HC Deb 17 November 1925 vol 188 cc305-31

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The purpose of this Measure is, I think, well known to hon. Members from Scotland. It is, broadly speaking, to assimilate the terms of appointment, the conditions of service, and the tenure of sheriff clerks and procurators fiscal and their staffs in Scotland, to those obtaining in the Civil Service. There has been, in the case particularly of the deputes and staffs of these services, a very long history of agitation for improved conditions of service, and the Royal Commission on the Civil Service recommended that new conditions should be applied in certain cases. The problem was still further examined in detail, after the war, by a Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Blackburn. The Government of the time—I think it was in 1921—decided to proceed on the lines recommended by that Committee, and detailed schemes of reorganisation were prepared, and discussed with those concerned.

Although a substantial measure of agreement was reached, after considerable negotiation, between the representatives of the sheriff clerks and their staffs, it has hitherto been found impossible to obtain agreement on the terms offered with regard to the retiring allowances of existing officers. These are contained in Clause 7 of the Bill. These officers hoped that the whole, or, at least, a very substantial proportion, of their service prior to reorganisation, would count towards their pensions. Representations on this subject have been most sympathetically and, I may say, exhaustively considered by the present Government and its two predecessors, and the Clause as it stands represents, in the Government's view, the utmost concession that can bo offered consistently with the well established principle by which the application of the Superannuation Acts in such cases is governed. In the case of procurators fiscal, the main obstacle to agreement has been the question of pension. With regard to the older members of the Service, it must be noted in this connection that any sheriff clerk or procurator fiscal who at present holds his office otherwise than on an explicit contract to accept assimilation on the new conditions, is offered an option of continuing to hold his office on the existing tenure.

I am very well aware that there has been a feeling of great sympathy with these older officials among Scottish Members in this House and elsewhere, but one has to recognise, I think, that the settlement of the improvement of the conditions of the great majority of those employed in the Service may be in danger if that controversy were to continue indefinitely. I trust that this Bill may be given a Second Reading, and that the questions which more particularly affect the conditions of retiring allowances, which are governed, as I have said, by Clause 7, may be fully and exhaustively discussed in Committee. That appears to me to be the most suitable method of dealing with this matter, but, while one can feel the very greatest sympathy for many of these difficult cases, I must be quite honest with the House in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, and say that these terms are the outcome of long negotiations and much consideration, not only by one Government, but by at least three successive Governments, and that this Government has adopted the utmost concessions which were arrived at by previous Governments. So far as we are concerned, that is the scheme as we lay it before the House.


I am sure that all Scottish Members who have listened to the statement which the Secretary for Scotland has just made will agree that there is a great deal in this Measure that is not controversial, and that the Bill merely seeks to carry out what has been recommended by successive Commissions in Scotland since 1858; but, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has just indicated, there is a substantial controversy regarding Clause 7 of the Measure, and the provision which it proposes to make in recognising back service in the case of these officials in Scotland. While it is true that the technical and other details of this superannuation scheme are appropriate matters for the Committee stage upstairs, we should altogether fail in our duty as Scottish Members if we did not make our attitude plain on the Second Reading of the Bill, because, undeniably, this is a thing of wider importance than the mere Measure we are discussing tonight, and the hardship involved to these officials in Scotland is sufficiently great to justify some discussion at this stage. Let us notice the history of this matter. We are dealing here with the staffs of the Procurators Fiscal of Scotland and the Sheriff Clerks. As hon. Members are aware, this has been the subject of controversy since 1858, when the first Commission was appointed. Since that time there have been other Commissions or Departmental Committees right down to the Royal Commission under Lord Blackburn, which reported in 1921. In substance, all those bodies had recommended that these officials should be put substantially in the position of civil servants in this country, and they have certainly all recommended that the posts should be pensionable in the ordinary way. During all that time there has been, of course, a succession of governments, but no steps have been taken to reorganise these services in Scotland. Accordingly, I am putting the case very mildly when I say that that delay has in itself prejudiced those men to a considerable extent and inflicted great hardship and suffering upon them. That is a preliminary point which should be pleaded very strongly in their favour when we come to consider this problem.

Since the negotiations came to a head, there has been every endeavour to try to reach agreement as to the amount of back service that is to be reckoned. But the very most that has been obtained from Treasury Regulations on this point is a recognition of that service back to the beginning of October, 1918. The great majority of these officials in Scotland, the men who are affected, have grown grey in the service. Many of them cannot continue very much longer, and it is plain to all of us to-night that if the amount of back service to be reckoned for purposes of superannuation is only to go to 1st October, 1918, these men are, in many cases, going to retire on pensions which are not very much above the ordinary Old Age pension rate in this country, and which in any case are perfectly inadequate having regard to the responsibilities and duties the officials have discharged. I think most hon. Members familiar with Scottish conditions will agree that these men all along have been paid salaries which are not really commensurate with the duties of the position. In fact the salaries and conditions were described by a body like the Blackburn Commission as "disgraceful." That Commission went to the extent of using a strong word like that— strong in a judicial body of that kind. I was not thinking for the moment of the arena of a Scottish political debate. These men, unless we can secure concessions for them, will have to retire, after all these years of injustice, with the crowning injustice of a perfectly inadequate provision for their old age. This is a Treasury problem, undoubtedly, under the Superannuation Acts of this country, and I should be the last to say one disrespectful word about that great Department of State, There is a complete reply to the Treasury contention in this matter. First of all, there is the danger, as it is constantly put, of repercussions. That is, if you make a concession in the reckoning of that service in this connection, you will have to do the same thing in other Departments which may at any time in the future come under the State. May I offer this criticism of that argument, that there are all kinds of precedents for reckoning the full back service? There is the National Library of Scotland Act, under which the officials of that department passed into the employment of the State, and although they were not previously Government servants in the sense that back service is fully reckoned, that principle was established and embodied in the National Library Act.

