HC Deb 11 July 1956 vol 556 cc540-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Willis

This is the Clause which raises the pension from £2,300 to £3,000, or … such other sum as the Treasury may by order specify; or two-thirds of the yearly amount of the highest salary … This seems to me, as I said on Second Reading, to be a very substantial increase. Once again I ask whether, at this juncture, it is right to increase these pensions by such an amount. I understand that it would mean rather more than an increase from £2,300 to £3,000, because the concluding words of subsection (1, a) … or such other sum as the Treasury may by order specifsy … are included in order to enable the Treasury to increase the amount. The result might be not £3,000 but £4,000. That is really a very large increase in pension to grant to any person at present. If the increase is £1,700, that is almost doubling the pension.

I appreciate the value of the work done and the importance of the position held. Under normal circumstances I might be in favour of this—I do not know—but at the present I certainly view the Clause with considerable misgiving. When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are appealing to the workers not to ask for a shilling increase in their wages, to grant hundreds of pounds in extra pensions to people who are already enjoying what I should have thought was a very comfortable pension seems to be wrong. I cannot understand how the Government can do that and at the same time expect other pensioners to be satisfied with £2 a week.

10.30 p.m.

When I go to my constituency and old-age pensioners ask me why I voted for a Bill which increases the pension of a colonial Governor from £2,300 to £3,000 I do not know what the answer is. Other hon. Members may be able to answer the question, but I find it very difficult to give an answer, particularly in view of the present situation, when we are told that we must not do anything inflationary—I should have thought this proposal was inflationary, to say the least—and when we are asked personally to set an example to the rest of the country. Surely the Government should set an example in ways other than by introducing a Clause of this character.

I agree that the number of people concerned is small. I agree, too, that the total sum involved might not be very large. That is not the point. It is a symbol of the outlook of the Government, that they are prepared to do this for one class of the community and deny it to other classes. It is a symbol that upsets me and makes it very difficult for me personally to accept the Clause.

I hope that the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs will have some very good reasons why this step should be taken at the present time. I understand that one of the reasons is that it will bring these pensions into line with the Civil Service conditions and pensions. Surely there are other things which could be brought into line with Civil Service conditions and pensions.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North-West)

What is the hon. Member going to say tomorrow?

Mr. Willis

It would be out of order to discuss tomorrow's debate.

Why the exception in this case? Why the hurry? Why should this be done at the present time? Why could not it be left until next year? We ought to have some answer to these questions from the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The last thing I would dream of doing would be to refer to anything that is likely to happen tomorrow.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

The hon. Gentleman's thoughts wander in that direction.

Mr. Hughes

Even my thoughts never go out of order when you are in the Chair, Sir Rhys. Even if I thought out of order, I am sure that your perception would enable you to stop me before the thought reached utterance.

What are we asked to do? A pension of £60 a week is a lot, is it not? We do not even argue that this is too much. All that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) says is this: is this the right time? My hon. Friend reads the reports of the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not. My hon. Friend reads the letters from the Prime Minister in which he says that this is the time to call a halt, the time for the sternest economy, the time when the Government should set an example of economy, prudence and restraint in Government matters. I do not read these letters.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

How does my hon. Friend know what is in the Prime Minister's letters if he does not read them?

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East tells me. My hon. Friend represents a Scottish constituency that is, naturally, alarmed at a pension of £60 a week. In normal conditions we would not grudge £60, but these are times of great financial stringency and economic crisis in which we will easily get on the slippery slope of inflation. The people who read these debates are not merely colonial Governors. The lower ranks of the Colonial Service will read these debates, and other ranks of the Civil Service will, too, and the danger is that, the Government having set such a magnificent example of payment of pensions of £60 a week, they will stir people to ask awkward questions, the answers to which it is difficult to find.

My hon. Friend and I represent Scottish constituencies, where we take these questions of economy seriously. What answer are we to give to our constituents? The Government urge us not to spend money, urge us to thrift, tell us that every item of national expenditure counts and must be scrutinised, and yet they are going to give an increase of £10 a week to people who already have £50 a week. It cannot be argued that there is hardship because these colonial governors can retire at 50.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present

Mr. Hughes

May I, on behalf of the colonial governors, thank the hon. Members who have come along to see that they get this increase?

Mr. Hare

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) have asked me for good reasons why this figure of £3,000 has been adopted. The answer is very simple. It has been adopted because it is the equivalent of the maximum pension which a Permanent Secretary in the Home Civil Service can receive for forty years' service. These governors are public servants, and I think it is doing only justice to them to bring them into line with senior civil servants in the Home Civil Service. This, therefore, is a question of doing justice, and not one of extravagance, which is what the two hon. Gentlemen have suggested the Government are committing.

Mr. Willis

There is a difference between a man who does forty years' service and a man who does ten years' service. There is a big difference. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us why this is being done at the present, when, we are told, these things should not be done.

Mr. Hare

The hon. Gentleman must not assume that a man who has done ten years' service would get £3,000. We are dealing with the maximum amount.

I am not surprised the hon. Member for South Ayrshire did not move the Amendment which he had tabled, to omit the reference to £3,000, because were that Amendment to be made to the Clause the pension could be higher than £3,000; it could go as high as £4,500.

Mr. Hughes

On a point of order. Is it in order to refer to an Amendment which has not been moved?

The Deputy-Chairman

It is not in order.

Mr. Hare

I thought, Sir Rhys, that you would forgive me for mentioning that interesting fact.

This is a question of doing justice, which need not arouse the apprehension of the two hon. Gentlemen, and I hope that they will agree to what is proposed.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.