HC Deb 31 May 1954 vol 528 cc1043-9

Considered in Committee.

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.


10.50 p.m.

Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 8, after " shall," to insert " as such."

This Amendment is designed to remove a doubt which had arisen, and also more clearly to give effect to what I believe to be the intentions of the Government. The doubt which had arisen was whether the Clause, as it is now drafted, might not be read as meaning that judges' clerks could be drawn and appointed from the ranks of those who were already officers of the Supreme Court.

As I understand them, the Government's intentions are that, normally speaking, judges' clerks shall be drawn from the ranks of the barristers' clerks; and as the Attorney-General said on Second Reading, when opening the debate, barristers' clerks obviously have the training and experience which is desirable for the purpose. The addition of the two words proposed in the Amendment make it plain that those who are appointed judges' clerks become officers of the Supreme Court by virtue of their appointment.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

I am very much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for moving this Amendment because it does carry out the intention which I stated on the previous occasion we were anxious to implement. If there was any doubt about the matter before it will certainly be removed now. I should like to say how grateful I am to all those whose united and collective wisdom has succeeded in solving the problem by the invention of this phrase of two words. Suggestions were made containing a great many more words than that, and it did not seem to have occurred to anyone for some time that it could be done by two short words like these.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 9, to leave out subsection (4).

The purpose of this Amendment is to find out the object and the effect of subsection (4), which provides that the employment of a whole-time secretary or a clerk to a judge shall be deemed for all purposes employment in the civil service of the State. I have a little difficulty in deciding why this provision is necessary. Judges' clerks are not at the moment civil servants of the State. Nevertheless they are provided with a salary, and this provision presumably is connected with making them eligible for pension rights. If that is the purpose then I should be grateful if the Attorney-General could let us know why it is really necessary to make them civil servants.

Is it the intention to apply some Civil Service scheme of pension rights to the judges' clerks and secretaries? If that is so could the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us some information about the scheme, particularly on those points raised during Second Reading—the commencement age, the retiring age, and the period during which they would have to be employed as judges' clerks before qualifying for pension rights. I do not know whether the phrase "for all purposes" is inserted for any other purpose other than in connection with pension rights. For instance, will judges' clerks have to be prepared to move from their employment as judges' clerks into other employment? I should be glad of some explanation of the object and scope of the sub-clause.

The Attorney-General

As I explained on Second Reading, in order to secure the pension rights we want to get for judges' clerks, it is necessary to comply with certain requirements. We have found that it was essential to agree to the terms that the clerks should be on the same basis as civil servants in relation to salaries and pensions. It was only on that basis, that general principle, that the arrangement could be made, on financial grounds. The terms, for example, in particular the age limit, are not rigid. I think the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) will probably take it from me that there is no difference—I have inquired into this rather carefully—between someone who is deemed to be a civil servant for purposes of salary and pension and someone who is deemed to be a civil servant "for all purposes." It is the same thing. We have had to accept that provision.

I can give the assurance that it does not mean there are going to be any of those limitations which were discussed on a previous occasion, which might result in some of the clerks being unable to be accommodated at all. The matter is being dealt with by regulation. I can only say the Lord Chancellor is quite determined that, so far as possible, he is going to do nothing which will disturb the existing state of affairs, but it has been necessary to accept this provision that these officers should be treated in relation to salaries and pensions as civil servants. I am told that, that being the case, it would not really be quite straightforward to put in this Clause the words "for the purpose of salary and pensions."

I am authorised by the Lord Chancellor to say that so far as lies within his power, and it does lie in his power very largely in this Bill, he will see that the existing state of affairs is preserved.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

Would the Attorney-General be good enough to say in further explanation of this subsection whether it affects in any way the present position of judges' clerks with regard to movability?

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

When the Attorney-General is dealing with the question he has just been asked, would he also consider the point that there appears to be some conflict here with the Preamble, which says that one of the objects of the Bill is to confer pension rights on certain officers attached to judges of the Supreme Court. This subsection, which it is sought to eliminate, seems to differentiate between barristers' clerks, who are potential judges' clerks, and people on whom pensions are to be conferred.

