HC Deb 23 June 1948 vol 452 cc1510-23

Resolved: That the Draft National Health Service (Superannuation) (Amendment) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 2nd June, be approved."—[MY. J. Edwards.]

11.30 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Draft National Health Service (Transfer of Officers and Compensation) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 2nd June, he approved.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

I want to say, even at this late hour, that I am extremely disappointed that the Minister', in these Regulations, takes power to depart from the accepted code of compensation applicable to the local government service. It is a code of compensation set forth in Section 150 and the Fourth Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1933. This code, which resulted from more than 40 years of negotiations between the National Association of Local Government Officers and Other trade unions, and the Ministry of Health, is I venture to submit, now being definitely worsened. But, further than that, the Minister is breaking a pledge given by the Minister of National Insurance when the National Insurance Bill was under discussion. That Minister then said that the position of the Government, which was fairly clearly defined on the question, was that when the State, by its own action transferred functions, the State accepted liability for absorption or compensation. Later, that same Minister said that it was a principle which had governed Governments in the past in approaching questions of transfer of statutory functions.

That is a fair and definite statement of fact. But the Minister could have gone farther. He could have recalled that this House, in 1921, with a predominantly Tory majority, imposed on the railway companies—undertakings of private enterprise—in the Railways Act, 1921, compensation provisions which, broadly speaking, were the same as those in the Local Government Act, 1933. I well remember the fight put up by the late William Graham to secure these compensation clauses, and I know, from personal experience so far as the railway salaried staff are concerned, that they have been simply invaluable because they compelled the railway companies during amalgamation to organise their business so as to avoid wholesale dismissals of the staff.

It is to me a very bitter pill to swallow that, men and women through no fault of their own, are now to be deprived of office or suffer loss, arising from legislation, and be denied that full protection which even a predominantly Tory Government thought and considered to be necessary. I do not propose to detail the many ways in which the proposed regulations depart from, and worsen, what up to now there has been every reason to believe was a generally accepted code. I am bound to say, however, that the proposed regulations are not a very happy send-off for the new Health Service. They will cause bitterness and resentment. I have not the slightest doubt that the Minister must have his regulations before 5th July, but I beg of him not to close his mind to conciliation and adjustments. The associations representing the staff have every desire to be reasonable and to enter into friendly negotiations with the Minister, but they feel that under these regulations, as they now stand, there will be many who will get a raw deal, and it is in the interests of the new Health Service that I ask the Minister to take steps as early as possible to remove, so far as he can, what would otherwise be a sense of unfair treatment among members of the local government service. It is in that spirit and in that sense that I make a very urgent plea to the Minister.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I understand that the regulation relating to Scotland is in almost corresponding terms and perhaps it might, with the agreement of the House, be discussed at the same time.

11.36 p.m.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

That would be eminently satisfactory as far as we are concerned. I should like to recognise what the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) has said in respect of the fair manner in which Tory Governments in the past have dealt with matters of compensation. Might I remind him that what is happening in these regulations is merely a continuation of what has taken place under the nationalisation Acts? People are being deprived by Acts of Parliament of their means of livelihood and in some cases they have not been offered any compensation whatsoever. That is very much to be regretted. I feel, in regard to these particular regulations, that they will have to be interpreted with very great humanity and very great sympathy for reasons which the hon. Gentleman has given, because they affect an enormous number of persons. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary could give us any idea of how many persons will actually be affected, but it is important that those who are going to be affected should be aware of the principle underlying the decision of the Government. Therefore, I want to put a number of questions to the Parliamentary Secretary.

It is laid down that a claimant must have served eight years to be eligible for consideration. Can we be told why that period was chosen? Why was it not five years, or ten years or fifteen years? I hope the hon. Gentleman is not going to tell us that this standard is laid down because it is already applicable in some other piece of legislation because I would not consider that a good example. If there is a precedent, I should like to know when it first came into being and the reason for it. Then there is the question as to the choice of two-thirds of the net emoluments for the maximum amount for compensation or an interim payment while the claim is being finally assessed. Is there any precedent for this and if so, has it been usual for the maximum to be also the minimum, or was it only in the minority of cases that the maximum was paid?

