HC Deb 28 June 1933 vol 279 cc1624-35

11.5 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, after the word "computing," to insert the words "for purposes relating to superannuation."

The Clause refers to contributions to be made by persons entitled to superannuation rights by virtue of enactments relating to superannuation, but contributions are in many cases being paid by persons who are not entitled to superannuation rights. It is thought the words of the Amendment are necessary.


I accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 1, line 9, leave out from the word "by," to the end of the paragraph, and insert instead thereof the words "any person."

In line 13, leave out the words "a person so entitled," and insert instead thereof the words "any person."

In line 15, leave out the words "under that enactment," and insert instead thereof the words "by or in respect of any person."

In line 18, leave out the words "a person so entitled as aforesaid," and insert instead thereof the words "any person."—[Sir H. Jackson.]


I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out the word "October," and to insert instead thereof the word "September."

The Minister of Health in his circular 1222 dealt with the question of reduction of local expenditure generally and anticipated that officers of local government service would be prepared to make their contribution to the emergency. This was dated 11th September, 1931. It is understood that in one case arrangements for a reduction in remuneration on account of national economic conditions were made prior to the 31st October, and there may be other cases. In these circumstances it is proposed to substitute 1st September, 1931, for 1st October, 1931.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 13, to leave out the words: "then holder of the post in question," and to insert instead thereof the words: "person whose remuneration was reduced."

There is no previous reference in the Bill to the word "post." The previous provision relates to "a person," and in these circumstances the word "post" seems hardly appropriate and its effect would not be very clear. The words I propose are considered to be preferable.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made:

In page 2, line 15, leave out the word "thirtieth," and insert instead thereof the word"first."—[Sir H. Jachson.]


I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, to leave out the words: April, nineteen hundred and thirty-two, and to insert instead thereof the words: October, nineteen hundred and thirty-three. This is an important Amendment. The effect of Sub-section (2) as it stands will be that the provision will only apply in the case of an understanding that a reduction should not affect the superannuation if the reduction had in fact taken place before 1st April, 1932, It is, however, understood that there are cases in which a reduction on account of the national economic conditions first took place after that date. Moreover, it is submitted that reductions on account of these economic conditions have been made for the first time subsequent to the issue of Circular No. 1311 from the Ministry of Health on 22nd March, 1933. In that Circular reference was made to the Circular of 11th September, 1931, and it was there suggested that the matter should be handled by authorities in the spirit referred to in that Circular. May I quote the Minister's own words: The Minister is confident that local officials, whether salaried or wage-earners, will be found ready in the future, as they have been in the past, to respond to the needs of the time. I therefore venture to suggest to the Minister that it would be inequitable that officers whose remuneration was reduced for the first time on account of national economic conditions subsequent to 1st April, 1932, should be excluded from the provisions of the Bill. I submit that the Bill should cover cases in which reductions occurred for the first time before 1st October, 1933.

11.12 p.m.


I am afraid that I cannot consent to this Amendment. The object of this Bill is to make legal understandings entered into between local authorities and their employes which were in fact illegal but which at the time they were made were made in good faith. We have, however, chosen the period between 1st September—according to the Amendment of my hon. Friend—and 1st April, 1932, because by that time the various associations had been informed by the Ministry that if any further agreements were made they were ultra vires, and that therefore local authorities who made such agreements after that date did so in the knowledge that they were breaking the law. If we accepted the hon. Member's Amendment, I am afraid it would undermine the whole basis of the Bill, and I therefore cannot assent to it.

11.14 p.m.


