HC Deb 28 October 1965 vol 718 cc399-405

Order for Second Reading read.

5.30 p.m.

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

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

When the House yesterday paid its tributes to our late Speaker all hon. Members expressed not only their condolences to his widow, Lady Hylton-Foster, but also their appreciation for the contribution which she had made in her own right to the success of his Speakership. As my right hon. Friend the First Secretary said yesterday, the House today has an opportunity to show that appreciation in a more practical way.

In one sense the Bill is without precedent, because this is the first occasion on which the House has been asked to provide for a pension for the widow of a Speaker who has died in office. Indeed, I think that it is only the second occasion on which the House has made provision for the widow of a Speaker at all. The last occasion of a Speaker dying in office was Speaker Fitzroy in 1943, and at that time it was not the practice generally to grant pensions to the widows of public servants.

Since the war, however, there has been a change of practice, and that was reflected in the fact that at the time of Speaker Morrison's retirement the House, in Mr. Speaker Morrison's Retirement Act, 1959, provided for a pension for Lady Dunrossil in the event of her husband's death, an event which, sadly, materialised far earlier than any of us had expected. On that occasion hon. Members expressed the hope in the debates that this innovation would serve as a precedent for the future.

There is little I want to say by way of explanation in moving the Second Reading of a Bill which, I hope and believe, will commend itself to the whole House. Clause 1 provides for the payment of a pension of £1,667 per year as from 3rd September last, that being the day after the death of the late Speaker. I should, perhaps, say something in explanation of the amount and how it was arrived at. On the occasion of Mr. Speaker Morrison's Retirement Act in 1959 Parliament decided to follow the normal practice in the public service of making a widow's pension one-third of her husband's. That practice was, equally, followed by the House recently in making provision for widows of Prime Ministers. That was done in Section 16 of the Ministerial Salaries and Members' Pensions Act, 1965, and there is also similar provision for the widows of Lord Chancellors in the Administration of Justice (Pensions) Act, 1950.

The Bill therefore proposes to follow those precedents and to award to Lady Hylton-Foster one-third of the sum which it is thought the House would have wished to have conferred, in happier circumstances, on Sir Harry Hylton-Foster himself. The House will recall that, following the Lawrence Committee's Report, it was decided to abate by one half the recommended increases in the salaries for Ministers and for the Speaker and, equally, to abate by one-half the increases in pensions recommended by the Lawrence Committee for both the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor. The question of the Speaker's pension was left over, in accordance with tradition, to be dealt with by an individual Act of Parliament at the time of his retirement.

I suggest that if we had now been making provision for a pension for the late Speaker himself there is little doubt that, in these circumstances, the House would have followed those precedents and provided for a pension of £5,000 per year—that is, an increase of £1,000 over the previous pension of £4,000, rather than an increase of the £2,000 recommended by the Lawrence Committee. Accordingly, the Bill now proposes a pension of one-third of £5,000; namely, £1,667.

Clause 1(2) deals with the eventuality of remarriage and contains similar provisions to those affecting widows of hon. Members under the Members' Pension Scheme, provisions which have also been made to apply to the widows of Prime Ministers. Indeed, there are similar, though slightly more limited, provisions for the widows of Lord Chancellors. Once again, in this matter we are following, as best we can, the precedents before us.

I do not think that there is anything further I need say by way of explanation of the Bill. It is not for me, at this time, to seek to pay further tribute to Lady Hylton-Foster, which was done eloquently by hon. Members of both sides of the House yesterday. Without further ado, I commend the Bill to the House.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. William Clark (Nottingham, South)

This is a short and simple Bill and, as such, it will commend itself to the House. As the Financial Secretary said, hon. Members in all parts of the House regret the surrounding circumstances which have necessitated the introduction of the Measure.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, the Bill provides a pension for Lady Hylton-Foster and it will be a small measure of some help to her. No hon. Member will deny this. On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I assure the Financial Secretary that we will co-operate to the fullest extent to see that the Bill goes through as expeditiously as possible.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I do not wish to strike a discordant note in our proceedings and I, too, pay tribute to both our late Speaker and Lady Hylton-Foster. We all agree that she is a most charming and gracious lady. I would be the first to say that she should be in receipt of an annuity and reasonable pension.

It was my hope that at a later stage I might move an Amendment, but a little bird has whispered to me that that will not be possible. I must, unfortunately, say what I have to say at this stage.

In paying tribute to the late Speaker and Lady Hylton-Foster I reiterate the fact that a reasonable pension should, in my view, be paid to her. I am glad to note that, in part, what is proposed is tied up with the Members' Pension Scheme in so far as it would affect Lady Hylton-Foster upon her remarriage. There is no other reference to it in regard to the actual amount.

For the life of me I cannot understand why £32 per week can be said by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. William Clark) to be a small payment to Lady Hylton-Foster. I should have thought that £32 per week was quite a handsome token of our appreciation. As I say, I wish to pay tribute to our late Speaker and Lady Hylton-Foster, but I cannot understand why the eminent service which the late Speaker gave to the House should be regarded as any more eminent than that given by our late colleague who died almost at the same time—Mr. Norman Dodds. Indeed, Mr. Dodds gave much longer service to the House—just on 21 years. He had been an active hon. Member from the very beginning, right up until the last. That goes for when his party was in opposition and when it came to power. Mr. Dodds attended the House of Commons day in and day out. I understand that the late Speaker was here for seven or eight years, about four years of which he was Speaker.

