HL Deb 04 April 1973 vol 341 cc382-404

8.23 p.m.

LORD AVEBURY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy regarding the provision of judges' lodgings and whether they will reconsider their decision to use Bilsborrow Hall for this purpose. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am afraid I shall not be able to emulate the admirable brevity of the noble Lord who has just concluded the previous debate. There is a great deal to say on the subject which I am about to embark on: the purchase of Bilsborrow Hall for the purpose of judges' lodgings at a cost to the Department of the Environment of £100,000 as compared with the assessment that was made by the district valuer of the appropriate figure for this property of £40,000 made in November, 1972, and as compared also with the figure which was revealed by Miss Mary Holt, M.P., in another place of £45,000 which was said to have been the price at which the owner offered the property to the Department about the beginning of 1972. One further figure which noble Lords may wish to bear in mind is that the owner, Mr. John Hencher, bought this property, Bilsborrow Hall, with 10 acres of land for £25,000, as recently as December, 1966.

The first point, my Lords, is how many of these transactions there are in which properties are purchased by Government Departments at prices greatly in excess of the figure which has been assessed by the district valuer. An answer given to me yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, showed that this is only one of three cases since the beginning of 1972 where the Department of the Environment have bought property at figures in excess of that assessment, but the figures in the other two cases are quite trivial in comparison, the excesses being £475 in one case and £300 in the other as compared with £60,000 in the case of Bilsborrow Hall. In both instances the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said that the additional cost was insufficient to justify proceedings other than by agreement with the vendor, an argument which I suggest can hardly be adduced in this case where the excess is so very much greater.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, also said in another answer he gave me that Government Departments should not lay clown as a general rule that Ministerial approval should be sought in all cases where the district valuer's assessment is exceeded, and yet he admits at the same time that these cases arise very infrequently and in exceptional circumstances, so that reference to Ministers would not be a very great additional burden on them and, I suggest, would be appropriate in view of the circumstances which have arisen in this case. If Ministers do, as he suggests, reserve the right to delegate to officials the authority to decide cases in which the amount of public money involved is relatively small, or which do not raise any new points of principle, those limits must, for the protection of the public purse, be very carefully defined.

Another point is that the figures given me by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, relate only to purchases by the Department of the Environment, and he is not able to give me details of parallel cases in other Departments. I think it is very important that we should know ultimately whether the procedures followed by the Department of the Environment are followed in the case of purchases made by the other Departments. Passing the purchase price of £100,000 which has been agreed for Bilsborrow Hall the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has informed Mrs. Elaine Kellet-Bowman, M.P., in a letter he wrote, that an additional £50,000 would be expended to make it properly suitable for occupation by two judges, and that possibly another £60,000 would be needed later on in order to accommodate a third judge.

I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he can itemise this expenditure. It seems an awful lot of money. Is it to be spent on structural conversion of the property? If it is, one might say that perhaps another house which did not need such enormous structural work should have been purchased instead. Is it to be spent on furniture?

I believe that that is excluded from the figures he gave to the honourable lady in another place. Is it on the segregation of the clerks and the marshals who will be occuping this property in conjunction with the judges? Is it to enable them to be in self-contained accommodation where they will not interfere with the privacy of the judges?

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has given as the reason for purchasing Bilsborrow Hall that it is far more convenient than Lancaster for all concerned, because it is significantly closer to Preston where the Crown Court is located than the existing Lancaster lodgings and can be reached in a quarter of an hour from the Court compared with a journey of 24 miles if the judges have to be accommodated in the existing lodgings in Lancaster. The noble and learned Lord added that this was extremely important if an extended lunch adjournment is to be avoided. In other words, it is taken as obvious that the judges must be able to return to their lodgings for their lunch—and I shall return to that point in a minute.

On the other hand, he said that it would be extremely expensive to bring the Lancaster building up to a satisfactory standard. I should like to ask whether any assessment has been made of the amount which would need to be spent in bringing that building up to a satisfactory standard and what criteria are laid down by the noble and learned Lord for these standards of accommodation for judges. Then he said that the lease of the premises expires in December, 1974. No formal approach has been made either to the Lancaster County Council or the Preston Corporation about either retaining the existing premises or finding some alternative in the Preston area, although both authorities were obviously well aware that lodgings were being sought. County council officials were approached informally and said that they could not give any firm undertaking that the lease could be extended if desired because this would be a matter for consideration by the new county council when it came to power. Presumably, however—and this I should like the noble and learned Lord to confirm—the Lord Chancellor's Department would have had a right to renew the lease under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 and does he not agree that it would have been unthinkable that the new county council would seek to evict the Department of the Environment, acting as his agent, if no alternative accommodation had been made available by the end of next year?

