§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department (Mr. David Howell)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is to reform the legislative basis of the public service pension schemes—that is of the occupational pension schemes of the Civil Service, of local government employees, of teachers, of the health services, and of the police and fire services. It should thus provide us, at just the right moment when most of these schemes are under review, with the essential machinery for modernising them in conformity with the Government's own policy, that policy being greatly to enhance the rôle of all occupational pension schemes in both the public and the private sectors.
I believe that, as such, the Bill is something of a landmark, and, in the case of the Civil Service, it brings to an end a long line of Acts of Parliament going back for more than 160 years.
Right hon. Members opposite did not have the opportunity to work out their plans in detail, but nearly two years ago they announced to the House their intention to tackle the major element in this reform affecting the Civil Service. I therefore believe that the Bill will prove to be welcome on both sides of the House and to be non-controversial.
I shall start by explaining briefly what the Bill aims to achieve, and then set this in the wider context of Government strategy before going on to deal in rather greater depth with the merits of the proposals that we are making.
The Bill has three main purposes. The first is to enable the Civil Service pension scheme to be set out in non-statutory documents instead of in Acts of Parliament. The main purpose of Clauses 1 to 6 is, therefore, to enable the Minister for the Civil Service to make pension schemes for the Civil Service and to do all the things which any person running an up-to-date, flexible and forward-looking pension scheme nowadays needs to be able to do.
823 In the face of these wide powers, certain safeguards are built in which I know that the staff interests will welcome, as I hope will the House.
If Parliament passes the Bill, it will approve, and thus control, the framework within which these powers are exercised, but we thought it right that Parliament should also continue to be able to control the coverage of the scheme.
The coverage is, therefore, governed by Clause 1(4) to (7). We start with a coverage which is virtually the same as that of the existing Superannuation Act, 1965. There is a power to add to the list other categories of people who are remunerated out of moneys voted by Parliament or out of the Consolidated Fund, or out of any statutory fund set up by an Act of Parliament.
The second main purpose relates to the remainder of the civil public service pension schemes—is, as I have said, the pension schemes of local government, the teachers, the health services, and the police and fire services.
At the moment, these are set out to varying degrees in primary legislation and different degrees of subordinate legislation, though none of them nearly so predominantly in primary legislation as the Civil Service scheme. The purpose of the Bill is to tidy up and to secure for all these schemes, and for any subsequent changes in them, a single consistent pattern of control. The proposal is that they should be set out in Statutory Instruments subject to negative Resolution. Again there are important safeguards for staff interests.
Incidentally, I wish to make it clear that the Bill is in no way concerned with the Armed Forces pension schemes, which are set out in prerogative instruments.
The third main purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to complete the process of removing from Ministerial control the terms of the staff pension schemes of the nationalised industries and certain other similarly constituted bodies. The House may recall that on 9th June last I announced the Government's decision to remove this control, which by 1971 seemed to have become an inappropriate and unnecessary piece of Government activity. As I explained then, the process of decontrol could be 824 achieved in many important instances by Statutory Instrument.
This has been done. The Bill will enable us to complete the task for those bodies, including the Post Office and the British Airports Authority, for which the change could be effected only by primary legislation.
The remaining provisions in the Bill are miscellaneous, consequential or transitional. From among the miscellaneous, I think that the House would at this stage wish to know only that Clause 13 modernises the pension arrangements for the Comptroller and Auditor General by bringing them into line with those for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.
I referred earlier to the Bill's place in a wider context. I want not merely to set it in the context of our planned progress of reappraisal and reform of the arrangements governing the way people should be treated when they leave the public service but, first, to touch on how all these changes themselves fall within the Government's wider "strategy for pensions".
The Bill is concerned with powers relating to occupational pension schemes to be exercised by the Government and other public authorities as employers. These schemes are separate from the provision which the State makes not as employer but as a provider of social security for all people in old age and times of difficulty. But the recent White Paper of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services explains the Government's view of the link between the two.
It is a cardinal feature of my right hon. Friend's policy that a much more important rôle should be played by the occupational pension scheme. The social security system will provide a flat-rate coverage for all but in future all employers are to be positively encouraged to build on top of that an earnings-related provision for old age by means of their own occupational schemes.
The Government, for their part, intend to set a good example both as employer in the Civil Service and in the National Health Services, and, less directly, in relation to the occupational pension schemes of the other public 825 services, where they also have a rôle to play.
The Bill clears the way for the final and, perhaps, most important stage in a three-part programme designed to bring Civil Service superannuation fully into line with present-day needs and enables the other public services to follow this lead, or similar avenues of advance, as they may need.
The first stage, still recent in the House's memory, was the Pensions (Increase) Act, which became law shortly before the Summer Recess. This puts on to a predictable and satisfactory basis for the first time the arrangements for increasing the pensions of public servants after they have retired. The present Bill does not affect the Pensions (Increase) Act other than in some quite minor consequential adjustments.
Next came the improved arrangements which are to be made for those who for various reasons, other than health, have to leave the Civil Service before the normal retiring age. Last week I was able to announce that these arrangements had been agreed by the national staff side. They have been agreed also by the trade unions representing industrial civil servants. Their full implementation will be made possible by the enactment of this Bill.
The third area of reform is the main public service pension schemes themselves. Here, there are two problems. One is the format, with its often cumbersome and creaking provisions for change which I shall be coming to in a few moments the other is the need to improve the terms of the schemes themselves.
The schemes are all under review, of will shortly be, in joint consultation between management and staff representatives. These reviews have been in train for different periods, but the hope is that they will all move towards completion in the forthcoming months, and that the powers under the Bill will be ready to hand to implement in a speedy and efficient manner whatever changes are agreed. Obviously, since negotiations in most instances are already in progress, I cannot, without some risk of prejudice, say much today about what is likely to emerge, net alone offer the House an appraisal of the likely changes in all the 826 schemes. But I can offer illustratively one or two indications, from the point of view of the Civil Service, of the way things are going.
We start with the improvements already achieved in the Pensions (Increase) Act and in the recently concluded agreement on compensation, to which I have just referred. Generally, hon. Members can take it that the review will lead to a major reform of Civil Service superannuation. This is certainly due. The Civil Service, as I shall have cause to recall again in a moment or two, has been a pioneer in this field and in the past set the pace in this country. Over the years since the war, many other employers have, fortunately, begun to catch up, and not a few have now overtaken us. There have not been really major changes in the Civil Service scheme since the years just after the war when the supplementary widows' and children's scheme was introduced. It is, therefore, time for a major look.
