§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I have to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I am afraid that the Bill does not lend itself to exposition, because it consists of a number of clauses which make minor and, I hope, useful reforms in the administration of justice, but do not embody any broad principle. It is founded, first of all, upon the Peel Commission; secondly, on the Business of the Courts Committee, presided over by the late Lord Hanworth; and thirdly, on the International Convention which was held at Brussels to decide about the immunity of State-owned ships. The Peel Commission suggested that one way of relieving the High Court was to increase the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions, and they suggested that a Committee should be set up—and a Committee was set up by me under the presidency of Sir Archibald Bodkin—to consider what extension could be granted to the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions. The Bodkin Committee recommended that there should be no extension of the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions as at present constituted, but that if Quarter Sessions were presided over by a qualified lawyer then they suggested that extensive jurisdiction should be entrusted to that Court.
The Peel Committee thought that increased jurisdiction should not be given 971 to Quarter Sessions unless the Chairman had certain legal qualifications, and in order to make it easier to find Chairmen with such legal qualifications, they suggested that power should be given to appoint a paid chairman, which is already the law in certain favoured counties, notably those near London. Accordingly, the first four clauses of the Bill are devoted to carrying out those recommendations. Clause 1 enables His Majesty, on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor made at the instance of Quarter Sessions, to appoint a legally qualified person as Chairman, whether paid or unpaid, and the qualifications are set out in subsection (4). Then the Bill goes on to extend the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions to certain offences which are specified in the First Schedule—these are taken from the Bodkin Report—where the Chairman is a legally qualified person, either paid or unpaid. Clause 3 makes the Court of Quarter Sessions a continuous Court, and this overcomes an obstacle to the efficient dispatch of business, which was pointed out by the Peel Commission in paragraphs 222 and 225 (c) of their Report. Clause 4 contains the powers necessary to enable a legally qualified Chairman to be paid. The clause requires an agreement between Quarter Sessions and the county council that the salary should be paid, and also as to the amount of salary, the amount being also subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor. This clause also deals with the question of his remuneration, according to whether he is or is not appointed to the Rating Appeal Committee.
Clause 5 is devoted to another recommendation of the Peel Commission which suggested that the dispatch of business in the King's Bench Division would be facilitated by a re-arrangement of the circuit system. The re-arrangement of the circuit system can of course be done by Order in Council, and a draft Order giving effect to that recommendation is now under consideration by the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues, but part of the system recommended is that civil cases should be set down at least a fortnight before the circuit begins, so that the judge going circuit should know a fortnight before he starts what civil business is set down for all the towns on the circuit, and should finally fix his 972 dates accordingly. If there is no substantial business, civil or criminal, at any place on the circuit there is already a power in the Lord Chief Justice, with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, to direct that Assizes should not be held at that place. The Peel Commission pointed out that it would greatly assist their proposed scheme if this power could be exercised by the Judge going circuit, and Clause 5 of the Bill is to give effect to that recommendation.
Clause 6 deals with another cause of congestion in Assizes and another recommendation of the Peel Commission. The justices can, of course, now commit to Assizes or to Quarter Sessions. Their power is derived from Section 1 of the Assizes Relief Act, 1889, and it is proposed to limit their power to commit Quarter Session cases to Assizes. Subsection (3) is consequential on the reform of the circuit system proposed by the Peel Commission. The Judge going circuit is intended to have such latitude in altering the date of Assizes that it may be impossible for the justices to know whether Assizes will be held within the month or not. The Peel Commission therefore recommended that the section should be amended, and the amendment proposed uses the word "unlikely." There is some reason to think that justices who have committed too freely to Assizes persons who should be brought for trial at Quarter Sessions have done so partly owing to a misreading of the Criminal Justice Act. They may have thought that if the Quarter Sessions were not held within a month they were authorised by the section to commit to Assizes. Care has been taken in Clause 6 (3) (a) to make it clear that Assizes and Quarter Sessions are to be kept apart in construing this section.