As regards the difference in travelling time to which the noble and learned Lord attaches such great importance, between Preston Crown Court and Bits-borrow Hall, on the one hand, and the existing lodgings in Lancaster, on the other, this difference has been timed by the Lancashire Evening Post—to whom I am indebted for a great deal of the information I am giving to your Lordships; they have been, as the noble and learned Lord knows, conducting a campaign on this subject with some effect—as 17 minutes in the morning and 15½ minutes in the evening. The Lancashire Evening Post inquires whether it is really justifiable to spend up to £210,000 on saving the judges perhaps half an hour's travelling time in the course of a working day.

The Lord Chancellor's Office—and this was not the noble and learned Lord himself but one of his spokesmen—say that it is axiomatic that lodgings should be as near the court as possible, and therefore it is usual for the judges to lunch at their lodgings, especially when no suitable arrangements are available at the courts. I take it that it is impossible architecturally practically to modify the courts so as to include accommodation for the judges' lunch at this stage. The Lancashire Evening Post asks whether the alternatives to providing lunch facilities for the judges in Preston, not necessarily in the courts but in some other accommodation, has been seriously considered. There must be cases in other parts of the country where, for one reason or another, it is impracticable for the judges to return to their lodgings over the lunch hour, and I would ask the noble and learned Lord what arrangements are made in those cases and whether they could not be followed in this particular instance.

The noble and learned Lord has said that purpose-built accommodation in the neighbourhood of Preston for three judges and their staff would have cost about £250,000 excluding the furniture. He will probably he aware that this claim has been contested by a leading Lancashire estate agent, Mr. Owen Oyston, who has estimated that a building of 8,000 square feet floor space, roughly the size of Bilsborrow Hall, can be put up to a high standard at a cost of something like £8 a square foot. If one allows an additional 50 per cent. to accommodate the third judge, then the total could be £90,000, excluding the cost of land and furnishings. Even this of course would be a very high figure in comparison with prices that have been paid for other premises acquired for the purpose of judges' lodgings over the last year. These figures have been given in a reply in another place by Mr. Reginald Eyre on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment. I will just mention Lancaster House in Salford which was acquired in December, 1972, very close to the date on which this property was bought, for £28,000, which was the figure agreed by the district valuer, from the Manchester Corporation. I am informed by the Manchester Corporation that the accommodation in these premises consists of four reception rooms, kitchen, usual domestic offices, on the ground floor; five bedrooms, four bathrooms and a caretaker's flat, on the first floor; ten smaller bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second floor, which sounds to me about equivalent in size to the 30 rooms which there are in Bilsborrow Hall but, my Lords, acquired at a price of £28.000 in comparison with the £100,000 paid for Bilsborrow Hall.

The reaction of the responsible people who studied these facts is uniformly critical. I have mentioned the local Members of Parliament, Miss Mary Holt of Preston North, and Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman of Lancaster. Also joining this campaign have been Mr. Alan Green of Preston South, Mr. Edward Gardner of South Fylde, and Mr. David Walder of Clitheroe: they have all favoured this campaign. The Member in whose constituency Bilsborrow Hall is located, Mr. Walter Clegg, I think would certainly have joined if he had not been prevented from taking part in his capacity as a Whip.

The local authorities in the area have been virtually unanimous in condemning the waste of public money and have suggested several alternative uses for the property. They say it is important to avoid this extravagance at a time when the Government are repeatedly exhorting us all that we should join in the battle against inflation; when, for example, Mr. Patrick Jenkin, Chief Secretary of the Treasury, has said in the House of Commons at the beginning of February that we must—and I quote: exercise some measure of self-discipline in the extra demands"— that we— make for spending"; and he called a Labour programme that was under discussion at the time a monstrous spasm of profligacy".

We may think that the matter we are considering is "a monstrous spasm of profligacy", particularly when we make some ordinary comparisons with other items of spending. If we take the cost of a council house built by the Lancaster City Council, which is currently averaging between £5,500 and £6,000 (and the same figure applies to the current building programme of the Preston Corporation); and if we make allowances for the special needs of the judges which have been itemised by the noble and learned Lord, such as privacy, security and seclusion from unwelcome public attention, may we not think it is utterly unreasonable that a judge should be provided with accommodation twelve times as expensive as that allowed for an ordinary mortal family? This figure as I have said, is also completely out of line with the purchase of Lancaster House in Salford, bought for £28,000 in December, 1972, from the Manchester Corporation—accommodation that is intended to satisfy the needs of five judges and their retinue, as compared with the three judges who will be accommodated in Bilsborrow Hall.

