§ Mr. Raymond Ellis
asked the Attorney-General (1) what monitoring is carried out of magistrates' political affiliations; why this is done; for what purpose the information is collected; and if his noble Friend will cease the practice forthwith;
(2) why monitoring of magistrates' political views is restricted to membership of the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal parties only; why his noble Friend does not collect information on membership of minor parties such as the National Front or the Communist Party of Great Britain; and if, should the system of monitoring continue, his noble Friend will begin to monitor membership of minor parties.
There is no monitoring of magistrates' political views or affiliations. Candidates for possible appointment as justices of the peace are invited to include among the written particulars which they provide an indication of their political views. They are free to say that they have none. Any views they have are in no way restricted to those of the main political parties.
It is made quite clear to candidates that their political views are neither a qualification nor a disqualification for appointment; that the information is required only in order to avoid the appointment of a disproportionate number of 644W justices of any one party. The information given is treated as confidential and is available only to my noble Friend and those who advise him on magisterial appointments. In a few areas magistrates have been invited to bring this information up to date for the same purpose and on the same basis of confidentiality.
It is not intended to discontinue this practice, which is regarded as most valuable. A clear statement regarding the practice has long been available to the general public in a pamphlet issued by the Lord Chancellor's Office entitled "Justices of the Peace; How they are appointed; What they do". My noble Friend is ensuring that the hon. Member receives a copy.