HC Deb 12 March 1964 vol 691 cc681-717
Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, after "persons", to insert: being members of the council".

Mr. Speaker

The House will have seen from the provisional selection which has been communicated that I thought that it would be to the convenience of the House to discuss together all the Amendments relating to the balance between magistrates and elected councillors. I have it in mind to call for Division, if that is desired, this Amendment and that in page 2, line 12, leave out from "county" to end of line 16and insert: being such members of the council of the county as may be selected by the council provided that in making the selection the council shall as to a number not exceeding one third of the total number of members of the police committee select members of the council who are magistrates". and in page 2, line 13, leave out "two-thirds" and insert "five-sixths".

Miss Bacon

The first group of Amendments relates to county councils and the second to county borough councils. From representations which we have received, I think that there would be a general feeling on both sides of the House that one or more of the Divisions should relate to county boroughs, where there is more feeling on this subject, rather than that all should relate to county councils.

Mr. Speaker

The House will understand that the matter has been much discussed and that I was not anxious to multiply opportunities for Divisions in the circumstances. Might I meet the wishes of the House by suggesting that I call for Division, if it is desired, the second and third of these three Amendments and the Amendment in page 2, line 18, after "persons", insert: being members of the council".

4.15 p.m.

Miss Bacon

That would be very satisfactory, Mr. Speaker. Thank you very much.

These Amendments relate to the proposal in the Bill that one-third of all the member; of police authorities shall be magistrates. Our Amendments relate, first, to county councils, secondly, to county borough councils, and thirdly, to combine I authorities, with various variations.

The first group of Amendments would have the effect that no magistrates would be elected to police authorities as magistrates. The second group would have the effect that if there were to be magistrates, they should be those already members of the local authorities. Thirdly, if it is found desirable to have magistrates from outside the local authority, the proportion should be one-sixth to five-sixths rather than one-third to two-thirds.

We have suggested these three groups hoping that if the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept one, he might find himself able to accept some of the Amendments, although we would prefer the first group which suggests that all members of watch committees of county boroughs, or police committees of county councils, should be council members and not magistrates from outside the council.

We have suggested Amendments in respect of boroughs, counties and the combined authorities because we believe that there should be uniform treatment. Until now there has been a difference in that in the counties one-half of the standing joint committee have been magistrates, while in the boroughs the watch committees have not contained magistrates other than those who happen to be chosen from among members of the council.

We have had many protests, particularly from the borough councils which do not like the proposal that the watch committee should contain magistrates from outside the council. The main arguments are the same for both county councils and borough councils, although there is a slightly stronger argument in respect of the borough councils.

What is our objection to having magistrates as such, selected by the magistrates themselves, on a police authority? First, we believe that police authorities should be composed of democratically elected representatives. The police authority is to be a committee of the council, but if the Clause goes through unamended, a watch committee or police committee will be the only committee of a council whose members are elected from outside the council by a body outside the council.

"Selected" may be the better word although they would be elected in that there would have been a vote in the magistrates' committee. But this is quite different from having co-opted members of other committees, such as those who are co-opted members of education com mittees and children's committees, and so on, where the selection is in the hands of the members of the council.

A recent inquiry has already shown that on average throughout the country there are five magistrates on watch committees. In a watch committee of 12, with five magistrates already on because they happen to be members of a council, if another one-third, four members, are to be magistrates, nine out of the 12 members of such a police authority would be magistrates.

I will not go far into the political question, which was raised from both sides of Standing Committee. The political composition of the watch committee could be changed by the addition of magistrates from outside, but I do not consider that to be as serious as some of our other objections.

A great deal of finance is involved for a great deal of money has to be voted. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will argue that that is subject to the council's scrutiny, but in the first instance the expenditure of money will be considered by a committee one-third of whose members will not be elected representatives and elected members of the council. Our first objection, therefore, is that police authorities should be democratically elected bodies.

Secondly, we believe that the judicial functions of magistrates in the courts should be separate from the administration of the police. This is very important. When a man appears in court, he ought to feel that he is being judged by a bench which is completely divorced from, and independent of, those conducting the prosecution. The Royal Commission recognised this. In paragraph 371 of its final report, the Royal Commission said: We understand that in most courts a police inspector is present to ensure the attendance of prosecution witnesses. We recommend that a responsibility be placed on the senior police officer in attendance at court to transmit to the Chief Constable any criticism of police witnesses …". It has been recognised, also—the Lord Chancellor has recommended it and I believe that the Home Secretary himself has issued a circular to the same effect—that ushers in police courts should be lay ushers not police ushers, in order to ensure this differentiation between the police and the judiciary. It is a step backward if, while we are doing such things as this, we provide, at the same time, that magistrates who help to administer the police also sit in the courts.

The tight hon. Gentleman and the Lord Chancellor have gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the courts are called magistrates' courts, not police courts. We believe that having a number of magistrates sitting on police authorities will give the impression to people that the judicial functions of the magistrates and their functions in administering the police are somehow interwoven.

It was argued in Committee that there was a difference between the counties and the towns. The right hon. Gentleman said: I know that in the towns we live much closer together, but we do not know everything that all our neighbours are doing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 5th December, 1963; c. 88] All I can say is that in the North of England we know very much what our neighbours are doing and we enjoy knowing what our neighbours are doing. There is a slight argument in favour of the proposal being put into effect for watch committees rather than for the county councils, but I would like to see both treated in the same way.

Anyone who has lived in a small provincial town will know that at social functions it is quite possible for magistrates, police officers and others ail to be present at the same time. The state of affairs proposed by the Home Secretary can in this context be a bad thing, and this is why I believe that it would he better to have a complete differentiation between the administration of the police and the functions of the magistrates sitting in court.

It has been said that what the Government propose should be done for historical reasons, because justices of the peace have been associated with the police over the centuries. But I think that this is taking the point a little too far.

I call attention to paragraphs 208 and 209 of the final Report of the Royal Commission, from which we see that evidence was received from the Magistrates' Association and from the watch committees. Naturally, the Magis- trates' Association argued in favour of magistrates being on police authorities, and the watch committees argued against, although I understand that even within the Magistrates' Association there was not unanimity on this point.

