HC Deb 19 February 1952 vol 496 cc59-65

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

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I think that at this time we should keep a very vigilant eye on every item of national expenditure, especially as this appears to be an agreed Bill between two sets of lawyers. Because two sets of lawyers agree that certain provisions must be put into a Bill, it does not follow that it naturally becomes a non-controversial Bill. Could we be told exactly what expenditure is to be incurred under this Clause which applies to Northern Ireland?

I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is aware of the progress of this Bill through the House of Commons, but I understand that a circular requesting economy has gone to every Government Department, except, apparently, to the Law Department. In this Clause we are asked to give a salary, which will amount to £3,500 a year, for each of the judges of the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland. This is at a time when we are receiving warnings about inflation. We are being told that the workers must not ask for increased wages; and here we have a Bill which is setting in being the whole mischievous spiral of inflation. Does not this apply to the lawyers? What justification is there for legal gentlemen coming along and saying at the present time, "The £3,000 a year man is hard up and demands an increase of £10 a week"?

Those of us who represent mining constituencies are telling the miners, "Do not ask for a rise; this is not the time for increasing the burden of national expenditure"—and here I am, as a representative of miners in the House of Commons, asked to agree to an increase of about £10 a week to a judge in Northern Ireland. I do not know the answer to that. I should, however, like to know exactly to what we are being committed under this Clause. Will this not mean that, not only will the judges be given this, but that the gentlemen associated with the courts will come in for a rise, too? Will it not apply to all legal gentlemen who are clerks to the county courts in Northern Ireland and different clerks right through this particular industry, if "industry" is the right name to apply to it?

I suggest that this Bill has been drafted without any attention at all being given to the paramount need of the moment, which is economy. I suggest that we should get a satisfactory answer to these questions.

Professor Savory (Antrim, South)

The very small amount asked for is for two judges to get an extra £500 each. At present the ordinary judges are only getting£3,000[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and it is proposed that they should in future get £3,500 each. It is not proposed to raise the salaries of the Lord Justices of Appeal, and there I think a mistake is being made and that they also should have a proportionate rise, because at the present moment they are getting £3,500 and it is proposed to leave them at their existing salaries.

As for the Lord Chief Justice, it is proposed that his travelling expenses should be paid, which surely is very reasonable. It must be remembered that he was a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary here in the House of Lords, earning a salary of £6,000 a year, and he voluntarily relinquished that and accepted his present post. His love for Northern Ireland was such that he accepted the post of Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, with a reduction in salary of £1,500 a year, and surely no one will cavil at the fact that it is now proposed to pay his travelling expenses. Further it is also proposed—and this will not be objected to, I think, on either side—to allow him to count the time which he spent as Lord of Appeal in Ordinary towards his pension.

We have been asked for precise figures by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I have here the White Paper of the House of Commons, No. 201 of 1951, which shows exactly what the travelling expenses were for the four judges who were entitled to them, excluding, as I have already pointed out, the Lord Chief Justice. According to this White Paper, the total amount spent last year was only £375. In view of the deliberate devaluation of the £ sterling, with its disastrous consequences—as I found out during the last three or four weeks in America when I could only get for my travellers' cheques little more than two dollars—it is not unreasonable to ask that these gentlemen should have this very modest increase in salary, from £3,000 to £3,500. It only concerns two of them.

Therefore, the total amount for which we are asking is only £1,000, which is surely not excessive when I hear privately that a judge on account of the increased cost of living can no longer afford to keep a motor car and has to take the ordinary omnibus to the Royal Palace of Justice in Northern Ireland, and actually may have been travelling with one of the gentlemen whom he will be called upon to condemn in court.

This is a non-controversial Bill, and I would not have raised my voice if the hon. Member for South Ayrshire had not made his remarks, but I feel that the slight increase in the salary of these two Northern Ireland judges and the payment of travelling expenses for the Lord Chief Justice, as well as the allowance for the time which he spent in London as Lord of Appeal towards his pension, are all expenses fully justified.

The Attorney-General

I would not like to attempt to rub in the devastating rejoinder made by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Professor Savory), to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but I do not think that the latter ought to be allowed to get away with it altogether, so far as I am concerned.

