HL Deb 14 February 1951 vol 170 cc303-36

2.55 p.m.

VISCOUNT SIMON rose to call attention to the salaries of county court judges; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I have put down this Motion in order to call the attention of the House to what is an urgent and an important matter. Its importance is by no means limited to any special professional class. The question which I invite the House to consider is the present level of the salaries of the county court judges. I think there are sixty-one of them in England and Wales. As I say, this is a matter which is not all confined in its importance to county court judges, or prospective county court judges, or to any special professional interest; the matter is important because there is a considerable general public interest involved. I start with the quite general proposition, which nobody will deny, that the reputation of our country for the impartial and effective administration of justice between litigants, whether rich or poor, is unrivalled, and it is one of our proudest possessions. The maintenance of that high tradition is one of the essential conditions of British citizenship and of the welfare of our democracy. That being so, have we not reason to be concerned about the present position to which I am calling attention?

It seems to me that in order that we may maintain this incomparable inheritance and tradition we must get the best qualified men to discharge the judicial task, which is one of the most difficult tasks in the whole world to discharge. And we must enable the judges who are appointed to carry out their duties without being harassed and haunted by financial difficulties. Anyone who has taken any part in the administration of justice as a judge—as I have done for some years—knows that the intense concentration which every judge ought to apply, and tries to apply, to the matter in hand, is something which ought to remove from his mind all other considerations. If it be true that owing to their present position many county court judges are haunted and harassed by financial worries, that unquestionably gravely threatens the completely efficient discharge of their duties. I do not for one moment suggest that the present judges are not well qualified and well chosen, and I would be among the first to assert, with some knowledge of the subject, that they do their heavy work well. But, while that is so, I know—and I think I can show to your Lordships the reason why—that many of them are doing their work under a sense of being hardly treated in the matter of salary, and that they are under financial anxieties which cannot contribute to their efficiency.

Your Lordships are aware that when there is a vacancy in the position of county court judge, one of the duties of the Lord Chancellor of the day is to appoint a new one. I shall be very much surprised if the Lord Chancellor, when he comes to speak, does not agree with me at any rate in this: that the choice of the Lord Chancellor in making these appointments is restricted by the limitation of the present salary, and that, in view of the high cost of living and the heavy burden of taxation, men whom he might be glad to select for this most important work do not come forward because, in existing circumstances, the effective remuneration—that is to say, the amount which is left to them to spend after taxation—is really inadequate or unattractive.

I think that in some minds there is slight confusion on this subject. One hears people speaking of the importance of securing that justice should be cheap. I most warmly agree; and it is to the credit of the present Government and the Lord Chancellor that something has been done by legislation to secure that people who might otherwise be too poor to get their rights settled, as they sometimes have to be settled, in litigation, shall not suffer from the handicap. That is the true meaning of the phrase that justice should be cheap. But the phrase does not mean that the people who sit as judges in the court must be underpaid. That is a wholly different question. I trust that whatever may be our equalitarian notions in any part of the House, nobody on the Front Bench opposite will suggest that everybody should receive the same remuneration, whatever he does. It is necessary to offer large salaries, much larger than those of the county court judge, for the principal posts in civil administration, for clerks of the county councils and for the chief civil servants in Government Departments, and, of course, for members of the various boards appointed under the system of nationalisation. That being so, and as the fact is recognised by the Government, I find it difficult to understand how there can be any real justification for treating the quite modest claims of the county court judges as a matter that can be put aside as of no importance.

Let me state the facts about the salaries of the county court judges. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, and in any case I expect my remarks will be supplemented by what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor tells the House later on. There are sixty-one county court judges in this country. Their salary before taxation is £2,000 a year, which is the same salary as is paid to Metropolitan Police magistrates and to masters of the High Court. It was raised from £1,500 some time before the war. Let us see what that means. If a county court judge has no other income—and I suppose that in many cases he has some small savings, though it is becoming exceedingly difficult for professional men, in many walks of life, to save—his official salary of £2,000 a year, when exposed to taxation, drops, so far as spending money is concerned, to something like £1,300. If a county court judge serves for fifteen years, he will receive on retirement a pension of £1,333, again subject to taxation, which reduces it proportionately. Your Lordships may have in mind that recently we passed the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act, which gave an option to existing and future county court judges, and to many other people, to give up by declaration one quarter of their pension, in return for which they would secure a lump sum on retirement, or on death and some pension for their widows. I will return in a moment to that detail, which is important, but that is the nature of the remuneration of county court judges.

What do these judges do for their salary? Of course, they must give up every other source of employment. They cannot hold directorships, or find remunerative occupations for their spare time, if they have any. It is the essence of the matter that when a man accepts the position of a judge in this country, and draws a salary, he should devote the whole of his energies to this work. And from a rather long experience, I feel that the amount of hard work which the county court judges do is not always remembered by those who may not be directly concerned. More and more the county court of this country is becoming the really popular tribunal for solving all sorts of disputes, and to the duties of county court judges there have been added almost everywhere additional and burdensome functions. A Committee presided over by Lord Justice Evershed, which was appointed not long ago, discussed, among other matters, how justice could be made cheaper to the people. And, if I recollect aright, one of the recommendations of the Evershed Committee was that more work should be put on the shoulders of county court judges. I am not saying that that was wrong. We shall have before us in a short time a Bill, now being discussed in another place, which deals with the most complicated subject of leasehold. One of the clauses of that Bill put forward by the Government provides that when it becomes necessary to fix a suitable rent for the occupier of a shop to pay when his lease has expired, and he does not want to leave, a reasonable rent shall be fixed by the county court judge. That is a task which in itself many people would find onerous, but the county court judges accept these duties, and perform them as well as they can, and, I think, very well. Though this is, in one respect, perhaps, a different question, the ingenuity of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has met the great delay in divorce cases by getting a large number of county court judges who have the time for it to undertake the hearing of petitions. I do not feel any doubt at all that, when any well-instructed or fair-minded citizen considers the work done by the county court judges, he will recognise that it is extremely strenuous and burdensome, and will acknowledge in all fairness that it is discharged with great efficiency and good sense.

Then there is another point, perhaps rather more difficult to state but in which I believe strongly, and I hope that many of your Lordships will see what I mean. In his own county, the county court judge has long been expected to maintain, and I think he ought to maintain, a position recognised as one of dignity, and often of leadership. Any of your Lordships who has been interested in efforts to promote some good cause in a particular district, particularly if it involves the raising of any money, will almost always find that, along with the Lord Lieutenant of the county and the leading citizens, the county court judge is expected to be one of those who play a part. That is particularly true in the provinces, and I believe that it is also true in some of the suburban districts. The county court judge has long been considered a leading person in his community. It is right that that should be so, because he not only brings an honourable service but is also known to everyone as the man who, when there are disputes, endeavours to decide them justly; and often the county court judge succeeds in sending the defeated litigant away feeling that he has had a fair hearing.

