HC Deb 20 February 1961 vol 635 cc257-72

Resolution reported,

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—

  1. (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;
  2. (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.

Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.

2.19 a.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Are we not to have a Ministerial statement about this? Surely we are going to have a statement from the Treasury?

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

We have no copies of the Order on the Table. None is available to hon. Members.

Mr. Swingler

Are there no Ministers present capable of making a statement on behalf of Scotland, or have they all gone to bed?

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

Perhaps I might be able to assist the hon. Member for Newcastle-under Lyme (Mr. Swingler). We appreciate his interest in Scottish affairs. The previous stage of the Bill was discussed very fully and interestingly by Scottish Members.

I would say for the information of English Members who did not assist in those deliberations that this is a Measure which does not involve any large financial commitment. The total sum is estimated at £5,000 or £6,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sum or sums?"] The total amount of money involved—I must be extremely careful in my phraseology—is about £5,000 or £6,000 The Measure has no doubt commended itself to Scottish Members in that it improves in various respects the position of Scottish sheriffs and sheriff substitutes and envisages steps which will remove certain difficulties which they have met in the past. It will give more favourable and satisfactory conditions of service to this very valuable section of the Scottish legal profession in future. I hope that the House will continue to feel, as it has indicated in the past, that this is a meritorious Measure for the efficient conduct of Scottish legal affairs and that it will accept the Money Resolution on Report.

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

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will remember, of course, that we discussed this matter previously at about a quarter to eight in the morning. Much of the discussion was very hurried and we were not able to get from the hon. Gentleman a full reply to the many points raised. There were also many points which were not raised at all owing to limitations of time. Therefore, he will not be surprised if we try now to elicit further information from him.

The hon. Gentleman will remember that very pertinent questions were asked, to which we ought to have some answer, about whether or no it would be in order to discuss certain things within the terms of the Money Resolution. We asked whether its terms were sufficiently wide to enable us to discuss important provisions in the Bill affecting pensions and salaries and the ability to bring sheriff substitutes into line with sheriffs in proportion of salary and into line with recorders and county court judges in England.

We should like to know whether the provisions governing a qualifying period of five years can be wiped out under the Money Resolution. This is important. There is no qualifying period for any other judge, but sheriff substitutes have to undergo such a period. It is possible that we might wish to amend that provision or seek to discuss it. We therefore want to make sure that the Money Resolution will enable us to do so. There is also the question of the time to be served by the sheriff substitutes before they qualify for a pension equal to 50 per cent. of their salaries Before we finally leave this we ought to have some definite assurances. We were pushed for time at a quarter to eight last Thursday morning, and the hon. Gentleman knows that he had to leap up to the Despatch Box and leap back again. We were not quite sure whether or not these points were answered and whether or not they were covered by the Resolution. I and my hon. Friends who will be in the Standing Committee on Thursday to discuss the Bill would like some assurances.

Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Craigton)

The Joint Under-Secretary said that the sum of money involved would be quite small. That is one of the things that we were arguing about. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), there is a great deal of discrepancy between the sums of money to be paid to sheriffs and sheriff-substitutes and those paid to English county court judges, who, I understand, do equivalent work on a limited scale in that they deal only with civil cases, whereas sheriffs and sheriff-substitutes deal not only with civil cases but also with criminal cases. I should like further information on this point. Exactly how much money is involved in the Resolution, and are we providing sufficient money?

Also, the Joint Under-Secretary, particularly in view of the discussions that we had a little earlier, might say something about the fact that the money which we are voting is to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. We ought to have some explanation about that. If I understood our earlier discussions aright, it was not necessary to pay this sort of sum out of the Consolidated Fund because there should be sufficient money in the Civil Contingencies Fund to pay it. I can quite appreciate that there would not have been sufficient money in the Civil Contingencies Fund to pay about £42 million, but are we to understand that the Civil Contingencies Fund has now reached such a low level that we cannot pay out of it something like the £6,000 or £7,000 required under this Resolution? We want a little more explanation about this.

It is an extraordinary thing that the Joint Under-Secretary failed even to mention the Consolidated Fund when he knows the very considerable interest that there is in it in all parts of the House.

Mr. Speaker

I am not very clear how the Joint Under-Secretary could have said anything about the Consolidated Fund on this Money Resolution.