It is a long time ago now, but when I moved the Second Reading of this Bill, I said that we expected to have just the kind of tub-thumping oration from him on the Second Reading that we have had today. We did not have it. I said then, among other things, that I was sure that we would be told about Triggering off a new inflationary spiral."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December. 1951: Vol. 494, c. 2162.] We have just had it today. On that occasion one hon. Member—I think that it was the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross)—rather took me to task for having said that we expected that kind of thing. He said that they were more sensible than that on that side of the House that the Attorney-General was being unreasonable about things, and that they did not say stupid things of that kind. That, of course, was at that time. Today, things are different. I do not think that anyone will take it very seriously when things of that kind are not raised on Second Reading but are raised now, because one must think that there is some reason for their introduction.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

I had not intended to intervene, but I think I should point out that the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), were expressed by myself on Second Reading, and the Committee ought to know that at least on this occasion the hon. Member was not the first in the field with the "tub-thumping" to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.

If it is tub-thumping to say that increases of £500 a year to any section of the community are psychologically disastrous to those who have to deal with the ordinary workers, then a lot more tub-thumping will have to be done. It is useless for the Chancellor to urge restraint on the part of the working class if responsible members of the Government bring forward a Bill giving an increase not of £1 a week but of £500 a year.

Our opposition arises precisely because of that and not because we do not think this is a good Bill. We think it is introduced at a bad time, and on Second Reading we were suggesting only that its operation should be deferred until such time as the country's economy was in a sounder state.

The Chairman

I would remind the hon. Member that at the moment we are only dealing with Clause 4.

Mr. Fernyhough

I recognise that, but as the Attorney-General had transgressed I thought that I might be allowed to let him lead me astray. In view of the difficult situation facing the country and the cuts which are being demanded on all sides, and the fact that we are told that the outstanding claim for equal pay, which we have heard for many years, cannot be met because of these factors, there is a need for the observations I made on Second Reading and the observations which my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South has made to-day.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I am not proposing to embark on a general discussion of the economic and financial issues which have been raised by previous speakers, but the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Professor Savory), persuades me to make a small contribution to the discussion of the Clause. It ought not to be allowed to go forth from this Committee that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), was representing the views of all hon. Members on this side of the Committee when he referred to the position in Northern Ireland.

It is true that from time to time some of us have received most curious reports about the methods of the administration of justice in Northern Ireland, and if the extra expenditure which the Clause seeks to authorise results in some improvement which will do away with the abuses which have been brought to our attention from time to time, then I believe that the small additional expenditure involved will be well worth while. I do not intend to ask the Committee to divide against the Clause for the reason that I hope it will make a little contribution towards a very much needed improvement in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

It is unfortunate that we have to deal with this affair here, because it is perhaps more a domestic matter for Northern Ireland. However, the onus is laid upon us. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was dealing with principles and was not allowing himself to be pulled two ways at once.

The effect of the propaganda effort of the Government is that the country is not in a position to accept an inflationary rise in any direction whatsoever. Nevertheless, at the same time as we are being asked to get industry and industrial workers to agree to that point of view we are being asked to agree that judges in Northern Ireland shall have an increase of £500 a year.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Professor Savory), said that these gentlemen are suffering very keenly because of the effects of devaluation. Does he not agree that those in the lower income groups are also suffering if devaluation is causing suffering? How is it that, when there is talk about suffering, he is apparently so anxious about the higher income groups and not about those in the lower income groups? I am sure that people in the lower income groups in Northern Ireland could do with an increase in wages very much more than could those whom we are discussing.

We must have some principle about this sort of thing. We cannot argue for £500 increases in the case of these judges and, at the same time, tell the rest of the people that there can be no increases and that all must produce more if this country is to come through. We are taking many steps to curb expenditure among the lower income groups. We are tightening up in respect of old-age pensioners and assistance towards the payment of the fares of those who are unemployed and have to travel to hospital for treatment, and in that instance a determination of need test is proposed. I am not suggesting that we should apply the same rule to the judges, for I do not believe that it ought to be applied to anybody, but its introduction meant a cut in the strength of the Health Service.

However, while that test is operating, it is grossly unfair that people with salaries of £3,500 a year should have that amount without any attention being paid to whether assistance towards fares is needed or not. This is a question of principle, and the Government ought not to be facing two ways at once, being kind to those who are most able to pay their way and, at the same time, tightening up as much as they can in the case of the lower income groups in order that there shall be no inflationary spiral from that end of the wage scale. I may be told that very few judges are concerned.

Professor Savory

This concerns only two judges in Northern Ireland whose salaries are to rise from £3,000 to £3,500.

Mr. Manuel

I appreciate that it concerns only two judges in Northern Ireland and that it means an extra expenditure of only £1,000 a year, but that does not make it right to break a principle and it would not be right even if there was only one judge or only half a judge.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, that this is the wrong time for such an increase. Such an increase should have been given when general wage increases were taking place and inflation was not such a danger as it is at present.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.