Barristers' clerks as judges' clerks would not be pensionable people but if subsection (4) remains in the Bill, it would seem they are to be excluded. There seems to be a conflict there between the words of the Preamble and of subsection (4).

The Attorney-General

If I might deal with the last point first; I do not think there is any doubt about this if one reads the whole Clause. It starts off in subsection (2) by saying: A secretary and a clerk shall be attached to each of the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls … and a clerk to each of the other judges of the High Court … Then one sees that, subject to subsections (5) and (7), any secretary or clerk so attached shall be appointed by the Lord Chancellor and shall as such be an officer of the Supreme Court.

By subsection (4): the employment of a secretary or clerk appointed under this section shall be deemed …employment in the civil service … I do not think there is any doubt or difficulty about it. They are all covered by it, and are all in the same position. There is no question of making provision for barristers' clerks. These people may have been barristers' clerks, but this provision deals with judges' clerks.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes

If the words which it is sought to include in subsection (3) are included, and if subsection (4) is excluded, as this Amendment seeks to do, will the net effect be that all barristers' clerks who become judges' clerks will ipso facto become pensionable?

The Attorney-General

If subsection (4) is left out, they will not become pensionable. In no circumstances must subsection (4) be left out, if I may put it in that way. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) will agree with that. He was merely asking for information. With regard to movability. these persons will, like other civil servants, hold office at pleasure. That is an essential condition. They will be in the same position as all other civil servants in that respect. That is one of the effects of the status of civil servants, that they have no right of action in the courts in the event of dismissal.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

The Civil Service suffers from certain disabilities in regard to taking part in politics. Will that apply to these judges' clerks? At the moment, I think, they are able to take part in political life.

The Attorney-General

I will confirm the position. If civil servants generally are unable to take part in politics, I cannot see any reason why there should be any difference here. I do not think anyone would think it dreadful to say that judges' clerks should not take part in politics if other civil servants do not.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

Right hon. and hon. Members ought to be satisfied with what is now before us, for it seems to me that those concerned are now having the best of both worlds. I congratulate those responsible for the fine trade union effort they have made.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I am obliged to the Attorney-General for his statement. which, with the assurances it contained, will be very much welcomed by everyone who has been concerned about this matter. In view of the statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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


Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I beg to move, in page 4, line 16, to leave out from " made," to the end of line 17.

The Amendment raises much the same kind of point as the previous one. I am not sure that Attorney-General's reply has not covered most of what I was concerned about. Unless the Amendment is accepted, as I understand it, a Civil Service certificate will have to be issued before an established clerk can have a pension or salary.

In that case, there would be what is tantamount to a right of veto by the Treasury, or by whatever power is responsible for appointment to the Civil Service, over the power of appointment by the Lord Chancellor. The exercise of that right is what I am concerned about; in particular, whether it would be used to require that a clerk appointed to a position should be of a certain age, or any- thing of that kind, to qualify for pension rights.

The Attorney-General

There is a point here which goes rather beyond what the hon. and learned Gentleman contemplated. There are in fact other officers of the Supreme Court who would be affected. The effect of the Amendment would be to allow the appointment of all officers of the Supreme Court without Civil Service certificates and yet permit the pension benefits of the superannuation scheme. Clearly, it would not be right to do that. As I think will be clear, this provision merely puts the judges' clerks on the same basis as all the other officers of the Supreme Court.

What I said before would apply equally here. There would be no question of any right of veto or anything of that kind. It is simply that, for the purpose of dealing equally with all those in comparatively the same position, one really must apply more or less the same principles.

Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton East)

I should like to know that there is no question of the discretion of the Lord Chancellor being controlled in any way by the Civil Service. It has been suggested to me that there is some anxiety—I confess that I am not sure that I share it—on the matter. We want to be sure that the discretion of the Lord Chancellor cannot be controlled in any way by any Civil Service provision when dealing with the necessity or non-necessity for a certificate.

The Attorney-General

The Lord Chancellor will be responsible for appointments. As I said earlier, it is the Lord Chancellor's intention to have an advisory committee of an informal character to assist him on the matter. But, in the end, the decision is his, and he has every intention of exercising it without any regard to any considerations such as my hon. and learned Friend mentioned.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

We are very much reassured by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered; read the Third time, and passed.