On the question of security, which I admit is of importance, the town clerk of Lancaster, Mr. Donald Waddell, has pointed out that the police can cover the existing judges' lodgings as part of a normal duty roster, whereas there would need to be a special detail at Bilsborrow Hall with a "policeman permanently lost out in the country", as he puts it. Since presumably the police would have to be there at all hours of the day, I doubt whether the duty could be covered by one man. Mr. Waddell says he has talked to a number of senior judges, and without exception they told him that they like the lodgings at Lancaster and that they see no need for a move to new accommodation.

Is it the policy of Her Majesty's Government, may I ask the noble and learned Lord, that clerks and marshals should invariably be accommodated in a selfcontained unit which is part of the premises used as lodgings for the judges. "Marshals" are law students who accompany the judges on circuit—a tradition which some lawyers think has outlived its usefulness. The justification for having clerks on the same premises is also not clear, because the judges are not going to reed the services of their clerks outside working hours. All these people, and apparently the judges' wives as well, are to be housed, lunched, wined and dined at the expense of the taxpayer, no deduction being made from their salaries to take account of the expenditure which they would have incurred had they been living at home. There must be some estimate, I think, of the total cost of running Bils-borrow Hall, including the food and wine, the domestic staff, the gardeners who have to look after the ten acres of ground, the rates, the heating and lighting, the repairs and maintenance, and the salaries of the police officers required for security duties. Only if we have these figures, which I hope will be given this evening by the noble and learned Lord, can we make a proper assessment of the whole affair and identify the economies which we think should be made. If they are not available then it may well be that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee will see fit to inquire how the Government can incur these very large bills for acquiring property, without having previously drawn up careful budgets for the operating costs.

What is the impression that all this creates in the minds of taxpayers and electors? First, I suggest, they see that the function of another place as the controller of extravagant and wasteful public expenditure is being eroded when decisions of this kind are made without any check and in some cases without reference to Ministers. Secondly, they cannot help contrasting the lavish provision made for judges with the limits placed on spending for other equally essential purposes. In this connection I should like to draw attention to the remarks of Councillor W. S. Edwards, J.P., one of twenty-eight magistrates who hear cases in temporary court rooms at Champners Hall, Rochdale, reported in to-day's Lancashire Evening Post. This building is a 100-year old former Methodist Church, brought into use as a stopgap when the previous courts were demolished four years ago. Councillor Edwards heard about the cost of Bilsborrow Hall after a long and tiring session in court, at the end of which he could not even refresh himself with a cup of tea. When twenty-eight magistrates have to put up with these conditions, and they hear about the profligate spending on judges' lodgings then, Councillor Edwards said, "It can make you angry".

Thirdly, local authorities have pointed out that if they exceed the district valuer's assessment in the price they pay for any property, the councillors are liable to be surcharged by the district auditor. They fail to understand why Government Departments should be able to work to different rules from those which they have formulated for applying to local authorities. Fourthly, individual councillors have pointed to the needs that could have been met if this money had been devoted to some other purpose. Councillor David Coulston, for example, chairman of the Longridge U.D.C., said that it could have provided an old people's home for 40 people or a primary school for between 200 and 300 children. The man or woman in the street who is faced with increased bills for rent, rates, food and other everyday items not covered by the freeze, but who is strictly limited to the £1 a week plus 4 per cent. wage rise permitted in Phase Two, bitterly resents this example of conspicuous spending on a huge mansion to accommodate in luxury, without charge, people who are earning gigantic salaries and who enjoyed sizeable rises not long before the freeze started.

I think you can imagine, my Lords, how this looks, for example, to the hospital auxiliary worker, whose claim for an increase was "pipped" by the freeze. If we take the woman domestic worker who is employed at the Preston Royal Infirmary or at the Sharoe Green Hospital, Fulwood, in the neighbourhood; this woman receives £14.56 basic salary for a 40-hour week compared with the judge's £187.50, but whereas the judge is getting free board and lodging of a fairly lavish nature the hospital worker has to pay over £4 out of her miserable wage, leaving £10.53 before tax and National Insurance is deducted. It is this kind of contrast between the treatment of workers at the bottom end of the income scale and those in the rarified heights at the top which makes it so much more difficult to obtain the co-operation of the trade unions in moderating the pace of inflation.

It is because of the wider implications, and those I have already mentioned concerning the control of public spending, that the affair of Bilsborrow Hall is one of national importance. I would claim that the Government have been guilty of a serious error of judgment and should now put the matter right by putting the hall on the market and exploring more economical alternatives thoroughly, in co-operation with the local authorities in the area. If it turns out that no purchaser can be found at the inflated price given for it by the Department, then it should be put to some alternative use of greater value to the Lancashire community—and there is no shortage of suggestions available from individuals and local authorities. Thirdly, as I have said, the Government should undertake not to pay more than the district valuer's figure in any future purchases without the approval of the Secretary of State concerned, and without at the same time reporting full details of the transaction to Parliament.

