HC Deb 15 February 1961 vol 634 cc1703-18

[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).

[Major Sir WILLIAM ANSTRUTHER-GRAY in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law with respect to the pensions attributable to the office of sheriff and salaried sheriff-substitute, to regulate the age of retirement from such offices, and to regulate the time at which payment may be made of those pensions and of the salaries attaching to the said offices, it is expedient to authorise—

(a) the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of

  1. (i) any pension payable under that Act; and
  2. (ii) any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums which under section twenty-five of the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act, 1950, are to be so paid;

(b) the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase in administrative expenses incurred by any Government department attributable to the passing of the said Act.—[Mr. Maclay.]

6.58 a.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I am very surprised that the Secretary of State wishes to put through the Money Resolution at seven o'clock in the morning when he and a good many more of us have to be back in the Scottish Grand Committee at 10.30 a.m.

This Money Resolution is rather a complicated one. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to show to us, even at this hour in the morning, that it is one we can properly pass if we are to give adequate consideration to the Sheriffs' Pensions (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Standing Committee. For example, the Resolution says: That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law with respect to the pensions attributable to the office of sheriff and salaried sheriff-substitute, to regulate the age of retirement from such offices … I distinctly heard at least one hon. Member during the discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee argue strongly that it was quite wrong for us to provide in an Act of Parliament any regulation on the age of retirement of sheriffs-substi- tute, and I have no doubt that that hon. Member will wish to put down an Amendment to take out of the Bill any reference to the age at which sheriffs-substitute may retire.

Am I right in assuming that if we pass this Money Resolution this morning my hon. Friend will not be free to move an Amendment in Committee to take out of the Bill any reference to an age at which a sheriff-substitute may be required to retire?

7.0 a.m.

The Money Resolution goes on to use some strange language. It states: and to regulate the time at which payment may be made of those pensions.

Does that mean whether it will be ten o'clock in the morning or half-past two in the afternoon? If it happens to be half-past two in the afternoon and the poor old sheriff-substitute, who has now retired, misses the bus, does he lose his pension? It is a serious matter that we should be obliged by the terms of a Money Resolution to determine in an Act of Parliament the time at which a sheriff-substitute who has retired may go to collect his pension.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

Is that summer time or winter time?

Mr. Fraser

I had assumed that it was the time of day, not seasons of the year. If it is the latter, it is even worse. I could have understood if the Money Resolution had said that the Act might regulate the number of times in the year or the number of times in the month that the pension might be payable, but to say that the Act must regulate the time at which the payment will be made seems to me to be going too far.

I should have thought that the Secretary of State would not intend the Act to regulate the time at which the payment of pension might be made. If he does not intend that, he would not wish us to proceed with this Money Resolution. If a Committee of the whole House approves a Money Resolution in those terms, governing the Scottish Standing Committee in the consideration which it has to give to the Bill, we might well be obliged to draw the Bill in terms in which no group of hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies would ever dream of drawing it.

We would not wish to provide in the Bill, when it becomes an Act, that the pensions shall be payable at half-past ten in the morning or half-past three in the afternoon. This would be a ridiculous provision, and I feel sure that the Secretary of State does not intend it. I hope that as he does not intend it he will not persist, at a little after seven o'clock in the morning, in pushing through a Money Resolution which contains provisions with which he cannot possibly have sympathy.

It is bad enough that there should be this provision about regulating the time at which the pensions should be paid, but I go on from where I last quoted. The Money Resolution states: and of the salaries attaching to the said offices". So that we are also to decide the time at which the salaries will be paid. This is going a bit far. We might well decide that the salary is to be paid at a time when the sheriff-substitute has to be in the sheriff court dispensing justice. This is not a provision that we should lightly make in an Act of Parliament. If it is not a provision that we like to make in an Act of Parliament, it is obviously not a provision that we would write into a Money Resolution that governs the Act of Parliament as it finally emerges from Parliament.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Is it my hon. Friend's argument that in addition to having to pay extra insurance contributions the sheriff will also have the injustice of having to pay extra for his dentures and his spectacles? Is this a further injustice?

Mr. Fraser

Yes. He will have all the imposts that are put on the generality of beneficiaries under the National Health Service and all contributors to the Insurance Fund. When he has all those imposts put upon him, if he finds, as he may well do, as a consequence of our passing this Money Resolution, that his salary must be collected at a particular time of the day which might be inconvenient to him, he might be involved in considerable expense in getting to the place at which his salary or pension is payable. In any case, it might very well be most inconvenient to the administration of justice that the times fixed by Parliament for the payment of his salary should be the time which coincides with his administration of the law in Scotland.

