HC Deb 11 December 1950 vol 482 cc934-40

As amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[The Lord Advocate.]

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

I must confess I am a little surprised that the Third Reading of this Bill has been moved in that fashion, and without any speech being made from the Government side in support of the Third Reading. I should have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General would have been glad to have the opportunity of expressing his pleasure of having got this Bill to its present stage. In his absence, however, I should like to say that we on this side of the House are glad that this Bill has now got to its Third Reading. While I say that, I should not like it to be thought that we on this side of the House regard this as a good and satisfactory Measure. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his supporters have resisted every attempt that we have made to make it a better Bill. I am delighted to see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now present, and I shall look forward to hearing later this evening what he has to say in support of the Third Reading of this Bill. It was moved "on the nod," and I am, therefore, making my observations now, since I should not have had an opportunity of doing so if I had not risen to my feet.

We are confined in our observations tonight to what is contained in the Bill, and as this Bill is very limited in its scope, my observations must be very limited in extent and in character. I think one can best describe this Bill as rather a meagre and miserable Bill. Its objects are to make provision for the retirement of the judicial officers referred to in the First Schedule, and for their widows and children, and a great deal of the burden of that provision will fall upon the shoulders of those judicial officers during their lifetime. The fact that in these days we have to pass an Act of Parliament to make such provision in itself indicates how very difficult it is in these times for any professional man, and indeed for any man engaged in industry, to make proper provision both for his retirement and for his widow and children. This Bill, indeed, throws a revealing light upon our situation and social structure today.

We welcome this Bill so far as it goes. We regret that it should be rendered necessary, and one thing at least must be made clear; here I am sure I shall have the right hon. and learned Gentleman with me. In making this provision for pensions for widows and children and for the retirement of these judicial officers, it should not be thought that the just claims of many of them for higher salaries are in any way prejudiced, and I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will say, if he gets the opportunity, that the mere fact of the passage of this Bill must not and will not be taken as in any way prejudicing the claims of any of the officers referred to in the First Schedule for consideration of their salaries. I think that should be made absolutely clear.

This Bill will benefit some, and because of that we welcome it. It could have been a much better Bill but, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said so frequently in the course of the last week that I will save him from having to say it tonight, the better must not be the enemy of the good. It is for that reason, among others, that we shall not oppose the Third Reading.

10.5 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

I must ask your forgiveness, Mr. Speaker, and the forgiveness of the House, for not having been here when the Bill was called. I am afraid my information had been that the previous Business might overrun 10 o'clock by a few minutes; otherwise I should have been here. I hope the House will acquit me of any discourtesy in the matter.

There were two or three matters in regard to the Bill which I wanted to clear up and which I think the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), wanted me to clear up. First of all, I should like to pick up his opening remarks—so far as I heard them—which were that this was a miserable and meagre little Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman will not expect me to agree with him on that. This is, perhaps, a modest little Bill. It does not pretend to do a great deal to alleviate the present financial difficulties of some of the judges or to adjust their financial emoluments so that they should once again, as they used to do, mark out the high status of the judges in the corporate life of this country, but fortunately that high status and the recognition which we all give it does not depend entirely on financial considerations.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman quite fairly said, and as I said on Second Reading, this Bill is quite without prejudice to such claims as the judges may have in these respects, but we think it will assist some of them in their pension arrangements and in making provision for their widows and children. Although different views were expressed about the matter earlier by different judges and different opinions were indicated as to the extent of its utility, at the end of the day there is no Bench of judges in the country which has desired to be excluded from the operation of the Bill. The county court judges support it. It will bring benefit to at least some of their number. In the High Court in England its provisions are greatly desired by many.

Having said that by way of reply to the perhaps slightly derogatory remarks about this Bill, I want to deal with one or two points which were raised in Committee, and which I promised to investigate. I promised to explain how the Bill, as it is at present framed and will leave this House, deals with those various matters. First, perhaps I could deal with a matter which was the subject of an Amendment on Report—an Amendment which was not called—although it is not in the correct sequence of the Clauses. Perhaps I could explain how Clause 9 now stands in regard to that matter. As I had an opportunity of discussing with the hon. and learned Member, Clause 9 applies to a very limited class of persons. It applies only to the judge who, after retiring from his office as a bachelor and, therefore, not having paid any part of the lump sum by way of contribution—

Mr. Speaker

The merits of an Amendment which was out of order on Report and which I did not call, cannot be discussed on Third Reading.

The Attorney-General

I was seeking only to explain what was in the Bill in order to meet a point which had been raised. I do not want to transgress in the slightest degree the Rules of Order, but the Amendment indicated a misunderstanding and, if it is proper for me to do so, I wanted to remove that misunderstanding. I shall be very brief about it.

The Clause, as it stands, covers only the case of the judge who, having retired as a bachelor, subsequently rejoins the service and, after his retirement, has married for the first time. In that case he is required to make a contribution, and adequate steps will be taken to ensure that he is notified of his position and of his liability to make the contribution so that he can, for the first time, make provision for the wife and children he did not previously possess.