I am not supporting in terms the hon. Member's Amendment, because I think it is quite clear that an agreement concluded after the introduction of this Bill creates a difficult position for the hon. Member to sustain. But those who have any knowledge of the negotiations between local authorities and their officers and servants know that in many cases these negotiations take quite a long time to carry into effect. This bombshell on local authorities fell towards the end of August, 1931. A large number of officers and servants agreed to a reduction of salaries on condition that arrangements were made to deal with the problem of superannuation. Large numbers of difficulties may occur in the interval, and to say that authorities acted ultra vires—and indeed illegally—but that they are being blessed if they were only illegal up to April of last year does not seem to me to be a strong point on the Government side. If it be admitted that there is a case for Parliamentary intervention where local authorities, acting in good faith, have broken the law, then it seems to me six months is too short a period. I hope the Government are prepared to be reasonable on this matter. As I say, I do not support the Amendment which proposes to insert October, 1933, but why not insert October, 1932, and allow a year for the completion of negotiations which were started as a result of the Government's policy? I understand that bona fide agreements have been reached after April of last year the negotiation of which began as a result of the Government's policy about the end of August, 1931. I realise that the Amendment might have implications extending further than local government officers, but the Government, having accepted the principle of regularising an illegal action by local authorities, ought to be sufficiently logical to make certain that any associations of employes and local authorities who in good faith started negotiations on the basis of the Government policy should be able to take advantage of the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary might be prepared to accept a compromise which would be nearer to his date than the date proposed by the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson). As between April of last year and October of this year, it seems reasonable to suggest that October of this year should be the date inserted in the Bill.

11.17 p.m.


I am sure it is the desire of the Government, in carrying through this Bill, the necessity of which they fully recognised on the Second Reading, to leave no rough edges. It would be a great pity if, here and there, local government officers were left with a sense of grievance. I am sure that is not the intention of the Government, but, according to the information put before us, if the date to which the Government are at present adhering is finally inserted in the Bill, there will be in some localities officers deprived of the justice which the Bill is intended to give. It would be a great pity if that hardship were imposed on a few officers left outside the scheme. Even the opponents of the Bill, I am sure, desire that it should be a clean-cut Bill including all those whom it is intended to benefit. I make the suggestion that if the Government are not able to accept the date proposed in the Amendment they should include the date of the passing of the Bill or 1st June. It is clear that the difficulty which the Bill is intended to meet has continued up to recent times. No hardship would be caused to anybody by this proposal. No burden is imposed and nobody is asked to pay a penny piece of any obligation which they are not anxious to discharge. No local authority will object and the Government have no share of the burden. As the Government are out to meet a difficulty for which no one has been responsible, they should meet it fully instead of leaving a few here and there excluded from its scope. If the date which I suggest were adopted difficulties would be avoided.

11.20 p.m.


I want to controvert the arguments of the last two speakers. The date proposed by the Government is quite the latest date that could possibly be incorporated in the Bill. By that date the position of this matter had been made clear to everybody, and I think the Bill of the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson) had been introduced. Any local authority which embarked on these arrangements after that date knew very well that they were performing an illegal action, and they ought not to be safeguarded. I suggest that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. I. Foot) is wrong when he says that this would not inflict a burden on anybody. It would inflict a burden on the rating authorities, which they are not ready to bear, and I, for one, dissent entirely from the theory that local authorities should be allowed to commit illegal actions, knowingly, at the expense of the ratepayers.

Amendment negatived.

11.22 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 19, after the word "understanding," to insert the words "between the parties concerned."

I have an Amendment later on to make it clear that officers or servants to whom the Asylums Officers Superannuation Act, 1909, applies shall be brought within the Bill. They might be brought in, but whether in fact they do obtain the advantages of the Bill depends upon whether there is an understanding on the matter, and I move this Amendment to raise that question. I understand the Ministry of Health are prepared to consider their inclusion in the Bill, but there is some doubt as to whether an understanding arrived at between the Mental Hospitals Association and those employed at mental hospitals is a bona fide understanding within the terms of the Bill. Medical officers, nurses, clerks, and stewards in mental hospitals were prepared to accept a reduction of salary when the Government came into office, but they all naturally, like other public servants, desired to protect their superannuation rights, and what I regard as an understanding was reached. It may be that the Mental Hospitals Association has no authority to impose any understanding that it may reach with the British Medical Association or my friends of the Mental Hospital Workers Union; or the Clerks and Stewards' Association, but this raises the question of when an understanding is not an understanding.

