HL Deb 04 May 1976 vol 370 cc349-53

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, in asking leave of your Lordships to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I must declare a personal interest.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider the decision not to grant a pension to Members of the House of Commons who have had over 12 years of service prior to the year 1964; and whether they are aware that the number of such Members is rapidly diminishing.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

Not for the first time, my Lords. The Top Salaries Review Body is conducting an Inquiry into pensions of Members of the House of Commons and the position of those former Members referred to in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, will doubtless be looked at as part of the Inquiry. Nevertheless, noble Lords will appreciate the well-recognised superannuation principle that an employer cannot reasonably be expected to apply a new pension scheme to all those who have left his service at the time of its introduction. This principle, which was endorsed by the Lawrence Committee in 1964 and by the Top Salaries Review Body in 1971, is not altered by the fact that the number of potential beneficiaries has diminished.


My Lords, arising out of that Answer, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that I sat in another place for 34 unbroken years; that I have now sat in Parliament for over half a century and that I receive no pension of any kind? There is a small and rapidly dwindling number of people who occupy a similar position. Does he really think that is fair?


My Lords, whether or not it is fair, when one has to deal with the question of pensions for the public service as a whole, one always comes across anomalies and degrees of unfairness. But there is a cardinal principle that one does not, and cannot be expected to, pay pensions to those persons who have left the employment or the service before the introduction of the pensions scheme. As I say, this is a matter which the Top Salaries Review Body can look at again, because I understand representations have been made to it.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, in asking this supplementary question, may I say that I am not one of those affected by this Question, as I retired from the Commons after 1964. But will the noble Lord put this to the Government in any investigation which takes place? Those who retired before 1964 were Members of the House of Commons when the salary was extremely low; when there was no payment for any secretarial assistance; when Members had to pay for their own postage and their own telephone calls, and had no allowance for living in London. Is there not here a special case because of that?


My Lords, again in matters of pensions there are always special cases. I am pleased that some steps have been taken to see that the House of Commons is not only properly paid but has the services available to it as a House of Parliament. But I come back to the basic problem of the Government; that is, the principle on which superannuation and pension funds have been based. If we were to make a special concession, admittedly for a small group of people, how then should we be able to draw the line within the public service as a whole? Frankly, the expense would be very great—or could be very great— and this would have repercussions on those pensioners who already receive benefit.


My Lords, would the noble Lord accept that many employers make provision for what is called, "back service", and that this should be looked at from that point of view?


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will show me an example in which employers are paying pensions for servants who left their service prior to the introduction of the pension scheme.


My Lords, would the Leader of the House accept that too, must declare a personal interest, not in relation to my service in the House of Commons but as an ex-Regular soldier? Is he not aware that there is also a dwindling number of survivors from both wars who, like myself, had considerable other rank service, were subsequently commissioned, but who—because we were born too early—receive other ranks' pension? If the noble Lord is to look at the principle in relation to the House of Commons—and I hope very much that he will—will he also bear in mind this unsquealing, ungrumbling crowd, the ex-Regular soldiers, who take all that comes yet get nothing for it


My Lords, we appreciate what my noble friend has to say with regard to the principle of payment of pensions. With regard to what my noble friend Lady Bacon said about the grossly underpaid and overworked Members of Parliament who were on that very small salary of £600, with none of the facilities which are now granted to Members of Parliament, will my noble friend give the House an assurance that this matter will be referred to the Boyle Committee, which is considering pensions? With the development which has taken place, these people who retired before 1964—and I am not included; I retired after 1964 and receive a pension—suffer a growing hardship. It does not reflect well on Parliament that people who were so long Members of Parliament receive nothing at all.


My Lords, I do not think I need raise this matter with the Top Salaries Review Body because, as I have said, representations have already been made to them. That is quite sufficient for the Top Salaries Review Body to reconsider this matter, and then we shall have to consider what they propose in their report. I must not try to defend myself on a very difficult matter on which I know the House has a great deal of sympathy. But this matter is now being considered and instead of making representations to me on the Floor of the House, the best thing is that noble Lords should ensure that those representations are made to the Top Salaries Review Body.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I am one of the dwindling few. We shall all be gone quite soon, and if we keep on like this the Government will be rid of the lot of us. Apart from that, it is very unfair. Is it not a fact that the Top Salaries Review Body looked at this matter, made a recommendation and the Government turned it down?


My Lords, my understanding is that the Top Salaries Review Body supported the earlier conclusions of the Lawrence Committee that these pensions should not be available to those Members of the House of Commons who had left prior to the operation of the pension scheme.


My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that there were no regular pensions from the House of Commons until the Labour Government came into power in 1964, and they pre-dated the service by 10 years? It has always seemed to me that that Act could be amended to pre-date previous service on proper percentages up to that time. I do not think that it is the present Government who stand to be indicted on this question. Having read all that happened before, one knows that Members of Parliament in Conservative days had merely to rely on charity; that is, the charitable funds from the House.


My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Pannell has illustrated some of the difficulties of the Government in this matter. I say again that this is a matter best referred to the body that Governments of all Parties have set up to review, and to advise on, these difficult matters. I suggest that these representations should now be made to the Top Salaries Review Body.


My Lords— Several noble Lords: Next Question!


My Lords, my heart is bleeding, but we have had two Questions in 12 minutes.


My Lords, I have been doing my best to get a move on, but, as I often say to a certain friend, my best is not good enough. I say to my noble friend Lord Brockway—who I know has been trying to get in—that this is a difficult matter. It is a matter in which the House has a great interest. There is a body which can most adequately deal with it. Representations have already been made and I suggest that we leave it to them.


My Lords, I have to declare an interest. I am one of the Members involved. I have never before intervened on this issue because I am not concerned about myself. However, may I ask whether the noble Lord is aware that we have had many representations to Committees which have been considering this subject and, therefore, we are not satisfied when he asks that another Committee should consider this subject? Is he aware that I had 15 years in the House of Commons, but because I was defeated in 1964 I have no pension for that discontinued service? I am concerned not so much about myself but about others who are in greater difficulty.


My Lords, I can only say that the Government and Parliament have accepted the Top Salaries Review Body as the proper body to consider these matters, and I suggest that we leave it at that.

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