§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Berry.]2.40 pm
§ Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I am most grateful to Mr. Speaker for having allocated time today to enable me to raise the matter of the pension entitlements of convicted former public employees in general and of my constiuent Mr. John Alan Maudsley in particular. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for so arranging his departmental and constituency engagements today as to be here to reply to this short debate.
My constituent's case is sad and complicated, but it is made the sadder because, although it was brought to the attention of the late Anthony Crosland as long ago as February 1976 when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, it still remains unresolved.
Before describing the background concerning my constituent, I shall remind the House of four equally tragic cases involving former public servants who have been convicted of various offences and have either resigned their posts or had their employment terminated thereby. The House will appreciate why it is necessary for me not to refer to these four cases by name.
The first case is of detective chief superintendent A, who was found guilty two or so years ago of a serious charge involving secret documents. As no doubt was right, he served his prison sentence but was allowed to keep his index-linked pension.
The second case involved a Mr. B, a former planning officer who had contributed to his council's superannuation fund over the whole period of this service with that council—some 40 years. He was allowed to keep his pension of about £4,250 although he was convicted. I am happy to say, however, that his sentence was quashed on subsequent appeal.
759 The third case involved Mr. C, a former civil servant in the Scottish Office, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment, subsequently reduced to four years on appeal. He was allowed to retain half his pension.
On the final case, I regret that in order to support my constituent's case I must be a little more specific. A former catering officer for the Birmingham city council, who was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, retained his full pension rights.
Because these cases seem to be very similar to the case of my constituent save in only one particular, I tabled questions to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of State, Civil Service Department on 22 January. I asked themwhat are the criteria applied in respect of the payment of pensions, or part pensions, to a convicted person who was, prior to conviction".Each question then referred respectively to a police officer, a local government officer or a person in the service of the Crown.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said:A convicted person's entitlement to a police pension may be forfeited if the conviction is for offences:He went on:
- (a) of treason;
- (b) under the Official Secrets Acts involving sentence of at least 10 years' imprisonment; or
- (c) committed in connection with police service and certified by the Secretary of State to have been gravely injurious to the interests of the State or to be liable to lead to serious loss of confidence in the public service."In these cases it is for the police authority concerned to determine whether the pension, or part of it, should be forfeited." —[Official Report, 22 January 1980; Vol 977, c. 102.]
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services replied in a similar way. He said:By virtue of amendments made to the local government superannuation scheme in 1977, in compliance with the requirements of the Social Security Act 1973, the rights enjoyed by a pensionable employee may only be forfeited if he has been convicted of an offence in connection with his employment and my right hon. Friend, at the request of his employing authority, certifies that the offence was either gravely injurious to the State or liable to lead to a serious loss of confidence in the public service.If such a certificate is given, it is for the employing authority to decide whether all or any of the employee's rights under the scheme shall be forfeit. My right hon. Friend has not issued any general guidance to local authorities about the way in which these powers should be used."—[Official Report, 21 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 83.]
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department replied:Pension benefits may be withheld wholly or in part if a civil servant or former civil servant is convicted of a serious offence in connection with his employment. Such cases are rare and no set criteria have been laid down for determining when and to what extent these discretionary powers should be used. Each case is considered individually according to the nature and seriousness of the offence, the penalties imposed by the courts and the personal circumstances and past record of the individual. In certain cases"—I draw the attention of the House to this remark—the Minister is required to certify that the offence was either gravely injurious to the State or was liable to lead to serious loss of confidence in the public service." —[Official Report, 22 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 117.]I hope that the House will note that each answer stated that a convicted person's pension entitlement may be forfeited if the case was liable to causea serious loss of confidence in the public service".760 However, that entitlement was not forfeited in the case of chief superintendent A, Mr. B., Mr. C. or even in the case of the former Birmingham city council catering officer. Unfortunately, my constituent was convicted of an offence following a long term of employment with the Birmingham city council. That is why a moment ago I had to be slightly more specific about the fourth instance that I cited.
