HC Deb 23 March 1965 vol 709 cc453-9

Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 11, after "1948" insert the County Courts Act, 1924, the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act, 1925, the County Courts Act, 1934.

10.1 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Perhaps it would be convenient, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to consider, at the same time, the fourth and fifth Amendments.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

I have no objection, unless hon. Members have.

Mr. MacDermot

I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

These Amendments are intended to clarify the law governing the superannuation of certain superior officers of the Supreme and county courts with the object of consolidation and also making two minor improvements in the law. I should apologise to the House for having to bring these matters before it at this late hour but they were matters in this highly technical Bill which, I am afraid, were overlooked at an earlier stage. Fortunately, they were discovered in time and, if the House agrees, the Amendments will make easier the consolidation Bill which will be laid before the House in this Session.

The people concerned are the masters and registrars and certain other high officials of the Supreme Court and the registrars of the county and other courts. The superannuation position of these people is governed by earlier Acts of 1924, 1925 and 1934 which, in general, apply the provisions of the Superannuation Acts to them, with certain prescribed modifications.

The most important modification is that the pension accrues at a much higher rate and full pension is earned in 20 years instead of 40. That, of course, is because most of them are, as it were, late entrants. Since those Acts were passed, there have been no less than five other Superannuation Acts, beginning with the 1935 Act, and now we have this Bill.

The question requiring clarification is which of the provisions of these later Acts apply and which do not apply to these persons. The point has been obscure for some time but without, fortunately, causing any practical trouble. It has, as it were, been a theoretical difficulty. But, now that consolidation is to take place, it is necessary that the ambiguity should be cleared up.

The Amendments do two things and deal with two matters. First is that, in the case of some of these officers—those covered by the 1925 Act—it is possible, though not certain, that some of the provisions of the later Acts apply to them when it is inappropriate that they should do so.

For example, in the 1946 Act, there is a provision which sets out the added years to count towards pension for late entrants. This is obviously inappropriate for these people, because there is already a special modification, as I have said, which give them full pension after 20 years and which is designed to achieve the same purpose. It would obviously not be right to accelerate the rate of accruing for them still further.

The other object of the Amendments is to make two minor amendments of the law applying to these officers which deals with two provisions which certainly do not apply in some cases and may not in others and which obviously should apply. The effect of the Amendment would be to allow any of these officers who married after having retired, but before the age of 70, to allocate part of the pension to the benefit of the wife or husband.

The second provision is to make these officers eligible for the special benefits which apply to civil servants who are injured on duty, or to their dependants. I think that the House would agree that both provisions ought to apply to these officers and the Amendments will achieve that effect.

Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)

We have gone a long way since the Bill originally came before the House and when the Financial Secretary and I had the privilege of being on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill about last November. The Bill started then by being mainly for the Diplomatic Service, following the Plowden Report which hon. Members on both sides of the House welcomed; but in the four months that it has been away the Bill has gone the rounds of Departments who have produced some Amendments, in the House, in Standing Committee and in another place, which should clear up details for some time to come.

The Amendments to Clauses 5 to 7 are not applicable to the Diplomatic Service. I have taken note to the best of my ability of what was said in another place, which I know I cannot quote, but I understand that these Amendments apply to legal office holders who are not civil servants but who, for superannuation purposes, have always been treated as such. I am not sure why, but I am sure that there is no objection.

I am not certain whether the advantages which the Financial Secretary said that they used to enjoy and which will be taken away from them—of a higher rate and getting a pension after the full period of 20 years instead of the usual 40—do not have certain disadvantages. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, the point has been obscure for some time without causing any practical difficulties, because the provisions have not been applied in practice.

However, this went through another place in the dead of the afternoon and there was no resistance among those who were present. Can I have an assurance that as the grant of added years, which would count towards pension, is now said to be inappropriate, that view will not deter certain late entrants from seeking office? As I said in Standing Committee, I have a great regard for the Treasury as the guardian of what is still worth something—the money of this country—but, at the same time, one wants to be careful that discretion is not removed from Departments if there is an individual who might he attracted under the circumstances as they now stand but who would be deterred by the tightening up of these provisions. There is a need for flexibility about recruiting late entrants in such special occupations as those under consideration.

My second question is whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is satisfied that all Departments have had full time in the four months to consider all means of further amendment of their superannuation legislation. An enormous amount is contained in the original Measure which one has not had time to go through in detail. Departments must have got down to some fair detail because the officers who marry after having retired but before the age of 70 must be a fairly small category, and I am sure that the House welcomes the opportunity given to them to allocate part of their pension for the benefit of wives or husbands.