Then Clauses 7 to 13, inclusive, of the Bill carry out recommendations made by the Business of the Courts Committee which sat under the Chairmanship of the late Lord Hanworth. The object is to simplify the present procedure of the Crown side, partly by enabling the procedure to be modernised, partly by eliminating obsolete proceedings altogether. The Crown side deals with such branches of the law as mandamus, prohibition, certiorari, quo warranto, trial of indictments in the High Court and outlawry. The subject is very technical, and it is hoped that after these clauses 973 are passed the rules known as Crown Office Rules can be completely rewritten and very much shortened and simplified and made part of the general code of Rules of the Supreme Court. Clause 14 is a clause in a form suggested by the Board of Trade in order to enable effect to be given to the Convention to which I have referred, a Convention on the immunity of State-owned ships, and on the suggestion of the Law Officers the clause has been given a more general application. Any rules of the Court to give effect to the clause would probably be to the same effect as the existing rules which give effect to the Carriage by Air Act, 1932. Clause 15 makes a little more flexible the powers of the Court for the reviewing of orders for periodical payments by way of alimony or maintenance.
Clause 16 deals with another recommendation of the Peel Commission. It raises the jurisdiction of the County Court from £100 to £300 and provides that if the amount should exceed £100 the defendant has an absolute right to go to the High Court if he wishes to do so. Nowadays there is already power to parties to the intended action to agree by a memorandum in writing to give the County Court jurisdiction where the amount exceeds £100. When any action is pending the parties are necessarily at arms length, and this clause, which carries out the recommendation of the Commission, provides that the plaintiff may commence an action not exceeding £300 without agreement beforehand and that if the defendant does not object, then the action goes on in the County Court. It the defendant objects, then it shall be transferred to the High Court. Clause 17 restores to the Chancery Division power to remit to the County Court an action which might have been commenced in it without an application for transfer having been made. The power existed until 1937 but disappeared inadvertently in the course of the consolidation of the County Courts Acts. There seems to be no reason why it should not be restored.
Clause 18 makes clear the power of the rule-making authority to give jurisdiction to the Registrar in an undefended action and in any applications which are not actions. The Registrar now has jurisdiction to try even a defended action up to £10 on the application of the parties, and 974 if the defendant does not appear it seems absurd that the Registrar should not have power to deal with the case notwithstanding his non-appearance. There is a doubt whether the power exists and this clause makes it clear. There are also a number of minor amendments and consequential alterations in the law, and I hope your Lordships will recognise that this is a modest attempt to give effect, not to an ambitious scheme of comprehensive reform, but to certain useful suggestions from the Commission and the Business of Courts Committee. I trust that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to the Bill and that the Bill will, when it reaches the Statute Book, enable the law to be more efficiently and more economically administered.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD CAUTLEY
My Lords, it is possible that I may be able to give your Lordships a little information which may be useful in coming to a decision as to the necessity, at any rate, of appointing a Chairman of Quarter Sessions. I say this because I myself have been Chairman of the East Sussex Quarter Sessions for ten years, and I have also experience from another side, having been Recorder for about seventeen years. In olden times the work of Quarter Sessions was simple because the Court could deal with only a few simple cases. Members of Quarter Sessions were practically all laymen acting under the advice of a skilled clerk of the peace, a legal man, and they were able to get along very well; but in recent years a considerable change has taken place in the work, and the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions has been constantly increased. That has made the task much more difficult for laymen, because each extension has required more legal training for the Chairman who directs that body.
The work was made particularly more difficult by reason of the Act which gave the right of appeal in criminal cases, and which necessitated that the trial should be conducted practically in the same way as it is conducted by a High Court Judge trying cases at Assizes. As a result of all that, lay magistrates have refused to act as Chairmen or Deputy Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, because they did not feel competent to charge a jury or conduct a trial in the method that is now 975 requisite. Perhaps some judges of the Court of Appeal have hastened this result by the observations they have made when lay magistrates have made mistakes. The effect is that, in my own bench, from my own experience, I have been left in the position of not having a magistrate who would take charge of the second Court, and we have been driven to come to the Lord Chancellor's predecessor to ask him to appoint a legal magistrate who should be appointed Deputy Chairman. I have known a High Court Judge serving as Deputy Chairman in East Sussex.
