HC Deb 13 November 1964 vol 701 cc1412-21

Order for Second Reading read.

2.44 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

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

I should make clear at the outset that I cannot actually claim any pride of parentage for this Bill. It is a child which I have adopted from the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and I say at once that it is a child which the Government and I have been very willing and happy to adopt. It is a Bill which, perhaps, does not present a very exciting aspect, but it is a modest Bill and we hope and believe that it is a useful one. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree on that.

The occasion for presenting the Bill is the introduction, which is to take place on 1st January next, of the new Diplomatic Service in accordance with the recommendations of the Plowden Committee. That Committee recommended that when the service was established there should be made certain changes in both the retirement provisions and the superannuation law affecting the new service. The Bill gives effect to the main recommendations on these matters. At the same time, the opportunity has been taken to introduce quite a large number of minor amendments to the general superannuation law affecting the whole of the Civil Service. These are designed to remove certain anomalies which have come to light over the years, to repeal various obsolete provisions and generally to help to pave the way to codification. Most of these amendments will affect only a few—sometimes very few—persons, but they are, of course, of importance to those few.

It is very difficult to make a full Second Reading speech on a Bill of this character. It is really a miscellaneous collection of Committee points. I shall, therefore, try to be very brief and I hope that the House will not think I am showing any disrespect by doing so. The Diplomatic Service provisions can be summarised as follows. First, the provisions for compulsory retirement with an enhanced pension are at present applied to certain more senior Foreign Service grades. It is proposed that they should be applied to the whole of the new Diplomatic Service. There are special provisions which recognise that in the case of junior staff, who, although they have been shown to be competent, are perhaps unsuitable for the special requirements of the Diplomatic Service overseas, the best course may be to transfer to the Home Civil Service.

The class of members of the Diplomatic Service who can resign with preserved pension rights is extended to include those who have completed 20 years' service of which eight years have been spent overseas. This, in practice, will mean that members of the service who have followed the normal course of service will qualify for this right. Members of the Diplomatic Service will, of course, continue to share with other civil servants this right when they have reached the age of 50. In addition, their pension rights are preserved automatically on transfer to the Home Civil Service or, with consent, to various other forms of service or academic life.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals with a special problem affecting the secretarial side. Hon. Members can well imagine that the life of a secretary in the Diplomatic Sedvice with peripatetic and special liabilities may have considerable attractions for younger people, but the attractions sometimes tend to wear off as the years go by. Normally, it should be possible to arrange transfer to a fixed secretarial job in the Home Civil Service, but this Clause provides for a gratuity to be paid to the secretary who wishes to leave the Diplomatic Service in one of two cases: either if a comparable job cannot be offered in the Home Civil Service or if such a posting is refused by the secretary for good compassionate reasons.

I am able to tell the House that all these problems affecting the Diplomatic Service have been discussed with the staff representatives and the proposals are acceptable to them. The remainder of the Bill consists of a host of minor provisions affecting the Civil Service as a whole. They have been included following lengthy discussions with the national staff side of the Civil Service Whitley Council and the trade unions and all the provisions are agreed with them. I pay tribute to the assistance which they have given at all stages.

Hon. Members who interest themselves particularly in superannuation questions for the Civil Service—I know that they are many—will realise that there are a number of major questions which have been canvassed in the past and will no doubt be raised again in the future which are not dealt with in the Bill. This is partly because agreement has not yet been reached on those matters, and, in any event, some of them raise such large issues that it would not be appropriate to deal with them in a Bill of this character. This is fully appreciated and understood on the staff side and I should like to make it perfectly clear that the Bill does not prejudice in any way any further or future discussions on those issues.

I will not attempt to summarise these provisions in any detail. Perhaps it will be sufficient if I point out that they fall broadly into four categories First, there are those in Clauses 6 and 7, which deal with people who have served in two or more public offices, as they are called—the technical name for certain fringe bodies not forming part of the Civil Service proper. The general principle was laid down as long ago as 1892 by Parliament that continuous and successive service in two or more public offices should be treated for superannuation purposes as if it were all service in the Civil Service itself.

But since those days superannuation matters have become extremely complicated as new concessions have been made, and one gets some quite anomalous situations now. In 1892 unestablished service did not generally speaking reckon for superannuation at all. Now it nearly always does on subsequent establishment. There are a number of ways in which an officer can leave the Civil Service with preserved or transferred pension rights, but the old rules do not cater for all the possible permutations and combinations. We propose to sweep away a number of old provisions and replace them by an up-to-date code of enabling powers under which the Treasury will make rules based on the principle that, wherever possible, an officer with mixed service in a number of public offices shall be no worse off than if he had rendered corresponding service entirely within the Civil Service.

The second group of amendments provides for a number of minor changes in the qualifying conditions and the conditions governing the reckoning of service for superannuation awards. There are 10 of these changes in all, and most of them will affect only a very few people, but in each case they will be beneficial in their effects and help to remove difficulties and anomalies which have sometimes been felt as real hardship.

