HC Deb 07 December 1950 vol 482 cc603-20

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 39, to leave out the words "may be," and insert the words "shall not be less than."—[Mr. Turton.]

Question again proposed, "That the words 'may be' stand part of the Clause."

6.46 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

When the Committee adjourned, I was replying to the speech made by the Financial Secretary, who has very kindly informed me that he is unable, because of official duties, to be present with us this evening. I regret his absence, but I make no complaint, because we know that Financial Secretaries are very busy people. I also regret his absence because I should have liked him to have the opportunity of withdrawing, or at least amending, some of the observations he made in his speech in reply to this Amendment, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), with the intention of putting in a floor, providing a minimum below which no pension would fall.

The hon. Gentleman, in answering that proposal, said there were three reasons for the non-acceptance of the Amendment. The first reason was that the wording of the Amendment would be such as to make widow's pensions taxable. I know that that was not the intention of my hon. Friend, but it just shows how careful we have to be with regard to tax law if the effect of altering "may be" into "shall not be less than" is to make all widow's pensions taxable. The Financial Secretary stated that, as the Bill now stands, the pension to the widow will be free of tax, and we knew beforehand, from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that the lump sum or the death gratuity would be free of tax and Estate Duty. I must say that it has not been made clear to me—though perhaps that is my fault—that the pension to the widow, and I suppose also that to the children, would in fact be paid free of Income Tax. If that is the position, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will no doubt confirm whether it is or not, I think the argument advanced by the Financial Secretary is indeed a cogent reason for not pressing this Amendment to a Division.

That was the first argument which the hon. Gentleman put against the Amendment, but he went on to say: 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 pensions 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 …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1950; Vol. 482, c. 158.] and so on. This Bill, of course, applies to both judges and civil servants, but the speech of my hon. Friend dealt primarily with the position of county court judges. The speech of the Financial Secretary was in answer to that, and I should like to ask, since when has it been the case that judges are to be regarded as and treated as civil servants. They always are in totalitarian countries, and if it be the case, as the speech of the Financial Secretary would appear to indicate, that they are now regarded by the party opposite as civil servants and are to be treated as such, then that is an indication of the way in which we have gone under the present Government along the totalitarian road.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman forget that it was Mr. Baldwin who cut the judges' salaries at the same time as he cut those of civil servants?

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am afraid that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not quite accurate; I think that cut was made with the consent of the judges.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember—I think it is right that I should say this in fairness to the judges—the strong protests that were made by the judges, and the circumstances in which the cut eventually came to be accepted by them. As originally proposed, the cut was imposed on the judges, as it was imposed on the civil servants. Strong protests were made on behalf of the judiciary, and the procedure was subsequently varied by the judges themselves making, as I recollect, a voluntary subvention to the State.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

That is exactly what I was saying, that on the occasion when the cuts were made in 1931 the judges made a voluntary surrender. It was not imposed, and therefore, they resisted the principle of the cut. But the position should really be made absolutely clear. The judges of the High Court and of the county court are not civil servants, and should not be treated as civil servants, and I regret that the observations of the Financial Secretary on the last occasion in this Committee are capable of being so interpreted and regarded, perhaps, as constituting a precedent for the claim that they are always to be regarded as being in the same position as civil servants on these matters.

Whatever be done with regard to the High Court or county court judges in this Bill, it will constitute no precedent whatsoever for the civil servants. Indeed, one of the difficulties with regard to this Bill is that it covers in its embrace judges and civil servants. I think one might even put it as high as this; that one of the erors of this Bill is that the judges are only treated as comparable with civil servants when it is a case of resisting any improvement for county court judges, and that they are not treated as comparable with civil servants when there is any question of increasing the judges' pay. I say that—

The Chairman

I am sorry to intervene but the hon. and learned Gentleman has hardly linked his remarks in any particular to the Amendment before the Committee. The question before the Committee is solely one of amount, and the general questions to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has addressed himself are not relevant at all.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

May I submit, on a point of order, that I am surely entitled to rebut, answer and destroy, if I can, the arguments advanced by the Financial Secretary in resisting this Amendment. If I may draw your attention, Major Milner, to column 158 of HANSARD for the 4th December, you will see that he based his main objection to the acceptance of the principle of this Amendment on the ground that acceptance of it would conflict with the whole principle of Civil Service pensions. Surely, I am in order in saying that there is a valid and important distinction to be drawn and maintained between the position of judges and that of civil servants, and in seeking as I have been doing, I hope not at undue length, to establish that the hon. Gentleman's arguments advanced as the main reason for opposition to this Amendment are really fallacious.