Owing to this constant increase in the class of case put upon them, and also owing to the increase of appeals, the work has very much increased at Quarter Sessions, and the work now done by the Chairman is really onerous in very many parts of the country. He has not only to preside at Quarter Sessions, but he has now to sit as Chairman of the Appeal Committee, and all appeals have to be tried by him or the Deputy Chairman at various times, not at the ordinary Quarter Sessions as was formerly sufficient. Further than that, he has to sit as Chairman of the Rating Appeals Committee owing to recent legislation with which I personally did not agree, in that it has differentiated magistrates from being all on an equal level, as for centuries they were. We have now an appeal committee to be composed of magistrates who are peculiarly fitted to try appeals. How Quarter Sessions ever arrive at that, I do not know. The Chairmen of the Rating Appeals Committees are also magistrates selected for their special fitness to try rating appeals.
Be that as it may—and is—the Chairman of Quarter Sessions has to preside over all these bodies sitting at different times. The result of all this is that it is quite impossible, in my view, for anybody but a man with legal training and qualifications to perform the duties which are put on the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of Quarter Sessions. If that is to apply to all Quarter Sessions in the country, there are not enough idle lawyers to go round to do the work, and in my opinion it has put an unfair burden on those who have legal attainments that they should be picked out to do this work which has been done hitherto without the reward. Personally, at my age, I am not interested in the emoluments to be 976 given to the Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, and perhaps for that reason what I have to say may carry more weight with your Lordships.
There are one or two points in the Bill dealing with Quarter Sessions to which I would call attention. The first is that I do not quite see why, if this change in the law is to be made, it should not be made uniform. I cannot see why it should be left to the discretion or desire of a particular bench of Quarter Sessions to decide whether they should pay their Chairman and Deputy Chairman. It should be universal or, at any rate, left to the discretion of the Lord Chancellor, who could decide on the statistics of the amount of work to be done. The other way in which I would like to see the Bill altered is this, and I am not quite sure if this is practicable: I do not think any Quarter Sessions can work well where you get a body of magistrates, as I have, of over twenty and up to thirty whose main interest in the case is not in the trial, because that is conducted by the Chairman, but really comes in when the magistrates retire to consider the sentence. It really results in the sentence being, so to speak, put up to auction. One man wants one penalty and one another, according to particular prejudices or views, which are mainly those of laymen not used to continuous practice in the law. But the Chairman is held by the Court of Criminal Appeal responsible for the sentences passed, and very often injustice is done to the Chairman. I do think, if it is possible, that the sentences ought to be left to the Chairman or Deputy Chairman because, being a lawyer, he does try to preserve what is the weak part of the magisterial system—uniformity or consistency.
The Chairman keeps himself aware, roughly, of what the Court of Criminal Appeal decides. He gets a general knowledge of what the sentences are to be for certain offences. He applies that knowledge and keeps the administration of his own particular bench as it were on an even keel, whereas if the sentences are decided, as they frequently are in cases where magistrates insist on being heard and taking their own point of view, the sentences depend on a majority vote. Some magistrates take no particular interest in what the Court of Criminal Appeal does, or in what are the sentences for the average offences. Apart from this 977 part of the Bill on which I have ventured to speak, I welcome that part dealing with the appointment of paid officers of Quarter Sessions.
§ LORD ROCHE
My Lords, I also have the honour to be a Chairman of Quarter Sessions in an agricultural county, and I should like to trouble your Lordships with a few observations, mainly on that part of the Bill with which my noble friend has dealt. Your Lordships will have gathered from the very lucid statement, if I may be permitted to say so, of the noble Viscount on the Woolsack that this Bill contains many useful provisions. I think it does, in particular those which deal, from Clause 7 onwards, with the proceedings in the Crown side of the High Court. But, in my judgment, it also contains provisions which are less useful. I know that in moss respects it is based upon the Report of a very important Committee; but it is given even to Committees to err, and in my judgment the Committee presided over by a member of your Lordships' House whose death is so much regretted was like other Committees in that respect.
