HC Deb 29 February 1944 vol 397 cc1383-94

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Boulton.]

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

I wish to raise the question of the treatment of Civil Service pensioners, about which I gave notice two months ago. When the war began there was a vast increase in the public business of the State Departments, and that necessitated the finding of a large number of extra staff. One of the means through which it was sought to provide some of the extra staff was to ask pensioners from the Civil Service, who had completed their period of service and had gone out on pension, to come back and work in the public Departments for the period of the war. Many of them responded to that appeal, and have worked in Government Departments ever since. It is with the treatment of these people that I am concerned, and on which I want to elicit the sympathy and support of the House. Three conditions are applied to these men and women. The first is that during their period of reemployment in the war, whatever work they do, and whatever responsibility they carry, they cannot be promoted from the grade in which they were employed when they left the Service. In view of the fact that these men have had long experience, they can be used in work above the grade in which they were employed before they went out of the service, yet they cannot receive any sort of promotion. That is the first condition.

The second condition is, that, although they may stay in this war-time occupation for a very long period of time—nobody knows how long the war will last but I may say that the longest prediction I have yet heard is 30 years, which may be a bit on the long side—and although they may put in five, six or seven years' service, none of that service, however long it may be, is allowed to count towards increasing the pension that they had when they terminated their first period of service. Although many of them went out with less than a full pension, those five, or six years will have no effect in increasing their pension. Condition No. 3 is that, when they come back to the war-time occupation, their pensions come to an end, or rather, to be strictly accurate, are put into cold storage during the time of re-employment. What the officer gets is the wage that he was getting at the time when he left the service at the normal retiring age, and not a penny more than that.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

Even though he is doing higher grade work?

Mr. Brown

Automatically, he is limited to the salary he was getting at the time when he was retired.

Mr. Keelinģ (Twickenham)

Without the war bonus?

Mr. Brown

I was going to bring that in as my last point, but it is true that they do not even get the war bonus which is given to the rest of the service. I think the House will agree that this represents pretty harsh treatment.

The governing instrument of this treatment is an Act of Parliament passed in 1834, 100 years ago. The Superannuation Act, 1834, contains a Section which lays it down that if a civil servant, after retirement on reaching the age limit, subsequently comes back into Government employment, he gets the rate for the job, but his pension must be stopped while he is filling that job. Now 110 years ago is a long time, and I do not know what was in the mind of Parliament when it passed that Act. But it is not unreasonable to suppose that what the House had in mind was that, generally speaking, it is undesirable that a man who has completed 40 years' service, and has gone out with a pension, should then come back into some other Government employment and draw salary and pension simultaneously. There can be no doubt that that was the probable intention and purpose of the Act. In ordinary conditions, I should not want to quarrel with that purpose, but we must realise that the situation to-day is one in which we want to draw back into active employment as many of the pensioners as we can. That being so, we ought not to impose conditions that act as a positive deterrent, or make the men profoundly and justifiably dissatisfied if they respond.

The point I put to the House is reinforced if we look at the treatment which is given to other services. Let us first take these civil servants. One civil servant answers the appeal to come back. All he gets is the salary which he was getting in his last year of employment, and his pension is stopped. Another civil servant does not take on work with the Government, but does so with a local government authority. He continues to draw his pension, as well as the wage for the job. A third civil servant ignores the appeal altogether, and goes into private employment. He continues his pension, and also gets the rate for the job. Therefore, the more patriotic a man is the more we penalise him.

Compare that with two or three other categories, first with retired officers of the Armed Forces and then with officers of the police. In both those cases the summons has gone out to retired men to come back to their previous occupations. The officers of the Armed Forces, like the civil servants, have their pensions put into abeyance, so that they do not get salary and pensions simultaneously. But they are not limited to the salaries they were getting when they went out. These officers are given 25 per cent. above the salaries they were draWinģ when they retired on pension. So this category of State servant—officers of the Armed Forces—are very much better treated than the Civil Service pensioners.

