HC Deb 27 June 1978 vol 952 cc1317-9

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)

I draw the attention of the Committee and of the Government to the plight of one of our colleagues who has written to me about reckonable service. Clause 10 is probably the clause in which our colleague's position is most easily discussed. I am sure that he will not mind if I mention his name. He is Brigadier Clarke, who was a Member of the House for 16 years, from 1950 to 1966. I can do no better than to make his case in his own words. He starts by saying that he badly needs our help and that time is not on his side. He continues: This Bill is very unfair to me and a number of my ex-colleagues who left the House of Commons about the same time or after. He then mentions that he had 16 years' service. He points out: In 1965 Members got their pensions backdated 10 years by the 1965 Act and this was most acceptable to those serving in the House of Commons in 1965. It is of course very unfair to some who retired or were thrown out before 1965. He then gives examples of two colleagues whom I am sure he would not wish me to name. He goes on: The 1978 Act allows Members still serving today to claim 15 years back service instead of the 10 years formerly allowed…sly those who left in 1966 with a pension based on £3,000 odd are more in need of the extra five years' pension than those now serving and accumulating a pension based on £8,000 when they are not even receiving £8,000. He concludes: There seems no logic in existing MPs being allowed an extra five years when their retired colleagues, who are more in need —I do not think that anyone would dispute that— are barred from the claim. He hopes that the House will see the logic of his argument and do what it can to help. His case can be summarised briefly as follows: those who were allowed 10 years' back-dating in 1964 should now get the same extra four years as serving Members.

Brigadier Clarke ends with the question: Why should those who have 'served on' under better pay and conditions and qualified for better pensions deny the extra four years to those retired and now hard up? I know that the Minister of State has declared himself contrary to the principle of retrospective benefit. We understand how difficult that question is. But this is a plea from the heart from a former colleague, and evidently quite a number of our retired colleagues are in a similar position. I hope that the Minister of State will feel able to comment as generously as he can on the case which I have put forward on Brigadier Clarke's behalf.

Mr. John Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) for putting his case so succinctly. I am sure that our former colleague will be grateful to him for having argued his case.

As the hon. Gentleman anticipated, the difficulty of conferring this benefit upon those of our colleagues who leave before the legislation comes into operation is that it involves an element of retrospection. For the reasons which I outlined in reply to the debate on the Question, That Clause 6 stand part of the Bill, the Government find it difficult to depart from that principle.

The changes proposed in Clause 10 add five years for Members who served before 1964 who qualify under the clause. It is an extra five years at public expense. It is a reasonable proposition for those who qualify. I understand that the hon. Gentleman makes no criticism of the clause as it stands. The Boyle Committee considered it carefully and made this recommendation.

We are reluctant to depart from the recommendations made by the independent review body. I appreciate that a few minutes ago I moved an amendment which departed slightly from those recommendations and allowed more generous provision for children. However, we took into account the small amount involved and the fact that the Trustees of the parliamentary scheme specifically asked for it in the debate here as well as in evidence to the Boyle Committee.

I have a great deal of sympathy for our former colleagues, particularly those who find themselves in difficult financial circumstances. I can easily understand their plight, given the levels of remuneration which many of them received after many years of devoted service to the public. Obviously, they feel that it is a little unfair that some who survived a little longer—either because they chose to stay longer or because the electorate was kinder to them—should benefit from the provisions which we are about to introduce. It is a fact that every time we make an improvement there will be those who die before they can benefit from it and those who retire before they are eligible for it.

We have looked carefully at all these points. If we depart from the principle of no retrospection we shall be on a very slippery slope. It is for that reason only, not for any lack of sympathy for the predicament of our former colleague to whom the hon. Gentleman referred and of other former colleagues who may be in a similar position, that we cannot do anything about the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 11 to 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.