Let us take the wider argument of the repercussion. There is the danger that others would prefer similar claims if you conceded a reasonable proportion of back service to these officials. We all know perfectly well that civil service superannuation in this country is on a non-contributory basis. But here we are actually arguing the case when a substantial contribution has been made from the increased fees of the Courts recommended by that Commission for this purpose. There has been an annual surplus of more than £30,000, and an accumulated surplus of rather more than £100,000 at the present date. The Treasury has no argument at all on the ground of cost, because the fees have been increased for this specific purpose and the money is available. Yet, for some extraordinary reason, the back service in anything like adequate recognition is denied to those officials. I suggest that that is altogether an intolerable state of affaire, and it is not a state of affairs which can be accepted by any Scottish Member, having regard to the service which these officials and their staffs have rendered. The Treasury will also find in the general course of superannuation in this country certain sections in the Act of 1887, and in other Acts for all I know, indicating that where there are exceptional conditions these permit of the reckoning of a bigger proportion if not all of the back service of these men.

The more we analyse, the more we are driven to the conclusion that it amounts to this: whether these men were really in the position of civil servants in this country, or doing work analagous to the work of established civil servants, and which would be regarded rightly as work for the State, and therefore to be taken into account when you introduce a superannuation scheme. I do plead with hon. Members in all parts of the House that such conditions apply here. This is no party matter. I know hon. Members opposite have a great deal of sympathy with this contention. These conditions are fulfilled in terms of the Superannuation Acts. But for some reason or other there is opposition to the recognition of this claim. I have made our position perfectly clear to-night. I cannot help making this remark that I am profoundly disappointed by the statement of the Secretary for Scotland that, after all the consideration, this appears to be his final word in this matter. I think we shall be able to show during the Committee stage that such an attitude will be an intolerable injustice to these men, and I leave it with this final consideration, that because of the grave delay, over which these men have had no control, since 1858, they have been severely prejudiced in the settlement of this problem, and that delay should operate so strongly in their favour to-night as to concede them a large proportion of that back service which they claim.


The right hon. Gentleman has put the case of these officials very fairly. In all parts of the House we recognise the difficulty before the Secretary for Scotland in bringing forward any measure of this kind which would seek to assist anyone financially, but what he will require to show us is this. I suppose it is common ground that, as a result of the Blackburn Committee, a very large sum of money has been accumulated for the express purpose of redeeming the status of men who are recognised to be wholly underpaid. The right hon. Gentleman estimates the sum accumulated at £100,000. Representing the older procurators fiscal, who do not elect to come under the superannuation scheme as being wholly inapplicable to them, we are entitled to ask the Secretary for Scotland what proportion of that £100,000 is to go to these older members of the staff, for whom the money in large part was collected. It is not a question of the Treasury at all. The money was raised for a particular purpose. All that the House is concerned with is that it shall be appropriated to the objects for which it was raised.

I notice that correspondence has taken place between the Scottish Office and the Procurators Fiscal Association. A great point is made that you cannot raise the Procurator Fiscal's salary beyond that of the sheriff substitute. May I remind the Lord Advocate of the position of the Solicitor-General and the Judges of the Court of Session previous to the Criminal Procedure Act. At that time the Solicitor-General enjoyed a salary of £900, while the salary of a Judge of the Court of Session was £2,700. Lord Kingsburgh represented that under his Bill he would effect such economies as would enable the Solicitor-General for Scotland to be paid not £900, but £2,000, and enable the salary of a Judge of the Court of Session to 'be raised from £2,700 to £3,600. The Lord Advocate also knows that there has been an agitation against the inadequacy of our County Court Judges' salaries in Scotland. I think the standard salary in many cases is something like £700 or £800, while the minimum County Judge's salary in England is £1,500. I do not think it can be denied by anyone who is acquainted with the work done by those respective Judges that Scottish Judges' work is very largely in excess of that of the English. Therefore it is no argument against the Fiscals, when you are going to redeem the disabilities from which they suffer, that you cannot raise them and not the sheriffs substitute. Do justice to the Fiscals and do justice to the County Court Judges whenever the occasion permits of your doing so, but it is no argument that because one man is underpaid another man should continue to be underpaid. I have no desire to be unduly clannish to members of my own profession, but I am not prepared to be flagrantly disloyal to men who do most important service and who admittedly up to this time have teen wholly underpaid. One's spirit of loyalty to his party can be strained in a case of this kind. I do not say mine will be strained to breaking point, but I urge upon the Secretary for Scotland in some way or another to do justice to these men and to pay over to them the money he owes them. It is not merely a case of doing justice. It is a case of refraining from holding back money which has been raised for a particular purpose, and has not been appropriated to that purpose. No argument of economy can justify such an action by a Conservative Government, and I hope the Lord Advocate, with the example lying behind him of his distinguished predecessor with regard to the Solicitor-General and the Judges of the Court of Session, will on this occasion do justice to the Sheriff Clerks and Procurators Fiscal of Scotland.