Now take the police, a case which is even more striking. As the House knows, much of the money for the police forces of the country comes from Government sources. Some of it is from local rates and some is expenditure on the part of the Government. Many policemen have come back into some form of Government employment during the war. They have been found very useful as police in arsenals and armament factories. The policeman reaches his pensionable age much earlier than the civil servant, because he can get pension from the time he is 50, whereas the civil servant cannot normally get his pension until he is 60.

Mr. Mothers

The police pension is contributory.

Mr. Brown

I do not think it is, actually, because the police are covered by the same Acts as cover civil servants. However that may be, whether the pension is contributory or not, at least the State, the employer, pays part of the cost. When a policeman takes on a job in Government employment, he is allowed to retain his pension, and he gets the full rate for the job as well.

Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)

Does the hon. Member suggest that the Army officer is better treated as to pension than the civil servant?

Mr. Brown

He is better treated than the civil servant, and the policeman is better treated than both, because the policeman gets his pension, whatever it was, plus pay for the job.

Mr. Bull

The hon. Member would not suggest that the Army officer is properly treated, even so?

Mr. Brown

No, Heaven forbid. It is a general principle of mine that nobody is properly treated.

Mr. Bull

I suggest that the ex-Army officer is certainly not properly treated.

Mr. Brown

I quite agree. It is certainly no part of my purpose to suggest that the policeman should be as badly treated as the Army officer, or that the Army officer should be as badly treated as the still-worse treated civil servant. On the contrary, I am asking that the Army officer might be lifted up a little bit, and that the civil servant might be lifted up a little bit more.

The result of this arbitrary and unjust treatment has been that, in various branches of the State service, many men are unwilling to come back. One particular case is that of the Prison service. I am certain that the House has heard the Home Secretary, in reply to many criticisms of prison administration at Question Time, advance the reply, which I know to be true, that one of the great difficulties in the Prison service is the shortage of staff. One of the reasons for that shortage is the unwillingness of pensioners to respond to the plea to come back to the Government service, when their pension will be stopped, when in other quarters their pension is not stopped and they get the rate for the job.

Finally, under the heading of grievances; the poor pensioner coming back to the Civil Service is not even given the war bonus which is given to the ordinary civil servant. That, as briefly and as clearly as I can put it, are the grievances for which I would like to ask the support of the House, against the meanness, or the inertia, of the Treasury on this matter. I would like to tell the House that the Treasury have been asked to put this right, and their reply in substance is that the present situation results from an Act of Parliament, and that they are not prepared to advise the Chancellor to ask the House of Commons to pass an amending Act to put the situation right. I would like to think that I have every Member with me when I say that, if the Chancellor would produce a Bill, to void that Act of 1834 while the war lasts, he could do that in a one-Clause Bill which, I believe, would pass through this House with nothing but commendation.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

We may not in any way advocate legislation now, so we cannot talk about a one-Clause Bill.

Mr. Brown

No, Sir, I am not advocating this Bill—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No, the hon. Member is asking someone else, which is far worse.

Mr. Brown

I was asking somebody else to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope I am in order in asking that this grievance should be put right, and that the Government should take such steps as may be necessary to that end, and not to say "We can do nothing, because 110 years ago, Parliament in very different circumstances passed an Act," an Act which was directed to very different ends from those we are talking about now. In all these circumstances I ask the Financial Secretary to do the right thing. The Treasury will do the right thing in some matter some day spontaneously—it may drop dead shortly afterwards. I would like to believe it will do so during my lifetime. I hope very much on the case I have submitted to the House, it will be convinced that this body of men and women are receiving very bad treatment indeed.

Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

In two or three words I would like to say that through my own experience as a temporary civil servant I know there is a very strong feeling on this matter. I have seen a number of very hard cases go forward, and when they have got to the top they have been told, "We think you have a case, it is a very hard one, but nothing can be done because the regulations would not allow us." They have come to me and said "Cannot you people do anything about it? It is admitted we have a case, but because of a foolish regulation nothing can be done." The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) put his case very mildly for him, and fairly. I would like to support it because these regulations which apply in peace time, when it is a minor matter, assume a very different aspect in view of the situation which arises when men are urged to come back, pressed to do so as a patriotic duty, and then feel that had they not responded to the appeal and gone into civil employment they would have been so much better off. I do not like the Government being told that it treats its people less fairly than does industry.

Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)

I also would like as a temporary civil servant—now finished—for about two years to say there is a strong feeling of real injustice in this matter. I really cannot see why a man who has given his life and received, and justifiably and properly received, a pension for his work should be deprived of it because he comes back and does a job. Surely a man who comes back should have the right to have his pension and his pay for the job he is doing, or else to have his further service counted for his pension, so that he will have a longer period of time counted for pension. I do not mind which it is, but there ought to be one or the other. I do hope there will be the most careful consideration given to this point, and I would like to conclude by supporting everything which the hon. Member for Rugby has said.

Mr. Mathers

So say all of us.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I would like to associate myself very warmly with the plea made by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). It is difficult for those of us associated with industry throughout the country to understand why the Government have taken up this attitude towards temporary civil servants. I think my right hon. Friend ought to take a more generous view of the situation of people who have come into the Service from industry and rendered such admirable work during the progress of the war. I do not think it is generous or kind in respect of their responsibility to the Government to treat these servants in the way they are being treated now.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Assheton)

I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) will expect me to give an answer to the point he raises. He was dealing with temporary civil servants, and the principal matter which the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) raised was the question of the ex-permanent civil servant who is being re-employed. On some other occasion I would like to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend, The hon. Member for Rugby is always very frank with the House. He told us that it was a general principle of his that no one was properly treated. That may be a very useful principle for some people but not for me. I must maintain, and I am sure the House would agree, that in general the Government seek to treat their servants fairly.

I have listened with care to all he has put forward and to what has been said in support of him by two hon. Members. I shall naturally take a careful note of all that has been said. But there are one or two considerations I would like to put before the House so that they may perhaps see the case in a somewhat different light. In the first place I think the House ought to be reminded, as I am sure it has been reminded before on numerous occasions, of what was the origin of pensions for civil servants. It was that it was thought, and quite rightly thought, to be a scandal that those who had served the State faithfully for a considerable number of years should find themselves in indigent circumstances. That is a principle which has been applied for many generations now in this country. These pensions are granted by the State to its employees on their retirement and they are subject to the same sort of conditions which good employers would attach to pensions given to servants who had been in their employ for a long time. The House knows that civil servants' pensions are not contributory pensions, nor has a civil servant any statutory or contractual right to draw his pension in full in any and every circumstance.

Sir P. Hannon

Will the right hon. Gentleman forgive me? Surely when a man joins the Civil Service it is part of his understanding with the Government that his salary embodies consideration of his pension?

Mr. Assheton

I am only trying to put the case as it really is, and to make the point which is not always accepted but which the Government have maintained, and still maintain, that pensions are not deferred pay. That contention has not been accepted but the Government—

Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)

Surely it is to falsify the position the way the Financial Secretary has put it? It is a consideration as the hon. Gentleman has said. It is always a consideration in their remuneration.

Mr. Assheton

I am not trying to deny that a civil servant has every right to look forward to a pension. I am only trying to make the point that, as has been made in the House as recently as 3rd December by the Chancellor, the pension of a civil servant is not, in fact, deferred pay. However that may be I do not want to base this argument on the question of deferred pay. That argument may not be accepted by the House, and I understand that some hon. Members do not accept it. Even if a Civil Service pension were contributory, Parliament has never regarded that as a reason for not limiting a pension on re-employment by the same employer in the same sort of office. The Superannuation Act, 1834, which the hon. Member quoted, and which is the governing Statute, provided in fact for contributory pensions. That is not the position now. My hon. Friend referred to Section 20, and quoted the effect of the Section, but he did not, I think, give an exact account of what the Section does. It says: Provided always that in case any person enjoying any superannuation allowance, in consequence of retiring from office on account of age, infirmity, or any other cause, or enjoying any compensation for past services upon the abolition or reduction of office, shall be appointed to fill any office in any public department, every such allowance or compensation shall cease to be paid for any period subsequent to such appointment, if the annual amount of the profits of the office to which he shall be appointed shall be equal to those of the office formerly held by him, and in case they shall not be equal to those of his former office, then no more of such superannuation allowance or compensation shall be paid to him than what with the salary of his new appointment shall be equal to that of his former office.