One area in which substantial change can be expected arises from the commitment in my own party's manifesto toensure that everyone can take their pension rights with them when they change their jobs".This is carried a stage further in my right hon. Friend's White Paper, "Strategy for Pensions", which refers, among other things, to the aim of the Government as employer to introduce preservation in the Civil Service and the National Health Service well in advance of April 1975, the likely compulsory date.
The White Paper explains that, for practical reasons, the Government will not be making transferability compulsory. But in the Civil Service we are forging ahead with our plans for both preservation and transferability, which go hand in hand, and we are well ahead with discussions with the staff side on how we can best give these intentions prompt and good effect.
While it is possible to ensure that everybody in the pension scheme has a right to a preserved pension after five years' service, it will be clear that ensuring the spread of the right to transfer accrued pension rights from one employment to another is not a one-sided operation: one is inevitably involved with, and dependent upon, what other 827 employers are prepared to do as well. So one of our aims will be to minimise that dependence, which is otherwise a serious brake on progress, particularly as we want to make progress on transfer to and from the private sector as well.
Since the qualifying period of service for preservation will be five years, we are bound to reduce the qualifying period for pension in our scheme from 10 to five years, also. This in itself will be a major improvement.
It must, also, be clear to those who take a close interest in these things that the negotiating committee is bound to look at ways of bringing about some significant improvement in that area of the scheme which copes with the contingency of the death of the scheme member. I mean things like widows' and children's pensions, death benefit, and so on. We are taking a critical look at the provisions of the injury warrant, too. Nor are we neglecting the scheme's coverage. Discussions with the staff side are well advanced also on the Fulton proposal that all temporary civil servants should be pensionable.
I am sure the House will understand that I cannot be more specific or more quantitative than this, and I certainly do not imply that those broad allusions are exhaustive. It is a major review in which we are involved and nothing has been ruled out of discussion.
When the reviews are complete, when the Bill has become law, and when the powers in it have been used to implement the results of the reviews, public service superannuation should have taken on overall an up-to-date and streamlined look, and the public services, as so often in the past, will again be setting a good example in this field to other employers. Moreover, they will be much better placed than in the past to move quickly and flexibly to meet the need for further change when it arises.
I now turn to three questions which I believe, the Bill may well prompt. Why is it right to remove a substantial amount of control from Parliament? Why go further in this direction for the Civil Service than for the other public services? Is there cause for concern here for staff, and are there any relevant safeguards for them?
828 To answer the first question it is necessary to delve a little into history, in fact to the 18th century, when "pension" was not so nearly synonymous with "superannuation" as it is today and before there were any Acts upon the Statute Book dealing with public service superannuation. As so often, Dr. Johnson, I suppose, had the last word on this when he defined "pension" in his dictionary as generally understood to mean pay given to a State hireling for treason to his country.
The point I want to salvage from that is that in those days "pension" was simply a word for a State payment or subsidy to a person for services rendered in recognition of his position in life or for some other reason, good or bad. It did not necessarily have even a flavour of a payment to those who were either literally superannuated or, as an early public Measure so nicely and delicately put it, "worn out in the public service".
Towards the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century more than one Commission of Inquiry criticised the waste of public money involved in pension arrangements. The point was also beginning to be made that greater efficiency in public offices could be achieved if proper provision were made for regular payments after retirement, so that those who were too old to work efficiently could be retired without undue hardship.
The first Act to make general provisions for Civil Service pensions was that of 1810. Other Acts followed, and the first major Act dealing exclusively with superannuation was that of 1834. That Act was only finally repealed, with many others, as part of the consolidating. Superannuation Act, 1965.
I would say that there were three main reasons why these early provisions were enshrined in Acts of Parliament: first, to prevent abuses and the waste of public money; second, to promote efficiency in the public service by ensuring that people could be got rid of without hardship when they were no longer able to do their job; third, to encourage loyalty and long service and to set a standard, which, even though expressed in terms of maxima, gave staff something they could rely on.
We no longer have to rely on Acts of Parliament to achieve these ends. 829 Among the main reasons are the development of public financial control coupled with the developing traditions and professional standards of public servants, the widespread acceptance—particularly in the public services—of the need for well published codes of conditions of service, the greater continuity of policy in such matters that is nowadays achieved between Governments of different parties, and, finally, the development of the influence of the staff associations and of the responsible exercise of their very considerable power.
Indeed, as a result of these developments the balance of argument has moved so far from the original position that in some respects it has turned right round. As life and Government become more complex, and as the pressures upon Parliament grow more intense, it just does not make sense that parliamentary time should be taken up by the passage of Bills designed to change public service pension schemes. It is now an anachronism that this condition of service alone should be enshrined in many cases in primary legislation. It helps to underline this to point out that Civil Service pensions, costing some £100 million per annum, are controlled in detail by Act of Parliament, while Civil Service pay, costing some 13 times as much, is not.
I have dealt mainly so far with the situation as it is in the Civil Service. But much the same arguments hold true of the other public services. In turning to these, I will tackle my second question of why they should be treated somewhat differently from the Civil Service in this Bill. Pension schemes in the other public services were introduced a good deal later than in the Civil Service. For example, although the police were early in the field in the mid-19th century in securing some provision, it was not until the Police Act of 1890 and the Police (Scotland) Act of the same year that comprehensive schemes were established for police, and not until the Police Pensions Act of 1921 that there was a single scheme.
At the other end of the time scale came the pension schemes for the Health Services, for which powers were given in Acts of 1946 and 1947. By that stage, some of the arguments for modernising the legislative basis had begun to be accepted, at any rate implicitly, and the 830 National Health Service Acts of 1946 and 1947 made provision for pension schemes to be laid down in regulations requiring an affirmative Resolution in each House.
Our conclusion here is that it would not be appropriate to take these other public service schemes right out of legislation but rather that in all cases schemes should be consistently prescribed in Statutory Instruments made subject to the negative Resolution procedure.
I would not pretend that the circumstances of the Civil Service scheme and the circumstances of these other schemes can be distinguished as black from white—far from it—but there are two main reasons for not following precisely the pattern proposed for the Civil Service. First, and a very good reason, this is what the managers of the schemes themselves want and what the staff in every case, I understand, either want or are ready to accept. Second, what essentially distinguishes the other public services from the Civil Service here is that they either have a multiplicity of employers or a multiplicity of staff interests. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I say that the Civil Service is in these respects more monolithic, and this makes life a good deal simpler when administering a pension scheme. The need for uniformity and rather more formality makes a greater degree of parliamentary oversight desirable for the other public services.