The Chairman

The hon. and learned Gentleman may be entitled to make that distinction if, in fact, the Financial Secretary did draw it, but I think he must stop there. He was about to proceed to the question of judges' salaries which I cannot think has the least bearing on the point under discussion.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

With great respect, Major Milner, I was not going any further with regard to judges' salaries. I had, in fact concluded what I wanted to say, but I am not surprised that perhaps you felt I might digress at too great a length on a subject which we have already discussed in very considerable detail, and which I trust we shall not tonight have to discuss again.

I just want to say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in dealing with the main point of this Amendment. It is quite true that the amount of the widow's pension must vary according to the length of service where such pension depends on length of service, but I think it will be a bad thing from the point of view of the country if the effect of this Bill, in particular cases, is that a really microscopic pension is paid to the widows of people who served the country well. I am not going to press for the minimum suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, but there is a danger under this Bill that the pension payable to the widow may be very small indeed.

Therefore, I wish to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider between now and the report stage whether it would not be possible to insert some provision to the effect that the pension payable under an Act of Parliament to the widow of a judicial officer should in no circumstances be less than a particular figure. He may say that that is quite impossible; he may use the actuarial argument—one does not know—but I personally would not like to think that the widow's pension will be so microscopic as to be in no way adequate and will bear no relation to what this Committee would like to do.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

What would the minimum be?

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington South)

The Amendment before the House raises the specific issue of whether the widows' pensions are to be mandatory or merely ex gratia payments by the Government. As I listened to the Attorney-General when he was explaining one of the earlier Clauses, I understood that the deduction of one-fourth from the pension of judges resulted actuarially in the justification for the payment of the lump sums on retirement and on death, and that on that basis they should be free from tax.

When I first studied the Bill, I thought the result was that the pensions for widows and children were purely ex gratia payments, but when I came to Clause 8 I found that was not so at all. Under Clause 8 there is to be a contribution from the lump sum payment which I gather, actuarially again, has something to do with what is likely to be—although it seems to me to be a perfectly impossible figure to calculate—the amount to be paid to widows and children of judges; so that in both cases the judges are paying actuarially for what are called the benefits they are getting under this Bill.

7.0 p.m.

Under the Bill deductions are mandatory and benefits are purely discretionary and though the judges pay for these benefits by deductions from their pensions and their estate would have to suffer by deductions from the lump sum, there would be no sort of legal right whatever for anybody, either the judge or anybody representing his estate, to make any legal claim for any of these pensions. That raises a question of the very highest principle. Here the judges are being put in a position where they have no legal right whatever to these so-called benefits. In theory of law they are entirely at the discretion of the Government for the time being and the Executive. Although I very greatly appreciate the suggestion that by doing it in this way the judges and their estates will escape taxation, I feel that it introduces a principle about which all of us ought to hesitate very much indeed, because for the first time we are putting the judges in a position where they are at the mercy and discretion of the Government of the day.

There is not the slightest doubt, of course, that under this Government the Treasury will authorise automatically the sums which are included in these general benefits, but no one can foresee what Government is going to be in power 20, 30 or 50 years hence; and I thought it had long been an absolutely fundamental doctrine of our constitution that the Executive should have no sort of financial hold over the judges of this country except by taxation authorised by the House. Therefore, this is really something which goes a very long way and which, if I may respectfully say so, is a matter which ought to be carefully considered by His Majesty's judges and those who are advising them in the matter.

It is well known that where there is an extreme party in power in the modern world the first people they attack are the judges. The judges and the bishops run a near race before they find themselves in trouble. I can assure hon. Members that that is so. If anybody takes the trouble to read the history of what has happened to the judges in certain countries behind the Iron Curtain, he will realise very quickly that the judges are the first people to be attacked and that the Executive desire to have a handle by which they can make judges give a decision in accordance with the policy of the day.

