HC Deb 29 March 1939 vol 345 cc2175-81

Order for Second Reading read.

10.59 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernays)

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

I hope that this Measure will prove non-contentious, but no doubt the House would like an explanation of its purpose. The Bill is to amend in certain very limited particulars the provisions of the Local Government Sperannuation Act, 1937, and the Local Government Superannuation (Scotland) Act, 1937. These two Acts, both of which are of considerable length and very great complexity, superseded the great bulk of the existing law relating to the superannuation of local government officers, largely extended it, and made superannuation compulsory where before it had been permissive. At the same time the opportunity was taken to clear up a number of difficulties in the matter of superannuation which arose for the most part from the reorganisation of local government services effected by the Local Government Act, 1929. For practical purposes the two Acts come into operation, as regards England on 1st April next, and as regards Scotland on 16th May next. As the question was so complicated, a great deal of preliminary work has been necessary, and in the course of that preliminary work it has become apparent that in three minor points the language of the Acts does not carry out the intentions of Parliament, and that it would prejudice an appreciable number of employés of local authorities. The sole object of this Bill is to remedy these mistakes which, quite frankly, were made when the 1937 Bill was drafted. It is not the intention to deal in this Bill with the wide questions of local government superannuation which were thrashed out in the debates on the last Act, and any proposal of that kind, I understand, would be quite outside the scope of the Bill.

The three matters on which the Bill proposes to remedy mistakes in the present Acts are dealt with in Clauses 1, 2 and 3. Clause 1 deals with the question of reciprocity between England and Scotland. The Act of 1922 applied both to England and to Scotland, and an employé included in a superannuation scheme under that Act could in certain circumstances bring into account previous service under any local authority in either country. The same principle was adopted in 1937, and both the Acts of that year contained provisions enabling certain reciprocal arrangements to be made between England and Scotland, but the point was unfortunately overlooked that the effect of the repeal of the Act of 1922 and its replacement by separate Acts for the two countries is that in general only service under a local authority in the country in which the employé is serving can be reckoned for superannuation purposes, although he may have had previous service in the other country. In Clause 1 we seek to remedy this position. The first Sub-section remedies it so far as England is concerned by re-denning service as "service rendered to any local authority in either country," and Subsection (2) similarly re-defines service for the purpose of the Scottish Act.

Clause 2, which relates to the employés of certain institutions subject to the Act of 1922, refers to England only. The superannuation of persons employed in certified institutions for mental defectives is in general provided for under the Asylums Officers' Superannuation Act, 1909, as extended by the Asylums and Certified Institutions (Officers] Pensions Act, 1918. These employés are excluded from the Act of 1937 with one exception, namely, certain Poor Law employé's who remain subject to the Poor Law Officers' Superannuation Act, 1896. The effect was again unfortunately overlooked that a certain number of Poor Law employés exercised an option to transfer to the Act of 1922, and since that Act is repealed from 1st April next, they would cease to have any superannuation rights, and we are, as the House will realise, most anxious to put that position right. The object of this Clause is to bring this latter class of employés within the scope of the Act of 1937 and thus preserve their rights.

Clause 3 deals with the admission of certain employés of statutory undertakers to the benefits of the principal Act. This Clause again relates to England only. Here again I am afraid the point was overlooked that the repeal of the Act of 1922 would leave this class of employés without superannuation rights, and the object of the Clause is mainly to deal with a substantial number of persons, like tramwaymen, who might have been employed, say, by the West Ham local authority and then were transferred to the service of the London Passenger Transport Board on the setting-up of that body. Sub-section (1) defines the circumstances in which the Clause operates, and Subsection (2) enables the undertakers and the local authority from whose service the employés were transferred to submit to my right hon. Friend a superannuation scheme. Sub-section (3) provides for the scheme making the necessary modifications and adaptations of the Act of 1937 for securing that the superannuation rights of the persons concerned shall remain undiminished.

The Bill deals with certain limited classes of persons who were meant to be included in the Act of 1937 and who, we are now informed by our legal experts, are not covered by the wording of the Statute. Though the language of the new Bill is most complex, I hope that our objective is dear to the House. We naturally regret that these points were overlooked in the 1937 Act and that it has become necessary to bring this Bill before the House, but I am sure the House will agree that it was right for us to do this and that it will support us in putting these matters right.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

This is a Bill to put right the defects of three Acts passed three years ago, and for this act of reparation I think the House will be thankful. There is nothing in the Bill which, as I understand it, was not intended in the English, Welsh, and Scottish Acts of 1937. As it appears that the Act as it stands on the Statute Book would not have carried out what was the intention of Parliament, and this Bill rectifies that omission by including certain classes of people who would have been excluded under the terms of the 1937 Act, I think the House will be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading and hope for its speedy passage into law.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot

The Parliamentary Secretary has made what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) would call a frank avowal of error, and we should thank him for the admission that even his Department and the draftsmen whom his Department employs are not always in- fallible. This is a useful and necessary Measure and, as far as we are concerned, we would not offer any opposition to it. Clause 1 is very necessary because it was the aim of the two Acts that were passed in 1937 to increase mobility in the local government service, and I am entirely in favour of anything in the nature of free movement from England to Scotland, or even possibly vice versa. I should like to put a question on Clause 3. The Minister is enjoined to make schemes, and I take it that it is intended that the undertakers into whose service the officer has passed will make contributions to the local authority's fund.

