§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.
§ LORD ROMILLY
said, he was desirous of making a few observations upon the subject of the retiring pensions in the Court of Chancery, which by a clause in this Bill were to be granted upon the system adopted with the ordinary Civil servants. He had presented a petition against the clause from the Incorporated Society of Solicitors in London, and he was also authorized to state that the three learned Vice Chancellors fully concurred in the opinion expressed in the petition that the plan would act prejudicially to the interest of the public. This was also the opinion of a late Lord Chancellor (Lord St. Leonards). As the Bill now stood, a man taking office at forty or fifty would be placed in the same position as the man who took office at the age of twenty. The distinction between those classes of persons who would not take office until about the ages of forty or fifty, and those who usually entered upon the performance of their duties at twenty, had been clearly pointed out in the Report of the Commission appointed in 1857. Upon that Commission Sir James Graham and Mr. Henley were selected to serve at the instance of Sir John Stuart, and the result proved that if they were desirous of making a reform in the law, nothing was more expedient than to seek the aid of great good sense and intellectual capacity, even unaccompanied by technical knowledge. The result of the Commission was to give the Judges of original jurisdiction the aid of two Chief Clerks in the room of the Masters, who were required to be solicitors often years' standing in actual business. This proved a very beneficial change. Their Lordships would probably remember that the Court of Chancery had been completely altered within the last few years, and that changes of a most beneficial character had been introduced. It was true that the present system had not been much praised, 1935 but it should be remembered that people were slow to praise, though they were easily induced to impute blame. The litigious business had somewhat diminished, while the administrative business had increased to an enormous extent, and the result of the working of the present system could only have been attained by the most zealous and painstaking performance of duty on the part of the officials. The salary of the Chief Clerks was originally fixed at £1,200, with yearly increase up to £1,500; but, finding this too small, Parliament subsequently fixed the income in the first instance at £1,500. In case of permanent disability the Lord Chancellor was empowered to grant these officers retiring pensions equal to two-thirds of their salaries, and after serving fifteen or twenty years they were entitled to retire on pensions of a similar amount. But by the effect of the present Bill it would be almost impossible for these officers to obtain such a retiring pension before the age of eighty. It was true the Lord Chancellor, with the consent of the Treasury, was enabled to add a certain number of years to the period served by those gentlemen, the number of years was not determined, but it was not to exceed ten. But by allowing ten years to a gentleman entering upon the performance of his duties at fifty he would at the age of seventy be entitled to a retiring pension equal only to one-third of his salary. It was true the Bill would not apply to those who at present held office; but the hope of making a suitable provision for their families and their old age was the chief inducement to gentlemen to fill these offices. Considerable difficulty, indeed, was experienced in obtaining candidates. Of the three gentlemen who assisted him (Lord Romilly) not one had been a candidate for the office; the offices had been offered to them on their being pointed out as men who would be likely to accept them if offered, and to perform their duties efficiently and satisfactorily. If this measure passed into law, when vacancies occurred and new appointments were to be made it would be extremely difficult to get as good men as they had now, and if the work was not equally well done the system must come to a close. He trusted that the Chief Clerks, the Taxing Masters, and the Examiners—though, perhaps, in the case of the latter the subject was not so important—the present scale of retiring allowances would be retained. He should not divide the House upon the 1936 question, but should rest contented with entering his protest and the protest of his learned colleagues against the proposed alteration.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
said, he entirely concurred in the remarks which had fallen from his noble and learned Friend. He thought that the alteration proposed by the Bill would be extremely prejudicial, because, as his noble and learned Friend had pointed out, it was very difficult to obtain good and suitable men to fill these offices. Taxing masters, examiners, masters in lunacy, and other officers to whom this Bill would apply, they were generally in receipt of good professional incomes before being selected to fill such offices. It would be unreasonable, therefore, to expect to obtain the services of suitable gentlemen unless proper remuneration were offered and prospects of good retiring allowances were held out. At the time these offices were created, all the circumstances to which he had referred were taken into consideration, and it was provided that in cases where the officers were disabled, the Lord Chancellor should have the power to grant them retiring allowances not exceeding two-thirds of their salaries. Of course, as the noble and learned Lord did not intend to divide the House upon the question, it was hopeless to endeavour to carry the matter further; but he could not sit down without expressing his deep regret that the Bill should propose to take away the discretion of the Lord Chancellor with regard to granting of these pensions. By the terms of the Bill that discretion was to be transferred to the Lords of the Treasury, who would send a certificate to the Lord Chancellor stating that a satisfactory claim for a pension had been made out, and directing him to pay such sum as they might think fit out of the fund under his control.