HC Deb 06 May 1953 vol 515 cc524-32
Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I beg to move, in page 34, line 35, to leave out "and."

This is a paving Amendment to the next one, and with your permission, Sir Charles, perhaps I might discuss the two together. They are little more than drafting Amendments.

Section 62 of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Protection of Civil Interests) Act, 1951, is superseded by the Bill. It deals with the pension rights of justices' clerks, collecting officers and their staffs, and in view of the fact that it is superseded it is better that it should be expressly repealed. That is what these Amendments do.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 34, line 38, at end, insert: and section sixty-two of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Protection of Civil Interests) Act, 1951."—[Sir H. Lucas-Tooth.]

10.42 p.m.

Mr. H. Macmillan

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

I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I would thank the House and the Committee for the help they have given in getting this piece of legislation through all its stages. I cannot claim that it is a radical or revolutionary Measure, but it is a useful bit of work, which will, I know, give a great deal of pleasure in various ways to those who serve in local government. It has been widely commended, and full help was given by hon. Members in Committee to try to improve it and make it watertight. Without more ado I will bring this useful work to a conclusion, so far as this House is concerned, by asking that the Bill be read the Third time.

Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

It would not be right for us to pass the Third Reading without expressing to my right hon. Friend the appreciation of all those whose interests are most concerned in this Bill at his action in finding time for the Bill in the present Session. They have waited for the Bill for a long time, and I am sure I express their views in saying that they are very grateful to my right hon. Friend.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

I echo the sentiments that have just been expressed. While some disappointment is felt by hon. Members on this side of the House, it would be churlish not to extend to the Minister our thanks for his right conception of duty in undertaking to pilot the Bill through the House as well as through its Committee stages. The fact that he suffered a temporary indisposition did not in any way prevent his carrying out his duty as Minister in connection with the Bill. We hope that he will soon be restored to his normal health.

Amendments have been made to the Bill as the result of our representations during Committee and which will be welcomed in local government circles. I refer particularly to one or two of the proposals which I advanced during the Second Reading debate especially that with regard to lifting the periods of sickness and injury involving suspended or reduced earnings, as it were, from the period of ascertainment; and I am glad the Minister has been able to meet us in that connection. Another point which was raised concerned the employee who was transferred from one occupation to another, and was thereby involved in a reduction of pay, having the right to carry his pension benefits throughout his service.

As to the Bill itself, I would say that it has certainly made a real contribution to the development of superannuation rights in local government service. It has brought, or will bring, the Local Government Superannuation Act more in accord with the Civil Service practice and with the regulations now operating to provide superannuation for those employed in the National Health Service. It has done much to tidy up the administration in the local government service, particularly in the recognition of service in respect of deputy-registrars and female nurses, and others who are outside the scope of the 1937 Act, but who will be brought into superannuation benefit when this Bill passes into law.

This is another stage in the history of local government superannuation, although I could have hoped that the Minister would have added lustre to his name and distinguished himself to a greater degree by widening the Bill in order to embrace local government personnel in the widest uniformity. But, having regard to the representations that have been made during the passage of this Measure perhaps he will have second thoughts and include that other class of public servant as officers in the local government service before the Bill receives the Royal Assent.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. John Edwards

The matters with which we are concerned, as we all recognised in the Committee upstairs, are difficult and sometimes technical; and part of our difficulty is yet to come. We have yet to have the Regulations, and if my experience with the National Health Service Regulations is anything to go by, there will be difficulties to be faced; and difficulties which could not possibly have been dealt with in the Standing Committee. But we are all grateful to the Minister for the changes which he has made in the later stages of the Bill in answer to the points put during the Committee stage, and I should like to detain the House for just a few moments to refer to one matter which I then raised.

