HC Deb 04 December 1950 vol 482 cc154-7
Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

beg to move, in page 2, line 39, to leave out "may be," and to insert "shall not be less than."

I think it would be convenient if we took into consideration now also the next Amendment in my name, in page 2, line 40, at the end, to add: or six pounds per week whichever is the greater. The effect of this Amendment is to secure that these widows' pensions shall not in any case be less than £6 a week. I recognise that there is the preliminary point that, as the Clause is now drafted, the amount of the pension may be one-third. It is permissive, and not mandatory as my Amendment would make it. However, the position does appear to me to be that, in the case of certain of these judicial officers, the pension to which the widow will be entitled will be as low as. £3 4s. 3d. a week, if not less.

I believe that that is not the way in which this Committee should treat the widows of judicial officers. They are holding very honourable positions in this country, and all parties, I think, want to see that, when they die in harness, as some of the county court judges do, their widows are decently provided for by the country. I should have thought that to put the figure at £6 a week, which is broadly on the level of a pension of a serving officer of the rank of colonel or brigadier, would not be putting it too high.

The position, as I see it, is that if a High Court judge dies in harness his widow gets the same pension however long he has been on the bench, but if a county court judge has served for only five years and dies in harness, his widow gets no more than £3 4s. 3d. a week. That seems to me to be entirely wrong discrimination. It is not the habit for the pension of a widow to be determined by the length of her husband's service. Her difficulty is just as great whether her husband has been a county court judge for five, 10 or 15 years.

Unless the Bill is remedied, we shall have the anomalous position that the widow of a county court judge who has been sitting for only five years will be receiving a smaller pension than the widows of two of the present Registrars who are officers of the court. I know that that has been raised on an earlier Amendment, and I will not labour the point. I entreat the Committee, when considering these widows' pensions, to do nothing shabby. I believe, that to give a minimum pension of £6 a week to the widows of these judicial officers would be reasonably fair treatment by Parliament in this matter.

Mr. John Arbuthnot (Kent, Dover)

I rise to support these Amendments, which I feel will have the sympathy of both sides of the Committee, because earlier this evening particular concern was expressed by everybody at the condition and status of county court judges. The Committee here has an opportunity of coming to the aid of the poorest section of the judges' community, with whom we are dealing in this Bill. In this Amendment we suggest that the minimum pension for the widow of a county court judge should be £6 a week instead of £3 4s. 3d., as it would be if the Bill were left in its present form.

I believe that part of the high prestige which Britain has enjoyed for so long has been tied up inextricably with the incorruptibility and impartiality of British justice. Our British justice has been a byword throughout the world wherever British rule has held sway, and to my mind one of the essential contributory factors in maintaining that high standard has been the financial security of our judges. In the old days, when taxation was not so heavy, it was possible for our judges to provide for their widows out of their income, but today, with taxation at its present level, not only must we see that the judges have adequate salaries, but we must also see that they have the assurance that when they die their widows will be properly provided for.

I am asking the Committee to consider this problem, which is a problem not so much from the point of view of the High Court judges as from the point of view of the county court judges, who are much larger in number. I feel that any failure in justice might take place, due possibly to the wanderings of mind of a judge obsessed by the worries of what was going to happen to his widow when he died, would be reflected on British justice as a whole. If this Bill is not amended, the county court judge's widow at the lowest would get £3 4s. 3d. a week. I believe that if cheesesparing of this type is to be permitted by this House it will be reflected in a lowering of the type of judge we shall be able to recruit to the service in the future, that British justice will suffer, and that it will tend to lower British prestige throughout the world. I therefore support the Amendments.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Douglas Jay)

The effect of this Amendment would be twofold. First it would make the widow's pension mandatory and not discretionary, as it is under the terms of the Bill, and secondly, it would put a floor of £6 a week underneath all widows' pensions in the Bill. There are really two objections to making the pension mandatory, one of which, as the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment mentioned, is that if we make it mandatory, the lump sum and the right to widow's pension would no longer be exempt from Death Duty, as they are under the Bill as it stands. Therefore, that in itself would be disadvantageous to the judges and their families, and I am not at all sure that the Amendment which the hon. Gentleman has suggested would necessarily get us out of that difficulty.

The main part of the Amendment is to put the minimum at £6 a week and make it applicable to all these pensions. There are, briefly, three objections which we see to that. The first is that it would inevitably throw out the actuarial basis of this scheme. The scheme, as has been explained by my right hon. and learned Friend, is actuarial as it stands, and obviously any alteration in favour of the judges and the widows and children and to the disadvantage of the Exchequer would destroy that actuarial basis. Actually, this proposal, we estimate, would cost something like an additional £15,000 a year.

Secondly—and I think that this is probably the more serious objection—such a change would conflict with the whole principle of Civil Service pensions. Widows under Civil Service pension schemes have their pensions calculated at one-third of the pension of the husband. I do not think that we can accept the introduction of a totally different principle. It could indeed be quoted as a precedent for other Government pension schemes which may be introduced in the future. We feel that that is probably the most important objection to this Amendment.

There is, however, one further objection to the Amendment. That is an arithmetical one. If we put a minimum of £312 a year on all these pensions, we would in certain cases have a case where the widow's pension actually exceeded the pension previously paid to the husband and wife together. That would be an anomaly which, I think, hon. Gentlemen opposite would not support. For these reasons, which I have put briefly, we do not feel able to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Although they may be brief, they seem to us to be extremely bad. I am astonished to find the Financial Secretary to the Treasury seeking to treat the judges as if they were civil servants and resisting the moderate Amendment moved by my hon. Friend, on the basis that this would make an exception to the general rule for dealing with civil servants. It really is a most astonishingly weak argument, but it does reveal, I think with some clarity, the Government's attitude of mind towards the position of judges. The Chorley Committee made their recommendations for increases. That is for the Civil Service; therefore, of course, the judges do not come in.

It being Ten o'Clock, The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.