HC Deb 28 November 1963 vol 685 cc619-31

10.22 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

I beg to move,

That the Judicial Offices (Salaries) Order, 1963, a draft of which was laid before this House on 13th November, be approved. This Order is made under section 1(4) of the Judicial Offices (Salaries and Pensions) Act, 1957, and Section 9(3) of the County Courts Act, 1959. By those Acts the Lord Chancellor, with the consent of the Treasury, can make an Order increasing the salaries of certain judicial officers, and those judicial officers are respectively the Recorders of Liverpool and Manchester—and the House will recollect that they are full-time judicial officers exercising criminal jurisdiction—the county-court judges, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, and the metropolitan magistrate. The Lord Chancellor is enabled to make an Order provided the draft has been laid before Parliament—which was done on 13th November—and is approved by Resolution of each House.

Before 1957 these increases would have required legislation, but since 1957 and the Acts to which I have referred the present salaries were fixed as follows as set out in the Order. For the Recorders, county court judges and the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate they were at that time increased to that figure by the Order of 1959, and for the Metropolitan magistrates by the Order of 1960. Both those Orders, in 1959 and in 1960, for the salary increases for those respective judicial officers, followed and were related to, at their respective times, contemporary in-ceases in the salaries of the higher Civil Service, and this practice had at that time the approval of the House.

The effect of this Order is to make certain increases in these judicial salaries in relation to and following upon increases in the higher Civil Service which were recommended in July of this year by the Standing Advisory Committee on Pay presided over by Lord Franks and accepted by the Financial Secretary in September this year.

The comparison, I should tell the House, is approximately, for the Recorders, with that of Deputy Secretary in the Civil Service, though the Recorders' salary is in fact in excess of the Deputy Secretary's scale. The scale for the county court judges is less than that for Deputy Secretaries, and that for the Metropolitan magistrates is the same as that for the lower grade, the Under-Secretaries' scale. The total cost would be £95,250 a year, and exactly 115 judicial officers would be affected.

There is no need for me to emphasis the importance of the work done by these judicial officers. It may be of interest to the House to learn the extent of the work which they do. In the courts of the Recorders of Liverpool and Manchester in 1962 1,883 cases were heard. In the year ending 31st March, 1963, the 34 Metropolitan magistrates had before them 83,150 charges and 211,822 summonses. In the year 1962, the 79 county court judges heard nearly 20,000 cases. Hon. Members will be aware of the Administration of Justice Bill and the proposals to extend the part played by county court judges in exercising criminal jurisdiction at quarter sessions.

The standing and reputation of these judicial officers, I would suggest, has never been so high, and the quality of persons who have accepted these officers and been appointed is due no doubt to the realistic attitude which this House has adopted in relation to salaries. I repeat that the Order follows the practice in 1959 and 1960 of relating the judicial officers' salary increases to the increases in salaries of the higher Civil Service. I therefore commend the Order to the House.

10.27 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

I would certainly not disagree with the object encompassed by the Order and would very much hope that the House would approve it. For my part, I entirely endorse the commendatory language which the Solicitor-General used with regard to the judicial officers to whom he referred and the very heavy burden of work which they undertake, a burden of work which increases, I suppose, year by year and, as the vista of years stretches out into the future, will probably go on increasing.

The Solicitor-General has pointed out that there is an analogy between the salary scales now proposed and the salary scales of particular grades in the higher ranks of the Civil Service. Without committing myself to a view as to whether the analogy is with the appropriate ranks or not, I will, as I have already said, entirely support what the Solicitor-General wants to do in these matters.

There is another point that I wish to raise. I have given notice of this, and I trust that the Solicitor-General has been able to prepare to answer it. It seems to me that some constitutional question may be involved in the following circumstances. Under the 1957 Act the Order has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. This Order was introduced into another place some few days ago, and the question was raised in the other place whether, this being an Order which provides for the expenditure of public money, it was constitutionally proper for the other House to be invited to approve of it before this House was invited to approve of it, it being the privilege and duty of this House to consider and sanction the expenditure of public money.

Noble Lords in the other House were particularly anxious to preserve for us our privileges, and it seems to me that we ought perhaps to respond or at any rate to hear from the Government the reasons which impelled them to introduce the Order in the other place first.

This is the question that I want to put fair and square to the Solicitor-General. This House being the House which sanctions the expenditure of public money, and this Order being an Order which provides for an increased expenditure of public money, would it not have been constitutionally proper to invite this House to approve of the Order before it was introduced for approval into the other House?