I am sure all Scottish Members will welcome the fact that a Bill has at least been introduced to remedy what has been a longstanding injustice. At the same time I think there is not a Scottish Member here who does not feel disappointed at the terms contained in the Bill. I associate myself thoroughly with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Graham), who put the case for these officers most clearly and fairly. I should like to emphasise strongly his argument that this is an injustice which has existed for 50 years. It has been admitted that these officers have not been paid what they ought to have been paid, salaries commensurate with the duties they had to perform, for some 50 years past. That is a very strong argument when we consider the date that is fixed behind which pension rates are not allowed to go, namely, 1918. When we consider the matter in its broad aspects I think full weight should be given to that fact and Treasury Regulations should not be allowed to stand in the way of repairing what is an admitted injustice. I should like the Secretary for Scotland to tell us what will be the position as regards salaries of a Fiscal who is now in the unrestricted class. As I understand it, his salary will be fixed according to circumstances. That is very vague, and it is a very unsatisfatory position for a man—at present there are 21 in that class—to be entirely in ignorance as to what his future salary may be. I should like to emphasise the necessity of all Scottish Members doing all they can in Committee to improve the terms and endeavour to persuade the Secretary for Scotland to agree to improve the terms where he will find very great difficulty in enlarging them.


In this Bill there one Clause which I hope is to be departed from. I may explain for the benefit of English Members that a Procurator Fiscal is the prosecutor of crime under the Lord Advocate. We have no right of private prosecution in Scotland. All crimes are prosecuted by the Procurator Fiscal and he is one of the most important caretakers, as one might say, of the character and reputation of all the citizens in his area. A Procurator Fiscal of bad judgment, an indiscreet man or one with the slightest trace of corruption or bias, might ruin the reputation of a. vast number of citizens He is absolutely a free man who can only be removed in case of gross misconduct on the report of the Lord Advocate to a Judge of the Court of Sessions, who will inquire carefully into the mistake he has made I do not think there has even been a case of that sort in connection with a procurator fiscal, because the procurators fiscal in Scotland have hitherto borne a blameless record. I find that in Clause 1 (2) that has been departed from, and a new provision has been made to the effect that they may be removed from office by the Lord Advocate without consulting Judges of Quarter Session, and that, under Clause 7 (1), is to be applied even to existing officers. I hope that will not be done, because it is not a position in which a man with the great responsibility of a procurator fiscal should be placed. It is a sound principle that any man in a position where he has so much within his control should be liable to dismissal by a person who from time to time changes, as Governments change. While he is in a judicial position he should be in the position of a Judge of the Court, or very nearly so. The present system gives him a great deal more freedom, and makes him more independent. I have no criticism to make of any Lord Advocate; but it is not right that a man should be in that dependent position and that he should be liable to be removed at the dictum of a single man. It is only right that he should have the protection that he can only be removed after consultation with two Judges.

The Treasury got considerable sums of money for a number of years by raising the fees of the Sheriff Court and the Supreme Court in Scotland. The fees of the Supreme Court were raised in a most extraordinary fashion. The fees in the first instance were doubled, and another extraordinary fee was imposed. The unfortunate client is charged 10s. an hour for the time his counsel is speaking, as if he were a taxi-cab. That has had a very grave effect upon litigation and has added to the expense of litigation very materially. I do not know that it has shortened the speeches to any serious extent. It is a very ridiculous regulation, and I hope that some day it will be got rid of. If any counsel comes in and mentions cases during the period when any particular case is being heard, the people feel that he has taken up some part of their 10s. an hour. This is a thoroughly wrong proceeding. The expenses are far too high. They have brought in very considerable sums to the Treasury, and instead of devoting the money to the purpose for which it was intended, the Treasury have calmly pocketed it, and are holding on to it. If it were not the Treasury that was involved, it would be the duty of the Lord Advocate to prosecute for misappropriation of money.

The Treasury have had the money for a number of years, and now they come forward and make proposals which are not fair. If you take the case of a procurator fiscal who has served 40 years, although he is to be allowed to date back to 1918, the pension will work out at something like 10s. 6d. per week. It will be better for these gentlemen to go on the unemployment benefit. I do not believe in pensions, either for civil servants or anyone else. I have always been of opinion, especially in regard to the teaching profession, that they should cultivate the virtue of thrift. If pensions are to be given—the Treasury have the money, because they have raised the fees in order to give the pension—the Treasury ought to devote the money to its proper purpose instead of holding it up. They ought to give proper treatment, particularly to these old servants who have been working on very inadequate salaries. When one considers the salaries paid and the possibilities of temptation that might be put in their way, the cleanliness and virtue of the Procurators Fiscal in the way they have carried on has been most extraordinary. There has never been the slightest breath of scandal against the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland. They have conducted their cases with judicial discretion and fairness, and as one who has pleaded on the other side in Court I want to pay them the highest possible tribute. It would be better not to give them anything at all than to offer some of these men who have served 40 years the pensions that are offered. In these circumstances, although we can go into the matter further in Committee, I wish to enter a caveat against consenting to this Bill as it stands in regard to the power to remove these important public officers and in regard to the inadequate pensions offered to these old and valuable public servants.


