HC Deb 07 December 1950 vol 482 cc631-4
Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 6, line 7, to leave out from "then," to "by," in line 9, and to insert: if that person on resumption of his service or on marrying while serving, fails within three months of demand being made upon him in that behalf to refund. This is a drafting Amendment which deals with two points, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to accept it. The Committee will see that under the Clause anyone who is recalled to service out of retirement is under an obligation to repay half the lump sum and if he fails to repay it: … no pension shall be granted to any widow or child of his. While I am not in the least challenging the principle behind the Clause, occasions arise when judicial officers are recalled temporarily from retirement at the request of the authorities, and we ought to have a safeguard against their inadvertently failing to comply with these provisions and thus depriving their widows and children of a pension. If a man returned to work, forgot all about the Clause and did not repay the part of the lump sum which he should, no pension would be granted to his widow or child. The only effect of the Amendment is to say that the widow and children shall not be deprived of the pension unless within three months of the demand being made upon such an officer he fails to make repayment.

The Amendment would work this way. If a county court judge comes back from retirement and sits as a county court judge for a month because of sudden illness somewhere, he will not have to look throught the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act to see what the consequences of his coming back will be to him, his widow and his children, but can come back with an easy mind knowing that his widow and children will not lose anything until he has been asked to repay this sum and has failed to do so. It seems a reasonable stipulation in order to avoid the possibility of a widow and children being inadvertently deprived of a pension, and I do not think that it will cast any additional financial burden on the Exchequer or in any way affect the actuarial calculations.

8.15 p.m.

The Attorney-General

I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment, but I agree with what the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind. The acceptance of the Amendment would not put any additional financial burden on the State, but it would add to the administrative difficulties, and I hope to satisfy him that it is really unnecessary. The Amendment deals with a Clause which relates not only to the judge coming back into service, which would normally be known to the State, but also to the event of his remarriage while so serving. If we were to accept the Amendment it would be necessary to do two further things, of which one—I am dealing only with this one at the moment—would be to put a provision in the Bill making it compulsory for the judge to notify some appropriate authority within a specified time of any re-marriage.

The Superannuation Act, 1949, contains exactly such a provision. It places a statutory duty on the civil servant to give the Treasury such information as is necessary for the operation of the Act whether he is asked to give it or not. In regard to re-marriage, that would not be within the knowledge of the authority in the ordinary course, or it might not be. We considered that it would not be. This is an instance where we draw a clear distinction between the civil servant and the judge. We are not prepared to put a further duty of that kind on the persons dealt with in the Bill.

The effect of the Amendment generally would be to put the onus of demanding the refund on someone whom the Amendment does not specify and to give the judge or judicial officer three months' grace in which to make the repayment. As the Bill is drafted—we attach importance to this and think it right in principle—the administrative machinery which will be used for giving effect to the scheme and to the Clause is not specified. In general it is not desirable to set out in a Bill the exact administrative machinery by which it is to be worked. However, I give the Committee and hon. and learned Gentlemen the assurance that adequate machinery will be set up to ensure that judge's position under the Clause will be made known to him and he will be given an adequate and proper opportunity of making the contribution. The Clause will not be interpreted so strictly or rigidly as to deprive the judge of his rights simply because he has forgotten to give the necessary notification. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be satisfied with that assurance.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am not entirely satisfied because, while the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in part answered the argument which I put forward, he has not entirely done so. I do not think that there is sufficient safeguard here against inadvertent omission to comply with the Clause. I am not challenging that on resumption of service or within three months of marriage one-half of the lump sum should be repaid, but no discretion is given in the Clause. In the ease of a person who did not refund on resumption—I suppose that means the very day he resumes service from his retirement—or did not refund within three months of marriage because he had forgotten all about Clause 9, I should have thought that if he were able to satisfy the Treasury that it was pure inadvertence there should be power in the Bill to enable the Treasury to avoid the consequences specified, that: … no pension he granted to any widow or child… I should like to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman provide for that discretion if he can do nothing else.

It seems to me right to make quite certain that an officer shall not by inadvertence be deprived of the pension for his widow and children for which he has been sacrificing a quarter of his pension. I do not want to take up time in pursuing this matter; I think I have made the point clearly. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman would consider between now and the Report stage the inclusion of something to avoid that automatic consequence which, as the Bill now stands, is bound to result from non-compliance with the Clause, I shall be satisfied.

The Attorney-General

I do not want to appear obstinate—I am an excessively pliable person. I shall read in the OFFICIAL REPORT what the hon. and learned Member has said and will consider it on Report stage. I do not make any promise, but I shall certainly give it a fair consideration.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I think that the Committee are with me on this point, and I am sure it would improve the Bill if a form of words is put in to give that flexibility which the Committee desires to see. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move, in page 6, line 14, at the end, to add: (2) Where the person resuming service after retirement is a woman paragraph (a) of the foregoing subsection and the reference to a refund in paragraph (b) shall be omitted. This is a drafting Amendment. Amendment agreed to.

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