HC Deb 22 January 1965 vol 705 cc589-95
Mr. Diamond

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 5, line 36, to leave out from "shall" to end of line 38 and to insert: not be payable in respect of any period during which he is again a Member of the House of Commons or is a candidate for election thereto; and for the purposes of this subsection a person who ceases to be a Member in consequence of the dissolution of Parliament shall be treated as a candidate for election unless and until he gives notice In writing to the Trustees that he is not seeking re-election". This Amendment rises out of the fact that everybody ceases to be a Member of Parliament at a dissolution. Under subsection (1) of the Clause as it was previously drafted, any Member, aged 65 or over, who had his 10 years of reckonable service, on dissolution would automatically be entitled to an immediate pension, regardless of whether he was proposing to stand For re-election or not. He ceases to be a Member of Parliament, and if all the payments and conditions had been satisfied his pension would automatically have been due and, also automatically, the trustees of this new pension fund would have had to start paying out a pension.

He would not, however, necessarily have retired—if I may use the word in a way in which I am sure all hon. Members will understand it. He would have suffered temporary defeat, which is not unknown in the annals of candidates seeking election to Parliament. He would have suffered a temporary defeat in a particular election and it would have been in his mind to seek re- election again and in no sense to retire from the House. He would not wish to receive his pension in the sense that it was a retirement pension, and the words used in the Clause do not, of course, refer to retirement but to somebody who ceases to be a Member. Therefore, it would be a quite unnecessary burden at every dissolution to start paying all Members who had satisfied the conditions—most of whom would be standing for re-election and most of whom, presumably, would be winning their seats again—the pension which they could then claim.

The proposal of the Amendment, therefore, is merely to prevent that from happening and to suspend payment for the time being. It is provided in the Amendment, as can be seen, that "unless and until he gives notice in writing to the trustees that he is not seeking re-election" he cannot claim his pension. There is only one way of deciding whether a Member of Parliament has, in fact, retired, and that is for the ex-Member of Parliament to say so. When he has said so, having satisfied the conditions, he will be entitled to receive and will receive his pension. To pay him before he said that he had retired would place a ridiculous burden on the fund. Therefore, I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

I do not want to be difficult. I think that this is a fair point, but is the hon. Gentleman quite certain that this Amendment will achieve the purpose which he wants? As I understand it, reading the Amendment, it would mean that one deducts from reckonable service the period that someone is a candidate for Parliament. If a Member has established his ten years, excluding from it the period when he is a candidate for Parliament, I should have thought, on the wording of this Amendment, that he is entitled to be paid a pension even if still a candidate.

In other words, the Amendment refers to reckonable service, not to when the pension should be paid. I think, though I have not considered the matter very fully, that, taking the words as they stand, this Amendment does not achieve the purpose which the hon. Gentleman wants it to achieve.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

We should pursue this a little further. I can see awkward cases which might possibly arise from time to time. For instance, take the hypothetical case of a Member of this House, aged 65, let us say, who lost his seat at an election, but who was a Member of the Government party and who was appointed Foreign Secretary. He would, at this stage, presumably not draw his pension, because he would be drawing Government pay. Then he has to seek a seat in the House and that is another election and he loses that election. That circumstance can happen. It happened, indeed, just last night.

First of all, he is told by the Prime Minister that he is not wanted as Foreign Secretary any more and, in a fit of despondency, he throws in his hand and gives notice that he does not wish to seek re-election. He then draws his pension. After a few months, his ambitions return and he wishes to seek re-election.

The question I ask the Chief Secretary is this: from what moment, if he is selected as a candidate by his party, would his pension cease to be payable if there is a by-election or a General Election in which he is involved? Presumably, he would then cease to draw a pension and he would be a candidate. We take it he is defeated again. He may or may not give notice that he does not wish to seek re-election, but he may seek re-election even for the fourth time.

This is not a hypothetical case. This has happened before in the history of Parliament. Sir Arthur Griffiths Boscawen was Minister of Agriculture in the 1920s and sought re-election no fewer than four times. I can imagine this happening again, an ambitious ex-Foreign Secretary trying to get in over and over again, though the fortunes of his party are declining. He might find it very difficult to get back at a by-election. There are all sorts of points, of course, which one could pursue further. One might ask what happens to his tax assessment under P.A.Y.E. I think that this is an important point, because there might be hon. Members who are defeated and will try to get back again after a few months.

I should like to know exactly what the procedure will be about his drawing his pension and then having it stopped. Is it plain that he ceases to draw his pension if he becomes a candidate again?

Mr. Diamond

I hope that I shall have permission to refer to later Clauses so that I can explain fully what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has asked. This Clause does not deal with the complicated and entirely imaginary situation to which the hon. Member referred, but it would save discussion later if I answered the question now.

