HC Deb 07 April 1971 vol 815 cc525-33

(1) The terms and conditions of service of every officer or servant (other than a person for whom provision is made by Schedule 2 to this Act) who immediately before the appointed day is employed on a full-time basis wholly or mainly in connection with a court which is abolished by this Act (and who shall be willing to continue his appointment as such officer or servant) shall be such that—

  1. (a) so long as he is engaged in duties reasonably comparable to those in which he was engaged immediately before the appointed day, the scale of his salary or remuneration, and
  2. (b) the other terms and conditions of his employment;
are not less favourable than those he enjoyed immediately before the appointed day.

(2) Any personal or reserved salary or salary scale of any officer or servant referred to in subsection I of this section whose appointment as such officer or servant is continued by virtue of an appointment under this Act shall be increased by a like percentage to that awarded to his Civil Service grade so far as such increase is attributable to a rise in the cost of living and for so long as the maximum of his personal or reserved salary scale is greater than the maximum salary attaching to his Civil Service grade and thereafter he shall be entitled to the full amount of any increase in salary awarded to his Civil Service grade.—[Sir Elwyn Jones.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir Elwyn Jones

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

New Clause 3 deals with safeguards for transferred staff. It is similar to an Amendment considered in detail in Standing Committee on 23rd February. But it contains an additional paragraph, which appears as subsection (2) and which highlights the anxiety in relation to cost of living increases. The Greater London Assizes and Quarter Sessions Staff Liaison Committee, which has been greatly concerned about this matter, appreciates the assurances that were given by the noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor, in another place when the Bill was dealt with there. But I fear that these members of the staff are still unhappy and not satisfied about the way in which the matter has been left.

When we considered the matter in Committee, we were informed that discussions would be taking place with the Civil Service Commission on how staffs would be graded, and those who were then concerned with this matter hoped that by the time we reached this stage the Attorney-General would be able to give further assurances in the light of those discussions. I shall wait to see whether anything reassuring can be said by the Attorney-General against that background.

The matters which cause anxiety to these dedicated members of the staff who are to be transferred were considered in Committee in some detail and I will therefore only summarise them at this stage. It is said that the members of the staff concerned would be at risk under the Bill, because the only protection it offers them is that they would retain their present individual pay and incremental progress. Any officer who is appointed to a Civil Service grade and who has a salary below his reserve salary will receive no increase other than his remaining increments rights, if any, until the general salary level of his Civil Service grade achieves parity with his present salary. It is feared that as the cost of living increases members of the staff concerned will fall between two stools—they will not get any such increases awarded to local government officers because they will no longer be such, nor those granted to civil servants until the salaries of their Civil Service grades reach the level of their salaries. They find that what is proposed would in effect put them at a disadvantage compared with the prospects if they were to remain as they are remunerated and subject to their present conditions of service.

Secondly, no safeguard has been offered to them in respect of terms and conditions of service other than salaries. They have indicated to me and generally to hon. Members that there are a number of respects in which Civil Service terms and conditions are unfavourable compared with those now enjoyed by the court staff with whom the new Clause is concerned. They give as examples, first, the depreciation of pension rights arising from abatement of salary on transferring from the contributory scheme to a noncontributory scheme, and, secondly, in some instances a reduction in annual leave entitlement. I do not know whether the Attorney-General will be able to give them any assurance on these matters.

A sense of grievance is left, because they contrast the provisions of Schedule 2(8) in respect of, it is true, a limited range of judges who become circuit judges under the Bill, with the refusal of the Government to accept a statutory obligation to ensure that they have the kind of protection which is given to those judges. The language of the Schedule is that the remuneration and other terms and conditions of the service of a circuit judge are to be no less favourable than those which he enjoyed immediately before the appointed day. There is a feeling that, whereas circuit judges are expressly protected, they are not, and they regard this as a piece of class discrimination.

That is their present attitude. It is imperative that they enter these new arrangements with enthusiasm, and I therefore hope that the Attorney-General will be able to say something tonight to give them further assurance that they will get a fair deal under the new arrangements.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I am sure that the House and my right hon. and learned Friend will be grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) for having so succinctly and fully summarised representations which have been made to a number of hon. Members. I have had letters about the subject only this morning. May I say as an aside that it is a great pity that although a great deal of thought and trouble has clearly gone into making the representations and explaining the case, hon. Members have been told in my case literally only minutes before the matter was raised on the Floor of the House. I made a special effort to come in and tell my right hon. and learned Friend that I hope that he will be able to meet the wishes of the House as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has expressed them.

