§ Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill has two unusual distinctions, if I may use that word, the first being that it was introduced in another place by a father and in this House by a son. I do not know whether that in itself is a record. The other unusual feature is that it passed through its Committee stage in just over 20 seconds. No doubt that was a tribute to the efficiency of the Chairman of the Committee, but also to the supremely uncontroversial nature of the Bill's contents.
The noble Lord who introduced the Bill in another place described it with characteristic modesty as a harmless little Bill. If I may be permitted to cast modesty and caution to the winds, perhaps I can describe it as a useful little Bill. What it seeks to do is to improve the facilities for recruitment to a very important section of the public service, that is to say, the justices' clerks where recruitment is very necessary.
The Bill seeks to achieve that objective in two ways. The first is by achieving parity of qualification between the two branches of the legal profession for becoming a justices' clerk. The main qualification for that office is a period of five 1053 years after qualifying as a solicitor or barrister, but, in addition, Section 20 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, provided the additional qualification for an admitted solicitor in that he had to serve for no less than five years in a justices' clerk's office.
That provision was not applied to members of the Bar simply and solely because at that time the regulations of the Inns of Court did not enable Bar students to be employed in the offices of justices' clerks. Since then, quite recently, with praiseworthy zest for modernisation, the Inns of Court have amended their regulations so that they now permit Bar students to be employed in the offices of a justices' clerk.
The first part of Clause 1 gives legislative sanction to that change by now enabling a member of the Bar to become a justices' clerk even though he has not been a member of the Bar for five years, but so long as he has served for five years in a justices' clerk's office. As a result, parity between the two branches of the profession is achieved and it is hoped that this will draw young law students of either branch of the profession into the profession of justices' clerk.
The second method by which the objective is achieved is formulated in the second part of Clause 1. This is a somewhat complicated Clause whose meaning might not be immediately apparent. The Schedule to the Administration of Justice Act, 1964, which created the system of inner London magistrates' courts, contained a provision the effect of which, though probably unintended, was that, owing to a change of nomenclature, people who had been employed in justices' clerks' offices prior to that Act coming into effect lost the benefit of their years of service in those offices for the purposes of the qualification which I have just mentioned. In effect, they had to start again, from the point at which the Act became law, in the justices' clerk's office at one of the new courts referred to in the Act.
The second part of Clause 1 puts that right so that they can now count as part of their qualifying service service not only after but before the Act became law. As a result, a number of persons who would have had to start again will 1054 now be able to count previous service in identical circumstances to present service. It is hoped that that, also, will encourage people who might otherwise be drawn away from the profession to remain in it. Those are the two very short effects of this Bill, and I hope that the House will welcome it for the purposes which I have indicated, and give it a Third Reading.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I notice that when this Bill was introduced by the father of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), in another place it was described as "short, harmless and completely uncontroversial". It is certainly short and I think it is harmless. I am willing to believe that it is uncontroversial, but I do, unfortunately, find a little difficulty in understanding it—which would not surprise the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich. This family connection with the Bill, if I may so describe it, must ensure that he is extremely expert in the terms of the Bill and I am quite sure that he will be able to explain to me any bits I do not understand.
The first effect of the Bill, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out, is to facilitate the recruitment of members of the Bar to the office of justices' clerk. The office of justices' clerk is one which has been the special preserve of solicitors for very many years, and I am sure that the Bill has not been produced because there is a feeling of dissatisfaction with the way in which solicitors have been discharging the office during the years. I imagine that there are many benches in the country generally which are deeply grateful to the advice that they receive from their clerks. Dare I say it, I suspect that there are some benches which are heavily dependent upon their clerks.
It would have been anomalous if, after the four Inns of Court had amended their regulations governing the conduct of training of students to the Bar, the corresponding amendment in the law had not been made to allow students of the Inns of Court to serve a period in the office of justices' clerk, thereby acquiring seniority for appointment to that post. As I understand, and I have no direct knowledge of 1055 this, there is apparently a recruitment problem at the moment in respect of the office of justices' clerk and it is really for that reason, and not because of any dissatisfaction with the services of solicitors, that the Bill has been put forward.
I am surprised to learn that there should be this problem of recruitment, because one thought that a good deal of the work of justices' clerks was done on a part-time basis. Usually, a local solicitor found it practicable to combine acting as justices' clerk with the conduct of his professional practice. That is a possibility not open to a member of the Bar who is a justices' clerk. At any rate, I feel sure that it would not be open to him, because I think that the Inns of Court would have something to say if a practising member of the Bar attempted to act as a justices' clerk in his spare time. It would create quite a sensation.