Hon. Members

Fifteen years.

Mr. Lewis

Then 15 years, the last four or five of which he was Speaker. The whole time that Mr. Dodds was here he was an active hon. Member, when his party was in opposition and in government. His widow will receive £300 a year, to which Mr. Dodds contributed in part. Because Mr. Dodds unfortunately died a month earlier than he should have done, if I may put it that way, his widow loses £30 per year, because, in accordance with the Members' Pension Fund, Mr. Dodds had not then completed 12 months' service for her to gain the additional £30. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South may look dubious, but in regard to Lady Hylton-Foster I consider that about £1,600 per year should be reduced to an amount which is at least more reasonable compared with what is going on in the world today.

There are many men and women who have given eminent service to the country, perhaps of 40 years' standing. If, heaven forbid, one of them dropped down dead tomorrow, his wife would receive only £300 a year. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who is not at present in the Chamber, is fast approaching 30 or 40 years' service in the House. If, unfortunately, anything were to happen to him, his widow would get £300.

I feel that a sum of £600 or £700 would be reasonable. I know that the widows of the many men who died in the last war will never see a pension of anything like that amount. The widows of many who have died in industry will never see anything like that sum. Many present hon. Members of this House have given 30 or 40 years' service to it, but their widows will never receive anywhere near that amount. I do not suggest that the late Speaker's widow should receive the same amount of £300 that Mrs. Norman Dodds will receive, but I do suggest that if Lady Hylton-Foster received twice that amount it would be adequate.

I had hoped that we would have been able in Committee to make some more reasonable proposals. When we know that the Economic Secretary and the Government are calling on the country and the workers to limit their wage demands, to go steady on wage increases, and the rest, to pay to this honourable, noble, gracious and charming lady, as I at once admit she is, the amount stated in the Bill, is too much.

I will not oppose the Bill, of course, because I am not against the principle of Lady Hylton-Foster receiving this sum—and I want to re-emphasise that what I say is in no way party political or spoken against the late Speaker or this honourable and noble Lady. Hon. Members will remember that I was equally opposed on this issue with regard to the Lord Chancellor and the judges. Every man and woman ought to receive a reasonable pension in accordance with the time and service they have given to their employer, State or private. Every widow should receive a reasonable pension from her husband's employer—State or private—and possibly from both a State scheme and a private employer. But I cannot agree that any widow is entitled to expect to receive from the State a pension of £32 10s. 0d. per week.

If it were the case that this hon. Lady was in dire straits, that might be something we would have to look at, but it is not the case. When the late Speaker was alive he was doing his job—just as the present Speaker is doing his job—for which an adequate salary is paid. The late Speaker occupied that office for four or five years—I do not know offhand how long it was, but it was a relatively short time. For some 10 years before that he was a Member of the House, when he also carried on a profession outside—and others of us carry on in outside professions and businesses in order to earn a few £s extra to look after our homes and next of kin.

I hope that any future proposal of this kind will have some relationship to what is done for others in like positions. I do not want to stop this honourable and noble Lady getting this pension but I hope that when, as we will, we discuss the pensions of widows of those in other services, we shall not be told that we are asking for too much and that any increase should be only 3½ per cent. or 4 per cent. I hope that it will be borne in mind that if we can treat one lady in this matter others in a similar position ought to be treated similarly.

5.44 p.m.

Mr. MacDermot

I hope I may have your leave, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House if, in deference to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), I seek to say a little more about the amount contained in the Bill which he has criticised. My hon. Friend argued that the amount should bear some relationship to that paid to others in like position. I would only seek to convince him that that is precisely what the Bill does. As he himself says, when comparing this amount with the pension that the widow of a Member of this House would get, he is not suggesting that the sums should be the same in each case. Therefore, if we accept that, presumably the right approach to make is that which is made throughout the public service and, indeed, towards Members' widows themselves, which is to consider what is the appropriate proportion of the husband's pension that should be given to the widow.

Throughout the public service—with the exception of Members of Parliament, if we are to be regarded as members of the public service, which is, perhaps, not the right term, but certainly throughout the public service properly speaking—the rule is that widows receive one-third of the pension which their husbands received. That is the rule we have applied here. Members of this House have applied to themselves a different rule. The rule that applies to Members' widows is that they receive, not one-third, but one-half of the Member's pension. That is in accordance with the recommendations of the Lawrence Committee, and no doubt is related to the fact that the pensions of Members are, perhaps, to be regarded as modest compared with the pensions that other people who have comparable responsibilities in the public service will enjoy. Certainly, when one approaches the matter on what I suggest is the only basis on which it can be approached—namely, what percentage this pension bears to the pension which the husband would have received had he survived—we have followed precisely the principle for which my hon. Friend argued, which is that it should bear a relationship to that of others in like position.

Whilst I have every sympathy with the feelings that move him, and with his concern for those who enjoy much more modest pensions and whom one would like to see better off, this does not alter the fact that this House must, I suggest, do what is right in this matter when considering the individual pension of an individual person. I hope that the House will accept that the principles on which we have acted are the right ones.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Ifor Davies.]

Further Proceeding postponed pursuant to the Order of the House this day.