HC Deb 07 December 1950 vol 482 cc621-7
Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 5, line 18, to leave out from the beginning to the second "direct," in line 21, and to insert "the Treasury may."

It might be convenient to discuss at the same time the next Amendment, in line 22, to leave out "any such period "and to insert" the period of such remarriage." The effect of subsection (4), putting it as shortly as I can, and I think accurately, is as follows. Although under this Bill children's pensions may become payable to the children of any officer within the First Schedule, in the long list referred to by the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that pension is terminated in the event of the mother remarrying. Subject to any explanation we may hear, that seems to me to be rather odd and wrong.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Suppose she remarries another judge?


I do not think that makes any difference to the point or to the argument. The point is that the judge, the registrar and the sheriff-substitute pay their contributions under this Bill for both the widow's pension and the children's pension. As they pay their contributions by giving up a quarter of their pension, it seems rather odd that under the provisions of this Bill the children's pension should terminate as a general rule on remarriage of the mother. I quite see that there is a strong case for saying that, save in exceptional circumstances, the widow's pension should terminate on her remarrying, but it is another thing to say that the children's pension should terminate. That is what part of this insurance scheme is for, to provide for the children of judicial officers, and I must say that the logic of proposing, that that benefit shall be paid only if the mother does not remarry is difficult to follow. We have heard from the Attorney-General that this Bill is based solely on actuarial calculations; that it is a fifty-fifty scheme.

The Attorney-General

I am afraid I misled the Committee there, and I should like to make the matter clear in case it affects the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. The scheme is a fifty-fifty scheme so far as the widow's pension is concerned, and when the actuarial calculations were made it was only contemplated that a pension would be paid to widows; children were not involved at all. Afterwards a claim was made that children should also have these allowances, and these allowances were consequently included in the scheme without any additional contribution from the judges. The pensions for the children are therefore met entirely by the State, and the contribution of the State to the whole scheme is thus more than 50 per cent.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not think that point had been made clear in our previous discussions. It is important that the State should not appear to be mean or ungenerous. I welcome the provision made for the children; I think that is desirable; but I should like to know the estimated cost—and it must have been estimated by the actuaries—supposing it were provided that the children's pensions should not terminate on remarriage of the mother. I should have thought that that must have been calculated, and I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he can give us any indication of the estimate.

I say straight away that I cannot believe that taking out this rather niggardly provision would mean any real increase in the financial burden falling on the State. I say that for this reason. A judicial officer leaves after his death, it may be after many years of retirement, a widow and children under the age of 16, or children undergoing full-time education. This provision comes into effect only in the event of the widow remarrying. Now, I should have thought that the chances of many widows in this particular category, with children under 16, remarrying after judges' deaths in retirement or on service were likely to be very small indeed. I therefore suggest that if this Amendment were accepted, it would mean very little indeed in the way of an increased burden upon the State. If the Attorney-General says it will mean an increase, I ask him to tell us what sort of increase it is calculated may be involved.

I expect his argument will be: "Well, this provision follows the precedent of the Superannuation Act, 1949." I think I am right in saying that objection was taken then, and the objection is taken again today. If the Committee agree that it is rather mean and niggardly that the children's pension should cease on the widow remarrying, when the step-father will not, so far as I know, be under any legal obligation to maintain his step-children, then I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider this Amendment, even if he says he cannot accept it today.

The Attorney-General

I am afraid I cannot accept this Amendment. The effect of it would be, as the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, that the existing positive provision, that the children's pension as well as the widow's pension should cease on her remarriage unless the Treasury specially direct otherwise, would be removed, and instead the position would be that the children's pension would continue, at least at the lower rate which is set out in subsection (3), despite the remarriage, and the Treasury might direct that the rate should be increased to that set out in subsection (2). It is true that the permissive word "may" is used there, as it is used throughout the Bill, but in the absence of any specific direction in the Clause itself it is difficult to say that there is any more discretion than there is in the other Clauses of the Bill.

The effect of adopting the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion to make the increased rate the normal procedure would be the rather curious one that remarriage would be regarded in the Bill as the same as death. It does not as a rule have that practical result in regard to the children of the woman who remarries. The effect of giving an increased rate is that the procedure would be exactly what happened if the widowed mother had died. In normal cases where the widowed mother remarries, she remarries somebody who is prepared to support both her and the children. I suppose that in most of those cases the problem is not very likely to arise at all, but in dealing with the matter we thought that it was justifiable to assume that the normal situation would arise, and that the remarriage would make it easier to support the children than it had been before.