This is obviously an attempt to get whole-time recruitment and I assume, perhaps this is a point on which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich could help me, that the purview of the Bill is, in practice, if not in theory, limited to stipendiary magistrates' courts. I think that they are probably the only courts where there is a whole-time justices' clerk. Perhaps I am not quite right about this, and that some of the busiest magistrates' courts, where there are lay magistrates, probably need, and have, a whole-time justices' clerk. But the practical effect of the Bill is probably confined to the large towns.
So much for the effect of Clause 1(1). It may not be entirely clear as to its meaning, but I think that I know what the hon. and learned Gentleman and his noble Friend are driving at.
On Clause 1(2), the hon. and learned Gentleman, assuming that he drafted the Bill, and I, are in two different worlds. I do not understand it. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman does. I perceive that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill in the Upper House, the hon. and learned Gentleman's father, admitted to being unable to understand subsection (2). Another noble and learned lord declared that it had kept him up all night trying to understand it. He thought at that time that he did understand it, but would not venture to try to explain it. Therefore, 1056 I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to explain it today so that its meaning is on the record. I hope that he will not find himself in the same difficulty as Robert Browning, who, when asked to explain something, had to reply, "When I first wrote the lines, two people knew what they meant—myself and God. Now only God knows".
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that subsection (2) is in somewhat extraordinarily language. Perhaps I should know what it means since the Bill does only two things, and this is one of them. Reading through the subsection, one might easily derive the impression that if one had paragraph 2 of the Schedule 3 to the Administration of Justice Act, 1964, one would have the key which would unlock the secret. I do not think that that is the case, because it is a very short paragraph. Indeed, it has only one sentence, which reads:Any reference in any enactment to a metropolitan police court, a metropolitan magistrates' court or a metropolitan stipendiary court shall be construed as a reference to a magistrates' court for the inner London area.That is a harmless sentence, but just what it does to subsection (2) of Clause 1 is a little obscure to me.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
I agree that this is not an easy Clause to understand because it deals with legislation by reference. Although I would not go as far as the noble Lord in another place who sat up all night trying to understand what it meant, I confess that it took me a little while to understand it.
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) referred to paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1964, which, he will have observed, is headed, "General adaptation of enactments". Paragraph 2 provides thatAny reference in any enactment to a metropolitan police court, a metropolitan magistrates' court or a metropolitan stipendiary court shall be construed as a reference to a magistrates' court for the inner London area.The hon. Member will appreciate that the 1964 Act created the magistrates' courts for the inner London area. They came into being, as a result of that legislation, on the date on which that Act came into force. So that where we have an enactment prior to the 1964 Act 1057 which refers to a metropolitan police court, a magistrates' court or a stipendiary court, we have from the date of the 1964 Act, as it were, to remove those words and substitutea magistrates' court for the inner London areaThen we go back to the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, and to Section 20(4,a)—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and learned Member will have a chance to make his speech later. This is a long intervention.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was hoping that it would be of assistance to the hon. Member to answer his question at this stage, but I can certainly do so later if that will be for greater convenience.
§ Mr. Bell
I did not want to interrupt the hon. and learned Member. I was asking him what it meant. My difficulty is that if I resume my seat I may not be entitled to speak again. I imagine that it is a little difficult to fit the explanation into our rules of order as an intervention. I know that the hon. and learned Member was trying to help me. I will conclude and then, no doubt, he will continue his explanation.
The hon. and learned Member was following me in paragraph 2 of the Third Schedule. The reference back there is to Section 20(4,a) of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, which is, I suppose, the principal Act for this purpose. Subsection (4,a) states:if at the time of appointment he is a solicitor of the Supreme Court and has served for not less than five years in one or more of the following capacities, that is to say, clerk to a stipendiary magistrate, clerk to a metropolitan stipendiary court, clerk at one of the justice rooms of the City of London, assistant to any such clerk as aforesaid and assistant to a justices' clerk".The Bill states, in Clause 1(2):The general adaptation of references to metropolitan stipendiary courts which is made by paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 … shall not have effect so as to exclude from the said subsection (4)(a) any reference to the capacity of the clerk to any such court …1058 I have tried to understand all this, but the trouble is that when one gets within reach of it the mind tires, one falls off the cliff again and it is necessary to start from the bottom. That may be what the noble and learned Lord in the other place meant. It may be why the hon. and learned Member's noble father, in moving the Second Reading Bill in another place, declined to have anything to do with trying to explain subsection (2). It is a formidable operation.