What the Government did was to go to the other House and, having secured the approval of the other House, come to this House. I quite understand that it is for each House separately to make up its mind upon whether it approves the Order, but the judgment of this House being, under our constitutional practice, clearly the judgment which should prevail and which should guide the decision in the end, I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman why it was that the Government reversed the Order and whether he now recognises on reflection that the Order ought to have been introduced in this House.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I would add to what the Solicitor-General and the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) have said about the public work and its value which the office bearers who are the subject matter of this Order carry out in the public interest. It has long been the tradition that our judiciary should be wholly independent. It is no doubt for that reason that special arrangements were thought fit when the 1957 and 1959 Measures were passed.

However, I remind the House that constitutionally this House is very jealous not of its privilege, but of its right to be the sole Chamber for voting money, and that constitutionally we have been very jealous of our right not merely to vote money, but to alter, vary and reduce sums of money as this House in its wisdom thought fit.

It is also right to point out that the powers which the Lord Chancellor is granted under the 1957 and 1959 Acts in these matters are very great indeed. He merely has to be satisfied that any of the salaries which are specified in either of these Acts ought to be increased and then, provided he obtains the consent of the Treasury, he may by Order direct that such of those salaries as he thinks fit shall be increased by such sums as he shall specify, and all he has to do is to see that a draft of the Order is laid before Parliament and approved in each House.

We do not know how formal Treasury consent is. We do not know whether the Treasury merely approves the laying of an Order, or whether it will go in some detail into the adequacy one way or another of the amount of the salaries which are to be increased, as it should and as it is constitutionally bound to do. As the House cannot in any way vary the sums of money involved in these increases, as a result of these two Acts, this is a very great diminution in our power to amend financial matters and we are therefore entitled to look at these matters with very great care.

I would have thought that constitutionally it was very strange and extremely improper for this matter to be initiated in another place. It is per- fectly true that the Lord Chancellor has the power to initiate these matters in another place, but I hope that in future matters touching upon salary increases involving public money the lesson of the Parliament Act will be re-read and that this will be the Chamber in which these matters will be initiated.

We are being asked to make very substantial increases. The county court judges, who are to receive an increase of some £900, received an increase of some £650 as recently as May, 1959, and will therefore be receiving a £1,550 increase in a period of four and a half years. I do not make any comment as to the adequacy of that increase. No doubt these matters have been gone into very carefully, but perhaps it is pertinent to comment that the total increase awarded in four and a half years is precisely £200 less than the total emolument received by a Member of Parliament. I think that that is a comment on whether or not we have our priorities entirely right.

I would also suggest that the county court judges, for whom I have a very high regard and respect, have certainly succeeded in establishing smooth and rapid machinery for the settlement of their salary claims. One can only hope that the Government will always apply this precedent in other directions. I shall be out of order if I pursue that hare, but I think that the comparison that is made between this machinery and that for Members in this House leaves much to be desired.

I ask the Solicitor-General to help us on these two points: first, whether it will be tactfully suggested to the Lord Chancellor and those responsible for these matters in another place that in future these matters should be initiated in that House which constitutionally has the right to initiate money matters, and in many cases an exclusive right? Secondly, that we shall be told a little more about what is involved in Treasury consent—whether it is a mere formality, or whether the Treasury, as the watchdog of public expenditure, goes through each of these suggested increases.

10.36 p.m.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

I do not want to demean the work of these judicial officers or to underestimate in any way the value of the work they do for the community, but, on studying this Statutory Instrument before us, I am struck very forcibly by the fact that there is a double standard operating in this country as far as salary increases and remunerations are concerned.

I say that because, as the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) pointed out, here we have miraculously smooth machinery working and it is very difficult indeed to see what kind of considerations are taken into account when we come at this late hour of the night to agree to make these large increases. Do we pay no regard to the economic circumstances of the country? Do we pay no regard to the criteria that other people are compelled to observe when they have salary problems to raise?

I notice, as the hon. Member for Devon North said, that this means that we shall be voting a total increase of £1,550 over four and a half years, that is, an increase of about 50 per cent, in that period. Where is the guiding light in these cases? Does it not apply? Are judges somehow exempted from the normal laws of economics which the Government apply to the rest of us ordinary mortals? This is an increase of over 10 per cent, per year, while numerous grades of underpaid workers were told that 2½ per cent, was to be the maximum, and I think that 3½ per cent, is still the maximum, even if we get this great stable rate of growth we are talking about. It is intolerable that these kinds of different standards should apply in different cases.

I know that we feel diffident about pressing our own salary claims, but the fact is that at this moment Members of Parliament are so underpaid that they cannot even employ adequate help to enable them to do their job efficiently. When we press our most reasonable demands for increased help in doing our work, let alone putting anything in our pockets, we are told that we should set an example to the economy as a whole, yet here we are discussing an increase of £1,550 voted over four and a half years, which is almost equivalent to our total salary, which has not been changed since 1957.

