It has been suggested that it can be done, as I have said already, by conducting these operations in a separate part of the building. All I can say is that I found that was impracticable, particularly in the small area where I made the inquiries, and, although my knowledge with regard to the London Police Courts is limited, I should say it was equally true here. I absolutely welcome the provision in the Bill which tends towards the setting up of some buildings where those juvenile offenders can be dealt with from start to finish without any of the contamination which is produced by bringing them into contact with adult criminals; in which they can be treated in a way which will show them from the start that they are not part, of the ordinary criminal classes, or to be deemed to be part of the criminal classes; that they are to be dealt with by that class of tribunal which will not be guided by the strict laws as laid down in our Criminal Code, which is severe enough, but will be dealt with in accordance with modern views, and by a tribunal which will look to a great deal more than the mere written law. For that reason I think it is not fair to criticise this proposal as being one which would lead to inconvenience by the establishment of one huge central tribunal.

With regard to the other question, that is the addition of women to the Court, I would not like to sit down without saying that, although of course it could not have been the subject of inquiry by me at the date on which I considered this matter, because women were not qualified at that time, I am equally and most strongly in accord with this part of the Bill. If I could have my way as a tyrant I should, perhaps, in many eases have a tribunal consisting mainly of that class of women who are kindly, experienced, and have plenty of common sense. For those criminal offences I think they might he even better than the plain lawyer. What objection there can be to the Bill as it stands, which is an attempt to compromise between the extreme view of having only lay and uninstructed justices and the instructed but sometimes perhaps rather narrow technical mind, I cannot see. It is a fair and reasonable compromise, and it ought to meet every requirement of the case. From the suggestion that, the lay element, if I may so put it—as contra-distinguished from the technical legal element, whether it be male or female—should only sit there as assessors, I fail to see what practical gain there would be. If you get people to listen to these cases and to form a common-sense judgment, I think they should at least have the power of giving effect to their commonsense views.


My Lords, I had no intention when I came down to the House to-night of addressing your Lordships on this Bill, but, having listened to the presentation of the Bill by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and to the arguments that have been addressed on the other side, I have been rather struck by two things. I think it is common ground that the administration of these Courts throughout the Metropolis has up to the present time been conducted entirely to the satisfaction of the people concerned, and has met with no, or hardly any, criticism as to any hardship on the children, or any want of sympathy with them, or any lack of consideration of the peculiar circumstances that apply in the case of the small offences that have come before the Courts.

There is one thing that struck me as curious. Unless I missed something said by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in referring to what would be described as reforms,—all changes are now described as reforms—he did not suggest, so far as I remember, that there was any particular necessity, as regards the efficiency of the Courts, for this reform at all, and, if I followed him correctly, it is not because of any suggestion that the Courts in London are not perfectly adequate for the purpose of these duties that he desires them to receive the assistance of women. Of course, I quite recognise that women are peculiarly suitable to deal with children's cases, and, as they have lately been empowered to sit as magistrates, it is naturally thought that this would be a very useful sphere in which to employ them. Further, it is considered that the fact that you employ them in this work would attract to it the class of women that you desire for undertaking the duties of magistrates. I recognise all that.

On the other hand, I confess that I am impressed by the very general feeling that it is undesirable in London, where the circumstances are, I think, peculiar, to embark on this change in the absence of any immediate necessity. It is not putting it too high to say that there is no case for any change at all. I believe that feeling to be very general, and to extend to the parents themselves. It is, of course, of the utmost importance, in anything that we do in this matter, that we should not shake the confidence of the parents in the Courts to which their children are brought. If there was a necessity for a reform I am far from saying that I should reject it in the form in which it is presented by this Bill, but at present you have a system working which is very satisfactory. I had some experience of the Police Courts some years ago—I have had much less of late—and I believe them to be quite admirable.

There is one feature that is of the most importance. I refer to the probationer officers. For years they live in the districts, and they know not only the general question of how children should be dealt with and what ought to he done, but they know, in their own districts in a great many cases, not only the children but what the parents of the children are. The information that they are thus able to give to the magistrate is of the utmost importance and assistance to him, and it is information which, as it seems to me, could hardly be possessed by any woman magistrate. When you have a system like that working, it is obvious, if you appoint women magistrates, that the effect will be to weaken somewhat the position of the probationer officers, who, I believe, can do more useful work in the direction the Government desire than any two magistrates sitting on the Bench beside the Police Magistrate. For these reasons I am not in favour of the proposal.

