HC Deb 29 May 1946 vol 423 cc1223-6
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Mr. Birch.

Mr. O. Poole

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Apparently you do not propose to call the Amendment to Clause 67 in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) and a similar Amendment in the names of several hon. Members opposite. In view of the very great importance of those two Amendments, I wonder whether you would indicate the reason you do not propose to call them.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The explanation is that Mr. Speaker has not selected them.

Mr. Birch

I beg to move, in page 62, line 8, at the end, to insert: Provided that before making any such modifications in or winding up any such scheme" as aforesaid, the appropriate Minister or Department or the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, as the case may be, shall consult with the persons affected by the scheme. Under this Clause, the appropriate Minister or the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, as the case may be, is given power to modify all types of existing pensions schemes. The object of this Amendment is to ensure that no scheme shall be modified in this way unless full consultation has taken place with all those affected. A great deal of anxiety has been expressed on the question of the modification of existing pensions schemes. Questions have been raised with regard to teachers, employees of local government, railways, public utilities, and so on. When we were discussing the matter in Standing Committee, the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Essex (Captain Gunter) asked for a categorical assurance that there would be no interference with existing schemes without the agreement of both sides, and the Parliamentary Secretary said that full consideration with both sides might not be always appropriate, because in some cases the management was not joint. I feel, however, that in an unusual case of this sort it is right that both sides, whether the management is joint or not, should be consulted before anything so fundamental as a pension right is modified. In his reply in Committee, the Minister said it was certainly his intention that consultation should take place. If that is his intention, I see no reason why it should not be written into the Bill. There is no reason why he should hide his good intentions under a bushel, and, therefore, I ask him to write this into the Bill and accept the Amendment.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I beg to second the Amendment.

This Clause gives very sweeping powers to the Minister to modify or wind up various pensions schemes. We all agree that it may be desirable in some cases to wind up these schemes, because the continuance of them might lead to hardship, and in some cases it might not be possible for those concerned to go on paying the necessary premiums; but I think it is most important to add the words of the Amendment to ensure that the persons affected are consulted. Surely, it would be wrong, if the majority of those affected wished the scheme to continue, to close it, contrary to all their wishes. One would feel that this was being done merely to suit a Government which is very anxious to put everything on paper and make everything look tidy, adjusting everything and everyone to its plans. I would not like to think that would occur under this Clause, and, therefore, I hope the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Lindgren

As both hon. Members opposite have said in their very fair observations, the matter was discussed very fully in Committee and it was also the subject of discussion during the Second Reading of the Bill. On the latter occasion I said, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that this National Insurance Bill in no way affects any existing superannuating scheme, pension scheme, insurance policy, or similar arrangement, and that it was the hope of my right hon. Friend that every fund and scheme which now exists will continue to exist in the same shape and form as at present. We realise nevertheless that modification might in fact be necessary in the case of certain schemes, since there is a limit to what a given wage can carry in insurance premiums.

The schemes concerned are governed by the rules of the scheme or the fund to which the persons belong, and this Bill does not interfere in any way with those rules, but there is power for those who decide by agreement on the modification of a scheme to obtain that modification through the appropriate Government Department, whether it be the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education or, in the case of a private pension fund, the Registrar of Friendly Societies. My right hon. Friend is in entire agreement with the intention of those who moved this Amendment, but the wording is a little too vague. We are advised that as the Amendment stands it would make it possible—even where there had been agreement between employers and employed in an industry—for a dissident few to hold up the adoption of a modified scheme agreed upon by a large majority. There has been consultation and I can say on the authority of both the Treasury and the Registrar of Friendly Societies, that in any modification that is considered or proposed representations which are made will be considered and there will be opportunity for consultation prior to the framing of any regulation. On that assurance of ample opportunity for full consultation for the interests concerned, I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite will withdraw their Amendment. As I have said, we are in full agreement with their intentions and are seeking to obtain the same end.

Mr. Birch

In view of that assurance I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave. withdrawn.