If these things are done, the sorry tale of extravagance unfolded by the Lancashire Evening Post and by the Members of Parliament in the immediate area concerned, will lead to a happy ending, with beneficial consequences for the taxpayer, encouragement for people to co-operate in the Government's policy of restraint, and a lasting improvement in the management of public assets.

8.47 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has put down a Question on the Order Paper which I will endeavour to answer. The Question is to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy regarding the provision of judges' lodgings and if they will reconsider their decision to use Bilsborrow Hall for this purpose. I will try to comment on as many as possible of the statements in his speech, to which we have all listened with interest, in the course of my answer to the Question, though in the nature of things what I have been prepared to answer is the Question and not the speech.

The answer to the first part of the Question, which is what is the Government's policy with regard to the provision of judges' lodgings, is simple to state although it will take a little longer time to spell it out. The Government's policy towards judges' lodgings is that recommended in paragraphs 345 to 348 inclusive of the Beeching Report. We accepted that Report. Their recommendations on this subject are really nothing more than a necessary corollary on the general proposals which they made and which are now embodied in the Courts Act of 1971. Incidentally, so far as I know, although both the particular recommendations as regards judges' lodgings and the general policy of the Courts Act were extensively debated in both Houses of Parliament, they were, I think, almost universally welcomed at the time.

It will be remembered that the essential part of the Beeching recommendations was the amalgamation of the old courts of quarter sessions and Assizes into a single Crown Court. This was the biggest change in our system of hearing criminal cases in our recent history, and that part of it has now virtually been completed. A very great number of points at which the High Court judges held separate Assizes with their judges' lodgings attached have now been closed and eliminated, and this has led in turn to a greater degree of efficiency and flexibility than has ever been achieved before; and although, of course, the vast increase, particularly in criminal work but also in other work, masks the fact, the present system is also far more economical than any that we have operated before. Fewer court centres make for much greater economy, and apart from this there are immense savings in judicial time. I cannot agree that the judges are in the highest income bracket in this country; that is the most unrealistic statement I have heard for some time. But it is of importance to the public that there is a vast saving of judicial time and, in addition, there are vast savings in the time of indi- vidual members of the public whose business brings them to the court, whether they be witnesses, jurors, advocates or members of the court staff. With the increase in crime, I must say that I do not think that I could have administered the criminal courts in England and Wales without the advantages of the Beeching system.

I must explain that for the purpose of administering the Courts Act, court centres are classified in three tiers. If need be, of course the Crown Court can sit anywhere. But that was not the object of the exercise and so in practice the ordinary sittings of the court are confined to established court centres except in the most exceptional circumstances. The top, or first, tier of court centres is still visited by High Court judges for both criminal and civil work. The second tier is visited by High Court judges for criminal, but not for civil, cases. The third tier is visited only by circuit judges and recorders or deputy judges and takes the lower bands of crime. The lower bands of civil work are not taken in the Crown Court centres; they are taken in the county courts which form a separate network of courts. Obviously circuit judges also visit centres in the first two tiers of the Crown Court for criminal business either at the same time as the High Court judges or at other times to try the lower bands of crime which are not normally taken by High Court judges.

Judges' lodgings are properly only currently required for the top two tiers of Crown Court centres—now in 42 centres—which represents a reduction by about a third of the number previously operated under the existing system, which in itself is a very considerable saving. These lodgings are provided in accordance with and on the standards recommended by the Beeching recommendations. I could expatiate on them in greater detail but at this stage it is necessary only to quote their firm recommendations beginning at paragraph 345, where they said: The most economical and efficient solution will be for the Central Government to provide and maintain fully staffed judges' lodgings at the few places at which they will be needed. It will be important for all the lodgings"— I am extracting slightly, but I think not unfairly— to have fairly generous capacity both to avoid any risk of temporary accommodation having to be rented at times of pressure and because we recommend (at paragraph 396) that circuit judges should live there when sitting at the court centres served by the lodgings if they are out of reach of their own homes. They further recommended that: it should be the responsibility of the circuit administrator to arrange for the lodgings to be manned by suitable staff who, as questions of security are involved should, we think, normally be employed on a permanent basis and form part of the court service under the control of the Lord Chancellor. In a later paragraph, paragraph 348, they firmly ruled out the use of hotels or lodging houses except, as they put it: "in exceptional circumstances".

