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Alteration Of Names Of Petty Sessions Areasoutside Inner London Area

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 31 March 1987

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'The following sections shall be inserted after section 24 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1979—

"Alteration of names of petty sessions areas outside inner London area

24A.— (1) Subject to the provisions of this and the next following section, a magistrates' courts committee for an area mentioned in section 19(2) above other than the City of London may at any time submit to the Secretary of State a draft order altering the name of the petty sessions area for which they are the committee or, if they are the committee for more than one petty sessions area, the name of any of those areas.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this and the next following section, where such a commitee submit a draft order to the Secretary of State under this section, he may by statutory instrument make the order either in the terms of the draft or with such modifications as he thinks fit.

(3) Any order under this section may contain transitional and other consequential provisions.

Procedure relating to s.24A

24B.—(1) Before submitting to the Secretary of State a draft order under section 24A of this Act, a magistrates' courts committee—

  • (a) shall consult the council of the non-metropolitan county, metropolitan district or outer London borough concerned and the magistrates of the petty sessions area to which their proposals relate; and
  • (b) after complying with paragraph (a) above, shall send a copy of their proposals to every interested authority and take into consideration any objections made in the prescribed manner and within the prescribed time.
  • (2) A magistrates' courts committee submitting to the Secretary of State a draft order under section 24A of this Act shall comply with such requirements (if any) as to notice as may be prescribed; and the Secretary of State, before making an order under that section otherwise than in accordance with a draft submitted to him by the magistrates' courts-committee, shall send a copy of his proposals to the committee, to the council of the non-metropolitan county, metropolitan disrict or outer London borough concerned and, if a non-metropolitan county is concerned, to every interested authority.

    (3) Before making any order under section 24A of this Act the Secretary of State shall take into consideration any objections made in the prescribed manner and within the prescribed time, and may cause a local inquiry to be held.

    (4) For the purposes of this section—

  • (a) "interested authority", in relation to any order or draft order concerning a non-metropolitan county, means the council of any district in the county which is wholly or partly included in the area to which the order or draft order relates; and
  • (b) an order shall be deemed to he made in accordance with a draft order if either it is made in terms of the draft order or the departures from the draft order do not, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, effect important alterations in the draft order.".'—[Mr. Merlyn Rees.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 95, in Title, line 9, after 'cases' insert 'the alteration of names of petty sessions areas.'.

    I have not stayed up so late for about 25 years, and I did not realise that such things still went on. In moving the new clause I am secure in the knowledge of success, so it is worth it. In suggesting this measure I have been aided and abetted by my wife, who is the chairman of the Harrow bench, which came into being a year ago. I am grateful to the staff of the Home Office for providing the new clause and to the Ministers for allowing that. I am secure in the support of the hon. Members for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) and for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) who have an interest in the matter. Of course, the clerk of the court, Mr. Gordon Cropper, has played an important part.

    The new clause and consequential amendment are concerned not only with Harrow, because other petty sessional areas will want to make changes. My main aim is to allow the new Harrow bench, which is a year old today, to call itself Harrow Gore. About 25 and 30 years ago I was the parliamentary candidate for Harrow, and having failed on those occasions it is good to do something for that area. I went to school there, my children grew up there, I met my wife there and I have an affinity to the area.

    For the benefit of other areas which want to take similar steps, the new clause inserts after section 24 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1979 new sections 24A and 24B. Despite all the efforts of the bench, it was not previously possible to make the changes, for reasons which are self-evident. The new clause aims to confer such a power and to make relevant subsidiary provisions.

    The new sections set out the procedures that will have to be followed. Under new section 24A the Committee may submit a draft order to the Secretary of State. Under new section 24A(2) the Secretary of State may make the order— he is not required to do so— or make modifications. The rest of the new clause is technical, and there is an amendment to the short title of the Bill.

    Why all the trouble so that Harrow can call itself Harrow Gore? The Gore area of Middlesex— the old hundred— is 600 years old. It describes a triangular piece of land where the Moot court was originally. The site is still known and is at the meeting place of Harrow, Kingsbury, Stanmore and Wembley. Out of that came the petty sessional area of Gore. Why lose it? It was an interesting court. Sir William Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan, was chairman at the turn of the century.

    Miss Audrey Chamberlain has written a history of the court. She points out that when Lord Hailsham referred to the Wealdstone court in his book "The Door where in I went", he mentioned that there was a chairman who was reported to have said to a motorist,
    "In this case the bench consider there is a doubt. We do not intend to give you the benefit of it."

    Things have improved since those days, and not just because Sir William Gilbert used Gore as the title of his light opera "Ruddigore". When that opera was recently revived in London, the Daily Telegraph said that the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan was alive and well and once more abroad. In some small way the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan is abroad in this House tonight, in that we are bothering about something so small.

    It is deeper than that. Over the last 20 years local government reform has swept aside areas and changed names without a thought to the history of localities. The Boundary Commission reported to the House and came up with names and areas that were plain daft. It is important that courts outside London are allowed in some small way— as they are in other areas— to maintain history and remember the past.

    It is easy to refer to suburbia as subtopia. It is easy to be sardonic with Macaulay who said:
    "An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia."
    I do not do it for that reason. In the 1920s and 1930s those areas of Middlesex were covered with houses. Old areas were virtually obliterated out to the area of Watford. Those areas grew grass for the horses of London. In 1902 Laurence Housman wrote:
    "Hendon, and further out afield
    Low water-meads are in his ken,
    And lonely pools by Harrow Weald".
    This is not possible any more, but I like and lived in that area. It is a good area, which happens to have the wrong political views. Gilbert is sitting up there in the elysian fields that are something like Stanmore Common and Harrow Weald Common. When I say, "Long live Gore," I imagine Gilbert is saying, "Ruddigore." I commend the new clause to the House.

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his brevity. I am sure that he, having had to wait so long, has learnt a great deal tonight—as I have—about what the lawyers mean when they use the term "brief".

    The right hon. Gentleman is a well-respected and well-liked Member of this House. With great pleasure I say that we happily accept his new clause. I am sorry that he has had to wait so long to propose it.

    Certainly, the great value of the magistracy is that it can respond to and reflect local feelings and traditions. Perhaps on nothing do these run higher than on the names of the areas. I am glad to accept this. My last word of commendation to the right hon. Gentleman is that, as Gilbert himself would have said, "He is an Englishman."

    I do not want to trespass on the linguistic and legalistic difficulties into which the Minister has got himself. However, I wish briefly to support the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), and thank him for doing something to right a wrong. I speak with some specific knowledge having, before coming to the House, practised in the court of which he spoke.

    The right hon. Gentleman is a constituent of mine, so I am willing to ask that the import and tenor of what he is asking for a specific court be taken on by the Government in other respects. The borough in which both he and I live, the London borough of Southwark, has, for example, no county court by the name of Southwark. There is a Lambeth county court, which could easily be called the Lambeth and Southwark county court, so that people have an association with a court that is theirs. Some of the magistrates courts in inner London, and not just those in outer London, now do not naturally describe to people the area to which they relate. Courts are an important part of the fabric of the community, and the definitions of the boundaries of those are important.

    I hope that the Government will take seriously on board the expressed wish of a former Home Secretary that we do not so carve up our geography that we also lose our history and give people an ever-decreasing sense of identity. What better way of doing that than making our court names once again consistent with their history and their geography? That would help both the identity of the court and the identity of the citizens whom the courts are there to serve.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.