An argument was used that it is derogatory to the new women magistrates in London that they should not be admitted to the same powers as their sisters in the country. But that position is not peculiar to women; it applies to the lay magistrates in London, whether man or woman. With all respect to the Lord Chancellor, I do not think he has made out a case for the passing of this Bill, and for that reason, without seeing much to object to in the Bill as a Bill, I think it is undesirable to press it at this time, and if my noble friend, Lord Askwith, presses his case to a Division I think I shall feel bound to follow him in the Lobby.


My Lords, I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will be convinced that he has a considerable case to answer in the opposition to this Bill. I do not think your Lordships can over-rate the importance of the fact that the London Police Magistrates are opposed to this change. I did not quite gather from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether all the London Police Magistrates were opposed to it.


The chief Police Magistrate is entirely favourable to it.


Well, a great many of the Police Magistrates are apparently opposed to it.


A great many Police Magistrates prefer an alternative course—that women should act as assessors.


That means they are opposed to the Bill. What is the good of chopping logic? They do not want the Bill; they want something else. That I understand to be the view of the police Magistrates. It is also the view of the Police Magistrates. It is also the view of my noble friend who has just sat down, and who has had a great experience in criminal matters. That is a formidable opposition to meet. My noble friend who has just sat down has also said—I do not know how far he has evidence upon it which he can produce—that such parents as are likely to come in contact with these particular provisions of the law are opposed to the change.


I only said that I was so informed.


I understood that to be the ease; and that is an important matter when we come, as your Lordships must, to decide this question. I venture to submit that the real point is not the interests of women or the interests of women magistrates, but the interests of the children. If I may say so with great respect to the Lord Chancellor, not only the main question, but really the only question is, What is best for the children? Those Police Magistrates who are opposed to the Bill are of opinion that the present system, under which these unfortunate children are brought to justice, is better in the interests of the children than the system proposed in the Bill, and, unless the noble and learned Lord can upset that contention, I do not think he makes out a case for the Bill.

We must not think too much of the interests of women. The noble and learned Lord seemed to think that the fact that women had been admitted to the Bench was almost a conclusive reason why they should have these rights in London. There is no question of treating women worse than men even in London, because under the system, as I understand it, by which the Police Courts are worked in London an ordinary lay male magistrate does not have jurisdiction. The Stipendiary Magistrate sits alone, and another magistrate cannot go and sit with him and take part in the proceedings. Therefore, in the case of London a woman is not treated worse than a man if she is not allowed to join in these proceedings. The reaon why the London Police Magistrates are in a special position is not because they are men, but because they are trained lawyers, and if a woman becomes a trained lawyer, as no doubt she will ultimately, there is no reason in the world why she also should not become a Stipendiary Magistrate and. preside over a London Court. To alter the law in respect of the London Courts so as to admit lay magistrates, men or women, to concurrent jurisdiction with the Stipendiaries is really a retrograde step. It is as much as to say that we in Parliament no longer believe that it is important that these Courts should be controlled by magistrates who are learned in the law.


In the London Sessions bodies of mixed magistrates are presided over by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Lawrie.


I was not speaking of Quarter Sessions; I was speaking of the Police Courts. And I understand that the reason why the system in London is defended is that it is thought that in the peculiar circumstances of London it is necessary to have in these Police Courts not laymen but lawyers. It is not merely because they are paid, but because they are lawyers. And why should we have women who are not lawyers put in? It is not a question of sex. If they are lawyers by all means let them come in on equal terms, but if they are not lawyers why should they? That is the point. I want, if I can, to persuade your Lordships that this is a question of whether these magistrates are learned in the law, and it is not a question of sex.

I confess I was a little bit shocked on hearing one or two noble Lords, who seemed to give us the impression that they did not think it very important that the work of these magistrates should be done strictly according to law. They spoke as if a certain freedom from what they called the "letter of the law" was not a bad thing in the administration of these Courts. Is that really so? Are these children not entitled to the letter of the law, just as much as adults are? It it a question of age as to whether the law is to be rigidly interpreted upon what is legal and what is not legal? Is that to be laid down by the greatest Judges in England, sitting in your Lordships' House? I should say that, whatever the age of the prisoner, he is entitled to a rigid interpretation of the law.