Those are the recommendations which I have sought to carry out throughout England and Wales. As I have said, they were almost universally welcomed at the time and I do not think that the noble Lord has given—and perhaps it is fair to him to say that I do not think he has attempted to give—any satisfactory reasons, and perhaps no reason at all, for challenging them now. We have, by means of them, achieved a reduction of somewhere about a third in the number of judges' lodgings previously required. But, of course, a necessary effect of that is that judges now stay much longer in the centres where they are required and which are retained—as I say, about 42 in England and Wales. Basically, therefore, this has been an economical reform, though it was not entirely done for economic reasons.

Judges' lodgings are divided into two classes: full-time judges' lodgings and part-time judges' lodgings. Full-time judges' lodgings need to be manned at least on a housekeeping or caretaking basis all the year round. They are provided either where the requirement is likely to be for 42 weeks in the year, or where the consecutive requirement for a single judge is estimated at 21 weeks consecutively. The typical judges' lodgings, full-time, provides accommodation for two High Court judges simultaneously, although there are some which provide regular accommodation for three and even four judges, and some which provide for only one.

My Lords, the judge is, as the noble Lord indicated, encouraged to take his wife with him. Not all of course do so, but I am strongly behind this practice and indeed so are the wives. He is entitled to the service of a marshal, not always a law student as the noble Lord suggested, although I would say myself that a young man contemplating a legal career provides the best service probably both to the judge and to the young man because there is a definite educational value behind service as a judge's marshal, and I am far from thinking, as the noble Lord suggested, that the institution has outlived its usefulness. On the other hand, I have known elderly marshals of 65 and upwards who are by no means law students. They are in fact a sort of A.D.C.-cum-secretary. They are also entitled to a clerk and although the clerk is not always accommodated in the judges' lodgings he is required outside court hours constantly and in the typical judges' lodgings under the new régime that I am discussing it is probably far more economical that he should be accommodated in the judges' lodgings than that he should be found lodgings elsewhere. The judge also (although in some very intensively used lodgings not always) usually employs at his own expense an itinerant cook and butler. He has to pay—contrary to what the noble Lord said—for all the food and all the drink consumed in his lodgings while he is there. The picture which the noble Lord sought to draw of dining and wining, or lunching and wining, at the public expense has no real truth in it. On the other hand, he is given a flat rate allowance while he is on circuit which does not as a rule cover his expenses.

It is worth pointing out—and I think I must point out at this stage that it is an essential feature of our system of justice, and one of the factors making for its incorruptibility and for its relative dispatch compared with other countries—that we have always made a point of bringing the judge to the people rather than the people to a wholly centralised Palais de Justice. Our judges are in fact a scarce form of manpower. Every alternative, including, I think those suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was carefully considered by the Beeching Commission, and in rejecting them they said these words which I commend to the House: This is not a question of prestige. It is a practical matter. We demand a great deal of our judges, in ability, integrity, and restrictions imposed on the kind of lives they may live. Having regularly to spend substantial periods away from home is not attractive to anyone, and the conditions under which this time is spent is a matter of importance. May I say this to the noble Lord in passing, although it has little enough to do with judges' lodgings? I was a little disturbed at the way in which he spoke about judges. In order to induce people to take high judicial office you have to compete with salaries in the City and we have had more than one example of highly placed barristers preferring the City to a judicial career which they could otherwise undoubtedly have enjoyed. You have to compare them with earnings in the top ranks of the Bar, and so far from enjoying those enormous salaries on which the noble Lord has been expatiating, with an eye no doubt to the Lancashire Evening Post of which he is, so to speak, an outpost here, in fact of course judicial office, although fortunately eagerly sought after by high-ranking members of the Bar—and I hope it always will be—in fact almost always involves a degree of financial sacrifice.

The reason why lodgings, as distinct from hotels, are considered essential is that the judge must be provided, if necessary, with a high degree of personal security and privacy. He must be protected from physical attack. He must be secure from contact, whether intentional or purely fortuitous, with jurors, witnesses, litigants, pressure groups or even harmless cranks. It is absolutely vital for the administration of justice in its substance that the judge must have nothing enter his mind relating to the case in hand which is not given to him in open court by witnesses and documents, in the presence of counsel and in the presence of the parties. He must have sufficient accommodation to work to write, and to discuss matters during what I shall continue to call the assize, although it is quite wrong nowadays. He must give, as well as receive, some modest entertainment as the Queen's representative during the course of his visits.

