HL Deb 08 July 1957 vol 204 cc782-7

3.36 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. I need not detain your Lordships for long for this Bill has the merit unusual in legislation on this subject of being both brief and quite simple. Its origins are to be found in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, which is by now a well-known landmark on staff relations in the Civil Service. The proposals in that Report on Pay and Conditions in the Civil Service were disposed of in 1956 in an agreement between the official side and the staff side on the National Whitley Council. Superannuation was left for separate discussion.

The main object of the present Bill is to deal with the major topic in this field on which the Royal Commission made a firm recommendation—that is, the improvement of gratuities for unestablished staff. At present, a temporary civil servant qualifies for a gratuity after seven years' service at the rate of one week's pay for each year's service. Clause 1 of the Bill makes a substantial increase in these gratuities. In future, the qualifying period will be only five years, and gratuities will be paid on the following scale: one week's pay for each of the first five years; two weeks for each of the second five years; and four weeks for every year after the tenth year. This represents a further improvement in the conditions of service of the unestablished and part-time servants of the Crown, and, I am sure that it will be welcome to your Lordships.

I should point out that in one respect this part of the Bill does, however, depart from the Royal Commission's recommendation. Clause 1 (1) imposes an upper limit of one year's pay to the amount of the gratuity which can be earned. There are two reasons for this. The first is that in the case of temporary civil servants with very long service the gratuity might be based on as much as 120 or 130 weeks' pay. I am sure your Lordships will agree that a lump sum on that scale would be unduly large, especially as these gratuities are tax-free. More important, however, we have to consider the relationship between these gratuities and the benefits received by widows of established civil servants who died before reaching the retiring age. Without an upper limit, what would happen with many unestablished civil servants would be that they would receive more than would go to the widows of established civil servants for the same length of service. There would be an obvious disadvantage in creating so anomalous a position as that.

The Bill provides for the new scale to take effect from May 15, which was the date on which the intention to legislate in this way was announced in another place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The particular date was chosen in advance of the presentation of the Bill not because it had any significance in itself but in order to give the Departments, and civil servants who might benefit from the improvements some notice of when the new arrangements would come into effect. In this respect the proposals follow the usual practice in superannuation matters, and while there must inevitably be cases of temporary civil servants leaving the Service on what is, from their point of view, the wrong side of the dividing line, your Lordships will, I am sure, appreciate that such hard cases would arise whatever date might be chosen.

I said earlier that the main object of the Bill was to deal with a major topic on which the Royal Commission made a firm recommendation. The opportunity is being taken, however, to dispose of two minor matters which were also mentioned in the Commission's Report. The first is the situation which arises when people are taken into the Civil Service, with their work, after being employed in an organisation which provided similar service and was financed wholly or partly out of public funds. The Royal Commission referred, in particular, to one such case—that of certain employees at Roehampton Hospital. Wardmasters, orderlies and clerks were not remunerated entirely from public funds in the period from 1925 to 1939, and accordingly their service in this period is not reckonable for pension under the Superannuation Acts. A technicality has, in fact, deprived them of benefits to which, on merits, they are certainly entitled.

A similar technicality has affected the pension position of certain employees of the National Physical Laboratory. It is the object of Clause 2 of the Bill to enable the service in question to be reckoned as service to the State for purposes of the Superannuation Acts. Her Majesty's Government considered with some care how this could be effected. It would have been possible to provide specifically in the Bill for the particular persons involved, but, just as the position of these people was overlooked in earlier legislation, it may be that there are other classes of people with claims of similar merit. Her Majesty's Government have therefore taken the view that it is more convenient to make some general provision to enable the Treasury to cover any other cases which may arise or be discovered in future.

The formula for dealing with these cases is set out in Clause 2 of the Bill and I need not worry your Lordships by going into the details now. Any new cases which arise will be discussed through the Whitley machinery without the need to trouble Parliament on matters of relative detail. In all cases, however, it will, of course, be necessary for Rules to be laid before Parliament to enable the powers to be applied. These Rules will take the form of Orders subject to the Negative Resolution procedure.

The Royal Commission also drew attention to an anomaly which arose over the years in the case of certain members of the staff of the Imperial War Graves Commission who have now entered the Civil Service. For many years, as the result of an administrative oversight in the early 1920s, these persons have been placed in an unfair position. In those days there existed a body known as the Joint Substitution Board, whose function was to find employment for ex-Service men in the Civil Service. This Board found employment for a considerable number of ex-Service men with the Imperial War Graves Commission under the impression—an impression shared by all concerned at the time—that it was a Government Department. In fact, it was not, never has been and cannot be regarded as a Government Department at all; and those who later became civil servants cannot count the time they spent with the Commission as Civil Service employment. So Clause 3 of the Bill will enable the service to which I have just referred to reckon as if it had been temporary Civil Service employment.

I should add that the date, September 30, 1934, was chosen as the critical date because departmental records show that all those affected by the Joint Substitution Board's error who later moved on to work in Government Departments had by then left the Commission's service. The number of men affected by that error was not large, but I am sure all noble Lords will share the satisfaction of Her Majesty's Government at this proposal to remedy an injustice done in former years. I can perhaps best sum up the object of this Bill by saying that it carries into effect for the benefit of many unestablished civil servants this valuable and important recommendation of the Priestley Commission; and at the same time it gives a welcome opportunity of adjusting the pension position of a much smaller number of staff who, for one reason or another, have been deprived of pensions to which their service has unquestionably entitled them. I commend this Bill to the House and ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Fairfax of Cameron.)

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord for the careful way in which he has explained this Bill. He has done so so carefully and clearly that there is little comment to make upon it. There are, however, two or three points which I should like to make. The first is that in the course of his remarks he referred to temporary or part-time civil servants. I wonder whether he really meant part-time as distinct from temporary, or both; because on what is, I admit, a superficial look at this Bill I can see no reference to part-time civil servants, and I should be grateful if he would explain whether he meant part-time civil servants as distinct from temporary, or "in addition to."

My other point is that it is a little odd to justify treating temporary civil servants less generously than they otherwise would be because permanent civil servants are not treated as well as they might be. The noble Earl rather explained that if the logic of these proposals was carried through to the temporary civil servants, they might in certain cases do better than permanent civil servants. That seems to me to involve a reconsideration of the position of permanent civil servants, to see whether they are being treated sufficiently fairly. I have no doubt that that point has been locked at.

I welcome the general provision to which the noble Earl referred which will enable cases which may have been overlooked to be picked up. Her Majesty's Government are aware of two kinds of cases not covered, which have been overlooked in the past. Obviously, since they have been overlooked, there might conceivably be other cases; and it is right that the matter should be dealt with by the general provision as set out in the Bill. We are grateful for this Bill and I can assure the noble Lord that he will have no trouble about it from this side of the House.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has welcomed this Bill this afternoon. In reply to his first point, I may say that part-time civil servants are included in this Bill—not only sub-postmasters but quite a variety of other kinds of part-time civil servants as well. The noble Lord referred to what might have appeared to be the favourable position of the unestablished civil servants in the light of the gratuities which they would recieve, and it is to meet that particular point that the upper limit of one year's service was included; otherwise the unestablished civil servant undoubtedly might be at an unfair advantage over the dependants of a deceased established civil servant. As to the question of whether the conditions of permanent civil servants need looking at, that is another matter, and I will not go into it at the moment. I am glad that the noble Lord welcomed the proposal in the Bill for the general provision. It seems to be the best way of dealing with a possible variety of items which could, and might, arise in the future.

On Question. Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.