The third group comprises about seven amendments which are designed to remove doubt as to the meaning of certain phrases in the Superannuation Acts on the status of staff without, in fact, making any change from present practice. They confirm the law and in some cases make consolidation easier.

Finally, there are four amendments which deal with matters of procedure and do not directly affect eligibility for pension or other benefits or the amount for which an officer may be eligible. They are really matters of machinery.

I turn to the cost of these proposals. Those affecting the Diplomatic Service would rise in a full year from £15,000 to £35,000 a year and the cost of the other amendments to which I have referred would rise in the course of about 10 years from £100,000 to £250,000 a year. That perhaps illustrates the relatively modest character of the amendments in the Bill.

It is a very technical Bill. If I have the leave of the House and your leave, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to speak again, I shall be glad to attempt to answer any points hon. Members may raise. I can make no promise on that, because I do not pretend to have at my finger tips all the complex details of the Measure. But I commend it to the House as a Measure which I hope will meet the special needs of the Diplomatic Service and make a considerable number of minor but needed improvements to the code of superannuation for the Civil Service as a whole.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I should like, first, to thank the Financial Secretary for his admirably clear and at the same time admirably brief introduction of the proposals contained in the Bill. I should like, too, to extend my good wishes to him in the office of Financial Secretary. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will have already discovered, this is a very curious office, involving concern with almost every aspect of Government. It is a very strenuous one, and it has often been said that no one who has been Financial Secretary is ever the same again. It is, indeed, so strenuous an office that, though of course I wish the hon. and learned Gentleman a happy tenure of it, I hope for his sake, as well as for wider reasons, that it will be a brief one.

I welcome the Bill, for reasons which the Financial Secretary has indicated. It is, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, often indelicate and unwise to argue about questions of paternity. I hope that I shall not endanger the chances of a Bill which I support if I say that, but for a slight mental aberration on the part of a limited number of floating voters in a certain number of marginal constituencies a few weeks ago, it is at least possible that the Bill would have been commended to the House by another Minister of another party, though, I hasten to say, nothing like so well or clearly as has been done today.

As the Financial Secretary said, this is not a major Measure. It is, as he said, necessitated by the need fully to implement the recommendations of the Plowden Committee in respect of the Foreign Service. It was possible for my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) while Foreign Secretary to carry forward the major body of the Plowden recommendations without legislation, and I know that my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on this marked improvement which it makes in the provision for the Foreign Service.

However, the superannuation side of it requires legislation, and that legislation, as the Financial Secretary explained to us, is embodied in the Bill. At the same time, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, advantage has rightly been taken of the opportunity of legislation to deal with a number of small anomalies in our highly complex superannuation system which have been discovered in its working in the course of years.

As the Financial Secretary said, these proposals have been discussed with the staff side, and I was glad to hear him pay a very proper tribute to the staff side of the National Whitley Council. I had the pleasure of working with the Council on two separate occasions for a number of years, and I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that we hand over to him and his colleagues a machine the working of which is an example in industrial relations throughout the country. I would add, too, that that owes a great deal to many individuals on both sides of the National Whitley Council, but to none more than to Mr. Richard Hayward, the chairman of the national staff side, with whom I had the privilege of working before and for whom, like all who have worked with him, I have the greatest possible admiration.

I do not propose—and, indeed, in the circumstances it would perhaps be slightly indelicate on my part—to put any questions to the hon. and learned Gentleman on what are undoubtedly Committee points. I think if the House desires to do so it will find that the reasons for these provisions are sound, and I think the House will be not disposed to disturb—although it has the power to do so—arrangements which have been worked out in the closest consultation with all those concerned.

Therefore, all that remains for me to do is to welcome the Bill, to say that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will do nothing to impede its passage and, if I am not risking marring the harmony of this afternoon's proceedings too far, to express the desire that all of the Measures in the Government's programme should be so sensible and beneficial as this.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Harry Randall (Gateshead, West)

My hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary did not desire to claim parentage of this Bill, but I thought it was very clear that he had an exceedingly good grasp of what is, as the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has so rightly said, a very technical and complicated Bill. If I have got the figures anywhere near right, there must be something like 24 proposals one way or another included in this Measure. It is technical. It is very complicated. But my hon. and learned Friend referred to the fact that, from the point of view of expenditure, it was also modest. Therefore, on grounds of expenditure it can lay claim to appeal to the best wishes of this House.

It is perfectly true that this is a Measure that will give a great deal of satisfaction to several pockets of civil servants, most of whom have been disadvantaged by earlier Acts. Discussions have gone on. If I may say so, they have gone on too long. Some of the proposals within this Bill have been discussed for as long as 10 years. In fact, decisions were made in broad general agreement both with the national staff side and with the Treasury, and yet the national staff side and the civil servants have been waiting all these years in order that the Measure might come before the House.

My approach to this Bill this afternoon is to make some reference to those proposals. First, let me say how much I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's reference to Mr. Richard Hayward. He is a very old friend of mine. We worked together when we were much younger, and I am delighted that he holds that very respected position. He is a gentleman who is well respected throughout the whole of the Civil Service.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Hear, hear.

