HC Deb 23 April 1948 vol 449 cc2224-9

2.45 P.m.

Mr. Assheton

I beg to move, in page 7, to leave out lines 42 to 44.

I wonder whether it might be convenient to the House if we discussed with this Amendment the next Amendment on the Paper, in my name, in page 7, line 44, at the end, to insert: (4) Where provision is made by any such rules for the amendment, repeal or revocation of any existing pension scheme or of any statutory provisions relating thereto or any trust deed, rules or other instrument made for the purposes thereof, or for the transfer or extinguishment of any liability under any pension scheme or for the transfer or winding up of any pension fund held for the purposes of any such scheme, the regulations shall be so framed as to secure that persons having pension right under the scheme, whether such persons as are mentioned in Subsection (1) of this Section or not, are not placed in any worse position by reason of the amendment, repeal, revocation, transfer, extinguishment or winding up. (5) Rules made under this Section shall not be invalid by reason that in fact they do not secure that persons having pension rights are not placed in any worse position by reason of any such amendment, repeal, revocation, transfer, extinguishment or winding up as is mentioned in the last preceding Subsection, but if the Minister is satisfied or it is determined as hereinafter mentioned that any such rules have failed to secure that result, the Minister shall as soon as may be make the necessary amending rules. Any dispute arising between the Minister and any person as to whether or not the said result has been secured by any rules made under this Section shall be referred to a referee or board of referees appointed by the Minister of Labour and National Service after consultation with the Lord Chancellor or, where the proceedings are to be held in Scotland, after consultation with the Secretary of State, for his or their determination thereon. The point raised is important. When the Transport Bill was going through its Committee stage, I took a considerable part in it. Although I failed entirely to obtain justice for the shareholders, I did have a certain amount of success in obtaining justice for the staff. We moved a great many Amendments, with the result that provision was made in that Act, and I believe there are similar provisions in the Coal Nationalisation Act—in respect of which I did not take such an active a part—to safeguard the position of the staff in their terms of employment and pensions. The object of these Amendments is to safeguard the position of those who are to work under the new Act which is to come into force in July.

I believe that a number of people employed by the industrial assurance and friendly societies will be affected by the Act and that their occupation or employment will be changed when the Act comes into force. I felt that it was desirable to try to give effect to my anxieties in this matter. As I read the Bill—I may be wrong and I want Ministers to correct me if I am—there is no protection in it such as is given by Section 98 of the Transport Act. It is desirable that protection should be given and that men should not be prejudiced by the change in their employers which is to take place in July.

I cannot help thinking that the Government may have overlooked this matter. If they have not, I suggest that they have behaved rather badly in not putting safeguards of this kind into the Bill. I understand that negotiations have been going on between the Government and representatives of the industrial and friendly societies. I hope to hear that as a result of those negotiations some satisfactory solution has been come to. Until I can hear from the lips of Ministers on the Front Bench what is intended, I do not know whether or not I need press this Amendment to a Division. I should, therefore, like to give way and hear what the Government have to say.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Steele)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) used a phrase which is the keynote of the reasons why we have not adopted the words in the Transport Act. He said that the occupation of the persons employed by the approved societies would be changed, and it is upon that keynote that I want to speak. The Transport Act and the other Acts deal with public bodies and the occupation of the staffs does not in itself change. For example, a stationmaster continues to be a station- master—and I hope a good stationmaster—under nationalisation. There is no change in his occupation. There are few superannuation schemes in the public bodies concerned and it is much better to continue those schemes as they are at present. No doubt in future many of those schemes will be merged but there will be time and opportunity for that to be done.

The position of the staffs of the approved societies is completely different. Here we have a complete change of function. The jobs of the staffs of the approved societies more or less disappear. They will then come over to the Civil Service, and we want to do here what we have done before in the matter of salaries and conditions on the transfer of staffs. The principle is that we should assimilate the salaries of the staff to the Civil Service scales so that we shall not have people with one kind of salary working beside another civil servant with another salary. The advice given to us by the Committee set up by the Minister has been that there should be a levelling up of all the inequalities of salary and so on that have existed in the approved society world.

