HC Deb 19 January 1972 vol 829 cc558-69

8.6 p.m.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

I make no apology for raising on the Adjournment a subject which was raised in the House in June, 1959, by the then hon. Member for Carlisle. On this occasion I raise the matter on behalf of an individual whereas in 1959 my predecessor dealt with the subject collectively. I raise the case of the dismissal of Mr. H. Quinn from the Carlisle and District State Management Scheme, and I regret that in dealing with this matter I must recall some of the history that has led up to the present state of affairs.

Mr. Quinn was a public house manager employed by the Carlisle and District State Management Scheme. In August, 1958, together with five other managers, he was dismissed from the service of the scheme with the complete loss of all superannuation rights. The sole charge made against him—the same can be said of the others who were dismissed—was that he had been inefficient in that he had not returned an acceptable surplus profit from the public house of which he was the manager.

At that time Mr. Quinn had completed 27 years' service as a manager. The irony of it was that he was within one month of normal retirement at the age of 60. I estimate that so far he has lost over £3,000 in superannuation benefit and that he continues to lose at the rate of £8 a week.

It must be borne in mind that he was dismissed within one month of retiring. This has been a cruel punishment for the alleged offence of inefficiency, particularly when one recalls that Section 2(1) of the Superannuation Act, 1887, incorporated into Section 9 of the 1965 Act, expressly provides for the retirement of civil servants on grounds of inefficiency with the retention of superannuation benefit.

Had the Government of the day agreed, Mr. Quinn could have been given his superannuation benefit. The refusal of the Home Office to extend the benefit of the 1965 Act to this comparatively junior employee was not only inexplicable but inconsistent with normal practice in the Civil Service.

The decision in Mr. Quinn's case was glaringly inconsistent with the decision in another, more recent, case. I refer to the case of Mr. Adams, a former general manager of the Carlisle and District State Management Scheme. I regret to have to bring Mr. Adams into this and I do so only to prove my point. I wish to be fair to him. He has been co-operative throughout, both before and since his dismissal, and has willingly answered the questions I have put to him about the scheme as a whole. But in June, 1969, not long ago, he was suspended on half pay pending inquiries, which continued for about 18 months without a report being published.

At the beginning of 1971 the half salary withheld from him was restored and he was allowed to retire with full superannuation benefit. As far as I know, all that was said was that he was inefficient. Yet I can disclose to the House, rather regrettably, that there were two episodes involving him which, on any objective view, gave the Home Office cause for at least as much dissatisfaction as it purported to have in the case of Mr. Quinn, whose case I am now arguing.

The first episode concerns the manage-ship of the New Citadel Restaurant opened by the State management scheme in my constituency about three years ago. In February, 1969, whilst Mr. Adams was still the general manager, a Mr. Cohen was appointed to the managership of the New Citadel Restaurant. At the beginning of 1970 it was revealed that Mr. Cohen's appointment as manager of the restaurant had been terminated and that he had been offered reappointment at a salary of £1,000 per annum—exactly half the salary previously received.

I remember asking Questions in the House at that time about the dismissal of Mr. Cohen, the manager. I thought it was wrong that he should be told, "You can have the job if you take a £1,000 reduction in salary." I still think it was wrong to have appointed him and then, just afterwards, to say, "We have given you too much. You can have the job provided you take a £1,000 reduction."

Mr. Cohen made no secret of his resentment of this treatment at the time, and the case received wide publicity in the Press and on television, much to the embarrassment of the Home Office. The lame explanation that Mr. Cohen was previously employed under contract does not bear examination because there is no precedent in the Civil Service for an employee on contract to be paid twice the salary that is appropriate to a permanent appointment. That the salary paid to Mr. Cohen was suspect is reinforced by the knowledge that the deputy general secretary of the Civil Service Union, which represents managers in the State management scheme, tried vainly between June and October, 1969, to obtain information about Mr. Cohen's salary. Both Mr. Adams before his suspension and the Home Office after his suspension refused to divulge this entirely unclassified information.

I have no doubt that the decision to pay Mr. Cohen £1,000 per annum above the proper salary was a monumental blunder. If the former general manager was not directly responsible for this, some other senior official was responsible. But no one has been retired on the grounds of inefficiency, let alone dismissed for a grave error of judgment which cost the Exchequer £1,000 and caused the Home Office considerable embarrassment.

The second episode involves my constituent Mr. Quinn. Since I came into the House in 1964, after meeting Mr. Quinn and discussing his case with him I have consistently raised this matter with almost every Home Secretary. I have had interviews at the Home Office. This is not a laughing matter; it is serious. My constituent is £3,000 worse off because of this blunder and the Home Office is not prepared to admit its mistake. I am convinced that Mr. Quinn has had a very raw deal and that whoever is responsible at the Home Office is not prepared to admit that he has made a very grave mistake.