The county court judge, therefore, is expected to associate on a level of equality, of social equality certainly, and within his means even of financial equality, with other leading citizens in the district. In the old days he did so, of course, on a salary which had a great deal more purchasing power than it has to-day. I say quite boldly that the prestige of our county court judges is important in this democracy, not in the interest of the individual but in the interest of justice itself. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I observe that a Cabinet Minister often appears to require a railway compartment to be reserved all to himself when he travels. No doubt, if he were asked why that is so, he would say—and often quite reasonably—that it is desirable that he should maintain a certain aloofness from casual neighbours. I am not denying that that might sometimes be so. Of course, I am not claiming anything of that sort for the county court judge—he travels third-class and mixes with other passengers. But I do believe that too close a contact with those who may come before him as litigants is not in the interests of the administration of justice; and he ought to be in a position where his prestige is protected to that extent.

If that is a correct description of his present position, how does the county court judge find himself placed as regards his salary? I testify what I know. It is within my knowledge that there are some county court judges, some of them perhaps appointed years ago when things were easier, who, through no fault of their own, feel themselves very hardly pressed. I say—and here 1 hope the Lord Chancellor will approve—that it cannot be a good thing for the administration of impartial justice that a county court judge should be distracted by domestic anxiety because of his limited salary. Nobody suggests that any increase in his salary could put him in the sort of position which, before the two wars, county court judges had—I do not think any of us could be put in that position to-day. But when we consider the steady rise in administrative salaries, in my view, the contrast with judicial salaries is rather striking.

Just consider these figures—and I am not putting them forward with any desire to criticise adversely the people who hold these positions, but merely to illustrate the difference between high administrative office and the judicial office. In many cases clerks to county councils are now drawing a salary which is twice that of the county court judge. The clerk to the London County Council has, I believe, a salary of £3,750; the education officer of the London County Council has a salary of £3,500; the architect designate of the London County Council, I am told, has a salary of £3,500; and the heads of major departments in the London County Council have a salary of £3,000. I am not saying that that is not right, but I do not think anyone who considers those figures will doubt that there is a surprising contrast—because these increases have been made in quite recent years— as compared with the way in which judicial persons have been treated. Under the National Health Service Act, if I am correctly informed, specialists may be paid £2,500 by the time they are of the age of forty, and may expect to rise later to £5,000. The' clerk of the Central Criminal Court has at this moment a salary of £3,000. Of course, if I were to pass from those instances to the remuneration which the Government feel must be given to the heads of boards under nationalisation, this at least is clear: that, if we have regard to remuneration in this world, it is much better to be a high administrative officer than to content oneself with judicial service. I do not agree that judicial service is either easier or less important to the State than administrative service. I feel that that contrast is rather striking.

Now, my Lords, thanks to the recommendations of a Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, the matter has reached a point which is really bizarre. That Committee made re-commendations as to the necessary revision of a series of administrative salaries. I believe that they were limited to administrative posts. Included in the administrative posts which Lord Chorley, with his colleagues, had to consider was the position of the registrar of the county court, who was reckoned to be an administrative official. Of course, the county court judge was quite outside this, because he is a judicial official.


If the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to interrupt, may I say that we did not specifically consider the position of the county court registrar? I believe the increase in his salary that followed was consequential on a consideration of the general principles.


I want to state the position accurately, and I am obliged to the noble Lord. However, I do not think he will differ from me on the point I want to make. The point is that the Chorley Committee's recommendations were accepted by the Government, and have been put into operation. As a result, the registrar of the county court, in twenty-six cases, draws a salary of £2,000 a year; and when I last looked into this matter the registrars of two county courts received more than £2,000 a year—although I believe one has since dropped out. Let us consider what that means. I do not belittle the duties of the registrar of the county court, who has not only important administrative functions but also a limited jurisdiction. But to say that the registrar of the county court is to be paid the same salary as, or even more than, a county court judge is absurd. Yet that is the position at the present moment. The Treasury quite recently have approved and put into operation a provision, and in twenty-six county courts in this country at this moment the registrar, a subordinate administrative official, is by the authority of the Treasury being paid the same salary as the county court judge; and in at least one case he is paid more. That is rather astonishing, and it is very much as though we were to say that an Under-Secretary of State, who is not in the Cabinet, should be paid the same salary as his political chief, who is in the Cabinet—or perhaps even more. It is not for me to judge individual merits, but as a general principle I should have thought that was rather topsy-turvy. That is a case which I think ought to be very seriously considered.

I return for a moment to the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act, to show how the scheme works out. Your Lordships may remember—I asked for it, and the Lord Chancellor very kindly arranged it—that when we had this Bill before us a month or two ago, it included a table showing the financial aspects. One sees that a county court judge—his salary being £2,000, as I have said—may give up one-quarter of his present pension, which is £1,333—that is to say, he may say: "I will take a. pension of £1,000 only, subject to tax." In return for that he may receive a lump sum or a death gratuity, which incidentally does not carry tax; his widow will get a certain pension; and provision is also made for a pension for one child, if he has one. The same thing, of course, applies to High Court Judges and, indeed, to the present and future Lord Chancellors, but not to past Lord Chancellors. This is a case where the Government, with the strictest rectitude, have declined to suggest retrospective legislation.

That is all very well for the county court judge, but what happens to the registrar? The registrar, or at any rate one who has more than £2,000, has already a larger pension, and if he gives up one-quarter of it he will have a larger lump sum when he retires. His widow will have a larger pension, and in some cases the provision for his child will be bigger, though in other cases it will be the same. Is that sense? Is it sense, when we are admittedly arranging for different ranges of salary, to say: "Well, of course, the widow of the registrar of a county court must be provided for on this scale, but if the lady is the widow of a county court judge she must not expect in all cases to get so much "? I should have thought that this Act had the incidental effect, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, observed in the earlier debate, of making the present salary of the county court judge manifestly inadequate.

Those, I believe, are the facts, and I hope that I have stated them clearly and accurately. If I have made an error, I hope that the Lord Chancellor will forgive me and correct me. But I conceive that the case of the county court judge is clearly made by those arguments. What are the objections? There are two objections which may be regarded as serious, and there is a third objection which I regard as ridiculous. The first objection —and it has force—is that this means additional expense. I have not professed to work out the figures, and it may be that the Lord Chancellor has some information. But compared with what is being done with the salaries of other people, to say nothing of the enormous outlay amounting to millions of pounds in other directions, I feel that we ought to keep some sense of proportion. If justice requires that the present situation should be modified and improved, although I should be the first to admit that every additional burden on public funds was a serious matter I feel that that argument could hardly be seriously put forward as a reason for not doing what is, on plain principles of justice, required.