This is an extremely short Bill. It does only two things and this is one of them. The first is extremely good and I understand it, but I have not grasped the second. While I am, I hope, in a way, a connoisseur of involved wording and legislation by reference, which is one of the great sports of the twentieth century and should not be entirely destroyed, people everywhere are beginning to ask what these words in subsection (2) of Clause 1 mean.
I am sure that since everybody associated with the Bill so far in either House has disclaimed any ability to explain the second aim of the Bill, while it is a short, harmless and uncontroversial one, the House would be grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich if he would resume the exposition which he was so kindly making and which, I am sure, will clear the unworthy clouds of doubt and suspicion from my mind.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin rose—
§ Mr. Silkin
I ask leave of the House to reply, or perhaps I should say, to continue the reply which I had begun to give, and I hope that I shall be forgiven for rushing in where angels in another place feared to tread.
I had reached the point at which I was referring the House to Section 20(4,a) of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, which provides for the qualification for justices of the peace consisting of being a solicitor whohas served for not less than five years in one or more of the following capacities, that is to say, clerk to a stipendiary magistrate, clerk to a metropolitan stipendiary court, clerk 1059 at one of the justice rooms of the City of Londonor assistant to any one of those gentlemen.
By paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 to the Administration of Justice Act, 1964, without the subsection we are now discussing, the effect would be, and, indeed, has been up to now, that all the references in subsection (4,a) to metropolitan, police or metropolitan magistrates' courts or metropolitan stipendiary courts are to be construed as referring to a magistrate's court for the inner London area.
Therefore, Section 20(4,a) of the 1949 Act would read:if at the time of appointment he is a solicitor of the Supreme Court and has served for not less than five years in one or more of the following capacities, that is to say, clerk to a magistrates court for the inner London area or assistant to such a clerk".That would mean that anyone who, by the time that the 1964 Act came into operation, had already served as clerk or assistant clerk to a stipendiary magistrate or a metropolitan stipendiary court would be unable to use that service for the purposes of this subsection.
So when we come to the Bill before us we find the provision thatThe general adaptation of references to metropolitan stipendiary courts which is made by paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 to the Administration of Justice Act 1964 shall not have effect so as to exclude from the said subsection (4)(a) any reference to the capacity of clerk to any such court".In other words, when the Bill becomes law, and we construe Section 20(4,a) of the 1949 Act, we construe it as meaning a person who has served for the requisite period either as clerk or assistant clerk to a stipendiary magistrate's court or to a court for the inner London area and as a result of that those who have already served in the former capacity do not lose the service which they would otherwise have lost in that capacity, but they are enabled to add it to their service as clerk or assistant clerk to a magistrate's court for the inner London area.
I hope that that will resolve the hon. Member's doubts.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)
I should like to add my congratulations to those which have already been given to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) upon introducing the Bill here and piloting it through all its various stages. It was not until Third Reading that any word was uttered on the Bill, for it received its Second Reading and Committee stage without debate.
It is particularly appropriate that the Bill was introduced in another place by a solicitor and in this House by a barrister and a pleasure that the solicitor and barrister happen to be father and son. Although it is concerned with what would appear to be only minor Amendments to previous legislation, the Government welcome the Bill and feel sure that it will have a beneficial effect on the recruitment of young people to follow a legal career in magistrates' courts.
There is at present a shortage in justices' clerks' offices throughout the country of assistants who are either solicitors or barristers. There are about 500 clerks to justices and of these about 300 are part-time. The Bill may help in recruitment, but what it does principally is to cure an anomaly.
It is possible to serve articles under a justices' clerk who is a solicitor, but not all clerks have this qualification. Until the recent decision of the Inns of Court, it has been impossible for a student reading for the Bar to serve as an assistant in a justices' clerk's office. The Bill follows naturally upon that decision and we hope that it will encourage more young people to combine their studies for a professional qualification with practical experience as assistants to justices' clerks—a training which will equip them well for appointment as clerks to justices themselves.
Any Measure, however modest, which helps to meet the need for professionally qualified assistants in the offices of justices' clerks is to be commended and for this reason I hope that the Bill will receive its Third Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.