Dr. Alan Thompson (Dunfermline Burghs)

I cannot see why in a Money Resolution which refers to pensions there should be provision for the collection of salaries. Can my hon. Friend explain that?

Mr. Fraser

I wish I could. I cannot understand why the Resolution should be so drawn. If I had had responsibility for it, I assure my hon. Friend that it would have been drawn in different terms.

The Resolution reads: That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law with respect to the pensions attributable to the office of sheriff and salaried sheriff-substitute, to regulate the age of retirement from such offices … and so on. "Sheriff" means sheriff principal for whom we have two sheriffs-substitute. "Sheriff-substitute" means sheriff-substitute. He is normally an acting sheriff. He is not a substitute—

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

Not having a great deal of knowledge of legal machinery in Scotland, I find it difficult to place exactly who these people are. To say that a sheriff is a sheriff and a sheriff-substitute is a sheriff-substitute does not help very much. Can my hon. Friend enlighten me?

Mr. Fraser

My hon. Friends expect rather a lot of me. I was not responsible for the Bill or the Money Resolution. The responsibility lies with the Secretary of State and the Financial Secretary. The sheriff in Scotland is the presiding judge in what are our county courts, with the difference that I understand that in England county court judges deal only with civil cases and recorders deal with criminal cases, whereas the sheriff is concerned with both.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

But is not paid the rate.

Mr. Fraser

Whether or not he is paid the rate, I am trying to enlighten my hon. Friends.

Mr. Reynolds

Now that I have a better grasp of the position, I can assure my hon. Friend that the English equivalents of these people are not required to draw their salaries at a certain arranged time.

Mr. Fraser

Provision is made in the Money Resolution that the relevant Act of Parliament will regulate the age of retirement from these offices and regulate the time at which payment will be made of these pensions and of salaries attached to the offices.

Dr. Thompson

Why salaries?

Mr. Fraser

I cannot understand. I am surprised at my hon. Friends making the assumption that I will be able to answer all their queries.

Dr. Thompson

My hon. Friend is doing very well.

Mr. Bence

The Resolution reads: … and to regulate the time at which payment may be made of those pensions and salaries attaching to the said office…. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether that means that these fellows can get the pension and the salary at the same time?

Mr. Fraser

I should not have thought so. If my hon. Friend will look at the Resolution he will see that it states: … and to regulate the time at which payment may be made of those pensions and of the salaries…. I think that is the proper legal construction of this. My own view is that the Resolution is not objectionable on that score. This cannot be construed as meaning that the sheriff can at one and the same time draw his pension and the salary for the office of a sheriff-substitute.

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed that the time is going on rather late? I apologise for butting in on a Scottish debate. I have never done it before, but I think that a lot of his hon. Friends are rather anxious to make their own contributions to this subject, and I was hoping that we should hear something from them in the short time which remains available.

Mr. Fraser

I think that the hon. Gentleman, by that interruption, is now supporting me in the plea which I made earlier to the Secretary of State that we should not proceed with a matter of this importance at this hour of the morning. It is now nearly 7.15 a.m., and he and I, and other Scottish hon. Members, are expected to be in the Scottish Grand Committee at 10.30 a.m. this morning to discuss the very important matter of the proposed new crofters' legislation for Scotland.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I think my hon. Friend may have overlooked the interests of the suppliants, or the accused. Without being rude to them, they are called "the accused" before anything is proved against them, and after all, if the sheriff's consideration of the facts and the merits of the case on facts and law are obscured in any way, or overlaid by the matter of a mad rush for his salary when he should be considering both the interests of the public and the accused, there may be a frustration of justice. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State may be responsible for this. It is an extremely serious situation, and I would wish that he should have a little more regard for the unfortunate person who is seeking justice before a sheriff concerned only with his remuneration.

Mr. Fraser

I am sorry that I did not appear to give sufficient consideration to the person who might be seeking the advantage of the justice administered by the sheriffs in Scotland. I take my hon. Friend's point that the sheriff might feel obliged, if we decide that his salary should be payable at a certain time—

Mr. MacMillan

And place.

Mr. Fraser

I think that the Resolution refers only to time; but I agree with my hon. Friend. I should have thought that there would have been a place specified, but there is nothing in the Resolution about the place at which it is to be paid.