When it comes to the question of centres a different set of considerations undoubtedly arises—I want to be quite fair—but, as regards finding the verdict, finding whether the prisoner is guilty or not, it is quite evident that no distinction should be drawn between one prisoner and another, simply because one is old and the other is young. The noble and learned. Lord will undoubtedly agree. And therefore, so far as arriving at a judgment as to the guilt or innocence of the prisoner is concerned, the humblest child in London is entitled to the full protection of a tribunal with legal, knowledge, as is any other prisoner.

I said just now that the question of centres stands upon a wholly different footing to the question of guilt or innocence, and upon that I for one think that the woman's voice is very important in these Courts. I should think that her advice would be of the greatest value, but that it would be quite properly and adequately given by a woman who was an assessor, just as much as by a woman who was a magistrate. By all means, if that should seem right, let us improve the law, if it requires improvement, in respect to providing woman assessors—magistrates, if you like—to decide as to the sentences to be awarded; but do not let us commit ourselves to the impossible proposition that, because these are children, the law is not to be as rigidly interpreted from a legal point of view as if they were adults. For these reasons I confess I do not think that up to now the noble and learned Lord, has made out a case for his Bill. I am far from saying that there ought not to be some improvement in the law, but it does not seem to me that, in face of the strong expert opposition which the noble and learned Lord's Bill has experienced, we ought to make this change until we are satisfied that it is called for.

There is one other point I should like to have cleared up, and that is as to the number of the Courts which the noble and learned Lord proposes to establish. He said it was a popular misconception that they propose only one Court for London. Yet he still spoke of a Central Court. I do not understand what lie meant by drawing the distinction. What is a Central Court? What are the particular qualifications attaching to a Central Court which made him single it out as something special? Is it to be of greater importance than the branch Courts, or is it to be only one among many Courts? And, if there are to be a number of branch Courts, how does he propose that the Stipendiary Magistrates should man them? Are they to be withdrawn from their ordinary jurisdiction in order to sit in these branch Courts, or are they to take a certain period out of each week in which they are to sit there? It would appear to be a much simpler arrangement to go on as we are going on now, and, if several Stipendiary Magistrates are to take part in this work, that they should try these cases in their own Courts or in the neighbourhood of their own Courts. The noble and learned Lord no doubt, when he conies to reply, will explain in what respect there is to be a Central Court which is to differ from the branch Courts, which, I understand, he proposes to establish if the Bill passes.


My Lords, I cannot help thinking that the noble Marquess, with whose conclusion on the whole I agree, did not do justice to the case when he laid stress on the importance of the rigour and letter of the law. I think, especially in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction, we look to experienced magistrates who know the law and who by long accumulated experience, bring to bear on their work a knowledge of human nature and the facts of life. We are familiar not only with the ease of the children but those of grown up people in every day matters, when, say, a summons is withdrawn to defray the costs. It is necessary that Judges should use their common sense in a case where the letter of the law would work hardship or be unreasonable. They do set it aside, and I think it is right that they should.

I think it is quite wrong to argue this question as a corollary to the fact of women Justices of the Peace. Women in London are in exactly the same position as Justices of the Peace, neither better nor worse, and when the noble and learned Lord below me (Viscount Haldane) spoke of the unreasonableness of it he said that in Scotland the women will not come in. Of course, the Deputy Sheriff does it all by himself. If he says it is so important that a woman should sit, is it proposed to alter the law of Scotland and to give the Deputy Sheriff a woman to sit with him whenever a child's case comes before his Court?

I think you may be too sentimental in talking about the abomination of bringing a child into the Police Court. Lots of people come into the Police Court for things which are not criminal at all. If you exceed the legal speed with your motor car you come into the Police Court. If a parent is summoned because his child does not go to school, he goes to the Police Court, although his defence may be that his child is a hopeless truant, and he has no control over it. And if you have your cart without your name painted upon it or if you leave goods on the pavement you are summoned. Everyone knows that it is not strictly a Court for dealing with criminal cases. It is a Court for dealing with petty infractions of the law which are not criminal at all, but you have to go to the place where justice is administered.