I emphasise that the one thing which has enabled British judges to achieve their world-wide reputation for impartiality and strength on the bench is the fact that they have always been able to say that they were completely independent of the Executive and that nobody suggested that the Executive had any sort of method by which they could bring any influence to bear upon them. I believe that British judges will continue to be equally independent and strong always, but I know from personal experience that in administering justice in a nation which is in a semi-revolutionary situation, time after time the judges have to make decisions between the subject and the Executive; and if ever the judges gave a decision in favour of the Government and against the subject one would find every sort of person to suggest reasons why those judges had decided in favour of the Executive.

If this Bill goes through in its present form, I can foresee in days to come somebody saying that a judge decided this or that way because he was anxious whether he or his family would get the benefits under this Bill. It is wrong in principle, and I do not think the Bill should go through in this form. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), said, we have tied up in this Bill judges and people who are not judges. I say most emphatically that judges should be put in a special position. It would be a good example to those countries which have different views that we in this country, when we make up our minds to give the judges something, should give it to them with the legal right to demand it and that any necessary provisions in relation to taxation should be expressly provided for in the Bill.

The Amendment before us is to make the widows' pensions mandatory. The judge makes a contribution under Clause 8 towards his widow's pension and yet there is no legal right to that pension. I most strongly support the view that words should he inserted to provide that if anything is payable to the judge or his estate, it ought to be made mandatory That is the only right solution. I hope that before this Bill becomes law that point will be met and that judges will be put in a special position with regard to this matter.

The Attorney-General

I will deal presently with the points which were made by the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens).

whose distinguished career we all recognise and the weight of whose comments on any matter such as this is, of course, considerable. But I must say now that I am beginning to become extremely pessimistic and unhappy about the future of this Bill. As I have said before, I have always been one of those who thought it would be right to meet the position of the judges. I have said on my own account, and not as a Member of the Government, various things about that which have not been altogether popular with some of my colleagues behind me.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Hear, hear.

The Attorney-General

Even if I get into trouble for saying them, I shall go on saying the things that I think. I am sure my hon. Friend does not think any the less of me for that. I was, therefore, in favour of this Bill as providing some assistance to the judges. I said—and I ventured to repeat it when we were discussing this matter earlier—that those of us who want to see the position of the judges improved must resist the temptation of making the better the enemy of the good.

I must tell the Committee quite firmly that this Amendment would wholly upset and destroy the basic plan of this pension scheme. I have no doubt that some hon. Members who have hitherto been inclined to support various Amendments to the Bill, have not perhaps fully recognised the results of it. As the hon. and learned Gentleman fully realises, this Amendment would seriously diminish some of the effects which would otherwise accrue. As I explained at an earlier stage of our discussions, it would expose both the lump sum or death gratuity and the widow's pension, aggregated as they would be as part of the estate of the dead judge, not to Income Tax but to Death Duty, and this might be very substantial according to the private estate of the judge concerned.

It would completely destroy the fifty-fifty basis on which this scheme for quite new pensions for judges' widows and judges' children—pensions which did not exist before—has been brought into existence, and has been accepted by the judges themselves and by the Treasury. I am bound to tell the Committee that the Treasury are not prepared in the existing economic position of the country to go further than they have already gone on the basis of the fifty-fifty scheme.

Before I come to what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, and which might more logically follow immediately, I want to pass to another matter even though it involves a break in the sequence—

Sir P. Spens

Before the Attorney-General passes from that point, may I say that I fully realise the fact that the trouble is the obligation to Death Duty, but nothing in the fifty-fifty scheme would be interfered with, provided a special provision were inserted stating that the benefits under this Bill should not be liable to Death Duty; they would be put in a special position.

The Attorney-General

That is perfectly true, but I should think myself that it would be very dangerous in respect of any class of the community, special though the class of judges undoubtedly is, to put them in an exceptional position in regard to taxation, whether Income Tax or Death Duty. One can see that once that precedent had been created in regard to a particular class, there might be strong claims for its extension to another class. It has hitherto been a fundamental principle of the financial policy of this country that taxation is imposed evenly upon everybody according to their respective incomes, and the rest of it, but that there are no special categories of people who are taken out of the fiscal system of the country altogether. I certainly would not feel able, in Committee on this Bill, to accept the introduction of that kind of principle into our constitution and into our fiscal system.

Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend a question before he leaves this point? If I understood the Financial Secretary aright when he was speaking on this point on the last occasion we considered this matter, I understood him to say that the incomes from these pensions were not liable to Income Tax. If I understand the position aright, that is not the case with all other forms of pension. Why, therefore, is there this exceptional treatment in respect of pensions to legal officers?

The Attorney-General

That is not so. The hon. and learned Gentleman made a mistake about that, and I was about to correct him on it. That is why I wanted to depart for a moment from the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South. What the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said was that the lump sum and the pension, aggregated up as part of the estate of the deceased judge, which are not now—nor are they in any other corresponding case—subject to Death Duty, would be made liable to Death Duty. The pension itself when it comes to be paid will be subject to Income Tax just as other pensions are.

Having said that, I think I have cleared up that point. I think it was just a slip of the tongue. Before parting from the speech of the hon. and learned Member for a constituency which, characteristically enough and appropriately enough, always seems to me to be a complete contradiction in terms; it is most fitting that the hon. and learned Gentleman should represent it—South North-East Hants—

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I must inform the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, owing to the Act of Parliament passed by this Government during the last Parliament, the name of the constituency which I then represented has been changed from Daventry to South Northamptonshire.

The Attorney-General

I am sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman did not put down an Amendment or attract my attention to this situation. I would have sought to assist in the matter in order that, however contradictory some of his policies may be to each other, he would not represent a constituency the very name of which was a contradiction in terms.

Now I want to deal with the suggestion which he made that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury had said anything to associate the position and status of His Majesty's judges with that of members of the Civil Service. In fact, he did nothing of the kind, and it is accepted by everybody that it is a fundamental part of our constitutional arrangements that the judges are completely independent of the Executive, and are not part of the Civil Service or under the control of the Executive in any way. The truth is that what led the Financial Secretary into his remarks was that hon. Members opposite always draw an analogy between the judges and the Civil Service when that is going to be beneficial to the judges, and always reject the analogy in cases where it would be disadvantageous to the judges. I do not complain of that, because getting the best of both worlds is an attractive thing to attempt, although something which one rarely succeeds in achieving. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Hants—

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I must tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman once again that the label fastened on this constituency by his party is South Northamptonshire. I am sorry that he should find it so confusing. Perhaps I shall have an opportunity of dealing with his constituency later.

The Attorney-General

My constituency bears a very respectable name. Perhaps in future I may be allowed to refer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency as Daventry, which would be much nicer. In the course of the short speech which he made on the Committee stage of this Bill, the hon. and learned Gentleman said: I am surprised that he has advanced that argument, which really is not tenable in view of the fact chat the Chorley Committee's recommendations have been carried into effect with regard to so many civil servants…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1950; Vol. 482, c. 119.] The fact is that when it is advantageous to draw upon the principles of the Chorley Report in regard to the Higher Civil Service, it is always said, "You have done this for the Civil Service; why not do it for the judges?" That being so, it must be equally legitimate, without in any way confusing the status of a judge with that of a civil servant, to refer the other way to the fact that the principle of this or that has never been accepted for a civil servant or for anybody else, and that it is one which is not acceptable for His Majesty's judges. That is all I want to say about that because, as I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, it is completely a side issue.

I turn to the more fundamental and constitutional point about the fact that the payment of the lump sum and the pension is discretionary; and this is not a debating point at all, as was the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman regarding confusion between judges and the Civil Service. I realise the significance of what the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, said; but for many scores of years, if not many hundreds of years, Crown pensions of this kind have always been discretionary. I have never heard of one not being paid but, in fact, they have always been discretionary. The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that we were introducing a new principle in relation to judges. That is not so. Judges have enjoyed pensions for some considerable time—I am afraid I have not in mind exactly how long—but the pensions have always been discretionary and nobody has ever raised any criticism or doubt about it.

I can see that in the circumstances which the hon. and learned Member envisaged, the circumstances of a totalitarian Government being established in this country, this situation might be open to objection, but surely the answer to that kind of objection is that it is not the slightest use our trying to legislate now for circumstances which might arise in this country if it became a totalitarian country. We cannot legislate on that basis. We must have faith in our country—and I hope we all have faith—and we must legislate on the basis that we shall maintain our position as one of the leading democracies of the world. It is no use trying to legislate in the view that some day we may become a totalitarian country, for nothing is more certain than that if that situation unhappily did arise all that we have done today, all that we have done in former Parliaments, and all that we do in succeeding Parliaments, would be swept away. The position of a judge in a totalitarian State would not be safeguarded in the slightest degree because today we provided that his pension, instead of being discretionary as it has been for a very long time, should be one to which he was entitled as a right.