The only clause in the Bill which I propose to say anything about at the moment, other than the Quarter Sessions provisions, is Clause 16. That is the clause which deals with the County Court. There, I will not say lurking in the miscellaneous provisions in the Bill but embedded in them in a not very conspicuous place, is an absolute revolution in the matter of County Court jurisdiction. I am not at all sure that it is desirable. I refer to the enlargement of the jurisdiction from £100 to £300. That does not mean that everybody who has a £300 case is bound to go to the County Court; but he may go to the County Court. County Courts were intended and designed for poor people, for the speedy determination, mainly, of cases arising out of small debts, and my experience—it is a long time since I was at the Bar—was that the small cases are numerous and the large cases are few. Whether it was because the County Court Judge was more interested in the large cases or not I cannot say, but the counsel appearing in the large cases were able to prevail upon him to take their cases. I know that the small cases had a habit of being left out at the end of the day, and you marked your brief 978 with "not reached for want of time," for which, as far as I can remember, the young counsel received a fee of one guinea. That was all very well for the young counsel, and perhaps that consoled him, but it was a wrong to the small litigant. Think of what that means in lost time to the people who came there and went away unheard. Because I think that this clause will tend to accentuate that hardship on small people I will ask those responsible for this Bill before it leaves the Committee stage of your Lordships' House to consider whether that clause could not be omitted or modified.
But the provisions with which I am really concerned are the Quarter Sessions provisions. I agree with what has fallen from the noble Viscount on the Woolsack and from my noble friend, that it is very difficult if not impossible now for a non-legal Chairman to preside properly at Quarter Sessions. That is partly because there is a Court of Criminal Appeal to find him out if he goes wrong, but it is also partly because the law is much more complicated in the matter of the remedies it provides than it used to be. The difficulty of administering the Criminal Law—and I speak from an experience now of twenty-three years or thereabouts—is not in finding out who is guilty. That is comparatively easy, with the help of that very excellent and British institution, the jury, whose function the Committee responsible for this Bill tried, incidentally, to minimise. That was one of my quarrels with them. The difficulty with a jury is not to find out who is guilty; the real difficulty is to know what is to be done with the person when he is convicted. It is there, with systems of probation, very excellent systems of binding-over, Borstal institutions and many other things, that the lay Chairman feels in great difficulty, particularly if he is embarrassed by such a disorderly set of magistrates as my noble friend has. I wonder he does not keep them in better order and tell them more decisively what they ought to do.
That is the real difficulty. Therefore I agree that it is desirable that there should be a legal Chairman and Deputy Chairman, but in a great number of cases there is a legal Chairman and Deputy Chairman. In the part of the country with which I am best acquainted, what is called 979 the Oxford circuit, consisting of six or seven counties, there is only one county which has not got a legal Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and I am not sure that this Bill goes the best way about extending that very desirable system. I will tell your Lordships why, in the hope that this may be considered, because the Bill does tend to advocate what I may call the appointment of an official legal Chairman from outside. They are to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. I agree that it would be very wise that the Lord Chancellor should have something to say upon it, but I am not sure that the agricultural counties, with all their pride, will like the appointment to rest only with the Lord Chancellor. I think they would like, if they are going to adopt this Bill, to have a say as to who the Chairman is to be, and they would prefer that he should be a local person. This Bill is rather drawn upon the basis that the Chairman is always to be a paid Chairman. My noble friend was of that opinion. The noble Viscount on the Woolsack shakes his head. The Bill makes it merely permissive, but it is so drawn in some details as to give rise to that impression; nay more, to put more duties upon the legal Chairman who may be appointed than ought to be put upon him. It does this rather on the basis that he is to be a paid Chairman.