I am afraid that the Secretary for Scotland is finding himself without many friends from the Members from Scotland. Perhaps he will allow me to say how very glad I am that, at last, we have reached the stage of having a Bill to criticise. The fiscal and sheriff clerks in Scotland have been asking since 1854 to have their position codified as civil servants. In 1854 a Royal Commission reported in favour of it, and in 1871 and in 1915 Royal Commissions also reported in favour. In 1920, Lord Blackburn's Commission reported in favour. That report raised the question of finance, and I am referring to it now because of what has been said about the expense of providing reasonable pensions. When the Blackburn Commission reported on the question of making arrangements, the question of finance arose and another remit was made to the Blackburn Commission to consider, in the light of their former report, what steps should be taken in the Courts to meet the necessarily increased expenditure, if their recommendations were put into force. They reported in certain terms, and, acting upon that report, fees were advanced, and for years now practitioners and petitioners in the Court have been paying additional fees for the purpose of meeting the recommendations of Lord Blackburn's Commission. Now, the Secretary for Scotland, having at his call in the Treasury an accumulated surplus, comes forward and recommends not what Lord Blackburn's Commission recommended but something quite different.

Upon the financial details I do not want to enter, but there are two points of principle in the Bill to which attention ought to be drawn. I suppose that no one who has not had actual experience of work of the procurator fiscal can possibly understand the importance of his work. The whole fabric of the administration of criminal law in Scotland is a very delicate organism. It rests absolutely upon the confidence of the people in those who are appointed to carry out the duties. I find in this Bill two points of principle which this House ought to have before it before they agree to the Second Reading. The first is that, instead of those who are responsible for investigating alleged crimes, and recommending charges being brought, or referring a question to Crown counsel, being as they have always been recognised as appointed for life or for blame, and only removable by the High Court, we are now going to have them removable at will by the Lord Advocate. If we could only be sure that the present Lord Advocate was going to remain in that position permanently, we should not perhaps have a strong objection to this Clause. Obviously, he is not, and no one can foretell who may succeed him. In any event, whoever he may be, it is not good that any man who has the very delicate position of having to decide in the first instance whether any prosecution is to take place or any steps towards a prosecution should be taken should be in the hands, so far as removal is concerned, of any single person.

Another objection upon which I lay the very greatest stress is this. This Bill introduces into the system of criminal law in Scotland a principle upon which a man may hold high public office of infinite importance and at the same time carry on private practice. That principle was in operation for many years, but in 1881 the position had become so shocking that the practice was entirely abolished. There had been in Scotland a great deal of trouble arising out of the perpetual land hunger of the people in the Highlands and Islands, and it was discovered that the person whose duty it was to prosecute certain of these men on account of action which they had taken in connection with that land, was himself the man of business and the adviser of the proprietor of the land out of which the prosecution would arise.

It is said that in large cities a full-time man is appointed. That is true. But everybody who knows anything about the system knows that in large cities and in large counties there is not the same temptation there is in small places. It is precisely in the small places that a man is more liable to influence, it may be corrupt influence, it may be conscious influence, or it may be unconscious influence, the influence of position, the influence of friendship, but it is only in the small places where these unrestricted officers are to be appointed as procurators fiscal. I hope, when we are dealing with such a thing as the administration of criminal law in Scotland, which is so delicately poised that the breath of suspicion would bring the whole fabric to the ground, that it will not be done in such a way as to produce even the possibility of one of these procurators fiscal being subjected either to influence, persuasion, cajolery or threats in the carrying out of his business.

10.0 P.M.

Perhaps, after all, the financial position is more important. I will give the House the case of a man who has had in his discretion the criminal jurisdiction of a great area in Scotland for 40 years. He retires under this Bill and receives 10s. 6d. a week as a pension. A superintendent of police in the same county, not the chief constable, but a superintendent of police, who joined in the same year, retired the other day with a retiring allowance of £360 a year. To the man who was charged with the administration of justice in the whole county you offer £25 a year and to one of those whose business it is to superintend the police of the county you give a retiring allowance of £360 a year. There are men in Glasgow who will be retired under this Bill after 35 years' service with a retiring allowance of £30. There are policemen in Glasgow who will retire after 32 years' service at 52 years of age with a retiring allowance of £116 a year, and promptly go and obtain another job the remuneration of which will supplement their already considerable pensions. Does it seem right, when men have been clamouring for a pension scheme since 1854, that at this stage they should be treated on retirement as being of less importance than one of the most modest constables in the jurisdiction over which they exercise power? I do submit on those three points to the Secretary for Scotland that, if he desires to retain the admiration of the Members for Scotland, he will yield a little more.


In spite of the eloquence of the hon. Member opposite I am not going to endeavour to become a modest member of the Glasgow force, although the inducements seem considerable. I most heartily admire the statement of the case for the officials under the pensions provisions of this Bill which has been made by the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh. I think that he pointed to the action of the Blackburn Commission in the raising of fees for the express purpose of making adequate provision by way of pension for these officials who occupy very important positions in the administration of justice in Scotland.