The second objection which also has validity, and which I wish to mention, is that we could not make this improvement in the salary of the county court judge without raising other analogous claims which would also have to be met. For example, I should be greatly surprised if my noble friend Lord Selkirk, who has "Scotland" always written on his heart, did not point out that there were people in the judicial circles in Scotland who would be entitled to some similar adjustment. That is true. It may well be that the same would be true of Metropolitan Police magistrates. But when it is all worked out, we are dealing with a comparatively narrow field, and I hope that what I have said will help to show that in the circumstances this increase would not mean some opening of the flood gates, as a result of which we should all be overwhelmed.

I leave to the last an argument which I discount as really not being an argument which sensible people ought to accept. I know that it is said behind the scenes: "Oh, we could never do this. You could never get a Labour Government to do this. Think what the workmen would say. Surely the man who gets £7 or £10 a week would be horrified if it were suggested that a county court judge should get more than £2,000 a year." It is not for me to judge his attitude, but I cannot help thinking that a little plain speaking and a little courage would find a response of a very different kind. I am not in the least un-sympathetic to the claims of workmen, and I rejoice that in many cases they have received an increase to a wage which may previously have been inadequate. But surely it is not going to be suggested that this increase cannot be given for fear of the reaction of people who are earning wages. No, my Lords, there is indeed a difference between the county court judge and the wage earner, and it is this. If the wage earner is not satisfied, he can announce that he will "go slow" and work according to rule. County court judges cannot do that. If the wage earner is not satisfied, he and his fellows will say: "If you do not pay more we will strike." County court judges cannot do that, whether it is a legal strike or an illegal strike, and my justification for bringing this matter before the House is that these men cannot speak for themselves. They have to do their duty, and they do it—I will not say uncomplainingly, but as well as they can, and in silence.

I have therefore taken the opportunity of raising the subject this afternoon in your Lordships' House, a tribunal which judges the fairness of a case as well as any tribunal on earth, and of appealing to your Lordships to support the claim which the county court judges put forward. I shall look forward with great interest and attention to what the Lord Chancellor may say. I understand perfectly that it is not for him finally to decide what is to be done. When I was a young man in the House of Commons and we talked about "The Chancellor," it meant the Lord Chancellor. Nobody ever called the head of the Treasury in those early days "The Chancellor." Mr. Gladstone would have been horrified if you had called him "The Chancellor." He was called the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nowadays, when a Member of another place speaks of "The Chancellor" it appears to be quite the proper phrase, and he means the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I trust that the Lord Chancellor will feel that what I have said to-day has not made his own task more difficult, because I feel most deeply that the tribunal, having considered this matter fairly, will come to the conclusion that something ought to be done, and I am sure that it would be a great happiness to the Lord Chancellor if he were able to announce promptly a real improvement in this situation. I beg to move for Papers.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to say merely that I am in hearty agreement with everything that has fallen from my noble and learned friend Lord Simon. I feel quite as strongly as he does the grave position in which men such as the county court judges are placed by the course of events. I feel, too, that it is a matter in which Parliament ought to intervene, in order to correct the injustice. I also most heartily agree with the noble and learned Viscount in the estimate which he has given of the work of the county court judges. One need not stress here how united the interests of all the people in a community such as ours are; if you do anything to help or to injure one section of the community, you help or injure all the rest. The policy, of which we used to hear much in times past, or "soaking the rich," has the defect, among others, that you cannot do it. "Soaking the rich "means "soaking" everybody; and the unhappy county court judge is "soaked" just as much as a very wealthy man.

I entirely agree with everything that Lord Simon has said about the position of county court judges. But I think it right, in presenting this case, to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that there are many other positions which will have to be dealt with as a consequence of the rise in prices and of the position which that has produced. Lord Simon, in a passing word, referred to other judicial officers. I think he mentioned, among others, stipendiary magistrates. I often feel that the stipendiary magistrate in a great city like this is very much underrated. His influence on the wellbeing of the community is very great. It is not merely a question of sitting for a few hours dealing with minor crimes; anyone who has the curiosity to study the records of the proceedings of a magistrate's court will know that the magistrate does much more than that. He has to advise, to befriend and to restrain all sorts of people. I believe that it is literally true that the manner in which that jurisdiction is exercised does more for the immediate happiness of the people than almost any other office in the community. The magistrate may well be described as the protector of the poor. And, of course, beyond all these, there are other persons with whom we are not concerned this afternoon, but whom we ought all to have in mind— I refer to the Judges of the High Court. Their position used to be a very satisfactory one from a financial point of view, though I fancy that it is not now quite so satisfactory as the outside world thinks. But the salary of the High Court Judges was fixed some years ago—


A hundred years ago.


—and it has been very seriously diminished by rising prices and things of that kind, and by the decline in the value of the pound. The position of the High Court Judges must be very different from what it has been in the past. Yet it is not easy to exaggerate the work that they have done. Personally, I would say that the maintenance of the High Court of Justice is one of the chief objects for every decent, patriotic Government. The High Court of Justice has in the past been a great bulwark of freedom of this country. It has succeeded in establishing the principle of the supremacy of the law as the great guarantee of liberty in this country.

I was interested, in a casual reading the other day, to find that the great Tudor Sovereigns, Henry VIII and Elizabeth, sent the most positive injunctions to their Judges—who were then, of course, in effect, officials of the Sovereign—not to allow themselves, in administering justice, to be diverted by the fact that one litigant was poor and of no position, and another rich with great position in the country: each was entitled to justice, and must receive justice. I would describe that care for the interests of the poor litigant as symptomatic of the great quality of those Tudor Sovereigns, a quality which gave them an extraordinary degree of popularity and power throughout the country, at a time when such powers in almost every other country were threatened and disturbed. And it is to my mind a matter of the greatest interest to see how it is that these successive Judges, right back to the days of Edward I have built up a great tradition of respect and authority.

