HL Deb 09 July 1974 vol 353 cc465-9

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many Lords who previously sat in the House of Commons as M.P.s for over ten years are denied a Parliamentary pension.


My Lords, full information is not available, but 52 Peers who left the House of Commons after 1953 fall into this category.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his reply may I ask whether he is aware that it was Plato, I believe, who said that the first purpose of politics is to secure justice? Is there any justice in my having a pension for 15 years' service when many noble Lords in this House this afternoon have 20 or over 20 years of service and are not in receipt of a pension? I heard recently that my noble friend Lord Brockway does not receive a pension.




My Lords, if we paid Lord Brockway 10p for every Question he has asked in this House he would be a millionaire. However, I am prepared to drop the matter because I can tell the Minister that this evening this matter is to be discussed in the highest possible quarters. That will be good news for the victims of this anomaly in this House.


My Lords, my noble friend asked me a question about justice. Yes, My Lords; I am sure the House sympathises very much with regard to the anomalies that have arisen as a consequence of the grant of pensions in another place. But I think my noble friend and the House will recall that the Lawrence Committee and the Boyle Committee—the Boyle Committee in particular—reviewed this matter and reached the view that persons who did not participate in a scheme should not receive pension. This is of course in line with general pension policy right through the country, both in public and in private pension schemes.


My Lords, while declaring a personal interest, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that I was a Member of the House of Commons for 34 unbroken years, that I paid my contributions to the pensions fund, and that my present pension is nil?—I do not get a penny. And is not the noble Lord also aware that this scandal would not be permitted in any other known democracy in the world and ought to be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment?


My Lords, this is not the first occasion on which the noble Lord has declared his interest in this particular matter, because I can remember this Question's being put down and previous Leaders of the House being required to answer it. But, whatever sympathy one may have here, it is a question of whether one should act. As a consequence of the two Reports I have referred to, and also of general pensions practice in public and in private pension schemes, it would seem to be wrong to provide out of public money for ex-Members of Parliament a service which is not available to any other individual.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I happen to know a little more about this than do some other noble Lords—that Members of your Lordships' House who retired after having served for ten years or more were qualified, but disqualified on grounds of age? They had not reached the retiring age which would entitle them to pension. In regard to Members of your Lordships' House who qualified because of length of service (as in the case of my noble friend Lord Boothby, and many others) but who retired before they reached the qualifying age, would it be possible for their service in your Lordships' House to be taken into account to qualify them for the pension?


My Lords, I will carefully consider what my noble friend has said. I would put only one further point to the House in this respect. We are not of course a House which has any control over public funds. I should have thought that if a real sense of injustice exists, which I personally recognise, it is for another place to take account of it. Furthermore, I should have thought that if there is to be pressure on the Government on this matter steps should be taken to ensure that Ministers in another place, and the other place as a whole, are aware of the sense of injustice.


My Lords, may I preface my question by stating that I am not one of those involved? In any discussions which take place on this matter, would not my noble friend agree that it is relevant to consider the fact that those who did not qualify for a pension and yet have given a great deal of service were Members of Parliament when the salary was extremely low, when there was no allowance for postage and when there was no allowance for secretarial help, and j that Members of Parliament in those days were working for a pittance and giving a good deal of their lives and now receive no pension whatsoever?


My Lords, I could not disagree with my noble friend. That is history. It was in 1965 and again in 1972 that this situation was recognised and the House of Commons took the necessary steps.


My Lords, while recognising the constitutional point which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has made, may I ask whether the noble Lord would regard it as illegitimate for the sentiment to be ventilated in this House that this could all be put right in financial terms which would be pure "chicken feed"—


My Lords, in your; Lordships' House I am aware of only one thing that is illegitimate. The noble Lord has put a question to me. I will consider it. But I think the fact of the matter is still that if this is to be put right i it is for the House of Commons to be so persuaded.


My Lords, while accepting my noble friend's reply, may I ask whether it is not essential that he as Leader of the House should at least put the point that Members of Parliament come to this House in consequence of the valuable service they have rendered (as did the noble Lord, Lord Boothby) in the other place? Is it not important in taking up the cause to emphasise that they might well have remained in the other place but felt it their duty to accept elevation to this House so that they could continue their duties here?


My Lords, why a Member comes from another place to your Lordships' House is a matter for his own decision, and I would not wish to speculate on the various reasons why ex-Members of Parliament come to your Lordships' House. I still suggest that this is a matter for the House of Commons. I cannot help but reflect, in view of the pressure that is being placed upon me this afternoon, that I can look around your Lordships' House and see a number of colleagues who have served in this House for some 20-odd years without a salary and certainly with no pension to come at the end of their service.


My Lords, leaving aside the merits and demerits of this claim, would not the noble Lord agree that he was not entirely right in the way he suggested that the general principle under which public and private insurance schemes work in this country—that is to say, on the contribution record with benefit varying according to contributions—was ever expected to apply to this case, where one contribution entitled a Member to the full pension?


My Lords, the case I was seeking to make is that I am not aware of any pension scheme which would apply to a person who did not participate in the scheme. That is the difficulty which is confronting us this afternoon in the case that is being made for those Members of Parliament who served in another place but who left another place before October 16, 1964. But, in the light of the pressure that is being placed upon me, and as has been the case on previous occasions with other Leaders of the House, I will ensure that the appropriate Minister has his attention drawn to the points which have been made this afternoon.


My Lords, may I put one final and very brief point? May I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that this demand is not confined to Members of this House, but applies to any man or woman who was a Member of Parliament for ten years or more, and what we claim is that they all deserve a pension?


My Lords, again that is a point which I shall take into account.


My Lords, as one who has been a Member of your Lordships' House for some 53 years, could I be considered a special case?