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Clause 11

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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Ex Officio Justices

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 8, line 30, leave out subsections (2) to (8).

With this we may take the following amendment:

No. 5, in page 8, line 30, leave out 'third' and insert quarter'.

This has become what we call the shuttlecock amendment. It was in the original Bill. When the Bill went to another place it was removed by their Lordships. It was reinstated in Committee by the Government, and now we have every intention of removing it again.

This is the second most crucial amendment to the Bill and we feel very strongly about it. We are still totally opposed in principle to the automatic appointment of new justices just because they are elected to a district council. That is for the very good reason that they are elected to adminster local authority work, not necessarily justice on the bench.

Should be we lose the amendment, we are grateful to the Government for their amendment which changes the automatic appointment from one-third to a quarter. That at least reduces the number who will receive promotion to the bench by agreement. election or however it may come about within the district authority, but not through the ballot box.

In Committee upstairs it was generally agreed that there were at present 4,500 justices of whom 800 or 900 would be automatically appointed to the bench because of their positions as magistrates within existing burgh councils. We cannot see why, with this substantial number of justices, we need to appoint 300 more. The Minister said that it was a small number. That argues against his case. If it is so small, why are these 300 extra magistrates necessary?

If we spread those 300 magistrates over the district court areas, it means that the Lord Lieutenant's Committee, which works admirably at present, will have to appoint only seven or eight on average per area. It would seem better to continue that excellent system than to introduce the new one of automatic appointment.

In any event, without the 300, there would be an average over Scotland of about 60 justices per district court. I know that more are bound to be required in the big cities than in rural areas, but that shows how the situation is covered without the addition of these 300 automatic appointments.

I believe that only justices who have something special to give to the bench, whether through experience, personality or the time that they have available for training, should be appointed. This consideration must be taken into account far more than their election for the administration of local government.

The Minister has so far failed to prove the issue of quantity and he has not proved quality. I realise that hon. Members are looking at the clock, but I hope that the Minister will tell us what progress has been made on training since we met in Committee. I understood that training might be able to start soon. Has training started? Will justices be trained before 16th May?

I believe that this is a purely political decision by the Government overriding practical considerations, and we strongly oppose it.

12.15 a.m.

I rule out of hand the allegation that the decision in this case is purely political. I gave a commitment to the Committee that on Report the Government would table an amendment which reduced the proportion from one-third to a quarter. Our amendment honours that commitment.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) asked why the Government consider this proposal to be necessary.

I have explained, particularly in Committee, that it is absolutely essential to retain a relationship between the authorities responsible for the administration of the courts, namely, the district and island councils, and the courts. We propose in our amendment that the proportion of councillors appointed by the district councils should be no greater than and could well be less than 300 of the total number of justices in Scotland. We have explained also that those appointed automatically because they hold office in existing local authorities will be short-term appointments, although some conceivably might be long term. However, the long-term appointees will be replaced as they reach the age limit and as other circumstances arise, and we shall be left with an elected participation of a quarter, totalling only 300—and that is the maximum number which could be elected—to help to staff the district courts.

Not once but twice we have justified our argument for retaining the relationship between the district and island councils which are responsible for administering the courts and the courts themselves. I urge the Opposition to withdraw their amendment and to accept that we shall honour our commitment to reduce the proportion from one-third to a quarter.

Naturally we welcome the Government amendment, which has been tabled as a result of pressure from the Opposition and from some hon. Members opposite, but we cannot withdraw our amendment.

Our amendment is concerned not with the overall question of lay magistrates but with the question of how lay magistrates, if we are to have them, should be chosen. The basis of the Government's proposal in Committee was that they should continue to be appointed politically and that the district councils should choose from their members those who should be magistrates. This is not the system which has operated south of the Border, and it should not operate north of the Border.

The Minister knows that, irrespective of whether the political complexion of a local authority has been Labour, Liberal or Conservative, the people chosen have been chosen not on the basis of their ability to be good magistrates but simply because of seniority or their willingness to be chosen as bailies or magistrates. I have no objection to councillors being among those who should serve as lay magistrates, but if they have merits to serve as lay justices it should be for the Secretary of State or the appointing bodies to choose them on that basis.

It has been made clear—and any Scottish Member present who has had experience of local government will agree—that when bailies have been elected the criterion of ability has not been relevant. No indication has been given that in future the district councils will choose magistrates on a different basis. It is absurd to assume that they will suddenly change the habits of a lifetime. Under the system which the Minister proposes, certain people may not be able to serve as lay magistrates because the local authorities in the large cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow will almost certainly provide all that are required.

We shall not withdraw our amendment but will seek to divide the House on it. Whether we win or lose, we think it important that the House and country should realise that a system which operated in the past has no merit which would justify its continuance in future.

The Opposition's argument would have more merit if they had told us what system of choosing justices they favoured. Will the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) contend that the present mysterious formula is satisfactory? Is it a test of ability? In my experience, that is the last thing it is in the county areas, where retired colonels, do-gooders and county types are appointed. They objected to having to sit in court, and that was the thing we feared they would do. It was obvious that they had no concern for justice but thought only of the social position involved.

The hon. Member could have proved his concern by putting down an amendment providing for a method of choosing justices. His real concern is to perpetuate the social system in county areas. I wish that the Minister had not compromised. There is more to be said for someone who is publicly elected than someone who is mysteriously appointed.

The public elect councillors who become bailies and magistrates. I do not know who elects Jps— [Interruption.] If any hon. Member wants to intervene, he can.