We have followed the precedent of the 1949 Act, which was accepted by the House, and the precedent which exists in all superannuation schemes in which the State is concerned, if not also in superannuation schemes which exist in private industry. I am afraid if we were to accept this Amendment—and I cannot tell the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) how much it would involve—we should be involved in what are called repercussions—claims for the same kind of concession in all other superannuation schemes in which the State is interested.

When the widow of a judge or any judicial officer remarries, the husband may or may not be able to support the children to the extent secured previously by the pension payable under the Bill. These pensions are not very large, and if he is, in fact, able to support the children to the same extent, there is no reason why the children's pensions should continue to be payable at the expense of the State, and in relief of the gentleman who has undertaken the moral responsibility for them.

If, on the other hand, the financial position is that the new husband has not the means to support the children and the woman he is marrying in the same state, then the Treasury may and will use their discretion to continue the children's pension. So long as they remain in the charge of the widow herself, there is no reason why the pension should not, if the husband's position necessitates it, be continued at the appropriate rate, and the position of the children on the whole will remain much the same because they will obtain their pension.

If it happens that on remarriage, the children are removed to the care of somebody else and cease to live with the stepfather, or for any other reason the support becomes more difficult, then there is in the Bill the further discretion for the Treasury to put up the children's pensions to the higher rate, and that the Treasury will do. It seems to us that that, on the whole, is a fair and reasonable arrangement. The Bill will make appropriate provision to meet the different circumstances of these cases.

I know that hon. Members opposite do not like the argument about repercussions, and I do not like it myself, but when one is on this side of the Committee one has to face the repercussions and consider what the implications are in doing anything in any particular case. We are faced with this repercussion argument in this case, and if we accepted the Amendment we could not resist the applications which would be made for the same concession in every superannuation scheme in which the State is concerned. For these reasons, I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman with withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

I feel that the Attorney-General, in drawing attention to the possible repercussions of this matter, is going a little wide of what he intended. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) explained to the Committee, all that we intend to do is to ensure that if the wife of a deceased judge or judicial officer marries again, the children's pension which has been paid in respect of the deceased judge, shall not automatically cease being paid. As I read the Clause, that is what would happen. When I first read and compared this Amendment and the Clause, I did not think they were very far apart. There was a slight difference of wording, and, if anything, I thought the form of the Amendment was better.

I do not think the repercussion argument has very much validity. After all, what we are trying to do here is to ensure that the children of a judge or a judicial officer shall receive the sort of pension which the judges and these officers have agreed they want, and to which they are making a substantial contribution. It would be unfair to prevent them from carrying out roughly what they want, and to which they are contributing because it might happen that some other classes of people who are in receipt of pensions would say to the Government. "There, you have given the judges and judicial officers this concession, and we must demand it, too."

It has been said before, both on Second Reading and in other debates on this Bill, that the judges ought to be in a special position. I agree with a great deal of what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) when he was speaking on art earlier Amendment. I think the judges and judicial officers ought to be in a special position. I hope that the repercussion argument will not weigh too heavily with the Committee and that consideration will be given to this Amendment, if not by giving a concession now, then certainly by the time we come to the Report stage.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave us a full answer to this particular Amendment, but I must say that he has not entirely satisfied me. The Bill would be better if he accepted our suggestion, and I doubt very much, having regard to the special circumstances, whether he would get as many repercussions as he feared. The time is getting on, and in the hope that he will reconsider this matter, we will not pursue it further tonight. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 5, line 23, at end, add: (5) Where the deceased was a woman, subsection (2) of this section shall apply as it applies where the deceased was a man leaving no widow and subsections (3) and (4) of this section shall not apply—[The Attorney-General.] Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Sir P. Spens

I should like some information on subsection (1). In the matter of the children's pensions, paragraph (a) says: The rate thereof may vary according to the number of persons for whose benefit it can for the time being enure. That includes the case where there is possibly a widow and children. I do not know what the practice is, but is the custom that the mother is consulted as to what happens to her children's pensions?

The Attorney-General

Yes. Assuming that the children were living with different relatives, provision is made so that the pension is divided. I have no doubt that consultations with the mother will be undertaken in order properly to pay the portions of the pension.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.