HL Deb 03 June 1954 vol 187 cc1105-8

4.10 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I need not detain your Lordships very long over this Bill which, although it shares the complicated drafting which appears to be inseparable from all pensions legislation, is designed to achieve one simple object. I hope your Lordships will agree that that object is unobjectionable. It met, if I may say so, with a very large measure of agreement in another place. Briefly, the purpose of the Bill is to make provision in certain circumstances for the payment of a pension and of certain other benefits for service as President of the Industrial Court. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, the Industrial Court is a vitally important part of our national machinery for preventing and settling industrial disputes. It is the only permanent body constituted by Statute for the purpose of arbitration in industrial disputes, and it is completely independent of Governmental or departmental control or influence. It is a standing Court, and to it are referred industrial differences, including those of general principle and matters affecting whole industries or large sections of industries where the parties have failed to reach an agreement through their ordinary procedure and both wish to refer the differences to arbitration.

To a great extent, the maintenance of our system of voluntary collective bargaining in industrial disputes is dependent on the way in which the Court functions and it is essential that there should always be someone of the highest calibre occupying the post of President of the Court. Holders of that office must be sought among persons of the quality of those from whom High Court Judges are selected. The number of persons possessing the knowledge and experience, the intellectual capacity and the personal qualities which the post requires is necessarily small. The President of the Court need not be a lawyer, but clearly, legal training and experience are useful in a post of this kind, and it is a fact that the three men who have held this office up to the present time, Sir William Mackenzie, Sir Harold Morris and Sir John Forster, have all been distinguished lawyers.

I hope that noble Lords will agree with me that, if we are to continue to be able to find the right men for this vital post, we must be able to offer a man reasonable security for himself and his dependants in their later life. The Bill, therefore, provides benefits for the holders of this post which are broadly similar to those provided for judicial and quasi-judicial officers generally, such as the Chairman of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission and the National Insurance Commissioners. The parallel between the work of the President of the Court and those officers is clear, and I might perhaps mention that in circumstances where the members of the Industrial Court are unable to agree about an award the matter falls to be decided by the Chairman of the Court alone, who is, of course, normally the President.

I do not propose to weary your Lordships with all the details of the benefits provided under this Bill. I should perhaps indicate, however, that under Clause 1 the President may receive a pension after not less than five years' service, if he retires after the age of sixty-five, or if his appointment ceases before that age on grounds such as ill-health. The rate of pension payable is set out in the Schedule to the Bill and varies from one-quarter to one-half of his salary, according to the length of his service. This is, broadly, similar to the provisions for the other judicial posts to which I have referred. Clause 2 applies certain provisions of the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act, 1950, to the post of President of the Industrial Court, and this has the effect of providing for the payment of lump sums on retirement or death and of widows' and children's pensions. Clause 3 is a transitional provision relating only to the holder of the office at present—namely, Sir John Forster. His salary is at present £4,500 per annum, but it is felt right that in return for the superannuation benefits to be conferred by this Bill the salary for future holders of the post should be reduced to £4,000 per annum. It is not proposed to make any reduction in Sir John Forster's salary, but for the purposes of the Bill, when the time comes to assess his pension, it will be based on an assumed salary of £4,000 per annum.

The only point raised on the Bill in another place was that pension rights should not be confined to the President but should extend to other members of the Court. As my right honourable friend explained, however, we do not feel that this would be appropriate because there is a distinction between the position of the President and that of the other twelve members of the Court. For the President this is a whole-time occupation. I admit that two of the other members of the Court are at present full-time salaried members, but that is an administrative arrangement not laid down by Statute, and it is not necessarily a permanent one. The remaining ten members of the Court are called occasionally, when needed, and are paid by fee. Though all members of the Court share in its decisions they do not have the same burden as falls on the President; nor, incidentally, have we experienced any difficulty in finding suitable members for these other posts. Further, while it is obviously desirable that the Presidency of the Court should not change too often and that there should be some element of continuity, there is not the same need to ensure continuity in the other posts—and indeed there may be something to be said for the possibility of introducing new members with recent experience of industry.

I hope that I have made the purpose of the Bill sufficiently clear. In closing, I should like to stress that, though the Bill can be regarded in a sense as a tidying-up measure, it has a real and practical importance for the future, because on it may depend the finding of a suitable person to occupy this most important post, which performs so vital a function in our system of industrial relations based on free negotiation and voluntary agreement. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lloyd.)


My Lords, this Bill, which has a certificate from Mr. Speaker that it is a Money Bill, plainly deals with money ail the way through, and for that reason alone I should advise your Lordships to be very slow to interfere with it. But there is another reason: I think that it is a very good Bill, and I shall gladly do all I can to assist its passage through the House. The noble Lord who moved the Bill was perfectly right in saying that the President of the Industrial Court occupies a post of very great importance. Nothing is more foolish than unduly to skimp the payment of salary in that sort of post. If we do that, we shall not get the right sort of men to take on the job; and if we do not get the right sort of men the whole system will get into disrepute and we may lose in one day, by industrial trouble, far more than would ever be involved in paying a proper salary. I cordially support the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.