HC Deb 19 February 1952 vol 496 cc46-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

I do not wish to detain the Committee unduly about a matter which has received a wide measure of support, but it did occur to me that the Committee should have a little more information before being asked to agree to this Clause. It would not be right if, by enacting this Clause, we were to distort the system of judicial salaries. For that reason, I wondered whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General would be able to assist the Committee by giving them some information on the effect which this Clause will have upon the general pattern.

The illustration which I desire the Committee to bear in mind concerns the official referees. They sit, physically, in very exalted places. One can reach them only by finding one's way up a winding staircase or by using an electric lift, and when one finds them they are generally dealing with such sums of money that, if totted up, it is clear—

The Chairman

The hon. and learned Gentleman is not in order. The Committee is dealing with Clause 1.

Mr. Hylton-Foster

I desire to remain in order, Sir Charles. I submit that if the salaries of county court judges are increased by this Clause we shall distort the pattern in such a way as to leave the official referees behind, and I think the Committee would feel it undesirable to enact this Clause. I seek to remain in order.

The Chairman

The hon. and learned Gentleman is not in order. He might have been on the Second Reading, but not now.

Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)

There is one small matter which I think would probably be in order, and which is rather on the lines of the point my hon. and learned Friend has just been raising. It is on the question of salaries paid to provincial stipendiary magistrates, referred to in Clause 1 (4) of the Bill. In subsection (4) the Secretary of State is authorised to make a direction as to the salary to be paid to a provincial stipendiary magistrate by the authority under whom he is employed.

As I understand the position, Parliament has to fix the salary to be paid to metropolitan magistrates amongst others, because they are paid out of public funds —out of the Treasury—whereas, in the case of the provincial stipendiary magistrate, the Secretary of State makes a direction to the authority employing that magistrate, and that authority actually pays the salary. I have often wondered why it should be that the citizens of a city like Birmingham should pay, through the rates, the salaries of their own stipendiary magistrates and, through taxes, the salaries of the metropolitan magistrates; whereas the citizens of London do not have to do the same thing; they have only to pay half.

What I seek from my right hon. and learned Friend, if he is prepared to give it, is an assurance that, just as the House is taking the initiative of doing what is necessary to see that the salaries of metropolitan magistrates and county court judges and others are put on a proper footing, having regard to today's situation, the Secretary of State will, under subsection (4) of this Bill, do the same for provincial stipendiaries, and, in so doing, that he will do two things.

First, with regard to the rearguard of provincial stipendiaries, some of whose salaries are far and away below what is laid down in Clause 1 for metropolitan magistrates, that he will bring those "backwoodsmen"—if I may so call them —of that branch of the learned profession into line with those who earn and are paid higher salaries in this city.

Secondly, he should have regard in giving directions, particularly amongst the higher paid provincial stipendiaries, to the relation which their salaries have in the past borne to those of the metropolitan magistrates. As I understand it, cities like Birmingham have their stipendiary magistrates paid at the same rate as the chief metropolitan magistrate. Then there are certain provincial cities a little below the standard of the first grade whose stipendiaries are paid on the same basis as the other metropolitan magistrates.

I hope that as far as possible, when the directions of the Secretary of State are given under subsection (4), it will be ensured that the pattern which now exists is maintained and that the same proportions are preserved.

4.30 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

In answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster), I would explain that official referees are not covered, nor is it required that they should be covered by this Bill, but I can assure him that their position is being carefully considered and that they will have proper treatment.

I am afraid I am not in a position to make any statement about stipendiary magistrates in the provinces, but the subject has already been discussed. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) discussed it on a previous occasion, and it will be the subject of further discussion and consultation. I do not think it would be right for me to say any more about it today, except that no doubt the considerations of equity and fairness to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) referred will be carefully taken into account.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Does that mean that the Home Secretary has this matter under his active consideration and is in touch with the local authorities in the areas in which the stipendiary magistrates are employed?

The Attorney-General

I am afraid I cannot say exactly what is the position of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but I know the matter is under consideration.

Mr. Ede

The Home Secretary has two Under-Secretaries, neither of whom seems to have been able to turn up today. Perhaps they are both learning Welsh.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.