I will very shortly illustrate what I mean. In my view it would be a grave misfortune if in the average county the Chairman of Quarter Sessions were paid. I think that many of the Chairmen would prefer not to be paid. This is a matter going back five hundred or six hundred years. There is a long tradition of honorary and voluntary service in the Chairmanship of Quarter Sessions. In my view, although it is extremely desirable where counties have become almost suburban, and the amount of time required from the Chairman runs into months, that he should be paid, in the ordinary county where probably fourteen days would see it through it is most desirable that he should be unpaid. This Bill provides, in Clause 1, that the appointment should be in the hands of the Lord Chancellor. By Clause 3—I call attention to this as an instance of putting too much upon the Chairman or Deputy Chairman—if he is 980 appointed under this Bill, he is of necessity there for life (that is, during good behaviour), and he is made of necessity Chairman of the Appeal Committee. It is true both of lay Chairmen of Quarter Sessions and legal Chairmen of Quarter Sessions that they do not always retire when they ought to retire. People do not always know when they become very deaf. I think counties will resent having a Chairman appointed for them for ever. In the county with which I am most familiar, we appoint for a term, for the very simple reason that there was so much trouble in getting rid of the last Chairman. There is no harm in saying that. He is far beyond the reach of anything that may be said here. That will not be altered by having a legal Chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor. I think it would be very wise, if I may suggest it to those responsible for the Bill, that there should be provision for appointment for a term as well as for appointment absolutely and for ever.
Then there is the other point under Clause 3, that when the Chairman is appointed he becomes automatically Chairman of the Appeal Committee. It is very desirable that there should be a competent Chairman hearing appeals from petty sessions, but it does not at all follow that he need be Chairman of Quarter Sessions. There is such a thing as over-burdening the back of the camel, or of the Chairman. In the county with which I am conversant, we have one High Court Judge as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, but he is happy enough to have another High Court judge as Chairman of the Appeal Committee. I suggest that by an Amendment, which I think could be done by appropriate words, it should be made plain that, although the appointed Chairman may be Chairman of the Appeal Committee if it is so agreed, he need not of necessity be so. The Bill makes provision of an optional character with regard to the Chairman of the Rating Committee in Clause 4, and I would ask those responsible for this Bill to consider whether that should not be done with regard to the Chairman of the Appeal Committee. The gist of what I want to convey by these observations is that the Bill is all right in so far as it extends the system of legal Chairmen, but that there should be very careful consideration in Committee to see 981 whether the Bill does in the best way carry out the object for which it is designed.
§ LORD WRIGHT
My Lords, I welcome this Bill in its various parts. So far as Quarter Sessions are concerned, I welcome it as a real step to a uniform system of having legal Chairmen of Quarter Sessions. We all know that in practice now Quarter Sessions generally choose as their Chairman a legally qualified member. I do not want to say a word against the very admirable work done by lay Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, but in my own experience in regard to Quarter Sessions it has seemed to me very desirable indeed that there should be, not in some cases or in many cases, but in all cases, a legally qualified Chairman. What my noble and learned friend has said about the Chairman of the Appeal Committee is certainly a matter that should be considered. I was myself for some years Chairman of the Appeal Committee and I did not consider that that was compatible with being Chairman of Quarter Sessions in general. I have retired entirely now, but it seems to me that in most cases you want a legally qualified Chairman of Quarter Sessions and a legal Chairman of the Appeal Committee. That difficulty might be got over by appointing both a Chairman and a Deputy Chairman, either of whom might act as Chairman of the Appeal Committee. I do not read this Bill as providing that the legally qualified Chairmen are to be paid. I do not read that as the intention at all, and I should imagine that those Chairmen of Quarter Sessions who are lawyers would not desire to be paid at all, although it is perfectly proper, and indeed necessary, in the case of those Chairmen of Quarter Sessions who sit in thickly populated districts where there is a great amount of business to be done.
I should hope that this Bill will receive a Second Reading from your Lordships' House, and that various points of detail which require reconsideration will be dealt with in Committee or on the Report stage. Many of the provisions of the Bill I could not do other than applaud because many of them are based upon recommendations of a Committee of which I was a member, and I will say nothing more about them. There is only one other point I want to mention, and 982 that is Clause 14, the effect of which is to enable the Government to ratify the Convention of Brussels of 1926 for regulating the immunity of State-owned vessels. I do not know that that question is so urgent as it was in the years immediately following the War, when Governments were possessed with a desire to own fleets of mercantile vessels and it became a real hardship, and indeed an outrage, that those trading vessels should be run purely for profit but free from the obligations to other vessels and to the owners of cargo that they carried which applied to private vessels. That Convention has remained for twelve years unratified by this country, although most other mercantile and civilised countries have already ratified it. I should welcome this ratification, and I may point out that it contains a safeguard to this country, because there is power to revoke it in the event of war. In the event of war it may well be that the British Government would desire to revert to the immunity of vessels owned and operated by itself even if employed in trading voyages. I venture to submit that this Bill should receive a Second Reading and that any matters of detail should be dealt with in Committee.
