HC Deb 21 November 1960 vol 630 cc821-6

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

Sir F. Soskice

Can the Solicitor-General tell the Committee the result of the deliberations between his right hon. and learned Friend and himself on the point which I raised during the Second Reading debate in respect of this Clause? I then argued that the Masters of the Supreme Court should be equated, in relation to the length of years for which they have to serve in order to become qualified for their full pension, to county court judges. The Bill reduces the present period of twenty-five years to twenty years, and in the circumstances I argued that inasmuch as the period of the service of county court judges is now fifteen years it was logical to equate Masters of the Supreme Court with them in that respect.

It seemed to me that when one considered the growing volume of work which now devolves upon Masters of the Supreme Court, as evidenced by figures which I placed before the House during the Second Reading debate—with which I will not now trouble the Committee—those Masters had a strong claim to have their period of service reduced from twenty to fifteen years in order that they should qualify for their full pension at the half salary rate for which the existing legislation provides.

I would not like the hon. and learned Gentleman to think for a moment that I am in any sense ungrateful to him and his colleagues for having reduced the existing period from twenty-five years to twenty years, but it seemed somewhat difficult, in logic, to justify a sudden and arbitrary stop in the right direction at twenty years, and that it would be proper and reasonable, in the case of these very hard-worked judicial officers, to continue until the fifteen-year period was reached. I explained that I naturally did not expect the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be able to give me an answer there and then, but he indicated that he would be good enough to consider the point between the Second Reading debate and Committee, and would see whether there seemed to be circumstances that might justify the course I suggested.

No Government Amendment has been put down embodying the change that I asked the Government to bring in, and I accordingly draw the inference that the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, having thought the matter over, do not see their way to accept my proposal. I would, however, like the Solicitor-General to be good enough to indicate the reasons which led him to this conclusion. I do not think that they were adequately explored by the Attorney-General—possibly because he was taken somewhat unawares by my question—but from the date of the Second Reading debate to today the Law Officers of the Crown have had full opportunity to consider the matter. I am quite sure that the Solicitor-General will have done so, in implementing the promise which his right hon. and learned Friend gave me.

In those circumstances, I should be grateful if he would say whether he now feels able to accede to the course I propose, and whether there is any hope that something may be done in the later stages of the Bill, either in this House or in another place.

The Solicitor-General

During the Second Reading debate, with his usual combination of moderation and cogency, the right hon. Gentleman argued that the pension provisions for the Masters of the Supreme Court should be brought into line with those for county court judges. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General mentioned some of the difficulties which he saw in the way of doing that, but he promised to look into the matter with care before the Committee stage. I need hardly say that he has done so.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite correct in drawing the inference, from the fact that the Government have not put down an Amendment, that the difficulties are formidable. At present, county court judges have to serve for fifteen years in order to earn a full pension; Metropolitan magistrates have to serve for twenty years, and Masters of the Supreme Court for twenty-five years. Service in office for that time qualifies them for a full pension of one-half of their last annual salary. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, the Clause proposes that the period should be reduced from twenty-five to twenty years in the case of the Masters and other Third Schedule officers—if I may so term them—that is, the judicial officers set out in Part I of the Third Schedule of the 1925 Act, excluding official referees because special provision was made for them in 1954 and their pension span is fifteen years like the county court judges, since the type of judicial work they do is akin to that done by county court judges.

The Clause proposes no alteration in the pension span of Metropolitan magistrates, so that if the proposal in the Bill is implemented they will have to serve for twenty years and the Masters of the Supreme Court for twenty years in order to qualify for full pension. But a pension span of even fifteen years does not necessarily enable a person appointed to the sort of judicial office which we have been discussing to earn a full pension on retirement. Of the 74 county court judges now in office, ten will not qualify for full pension on retirement at the age of 72. Ten of the total amounts to 13.5 per cent. of the whole number.

Of the Metropolitan magistrates, there are seven, that is, nearly 26 per cent., who will not qualify, but, if their pension span were reduced to fifteen years, only one would not do so. Under the provisions as they remain untouched by the Bill, about one-quarter will not qualify. In the case of the Masters, eleven—that is very nearly half, about 42 per cent.—would not qualify if the pension span remained at twenty-five years, but when it is reduced to twenty years, as is proposed under the Bill, seven, that is, 27 per cent., will not qualify. That 27 per cent. is very close to the figure of about 26 per cent. of the Metropolitan magistrates, so they are brought into line with the Metropolitan magistrates in that respect as well.

In giving those figures, I have included among the Masters the Registrars of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, and this affects the next point that I shall come to. All those Registrars do not come under the provisions of the Judicature Act: since they are civil servants, some come under the less favourable provisions of the Superannuation Acts. So one has to consider, not only the Masters, but their exact comparables, the Registrars of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, some of whom come under the Superannuation Acts.

The next thing we had to consider, in responding to the request of the right hon. and learned Member, was that since the Priestley Commission the pension and salary terms of all these judicial officers have been reviewed in the light of the pension and salary provisions of the Civil Service. The initial review in 1955–56 was carried out in the direct light of the recommendations of the Priestley Commission. Therefore, the pension provisions of the lower judiciary—and indeed their salaries—now tend to move in reflection of those of the higher Civil Service as recommended by the Coleraine Committee. One has to judge the pensions and salaries of the lower judiciary in the light of the comparable pension provisions for the higher Civil Service.

The first thing we found was that, in the administrative and professional classes of the Civil Service, it is not at all uncommon for a Civil Servant not to earn the full pension permitted under the Superannuation Acts. Therefore, one cannot say that there is any intrinsic right to earn a full pension. Secondly, although under the Superannuation Acts in very special circumstances there may be a case for favourable treatment for later entrants where it is necessary to recruit persons with special qualifications, that in no way implies acceptance of the principle of compensation for everyone who cannot qualify for maximum pension solely because of late entry.

6.15 p.m.

The third thing I would say in that connection is one I have mentioned already. Of the types of officers we are considering, the Masters and Registrars, three of the Registrars come under the Superannuation Acts, so there is a direct connection there of which one has to take cognizance. Lastly, one has to bear in mind that there are certain Civil Service posts which are often regarded as very closely related to those of a Master or Registrar, such persons as the Chief Land Registrar, the Chief Charity Commissioner, the Public Trustee and Chancery Registrars; and all those receive the less favourable terms of the Superannuation Acts.

That being so, it seemed to us that, with the best will in the world—and I hope the right hon. and learned Member will acknowledge that we have given very great consideration to this matter—it would not be right to improve further the pension terms of the Masters. I entirely agree with what he said about the importance of their work. I think everybody who has practised in the law will acknowledge that it is on the Masters and their skill and despatch that the speedy, efficient and economical conduct of litigation very much depends.

We feel that in reducing the pension period from twenty-five to twenty years we have not made a sudden and arbitrary stop, if I may adopt the words of the right hon. and learned Member. If one looks at the position of the Masters in the context of the position of the Metropolitan magistrates, with all the strain of publicity which is attendant on their duties, if one views it in the context of the pension provisions of the higher Civil Service, the step we have taken is shown to be the right one, and I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for welcoming the improvement which it has brought about.

Sir F. Soskice

I wish simply to thank the Solicitor-General for his very full answer. He has put the matter very clearly with a wealth of detail, which I should like to have the opportunity to study later on in case we decide to revert to the matter through the medium of another place. I am particularly grateful to him for the tribute he felt able to pay to the work which is done by Masters of the Supreme Court in facilitating the conduct of litigation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules agreed to.

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