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to my constituent's long and distinguished career in the local government service, which spanned about 39 years. Sadly, he was convicted in 1974 and sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment for bribery. He was released on parole at the end of 1975, but he found — this is the reason for bringing the case to the attention of the House—that on release from prison, and on the expiry of his parole, his prison sentence in no way completed the debt which society expected him to pay.
The most serious penalty that he has subsequently had to pay — one might even call it a fine following his imprisonment—is that he has been denied most of his pension entitlement. Indeed, eleven-twelfths of his pension has been denied to him. I understand that had his local government service not ended in conviction he would have been entitled to a pension of about £6,000, but following the decision of the Birmingham city council in 1975 he has received only one-twelfth of his pension, and, being in reduced circumstances, has been forced to apply for supplementary benefit.
That man was formerly chief city architect of the second city of this country. He was formerly a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was decorated with the CBE for services to local government. At one time, he was a peer among his professional colleagues. He has now come down far in the drawing board of life. Although my constituent appreciates that he may not receive his full pension, I share his view that natural justice seems to dictate that he should not be so severely punished in addition to the tragic conclusion to his career which has left him an extremely sad, sorry and unhappy person.
My hon. Friend will know that my constituent appealed to the Secretary of State for the Environment in February 1976. His appeal was to have his pension rights restored. As a result of local government reorganisation between the time of the cessation of his service with Birmingham city council and his release from prison, it was paid by the West Midlands county council. In an attempt to clarify the matter, West Midlands county council asked the High Court, in March 1979, to rule on the disputed views expressed by the Secretary of State following my constituent's appeal to him three years earlier. The High Court's decision was that it was for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to determine the appeal. I understand that my right hon. Friend has changed his provisional view of the nature of his jurisdiction in this case and that he is now under an obligation to review the merits of the forfeiture decision taken in 1975 by Birmingham city council.
Naturally, I do not expect my hon friend the Minister to indicate today the outcome of my right hon. Friend's decision. However, as he is to review the merits of the forfeiture decision taken by the council, I should like to draw several facts to his attention. They revolve around the reasons why my constituent ceased employment with Birmingham city council. The council now denies him his pension rights.
761 During the early part of 1974, my constituent was conscious of the fact that his employer, Birmingham city council, would come to an end on 31 March 1974 as a result of local government reorganisation. In 1973, my constituent was suspended from employment on full pay, pending the outcome of the police investigation. By the date of his resignation, my constituent was made aware that, the deputy chief architect had already been appointed to the post of city architect in the new authority, with effect from 1 April 1974. Therefore, my constituent was fully aware that, whatever the outcome of the criminal proceedings preferred against him, if he did not resign or transfer to the employment of the new city of Birmingham council there would be no post of equal status to which he could be appointed in the new authority.
On the date of his resignation, my constituent intended to plead not guilty to the charges against him, and his plea was not altered to a plea of guilty until his trial had commenced and counsel for the Crown had opened the prosecution case. On the date of his resignation, the effect of the local government superannuation regulations of 1974 was not known by my constituent and the rights of a person in his position were difficult to define.
In inquiries that he made, my constituent was told, not unnaturally, that he would be entitled to a pension when he had attained the age of 60 in August 1974. From copies of correspondence that I have seen and from other correspondence that I understand to exist—which passed between the town clerk for the city of Birmingham, the city treasurer and the county treasurer of the West Midlands county council, the successor authority — I believe that my constituent tendered his resignation in the light of these circumstances and not as a result of an offence of a fraudulent character or as a result of misconduct in the performance of his duties as Birmingham city architect.
My constituent paid the penalty and accepted his punishment. He now longs only for peace, quiet and security in the autumn of his life.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), who has attended this debate. Between 1970 and 1974 he sat, in a previous incarnation, as the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth. He was a member of the same professional institution as my constituent. I understand that at one time my hon. Friend—who always has striven and will continue to strive for excellence in the many things that he does—was vice-president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He has some working knowledge of my constituent and of the things that he tried to achieve during his period of service as Birmingham's chief architect. A person who has been through events such as those experienced by Mr. Maudsley probably emerges in the autumn of his life with few friends, little respect and, sadly, little pride.