These people have had the fees in courts raised for their benefit, and it does seem rather a misappropriation of funds —if one can apply such a term to the Treasury and to the Government—if these people are not going to get an adequate pension provision. We are not asking the Treasury to tax people, we are not asking the long suffering taxpayer to pay anything more, but we are asking that a fund earmarked for a certain purpose should be devoted to that purpose, and that justice should be done to men of high character who have done their best work for very little remuneration.


I am not sure that it is necessary for me to join in this Debate. There seems to be almost unanimity, and apparently it is only the Lord Advocate and the Secretary for Scotland who are against giving justice to our Sheriff Courts' officers. The Secretary for Scotland at the very start of the Debate gave away the case, because he told us very plainly that this was the last word which he was prepared to say on the subject. I submit for his consideration the fact that these men who are now to retire on such inadequate pensions are not civil servants, and that, therefore, he should not be uneasy about laying down a precedent. If they had been civil servants, they would retire with a more or less adequate allowance, but they are not civil servants. In spite of the fact that I noticed the Lord Advocate shaking his head when the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Ford) said that the money accumulated was for the purpose of paying these men a reasonable allowance, I am not yet convinced that the money was not collected for that specific purpose.


Among others.


That is quite sufficient for our purpose; the money was given for certain purposes, and this was one of the purposes. Then why in the name of goodness should any right hon. Gentleman who adorns the Front Bench refuse to give part of that money in order to satisfy the just demands of these men? I am extremely pleased to see the unanimity amongst Scottish Members. Evidently friendship is much more easily cemented in the Law than in the Church. I am glad that every one of us is agreed that the time has come for justice to be done to these men. It would be a standing disgrace to Scotland and to Scottish Members if these men were allowed to retire with such miserable allowances as have been proposed. It was only to identify myself with other Scottish Members who have spoken that I rose. I do not think there is any adequate argument on the other side, but for some mysterious reason this justice is bring denied. I trust that even now the matter will be reconsidered. These men are amongst the most hard worked in the legal profession in Scotland. They are above suspicion. I agree with the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell) that their work should be full time work. In this great Empire our procurators fiscal should be able to secure such remuneration as will put them above the necessity of looking after private practice. Even at this eleventh hour I hope that justice will be done.


I have held the office of Sheriff in Scotland, and for many years was a Crown counsel there, and I can bear testimony to the good work done by the officials in question. I agree that the remuneration hitherto has been totally inadequate. I do not wish to repeat all the arguments, that have been put forward by other speakers. The quickest way of showing my opinion in the matter is to concur in what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. William Graham) who opened the Debate. His statement was moderate and convincing, and I commend it to the earnest consideration of the Secretary for Scotland. I hope that all the Scottish Bills will be dealt with to-night.


I want to express my whole-hearted support of the protest against that part of the Bill which deals with the salaries of these men, who are discharging responsible duties. I was very much surprised at the revelation of the meagre salaries that have been paid to some of them. The information that has been circulated is astounding. It has been admitted by the Lord Advocate that money was raised for the particular purpose we are now commending to the Government. For three years that money has been accumulating at the rate of £30,000 a year. Is it correct, as has been indicated, that the Treasury has laid hold of this money, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is setting out, like a political highwayman, to lift money wherever he can find it, without any regard for the reasons for which the money has been raised?

Reference has been made to the pensions likely to be given under this Bill, and by contrast to the pensions that are given to the police. We recall that the police at one time took a very definite stand in defence of their collective interests, and that they were moved out of the line they had taken by a special deal which the Government of the day made with them. That stands out in remarkable contrast with what is presented to the House to-night. It brings home to every thinking man the idea that when you can bring up strong forces to dictate to some degree, there is a chance of making an impression on a Government, whereas faithful men discharging responsible duties with fidelity, whose situation Commissions have described as "disgraceful," can be deliberately cheated out of their due reward. I do not know that we could find a more discreditable performance. Act after Act has recognised other officials and has based pensions on the full period of their service, but in a case of these men. the pensionable service is to date back only to 1918. That proposal leaves a very bad impression. You will leave the impression that only through the strongest pos- sible pressure—and that probably brought to bear without regard to merit or demerit—is it possible to make the Government meet the claims which are put forward by men discharging these duties. I wish to enter my strong protest against the Bill in that particular respect.


I do not propose to go into the merits of the debatable Clause in this Bill as they have been fully stated already. I rise merely to say that I hope the Government, after this Debate, will find themselves in the position of being able to give more adequate pensions and that they will not be bound by the 1918 rule. Very glad shall we be to hear of such a concession from either the Secretary for Scotland or the Lord Advocate. If, on the other hand, it should turn out that no concession is possible then I suggest that we should hear the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the subject. It is well known throughout Scotland that successive Secretaries for Scotland and Lord Advocates have done their best to extract from the Treasury—what is only common justice—some of the money which was accumulated for this specific purpose. The Lord Advocate will, no doubt, be able to state most admirably the Treasury's reasons for refusing, but I do not think Scotland will be satisfied unless we hear the Treasury's own defence.