§ LORD CARNOCK
My Lords, I suppose very few of your Lordships are really conversant with the County Courts. I am, as a more or less briefless barrister. There have been times when I have appeared for poor people in the County Courts. I do not believe your Lordships realise how important are the County Courts to the poor people of this country. Pitiful stories are put before the County Court Judge, and from long experience he is well able to deal with them. I suggest that if the limitation of amount is put up to £300 a totally different class of person is going to appear in the County Court. Times alter, but work in the County Court is enormous at the present moment and deals with comparatively poor people. If you are going to put half the work of the High Court into the County Court, how is the County Court Judge, the Registrar, or anybody going to be able to deal with these people? They cannot do it; it is impossible. That is all I wish to say.
§ LORD ATKIN
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive another lawyer for saying a few words on this Bill. It is, 983 however, very much of a legal Bill, and there are two points which I think are of great importance. They both deal with the extended jurisdiction to be given to Quarter Sessions. I think the opinion of the Peel Committee, which this Bill adopts, was that this extended jurisdiction should be given to Quarter Sessions; and they made it a condition, with which I entirely agree, that extended jurisdiction should not be given to Quarter Sessions unless the Chairman was qualified in the direction that has been mentioned in the Bill. But the provision in this Bill which I think perhaps might deserve reconsideration is that the extended jurisdiction is optional. That is to say, if Quarter Sessions do not care to apply for a qualified Chairman, their jurisdiction will not be extended. To my mind it is a new principle in legislation that you should leave it to the tribunal to decide whether it should have more work to do or not. I cannot help thinking that in a great many cases, for the reasons which I shall mention, Quarter Sessions will elect not to have an extended jurisdiction. The persons who have business in Quarter Sessions are entitled to consideration in this matter. May I say that they include persons accused of offences, because they are not always found guilty; they are sometimes acquitted. If there is to be jurisdiction to try cases in their own county at Quarter Sessions, I rather suggest that it should be uniform all round. I think it would be a great misfortune that in populous county A there should be an extended jurisdiction and in populous county B there should not, just because Quarter Sessions do not choose to apply for a qualified Chairman.
But if they are to get the extended jurisdiction, two things must happen. First of all the Chairman of that county must resign, and though they have at the present moment a qualified Chairman, yet they will not get the extended jurisdiction unless he has been appointed under this measure by the Lord Chancellor. I rather assume that if there is a qualified Chairman already in existence it is probable that the Lord Chancellor will appoint him, but it by no means follows, and there are different considerations of age and so forth that might lead to a difficulty in that respect. The real objection, however, is to my mind this. 984 The Chairman of Quarter Sessions, after all, has been for a great number of years a man of weight and importance in county affairs. He is chosen by his brother magistrates. He performs very important functions other than in the trial of cases and in the hearing of appeals. He acts as Chairman of Quarter Sessions in reference to quite an amount of administrative county work which is still left to Quarter Sessions.
I feel great misgivings as to whether or not Quarter Sessions will be likely to accept this boon of extended jurisdiction if as a condition of it they are not allowed to choose their own Chairman. Of course they must choose a Chairman who has the qualifications, and of course it is perfectly proper that the Chairman should be approved by the Lord Chancellor. But this proposal is something quite different. The existing Chairman has got to be wiped out, for the time being at any rate, and a Chairman whom they have not chosen has to be given to them by the Lord Chancellor. With great respect, I think that is a mistake, and that the same result would be arrived at with complete success by the proposal made by my noble and learned friend Lord Roche, that Quarter Sessions should be allowed to elect their Chairman subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor. In those circumstances I think it is much more likely that Quarter Sessions will take the first step—the appointment has to be made at their instance—to get the extended jurisdiction. Unless something of that kind is done I very much fear that this extended jurisdiction, which will be, as I think, of the greatest value to the administration of justice, will fail to have the extended operation which it ought to have.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lords who have joined in this debate for the suggestions which they have made. These, as they truly say, are Committee points and shall receive attention and discussion. I should like to give a brief answer—only a brief answer, because I do not want to commit myself on points which I may accept in Committee. But my noble friend Lord Cautley—who is, incidentally, the Chairman of my Quarter Sessions; I have sat with him—suggested that the jurisdiction should be made uniform. My noble friend Lord 985 Roche gave the answer to that suggestion. Some counties—urbanised counties and the like—need this jurisdiction; some agricultural counties do not need it. It would be impossible to compel all counties to accept this jurisdiction so as to enable the counties which need it to have it.
