§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, this is a very small Bill and it will require only a short speech to make its contents known to your Lordships so that a Second Reading may be given. The Fire Services Act 698 of 1947 transferred the National Fire Service from the Government back to the local authorities. Since the change has taken place, it can be said that the high standards of national efficiency achieved have been worthily upheld by the local authorities, their officers and the members of their fire brigades. The general administrative provisions of the Act, too, have worked extremely well, but, unfortunately, an amending Bill is now required because of the drafting of two sections in particular —namely, Sections 26 and 27. The more important Amendments that will be worked into the Act of 1947 relate to Section 27, and they refer to the scheme of superannuation provided by that measure for firemen who are engaged in fighting fires.
Because of the circumstances in which firemen are employed, and because of the need for early retirement on their part, the superannuation scheme provided in the Act for these men has been advantageous to them—so advantageous that it ought not to apply to those members of fire brigades who are not themselves engaged in fire fighting. It has been assumed that those members of the fire brigades who are not active firemen will be provided for in the normal superannuation services afforded by local authorities. And, indeed, that thought has been generally followed, so that at this time an overwhelming number of men and women employed in such services have been enrolled in the local authorities superannuation schemes. Barely 900 men and women, however, have been left outside, because, unfortunately, in the section of which I am now speaking there is provision that persons engaged in that service should not be members of any superannuation scheme other than that provided for the firemen, although in fact they were ineligible for that scheme and were not taken into it. The proposed Amendments to Section 27 can be briefly stated as follows. Its object is, first, to legalise action taken by local authorities in enrolling members of the fire brigades into their superannuation schemes; secondly, to give those administering the firemen's pensions scheme the right to bring in exclusive provisions in order to prevent people other than those actually engaged in fighting fires, from coming into that scheme, and thirdly, to provide that members of fire brigades not engaged as fire- 699 fighters shall enter the normal local authority superannuation scheme.
Obviously, a certain amount of money will have to be found by the local authorities, and by Parliament, to meet obligations in connection with the extended membership. To some extent this will mean only a change in the form of payment. We do not anticipate that the cost will be very great. Obviously, also, it confronts those members of the fire services who have not gone into any scheme with the need of joining a local authority scheme and of paying contributions together with any arrears of contributions. Where a member of the Fire Service in this position chooses to join the local government scheme provided for him as from the beginning, arrangements will be made by which the contributions may be made on an instalment plan—that is to say, the entire arrears will not be claimed all at once. Where, however, a member of a fire brigade in this position does not want to pay for the arrears, he will be entitled to commence paying from the moment the Bill becomes law, but he will not be entitled to count his past service when it comes to reckoning his pension.
Clause 1 of the Bill deals with Section 26 of the Act. I need not explain this clause at length because its purpose is only to cover errors or faults in drafting. Here is a typical example. Under the 1947 Act the Minister has authority to produce orders from time to time to meet circumstances as they arise, but he does not appear to have power to bring in a consolidation order. The consequence is that unless we amend the Act in this way, we shall go on having orders piling on top of each other and adding to the confusion. The rest of the amendments contained in Clause 1 deal with mere points of drafting, such as reference to paragraph (b) when reference to paragraph (a) is meant, so I need not dwell upon them. I trust your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading, and I now beg to move that it be read a Second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Shepherd.)
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, there is no doubt that we shall all wish to give this Bill a Second Reading. Frankly, the men who find themselves outside the Fire Service scheme and the local gov- 700 ernment pensions scheme are in that position owing to the faulty drafting of a previous Act of Parliament. If that is the case, then everybody in Parliament will wish to put that matter right at the earliest possible opportunity. We have no question here about the financing of the scheme, but from the Financial Memorandum which accompanied this measure when it was before another place I understand that the scheme will cost about £5,000 a year to the Exchequer and £15,000 on the local rates. All I am concerned about is what is going to happen to those members of the Fire Service who were not covered by the 1947 scheme because they were in ancillary grades—telephonists or men who did not risk their lives in a fire, and who apparently were not included in any local government officers' pensions scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has given a full and a better explanation than I could grasp from reading the discussion in another place.
As I understand him, the men who have been left out can now legally come into the local government officers' scheme. They have the option either of coming in from the start of their service and paying their back contributions (and where a man cannot pay all at once an arrangement will be made for him to pay by instalments), or of coming into the scheme from the date when the Bill becomes an Act, without paying the back contributions, but counting their pension rights from the date at which they begin to pay. I think that is a perfectly fair alternative to give to the men who were unintentionally left out. As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, desires the Bill to go through all its stages as quickly as possible, if we can have an assurance from him that the Bill is properly drawn up—because we shall not have a Committee stage and the Bill will not be given the meticulous examination which, in view of the faults discovered in the 1947 Act, I expect we should give to it—we shall be prepared to let him have all the stages of the Bill to-day.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord an assurance such as I would be able to do if I were a member of the legal profession, but I am advised that the Bill is properly drawn. I am completely confident that these men will be quite safe in future.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived. Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of May 2), Bill read 3a and passed.