HL Deb 03 August 1972 vol 334 cc541-6

7.43 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Clergy Pensions (Amendment) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, the system of clergy pensions is controlled by the Clergy Pensions Measure and by subsequent amending Measures. If, therefore, we want to vary the way in which retired clergy and their widows are paid pensions, we have to come to Parliament in order to get an amending Measure. This Measure which is before your Lordships' House does two things. First of all, it proposes a number of improvements in the existing situation and, very importantly, in Clause 6 it proposes a new way in which changes in the pensions system shall be effected by regulations rather than by Measures. So that this may well be the last pensions Measure that comes before Parliament.

The improvements that are suggested in the Measure are as follows. First of all, by Clause 1 we are trying to make it easier to pay a good pension to a clergyman who has retired at the age of 65 (which is the pensionable age) but who has not been able to effect 40 years' pensionable service. This clause will give some amelioration of what would otherwise be a difficult situation. Clause 2(1) of the Measure gives power to the Pensions Board to select certain classes of persons who may have an increase in their pensions. There may sometimes be a certain group of clergy who have had some injustice done to them by other changes, and it is therefore desirable for the Pensions Board to have this opportunity of picking out certain groups and being better able to help them.

By subsection (2) of Clause 2, the granting of supplementary pensions is made discretionary instead of mandatory, because there have been situations in which gross inequalities and injustices have occurred because of the way in which, technically, the granting of pen-great help, and also a help to justice, if the granting of these pensions is made sions has worked. It will therefore be a discretionary instead of mandatory. I can assure the House that the Pensions Board is a very generous-minded body, very sensitive to the needs of the clergy, and they would always exercise their discretionary power in the most generous way.

Clause 3 deals with the problem which arises when a clergyman who has been given a disability pension later recovers his health and is able to continue working. It seems appropriate that in these cases the Board should have power to discontinue or decrease the disability pension where this is appropriate. Clause 4 deals with a number of questions regarding widows' pensions. Subsection (1) provides that a pension should be at the discretion of the Board when a clergyman marries after retirement. At the present time, his wife gets a pension as of right if they have been married five years. But it can happen that a clergyman, after retiring, marries a very young wife and then the Pensions Board may have to pay a pension for 40 or 50 years. So it is thought that these cases should be matters of discretion.

Subsection (2) makes it clear that these provisions will not be used to the detriment of widows who now receive pensions. Subsection (3) applies to the widows the same rights as have been applied to clergymen in Clause 2(1). Subsection (4) gives the Church Commissioners power to give directions for increasing the pensions of particular classes of widows, as is done for particular classes of clergymen. Subsection (5) provides the opportunity to give a widow a higher pension under certain circumstances. The obvious example is where a clergyman has to be admitted to a hospital or nursing home at considerable expense. This subsection would allow the power to be exercised in respect of widows.

Subsection (6) deals with the widows of clergymen who have moved from the Church of England to another church in the Anglican Communion, and who have pension rights under the Church of England. In addition, the clergyman may have contributed to a pension for his widow. At the moment, these pensions are not transferable and we think it desirable that this injustice should be remedied. Subsection (7) provides that when a widow receives a pension for which her husband has paid, she should continue to have it even if she remarries. Clause 5 deals with a number of minor points, and the procedure for changing the system is in Clause 6.

As I have explained to your Lordships, every time we want to amend the system of pensions we have to come back to your Lordships' House for an amending Measure. This seems to be very burdensome to everybody, and indeed it is contrary to most pension schemes in these days. The Superannuation Act 1972, together with earlier Acts, provided for pensions paid to civil servants, local Government employees, teachers, the Police and persons employed in connection with the Fire Services and the National Health Service to be embodied in schemes or regulations, instead of in Acts of Parliament. So we think that the way in which pensions for clergy are arranged should similarly be by regulations. When they have been approved they will have to be laid before Parliament and will be subject to annulment by a Resolution of either House. This is in accordance with one of the recommendations of the recent Church and State Commission. I hope it will commend itself to your Lordships' House, and that you will be able to give this Measure an Affirmative Resolution.

Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Clergy Pensions (Amendment) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of Chester.)

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, here again we are indebted to the right reverend Prelate for the very full explanation that he has given of this Measure, which I am sure will commend itself to all persons in the House. I must declare an interest: having two sons who are ordained as priests in the Church of England I am naturally sympathetic to any Measure designed to increase and improve the pensions of the clergy. One is only too conscious that there are a number of elderly clergymen living in circumstances of some distress, and it is most satisfactory to know that the Church of England is alive to their need and is taking these steps to remove some of the injustices that exist and to improve the pensions of the clergy in general.