I add only this. The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, can, of course, move an Amendment making both the judges' pensions and the widows' pensions mandatory, although in this Amendment we are dealing only with widows' pensions; but I earnestly suggest that he should first consult the judges about the matter. I certainly see no way in that case in which we could avoid ex- posing the lump sum and the aggregated pension to taxation in the ordinary course, and I am sure that the judges would feel that an alteration of the practice which hitherto has been followed without any difficulty at all would be highly prejudicial to them and to their widows and children.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

If any of the judges read the accounts of these debates I am sure they will have no reason at all to express gratitude to the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller). In a Question which he put down and which appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT on 24th November, the hon. and learned Gentleman asked the Attorney-General to publish a list of these pensions and lump sums as they were to be given to the different recipients. In doing so, the hon. and learned Gentleman directed the attention of many hon. Members to what hitherto they had not known about the Bill. The result is that, whenever I hear the very persuasive remarks of the Attorney-General, I then turn back to see what this Bill means in practice, and I wonder whether hon. Members on both sides fully appreciate exactly what it does mean.

I put certain Amendments on the Paper and, after hearing a persuasive speech by the Attorney-General, who softened my heart, I withdrew them but then I turned back and I could not escape the list of figures which the Attorney-General gave about these pensions. I turn once again to see, in the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 24th November, exactly what kind of widows' pensions are being granted under the Bill, and I must say that I should find it very difficult to defend them before an audience of old-age pensioners or of ordinary widows who were asking for an increase in their pensions.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

On a point of order. The scope of the Amendment is very narrow. As I understand it, it is merely a question of whether there should be a minimum level imposed below which no widow's pension should be allowed to fall. Is it in order to discuss, not the question of the minimum, but the full range of widows' pensions?

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I was waiting for the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, to come to that point.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I want to know exactly what this minimum means, so I turn to the figures in the answer given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If we are to discuss this minimum we must understand exactly what the Bill involves in actual payments and, in the column dealing with widows' pensions, I find that the widow of a Lord Chancellor is to receive £1,250 a year, which is £24 a week. The pension of the widow of a Lord Chief Justice amounts to £20 a week. I submit that, on the whole, these sums are very reasonable.

What I cannot understand is that there are anomalies in this list, because when we come to the widow of a county court judge—and a county court judge is presumably a more humble person than the higher judges—we find that the poor widow has to subsist on £6 10s. a week.

Mr. Turton

The hon. Gentleman will also note that if the county court judge has not sat for five years, the pension can-be as low as two guineas a week.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

That illustrates the point I am making. There are frightful anomalies in the case of the lower paid judges when we compare them with the extraordinary sum of £24 a week to be granted to the Lord Chancellor's widow. In Scotland we find that the widow of a Lord Justice Clerk is to receive £17 a week. The widow of a judge of the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland is to receive only £10 a week. I do not understand why hon. Members from Northern Ireland are not present to protest that the widow of a judge in Northern Ireland is to receive only half the pension of the widow of a judge in England. The widow of a judge of the Court of Session in Scotland is to receive only £8 a week. Thus, the widow of a very respectable and learned judge in Scotland is to receive one-third of the pension of the widow of a judge in England.

The Bill is bristling with anomalies and if hon. Members opposite had read the OFFICIAL REPORT carefully and found out how the Bill would work in practice, instead of moving an Amendment which would increase those anomalies, they would have demanded the complete with- drawal of the Bill. I certainly should not like to defend these widows' pensions at a meeting of 'old age pensioners or of widows in my constituency.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Marlowe (Hove)

I do not want to take up more than a few minutes of the Committee's time, and I shall not pursue what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has said about the contents of this Bill, except to remark that it seems that he has just discovered that there are anomalies in many of our pensions systems. There are, of course, many; and, of course, there always will be—until the hon. Gentleman gets what he wants, that is, an egalitarian State; but we are not legislating for that at this moment.

I want to take up one point only in the speech of the Attorney-General, who, incidentally, made some play with the name of the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) and appeared to deduce that there must be some affinity between the name of a constituency and the character of the person representing it. I only hope that, if that is so, we are not going to be presented with the awful prospect at some time or another of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's being canonised. It is enough that he is a master. I could not bear to think of him as a saint.

