HC Deb 22 January 1965 vol 705 cc606-9

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Sir D. Renton

I have two points to raise. The first concerns subsection (1), which contains a very strange provision. The Prime Minister's pension is to be subject to increases under the Pensions (Increase) Acts. These increases will be made, not by Parliament, although, as we shall see later, a method of Parliamentary control—by negative Resolution—is laid down, but by the Treasury making Regulations. What I find strange about it is this. Instead of there being a straight increase of pension under the Pensions (Increase) Acts, it shall be subject to such modifications, adaptations and exceptions as may be specified in the regulations". In other words, there is complete flexibility. There may be some justification for having complete flexibility; but, since in the past the pension has been £2,000 a year and since it is to be a fixed sum of £4,000 a year under the Bill, one would have thought that to introduce flexibility at the same time as the Pensions (Increase) Acts is being applied is a rather strange way of doing this.

One must point the contrast between that and Members' pensions, which are dealt with in Clause 7. Clause 7 contains no provision for increases under the Pensions (Increase) Acts or in any other way. I think that Clause 7 is right, but it gives rise to doubts as to whether we are right in saying in Clause 17 that, instead of the Prime Minister's pension being fixed by Parliament, as our own pension will be, there should be this flexibility. It raises a doubt, and we are entitled to an explanation.

My second point arises on subsection (2), whereby the Treasury Regulations to which I have referred are to be subject to negative Resolution. We should compare that with the provision in Clause 6 (5), under which the exercise of the power of the Treasury to increase or reduce the annual amount of the initial deficiency contribution made by the Exchequer to the pension fund is made subject to affirmative Resolution. Surely one is as important as the other. I should be glad to hear some justification for putting in the procedure by way of negative Resolution in Clause 17. If we are given no satisfactory explanation of this today, we shall feel bound to table an Amendment on Report to cover the point.

Mr. Diamond

Again I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. These points must be made clear. I think I shall have no difficulty in satisfying him that the Clause is in order. First, may I make the simple point that we are not talking about an increase of the £4,000 for a new holder of the office. We are talking merely of increases in the pensions payable to existing past Prime Ministers. It has been represented to us—we share these views completely—that Prime Ministers, who have of necessity been held down to their £2,000 pension, should no longer be so held down. This is a very small pension. It is hardly appropriate to the dignity of the office. Following on the recommendations of the Lawrence Report, the Prime Minister's pension has been increased, in accordance with the formula, not to £6,000 but to £4,000.

This for the first time makes it possible to apply the Pensions (Increase) procedure, because a past Prime Minister can now say, which he never could say before, "If a new holder of the office retires he now gets £4,000." Up to this point of time the answer would always have been, "I am sorry, but we cannot increase this pension under this procedure", because if a present holder of the office of Prime Minister retired he would continue to get £2,000, the same as all previous holders. So the nearly automatic machinery of raising past pensions now can have effect for the first time because of the raising of the pension from £2,000 to £4,000. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes my point that this refers to past holders of the office.

Once one brings into play these provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, one then has to come to Parliament to give effect to them. One comes to Parliament to give effect to them by the machinery set out in the Act, which seems to be appropriate machinery and which is the customary machinery always laid down in Pensions (Increase) Acts. The machinery is standard. The precedents are galore. All we are doing novel here is increasing the pension of any holder of the office of Prime Minister as from the date mentioned to £4,000, thereby making it possible for any previous holder to have an increase in pension which approximately might be of the order of £750 a year, according to the effect of those provisions at the present time. I hope that nobody will feel that this is an excessive amount. I do not think that it is at all excessive. It is automatic machinery. It is not lacking in dignity. It is not embarrassing, because it is more or less automatic. It does not require new legislation each time. I hope that the Committee will feel that it is an appropriate way of dealing with a matter which was long overdue to be dealt with.

Sir D. Renton

Speaking for myself and, I am sure, for my hon. Friends, I am completely satisfied with the explanation that has been given. In fact, I think I ought to apologise to the Chief Secretary for having overlooked the effect of the words in the last line and a half of subsection (1). The point that he has made is obviously valid and I am grateful to him for his explanation.

I think that in the circumstances, not only on account of precedent but on merits, the negative Resolution is right and, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, there is a clear distinction between that and the earlier case in Clause 6 where we had the affirmative Resolution procedure.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill