I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to remove the limit of three miles from residence in respect of subsistence allowances payable to magistrates under Section 8 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949.
May I say at once that I have no vested interest in this matter. I am not a magistrate, and my wife, who is a magistrate, lives well beyond three miles of the courts which she attends. This is a case where there exists a ridiculous state of affairs which should have been remedied long ago, and which I hope ultimately will be remedied, as one of the measures which are necessary to give voluntary servants a proper and reasonable allowance for subsistence while they are actually engaged in their work.
In 1949, it was decided that justices of the peace might receive lodging and travelling allowances but not the normal subsistence allowance. This has been a matter of some concern to justices of the peace since then, because they get no loss of earnings allowance and their work has greatly increased, not only through the increase of crime but because of Measures such as the Licensing Act and the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act.
At this moment the integration of the London courts which has just taken place has caused a considerable increase of work falling to the lay justices. The principle of flat-rate subsistence allowances for justices was agreed last year, but the Justices Allowances Regulations, 1964, No. 853, dated 11th June, 1964, lay down that
A justice is not entitled to subsistence allowance if the duties are performed not more than three miles from his usual place of residence.
This is three miles, not as the Serpentine or the Thames flows, but as the crow flies. These allowances are 10s. for not less than four hours from the time of leaving home to returning home, or 17s. for over eight hours from home to time.
In London and large cities it is literally impossible, in an hour's break from court, to get home, prepare lunch, have lunch and get back. Even for those fortunate enough to have someone to prepare the lunch, it is still not possible to get through the traffic unless one lives practically next door to the court. In practice, what happens is that either three justices go to lunch together and one of them has to pay for himself while the other two get their lunches paid for them, or, of three justices sitting together, two go out to lunch while the third has to eat sandwiches in the retiring room. Court buildings generally are not situated in affluent residential areas and the result of the Regulation is that the disability falls on those least able to bear it.
There are about 16,000 lay justices in the country who carry out over 50 per cent. of the work of the magistrates' courts. There are only about 30 metropolitan magistrates and only 13 stipendiaries in the rest of the country, so the 16,000 lay magistrates bear the greatest burden. In some cities there are no stipendiaries and all the work is done by lay magistrates. In other cities, it is shared between stipendiaries and lay magistrates. In the juvenile courts, the whole of the work is done by the lay justices who, in London, frequently sit until six o'clock or seven o'clock in the evening to complete their list for the day.
So that the House may assess the position rightly, I would point out that stipendiary magistrates receive a salary of £4,500 to £4,750 in London and a little less in some other parts of the country. By estimating the sittings of the lay justices, and if the work they are doing were to be carried out by stipendiaries, we find that it would cost the nation not less than £20 million a year for sufficient stipendiaries to do all the work.
To be fair, and permit all lay justices to get the 10s. or 17s. subsistence, the amount that the country would have to spend is practically infinitesimal. Other groups of persons giving their services voluntarily to the nation, such as unpaid members or witnesses of commissions and committees set up by the Government, have no restriction on the distance from home for their subsistence allowance and, in addition, they can, in certain circumstances, also claim loss of earnings.
The principle of these small subsistence allowances has been agreed and I feel that they should apply to all justices of the peace and that the minority who live within the three-mile distance of the place of their duties should be included. My Bill would put matters right.
We are being very parsimonious in this matter. It is not fair to ask a man who is prepared to do this extremely interesting and useful work to be a magistrate and, at the same time, deny his right even to a lunch if he happens to be away from home. It is true that everyone does not apply for this and that before a person it paid an allowance he must fill in a form and make application. Here I must say that I am not so sure that any of them should be called upon to afford the payment for lunch if they happen to be doing this extremely important work.
The country does not realise what magnificent work is being done. Of course, there are criticisms from time to time, but, considering the vast number of cases that magistrates deal with, justified criticisms are very small in number as, indeed, are all the criticisms.