HC Deb 10 June 1937 vol 324 cc2087-94

Order for Second Reading read.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

A remarkable distinction about this Bill is that it is a purely Scottish Measure. By a somewhat curious anomaly it is not uncommon in our deliberations to find a United Kingdom Bill referring almost entirely to purely Scottish matters and a purely Scottish Bill referring to United Kingdom matters. It will be, I think, for the convenience of the local authorities and their officers who will have to work under the provisions of this Statute that the Scottish Superannuation schemes should be brought together in a single Scottish Bill. This Measure could have been presented as a long-drawn-out and complicated application Clause in the English Bill which will be before the House for its Second Reading to-morrow, but I think it is better draftsmanship and a more workmanlike job to put all the Scottish provisions together and to make of it one Scottish Bill which will, no doubt, proceed pari passu with the English Bill which the House will consider to-morrow, and I can see no harm in the Scottish Bill getting in first.

I think we can dispense with any long discussion on the Bill at this stage, since an opportunity will arise for discussing the general principles to-morrow on the English Bill. But in spite of the fact that every Scottish Member is a Member of the Scottish Standing Committee, to which this Bill will go, and will there be able to take part in the discussion of it, I think it will be as well that I should say a few words on the general principle underlying the Measure. The Bill is a comprehensive one. It amends the existing statutory provisions and also consolidates them, and in that respect it will be of great convenience to the local authorities of Scotland and the many officers affected by the Measure. The main new proposal to which the Bill, if passed, will give effect is that superannuation should be compulsory in the case of all whole-time officers of local authorities in Scotland. By "whole-time" we mean those categories of employé who mean local government service their career. The term embraces the administrative and professional officers, and also the clerical staff, from among whom the more import ant posts are normally filled.

According to the latest returns over 10,000 persons, that is to say about 70 per cent. of those officers, are at present covered by schemes which have been voluntarily adopted by local authorities under the Local Government and Other Officers' Superannuation Act, 1922, and by local Acts. The remaining 30 per cent. will be covered under this Bill, and they number about 4,400. So this is a Measure of some importance. Local authorities will retain the discretion they already possess to superannuate their other employés, but the machinery for bringing them into superannuation will be simplified, and their position will be improved in certain respects. All past service will be reckonable for superannuation, and periods of unemployment, and absences on sick leave involving reduction of pay, will be ignored.

There are two separate Scottish points to which I should like to draw attention. In the first place, it is proposed that the minimum number of officers to be covered by a scheme should be 50. Under the English Bill the minimum number is l00. It is desirable for actuarial reasons to have as large a number of people covered by a scheme as possible, but the smallness of many Scottish authorities when compared with those in England makes it necessary, if we are to get a workable arrangement, to have a smaller minimum number. It will be generally agreed throughout the House that the number of small Scottish authorities is very much greater than the number of small English authorities. In the second place, we make provision in the Bill for local authorities to act jointly in cases where they have not themselves a sufficient number of employés to make a separate scheme. All the small towns have fewer than 5o whole-time officers in their employment, so, for this purpose of this Bill, they will be used as employés of the county councils.

Those were the two specific points in which the Bill differs from the English Measure. No doubt Amendments will be moved, and in some cases carried, when the two Bills pass through the Committee, and therefore I am anxious that the Scottish Bill should be under consideration at the same time as the English Bill. Otherwise there is a danger of Amendments previously carried to one Bill not being included in the other. It is proposed to fix a day from which the Bill will operate. That appointed day is 16th May, 1939. With those few words of explanation, it should be possible for the House to let us have the Bill.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Westwood

; Scottish Members on this side of the House welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland that we are to have a separate Bill dealing with superannuation for Scotland. That will enable us to get the details before us in the Scottish Standing Committee in order to deal with a subject which is of importance to local authorities as well as to those employed by local authorities. We have been told by the Secretary of State for Scotland that the Bill is comprehensive; our complaint is that it is not comprehensive enough. It makes provision onlyfor officers of local authorities and still leaves it optional for the local authorities to bring their ordinary employés within their schemes. I have been a member of two local authorities which took advantage of the 1922 Act, the old Fife Education Committee and the Kirkcaldy Town Council, of which I am now a member. In both those cases the authorities took advantage of the Act of Parliament, which left it optional for them to provide superannuation for their employés. We brought within the scope of our schemes all our employés, from the janitor to the clerk of the education authority in one case, and, in the case of Kirkcaldy Town Council, from the lowest paid workman to the highest official of the Town Clerk's Department. The complaint which we have on this side of the House is that the Bill makes compulsory the provision of superannuation for the officials but leaves it optional to the local authorities to bring in their wage earners, or the servants, as they are referred to in the Bill.

One or two points in the Bill will require further consideration in Committee. Let us first of all examine the history of superannuation in its application to Scotland. It has applied only since the 1922 Act, and very few authorities, speaking comparatively, have taken advantage of the optional Clause. I think I am speaking on behalf of local authorities when I say that that fact is not because local authorities do not desire to provide a superannuation scheme either for their officials or for the wage earners, bit because the 1922 Act made no financial provision to enable local authorities to bring in their superannuation schemes. Exactly the same may be said of the so-called comprehensive Bill now before us. It definitely imposes compulsorily a new charge upon local authorities. In the past, it was optional for them to provide superannuation for their employés. When this Bill is placed on the Statute Book it will be compulsory for them to provide superannuation for their officials; yet no financial provision is made by the State to assist local authorities to meet these new financial obligations. Negotiations were carried out with at least three of the representative local authorities before the Bill was introduced. I happened to be in the fortunate position of receiving, not only the secret memorandum dealing with electricity organisation, but also this secret Superannuation Bill. Both came into my hands, not as a Member of the House of Commons, but because I happened also to be a member of the negotiating bodies which had to deal with these particular proposals.