It would be presumptuous of me to add anything to what has been said. I closely followed exactly what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and it coincided to a remarkable degree with what has been said to me. However, to take up his concluding words, it seems a great pity that when these transitional arrangements are made they should not only be absolutely fair and equitable, but be seen to be so. If I were in the position of these constituents of mine, I should feel that, although the objective of the Bill and the new administration was undoubtedly desirable, it was unfair that I should get the muddy end of the stick in any way. It does not seem a satisfactory way to allow the Bill to go on the Statute Book without being entirely satisfied that arrangements have been made in every respect.

I therefore hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to give an assurance that will satisfy my constituents. That is all I have to say. I simply did not want to have these representations made to me, even at such short notice, without saying that on the face of it I was impressed by what they said and that I do not believe that the Bill should be allowed to pass without the suggested change.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I apologise to the House in that this is a matter which I had not an opportunity hitherto to mention to the Attorney-General. I should have liked to have done so before coming to the debate, but, unfortunately, I was engaged with the tanker which is creating a rather oily atmosphere elsewhere and I have therefore not had an opportunity to mention this matter to my right hon. and learned Friend.

I mention it because the morale in the criminal courts in London is very low. Before reading a passage from a letter which I have received, I should like to say, having had the opportunity to discuss the matter with a member of the staff concerned, that altogether there are about 350 working regularly in the London courts who are affected.

7.30 p.m.

There are many fears. First, we have the associates. There is a fear among those who are members of the Bar that they are on the way out and will be replaced by civil servants. This arose from the fact that a number of civil servants went down and queried whether it was necessary for there to be legally qualified personnel appearing. I am of the view, which I know is shared by the whole profession and the Law Society, that there should be a number of properly qualified personnel able to advise the courts.

They are directly under the judges and I subscribe to the view that, as an undertaking has been given to the pudges that they will be no worse off as a result of this Bill, then equally those professionally qualified personnel should receive a similar assurance, not, I imagine, by a new Clause being tabled but by a satisfactory assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend.

Next is what might be called the bailiffs and the men who assist the court. Here the problem is twofold. A number of them who are now serving in this capacity are former civil servants now on pension. If they are to become civil servants once more they lose their pension. I understand that efforts are being made to try in some way to secure that they are employed by the Greater London Council. I hope the Attorney-General can tell us something about this because it is desirable that they should continue after pension age in these capacities. We do not want to lose valuable servants who can and do serve in this way, particularly when it might be difficult to recruit fresh personnel.

I want to draw attention to the way in which one officer, at any rate, feels. I will not quote his name but I would be prepared to tell the Attorney-General who it is. He is one of the most respected of those serving in the London courts at present. He says: The staff of the London courts are naturally reluctant to lose their autonomy and become part of an amorphous court service. If it is for the general good they are prepared to set aside personal considerations and genuinely wish to play their full part in the new courts. They are, though, frankly bewildered at the treatment proposed for them. They cannot understand how they have so failed in their duties that it can be thought fair practice to take away their livelihood and offer only in exchange the chance for most, but not for all, to volunteer to continue in the same jobs under less attractive conditions with worsened prospects and what for many will be a gradually reducing real salary and reduced pension rights. For those who have striven for years to administer justice efficiently with the least inconvenience to others, with little thought to themselves, it is hard to see justice denied. At a time when the courts face a temporary crisis of overloading and a major upheaval, experience and expertise will be at a premium. It seems folly in the extreme to alienate existing staff. Morale is low and a number are leaving. I believe they are not the first nor will be by any means the last. Meanwhile there will be nothing to attract replacements but the courts must continue to function both now and indeed after vesting day. He ends by saying: This may sound a little dramatic". I thought so when I read it, but upon consideration I recognise that, with the need to maintain recruitment, to keep the expertise in these overloaded courts, it is not dramatic. We cannot afford to lose these people.