To get compensation the applicant must not have refused a reasonably comparable office. I would like to know who decides what a reasonably comparable office is. Is it to be decided in the courts, or where? I know very well that a tribunal is set up, but it seems to me that that tribunal fixes the amount of compensation and it does not seem to me to have any authority to deal with a reasonably comparable office. It may be that in that I am wrong, but I would be glad to know what the real interpretation is.

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us whether or not there are to be many reasonably comparable offices available, or is it considered that the majority of those who are going to be displaced will have to look for other employment on their own? I think it is right, if there is no suitable employment available, that they should be required to look for other employment, but if they do, I should like to have some assurance that the proviso which is set down in the regulations will be reasonably interpreted, and not more severely than it is being interpreted at present in relation to those drawing unemployment benefit. I am glad to see that the older persons are to be treated rather more generously than others. I think it is laid down that older persons who are displaced are to receive some extra consideration by reason of the fact that those over 40 may be additionally compensated in recognition of their loss of future pensionable service. I would like to ask why the word "may" is inserted. It is going to cause considerable anxiety. Does "may" mean "shall" or does it not, and if it does mean "shall," I wish that that word could be there inserted.

There is another rather strange thing about this regulation, and it is that while it shows consideration for the older people, it deals somewhat harshly with those who seem to be earning large salaries. Why is it that those with earnings of over £4,000 a year are ineligible for compensation? I should have thought that, no matter what a man's remuneration may have been, if he loses his job through the action of the State he is entitled to be compensated. I do not think that it alters my point of view in that matter that only a few people may be affected.

Finally, there is the question which I raised on Part IV or V in connection with officers on war service. Will the officer on war service be entitled to have taken into consideration not only his position when he left his former employment but also such promotion or increment as he could reasonably have expected to receive but for his war service? I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman could answer those questions.

11.44 p.m.

Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I want to raise one or two points. I think some of them can be covered by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, but others are purely Scottish. First, I want to associate myself with the observations made regarding the departure in the method of compensation. I am quite unconcerned whether it was a Tory Government or any other kind of Government which accepted responsibility in the past for compensation. My view is that when the State undertakes certain obligations, alters service, takes over personnel, and dispenses with certain people because it has no openings for them, the State should accept the full financial responsibility. It should not rest on any local authority at all. Having made that point, I think it will be admitted that the machinery which is being set up in regard to appeals and tribunals is reasonable.

My worry is about the method of deciding compensation. The point has already been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in connection with the eight years. I do not know why eight years was decided on. I can see that it might be sound to take into account the number of years a person has been in the service, but it might also be necessary to take into account the method by which the employment was obtained. A person might be taken over by a local authority, or get employment, as a result of the local authority making representations to him. The authority might think fit to invite a person in private employment to accept employment with them because of his special qualifications, and some five years later, by some change of legislation, he might find himself denied the right of compensation. We might have some further explanation on that point.

It has been argued in Committee and in the House that there would be very few officers involved, because the Government would take over a considerable number of the staffs from the local authorities, and others would be absorbed in local government work. That may be true, but there will be a certain number that will not be drawn off, otherwise there would be no discussion on compensation. It is argued that people should find other employment, and I understand from the regulations that it suitable employment is decided upon, then the compensation ceases. I do not know that there is anything unreasonable in that. They are being compensated because of unemployment, and it they find new work it stops. But I think very generous consideration should be given to these cases. The regulations lay down that it shall be "suitable employment." Who decides that? People who have served any length of time in local government work are specialists of a particular kind, and are not easily fitted into occupations outside local government or the Civil Service.

I come to a special type of case that I think requires the attention of the Scottish Office. Some years ago the Glasgow authority—I think the only one in Britain—decided to have a full-time medical service under the Poor Law regulations. The entire duties of the medical people were confined to the aged and sick who were on the Poor Law. A number of them have been advised by the Glasgow authority that there is no employment for them under the regional hospital scheme, and none under the Scottish Office. Therefore, they will be redundant. These people come into a very special category. While they are fully qualified they are quite incapable at this late stage of stepping out into private practice, or of building one up even under the National Health Scheme. Serious consideration must be given to the position of these people. Some of them have at least 10 years' service, and to walk out into ordinary medical practice is not an easy task.