I want to take up the point with regard to the possibility of having special legislation to meet a tax position which might arise, and what the Attorney-General said about it. On the last occasion when we were discussing this matter my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) and I said that we could get over the tax difficulty by legislating specially for it in the Bill. The Attorney-General then, as again today, professed shocked horror at the idea that we should attempt to depart from the general principles of taxation law to meet a special case such as this.

I am bound to say that I cannot regard that shocked horror as being in the least genuine when I recollect that in the last Budget the Treasury brought all their ponderous machinery into play to make a special taxation for two particular people in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite approve of it all right when it is taxation of somebody who, in their view, has offended against the party line, but when a proposal is brought in merely to safeguard the special position of the judges, then they do not approve of it. Therefore, I do not think there is any substance in that point.

Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I agree.

Mr. Marlowe

I was referring to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I had not wanted to make any other point, but I take it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes me to give way on some point, and I will do so.

The Attorney-General

I only wanted to point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that he is quite mistaken. The legislation to which he is referring—I do not know whether he voted against it—

Mr. Marlowe

I forget for the moment whether we voted against it or not.

Mr. Collick (Birkenhead)

The hon. and learned Gentleman led the opposition to it.

Mr. Marlowe

I certainly was opposed to it.

The Attorney-General

The hon. and learned Gentleman is, perhaps, rather departing from his own principles in regard to the matter now, but, as a matter of fact, although he led the opposition to that legislation and might, therefore, have been expected to know what was in it, it was a general Bill dealing with special payments that might have been made. Two particular payments, of course, had attracted notoriety. No doubt, the Bill would not have been passed at that time if it had not been for the fact that those very large payments had been made. I concede that at once. But it was, in fact, a general Bill which applied to everybody in such cases.

Mr. Marlowe

I had anticipated that the Attorney-General was going to make that obvious point, but there is no substance in it whatever. Everybody knows perfectly well that the whole purpose of that legislation was aimed at two particular people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

The Deputy-Chairman

I think we had better not go back to the Finance Act.

Mr. Marlowe

I am not going to pursue the matter, but I hope I am entitled to answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman, since I gave way to him to enable him to make his point, by making it plain, as I said, that that legislation was aimed at two particular people. I take this view, that if the Government were able, on such an occasion as that, to introduce special tax legislation, it is just humbug to pretend now to be horrified at these proposals.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

If this debate has done nothing else, it has at least converted the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to the point I put on Monday that a pension of £2 or £3 4s. 3d. a week for a county court judge's widow is very shabby treatment by this Committee. When I moved the Amendment I realised and told the Committee that to make the terms mandatory and not permissive was, perhaps, a great objection to the Amendment I was moving. However, I think it very important that these payments should not bear Death Duty. I do hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will listen to the suggestion made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), and will consider this question of the very low pensions for some county court judges' widows between the Committee stage and the later stages of the Bill. I believe that that would be the wish of Members sitting in all parts of the Committee, and, in view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Keenan

Before the Amendment is withdrawn I should like to say that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that this Amendment should not be entertained. However, it seems to me that, with the other suggestions which have been made for consideration, this one may be made, too, that we should set up some sort of an assistance board to consider the means in these instances, just as we have in dealing with the old age pensions. One of the objections to increasing the old age pensions to 26s. was that that pension would probably be payable to people whose means did not merit it—people who had means that did not justify their getting any increase. For that reason I suggest that before the Report stage we should consider the desirability of considering this course.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I do hope that we shall be able to get on now with the Bill. We on this side of the Committee have raised this point just to invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give consideration to it. My hon. Friend has asked leave to withdraw the Amendment. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give consideration to it. I know these cases want consideration, and I am not, and my hon. Friends are not, pressing for an answer today. We have been hurried in the consideration of this Bill because of the short time between the Second Reading and this Committee stage. I hope we shall be able to make progress with it, because we want this Bill to go through. Although we think it capable of improvement, we are not in any way seeking to oppose its passage; but we do want it to be—and it is our duty to see that it is—fair and equitable in all respects; and, if possible, we want to secure improvements. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at this particular point, and in that hope I think we may get on with the next Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.