Mr. MacMillan

The distance from the sheriff's court obviously bears a relation to the time because the place may be a great distance from the court.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to be lying full length on one of the benches? I see he has moved now. I thought we had a corpse in the Committee.

The Deputy-Chairman

I see no disorder.

Mr. Fraser

I am speaking of a person who is seeking justice in the sheriff's court. He might be a person who has suffered serious injury at work, or is making a claim against his employer for some act of negligence. Such a person might have a wife and family, but he might find that on this particular day the sheriff could not get down to the job of administering justice because it was pay day; and the sheriff might have a wife and family, too.

7.15 a.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

Has my hon. Friend considered the fact that there might be a complete dislocation of the Parliamentary system if the time when Parliamentary candidates arrived with their £ 150 deposits was the time mentioned in the Money Resolution, the time when the sheriff was collecting his salary or pension?

Mr. Fraser

That is possible, of course. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) will appreciate that many hon. Members are not aware that returning officers in Scotland are normally sheriffs, so that is an added complication.

For all those reasons—and there are many more, but I do not want to bore hon. Members at this time of the morning—

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

The Committee has listened with interest to what the hon. Member has been saying, but I see hon. Members from Scottish constituencies looking more and more confused. Would it not be a very good thing if the hon. Gentleman asked his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to give a clear explanation of the position?

Mr. Fraser

I am a little surprised to find the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) expressing such lack of confidence in the Treasury Bench. He seems to think that the Ministers responsible for bringing forward the Money Resolution are completely incapable of explaining it, and he wants my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to come to the Front Bench. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock is in some difficulty, because he did not draft this Money Resolution. We are concerned not only with what it means, but with what the authors intended it to convey. It seems to us to mean that the Bill will regulate the time at which the pension or salary of a sheriff will be payable. I assume that my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock will agree with me that that is what it says.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

That is what it seems to say.

Mr. Fraser

My hon. Friend agrees with me.

Is it what the Secretary of State for Scotland intends? If not, will he kindly withdraw it and bring forward another at a later date and convey his intention to Parliament?

If he will not do that, I invite hon. Members on both sides of the Committee not to approve a Money Resolution which will oblige the Scottish Standing Committee so to adjust the Bill which is to be sent to it and which without amendment would specify the time at which a sheriff would be able to draw his pension or his salary. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members do not intend to ask the Scottish Standing Committee to undertake this ridiculous assignment. In the circumstances, I hope that the Secretary of State will say that he intended something quite different and that, if the right hon. Gentleman cannot give a satisfactory explanation of the Money Resolution, hon. Members opposite will join with us in insisting that a new and clearer Money Resolution be brought forward later.

Mr. Steele

It is clear that many of my hon. Friends wish to ask questions, and I will be as brief as possible, to give the Secretary of State plenty of time to reply. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has indicated the difficulties about times and places and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has raised an important matter about the names of sheriffs and sheriffs-substitute. Does the Secretary of State realise that Amendments will probably be moved in Committee on that matter? It is clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Norh and others have misunderstood this term. The name "sheriff-substitute"—

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am not sure that this should be discussed on the Money Resolution.

Mr. Steele

If the Money Resolution is passed in this form, containing the words "sheriff-substitute," and then in Committee we insert other words in their place, then the phrase in the Money Resolution will have no meaning. It is therefore important that the Money Resolution should be withdrawn, because this is a serious point—

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

On a point of order. Could you not encourage hon. Members, particularly hon. Members opposite, to take an interest in the proceedings—unless you could encourage them to find a bed elsewhere. There are three prostrate forms on the benches below the Gangway.

The Deputy-Chairman

As long as the Committee is orderly, the Chair is content.

Mr. Steele

Perhaps if the noble Lord from another place would ring his bell it would improve things. I hope that I have said enough on this aspect. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I want an assurance that the Money Resolution will not limit us in Committee and prevent alterations—

Dr. Dickson Mabon

On a point of order—a humanitarian point. Should not someone at least nudge the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), who looks dreadfully ill to me. Someone should at least awaken him to see that he is all right.

Mr. Compton Carr (Barons Court)

There are two hon. Members facing us who have given up the ghost.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Surely if hon. Members make no noise, such as snoring, you should not interfere, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

On a point of order. It has been said that hon. Members must not read letters or papers during a debate, and the implication is that even if they read them quietly they are still out of order because they are being discourteous in not attending to the proceedings. I respectfully suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that to sleep during the proceedings is as much out of order as is to read a letter.

