HC Deb 27 February 1948 vol 447 cc2313-24

Order for Second Reading read.

1.7 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

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

During the war civil servants, local government staffs who were pensionable, and pensionable teachers were able to count for superannuation purposes any time which they spent on National Service. The main object of this Bill is to continue that practice into peace. The right to count National Service during the war was, so far as local government authorities staff and pensionable teachers were concerned, authorised by legislation which this House passed in 1939, and which authorised this practice to continue for the duration of the "present emergency." I should perhaps make it clear that the "present emergency," so far as this legislation is concerned, is not yet at an end, but it will come to an end some time. When it does, we shall be able under this Bill, if it is agreed to and becomes an Act, substantially to continue the same provisions for these two classes of public servants.

In the Civil Service, the legal position has been rather different and somewhat more complex. During the war, and up to July, 1947, civil servants drafted into one or other form of National Service continued to receive the balance of their civil pay. They remained, in fact, civil servants. This arrangement at the time received the full approval of Parliament. Departments were thereby enabled to keep civil servants on their books and individuals were enabled to count for superannuation purposes any time which they spent in National Service during the war. Since last July, however, it has been decided that the wartime practice of making up civil pay should be stopped. As a result of this, the Government have no authority in law to reckon for superannuation purposes the National Service of the members of the Civil Service who are now going into the Armed Forces. The House will, I am sure, wish for some provision to be made for such service to continue to be counted towards pension, and provision for this is therefore made in Clause 1 of the Bill.

It will be noted that the Bill is entitled "Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill" because we have taken the opportunity; while putting this matter right, to make other minor, but nevertheless very useful, changes in the superannuation code of the public services. For example, provision is made to facilitate the interchange of staff in suitable cases between local authorities, or between a local authority and the Civil Service, or between the Civil Service or a local authority and one of the national boards, or between a local authority and the teaching profession, if such interchange should become desirable, as it sometimes does. One of the bars against a free interchange has sometimes been the question of what would happen to a man's superannuation. At present, in many cases, it means that the man who transfers takes with him the pension rights which have accrued to him: these rights are, as it were, put into compartments, and he may be drawing two pensions if he has been employed by two different public authorities.

In this Bill we make it possible for machinery to be set up to interlock any pension rights which have accrued, and bring them under one umbrella, whatever form of public service the man has been in, provided that that form of public service has been pensionable. Sometimes a person has transferred from one form of public service to another, and has lost all pension rights in respect of his first employment. That is not fair to the individual concerned. If possible, we should try to provide against that. The new arrangements will not only preserve and improve the lot of the individual, but will also make it possible to ensure that superannuation difficulties do not hinder him from serving the country in the capacity for which he is best fitted. In Clause 3, powers are taken to enable the Minister of National Insurance to make rules in respect of pensions payable to staff who have been employed by an approved society, or in similar employment, and who have joined the staff of his Ministry under the new Act. That, I am sure the House will agree, is a right and proper thing to do.

We also take powers to put right certain injustices which some of us feel exist in the pension code. We hope, later on, to introduce another Superannuation Bill covering a wider field than this Measure, and we hope that its introduction will not be long delayed. But here we are taking the opportunity of putting one or two things right, which in our view need putting right at the earliest possible moment. Into this category comes what some hon. Members and one union believe to be an injustice against the men known as the "K" company class. We are also doing something to improve the pensionable rights of men who come over from the war agricultural executive committees or to the Assistance Board, and of others who were in the Safety in Mines Research Board. These and other sections, who, for one reason and another, have found themselves outside, or badly treated by, the present superannuation code, are dealt with by various Clauses of the Bill.

On the face of it, this may look a rather complicated Measure, and no doubt many points will arise on the Committee stage. I have deliberately refrained from going into detail, because it appeared to me that the proper time to raise those points and to discuss them would be the Committee stage. I heartily commend the Bill to the House.

1.16 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton)

There is a great deal in this Bill with which I and my hon. Friends agree although we put down an Amendment, which you, Sir, have not seen fit to call. The Amendment is: That, in the opinion of this House, the Bill is unjust in those provisions which relate to intending teachers and other professional students and this House therefore declines to accord it a Second Reading. We very much welcome Clause 6, which apparently gives the emergency trained teachers an opportunity for qualifying for pensions by reducing the number of qualifying years. We also welcome Clauses 7, 8 and 9, which bring into pensionable service a great deal of service which so far has been outside the scope of pensionable service. We wish to point out, however, that Clause 1 is unfair to the intending teacher. It lays down that civil servants, local government employees and teachers who are in contributory service when called up for National Service, will be allowed to have their years of National Service included for pensionable service. There is a further concession that if a civil servant has passed his qualifying examination before being called up, he is allowed to have that year counted. In the case of teachers it will be almost impossible for an intending teacher to be in contributory service before he is called up for National Service. He does not come into contributory service in the ordinary course of events until he has left college and begun teaching. As a rule, he does not leave college until he is 20 and in some cases 21 or 22.

