HL Deb 22 November 1956 vol 200 cc536-40

3.31 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I must apologise for speaking so much this afternoon, but this is my last effort. I am happy to say that this Bill is a short Bill, with the simple purpose of enabling retrospective effect to be given, in appropriate cases, to pay awards made to members of police forces, fire brigades and the probation service in England and Wales, and in Scotland, whose pay is prescribed in statutory regulations or rules.

In October, 1946, the Select Committee on Statutory Rules and Orders in another place drew attention to certain statutory instruments which purported to have retrospect effect in cases where the parent Statute in fact conferred no express authority for retrospection. The Government of the day was advised that these statutory instruments were ultra vires, arid since then it has been the policy of successive Governments not to make statutory instruments with retrospective effect in tae absence of express authority in the parent Statute so to do. This has naturally worked to the disadvantage of members of these three services, whose pay is prescribed in regulations or rules made under governing Statutes which confer no authority for retrospection, but who, despite this, had an occasion previously been granted retrospective in-increases in pay. This short Bill is designed to put the matter right.

The Bill does not, however, relate only to the future. It provides that the power to backdate awards should itself be backdated to operate from 8th September, 1955. This will enable effect to be given to a recommendation by the arbitrators appointed by the Prime Minister that a police pay award of December, 1955, should have effect from the 8th September of that year. The negotiations on that occasion were protracted, which is sometimes inevitable, and the arbitrators—addressing their minds purely to the merits of the case and not to the legal aspects of the position—considered that a measure of retrospection was justified.

In order to achieve its twin purposes, therefore, this Bill provides two things. First, that rules or regulations, made under the relevant Act, and prescribing the rates or pay and allowances of members of police forces, members of fire brigades or probation officers in England and Wales, and in Scotland, may be made with retrospective effect to a specified date; secondly, that such regulations or rules may be made with retrospective effect to a date not earlier than 8th September, 1955.

My Lords, in addition to these main provisions, the Bill provides that reductions, as opposed to increases, in pay or allowances shall not operate retrospectively. It does not apply to Northern Ireland, where these matters are within the jurisdiction of the Government of Northern Ireland. This is, as I say, a short Bill, and I really do not feel justified, having talked so much this afternoon, in taking up a great deal of your Lordships' time in inviting you to give it a Second Reading. I think it will be generally agreed that it is a very necessary measure. In the absence of power to grant retrospection, negotiations must always be conducted with one eye on the clock or on the calendar. This is not fair to either side; it is liable to place either side in an embarrassing position, and makes it less easy for negotiations to be conducted in a spirit of good will and co-operation. With the passage of this Bill those problems need no longer arise, and much will have been done to facilitate the smooth working of the negotiating machinery for three services which, in this House and in the country at large, are, I think, rightly held in very high regard. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª—(Lord Mancroft.)

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I feel that I ought to apologise to the House for appearing so frequently at this Table. This Bill is welcome, of course, because presumably it will benefit certain worthy sections of the community. I should just like to ask two or three questions. First, have payments already been made retrospectively, payments which are now regarded as being ultra vires, and is the purpose of this Bill to regularise these payments? Or is it that the Government have felt unable to make these payments until these regulations have been made authorising payment retrospectively?

My second question is this. The noble Lord has expressed a general principle; that is, that the Government should have power to make regulations to make payments retrospectively. But why does that apply only to these three sections of the community? Why should it not apply generally? I rather gathered from the noble Lord's speech that he thought it desirable that it should be possible to make regulations for payments generally to operate retrospectively. This Bill appears to apply only to these three sections of Government employees. I welcome this somewhat belated attempt on the part of the Government to put itself in order by regularising all the actions they have been taking in the past which are ultra vires. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether any more of these Bills are likely to come forward in the near future, and how far they have been acting in an ultra vires manner apart from these two particular Bills.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, to save the noble Lord opposite adding to the number of his speeches. I want to put a point that I hope he will answer. I am in support of this Bill. I look upon it as a matter that has been dealt with urgently, and as something that shows how democracy can work when the will is there to carry into effect what is generally agreed as being necessary. I know that I must tread warily, in order that I may not get into the position of transgressing the rules that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is so anxious that we should observe at all times—we have had a good lesson on that within the last few days. The point that I want to make is this—and if it is out of order, well, so much the worse for me; I shall be learning in breaking a rule as other noble Lords have confessed to doing in the past.

I welcome the speed at which this matter is being dealt with in this Bill, and I ask this question: is it not possible, in view Of the acceleration that can be applied here, to hasten another reform that I am sure would be agreed by everyone—namely, to give effect to a promise made last April, that, when next April comes, superannuated teachers, many of them old persons, who are now paid quarterly in arrears, may have these payments made monthly? That would be a worthy thing to do. When we see the things that are provided for in this Bill being done so readily, and even with retrospective effect, I ask with great earnestness that the promise with regard to next April should also be given effect to earlier than that belated date. I know people who are in dire straits before the end of the three months' period, while they are waiting for their allowances to come—allowances which are paid in arrears. It seems to me all wrong that these meagre allowances should be paid in this way. And they are meagre allowances to-day, because of the diminution in the value of money, although, as some people have pointed out to me, when they were paying their superannuation contributions those payments were in good money—money much more valuable than the allowances now being paid. The plea that is made —I have put it forward in another place on many occasions—is that these people should be paid monthly, rather than quarterly, and it is a plea to which I hope the Minister will listen. I hope he may say that he will endeavour to see that this new arrangement is dated earlier than April of next year.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Mathers, for their friendly reception of this Bill. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that his dark suggestions that we are more ultra vires than he fears or we think is quite unfounded. No payments have so far been made in this respect, and there is no question of being ultra vires; but we hope your Lordships will be able to speed this Bill on its way so that the necessary payments, amounting in some cases to a few pounds, may be made to these deserving people, if possible by Christmas. There has, however, been no question, so far, of ultra vires payments.

The noble Lord asks why police, firemen and probation officers should be picked out. The answer is that they are the only people, with one exception, to whom this situation applies. Nobody else is caught by this particular quirk of the law, and it is for that reason that the Bill has been brought forward. The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, got very near to the one exception—namely, teachers. The noble Lord warned your Lordships straight away that he might be quite out of order in making the remarks he made, and I suppose, therefore, that I should be equally out of order in referring to them. While teachers have nothing whatever to do with this Bill. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mathers that, although quite out of order, I will make certain that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is aware of what he has said.

On Question, Bill read 2ª: Committee negatived.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

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