I bring this case before the House with great reluctance. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider the facts before him. In the light of the four other cases that I have cited, I hope that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend will come to an early conclusion and so close this long chapter of sadness and humiliation for my constituent.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Marcus Fox)
I am sure that the case of Mr. Maudsley, the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle), will command the sympathy of other Members, inasmuch as it is more than six years since he first appealed to the Secretary of State about the forfeiture of his local government pension and he is still awaiting a final decision. I shall explain the complex circumstances, but, as the Secretary of State is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in dealing with Mr. Maudsley's appeal, I regret to say that I must restrict my comments to procedural and general aspects of the case.
My hon. Friend has raised the general question of forfeiture of pension rights by employees in the public service who have been convicted of an offence. There is obviously something distasteful in any provision that can be seen as involving a double punishment for the one offence, but successive Governments have taken the view that it is right that there should be such a provision, and this view is reflected in the different public service pension schemes.
There has, in fact, been a change in this respect, which was introduced, in the case of the local government pension scheme, by an amendment made in December 1977. It does not, therefore, apply to Mr. Maudsley's case. Similar amendments have been introduced into all other public service pension schemes. The effect of these changes is to ensure that, where an employee is convicted of an offence in connection with his employment, the relevant Minister must first certify that his offence has either been gravely injurious to the State or is liable to lead to serious loss of confidence in the public service before any decision as to the forfeiture of his pension rights can be taken.
The local government pension scheme is embodied in the Local Government Superannuation Regulations 1974, which were made by the Secretary of State under the enabling powers contained in section 7 and schedule 3 of the Superannuation Act 1972. As a result of the amendment to which I have referred, these regulations now provide that if an employee is or has been convicted of an offence in connection with his employment, the employing authority may apply to the Secretary of State for a certificate within three months of his conviction. If a certificate is granted and the employee in question is dismissed or resigns, or otherwise ceases to hold his employment, either before or after his conviction, in consequence of his offence, the employing authority may direct that he should forfeit his pension rights. Such a direction could then be the subject of an appeal to the Secretary of State by virtue of the appellate function conferred on him under the regulations.
It will be seen that the initiative rests with the individual employing authority. The new provisions do, however, make it possible for the central departments to consult each other about the criteria that should be applied in granting certificates, thus working towards a common policy.
There have been seven applications for certificates under the Local Government Superannuation Regulations since the new regulation came into force at the end of 1977. Four of these were rejected. Of the three that were accepted, two related to sexual offences against children 763 in the care of local authorities. The third related to an employee who used local government transport to commit offences, including burglary and grievous bodily harm.
I now turn to the case of Mr. Maudsley. Mr. Maudsley's case is governed by the law as it stood before the amendment of 1977 was brought into force. Under the provisions of section 17(3) of the Local Government Superannuation Act 1953, as re-enacted in the original regulation L13 of the 1974 regulations, an employing authority could direct that an employee should forfeit his pension right if he was dismissed or resigned or otherwise lost his employment in consequence of an offence of a fraudulent character or grave misconduct in relation to his employment. There was no requirement for a certificate from the Secretary of State, but it was, of course, open to a former employee who had been deprived of some or all of his pension rights under this provision to make an appeal to the Secretary of State.
The history of Mr, Maudsley's appeal is extremely complicated and, in spite of my hon. Friend's speech, I feel that I must give some details of it, if only to explain why six years have elapsed since Mr, Maudsley first submitted it. As has already been said, Mr. Maudsley was suspended from his post as city architect of the former Birmingham city council in February 1973 in consequence of the institution of police investigations. He resigned from his post on 31 March 1974, which, as hon. Members will recall, was the last day before local government reorganisation. On 21 June 1974 he was convicted of conspiracy to commit corruption and sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment.
On 20 September 1974, the new Birmingham district council directed that the whole of Mr. Maudsley's pension should be forfeited. He appealed to the Secretary of State against that decision, but the appeal was held in abeyance pending the hearing of an application to the High Court on the grounds that the authority had failed to observe the rules of natural justice. In July 1975 that hearing resulted in an order of certiorari, which quashed the forfeiture direction.