Mr. Randall

I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary will do well to use to the full the co-operation and the responsibility that are with the National Whitley Council under the leadership of Mr. Richard Hayward.

I was referring to these matters of broad agreement and accepted principle which have been under discussion for about 10 years and which have been set aside because, for some reason or another, we could not find sufficient Parliamentary time to enact them. For example, there is one recommendation that emerged from the Priestley Commission. This was way back in 1955. It referred to added years —a very valuable concession—and it was accepted immediately by the Government. But the tragedy is that the civil servants just had to wait and this recommendation has not ben enacted. Only today when we have this Bill before us do we have an opportunity to deal with this matter. This is not at all satisfactory to the Civil Service. There are other items within this Bill which have been suffering that same fate.

Why should this delay be necessary? Is there not some other way in which to handle this problem that faces civil servants? It has meant that civil servants have left the service and have died without having the opportunity of securing these benefits. I am sure that the House would not wish that kind of thing to continue. My hon. and learned Friend should exercise his mind on whether it is possible to give the Treasury some responsibility for dealing with this matter and to avoid the present long delay by dealing with pension matters in a different manner.

Must there be in every circumstance the need to wait for legislation? Must we always have this prolonged period of waiting and this lengthy process of completing Acts of Parliament before the civil servant can benefit? As a result of my experience in the Post Office over a number of years, I have never been keen to hand over to the Treasury any additional responsibility. It has always been the reverse with me. I have always preferred to take some of that responsibility away, but 1964 is not the Victorian age. The structure of the Superannuation Acts was all right then, but now, having regard to the national staff side and their responsibility, I should have thought it possible to do something by way of discussion to avoid the delays that have occurred over the years and to allow civil servants to benefit.

I greatly hope that as a result of some of my comments and of our experience of these matters we shall be able to find some way of overcoming the difficulties. I welcome one item in the Bill most warmly, namely, paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 which puts right the position of people who retire prematurely and voluntarily at the age of 50. Their pensions are frozen and are not payable until they reach retiring age. Previously, unlike the case with ordinary pensions, these civil service pensions were not entitled to be allocated to the wife or, in the case of a woman civil servant, the husband. Now this is possible, and this is excellent.

I know that there have been full discussions between the staff side and the official side on the provisions in the Bill. I want to make it perfectly clear to the House that this by no means includes all the claims of the staff side. Some very substantial claims are being discussed at present. I am sure that hon. Members have received, possibly during the election, requests to consider what they were prepared to do about the full reckoning of unestablished service before 1949. This is still very much a burning issue but it is not dealt with in the Bill.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that that matter is not appropriate to this Bill. This is a tidying-up Measure. The issue to which I have referred is a substantial issue and should not be associated with a Bill of this kind. Nevertheless, I want to make clear that although on the staff side we do not press this or any other major claim at this time, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, our attitude in supporting the Bill must not prejudice in any way claims from civil servants which are already being discussed or claims which may be made in the future. This is a valuable Bill. It is technical and complicated and it means a good deal to a small pocket of civil servants. I very much welcome it.

3.10 p.m.

Mr. MacDermot

By leave of the House, may I reply to this short debate'? First, I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) for what, perhaps, I should characterise as his frank admission of paternity and for the fatherly welcome which he gave to the Bill. I thank him, also, for his gracious remarks to me personally, which, perhaps, I can best summarise by saying that he wished me a short life but a happy one in my first office.

It is not for me to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the very well. deserved tribute which he paid to Mr. Hayward, but I am sure that it will give great satisfaction. I have already had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hayward, and I assure both the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) that the advice which they have given me with respect to him does not fall on deaf ears.

My hon. Friend raised one major question about the form of this legislation.

My own reaction on first seeing the Bill was his. So crowded is the legislative programme under any Government these days, and so difficult is it to find parliamentary time for very important Measures, that it is surprising that a Measure of this kind, containing a lot of detailed provisions, should have to be achieved by means of a full-blooded Act of Parliament.

I have looked into the question and I can see that there are arguments the other way. The superannuation scheme for civil servants is in a rather special position. Not only is it a non-contributory scheme, but it tends to set the pattern for many other superannuation schemes in the public service. It may be thought wise, therefore, that it should be Parliament which decides at least the broad general principles on which the scheme is based.

My hon. Friend will have noted—I have already drawn attention to it—that power is being taken under the Bill for the Treasury to make rules about a number of detailed provisions, and this is proposed precisely for the reasons which he advanced. Care has been taken to lay down in the Bill itself the general principles which will govern that rule-making power, leaving, as it were, the more administrative detail to be dealt with by means of delegated legislation.

I still feel, however, that there may be a strong case for taking wider power of delegated legislation in this matter, and I should be happy to receive representations on that subject and to look carefully at any proposals which may be made.

My hon. Friend referred also to the wider provisions which have been deliberately left out of the Bill. I repeat my assurance that there is nothing under the present agreement which is embodied in the Bill which in any way prejudices future consideration of those matters.

I am grateful for the reception which hon. Members have given to the Bill, and I hope that it will now be given a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).