Not only have our Judges played their part in the course of their ordinary jurisdiction in settling the quarrels of ordinary people, they have also played an immense part in almost every conceivable constitutional crisis that has occurred in this country—a part which was of great value to the community as a whole. Therefore, when we consider this question to-day, we must have in our minds, I think, not only the desirability of raising the salaries of the county court judges but also of taking care that we do nothing to injure or diminish the immense authority—and the immensely valuable authority, reputation and tradition—of the greater officers of our judicial organisation. I do not propose to develop that particular point any further, because I am sure that it will be present in the minds of all your Lordships. But we must take the utmost care in all our reforms, however valuable and important they may be, not to injure this priceless possession which we have received from those who have preceded us. Lord Simon said something about the value of this great tradition of justice in this country. It is indeed a very valuable thing in itself, but it is more: it is essential for all the great work that has to be done towards the improvement of the lot of the people. Therefore, I say as strongly as I can that this is a question which we must have in view.

I do not think that the salary is the main thing; the main thing is the men; we must always have the best men as judges in this country. So far as my personal experience is concerned, I say that, broadly speaking, we have succeeded in that object. To put it crudely, however, if we are to have the best men we must pay the price for them. The Government have shown their appreciation of that elementary truth in allotting very considerable salaries to the chairmen of boards and so on under their nationalisation schemes—I do not criticise that in the least. I am quite sure that if you want to get the best men, you must offer them something reasonably proportionate to the kind of sums of money they would be able to earn in other spheres. I do not know—I hope that it may be so— whether a distinguished member of the Bar whom the Lord Chancellor proposed to recommend for a county court judgeship would feel that the salary and advantages of the position of judicial office were sufficient to tempt him to abandon a very considerable portion of the increment which he received as a barrister. However that may be, whatever is necessary must be done. I support in the strongest way the argument of my noble and learned friend. I am entirely of his opinion that we must protect the county court judges, and that in all the circumstances they are at the present time being very badly treated for want of appreciation of what is actually happening. If I agree to all that, I say let it be a preface to what we are going to do afterwards for all the great judicial officers of this country.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for a few moments to support the Motion of my noble and learned friend? Ever since I have been in the profession, I have regarded the county court judges as being really seriously— I almost used the word "grossly"— underpaid. If we are to get the most desirable class of man, especially at the present time, to take office, it must be made worth his while. I expect that the Lord Chancellor is at the present moment finding it difficult to attract the people that he would like to put on to the county-court bench. One of the reasons why it is so important to get the right men is because nowadays, when Parliament introduces, novel legislation which requires resort to the courts, it always appears to be to the county court that the litigants are sent.

Two instances alone will suffice to show what I mean. In the year 1897 was the first Workmen's Compensation Act. It was hoped when it was introduced that it would abolish legislation of that sort, but that hope soon faded. I suppose there has never been another Act which has produced such a mass of case law as the Workmen's Compensation Act. But that Act had to be administered by the county court judges. It was they who, with the assistance of decisions in the Court of Appeal and in your Lordships' House, had to build up a real system of jurisprudence of a novel character. Then there are these other most obscure and most repulsive Acts, the Rent Restrictions Acts. How the county court judges manage to tackle those Acts leaves me simply speechless with admiration. Difficulties come up every day and the county court judges, especially those in the Provinces, have not only to work without the assistance of books in their courts but very often to work with most indifferent professional assistance. They do not have the same assistance that the Judges in the High Court have, and yet they have to carry through the work for this really unfortunately small salary.

I do not disguise from myself the fact that this is part of a larger question. There is one set of judicial officers who have not been mentioned to-day but whose salaries are the same. I refer to the official referees. They are persons of the High Court who, it is sometimes humorously said, try the cases that are too difficult for the Judges, but I think I am right in saying that their salaries are only the same as those of the county court judges. The salary certainly used to be £1,500 a year; it was raised to £2,000 a year and it is £2,000 a year now. The official referees have to try cases which are so full of detail and of such exciting material as claims for dilapidations, builders' accounts and so forth.

Then there are the Metropolitan magistrates, and finally there are the High Court Judges. The salaries of the High Court Judges were fixed in the year 1834, and have never been raised by one penny since. Even the county court judges have had a rise, a very small one—their salaries were raised some years ago from £1,500 to £2,000—and some increase was given to the Metropolitan magistrates. But the High Court Judges, the Judges of the Court of Session and the Judges of the High Court in Northern Ireland, have never had an increase. It seems to me that the time has come when, if justice is to be done to the judiciary in this Kingdom (and noble Lords will observe that modesty forbids me to say when the Lord Chief Justice's salary was fixed, except that it was in 1854, a long time ago), the salaries of all the judiciary should come under review, and they should be granted the same increase that was granted to all other classes. One cannot pick up a newspaper nowadays without discovering that someone has received a rise. Everybody gets rises except the judges.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, all the noble Lords who have so far spoken this afternoon have mentioned the fact that if an increase were granted to county court judges, it would be inevitable that other judicial officers should also be considered. Indeed, the noble Viscount who moved the Motion said that this would be counted as one of the possible objections to the Motion. It is inevitable that, if the county court judges' salaries are reviewed, a review should concurrently take place of other judicial officers' salaries. I want for a few moments to refer particularly to the Metropolitan magistrates, who have been mentioned by all the noble Lords who have so far spoken. It has been customary to pay a parallel salary to the Metropolitan magistrates. At any rate, I think I am right in saying that in recent years their salaries have been kept level with those of county court judges. My plea this afternoon is that, when this matter comes to be considered, the salaries of the Metropolitan magistrates should also be raised if, indeed, those of county court judges are increased.

I entirely and unreservedly support this Motion. Metropolitan magistrates sometimes have to deal with extremely complicated cases. Every now and again a case occurs that goes on literally for weeks in the police courts of London, and, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, said, a high degree of concentration has to be applied to a case even in a magistrate's court. It is most important that magistrates should be of a high standard. I suggest, therefore, that the case for an increase in their salaries should be considered sympathetically. It has come to my notice that it not infrequently happens —it certainly has happened in one instance in the last twelve months—that learned counsel appearing before a Metropolitan magistrate has received more fees for one case than the magistrate before whom he appeared received by way of salary in a year. I do not suppose that any amendment of salaries could certainly avoid that happening, because lay clients are sometimes so enthusiastic that there is no ceiling to the amount that they will pay in fees. Nevertheless, I suggest that that fact must make us consider whether a Metropolitan magistrate is being paid enough.