It appears now that certain understandings are understandigs, in the opinion of the Minister of Health, but as regards this section of the public service, who perform both onerous and very important duties, an understanding is not an understanding. I am told that the organisations concerned, the employing authority, and those who serve the employing authority, have asked to discuss this question with the Minister, but that he refuses to do so. A document has been circulated which is regarded merely as a circular, but I think it is clear that there was an understanding between the Mental Hospitals Association and the bodies of officers and servants employed by their individual members that in consideration of their accepting voluntarily a reduction of salaries and wages, superannuation rights should be maintained. If the spirit of this Bill is to operate, the Government ought to include within its terms people in the mental hospitals service. I am not complaining about the people who have been brought into the Bill. Indeed, on Second Beading I said that I thought the Bill ought to be cast in wider terms; but here is a body of people whose services to the community are undoubted, and who responded to the Government's appeal for sacrifices but did their best to protect their superannuation rights and were given undertakings, as far as those undertakings could be given, by the Mental Hospitals Association. Now there is a doubt whether they are within the terms of the Bill or not. I am not saying that the words I move will necessarily bring them into the Bill, but I am satisfied that there is no point in my second Amendment to bring them into the Bill if the understanding which they have reached between persons concerned is not regarded by the Minister as an understanding. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give an assurance that the understanding as I regard it, reached between the mental hospital authorities on the one hand, and those they employ on the other, will be regarded as an understanding within the terms of the Bill.

11.27 p.m.


I think that I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the asylums officers will be treated in exactly the same way as anybody else. They will be included in this Bill if in fact an understanding was made in good faith. I am not prepared at this moment to say whether the circular to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is evidence of that understanding, but I assume that the case will be treated on its merits like the case of every other officer of a local authority. I presume that an understanding would have been reached between the visiting committees and their officers, and if the understanding was made between them in good faith, they will come in the Bill like any other officer. I would point out to my right hon. Friend that if this Amendment were accepted it would make it far more difficult for them to come in.

11.29 p.m.


I should like to press the Parliamentary Secretary a bit further. We are getting now to what an understanding is. I am not prepared to accept that the mental hospitals are not acting in good faith, but is an understanding a national understanding between a national organisation and national bodies representing those who are employed; or is an understanding a local agreement between the local authority and representatives of the employes of the local authority? As I understand the Parliamentary Secretary, the question resolves itself into whether the individual visiting committees and mental hospital authorities have a bona fide understanding with the people they employ. If it can be shown by documentary evidence that there is such an understanding, I conclude from what the Parliamentary Secretary says that it is within the terms of the Bill. But do I take it that a national agreement does not come within the terms of the Bill, and that whether people do benefit will depend upon local negotiations between local authorities?


I am sorry that I did not make it plain. Every fact will be taken into consideration. If agreements have been reached between national bodies that, of course, may be material. But I went on to say that there may have been local agreements, and they will be considered too. Every relevant point will be considered in deciding whether individual persons come under it.


Government Departments always "consider every relevant point." That is a term of art. But it does not quite answer my question. The Parliamentary Secretary pushed the responsibility back on to the individual visiting committees. My original case was that the Mental Hospitals' Association, which represents the majority of mental hospital authorities in this country, and certain national bodies, including the British Medical Association, did arrive at an understanding. Then we were. told by the Parliamentary Secretary that it will he a matter for each visiting committee and I wanted to know whether an agreement was an agreement when it was national or only when it was local. We get the answer that it may be both. That is not helping us very much. There is another stage to this Bill, and if the hon. Gentleman will look at this question, and possibly define what an understanding is, because it is not in the least clear in the Bill, he will help us. If he will do that I will not press the point any further now, but I really do think the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary ought to look at this point and help the House to come to some comprehension of what is an understanding within the terms of this Bill. I beg to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.32 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, at the end, to insert the words: or is the subject of an agreement in writing made before or within three months after the passing of this Act between the person whose remuneration has been reduced or from which a deduction has been made and the authority to whom such contribution as aforesaid, if any, in respect of such person is payable or by whom a superannuation allowance to him is or would in the future become payable providing that such reduction or deduction shall not affect the amount of his superannuation allowance. Some of us feel very strongly that this Amendment is essential unless considerable injustice is to be done to a number of local government officers. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) quoted a case in regard to the mental hospital workers which illustrates very clearly the invidious distinctions which some of us believe will be made under this Bill. I have heard something of the circumstances in which the association of mental hospital workers are placed to-day. On the publication of the original Memorandum of the Ministry of Health, No. 1122, in September, 1931, that association, anxious to respond to the appeal of the Ministry, immediately met to see whether they could suggest any reduction. In due course they consulted the British Medical Association and the Royal Medico-Psychological Association and other bodies interested in the welfare of these workers and they submitted a scale of reductions which was welcomed and accepted by the authorities concerned, that is the visiting committees.