My last point is this. Should people like these medical officers, or other local authority officers, find employment and make an effort to be self-employed, and in a short time discover that they are incapable of continuing in that occupation, what is their position in regard to compensation? I think it may well be argued that one will get a certain type of person who will deliberately avoid accepting a new place of employment unless he is quite definite that it is going to be permanent in every way. There will also be another type of person who will make a genuine effort to find employment as quickly as possible, but will discover before he is very long in the job that he is incapable of carrying on. I want to know what the position is in regard to compensation for a person of that kind. Some information on that point would clear the air and would be very advisable. There are many officers in the Glasgow area who are genuinely disturbed; their fate is hanging in the balance, as it were, and it we could clear the air on those matters, it would be very useful to the people directly concerned.

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

Like some hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken about these regulations this evening, I regret that they have taken the form in all respects that they have taken. These regulations could perhaps have been somewhat less ample and voluminous than they are if they had had a closer regard to the existing code of compensation in regard to the transfer of officers. This existing code, to which reference has already been made, is contained in the main, as the House is aware, in Section 150 and the Fourth Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1933. This Act was passed by a predominantly Conservative House of Commons. I do not say necessarily that that is the reason for continuing it or ascribing wisdom to it; but quite apart from that perhaps incidental circumstance, the code of compensation contained therein has the merit of being well understood, clear and equitable.

I should be the last to argue that any existing codes or provisions are, as the laws of the Medes and Persians, unchangeable. In those circumstances the House will agree, and I should have thought that the Minister would have admitted, at least, that the onus is on him to justify departures from the existing code, more especially where those departures are, as they are in the main, unfortunately, in the present regulations, detrimental to the interests of those who through no fault of their own and by no choice of their own, are losing their employment or are being transferred to other employment. As the House is aware, the existing code of compensation for transferred officers is based on a system of 1/60th of the loss for each year of local government service with an increment of additional compensation On an ascending scale in relation to the length of that service.

That is the system which might have been expected to have been followed in the regulations which are put before the House this evening, but under these regulations, as the House will see, there is no increment of that sort in respect of claimants to compensation who are under 45 years of age at the date of loss. That provision is contained in paragraph 9 (2, b) of the schedule to the regulations, on page 9 thereof. Though the age of 45 may seem comparatively young to the individually ageing Members of this assembly, it is possible, and indeed normal, in that service for persons having entered at the age of 18 to have had 26 years' service under these regulations without being entitled to any increment of the sort to which I have referred. But the new code contained in these regulations, not only reduces the amount of compensation in that way, but, as has already been mentioned, restricts the number and category of those who may obtain compensation at all. I refer there, of course, to the definition of "existing officer" in Regulation (2). The short point of that is that there must be at least eight years' service before the appointed day.

Now, I echo the doubts expressed by hon. Members who have preceded me as to why that limitation should be imposed; and why, indeed, any limitation in respect of service should be imposed, because under the existing code an allowance is made for short-term service in the diminished compensation payable in respect of it. I should have thought that that was probably discrimination enough. Further, under these regulations no compensation is payable for diminution of emoluments if that diminution is less than 5 per cent. of the net emoluments, as defined in the definition Section of the Act. There may be some plausible case for suggesting that de minimis non carat the Minister; but, of course, in practice a diminution of, say, £20 in a salary of just over £400 to a man with family responsibilities is likely to be a considerable circumstance, and I think it regrettable that that provision is contained in the regulations.

