HL Deb 01 December 1966 vol 278 cc808-12

3.39 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, from this side of the House I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his explanation of these Regulations, and to say that they are welcome to us. They represent an improvement to an important occupational pension scheme covering many thousands of people in the public service. Particularly welcome are the provisions mentioned by the noble Lord for dependent children of deceased officers—the first time children of deceased officers have been included within the scheme—and the wider option given to widows of deceased officers, who can now receive up to one half of their husband's pension, in place of one-third, taking a correspondingly smaller lump sum benefit in consequence.

The lack of transferability—although there are some improvements contained in the new Regulations—into private schemes, while understandable, is nevertheless a matter for regret. This is relevant to the one Regulation mentioned by the noble Lord which is not in the Scottish Amendment Regulations, but is in the Regulations for England and Wales—namely, the provision concerning the Medical Research Council's employees. There are two points in particular I should like to put to the noble Lord opposite. The first is with regard to the position of the older practitioners. These are the practitioners who joined the Health Service in 1948 when they were already over the age of 45. It is a large group—approximately one-seventh of the total number of practitioners are in this age category, and both the British Medical Association and the British Dental Association have made representations to the Minister of Health on their behalf. These are the people who have carried much of the burden of the National Health Service. They do not receive any great benefit from the new Regulations, because the escalating scales in Regulation 8 depend on the length of service, and not on the age of the practitioner. Therefore, the practitioner who comes into the scheme later in life gets a low pension simply because he does not have the opportunity of serving long enough to get to the higher rate of pension.

I should be interested to know whether the noble Lord opposite has any more accurate figures, but I understand that the practitioners in this group who retire to-day are receiving a pension only of the order of £700 to £800 on average. So their actual income on retirement is extremely low. I would suggest that funds to increase this could have been found from within the scheme. Had Regulation 30(2) of the Scottish Regulations—29(2) of the England and Wales Regulations—not discontinued the employers' supplementary contribution there would have been funds available to benefit the older doctor.

This leads into my second point. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, these Regulations are intensely complex, and although they represent some useful improvements, in a number of ways that have been discussed, it is nevertheless extremely unlikely that they will be at all widely appreciated by the Health Ser vice employees who are to benefit from them. The negotiating panels and a few others will certainly understand them, but whether the older doctors, nurses and others will appreciate the changes that have been made because of the extreme complexity of the wording and the length of Regulations must be extremely doubtful. The impact of regulations of this sort in any event is only likely to affect the general atmosphere within the National Health Service. No young man is going to decide to train as a doctor just because of the quality of the pension scheme.

Nor do I think pension arrangements affect to any great extent whether doctors, dentists and other Health Service employees remain within it or not. The level of superannuation is not a strong enough motive to determine decisions which are as important as that. None the less, they do affect the relationship between the Government and the Health Service, and the confidence, or lack of it, between the two.

And so I should like to ask the noble Lord whether it would not have been better to try to use the surplus to benefit the older doctors, in one generous, easily understood gesture, either by weighting the proportion that they receive, or by giving a larger lump sum on retirement. Action on these lines would have done something more significant to improve relations between the Government and the National Health Service employees.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for the welcome he has ex pressed to the Regulations. I would agree with him that the Government do not expect that improvements in super annuation benefits which people will receive some forty years ahead will have any effect on the recruitment of young doctors or other people into the Service. The effect, so far as the Service generally is concerned, must obviously be the total one, and the general impression which is created in the Service is that superannuation arrangements are better than they have been.

The noble Lord suggested that people, particularly older people, might not appreciate the changes which have been made because of the complexity of the Regulations. I submit to your Lordships that what the Government have done in these new Regulations has not been to increase their complexity. They have always been complex. What we have done is to improve benefits. I think that when individual doctors, nurses or others concerned know—as they will fairly speedily know—the effect of the new Regulations on their own personal position, they will at least concede that the position is better than it was. In the negotiations and, finally, at a meeting with the Minister—this is on the point about the older practitioners—both the B.M.A. and the B.D.A. represented that something more than what is provided by the formula should be done for the older doctor. The actuarial advice—and one must remember that these schemes proceed very largely on actuarial advice, if not almost entirely—is that the older doctors are getting full value for their contributions and that there are no superannuation grounds for giving them more.

When my right honourable friend met the professions' representatives, he told them that no more could be done for the older doctor. He referred to this actuarial advice. He pointed out that doctors and dentists were not alone in that their superannuable service reckons only from 1948. Many nurses and other National Health Service employees, as well as employees outside the National Health Service, are in the same category. He had sympathy with them on human grounds, but he could not make an exception for one group, however deserving they might be. Nevertheless, I would point out that there is a benefit to these older doctors, because one of the things they get is the backdating of the 1¾ per cent. for, I think, four years, from 1962 to 1958. It may not be worth a great deal in actual money, but it adds a little to the pensions which these older people will now get.

My final remark is related to what could have been done if we had not discontinued the 1½ per cent. supplementary contribution. I would remind your Lordships that the 1½per cent. supplementary contribution was for the specific purpose of making good a deficiency which was shown in the scheme as a result of the valuation. That position no longer arises, and it would not, I submit to your Lordships, be proper to continue a contribution for a deficiency which no longer exists and then apply it to purposes which in fact recreated a deficiency.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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