The Deputy-Chairman

I have not observed that any hon. Members are reading newspapers. Looking round the Chamber, I see nothing disorderly.

Mr. Steele

I should like to make one or two comments on that, but I must continue with the important matter of dealing with the Money Resolution.

I am concerned also with the number of sheriffs and sheriff-substitutes to whom this will apply. I want to know, for instance, how many there are, and, in particular, whether this will have retrospective effect. I want to know how many sheriffs and sheriff-substitutes are at the moment receiving a pension.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

In addition to sheriffs- and sheriff-substitutes, what about the poor sheriff-principal? Has he no salary and no pension or anything?

Mr. Steele

As "man" embraces "woman", so "sheriff" embraces "sheriff-principal".

Mr. McInnes

But not each other.

Mr. Reynolds

I am again in difficulty. A new term has now been used—sheri-principal —which my right hon. Friend did not explain to me. Will my hon. Friend inform me of the nature of this gentleman?

Mr. Steele

The sheriff-principal is the boss.

Mr. McInnes

I thought that the sheriff-principal had principle but the others had none.

Mr. Steele

The sheriff-principal is the principal sheriff. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raises a very important matter, and I hope that this will be attended to during the Committee stage of the Bill.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

On a point of order. May I have your guidance, Sir William? I have sat here a considerable time in the hope of hearing a speech from the Secretary of State for Scotland which would give me an appetite for breakfast and at the same time broaden my education. But I understand that the proceedings on Money Resolutions are restricted by a time limit which is in the new Standing Orders. We are living in very interesting times constitutionally so far as the procedure of the House is concerned. We have had explained to us in the course of the last three days the workings of various levers and other parts. I should like to know whether there is in operation any method of calculating in relation to the time devoted to discussion of the Question before the Committee some allowance for injury time which would compensate for the time spent on points of order and explanations of points of Scottish customs to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). If that is not so, it seems to me that representations ought to be made to the Leader of the House, in the light of his present mood, to institute some such system so that we could have another lever which could deduct from the time devoted to the Question any time which is not strictly devoted to the discussion of the Question before the Committee but is used up by explanations and points of order.

Several Hon. Members


The Deputy Chairman

Order. I have been asked a question. I must, in fact, put this Question at 7.43 arm., and that will not be affected by the proportion of time taken up by points of order or by general debate.

Mr. Steele

Then perhaps I may put my points quickly—

Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)

In the engineering industry there is something known as "dirty work time". Could that not be applied to a Measure of this nature?

Mr. Steele

I want an assurance about retrospective payments. Is the Money Resolution drawn widely enough to ensure that sheriffs who are part-time, and others, will benefit?

Thirdly, there is the question of the increased cost of administration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) indicated, there are many problems associated with this. In effect, it means that, for the first time, the sheriffs will be able to get their salaries—or their pensions—at a different interval than at present. That means much more administration. Could we have some enlightenment on the time interval involved, and how much the change will cost?

7.30 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brooman-White)

Perhaps I might first reply to the points made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). The relevant Clause will allay his apprehensions as to our intention and the correctness of the phraseology. The reason for the provision about the time of payment is that Section 14 of the 1907 Act stipulates that these shall be quarterly payments. This has caused certain inconvenience to sheriffs, not so much in the case of pensions as in the case of salaries.

One or two sheriffs or sheriffs-substitute have pointed out that the fact that, on appointment, payment could not be made until a quarter's service had been done they were put to some inconvenience. It was thought right to take the opportunity to overcome that difficulty, which, though not very far-reaching, had a certain bearing on the effective administration of the provisions.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) asked about sheriff and sheriff-substitute titles. We are aware of that point, and if it were the wish of the Committee to introduce an Amendment to deal with that it is my understanding that, subject to the views of the Chair, it would be in order to do so under the terms of the Financial Resolution.

The hon. Member's second point concerned the number of sheriffs who are qualifying for pension. At present, only 22 payments are being made—13 to retired sheriffs, eight to widows, and one to a widow for her children. His third point dealt with retrospection. The part-time sheriff is not pensionable, and there is no retrospection in the Bill. This is a provision for existing sheriffs on retirement who, if they do not wish to opt out of the Bill, can enjoy its provisions when it is enacted. Newly-appointed sheriffs will be automatically covered by this provision.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

The Minister will excuse me if I say that he has not added much to our knowledge of the meaning of the Resolution. I much prefer my hon. Friend's account. In view of the very unsatisfactory answer, I want to complain through you, Sir William, about the treatment the Opposition have received in connection with this Bill.