In due course the Ministry of Health pointed out that, subject to the amendment of the Asylum Workers' Superannuation Act, the pensions must be based on the actual salary paid. The association passed on that warning to the local authorities, and what happened? Of 66 hospitals outside London advised by that association, nine made no reductions, and are therefore not affected by this Bill; 24 of the hospitals, anxious to safeguard the pension rights of their officers, and seeing what other authorities were doing, continued to make superannuation deductions based on the original scale. They ignored the warning of the Ministry of Health. Twenty-seven other hospitals, that wished to do the right thing, acted on the advice of the Ministry.

The position under the Bill would be that those hospitals which defied the Ministry, or ignored the Ministry's advice, are to be whitewashed or indemnified, while the 27 which felt themselves bound to act in accordance with the Ministry's advice will be outside the terms of the Bill. The idea of this Amendment is that local authorities should have a chance of reconsidering their position in regard to this Bill, and if it were right and proper, to adjust the superannuation cut in the case of those persons whose pensions they wished to secure. I was somewhat reassured by the statement of the Under-Secretary that every case would be considered on its merits, but if the Ministry are right in their present belief that those hospitals which loyally and promptly accepted the ruling of the Ministry ought to be penalised, while those who defied the Ministry are to be whitewashed and regularised, a big injustice will be done to a large number of local government officers.

In the final Circular issued by the Ministry in this connection, barely three months ago, there was a statement that unequal treatment, in this matter of local government officers, must give rise to dissatisfaction and even to discontent among the officials. Is it too much to hope that this Amendment, which would remove any possibility of grievance, will be accepted, in order to enable local authorities to do what they consider justice to the members of their staffs?

11.38 p.m.


I am very sorry to say that I cannot accept this Amendment. I am particularly sorry, because I know the interest that the hon. Member takes in these cases. The Amendment cuts at the principle of the Bill, which is non-contentious where there is an understanding that a cut in remuneration should not affect pensions, and the Bill gives effect to that purpose. The Amendment would bring in cases of cuts which were not made with that understanding, but were made with the knowledge that the cut to lower pay must be followed by lower pensions. That is against the spirit of the Bill. There is another reason which makes the Amendment unaccept- able, which is that the principle is applied first to personal pension, which is against the principle of all Superannuation Acts.

11.40 p.m.


Will the hon. Gentleman say, where, in the Bill, is the liability on these claims in writing? I gather that, as the law stands, the agreements would not be binding upon the local authorities. Have his legal advisers considered whether, in that event, the persons who signed the agreement would or would not be liable? Although I am not venturing to express an opinion on the point, it strikes me as a possibility that a person signing might be held liable as having signed on behalf of the authority an agreement which was ultra vires, and I should like to know whether that would be the case.


I will consider that point before Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, to leave out the words "fund to which a local authority contributes," and to insert instead thereof the words superannuation fund established or administered by a local authority. This is a purely drafting Amendment, to make plain what sort of fund it is.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 41, at the end, insert the words "or fund."—[Sir H. Jackson.]

11.42 p.m


I beg to move, in page 2, line 41, after the words last inserted, to insert the words: (iii) officers or servants to whom the Asylums Officers Superannuation Act, 1909, applies. It is not clear to me from the Clause whether asylums officers are included under it or not. I understood, from a letter which the Minister sent to the Mental Hospitals Association, that he was considering that point. The Parliamentary Secretary says now that these agreements are to be considered on their merits, and, if he can assure me that asylums officers and others in the mental hospital service are within the scope of the Bill, I shall not press this Amendment. If, however, they are not, I must try to persuade him to accept it.

11.43 p.m.


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that asylums officers, being appointed by the council or visiting committee—which comes within the definition of a local authority under the Local Loans Act— come within paragraph (i) of this Sub-section.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.