My noble friend suggested that there should be an amendment of the law to give the Chairman the power to give sentences. The justices who sit in Quarter Sessions are the justices who sit in petty sessions. They have jurisdiction to give sentences there, and in the Quarter Sessions they will be obviously guided by the advice and the counsel of the Chairman. They will learn to administer the law and to fix the sentences according to the principles laid down by the Court of Criminal Appeal and explained to them by the Chairman of Quarter Sessions. I remember my noble friend expounding to his bench, quite powerfully, the sentence which he wanted to give when I did not agree with it, and it will not be a surprise to noble Lords to learn that the Bench agreed with him and not with me! That is an instance of the influence and power of the legally qualified Chairman of Quarter Sessions.
Then my noble friend Lord Roche referred to Clause 16—that is the County Courts clause—and the noble Lord, Lord Carnock, said that it would completely revolutionise the character of the County Courts. I am afraid my noble friend is guilty of a little exaggeration there, because I have caused a calculation to be made—of course only a rough one—and my advisers tell me that there are only 750 cases in a year which would be started in the County Court by this procedure and which are now started and tried in the High Court. That is not half the cases and would not swamp the Courts. Of those 750 there are some in which the plaintiffs would not desire to avail themselves of this suggestion, and there are more in which the defendant would avail himself of his right to get the case transferred to the High Court. Therefore I do not think it is quite accurate to say that the County Courts will be swamped and that they will be deprived of their character as the poor man's courts. I remember that something of the kind was said on each occasion when the County Court jurisdiction was extended and I doubt very much whether this very modest proposal will have that effect.
986 My noble friend Lord Wright referred to Clause 14 and mentioned the power of revocation in time of war. He remarked also that this Convention which was signed in Brussels was made in 1926 and now it is 1938. I am glad to tell your Lordships that it is not so long as it seems, because in 1935 a supplementary or amending Convention was signed and from 1926 to 1935 was spent in getting the nations to agree to amend the Convention in a sense which this country and others desired. Therefore, it was only from 1935 to 1938 that we have had to wait.
Then my noble friend Lord Atkin said that it was desirable to allow the Quarter Sessions to elect their own Chairman. That I shall be glad to consider and discuss with him and my noble friends Lord Wright and Lord Roche. We will look into it and see what is desirable. My noble friend Lord Atkin also said that it is a mistake to give the Quarter Sessions an option. In other words he argues that this should be made uniform. I think I have given the answer, which I suggest is a satisfactory answer, to Lord Cautley, and my noble friend Lord Roche agreed with me that it was not desirable to compel a county to take a qualified Chairman. It is quite true that this Bill does not compel the counties to pay a Chairman. I have no doubt that many legally qualified Chairmen will continue to give their services, as they have done in the past, and as my noble friends have done for example in their own counties, and that they will not want any remuneration. Section 4 only provides that if it is desirable to pay a Chairman, and the county council and Quarter Sessions agree that it is necessary and desirable to have a paid Chairman, then it shall be open to them to fix the salary with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor. In fact several of the counties have had Private Bills passed giving them that power; I think Hertfordshire, and of course Middlesex. I think probably it will be useful, to help the counties where the work is excessive, that they should have power to pay a Chairman. I think all the points which have been raised—points which can be usefully considered in Committee—have been answered, and I thank the House and my noble friends once more for the attention and care which they have given to the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.