In July, 1969, shortly after his suspension, the former general manager called upon Mr. Quinn at the latter's home offering information touching upon the honesty and integrity of an official of the Carlisle State Management Scheme, on the basis of which Mr. Quinn was encouraged to raise his case again. It needed no ex-general manager to force me or ask me to raise the case of Mr. Quinn. I have repeatedly raised it and until my dying day, unless something is done, I shall continue to fight on behalf of Mr. Quinn.

Subsequently Mr. Adams visited Mr. Quinn's solicitor, in company with Mr. Quinn, and repeated the allegations. I am sorry that I have to bring this out in the argument. On 22nd June, 1969, a telegram was received at the headquarters of the Civil Service Union in London. It had a Carlisle postmark and read as follows: Strongly advise reopen Quinn case. Inspectors will testify that"— it then gave the name of an official" gave demonstrations. It was signed "Insider." There is no doubt that the telegram referred to a matter that was touched upon in the Burt inquiry and that the telegram's objective was to persuade or provoke the union into raising matters that again could prove to be extremely embarrassing for the Home Office. It is to the credit of the union that it declined to be provoked on that occasion.

On 3rd August, 1969, on the very day that the former general manager was visiting Mr. Quinn, a mysterious telephone message was received at union headquarters from a lady describing herself as Mrs. Adams and asking for the last known address of Mr. Quinn. Again to the credit of the union, it refused to divulge this information. Its deputy general secretary, Mr. Moody, his suspicions now thoroughly aroused, sought and obtained a meeting with senior officials of the Home Office, to whom he revealed the contents of the telegram and telephone call, and he warned the Home Office that somebody in Carlisle was evidently bent upon stirring up trouble.

How far Mr. Adam's visit to Mr. Quinn was connected with the other two events is a matter of conjecture but it is a somewhat extraordinary coincidence that all these events should have occurred at about the same time. What cannot be doubted is that the action of this former general manager, a very senior official, who was himself under suspension pending inquiries, in approaching a former junior official in an effort to persuade him to take a course that could not do other than cause grave embarrassment to the Home Office was, to say the least, ill-judged.

Nevertheless the Home Office, in contrast to its action in the case of Mr. Quinn, has chosen deliberately to ignore these lapses and to allow this much more senior official, from whom a much higher standard of conduct could reasonably have been expected, to retire without any loss of benefit. I am glad that the Home Office did not allow this official to lose any benefit, because if it had done so I should probably have been raising an Adjournment debate on that issue.

It may be argued in the case of Mr. Adams that the Home Office was displaying leniency and compassion towards an employee who had lapsed after a blameless period of previous service. If that is the explanation I would not hesitate to applaud it, but I find it impossible to reconcile this with the harsh and unyielding treatment which Mr. Quinn has received.

As I have said, several appeals have been made on behalf of Mr. Quinn, the most recent being by myself to Lord Windlesham, but I am sorry to say that these appeals have fallen upon deaf ears. It therefore appears that we are faced with one law for the rich and another for the poor. The general manager can have his superannuation, he can be asked to retire. My other constituent, within a month of the event, was told "You must go". This is what is called British justice.

I do not believe that the Home Office, if it is honest, as I hope the Under-Secretary will be in his reply, can square these two cases other than by reviewing its decision in the case of Mr. Quinn. This dear old gentleman, now aged 73, lives with his loyal wife—a wonderful woman—in very reduced circumstances. I ask the Home Office to allow him to spend the remaining years of his life enjoying the reasonable degree of comfort that he was entitled to expect after 27 years' loyal service, not only to the public of Carlisle but also to the Home Office.

That is the appeal that I make tonight to the Under-Secretary. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will speak from a prepared brief and that he knows little about this case. However, I make this appeal to him and to his officers who are in the official box and who know something about this case: "Show a spark of humanity. Mr. Quinn is 73. A grave injustice was done to him. He has lost £3,000. He was sacked, on the ground of inefficiency, three months before he was due to retire. Yet you can say to others, 'Hand in your resignation. We will give you your superannuation'." As I say, it is one law for the rich and one for the poor.

Whatever the Under-Secretary says tonight, I shall certainly continue to fight this case to the best of my ability, because I will fight injustice anywhere. I believe that a grave injustice was done and is still being done to my constituent. I plead with the Under-Secretary for God's sake to give Mr. Quinn a chance to live in reasonable comfort for his few remaining years by giving him a pension.