There are two matters which, it seems to me, ought to be dealt with, and even if it is not possible to deal with them in this Bill, which I understand it is desired to pass as quickly as possible, I hope it will be dealt with at some not too distant time. Section 16 of the English Superannuation Act, 1937, and the same Section in the Scottish Act provided for the superannuation rights of female nurses, midwives and health visitors. Certain provisions are made in respect of those classes of persons. It is laid down that the age of retirement shall be 60 instead of 65 and that they may retire on superannuation at 55 on completion of 30 years' service. It is also provided that where a nurse, midwife or health visitor retires at 60, not having completed the 40 years' service, the employing authority may make up the amount to which she would be entitled if she had completed her full term of years. As I understand the present position, it is that where a local Act authority may have thought fit to adopt Part I of the Act of 1937 and may have substituted the scheme of Part I for its own local Act scheme, the difficulty which may arise in practice is that it can only adopt Part I as a whole. It would be an advantage to these classes of persons if it were made possible for a local Act authority to adopt Section 16 by itself and thus make this particular provision for these three classes of persons.

There is one other difficulty which may possibly arise under the administration of these Acts, and is, in fact, certain to arise. The local Act authorities are in a sense in a privileged position. Under the 1937 Act, where an officer is in the service of an authority governed by Part I of that Act, the whole of the officer's previous service is reckonable for superannuation service even if it has been with some other local authority or authorities; but in certain cases under local authority Acts the prior service is not reckoned, and that may occasion some difficulty in this way. Supposing there was an officer who had at some time before 1st April this year left a Part I authority in order to go into the service of a local Act authority, and after the 1st April this year he makes a further transfer and goes back into the service of a Part I authority. When he comes under the superannuation scheme of his new employers he is entitled to count for superannuation purposes all the years he has spent in the service, but the transfer value is only payable by the local Act authority in respect of the years that he has spent with them. They do not have to pay the transfer value in respect of the years which he spent with his first employers. That creates the difficulty that the authority to which he goes will not get the full transfer value in respect of all the years of service, as they would have done if they had taken him from the employment of a Part I authority. That might conceivably militate against his chances of getting the post for which he was applying. I understand that this Bill is a matter of some urgency, because it is necessary that it should pass into law by 1st April, but I hope that these difficulties, which may possibly arise in future, will be borne in mind by the Ministry of Health, and that they will not be weary in well doing and try to deal with this question at an early opportunity.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I join with what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) about the desirability of getting this Bill on to the Statute Book at an early date, but I am sorry to say that there is one other case besides those mentioned which the Ministry of Health have not found it possible to include, and that is the case of the supplementary teacher in a non-provided school. I had something to do with the representations which were made to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in office with regard to the inclusion of these teachers, and I do not think that either the Minister of Health or any other Member who gave a moment's attention to this matter when the Bill was going through thought that the extraordinary ruling which has been given by the Ministry about these cases would have been justified under the law. The amazing anomaly could not have been contemplated by anyone who had regard to the justice of the case. The supplementary teacher is very largely the victim of the education system since 1870. She is a woman over 18 years of age who has been vaccinated and, having been vaccinated, is regarded as being suitable to teach in a rural school. No man who has been merely vaccinated is regarded as being suitable as a teacher, but a woman who has been vaccinated can teach in a rural school if she is approved by His Majesty's inspector. If she is employed in a council school, she can count her service in that school, and in every other council school, for the purpose of superannuation benefit, but because of a curious anomaly in the law, if she teaches in a voluntary school, she is the servant, not of the local education authority, but of the managers, and can only count her service under the particular body of managers with whom she is at the moment serving.

In view of the changes that have been taking place in the educational world of late years under the Hadow scheme of reorganisation, very substantial injustice has been inflicted on a number of these women. For the benefit of the educational service they have been removed from one school to another. They may have been removed from a council school into a voluntary school or from one voluntary school to another, and purely for that reason it has been held by the Ministry of Health, in a ruling that they have given, that these women can only have their service recognised for the voluntary school in which they are at the moment teaching.

This anomaly arises out of a peculiarity of the educational law and administration that nobody can for a moment defend on any plea of fair dealing between employer and employed or between the State and its servants. It is a matter of regret to me. I was very largely educated by supplementary teachers. I was brought up in the pre-1902 days and the managers employed the cheapest teachers they could find. These women were the cheapest who were available and I regarded it as one of the greatest achievements of my life when I was able to bring supplementary teachers of my county, including two who had been my own teachers, into the Superannuation Act Scheme of 1922. These women have given very many years of service in difficult schools and difficult circumstances, to the education of the country, and I hope that it is not beyond possibility to get this singular anomaly removed during the Committee stage of the Bill. I earnestly ask the Minister whether it is not possible—I cannot see why it is not —at the very earliest moment to remove an anomaly which is causing a very great deal of feeling among the women affected. They are outside any powerful organisation; the National Union of Teachers and the National Union of Women Teachers do not admit them to membership. They are entitled to that measure of justice from this House which everyone thought had been extended to them when they were brought under the Act of 1937, and they should not be deprived of the benefit of many years of past service by the Ministry's astounding ruling.

11.24 p.m.

Mr. Bernays

If I may, by leave of the House, speak for a minute more, I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and other hon. Members for the charming way in which they have accepted our confession of past error and are co-operating with us to put that error right. In regard to the two points raised by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), I would only say that we are putting right in this Bill no fewer than three anomalies. I recognise that there may be other anomalies, but it would not be possible to include them in a Bill and get the Bill passed in the necessary time. I can say that the points which have been raised are in our minds, and that my right hon. Friend has taken careful note of the representations that have been made. In any future legislation they will be most carefully borne in mind.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Friday. — [Mr. Stuart.]