HC Deb 02 July 1937 vol 325 cc2343-51

As amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.

Mr. Speaker

I do not propose to select the Amendments to the Bill which are down on the Paper.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Bernays.]

12.4 p.m.

Captain Ramsay

There are certain provisions in this Bill which may give rise to what may be rather important differences between the regulations in England and in Scotland, if the Scottish Bill gets through the Standing Committee as it appears to be going through. As you have ruled out the Amendment which I put down—

Mr. T. Johnston

I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that the Scottish Bill is through Committee.

Captain Ramsay

I am glad to have that correction. I understood that there was only an assurance from the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Johnston

The Scottish Bill is through the Committee stage, and the Secretary of State has given an assurance, on the point the hon. and gallant Member is raising, that he will reconsider it before the Report stage.

Captain Ramsay

I thank my right hon. Friend for his correction. That is what I meant to convey. The Scottish Committee having received this assurance from the Secretary of State, we can reasonably expect that effect will be given to the provision which I have outlined in this Amendment. Very briefly the position is this: The English Bill lays down that the service of those who volunteered to join up and who served in the war is to reckon for pension but shall not include any period during which they voluntarily continued to serve after the 11th November, 1918. Although it is not the duty of Scottish Members to put down Amendments to English Bills, I felt that I ought to draw attention to what may become an important difference in law. We held in the Scottish Committee that if a man volunteered to continue serving after nth November, 1918, he should not be disqualified from having that extended service reckoned towards his pension. In the first place it is our contention that that State service is as important as, if not more important than, any other State service.

It is all very well to say the man volunteered, but we know very well what the circumstances may be. If the commanding officer of a battalion is told that he must let so many men of his battalion go, and must persuade so many to stay, it is not the least valuable men whom he will try to persuade to stay. Therefore, the men who volunteered for service after the Armistice were, in our opinion, probably the most valuable men in the battalion, and the better deserving, perhaps, of their country's recognition. We hold, therefore, that it is a pity and a mistake that the fact that these men, whose services were particularly required either in the Army of Occupation or for military duties elsewhere, should now be at a disadvantage compared with those who, for some reason or other, were allowed to terminate their service and to return home. My object in making this appeal is that the right hon. Gentleman, if he persists in this regulation for English ex-service men, will not use his influence or make a case to say that the Scottish Bill must be drawn in conformity with the English one.

12.10 p.m.

Mr. Johnston

May I add a word to reinforce what the hon. and gallant Member has said? I can appreciate that it is impossible on the Report stage to move the deletion of this Sub-section, because that would inevitably increase the charge, and would, therefore, be a violation of the decision of the House on the Money Resolution. But there is a very curious anomaly, and I trust that the Government will find some means between now and Third Reading to obviate it. What is happening here is precisely the same as happened with the Scottish Bill. I raised the matter on the Committee stage of the Scottish Bill yesterday. What is happening here is, in our view, an unnecessary and unwarranted penalisation of army service. So far as I know this is the first time any such penalisation has ever been imported into an Act of Parliament. The penalisation takes this form, that a local government officer, in having his length of service as a local government officer computed for pension purposes, is entitled to have his period of army service included up to firth November 1918, but if he extended his period of Army service after 11th November, 1918—I believe that the official date of the end of the War was subsequent to that date—the period during which he remained in the Army, Navy or Air Force, after 11th November, 1918, is not to be included for pension purposes.

That seems a curious provision for a National Government to import into a Bill. We could get no explanation of the reason for it yesterday in the Scottish Grand Committee, except that a similar provision had been included in the English Bill. The Secretary of State for Scotland could not at that moment offer any justification of it on its merits, nor could he give any assurance that on the Report stage he would agree to its deletion. All he would say was that before the Report stage he would consider what, if anything, could be done, but we are faced to-day with the fact that for reasons which we can quite appreciate the Chairman cannot accept an Amendment for the deletion of this Sub-section, and yet if we pass the Bill as it stands we shall commit the House to a definite penalisation of army service. It may be that this will not mean very much financially in a large number of cases. On the other hand, there is a principle involved here which we are very much surprised that the National Government should have fathered. No reason for it has been given, and I trust that the Minister of Health, who is in charge of this Bill, will be able to give us some assurance that the Government will find ways and means of not operating this provision.

12.13 p.m.

Mr. Charles Brown

I want to ask one question. As I understand it the Bill applies only to those local authorities which employ more than 100 officials and clerical staff, unless an authority with fewer chooses to associate with other authorities bring up the number of their joint staffs to the requisite number. The Bill is not compulsory in the case of, manual workers. If a local authority has fewer than 100 staff and clerical workers, and a ballot shows that the workmen are in favour of coming into the scheme, and the officials, clerical staff and workmen combined number more than 100, can it have a superannuation scheme of its own without associating with another local authority?

