§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Royle (Salford, West)
On a point of Order, Mr. Bowles, I wonder if I might have your guidance? Later on the Order Paper there is a new Clause in my name and in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd) dealing with the question of mayors as ex officio magistrates. I wonder if that Clause will still be in Order, if Clause 2 is carried?
The hon. Member is on a good point, and if he is to make a speech he should make it now, because his Clause will not be called, if Clause 2 is ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Royle
The Committee will realise that two or three new Clauses have been put down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney and myself raising the whole question of ex officio representation on benches of magistrates. The case I have in mind relative to Clause 2 concerns the fact that mayors can be made magistrates for 12 months during the course of their mayoralty and for a further 12 months when that mayoralty ceases. I submit that that is a very undesirable thing. During the Debates in another place the 1716 question of mayors being ex officio magistrates was not discussed, but matters relating to chairmen of county councils and chairmen of district councils were discussed by the other place, and, ultimately, Amendments put down were withdrawn, but only after a great deal of consideration.
I submit that we have now reached the stage in the appointment of magistrates in which there should be no ex officio appointments of any kind. I should not like to say anything derogatory of the very estimable citizens of many of our towns and counties who attain the office of mayor, or chairman of the county council or district council, or of their suitability for the job concerned. It is altogether wrong that, having been selected for one purpose, a man should automatically be selected for another and entirely different purpose.
In my submission there is not the slightest relationship between the duties of a mayor and the duties of a magistrate. While I do not wish to occupy the time of the Committee for long in view of the anxiety of my right hon. Friends that this Bill shall become law, I wish to submit as seriously as I possibly can that after the discussion there has been on this matter for many years it will be most disappointing if no step forward is taken on this important question. I ask my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to it between now and the Report stage with a view to including in the Bill conditions which will prevent anyone from taking office as a magistrate in an ex officio capacity. I do not think that any useful purpose is to be served by going into the matter any more deeply except to say that in these days we are particularly desirous that people who are chosen as magistrates shall be selected on the basis of their qualifications for those duties.
Mayors and chairmen of county and district councils attain that office in the main largely because of long public and political service, and that must in no circumstances be a test for the appointment of magistrates. There is only one test for the appointment of a magistrate, namely, the suitability of the candidate whose name is being considered. In view of the fact that the new Clause to which I have referred will not be called, I must make 1717 my speech now, and I appeal to my right hon. Friends to alter the terms of the Bill so as to bring about what I now suggest.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Hackney, Central)
All of us are anxious not to put forward obstructions to this Bill because we want to see it on the Statute Book this Session. My hon. Friend has raised a most important point, however, and I appeal to the Minister to consider it. I wish to put another aspect on the matter. The question arises why the mayor or the chairman of an urban council is made a J.P. for his period of office. I have never been able to elicit a satisfactory answer to that question. The only possible answer seems to be that the right to put the letters J.P. after his name is regarded as being some sort of honour.
For many years it has been a misconception that an appointment to the bench of magistrates is an honour or reward for public services. As my hon. Friend says, that is an entire misconception, and if we could remove this practice—and it is only a practice—of making mayors and these other chairmen ex officio justices of the peace, we should be going a long way towards removing from the mind of the public the idea that to be a J.P. is a reward for faithful service or is some kind of public honour. We want it to be understood and appreciated that a J.P. is selected to do an important job of work and that the office is something that should be entrusted only to people who are there to do that very important public service.
It seems a pity that when we have gone to the trouble of producing a Bill of this comprehensive kind dealing with justices of the peace the Government have not taken the opportunity to do away with this anachronism of making these appointments by way of an honour rather than by way of appointment to an important public post.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)
I hope the suggestion of my two hon. Friends will not be accepted. Quite enough harm has been done to local government in the last few years without the kind of wounding references which we have heard today. Let us put this matter in its historical setting. I have always understood the position of a mayor within his own borough to be that "he takes precedence 1718 over all others," that he is constitutionally the person who is the direct representative of the King there. That has been the position for many hundreds of years. If the suggestion which we have just heard were to be adopted it would be construed by local government circles as another back-hander on the part of people who have no particular care for local government.
As the qualifications of a mayor to sit on a bench of magistrates have been questioned, I would say that when someone has attained the status of mayor in most boroughs or that of chairman of the local council, he usually brings greater qualifications to the bench, at least in the initial period, than people appointed justices of the peace on the recommendation of advisory committees. When we consider why some people are put on the bench of magistrates and compare them with the mayors of some of our cities and towns, it is positively insulting to suggest that the mayor does not come to the office of justice of the peace with vastly more qualifications.
I know of a district where everyone who has sat on a hospital committee run by the Primrose League has always been made a J.P. We all know, in each district, in what way magistrates are appointed, and whom to get at. The mayor is only one who comes to the office completely free from any question of being selected by that procedure. He comes to office because he is the first citizen of the borough. If, as is often the case, he has presided over important committees of the local authority and is in office in a representative capacity in the town, he brings to the bench and to the office of justice of the peace a prestige which no other newcomer brings.
We shall have to consider in the next Parliament the position of local government in the light of present day circumstances, but at this stage I think that the position in this respect might well be allowed to rest where it is. I do not think we shall get very much further if we went into the question of why magistrates were appointed and the composition of advisory committees.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
There was a time when I should have had to declare an interest in this matter because I have 1719 been a mayor, the chairman of an urban council and the chairman of a county council, so perhaps I speak with some little bias on the matter and I wish to make that quite clear. We have decided to retain these officers as magistrates because we think that the office they hold is worthy of recognition. I share to some extent the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. Pannell) about the qualifications of most of these ladies and gentlemen when they come to the bench for the first time. There are, however, exceptions to the rule. As one who has also been a member of an advisory committee, I know that there is no bigger gamble than appointing anyone to be a magistrate, because some people from whom one has expected most, turn out to be the worst and some of those whose appointment to the bench one has viewed with some degree of hesitation have proved to possess just those qualities which a magistrate requires.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds said that there have been certain alterations made in local government in recent years and that it is desirable that we should preserve, so far as we possibly can, the status of local government in the eyes of the community. I believe that this is one of the best ways of doing it. But we have made certain alterations, particularly with regard to mayors. The mayor in future will not be the chairman of the bench and I think that that is a desirable reform. It is not desirable that a newly-appointed magistrate should step immediately into the chair.
Secondly, we have deprived the ex-mayor of the 12 months period as a magistrate that followed his mayoralty. I understand that there has always been some doubt as to exactly what position he occupied during that period. Where there was no borough bench it was unusual for him to sit as a magistrate during a second year, but he could still sign papers and carry on administrative work as a justice.
I think it is desirable that these public officers should find their office carrying this distinction, but it must be borne in mind that if an unsuitable mayor or chairman is elected the Lord Chancellor has the power, which he has exercised in quite recent years, to prevent him from 1720 sitting on the bench. With the reforms we have in this Measure regarding the position of the mayor, and having regard to the power of the Lord Chancellor in the matter, I think we can safely leave these few people on the bench. They bring to the deliberations of the justices a knowledge of the district which is useful. I hope that the Committee will feel that we have removed the worst anomalies in connection with this matter and that what remains, in view of the general size of a bench, does not amount to so much that we need regard the arrangements we are now making with anything other than favour.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland)
May I suggest to the Home Secretary with regard to Clause 4, paragraph (a), that Clause 5 would certainly cover it—
We are discussing whether Clause 2 should stand part of the Bill. I have said nothing yet about Clause 4. It may come later.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.