This is, above all, a legal Bill. It is difficult enough to deal with a legal Bill at any time of the day, but to have to do so after an all-night sitting—

The Deputy-Chairman

We are not dealing with the Bill. At this time we are dealing only with the Money Resolution.

Mr. Thomson

I beg your pardon, Sir William—but it is an indication of the we get into that I was not quite clear what I was dealing with at this stage. I think it is treating the Committee with less than fairness that we do not have a Law Officer here to deal with this subject. I understand that the Lord Advocate is indisposed, and nobody holds that against him. The Money Resolution should have been postponed until the Government were able to find a seat in Parliament for the Solicitor-General for Scotland. It would be to the enlightenment of the House if we knew his name. It would be interesting to learn whether the Ministers know his name or if they have been told. The Money Resolution should not have come before us, certainly not in present circumstances, until one of the Law Officers was present to pilot it through.

This is especially so because all the Scottish Members have to go to the Scottish Grand Committee at 10.30 a.m. for other Scottish business. The importance that the Government attaches to the other Scottish business is underlined by the fact that they have put the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) on the Committee. He made such a notable contribution to the Government's economic thinking in a recent debate.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am afraid that is getting very wide of the Money Resolution.

Mr. Thomson

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I wished to register my complaint about the way the Money Resolution has been treated. There are many things in it about which I should have spoken at much greater length if more time was available. In many ways its provisions are very generous for the sheriffs. A sheriff-substitute is not a sheriff-substitute but a sheriff. A sheriff is not a sheriff but is really a sheriff-substitute. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). This is a noncontributory pension scheme.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

It would be a great mistake for such a perplexing statement to get on the record. The hon. Gentleman should correct it. He stated it and he should correct it.

Mr. Thomson

It is the responsibility of Ministers to clear up our perplexities. It seems to be a generous pension scheme, a non-contributory pension scheme. There are arrangements for widows and orphans and arrangements for paying the pension although the sheriff undertakes other part-time work. The scheme is a very useful precedent for pressing the Government for a similar scheme for the teaching profession in Scotland.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), my view of the Financial Resolution is that it is far too wide, particularly as it covers those engaged in the legal profession. The wording appals me. It is most indefinite. It says: … for the purposes of any Act "— I ask hon. Members to note the use of the indefinite article— of the present Session to amend the law with respect to the pensions attributable to the office of sheriff and salaried sheriff-substitute … Is it the intention of the Secretary of State to introduce other Bills which the Money Resolution will cover?

Paragraph (a) says: the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of (i) any pension "— it is the indefinite article again— payable under that Act … Which Act?

Paragraph (a) (ii) says: any increase attributable to the said Act … Which Act? Is it to be the Sheriffs' Pensions (Scotland) Act or any Act?

The Secretary of State may have others in mind. There are a greater number of people attending small debt courts in these days because of the difficulty of meeting debts, particularly with firms like Napiers and others.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is going much too wide.

Mr. Hannan

As the services of these sheriffs and sheriffs-substitute will be needed to a greater degree because of the increasing number of cases, we should be told whether the Secretary of State is making allowances in this Money Resolution for such purposes.

Mr. Brooman-White

The normal phraseology is used. It refers to "any Act", not because it is intended to produce another Bill, but because at the moment this is still a Bill. The Financial Resolution will apply to this Bill when it becomes an Act.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

This is essentially a finance Bill, and it is important to examine its results carefully in order to know the extent to which we can do anything with it in Committee. Controversial matters affect the finances of the Bill. Will it be possible to discuss the following matters within the terms of the Money Resolution? First, the waiting period; secondly, the scales themselves, about which there is controversy because of comparison with county court judges and recorders; thirdly, the term of service at which a sheriff's pension begins.

Mr. Brooman-White

I understand, subject to the views of the Chair, that it is the intention of the Resolution that Amendments on these points should be in order.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

Some sheriffs in outlying parts may have physical difficulties in collecting their salaries. They have to cover considerable distances and transport is not very regular or cheap. Alarm has also been expressed about pressure on the courts because of the expected rush of clients under the Licensing Bill, together with the tremendous number of claimants expected to be hauled before them because they cannot pay the increased contributions to the Health Service. The sheriffs will be put in an impossible position in considering their own material interest in this matter of collecting salaries.

Question put:

The Committee proceeded to a Division

Mr. J. E. B. HILL and Mr. GIBSONWATT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes The CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received this day.