If we compare the case of the intending teacher who is rejected from military service with that of the intending teacher who is accepted, we find that the former will leave college at the age of 20, and by the age of 60 will have completed 40 years service, and be qualified for full pension. On the other hand, the teacher who is accepted will not leave college until the age of 21 at the earliest, and by the age of 60 will have completed only 39 years service. On retiring at 60, he would lose one-eightieth of his pension, and one-thirtieth of his lump sum, an amount varying from £7 to £10 a year for pension, and from £15 to £30 for lump sum, according to the grade which he occupied at the time of retirement.

Through being called up for one year's National Service the intending teacher will lose a substantial amount in his pension unless this Clause is modified. Nor do the losses of the teacher who is called upon to do one year's National Service end there, because he comes out of college a year later than the teacher who is not called upon to do one year's National Service, and he will lose one year's salary, and for 17 years during which he is on the incremental portion of the scale he will lose £15 a year. If we add all these losses together the teacher is fined something like £600 for having been called upon to do one year's National Service.

Indeed, it may be worse than I have indicated, because in the White Paper on National Defence which has just been issued it is stated that in future young men will be called upon for National Service at the age of 18 years nine months, so that by the time the teacher has done his one year's National Service his age will be 19 years nine months. It is not to be supposed that the end of his National Service will happily coincide with the beginning of the college year, and after he has completed his National Service he may have to wait for six, nine or II months before he can enter college, and he will leave college not at the age of 21 but at the age of 22 or perhaps even 23. He will lose not one year's pensionable service but two perhaps three.

In the lucid and interesting speech which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury made in opening this Debate he said that the Bill continued the practice and practically the same provisions as before. That is not so. So far as the intending teacher is concerned the provisions of Clause 1 worsen the existing situation, because under the Superannuation Schemes (War Service) Act, 1939, it was provided that if a teacher left college and went into the Forces before he entered into contributory service, his period of service in the Forces would count for pension, which is not the case under this Bill. It was also further enacted in the 1939 Measure that if a teacher interrupted his training in college for the purpose of service in the Forces, that service would count as pensionable service. So, on the whole, this Bill inflicts considerable injustice upon intending teachers, as compared with civil servants and the employees of local government authorities, and it does worsen the present position.

I suggest to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, firstly, that the same concession might be made to intending teachers as is being made in this Bill to civil servants, that if the intending teacher has passed the qualifying examination which will admit him to a training college before he is called upon for National Service, his year of National Service should count as pensionable service. I am aware that there is a difference between the pensions scheme of teachers and that of civil servants in as much as the civil servant, happily, has a non-contributory pension scheme whereas the teachers' pension scheme is contributory. I suggest to the Financial Secretary that it might be possible for him to make arrangements by which a teacher could buy himself in for that one year's pensionable service by contributing £15–5 per cent. of the first year's salary. I know that if he were allowed to do that he would have to contribute another £15–5 per cent. of the salary he actually received in the first year after entering into contributory service—and would also have to pay the £11 10s. contribution under the National Insurance Scheme, which would make a contribution, in his first year of service, of something like £42. That would be rather a heavy contribution. Possibly he might be allowed to buy himself in by paying this additional £15 in instalments which might be spread over four or five years.

Clause 1 of the Bill, as at present drafted, is most inequitable to intending teachers and needs some amendment to give what would be reasonable justice to them. I am glad to see the Minister of Education in his place. He is regarded by the teachers of England and Wales as their natural protector, and so far he has not disappointed them in that expectation. I hope that he may perhaps be able to soften the stony hearts of the Treasury and persuade them to make some reasonable amendment to this Bill which will give greater justice to teachers than it does at present. As the Bill is drafted it does justice to local government employees and civil servants, a justice which we welcome, but it certainly does not do justice to intending teachers, and I hope that it may be modified in order to achieve that.

1.26 p.m.

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury explained this Bill to us very carefully. I have been much interested in listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley). The Bill certainly appears to effect some desirable reforms and to remove certain anomalies, and I think will make it easier for the Administration to move people about within various services for which they now have responsibility. So, on general grounds, I certainly support the Bill, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friends behind me do so, too.