It has also come to my notice that in at least one court in the country to-day the clerk to the justices is receiving a higher salary than the magistrate who sits in the same court. I believe that that is so in the case of a stipendiary outside London. Although it may be true that the clerk is equally learned in the law, for appearance sake at least it would seem important that the magistrate should receive more than the clerk. I am well aware that anybody who makes a plea of this sort can be accused of taking part in the spiral of inflation, but in order that we may get a right proportion in these matters I plead that the question of the salaries of Metropolitan magistrates should be fully considered at the same time as that of the salaries of county court judges.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad indeed that the noble and learned Viscount has brought this important matter to the attention of your Lordships, and indeed I hope of the whole country. As he indicated in his eloquent speech, this is a matter which affects the whole country, because an injustice done to an important group of this country's servants is a matter which affects every individual citizen of the country, and it has always been not only the prerogative but the duty of Parliament to consider the grievances of citizens and of bodies of citizens. We had a short discussion about this matter some few weeks ago in which I had the privilege, which I never had when I practised at the Bar, of following the very eminent leader who sits opposite me. I do not want to repeat the tribute which on that occasion I endeavoured to pay to the work of the county court judges in this country; I am quite sure that it would be attempting to paint the lily were I to do so, and I am sure that the most eloquent tribute which the noble and learned Viscount has paid to that body of men will be greatly appreciated by them.

Over the last 120 years or so during which the county court bench has been in existence as a result of the pleas of Jeremy Bentham, seldom has their work been brought so much into the limelight as it has this afternoon, and seldom has such a well-merited tribute been paid to them. All that I should like to add to what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount—and, indeed, it is only dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's"—is to emphasise the exacting nature of the judicial work done by the county court judges. The noble and learned Viscount referred to the intense concentration involved. I think that is a just description, because it is almost impossible without some experience of judicial work— and my own has been only slight—to appreciate the great concentration involved and the resultant strain. A judge has to try his cases sitting alone, and sometimes they are exacting, and even in the county court they may last all day —county court judges frequently sit on much later into the evening than the Judges of the High Court, after which they may have to face a long journey home which may take them well into the night. In trying a case of that kind the strain is tremendous; the judge appreciates perfectly well that one lapse of his attention may ruin the whole day's work, because every bit of evidence has to fit into the pattern. As one who sits with a bench of magistrates, as do many of your Lordships, may I say that we have the advantage of being one of a team, and if for a moment our attention strays, it is always possible, when we retire to consider the case, to ask one of our colleagues what a particular witness said or what was the point that the solicitor or learned counsel was making to the court. The county court judge has no such advantage.

Our system is rather peculiar in the emphasis that it gives to a judge dealing with a case alone. It results from the fact that in the old days all these cases in Common Law courts were tried by judges with a jury, and the jury had the job of deciding questions of fact. In almost all, if not all, Continental countries the judges sit in colleges and have the same sort of advantage as we who are magistrates' sitting in magistrates' courts. As the noble and learned Viscount said, it is of the greatest importance that judges should not have at the back of their minds the sort of domestic worries which it is impossible to deny do affect the minds of people at their work when they know that a difficult financial situation exists at home.

I really cannot imagine that there is any answer to the case that the noble and learned Viscount has made. It seems to me to be an overwhelming one. In effect, he said that if the coal miners or the engine drivers had had a case as strong as this put forward on their behalf, their claim would have been acceded to long ago. That is undoubtedly so. I was rather sorry that he should have suggested that in the Party of which I am privileged to be a member there was held any sort of view that the labourer was not worthy of his hire. I hope he will take it that it is only amongst Communists and very extreme people that the view is held that every citizen in the country should draw an equal wage for any sort of work.


I am most anxious that nothing I said should offend anybody. If I made that reflection, it was not in my mind. The point I was making was that I have heard, not publicly but privately, the assertion that though this might be a very just thing to do, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot do it because it would produce reactions among those who earn wages. That was the point to which I was referring. I hope that that is not so. I do not regard that in itself as a very worthy argument. I was making no reflection whatever.


I am glad that the noble and learned Viscount has made that clear. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it perfectly clear that in a proper case he is prepared to act properly in any action which he takes in connection with claims. There was the claim by the higher civil servants which was investigated by a Committee over which I had the honour to preside, whose Report was accepted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and has been put into operation. I imagine that it is only the Treasury which is resisting this proposal; and if the Treasury is resisting such an obviously just demand, it must be on some ground of long-term expediency. The noble and learned Viscount has presided over that Department with great distinction, and he understands how the minds of the people who administer the Treasury operate. He has made an unanswerable case this afternoon, but sometimes it is said that one of the qualifications of a Treasury official is that he must be able to answer an unanswerable case.


It so happened that when I was at the Treasury we put up the county court judge's salary from £1,500 to £2,000.


I am sure we are all very glad indeed that the noble and learned Viscount succeeded in accepting the unanswerable case on that occasion. My own experience of the Treasury, so far as it goes, is that although they may act rather slowly, in the end they are very susceptible to a reasonable case when it is put to them. In this case, although the noble and learned Viscount has not gone into figures, the figures, in fact, show that what is involved here is really a bagatelle. The number of county court judges, as I think the noble and learned Viscount said, is sixty-one. If you were to give £1,000 a year more to each one —that is to say, increase the salaries by 50 per cent.—it would add a total of only £6,000 to the total expenditure.


And most of it would come back in taxation.


Yes, most of it would come back in taxation. If you were to add to the list the equivalent judges in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Metropolitan magistrates and everyone else, and give them a 50 per cent. increase, the total involved would be under £20,000 per annum. It might well be that a 50 per cent. increase would be deemed too much. A half of that would be less than £10,000 a year. It is clear that the number of the other classes of people covered by this sort of claim is very small indeed. One can imagine the Treasury, faced by a claim from some body of workers which is going to have repercussions over the whole labour market, thinking for a long time about it and being very hesitant. But this is a matter in which if every conceivable class of similar people were taken into account the extra expenditure would not amount to more than a minute fraction of the country's income, so minute that to call it a flea bite would actually be an inaccuracy, because, after all, if one has a sensitive skin one can feel a flea biting but I do not think that the economy of this country could really be perceptibly impinged upon by a claim of this kind. If justice is so clear and expediency does not deny, surely the claim is irresistible. I hope that the Government will admit that this afternoon by announcing that they are contented to concede this very small claim.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, may I very briefly express my strong support for this Motion? I think it is a matter for great satisfaction that a Motion of this sort should be so cordially welcomed in all parts of the House. I ask your Lordships' indulgence for bringing into the discussion what is a little outside the words of the Motion, namely, the sheriffs-substitute in Scotland. I raise the point now because it is not really possible for me to put down a separate Motion in regard to this matter. In any case, the arguments which apply in one instance substantially cover the ground in the other. Moreover, the position with regard to sheriffs-substitute is, if anything, more urgent than that of the county court judges in this country; the jurisdiction of a sheriff-substitute is wider in both civil and criminal matters than that of a county court judge and his salary is uniformly less.