Mr. Milan

I thought from the remarks of the Joint Under-Secretary before you occupied the Chair, Mr. Speaker, that this sort of thing would have been in order. If I might just make a final point—

Mr. Willis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order to ask—you did not, of course, hear the previous discussion—whether there is any money in the Consolidated Fund to pay these pensions? We have been told tonight that there is nothing in the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Speaker

I do not follow that—not in the context of this Money Resolution.

Mr. Willis

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Money Resolution proposes to pay out of the Consolidated Fund any pensions payable under the Bill when it becomes an Act.

Mr. Thomas Oswald (Edinburgh, Central)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this evening the Financial Secretary to the Treasury pointed out to the Committee that we were dealing with the abstract, that in front of him he had an invisible box in which was an invisible sum of money that had been paid out to the doctors and dentists, but the Measure that he was proceeding to put to the House—

Mr. Speaker

I am so sorry. I think that this must have been during proceedings in Committee of the whole House, about which the hon. Member is not at liberty to tell me.

2.30 a.m.

Mr. Oswald

With every respect, Mr. Speaker, I am trying to get clarification so that you may be able to guide us on this Measure.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must insist on the rules. What the hon. Member cannot do is to quote what has gone on in Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Oswald

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I regret breaking up this happy conversation, but two heads are better than one—

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is addressing me, and at present, as far as I know, I have only one head.

Mr. MacMillan

I am quite sure, Mr. Speaker, that you have a head that is quite equal to any two heads on the benches opposite. However, I would claim the attention of one-fifth of the Scottish Office for just a minute. Could not the Joint Under-Secretary give some explanation on this point? So far, he has simply thrown this Money Resolution at us—

Mr. Speaker

I am very sorry, but that can hardly be a point of order for me. I hope that hon. Members will bear the point in mind.

Mr. MacMillan

I am not raising a point of order, Mr. Speaker, but might I, through you, ask the Under-Secretary—

Mr. Speaker

No, it would not be a point of order for me. Mr. Milian.

Mr. Millan

The Resolution we are discussing mentions the Consolidated Fund, and I should have thought that it would be in order to mention that in this context—

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member will reflect the matter for a moment, it is very difficult to argue that everything could be said about the Consolidated Fund on this Money Resolution, which is concerned with a specific issue out of it.

Mr. Milian

What I was attempting to argue was that, at the very least, the Under-Secretary might have said something about the payment of this money out of the Consolidated Fund, since there seemed to be amongst members of the Committee—and I do not want to mention our earlier discussion—some feeling of confusion about the actual working and operation of the Consolidated Fund. It was with that uncertainty of so many of us in mind that I attempted to get the Under-Secretary to say—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am very sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am afraid it is quite plain that what we are concerned with is this particular issue out of it, and not other working of it—much as I would like to hear the hon. Member's exposition.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I quite follow your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. It would be most improper to discuss all aspects of the Consolidated Fund on this Resolution, but I submit that the Money Resolution does provide that certain pensions and other payments are to be made out of the Consolidated Fund. In view of that, surely my hon. Friends will be justified in raising what are, I think, two important questions that arise. First, is there a Consolidated Fund? Secondly, if there is, is there any money in it? Unless they can be satisfied on those two points, this Money Resolution really would not make sense.

Mr. Speaker

In my view, they would not be allowed to argue either on this Money Resolution. The question is whether or no—

Mr. Driberg

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Please—I am still on my feet. The question is whether this issue shall take place for the amounts and purposes there described. I do not think that in receiving the Report of the Committee we are concerned with the existence of means in the Consolidated Fund, or the existence of the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Driberg

Further to that point of order. If, on the matter of pension, the Committee that is reporting to us has thought it expedient that we should authorise the issue from the Consolidated Fund of these pensions, not realising that this Fund does not have any real existence and has no money in it, and forgetting that, on other occasions —and I will not specify—it has been necessary to make provision in the same Measure for borrowing certain moneys from any person or from the Bank of England or from the Bank of Ireland or something like that—supposing the Committee, under this misapprehension, is giving us a recommendation that we do not care to accept, surely one would be in order in arguing against it?