I turn now from what is the appropriate degree of parliamentary involvement to my final question, which relates to safeguards for the staff. Hon. Members, and some in particular, are quite rightly watchdogs for the interests of members of the public services. As a Minister who shares some of the responsibility for managing the public services, I welcome this. I believe that I can safely say that in this Bill and in our plans for making use of the powers in the Bill we are neither offering to staff interests nor concealing from them any justifiable cause for alarm. Indeed, I am happy to be able to tell the House that in the case where the changes are greatest and the proposed powers are widest—that is, the Civil Service—we have this week received a letter from the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council. This records that the Bill will 831 meet a proposal it first advanced in 1955, and rightly goes on to point out that the speedy introduction of a new superannuation scheme for the Civil Service depends on the Bill's passage through Parliament.
Having regard to the safeguards that have been built in, I can also tell the House that to the best of our knowledge the staff interests in the other public services either welcome the changes proposed in the legislative basis of their schemes or are at any rate ready to accept them.
What are these safeguards? Before any change is made in any of the public service schemes, the Minister must consult with the representatives of the staff, and, indeed, the employers where they are a third party.
On this point, the Civil Service Staff Side says in its letter:They will … expect that the obligation to consult will mean no less than it says, in other words that there will be a real opportunity for any Official Side proposals to be discussed with the Staff Side and for the Staff Side's views, or their own proposals, to be considered and fully taken into account before decisions are taken.I am happy to say that this is precisely what we mean by consultation.
Second, there are provisions to protect existing pension rights in the event of any changes having to be made with retrospective effect. This can be explained more fully later if the House wishes it. Any points raised can be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security at the end of the debate.
The third safeguard applies only in the Civil Service, since only here is there scope for it. We have concluded that we can bring the Civil Service into line with the other public services in providing, when the new scheme is written up, that most of the benefits will be awarded as of right rather than, as hitherto, in the exercise of discretion. My hon. Friend would, I am sure, be ready to say a little more shout this at the end of the debate if the House wished it.
I believe that we are offering an impressive array of safeguards here, all of which are in any event supplementary to the considerable prestige and power of the staff associations and their consequent 832 ability, at any time they wish, to make their views felt powerfully in management quarters.
To sum up, the Bill must be seen as a part of the Government's wider strategy for occupational pensions generally and, in particular, of their systematic reform of the arrangements applying to members of the public services when they retire from office. It gives powers to remove the Civil Service pension scheme from the Statute Book altogether, and for the other public service schemes to be set out consistently in Statutory Instruments subject to negative Resolution. It enables us to complete the process of removing from ministerial control all the staff pension schemes of the nationalised industries and related bodies.
I believe that Parliament will see it as helping towards a better use of its own time, that it makes a modest contribution to our aim of achieving better government, and that its powers are also in the interests of staff and will be used to bring them substantial benefits.
§ 11.29 a.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
It is a pity that all the Government's good Bills come on a Friday and the bad Bills during the rest of the week. This welcome Bill deserves the attention of more hon. Members than are present to give it a blessing today.
I have especial pleasure in speaking on the Bill because I have been associated with this matter for so many years, and I am glad that, at last, what I have advocated for so long has now come about. Although the Parliamentary Secretary put the Bill in the wider setting of the Government's strategy on occupational pensions, this is not an indispensable part of it. Most of these proposals would have been forthcoming without this particular strategy on occupational pensions. The Labour Government intended to do something on these lines, but that would have been part of a different strategy on occupational pensions. I do not suggest there is anything wrong with the Bill on that account. It stands on its own and its merits are in its acceptance of the up-to-date philosophy of superannuation being part of the conditions of service.
The British trade union movement has been slow to accept this, more so in the 833 industrial world than in the white collar occupations, where there has always been a considerable interest in superannuation conditions. Any trade union leader will accept that fringe benefits, including superannuation, have been slow to be accepted by the trade union movement as part of the conditions of service negotiated with wages, hours and paid holiday agreements. The Civil Service, which has always had a close interest in superannuation, recognised many years ago that it should become part of the negotiations through the medium of the Civil Service National Whitley Council. Some of us had this idea even before the staff side gave evidence to the Priestley Commission as long ago as 1955.
It has always been a great handicap to have Civil Service superannuation conditions written into statute law so that an amending Bill is necessary every time a word or a comma in those conditions has to be altered. This disadvantage was most grievous when topping-up arrangements each time required a separate Pensions (Increase) Bill. When such Bills were before the House I stressed the need for pensions to be within the scope of negotiation and agreement through the Whitley machinery so that the House of Commons would not be troubled with them. That provision is not contained in the Bill but is to be found in the earlier legislation to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Although the Government may be accused of hustling us into the Common Market, they cannot be accused of hustling on with this Bill. Everyone has taken his time. Staff Side leaders have come and gone—including me—Treasury men and Ministers have come and gone, and this has been on the table all the time.
The justification for taking superannuation conditions away from the statutory control of Parliament is that they are now an important part of working conditions and of the whole conspectus of a person's working life and retirement, whether on health grounds or on grounds of age. That alone justifies the Bill.
I suppose that more recently the Fulton Report gave this idea a push. It was referred to, rather obscurely, in an appendix to the report. I do not regard the Fulton Report with any friendly feelings 834 because, although it made some wise recommendations, it also said some foolish ones. I do not think that any member of the Fulton Commission can be other than ashamed of the silly Chapter 1, which aroused such indignation in the public service by its reference to "gifted amateurs", and so on. Speaking as an Inland Revenue man, I wonder how any Royal Commission could claim to have a knowledge of training arrangements for providing efficient and highly sophisticated civil servants without once going near the Inland Revenue, which has perhaps the largest body of trained civil servants in the whole of the public service. However, that is a digression. I cannot resist a little sly dig at the Fulton Report whenever its name is mentioned.
The Parliamentary Secretary stressed that the Bill withdraws superannuation conditions from the framework of statute law and puts them almost wholly into the field of the regulation of working conditions. Schedule 1 contains a list of the kinds of employment to which Clause 1 refers. On looking down the list I was surprised to find a part of the public service of which I had no previous knowledge. Who is the Falkland Macer, and what staff has he? Could we manage without him? It is interesting to see that the superannuation conditions of the Falkland Macer will be adequately taken care of.
I do not know whether the staff side of the Whitley Council will ask this question, but I shall certainly ask it: when superannuation conditions are brought within the scope of negotiation and agreement on the Civil Service National Whitley Council, will they become part of the terms of reference of the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal? This does not arise on the Bill, but will affect the future scope of the tribunal. At present, superannuation is excluded from the scope of the tribunal, and there may be justification for including it in case of dispute in negotiation.