Regulation (11, b) contains the phrase that was criticised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith)—"reasonably comparable office." The claim for compensation is made by the provisions of Regulation (11, b) dependent on there being no offer of a reasonably comparable office in the Government service or local government service. My hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out the difficulty of defining that phrase "reasonably comparable office," which, so far as I know—although I am the last to claim any exhaustive knowledge of the statute law of this country—is a phrase not previously found in a statute. When we seek to consider how that will be interpreted in fact, and how that will be defined, we get very little assistance from the regulations. True, there is a proviso at the top of page 6, but that proviso is of negative assistance only, because all it does it to make it impossible for the officer to plead geographical inconvenience by way of showing that the office which he has not taken is not reasonably comparable to that which he has quitted. Therefore, the proviso, so far from enlarging the generous interpretation of the regulations for which my hon. and gallant Friend asked, in fact has the effect of narrowing them against the officer who is seeking compensation. This acceptance of a reasonably comparable office, even when it is given such a wide definition as in these regulations, is not made any easier by the difficulties of accommodation in all parts of the country, if people suddenly are asked to take an office in an entirely different part of the country.

There are other points in the regulations to which I could refer, but I am conscious of the lateness of the hour, and I do not want to add any further particularity to what I have said. All I would say in conclusion is that, looking objectively at the provisions of these regulations—and we should not look at them otherwise—it would appear that the onus is not discharged as to why the existing and equitable compensation code has been departed from; and secondly, that in all matters of doubt and difficulty, it does appear from these regulations that the balance on each occasion has been tipped against the officers to be compensated.

I echo the view already expressed, that that is hardly a worthy or desirable thing to find in these regulations. I hope the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) was wrong when he said it would give rise to bitterness and resentment. I hope it will not do that. But even if it does not, that is no reason why justice should not be done in all these matters; and it does, after all, concern this House to see that that is done in these matters of the servants of the State or of local government.

12.2 a.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

There is one point I should like to touch on which affects equally Scotland and England. I do not know which Minister is to reply, but either the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health can deal with this matter which was very lightly touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). Elaborate arrangements for compensation are drawn up in these draft regulations, and as has already been mentioned, there is very widespread apprehension among officers who are liable to be transferred as to what the effect on them personally will be. That is a very general apprehension, as I know perfectly well in my own area, and I am sure other hon. Members know the same from their own areas.

What I find is the greatest matter of apprehension is transference from a place where a man has a house, to a place where there is no house available for him. No matter whose fault that is, that is one of the most distressing things in the case of men transferred from one job to another, whether Government jobs or not. These regulations do not cover that matter, particularly the transference of Government officers from one place to another. I wonder whether anything can be done to add some measure of recognition of these immense difficulties of accommodation, in cases where men are compulsorily transferred with their families from one place to another.

12.3 a.m.

Mr. J. Edwards

I was somewhat disappointed to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden). I really do not think that the effect of the National Health Service Act will be that a large number of people will get a raw deal. I shall be very surprised indeed if that is the result.

Commander Galbraith

Would not the hon. Gentleman consider it unfortunate if a small number got a raw deal?

Mr. Edwards

I was answering my hon. Friend's point. He implied that large numbers of people were going to be displaced and put out of jobs. I was saying that that was not likely to happen.

Mr. Burden

I did not mention any number of any kind. I said some felt there would be a raw deal.

Mr. Edwards

I am sorry. My hon. Friend's precise words were, "Many will get a raw deal." These compensation provisions lay down a new code which does, of course, take the place, over a wide field, of the old local government code. The new code is the result of very careful consideration in the light of present day circumstances. It should be remembered that the previous code goes well back into the last century. Looking at it from the angle of the Health Service, our great desire is to secure that all who can be usefully employed are not discouraged from being so employed. It is also a fact that a full employment policy makes sure that there are jobs available. Moreover, I would say that this code will apply to all transfers which are taking place with current legislation and which are already embodied in the arrangements for the transfer of the Fire Service. We shall do everything we can to ensure that claims do not arise, but I want to stress the point that there is a very great shortage of manpower in this field.

Having said that, may I turn to some of the specific points that have been put. I would first say to my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division of Sheffield that we have negotiated with the employee organisations, and he knows that the door of the Ministry of Health is always open to local government representatives be they of the association of authorities or the association of employees. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) asked me a number of specific points with which I will try to deal. I cannot give the exact number of people affected, but something of the order of 200,000 people are covered by these regulations as they stand at the moment. I agree with him that we must administer these regulations with humanity and sympathy, and our experience of the local authorities is that they have done well in the past. So far as the Minister is concerned, I hope he will be no less humane and sympathetic in his treatment.

