I beg to move:
That the Bill bé re-committed to a Committee of the whole House in respect of the Amendments to Clauses 1, 2 and 3 standing on the Paper in the names of the honourable Member for Altrincham and of the honourable Member for Wirral.
It is necessary to ask the House to accept this Motion to recommit the Bill, in order that we may consider some of the Amendments standing on the Order Paper, because they may increase the charge upon the public funds and therefore cannot be brought forward on Report stage. I will indicate broadly the point to which the Amendments are directed, so that the House may judge of their importance in considering whether to accept this Motion or not. The matter seems to me of great importance, and other members of the Bar with whom I have discussed it take the same view as to its importance. Under this Bill legal aid may be granted to poor prisoners both by justices and by a judge or the chairman of the court before whom the prisoners are to be tried, but the judge or chairman of the court has power to grant legal aid only after reading the depositions. That means that the judge, or the chairman of the quarter sessions, cannot direct that a prisoner shall have legal aid until the very eve of the trial. A judge does not read the depositions until the assizes are beginning, and it is then very late in the day, in the great bulk of cases, to offer legal aid to a poor prisoner. The proper time at which he should receive the certificate entitling him to legal aid is when he is before the justices. It is of great importance to a prisoner that he should have this legal aid at the earliest possible moment. The object of these Amendments is to strengthen a poor prisoner's rights before the justices and to make it easier for him to get a certificate at the earliest opportunity in his contest with the Law.
I did not intend to go into the details of the Amendments, but only to indicate broadly the points to which they are directed, and perhaps I have already sufficiently done so. Their object is to strengthen a poor prisoner's rights before the justices, so that he may get legal aid at the earliest possible moment. I hope the House will think the matter is of sufficient importance to recommit the Bill, in order that we may consider the Amendments.
I beg to second the Motion.
I think it is of vital importance to the Bill that the House, in Committee, should have an opportunity of considering certain Amendments which have been proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) and myself, because unless these Amendments are made I feel that the Bill will not effect the real purpose for which it was intended.
I did not happen to be on the Committee, but there is a further point which I think ought to be raised in this connection. The House will I think be in general sympathy with the proposal that the Bill should enable poor prisoners to get counsel at the earliest possible stage; but there is another point, which was dealt with at great length in Committee, and the Under-Secretary for the Home Office promised to give it consideration. It will be found on page 19 of the report of the Committee's proceedings; it is a most important point in connection with counsel and leading counsel. Anyone reading the report of the proceedings in Committee will see that it was one of the chief points which the Committee wished to be dealt with, and as it would be difficult to do it, on the Report stage I think it is almost essential that the Bill should be recommitted.
I do not follow the hon. Member in his references. What we are considering is a Motion to recommit the Bill in respect of Amendments to Clauses 1, 2 and 3. His observations should be made on Report stage.
I will not carry that Particular point any further now, but I wished to be quite clear that it could be dealt with on the Report stage. However, I would like to emphasise the appeal which has been made by my hon. and learned Friend. His Amendments deal with most important points, and I think the agument in favour of recommitting the Bill is absolutely overwhelming. The recommittal would enable the House as a whole to make this a thoroughly efficient Bill.
There are three Amendments standing in my name which I think will be in Order on the Report stage, but perhaps it would be for the convenience of all of us if they could be discussed in Committee if the House decides on the recommittal of the Bill, and I would like to ask whether that would be in order.
This Motion concerns only the Amendments standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) and the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Grace). If the House agrees to recommit the Bill the Committee will deal with those Amendments, and after that we shall have the ordinary Report stage, when the hon. Member for East-bourne (Mr. Marjoribanks) can move his Amendments.
On behalf of the promoters of this Bill, I should like to say this. Naturally, we are very anxious that these Amendments should be discussed, but we are also very anxious that the Bill, which has been standing over since the 8th November, should not be postponed after to-day, but that it should be dealt with at once, and pass its Third Reading. That is of the greatest importance. I do not know whether this Motion to re-commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House means that it can be dealt with at once. If so well and good, but I think I am right in thinking that there is no chance of it being sent upstairs to a Committee.
Would it assist the House if this Motion were moved in a slightly different form, with the addition of words "providing that the Committee stage after recommittal be taken forthwith."