The advice of the Advisory Committee in relation to superannuation has been somewhat similar—that in the wide variety of superannuation schemes there should be a levelling up and to arrive at this levelling up, there should be a merger of the Civil Service superannuation schemes. In effect, this has been accepted with gratitude by those concerned. In the negotiations there have been certain minor criticisms which can be dealt with in those negotiations, but satisfaction has been shown; and in point of fact, acceptance of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment would actually prevent the kind of merger which is visualised from taking place. It would therefore mean that the staffs of the approved societies would probably require to continue their old schemes, and 80 per cent. of them would be worse off than under the proposals in this Clause. The negotiations to which the right hon. Gentleman referred were conducted in a very happy atmosphere, and satisfaction was expressed by the people concerned and I do not think there will be any difficulty. I trust that with that explanation the right hon. Gentleman will now withdraw his Amendment.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

We are not altogether satisfied with what the hon. Gentleman has said. He has pointed out that there is to be a complete change of occupation for the members of approved societies, but that is not the point which concerns us most. We feel that justice should be done to everyone in so far as that is possible. The hon. Gentleman talked of a levelling up, but there will also be a levelling down in respect of about 20 per cent. We do not see why that should be so. If people have been contributing to some superannuation scheme, ought they not to receive the benefits to which they are entitled under that scheme? The merger about which the hon. Gentleman spoke seems to indicate that they will not receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

My right hon. Friend is particularly anxious that people should not be worse off. Surely justice is not done to people who have been paying a higher rate of contribution if their scheme is now merged and they receive smaller benefits than they would otherwise have done? I should have thought that it would have been possible for the Government to find ways and means of seeing that those people get the full benefits for which they have contributed. Maybe there is some other way of doing it, but I see no reference to it in the Bill. People should not be worse off under the national service than they have been in the past, and we should like to be satisfied about that. My right hon. Friend does not propose to divide the House on this, but we feel that the Government should pay further attention to the matter.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Steele

If I may speak again by leave of the House, when my right hon. Friend introduced the last Clause he indicated that this was a highly technical matter but that there were words in his Clause which had a very simple explanation. In moving this Amendment the right hon. Gentleman rather sought to get an assurance on a particular matter and I did not direct myself to all the technicalities of the provisions in this Clause.

May I assure the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the 20 per cent. whom I did not mention will not necessarily be levelled down. What I did try to indi- cate was that 80 per cent. would be better off. That was a general statement, so far as that matter is concerned, but the proposals, in effect, mean that there will be a merger of the old funds and the Civil Service fund. On the question of the 120-odd superannuation funds which at present exist—and many members of approved societies are not members of any superannuation fund at all—when I talked about levelling up one with another, I meant to say that many of these people who are not members of superannuation funds will come into the Civil Service and will get certain accrued rights in the Civil Service fund because of their years of service in approved society work, and there will be a general levelling up over the whole body of the staff coming into the Civil Service.

As to people not being worse off, here we come to the technicalities of the matter again. In the 120 superannuation schemes which exist at present, there are wide and varied benefits, and it would be impossible to say that no one might be worse off. What we are saying, in effect, is that, being merged into the Civil Service scheme, they will be getting accrued rights from their old society, and will, in the main, be better off in the Civil Service scheme. To protect the rights of individuals, however, we intend that the accrued rights which the person has under his old approved society superannuation scheme will be frozen at the date of transfer, so that these accrued rights which he has at that time will be there for him, and, in fact, he will then go on in the Civil Service earning new rights under the Civil Service pension scheme. Should he leave the Civil Service within a short period of years, he will then have an option, as he may elect to have the old rights under the old scheme or accept—what might be better—the new rights which he has earned by his service in the Civil Service. The whole problem is teeming with technicalities, and that is why the Minister of National Insurance set up an advisory committee, on which there are 14 members from the approved society world and 14 from the trade union world. They have now issued an interim statement to the Minister on this question, and consultations are now taking place with the trustees and are proving very satisfactory indeed. On the particular point raised by the right hon. Gentleman I did indicate that these negotiations had been completed satisfactorily, and, with that further explanation, I hope he will withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Assheton

In view of the assurances given by the hon. Gentleman, the express undertaking that I gather he has given that nobody is to be deprived of any of his rights and the fact that there will be further opportunities for this matter to be discussed in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.