The Minister will recollect that I spoke at some length on the subject of the forfeiture of contributions in certain cases, and I quoted at length the judgment of Lord Justice Scott in Wilkinson v. the Barking Corporation. In particular, I referred to Lord Justice Scott's conclusion, in which he said, and I quote: I have felt bound to call attention to these aspects of the existing legislation for consideration by the appropriate authorities. I will not repeat now what I said then, but I did make the suggestion that there should be some appeal to the courts, or, if not, that the Minister should consider bringing into operation the provisions of Section 290 of the Local Government Act, 1933, governing the attendance of witnesses, production of documents and payment of costs.

The Minister made a very friendly and sympathetic reply, but I would be grateful to him if he would tell us if there is any hope of his doing something about this when the Bill reaches another place. It is an important matter of procedure, and I would ask him if he would reconsider the point.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I should like to join in the thanks which have been expressed to the Minister for the courteous way in which he dealt with 60 Amendments and various new Clauses which came before him in Committee upstairs. There are one or two points to which I should like to refer now, but before doing so I wish to declare my interest, as by profession I am a local government officer.

The Bill provides that the Minister can provide by Regulations for the payment of annual benefits and so on. In Committee, some of us stressed the desirability of the local government officers achieving something which has already been attained by the Civil Service and by the teaching profession, in that after 30 years of qualifying service a pension may be drawn by a man at 50, instead of the local government officer having to put in 40 years of qualifying service. The 30 years concession would bring some flexibility into the service, would help in promotion, and would give a freedom of choice to a man who may have served a large number of years and who felt a sense of frustration. I hope that, when the Regulations are framed, that may be taken into account.

There was also the question of the officer who, under this Bill, forfeits the whole of his previous contributory service. The Minister has not been able to meet that difficulty, nor, I fear, the difficulty of the officer who retires, like an hon. Member of this House must retire when he is elected, and who receives back the £150 which he paid as a deposit to the returning officer on nomination, but who, as in my case, has to forfeit the £150 of accumulated interest on the contributions. I apologise for bringing in a personal illustration, but it is interesting to be able to focus attention on a particular point.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Houghton

It was a very pleasant experience to work with the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who helped him in the Standing Committee, and I should like to join with my hon. Friends in expressing our appreciation to the Minister. We often disagree with him, and he with us, but we did not divide against him once. Indeed, he was rather free with his promises to give further consideration to matters before the Report stage, and there are many omissions from the Order paper that we have before us tonight. Very generously, we have not pressed him to say what was the result of the consideration of some of the matters with which he has not been able to deal by way of Amend- ment now, but I am sure that he gave careful consideration to all the matters which he promised he would consider.

This has been a complicated Bill. The House probably has not fully appreciated that it represents a distinct change in the type of legislation for local government superannuation. This Bill was complicated, and troubled us a good deal because we had to dis-member the Local Government Superannuation Act of 1937. All the superannuation provisions were in that Act, and in the Schedules; but under this Bill the first thing we did was to cast out provisions which had found a place in the 1937 Act and to provide for them to be dealt with by Regulation.

In the first line of Clause 1 we see the statement that The Minister may by regulations make provision —", and in the first line of subsection (2) we see that The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision …". In line 15, on page 1, we read that provision may be made under Regulations. Hon. Members will see that nearly every Clause and subsection refers to the power to make Regulations.

Our difficulty in dealing with the Bill upstairs was that we were asked to cast out of the 1937 Act provisions which were there for us to see, and to agree to the matters concerned being dealt with by Regulations which were not there for us to see. At one stage I suggested to the Minister that we would have been much happier to have had the Bill in one hand and the Regulations in the other, so that we could match them and see what was being done with the provisions of the 1937 Act which were to be excluded from this Bill. At the same time, I welcome this changed approach to these complicated matters of superannuation.

However, I want to commend to the House some fresh thinking about the way we should legislate on superannuation matters affecting public servants. Before doing so I want to say, in no party spirit, that the Minister inherited this Bill from the Labour Government. It was made necessary by the Superannuation Act of 1949 which was passed by the Labour Government. That Act, which covered the central government services, introduced a provision for pensions for the widows and orphans of civil servants who died during service or after retirement.