And can you always distinguish when a child is to be dealt with separately? Take the case of Bill Sykes and Oliver Twist. Is the whole evidence to be heard in another room when you take the ease of Oliver Twist, and the case of Bill Sykes to be put on one side? It is very desirable, where you can do so practically and conveniently, to separate these case of children from ordinary cases of crime or of adult offences; but I do not think that you ought to be too meticulous and minute in regard to what is really the fringe of the matter. The important thing is that you should deal with these children in a reasonable way; put them on the right path if they are going astray, and help to bring them to common sense. I suppose we all agree that in dealing with children, and, perhaps, with other people too, often the help and advice of women may be very useful to the magistrates, not only in London but elsewhere; but you are surely not going to pass a law that in every Petty Sessional division there must be on the Bench at least one woman if any case of a child is being dealt with. It is not practicable.

We have passed a law that women should be Justices of the Peace and they are being appointed. I hope that, by attendance, by common sense, and by familiarising themselves with as much law as is necessary, they will be useful; but we would not, if we were suddenly admitting a new class to the Bench who have no experience of law or of administration, put them into very responsible positions. I think we may fairly wait until women have shown their knowledge of practical sense on Benches of Petty Sessions before we insist on their taking part in some particular part of judicial administration. I and many of your Lordships know several women who, from interest in social matters—work on school boards, or in caring for children in various ways—have accumulated a great deal of knowledge and who would be very useful; but it does not necessarily follow that you should make them all Justices of the Peace.

Moreover, you do not want to limit your help to women who are Justices of the Peace. Therefore, these other women—investigators, observers, probation officers—will be most valuable. There are yet others, not only women but men. There is the Court Missionary, and the magistrate is very often glad to adjourn an inquiry for a report from him, or from any of the many kind ladies who are interested in social matters. I think we shall do better to walk before we run; and, while saying that we think it extremely desirable in the case of children that the magistrates should seek for all information and help from these people, women especially, we should not pass a law to say that in London you cannot deal with the case of a child unless you have a woman sitting on the Bench.


My Lords, I came down to the House disposed and. prejudiced (if I may use the phrase) by such criticism of this Bill as had become articulate outside this House, to vote against the Bill; but we must reflect that the fact that criticism is articulate does not necessarily mean it is either popular or spontaneous. This criticism really can be confined to the objections and opposition of certain of the Metropolitan Police Magistrates and certain of the lady probation officers. To say that the objections of those two extremely deserving classes of persons have been made heard is by no means to say that the Metropolitan Police Magistrates are not an example of everything that the State should wish to see in such officers, an example to like institutions all the world over. Every one knows that there is no body of public functionaries who so fully enjoy the confidence of the poorest people in the poorest districts in the metropolis. They exercise a quasi-paternal jurisdiction, the simplification of which you see in the fact that old women go to them and receive gratuitious legal advice in all those matters in which it is of priceless value to the very poorest. On the other hand, to their last- ing credit be it said, notwithstanding the method of their appointment, they stand, and have always stood, as bulwarks of the liberty of the subject against any action of the Executive.

It is natural that the members of that Bench should regard these proposals as a dangerous innovation; because undoubtedly it makes them liable, for the first time, to be over-ruled by lay justices, male and female. You cannot expect them to like it; but, as I have said before, it is no reproach to them that they should express that dislike. Yet I think any one who concedes that it was desirable to create women Justices, and, as we found in 1908, to create separate procedure for the trial of children's cases, must remember what is the fundamental requirement. You require a Childrens Court in cases where the attendance of the child is necessary. That is not to say in the cases where the attendance of the child is necessary merely as a witness—the noble Lord beside me tended to error in that case— but only in cases where the attendance of the child is necessary because of a charge against the child itself, or when an application is being heard for orders or licences relating to such child. It is very difficult to go through the list of innumerable cases in which a child may be required to attend a Police Court; and no one will deny—I am afraid. I must oppose my opinion to the very long experience of the noble Lord, Lord, Sheffield—that there is much to be said for the contention that it is desirable, so far as possible, to segregate the hearing of cases in which you require the attendance of children either in a different building or on a different day of the week. Those are the fundamental requirements of the Act of 1908.

