HL Deb 12 December 1935 vol 99 cc221-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the measure of which I now move the Second Reading is almost identical with the Bill which your Lordships passed last Session but one, and is literally identical with the Bill which your Lordships passed last Session, without opposition in both cases. Nevertheless, as we are now in a new Parliament and as the issue with which the Bill deals is over four years old, perhaps your Lordships will forgive my very shortly recapitulating the manner in which this issue came about. Your Lordships will remember the financial and political crisis of the late summer and early autumn of 1931. One of the first acts of the first National Government which was then formed was to pass a short Bill which enabled them to reduce salaries by Order in Council, a peculiarity of the Bill being that they had to do so within one month, after which the validity of the Act ceased. Under that Act the salaries of His Majesty's Judges, among many others, suffered a severe curtailment, and in December of that year a protest against the manner in which this was done was made on behalf of the Judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature by the Lord Chief Justice.

I will read some part of this, because I think it is a matter that should be on record: The Judges of His Majesty's Supreme Court of Judicature think it their duty to submit certain considerations in regard to the recent reductions of the salary payable to Judges which seem to have escaped notice. It is we think beyond question that the Judges are not in the position occupied by civil servants. They are appointed to hold particular offices of dignity and exceptional importance. They occupy a vital place in the Constitution of this country. They stand equally between the Crown and the Executive, and between the Executive and the subject. They have to discharge the gravest and most responsible duties. It has for over two centuries been considered essential that their security and independence should be maintained inviolate … if the salaries of the Judges can be reduced almost sub silentio by the methods recently employed, the independence of the Judicature is seriously impaired. It cannot be wise to expose Judges of the High Court to the suggestion, however malevolent and ill-founded, that if their decisions are favourable to the Crown in revenue and other cases, their salaries may be raised and if unfavourable may be diminished. And then the Lord Chief Justice went on to say: We must express our deep regret that no opportunity was given to the Judges of offering a voluntary reduction of salaries for an appropriate period, and he added: but we recognise that the Government was in a grave difficulty and that the time for consideration was very short. That was in December, 1931, but it was not made known to this House or to the public until July 27, 1933, and when it was made known obviously it excited considerable animadversion among your Lordships as well as others. In the autumn of 1933 there were one or two inconclusive debates on the subject, as the result of which I ventured to prepare a Bill and bring it in early in 1934. That Bill, although it was the subject of amendment on that occasion, had no objection made to it on principle, and I should like to offer my thanks again to the noble Lord, Lord Snell, for the support he gave on that occasion. I may also remark that I believe that a speech in support of this Bill was the last public utterance of the late Lord Carson. That Bill passed this House, but unfortunately no time was found for it in another place, and the same thing occurred last Session, though I had every reason to believe that it would have passed into law had the Dissolution been taken a little later.

The material hardship suffered by the Judges in 1931 has been remedied, but the principle remains and the unfortunate precedent of 1931 remains. Like the learned Judges, no one will think harshly of the Government in the stress and strain of the then situation for the course they took, but none the less I suggest it ought to be made perfectly clear that the Judges are not in the position either of the Civil or Fighting Services. The implication of the Bill is that if Parliament wishes to deal with the salaries or tenure or position of the Judges it should do so explicitly and not do so implicitly. That is the whole point and substance of the Bill. I have reason to think that the Bench still desire it to be put into law, and I am not aware of any reasoned opposition to it, or indeed of any opposition at all. I beg to move.

Moved That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Rankeillour.)


My Lords, I desire to offer a very few words, not indeed of opposition, but in support and welcome of the action taken by my noble friend Lord Rankeillour. As my noble friend has told your Lordships, this Bill has now quite a long Parliamentary history. It has twice been passed through this House, and before that the subject matter of it was the subject of debate and discussion in the form of Motions. We are all agreed, of course, in desiring to maintain and ensure the independence of the Judiciary. I myself can speak with more freedom and less responsibility with regard to the original action of the Government in this matter because it took place at a time when I was not a member of His Majesty's Government. Therefore, I looked at it from a detached point of view. Personally, I profoundly regretted the necessity for interfering with the Judges' salaries in any way. Although this is not the occasion to argue the point, I may say I have always held the view that any change in the Judges' salaries should be in the direction of increasing rather than of reducing the amount. It is difficult enough to get the right men to accept office on the Judicial Bench. It involves nowadays a very heavy pecuniary sacrifice, and it is shortsighted in the public interest either that the amount they receive should be fixed too low or that they should be left under any sort of apprehension as to their complete independence or security.

For these reasons, my noble friend Lord Sankey, when he occupied with such distinction his position on the Woolsack, offered to Lord Rankeillour a welcome of the Bill he then introduced, and I can only reiterate what he then said. I would add this, that my noble friend has shown his accustomed familiarity with the forms of Parliamentary procedure by bringing in this Bill so early in the life of the present Parliament. I am quite sure he has not lost sight of the fact that the first ballot for Private Members' Bills is fixed to take place in another place almost immediately after their reassembly. It usually happens that some at least of those Members who are successful in the ballot are rather anxious to find an attractive and useful Bill to winch they can devote their attention. I am sure that fact is present in my noble friend's mind, and I hope very much, when your Lordships have once more passed this Bill, this time when the Government have not taken all the time in another place, he will be successful in finding a sponsor for the Bill for which, after all, he deserves all the credit as far as this House is concerned.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.