As regards superannuation, communications were sent to the Convention of Royal Burghs, and it is true that they are accepting the provisions of the Bill; but the Convention of Royal Burghs, good as its work may be, is sometimes influenced too much by the official side, because at least 50 per cent. of those who constitute it are themselves officials of local authorities, whom they have pledged to compulsory superannuation for officials, while they have left it optional for local authorities to provide superannuation for their employés. The officials do not always argue the case of the employés, or even the case of the local authorities, and I question whether the Superannuation Bill which was submitted for consideration was ever placed before a single local authority in Scotland. As I have said, it met with the approval of the officials who were going to be provided for, but they were not prepared to put up a fight to bring in the low-paid workers and the ordinary servants of the local authorities. I think these facts ought to be kept in mind when the Bill reaches its Committee stage. Superannuation is necessary for a free and good working arrangement in connection with local government. You can only get the greatest efficiency if your officials and employés have security, and that can best be secured, so far as the principle we are discussing is concerned, by the provision of a proper superannuation scheme. Today there are many anomalies. In some instances there is a superannuation scheme for certain sections of the employés of a local authority, while for other sections of the same authority there is no scheme.

I asked for a return from the late Sir Godfrey Collins, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, of the number of authorities in Scotland that had provided superannuation schemes for their employés. One of the authorities mentioned was the authority of Fife. The authority of Fife has not provided a scheme for all its employés, but only carries on a scheme to which effect was given by the old education authority, and which was carried on by the Fife County Council when it took over the old education authority's responsibility. But within three days of my receiving that answer the Fife County Council itself turned down a superannuation scheme for its other employés. In Fife, therefore, we have this anomalous position, that a janitor working under the education authority is provided with a superannuation scheme, while a janitor working in a library under the Fife County Council has no superannuation scheme. Nobody can justify an anomaly of that kind, but it is typical of the anomalies that exist in Fife at the present time.

There is one other particular weakness in the Bill to which I would draw the special attention of the Secretary of State. There is to be a 5 per cent. contribution from all employés who are brought within a scheme of superannuation, irrespective of whether they are officials with £800 or £1,000 a year, or poor janitors or street workers with only £3 a week. I think this is wrong. It would be a wise thing to have a slightly lower contribution from the low wage earner, and the argument for that I shall be able to give when the Bill reaches Committee. I suggest 5 per cent. for the official but only 4⅙ per cent. for the low wage earner. The officials are going to get a far larger amount out of the superannuation fund because they get it on their highest salary, whereas the ordinary worker has the same wages for 20 or 30 years. Generally speaking, we on this side welcome the principle contained in the Bill. We shall not divide against it but we shall do our best in Committee to make it a still better and more workable Bill than it is at present.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Foot

We on this side of the House also welcome the Bill. As is shown by the Memorandum issued with it, something like 12,000 out of some 16,000 whole-time officers are already covered by authorities which either have a local Act scheme or have adopted the Act of 1922, and in our view it is high time that superannuation for local government officers was made universal. I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken that it is a matter for regret that it has not been found possible in drafting the Bill to bring in servants and part-time officers, but it seems to me, that, even as far as they are concerned, the Bill represents an advance, because by Clause 3 (2, b) it is provided that persons may be included in the scheme who are servants or part-time officers of a local authority and who belong to a class or description authority have by a statutory specified as a class or description the members of, or persons falling within, to be contributory employees. I take that to mean that any local authority can bring in part-time officers and servants by a simple resolution. I think that, certainly in some districts, that has not been the case up to now. Under Clause 12 (4) it is provided that contributory employés shall be entitled, on payment of a sum of money, to reckon the whole of their non-contributory service. I think that is an extremely valuable provision which will be greatly appreciated by those concerned. It is made clear that the Bill covers every whole-time officer. I think that is also a valuable provision, because it means that there is to be no distinction, as far as superannuation is concerned, between the permanent and the temporary officer. It has happened in some cases in the past that a local authority may have drawn a distinction between one class of officer and another by making a certain category temporary officers, simply appointing them from year to year, and in that way keeping them outside the boundaries of its superannuation scheme. Under the Bill as I read it, that will not be possible in future and every officer whose employment is other than merely casual will come within the benefit of the superannuation scheme.

It seems to me that the chief recommendation of the Bill lies not so much in the advantage that it will bring to the officers concerned as in the advantage that it is going to bring to the public service in the localities, because at any rate it means that there is going to be far greater mobility in the local government service than there has been in the past. We have up to now, under the 1922 Act and under local Acts both in Scotland and in England, had a system under which some local authorities have a scheme and others have not, and the schemes were not always the same. The inevitable result was to restrict the movement of officers from the service of one authority to the service of another. An officer was always afraid and reluctant to go from an authority which had a superannuation scheme to an authority which had not, because of the risk of losing his superannuation rights, to which he had made probably considerable payments over a large number of years. I think that that has been a considerable hindrance in the development of the local government service, and the provisions in this Bill, particularly those for transfer values, will, I think, obviate that difficulty in the future. For these reasons, we who sit in this part of the House welcome the Bill and hope that it will speedily pass into law.