8.26 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

I hope that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) will not take any of the remarks I make tonight as directed against him personally. He knows that I have a great regard for him. Although I fully appreciate his sincerity in raising this case on behalf of his constituent, I am sorry that he has felt it necessary to raise the matter in the House tonight after his recent interview with my noble Friend Lord Windlesham at the Home Office.

This matter has a long history. Mr. Quinn was dismissed as long ago as 1958. The case was fully ventilated in the House on 30th June, 1959, when the then Member for Carlisle—Dr. Johnson —raised it on an Adjournment debate. Since that date, the hon. Gentleman, with considerable pertinacity, has written to successive Home Secretaries. He has had replies from or meetings with five separate and successive Ministers at the Home Office, all of whom, I have no doubt, although I cannot speak for Ministers in the previous Administration, fully and carefully reviewed on many occasions the representations which the hon. Member made. It appears that not one of those Ministers, on reviewing the case, has felt it right to differ from the decision that Lord Butler, then Home Secretary, took in 1958.

Within the past few weeks the hon. Gentleman has had an interview with my noble Friend, Lord Windlesham, the junior Minister directly responsible, who has also reviewed the case and has come to the opinion that there is no evidence that would justify differing from the decision taken in 1958. The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would consider the decision myself. I am sure that he will accept from me that for the purposes of answering this debate I, too, have been through the file and the reports, and, although it is not my direct responsibility within the Home Office, I find myself wholly in agreement with the views expressed by my noble Friend and the decisions apparently reached by previous Ministers. Therefore, although I respect the hon. Gentleman's pertinacity, little good can probably be achieved at this stage by raising the case yet further.

Mr. Quinn was a public house manager of the Cumberland Hotel in the Carlisle and District State Management Scheme. As such, he was a civil servant. Therefore, when the proceedings in question took place he was dealt with under the established disciplinary procedure for the Civil Service. This long-standing procedure has been agreed with, and is fully accepted and supported by, the staff side, which includes representatives of the Civil Service Union, which has very properly represented Mr. Quinn from time to time.

For the benefit of hon. Members, perhaps I should outline the procedure open to the civil servant when a disciplinary charge is brought against him. He is first given a written statement defining the charge and setting out the particulars of the case relied on to support it. He must submit a written reply to the charge, but when there is a conflict between the two he may then put his case orally before a senior officer in his own department, other than his immediate superior. For that purpose he may have the assistance of a friend or colleague, who can be a representative of his union. Therefore, a decision to dismiss a civil servant is not made unfairly or hastily or without due consideration of the point of view of the officer concerned, including any claim he may make to extenuating circumstances.

All of that elaborate procedure was followed in the case of Mr. Quinn, who was one of six public house managers in the State Management Scheme who were dismissed as a result of disciplinary charges that, following repeated warnings of unsatisfactory trading results, they had failed by a substantial amount and over a considerable period to produce for payment into Exchequer funds the money that could reasonably have been expected from the sale of liquor at the public house it was their responsibility to manage. Two other managers were reprimanded and downgraded.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Mr. Quinn had had a long period of service with the Carlisle State Management Scheme. The action against him was based on returns over the previous 15 months, but in addition he had been continuously warned ever since January, 1953 —a period of five years—about the cash coming in from that public house.

The proper disciplinary procedure was scrupulously observed in the case of Mr. Quinn. Indeed, it went further, because in the case of the managers who were dismissed it was decided to appoint a special disciplinary board consisting of three members, two of whom, including the Chairman, had no connection with the Home Office. The Chairman was Sir John Simpson, then head of the Stationery Office. The appointment of that special board was well in accord with the well-guarded traditions of the Home Office for ensuring impartial treatment of any individual.

Before that disciplinary board Mr. Quinn had the advice and assistance of two headquarters officers from the Civil Service Union, who were there to help him and the other managers to present their cases to the board.

The board not only heard the manager's explanation but allowed the union representatives full scope for dealing with various more general points which they wished to advance, such as the control, the arrangements and whether there was adequate staff supervision. I am bound to point out that at the conclusion of the disciplinary board proceedings the union officials on behalf of Mr. Quinn and the other men went out of their way to thank the board for the very fair hearing they believed to have been given to these men.

The board sat for three days in Carlisle hearing evidence and had three further meetings to consider its findings and make recomendations to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Ron Lewis

In public or in camera?

Mr. Carlisle

I presume that the board, being a disciplinary board, would sit in camera, but with the man represented by members of his union. In the light of the board's findings the decision to dismiss Mr. Quinn was taken personally by the then Secretary of State, Lord Butler. It was taken in the light of the board's findings and its report. Mr. Quinn appealed as the Home Secretary gave him the opportunity to do, but after consideration of any further evidence that he wished to advance, the Home Secretary concluded that there were no grounds for varying the decision he had reached. Dismissal was the appropriate penalty in view of the serious nature of the charge and the loss to public funds that had been occasioned.

