HL Deb 11 July 1951 vol 172 cc797-800

5.10 p.m.

LORD MERTHYR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in making regulations under Section 42 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, it is intended to provide for compensation for loss of office for part-time clerks to justices; and if not, what are the reasons for this derision; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: I now formally move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I do so in order to make a few remarks upon what has transpired in the debate on the Motion put forward by Lord Llewellin. I may say at once, however, that I do not propose to ask your Lordships to divide on my Motion. First of all, I should like to correct an inaccuracy in my earlier speech. I think I said that the Middlesex and London Private Bills were withdrawn because of the impending Justices of the Peace Act. I now understand that that is not correct, and that, in fact, those Acts were repealed by the Justices of the Peace Act. However, I think that this reinforces my point rather than detracts from it.

Secondly, I should like to point out one small detail which, so far as I know, has not been mentioned this afternoon; that is that this compensation, if paid, comes in the first place not from national but from local funds. That is set out in Section 42 (3). Whether there is a contribution from national funds, as I think there may be, under the rather complicated financial provisions of this Act, I am not quite certain, but at least a substantial proportion of this money will come from the ratepayers. The point I wish to make is that local people are not going to make irresponsible decisions about payment of compensation when they know that at any rate a substantial part of it will have to come from their local funds. May I further make it plain that what I am asking for in the way of regulations is not necessarily an exact replica of the regulations under the 1933 Act, which, I understand, are, in the view of some people, imperfect? What I am asking for is that regulations should be made ad hoc under the section of the 1949 Act specially providing for these regulations. Perhaps I may now say just a few words on that subject.

I should like, first, to join with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roche, in making it plain that I agree that the Lord Chancellor, with his usual frankness, certainly did not withhold anything from us in his Second Reading speech in 1949. But I also agree with all those who have said that in 1949 it must have been—if I may so put it—in the Lord Chancellor's mind, as well as in ours, that compensation would be paid. I firmly believe that to be so. I cannot think that, if it were not so, the Lord Chancellor would not have told us. I paid special attention to the words of the noble and learned Viscount this afternoon. He said, if I understood him aright, that he would welcome the power to pay this compensation. I do not want to take any unfair advantage of any statement, but if the Lord Chancellor would welcome this power I think I hav1e every reason to expect that this compensation may be granted, because the power can be his under this Act. There is no question of any further legislation being required. The machinery for granting this power is there, and it has only to be started.

One further point. The Lord Chancellor defended any possible change in financial policy by saying that, compared with 1933, we have full employment to-day. Surely there was full employment in 1949. What change has there been in the degree of employment between 1949 and 1951? And if, therefore—and I say this with all respect—this argument is to have any validity why was it not put forward in 1949? Why was it not mentioned then? Why was it withheld until 1951? The Lord Chancellor has been good enough to say that he will put this point to His Majesty's Treasury. On that understanding, and having made it plain that we shall await the answer with great interest and expectation, I will not press this Motion this afternoon. But I should like to say that I reserve the right to bring it up again, if need be. I hope that there will not be any need to do so, and that we shall have an announcement saying that, in the light of your Lordships' debate to-day, compensation will be paid. If I am in order in doing so in the same speech—I am not sure if I am—I would ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw the Motion which I have on the Order Paper.


My Lords, as the noble Lord has made his speech, I think it would be more usual, if I may say so, if the Motion were put, thus giving anyone who wants it the chance of speaking upon it or of answering it. After that it may be withdrawn—but not now.


Then I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity of saying just one or two words, and of pointing out to Lord Merthyr that, when a noble Lord makes a speech in regard to a Motion, it would not be right that he should, thereafter, withdraw it unless and until other noble Lords have had a chance of speaking upon it. The only way to give other noble Lords the right to speak upon it is for me to put the Motion; then, of course, anyone who has something to say may say it, and the noble Lord can afterwards withdraw the Motion. I feel sure that that is right and in accordance with our practice. I just want to say—as I believe I have already said—that I do not think that the minds of any of us were directed to this point about compensation for part-time people when we were discussing the Bill. Applying my mind to it now, I strongly suspect that, had I been asked the question at the time, I should have said that the Roche Committee's recommendations were applicable; that is to say, that part-time people can be compensated. If only someone nad raised the point, I should have sought advice and instructions from the Treasury people about this matter. I am certain that had I realised at the time that the intention was not to give compensation to part-time people I should have told your Lordships so.

The other thing I want to say is this. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, told the House that I said I should welcome power in this connection. I think I qualified it in this way—I said that I, as Minister in charge of this measure, should welcome power. I have to remember that I have a dual capacity; I cannot claim to be a complete individual in these matters. I have to carry my colleagues with me. Let me assure the noble Lord that there are all sorts of powers that the Lord Chancellor would like to have but which he cannot get from the Treasury. One such power concerns His Majesty's Judges in certain respects. But it does not by any means follow that, because I should like to have a power, therefore I should get it. What I said to your Lordships when I was replying to the case most forcibly put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and by other speakers, was designed to make it quite plain that, whilst I have no right whatever to guarantee, and still less to lead your Lordships to suppose, that the Treasury will accept the request that I make, I will certainly make that request with such energy and capability as I can.


My Lords, I do not want to inflict another speech on the House; therefore I beg leave to withdraw my Motion. In doing so may I say that I recognise that I was wrong in seeking to withdraw my Motion before it had been put to the House.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.