I wanted to say a word about the retrospective operation of the Bill, referring to Clause 2 (5) and the proviso to Clause 12. That part of the Bill operates retrospectively in a very limited degree. All that it does is enable the judge who retires between 10th November and the date of the enactment of the Bill, after the Bill has been enacted, to decide whether or not he will exercise the option. The hon. and learned Member will see from that that it would be impossible to apply it in the case of a judge dying in the intervening period, who would, of course, have no chance of exercising the option.

Then I wanted to say a word about the effect of Clauses 1 and 2 in regard to payment of Income Tax in respect of the lump sum of the pension of a judge who has retired. This is the matter to which the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was good enough to call my attention. There was an Amendment in regard to that part of the Bill dealing with this matter of a reduction in the annuity and its effect on the taxation position of the lump sum payment. I opposed the Amendment in part on the ground that the taxation position in regard to the lump sum would be affected—although the main argument of my opposition was, of course, that it would affect the fifty-fifty basis which is the characteristic of the whole of the pension scheme in this Bill.

But I should, Mr. Speaker—and here, again, I am in your hands—like to amend, if I may, a statement I made which may have misled the House as to the exact effect of the two Clauses in the Bill as they now stand. In dealing with the matter I used the argument—and let me confess at once that this is one of the most complicated, unattractive parts of our law—that limiting the cut in the amount of the annual annuity might affect the taxation position in regard to the lump sum; and under the general law it is true that where the pensioner compounds for the whole or part of his annuity by selling it, the capital sum thus obtained does not attract taxation. But the transaction here is not quite that. It is not a sale, but it is a statutory transaction, and under the Clauses as they now stand, although the pension, the annual annuity, will attract Income Tax in the ordinary way, the lump sum is capital and does not attract tax. But the Treasury would not, of course, have been able, as I have just indicated, to depart in any way from the fifty-fifty basis in any event.

By Clause 7 (4)—and this was another point on which questions were raised— the pension for children on the remarriage of their mother remains a discretionary one; but, of course, the Treasury will exercise its discretion wherever it is necessary, in the interests of the child, so to do.

The only other point that I should like to take up is the effect of the Second Schedule to the Bill. That does not affect the qualifying period for the pensions of Metropolitan magistrates. It cannot affect that because the actual rate of pension and the qualifying period for it is really outside the scheme of the Bill altogether. But I have not forgotten the points that were made in regard to the matter.

So, Mr. Speaker, with your kind indulgence, for which I am most grateful, I venture to express the hope that this little Bill will now be given its Third Reading, and that it will help many of the judges in the difficulties in which they find themselves, although we do not pretend that it will remove them.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Before my right hon. and learned Friend sits down, will he explain why in Clause 24, in which there is provision in regard to sheriffs who retire and become sheriffs-substitute, there is no corresponding provision in regard to sheriffs who retire and become sheriffs-principal? I think my right hon. and learned Friend will agree that there is a real anomaly and injustice to sheriffs who adopt that course on retirement.

10.15 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. John Wheatley)

As this involves a Scottish question, I should like to deal with the matter. The answer is very simple. Apart from the sheriffs of Lanarkshire and the Lothians, there are no full-time sheriffs in Scotland. They are known colloquially—and that is no doubt why my hon. and learned Friend used the expression—as sheriffs principal, but that is a misnomer. Their proper name is sheriffs, and the other judges are known as sheriffs substitute. There are only two full-time sheriffs, those being the sheriffs of Lanarkshire and the Lothians. The part-time sheriffs who can engage in private practice, are paid a salary, but that salary is not pensionable; therefore there can be no question of transfer of the pension accrued by service as a sheriffs substitute being carried on in service as a part-time sheriff, because the part-time sheriffs are not pensionable officers.

If by any chance a sheriff substitute were appointed to the office of sheriff of Lanarkshire or the Lothians, my hon. and learned Friend will see that under the First Schedule service as a sheriff substitute will be taken into account in computing any pension to which he would ultimately be entitled in respect of his first service as sheriff substitute and subsequently as a full-time sheriff.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Emrys Hughes.

Mr. Hector Hughes

On a point of order. May I follow up the point I put to my right hon. and learned Friend?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order. Mr. Emrys Hughes.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I would willingly oblige my namesake by making the point he wants to put if I knew what it was. I rise as a layman, who has followed these discussions on the affairs of a very influential trade union with a great deal of respect, to say that every potential judge in the House can go home tonight and say, "For what we have received may the Lord make us truly thankful." I only wish that other trades unions could be as influential and as active in maintaining the standard of life of their members as the legal profession has been in the course of this Bill. For many years I have been a member of a public assistance committee, but I have never heard such harrowing stories of distress as I have heard from the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) in the course of his appeals for the members of his profession. During the early part of today we have been engaged in subsidising the sheep. We are now engaged in subsidising the wolves.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.