HC Deb 07 December 1950 vol 482 cc663-8
Mr. Gage

I beg to move, in page 18, line 8, to leave out "and."

I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if the following Amendment in my name were considered with this Amendment—in line 9, leave out from "(c)," to the end of line 12, and insert: (i) for the words 'one sixtieth,' substitute the words 'one eightieth,' and for the new paragraph (c) (ii), substitute (c) (ii) of four eightieths in respect of such service after the completion of the said tenth year of service until the completion of the fifteenth year of service: Provided that no addition shall be made to the allowance in respect of any service beyond fifteen years'. This is the last Amendment and I am conceited enough to think it is one of the best, and optimistic enough to think it is one that might be acceptable to the Attorney-General. The Amendment looks complicated, but in fact it is quite a simple one. In a sentence, it is to allow metropolitan magistrates to earn their full pension on completion of 15 years' service instead of 20 years' service as at present. The Committee will know that county court judges in this country have always been regarded, at any rate by the Bar, as very much of the same status as metropolitan magistrates. Their salary is precisely the same, their pension works out at the same, but the metropolitan magistrate cannot obtain his full pension until he has completed 20 years' service, while a county court judge has to do only 15 years' service.

It is, of course, true that the county court judge can be called back to serve after his retirement, but we know that not only is the county court judge called back but the metropolitan magistrate very often comes back. I think I am right in saying that of all judicial officers—I dislike that term very much, but it is the one used in the Bill—the metropolitan magistrates are almost the worst treated in the way of pension.

One could make quite an interesting comparison. The salary of a Metropolitan magistrate is £2,000 a year. After 15 years' service his pension under the present scheme is £1,000 a year and under the new scheme, when this Bill becomes law, it will be £750. The salary of the county court judge is £2,000 and after 15 years' service his pension will be £1,333 a year under the present scheme and, after the Bill is passed £1,000 a year. The most remarkable comparison of all is that of the sheriff-substitute whose salary is less than that of the county court judge and the Metropolitan magistrate, £1,900 a year, but after 15 years' service his pension is £1,267 a year. Although his salary is lower than that of a Metropolitan magistrate, his pension after 15 years' service is greater and under this Measure it will still be greater at £950 a year.

Probably the great strength of this Amendment is that the Metropolitan magistrates' courts, as any hon. Member who sits for a London constituency will know, are in the truest and best sense of the term people's courts. Anyone who has been in them will know that, in addition to their judicial duties, Metropolitan magistrates have the difficult and sometimes invidious duty of giving advice to people who go there. I think they are the only courts in the world which combine the giving of advice as well as the discharge of justice. In my view, they are in every way comparable with the county courts because, although the county court may have in some respects—no, I will not say more difficult questions of law to resolve, because nowadays that does not hold good—but the Metropolitan magistrate also has to be a man of great human knowledge, great human feeling and commonsense.

I remember very well that when I first went to the Bar there was an old county court judge whom some hon. and learned Members may remember, Judge Cluer, a very fierce old county court judge—they do not breed them like that nowadays—who sat in Whitechapel County Court. When I first went there, a rather tough-looking lady got up when the business was about to start and said, "I have come for some advice." The judge beamed all over his face, and said, "You know, madam, then I was a magistrate, but I am now a judge and I am sorry that I cannot advise you any more." That lady had been so impressed by Judge Cluer when he was a magistrate that she had followed him round in order to obtain more free advice from him. It is remarkable how many humble folk throughout this Metropolis depend upon the Metropolitan magistrate for advice and assistance. In view of that, the Committee will agree that it is most important that the best people should be recruited to the Metropolitan bench; and the great attraction of the Metropolitan bench has been the pension.

If it can now be arranged that this full pension will be earned after 15 years' service, it will be to the general advantage of the Metropolitan magistracy. Without in any way disparaging the Home Office, I am happy that the Metropolitan magistrates now come under the Lord Chancellor. That may be a good omen that he will now take an interest in them. I am quite certain that if the Attorney-General really considers what I have said, he will find the Amendment acceptable.

9.45 p.m.

The Attorney-General

I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Gage) that this is one of the best Amendments that has been moved from the opposite side of the Committee, but I am afraid that it is not quite so good that I can accept it for inclusion in this Bill. I should like to join with the hon. Member in paying a tribute to the great ability, shrewd understanding and wide humanity with which the Metropolitan magistrates discharge their heavy and difficult duties. They do most important work in the Metropolis. But I am afraid that this is not a Bill which is intended to alter rates of pensions or periods of qualification. If it were, the hon. Member's proposal would certainly be one which would merit consideration.

