HC Deb 31 July 1934 vol 292 cc2520-5

1.51 p.m.


We have had a very interesting discussion, in which two and a-half hours have been well spent in giving publicity to the remarkable work of this side of the Home Office. I only wish the discussion could have taken place at a time when there would have been a bigger attendance in the House and more publicity, especially for the highly interesting speech of the Under-Secretary who, in the very short time he has been in the Department, seems to have mastered his subject. The hon. Gentleman displays a sympathy and understanding which justify the promotion of a back-bencher after years of apprenticeship. It would have been a tragedy if we had adjourned without having a discussion of this particular section of the Department's work. It is perhaps due to tremendous congestion and the number of reports that come before the House that an earlier opportunity was pot taken on an Estimate to have this Debate.

This is a great historic occasion—the Adjournment of the House—when grievances should be ventilated. It is our duty when there are grievances to bring them to the notice of Ministers before rising for the Recess. On 24th July my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the classes of persons in the service of the Crown or local authorities whose pensions would be diminished by the fact that their pensions were assessed on rates of salary which had been affected by the temporary cuts in salaries or grants made by Parliament in 1931. My right hon. Friend was prompted to ask that question because of the big responsibility he had as a Member of the Cabinet at the time when the cuts were made. An assurance was given to the country and to the persons concerned that the cuts would be of a temporary character, and that every effort would be made to avoid any section of the community suffering permanently.

It has been repeated time after time that the earliest opportunity would be taken to remove the cuts and redress the grievance, and we have had a Very substantial instalment in that direction in the restoration of half of the loss of salary by the recent Finance Bill. But, as this report shows, this particular section of the community through special circumstances have suffered peculiarly. The local government officers are mentioned in the reply of the Chancellor. They are largely out of our purview. It is a matter of their relation with their local authority. Many of the local authorities have been generous and have met their grievances. It is remarkable that the third section of the question refers to the police. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen was Home Secretary at the time, and I have a vivid recollection of the agitation among the police against interference with their pension rights. An arrangement was then made as to the year which was to be the basis of their pension, and that largely conciliated the police. Unfortunately the teachers come under a peculiar arrangement. Their pensions are based on the average of the last five years of their service, and therefore those who happened to retire just at the unfortunate psychological moment, when the cut was still in full operation, are under a serious disability.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

Does the hon. Baronet suggest that the teachers' pensions could be altered without legislation?


I know I would not be in order in suggesting that there should be legislation, but I suggest that there should be a grant from the Treasury to meet these particular cases. I suggest that there should be a special grant as a mark of good will and in order to meet the pledge which was given to the country that no one would be called upon to suffer permanently. A teacher who retired on 31st March, 1934, and who enjoyed a salary of £408 a year, on the basis of the present arrangement will, for the rest of his life, suffer a reduction of £10 a year. That may seem a small sum, but when it is remembered that the pension only amounts to £193, it is a serious percentage and a serious contribution by that individual towards meeting the unfortunate financial emergency of 1931. While other sections of the community will, we hope, in a year or two years have forgotten all about their cuts and their grievances and will have had their full salaries restored, while they will be able to look back on 1931 as a nasty dream, the small section of teachers who happen to have retired in 1934 will be suffering for the rest of their lives losses equivalent to that which I have described, according to the amount of their superannuation.

That is a real and permanent grievance, and our business here is to redress grievances of that kind and to remove injustices. I suggest to the Treasury that this is tantamount to an injustice. I have seen a number of teachers on this question. They were not unreasonable about it, but they felt it a hardship, and I suggest there is a responsibility on the Treasury to find some way of meeting the case of the teachers in this respect. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is familiar with the figures and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, no doubt, knows the facts of the case. It would be a great comfort to the profession as a whole and to the section I have mentioned in particular, if the Government were able to say that they would seriously consider the question of making some substantial grant to meet this case. I agree that, legally, the Government have an unanswerable case. They are within the four corners of the law; they are entitled, in fact compelled under the Superannuation Act to make this deduction. The fund is watertight. It is based on contributions from the teachers, the local authorities and the State and legally it cannot be required to meet a claim of this kind. But as this is the case of intervention by the Government in order to meet a special emergency, it is not unreasonable to ask them to make some grant to meet this very substantial grievance.

2.1 p.m.


The point raised by the hon. Baronet is one which I have on more than one occasion submitted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the representatives of the Board of Education in this House. I appreciate the fact that one cannot raise any question this morning which would involve legislation. The hon. Baronet has made the suggestion however, that the Government should consider an ex gratia payment in respect of this matter. I am not sure that hon. Members realise the full measure of the injustice. They must keep clearly in mind the fact that a teacher's pension depends upon his salary for the last five years of his service. A person retiring in July, 1934, would have two years of unreduced salary and three years of reduced salary within that period on which his pension was calculated. That obviously means that he would retire with a smaller pension than the person who will retire two or three years hence after the cut has been restored. As I have said over and over again on previous occasions, the injustice is that those affected in the way I have described will carry this imposition of a reduced pension with them to the grave. I submit that that proposition is incapable of justification.

I have no right to speak on behalf of the teachers' profession in this matter and I do not know how far the hon. Baronet does so, but, speaking for myself, I am inclined to take objection at this stage to any suggestion of an ex gratia payment. I am inclined to stick literally to the legal claim—I would say the rightful claim and the moral claim—of these teachers to a full restoration of their pensions, just as other classes will have their full pensions restored to them when salaries have been brought back to the original level. As I say I do not know how far the hon. Baronet speaks officially for the teachers, but I should say that it is like giving away half of their case to suggest that it can be met by an ex gratia payment, when we know that their moral claim is just as strong as the claim of any other teachers who will, in time, have their full pensions restored. I cannot speak on that side of it, because obviously that involves legislation. But on the merits of the case I am fully in accord with the last speaker. There is an overwhelming case on the ground of equity for these people, who will, unless something is done, have to carry right to the end of their lives an imposition in respect of a national crisis which others who are in the same grade and similarly qualified will not be called upon to bear. I do hope, therefore, that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will take note of the appeals which we are making, for we are both of us confident that the case which is submitted, if not legally sound, is certainly based upon every ground of morality so far as we understand it.

2.6 p.m.


I have no objection to this important matter having been raised as it has been raised to-day, and although I cannot hold out any hope to the two hon. Members who have spoken on it that I shall Joe able to-day to say anything which will give them complete satisfaction, which I do not think either of them anticipated when they raised the matter, I would point out that at the present time, while, as they are aware, this matter is under discussion with the National Union of Teachers, it is perhaps not altogether desirable that it should be discussed in this House. Even the slight discussion that we have had already has emphasised that point. It is a great mistake, when you are negotiating an important cause, to allow that cause to be presented from two different points of view at the same time, because I think the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has already, in the eyes of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), given away an important point. I do not say that one hon. Member was more right than the other, but one was certainly more in order than the other.

The hon. Member who has just sat down made it plain that he considered legislation the best remedy and the legal remedy, and that there was no question of ex gratia payment about it. We cannot discuss legislation on this occasion, and, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education said in reply to a Parliamentary question on this subject, any legislation which might me introduced could only be introduced if the Board of Education were satisfied that they had got complete agreement with all the pa0rties concerned. I think the House is aware that they are making at the present time every endeavour to reach some agreement of that sort. I am not in a position to make a statement as to the result of those negotiations, but I can assure the two hon. Members that I have taken note of what they have said, and that what they have said will be conveyed to all those concerned.