There are, of course, a number of detailed points in the Bill. It is not an easy Bill to read. Some of the Clauses are not too easy to understand, and they refer to a great many previous enactments, all of which have to be studied in conjunction with this Bill if one is to make oneself entirely familiar with the consequences which would ensue from it. When the Committee stage arrives I may wish to ask some questions. I shall want to know how the employees of the nationalised industries are affected, and to what extent, if any, private employers are affected. I do not intend to ask the Minister of Education, who I know is to say a word later in this Debate, to deal with these matters now. It would be more appropriate for us to deal with them all during the Committee stage.

The point which the hon. Member for Southampton raised is obviously most important. I have no doubt that the presence of the Minister of Education on the Treasury Bench today at any rate justifies me in drawing the conclusion that he is aware of the importance of it. There will have to be some further discussions between the Ministry of Education and the Treasury to see whether they cannot work out something. I know very well how just, though occasionally hard, the Treasury are. I have no doubt that the Minister of Education will use all his persuasive powers to overcome any reluctance there may be on the part of the Financial Secretary to make some modification in this matter. I do not altogether accept the mathematics of the hon. Member for Southampton. He may be right but, at first glance, I do not think he is. Certainly, there is substance in the point he raised, and it is one which must be considered. I do not think that in principle the Bill is wrong on this matter. There may be some way in which this difficulty can be met by Amendment of the Bill without damaging the important principle which, quite rightly, the Financial Secretary obviously intends to defend. If the Minister of Education finds it possible to say that this point will be examined again, then, I shall be very glad that this Bill should have a Second Reading without a Division.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I wish to associate myself with the words of the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley) and to say how gladly I welcome the attitude taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) I remember being on deputations to him when he was at the Treasury. I found him rather hard. I am glad that, now he is on the opposite side of the House, we shall have his co-operation in putting this matter right.

I do not intend to go into details—my hon. Friend did that—but I cannot understand why teachers are mentioned in this Bill. As I understand it, they would be in exactly the same position if they were not mentioned at all. It is clear that, in the case of this small section of people, there is an injustice. I hope that the Minister will make some response to the suggestions made by the right hon. Member for the City of London and to the pleas we are making. I do not expect him to give any details today about what might happen, but I hope he will be able to say that the door is open and that there is some hope of persuading the Treasury that these people should be treated with justice and equity.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)

I agree with this Bill because it seems to be a further indication, if that were necessary, of the desire and determination of the present Government to try to remove the anomalies and many grievances which to my knowledge, have existed in the Civil Service for well over 30, if not 40, years. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will recall that when we were debating the Pensions Increases Act, 1946, I brought to his notice two very real major grievances which I thought called loudly for urgent and sympathetic consideration. The first referred to the services given by men in the old "K" Company of the Royal Corps of Signals. The second referred to assistant postmen who were subsequently appointed as full-time postmen and who received no credit whatever, from the point of view of pension, for their service as assistant postmen prior to full-time establishment.

I am pleased to note that in Clause 4 (1, c) the Government have decided to remove at least one of the grievances to which I referred in the previous Debate. I note with considerable satisfaction that, as far as the men from the old "K" Company are concerned, it is the purpose of the Government to remove the injustice. This brings to a close an agitation which has been proceeding since 1902. The men who have been interested in the matter have tried from time to time to obtain the sympathy of Members of this House. I believe that at one period there were as many as 200 hon. Members who not only acknowledged the validity of the claim of these people, but also pledged themselves to support their claim to the Government of the day. In addition, the question was considered by the Holt Committee in 1913. It is interesting to remember that the Holt Committee expressed entire approval of the claim that these people should have this service counted for pensionable purposes. I think it is true to say that the Chairman of that Committee, Mr. Holt, after hearing the evidence, took a very active part in support of the agitation for the removal of this grievance.

I would point out that nothing whatever happened during the intervening years so far as this worthy cause was concerned. I take some pride in the fact that a Labour Government, in the very short time in which they have been in power, have tried to remove some of these longstanding grievances. I express my thanks to the Financial Secretary for the manner in which he took up this case following the earlier Debate, and the sympathetic way in which he and his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer have dealt with the grievances.