Mr. Speaker

I can hardly think, as this discussion proceeds on the assumption that there is a Consolidated Fund, that this House, in receiving this Report, may not discuss the issue out of it without being satisfied of its existence.

Mr. Millan

If I might return to my original point, Mr. Speaker, I think, with respect, that I was not in any way calling into question the existence of the Fund. I have no doubt that there is such a thing. I was trying to elucidate from the Joint Under-Secretary of State whether the Consolidated Fund was the appropriate fund for paying these sums of money out of—whether or not we should be using the Fund for this purpose. I was saying to him, through you, that I wondered why we should be using the Fund when, presumably, there is sufficient money in the Civil Contingencies Fund—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The difficulty about that is that to discuss an alternative method of effecting what would be effected by this issue would be out of order on this Question.

Mr. Millan

Then I leave that paint and come to another. The Joint Under-Secretary of State gave us a very brief explanation. Apparently he had not expected to have to give an explanation. I hope that this brief discussion will give him the opportunity of getting more information to pass on to us.

Assuming that this money is to come from the Consolidated Fund, and apart from the argument on whether it should or not, there is the question raised by (a) (ii) which says: 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; That is not clear. Could the Joint Under-Secretary of State say something about that Act and its relevance?

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I am grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for addressing himself to the points raised. He cannot quarrel that we are again raising this matter, in view of the fact that it was seven or eight o'clock in the morning that we raised it last week at the end of a long debate.

I, too, would like information about the source from which this money is to be paid and about how much is to be paid. In respect of the Consolidated Fund, of which we have been privileged to get some strange information from the Treasury, there are to be paid sums under (a) (i) and (a) (ii). How much is it anticipated will be issued under these headings?

We are asked to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament. How is it proposed to do this? What moneys are involved, as opposed to the Consolidated Fund? Secondly, the Resolution says …of any increase in administrative expenses incurred by any Government department attributable to the passing of the said Act. What increase is expected? Surely the hon. Gentleman has some idea of how much this will cost. Can the hon. Gentleman say which Government Department, or Departments, will spend the money?

Going back to the body of the Resolution, it 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"— I would have been happy if it had been left there, but it goes on— and salaried sheriff-substitute… When we specify it in that way in an Act of Parliament we not only specify, but limit. We intend to limit what is in the Act of Parliament to what is here specified.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present

Mr. Ross

I was addressing myself to the point that there are specified here the offices of sheriff and salaried sheriff-substitute. We are there specifying the intent to limit the offices to which this Resolution will apply. There are many different types of sheriff. Indeed, the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill refers not to the offices of sheriff and salaried sheriff-substitute, but to whole-time sheriffs and salaried sheriffs-substitute. I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell us what will be the effect of this difference.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member. but I think that in replying the Minister will have some difficulty in referring to the Financial Memorandum.

Mr. Ross

I am not asking the Minister to refer to the Financial Memorandum.

Mr. Speaker

I beg pardon. I meant to say the Explanatory Memorandum.

Mr. Ross

I am asking the Minister to explain the effect of the use of the term "office of sheriff", rather than the "office of whole-time sheriff." He might well have had "office of part-time sheriff" or "office of principal sheriff", all of which are terms in relation to the type of sheriff, apart from the other well-known term of sheriff-substitute.

The point is that sheriff-substitute is here while the others are not. I have not heard that it is the intention of the Government to apply the Bill to part-time sheriffs or to honorary sheriffs. I think that we need an explanation of the effect of the term "office of sheriff". I invite the Minister to give us the answer that we hope he will give in reply to my hon. Friend.

As no specific sum is mentioned and we have only the tentative sum of £6,000 mentioned by the Minister there is nothing here which enables us to address ourselves to what we think is putting right certain wrongs which might be passed on to certain sheriffs-substitute and to deal with the question of age and time for payment.

2.45 a.m.

Mr. Brooman-White

May I, by leave, address the House again to give a fuller explanation of some points to which hon. Members have returned from our earlier discussions? First, in our previous discussions, owing to considerations of time, I abbreviated the points I made to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), who was concerned mainly about what would be in order on the Committee stage. I notice from the Amendments already on the Order Paper that he has found, and I gather that the Clerks have accepted, points which should set his mind at rest that what I said to him earlier is substantially correct. The words I then used in meeting the point about the qualifying period, the nomenclature of "sheriff" and "sheriff-substitute", and other points were: …subject to the views of the Chair, it is the intention…that Amendments on these points should be in order.