To say that the women whom we appoint to take part in the hearing of these cases shall be merely assessors is undoubtedly an unfair and invidious discrimination against the many ladies living in and around the metropolis whose services we hope will be made available as Justices of the Peace. It is so because their sisters in the provinces will be able not merely to sit but to over-rule by their findings, if they get the third magistrate to agree with them, the decisions of Stipendiary Magistrates sitting in those great industrial centres in the provinces where Stipendiary Magistrates exist. More than that—this has not been referred to so far—it would be also an invidious discrimination against the Stipendiary Magistrates in the provinces—a most admirable body of men among whom I count myself fortunate in having many learned friends of my earlier days—because they will be liable in children's cases to have their decisions over-ruled by lay magistrates, whereas that will not be said of Metropolitan Police Magistrates if this Bill is defeated.

There is only one thing from which I derived uneasiness in the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He admitted the undesirability of having a Central Court by saying he was not going to set up one, but in almost the next sentence he gave indications that there was going to be something which might not be inaccurately described as a central Childrens Court. No doubt the third subsection of Clause 1 of this Bill points to the creation of what would not be so much a Central Court as an exclusive Court. It would create a Court which would have no jurisdiction at all except in children's cases. If that is going to be used to attract these children's cases, to compel the attendance of children from all parts of the metropolis, it would be an unmixed evil, unless it is to be kept in check by something which does not appear in the Bill. The essence of the excellent system of summary jurisdiction that we have in the metropolis is that, amongst other things, it brings justice to the poor man's door. I hope the noble and learned Lord, if he avails himself of his further rights of speech, will tell us whether there is to be any exercise of such power—the power to compel attendance from any district beyond the district in which the Court is actually situate.

We must remember, in considering the desirability of allowing and requiring women to take part in the decision of these cases, that in many instances in which you require the attendance of the child in Court you are enquiring not so much into the delinquencies of the child as into the delinquencies of the parent. Where the trial requires the committal of the child to a reformatory or industrial school you divest the parent of the custody of the child, and the issue before the Court is, therefore, the fitness of the parent to have charge of the child. There are many things concerning the domestic life of the poor in which the decision of a woman will be of great value in looking at it from the purely human side of the question, and, therefore, having been in full agreement with the fundamental assumption of the Bill, I shall give it my support.


My Lords, before the Lord Chancellor replies I want to say a word or two upon the question of procedure. I am afraid I am not an authority on the merits of the Bill; I had not even read it until I came down to the House. The point that occurs to me is this. I am doubtful whether any vote we take to-day, without notice, can be really representative of the opinion of the House. I am bound to say that I was impressed by the strength of the criticisms made against the proposals in the Bill, but I think it would have been fairer to the House if notice had been given of the intention to move the rejection of the Bill on so important a stage as the Second Reading. The Bill was printed on May 20, and, although the noble Lord who has moved its rejection is absolutely within his technical rights, it is a valuable custom of this House for notice to be given of an intention to move the rejection of a Bill on Second Reading, in order that Peers who do not otherwise attend every day might have notice and be present.

There is a fair representation this afternoon of the Government and of those of your Lordships who attend regularly, but I think, in all the circumstances, that it would be fairer to pass the Second Reading, even if great changes are made hereafter, than to reject the Bill on a Motion of this kind without notice. I admit the strength of the criticisms against it, but if we reject the Bill now we stop it once and for all—a course which I think is hardly courteous to the Lord Chancellor. If we pass the Second Reading it does not prevent your Lordships from amending the Bill in any direction during the Committee stage and, if necessary, rejecting it on the Third Reading. For these reasons, therefore, I shall record my vote for the Second Reading if we go to a Division.


My Lords, I desire to say a few words before the vote is taken on the Bill, firstly, because I have to do with the administration of the criminal law in this country and, secondly, because I have been appealed to by some magistrates upon this matter and, for that reason, have given considera- tion to the arguments which have appeared in the Press as well as have been expressed here to-day. I agree with the noble Marquess, and indeed I am sure all members of your Lordships' House will agree with him, that there is only one consideration which ought to prevail to-day, and that is the interests of the children. It is for that purpose that the Bill is introduced.