In paragraph 209, the Royal Commission said: The Magistrates' Association argue that, at a time when decisions of local authorities are increasingly swayed by political views, it is particularly important that a body concerned with the police should contain non-elected persons". Is the Royal Commission seriously suggesting that all magistrates are non-political? Everyone knows that this is not so. Indeed, many magistrates have been chosen because of their political services. But in any case, I do not like the emphasis here and the assumption that because someone belongs to a political party he cannot have the same authority a s someone who is non-political.

The Royal Commission goes on to say that the Magistrates' Association accordingly recommended that the composition of standing joint committees remain unaltered, and that magistrates also constitute one-half the members of the watch committees. Then it said: This view did not find favour with the Association o' Municipal Corporations, who thought that it was inherently objectionable to associate the functions of the police with the administration of justice. Our own view is that this objection is theoretical rather than real, and that there are overriding advantages in enabling the experience of justices to be made available to police authorities. I find it very difficult, from those paragraphs to discover why the Royal Commission calm down in favour of having one-third of the membership of police authorities composed of magistrates. The Commission does not seem to have argued the matter out at all. It seems to me that it thought in this way, "There is none at present on the watch committees. The standing joint committees have half. Let us go in the middle and make it a third on all of them". But no convincing argument was adduced to show why magistrates should be on police authorities in this way. We believe that it would be very much better if the magistrates stuck to their job of administering justice in the courts rather than administer the police as well.

If no change is made, there will be in the minds of people appearing before the courts a confusion about where the magistrate's job ends as a member of a watch committee and where it begins on the bench administering justice. Having regard to the fact that the Government's proposal is opposed by every watch committee of every county borough in the country, is opposed by all my hon. Friends and is opposed by many hon. Members opposite, I suggest that the Home Secretary would be very well advised to accept some of our Amendments and ensure that there is a clear distinction between the police authorities administering the police and the magistrates administering justice in the courts.

Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) has put the case for the Amendments very cogently and there is little that I need add. I rise to speak principally because my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Mr. H. Steward), who took a very active part in the Committee, is unable to be present this afternoon owing to illness. It is my purpose to put the views which I think he would have wished to advance had he been able to be here.

I should welcome the Amendments as applying to both the county police authorities and the watch committees, but my interest is chiefly in the watch committees of county boroughs. I find it difficult to accept that because a modification in the composition of police authorities in the counties is considered advisable the same should be extended to the watch committees. The composition of county police authorities dates back to 1888, and the present system is really a hangover from that time. It was a sort of compromise in order to retain for the magistrates some part of the powers which they alone had exercised prior to that date.

As regards the watch committees, it is important that the responsibility and authority for recommending expenditure should be in the hands solely of the elected representatives. It could be said that much of the expenditure is beyond the control of the watch committee; but some of it is not. For example, the strength of the police force is a matter for consideration and decision by the watch committee, and this must necessarily affect the burden falling on the rates. Neither do I think that the political aspect of the matter can be entirely ignored.

4.30 p.m.

It is admitted and accepted that watch committees have developed a strong immunity to political bias. At the same time, it is a fact that the composition of watch committees is largely a reflection of the political balance on the councils. It is conceivable that the appointment of magistrates by an outside body could upset that balance. A minority group on the watch committee could enlist the support of the magistrates and so overcome the desire of the majority of the elected representatives on the watch committee. It would be very unfortunate if that were to arise as it would bring the magistrates into the arena of political controversy.

Those were the only two points that I wished to make and I ask my right hon. Friend to take them into consideration and to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

It might come as some surprise to the House that I should be supporting the Amendment with a very great deal of enthusiasm in view of the fact that I am very closely connected with the Magistrates' Association. I am one of those to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) referred as taking a view opposite to that of many other magistrates on this position.

For many years I have believed that it is completely wrong for justices of the peace to be in any way associated with police authorities. The basis of this is that hundreds of magistrates—I would say the vast majority—have a feeling that they want to get over to the people that they are very jealous indeed of their reputation for fairness and impartiality, and this can only be carried out in the courts if it is shown conclusively that they have no association whatever with the police.

My hon. Friend has referred to the fact that over the years agitation has been going on, and complaints have been coming from the public, and the general impression has been created that the police and the magistrates are as one. I join with my hon. Friend in thanking the Home Secretary for the circular that he has recently sent out on the matter of police ushers. This is something that I have been "having a go at" for many years.

I have always been concerned that in the magistrates' court the usher should be a policeman, walking round, calling "Silence" when he felt necessary, administering the oath to defendants and witnesses and generally giving the impression that the police are running the court. I think that this is wrong.

I believe that there should be a distinct line between the police and the courts and that all ushers should be civilians. I would not mind if, ultimately, the men appointed to that job happened to be retired policemen with some knowledge of court procedure. The important thing is that they should not be on the staff of the police force.

This is one small way in which it has been possible to show that the magistracy and the police are separate entities. It was during the Home Secretaryship of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that an Act of Parliament was passed that these courts were to be called magistrates' courts and that the description "police courts" should not be used. This has been a great advance.

I have always taken the course, when I see any reference in the national Press to "police courts," of writing to the editor at once. I have even written to the broadcasting people on the same lines. I want to be perfectly clear that what we are suggesting in our Amendment is that that principle should be carried forward in much stronger terms.

Of course, magistrates are not democratically elected. They will not be democratically elected to these bodies. I go further in saying that they are not democratically elected to the duties of justices of the peace. I am one of those who have always been dissatisfied with the method of the appointment of justices. A lot of improvement could take place in that respect.

I have always believed that the system that has been going on for very many years, and which is now being perpetuated in the Bill, of having a standing joint committee of magistrates acting on the police authorities in the counties has been a complete anachronism. In the old days, there were no local authorities in the way that we know them today. Therefore, somebody had to be chosen to administer the police. It was natural in those far-off days that the magistrate of the district should be regarded as the most suitable person for that duty. But that has gone completely.

We live in a democratic age where all our public services are administered by elected representatives—men and women who represent the masses of the people in our cities and towns. It is, therefore, ridiculous that this system should be carried into the future in greater strength than it has been in the past, because now the magistrates' representatives come on to the watch committees of the county boroughs in addition to being on the county councils. This may be the last opportunity for many years for legislation of this kind, and feel that the Government are taking a very big backward step in extending this system in this way.

I go further than what is stated in this group of Amendments. I would say that no magistrate who is a member of a local authority should sit on a watch committee or any police authority. A man who is a magistrate should not be a member of a police authority. I do not believe that there is an answer to this argument. The Royal Commission failed to find one. Nobody can possibly say that a man who is a member of an authority which is administering the police can have an impartial and unbiased mind in the courts when the police are the prosecutors. A magistrate must place as much weight on the evidence for the defence as he does on the evidence for the prosecution, and if he is a member of the police authority his impartiality is likely to be affected.