The circumstances are exceptional. First we have a series of commissions clearly showing that there is this measure of justice to be done. We then have financial arrangements made whereby a fund is accumulated for the better payment of these legal officials. The fund however is not used for the purpose for which it was collected End I do not think it is possible to deny that over a series of years the strongest pressure has been put upon the Treasury to give up what I venture to call a most absurd red-tape regulation. I used those words not without cause. I think the House is clearly of opinion that in the case of Civil Service pensions, paid out of the ordinary public funds, it is absolutely necessary to have a standard rule, and not to count the years before 1918 is no doubt an admirable practical rule but the funds from which these pensions are to be paid are not the ordinary public funds There is, as I say, a fund specially instituted for the purpose and all who know anything about the question will agree that the Treasury attitude is one in which form has got the better of common-sense. If the Treasury is going to maintain an attitude which Scotland regards as ridiculous, I strongly urge that we should hear from the representative of the Treasury the reasons for that attitude. I hope, however, that there will be no need for that and that the Lord Advocate will be able to assure the House that this Debate has not been in vain.


I propose to use the short time which I intend to occupy in entering my objection, in the strongest manner possible, to the claim of the Treasury. It claims to lay down conditions for the employment, removal, and payment of salaries of men engaged in purely Scottish work. I am glad to know there is absolute unanimity between all parties in Scotland on this question, and surely it is not unreasonable to hope that between now and Committee stage the Scottish Secretary and the Lord Advocate will see whether they cannot meet the united Scottish opinion, particularly with respect to the more or less extreme attitude adopted by the Treasury. Even though the Treasury were likely to be more considerate than it is anticipated they will be, still there is something in the claim of the officials at the Treasury, because I am not one of those who believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury are the persons who decide these questions. I look upon the individuals who are connected with the staff as being largely responsible for that particular claim, and I resent the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary interfering in this matter, and I resent still more strongly interference by officials in the Department, with whom we have no opportunity of discussing the matter in this House.

We on this side who represent Labour opinion in Scotland and who are not particularly too well respected even by a big proportion of the men who are engaged in this particular occupation—we do not: draw very much support from them, speaking generally—recognise that they have a reasonable and a just claim, and we are prepared to render absolute, undivided support to their claim, because it is reasonable and fair, and without regard to partisanship at all. I submit that, particularly on this question of the interference of the Treasury in this matter, with which they have nothing whatever to do. As the last speaker quite properly said, this money is not raised from taxation, but comes from an entirely different source, and they are putting the sheriff clerks and their deputes and assistants and the procurators fiscal and their deputes and assistants in a very much worse position than any other branch of the Civil Service. I do not think it can be justified, and I am sure the Lord Advocate will not justify it, nor will the Secretary for Scotland, and I wish to impress upon them as strongly as I can that there is in this case as nearly as possible absolute unanimity of the three political parties. We are willing, by giving the greatest amount of consideration, to assist the Government in carrying this thing through, but we ask that the reasonable claim of the united Scottish opinion on a very reasonable demand, made by respectable, intelligent, and highly educated, non-Bolshevik members of the Scottish community should be treated in a different fashion than is the case.


Being a member of the legal profession, and also being an honorary sheriff substitute in one of the counties of Scotland, I do think it is up to me to say, also, how much I appreciate the work of the procurators fiscal and the sheriff clerks, and I do agree most sincerely with everything the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) has said in asking the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate to give this matter very full consideration indeed. It seems to me that a very good precedent has been given them in the taking over of all the librarians in what was formerly the Advocates' library and is now the Scottish National Library, and in putting them in the position of civil servants. These procurators fiscal and sheriff clerks' deputies have been responsible for the administration of justice in the remoter parts of Scotland, and I sincerely think their work and their duties entitle them most fully to every consideration that the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate can give them.


I wish to join in the protests that have been made with regard to the action of the Treasury. I was interested, in reading the correspondence between the Secretary for Scotland and the association of officers, to notice that one of the reasons that was given for refusing to meet what Members of all parties will agree is a legitimate demand on the part of those officers, was the reaction it might cause in another quarter. I do not think the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate should allow any such consideration to stand between those individuals and what they ought to receive. The Lord Advocate has tried to make it plain that this money for making provision for these individuals was not altogether raised for this particular purpose. At the same time, while there was the desire to meet the claims of the fiscals and the sheriff court officers, I think, seeing that all the Members of the House practically, except the representatives on the Government Bench, are agreed that the case which has been made out is good, it is a very strong position for the representatives of the Government to take up, that they should flout or disregard the united opinion of the Members of all the parties in the House.

We are often told about the glory of the British Constitution, and the fact that we are a democracy, and that there is no Bolshevism in this country, but if the Treasury and the Government are going to disregard the practically unanimous opinion of the Scottish representatives in this matter, it seems to me we have got an instance of Bolshevism on the part of the Lord Advocate and the Secretary for Scotland. If my contention be correct, then in these days, with the Home Secretary so intensely active and industrious, I believe it would be well for the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate to shed any trace of Bolshevism by seeking to dictate to members of their own and the other parties who are unanimous with regard to the claims of those officers in Scotland. A great deal has been said complimentary to procurators fiscal and sheriff officers. I myself have not had very much experience of them. I have occasionally met a procurator fiscal when he has been sent here from Scotland. I have had a little correspondence with him with regard to constituents of my own. I have also seen the sheriff clerks at election times. On all these occasions my experience has been that they are a courteous, kindly, and considerate sort of people. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) suggests that I must have met with somewhat different individuals to those he has met. At the same time the procurator fiscal has got an unfortunate job in some respects. It is not a nice job. If, however, it is necessary to have these officers, then it is only fair that we should treat them with justice.

