HC Deb 09 June 1972 vol 838 cc940-4

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I beg to move Amendment No. 22, in page 12, line 43, at end insert: (2A) No such pension shall be payable to a person in respect of any period during which he holds an office which is for the time being a disqualifying office under the House of Commons (Disqualification) Act 1957. This Amendment will be very popular, particularly with my hon. Friends, because it prevents what I term State servants, Members of Parliament and others from having the right to receive more than one pension. I am in favour of good pensions being paid. If I had the power I should treble the old-age pension tomorrow, but of course I cannot do that. I am in favour of the payment of a good pension to those who have served the State or the country. Whether it is in private or a public employment does not concern me.

I am a little apprehensive when I realise that someone can become a Member of the House, do his time here and claim a pension, leave the House, get a job as the chairman of a nationalised industry and after a few years get a whopping great pension, and then receive a peerage and collect £8.50 a day tax free in the other place. This is not hypothesis. This is what happens. I could give a whole list of persons in this category. Their names would occupy two or three pages of Hansard. But time does not permit me to do that. None of the peers who were once Members of this House can be regarded as having been the most brilliant, the most able, the most capable or the most diligent of Members. Not one of them did hard graft back-bench work, yet they are now in the other place getting £8.50 per day tax free by way of expense allowances.

A Member of the other place, in addition to what he receives by way of allowances, may be getting a National Coal Board salary plus all the expenses that go with it. I should not like to single out Lord Robens, because I understand that he is now non-party. I understand that he was once a Socialist, but I have my doubts, and always did. One might pick out Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who is more modern and more "with it".

Having done their service in the House, right hon. Members get a pension. They then get a job as the chairman of this or that board for which they are paid a good salary—perhaps £20,000 a year.

Mr. Bidwell

Mr. Richard Marsh.

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend refers to Mr. Richard Marsh. He has not as yet received his peerage. He is Chairman of the British Railways Board and is earning £20,000 a year, which is £400 a week and he is to receive an extra £80 a week, but the Government do not want to announce that yet because they are afraid that the railway men might object. Mr. Richard Marsh will, quite rightly, receive a pension from this House. He will receive a pension from the Railways Board when he has done his time there. I could pick a number of names out of the hat. There are probably hundreds of people in a similar situation.

This is not right. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who is one of the hardest working Members in the House, knows that, if a miner in his constituency wants to stay on at work after receiving his pension, that pension is reduced. This always applies to old-age pensions but not to the pensions of ex-Ministers or ex-Leaders of the Opposition or to those in the House of Lords—and it should.

My Amendment would ensure that no one—but no one—would draw more than one pension. He can choose which it is, but he should not be able to draw four or five pensions which he gets by virtue of holding office.

Let us not kid ourselves. Mr. Robens, as he then was, would not have become Lord Robens and Chairman of Vickers had he not been a Member of this House. While he may claim not to be a Socialist—I never thought he was—he must appreciate that, while he gets his pension from Vickers, he should not be able to draw a pension from this House as well as his £8.50p a day tax-free expenses from the House of Lords and all the other things.

There is also Lord Kilmuir. I must not only pick out the ex-so-called Labour people. And there is the other one—I have forgotten his name—

Mr. William Hamilton

There are so many of them.

Mr. Lewis

I have made the point, and I hope that the Minister will reply favourably. I am sure he will because, like me, he is interested in justice.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

After this debate, Mr. Andrew Roth will have to bring out a new edition of his Parliamentary Companion.

Clause 12 as drafted prevents a pension being paid to a Member who is currently a Member, a candidate, as defined later in the Clause, or a Minister or office-holder. The scheme thus follows what is becoming the established pattern in public service schemes. Past practice here has varied widely. Within the ambit of the same employment covered by the same pension scheme, an employee would not be allowed to draw pension plus re-employment pay without restrictions. This is the practice in the public services for which Ministers are responsible. There is no Minister with ministerial responsibility for the major staff schemes in the wider public sector—for example, the nationalised industries or private sector schemes. In practice, they will vary, but in general they are likely to be less restrictive than in the public services.

The Amendment would also rule out from receiving pension any Member employed in an office of employment listed in the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957—a vast range of employments, covering the judiciary, the Civil Service, the Armed Forces, the police and various boards, commissions and tribunals, including the nationalised industry boards. This would make practice in the parliamentary scheme far more restrictive than in the other public service schemes, which seems to be quite unreasonable.

The purpose of the House of Commons Disqualification Act was to ensure that Members of Parliament are not simultaneously paid as such and also in the pay of the Crown and thus, one may put it, on both sides of the fence at once. This cannot apply to pensioners.

The implication of what the hon. Gentleman suggested is that anyone earning a pension from any public sector source should be banned from, or limited in, earning a salary thereafter from another public sector source. But it would not be desirable or practicable to produce general and equitable rules on the lines the hon. Gentleman wants. It is not desirable, because it seems unnecessary. It is one thing that one employer should not give pay and pension without limit simultaneously, and the Bill prevents this for Members. It is quite another thing to say that no occupational pensioner should be able to earn anything elsewhere in the public sector. It is not practicable to devise equitable rules because there is some difficulty in deciding the barrier between the public and private sector, which would be undermined by the freedom from any corresponding restrictions on those who moved from the public to the private sector, or vice versa, or within the private sector.

Therefore, I cannot agree that we need any general rule which would restrict retired Members more closely than other retired public service pensioners.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I am amazed. I must congratulate the Minister on his admirable reading of his brief. All he left out were the commas, the full stops and the capital letters. He did not attempt to say one word about the points I made. I wish that I, too, had prepared a brief. I speak extemporaneously, but if I had had a brief I could have handed it to the Minister for him to look at and then to answer my points. He did not attempt to deal with one of my points but just read the drivel his Department had prepared before anyone had heard what I had to say.

Is it right for Lord Robens or Lord anyone to be able to draw four or five pensions? That is what can happen if the Amendment is not accepted. Lord Robens can draw his pension as an ex-Member and he can draw a pension as the ex-Chairman of the Board of a nationalised industry. He could also have a pension from two or three sinecures and additionally his private pension, for which he pays, when he retires from Vickers or whatever it is.

I want to see good pensions for everyone, particularly Members of Parliament, but I cannot think that the State should provide two or three pensions for such individuals in the knowledge that they can and do, by virtue of the office they have held, take additional private jobs. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) was right when he said that we as back benchers are precluded from joining private enterprise schemes with the tax relief, because of the self-employment provision. That does not apply to those who leave the House with their pension rights intact and then join private schemes. It is no good the Minister's shaking his head. I can assure him that that is a statement of fact. Some people can and will be drawing three or four pensions, and if they want a private pension on top they will be able to get it.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to look at the matter again. He is always telling us that the Government want to save money, that he wants to have fairness in industry and throughout the country. This provision is not fair, and cannot be fair. As it is not fair, I must persist with my Amendment. If I could obtain some support, I would divide the Committee on it. If there were more time I would argue at length. I shall sit down now because of the shortage of time and because my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is patiently waiting to deal with some important Amendments. But I will not withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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