May I deal, first, with the question asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd). I think that the position is clear. The Clause as originally drafted referred to the suspension of the pension during any period during which he is again a Member of the House of Commons". That did not deal with the period of an election, and in order to avoid the burden being put on the trustees to which I previously referred, this has been varied by the Amendment to state that the pension shall not be payable in respect of any period during which he is again a Member of the House of Commons or —this is more particularly of interest here— is a candidate for election thereto … The purpose is that a person who ceases to be a Member in consequence of the dissolution of Parliament shall be treated as a candidate unless he gives notice in writing to the trustees that he is not seeking re-election. He is, therefore, treated as a candidate whether he is standing in that General Election, supposing there has been a dissolution, or not. It may be in the Member's mind not to stand in that election for a personal reason or party reason. He may wish to postpone standing until the next General Election, or to seek a by-election in a different constituency. There may be a variety of reasons. But in his mind that ex-Member has clearly not retired from public service in the sense of being a Member of Parliament.

There is, therefore, only one criterion—and that is to say to the ex-Member, "You are entitled to a pension in respect of the other conditions. Will you please tell us whether you have retired?" If he says that he has retired, then he will get the pension. If he says that he has not retired, then the pension will not be paid.

To avoid putting the same question to every hon. Member who seeks re-election during the course of a General Election, a Member is assumed not to have retired until he says so. That seems to me very sensible. It saves time and it is, I am sure, consonant with the general feeling of all Members.

There is no difficulty about the question asked by the hon. Member for Twickenham. A Member can retire, can come back to the House again, and go back again to another job, and can come back again. All those points are provided for, whether he goes in the meantime to another job which is pensionable or not. All arrangements are provided for in the subsequent Clauses. Indeed, he can leave the House, take his money, go to another job, take a pension there, and bring his money back to the House from the other job as a transfer of pension, so that it is all adequately provided for and is only a question of arithmetic. In principle there is no complication.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

At what date does he cease to draw his pension if he seeks re-election? Is it nomination day, when he hands in his papers, or is it when the Writ for the election is issued?

Mr. Diamond

It is nomination day.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

May I pursue the drafting point which I raised? The phrase I have in mind is shall not be payable in respect of any period … In the original subsection the wording was, A pension … shall continue for the life of the person to whom it is payable but shall be suspended during any period during which he is again a Member … Instead, we have this rather curious phrase, "in respect of a period". It seems to me rather odd drafting, particularly when the Clause deals with reckonable service, and I thought that it was rather ambiguous.

Mr. Diamond

I will undertake to look into the matter and consider whether there is any doubt about it. As at present advised, I feel that the Amendment serves the purpose to which I have referred.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

As I said on Second Reading, I am not entirely happy about the arbitrary 10-year period. In discussion with a number of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee I asked whether they felt that there was a case for a pension for the man who served a period of two normal Parliaments. This could be a seven-year period or an eight-year period. I have a feeling that it is only because of a certain diffidence that it may affect them that some senior hon. Members have not questioned the 10-year period.

As it is unlikely to affect me for some time, I should like to ask the Chief Secretary whether he thinks there is a case for reconsidering the 10-year period and perhaps, on Third Reading, proposing a seven-year period.

Mr. Diamond

I cannot hold out any hope to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), much as I should like to do so, of a reconsideration of this issue—not on any ground that we are unwilling to reconsider anything but because this matter has been fully considered and reconsidered and, as was explained on Second Reading, the underlying principle is that we regard the Lawrence Committee's Report virtually as an arbitration award.

If we depart from that in any major way, we shall get into the most frightful difficulties. What the Lawrence Committee recommended was not a series of separate recommendations but a group of recommendations which hung together. If we depart from any one of them, we shall get into great difficulty and we shall cause unbalance. If we changed the 10-year period there would be completely different actuarial calculations. The figures are also in the Bill, and have received unanimous approval on Second Reading, both for contributions and for payments, and they would be completely out of balance if that change were made.

I repeat what I said on Second Reading—that there is no possibility under the Bill of any hon. Member with longer than 10 years' service being any worse off in respect of his pension expectations than he would have been if the Bill had not been introduced. There is no power in the Bill to make any such Member's expectations in the slightest degree worse. Indeed, it is thought that in most cases they will be considerably better.

The Bill sets up a new fund. The House already has a fund, as my hon. Friend knows, as he served on the fund with great distinction. It is not the purpose of the Bill or the Committee today to make any representations or any indications of any kind as to how the trustees of the other fund should regard their responsibilities in the light of the new circumstances. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no question of any hon. Member being any worse off as a result of this Clause. The period of 10 years is part of a general recommendation. Coincidentally, it is the same period as exists in the Members' Fund, as the House knows.

I therefore hope that my hon. Friend feels satisfied that this matter has been given the most careful consideration. It is a fundamental part of the Lawrence Committee's recommendation. I hope that he will agree that the Clause should now be added to the Bill.

Sir R. Cary

I am glad that the Chief Secretary made those remarks in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). It would be fatal at this stage to bring an ill-balance between the Members' Fund, which is the first of our funds, where the period is 10 years. On that, we have a discretionary power, but not down to seven years. I think that the contributory pensions' scheme and the Members' Fund will be run in parallel, and that it will transpire that the trustees of the Members' Fund become also the trustees for the operation of this Measure. To introduce any ill-balance between the two schemes would be a retrograde step.

1.0 p.m.

I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian accepts that point. I fully agree with what the Chief Secretary said.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.