12.14 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

I should like to say one or two things before we part with the Bill. In the Committee stage we did secure some improvements, and it is now a better Bill than when it was introduced. In Committee I raised a point as to definition. There is a full definition of the term "remuneration," but none dealing with gratuities. The term "remuneration" is not used. The word used is "emoluments," and I raised the desirability of having emoluments defined in the Bill. Otherwise, there might subsequently be trouble. I have been assured by the right hon. Gentleman and the Solicitor-General that the term "emoluments" is much wider than the term "remuneration" and in that respect it is advantageous to officers of local authorities. That being so, one need not press the point any further. We still to-day have one capital defect in the Bill and have not received from the right hon. Gentleman that sympathy which we are coming to expect him to show. This has gone a great way to meet the just claims of the officers of local authorities and it has gone some little way to improve the superannuation provisions of servants in so far as local authorities bring servants within the Act, but it does remain still a great injustice that the servants have not been treated on precisely the same footing as the officers. In parting from the Bill to-day, whilst one can say that for a considerable number of deserving servants and officers of local authorities the Bill is doing a measure of justice, it still leaves that crying injustice which I hope that on a later occasion the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to remedy.

12.17 p.m.

Sir Joseph Lamb

I did not happen to be a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Bill, but I think the case put forward by the right hon. Gentleman is one that requires some explanation. It seems rather strange that those who were on the Committee are not here to put forward the claims of the serving men.

The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood)

It was thoroughly discussed in Committee.

Sir J. Lamb

Probably, then, the Minister will have a reply to give us. I hope he will see that if these men are not allowed to count time served with the Forces for the purpose of superannuation he will say whether they are to receive any extra emolument or advantage for remaining in the Army for extra time. Otherwise, it seems that there will be an injustice done.

12.18 p.m.

Mr. Leslie

I want to put certain particularly hard cases which I brought up in Committee. An individual has served with a certain local authority for a period of ten years. That local authority has a superannuation scheme. He transfers to another local authority that has no superannuation scheme. He has his contributions refunded. I hope the Minister will consider whether, if that individual is prepared to pay "back" contributions for ten years be will be placed under the scheme. Otherwise it is no compensation to him to say that he has had his contributions refunded. He has had only his own contributions refunded; he has not had any portion of the contributions paid by the local authority to the fund. In such a case a man ought not to be penalised for that period of ten years.

12.19 p.m.

Sir K. Wood

I shall endeavour to answer some of the questions put to me. So far as the case just mentioned is concerned, I will study it carefully and communicate with the hon. Gentleman. Where a man leaves a local authority in such circumstances he would receive his contributions back, together with interest, I believe, but I will verify that statement. On the question of emoluments, as raised by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), I have consulted my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and he takes the view, which I am sure we shall all accept, that that is the widest possible definition. I hope that statement will meet the point which the right hon. Gentleman made. A question was raised about the position of the smaller local authorities. There are in the Bill provisions which make it possible for the smaller authorities, in such circumstances as he mentioned, to associate with the larger authorities. I think it is obvious that it would not be desirable for a local authority with 50 or 60 employés to endeavour to set up a superannuation scheme of its own. Every one who has knowledge of these schemes knows that that is hardly a sufficient number. But I should be glad to go into the matter further with the hon. Gentleman if he desires it. My own impression is that a fund would have more stability and security with a much larger number of employés than that.

The only substantial point I have to meet was that which dealt with the position of people who served in His Majesty's Forces, and the reason why the privilege of a pension given by the Bill ceased, so far as they are concerned, after nth November, 1918. This matter was fully discussed in the Standing Committee and that Committee was satisfied with the explanation which was then given. In the first place this, of course, is not the first time that this matter has appeared in this form. The subject was fully discussed with representatives of the British Legion and the ex-service men in 1929, and Sub-section (3) of this Bill and the Proviso are closely modelled on the provisions of the Act of 1929. There was reason for it. So far as the provisions in this Bill are concerned I moved an Amendment in Committee to make it clear that War service within the meaning of the Section should be reckoned as service for local government pension purposes. The Amendment which I moved, in which this Proviso is included, was intended to make certain beyond any doubt that War service in that sense should be reckoned for superannuation purposes. The Proviso which I also moved was incorporated from the 1929 Act. The reason why that Proviso is included is simply this: It was considered right and proper, if a man who had served under a local authority decided to continue with the Army as a vocation, that the principle of reckoning the service, so far as the local authority was concerned, for pension purposes, would not be applicable.

