HC Deb 26 March 1929 vol 226 cc2396-402

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Sir V. Henderson.]


Do the Government really intend to take the Second Reading of this Bill at this late hour and on the eve of the Easter recess? Above all others this is a Bill on which the Government should give some explanation to the House. Yet the Government propose to push the Bill through without a single word of explanation. It is the fourth Bill of the kind that the Government have brought before the House. We have had Bills dealing with diplomatic pensions, judicial pensions, Dominion Governors' pensions, and now there is this stipendiary magistrates Bill. We have had no explanations of this Bill such as were provided in the case of the previous Bills. Previous Bills were accompanied by a White Paper that was easily understood. It told us what the pensions are, and what they would be when the Bill relating to them was passed. No one can understand the White Paper on this Bill. The Bill tells us the following: To a magistrate who has served seven years or upwards a further addition to the annual allowance, first, of one-sixtieth in respect of each additional year of such service until the completion of the tenth year of such service; again of two-sixtieths in respect of each additional year of such service after the completion of the said tenth year of service, until the completion of the twentieth year of service. Who can understand that? The Home Secretary should tell the House frankly what is the average pension received by these stipendiary magistrates now, and what would be the average pension when the Bill is passed? There is one paragraph in the White Paper that is really illuminating. It says: At present pensions in force cost about £6,000 per annum, and it is estimated that under present arrangements this figure would, at the end of 40 years, come to an average of £8,500 per annum. After 40 years, the amount will increase by £2,500. That gives one the impression that the Government think that the total amount of increase of pensions by £2,500 is not sufficient, and therefore they want an increase at the present time without waiting for 40 years. The last Act dealing with the superannuation of stipendiary magistrates was passed as recently as 1915. What need is there for the Government at this late hour to attempt to rush through this Bill? I take it that in 1915 the Government acted fairly towards the stipendiary magistrates? That being so, there is no need to come to the House now for the purpose of rushing through this Bill. If it is a question of altering Acts of Parliament dealing with pensions, are there not other Acts which could be far better altered and which are more in need of being altered? I could suggest a far stronger case for altering other Acts. The Government have put up posters and placards as to the pensions given to widows, but not as to increased pensions to diplomatic servants, the Judicial Committee or to Dominion Governors, and if this Bill passes I do not think they will add these pensions to the list on their placards. I could make a far stronger case than this for altering an Act of Parliament. The Government passed an Act to give old age pensions of 10s. a week to men at 65 and to widows. If the Government really want to do something, let them turn their attention to that Act, and they will be doing something worth doing. Ten shillings a week is so small that it does not enable a man to give up work. Not only did they give only 10s. a week to men of 65, but they took away far bigger benefits than the men were receiving. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]


The hon. Member is being led into discussing another Act.


I apologise, but hon. Members were rather denying what I feel strongly upon. If they had brought forward a Bill to increase the pension to men of 65 and widows, we would have helped them to pass it quickly. Instead of that, they want to make sure of increasing the pensions of people who are already receiving fairly decent pensions. What have these stipendiary magistrates done to warrant the introduction of this Bill? I should be out of order if I dealt with one stipendiary magistrate who made remarks about South Wales miners a week ago, and I will not go into that. There is nothing which can be said for increasing these pensions as compared with those of men at 65. We opposed all the increases of pensions to diplomatic servants, the Judicial Committee and Dominion Governors, because we thought they were not justified, and we oppose this on the same ground. We believe that if the Government want to increase pensions, they should start with the poorest of the poor, and not believe in that old adage, "To him that hath shall be given." We do not agree with that, and we say, "To him that hath, shall not be given." They should give to those who have not, and therefore I oppose the Second Reading of this Bill.


I want to find out the real position in regard to this Bill. I understand it is based on the present salary of £1,500 a year, and that, at present, after 15 years these magistrates are entitled to fifteen-sixtieths, and for every year afterwards one-sixtieth until in 30 years they reach the maximum pension of £1,000 or two-thirds of the present salary. The Bill, I understand, is to amend that, and that after eleven years, they will get two-sixtieths for each year or £50 instead of £25, reaching the maximum in 20 years instead of 30 years. The argument is that owing to county court judges being in a better position, equality should be given to these magistrates. That was the argument of the Under-Secretary.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Lieut.-Colonel Sir Vivian Henderson)

I made that statement but I did not say that that was the reason why we were introducing the Bill. I said that the reason for the Bill was that, in existing circumstances, the average age at which a magistrate takes office is 52, and he could not qualify for full pension, because he has to retire at 70.


I thought the main argument was that other people were getting it.


No, but I mentioned that fact.