I am always prepared to listen to the experts about how these JPs have been chosen. The elected councillors have put up a far better show than have the appointed JPs.

Division No. 158.]

AYES

[12.23 a.m.

Alison, MichaelHawkins, PaulPink, R. Bonner
Arnold, TomHeseltine, MichaelRathbone, Tim
Awdry, DanielHooson, EmlynRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Baker, KennethHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Banks, RobertHutchison, Michael ClarkRifkind, Malcolm
Beith, A. J.Jones, Arthur (Daventry)Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Berry, Hon AnthonyKershaw, AnthonyRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bitten, JohnKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)Sainsbury, Tim
Biggs-Davison, JohnKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Blaker, PeterKirk, PeterShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Body, RichardKnox, DavidShelton, William (Streatham)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Lamont, NormanShepherd, Colin
Brittan, LeonLawson, NigelSilvester, Fred
Brotherton, MichaelLe Marchant, SpencerSims, Roger
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Lester, Jim (Beeston)Sinclair, Sir George
Buchanan-Smith, AlickLuce, RichardSkeet, T. H. H.
Burden, F. A.Macfarlane, NeilSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)MacGregor, JohnSpeed, Keith
Chalker, Mrs LyndaMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Churchill, W. S.Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Stanbrook, Ivor
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Mather, CarolSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Cockcrott, JohnMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinStradling Thomas, J.
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Mayhew, PatrickTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Cope, JohnMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Tebbit, Norman
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMiscampbell, NormanTemple-Morris, Peter
Durant, TonyMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnMonro, HectorThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Eyre, ReginaldMontgomery, FergusTownsend, Cyril D.
Fairbairn, NicholasMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Tugendhat, Christopher
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Viggers, Peter
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Mudd, DavidWalder, David (Clitheroe)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Neave, AireyWeatherill, Bernard
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Nelson, Anthonywinterton, Nicnolas
Gray, HamishNeubert, MichaelYounger, Hon George
Grieve, PercyNormanton, Tom
Grist, IanOnslow, Cranley

TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

Grylls, MichaelPage, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Mr. Russell Fairgrieve and
Hall, Sir JohnParkinson, CecilMr. W. Benyon.
Hannam,JohnPenhaligon, David

NOES

Allaun, FrankClemitson, IvorEadie, Alex
Armstrong, ErnestCocks, Michael (Bristol S)Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Ashton, JoeCohen, StanleyEllis, Tom (Wrexham)
Bates, AltColeman, DonaldEnnals, David
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodConlan, BernardEvans, John (Newton)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Blenkinsop, ArthurCox, Thomas (Tooting)Flannery, Martin
Soardman, H.Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Booth, AlbertCrawford, DouglasFreeson, Reginald
Bray, Dr JeremyCryer, BobGeorge, Bruce
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Dalyell, TamGilbert, Dr John
Buchan, NormanDavies, Denzil (Llanelli)Golding, John
Buchanan, RichardDempsey, JamesGouriay, Harry
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Doig, PeterGrant, John (Islington C)
Campbell, IanDormand, J. D.Grocott, Bruce
Canavan, DennisDouglas-Mann, BruceHamilton, James (Bothwell)
Carmichael, NeilDuffy, A. E. P.Hardy, Peter
Cartwright, JohnDunnett, JackHarper, Joseph

appointed from a background of politics are councillors. That is not so. As I have said, the commissions of the peace have political constitutions. They make recommendations about the appointment of JPs. Through the ages they have represented the political views of their districts. So in this context, all justices are appointed from a political background.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 112,Noes 161.

Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Millan, BruceSillars, James
Hart, Rt Hon JudithMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Silverman, Julius
Hatton, FrankMitchell, R. C. (Soton, ltchen)Skinner, Dennis
Horam, JohnMolloy, WilliamSmall, William
Hoyle, Doug (Neison)Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Snape, Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald KingSpearing, Nigel
Hunter, AdamNewens, StanleyStewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)Noble, MikeStewart, Rt Hon M (Fulham)
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Oakes, GordonStoddart, David
Janner, GrevilleOgden, EricStott, Roger
John, BrynmorO'Halloran, MichaelStrang, Gavin
Johnson, James (Hull West)Ovenden, JohnTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Owen, Dr DavidThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Palmer, ArthurThompson, George
Judd, FrankPark, GeorgeTinn, James
Kerr, RussellParry, RobertUrwin, T. W.
Kilroy-Silk, RobertPendry, TomWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Kinnock, NeilPhipps, Dr ColinWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Lambie, DavidPrescott, JohnWard, Michael
Lamborn, HarryRadice, GilesWatkinson, John
Lamond, JamesReid, GeorgeWatt, Hamish
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Richardson, Miss JoWeetch, Ken
Loyden, EddieRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Wellbeloved, James
Luard, EvanRobertson, John (Paisley)White, Frank R. (Bury)
McElhone, FrankRoderick, CaerwynWhite, James (Pollok)
MacFarquhar, RoderickRodgers, George (Chorley)Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Mackenzie, GregorRodgers, William (Stockton)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Maclennan, RobertRooker, J. W.Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Roper, JohnWise, Mrs Audrey
Madden, MaxRose, Paul B.Woodall, Alec
Mahon, SimonRoss, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)Young, David (Bolton E)
Marks, KennethRowlands, Ted
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Ryman, John

TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

Meacher, MichaelSedgemore, BrianMr. Laurie Pavitt and
Mikardo, IanSelby, HarryMr. James A. Dunn.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 5, in page 8, line 30, leave out "third" and insert quarter".—[ Mr. Harry Ewing.]