Mr. Johnston

The right Hon. Gentleman has used the words "in the Army as a vocation."

Sir K. Wood

I am using my own words. A man decides at that particular time to continue with the Forces of the Crown. It was for that reason that a distinction was made and that is why it has been applied in this Bill just as it was in 1929. At the conclusion of the Debate the ex-service representatives expressed approval with the agreement that had been made, and it was after that discussion and those representations from them that I moved the Amendment to the Bill. Distinctions have to be drawn sometimes; one has to draw the line somewhere, and this has been generally agreed. I have received no representation from anybody that the line which was drawn in 1929 by arrangement and agreement was not satisfactory.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members for the support they have given to the Bill. I recognise that the Bill is complicated and difficult, and that without their assistance it would not have been possible to put it upon the Statute Book at this time. I claim that the Bill goes a considerable step forward, certainly so far as officers are concerned. The House may be satisfied that the Bill meets the long-expressed wishes of the officers of the country, and I think they will be gratified at our putting this Bil upon the Statute Book. Many of the employés would not desire to see compulsory conditions applied to them. There have been ballots upon occasion, but there has not been complete unanimity of opinion, as hon. gentlemen may be aware. The Bill is, however, a step forward so far as they are concerned, and local authorities will be able to bring in a measure of superannuation by a bare majority, in contradistinction to the two-thirds majority which previously had to be attained. I hope hon. Members will agree that there are many provisions which I have incorporated in the Bill which meet the desires and needs of the employés and I hope that the Bill will be of benefit to them. I again thank hon. Members for the consideration and the promptitude with which the Bill has been carried through, and I hope that it will do something worth while.

12.28 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

I apologise for raising a point of detail at this stage, but we have had no Committee stage or Report stage in this House, and Members who were not upon the Committee can raise points of detail only upon the Third Reading. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to look further into the question of the ex-service men, but before I do so I want to raise a small point upon Clause 34. I notice that the marginal note speaks of: Central Electricity Board and Joint Electricity Authorities. I cannot find any mention of the Central Electricity Board in the Clause, and it does not appear to be one of the undertakings referred to in the long title of the Bill. No doubt this is just a piece of careless drafting, and that the services of the other place will be used. On the question of the ex-service men I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what the position is. I understand that if a servant of a local authority was in the Forces at the time of the War, the period which he served is counted for the purposes of this Clause.

Sir K. Wood

Up to the date mentioned in the proviso.

Mr. Benn

No, it does not say so. The proviso applies only to men who voluntarily extended their term of service. The Sub-section says that a contributory employé who served in His Majesty's Forces during the late War shall have the period during which he so served taken into account. We know that at the end of the War many men were not demobilised for months, and clearly that was a period during which they so served. For that period, a man who was not allowed to leave the army gets the advantage of the Bill. Suppose it were a case in which he could have been demobilised, but was asked by his Commanding Officer to stay on, as very frequently happened, because it was inconvenient to demobilise him, and he, being a public-spirited man, said "I am willing to go on"; because he did that, he loses a privilege which is possessed by the man who did not do so. It appears to me that there is a clear case for the reconsideration of this point.

12.31 p.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I was on the Committee of this Bill and also on the Scottish Bill and, unfortunately, we did not spot this point. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, yes."] But not this aspect of it. I made a suggestion that instead of "eleventh day of November, nineteen hundred and eighteen," the day should be inserted of the official ending of the War, which was a substantial period later, although I forget the exact date. It would add about 12 months. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the suggestion can he accepted and possibly put in in another place, it might involve questions of privilege, but I imagine that this House would be willing to waive that privilege in this case.

12.32 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Terence O'Connor)

I rise to answer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn). The Parliamentary draftsmen's duties are exceedingly difficult and elaborate, and the draftsmen often come in for a good deal of ill-merited criticism from this House. The right hon. Gentleman's observation was one of that character. If he looks at Sub-section (2) of Clause 34 he will see that "the Board" is referred to. If his researches had carried him as far as that, he would have found that that was the Central Electricity Board. The drafting is therefore quite accurate. The point of substance which he raised will be reconsidered. While I can make no promise the matter will be the subject of consideration between now and the appearance of the Bill in another place to see that something can be done with regard to it.

Captain Ramsay

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would reply to a question which I put? If he should decide, as regards the English Bill, that tion with regard to ex-service men will he give us an assurance that he will not put pressure on the Secretary of State for Scotland with a view to having the Scottish Bill on all fours with the English one?

Sir K. Wood

My hon. Friend does not realise the strength of character of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.