I hope that the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate are going to meet the opinion of the House of Commons in regard to the claims of these officers. I should like, therefore, categorically to ask the Lord Advocate, when he replies, to give us an assurance that this matter will be left to the free vote of the Members of the Scottish Standing Committee. They can decide on the claims of these officers, and say whether or not they should be met. I hope that the Lord Advocate will be able to give a definite reply, "Yes" or "No," to that question. If he refuses to accept the decision, then it is one more instance, to my mind, of the dictatorship of the Treasury, or the Bolshevism that is inherent in the present Government. Certainly we are going to have a concession made to these men. The Government, with their majority, should be prepared to face the conflict or contest that may arise in regard to demand from other quarters to be put in an equal position. But let them treat each case on its merits. If it is right for these men to have this concession, then do not be afraid of somebody else, who possibly may be able to put up a case without being able to get similar terms from the Government. If it is right, let the men have it. I do not think there can be any question in regard to the justice of the claim that these officers in the Scottish legal societies are making at the present time.


I do not propose to deal in detail with the arguments that have been put forward, but I will try to deal with the definite points that have been made by the various speakers. First of all, let me deal with what has been described as an alleged breach of faith on the part of the Government in not using the proceeds of the increased scale of fees for the purpose of giving better terms for back service to existing officers over the age of 55. There is no foundation at all for that charge. The recommendations in the Report of the Blackburn Committee on the proposals for increasing the fees was in order to meet the costs of the salaries and allowances of the officers of the Sheriffs' Courts, including such additional cost as would be entailed by the adoption of that Committee's recommendations. I wish to remind the House that prior to this, owing to the addition of bonus and the increase or decrease of the value of money, there was an annual deficiency on the amount then recovered from fees, and the amount then payable even on the admittedly inadequate salaries, plus bonus, of sheriff officers; and the purpose of this increase was undoubtedly partly— we need not bother about the proportion—to meet that deficiency as well as the proposals for improvements made by the first Blackburn Committee. As regards the point on which these increases are now claimed, so far from that having been made a financial proposal by the first Blackburn Committee, their proposal was this, both as regards procurators fiscal and sheriffs' clerks, that they should be given the option—that is, existing officers —of availing themselves of the benefits of any superannuation scheme that might be adopted, subject to its conditions, or of continuing to hold office in terms of their present appointment unaffected by the new arrangements. Those proposals are in the present Bill. I do not suggest this reply as necessarily a reply on the question of the amount, but I do suggest that it is a complete reply to any suggestion of ill-faith as regards the increased fees.

Before I say anything more, I would like, as one having had great experience of, and also considerable responsibility for, procurators fiscal, and also as a result of experience of the staff of sheriff clerks in Scotland, to say that they are a very fine body, and no praise can be too high for them. They have very arduous and responsible duties to carry out, and they do their work very well. It is on that footing that one approaches the present proposals. It is interesting to note, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, that the arguments we have heard to-night contain nothing fresh beyond the arguments submitted to the Treasury in 1924, at the time when the right hon. Gentleman opposite was, at any rate, partly responsible for the Treasury, and as my right hon. Friend has already informed the House, our proposals in this Bill are the high-water mark of the concessions then made by the Treasury in 1924. With regard to the question of counting back service, the suggestion has been made that the National Library of Scotland provides an analogous case, but it seems to me that it is hardly analogous to the present position. There we had the offer, a very munificent offer, of a library on certain conditions as to the existing staff. The offer, with the conditions, was either to be taken or left. That is quite different from the present case. Reference was made, too, to police officers' pensions. A police officer has come into the service under pension conditions already existing; and that is the unfortunate distinction which we have to make as regards existing officers in the present service. The Treasury find themselves unable to see any special circumstances in the present case which can justify a departure from what is a fixed rule, and a necessary rule, in that service, and accordingly the proposals of the Bill are as stated. There are one or two other points I shall deal with. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) referred to unrestricted procurators fiscal. These, of course, in accordance with the recommendations of the Blackburn Committee, are not being put on the establishment basis at all, and they will continue on the same conditions as at present, where unrestricted officials are considered desirable. There is no doubt that wherever there is sufficient work a whole-time procurator fiscal will be employed, and where there is not sufficient work for a whole-time official, then clearly the sensible thing to do is to appoint a part-time official, unless there are reasons of public policy which render it more desirable to have a whole-time official, even though it costs the State more. That policy was followed at some of the northern districts for a number of years because it was found desirable, but circumstances have changed, and it does not necessarily remain desirable to do that now.


Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that the salary will remain the same?