In an interesting passage in his speech the Parliamentary Secretary referred to all that is afoot in the major review of superannuation conditions in the public service. I have been connected with all the major reviews of superannuation for the last 40 years. What is now in the offing is probably more substantial than anything we have been able to do before 835 because there is now much more modern thinking about this. Public opinion is much more behind reasonable conditions in the public service. I remember the economy campaigns, the carping and criticism of the public service in years past when we were going through economic difficulties. The climate of opinion today is vastly different. Although more civil servants are in touch with more members of the public than ever before, they nevertheless appear to retain the respect and understanding of the public which is so highly important.
The question whether the non-contributory scheme in the Civil Service should be superseded by a contributory scheme has been considered by at least two Royal Commissions and is still a matter of great importance from the point of view of policy.
It is also important that the Bill will confer superannuation benefits as of right in a more positive sense than in the past. There will still be a few nominal permissive grants or awards to be made, but this is merely on the basis of coming to favourable terms with the Inland Revenue. A little innocent tax avoidance is not to be sneezed at even in superannuation arrangements in the public service. After all, other people get their lump sums, and there is no reason why civil servants should not get them tax free. There is no change in policy, but it is apparently necessary to preserve favourable taxation conditions.
Another welcome feature of the Bill is the obligation to have consultation with staff interests. It is made obligatory, and this is very important. Though there has been no complaint over the years by the Staff Side about lack of consultation by the official side on superannuation matters, it has been a nuisance when we have been told that we have to reach informal agreements which are subject to Ministerial and finally parliamentary consent and then the matter will be at the hazard of the Government's legislative programme.
When one has been in Government and been on a legislation Committee and a Committee dealing with future legislation, one knows the difficulty of slotting in very often desirable Bills which get pushed aside because Governments are 836 bent on other and more important things. This right of consultation is important.
Another Clause in the Bill—Clause 2(4)—provides for retrospective effect to be given to new schemes where that is agreed. This, again, is very welcome.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the letter he received from the Staff Side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council. He did not refer to the safeguards which the Staff Side hoped would exist. The Staff Side mentioned three: safeguards for existing pensions, accrued pension benefits, and the Minister's obligation to consult staff interests. The Minister has given a full assurance on the third point, and, indeed, I think also on the other two. If there is any doubt, I am sure these points can be dealt with later.
There can be no worsening of existing superannuation conditions without the consent of the representatives of the staff interests, and I believe this is written into the Bill. Naturally, staff interests are concerned about changes lest they do harm to existing arrangements, and safeguards will, naturally, be sought.
I turn to the nationalised industries. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Written Answer on 9th June, in columns 339–340, about the completion of the process of liberation from ministerial control of nationalised industries' superannuation schemes. I suppose there is a history—I confess I do not know what it is—to the retention of ministerial control over the superannuation arrangements of the nationalised industries. This is probably because the Government feared that the nationalised industries might otherwise go off on their own and produce superannuation schemes which might be quoted by other staff interests in the public sector. I do not know whether that was the reason, but obviously the Government wanted to keep their hands on the development of superannuation arrangements throughout the public sector—directly for the civil service, and indirectly in local government and the nationalised industries. This arrangement can now go. I imagine the great freedom that will come from this will be felt mostly in regard to the Post Office, some of whose schemes are tied to ministerial control and have not been dealt with by Statutory Instrument 837 Finally, I come to the local authorities, which are dealt with mainly in Clauses 7 and 10. Again, assurances are sought and the National Association of Local Government Officers is raising a number of points. It might be worth while to put them on record. The association says:Schedule 3 does not contain references to such matters as preservation of superannuation rights on reduction of remuneration under Section 6(5) of the Local Government Superannuation Act 1937 as amended by Section 8(3) of the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1953.This is obviously complicated because of the cross-references to other legislation.
There is also a reference to paragraph 7 of Schedule 3, which is believed to replace a section of the Local Government Superannuation (Benefits) Regulation, 1954. Another point raised by the Assocation relates to paragraph 8 of the Third Schedule, which is thought to some extent to duplicate Section 25 of the 1953 Act. No doubt these matters can be dealt with in Committee, and there are some detailed points which will come up more particularly on the local authority side.
I have discharged my present duty and have been very glad to defer my journey for the day to do so. One can be in this House a long time without accomplishing anything very much, unless one is lucky in the ballot for Private Members' Bills and even then one does not always succeed in the end. I am very glad to see the end of my long advocacy to make superannuation conditions in the public service more businesslike, to link them with conditions of service to which they belong, and to enable the normal course of bargaining to look after pensions as well as pay.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I have rather enjoyed listening to the two initial speeches on this Bill, which obviously must be a very good Bill indeed. It is pleasant to be able to welcome a good Bill.
During the period of years I have been in the House of Commons I have always taken a special interest in pension schemes and from time to time I put in my own oar. I shall not be able to offer any realistic comments on the provisions 838 of the Bill, which are very complicated, and one needs to be like the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) to be quite sure where one is on such a Bill.
I thought how lucky the Minister was when he moved the Bill, because it sounded as though he had had no trouble over the negotiations. This must almost be a record. Perhaps he suppressed the arguments which took place—I do not know—but he certainly had a very easy ride.
I feel a slight twinge of conscience that I have to raise one matter which I feel ought to be put on the Statute Book, because it is so important. I feel that there should be adequate safeguards on this subject. I should like to say a few words about the nationalised industries and certain safeguards which may or may not be in the Bill.
Curiously enough, ever since I returned to the House of Commons in 1950, when quite a number of nationalised industries had come into existence, I have always looked closely at any new pensions increase legislation that is about to go on the Statute Book. I have always had close contacts with superannuitants in the gas and electricity industries and also in the railways, and have sought to discover how they would benefit from increases which come about through normal national legislation. There was no exception in respect of the last Pensions (Increase) Bill to the processes which I always undertake and I had from superannuitants in some of the industries questions about what their situation would be. I therefore wrote letters to the chairmen of the various boards and received in return answers which were relatively satisfactory.
However, I received a letter from the Chairman of the British Railways Board, the right hon. Richard Marsh, who was a great figure in the House until he took on this very important commitment, which somewhat staggered me because he said that the practice which had been followed ever since the railways had been nationalised would be put into operation on this occasion and that superannuitants would receive their increases but that he could give no undertaking that British Railways would make—and I suppose that this is the right phraseology—an annual review of the national pensions scheme. He went on to make what I considered to 839 be a rather unfortunate comment about the case which I had put to him. I was very upset by it.
I have been in Parliament a long time and I like to be sure that things are as they appear to be and to ensure that everybody's position is safeguarded. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm that Parliament will have the opportunity of putting Questions on the Floor of the House about pensions in the nationalised industries. I understand that we are able to ask Questions on this matter because I was told that the Minister for Transport Industries had already replied to Questions about pensions in British Railways.