At a time like this I submit there is no need for this increase. The argument has been put forward on several occasions that because other people have certain advantages those advantages should be extended. That principle would be all right if it applied all round, but it does not. In November last a deputation asked the Minister of Health to remove an anomaly in the Old Age Pensions Act, and were told that the State could not afford the money, and that the Financial Resolution governing the matter could not be altered. But there is no difficulty in finding sums of money to give additional benefits to people who do not need them, and on such occasions as this we must protest that the Government are not dealing fairly with large numbers of people who are more deserving than the magistrates. I know that if the Government intend to get the Bill through they will do so, but we must make known our protest on this point.


When the Under-Secretary introduced the Financial Resolution I told him we would take every oppor- tunity of protesting against this Measure. We protest on the grounds put forward by the previous speakers, and also on the ground that there are many employés of the Government, in a much lower wage position than these people, to whom the Government refuse pensions. There are men who have been employed by the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Office of Works for from 20 to 50 years who are refused pensions, and such pensions as are given are of very small amount. Even the privilege of a week's holiday with pay is refused on the ground that the State cannot find the money, but it seems to be an easy matter to discover money for these other people.

11.0 p.m.


I wish to utter by protest against this Bill. Apparently the Government are not coming back into power after the Election, and so they are trying to get through all these Bills before the Election. There are 60,000 women in this country who need pensions, but who can get nothing beyond what they are able to obtain from the boards of guardians. They have been set aside by the Government and refused pensions without any good reason at all, and we cannot help protesting against these things. We cannot get it out of our minds that at least the law for the rich is different from that for the poor, and I hope the Minister will take into consideration the people for whom we have been pleading. Not only would pensions help them, but they would help the ratepayers in the various areas of the country, especially such areas as those from which we come in the North, where everybody is suffering from the very high rates.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

I hope hon. Members, because they do not feel that justice has been done to one class of the community, will not prevent justice being done to another. When I came into office four years ago, there were two sets of men working more or less under the Home Office, for whom I was responsible, who were disgruntled. The police were one and the other were the police magistrates. The House will remember that one of the first things that I did after I was appointed Home Secretary was to get in touch with the police, that large body of wage earners, and remedy their grievance. I came to an arrangement with the police which was quite satisfactory to them, in regard to their pensions. I cleared that out of the way in the first place, because they were the larger number, and hon. Members will at least give me the credit for having done that. Then time after time I have been in touch with the Metropolitan Police magistrates, who have complained that it is impossible for them under the present circumstances ever to retire on their full pension. The proposal in this Bill is not to increase their pensions, but so to alter them that they can get their full maximum pension at a time of life when they will have a chance to enjoy it.


The Bill does increase the pension after the eleventh year.


The hon. Member is right in his statement. For the first five years there is no difference at all, and for the next five years there is no difference at all, but after then, if you take 15 years of service, to-day a magistrate would get exclusive of bonus £625, and after the Bill is passed he will get £750; when he gets up to 20 years, to-day he would get £750, and after this Bill is passed he will get a maximum of £1,000, but if he were to last, having been appointed young, 30 or 40 years on the Bench, he would never get more than the maximum of £1,000 a year. I hope the House will not say that £1,000 a year is too great a pension for a police magistrate. They are a very remarkable body of men. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in my absence the other night, when the Financial Resolution came forward, told the House of the very hard work that they do, and it is a remarkable fact that during the last two years two of them have committed suicide from overwork. They are not merely men who send evildoers to prison; they are the friends, more than any other men in the world, of the poor.


We have no complaint on that score.


I plead for these men who do this extra judicial work out of the kindness of their hearts and help the poor who come before them. You cannot appoint a man a police magistrate at an early age. There must be a certain knowledge of life, a certain gravity of disposition which a man of 25 or 30 cannot have, but when a man has been at the Bar for 20 years, and gets to the age of 45 or 50, he acquires a certain ripe judgment that a man of 25 does not have. The responsibility is on my shoulder to appoint these men. It is a serious responsibility, and I can assure the House that I give the utmost consideration to choose out of all the men at the Bar the very best men to do this particular, very difficult and responsible work. I suggest to the House that this is a very tardy measure of justice to a very hard worked body of men, who devote far more time and mental energy to their work than they are bound to do, because they are determined to sit on the Bench as the friends of the people in the district. The question of pensions in other cases does not affect this case, which stands by itself. One hon. Member said that the Government could pass the Bill if they liked. That is true, but I ask hon. Members opposite to make a gesture to these men. There are 27 of them doing hard and overburdened work in London, and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to make a gesture and to allow the Bill to be passed without opposition.