I plead with the Home Secretary to put the matter right and to accede to our request

Mr. Renton

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royce) thinks that there is no answer to the arguments which he has put forward. I believe that there is, and I will endeavour to give it.

What the Opposition are saying, in effect, is that it is bad for a police authority to be too closely identified with the magistrates, but that it is good for a police authority to be closely identified with democratically elected councillors—in other words, party politicians. I do not see the reasoning in that. The case which is put forward is bolstered up by an attempt to divide society into watertight compartments—magistrates, party politicians, perhaps professional men and perhaps policemen.

I do not know what one would do about a family in which the mother was a magistrate, the father a politician, one of the sons a policeman and a daughter an official of the police authority, which could well happen. The idea of the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) that these people should not consort together on social occasions is, to me, very strange.

The hon. Member for Salford, West is probably a better Member of Parliament through having been a magistrate and probably a better magistrate through having been a Member of Parliament. I do not think that he can bolster up his argument by an attempt to make these compartments too watertight.

I think that Parliament has a duty to strike the right balance, which is what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has tried to do. An exactly even balance, fifty-fifty, was struck on the standing joint committees. That is why I, and I alone, was in favour of that balance being retained when we were thinking this matter afresh. However, if that exactly even balance, which is ideal, is not to be retained, the two-thirds—one-third balance is as fair a balance as we can possibly achieve. I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist all the Amendments and that he will be supported by, at any rate, all hon. Members on this side.

The only thing that I need to add is this. It would be a very bad day for this country if our local police forces were subjected to the control of local party caucuses. That is conceivably possible when two-thirds of the members are local councillors. If hon. Members ask, "What about the Home Secretary? Is not he a party politician?", surely the answer is that this House and the Home Office have a very great tradition which itself is a safeguard and which our local authorities, in their development, have not yet achieved. Local authorities cannot yet be regarded as observing these things in the same way as the Home Office and Home Secretary.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)


Mr. Renton

This is a very short speech and, I hope, a fairly succinct one.

As the hon. Member for Salford, West said, we are legislating perhaps for many years to come. I hope that we do not do anything further in the Bill to run the danger of any local police authority becoming subject to a local party caucus.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I understand that we are taking together the Amendment in page 2, line 11, two Amendments in line 12 and two Amendments in line 13 and line 15 and making reference to the later Amendments which apply the same kind of principle to the county borough forces as the Amendments which I have mentioned apply to the county police committees.

I support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). I have no doubt that the Home Secretary has already spotted that the claim that there should be no magistrate on the police authority has been abandoned. Here we get into a mass of abstruse mathematical calculations as to how the police authority is to be constituted as between members of the council and magistrates. I regret that, while I shall vote for a scheme—

Miss Bacon

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend was present when I spoke—

Mr. Ede

I was.

Miss Bacon

—but I explained that we had three series of Amendments. One proposed that there should be no magistrates at all; one proposed that a sixth of the membership should be magistrates; and one proposed that if there were to be magistrates they should come out of the members of the council. However, we should prefer there to be no magistrates at all.

Mr. Ede

I should prefer no magistrates at all, but my hon. Friend has deprived me of a chance of voting for that proposal.

Miss Bacon


Mr. Ede

I find the scheme unworkable. It might interfere with the working of the courts as well as with the working of the police authority. All the members of the police authority are to be members of the appointing authority, but a number not exceeding one-third of the total number of members of the police committee selects members of the council who are magistrates. There are plenty of county boroughs and not so many county councils which have no magistrates among their members either as councillors or as aldermen. How this proposed instruction is to be carried out, I cannot follow.

Secondly, if too many councillors become magistrates it sometimes seriously inconveniences the magistrates' court when the local authority is a party to an action before the courts. I have known all the rates summonses to have to be adjourned for a fortnight because all the members of the bench who turned up on the day that they were to be heard were members of the rating authority and therefore disqualified from adjudicating on the issues.

It would have been far better if we had stuck throughout to the idea that the magistrates should not be brought into the matter at all. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) seems to think that magistrates should never discuss politics. I only wish that he could spend some time in a magistrates' court while the magistrates were discussing the decisions which they were to make. Magistrates are human beings, like the rest of us. They are at least as human as councillors. They might not be quite as human as aldermen.

To my mind, the arguments used by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) represent what should be the basis of the administration of justice in a democratic country. Having served as a member of a standing joint committee for 30 years, I regret very much that something which has always troubled county government should now be extended to the county boroughs.

I find some difficulty about the way in which the system is to work. Five-sixths of the members of the police authority are to be members of the council—ordinary members of the council; and one-sixth—a minimum, I think, of one-sixth—are to be magistrates who are members of the council.

What is to happen when there is no magistrate on the council? How is the thing to work then? There are plenty of places where that will happen. If I might make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman it would be that he should promise us that in another place he will take steps to pass the sort of Amendments we discussed in Committee and which would remove magistrates from police authorities altogether.

While I shall vote for my hon. Friend's Amendment because it is the only thing on which I have a chance to vote against the Government, and it is more important that I should vote against the Government than that I should vote for anybody's Amendment—that is always my motto—I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman is tempted at all, or is wise enough at to adopt the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East, he will at any rate do something to ease the grave administrative difficulties which, I believe, flow from the proposals in front of us, both in selecting the police authority and 'in running the magistrates' court after the selection of magistrates has been made. The best thing of all is to say that magistrates should not be on the police authority at all.

I do not hold the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West that if we have a policeman as usher he administers the oath. He never has in any court in which I have sat.

Mr. C. Royle

He gives them the Testament.

Mr. Ede

Hands them the card, yes. I had a woman in front of me in court and he handed her the card and she said, "The evidence I shall give should be the truth." He said, "Undoubtedly, madam. Now read the words on the card."

We have to bear in mind that to attempt to put the usher in the most solemn place of all, the person who administers the oath, is to take a completely wrong view of the way in which the court should be conducted.

I shall vote for the Amendment, for if it is carried it will leave the right hon. Gentleman to sort out the muddle which springs from his original determination to have magistrates on the police authorities.

Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

In Standing Committee, we worked very hard indeed to persuade the Home Secretary to alter Clause 2. From both sides we suggested that the democratic principle should be maintained, which was that the members of the watch committee in a county borough or of a police committee should be elected members. While an elected member may be thrown off the committee as a consequence of his losing his seat at an election, the magistrates, unelected, will carry on indefinitely.

I am putting this point again today because, as has been said, this is probably the last opportunity that we shall have in this Chamber for a long time of trying in this way to persuade the Home Secretary, and because it is still profoundly felt by the councils of towns and cities that what has already been decided is wrong. Even places as diverse in size as Wallasey and Manchester have submitted memoranda on this point, in each case feeling that it is quite wrong that unelected people should be on a body of this description, because, of course, the elected members ultimately have to decide on the provision of the moneys for the running of the police authorities.

I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, but I want to re-emphasise the point, made in the Standing Committee, that places like the towns which I have mentioned do feel very strongly that it is quite wrong to alter the present position. It does not seem to those places that what has been suggested is an improvement, and they see no reason why, in producing a Bill like this, a Bill which will last a very long time, we should make such a profound alteration.

I hope that the Home Secretary will listen to the pleas which have been made here today.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

I want, first, to have a word with the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton). He mentioned something about local authorities in terms of deprecation. I think that I shall speak for most Members of the House, on both sides, when I say that remarks of that kind will be deeply resented in many of the local authorities.

Mr. Renton

I said nothing of that sort. I certainly did not intend to say anything of the sort about local authorities. What I said was that they had not yet acquired the tradition which we have in the House, and which is so well understood on the part of successive Home Secretaries, and in the Home Office, and, therefore, have not the means of ensuring all the safeguards which we understand. That is not derogatory of local authorities.

Mr. Winterbottom

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a perfectionist, and when he throws stones from a glasshouse he must not grumble if stones come back to him, because in his daily life and in his neighbourhood he himself would be a representative of municipal authorities.

I want further to say to the right hon. and learned Member, criticising my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), and saying, in effect, that he was talking politically, that the reason why, in Committee, we supported Amendments to keep out magistrates as such from the watch committees or from the police committees in the counties was to minimise, if possible, the dangers of political developments and acrimonious political difficulties arising as a consequence of the introduction of magistrates into watch committees of the county boroughs.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell), who spoke in support of the principle of our Amendments and expressed the view that it was right not to have magistrates, as such on the watch committees, expressed a principle which I accept completely and entirely. I believe that that hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in inferring that if the Bill goes through as it is at the moment magistrates on watch committees will create untold political difficulties arising out of the unwritten agreements which there are in most county boroughs.

5.0 p.m.

As an illustration, the City of Sheffield has a watch committee of 12 members. I understand that at the moment four of them are Conservative and eight Labour, In the event of this Clause going through, four of the members of the watch committee will be magistrates, and the council will have to select eight more, and of the eight, in all probability two will be Conservative members of the council.

But the composition of the magistrates' courts in Sheffield is the result of selection on other than a political basis. If the magistrates were selected on a political basis, the composition of the Sheffield courts would present a totally different personality picture than it does. Political considerations are very often outweighed by considerations of the ability of people to serve on magistrates' courts. The overwhelming proportion of the, roughly speaking, 140 magistrates in Sheffield are known to be attached to the Conservative Party. To their eternal credit, when they are acting as magistrates political considerations do not weigh with them in the slightest.

But here the situation is that if four Conservative magistrates are selected to serve on the Sheffield Watch Committee, thereby creating a perfect balance on it between the two parties, we might have political repercussions within the council which might be damaging to the harmonious relationships which exist between the council and the magistrates' courts at present.

If we are to have this, and if the Home Secretary is to persist, I suggest to him that it may be possible for people in future to argue the converse—that magistrates should be selected after seriously considering what their political attachments are. I am sure that that is not the wish of hon. Members opposite any more than it is hon. Members on this side of the House.

I should not like to see a kind of public demand for an inquiry into how magistrates are selected, with questions of political allegiance being considered in that inquiry. There are hon. Mem bers in whose areas there have been shortages of magistrates within given sections the community simply because there was difficulty in finding people of their political allegiance who would serve. I do not want a political battle to arise out of the decision to introduce a non-political element on the bench into the political element of the hurly-burly of a watch committee.

Some people say that magistrates, because of their experience in the courts, dealing will the problems of the police and the criminals, should be able to bring important experience to bear in the deliberations of watch committees, as is suggested by the Home Secretary. I feel that those who have thought that way have not read the Bill. The duties of county borough watch committees and county district police authorities are of a very limited nature, being circumscribed by the Bill. Their duties are contained in Clause 4. They deal with the selection of chief constables, the problems of buildings and structures, police uniforms and the like. They deal with the local authority contribution to the police fund.

In respect of none of these things is there required any special experience on the bench in coming to decisions. Generally speaking, if there should be in most of our watch committees, if not in all of them, discussions which range outside the duties of a watch committee according to the Bill, then there will be enough magistrates who are members of councils to bring their experience to bear upon those isolated deliberations.

Because of that, I suggest that the arguments which have been put forward are out of keeping with the conception of democracy that local authorities expect shall dominate our thoughts in this House in regard to the relationship between the House and local authorities. More and more Acts of Parliament are thrusting responsibility upon local authorities. More and more, in the devolution of authority, the actual administrative function is performed by local authorities. Yet an important Bill like this will take powers away from local authorities, so that even in considering the financial contribution to the police fund the council which has elected the watch committee will be powerless against the decision of a committee which might be dominated by people of a non-elected character.

That is a very important consideration. I do not wonder that municipal authorities throughout the country are protesting about this attitude towards their local responsibilities with regard to watch committees. As I have said previously, although the Home Secretary may say that I am a Jonah, a pessimist and looking for danger which does not exist, I feel that if he persists with the Clause he will create more political confusion and strife in local authorities and controversy between local authorities and magistrates' courts than we have had in the history of Britain. That, to me, is dangerous. It is dangerous to society, dangerous to the police, and dangerous to equity and justice.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I should like to put three points and an illustration to my right hon. Friend in support of this series of Amendments, but before doing so I should like to refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle). We all know that he has great experience in the magisterial world, and I am sure that the House would like to join me in paying tribute to the work done by our magistrates, both unpaid and stipendiary, in administering justice. They put in many hours' work and perform an extremely valuable duty with the assistance of the clerk of the court. We all know that there is throughout the land a variation in the sentences imposed for similar offences, but the great amount of public service that is rendered far outweighs any point about variation in penalties.

