HC Deb 27 July 1979 vol 971 cc540-1W
Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the pay of magistrates' courts staff.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the state of wage negotiations with the magistrates' courts' staff; and whether the industrial action threatened for 1 August can be averted.

Mr. Whitelaw

As I have said in reply to earlier questions, the pay of magistrates' courts staff in England and Wales outside Inner London is negotiated by the joint negotiating committee for justices' clerks' assistants.

The joint negotiating committee last met on 20 July, when the officers' side rejected an offer made by the management side. There is now the prospect of industrial action in the magistrates' courts by the staff represented by the Association of Magisterial Officers.

The Government are not a party to these negotiations. However, since 80 per cent. of the expenditure on magistrates' courts is provided by specific Home Office grant, the Government have a close interest in any settlement that is reached. I told both sides of the joint negotiating committee before their meeting on 20 July that the Government regarded the management side's offer as a fair and sympathetic one that the Government were prepared to underwrite by providing their share of the money necessary to finance a settlement based on it.

I want to stress the following points about the management side's offer.

First, it provided for a general pay rise of 9.4 per cent. from 1 July 1979. That is in line with the provisional settlement for local authority APT & C grades, which have traditionally been the group with which the pay of justices' clerks' assistants has been linked.

Second, it provided for a measure of restructuring that would have cost about 2.5 per cent. on the total salary bill. In particular, this restructuring would—for the first time—have given guaranteed minimum salaries to the staff who work as clerks sitting in court.

Last, the management side's offer included the reference of the entire officers' side claim to the Comparability Commission, with any award the commission made to be dated from 1 January 1980.

The Government are fully aware that the magistrates' courts staff, through their representatives, have expressed their conviction that local authority APT & C grades do not provide an appropriate analogue for the settlement of their pay. That is not a matter on which the Government have formed a view, or is in any position to form a view. The Government share the management side's opinion that the appropriate way to settle the question is to refer it to the Comparability Commission, which is specifically concerned with the examination of questions of this kind.

The magistrates' courts are clearly an integral part of the criminal justice system. I want to point out, however, that all recent pay settlements for groups engaged in law and order services have been based either on the re-establishment of traditional pay linkages that have become eroded or else on independent studies of the kind that the Comparability Commission can carry out.

Against this background, the Government would deeply regret any disturbance of the magistrates' courts, which would inevitably cause inconvenience and suffering for many citizens who have no part in this dispute.