Are we really going to submit to this kind of differential? If we are to be told that it has been agreed that these salaries should be related to the salaries of higher civil servants, and that they, apparently, are related to some immutable law of their own, of which we have never been able to find the source, cannot we be related to some such law ourselves? Cannot other people be related to the same or similar laws, which would work out a little more equitably than the present ones? It is all very well to show respect for these gentlemen. I show respect. But it is time that we showed respect to ourselves and to the ordinary workpeople in our community.

If this country has now reached the stage when a 10 per cent, increase per year can be afforded to certain citizens, that sort of increase should apply to all. Secondly, if the judicial officers of this country are deemed to require these additional sums in order to do their jobs, and if it is said that they must be paid these sums in order that the right kind of person shall be attracted to the job, it is time that we had the courage to review the work of Members of Parliament and their importance to the country, so that we can ensure that they do their work properly.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) on their speeches. I share their sentiments, and feel that it is wrong in principle that increases of this character should be given to members of the legal profession by an eminent member of that profession. I have long been outraged by the position of lawyers in this House. They run the show. It is organised for them. If I remember aright, one of my hon. Friends, now no longer with us, who had a small stationery shop in Penton-ville Road, sold somebody some pencils for the prison opposite and he was in danger of disqualification. Yet hon. Members on both sides can have briefs every day—and very lucrative briefs—the fees for which are paid by the Treasury, and that is all right. There is one rule for the lawyers and another for everybody else. The business of the House is organised for their convenience. If this goes on long enough it will become almost respectable to put one's hand in the till. That is what it amounts to, in plain parlance. Nobody thinks that it is wrong. In fact, it is regarded as a slight outrage that we three hon. Members should say what we have said tonight. I do not begrudge these gentlemen their increases in salary. If they have more money they will either save it or smoke, eat, or drink a little more, which will be thoroughly bad for them. It would probably do them a service if we gave them less, and if they had to walk to work instead of riding in a car.

I have no particular views in the matter, except that I share the sentiments of my hon. Friend. Recently I visited some N.A.T.O. bases. I was at them for a fortnight, and Members of Parliament from every member nation of N.A.T.O. were present. Members of the American Congress and Members of the Canadian Parliament could not understand it—and I am sure that they did not believe it—when I told them what Members of this House were paid. I am sure that our dignity suffers by the way in which we hon. Members allow ourselves to be treated.

The basic truth is that hon. Members opposite, in their hearts, have never believed in democracy in the sense that I believe in it. They use it as a means whereby they can have access to the reins of power. They have never believed in democracy as a way of life. If they can create conditions in which they can stifle the emergence of able men on these benches—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he is in danger of going too wide. What has been said in relation to these increases and to Members of this House has been quite in order, but if the hon. Member strays very much further from that, I shall have to pull him up.

Mr. Wigg

The last thing I want to do is to stray from the rules of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I thought that I was entitled to make a comparison between what is happening to these gentlemen, and the ease with which such an Order as this goes through, and what happens in the case of other people—and to ask why it should happen.

If the Prime Minister suggested that we should have half this increase in twice the period there would be a crisis among Members opposite, and there would be a meeting of the 1922 Com- mittee to stop it, because they have a vested interest in lowering the status of Members of this House, and making it difficult for hon. Members on this side to keep body and soul together. There are hon. Members opposite who, I am sure, find it difficult to make both ends meet. This is the High Court of Parliament. Generosity for one side, with increases as often and as big as they like; but on the other side it is not respectable to raise one's voice.

I am not asking for any increase for myself. I can manage. My way of life has not changed very much. But I think it about time that hon. Members opposite, in their anxiety to maintain the dignity of the Bar and distinguished members of the Bar who rise to these exalted offices, and to be generous to them, should ask themselves whether their sincerity and decency does not demand that they should be equally generous to hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who are suffering indignity and poverty in silence because hon. Members opposite are still living in the middle of the 19th century.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

What amazes me is the quietness of everyone about this business. My mind goes back to Question Time today when the Prime Minister was cheered by hon. Members opposite when he told us that the cost of living, the cost of food in particular, had not gone up, but had gone down.

Hon. Members opposite cheered then, but they are sitting silent now. By their silence I understand that they defend, not the Government this time, but the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain in deciding that certain people should get an increase of £900, which in most cases is equivalent to a 20 per cent, increase and which is more than the average annual earnings of most of my constituents. This is not a matter for talk; it is only a matter for talk when we suggest that the Prime Minister should hurry up to make the statement he promised about old-age pensions increases. It is said that these judicial officers have not had an increase since 1960; but we have not had the courage to deal with our own financial position, which has remained the same since 1957.