Perhaps I may illustrate the position of the sheriffsubstitute, by saying that a sheriff getting a salary of, say, £1,400 a year may take cases of movable property up to any amount at all. It does seem that that is slightly absurd in the present circumstances. Added to that, the sheriff-substitute has a criminal jurisdiction which may involve taking cases before a jury on indictment. The same officer has further administrative functions varying from that of returning officer at elections to that of inspections carried out under Public Health Acts which are of great value to the administration in Scotland. It is very difficult to evaluate benefits of that character in terms of cash. At the present time we are seeking to introduce the rule of law into many parts of the world where it is perhaps imperfectly understood—for the rule of law is not just a hard code which can be set down in black and white and printed and published; it is an institution which depends essentially on men who administer it, and it is to us of inestimable value and benefit that at the present time we have men of standing and respect to carry out these duties. If once the quality were in any way to go out of it, it would take perhaps centuries to replace.

I wish to add only that here there is something which seems to me to have been rather overlooked. I find, for instance, that in a number of cases sheriffs-substitute do not even receive expenses of travelling from one court to another. That is a very small matter, if you like; nevertheless, it is indicative of the manner in which they have been treated. There is a sphere here which should be carefully examined, and I believe it would be greatly appreciated if this were done, so that those who administer our law may be enabled to retain a status comparable to that which they have had in the past.


My Lords, it has been pointed out to me that in doing some arithmetic in my head just now I made a mistake in multiplication. I said that sixty-one times £1,000 was approximately £6,000. It should, of course, have been £60,000. I still maintain, however, that that is a minute amount when considered against the general Budget of this country.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I rise to speak on this Motion, in view of the number of eloquent and eminent people who already have practically exhausted the subject, but I do so mainly for this reason. For very many years, under the direction of successive Lord Chancellors, I was myself intimately connected with the organisation of the county courts, and was brought into intimate relations with both the judges and the registrars. I should not like to think that friends I then made might consider me unmindful now of their unhappy state, or ungrateful for the work which they then did and are still doing. There are just two things which I should like to say before I underline arguments which have already been put before the House.

In the first place—I know that this has been said already, but it cannot be said too often— this is only one part of the general question. The position of the High Court Judge and the Judge of the Supreme Court—I do not want to make comparisons, or to say that one is more important than the other, for if it came to a comparison there would be a great deal to be said on both sides—is quite urgent. The matter has been discussed over a great number of years but still we remain where we were many years ago— subject only to this: that, during that time, not only have the Judges of the High Court and of the Supreme Court, like other persons in this country, come to bow—I do not want to make unpleasant observations—under the very heavy load of taxation and rising prices, but their financial position is actually worse than it was under Statute when Statute last dealt with it, because at one time a judge's salary was expressed to be free of tax. It was only tacitly that that advantage was surrendered.

I wish next to comment on a series of observations by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, with regard to the county court registrars. I am sure that he did not intend in any way to belittle the position of the registrar (I am glad that the noble and learned Viscount is now returning to his place), but I feel that what he said in this connection might be misinterpreted outside. The registrar in the past had a very gloomy and dangerous financial passage, which was settled to his advantage when the administration of the county court was taken from the Treasury and entrusted to the Lord Chancellor's Department. I should certainly not think it desirable that the registrar should be paid on an equal level with the county court judge in whose court he sits, but I would remind the House of two things. Not only is the registrar a kind of inferior judge with a very small financial limit of jurisdiction but. generally speaking, particularly in the larger courts, he also has charge of a considerable staff and a very considerable sum of public money. In evaluating his services we must think not only of his judicial but also of his administrative work. I am not saying that, because of that, he should be paid equally with the county court judge, but when talking of the county court judge we must not forget the difficult, responsible and onerous duties which the registrar discharges. We should all deplore the result if the pension and provision for widows of registrars were less than those of judges.


Do you not mean, "if the pension for judges' widows was less than for registrars' widows"?


That is so, and I am obliged to the noble and learned Viscount for the correction. The salary of the county court judge is fixed by Statute, and in our opinion ought to be fixed at a higher level than that at which it now stands. The salary of the registrar is not fixed by Statute, and it has been found easier to make a bargain for the registrar than for the county court judge. If an alteration is to be made, I hope that it will take the form not of a decrease for the registrar but of an increase for the judge. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has left the House; I was going to say something about him which perhaps he would not very much like. In dealing with the Treasury or with the taxpayer, I do not think arguments which are based on the housemaid's baby are likely to be successful or very good in themselves. If it is right that there should be a general advance in judicial salaries, and in particular in those of the county court judge, then the question of whether it is a small advance or a heavy burden does not count a bit.

What does count in the society in which we live is not only that justice should be done and be seen to be done, but that those who do it should be seen to be selected from those best qualified for the work they have to discharge, and that they should be unharassed by the weight of domestic responsibility. To gain these advantages and retain them is what matters: not whatever small cost or saving there may be one way or the other. I think we put ourselves at a disadvantage in arguing with the Treasury as to whether the increase sought is a large one or a small one. My experience is that what we have to prove is that a claim is a just one, or we must have the contrary proved to us. After a long period of negotiation with them, I am bound to say I have always found that the Treasury, when they thought a claim was just, did their best to give way to it.

I do not want to say anything more. I heartily agree with all that has been said about the labours of the county court judges, the great service which they render, and the great importance of that service to the community as a whole. I apologise for continually harking back to the past, but I spent a long time in a country where I was brought into close connection with another judicial system, in which the judges, though they did their best, were hampered by very low salaries, with the result that there was not that firmness and that disregard of personalities which we look for in a judge in this country. The injunction of the Tudor Sovereigns to their judges to consider the poor man rather than the rich has for a long time been completely unnecessary. I will say nothing about the High Court judge, because it would be impertinent to praise him, but the county court judge does his duty as well as he knows, and in the light in which it is given to him to do it; and it is only right that he should be enabled to do that duty with less of the burden, anxiety, responsibility and fear than he now has to bear.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Schuster, I confess that it is with great trepidation that I rise to intervene in this debate. Your Lordships have listened to a series of speeches by great legal authorities, who have spoken from their own personal experience of the duties and values, and the present unhappy situation, of the county court judges. I can claim no such special knowledge, but perhaps it would be useful if the House had one contribution, however brief, from someone who looks at the matter from the angle of one whom it is now fashionable to call the common man, although that will not make it possible for me to say anything very new. I have listened to this debate, and it seems to me that an overwhelming case has been made in favour of the change which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, advocated. When all is said and done, the issue is a simple one. We all know that the value of money has fallen in recent years, and that it is still falling. I think it is correct to say that the value of the pound to-day, compared with pre-war years, is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11s. That is apart altogether from the heavy burden of taxation, direct and indirect, which falls upon every citizen. As has been pointed out by several speakers, and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in the case of those sections which are organised and vocal, strenuous efforts have already been made to offset this fall, and no one can complain of that fact. In various occupations salaries and wages have been raised. Even in the case of Members of Parliament emoluments have been raised from £600 to £1,000 a year, and I understand that Members of Parliament can claim back most of their salary as expenses.