I wish to quote the answer from the superannuitant who had written to me in the first place after I had sent him the reply of the Chairman of the British Railways Board. Having said that he had got his increased pension, for which he was very grateful, he stated:Regarding the Board's statement"—and the letter to me had been written by the Chairman, the right hon. Richard Marsh—I only paid in £100 and had received £330 in return"—which is what the Chairman had said—I wish to make it clear that October 1st, 1954, was the first occasion on which I could join a superannuation scheme and I paid into it the maximum I was allowed to. During my 48 years railway service"—and I hope that everybody notes that—I have never been able to join any other pension scheme".In the days of private ownership of the railways, I do not think that the workers were properly treated with regard to pensions and superannuation. When they did receive such benefits, they seemed to me intolerably low. It is pathetic to think that this man worked for all those years on the railways and yet it was not until 1954 that he was able to enter a superannuation scheme.
He goes on to say—and I quote this because I am very proud of it:I am extremely grateful for your kindness and trouble in this matter and very thankful you are willing to help such as myself.So we have settled this matter for the moment, but there was a very nasty sentence in the letter which the Chairman of Railways Board sent to me. I do not 840 think he can have meant it in that way, or he must have failed to realise that I would feel that he was being unfair. I know that part of the responsibility lies with private enterprise, but I never thought that anyone as distinguished as the right hon. Richard Marsh would get himself into such an attitude of mind that he would put a sentence like that in a letter to me about a man who had served the railways very well over a very long time. It absolutely staggered me and I felt very badly about it. I cannot think why he should have put it in the letter. It obviously hurt this old railway superannuitant and I do not like old superannuitants being hurt.
As I have indicated, the railways will not commit themselves to an annual review. The gas and electricity undertakings do not say this in their comments on this change in the procedure concerning nationalised industries. I should hate to think that the railway superannuitants might suffer in future.
We are handing over to the nationalised industries the right to control their own pension schemes. I disagree with that, but, after the co-operation which has been displayed between both sides of the House on the Bill, I am not likely to win my point. It always takes about 10 years to win any battle in this House, but I like to move a step forward whenever I can. I do not think that I shall win, but I should like to make a suggestion to my hon. Friend if he is determined to hand over to the nationalised industries the right to control their own pension schemes.
I understood from my Government that we were concerned about people who live on small fixed incomes. It hurts me very much to think that, to get the Bill tied up beautifully, these people may be at risk. I cannot believe that the Chairman of the British Railways Board will not fall into line when he has time to think over the matter again. He might have been annoyed by the letter which I sent to him from this railways super-annuitant. I do not know. However, it is obvious that, if we hand over control entirely to the nationalised industries, railways superannuitants may be at risk. I cannot see any way of protecting them, except by getting an assurance from my hon. Friend that Questions will be allowed in the House.
841 Mind you, Mr. Speaker, there is always a way out. I like to be able to put Questions in this House. This is the right way to conduct parliamentary democracy. But on occasions when, owing to protocol, Questions cannot be asked in the House, one can always table Motions. I am certain that the Chairman of the British Railways Board will read the debate today. He will have a natural interest in it. Therefore, I hope that he will take notice from me now that if I cannot win my battle today with my own Minister, which I should very much regret, there will be snorters from me on the Order Paper if railway superannuitants are not protected as they always have been since nationalisation of the railways became a fait accompli.
I say this because I was absolutely shattered by the letter to which I have referred. I am determined to stand up for those living on small fixed incomes in the belief that one day they will get recognition. This country has been built up in many effects and ways by the services rendered to it by people who are now in the category of superannuitants, retirement pensioners, and the like. In Parliament, I have always tried to look after the interests of those living on small fixed incomes.
I am not at all happy about this matter. I am speaking rather crudely and perhaps cruelly because I cannot believe that anyone like the Chairman of the British Railways Board should take the line that he has. It may be that, like many things British Railways have done, ordinary employees are not of such interest to the Railways Board as whether it can get sufficient money to make trains go at 350 miles per hour, which heaven forbid!
I should be grateful for a specific answer to this question. I am jolly glad, at any rate, that the railways superannuitant to whom I have referred is at last, after all these years, able to get this small increase of pension. I am not happy about the pensions increases anyhow. I should like a great deal more to be done for the pensioners. However, I want it firmly, on the record that we shall not be restricted from asking Questions about superannuitants in the nationalised industries.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John D. Grant (Islington, East)
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for squeezing me into this debate. I tried to catch your eye last Monday on the Housing Finance Bill. Had I been fortunate in doing so, I should certainly have denounced it as a vicious and inequitable piece of class legislation which is rather typical of this Government.
Today, I am happy to join my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) in extending a sincere welcome to this Bill. Like the Minister and my right hon. Friend, I think that it is a non-controversial Measure, and certainly it has the support of all the Civil Service trade unions. That in itself is quite remarkable in a period when the union-Government relationship is perhaps somewhat strained, to put it mildly.
I should, at the outset, declare an interest. I am acting as a consultant to the Civil and Public Services Association, which is the largest of the Civil Service trade unions, with a current membership of 185,000, and a great membership potential. Looking at some of the Measures before the House, particularly the Common Market legislation and the Housing Finance Bill, there is probably a recruiting dreamland ahead of it.
I should like to concentrate on those parts of the Bill which concern the Civil Service. As the Minister said, obviously following detailed consultation with the history-books, the provision of pensions and superannuation allowances for civil servants by Statute dates back many years—even a little beyond the incredible experience and recollection of my right hon. Friend, who, we know, has done so much on this issue—to about 1870, and I gather that there were even earlier Acts which laid the basis for many of the best schemes in both the public and private sectors.
Again, as the Minister said, pension schemes in the post-war period required flexibility to meet new contingencies. It has been the case that even minor adaptations to the Civil Service scheme has meant the absurdity of coming to Parliament to obtain an amending Act. This has meant the dual disadvantage of delay in putting right minor anomalies and a burden on the valuable time of this House.
843 My right hon. Friend has drawn attention to the Fulton Committee which, in 1968, recommended that changes should be mademore promptly and with less fuss.The Labour Government accepted that recommendation, and undoubtedly they would have carried it out had it not been for the brief but rather decisive aberration of the electors in June, 1970.
Since then, I am told that the Staff Side and the Official Side have worked hard and long to modernise the Civil Service scheme. Indeed, the Minister has confirmed that if the Bill is approved it will be possible to introduce a new up-to-date scheme which has most of the features common to the best occupational schemes.
I should like to comment on one or two points in the Bill. They have all been dealt with, but I should like to underline one or two.