If we are concerned about the position of our judicial officers, as we ought to be, we should be equally concerned about the position of those who make the laws that those officers have to interpret. The longer this goes on the more cowardly we as a House become. We are failing to face a burning issue.

These increases are to apply only to certain selected persons, As a Scotsman I do not know if I should vote for this proposal. We are very generous people and we have a high regard and respect for these judicial officers. I cannot share it because I do not know anything about them and I am not going to tell lies about them. But I have a regard for people in my constituency who I know are very much worse off than these officers—people with small fixed incomes and on pensions, who are facing tough times, and particularly the unemployed. I should be failing in my duty if I did not mention tonight that in not opposing this proposal I seek to convey to the Government our concern about other sections of the population who are just as much in need of the attentions of this House.

10.50 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

By leave of the House I will reply to some of the points raised by hon. Members. In reply to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I certainly feel no sense of outrage that he or any other hon. Member should speak on a matter such as this. He said that the House seemed sometimes to be solely organised for lawyers. I see more lawyers sitting on the benches opposite than there were recently behind me or beside me. Colonel Barré once said that lawyers in debate were like elephants at the head of the Army. Indeed, the hon. Member might feel some resentment because lawyers take part in debates so often, and he might feel that they speak too much.

The Order is laid under an Act of Parliament which the House approved—the Act of 1957 and the consolidation Measure of 1959. It was then thought right by the House that this procedure should be followed and that Orders should be laid in the way in which they had been laid. They are dependent on the approval of each House of Parliament. This was followed in 1959 and 1960 and there has been a relation between the salaries of these judicial officers and the salaries of the higher Civil Service. This was done in 1959 and again in 1960. Since there was an increase in the summer of this year for higher civil servants, the Lord Chancellor laid this Order for the approval of each House, if it thought fit. Making the increase would mean that the salaries of the judicial officers kept in line with those of the higher Civil Service. That was approved in 1959 and 1960, and that is the course which the Government are following in this case.

The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) will not expect me to reply to the matters which she raised. I am sure that everything which she and other hon. Members have said has been duly noted.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) that it is constitutional practice that this House inspires action in money matters; this is where they begin. I completely agree about that. But this is an Order laid under an Act of Parliament for each House to approve. If either House did not approve, the Order would fall. It: was to suit the convenience of the business of each House that the Order was placed before each House seeking its approval. The fact that another place may already have given approval does not interfere with the decision of this House as to whether it should give approval this evening.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman cares to think back to 1960 he will remember that he took part in the debate on that occasion. The other place, by a matter of only hours, had given its approval, as a House, acting quite independently, of the Order under which the Metropolitan magistrates received a salary increase. It was only subsequently that this House gave its approval to that Order, a few hours after the other place had signified its approval. The right hon. and learned Gentleman took part in the debate, and he did not think at that time that there was anything constitutionally improper.

I suggest that there is all the difference in the world between a Bill which must start in this House and a matter such as this which is in consequence of an Act of Parliament which has been approved by Parliament. Under that Act this is a piece of machinery by which the House approves or disapproves the Order as it thinks fit. In those circumstances, I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no constitutional impropriety, and I recommend that the House should approve the Order.

Mr. Thorpe

Could the Solicitor-General answer the point about Treasury consent? Is this merely a formality? Further, does he not agree that, since we are discussing legal things, a Statutory Instrument which provides for money is in pari materia to a Bill or Act of Parliament which grants it? They are comparable. The machinery may be different, but the effect surely is the same.

The Solicitor-General

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I forgot to reply to the point he made. On his last point, this is a matter which comes under the heading of machinery, in this sense. Acts of Parliament have provided that increases can be made in this way, provided that this House approves. The Order has to be laid by the Lord Chancellor, with the approval of the Treasury. Then it has to have the approval of each House of Parliament. As it has to have the approval of each House of Parliament, it is obvious that each House should consider it at a time convenient to that House.

The consent of the Treasury is certainly an important matter and, indeed, a matter which is very gravely and closely considered by the Treasury. If the hon. Gentleman will recollect, I said when I opened the debate that the relationship between these salaries and those of Deputy Secretary and Under-Secretary has been maintained, with a slight variation but not a very considerable one, as it was established in 1959 and 1960. The part the Treasury plays in giving its consent is illustrated by that. In other words, the salaries of these judicial officers bears approximately the same relationship to those scales in the higher Civil Service, if the Order is approved, as they did in 1959 and 1960. The consideration which is given by the Treasury is a very close consideration and one which has to be given and its approval has to be given before the Lord Chancellor can lay the Order.

In these circumstances, I commend the Order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Judicial Offices (Salaries) Order, 1963, a draft of which was laid before this House on 13th November, be approved.