Mr. Willis

Subject to the Financial Resolution.

Mr. Brooman-White

I will further refresh the hon. Gentleman's memory. I said: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1961; Vol. 634, c. 1717.] On this point, to which the hon. Gentleman attached importance, Amendments are already on the Order Paper. This was subject to the views of the Chair, but it was the understanding that the Financial Resolution should be wide enough to enable these points to be taken in Committee, subject to the Resolution. Clearly it was not for me to answer for the Chair, but it was the intention of the Government that it should be so.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan) asked me in particular about the reference in the Financial Resolution to the 1950 Act. The explanation of that is that the provisions we are taking will not only adjust the pensions of the sheriffs themselves, but will also adjust the lump sum payments and moneys payable to their widows under the provisions of the 1950 Act. As these calculations are based on a proportion of the payment paid to the sheriffs or sheriffs-substitute, it is necessary to take extra powers to meet that additional need.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) asked in particular about the other moneys referred to in paragraph (b). These other moneys are mentioned simply to cover what should be very small expenditure indeed but which would not be, from the point of view of accountability, embraced in the other part of the Resolution dealing with any administrative expense necessary to meet matters such as the more frequent payment provided for in the Bill—for example, where for the convenience of sheriffs instead of quarterly payments more rapid payments are to be made. This might involve minor clerical additions and minor administrative expenditure. If this were not in the Financial Resolution, we should not have the powers to meet that very small additional expenditure.

Mr. Ross

The Joint Under-Secretary seems to be referring to the words regulate the time at which payment may be made of those pensions… He is telling us that it means that certain expenses will be involved in paying these officers at other periods than the quarterly periods at which they have previously been paid. Because that would involve some expense, it has to be in the Financial Resolution. We all follow that, but if that is what the Financial Resolution wants to mean why does it not say so? In view of our experience earlier this evening, it is hardly necessary at this stage to labour the importance of the accurate use of words. If the Money Resolution was required to say what the Minister says it means, it should clearly say: …to regulate the periods at which payments may be made". To decide to pay somebody monthly instead of quarterly is not a question of the time at which payment is made to him. It is a question of the periods over which payment is made to him. The two phrases are quite distinct in English and when drafting Money Resolutions, Ministers ought to get them into decent English.

Mr. Brooman-White

I do not think that the Money Resolution is at fault. I think that I am at fault in not explaining sufficiently lucidly. The reference in the Money Resolution is not directly to the more frequent payment, but simply to the possible administrative effect of that more frequent payment, which could involve some small additional expense.

The second point raised by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock was answered in the latter part of his own speech. He was quite correct in what he assumed. The specific reference to sheriff and sheriff-substitute is phrased in that way to exclude any question of payment to a part-time sheriff, as the hon. Member pointed out, who is enabled to engage in legal practice on his own account. He is not embraced by the terms of the Money Resolution, and that is the reason for that phraseology.

I hope that those further explanations will meet the points which hon. Members have raised.

Mr. Ross

If that had been so, the words "whole-time sheriff" would have been added. Will the hon. Gentleman now answer the comments about paragraphs i (a) and i (b)?

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

No doubt in view of the remarks made at the awkward hour when we discussed the subject last week and the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) on the principle, the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) has caused some speculation. I believe that we were discussing the principle at the awkward hour of 8 a.m. and I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary would be good enough to dilate further upon this matter of the periodicity of payments, because this matter is beginning to cause alarm and it is important to allay those fears.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that I am not doing the hon. Member an injustice, but I do not see how the question of periodicity arises in this context.

Dr. Mabon

I was merely echoing what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham about the precise phraseology and to which the Under-Secretary attempted to reply but with which he did not deal adequately, particularly in view of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton who argued the same point when we discussed referring the Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee and then to the Scottish Standing Committee. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham can allay your anxieties, Mr. Speaker, about whether the matter is in order, perhaps in better terms than mine.

