HL Deb 12 December 1960 vol 227 cc268-72

2.43 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a. —(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, there are one or two points, relating to the remuneration of the Masters of the Supreme Court, that I should like to raise on this Bill. I have not put down any Amendments because I felt that this was a matter which ought to be considered by Her Majesty's Government rather more leisurely than it would be in having to come to a definite decision on this Bill.

Those noble Lords who have any experience of the courts will know that the function of a Master of the Supreme Court is a very important one indeed. It is a little difficult to make any comparison. The nearest I can find is that of a county court judge, although I should not wish to press the analogy too hard. The fact is that Masters take High Court cases by consent and deal with a wide variety of matters which come before the courts; and their duties are of the utmost importance in connection with the expedition of: he work of the various sections of the Law Courts. The qualifications are normally that they have had ten years in practice as barristers or a similar period as solicitors; and I may say, in passing, that this is a more stringent qualification than is required for county court judges, for whom the qualification is only seven years in practice.

Masters are normally recruited at about the age of 50 or more, and therefore they would expect to have something of the order of 20 years' service. In another place the question of their pension rights was discussed. It was suggested that they ought to be in a position to receive their maximum pension—which is one-half of their salary—after 15 years' service. This Bill provides that they should receive a pension at the end of 20 years' service. At the moment the period is 25 years, so the Bill provides an improve-merit of five years in the position with regard to their pension. Nevertheless, it was felt that the period should be 15 years, which would put them on a parallel basis with county court judges. However, this was discussed in another place and I do not want to ask the noble and learned Viscount to deal with that particular aspect.

There are two other aspects. One is the question of their eligibility for pensions at all. As matters stand at the moment, they have to serve for five years before they become eligible for any kind of pension. There is a feeling among the Masters that that is a hardship. They are in actual practice as barristers or solicitors when they are appointed and they give up their practice; and should anything happen to them soon after their appointment, their dependants are left high and dry, with no provision whatever. There is a strong feeling among them that eligibility for pension should begin on their appointment. Naturally, if they had served a shorter period than five years they would not qualify for a very large pension, but they would get something; and so would their dependants.

The other point concerns the speed with which they reach their maximum. They are appointed at a salary of £3,650 and go to a maximum of £4,100. They feel, again, that they should not be subject to a sliding scale at all but should be appointed at the remuneration of £4,100—or whatever is the maximum figure; I believe it is that. Their case is, again, that they are men in a senior position in their profession. Normally, as I have said, they are of fairly advanced age, 50 or over, on their appointment; and having regard to the responsibilities of their duties, their remuneration is not abnormally high. In my view it is, if anything, on the low side, and they should not be required to wait until they are possibly 55 or 56 before they reach that scale of remuneration. I put these points to the noble and learned Viscount because they are matters which are rather worrying the Masters. I think there have been some forty of them in the courts, and they render a very high standard of service under great pressure. As everyone knows who has had to appear before them, they work at extremely great pressure and I think that anything we can do to improve the conditions of the Masters, and therefore the quality of those who are available, we should do willingly.

As I have said, I have no Amendment down on the Order Paper and all I can ask the noble and learned Viscount is to give their pleas sympathetic consideration at the earlest time when it becomes possible to review their remuneration and conditions. I am aware that at the present time both their remuneration and their conditions of service are linked up with those of senior civil servants—I think it is by the Administration of Justice Act, 1925. I have no objection to their pay being linked up, but I think it is time we had second thoughts about their conditions of service. Civil Servants are normally appointed at a much younger age. The people with whom we compare the Masters of the Court are people who are appointed normally in their fairly early twenties, after they leave university, whereas these men are appointed at the age of 50 or thereabouts and that makes a big difference. I think, therefore, that we ought not to link up too closely their conditions of service with those of the Civil Service. These are all factors which I hope will be considered at an early date, and I should be grateful if the noble and learned Viscount would see his way to give some assurance that these matters will be considered at some early appropriate time.

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for raising these points and also for giving me notice of one or two of the points which were worrying him in this regard. I want at once to join with his tribute to the work which the Masters do. Like the noble Lord, I can look back to cases that I have done in front of them when a complicated and detailed matter Chas been referred to them and handled with the greatest skill, courtesy and care; and I heartily underwrite everything he has said in praise of their work. He has exonerated me from dealing with one of the points because that was dealt with fairly fully by my right honourable and learned friend the Solicitor General in another place. But with regard to the points which the noble Lord mentioned to-day, the first is the qualifying period of five years. It is true that Judges, High Court Judges and County Court Judges, have not a qualifying period. They have always been treated as a special case and, so far as I know, there is no other case where that occurs in public employment. But I will certainly have regard to that point and consider it carefully, as fie asked.

On the second point, I think that that again is a very important one and I should like to reconsider it. I was impressed by what he said. Although. I suppose, everyone improves after a year or two in a particular job, they come to this work with high qualifications and there obviously is a case for their not being on a sliding scale, which the noble Lord implied. Again, I should like to look at that point. On the general point of relation to the Civil Service I take the noble Lord's view that one must always remember that the Judiciary, of all kinds, are in a special position. On the other hand, without going into details, I would remind the noble Lord that another section in which he is also interested gained an improvement the other day because of their relationship to branches of the Civil Service, and therefore it cuts both ways. But I am assured that a number of other people who are in a sort of analogous position for—example. the Chief Charity Commissioner, the Chief Land Registrar, the Public Trustee and the Chancery Registrar—do not receive as favourable terms as do those whom we are now discussing; and so I have to bear that in mind because they hold Civil Service appointments.

I have mentioned that only in order to show the noble Lord that I have looked into these points and considered them; but that does not mean, I assure him at once, that I shall not look into them again. It is a difficult task, as he knows—he has shown great interest in it in the last six or seven years while I have been Lord Chancellor—to keep all the different sections in step and in an equitable relationship one to the other. But I regard it as a serious and important part of my duties and I will certainly give it further consideration as he has asked.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.