Mr. W. J. Brown

That is what I said, in substance.

Mr. Assheton

In spite of the fact that in this Act they were dealing with contributory pensions, this Section was introduced because it was felt by the House then—and it has, I think, been felt by the House on many occasions since—not right that a civil servant who has retired and who has been re-employed should have the whole benefit of his pension and the whole benefit of the salary for the job he is doing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] It is not commonsense. Suppose an ordinary business employer, a good employer, gives a pension to a servant of his who has served him faithfully for some years, and then a year or two later, oWinģ to the war or through some other circumstances, employs that servant again; is it not reasonable to suppose that the employer will take the pension into account in fixing remuneration? I would like any Member acquainted with business to tell me whether that is not the case. I believe that it is. The Treasury, which is the guardian of the finances of the nation, has to think of these things in a commonsense way. I suggest that the Act of 1834 is not altogether without commonsense in this matter. We ought to satisfy ourselves before doing anything else—I should be going outside the rules of Order if I were to discuss legislation—that this Act is doing something which we think not right. It is not easy to deal with the matter in the time available. The State has had its man-power difficulties, and has asked an unusually large number of ex-civil servants to come to its help, and we are very grateful that they have done so. I do not accept the suggestion that ex-servants of the State are prevented from coming back on this account. I am happy to say that we find them extremely ready to serve the State in its hour of need. I would not like them to have to do so if it was causing them financial loss. It is not causing them financial loss. When they come back they receive a sum greater than their pensions, although it is not their full pension in addition to the full salary for the job.

Mr. Brown

It is not any pension.

Mr. Assheton

That depends on the circumstances. They receive a larger remuneration than they received as pensioners. I do not believe that the average civil servant who has come back to help in the war effort would wish to take advantage of the Government in this way. I do not believe that the ordinary civil servant who has been in the service of the State for some years, and has come back to help in the war, would think it right to receive not only the whole of his pension but the whole rate for the job.

My hon. Friend made a point with regard to serving officers and serving men generally. It may be a little difficult to understand why the distinction arises. There is in Service pension or retired pay an element of compensation for terminating a career at an exceptionally early date. That is an exceptional circumstance; it does not arise in the case of the ordinary civil servant. Men retire from the Army at an age when they still have much of their lives in front of them, and part of their pension is definitely attributable to the fact that they are receiving compensation for being deprived of the opportunity of continuing in the service which they have chosen. I should like to put another point, which is not unimportant. In the case of an officer, retired pay carries with it a liability to be recalled in an emergency. Those two points distinguish the pension paid to the soldier from the pension paid to the civil servant. My hon. Friend, I know, has in mind to ask whether that is the case with other ranks.

Mr. Brown

Granted that the officer is liable to be recalled, and the civil servant is not liable, but comes voluntarily, in response to an invitation, should the civil servant, who has no liability, be treated worse than the soldier, who has a liability?

Mr. Assheton

I was pointing out that there are different circumstances. Suppose a civil servant on pension goes into the Army—of which I had a case the other day—he receives the whole pension, in addition to the whole of his Army pay.

Mr. Brown

That makes it still more ridiculous.

Mr. Assheton

No, it does not make it ridiculous. We have to consider the case of a man employed in the same service as he was before. It is quite different when a man who was in the Civil Service is employed in the Army or a man who was in the Army is now employed in the Civil Service.

Mr. Wakefield

Surely he is worth more if he is again employed in the same job?

It being half an hour after the conclusion of Business exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order, as modified for this Session by the Order of the House of 25th November.