But the salary of county court judges has not been raised for a good many years. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, tells me it is about seventeen years since a change of any kind has been made. That in itself is completely wrong. County court judges are most important people. Obviously they have to keep up a certain standard, and it is becoming steadily more and more impossible for them to do that. Moreover, this unhappy situation, which I agree affects not only county court judges, with whom we are concerned to-day, but all other sections of the Judiciary, is undoubtedly likely to have a much more disastrous result, and one which will affect every one of us. As has been pointed out by most noble Lords who have spoken to-day, no position is more responsible than that of a judge, and on him depends the maintenance or otherwise of the high repute of British justice.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said, the judges have throughout the history of this country, from the Middle Ages onwards, exercised a wide influence. It is therefore vital that men of the highest ability and integrity should be available for posts of this kind. Such standards cannot be expected if the return is so small that it is hardly possible for such a man to be free from constant financial anxiety, both about his own position and the position of his wife and family; for a man who has these great abilities can take another job and in fact may well find himself bound to do so. Therefore, surely, if nothing is done now the best men will become unwilling to serve, and the standard of those who occupy these positions of trust will steadily deteriorate, as has happened in the case of that other country to which ray noble friend Lord Schuster referred just now. We should all agree that that would be a deplorable development; and it is one to which we in Parliament cannot shut our eyes, because it is open to us to bring such pressure or persuasion to bear on the Government as we can to alter that position.

I know that the Lord Chancellor has been doing his utmost to deal with the question of pensions for the widows of judges. But, as I understand the position (he will correct me if I am wrong) the scheme which was devised, which is an optional scheme, depends entirely on the ability of the judge to create a fund upon which his wife can draw in the event of his death. As I understand it, he sets aside a portion of his pension and that is made available as a certain allowance to her after his death. That is a perfectly sound basis for a scheme, but it depends on the man's ability to afford to put something by, and on his present salary. I should have thought that the county court judge had no hope of doing anything of the kind, for by the time he has paid taxation on his present salary, he is left only with enough to live on in conditions of moderate decency. The scheme of pensions for widows, so wellintentioned, in the case of a man like that must appear merely a hollow mockery. Apart from the anxiety with which he looks on his own present position, there must be a feeling akin to horror when he thinks of the position in which his wife will be placed if anything should happen to him.

In saying that to the Lord Chancellor, I know perfectly well that I am merely banging at an open door. I am certain that he already appreciates, probably more than any of us, the force of what has been said this afternoon; and no doubt he will have been further impressed by the unanimity that has been shown in every part of the House to-day. It is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has to be persuaded. We all recognise the appalling problems which the head of the Treasury has to face at all times, and especially in times like these. But, as has been pointed out by Lord Chorley and others, the sum involved in this proposal is really infinitesimal. After all, the county court judges themselves are a small select band. If the expense is so small, the potential dangers which are likely to flow from doing nothing arc real and formidable. I hope, therefore, that after this debate the noble and learned Viscount will be able to go to his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a united message from all Parties in this House, and that he will be able to persuade him to do away with what is really becoming a crying scandal, the repercussions of which are likely to be great.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful for the observations which have been made in all parts of the House. For reasons which I will not expatiate upon at length, I am obviously in a somewhat difficult position this afternoon. I cannot promise anything, nor hold out hopes, or anything of that sort. But I can give an assurance that His Majesty's Government—because, after all, in the last resort this matter does not rest solely with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but is one which the Cabinet may have to decide, if there is; an irreconcilable conflict on any point— will certainly examine this problem. Ira doing so they will take the most careful account of everything that has been said in this debate and of the opinions which, as the noble Marquess said, speaking as a common man (I thought for a moment he was going to say as "a common informer ")—


A common inquirer.


A common inquirer—have been expressed from both sides of the House. What I proceed to say, therefore, is something rather of a factual nature, and I will not go beyond that. As to this Motion, I say quite frankly that, had there not been a demand for Papers, which always frightens me (and there are no Papers to lay) I would have accepted it. As it is, I hope that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, will be content to withdraw his Motion on my assurance, which I give him unreservedly, that I accept it in spirit and in substance, and I will see that this subject and this debate are conveyed to the proper quarters to see what can be done.

The first thing I feel I should do is to express my opinion about the work which the county court judges are doing. In some sense, in the world in which we live to-day I believe there is no class of judicial officer who carries out a more important task than the county court judge. It is his task to bring justice to the humble people, and to let everybody, no matter what his circumstances may be. see that justice is fairly and squarely administered in our courts. Of course, the same may be said of the High Court Judges, too, although, in so far as their activities are concerned, it is not infrequent that they concern themselves with a richer class of the community. Therefore, while I do not prefer one to the other, I am sure your Lordships will agree with me when I say that the task of the county court judge is one of immense importance. In my view, it is the very fabric of our civilisation. I believe that the freedom and observance of the rule of law depend upon the administration of justice by His Majesty's judges, whether they be High Court or county court judges. I should like to say here that, notwithstanding all the difficulties of to-day, in my view we have every reason to be most proud of our High Court and county court judges. It may well be that in the task of selecting the best man. as in many other matters, we now feel the effect of the frightful losses we sustained in the 1914–18 war. But, notwithstanding that difficulty, I regard it as my most solemn obligation to do the best I can to see that people who are recruited to the Bench, be it the High Court or the county court bench, are people who still live up to the great reputation which has been handed down to us. And I feel that I can fairly claim to have been able to achieve that result—at any rate, I have done the best I can.

I come now particularly to the county court bench. I may say to your Lordships that I do not quite agree that it is all one problem. I believe there are different factors which apply to this problem from those which apply to the High Court. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, asked me a direct question: "Am I finding it difficult in present circumstances to recruit the right sort of man to the Bench?" I have considered most carefully what answer I would give to that question. So far as the county court bench is concerned, and so far as Metropolitan magistrates are concerned—as your Lordships know, the responsibility there has recently been thrust upon me—I feel bound to say this. It is obvious that the larger the field of choice, the better are the prospects of finding the most suitable men; and it is equally obvious that an improvement in the salary would increase my field of choice. I cannot conceal from your Lordships that, alike in the field of county court judges and in that of Metropolitan Police magistrates, I have felt increasing anxiety on that score.

