HC Deb 21 November 1957 vol 578 cc712-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

11.9 p.m.

Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)

Far be it from me to delay the House unnecessarily, but even at this late hour I have a duty to perform on behalf of about 250 employees of the electricity supply industry. I know that the staff of the House of Commons who serve us so well want to catch their last trains, so I will state the case as clearly and as briefly as I can.

The anomaly to which I want to refer relates to the manual workers' pension scheme in the electricity supply industry in the West Midlands area. There are three pensions schemes covering manual workers in that area and, as far as I can ascertain, it is only in this part of the electricity supply industry that the social injustices which I am about to relate exist. Before the industry was nationalised, a very modest pensions scheme for manual workers was introduced. Entrance into the scheme became a condition of employment. The scheme was based on a contribution of 1s. a week and it carried a retirement pension of only £1 a week at the very most.

When the industry was nationalised, however, a new scheme was introduced carrying much better benefits, but the old employees of the industry in this area, for some reason or other, were not allowed to transfer to the new scheme which carried the increased benefits. It is true that the trade unions concerned, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, representing some of the employees, and the Electrical Trades Union, representing other and more skilled employees, accepted the new pension schemes, but they did so on the assumption that the two schemes, the old and the new, would be harmonised in a short time and that the anomalies would be automatically removed.

One example of the situation today is shown by quoting the example of a constituent of mine, a highly skilled charge hand maintenance engineer who is 47 years of age and who has worked in the industry for about twenty-seven years. After serving a further twenty-one years, he will retire on a pension of about 17s. 6d. a week. A fitter's mate who works under his authority and who has only two and a half years' service in the industry, and who will retire in the same year as the skilled charge hand maintenance engineer, will have a pension of £3 a week. There is obviously a grave social injustice which should be eliminated by agreement at the earliest possible moment.

Another example comes from the switchboard at Brierley Hill. Five switchboard operators are employed there and all five will retire on different pensions. One man with twenty-one years' service, a skilled man, will retire with a pension of 12s. 6d. a week. Another man doing the same job will have a pension of 11s. 6d. Another, after thirty years' service, will retire with a pension of 14s. a week and another with the same service as the man who will retire with a pension of 12s. 6d. a week will retire with a pension of £5 a week under a pension scheme different from that of the old South Worcestershire electricity supply industry. It is obvious that something must be done to eliminate social injustices of that sort.

I have written to the Minister and had questions asked on the Floor of the House. This matter has been discussed at trade union level locally and nationally, it has been discussed by the management committee which control the new pensions scheme, and it has carried a unanimous resolution suggesting that, in the interests of the electrical supply industry, the two schemes should be merged and these difficulties eliminated. The Minister now must make a decision. At the end of this year the electrical supply industry will have a new structure that will deal with distribution.

I understand that the Central Electricity Authority, at national level, has also agreed that the superannuation schemes for manual workers in this part of the country where these anomalies exist should be amended so as to clear away these difficulties. So it is the Minister who can make this decision. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to realise that one cannot have harmony in this part of the industry, nor the complete co-operation that is required in this important public service while discontent arises on a simple issue which the Minister can decide very quickly.

11.17 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)

I am in the happy position of being able to give the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) a satisfactory answer to the point that he has raised. The position is that under the 1947 Electricity Act the old company pensions schemes and the local authority pensions schemes had to be perpetuated by the Central Electricity Authority and the area boards in favour of the former employees of the companies and local authorities already in those schemes.

The Electricity Act also gave power to the Central Electricity Authority to submit to the Minister of Fuel and Power, as he then was, for approval, any scheme which could be agreed between all concerned, which would embrace all employees who were not embraced by previous schemes and could include employees generally. The scheme which was submitted and approved by the former Minister of Fuel and Power, in 1955, did not apply to those who already had the benefit of the old schemes, whether company schemes or municipality schemes.

As the hon. Member has said, the Central Electricity Authority has now submitted to the Minister of Power various amendments to the scheme approved in 1955. One of the proposals is that all the present employees of the Central Electricity Authority and area boards who are at present included in the old company pensions schemes, or the old municipality schemes, but are excluded from what is called the manual workers' pensions scheme, shall be able to join the manual workers' pensions scheme if they wish with effect from an early date.

My noble Friend the Minister of Power has approved that proposal in principle. Several details have yet to be worked out and the final drafting has to be approved by all concerned, but I am glad to assure the hon. Member that the point which he raised tonight, and which I am glad that he raised, will be met and that my noble Friend has so decided.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.