Judicial Pensions

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 9th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative 11:00 am, 9th February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes they are making to the judicial pension scheme.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, the judicial pension scheme will become a non-registered pension scheme in accordance with the provisions of the Finance Act 2004 on 6 April 2006. The details were set out in a Written Ministerial Statement made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on 15 December 2005.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is not the effect of the changes to avoid the new pension law, introduced by this Government, which places a lifetime limit of £1.5 million on the capitalised value of anyone's total pensions benefits? That is not an ungenerous limit. Does she therefore think it is right that judges should be exempt from pension rules that apply to everyone else?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the judiciary is covered by statute. As the responsible Minister, my noble and learned friend looked at what was in the best interests of ensuring that the judges remained in their current position. The changes that we have made will mean that the judiciary maintains its status quo. I believe that that is an appropriate way for the Lord Chancellor to have behaved.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Labour

My Lords, I am surprised that my noble friend did not correct the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, in his supplementary question. There is no limit on the provision that people can make for pensions; the only limit is on the amount on which you can get tax relief.

Photo of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Spokesperson in the Lords, Treasury, Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions

My Lords, will the Minister tell us what capital sum would be needed to buy from a private sector provider the index-linked pension on which a High Court judge will now retire? I think that she will find that it is rather more than £1.5 million. If she does not have the figure to hand, will she please write to me with it?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, the noble Lord will be astonished to learn that I do not have the figure to hand, and of course I will write to him. The critical cost factor is the cost to the DCA, which I can confirm, as was laid out in the Statement, is £9 million per year.

Photo of Lord Borrie Lord Borrie Labour

My Lords, the reluctance of a number of senior lawyers, especially Queen's Counsel, to become High Court judges is often attributed to concern about a fall in income. To what extent is that true at present and to what extent are people who might become eminent judges if they were appointed also concerned about pensions?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, I have no doubt that those who are considering a judicial career think about pensions. The noble Lord will know that currently they cannot return to practice; therefore, it is important to take into account our need to have a good judiciary in this country and to make sure that they benefit appropriately.

Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, can I ask the Minister for some private advice? Does anything that has happened affect the position of retired judges?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, as far as I understand it, it does not. If that is not the case, I will of course write privately to the noble and learned Lord and ensure that his position is secure.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative

My Lords, of course the Minister and the noble Lord are right about tax relief—there is no issue about that. But does she recognise that past changes have always been made openly and passed through Parliament in legislation? Does she not think, on reflection, that it was a pity that this profound and important change was made by means of a Written Answer, not even an oral Statement?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, it was made not by Written Answer but by a Written Ministerial Statement, a process that the noble Lord will know is appropriate in Parliament. We do not use primary legislation if we do not need it. Within the terms of the Finance Act and with regard to the way in which we were able to do this, primary legislation was not necessary. We have not attempted to be anything other than completely open; hence the Written Ministerial Statement.