HC Deb 03 February 1965 vol 705 cc1221-5

(1) Without prejudice to any other power to revoke instruments (meaning in this section orders, rules, regulations or statutory instruments) under the Superannuation Acts, the power to make instruments under the said Acts shall include and be deemed always to have included power to revoke instruments previously made under the said Acts; but instruments under the said Acts which revoke instruments previously made under the said Acts, either wholly or as respects cases or matters of any description, shall contain provisions having the same effect as the provisions which they revoke, except for any change (whether by way of alteration or omission) made in accordance with the said Acts.

(2) Where any persons are receiving, or subject to any necessary claim being made and allowed are entitled to receive, benefits conferred by any instrument under the Acts, then any such instrument which revokes or otherwise changes the previous instrument so as to affect these benefits shall apply provisions to these persons, either with or without modification, so as to secure to them benefits not less advantageous than the benefits aforesaid.— [Mr. Graham Page.]

Brought up, and read the First Time.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

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

The purpose of the Clause is to enable the Government, should they see fit, to consolidate the mass of orders which have accumulated in this branch of the law. The Superannuation Acts necessarily leave much to delegated legislation, and it is highly inconvenient for those who have to refer to this branch of the law if they have to refer to innumerable Statutory Instruments. It is not only inconvenient but it is dangerous at times, because of the risk of missing some cross-reference and, perhaps, misinterpreting the law. Certainly the ease of reference is ensured by gathering these several Statutory Instruments together from time to time and putting them in one Instrument by way of consolidation.

The House may be surprised to learn that consolidation requires specific statutory authority. One might think that, logically, if a Minister is given power by Statute to make Statutory Instruments, this would automatically give him power to combine them into one consolidating Instrument. But, in pension and superannuation matters, the House has hesitated to give power to the Minister to revoke Statutory Instruments which have been made, and, of course, revocation is necessary before one can consolidate.

Revocation of a Statutory Instrument dealing with superannuation or pensions may prejudice the rights of superannuation or pensioners and prejudice the benefits which they receive under the existing law. Therefore, when Parliament has given the right to revoke this type of Statutory Instrument for the purpose of consolidation, it has taken care to say that the revocation shall be conditional upon similar provisions or provisions as beneficial being put into the consolidating Instrument. This I have repeated in the Clause.

An example of the difficulty which arises without a Clause of this sort was shown by what happened under the Police Pensions Act, 1948. That Act gave power to the Home Secretary to make police pensions regulations, and, by 1961, 34 Statutory Instruments had accumulated setting out the various police pensions regulations. The Home Secretary at the time was urged to consolidate these 34 Instruments, and he wished to do so but was advised that he had no power. Very wisely, he initiated legislation, which resulted in the Police Pensions Act of 1961, and thereafter the 34 Statutory Instruments were consolidated into one Measure, the Police Pensions Regulations Act, 1962, The Clause uses the Police Pensions Act, 1962, as a precedent. I trust that I have met any question from the draftsmen by using a provision which has already appeared in previous Acts.

The present need for the new Clause in relation to superannuation arises in the following way. Recently, the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments noticed that Orders regarding superannuation were becoming prolific, unwieldy and inconvenient, so many of them having accumulated, and the Committee urged the Treasury to consolidate them.

The reply from the Treasury was that there was no power to consolidate. It is true that, since then, the Treasury has had second thoughts and believes that it has such power to consolidate the Statutory Instruments relating to superannuation, but there is a doubt. I am not sure what reasoning lay behind the first decision nor, indeed, behind the change of mind. All I know is that there was a doubt at the time and that that doubt may arise again in future.

We now have this Bill before us and it is, therefore, simple and sensible to put the matter beyond doubt. I am sure that that is what this Clause would do. We should not miss the opportunity of setting side any doubt on this question, so that the Statutory Instruments can be consolidated from time to time, making the law more certain and easier of reference.

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

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has moved a highly technical and complicated Clause with his usual clarity and persuasiveness and I hope that I can make myself as clear. I must, however, advise the Committee to reject the Clause for two reasons.

The first is the reason he himself indicated—that we now take the view that we have the power to consolidate these rules if we wish to without any need for special legislation. The second reason is that we are quite satisfied that if we have the power we will not use it and I will explain why.

I should explain, first, perhaps, that these rules are made under Section 2 of the Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1948, and provide for the transfer of pension rights on payment of a transfer value when staff move between the Civil Service and public boards. The original rules were made in 1950 and have never been changed. All that amending rules do is to add from time to time new bodies to the list of those to and from which transfer on these terms is possible.

As the hon. Member said, when the question was first raised, by the Select Committee, of the possibility of consolidating these rules, the reply given, on the advice of the Treasury Solicitor, was that there was no power to do it. The reason was that, under Section 2 of the 1948 Act, under which the rules are made, it is provided that a person transferring before the making of rules may opt that the rules should not apply to him. As the law stood, it was thought that the making of a new set of consolidating rules would require the giving of fresh options to those who had been in this position when the original rules were made and giving the option for the first time to those who had transferred since the original rules were made. The advice of Parliamentary counsel now is that this, which was supposed to be an obstacle, can be overcome, so it is thought, without legislation.

The view is that consolidation of rules would, by definition, be in place of existing rules and the option under Section 2(5) of the 1948 Act must, therefore, be an option to fall back on the unconsolidated rules, and, therefore, anyone would be given the right to a fresh option by the act of consolidation. That is the highly technical reason why it is thought that there is no need for special legislation.

The position under the Police Pensions Act was different. The reason for legislating on that occasion was that Section 3 of the Police Pensions Act, 1948, provided that regulations might be framed so as to apply in relation to persons who, at the date when the regulations come into force, are or subsequently become members of any police force. Consequently, consolidating regulations could not apply to persons who had retired before the consolidating regulations were made. The position under these rules is different in that Section 2(5) of the 1948 Act expressly provides that the rules may be retrospective in regard to previous transfers and provides an option in these cases.

The reason why we do not think that there is any occasion to consolidate is as follows. The prime object of consolidation is, by reducing the multiplicity of legislative provisions to a single up-to-date document, to simplify the task of those who operate the law and need to know what it is. In this case, consolidation would not serve that object. As I have said, the original rules remain intact and unamended. They contain all the substantive body of legislation and all that remains is a list of the various bodies on what I might call the transfer list.

That list is printed and kept up-to-date in a Treasury handbook known as the Estacode, which is in the possession of of anyone who is likely to need the full list; and, of course, it is very few people who are responsible for administering these rules who need the complete list. The particular persons affected would reed to look, not at all these documents, but merely at the one which related to them, if it was an amendment, and the original body of the rules. We are quite satisfied, therefore, that there would be no practical advantage in consolidating, and if we had the power we would not use it. For these reasons, I must urge the House to reject the new Clause.

Mr. Graham Page

I am very satisfied to have it on record that the Clause is unnecessary and that there is power in the Bill to carry out consolidation. I am disappointed that the hon. and learned Gentleman has stated that he does not intend to consolidate the Statutory Instruments, but that is something which I cannot pursue here. I shall pursue it elsewhere. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.