Clause 1(1)(a) appears to provide that a Civil Service scheme could be introduced which will, for the first time, provide a legal entitlement to the main pension benefits, although Ministerial discretion for some benefits may still justifiably be necessary. Previous Acts have recognised that pensions may be paid. I recognise that pensions to those who qualify have rarely, if ever, been withheld, but no doubt this lack of an absolute right to a pension has given cause to understandable annoyance in the past. The Minister seems to have confirmed my understanding on this point, but he said that this may be spelled out in more detail subsequently. That would be helpful.
Clause 1(3) concerns consultation. Again, my right hon. Friend has touched on this. I wonder whether it is as specific as it could be. There are all kinds of consultation, ranging from merely notifying unions at the last moment to the full and frank consultation which apparently has been the experience of the Civil Service unions in superannuation matters, when in other areas Government consultation with the unions, especially in recent months, has left much to be desired.
I welcome the Minister's firm assurance that in future there will be Real, full consultation with the staff interests before 844 any new scheme is introduced, or changes of significance are made, but may I take the matter a little further and ask the Minister to assure the House that no such changes will be made against the declared interests of the majority of the staff? I think that it would be helpful if, either in reply to the debate, or in Committee, the Minister could take these matters a little further.
Clause 2(3) provides some cover against arbitrary retrospective acts by the Minister by guaranteeing that changes will not be made which retrospectively alter accrued rights, without consultation with staff interests. Pension rights accrue over a long period, and employees are entitled to an assurance that changes will not be made half way through, or perhaps at the end of, a long career, which worsen their conditions of service.
I hope that the Minister will give us a little more assurance on those points if not today, then in Committee. If he can do so, bearing in mind the general welcome which the Bill has received from the unions concerned, I very much hope that, unlike so much of the legislation which is before the House, it can be helped on its way with the maximum speed.
The Minister spoke about setting this Bill within an overall pensions strategy. Like the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), I, too, am keenly aware of the need to do more for people on small fixed incomes. I wish that the Government would adopt a little more short-term strategy, as opposed to a long-term one, on pensions generally and that the ordinary State pensioner, who is clearly falling further be hind daily in the battle against inflation, could receive some more immediate attention from the Government.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
If I were convinced that the Bill was to be the means of bringing redress for those who are suffering as a result of low service pensions, or even as a means of making a substantial contribution towards doing so, I should joint the rapturous welcome which it has been given, but, as I am far from being so convinced, mine is possibly a lone voice of dissent.
As I read it, the Bill proposes to take out of the legislative field Civil Service 845 pensions and to bring into it pensions paid to Health Service workers, firemen and local government workers. I think we have to consider why it should be desirable to take Civil Service pensions out of the legislative field and simultaneously to bring into it the pensions of other public servants.
If it is the case that Civil Service unions are so confident of their ability to negotiate satisfactory pension arrangements with the Government that they feel it is no longer necessary to have the legal safeguard of pension plans being set out in statutory documents, that is to be welcomed. I should not for a moment quarrel with the judgment of Civil Service unions in this matter. Their relationship with the Government is as good as any relationship between employer and employee in this country, and therefore they can come to satisfactory pension agreements and have satisfactory negotiations. It may be that the present parliamentary procedure is an impediment to the quick implementation of schemes about which they agree, but my limited experience, as a member of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, of dealing with delegated legislation leads me to the view that the procedure laid down does not delay to any appreciable extent the introduction of pension schemes, nor does it take up much of the time of the House.
If one wants to examine the argument, one has only to consider how little of the delegated legislation relating to Civil Service pensions has been debated on the Floor of the House. To the best of my knowledge ever since I have been a Member—and that is since 1966—none of the schemes has been debated on the Floor of the House. They have gone through virtually unchallenged. Most, if not all, have been dealt with under the negative procedure, and therefore if they have not been prayed against there has been no question of their being debated on the Floor of the House. In the parent Acts dealing with the pensions of teachers and policemen, provision is made for retrospective effect to be embodied in the delegated legislation, and that ensures that there is no hold up in that respect either.
I welcome the fact that the Civil Service unions are hoping that they can dispense with any recourse to legislation 846 for the purpose of settling pensions, but the part of the Bill dealing with that is inconsistent with the provisions in it affecting the pensions of Health Service and local government workers, and firemen. Is it a justification for the Bill that the unions representing the fire brigade, Health Service and local government workers are not strong enough, and confident enough of their relationship with their employers, to be able to negotiate schemes without having recourse to the protection of delegated legislation?
If these unions believe that by having a measure of parliamentary accountability for their schemes they will derive considerable benefit, they must be under the impression that Members will give such schemes careful consideration and look after the interests of those concerned. I question whether we can do that under our delegated legislation procedure.
In that respect the Bill is most untimely. I question whether this is the time to include in delegated legislation the pension schemes of firemen, Health Service and local government workers, bearing in mind how difficult it is for the House to exercise proper control over the merits of delegated legislation. This difficulty has been recognised, somewhat belatedly perhaps, to the extent that there is a proposal to have a joint committee of both Houses to examine it. The evidence before the Select Committee on Procedure on the question how effective control could be maintained over delegated legislation led the Committee to the conclusion that the present situation was unsatisfactory and should be thoroughly examined.
If one wants to quantify the problem of control of this kind of legislation, one has only to examine the number of Statutory Instruments which come before the House. During the recent Summer Recess, more than 200 such Instruments were laid. In the course of a year, between 600 and 800 Instruments can be laid, and there is no possibility of them all being debated—not that we would want to debate them all. But what is serious is that there is always a struggle to find time to debate the few against which Members do want to pray. I am not making a party political point, because this has happened under Labour and Conservative Governments. There have been many occasions on which it 847 has not been possible to debate Statutory Instruments which have been prayed against.
One must therefore assume that if the Bill is passed and if some dissatisfaction is expressed with any provision of the pension schemes relating to firemen, local government workers, teachers or policemen, and they wish to have the matter ventilated in the House, there will have to be a Prayer because the provisions applying to all of them will come under the negative procedure, and in view of the competition that exists for time in the House it is likely to be a considerable time before any such grievances are considered.
§ Mr. John D. Grant
When my hon. Friend refers to the need to protect public service workers outside the Civil Service, is he reflecting to any extent the views of the organisations which represent these people?
§ Mr. Booth
I will come to that. I can claim to reflect the views of at least one group of public service workers in my constituency, namely, teachers. However, I do not base my main contention on representation of, for example. N.A.L.G.O., the N.U.T., the Schoolmasters Association or the union that represents fire brigade workers. I base it on my experience of delegated legislation. This leads me to the conclusion that it is not a protection for these people as it stands. I rest also on the fact that the House has now agreed to consider the whole sphere of the control of the merits of delegated legislation.