The two main points which will be established by the Bill are, (1) that there will be a Police Magistrate sitting with two Justices of the Peace, one of whom will be a woman, and (2) that there is a provision in the Bill which enables certain arrangements to be made with regard to the Police Courts within the metropolis. I cannot see any reason why your Lordships should vote against these proposals. I am quite sure that the Lord Chancellor, the whole of whose speech unfortunately I did not hear, never intended to say one word against the administration of justice by the Stipendiary Magistrates. I was not present, but I feel certain he must have indicated that during the course of his speech, because his experience, and that of all your Lordships and of all of us engaged in dealing with the administration of criminal law, will rank Stipendiary Magistrates as high as they can be ranked in this Country. They do their work admirably. There is, however, a division of opinion among them, and I confess I was much impressed by the opinion of the Chief Magistrate and others who, I believe, share his view. As it is we get little guidance from the opinions of the magistrates because there is not unanimity. Had there been, I agree, it would have been of much greater weight.

But what mischief can be done by enacting, as is proposed, a provision to have two Justices of the Peace sitting with the Police Magistrate? Must it not be an advantage to have a woman sitting on the Bench? They are not trained lawyers, but they are to be placed there for the reason that they are not trained lawyers. It would be an advantage doubtless if the woman Justice of the Peace was trained in the law, but, if she is not, she gives all the advantage of her experience and knowledge of the training of children to the magistrate who presides, and it seems to me to be a small point of difference as to whether you are to have Assessors or two Justices of the Peace sitting with the Police Magistrate. The Police Magistrate presides, and he will no doubt decide the law. The Justices of the Peace will take the law from him. They will then discuss considerations of humanity and management of the child, and come to a conclusion; and is it not all to the advantage that you should have a woman sitting there in order to give the benefit of her knowledge of children in the matter? I cannot myself see that there can be any disadvantage in it. The Stipendiary Magistrates have hitherto done their work well, but that is no reason why we should not try to improve it, and it is because I think it will be an advantage to have a woman sitting there that I am in favour of the proposal.

I confess, however, that some of the arguments put forward against the Bill seem to me to have great weight. In dealing with these children's cases you do not administer the law according to its strict letter in one sense because they are children. That is to say, certain presumptions which would naturally follow with regard to the acts of adults do not follow in the case of children, and the whole object Of segregating children is to enable the law to be administered, and the paternal jurisdiction of the magistrate and those who sit with him to take effect, without too strict an observance of the law. As Lord Sheffield said, perfectly accurately, the magistrates deal every day with cases not, according to the strict letter of the law. They can dismiss a case, even though it be proved, because they think that on the whole it is not desirable to convict; and they exercise that jurisdiction almost daily. It is equally true that you do not get rid of the appearance of children in Police Courts if this Bill be passed, because, of course, children have to appear as witnesses. That is one of the difficulties, and it cannot be helped.

But the other point is one which has given me a little more occasion for doubt, and that is the provision as to a Central Court, as it is called. If I thought that the policy was to establish a Central Court to which all children accused of offences were to be brought, I should be against it, and I imagine that most of your Lordships would also be opposed to it. But I do not understand that that is the proposal. It is not, I believe, intended to do away with all other Courts and to establish a Central Court, but power is taken, if necessary, to abolish an existing court and to set up another, though not to make it the one Central Court to which all children are to be brought. Of course, there will be an opportunity for discussion of that proposal later.

May I say, in conclusion, that I came here with a fairly open mind—a more open mind than I usually bring to a debate upon a Bill because, generally speaking, one's mind is made up—but having hail the advantage of reading the opinions of the magistrates who are opposed to the Bill, the criticisms in the Press, and also letters, and having heard the arguments, with my experience of the administration of the criminal law and knowledge of the difficulties of dealing with children's cases, I would urge your Lordships to vote in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill.


My Lord, unlike the noble and learned Earl who has just spoken, I came here, I am afraid, not at all with an open mind. I came down intending to vote against the Bill, on account of the criticisms which I had read in the Press, and of which I had not, until to-day, heard any practical refutation. As I listened, however, to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, one after another of the objections which I had heard raised against this Bill was blown to the winds. They seem to have been based upon a clear misapprehension except as to the point with regard to the Central Court, about which I certainly hope that we may receive some further explanation from the noble and learned Lord. When I look at the written memorials and appeals which have been circulated, presumably among all your Lordships, and which have been sent to me, in opposition to this Bill, I find that they are based upon simple misapprehensions of facts. They simply rested upon some idea that it was the intention to deprive the Stipendiary Magistrates of their present well-used powers, and to substitute other people, or to have no children's cases at all in the ordinary Courts, but to have a Central Court which would take them all.

