§ 8.5 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Mr. Peter Archer)
I beg to move,That leave be given for the proper Officers of the House to attend the trials of the action between Metzger and others and the Department of Health and Social Security and to produce the Reports of Debates and Committee Proceedings to which reference is desired to be made and formally to prove the same according to their competence, as prayed for in the Petition relating to the action between Metzger and others and the Department of Health and Social Security presented to this House; yesterday, and that leave be given for reference to be made to the said Reports.When I had occasion to present a similar petition to the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was rebuked for using gobbledegook, for having failed to explain to the House the purpose of the motion and for not having given notice of my intention to move the petition. As I understand it, it has not been the practice to give notice, but with the assistance of Officers of the House, for which I am extremely grateful, we have been able to adopt a procedure that enabled full 315 details of the petition to appear in yesterday's Votes and Proceedings, and the motion appear on today's Order Paper. If the House will bear with me, I shall offer a brief explanation.
When it is desired to produce evidence before a court of anything said in the House, it is necessary to petition the House for leave that that should be done. That is dealt with in "Erskine May", on page 88. I had reason to elaborate on it somewhat on 18th July and 21st July 1975 in volume 895, column 1921 and volume 896, column 226 of the Official Report.
The petition relates to an action brought by recipients of retirement pensions against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for declarations to the effect that my right hon. Friend did not properly apply the procedures laid down by the Social Security Act 1975 to ensure that pensions are uprated in accordance with the level of earnings or prices. The petitioners are the solicitors respectively for the plaintiffs and the defendant. They are agreed that it would be helpful to the court if certain extracts from the Official Report were available so that the court might see what my right hon. Friend, his predecessor, and their junior Ministers told the House were the considerations they had in mind on the relevant occasions.
I am satisfied that it is desirable for the administration of justice between the parties that the court should have that assistance. I ask the House to give leave accordingly.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
The Solicitor-General and the House will be relieved to know that I am in full support of the motion. Furthermore, I do not intend in any sense to challenge the procedures, as happened. I think, on the earlier occasion to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. I go further and say that I hope that what happened yesterday and today, with the petition laid yesterday and the motion appearing on the Order Paper today, will be regarded as a precedent for the future.
It always seemed to be an unsatisfactory procedure whereby a petition could be lodged with the House and on 316 the same day a motion immediately moved, when by its very nature there could have been no notice to any right hon. or hon. Member that that was to happen. No doubt the Solicitor-General has seared into his mind the several hours of debate to which he was subjected when the subject matter of the action was the publication of the Crossman diaries.
I have before me the petition as it was reported in the Votes and Proceedings of yesterday's debate. It is proposed to produce to the court in Metzger and Others v. The Department of Health and Social Security a number of debates concerning the obligation to raise pensions and other long-term benefits by the more advantageous movement of prices or earnings. When I say "advantageous" I mean advantageous to the pensioner. I shall quote only four brief passages from the debates that it is proposed to put before the court. It would be quite wrong for me to refer at all to the proceedings or to advert to the question of their likely outcome, but I would hope that the following passages would at any rate be among those which the court will have.
On 22nd May 1975 the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said this, after having announced increases in pensions:These increases are in line with the movement in earnings of nearly 15 per cent. that has taken place in the period from August 1974 to March 1975, which is the relevant period for calculating this uprating."—[Official Report, 22nd May 1975; Vol. 892, c. 1624.]There was a very rapid period of inflation between then and when those upratings took effect. The then Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher)—said this on 24th June:Changes in the movement of earnings and prices after March 1975 will of course be reflected in the next following uprating."—[Official Report, 24th June 1975; Vol. 894, c. 376.]The third quotation which I shall make, again from one of the documents to be produced by the House, is from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is, perhaps, one of the most astonishing passages in any Budget Speech that I have read:Now that the rate of inflation is coming down, I believe that an increase of £3 in the 317 rate of pension for a married couple would be more than enough to match the actual and likely improvement in earnings to the 12 months to November. But I have listened carefully to representations from those who have urged me to go beyond this. In the light of these representations I have decided to raise the married rate by £3.30 to £24.50."—[Official Report, 6th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 269–70.]At that point, as the House will remember the right hon. Gentleman actually won a cheer from his hon. Friends.
My fourth quotation is from the next day, again from the right hon. Member for Blackburn:now that the rate of inflation is coming down it would no longer be appropriate to base the uprating on a reference period which lies wholly in the past."—[Official Report, 7th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 426.]It is not for me to say what the court will make of the contrasts and contradictions in those passages from Ministers' speeches that we are now proposing—
§ The Solicitor-General
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but if we are to have words such as "contradictions" I submit that we are getting very much into the field of the merits of the matter, which is sub judice.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
I was expecting the right hon. Gentleman to relate what he was saying to the question whether the evidence should be given to the court.
§ Mr. Jenkin
If the Solicitor-General had contained himself for one half-minute further he would have heard me say that I was about to conclude my speech by saying that I can think of nothing but advantage that will come from allowing these passages and others referred to in this petition to be openly discussed, read and repeated again and again in the court. I therefore entirely support the motion that the Solicitor-General has presented.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That leave be given for the proper Officers of the House to attend the trials of the action between Metzger and others and the Department of Health and Social Security and to produce the Reports of Debates and Committee Proceedings to which reference is desired to be made and formally to prove the same according to their competence, as prayed for in the Petition relating to the action between Metzger
and others and the Department of Health and Social Security presented to this House yesterday, and that leave be given for reference to be made to the said Reports.