HC Deb 07 July 1960 vol 626 cc845-9

10.41 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

I beg to move, That the National Health Service (Superannuation) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved. The purpose of these Regulations is to apply to the National Health Service in Scotland the arrangements for superannuation which have just been approved by the House for England and Wales.

Primarily, they are necessary to help meet the deficit of almost £6 million in the working of the superannuation scheme in Scotland for the period 1948–55. While part of this deficit is being met by accounting adjustments, these amending Regulations increase the employer's contribution rate by 1½ per cent., which we estimate will liquidate just over £4 million of deficiency in about twenty years.

The Regulations also provide, in general, that interest will no longer be paid on the return of contributions, subject to the arrangements outlined by my hon. Friend to cover those who, before these amending Regulations come into operation, would have received interest on their contributions in the case of refund.

The Regulations also provide that where a person desires to have non-contributing service reckoned as contributing service the interest rate used in calculating the payments due will be increased from 2½ per cent. to 3¼ per cent., and revised actuarial tables based on these new rates are introduced.

I really do not think there is any more that I can say on this matter. Scotland and England go side by side in principle, and it is only just the few figures which are altered, in the case of Scotland being slightly smaller.

10.43 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

There is one point that I wish to raise. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has shown that these Regulations are similar to the ones that have just been approved by the House for England and Wales. He was a bit more diplomatic, I think, than was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. She said that because of representations it had been decided that those who were already in the service would still have interest paid on their superannuation contributions. The hon. Lady went on to say that these people must not take it for granted that if in the future there should have to be any further change their rights would be preserved. That was a very clear warning.

In the main, when these young women—who are the people who mostly leave the service—are accepted and join the superannuation scheme, they are accepted on certain conditions. They are accepted with the direct promise that they will have returned to them not only their contributions but the interest on those contributions. I did not like the threat contained in the speech of the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, and I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State agrees with her.

We are told that in England all that would have been achieved for the Exchequer in helping to wipe out the deficit was less than £1 million if the original intention had been carried out. The Parliamentary Secretary—I am sorry to have to refer again to her, but our own Joint Under-Secretary of State did not deal with this point—said that it was little to ask that this money ought to be paid by the giving up of the interest, and she explained that the general taxpayers were being asked to meet this deficit.

It would have been completely unjust to take one body of people—and a small body at that—and take a right away that had been granted them when they joined the superannuation fund. That would not have been British justice. Just as we were opposed to the statement of November, so would we be completely opposed to the philosophy that has been made on this point. I would like the Joint Under-Secretary of State to make it clear that he dissociates himself from this niggardly attitude presented by the Ministry of Health.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

As there are also Regulations relating to Scotland, I have the opportunity of pursuing my point a little further, for it was not satisfactorily dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary. I want to ask whether the bodies consulted in relation to the Scottish superannuation scheme were the same bodies as were consulted in connection with the proposals affecting the English scheme.

If they were the same bodies, then how were they consulted? Was a letter written to them? Did they write letters back? Was there any place they all met, and where were they required to take a collective decision? Does this mean consultation with the B.M.A., the physiotherapists, the T.U.C. and Uncle Tom Cobley and all? Or is it merely an assurance that interested parties will be consulted without there being any place or time when a conclusive decision can be taken by them collectively? If that is so, the ultimate power obviously rests with the Minister. He is never going to get any settlement. He will always have assent from some, qualified approval from others, and dissent from others. The situation is worse than I thought. No wonder particular organisations have been expressing their dissent separately; apparently there is no place where they could express it in conclave with others.

In the Civil Service, we do not do things in this unsatisfactory fashion. On the staff side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council, we have representative bodies with the appropriate representation on the Council. These matters are submitted to them collectively, and on matters of policy a two-third majority, put there by our standing orders as a protection for minorities, is conclusive. That is not done in the National Health Service. There it is apparently sufficient to send a reply on a postcard. The B.M.A. may have one view and another organisation may have another, and I have heard another from the T.U.C. No wonder they cannot get to grips. There should be some national machinery whereby a collective opinion could be expressed and the Minister could act accordingly. He should not be confronted with one body saying "Aye" and another saying "No" and another small body running to its Members of Parliament and sending postcards and protests and the rest of it.

For all I know, there may be a conflict of views and points of interest between a very large number in this scheme who do not want to pay an increased contribution if they can avoid it, and a lot of women who want to preserve the right to go out voluntarily and take their contributions and interest elsewhere. I do not know whether there is a marriage gratuity apart from the withdrawal of contributions plus interest from this scheme. We ought to know a great deal more about the differences in the National Health Service before we are asked to pass these complicated tables and formulae and superannuation conditions.

I am still not satisfied that this business is done in an orderly fashion, and if the Minister can give me further assurances I shall be glad. I hope I am rendering a service here and not merely being critical and obstructive. There are some aspects of the machinery which need examining. There are strange and heterogeneous bodies which are conflicting in outlook and not identifiable in interests as in the Civil Service. There is room for improvement, and I hope to see some.

Mr. Galbraith

It is kind of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) to offer his services. He said that the system wanted cleaning up, and he offered himself to my right hon. Friends as a kind of Parliamentary "Mrs. Mopp."

Mr. Houghton

I am quite prepared to take over the Minister's job, but on no other terms will I offer my services.

Mr. Galbraith

Regarding the detailed questions asked by the hon. Gentleman, the staff associations were consulted on a United Kingdom basis, apart from those which have Scottish Headquarters, such as the B.M.A., the Royal College of Nursing and organisations of that sort. The hon. Member was pretty well right when he referred to postcards. A copy of the draft regulations was sent and comments were asked for. It is interesting that none of the bodies which was asked requested a meeting, but that does not necessarily mean that the present system is ideal. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman may care to take advantage of the offer which I made to him.

The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) has placed me in an awkward position. She said I was nice and gentle but she did not like my hon. Friend, and I feel that I am between two fires. I do not know what to say. At any rate, as a result of the discussions to which my hon. Friend referred, British justice, to which the hon. Lady referred, has prevailed. I do not think she should regard the remarks of my hon. Friend as a threat, but merely as a statement of what in fact is the constitutional position of the sovereignty of Parliament. There is certainly no intention of asking these people to pay money. As my hon. Friend said, those in the scheme at the moment will continue on the present basis. I hope the hon. Lady may be satisfied that we do not intend to make any changes, but that does not mean that my hon. Friend was not right to point out the constitutional position.

Miss Herbison

Surely every Minister who stands art the Dispatch Box does not feel it his or her duty to point out the constitutional position. There seemed to be no need at all for that, except the bad grace with which the Government had accepted the representations that were made. None at all.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the National Health Service (Superannuation) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved.