HL Deb 11 July 1922 vol 51 cc335-9

Debate on the Motion of the Earl of STAFFORD, That the Bill be now read 2a—resumed (according to Order).


My Lords, I do not know whether many of your Lordships were present when the Bill was originally moved, but may I remind you how it came about that the debate was adjourned? My noble friend moved the Second Reading of the Bill in a very complete speech, but as the Bill had only just been printed an objection was taken to proceeding with it before any of your Lordships had had time to examine it, and on the Motion of my noble friend, Lord Stanhope, the debate stood adjourned.

This Bill is one of a large class of measures which have for their object the establishment of a superannuation system. Upon the general principle of the Bill I imagine there will be only one opinion in your Lordships' House. It is a very good thing in any service, especially in any public service, that there should be a superannuation system. There is an additional reason why it is important that this matter should be considered. The point was dwelt upon by Lord Strafford in his opening speech—namely, that there are a considerable number of private Bills in which superannuation arrangements are inserted, and it seems better, from the general point of view, that the matter should be put on a regular footing and a general Act passed affecting all local authorities. If the matter rested there I should have no hesitation in accepting this Bill as it stands, with perhaps one or two minor Amendments.

But it is right to point out that this is not a very opportune moment for the production of this Bill. However you regard it, there is no question that the measure constitutes an addition to the emoluments of local government servants; the superannuation arrangements which it proposes really involve an addition to the emoluments they enjoy. The question which must occur to every one is whether this is an occasion for raising the salaries of local government officials, and I must say that I regard such a proposal with some hesitation. After all, the burden upon the rates is very heavy indeed at the moment; that is notorious. Complaints come in from all directions urging us to reduce the burden of the rates, and we should be very chary of lending ourselves to any legislation in the direction of raising them.

I am aware that this Bill is not compulsory. It is a permissive measure, and the noble Lord has suggested that we are not throwing any additional burden on the ratepayers because if local authorities do not like it they need not adopt it. To a certain extent that is true, but it would be much truer if the Bill was in the same condition as it was when originally introduced in the House of Commons. If I am not mistaken the measure could only be adopted when it was approved, not by the local authority itself, but by the electors themselves voting by a large majority. That, at any rate, would make the consent of the local authority more direct than it is as the Bill now stands. We are all aware that the pressure which can be put upon members of local authorities to adopt a Bill of this kind is very considerable. When the time comes for candidates to stand for election upon local authorities the officials can bring great pressure to bear upon them, and I am sure that the combined efforts of a large number of officials might have great and undue effect upon the election if they were minded to use all the power they possessed.

While, then, it is true that no local authority is compelled to adopt this Bill yet it is evident that there is great danger that pressure, and considerable pressure, will be exercised upon a local authority which does not adopt it, when perhaps a neighbouring local authority has adopted it. It may be difficult to resist the pressure, and I am reluctant that we should agree to such a possible increase in the weight of local taxation at such a moment as this. Prices are falling. There is not so strong a case now for increasing the salaries of these officials as there was last year, or the year before, and probably twelve months hence there will be still less reason for doing so. That is an additional argument against too hasty legislation. I hardly like to suggest that the Bill should not be allowed to have a Second Reading, but my noble friend must not think that we are treating him badly if he finds that the subsequent stages of this measure do not pass with the same smoothness; that is, providing your Lordships agree to the Second Reading. So far as I am concerned I shall desire to scrutinize the Bill very closely in its subsequent stages in order to avoid the charge being levelled against this House that at such a moment as this it lent its influence to assist the passage of a Bill which will mean an increase in the burdens of local authorities.


My Lords, I am sure that none of your Lordships will disagree with the concluding remarks of the noble Marquess who has just spoken, or with the position which he takes up. I am sorry that I was not present last week, when this matter was discussed, but no notice of opposition had been given, and I was not aware—


There was no time.


Possibly that is the explanation. I am not complaining of the fact that the matter was discussed. Indeed, I am very glad that it was discussed, and I hope the Bill will be thoroughly discussed in Committee. But I think it right to tell your Lordships that, in reading this Bill a second time, your Lordships are not out of harmony with what has been the policy of Parliament for the last ten years. The noble Marquess complains that this Bill means a possible increase of the pay of officers of local authorities. That is true. At any rate, I will go with him so far as to agree that the Bill would improve their position. At the same time, I am sure the noble Marquess has not forgotten Clause 15, which provides that all officials of the local authority who get the benefit of the Bill shall make a contribution of 5 per cent. I have never been in the fortunate position of having to contribute in any way to a superannuation fund, but I have never yet come across anybody who did contribute who thought he got full value for his contribution when he came to draw benefits. I think it is fair to mention that, as mitigating the extravagance which it is suggested may be encouraged in the local authority as the result of your Lordships passing this Bill, if you do pass it, this would provide only for a contributory scheme, and would not be a direct charge upon the rates, so far as the whole amount is concerned.


It will be partly so.


Undoubtedly; the local authority is at the back of the fund. I ought to tell your Lordships, on the general point referred to by the noble Marquess at the beginning of his remarks, that I welcome this Bill. There have been a number of proposals of this kind before Parliament in the shape of private Acts during the last eight or nine years. I think there have been fifteen occasions where Parliament has passed provisions of this kind, applying them to particular authorities, and there are five Bills this session.

On the general question of our passing such legislation, and making the provisions of that legislation adoptive, so that local authorities can adopt the provisions without having the expense of coming to Parliament themselves to ask for those provisions to be applied to them, I think there can be no two opinions. I wish we had more of these adoptive Acts. To mention only the Public Health Act, if I might make the suggestion to His Majesty's Government, a new Public Health Act is long, overdue. The big municipal authorities have to come to Parliament for local legislative powers, which they ought to have, and ought to be able to get in a cheaper way. On general principles, therefore, I welcome this Bill. In the end it will save money indirectly on the rates, which, perhaps, may slightly counterbalance the evils of direct expenditure which some of your Lordships fear. I hope your Lordships will read this Bill a second time.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl who has last spoken that this Bill, in the ultimate result, will effect a saving. To whom does it apply? Under Clause 6 it applies to a man

  1. "(a)who shall have completed ten years' service and shall become incapable of discharging the duties of his office or employment with efficiency by reason of permanent ill-health or infirmity of mind or body; or
  2. "(b)who shall have attained the age of sixty years and have completed service as aforesaid of forty years; or
  3. "(c)who shall have attained the age of sixty-five years."
This is a Bill which can be adopted. It is also a Bill which indicates the line which local authorities can take without having special schemes, and without applying for a special Act of Parliament. My own view is that, in the long run, it will really be the safest, and give a general rule for superannuation which might be safely adopted by the country, without too much expense, and without causing jobbery and attempts by the different authorities to obtain more than the special scale that happens to be laid down in the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.