I come to the effect of this legislation on the method of calculating pensions, for if we are to embody in delegated legislation means of calculating pensions, we must bear in mind that this will have an important effect when we come to deal with the wider question of how we are to ensure that the pensions of public service pensioners maintain some sort of relationship with the cost of living.
The commitment to bienniel review is welcome and I hope it will be made clear at a very early stage just how wide the scope of the review will be. In respect of teachers, who have been controlled by delegated legislation for some time, their position will not be changed by the Bill. In common with a number of other 848 superannuation schemes, their pension levels are based on the average salary of the final years of service. Any superannuation scheme which works in this way must inevitably, in a period of rising prices and salaries, result in the super-annuitant beginning his period of retirement with a pension which is less in value than he considered he would have got had it been a period of steady prices. He therefore starts at a disadvantage.
With the present system of fixing teachers' salaries the situation is even more grave. It has been represented to me by many teachers in my constituency that teachers who have served for a number of years and who are at the maximum point of their salary scale must, as a result of the introduction of the last salary increase, requalify for maximum salary. In other words, they must work under the new scales that have been introduced before being able to qualify for the maximum pay on those grades. This can mean that because a teacher's pension is based on his last three years of service, he can start with a pension which is lower than the appropriate proportion of the maximum scale which he might otherwise have expected to receive I trust that we shall receive an indication before the Bill goes into Committee whether the methods of calculating pensions will be covered in the Statutory Instruments which will be laid relating, to those pensions, whether they will relate to the current methods which are adopted for fixing pensions in certain spheres of the public service, and whether they will take note of the method of determining the salaries of teachers on the maximum scale.
I must of course comment on a question of transferability. In a society which has changed in such a way as to require people to alter their jobs more often now than ever before—some of the recent statistics of job transfers are alarming—it is necessary to ensure more transferability of pension rights.
One of the advantages of the delegated legislation scheme is that it has enabled provision to be made to carry pension rights over from one section of the public service to another. I want to be sure that it will be possible to have transferability of pensions between those schemes covered by delegated legislation and those 849 which are not so covered in the public service, and even between the public service and nationalised industry.
Frankly, I cannot feel satisfied with any superannuation Measure which does not lay this down clearly. I agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said about the need for years of campaign to bring about desirable changes. We must at some stage put into our legislation requirements for the transferability of pension rights, first for the sake of people in the service who may be forced to move, but second in the interests of the efficient working of industry and the public service.
I do not take a doctrinaire view about the efficiency of the Civil Service compared with private service. Indeed, I think the Civil Service could benefit from the transference to it of people from private industry. On the other hand, as a result of working in certain areas of private industry, I suggest that it could benefit from the transference to it of people from the Civil Service, who would bring in some civilising influences, possibly in the field of industrial relations. We must ensure in Committee that such transferability as has been possible in respect of previous delegated legislation is maintained.
In view of what I have said, I cannot give the Bill an unqualified welcome at this stage. I hope that in Committee and on Report we shall ensure, first, that such benefits as the Civil Service have had from delegated legislation will be available to others who will come into the sphere of delegation; second, that the methods of calculating pensions will take proper account of the rising cost of living and the way in which inflation devalues; and, third, the possibility of extending the provisions relating to the transfer of pension rights, though I fear that on this point I am being somewhat optimistic.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Michael Alison)
The House will agree, I think, that we have had a short and sweet debate, even including the speech of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). I congratulate those who have taken part, starting with the impressive performance by the right hon. Member 850 for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) with his venerable and unparalleled experience in this field, on the way in which they have managed to keep to the main issues of principle, when the Bill presents the House with many opportunities of diversion down detailed Committee alleyways which, in view of its complexity, could land us in a great deal of rather technical discussion in a Second Reading debate.
The main scope of the Bill is that it alters none of the public service pension schemes, let alone those of the nationalised industries, but is concerned essentially with conferring enabling powers. My own point of entry to this very technical subject is by virtue of my responsibility for health matters in the Department and thus for the National Health Service and its own superannuation scheme. This is one of the schemes affected by the Bill.
Although I am, therefore, no stranger to these matters, I must confess that, on first acquaintance with the 60 pages of the Bill and its formidable list of Schedules, I found it intimidating and felt inclined to retire into one of those havens of refuge that it is my Department's responsibility to maintain.
However, the very technicality of the Bill is in itself a justification for it. Superannuation in the public services is still so extensively laid down by statute and for the rest in a mixture of different degrees of surbordinate legislation that there is a tremendous tangle of legislation to pilot one's way through. To wind up the old powers and provide the new and simpler powers which we seek has been a most complex exercise for the draftsman, as I am sure the right hon. Member for Sowerby will appreciate.
This is simply a measure of the need to put an end to this degree of parliamentary control and to change, simplify and consolidate the legislative basis of schemes in the way that the Bill makes possible.
I should give an explanation of the reference to the Falkland Macer which the right hon. Gentleman's eagle eye detected. The Macers are officers of the High Court of Justiciary and the Court of Session. The Falkland Macer is appointed by the proprietor of the lands of Falkland in Fife under an old heritable grant by the Crown. Since 851 those early days the lands of Falkland have been inherited by a private individual who appointed a Macer in 1941 and it has been made over by him to the National Trust. This private individual has nevertheless not divested himself of his heritable right to appoint a Macer, so although the Macer serves the court, unlike the other Macers he is not appointed by a person acting for or on behalf of the Crown and is not therefore a civil servant. This is why he comes into the Schedule.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to an important N.A.L.G.O. point. He suggested that this might be a Committee point, and what he said has been noted both by myself and my my hon. Friend. We will see that it is looked into in Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised a tentative question about arbitration. The new shape of things to come does not mean that superannuation in the Civil Service is to become arbitrable. It has always been considered right that decisions on pension terms should ultimately rest with management and that to arbitrate piecemeal on them would rapidly produce a scheme riddled with anomalies and would undermine the Government's aim to set a consistent set of standards for the public service pension schemes.
§ Mr. Houghton
I appreciate that. It would be no part of this Bill, but obviously there may be room for some argument about that in the appropriate place.
§ Mr. Alison
The right hon. Gentleman's point in that connection has been noted.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about retrospection. My hon. Friend referred to the safeguards built into the Bill as a reassurance to staff in the event of the wider powers being taken. The right hon. Gentleman dealt briefly with the argument against any use of the retrospective power to worsen pension rights, but perhaps I could elaborate on this For all the public service schemes, there is provision to ensure that any changes made with retrospective effect shall not work so as to reduce any pension 852 already in issue. In the case of the Civil Service we have thought it right to go rather further, seeing that future changes here will be that much further removed from parliamentary control. So we have also built in a provision that no retrospective change shall work to reduce the accrued value to date of superannuation rights, including those of serving members, unless the staff representatives have been consulted and have agreed.
