HC Deb 02 July 1998 vol 315 cc572-3

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

Schedule 3 makes the provision specified in clause 18(6) about judicial pensions in relation to the holder of judicial office in the UK who serves as a judge of the European Court of Human Rights. It places a duty on the relevant Minister—the Lord Chancellor for a judge serving in England and Wales or Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for a Scottish judge—to make an order ensuring that a UK serving judge's pension position will not be prejudiced as a result of his or her appointment to the court.

Sir Norman Fowler

We may need a slightly longer exposition of the schedule than the one just given by the Minister. I am suspicious about the fact that the last schedule to a Bill on human rights deals with judicial pensions. I suppose that we are dealing with the human rights of judges, as opposed to those of everybody else. I should like to know a little more about the position on judicial pensions. What are the Government trying to do in the schedule? What is the demand for the measure? Will the Minister say a few words about the cost that is involved?

I should like to ask four straightforward and specific questions. I know that there is not much time left, but I am sure that there is enough time for the Minister to reply to my questions and I am equally sure that he knows the answers. First, will he tell us a little about the schemes? Are they properly funded by employer's and/or employees' contributions, or are they pay-as-you-go? How much is the cost to the taxpayer of the employer's contributions?

Secondly, how long does the scheme take to mature? The standard final-salary pension scheme is one that matures after 40 years of work, but we assume that not many judges qualify under that criterion. Will the Minister tell us what the qualification is and how many years to maturity a full pension requires? In the schedule, we are protecting the rights under the scheme of a judge who transfers from one place to another, but how long does a judge have to serve to obtain the full pension?

Thirdly, what contributions do the judges have to make and what contributions does the taxpayer have to make?

Fourthly, is the scheme permissive? In other words, is it permissive in the sense of allowing a judge to transfer to a personal pension if that is his wish; or is he tied in to the final-salary scheme as set out at the end of the schedule? If he is able to transfer to a personal pension, will the Government as the employer make the same contribution as would be made to the final-salary scheme?

Those are straightforward, simple questions, to which I am sure that the Minister knows the answers. I should be grateful for any answers, because public money is involved and the taxpayer is involved through employer contributions. The Committee will want to hear a little more explanation than the 30 seconds-worth that the Minister gave at the beginning, given the importance of the matter, not only to judges but to taxpayers generally.

Mr. O'Brien

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising his questions. Given the enthusiasm with which he put them. I thought that he was concerned that we might have a judicial pensions mis-selling scandal on our hands, but I can assure him that we have nothing like that. The schedule makes statutory provision so that if a judge from the UK courts goes to Strasbourg, his or her pension will be protected. That is all we are doing.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a series of detailed questions about how the judges' pension scheme operates. I shall have a word with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, and give him all the details. However, we are talking about a relatively small sum of money, used to fund over the next 20 or 30 years the pensions of a couple of judges—unless the right hon. Gentleman expects us to appoint many judges to the Strasbourg court. In the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill, under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill", he will see set out clearly: The cost will depend on both the number of years served at the Court and the salary of the relevant UK judicial office at the point of retirement. All that we are doing is ensuring the same sort of pension provision that a judge would get if he served in the UK.

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Orders [1 June and 17 June], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

THE CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.