The Act remedied a great weakness in the superannuation provisions for members of the public services. This Bill carries those reforms into the local government service. We are bound to admit that this is a beneficent legacy from the Labour Government, and it has fallen to the Minister to carry it into effect. It will, as my hon. Friends have said, be welcomed in the local government services, as it extends to them the reforms introduced in regard to the Civil Service three years ago.

My final point is that I wonder whether this is a satisfactory way of dealing with the pension provisions of workers in the Government and local government service. It seems to me that pensions are part of the conditions of service. It seems strange that we should be spending time in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of this House examining every line, every comma and every refinement of superannuation arrangements, when we spend no time at all in discussing salary scales, increments, subsistence allowances, substitution pay and all the other conditions of service.

So far as I am aware, in industry conditions of service relating to pay are linked with conditions of service as regards pensions and they are both regarded comprehensively as the conditions of service of the worker. But for historical reasons, no doubt, we separate the one from the other and we pay attention in great detail to pensions and have little to do with conditions of service affecting pay and emoluments in Government and local government service. I have commented before on the strange contrast between our meticulous examination of small matters affecting pensions in this House and the freedom of trade unions outside to negotiate with the Treasury, the Postmaster-General and to go to arbitration tribunals on matters involving millions of public expenditure—and all that taking place outside this House.

It seems to me to be all lop-sided. If for statutory reasons, because it is necessary to impose on local authorities certain conditions in a matter of this kind, we must have an Act of Parliament at all, I suggest it can be done by an enabling Measure without going into all the detail with which we have had to deal in connection with this Bill. I admit that this Bill pushes aside a lot of complicated detail to be dealt with by Regulation, but we have few opportunities to discuss legislation in general, its purpose, and the need for it in the light of present conditions.

When a Bill of this kind comes before the House it is as well if we pause a moment or two to see whether some fundamental change should be made in our approach to this kind of legislation. Probably superannuation legislation was necessary in the first place to stop pensions being paid to a lot of people who did not earn them, who did not deserve them and who were parasites on public funds. That might have been the historical reason for bringing pensions before this House whilst leaving the Civil Service Commissioners to deal with recruitment and the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury to safeguard the question of expense. If there is any body of opinion in the House which can influence the trend of legislation, we ought to be realists and acknowledge that super-annuation is part of the conditions of service and we ought to allow the details to be settled in the ordinary way by negotiation between the staff and the employer.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

This is an enabling Measure, and I take it that that means it will be a long time before a similar Bill comes before this House. With all the force at my command at this time of night, I urge the Minister to reconsider the speech which was made both in Committee and again tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle).

As the Minister knows very well, when the 1937 Act was placed on the Statute Book the majority of the Selby-Bigge Committee, whose findings led up to that Act, were strongly of the opinion that what are known technically as "servants" should be included in that Measure. Sir Kingsley Wood at that time, for reasons which no longer apply, came to the conclusion that it should not be made obligatory for local authorities to include the manual workers in their employ. Here, it seems to us is a final chance. I hope the Minister, when the Bill reaches another place, will reconsider the attitude he adopted when the Bill was passing through the Committee stage and see if, at long last, he cannot do something to meet what appears to us to be a very just and legitimate demand.

May I join with my hon. Friends on this side of the House in expressing our gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman and those associated with him for the way in which they have met points which we put to them during the Committee stage? I am afraid that occasionally tempers upstairs did get a little frayed. The reason was that we knew this was an agreed Measure by bodies outside the House and that the Regulations to be promulgated under the Act were not before us. We were, to that extent, working in the dark. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman and those associated with him have met us in a very fair and friendly way.

11.7 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I do not think I need keep the House very long in winding up this debate. My right hon. Friend would wish to thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for the way in which they have helped to make this a good Bill. There have been several points raised in this debate, but I should be wandering rather far on the Third Reading if I attempted to go into any of these matters. My right hon. Friend has said he has heard these points and will certainly give them his close attention. I cannot say anything more than that. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.