This Bill has been drafted, and the financial considerations have been concluded, on the basis that the rates of pension and the periods of qualification will remain entirely unaltered. Indeed, so far as pensions to the judicial officers are concerned, there is no increase whatever in the financial liability of the State.

Mr. Gage

The Attorney-General would agree that this Amendment is perhaps the only one which does not upset the actuarial basis of this scheme? I think that is so.

The Attorney-General

I am not sure whether that would be so. We have not considered it from that point of view because this scheme is one for dealing with the re-arrangement of existing pension rights and not for altering the actual rates.

I sympathise and am in considerable agreement with what the hon. Member has said, but it is really outside the scope of the present Bill. The position in regard to the Metropolitan magistrates is that when the original Act dealing with them was passed in 1915, the term of service necessary to earn the maximum pension was 30 years. In 1929 the term was reduced to 20 years. Now, of course, they would very naturally like the term to be reduced to 15 years, and I fully sympathise with them. The hon. Member has compared their position with that of the county court judges. When the magistrates' period of qualification was reduced to 20 years, the qualifying period for the county court judges had already been fixed some years before at 15 years. No doubt the difference in the two periods was taken into account by Parliament at that time. Again, when the Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace considered the matter comparatively recently, they had regard to and examined the appropriate pension for stipendiary magistrates. That, of course, was enacted only a year ago in the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949.

I am afraid that for these reasons I cannot accept the Amendment. I also add this reason, which I know is not popular. We should have a good many repercussions. Official referees, for instance, are now on a 25-year qualifying basis. Naturally, they would want to come down as well. I hope that in the circumstances the hon. Member will understand that, while sympathising, as I do, with this Amendment, I cannot accept it in this Bill.

This is the last Amendment on the Order Paper, and I should like to thank the Committee for the careful consideration they have given to this Bill. I was, very anxious about this Measure, because some of the remarks that were made tended to arouse a little reaction against, the proposals; but now that the Bill is, safely through the Committee stage, hon. Members on both sides of the House, who have great respect for the Bench of judges

in this country and who sympathise with them in their financial difficulties, will be glad to have helped to bring about this small alleviation in their position.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)

This is an important matter. If the Members of the Committee were to realise the importance of it, they would join with the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Gage), and with those who know something about the procedure in the courts to try to get the position remedied. I should like to ask the Attorney-General whether he would be good enough to reconsider this matter between now and the next stage of the Bill. The stipendiary magistrates in London are performing extremely useful and important duties. Those duties are equally as important as those carried out by the county court judges. In fact, in recent years there has been placed upon the shoulders of the stipendiary magistrates very onerous work connected particularly with matrimonial matters and with the new economic laws.

It is highly essential that we should have the best people that we can possibly get in these offices. To encourage the best men we should place them at least on an equal footing in regard to pensions as the county court judges. Although it is late in the evening, it is important that we should realise our duty towards those people who day by day conduct extremely serious and important jobs such as those carried out by our magistrates. I hope that, in spite of the important points put by the Attorney-General, he will reconsider the position and will try to introduce an Amendment which will put the magistrates on at least the same level as the county court judges for pensions Purposes.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Obviously this is a matter which deserves further consideration. I do not seek to prolong the debate upon it tonight, but I should like to say, in answer to what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, that at one stage I shared his anxiety about the progress of this Measure, largely on account of the attitude adopted by the Government.

The Chairman

I allowed the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General to make some complimentary remarks. I gather that other hon. Members now wish to speak. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will confine himself to a few sentences. We really cannot have a general debate on the merits or demerits of the Bill and related matters now.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I was trying to be equally complimentary to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and was merely traversing one of the points he made. I do not think I had gone much beyond it. I am very glad that we have got through the Committee stage today, in spite of the reaction to some of the proposals from hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

I do not want to detain the Committee, but I have waited for some time in order to support the Amendment so charmingly moved from the benches opposite. I hope that, between now and the Report stage, the learned Attorney-General will give some consideration to the arguments which have been addressed to him.

The Attorney-General

I realise that this is a point with which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee very naturally have some sympathy. We should have to consider, not only these cases, but the official referees and a number of others. I cannot give any undertaking to do that in this Bill, but I will report to my noble Friend the feeling about this matter and we will give careful consideration to the whole problem.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

I had not realised that the official referee had to wait 25 years for his pension. Perhaps the learned Attorney-General will look into that position, which seems to be more intolerable than the cases we are at present discussing.

Amendment negatived.

Schedule agreed to.

Third and Fouth Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill No. 46.]