It is usually convenient particularly in prolonged visits, that his lodgings should be within 15 minutes of the court. Though the practice is not universal—and I will, if I may, return to it—he should normally be able to take his midday meal in the lodging without prolonging the mid-day adjournment. The alternative of providing separate canteen facilities for the judges in the court is neither satisfactory nor necessarily always as cheap. I will return to this point later, because it is not the universal practice, but it is ordinarily desirable that the judge should be able to go back to the lodging for the mid-day adjournment.

He is expected to sit from 10.30 to 4.30 p.m. We have found from experience that longer sittings, which were frequent in the 19th century, give rise to abundant complaints from witnesses, jurors and advocates who sometimes have long journeys to make, and particularly in the case of jurors who find it intolerable to give the concentration necessary to a case for much longer than that period I have mentioned, although of course exceptionally they have to do so. I must insist that the judge's work is not over at hours when the court is not sitting. That is a very common misconception. Apart from ceremonial duties, which are not few, he has to study the case for the next day, he has to read papers, he has to prepare, and usually write out with a pen, considered judgments, he has to cleat with correspondence, and nowadays, as I have seen for myself since I have been Lord Chancellor, he is pursued with masses of applications emanating from the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, applications to the single judge for leave to appeal against conviction or sentence, which he has to study in minute detail. All this has considerable implications for those who have to provide him with accommodation.

May I say in passing—and I say this without having checked it, but if I am wrong I will write to the noble Lord—there is no suggestion, I think, that, except for the bedroom which is combined with the study, the marshal has separate accommodation from the judge. I am not quite sure about the position with regard to the clerk, because, as I say, during most of my professional life the clerk usually found lodgings in the town separate from the judges' lodging, and so I am not so familiar with that situation.

Perhaps I had better refer just briefly to the old system. Under the old system the sheriff was responsible for the availability of accommodation. I must tell the House that the pattern was not at all uniform throughout the country, and it is therefore rather difficult to give an exact pattern of it. When I went marshal on the Oxford Circuit many years ago with Mr. Justice Roche, I think in 1931, the typical judges' lodgings varied from the palatial (for instance, at Oxford in St. Giles' Street) to the extremely squalid (for instance, at Monmouth, where great difficulty was endured in getting out of the "loo") to the purely institutional, at Stafford, which was comfortable but very formal.

The typical judges' lodgings at that time was a private house whose tenant occupied the premises at a reduced rent on condition that he vacated them without notice whenever they were required to house the judge. There were exceptional places, of course; the Cambridge lodgings consisted of part of the Master of Trinity's Lodge. At some places, the local authorities provided purpose-built judges' lodgings, and one on the Oxford Circuit was at Stafford; and this as the years have gone on has become an increasing proportion. For reasons that I am in the course of giving, they are no longer provided by the local authorities, but I think this is the pattern for the future. In a large number of cases in the past the local authorities paid for the maintenance. In others, the Treasury met part or all of the cost.

Under the Courts Act, we are moving towards a uniform system, although until December 31, 1974, we shall still be in a transitional period. Under the Beeching proposals, in the fewer centres that we are providing, the central Government are to provide and maintain fully staffed judges' lodgings. In the main, when the transitional arrangements are concluded, the Government lease or purchase outright the existing lodgings and, where necessary, bring them up to standard. The actual price of purchase is not necessarily a good figure. The noble Lord quoted, for instance, the Manchester lodgings at Salford, which were bought, I think, for about £29,000. The noble Lord says £28,000; I was told £29,000, but we need not quarrel about that. I am told it would now cost about £150,000 to bring them up to standard. So the original purchase price is not necessarily a good criterion.

But where existing lodgings are unsuitable, or not available to us, or, as in some cases, the old court centres have to be closed in favour of new centres closer to the centre of population, new lodgings have to be provided. These our policy is to lease or buy if we can. It is, of course, possible in exceptional cases that new ones may have to be built. We hope to avoid that. Similarly, one hopes to buy by negotiation. As regards Departmental responsibility, it is for me to decide where the court centre shall be. That limits within a certain radius the location of the judges' lodgings. The Department of the Environment looks for possible sites within the radius, conducts any surveys, provides architectural and surveyors' services, and is responsible for any constructional work. The cost obviously has to be approved by the Treasury. I am bound to tell the noble Lord, although I will report what he has said to colleagues, that in the ordinary course I do not think the matter is referred to Ministers for their personal approval

The old and first tier centre, which is relevant to the second part of the noble Lord's Question, was of course Lancaster. That is where the existing judges' lodgings are situated, and that is where the courts are now being held. High Court judges will continue to sit at Lancaster and use the lodgings until the Preston courts are ready, which I think will be in May, 1974; so the Lancaster lodgings remain the most convenient for that purpose. If, however, they were to have been used for permanent judges' lodgings I am advised that they would require considerable work to be done on them. No particular estimate has been made, for reasons which I shall give; but I understand that the work would have been quite considerable, although I cannot give a figure.