Having said that, I am sorry to find it necessary to tell him that I am disappointed, as he is a personal friend of mine, that he did not proceed to deal with the second grievance which I enumerated in that Debate. I refer to the service of assistant postmen. I received a letter this morning from an old colleague in Liverpool who joined the Post Office when he was 14 years of age. He retires about the middle of this year at 60 years of age, after having had 46 years unbroken service in the Post Office; yet, when he comes to the end of his working days in the service, he will receive a pension for only about 38 years' service. In other words, he is not entitled to a full pension, although he has spent the whole of his life in the service. I feel sure that the Financial Secretary will agree that this cause is worthy of equally sympathetic consideration when compared with the other. I hope that I am correct in assuming that when another Bill is produced in order to adjust other minor difficulties and anomalies, this case will not be ignored. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to exercise whatever influence he may have in order to make that possible.

I wish to refer to the arrangements made in Clause 2 for the interchange of officers from the Civil Service into local government, and to express my pleasure that these arrangements are to be made. For many years, when I was in the Civil Service, I felt that there was a great and urgent need for civil servants to be able to go into local government and, if possible, into industry generally, in order to enlarge their conception of administration and to interchange ideas on methods and organisation, and things of that sort.

I think the provisions in this Clause will enable civil servants to extend their activities in this direction and in local government. I would like to think, not only that we may get this arrangement made in regard to local government, and, perhaps later, in regard to industry, but that a similar arrangement may be made in connection with the Commonwealth and Empire Governments, in order to extend the scope of this interchange, not only within the internal sphere but outside this country. I believe that the requirements of the Civil Service in the future will demand the closest liaison and co-operation with local government, industry and other Governments overseas. I therefore welcome this Bill, and hope that the House will give it the Second Reading which it so well deserves.

1.41 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Tomlinson)

I hope the House will not assume that the brevity of the Financial Secretary's speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill was an indication that this Bill is not of real value and importance. As the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) said, it is a complicated Bill, and my right hon. Friend's brevity was largely explained, I think, by the desire to deal only with the principles involved and not with the machinery which is responsible for putting those principles into practice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. W. R. Williams) pointed to one of these principles which I regard as being of special value, namely, the possibility of transfer from one department to another, not only of the State, but of organisation closely linked with the State machine, carrying with it superannuation rights. We all know of circumstances in the past in which these desirable transfers have not been made simply because the individual was called upon to make too great a sacrifice in what he considered to be a very important matter in his life. As a consequence of this Bill, both the State and the local authorities—for this is not a one-way traffic; we are thinking of a two-way traffic—will be able to benefit from experience gained in the other service, and may get to know each other better, as the old hymn says.

I have referred to the principles of the Bill. The first principle, of course, which runs right through it, and is the main purpose of the introduction of the Bill, is the one to which the Financial Secretary referred; and I think it is demonstrably true in all cases, except, perhaps, in the case brought to our notice by the Motion on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley). I hope my hon. Friends are not going to press that Motion to a Division, because it would be foolish on their part, were it possible, to risk losing the Bill because of what they consider to be a blemish in one part of it.

I, too, was interested in the mathematics of my hon. Friend in the working out of this scheme, and I think that he was right in all respects except one, and that was where he suggested a method by which it might be possible to bring these people within the orbit. In that case, I think they would not be called upon to pay that portion of the insurance which is formulated in connection with National Insurance for superannuation purposes. Apart from that, I have no fault to find with my hon. Friend's mathematics, and, inasmuch as I am responsible for the policy which has been entered upon whereby young people shall take their training before they enter college, I am prepared to give an undertaking, at least, that this point will be looked into, and that we will see whether it cannot be dealt with in any way when we come to the Committee stage; but that ought not to be taken as a promise that my hon. Friend's suggestion will be carried out.

I am glad that my hon. Friend referred to the "stony-hearted Treasury." It is an achievement when we have an admission that the Treasury has got a heart at all. At the same time, there may be some possibility of softening the blow so that what is a very desirable thing might not only receive the unanimous assent of the whole House, but might lead us forward to a period in which there is no possible injustice. Inasmuch as the women teachers form part and parcel of the superannuation scheme, unless something can be done to help forward this suggestion, it might give rise to rancour between the sexes in the ranks of the teachers, which is the last thing we want in the education service.

I want to express my thanks for the compliments to the Financial Secretary, especially by the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth, who pointed to the fact that he had for 42 years been seeking Amendments of this kind, and that it had fallen to the lot of my right hon. Friend to bring forward a Bill carrying out what everybody now realises to be the duty of the State in that respect. With regard to the second point which he raised, I commend it to my right hon. Friend to bear in mind for the next occasion on which he is called upon to introduce a Bill of this kind.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.