HL Deb 08 May 1961 vol 231 cc13-8

3.7 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a Bill to modernise the pension and retirement arrangements for the sheriffs and sheriffs-substitute. In Scotland, we are proud of these professional judges and of the part they play both in administration and in dispensing justice, and we are anxious that their conditions of service should be appropriate in every way. Salaries have recently been improved, and now this Bill dealing with pensions and retirement is necessary because the present arrangements, contained in Section 20 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act, 1907, are in fact nearly 123 years old and are sadly out of line with modern ideas.

Let me remind your Lordships of some of these out-of-date provisions now to be superseded by this Bill. There is at present neither a compulsory retiring age nor an age at which a sheriff may, at his option, retire on pension. If a sheriff has to retire because of ill-health, he has no entitlement to pension unless he has completed ten years' service; and in all cases pension is based on the average salary during the last five years of service, a provision which operates harshly in times of inflation.

The pension provisions of this Bill apply to 53 learned gentlemen, of whom two are whole-time sheriffs and 51 are salaried sheriffs-substitute. This matter is covered by Clause 1. These gentlemen, but not any who are appointed after the date of enactment, will have the option, under Clause 9, to continue under the present pension arrangements. Clause 1 also reduces from ten years to five years the minimum period of service required to qualify for pension. Subject to completion of five years' service, a pension will be payable under the Bill if the sheriff or sheriff-substitute vacates office on reaching the new retiring age of 72, or if he retires through ill-health, or if he retires at his option on or after reaching the age of 65. These matters are dealt with in Clause 2.

The new rates of pension are outlined in Clause 3. In each case, the pension will be based on the last annual salary, instead of on the average annual salary over the last five years of service. Under this clause, moreover, the entitlement to pension goes up year by year with each year of service, whereas at present the entitlement goes up in What I might call five-yearly steps, which causes hardship to those who have to retire after serving, say, four years out of a five year step.

In all these matters the sheriff and the sheriff-substitute are treated alike. The only difference in treatment lies in the period of service needed to qualify for full pension. A person appointed to be a sheriff is usually a leading member of the Bar. He is likely, therefore, to be upwards of 50 years of age, and in order to give him a reasonable chance of earning full pension the Bill enables him to do this after fifteen years' service. The sheriffs-substitute are generally appointed earlier in life, and we have therefore thought it proper for them to serve for 20 years before earning full pension.

Under Clause 6 a compulsory retiring age is now fixed at 72. Under Clause 9 this retiring age, with the new pension arrangements, does not apply to those already in office unless they so wish. This retiring age of 72, as your Lordships know, has been in force for many years for the lower judiciary in England and Wales. Clause 6 also applies this retiring age to the part-time sheriffs, of whom there are ten—that is, part-time sheriffs appointed after the Bill becomes law. Their office is non-pensionable, and therefore they are not covered by the other clauses of the Bill. There are some technical refinements in Clause 4 which protect the pension entitlement of a sheriff-substitute who, after reaching the age of 60, instead of 65 as at present, either moves to a less onerous post carrying a lower salary or is appointed as a part-time sheriff. Clause 5 continues the higher pension entitlement of persons who opted out of the provisions of the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act, 1950, for the grant of lump sums on retirement or death and the grant of widows' and children's pensions.

I commend this Bill to your Lords-ships as a considerably overdue measure which brings no more than justice to a small but important body of men on whom we in Scotland rely for that very quality. I beg to move.

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

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should find it difficult to pretend that it will be possible to arouse very strong Party passions over this measure. I should find it difficult also to believe that this is regarded as a measure of pressing importance other than by the sheriffs or the sheriffs-substitute. It is, nevertheless, a measure of justice that these provisions to which my noble friend Lord Craigton has referred, and which are so much out of date, should now be remedied. I gather that, while it may be desirable on this side of the House to attempt to make some minor changes in the Bill on the Committee stage, this will have to be done within a certain limited field of activity. But at this stage I can do no other than agree with the noble Lord that this is, in general, a desirable measure which should be approved.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to have to shatter the general welcome that has been accorded to this Bill this afternoon, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to the provisions of Clause 1 (3) of this Bill as they apply to the sheriffs-substitute, because I am afraid they are by no means satisfied with the provisions that have been made for them in this measure. I do not suppose it is possible for your Lordships to do much about it at this stage, but I do not wish the Second Reading to pass without mentioning the point. As my noble friend Lord Craigton has said, there is a difference between pensions scales for a sheriff-principal and for a sheriff-substitute, in that the sheriff-principal serves fifteen years before he is entitled to his full pension, whereas the sheriff-substitute has to serve twenty years. I understand that this particular difference is not brought about by any question of cost; nor is it said to be a matter of comparative status of the sheriffs-substitute. I must confess that I am not altogether satisfied with this condition of the comparative status.

