Clause 20. — (Qualification of Justices' Clerk.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1949.

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Photo of Mr John Corlett Mr John Corlett , City of York 12:00 am, 7th December 1949

I beg to move, in page 18, line 19, to leave out paragraph (b), and to insert: '"(6) if he has served for not less than ten years as assistant to any such clerk and in the opinion of the magistrates' courts committee and of the Secretary of State there are special circumstances making the appointment a proper one. It will be noticed that the Amendment I am moving was Clause 15 of the original Bill when it was introduced in another place. So the Amendment is really drafted by the Secretary of State. It is the Department's baby, and I am rather puzzled as to why they have abandoned it. It seems reasonable to assume that the Department drafted that particular Clause with full knowledge of the realities of the situation and after very careful consideration. They must have known that only 32 out of the 90 full-time justices' clerks were professionally-qualified men, and they must have given very serious consideration to that position, because it is so remarkable. I think they must have wondered and must have investigated why it was that there was only 32 professionally-qualified men.

I should imagine that the explanations are simple. First, that possibly professionally-qualified men are not attracted to that particular type of post. I think it is quite reasonable to say that. I think the second, and perhaps even more important, reason would be that fully-qualified men—or many who did apply—were not considered adequately qualified by the magistrates who were making the appointments. If that were the position—and I am perfectly certain that the Department must have made themselves conversant with the position—I can quite understand their deciding to put down Clause 15 in the original Bill, because they would be satisfied it was impossible to get a sufficient number of professionally-qualified men to fill these posts.

They must also have known and must have inquired very carefully into, the position of the 58 statutorily qualified men who were acting as justices' clerks in the very big cities where they were being employed, and I am perfectly satisfied that if they made careful inquiries, as I am sure they did, they must have been informed that those men were completely capable and competent, and giving entirely satisfactory service to those who were employing them. Speaking as a magistrate, I should be very much amazed indeed if any magistrates were found who would say otherwise.

So they would have had all that evidence before them; and, having that evidence before them, they drafted the original Clause 15. If they had had evidence to the contrary, then they would have been provided with a golden opportunity for deciding that these men should not be eligible, and would presumably have drafted the present Clause 20. But they did not draft Clause 20 when they had all this evidence before them as to the positive qualifications of these men, but decided that these men should be eligible for these posts.

They also had every opportunity—and I do not doubt that they took it—for taking all the evidence against these men. They would consider all the evidence given before the Roche Committee, evidence which, we suppose, suggested that these statutorily qualified men should not be appointed to these posts. They would consider that evidence. They would consider very carefully all the recommendations of the Roche Committee that these men should not be so appointed. Then, having considered that evidence, as I am sure they carefully and thoroughly did, they still decided that these men should be eligible, and they drafted their Clause 15. Then, I assume, they would have had before them the representations of the Law Society, who would give evidence, probably in writing and orally, claiming that these men should not be eligible for these posts. And yet, having considered that evidence very carefully, they still drafted Clause 15 in their original Bill, which meant they were quite satisfied, after full consideration, that these men should be reckoned as eligible. So I am very puzzled, as, I think most magistrates are, as to why there should be a complete change from Clause 15 in the original Bill to this Clause 20, which is excluding these men from this employment.

On the Second Reading I sat throughout the Debate, I was privileged to take part in it, I listened to everybody who spoke, and I read the Debate carefully afterwards; I also read the report of the Debates in another place; and, quite frankly, I can find no evidence whatever that was produced which would justify the exclusion of these men.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (General Sir G. Jeffreys) suggested that magistrates and the public might not have full confidence in unqualified men. But these are qualified men. They are statutorily qualified, and I think it was a completely wrong term for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to use. If he feared that magistrates and the public might not have full confidence I must point out that there has been every opportunity for magistrates and the public to say they lacked confidence in these men; and yet I know of no evidence that anybody has put forward to that effect, and magistrates in the largest cities who have knowledge of the work of these men would pot hesitate, I am sure, to say that they do not lack confidence in them. Perhaps, the hon. and gallant Gentleman had evidence, which he was not prepared to reveal to the the House. The Attorney-General said of the 58 non-professional clerks that Some are good, some not so good."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 905.] After all, we might use the same phrase about Attorneys-General—though I do not think any of us would place in either of those categories the present Attorney-General.