I notice that the alternative which would be acceptable to many of your Lordships is one which is equally strongly objected to by the lady probationary officers, who dislike women assessors as much as women magistrates, which seems to me to show that a good deal of the opposition is based upon a complete misapprehension. It is a little surprising to learn that associations and societies connected with children's welfare in the metropolis have not made their views about the Bill more thoroughly known. We have the Committee on Wage Earning Children and similar bodies and I find that all of them are in favour of the principle of this Bill, but that, for some reason or other which I do not quite understand, the expression which they have desired to give of that opinion has not found easy currency in quarters where it was to be expected to receive it. If that is so, I think it is unfortunate that they did not take an earlier opportunity of expressing their views. If we found, on completely rejecting the measure, that we were really going against the opinions of such associations, we should feel afterwards that we had made a great mistake. Therefore, although I came down determined to vote against the measure, I am prepared now to vote for it, provided the noble and learned Lord can explain to my satisfaction what was said about a Central Court. I have little doubt that, in the same way as he has dissipated other objections to the Bill, he will be able to satisfy us upon this point.


After what has been said in the latter part of the debate it is unnecessary for me to deal in detail with much that has been said in criticism of the proposals contained in this Bill. I might, however, reinforce the point which was taken by Lord Balfour of Burleigh in regard to procedure, by saying that I was not aware that the noble and learned Lord intended to move the rejection of this Bill until he rose to announce it, and I should have been grateful to the noble Lord if he had made it possible for me to anticipate some of the objections which he intended to raise, or, at any rate, if he had afforded me knowledge that he intended to move the rejection of the measure.

The noble and learned Lord who moved the rejection said that these proposals lowered the status of the London Magistrates, and the impression was conveyed that I appeared to reflect upon them. I know far too many of them to do anything of the sort. Many of them have been colleagues of mine, and as Attorney General I appeared before them in many critical days, and nothing that I have said can possibly justify the suggestion that this is a proposal to lower their status. If I may do so without offence, I must remind the noble Lord that such a statement is perfectly ludicrous. It was pointed out by Lord Stuart of Wortley that the Stipendiary Magistrates in the great towns like Liverpool and Manchester, are men of exactly the same class professionally as the London Metropolitan Magistrates.

They are always appointed from men who are almost at the very top of their distinguished profession, and, if they can sit with lady magistrates who have an equal voice with them, I am unable to see why the Metropolitan Magistrates cannot do the same; and when it was pointed out to the noble Marquess, who embarked upon the same doubtful line of argument, that at Sessions these lay magistrates were presided over by a professional lawyer, and nevertheless enjoyed a theoretical right to overrule him, the noble Marquess complained that the analogy was faulty. The analogy is complete if it involves a lowering of the status of the Metropolitan Magistrate that he is to sit with one male lay magistrate and one female lay magistrate, with a theoretical possibility that he may be over-ruled upon a question of law, but with the certainty that they will accept his guidance as loyally as the lay colleagues of Chairmen of Quarter Sessions accept it. If there are serious arguments put forward, by all means let him examine them and give way to them, but not to arguments entirely devoid of reality.

It was then said that slight offences are very lightly, leniently, and appropriately dealt with now. I venture to put a question to the noble Lord which I think is perfectly in point and it is this: Does the noble Lord believe that the leniency which he commends, and rightly commends, in dealing with these venial offences would disappear if this Bill was adopted? In dealing with children's cases I have no doubt at all that these Courts will improve the efficiency that he claims for the present Courts, if this Bill is adopted.

The noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) spoke of the opposition of the magistrates, and he was good enough to talk of chopping logic, an occupation which, I assure the noble Lord, I am entirely unwilling to follow. I can assure him that, in the Memorandum which indicates a preference, by a considerable majority of magistrates, for the appointment of women magistrates, the general position is presented in this way—that the Childrens Courts are a most suitable sphere for the work of women justices we agree, and, as a body, we would welcome their point of view and their help in our administration of these Courts. It is, therefore, the view of all these magistrates that they would welcome the help of women in these Courts. Therefore, most of the noble Lords who are interested in this matter have entirely failed to appreciate what I ventured to make clear in my opening remarks as to the true and only alternatives, as to whether women are to sit in those Courts as assessors, or whether they are to sit there as lay magistrates. I must confess I was struck by the fact that not one single speaker attempted to explain why women magistrates should not be placed in a position which, admittedly, would be fair, the position occupied by women in the provinces. The only answer I have had to that is that the London system was always a different one and should continue to be different. I can only say that, with the experience of the work of lag magistrates at Quarter Sessions and in places like Liverpool, the contention that it would be just as well, as an alternative to the proposals made, that they should be merely assessors, is one that I think your Lordships on consideration will not accept.