About the only similarity between the sheriff-substitutes in Scotland with what must be their nearest equivalent South of the Border is that their retiring ages are both 72. In every other respect it seems to me that North of the Border they are in an inferior position. The English county court judges and the metropolitan police magistrates have a much smaller jurisdiction than sheriffs-substitute. None the less, apart from eight sheriffs-substitute (I think in Glasgow, where there are rather special circumstances), the judiciary South of the Border are paid a considerably higher salary than the sheriffs-substitute in Scotland. And although that is not immediately relevant to this Bill, it has this bearing: that the sheriffs-substitute's pension is correspondingly based upon a smaller basic salary than that of his brethren South of the Border. But not only is the pension based on a lower salary; in the case of a sheriff-substitute it is also based upon an inferior scale. The scale is not the same as that of the county court judge, but it appears to be the same as that in England of the metropolitan police magistrates, even though they receive a higher salary than do the sheriffs-substitute.

To explain this curious situation, I understand that Her Majesty's Government rely upon an argument of a comparative ineligibility. That is to say, they allege that it would be unfair that, just because a sheriff-substitute is appointed earlier in life, he should have a better chance of achieving a full pension than if he was a county court judge and was appointed at a later age. But if that is so, and if the scale is really based on that fact of age, it seems strange that when a sheriff-substitute is appointed, on average, at 43, and a county court judge at 53, the pension scale for the sheriff-substitute should be precisely the same as that of a metropolitan police magistrate. So far as I know, the latter are not appointed at an average age of 43; and there is no other comparison between them. If this scale is mathematical, which I think it must be, there must have been other criteria involved in the pension scale for the metropolitan police magistrates.

In those circumstances, there is among the sheriffs-substitute a feeling of a certain injustice, and also the fear that this argument must be based on the assumption that sheriffs-substitute will continue to be appointed at a comparatively early age. They do not necessarily think that this will be so, or ought to be so, and they are worried lest this lower-scale pension should discourage the even more experienced lawyer from becoming a sheriff-substitute. What I should like to ask my noble friend is whether it is, in fact, the Government's policy that sheriffs-substitute should continue to be appointed at an early age; whether, if this pension scale has been worked out largely on the average age of their appointment, the Government will consider reviewing it from time to time if the average age should change; and if so, whether they could possibly do that by means of taking powers in this Bill to change the pension scale by regulation rather than having to bring in a new Bill before Parliament on each occasion.

3.20 p.m.

LORD CRAIGTON My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his welcome to the Bill. It is the first time he has spoken on a Scottish Bill and I hope he will always give my other Bills the same welcome.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is critical of the provisions of Clause 3 (3); and Her Majesty's Government are, of course, fully aware of the views of the Sheriffs-Substitute Association that there should be full pension after fifteen years of service. The Government have given this matter serious consideration. The Bill, as I am sure the noble Viscount will agree, makes so many improvements in conditions of service and in the qualifications for pension, that the decision not to meet the view of the sheriffs-substitute on this one point was not lightly taken. But the decision about the correct length of service to qualify for a retirement pension is one based properly not on either status or salary but on the normal expectation of service. I would not, even if I were qualified to do so, attempt to equate the public esteem, the service, or the responsibilities of the sheriffs-substitute with those of any other branch of the judiciary. The case for or against 20 years must rest on its merits, which in the Government's view it clearly does.

I apologise to your Lordships for giving some figures, but this is. I think, a very clear case. As the noble Viscount has said, the average age of appointment of a sheriff-substitute is 43 years. So if he is appointed at 45 or earlier—which is above average—he can retire on full pension at 65, which is the age of voluntary retirement. If he is appointed at 52—that is, nine years above the average—he can still retire on full pension at 72, which is the compulsory retiring age. I should not like to promise the noble Viscount that the Government would consider putting powers in the Bill to enable them to review this matter. I hope he will agree that this is a very good deal which the sheriffs are getting. Even with 20 years' service, because this is a young man's appointment, the sheriff-substitute is better off than the county court judge, who, appointed at an average age of 53, qualifies for full pension only after 15 years' service, at 69, instead of 63 for a sheriff-substitute after twenty years' service. He is also better off than the metropolitan magistrate, who is appointed at an average age of 49, and who also qualifies for full pension at 69—that is, after 20 years' service, the same as the sheriff-substitute.

One must think of those at present holding office; and taking the position of the sheriffs-substitute as a body one finds that they are also better off, with 20 years' qualification, than the county court judges are now with 15. The same proportion—12 per cent.—of both sheriffs and county court judges will be short of full pension when they reach compulsory retiring age. But 61 per cent. of the sheriffs-substitute now in office, as compared with 31 per cent. of the county court judges, will qualify for full pension before they reach the voluntary retiring age of 65. I hope that what I have said will satisfy the noble Viscount that, both on its own merits and in comparison with other schemes, the sheriffs-substitute have, in fact, in this Bill, a very fair package deal.

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