It is with that thought of tribute to public service in mind that I come to deal with the points that I wish to put to my right hon. Friend. First, bearing in mind what I have said about the calibre of these magistrates, and the great public service which they render, when they are first appointed to the watch committee, they of all people will not be incognisant of the possibilities of the charge of favouritism towards police evidence. I suspect that, at any rate for the first few years, we shall see magistrates, particularly those who are members of the local police committee or watch com mittee, bending over backwards to make sure that they do not necessarily favour the police and their evidence. That would be as much a distortion of justice as if the opposite were to happen—that is, if they were to appear to agree with the police on every matter—and any kind of distortion is something which I do not believe any hon. Member would wish to see happen.

Only a certain number of those who are magistrates of a particular county area or county borough, a microcosm of them, will be on the police committee or watch committee, but I wonder what the public will think about what they feel is any disparity in the treatment of accused by the magistrate who is not on the police committee—which is what the public will call it—and the magistrate who is? The vast majority of magistrates in an area will not be members of the police committee, but all magistrates, whether members or not, will be working sometimes in one court, and sometimes in another. This may lead to positions which the public may fail to understand.

My third point concerns the political content of the watch committee. This was referred to by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom). He said that in future politics would loom much more largely in the relationships between magistrates as a whole and watch committees and police committees. I believe that as local government is, in many ways, largely involved in politics—there are, of course, exceptions—in future politics will play a much more important part than hitherto in the appointment of magistrates. Ça va sans dire that if a man is to be appointed to a political body the person making the appointment will make certain that he has the appropriate kind of politics.

As the hon. Member for Brightside said, many of these people will be appointed not so much because of their ability, but because of their politics.

Mr. Winterbottom

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be something in the nature of an agreement among the members of a local authority, so that the appointment of magistrates to a watch committee mirrors the balance of the parties on the council?

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Cole

I do not know the answer to that. I do not know who will ap point the magistrates. I do not know whether they will be made by the Magistrates' Association, or by my right hon. Friend.

Miss Bacon rose

Mr. Cole

Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to finish what I am saying.

As soon as the system begins to work, as in the example quoted earlier in this debate, if there are 12 members of a watch committee four of whom belong to the minority party and eight of whom belong to the majority party, no political body worthy of the name, be it local or national, will go out of its way to appoint people of the opposite persuasion, and thereby upset the balance between the parties on the council itself.

Although I applaud what my right hon. Friend is trying to do, I believe that in future magistrates will be appointed not so much because of their knowledge, but because of their political affiliations. As the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, political considerations will outweigh all other factors. The appointment will be a political one, and will not be made for the purposes which my right hon. Friend has in mind. I now give way to the hon. Lady, the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon).

Miss Bacon

During our discussions in Committee the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the magistrates themselves would make the selections at their annual meetings, and that they would not be selected by local authorities.

Mr. Cole

I think that that will invalidate some of what I have said, but I am still worried about what might happen. It is proposed to appoint a not inconsiderable number of people—33⅓ per cent. to be exact—to a politically appointed body, which is what the police committee would be. I think that the result will be derogatory to the purposes of the Bill.

I have had these points put to me by one authority which, on 1st April, will become a county borough. I am, of course, referring to Luton, which, on that date, becomes responsible for its own police force, and I am sure that we wish it well. The points that I have mentioned are worrying that authority as well as many others in the country.

I come next to an illustration which I hope my right hon. Friend will appreciate is put to him in all seriousness. My right hon. Friend has a certain function in regard to the Metropolitan Police. I ask him to consider what would happen if he appointed a judge of the High Court as his adviser in the Home Office and, from time to time, when occasion demanded it, that judge appeared in the High Court to legislate on a case in which a Home Office banister appeared for the Crown, and another barrister represented a private interest, knowing that my right hon. Friend had a close liaison with the Metropolitan Police in London and Scotland yard in particular and had received generally the advice of that judge, although not on that particular case he was to judge.

Despite the high calibre of our judges, would that judge be expected to appear to shut off one portion of his mind and use the other portion of it to judge the case, A which he would not have been given any prior details, but with which on matters of general advice he may have seemed to the public to be associated in the past in his other function?

With respect to everyone, I do not believe that the organisation that we have beep discussing is the most important point at issue. I was almost tempted to say, but I shall not because it would be wrong to do so, that justice is not the greatest point here, but it must be. Justice must be absolute. I am thinking more of those who will come before the courts—in other words, the age-old tradition of the House, that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.

Like other hon. Members, I have had matters brought to my attention arising from cases which have been before magistrates. Although criticism may not be justified in such cases in future, as it may not have been in the past, the fact will remain that one will not be able to reply that there is a complete separation of functions. This is the main consideration. The whole purpose of our legislation here, and of this Bill in particular, is to safeguard the welfare of the public and to assure them that we govern for all by all. I believe, if things are mixed up as set out in the Bill, however unjustified public criticism may be, the public in future will read far more into the position than is the truth.

I pay my right hon. Friend full tribute I know what he is trying to do. I know that he has great experience, but I believe that on this occasion he has gone off on the wrong tack.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole). I hope that he will follow hon. Members on this side into the Lobby when this matter is put to the vote. I hope that he will give the lie to the attitude of the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), who apparently regards the term "party politician" with great scorn, and act as a Member for Parliament. I shall return to the attitude of the right hon. and learned Gentleman later.

As hon. Members who were in the Standing Committee are aware, I have from the beginning of our proceedings on the Bill put great faith in the ability of the old watch committee, now the police authority, to carry out its duties. At the beginning of these proceedings, I was very concerned because I thought that the Home Secretary—another party politician, I may point out—was taking such powers under the Bill that he might be taking away from the police authority the real influence and responsibility over the police. The Home Secretary showed in Committee that he intends to use his powers under the Bill, which are greatly increased, only as residual powers. There will be opportunities to ask Questions in the House, but the Home Secretary has firmly indicated his view that the responsibility for supervision over chief constables remains with police authorities.

In the case of county boroughs, watch committees have so far been composed entirely of local councillors and aldermen. I have not heard anything in our proceedings to indicate that watch committees of county boroughs have carried out their duties any less effectively than watch committees of county councils. Therefore, why make this sudden change in respect of county boroughs? What quality can magistrates bring to the discussions of the new police authority which was lacking in the discussions of the old watch committee? There has been no evidence that anything was lacking. I can see no case for altering the position as regards county boroughs.