I am sure it is right, as the right reverend Prelate said, that in future we should, by reason of Clause 6, relieve the Church of England from the necessity of coming back to this House and another place every time for a Measure to change the rates of pension. The Church and the General Synod should have the same powers as comparable bodies dealing with superannuations and pensions to revise from time to time the appropriate regulations regarding pensions, and make them subject to confirmation, or otherwise, by a Resolution of this House. I support the Measure as proposed.


My Lords, may I be permitted to say a word about this Motion? Quite obviously all of us want to do anything we, can to increase the pensions of the clergy and to make life for them, as they get a little older, more comfortable. In this respect this form of poverty—if I may so describe it—is not confined to the Church of England but affects clergy of all denominations. I was a little perturbed about the proposed change from mandatory to discretionary pensions because this means someone has to make a selection. When this is done trouble can arise. Perhaps the right reverend Prelate, when he replies, will be able to assure us that this is going to be dealt with in the most charitable way.

I agree with what my noble friend said with regard to Clause 6. It is intolerable that when a change of this kind has to be made it has to be brought to the Houses of Parliament. It is right that it should be dealt with as outlined in the Bill. Certainly after what we have learned to-day I think the right reverend Prelate has chosen the right time to make these changes. One never knows what will happen after we pass the Bill we were discussing before this business arose.


My Lords, I, too, should like to welcome this Bill, especially Clause 6. I should also like to ask the right reverend Prelate this: With the pension do the clergy who are retiring get any grant towards a house? The housing question is extremely difficult and the price of houses is something which is enormous now.


My Lords, as one who for some years sat on the Church of England Pensions Board I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, that that body leans over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to every one of its pensioners. Not least of the reasons for this is that the body seems to consist very largely of retired clergy themselves, so they have great sympathy with their brethren. I have never known a more generous body.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank noble Lords for the welcome they have given to this Measure? I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, that the discretionary powers of the Pensions Board will be exercised in a most generous and sensitive way. Those of us who have to deal with the Pensions Board when concerned with the general problems of our own clergy know the Board as one of the most efficient and, at the same time, sensitive of all the organisations in the ecclesiastical machine. We hope that this discretionary power will make more money available because it will prevent the mandatory pensions being paid in certain cases where they are not justified. Therefore there will be more money available.

The noble Baroness referred to the equal problem of providing a house for clergy when they retire. This is a problem to which the Church is devoting a great deal of attention. Very often the clergy are told, "You are so well off. Think of all the fringe benefits that you have: a very nice house with rates and rent free. You get other fringe benefits." That is all very well, but the moment comes when those benefits stop, and whereas other people have been buying their houses throughout their working lives the clergy are faced with the problem that they have to leave their houses. Worse still, a widow of a clergyman has to leave her house in order to make room for the clergyman who follows.

The Pensions Board has a number of houses and bungalows throughout the country. It has some big houses where individual clergymen can live. In my diocese we have Shafton House, a clergy nursing-home in which a clergyman who is ill, or the wife of a clergyman, can stay while the other member of the family stays in a small house which is attached. Of course those are not able to deal with all the problems and many clergy want to have their own houses. I cannot give the exact details of a scheme which has only just been announced in the General Synod. The clergy get a lump sum on retirement, I think it is £1,000 and I have an idea it is going up to £2,000, but I should like to check that. It is also going to be made possible for the clergy to get a mortgage up to £6,000 on very favourable terms—terms which will be more favourable to those who are on a basic pension and less favourable to those who have rather more means. This is a way in which the clergy will be helped to get a moderate mortgage, and one which will be greatly welcomed and will do a good deal to relieve that problem.


My Lords, I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate very much for what he has just said.


My Lords, before the noble Lord puts the Question I should like to say that I should have spoken on the previous Measure and I apologise for not doing so. It would be most ungenerous for me as a woman and a layman—and here there seems to be some discrimination!—not to congratulate the right reverend Prelate and the Church of England for this particular action as they have so often suffered in this House from the noble Baroness who feels that occasionally the Church does not rise to the cause of women. As one of another faith I can only hope that perhaps my own Church will take note of this and extend this Measure to us, too. It seems to me that the Almighty must be a supporter of "Women's Lib". After all, He created more of us.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended at 7.58 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.]