HL Deb 04 May 1967 vol 282 cc1155-9

7.19 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is customary, in asking that a Bill be given its Second Reading, to give some account of its general intention and of the way in which its various parts fit together to achieve its purpose. The purpose of the present Bill is simply to make good a number of deficiencies in the substantial and complex body of legislation which governs the pensions of those in the public services, and, in respect of certain provisions, to give statutory cover for a small number of payments for which no statutory authority exists other than that conveyed by the Appropriation Acts. Those noble Lords who have studied the Bill closely in an endeavour to discern in its provisions some general principle, and have failed to find one, may take comfort from the fact that there is no grand design to be discovered; the aim is a modest one of removing unintended anomalies, and filling certain gaps in the complex structure of public service pensions. It is concerned, that is to say, with what one might term "running repairs".

Unassuming though it is, however, I believe that the Bill is a useful one. If some of its provisions seem of very minor significance in comparison with many of the issues which come before us, noble Lords will need no reminding that to those concerned they may be of real importance. It will be seen from what I have already said that it is not an easy matter to make the usual kind of Second Reading speech on a Bill of this kind. I hope, therefore, that it will not be taken amiss if I speak quite briefly on this occasion and give only a general account of what are in the main a series of detailed and somewhat technical provisions.

First, as I have already indicated, Clauses 1 and 5 of the Bill give statutory authority for the continuance of payments which have hitherto been made extra-statutorily. There is a longstanding undertaking on the part of the Treasury that they will pay pensions only in accordance with the provisions of the Superannuation Acts. It sometimes happens, however, that circumstances arise in which payments do not fall strictly within the provisions of the Statutes, but in which the withholding of the payments would lead to manifest inequality. In these cases—and they are comparatively rare—it is the practice to make awards which seem fully justified, relying for statutory authority upon the Appropriation Acts. Such cases are, however, regarded as extra-statutory in order to draw attention to them, and if there are sufficient cases of any one kind suitable opportunity is taken to secure statutory authority for the payments.

The Bill also extends the field within which superannuation and related benefits may be paid to public servants. For example, Clause 9 provides for the payment of pensions to full-time presidents or chairmen of industrial tribunals, whilst Clause 14 empowers the Secretary of State for Scotland to grant superannuation benefits in respect of service as a full-time medical commissioner of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland.

Gaps of a somewhat different kind are made good by Clause 7, which provides for the application of the terms of the National Health Service Superannuation scheme to people who are in employment concerned with the health services, but who are at present outside the scope of the relevant regulations; by Clause 10, which permits the payment of life pensions to children of deceased contributors to the House of Commons Members Contributory Fund who are incapable of earning a living, because of permanent physical or mental disability; and by Clause 13, which enables the Secretary of State to apply police pension regulations, suitably modified, to police cadets. None of these extensions involve any new point of principle or innovation in practice. The aim is to bring under superannuation cover certain groups of people who in one way or another are at present inadequately provided for and who ought not to be left as the victims of gaps in the network of pension arrangements.

The Bill's third main purpose is to plug gaps in the existing legislation dealing with those who serve in two or more appointments in the public sector. Clause 3 and 4 are concerned with certain public service pensioners (former judges and Governors) who are re-employed in the public sector, so that the question arises of the abatement either of the public service pension or of the remuneration of the second appointment.

Other deficiencies in the present arrangements covering staff transferring from one employment to another in the public sector are dealt with in Clause 11. The main changes are to make possible transfer arrangements between the separate superannuation schemes for teachers in England and Wales and in Scotland, to improve the arrangements for transfers to or from police service, and to open the way for greater freedom in the payment of transfer values when there has been a substantial interval between periods of pensionable employment in the public sector by making provision for the payment of interest by the person transferred when he repays any sum received on account of his pension rights in his first employment. The remaining clauses are so miscellaneous in their purpose that they defy any form of classification, and I will not weary noble Lords by referring to each of them in detail.

I hope, however, that what I have said will assist noble Lords to find their way about what I fear is a rather complex and technical Bill. None of its clauses introduces any radical new developments in superannuation practice. This is not the right time to undertake fundamental changes in this field. Nevertheless, I commend the Bill as a valuable contribution to the smooth running of the superannuation arrangements over the public services as a whole. However carefully we try to foresee the just needs of all our public servants, the field is so diverse that it is scarcely surprising that over the years gaps, uncertainties and anomalies are brought to light which, if they are not put right, will gradually undermine confidence in the essential fairness of the various pension schemes concerned. This Bill undertakes some timely repairs and maintenance to keep our house in good order. Its provisions have been the subject of consultations with the various staff interests concerned, and I think that I may safely say that they are entirely non-controversial. It will be observed from the Explanatory Memorandum that, apart from Clause 16 (which opens the way for the introduction of new arrangements for the crediting of interest to the teachers' superannuation accounts, and which might cost something of the order of £2½ million to £5 million a year) the net cost of all the provisions in the Bill is unlikely to exceed £60,000 a year.

A Bill of this nature covers a wide and complex field, and I hesitate to claim an intimate grasp of all its detailed technicalities. But if there are points on which noble Lords would welcome further elucidation I shall be glad, with permission, to try to deal with them later in the debate. In the meantime, I hope that I have said sufficient to persuade noble Lords that the Bill is a useful one, and worthy of support. I beg to move.

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

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, for his very rapid and lucid explanation of what is indeed a very complicated and difficult Bill. I have heard it referred to as a "hotch-potch", a "rag-bag" and even a "dog's dinner", but whatever its description it is certainly an extremely useful measure in that it makes amendments in the light of experience in legislation affecting various superannuation schemes in the public service. In fact I would say that it is a pity that we do not have machinery for the review and amendment of some of our legislation in particular fields more often. So often worthwhile small alterations in the law that arise either through changed circumstances or because Parliament in its wisdom has not foreseen all the possible circumstances, and which may be very desirable changes, are never put into effect because of the lack of time in the legislative programme. I wonder whether those who are interested in Parliamentary reform could not perhaps at some stage produce some sort of machinery, something like the Committee on Consolidation Bills, which could look at legislation some years after it was passed, pick out small minor administrative changes that would be desirable, and then incorporate them in some omnibus Bill of this sort. However, in the field of superannuation there have emerged enough difficulties and anomalies to warrant this Bill, and I certainly welcome it.

It is impossible, as the noble Lord has said, to make anything in the way of a Second Reading speech about the Bill, because it consists of a number of different clauses quite independent of each other. I only wish to mention two clauses. The first is Clause 1, which is very welcome. Clearly, there are a number of civil servants serving in overseas territories, often loyally doing their duty in difficult and dangerous circumstances, and it is only right to be quite sure that there is no anomaly about their superannuation provisions. I know that the Statutes have been liberally interpreted, and that there has been no quibble as to whether a particular civil servant was technically on or off duty; but now there can be no doubt about it, and the superannuation provisions are quite clear.

I would refer to Clause 11, which allows a teacher to move from England and Wales to Scotland, or vice versa, without loss of pension rights. This is a very satisfactory clause, and the only thing to which I would draw attention is this. As I understand it, there was an Amendment inserted in another place which enlarged the clause to cover part-time teachers. I hope this means that the Government are getting near the stage of producing a superannuation scheme for part-time teachers, which has been promised a long time. This is essential if we are to get more and more part-time teachers in the schools, and I hope that such a scheme is shortly to be announced. With those few words, I am delighted to support the Second Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for what he has said. Although it is difficult to compare consolidation with what he had in mind, I know what he means. Of course, consolidation must never change the law as it exists. I am sure the noble Lord knows that.

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