I am not certain about what is meant when the hon. and learned Gentleman says that these officers are made eligible for the special benefits which apply to civil servants who are injured on duty. Would that apply to those civil servants who marry between retirement and the age of 70 and what duty are they likely to be injured on? Perhaps I misunderstood, but the point is whether he is satisfied that all Departments have now met all possible needs for amendment.

Mr. MacDermot

With your leave, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker). He asked about the special benefits. These are special benefits which apply to civil servants who are injured during their work. It may be a matter of a person falling downstairs and receiving personal injuries. It may be a much more serious matter of somebody flying abroad on duty and being involved in an air crash and perhaps being killed, and the rights of dependants. I suppose that high judicial officers are liable to these risks as much as anyone else, and it is intended that they should enjoy and be entitled to the same benefits as civil servants. That is the object of the provision—to make it clear, where it is not clear, that they are entitled to these benefits.

The hon. Gentleman asked why they were not civil servants, but were merely treated as civil servants. The answer to that is, I think, obvious. It is to preserve clearly the independent status of the judiciary. These officers are part of or servants of the judiciary.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to give an assurance that we have detected all the defects in this complex maze of legislation prior to consolidation. I think that I should be a rash man—and Treasury Ministers notoriously are not rash—if I were to assert positively that we had discovered all the knots before we sought to present an untangled bundle before the House in the form of a consolidating Statute. All I can say is that I devoutly hope that we have. I am filled with admiration—and I think that I detected that the hon. Gentleman was—for the way in which those who have prepared the Bill have obviously scrutinised this very complicated series of Acts with the utmost care to try to find any wrinkles which need to be smoothed out before we can consolidate. I very much hope that we have achieved that.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I think that there is one question which has not been cleared up. I cannot claim the intimacy with the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) and the Financial Secretary can claim and I may have missed the point. By subsection (2) of the Amendment in page 21, line 14, which proposes to introduce paragraph 24 into the Schedule, we seem to be depriving these officers of something. If I understand the matter correctly. Section 41 of the Superannuation Act, 1949, dealt with gratuities and allowances to these officers who are injured or contract diseases in the discharge of their duty.

Section 41(3), which is referred to in subsection (2) of the proposed paragraph 24, provided that an allowance granted for injury or disease should not exceed five-sixths of the annual salary. In calculating that five-sixths we are told to add a lump sum which may have been granted to the officer under the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act, 1950. I gather that that lump sum is given on retirement, being twice the annual amount of pension and a gratuity to which the officer is entitled on retirement. But now we have to add that to his other allowance and say that those two sums must not exceed five-sixths of the annual salary. It seems that we are depriving the officer of something.

The Financial Secretary gave the impression that these Amendments were all granting something to the superannuitant. I think that in this case we are taking something away, if I read it correctly, and I wonder whether with the leave of the House, the hon. Gentleman can answer that question for me.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. MacDermot

With the leave of the House, I shall try to do so.

The object of sub-paragraph (2) is to put these officials in the same position as civil servants. It is not to make them any better off or worse off than civil servants. As the hon. Gentleman said, Section 41(3) limits the amount of the special benefits for injuries. These benefits may not, when taken together with the officers" own superannuation allowance, and the annuity value of his additional allowance, that is the lump sum, exceed five-sixths of his salary, and any reduction of the additional allowance for the purpose of providing contributions towards the Widows and Children"s Pension Scheme under Parts I and II of the 1949 Act has to be ignored in this calculation.

This limitation cannot apply, as the law stands at present, to the 1925 Act officers, since they are excluded from the definition of superannuation allowance. If Section 41 already applies to them, it gives them too much, and, moreover, apart from the question of definition, the limiting provision has to be translated to make it applicable both to the 1925 officers and to the other officers concerned.

They do not receive an additional allowance, but a lump sum under the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act 1950, and so what this subparagraph does is to provide that the reference to an additional allowance shall include a reference to a lump sum under the 1950 Act, and that the reference to a reduction under Parts I and II of the Act of 1947 shall include a reference to a reduction under Section 8 of the 1950 Act.

I think that the effect of it is that in making clear that this section applies to these officers it does it in a way which will give them the same benefits as civil servants, and not entitle them to a greater sum.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that as the law stood they were getting too much. I understand from that that it is his desire to deprive them of something to which they would be entitled as the law stands at the moment. It may be right to do so, but I wanted that clearly on the record.

Mr. MacDermot

If I understand it rightly, I think the position is that as the law stands the Section does not apply to them, but, when we apply it to them, we need to apply it with modification, or they will get too much.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]