The noble Marquess then says that the question is, Are women learned in the law? May with all respect to the noble Marquess, say that the question is nothing of the kind. It is not a question, when a man is appointed a magistrate, whether he is learned in the law. It is not a question, when the lay magistrates are appointed to sit at Quarter Sessions, whether they are learned in the law, but whether, having guidance upon technical matters from a person who is learned in the law, the laymen or laywomen magistrates can make some positive contribution to the work of the Court. And we have these magistrates saying that they would welcome their help in discharging these duties in relation to these Courts. My noble and learned friends, Lord Haldane and the ex-Lord Chancellor of Ireland—both Judges of very great experience—said that the mere fact of appointing women justices who did not possess technical knowledge would not prevent them making their own individual contributions to the administration of these Courts under the guidance of a trained lawyer.

I am not sure whether the noble Marquess noticed the proviso to Clause 1 subsection (1). It requires some modification, no doubt, but the intention of the framers of the Bill becomes clear at the moment of perusal— Provided that nothing in the Order shall prevent a Police Magistrate sitting alone in any ease where he considers that it would be impracticable for the Court to be constituted in manner aforesaid, Or that it would be inexpedient in the interests of justice to adjourn the business of the Court. I think I may say that, although that power is too wide and may, or will, require some modification, it gives to the magistrate whose status it is proposed to affect power to sit-alone if such a course commends itself to him. The noble Lord said with perfect truth that the position of the magistrates, perhaps subconsciously, is that of men who do not desire a change in a system which they believe to be working well. It is a position which one always encounters in eases of this sort. But, as was pointed out by the Lord Chief Justice, it is one which I am certain, in the absence of any alternative, has not the slightest chance of being accepted by, Parliament for one single moment.

I was asked to explain more clearly what was meant by a Central Court. I confess I thought I had made this part of the Bill transparently clear. There will be one central habitation where the officials will be. There always must be, in that sense, a Central Court. We must keep records at the general office where the arrangements are made. But there will be as many branch Courts, where the real work will be carried on, as experience shows to be necessary, and no child will be brought up out of its own locality to the Central Court for the purpose of being dealt with. I ought to have told your Lordships, in first explaining the matter, that this Bill, besides being supported by large numbers of experienced people, has been considered by the Parliamentary Committee of the Court of Quarter Sessions for the County of Durham, which, as your Lordships know, consists of persons extraordinarily experienced in all these matters. They have communicated with my secretary, and after dealing with two matters—of which one rested on a misapprehension and the other has been dealt with—their representative goes to on say— Subject to these observations, I am authorised to say that the Committee approves generally of the principles contained in the Bill. Far from the opposition to this Rill being deepseated, I am convinced that it has no real volume of support in the country, and I challenge the contrary.

During the debate we have had an illustration of the methods by which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, proceeds to collect evidence upon a controversial matter. In the course of his speech, alluding to a most casual observation which fell from Lord Desart, he stated that he understood from his noble friend that the parents of the children objected to this Bill. Lord Desart immediately interposed, and stated that somebody had told him that that was so. Thereupon the noble Marquess said, "That is a very important matter." I venture to say that there is no real opposition to the proposal except an opposition which has proceeded from a number of persons who can be counted on the fingers of one's hand. I cannot believe that your Lordships will take up a position which would destroy in one moment the result of so much labour, and which would leave us in the position of having no alternative proposal to put before Parliament, because, as at present advised, I cannot, and will not, accept what has been put forward by the opponents of this Bill. If such a proposal were sent to the House of Commons I do not believe that the House of Commons would accept it.


If this Bill is read a second time it would be open to me or any other Peer to move its rejection on the Third Reading?




When I came down to the House to-night I did not intend to move, the rejection of the Bill. It was in consequence of what the Lord Chancellor said that I moved——


Order, Order.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.