We are in danger of doing so unless, in some way, we can guarantee that they will not suffer. I recognise the difficulty of having different terms and conditions of service and the attraction of some form of uniformity within the Civil Service. This is a special branch, certainly with regard to the members of the Bar serving in it. If we could find something which would enable those with professional qualifications to receive special consideration and if we could find a means by which those in the more lowly occupations could come under the G.L.C., we might find a way through our difficulties as I feel both sides of the House would wish to do, because this is obviously no party matter.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

I share with the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) and my hon. Friends who have spoken so far their concern for those who serve the courts in London. A considerable part of my working life has been spent practising in the courts of London and I would certainly like to be able to do all that can be done for them. The new Clause, moved so succinctly by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and the appeals put with such grace by my hon. Friends, would provide that court staff becoming civil servants would have—in addition to their protected salaries—automatic cost of living increases and full protection in all respects to existing entitlements to leave and to hours where these are better than the Civil Service entitlement.

I, too, have received representations and have studied them with great care. What we are doing in this major Bill is to reorganise the court structure throughout the length and breadth of the land. For this to be possible, we must have a unified court service which includes the present staff and which introduces the new staff who have been with those courts being brought into the new unified court service. Without this, the whole of this project, which is so desperately necessary, would fail.

In combining the present staff and the new staff, assurances have been given which I will gladly recite. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said: …it is my intention to preserve salaries and pension rights so that individual officers do not suffer when they become civil servants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 8th December, 1970; Vol. 313, c. 888.] That is a categoric undertaking with regard to salary and pension rights. It will mean that in this unified service there will be some who will be getting perhaps more by way of salary than others doing comparable jobs.

I had hoped that the gradings of civil servants and particular individuals would have been completed by now. When I spoke in Committee in February, I expressed this hope but they have not been completed. They are, however, at an advanced stage, but I am unable to tell the House that they are at an end. It is the grading of individuals which is still subject to further consideration with the Civil Sevice Department or the Civil Service Commission. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is entering into discussions with the head of each court shortly after Easter.

Sir Elwyn Jones

I have every confidence in the head of each court, but he is not the member of the staff directly concerned. What will be the nature of the staff consultation?

The Attorney-General

The gradings of individuals are still subject to further consideration with the Civil Service Department, but my noble Friend is anxious to have discussions with the head of each court to acquaint himself with the problems which each court faces.

I must be frank with the House. There must be certain difficulties in an assimilation of this size and character, but the Lord Chancellor is determined to be as fair as possible to all the various groups of newcomers in order to produce an integrated and unified service. The unified service should therefore be considered in the context of the newcomers preserving their salary and pension rights. There will be certain advantages and certain disadvantages. But it is not possible to guarantee cost of living increases, especially when people have a higher rate of pay than others doing comparable duties who are of the old style. It is not acceptable in a unified staff to have different hours of work and different leave conditions. That would create difficulties which could persist for several years.

Therefore, we must consider this matter as a package. There are advantages, for instance, compared with the Civil Service pension scheme. The average salary of an officer over his three years' service will be reduced by 6 per cent. For his superannuation contributions. But the Civil Service scheme is non-contributory. It allows an optional earlier age of retirement of 50 compared with 55 in local government. It has a lower normal pensionable age—60 compared with 65 in local government. The lump sum abatement for a widows' pension is one-third of the total lump sum payable at the end of service compared with two-thirds in local government. Many coming into the service will get better sick leave arrangements.

Above all, in a unified service the staff will have more opportunities for progress and promotion. With a single court, there may be three people competing for a post at the apex of promotion at present. Now, with the wider service, such able people will have the opportunity of obtaining a post compatible with their abilities in a different court. There will therefore be greater scope for advancement.

Mr. Iremonger

Was it not possible before for members of the court service to apply for any post advertised outside their own service? Could they not have taken advantage of that in the past?

The Attorney-General

They may have been able to apply, but we are discussing the concept of one service and of a greater service and therefore greater opportunities within it which will make for the promotion which people can reasonably expect in a greater service, as in any other large unit of organisation.

I appreciate the points which have been made, but if we are going ahead with this concept there must be certain advantages and certain disadvantages in the unified service. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has given a categorical assurance about pension rights and salary rights. He is to speak with the heads of the courts after Easter. The negotiations on gradings of particular individuals are continuing and will continue with the Civil Service Department. Therefore, while I appreciate the representations made to me personally and which have been presented to the House by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) and my hon. Friends, nothing more could or should be done for this service without which the great project which is presented in the Bill would not be able to work.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Can my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that the status of those in the profession will be maintained and that there is no intention of removing them from the service and replacing them with civil servants who are not qualified?

The Attorney-General

I can give that assurance. People with professional qualifications in the service need have no fear. We shall need their services, and their services will be very welcome. I hope that they will be able to give even better service than they have given in the past.

Question put and negatived.

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