I hope that when he replies the Home Secretary will dissociate himself from the idea that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire seems to have that even the term "party politician" should be treated with scorn. I do not take that view. I think that it is an honourable calling. The right hon. and learned Gentleman used the term in a scornful way and suggested that a municipal candidate who becomes a councillor is not extremely proud of becoming a councillor and does not endeavour to conduct himself in a proper way as a representative of the people carrying out public duties. Some of us fall from grace from time to time and perhaps do not act as we should as Members of Parliament, or even as members of a municipal authority.

I took great offence at the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks. I am sure that many councillors will be greatly offended when they read in HANSARD what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. The right hon. and learned Gentleman himself will perhaps be a little shocked when he sees his words in black and white and he may like to take the opportunity on a subsequent occasion to withdraw his remarks.

Mr. Renton

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have heard my speech. He is making the most extraordinary comments on it. He had better read my speech. I will not repeat it to him.

Mr. Holt

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads his speech tomorrow.

Magistrates are becoming busier and busier as magistrates. This is certainly so in Bolton. There are now afternoon sittings which go on until late hours, whereas previously the courts sat only in the mornings. I see no reason why we should burden magistrates, who have enough to do already in carrying out their duties in court, by asking them in addition to serve on the new police authorities.

This point will shortly be pressed to a Division. I hope that the Home Secretary will take the opportunity in another place to put the matter completely right so that magistrates do not have to serve on the police authority of either county boroughs or counties.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I cannot agree with much of what the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) said, except that I echo what he said when he asked why there is any need for a change. That is the theme of my speech. I have received representations from my local authority on this part of the Bill. I want to give them to the House.

I want, first, to take up something said by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Bright-side (Mr. Winterbottom). He used the phrase "the hurly-burly of politics on the watch committee". I wish to join issue with hon. Members opposite on the question of politics in local government. Even if my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) did not say some disparaging things about the political actions of certain members of local authorities, I am happy to be associated with that frame of mind. I personally feel that politics very often come first in local authority matters and that public duty comes second, but this does not appear to happen on watch committees.

My own city could not have a more partisan council. Disgraceful 'things are happening as to education at present: the Labour Party, obviously for doctrinaire reasons, is trying to abolish all the grammar schools by any means in its power. Yet on the watch committee nobody could accuse them of being remotely political.

Mr. Winterbottom

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. On the Sheffield Watch Committee we are in the same happy position. We do not want the set-up altered, but it is being altered in the Bill.

Mr. Cooke

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman agreeing with me, perhaps for the wrong reasons. Despite this creeping disease of politics in local government, which is evident in far too many committees, it is my experience that, although the council itself is highly partisan, there are no politics on the Bristol Watch Committee. Everything is harmonious. This is true of relations with the chief constable, Mr. Frost, who I believe retires today. He is an excellent chief constable.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Cooke

My hon. Friend may well say, "Hear, hear". Our chief constable was at Eastbourne before he came to us. The present relationship is extremely happy, politics notwithstanding. A local authority would have to be in a pretty poor condition if politics affected the actions and decisions of its watch committee.

Unfortunately, I am unable to agree with the Amendment, although I can see that the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) is right in attacking my right hon. Friend on the basis of his proposal, because she would like the magistrates on watch committees to be drawn from members of councils.

5.30 p.m.

Miss Bacon

May I make this perfectly clear? I have tried to do so on three occasions, but I must have failed to get the point of view across. One lot of Amendments are designed to have no magistrates at all selected from outside the council. If they fall, another lot of Amendments is designed to have only magistrates who are on the council, and, if they fall, to decide not to have one-third but one-sixth. I made it perfectly clear that what we would prefer would be no magistrates at all from outside the council.

Mr. Cooke

I apologise to the hon. Lady. I am with her in hoping that we shall see the state of affairs whereby we shall not have magistrates on the watch committees. I support the view of my town clerk on those lines. The suggestion with which I cannot agree is that it would be a good thing, if we have to have magistrates, that they should be drawn from the council. That is a third best, if I may say so, because those magistrates are the political personalities. If we want magistrates on and it is beneficial to have them on, they should be people quite outside the political sphere, as my hon. Friend said.

I am happy that the present system of selection of magistrates looks like continuing, because I believe that it is a very satisfactory process of wide consultation, and a very wide variety can be chosen irrespective of their political views. One hon. Member said that his body of magistrates was composed largely of people of a Tory flavour, but in other areas it can be the other way round. Therefore, I do not think that that argument has much to do with the matter.

My main point is concerning the announcement of the town clerk and the watch committee of the City of Bristol. The City of Bristol and its council have the right to be heard on this, and there are two representations. One is on the question of the composition of the watch committee and that is what I am now going to speak about. The other is on responsibility, about which they also feel strongly. The point which has not, I think, been sufficiently emphasised is that it is all-important in the public eye that the functions of the magistrates should be dissociated from the activities of the police. That is the main point in the argument put forward by my authority, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

I wish to impress upon my right hon. Friend that, if he insists on having magistrates brought on, the two subjects will intermingle in the public eye and there may not be felt to be the same impartiality as in magistrates' courts. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give a satisfactory answer to that. There seems to be a consensus of opinion in the House for that view, and I am happy to support the watch committee of my own city in the matter.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I wholeheartedly agree with the proposition that there ought to be no magistrates on the police authority at all. I am in favour of that view on a simple principle which I think has always been accepted as part of our constitutional law. It is that the functions of the Executive should be separate from the functions of the judiciary. It seems to me that the proposal in the Bill is in conflict with that principle.

I am not in the difficulty in which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) found himself. I see no difficulty in the Amendments under discussion if the House thought fit to adopt that principle. It is true that a number of Amendments are being taken together for convenience of discussion, but it seems to me that if the House wished to establish the principle of no magistrate on the police authority, all it has to do is to accept the Amendment in page 2, line 11, and the Amendment in page 2, line 18. As I understand it, if those Amendments were accepted the other Amendments would not arise and we should not be in any difficulty at all.

It is only if, unfortunately, the Amendment in page 2, line 11, and, I suppose, the consequential Amendment in page 2, line 18, were to be defeated that we on this side of the House would then be in favour of some sort of Amendment which would reduce the damage, that is to say, an Amendment reducing the number of magistrates from one-third to one-sixth. Quite clearly, my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment was saying that this was very much a second best with which we would not be content but which we would accept if the two Amendments to which I have referred were not accepted. I hope that my right hon. Friend, if I may say so, is now quite clear on the matter.