However, in 1971 I decided that the first tier centre must be moved to Preston. At the time, the decision was a controversial one and for me, as a traditionalist, it was a difficult decision. I was reluctant to take it owing to the historical associations of Lancaster. However, I am quite sure now that it was right and it has now come to be generally accepted as right even by the critics of Bilsborrow Hall themselves. It was one of a series of decisions that had to take; for instance, together with a number of other historic cities, I had to downgrade York on the other side of the country from first to second tier, the policy of Beeching being to transfer the courts to the centres of population front which, in the main, work emanated. This was unpalatable to me, but I am quite sure it was right

The decision to move from Lancaster to Preston made it impossible for me to contemplate the permanent retention of the Lancaster lodgings when the change came to be made. I was of course aware that, particularly, the Lancaster City authorities minded this a great deal, but I do not think it was sensible to keep the lodgings in Lancaster when the court centre was in Preston. The Lancaster lodgings are about 25 miles from Preston depending on exactly which route you take. I am told that one route is 21 miles and another is 26 miles. But as a permanent arrangement it is really too far for a daily journey for two judges twice a day. It would, of course, be four times a day unless the midday meal was taken in court. What, if one did that, one would do about the midday meal is less obvious. It might be so inconvenient to do the journey four times a day that one would then provide, at extra expense, canteen facilities for the judges in a private room in the courts; and, indeed, if the judges' lodgings were not in use it might very well be the better of the two alternatives. But I myself am not prepared to make High Court judges—men who have to live the kind of life that I have been trying to describe, who are not in the first flush of youth, although they vary—travel 50 miles a day to and from their work as an ordinary or permanent arrangement.

Therefore, it became really inevitable that the Department of the Environment should be asked to look for an alternative site. Of course, the ideal site would have been on the immediate outskirts of Preston: that would have suited me ideally. My Department is not responsible for finding sites, but the Department of the Environment seached in vain for 18 months, and they came up with only one possible site which was in some ways ideally suited, but in others not. That was, of course, Bilsborrow Hall. To some extent, on such matters as the availability of individual sites, one must take the advice of one's advisers, and since the matter was brought to my attention after the particular decision was made I twice, I think—but certainly on more than one occasion—put it back to verify that there was no other suitable property in the neighbourhood, and on each occasion I was assured that that was so. Not only was I told that that was so, but, apart from the Lancaster lodgings—which, for the reason I have given, I personally am not prepared to accept as a permanent arrangement—none of the critics and nobody else, so far as I know, has come up with an acceptable alternative at all. The other alternative would be to buy a grass field, obtain planning permission and build, and this I am told would cost about £250,000, or perhaps as little as £235,000, at present prices.

There was one defect about Bilsborrow Hall and that was that it was not on the market. It was occupied by its owner. The owner was willing to leave, but he was not prepared to go unless he was put in funds to move to a comparable property elsewhere. Since the noble Lord has mentioned the fact that he originally named a much lower price—I am not sure whether the figure given was exactly right, but he originally mentioned, tentatively, a much lower price—I think I ought to say that I am sure that there was no element of a gazumping motive. The owner mentioned the price before he took professional advice. He took professional advice and said that he was not prepared to go unless he was put in sufficient funds to enable him to move to a comparable property elsewhere. I am bound to say that I understand his viewpont. Of course, it might have been possible to apply some sort of compulsion to him, but I wonder what the noble Lord and the local people would have said about that. I think we would have heard a lot of speeches about Naboth's vineyard, and not so much about Bilsborrow Hall, as about Critchel Down. So I do not think they were wrong in trying to meet the owner on the question of price.

Now it would have been much more expensive to build, and so we decided (or the Government decided, since the matter did not really rest with me) to buy at the vendor's figure. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, and I think it is very praiseworthy that he and other Members of both Houses of Parliament should be very jealous of the public purse even in the case of such relatively small sums of money as this; but I think I can assure him that, at least in my opinion, the officials of the Treasury are very jealous watchdogs, too. After an intensive search by the Department of the Environment, and after consultation with the Treasury, they reached a voluntary agreement with the owner for a figure of £100,000.

