I find myself in a very strange position tonight. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), because it was only towards the end of his speech that I realised we were still divided across the Floor of the House. At one stage of his speech I was prepared to say, when I got up, that if he wished to divide the House, I was willing to be a Teller with him. Towards the end of his speech he said that discretion was the better part of valour and that he intended to support the Government. I agree with every word of his argument.
I oppose the Bill, with the exception of Clause 3, which increases the maximum number of judges to the High Court of England from 56 to 63, because I believe that the Bill is being presented at the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances. I am not in any way going along with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who, I thought, was very unfair to the legal profession in his remarks about judges.
I believe that it is right that the country should be the envy of the world in the standard of its judiciary and that we should do everything to maintain that standard. There have been speeches from both sides of the House, and if I may say so without giving offence, from the strongest trade union lobby in the House, making a powerful case why there should be a 25 per cent. increase in judges' pay.
We are not debating whether the legal profession should maintain its high position in the national opinion, or whether there should be a wage freeze on judges for the next 100 years. What we are debating is whether it is wise of the Government to bring forward this Bill for Second Reading today, 14th July, 1965, in the middle of a financial crisis, largely brought about by their own methods and lack of judgment. I do not want to enter into this subject, but it is at a time when the First Secretary of State is doing his utmost to try to bring about an incomes and wages policy.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the judges. I am sure that most of them are lining up outside the National Assistance offices getting remuneration for blankets to keep the cold off their beds, or for coal. The picture which has been created is that here is a community which is very badly treated.
We know that this is not so. What is to be the result of the Bill at this time, when there is a crisis in the nation's affairs, when we are trying to get responsibility in income, and to get coal miners and engine drivers and signalmen to moderate their demands for increased pay because it is creating an inflationary bubble? The coal miner will say to Lord Robens, "My condition is desperate, yet you say that you cannot do anything about it. But the judges are able to get a 25 per cent. increase."
I know that the amount of money involved in this infinitesimal. If the amount involved in the Bill were put on teachers' salaries or miners' wages, it would probably not make a penny difference to each one of them. But that is not the point. The point is the psychological reaction of people. If we say that the judges are in a special category, who is not in a special category? For centuries the judges have been the leaders and formers of public thought. It is surprising that, when they heard of the intention to introduce the Bill, they did not say, "Please do not bring it in at the moment. We shall pay the bulk of the increase away in taxation, but we realise what a deplorable effect the increase would have on wages negotiations over the next 12 months."
The hon. Member for Poplar said that this was not a big enough issue on which to divide the House. It is a scandal to bring in a Bill of this importance after 10 p.m. I believe that this little Bill could easily go down in history as the final wrecking Measure of the present Administration. What will the First Secretary, or Mr. Aubrey Jones, Chairman of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, say to any argument put to them after this? The amount of money involved may be minute but the psychological effect will be great.
The Conservative Government, when they tried to damp down remuneration, were told that they were being unfair, but when they were conducting a campaign to moderate the demand for increased salaries they did not choose that time to introduce this sort of Measure, which would have made their arguments nonsensical. The Government have shown than they have no clear assessment of how ordinary men and women think. I am not at all hostile to the judges. With my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe), I think that a review of the whole legal structure is probably called for. The bulk of the British people have great regard for the integrity of the judges and the legal profession. In normal circumstances the Bill would have been thoroughly justified. I am criticising the Bill not on its intrinsic merits, but on its timing.
If hon. Members opposite feel that the issue is sufficiently important for them to vote against the Bill, I will vote with them. I cannot completely set aside political considerations, but my basic objection will be to the psychological approach of the Bill to our economic problems. It will do the nation a great disservice and probably double the problems which we have to overcome.