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he felt compelled to take a totally different view of the provisions of the Bill from both of his noble and learned Friends. If he thought the Bill really would interfere with the efficiency of those most valuable public servants to whom allusion had been made —namely, the Chief Clerks, he should have been the last to introduce it. It was impossible to over-estimate the merits of those officers, or the benefits they had conferred upon the public. Notwithstanding their designation these gentlemen really performed the duties of the old masters in Chancery; and if it were 1937 made out that the salaries were insufficient to secure the best men for these clerkships, he should not be slack in urging upon the Treasury that their salaries should be raised. But he objected to the principle of remunerating officers by a sort of prospective assurance that when their health failed they would have a certain retiring pension. The correct principle was to remunerate persons adequately during their period of active service, so that they might to a certain extent provide for the future out of their salaries; but it was quite right with regard to all officers in the public service that provision should be made for superannuation allowances when they had served a length of time or had become in other ways incapacitated for the discharge of their duties. It was always difficult to determine upon what principle superannuation allowances should be calculated; but that difficulty had been met by the elaborate Report of the Committee appointed when Lord Derby was at the head of the Government, which now governed the pensions of all Civil servants. The Committee assumed that a person entering the public service at the age of twenty might go on serving in the ordinary course of life till sixty, and their proposition was that an officer with a salary of £600 a year should have the right of retiring after ten years' service with a pension of £100 a year or at the rate of one-sixth of the salary for every ten years; so if the public servant held his office for twenty years, he would have a pension of £200; if thirty years a pension of £300; and if he went on to sixty years of age, he would be entitled to £400 a year, which was two-thirds of his salary. Nothing could be fairer than this system. There was, however, the difficulty that there were certain public servants, and those to whom his noble and learned Friends had alluded came within the category, who could not commence their period of service at anything like so early an age as twenty; and to meet their case it was provided that in calculating the retiring pension an addition not exceeding twenty years might be made to the term of service. Thus a man who entered the service at forty might be calculated, when he arrived at fifty, not as having served ten years only, but thirty; if he served until he was sixty, his term of service might be computed at forty years. That was the principle of this Bill, and its object was prospectively to put all the 1938 officers in the Courts of Law upon the same footing as officers in other branches of the public service. This provision would not apply to the Judges because they had a statutory right to their pensions. But the Bill had another object. Nothing could have been more inexpedient than the system which prevailed in the Court of Chancery, by which, with regard to a great number of officers, it rested with the Lord Chancellor to say whether they should retire, and to a great extent to determine what the amount of their pensions should be. It was an unfit thing that the right of discharging an officer or authorizing him to retire, and fixing his pension, should rest entirely with the same individual. It was fitting that the Lord Chancellor should see whether the person was entitled to a pension; but there ought to be some extraneous jurisdiction to look into the question and see whether ho had complied with the requirements of the law. The second object of the Bill, therefore, was to take away from the Lord Chancellor the absolute right which at present rested with him, and to give to the Treasury the power of determining upon the report of the Lord Chancellor the amount of pension to which the person retiring was entitled under the Act of Parliament. A more just and reasonable arrangement could not, in his opinion, be suggested, and he trusted their Lordships would have no difficulty in passing the Bill.
§ Motion agreed to: House in Committee accordingly; Amendments made; the Report thereof to be received on Thursday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 144.)