HL Deb 17 July 1972 vol 333 cc615-9

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Draft Superannuation (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on July 6, be approved. This Order deals with the superannuation schemes of various categories of officials employed in the public sector in Northern Ireland. It is the complementary measure regarding Northern Ireland services to the Superannuation Act 1972, which some noble Lords may remember considering some months ago. In moving the Second Reading of that Bill my noble friend the Leader of the House outlined its main purpose, which he described as being to overhaul the legislative framework of the public sector pensions schemes. This is exactly the purpose of the draft Order now before the House. Indeed, the Order follows closely the text of the Superannuation Bill (Northern Ireland) which was introduced to complement the Great Britain legislation and which was given an unopposed Second Reading on March 22, 1972, in the House of Commons at Stormont before Prorogation.

The main bulk of the Order—that is, Articles 3 to 14—corresponds to the first twelve sections of the Superannuation Act, 1972. The provisions which noble Lords are asked to approve will allow the Ministry of Finance to make pension schemes for the Northern Ireland Civil Service in the form of administrative documents. This will obviate the necessity of changes, even minor ones, in pension schemes having to come before Parliament. Bearing in mind the various revisions which will arise from proposals contained in the Fulton Report and from the future development of the State pension scheme as outlined in the Command Paper of last autumn, Strategy for Pensions, (Cmd. 4755) I believe that noble Lords will welcome the greater flexibility which this Order will allow for the Civil Service scheme. In this connection, it is planned to introduce, subject to the agreement of the Northern Ireland Whitley Council, the same improvements in the Civil Service pension scheme, and with the same commencement dates, June 1, 1972, as have been agreed for the United Kingdom service.

The other public sector schemes covered by the Order are those for local government employees, teachers and persons engaged in the health services. In these cases the draft Order provides for their superannuation schemes to be set out in regulations made by the appropriate Government Department. Again, the detailed superannuation benefits and the qualifying conditions relating to contributions and pensions for each of the Northern Ireland schemes correspond generally to the equivalent scheme in Great Britain.

In the remaining Articles of the Order the main provision is to be found in Article 20. This means that the pensions of public sector retired officials will be reviewed every year instead of every two years as at present. This will be a review as of right, not an act of discretion by Government, and will I am sure be as welcome to pensioners in Northern Ireland as it has been in the rest of the United Kingdom. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Superannuation (Northern Ireland) Order, 1972, laid before the House on July 6, be approved.—(Lord Windlesham.)

7.53 p.m.


My Lords, we are here considering another Order relating to Northern Ireland. I was about to say that it did not particularly look like an Order ; it is more like a Bill, even though it is printed in a somewhat different style. In any event, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for explaining its purpose. Once again we are in some difficulty. I understand that this matter was debated in another place on Friday and the OFFICIAL REPORT of those deliberations is not yet available to us. This makes matters particularly difficult for us because although a number of noble Lords live in Northern Ireland, we do not have anything like the background of so many Members of another place who actually represent Northern Irish constituencies, all of which strengthens the case for another place receiving Orders of this kind before us—that is, unless there is some desperate urgency, when the Government know that they can rely on our co-operation.

As I listened to the noble Lord's explanation of the Order I felt some uncertainty. For example, he said that these proposals corresponded "generally" to the British legislation. As the noble Lord will appreciate, I know the British legislation well and have supported it. I was not certain about his reference to Strategy for Pensions, which I thought related to the general scheme. Arising from my uncertainty, there are two points which I should like the noble Lord to answer, though if he is not able to answer them to-night I will not press him.

First, I notice that in the Order there is power for the Ministry of Development, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Social Services—the same can no doubt be said of other Ministries—to make Orders ; but these various Departments are all united under the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and as he has so much to do I will not delay him by asking too many detailed questions. Indeed, it may be more efficient to have one person doing the lot and I have no doubt that the noble Lord will make a good administrator. I should be interested to know whether there are any particular pension provisions in Northern Ireland which do not correspond to our legislation. If so, are they better or inferior?

Secondly, I should be interested to know whether there is any communication between the Whitley organisations in Northern Ireland and the British Whitley Council. It may be that during this phase there is co-ordination in this matter, which would be desirable because the trade union side of the Whitley Council in this country is highly responsible, constructive and formed of wise people. Perhaps a little help could be given, if it is needed, at this tragic time in Northern Ireland.

I have not referred to conditions in Northern Ireland and I would certainly not complain about others—including my noble friend Baroness Bacon, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and my noble friend on the Front Bench with me, all of whom are much concerned with this issue—commenting on the subject ; but I am just beginning to feel that I can hardly go on making expressions of sympathy, and I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, feels the same. However, to ensure that there is no doubt, may I simply say that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has my absolute and full support and loyalty—if I were a praying man he would also have my prayers—in the awful responsibility which he is carrying as well any one could.


My Lords, relating to the superannuation schemes referred to in the Order, may I ask whether the benefits will be transferable when an employee moves from Northern Ireland to this country or vice versa?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said that these pensions would be reviewed annually, and I take it that this is in line with regulations applicable to English pensions. On what basis will this review take place? Will it be based on changes in the cost of living or on other considerations? I am anxious to know because the noble Lord's answer is likely to be applicable to wages and rates of pay on the English side.


My Lords, the general principle is that pensions, salaries and conditions of service of the Northern Ireland Civil Service should be comparable with those of the rest of the United Kingdom. A close liaison is maintained by the official side of the Northern Ireland Whitley Council and the United Kingdom Whitley Council. I understand that when negotiations have been concluded in Great Britain it is normal for discussions to take place in Northern Ireland, and unless there are reasons why the same provisions should not apply the general practice is that they do. The answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, about the transferability of benefits is that benefits will be transferable.

My Lords, that probably answers the detailed questions put to me, except that by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who asked whether there were any particular points where provisions for pensions differ between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I know how familiar he is with this whole subject and what a great contribution he has made to the cause of improving pensions and conditions of service for civil servants. Indeed, civil servants in Northern Ireland will have benefited from the work he has done in his time at the Civil Service Department. But the general picture is as I have described it, and what I should like to do is to write to him after some detailed inquiries have been made. I understand that there are one or two marginal cases where differences may arise. There is also a substantial document headed "Explanation of differences between the draft Order and the Superannuation Act 1972 to which attention was drawn by the Civil Service Department." If the noble Lord would like to have a copy I should be happy to send one to him. But as it is just on eight o'clock it probably would not be to the convenience of the House if I attempted to summarise the contents of the document now.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he would confirm—I would not press him for any more information—what, I believe, is the answer to the question put by my noble friend Lord Peddie, that in fact the system in Northern Ireland is the same as in England ; namely, that it is designed to provide inflation-proofing. It is linked therefore entirely to that aspect.