It will remain on the same basis and the salary will remain the same unless circumstances change. This Bill, however, will not affect, except for the better, the existing unrestricted procurators fiscal. They are not being put on a salary basis, and therefore the question of pensions does not affect them at all. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) spoke of procurators fiscal as occupying a special quasi-judicial position. I do not think it is right to say that they occupy a judicial position at all. I know they are public servants in a responsible position, and they have public duties to perform.

Objection was taken also to the power of dismissal and the termination of the services of Procurators Fiscal being in the hands of the Lord Advocate. Although I think that is a right provision, it is a matter upon which I have no prejudices, and the Government are ready to listen to any suggestions for a reconsideration of this point. The Procurator Fiscal is responsible to the Lord Advocate who appoints him, and therefore, the Lord Advocate should have control over the termination of his services. I merely throw that out as a justification of the proposals in the Bill, although the Government are quite willing to reconsider the point. The increase of fees took effect from the 1st April, 1922, and because the increase of salaries was one of the recommendations of the Blackburn Committee, it has been provided that as regards the increases of salary they are to date from that date and not from the present date. In other words, as regards current matters, this money, to that extent at any rate, is to be devoted to the purposes for which it was obtained. Lastly, let me say one word on the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) with regard to a free vote of the House. In a matter which, like this is essentially a matter of the expenditure of money, it would be novel that it should be left to a free vote of the House, and I can hardly think the hon. Member was serious in making such a proposal. In any event, I would suggest that the position maintained by the Government is a matter of principle, and not of this particular case. I would ask the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill now, in order that we may more fruitfully and in more detail discuss any points on which discussion and, possibly, amendment may be desirable in Committee upstairs.


So far as my colleagues and myself are concerned, we have no intention of dividing against the Second Reading of the Bill, but we must reserve the right to discuss, during the Committee stage, these matters that have been so thoroughly ventilated to-night. I think the Government and the Treasury have had a very good indication to-night, as far as the Scottish Members are concerned, that they are not satisfied with the terms set forth in the Bill. I do not envy the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate their task in Committee if we have as united a national party there as we have had on the Floor of the House to-night. I hope that in the interval the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate will have a very serious discussion, both with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, because it is quite evident, from what has taken place here, that there is a unanimous feeling everywhere among the Scottish Members that the terms provided for in this Bill are not satisfactory. I hope that, by the time we reach the Committee stage, they will have something of a more satisfactory nature to put before us. If they have not, there are troublous times before them in the Scottish Grand Committee.


Far be it from me to rush into a discussion of the details of this Bill, when so many members of the legal profession have been spreading their oratorical wings. The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) expressed the hope that this discussion which we have been having would be a fruitful one, but I am afraid that, after listening to the speech of the Lord Advocate, he must have been somewhat disappointed. The Lord Advocate, at any rate, gave nothing away, and gave us no indication that he was going to give us any concession at all. I hope that all those who have spoken, in all quarters of the House, in such a, spirit of endeavour to improve this Bill from the point of view of Scotland and the interests of Scottish legal administration, will not waver, when the time comes in the Scottish Grand Committee, in giving us their support in effecting the amendments which Members of all parties have unanimously agreed in this Debate are required.

The Lord Advocate referred to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), that we should have a free Division in the Scottish Standing Committee on these proposals, as a sort of joke. Surely, in the Scottish Standing Committee, when Scottish. Members of all parties meet together to discuss this important question of Scottish legal administration, we might be permitted to discuss the matter merely on the merits, and without regard to the political interests of the Government in power. Therefore, I venture to press home, after what the Lord Advocate has said, the suggestion that we should have a free vote on this question in the Scottish Standing Committee, and I also venture to hope that we shall have the support of all Members in all quarters of the House who have spoken so well in this Debate.


I have seldom heard the Lord Advocate so weak in stating a case. His handling of the Church Bill was a compliment both to his intelligence and legal knowledge, and I would have thought, after his statesmanlike ability there, that he would at least have handled this business better to-night. His heart, mind and thoughts are all on our side and against what he spoke. The only part where he was strong was in his reference to a Labour Government. We had no Lord Advocate; he was outside, looking at us from afar. I have no doubt that if the Lord Advocate had been in the House he would have said exactly the same thing as the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) said to-night. He would not have differed. His opinions would be the same to-night as last year. The thing that has altered is not the man but his office, and secondly his opinions. That is what is happening on this side as well. It is not the business of those who sit here or there or where the Member for Perth sits, merely to acquiesce like dumb driven people in what the Front Bench Member says. I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and his colleagues on the first sign of their independence since this Parliament. Long may it continue and grow and prosper. My whole intention and basis is against the sheriffs' officers. I have never had that great civility that some people talk of. I have never had any great courtesy from them. Many of my poor constituents have been treated brutally by them. I have no great love for them as individuals, I started with a prejudice against sheriff clerks and all my personal indignation against them, but even with that their statement of the case to any man of any kind is one thing and even I with my prejudice have come to the conclusion that their statement is sound and one which Parliament would be well advised to grant. That is my own view. My constituents in my opinion should have received the best treatment from them. But I hope the Government will relent and grant this small request. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has just come in. He, after all, is the boss and ho should rise in his place and admit that those men have made out an excellent case. I only hope the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of Scotland between now and the Committee Stage will reconsider the matter and grant the concession which the Scottish Members want.

The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.