My Lords, so far as my Department is concerned, the requirement is for a two-judge lodging immediately. When I say "immediately" I mean when the Preston courts come into use. With the necessary alterations, it is considered that at present prices it may cost another £50,000 to effect the necessary structural alterations and repairs. I am not able to break that down as the noble Lord asked, but if I can give him any more details I shall. The total cost of the house and 6} acres of ground—not 10 acres—in a condition ready for use would on this estimate, therefore, be £150,000. But, of course, although it is a matter to some extent of speculation, it is quite possible, as the noble Lord indicated, that before ten years have passed the volume of work will be such that a three-judge lodging will be required at Preston. This, of course, has necessarily entered into our plans, and we looked at the question whether Bilsborrow Hall was capable of extension to accommodate a third judge. It would obviously be uneconomic and probably unacceptable from the point of view of security to house the third judge separately from the other two, or to dispose of the two-judge lodging and buy or build another elsewhere.

This is where the alleged additional figure of £60,000, which makes up the noble Lord's £210,000, came from. But I must point out that it is a purely mythical figure because it is not going to be spent for ten years at any rate, I suppose, and we do not know at all what it will cost then. The House may be reasonably sure, I think, that I would not get Treasury sanction to spend that or any other sum on accommodation for a third judge were I to be Lord Chancellor in ten years' time; nor, I suppose, would my successor at that time. Of course, I must also add that it does not follow that the judges' lodgings will not be used when High Court judges are not there. Experience does not bear this out at all. Birmingham, for instance, which I think as far as I remember is a four-judge lodging and which I have spent a night in, establishes that where lodging accommodation exists it is used, in the absence of High Court judges, by circuit judges and others when they use the courts and when their home is not sufficiently close to justify commuting.

I must just say this about the standard of accommodation, to which the noble Lord referred as "luxurious". I should have said that Birmingham was probably the best judges' lodgings I have ever seen. It was put up as a purpose-built lodging by the local authority. I certainly was not aware that it was what could reasonably he called "luxury". The service is excellent. It is run by a charming couple. I should think that in standard it is what one would say was the equivalent of a comfortable pension, or perhaps a good middle-class club. But why it should cost so much more to house a person in a semi-detached house than to put him up in a judges' lodging I am not really quite sure. Of course, you have got to house the staff, there has got to be a study and various other accommodations for judges to work in but it is one of the facts of life. I am not qualified to argue it at great length, and I doubt whether the noble Lord is very much better qualified than I am, but at any rate I am doing my best. This is all in accordance with the recommendations of the Beeching Commission, and I have given their recommendations. It shows why I was not able to accept the possibility of the Lancaster lodgings; nor am I prepared to accept hotel accommodation for a permanent arrangement.

It seems to me that the only point which is even open to argument in this case is the price. This is a question of judgment, and, obviously, being a question of judgment, it must be open to question and argument. But when you are taking over 42 separate sets of premises from different types of owner, some of which can be used only as judges' lodgings, some of which are in the market and some of which are not, you are bound to get some bargains more favourable than others. If there were any real evidence, and had I been aware of the fact, that the Government had been improperly held up to ransom by the owner I should have been against the purchase. I would say that I would rather have spent twice as much money on building new purpose-built lodgings than yield to blackmail of any sort or kind from anybody. Nobody has suggested this. It would not be true according to the information I have. Equally, if there were real evidence of a viable alternative at a significantly lower figure, the Department of the Environment must have been at fault in buying Bilsborrow Hall, since the only justification they have is that this accommodation is the only suitable accommodation available. I would agree with that; but no suitable alternative other than the Lancaster lodging has been suggested up to this date. I am not prepared to accept hotel accommodation, nor am I satisfied that over a long period of time it would be cheaper. Lancaster was never a lodging—it is too far away—for a permanent location. As the noble Lord has said, our security of tenure is impermanent. I cannot give him advice about the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. Whether we should have been able to invoke this Act against the Lancashire County Council who owned the building I do not know, because I was not prepared to accept it as a lodging. If it had been a runner, I am told a good deal more money needs spending on it.

I hope that the noble Lord will see that I have attempted to answer his Question, I am afraid at very great length. The last part of his Question was whether we should reconsider our decision on Bils-borrow Hall. He suggested that we should put it on the market. With great respect to him, I cannot imagine a better recipe for getting the worst of all possible worlds. Had we done so at any time after the exchange of contracts we should have had to pay damages amounting to the difference between the open market value and the contract price, and the more the noble Lord would be right about that contract price being higher than the open market, the higher the damages we would have had to pay. Alternatively, if we had given specific performance, as by now we have, we should be in the position of having ourselves to make a forced sale. After the Lancashire Evening Post and the noble Lord have done their best to depreciate the value of the property we are seeking to sell, and after every speculator in the district had been given notice by the Lancashire Evening Post and by the noble Lord and by me that we have on other judges' lodgings easily avail- able by May, 1974, I am not prepared to accept that as an alternative policy to the one that I have decided to follow, which is to stick to my guns. I hope that the House will support me in the attitude I have taken.