The eight-year period was in the nature of a compromise. Originally we thought in terms of 10 years. We modified that, for we wanted to have a test which would really mean that the people to be entitled to receive compensation would have their roots in the old employment. The two-thirds maximum is taken from the old local government code, and I am not aware of any compensation under the local government system where full compensation is made. This two-thirds was a conditional figure, and the maximum does not mean a two-thirds minimum. How close one goes to the maximum depends on the length of service.

I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) and by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok about "reasonably comparable employment." In my view, this is a matter which can be determined by the tribunal. I was asked about the requirement to take other employment, and I would willingly give an assurance that we shall not be more rigid than the present terms regarding unemployment benefit. I would also say that, in particular, in this matter of comparable employment we shall do our best so to arrange transfers and offer employment that there shall be the minimum of inconvenience and trouble to the persons concerned. We shall be happy to discuss that with the representatives of the staff associations.

The hon. Member for Pollok asked me about added years and suggested that the word "shall" should be substituted for the word "may." He will appreciate that a number of circumstances have to be taken into account which are provided for in the regulations, and it must, therefore, be discretionary, but in all normal cases, disregarding those which are exceptional, it will be automatic. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also asked about the £4,000 maximum. What we are doing is to disregard amounts over £4,000 and this gives a maximum compensation payable of £2,750, which, I think, is enough. Though it may be said there is no need for a limit at all, I think compensation of that order is quite enough for most purposes. In regard to the point the hon. Gentleman made about war service, he can be assured that the emoluments will be based on what would have been earned on the job if the person in the service had remained at home.

I think I have already dealt with the first point raised by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael). In respect of his second point, I would only say that I hope he appreciates that the compensation has to be finally settled within two years and the only circumstance under which the compensation, whether it is for working life or in respect of pension, can be altered is if the person comes back into public service of any kind. It is within this limited period of two years that any changes may be taken into account.

The hon. Member for Hereford asked about added years. We have thought it right in the new code to provide for those over 45 because we feel that those under 45 in present circumstances, and certainly in this field we are discussing tonight, ought to be able to get employment, whereas the older the person gets the more difficult it may become. We felt we ought to step up the amount of extra compensation because of years of age. What seems to be important here is the age of a person rather than the actual years spent in the service. In respect of the 5 per cent., there are strong administrative arguments why we should not have to deal with large numbers of relatively small claims. The total amount is so negligible when worked out and allowance made for Income Tax, even on large salaries, that we felt we can disregard the amount under 5 per cent.

I hope I have answered all the points put, except perhaps the Scottish points. I beg the pardon of the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel. Gomme-Duncan). With regard to housing, we must try to arrange offers of employment, having regard to difficulties like housing. These are things that we will discuss with the staff associations and we will do our best to be reasonable in any offers of employment to people who will be displaced.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

In the case of an officer who may be transferred from the place where he lives, will the Department assume full responsibility for paying him for his accommodation in his new position?

Mr. Edwards

That is not a point which can be settled in these regulations, but it is matter which ought to be discussed between the associations and the Department in considering conditions of service.

Resolved: That the Draft National Health Service (Transfer of Officers and Compensation) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 2nd June, be approved.

Mr. J. Edwards

I beg to move, That the Draft National Health Service (Superannuation) (England and Scotland) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 2nd June, be approved.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

In this order, which I see applies to Scotland as well as to England, the most careful provision is made for cross-posting from England to Scotland and from Scotland to England and an elaborate scheme is set out so that nobody is to be the loser. Do these very careful arrangements portend that a very large-scale transfer between Scotland and England, and vice versa, is likely to take place under the new Health Service? If that is so, we would like to know what the extent of the transfer is likely to be. My second point is whether the hon. Gentleman could tell me what the price of the pamphlet mentioned on page 4 is to be?

Mr. J. Edwards

I am sorry, but without notice I cannot answer the second question. Regarding the earlier question, I do not anticipate that there will be any large-scale transfer; but I expect that, as usual, there will be more transfers from Scotland than to Scotland.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

That is the whole trouble.