I would not have it supposed that recent appointments to the Metropolitan bench or to the county court bench have been below the appropriate standard, but I do say that under present conditions the task of finding suitable persons is causing me, and would, I believe, cause any Lord Chancellor of the future in like circumstances, increasing anxiety. At least I can say that the Lord Chancellor's peace of mind would be relieved were circumstances different. I need not emphasise how much depends, in a free democracy, upon our securing the right people for the immensely important function of administering justice without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. I have used those words quite deliberately. I anticipated that that question would be asked, and I have given your Lordships truthfully the answer which I feel as applying to the county court bench and to the Metropolitan magistrates. That fact also—and I am being factual—is one which obviously must figure in the consideration which this problem is to receive, and I venture to think that that aspect of the matter is really more important than any other.

As to the other facts, may I remind your Lordships of this? When county court judges were first appointed in the year 1846 their salary was £1,200, and their jurisdiction was disputes up to £20 and no more. By 1850—that is, 100 years ago—their jurisdiction had moved up to £50 and their salary varied between £1,200 and £1,500. In 1865 equity jurisdiction was added, and their salary was then fixed at £1,500. Between 1920 and 1937 their jurisdiction was increased again—contract and tort up to £100. There were other increases, but I will not trouble your Lordships with a list. Their salary was increased by a cost of living bonus during those years, which in 1937 made it £1,650. In 1937, the salary was increased to £2,000, and in 1938 the jurisdiction in contract and tort was moved up to £200, as compared with the original £20. There are further prospects of increases of jurisdiction which may be expected in the near future. I mention only the increases recommended by the Evershed Committee, which would bring contract and tort from £200 to £300; Admiralty from £300 to £1,000 and contentious probate to £1,000. Therefore, your Lordships will appreciate that if those recommendations are carried out their jurisdiction will be immensely increased over what it was. I emphasise that to show your Lordships how important it is—more important than ever it was—that I should be sure of having available for my choice men who are very well qualified to carry out this most important task.

So far as divorce jurisdiction goes—and here again may I say that the county court judges have performed that jurisdiction with great credit to themselves —your Lordships will remember that, whilst acting as divorce judges, they received the remuneration appropriate to a High Court Judge. But in practice that works, I think, very unfairly. There are one or two county courts where, owing to peculiar circumstances, county court judges are able to give a good deal more time to it and where the extra remuneration so received amounts to £1,000, and in one case over £1,000, whereas in other cases it is as low as £50, and the average is £330. It might well be considered, if there is going to be any increase, whether the most satisfactory thing is not to surrender those extra payments in return for some larger remuneration all round so that everybody would be treated alike. I am being factual, and I mention that because it is one of the facts which your Lordships ought to consider.

Of course, it is true, as has been said, that there will be, or may be, repercussions on some other salaries. The question of the Metropolitan stipendiaries has already been mentioned. There are twenty-six of them. The judges in Scotland will certainly not be overlooked, and I have no doubt that both here and in another place attention will be called to their case. Subordinate judges in Scotland receive lower salaries, of course, than the county court judge, with the exception of the sheriffs of Lanark and the Lothians, who, I think I am right in saying, already receive more. There are two puisnes in Northern Ireland, both of whom are receiving £3,000 a year. They suffered a cut of £500 in 1926. and no doubt they might want to have that cut restored. The official referees to whom the Lord Chief Justice referred—it is very difficult to keep one's mind on all the modern improvements—are enjoying a salary of £2,500 (it was £2,000 only quite recently) and the masters of the Supreme Court are, I think, on a scale between £2,000 and £2,500. It is the fact, as Lord Simon has pointed out, that in several cases—I think he said some twenty cases —the registrar gets as much as the county court judge and, in one case, gets slightly more than the county court judge.

Those are the facts and the aspect which I regard, quite frankly, as the most important—I am not in any sense disregarding the others—ami which I am perfectly certain that anybody who has sat in my Chair would regard as the most important, is that there should be a sufficiently wide choice available to the Lord Chancellor in order to get the right man. That applies, so far as England is concerned—and I am not considering any other question—particularly to the county court judges and to the Metropolitan police magistrates, and it has given me some anxiety. I hope I have made it plain that I have given no sort of promise. I have held out no sort of hope—at least I hope I have not. I have no authority to do so. But I have told your Lordships some of the facts which I think we should have in mind. I have just been passed a note to say that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, is good enough to offer to substitute for his Motion a simple expression of a desire for investigation. He will indicate the form in which he thinks that would be suitable. That Motion in the new form I shall be perfectly ready to accept.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Viscount very much for what he has said. I am pleased to find that the series of statements of fact which I made appear to be correct. The Lord Chancellor has underlined some of them and has given some further details which certainly do not weaken the case for the county court judges. He was good enough to answer my question, as I thought he would, by saying—with, of course, moderation and discretion—that we have, in fact, very good county court judges, but that he would welcome it if he were able to have a wider choice; and that the situation is becoming more difficult and is giving him some anxiety. I cannot expect him to say more. If I may say so, that was exactly the impression which I had myself formed.

There is one other matter. The noble and learned Viscount was good enough to say that if I had not added to my Motion a request for Papers he would have accepted it. Certainly I do not persist in my request for Papers; at the same time, I think that if we were to strike out those words there would not, with the words at present employed, be any meaning in the Motion. I wanted to ascertain from the noble and learned Viscount and from the authorities at the Table whether the substituted form of words was open to any objection. I gather from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that he thinks not. We in the House of Lords cannot presume to undertake any direction to the Government for additional expenditure. I have the very unusual, and I think perhaps unique, advantage—if advantage it be—of having been in my time both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor, and on that subject I am a Chancellor of the Exchequer: I do not at all believe in this House demanding from the Government additional expenditure. That must be for them and for the popularly elected House.

But would it not be in order, and perhaps useful, if, with permission, I were to withdraw the Motion on the Order Paper and beg to move to resolve: That His Majesty's Government should give earnest consideration to the question of the present salaries of county court judges. I gather that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, sees no objection to that form of wording. If the Lord Chancellor sees none either, I suggest that that may be a useful way to record in a constitutional manner what is the real effect of our debate—including, if I may respectfully say so, the real effect of the noble and learned Viscount's speech. I beg to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg to move my Motion in its new form— namely, That His Majesty's Government should give earnest consideration to the question of the present salaries of county court judges.

Moved to resolve, That His Majesty's Government should give earnest consideration to the question of the present salaries of county court judges.—(Viscount Simon.)

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend with whom I have consulted, may I say that we think the substituted form is quite acceptable? I am quite sure that this matter will have to be considered in view of this debate, and I am glad to accept the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.