HC Deb 21 November 1962 vol 667 cc1353-7

10.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I beg to move, That the Local Government Superannuation (Benefits) (New Towns Staffs) Regulations, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th November, be approved. The object of these Regulations is to bring up to date the existing Regulations, which were made in 1958, in the light of the establisihment since then of the Commission for the New Towns and the transfer to it of the assets of the Development Corporations of Crawley and Hemel Hempstead, and later of other new towns. In turn, the object of the 1958 Regulations was to provide for the exceptional circumstances of service with the new town Development Corporations. Most of the staff of these Development Corporations come within the ordinary local government superannuation scheme but, as the House will know, a feature of that scheme is that in normal circumstances an officer who leaves his employment, for reasons other than ill-health, before reaching pensionable age and who does not within twelve months find other employment in which his superannuation rights can be preserved is entitled only to repayment of his own contributions, the contributions of his employers being retained in the fund.

The 1958 Regulations were designed to give special benefits to those members of the Development Corporation staffs rendered redundant as a result either of the dissolution of the Corporation, the transfer of some or all of its undertakings to a local authority or statutory undertaker, or the substantial curtailment of the activities of the corporation as a result of a Ministerial decision. The House will find the relevant provision in Regulation 3 (2).

I think that it is clear that unless some special provision were made, officials of these Corporations might well suffer severe financial hardship through no fault of their own as a result of this redundancy. The special benefits in the 1958 Regulations cover officers who have served at least five years with a Development Corporation. If such an officer is within ten years of pensionable age and is unable within twelve months to find other employment in which his superannuation rights can be preserved, under the Regulations he can either have his accrued pension frozen until he reached pensionable age, or he can receive a reduced pension immediately. The scale of the reduction is set out in the table in Part 1 of the Schedule to the 1958 Regulations. An officer with more than ten years to serve before reaching pensionable age is entitled only to the frozen pension.

The object of these Regulations is to bring the former Regulations into effect, notwithstanding the transfer of the assets of the Development Corporations to the New Towns Commission, which is not specifically mentioned in the Regulations. As far as the present situation is concerned, the New Towns Commission has already taken over the assets of the Crawley and Hemel Hempstead new towns, and I am informed that there are at most about six people who may be affected by these Regulations.

The undertaking given was that none would be made redundant before the end of this year. But, of course, if they were made redundant before that and these Regulations are not passed, they would not be entitled to these benefits. This is because under the old Regulations these benefits do not apply if notice is given by the Commission. Indeed, they do not apply if the person concerned is serving the Commission at the time he leaves his employment, notwithstanding that his notice was given by a Corporation.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

We on this side of the House welcome these Regulations, although we regret the sequence of events which has made them necessary. They have become necessary because of the decision of the Government to create a New Towns Commission, to which the assets and powers of the various Development Corporations of the new towns will be successively transferred. Once the Government had made that decision, both common sense and justice required that Regulations of this kind should be introduced.

The 1958 Regulations gave rights, which the hon. Gentleman has just described, to employees of the New Towns Development Corporations who became redundant. Apparently, it was not foreseen or intended when the 1958 Regulations were made that any such thing as a New Towns Commission should he created, because, if it had been foreseen or intended, the Regulations would, presumably, have made provision for that contingency, and it would not have been necessary to introduce these.

The odd thing is that we were debating and approving the 1958 Regulations on 22nd July, 1958, yet it was in the autumn of the same year that the Government introduced the Bill to, create the New Towns Commission, which, apparently, they had not foreseen in July, when the previous Regulations were made. It appears, therefore, that this decision to create a New Towns Commission—a decision at variance with all previous policy of both parties with regard to new towns—was a sudden and unexpected one made somewhere in the late summer or early autumn of 1958. This confirms the view which we on this side of the House have held that it was a hasty and ill-considered decision.

I say that we regret the fact that these Regulations have become necessary. Now that they have become necessary, it is entirely proper that they should be made to safeguard the rights of the persons concerned. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that only six people were affected by these Regulations. That, I take it, is at present, but if the Government persist in their policy for the New Towns Commission successively to take over new town corporations, it might well affect a larger number of people, though it will never I imagine, he very large.

I see that, when we debated the 1958 Regulations—a debate in which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. I. Fraser) and tit' right hon. Gentleman who is now the Postmaster-General took part—it was mentioned that the rights secured by the Regulations had been agreed with the appropriate associations of local government employees. I presume that the same is true of this arrangement. That would I think inevitably follow.

These Regulations properly confer certain rights on people in the new towns service who may become redundant. I hope that the Government will pursue such a policy that redundancy in the new towns service will be very rare. If the Government had displayed greater enthusiasm for new towns over the past years, we should hardly be thinking of redundancy in the new towns service. As the services of officials were less required in those towns which were becoming established, they should have been opening up for them employment in fresh new towns for which there is an acute need if we are to solve the housing problem. If the Government had realised that earlier, there is little doubt that any employee for whose services there was no longer need in a new town reaching its full growth would readily have been able to obtain employment in further new towns that the Government should have been creating.

These Regulations, necessary as they are, serve as a signal to remind us of how much behind the times the Government have been in their new towns policy. I hope that they will take warning from that and will hurry up a little. They have, after long labour and effort, designated--and no more than that—two or, is it, three new towns. The Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister know very well that if their housing policy means anything there is need for a great deal more than that.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

On behalf of 50 per cent. of those involved, I welcome these proposals and thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for introducing them. I am extremely glad that the numbers concerned are very low because of the Government's policy in the introduction of new towns, which I very much support.

Question put and agreed to.

Forward to