The hon. Member spoke about a kind heart, but the position is that, since Mr. Quinn was dismissed for disciplinary reasons, under the terms of the Superannuation Act there is no provision for the grant of a pension. There is no authority under which a pension may be granted. The loss of his pension was the direct and unavoidable consequence of his dismissal by the head of the Department, the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman tries to draw a contrast between that case and the case of Mr. Adams, but I would remind him that while there was a period of time when Mr. Adams was suspended pending investigations there was no action taken as a result of those investigations and Mr. Adams was retired on medical grounds and was not dismissed for a disciplinary offence.

Mr. Ron Lewis

According to newspaper reports, Mr. Adams was asked by the Home Office to retire on medical grounds. He is quoted in a newspaper interview as saying: There is nothing wrong with me, I am in good health and strength. Who am Ito believe?

Mr. Carlisle

I do not think it right to go into the details of another case, but the position is that Mr. Adams was suspended pending investigations but no action was taken as a result of these investigations. He retired on medical grounds—

Mr. Ron Lewis

At the suggestion of the Home Office.

Mr. Carlisle

Since he was retired on medical grounds he qualifies for a pension whereas—and I must get across to the hon. Gentleman—the simple fact is that if a person is dismissed as the result of a disciplinary offence there is no authority under the statute by which any pension can be paid. It is not a question of a discretionary grant. There is no authority. If he had not been dismissed but retired on what is known as an inefficiency basis then he would be eligible for consideration for a superannuation award.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Mr. Quinn is.

Mr. Carlisle

With respect he is not. The whole contention hinges on the definition of the word "inefficiency", Mr. Quinn was not retired prematurely on the basis that it was felt that the job was beyond him. He was dismissed following a disciplinary charge.

The charge—and I was careful to use the wording of it—which was brought against him was one of culpable inefficiency. He had the ability and capacity to do the work properly, but had not done it. That was the basis on which the Home Secretary made his decision to dismiss him. The question of retirement did not arise, and it was a question of dismissal. There is therefore no power to grant him a pension.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

The House is very interested in this matter. The Under-Secretary of State has given a fairly lucid explanation, but we are not aware whether it was a case of inefficiency or dishonesty. If there was no proof of dishonesty, and if there was no case on which a prosecution could he based, why was not this gentleman dealt with on the ground of inefficiency?

Mr. Carlisle

I did not propose to go into this matter but I will do so. At that time various managers of public houses were prosecuted for offences involving dishonesty—

Mr. Ron Lewis

Not this one.

Mr. Carlisle

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. Eight managers, including Mr. Quinn, were brought before a disciplinary board. No prosecution was brought against Mr. Quinn. I was careful to read the wording of what was said to be the disciplinary charge, namely, that following repeated warnings of unsatisfactory trading returns the managers had failed by a substantial amount and over a considerable period to produce for payment into Exchequer funds the money which could have reasonably been expected from the sale of liquor at their public houses. The allegation which was proved was one of culpable inefficiency in that, being the manager of the public house, over a substantial period the money being produced for payment into the Exchequer funds was not that which could reasonably have been expected from the sale of the liquor at that public house.

I repeat that this was not an action suddenly taken in 1958. Mr. Quinn had been repeatedly warned, on the state of returns since 1953, that this was the position. I appreciate that Mr. Quinn is now 73 and I have, as anybody must have, sympathy with a man who finds himself at that age without a pension. However, I am bound to say that that follows automatically from the decision to dismiss him. Having studied the papers, I must say that I am in agreement with the view formed by my predecessors—the five or six Ministers the hon. Gentleman has seen about this case—who consistently assured themselves that the decision taken in 1958 by the then Home Secretary, Mr. Butler, as he then was, to dismiss Mr. Quinn was fairly and properly taken. In the absence of any new evidence—and. despite the hon. Gentleman's plea, he has not been able to produce any new evidence—I am unable to recommend that the Home Secretary should vary the decision.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman answer the argument which I have used in the case of the former general manager, namely, why there should be one law in that case and another law in this case? He has not answered that argument.

Mr. Carlisle

I did answer it; it was the centre of my answer.

Mr. Ron Lewis


Mr. Carlisle

Mr. Quinn was dismissed in 1958. Mr. Adams was not dismissed; he was retired on medical grounds.

Mr. Ron Lewis

He has denied it. He has told the newspapers that he is in good health, so somebody is wrong. I shall not let this matter drop.

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