Mr. M. Stewart

The question of periodicity arises because the Money Resolution proposes, among other things, to pay certain officials more frequently. That mere fact will result in a small amount of public expenditure and for that reason it is necessary to refer in the Money Resolution to the fact that they are to be paid more frequently. That the Money Resolution tries to do. But what we were worried about was that although it tries to do it, it does it very clumsily. It does it in the phrase: to regulate the time at which payment may be made. What it really means is "to regulate the periods at which or over which that payment may be made." The fact that it says the time at which payment may be made as I understand, caused some alarm and led officials concerned to suppose that they might be going to be paid at extremely inconvenient times.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should be doing wrong if I allowed the hon. Member to make a speech on what was really an intervention for my assistance on a point of order. I am greatly obliged to him.

Dr. Mabon

If my previous remark was in order I am glad to he absolved of any charge that I was disorderly. May I press on the Joint UnderSecretary—I think he has ten minutes—the need to make this point clear.

I am only sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) is not here to make again the points that he made on the occasion of our last discussion. I understand that he is not feeling very well and we appreciate his reason for not being here at this moment. He made some points which were not answered by the Secretary of State on that former occasion. We had hoped that in the discussion of the Money Resolution we would get an answer on this point relating to this phraseology, which, since it was considered in the Scottish Grand Committee, has echoed back into this Chamber.

I press on the Joint Under-Secretary to give us a clearer answer as to what is intended. If there is a misapprehension on the part of the hon. Member for Hamilton I hope it will be said so specifically. But there are certain agitated persons in distant parts who would find it extremely difficult to lift up these moneys if the periods stated in the context of this Money Resolution were farcical. I have no doubt that this is not the intention. Nevertheless, the point has been raised and I think warrants an answer from the Under-Secretary at this stage rather than that the Committee should be cumbered with rather doubtful arguments at a later stage. It is possible that the Government may find themselves strung up by their own Money Resolution to such an extent that we shall have to start all over again on the Sheriffs' Pensions Bill, and the sheriffs will have to wait patiently for the Government to do something to bring in this long overdue and much needed Measure.

It would be a pity to spoil it just for the ha'pennyworth of tar which I am asking the Under-Secretary to give in the form of an explanation about the phraseology in the Resolution relating to the time at which payment may be made, and whether it might not be extended.

3.0 a.m.

Mr. Bence

We ought to have an answer to this question. There is a danger, when legislation is passed through this House, of not recognising the fact that in Scotland we have vast remote areas, and when the Treasury or the Department in Edinburgh take unto themselves the position of regulating the time for payment—and I presume that the place will be regulated as well—bureaucracy may fix a time and place that may be suitable for some sheriffs but not suitable for others. That may well be—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot see how the Money Resolution governs that. No doubt the Bill will.

Mr. Bence

The Money Resolution says: …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…

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member, on reflection, will realise that that is a reference to the fact that the Act regulates it, and not the Money Resolution that we are now discussing.

Mr. Bence

I abide by your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, of course, but the point arises out of paragraph (b) and the great distances in Scotland which may lead to considerable expense if an unsuitable time is fixed. The expense to be incurred by the Government Department may be considerably increased in relation to a sheriff from the Island of Mull, the Hebrides or the Shetlands. The expression "regulating the time" is quite unsuitable, and I am sure that many sheriffs and sheriffs-substitute from Perth and northwards to Orkney and Shetland will be very concerned about the costs which both the Department and they may incur in the collecting of their pension.

Mr. Brooman-White

If I may have the permission of the Committee to speak yet again, I will try to reply to the point which has been raised. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and his hon. Friends have all referred to what was said about time by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) in our earlier discussions. I assure the Committee that we have to date received no indication that this is causing great apprehensions among members of the Scottish legal profession, who, I think, clearly understand the intentions of the Bill and the Money Resolution.

This particular provision is being introduced to change the Act of 1907 which refers to quarterly payments. There were certain representations by sheriffs that this caused inconvenience because, during the first three months, they had to do without salary, and the intention of the present Measure is that the period of these payments should be changed so that it should be possible, where convenient and in everyone's interests, in a common-sense way, to make the payments at other periods. Quarterly payments may be suitable sometimes, but if a sheriff or sheriff-substitute wishes to be paid at monthly periods, this will now become possible. It was felt that this change would meet certain circumstances which in the past had caused a minor degree of inconvenience.

Question put and agreed to.

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