HC Deb 25 January 1961 vol 633 cc290-4

Order for Second Reading read.

9.37 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This short Bill seeks to enable the Agricultural Research Council, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make contributory unfunded superannuation schemes for the staffs of certain agricultural institutions, and certain agricultural colleges in Scotland, which are financed wholly or partly by those authorities. The Bill is needed for technical reasons, and I will briefly give the background.

The Barlow Report of 1945 on the Scientific Civil Service was adopted by the Government of the day, and its terms were also applied to the staffs of the State-supported agricultural research institutes. It was envisaged that the agricultural research scientist should have parity with his Civil Service counterpart in all matters relating to conditions of service. Until 1953 this meant, in relation to pensions, that the pension arrangements of the Federated Superannuation System for Universities—normally known as F.S.S.U. or similar arrangements were applied, and these provided benefits related to contributions throughout the member's career.

In 1953, however, large numbers of F.S.S.U. civil servants were enabled to exchange their F.S.S.U. cover for the pensions arrangements applying to the Civil Service generally under the Superannuation Acts. These provide benefits related to pay during the last three years of service. It is, perhaps, debatable which of the two systems is the better in present conditions and in every case, but there has been pressure for some time from those of the staff of the various institutes, and particularly those financed or grant-aided by the Agricultural Research Council, who have felt that something on the lines of the Superannuation Acts arrangements would be more suitable.

There has been pressure, too, from industrial staff at the institutes for pension arrangements to be extended to them. I do not say that it would have been impossible to do anything towards suCh changes without this Bill, but unless we have it, we are unable to adopt the most economical method. For instance, an alternative would be to operate a pension fund, but this is unnecessary if the pensions are payable from the same source as the grants to these institutes and colleges—that is, from the Agricultural Research Fund in the case of the staff of those under the aegis of the Agricultural Research Council, and from the Exchequer in the other cases. As the House will appreciate from the Bill, one of its effects will be to authorise this.

On the other hand, unless employees' contributions are required under statute, the effect of such arrangements would be to deprive the employee of tax relief on his pension contributions on the scale which would operate if the benefits were payable from separate pension funds. By virtue of this Bill these contributions will be so required and the employee's position will thus be safeguarded.

Since the Bill is only an enabling Measure, it involves no commitments as to the form of the pension provisions which could be made under it. This would be a matter for discussion with the staff interests. What is envisaged at present is that, wherever this would be a general improvement on the present situation, schemes producing benefits broadly comparable with those of major public services such as the Civil Service would be offered.

I accordingly invite the House to give this Bill a Second Reading in order that any new schemes agreed upon may take effect at the earliest possible date.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

We welcome this Bill, as we welcome any Measure which helps to improve the conditions of those who serve our greatest industry in institutions and colleges.

I think it is generally agreed that agriculture in this country has reached a stage in Which its further development can come about chiefly as a result of the work of men and women in institutions and colleges such as are covered by this Bill, and, of course, if that is to be so we must encourage good men and women to be on the staffs of these institutions.

There are one or two points that I should like to raise. First, I should like to know how many employees will be covered by this arrangement. Secondly, if a member of the staff wishes to continue in his existing superannuation scheme, will he be allowed to do so? I cannot see anything in the Bill which would safeguard this right, and I should like to know whether such a person could do that. I was very glad to hear the Joint Parliamentary Secretary say that since this is an enabling Measure and since regulations will be made, the form of the pension provisions would be a matter for consultation with the staff. Again that is not covered in the Bill. We rely on Ministerial assurances for this, and I am very glad that we have had such an assurance because it is most important that Ministries should work closely with the staff organisations on such matters. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's assurance on that point.

I understand that in Scotland there is a wider variety of superannuation schemes at present among the staffs employed in the Scottish agricultural colleges, and I should like to know what problems there are likely to be in Scotland. I see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland here. know that he has had to miss his Burns Night haggis, bannocks, taties, turnips and whisky to wash it all down. I feel that since he is here he should at least feel that his journey has been necessary and that he will assure us on these points.

We welcome the Bill. We will consider it in Committee and see whether there are other points which we should like to raise.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I, too, from this side of the House wish to be associated with what has been said, but I have one question to put on a matter which is not made at all clear by the Bill, as I read it. The Report of the Agricultural Research Council, presented to the House in June, 1960, shows that during the financial year 1958–59 Parliament provided a total, in round figures, of £4.1 million as a grant in aid for the Agricultural Research Fund. I take it that if anything is taken out of the fund for this pension scheme those moneys will be replaced and there will not as a result be any reduction in the amount for pure agricultural research. I should like an assurance about that.

I do not want to weary the House or make a long speech about something the importance of which is obvious, but I sometimes feel that the amazing amount of work which is done by the Agricultural Research Council now is not always appreciated, and many of us on both sides of the House do not understand the full measure of responsibility which the Council carries in the matter of the quality and quantity of our food and the other things with which it deals.

Also, as is made clear in the final pages of the Council's Report, since 1946 the fall-out of Strontium-90 has made necessary increases in staff, and there is a real problem throughout the country in this respect. Fortnightly, our milk and other food supplies are monitored, and for this work we want the very best men and women in research that we can have. Only if we provide the best conditions will we have them. We want skilled scientists to take up this kind of work in applied research rather than go to industry to find out whose detergent washes whiter than white.

I hope the Joint Under-Secretary of State will make clear that, if necessary, the House will be asked to increase the funds for real research and that there will be no limitation in those funds as a result of contributions originally given for the purpose of scientific research being taken out to cover the pensions.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

Do the provisions of the Bill apply also to scientists engaged in forestry research? In Scotland, we have just about as much forestry as there is in the whole of England and Wales, and I want to be sure that scientists engaged in forestry will be covered by the scheme.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

In any breakdown of the figures between England, Wales and Scotland. England and Wales are usually lumped together. May we have a breakdown showing the figure for Wales so that I may once again emphasise that there are hardly any research facilities in Wales?

9.49 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brooman-White)

I have taken a note of the point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins).

The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) is quite correct in his assumption. The money will be replenished and there will be no diminution in the money devoted to agricultural research as a result of this proposal.

The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) is that forestry research will not be covered. I understand that people in forestry research are already covered by a scheme which is analogous to the Civil Service scheme.

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) raised two points. First, he asked about the actual numbers to be dealt with. In the United Kingdom as a whole, there are about 5,700, or a fraction less. Of these, about 3.850 are non-industrial and about 1,800 are industrial.

The only purely Scottish point in the Bill relates to the inclusion of the agricultural colleges in Scotland. This arises from the fact that the Scottish colleges have a dual rôle: in addition to teaching, they are responsible for the Government's agricultural advisory services to farmers. In England these are carried out by the National Agricultural Advisory Service, under the Ministry of Agriculture, so that the people engaged on this work in England have Civil Service pension rights. It seems fair that the staff of the Scottish agricultural colleges, who are doing similar work, as well as those in our research institutions, should have a pension position as nearly as possible in line with that of their English counterparts.

Finally, I can give an assurance that there will be no difficulty about the existing pension rights of the people in these services under any new scheme. Those existing rights will be preserved.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

Committee Tomorrow.