Why has one to be so insistent that the executive or administrative function should be quite separate from the judicial one? We had a very clear instance of that in the speech to which we have just listened. I recognise that the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) was speaking in favour of the principle which I favour, but he was quite clearly of the opinion that people who are in favour of comprehensive schools are actuated by party political considerations whereas people who are in favour of retaining the grammar school position as it is are actuated purely by educational considerations.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I said that people who were out to destroy the grammar schools for doctrinaire reasons were guilty of putting politics before public duty.

Mr. Silverman

That puts the point with even greater clarity than before. We only have to use the word "destroy" instead of the word "replace" and we introduce into the argument the very party political considerations which the hon. Gentleman thinks should not be introduced. I am not arguing his point, and it would not be in order to do so.

It is perfectly proper, if the hon. Gentleman thinks so to regard one as a purely political matter and the other as a purely educational matter. I think that he would be wholly wrong, but if he thinks that way he is perfectly entitled to do so. Of course, if one thinks that way and says it, one is illustrating how impossible it is in an executive or administrative matter to avoid party political considerations. Nor, indeed, would one wish to avoid them.

Ours is a representative democracy. I believe that we can only get a representative democracy by a party system, a fairly rigid party system—in some people's opinion a too rigid system. If we are all committed to the maintenance of representative democracy on a party system it does not lie in the mouth of anyone who accepts that point of view at the same time to regard a party political system or a party politician as an undesirable thing. If it is necessary it is not undesirable, and if we all agree that it is necessary we had better keep out the undesirability of it. While people differ in their approach to social and economic questions, one cannot keep out all party political considerations when dealing with administrative matters. If we did we would never get a proper discussion or a proper decision. This is not true of judicial functions. In judicial functions we can, we ought and we must keep party political considerations out.

This was the fallacy into which the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) fell on this occasion, as he did in the discussion in Committee. He was saying that since it was right to have party politicians on the watch committee if they were members of the council, it could not be wrong to have party politicians on the police authority merely because they were magistrates. That was his point.

Mr. Renton indicated dissent.

Mr. Silverman

If it were not, although, I do not want to pursue the matter, I do not want to make a false point. Perhaps he will tell me what it was.

Mr. Renton

This is a most extraordinary gloss on what I said. I do not think it is up to me to repeat my speech to the House.

Mr. Silverman

I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Member should be peevish or peeved about it. I thought that what I said was a perfectly fair representation of what he had said. To get that out of the way, I will deal with another fallacy. The other fallacy was that there are no party politicians on the magistrates' bench.

Mr. Renton

I did not say that either.

Mr. Silverman

It is very difficult for us to understand what the right hon. and learned Member said. As we understood it, he said that it was an advantage to have magistrates on police authorities because otherwise police authorities would be dominated by party politicians.

Mr. Renton

Quite correct.

Mr. Silverman

Therefore, he was saying that magistrates are not party politicians. Otherwise the argument does not make sense. He knows very well—that is why he does not like me putting it in this way—that such a proposition would be fantastically untrue. Many people are elected magistrates because they are Marty politicians. It is quite right that that should be so. Many hon. Members of this House are magisrates. The right hon. and learned Member may be one he was a recorder. I know of no more loyal member of the Conservative Party. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is a National Liberal."] Ex-Liberals and National-Liberals and Coalition Liberals make the most loyal members of the Conservative Party, and it has always been so. The right hon. and learned Member has never once, so far as I know failed in his loyalty to the Conservative Party since he did not join it.

I do not want to pursue the point beyond this. It would be a complete fallacy to say or to imply or raise an argument on the basis that if we have magistrates on the police authority we shall be automatically reducing the impact of party political consideration. This is not true.

Mr. Renton

Neither is the converse true, because there will be many occasions when if we have a third of the police authorities composed of magistrates a great many of them will not be party politicians.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Silverman

Some of them may not be. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has no evidence or authority for saying that the majority will not be, because the majority of them are. I was trying to point out what I think is a much graver fallacy than the one which I hope I have disposed of. That is the fallacy that, therefore, we are just as much entitled to have party political considerations on the bench as on the police authority. The two functions are quite different. If a man, being a party politician, is a member of an administrative authority or legislative assembly of any kind, he is not only perfectly entitled, but it is his duty, to give effect to the political policies and ideas of the party of which he is a member. It is not a bad mark but a good mark to be loyal to the principles one believes in when one has the opportunity of putting them into practice in an executive or administrative sense.

It is perfectly right to do that, but equally it is wrong to do it when exercising a judicial function. The danger of this proposal is that we would compel people who have political ideas, considerations and principles and who are trying their best—and for the most part succeeding—in avoiding allowing them to influence their judicial decisions, to be put into a position in a matter where the administration of justice is involved where what is a merit on the administrative side is a fault, and a grave one, on the judicial side. If there were any practical considerations which militated against the idea of that principle one would have to look at it again.

It has been said repeatedly, and I draw the attention of the Home Secretary to this, that only one speech so far has been made in favour of the proposals in the Bill. In almost every speech which has been made against the proposals in the Bill and in favour of the Amendment the point has been made, why does the right hon. Gentleman want to make the change? The Royal Commission never gave an answer, and no answer was given to us in Committee. If it is conceded that the principle is one we want and there are no practical inconveniences and no overwhelming practical arguments the other way, we might just as well stick to principle.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give earnest thought to this. We may not have an opportunity again of considering this matter for very many years. The whole merit of this Bill is that it attempts to codify the law as to the police. Heaven knows, it has stood in dire need of codification of some sort. If we are to do it now and not to change it for a generation or more, we must be careful to get it right, and not to introduce changes in principle which are undesirable in themselves and bring about no ascertainable practical advantage.

Lieut.-Colonel J. K. Cordeaux (Nottingham, Central)

After listening to this debate, I must congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the great skill and determination he must have shown in Committee in order to have resisted these Amendments which, as I was not a member of the Committee, I assume were advanced there also. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has said that during the whole course of this debate there has been only one speech so far made to resist these Amendments, that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton).

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I do not know if my hon. and gallant Friend is aware that no single county Member has taken part in the debate. Every hon. Member on this side of the House has been approached by his own local authority having a vested interest in one direction, but many hon. Members have other vested interests which would be violated if these Amendments were accepted.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

It seems that the representatives from the county constituencies do not feel very strongly about this matter as they have not bothered to attend here and to give the views which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) suggests they have. They have not come here to do so.

Mr. N. Cole

I should declare my position. I have the privilege of representing a county district and the equally great privilege of sitting for a portion of the county borough-to-be of Luton. Therefore, my remarks might have been regarded both ways.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

To get down to figures, all hon. Members opposite who have spoken have done so in favour of the Amendments and on this side the score is 4 to 1 in favour of them. I shall now make it 5 to 1. I am sure that it will be said that the only reason why I do so is that I represent a borough constituency and my local people have been getting at me. That is true—[Laughter.]—and everybody knows it. It has happened to all of us. However, I sincerely take the same view, or I certainly would not say so here. I do not go as far as practically every other hon. Member has done and declare that the question of politics never once entered into the deliberations of the watch committee of the Nottingham City Council. That would be going a little too far. I assure the House, however, that as far as I know, all its members are unanimous on this point.

Even at this late stage, I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look at the matter again. Practically all the arguments in favour of the Amendments have already been urged better than I can put them and I do not want to take up undue time. The only point which has not, perhaps, been sufficiently emphasised is that in what my right hon. Friend seeks to do he appears to be going against previous advice which has generally been given in principle by the Lord Chancellor in matters of this sort.

It certainly has been with the strong encouragement of the Lord Chancellor that certain steps have been taken, most of which have been referred to, such as the adoption of lay ushers, instead of policemen acting as such, and the substitution of the title "magistrates' court" for "police court". One other point which has not yet been made is that we in Nottingham have more and more taken on the practice of employing solicitors rather than the police as prosecutors. This also has been with the encouragement of the Lord Chan- cellor and, as in the case with the adoption of lay ushers, at considerable expense to the ratepayers.

In doing what my right hon. Friend seeks to do in the Bill, he is going right against the principle which has been laid down, and which, I assume, the Lord Chancellor acts upon in the advice he gives, that we should not try to mix up the two things, the magistracy and the watch committees. If one does that, inevitably an accused person—and, to a large extent, the general public—will feel that he is not, perhaps, getting strict justice. I do not suggest that justice would not be done, but I very much doubt whether it would be seen by everybody to be done, which, we are told, is almost equally important.

This is not a minor matter. A fundamental principle is involved. I therefore add my voice to the voices of all hon. Members who have spoken so far, except one, and ask my right hon. Friend if he cannot, even at this late stage, look at the matter again.

Mr. O'Malley

With all my hon. Friends on this side, I welcome the support which has been given in this general debate on a number of Amendments concerning the composition of police authorities. It should be noted that having had a long debate on the subject in Standing Committee, we must now have another long debate precisely because some hon. Members opposite chose to support this kind of proposal in Standing Committee but when the vote was taken abstained from voting upon it. I hope that when these Amendments are divided upon this evening, at least hon. Members opposite who have supported their principle will in all conscience go into the Division Lobby with us. This is not basically a party political issue but a fundamental constitutional issue.

Although we had a long debate in Standing Committee, I welcome another de Sate on the subject because it is important. Perhaps genuinely, there are balanced arguments for and against the kind of attitude which the Government are taking. They have tipped the scales the wrong way, however, and have come to the wrong conclusions on the evidence put before them and on the estimates which they must have made. One can only hope that after this debate they will change their minds.

I wish to refer to some remarks that were made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) when he objected to party politics in local government. I find that kind of attitude also in the north of England, from where I come. Lots of people say what a bad thing it is that party politics enter into local government. They ask why they cannot have candidates who are non-political. Then, the candidates stand as independents. They are really Tory candidates, however, who dare not stand under their own name.

Sir C. Taylor

They were all independents before the Labour Party brought in party politics.

Mr. O'Malley

If they stand for local authorities when they are Conservatives, at least they should be honest about it and say so.

I should like to turn to the conclusions reached by the Government. They decided on a compromise. There is no room for compromise, however, in a matter like this, which is one of fundamental constitutional principle. Briefly, the compromise is that whereas formerly we have had fifty magistrates on the standing joint committees in the counties and the watch committees composed entirely of councillors, under the Bill two-thirds of the members of the police and watch committees are to be elected councillors and one-third magistrates chosen from quarter sessions and from the magisterial bench. This compromise simply perpetuates an anomaly which has existed in the counties since 1888. We are now extending it into the boroughs, which have been singularly free of this kind of situation.

In Standing Committee, I pointed out that the minutes of evidence on which the Royal Commission came to its conclusions and on which, presumably, the Government reached their conclusions were surprising. Indeed, I have heard the opinion voiced that when the County Councils Association agreed in principle to the idea of a number of magistrates being on the police committee, what had happened was that some horse trading took place and the County Councils Association was satisfied to make the standing joint committee dealing with police affairs a committee of the county council rather than an independent body, which it has been since 1888.

6.0 p.m.

It seems to me that the Government can be criticised because they have accepted the views of the Royal Commission extremely uncritically. A feature of the debates which took place on this subject was that when an impasse was reached when no good arguments could be advanced on the other side on whatever we were discussing, the Home Secretary picked up the Royal Commission's Report and used it as a bible, a piece of dogma.

May I look briefly at the evidence given by the Magistrates' Association to the Royal Commission on the Police. If there is one lot of evidence in writing which convinces me that magistrates should not be on watch and police committees it is precisely the evidence which the magistrates themselves gave. I cannot believe that the type of evidence which was given is an accurate reflection of the attitude of a large cross-section of magistrates throughout the country. Inherent in it was an idea of superiority and a feeling that they could do the job very much better than could the elected representatives.

We are told that the argument is not that there should be magistrates as such on it but that there should be independent persons who can stabilise and level the active political bias possibly of the local elected representatives. We are told that elected representatives have not the same sense of responsibility". This is in the evidence of the Magistrates' Association. Thirdly, we are told that the police might be engaged in serious disorders resulting from strikes or something of that kind". It is said, This is our primary objection to them merely being in political hands". We also read from a witness, I would have thought generally that magistrates are very free from political bias when they apply themselves to their duties". We read, When half the committee are magistrates and sitting as magistrates they take perhaps a more reasonable view…than the elected members". I am sure that they do.

Fortunately I was pleased to hear in Standing Committee that the Government—

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