Hon. Members might ask why it should ever be necessary to give a power which could work to reduce accrued rights. Some benefits are specifically related to contributions, and the staff may wish to take a retrospective improvement in benefit, together with related increases in the relevant contribution, which could technically be interpreted as a worsening of accrued rights or expectations. But that could well be the choice of the staff and we do not want to exclude it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) covered an enormous span in her short speech—starting by saying that it was a very good Bill and ending with the alarming announcement that we could expect snorters from her on the Order Paper.
My hon. Friend is fully aware of the Government's decision, announced in June, to remove from the nationalised industries the need to secure Ministerial approval for their schemes. We are merely completing the job. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with us that the nationalised industries are commercial public bodies of high standing. It is just because we believe that the boards of the industries, being responsible, should carry full responsibility for deciding whether their scheme should include this or that or any entrenched safeguards that we took the decision we did. There is no inconsistency here. The position with the public services is that there is no change in the degree of Ministerial control and responsibility. Given that premise, it is a matter for us to decide what safeguards should be retained in the Statute.
My hon. Friend asked about the effect of a change on her freedom to ask Parliamentary Questions. This is strictly a matter for the various Ministers, but where there is no Ministerial responsibility there can be no answerability. But I do not think that hon. Members—particularly my hon. Friend—have found 853 that our right hon. Friends or their Departments have been unhelpful—
§ Mr. Alison
—in supplying information when that has been a sensible way to meet the need.
For example, on 27th October, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) received an answer from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries which is significant in the light of what my hon. Friend said today about the letter which she has had from Mr. Richard Marsh. My right hon. Friend said in that answer:The Railways Board have increased the pensions of superannuitants by amounts similar to those of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1971."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1971; Vol. 823, c. 330.]So it was in fact possible to elicit from the Minister an answer bearing precisely upon this question.
I must leave aside the wider question of what the nationalised industries feel it right, in the light of their responsible commercial status, to do by way of standards of superannuation, but my hon. Friend will be aware also that the forthcoming pattern of pension provision which the Government propose will contain this underlying safeguard of the quality of the reserve scheme which is bound to be taken as the minimum and as the exemplar, if nothing else, for schemes in other parts of the wider public sector.
The hon Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant) mentioned legal entitlement. I confirm that the apparently not very powerful words in Clause 1(1)(a),are to be paid or may be paid",as he inferred, amount to that legal entitlement which is the novel and welcome innovation of this Statute.
He spoke about consultation and inferred again that my hon. Friend may want to elaborate this matter in Committee. This is certainly the case. We shall certainly go further in Committee. But the Civil Service Staff Side, as the hon. Gentleman knows, have defined what they mean by consultation and we agree 100 per cent. with them. We do 854 not want to add to it. I have no doubt that if he has an opportunity, the hon. Gentleman will pursue this in Committee, and my hon. Friend will be only too willing to meet him and to help.
The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness made a number of quite wide-ranging comments on the Bill. Some of them fell a little outside the scope of the debate today in that they raised very wide issues of the quality or absence of quality of subordinate legislation and the debates we may have on it. Perhaps I can clarify one misconception, which possibly arose from my hearing of the hon. Member's words or conceivably exists in his mind, namely, that we are bringing the wider civil public service pension schemes into a statutory form, where hitherto they have not had it. I am sure that the hon. Member understands, as I do, that the wider civil public service pension schemes are set out in a mixture—this is the trouble—of primary legislation and subordinate legislation, in many cases subject to affirmative Resolution procedure and in others the negative Resolution procedure.
We are trying to take steps which are justified by the slight difference between the Civil Service scheme and the civil public service pension schemes, by reference to the fact that a feature of the latter is the multiplicity of employers or staff interests. The wide differences in the particular details of the different schemes, and the need to bring in some sense of consistency, uniformity and authority to a hatch patch of bases of provisions, as it is at present, is our justification for treating them differently from the rather more monolithic straightforward Civil Service scheme. But it is not that they have not hitherto enjoyed some statutory basis; it is the need to set them out in a consistent and authoritative frame in this basic instrument.
§ Mr. Booth
It may be because of the very complexity of the procedures used that I failed to make clear the areas which would be brought within the terms of the Bill. But for the sake of absolute clarity, can the Minister confirm that the Bill takes all of the Civil Service pensions, as we generally understand that term, outwith the delegated legislation arrangement but brings all of the other public service pensions, as we generally 855 understand them local government, fire, police and ambulance—within the delegated legislation procedure, provided that they have been under arrangements previously?
§ Mr. Alison
Yes, that is broadly true. The Civil Service pension scheme will cease to be governed in detail by Act of Parliament and will be set out in a non-statutory document. That is for civil servants.
We come to the next category, the civil public service schemes, which embrace a whole range of other bodies, such as teachers, firemen, the National Health Service and so on, and they will come into the parliamentary ambit and be subject to regulations themselves subject to the negative Resolution procedure. But there is yet a third category, what one might call the public sector schemes of the nationalised industries, upon which we have already acted; we have given them entire mastership in their own domain because they are commercially responsible public bodies.
A number of other points made by the hon. Member for Barrow—although I and my hon. Friend have noted them carefully—bear upon the reviews of the details of the various schemes which in all cases are currently in train. It would be premature to comment on them. The very purpose of a review is precisely to bring the provisions of these schemes into line with conditions today, and I have no doubt that the reviews will meet many of the points expressed by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Alison
They change nothing which already exists in terms of transferability. But we hope that they will make wider transferability feasible and available in the future.
Recognition that people should be provided for by their employer in their old-age, as the House recognises, has even shorter, younger roots in our social history than acceptance that ill health or 856 decrepitude merited some special provision. In Britain the public services, notably the Civil Service, have led the nation in good employer practice in this respect. Both our schemes and their framework now need bringing up to date, and this is generally recognised. By itself, the Bill goes most of the way towards achieving the latter aim. It also gives the power to affect the former aim when the necessary negotiations to which I referred are completed.
I hope that my hon. Friend and I have satisfied the House that this is a wholly reasonable and necessary measure. Indeed, the encouraging response from the benches opposite indicates that this hope is fulfilled, that it preserves a proper degree of parliamentary oversight in these matters, but no more than is proper, and that the interests of staff concerned will be protected by established good employer practices and reinsured by the safeguards written into the Bill.
§ 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).