Following that order, the authority considered Mr. Maudsley's case at a special committee meeting held on 23 December 1975 at which he was present. It concluded that Mr. Maudsley had ceased his employment in consequence of his offence and directed that he should forfeit eleven-twelfths of his pension but that any contingent widow's pension should be left intact. Mr. Maudsley again appealed to the Secretary of State against that direction.
In May 1977 the Secretary of State gave it as his conclusion that the authority was not, in fact, empowered to make a forfeiture direction under the 1974 regulations, because those regulations did not, in his view, apply to a person who ceased to be employed before 1 April 1974, which was the date on which the regulations came into operation, even though in some respects they had retrospective effect to 31 March 1972. He concluded, therefore, that there was no proper decision taken by the authority against which an appeal could lie to him.
This conclusion was challenged in the High Court by the West Midlands county council, which is the authority responsible for administering the pension fund of which Mr. Maudsley is a member. On 16 March 1979 the High Court ruled that, contrary to the conclusion reached by the Secretary of State, the Birmingham district council did 764 indeed have the power to make a forfeiture direction in December 1975, provided that the conditions set out in the regulations were satisfied.
The points which my hon. Friend has made are obviously relevant to this question, but I am afraid that before they could be taken into account in consideration of the appeal it will first be necessary to establish that the Secretary of State does in fact have the power to review the merits of the decision taken by the Birmingham district council.
§ Mr. Heddle
Unless my information is incorrect, it has been established by Lord Bellwin that the Secretary of State has those powers.
§ Mr. Fox
I would simply say to my hon. Friend that he must leave this with me. I know that he has been in correspondence with my noble Friend and has had an interview with him, and I am certain that the results of that discussion will be taken into account.
The Secretary of State is now, therefore, required to determine Mr. Maudsley's outstanding appeal against the forfeiture decision made by the Birmingham district council in December 1975. This appeal raises two issues. The first is whether the conditions set out in the regulations were satisfied in such a way as to give the authority the power to make a forfeiture determination. This means that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that Mr. Maudsley did, in fact, resign in consequence of his offence. If he did not, the question of forfeiture would not arise. It has always been accepted that the Secretary of State has a duty to satisfy himself on this point when an appeal is made to him against a forfeiture direction made under the regulations.
The second question which arises is that of the merits of the decision taken by the authority and whether it was justified in the circumstances of the case. For many years now, the view has been that the Secretary of State is not in a position to consider this question. The view was that this was entirely a matter for the employing authority to determine at its discretion, provided that the prior conditions had been fulfilled. Mr. Maudsley's solicitors have challenged this view, and it is the fundamental nature of the point which they have raised which has, I am afraid, been responsible for the delay in considering this case, since it was returned to the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State by the High Court ruling of 16 March 1979.
As my hon. Friend is aware, a letter was sent to both the parties involved in the appeal on 10 November giving a provisional view on both these questions, namely, whether the prior conditions under which a forfeiture decision could be made were satisfied and whether the Secretary of State had a duty to consider the merits of the decision made by the Birmingham district council in December 1975. On the first point, the letter indicates that the Secretary of State is at this stage inclined to take the view that Mr. Maudsley did resign as a consequence of his offence. On the second, however, it indicates that the Secretary of State is now inclined to change his former view and accept that he may in fact have a duty to review the merits of the decision taken by the local authority in this case. I think that is, in fact, what my hon. Friend wanted to hear from me.
I must stress that both views are entirely provisional at this stage and will have to be considered in the light of any representations that either party may wish to make on 765 either point. I am afraid that it is not possible to carry the matter beyond that point at the present time, but I think that my hon. Friend will feel that he has at least got something out of this Adjournment debate in what I have just said if from nothing that I have already repeated.
766 I have been moved by my hon Friend's plea, and, indeed, the sad circumstances of Mr. Maudsley. It is in the best traditions of the House that my hon. Friend should represent his constituent as he has, and I promise him that all that has been said will be duly noted.
§ Question put and agreed to,
§ Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Three o'clock.