HL Deb 01 August 1978 vol 395 cc1237-52

1 Clause 11, page 12, line 21, leave out from "1964" to end of line 24 and insert "for the words" ten years "there shall be substituted the words" fifteen years "." The Commons disagreed to the above Amendment for the following Reason: Because it would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist upon their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason set out on the Paper. Your Lordships will remember when we debated this in our House that there were considerable criticisms and an Amendment was carried. I fulfilled a promise by writing to the Lord President explaining the feeling of noble Lords on both sides of the House on the matter. The other place debated it and I am happy to inform the House that the Government spokesman in another place, although he did not support the Amendment, gave an assurance on behalf of the Leader of the House of Commons that the whole question of improving the pensions' position for former Members would form part of a future reference to the Top Salaries Review Body. Indeed, in the debate that we had in this House that was the line taken by several noble Lords, although naturally some other noble Lords were much more specific.

We received valuable support in another place—I refer to my right honourable friend the Member for Bermondsey, and others. They felt strongly about it. So it was conceded that this would be the right approach. I think it reflects a fair compromise, which I believe this House will find acceptable, even if they find it hard to welcome it positively. There was another matter which must also be taken into account: the question of privilege. The reason given by another place is—as I would remind the House—that of privilege. The Members of another place disagreed with the Amendment, in the words on the Order Paper: Because it would involve a charge on public funds… This is a formal reason to accord with Parliamentary precedent. In fact, Members in another place took into account the full range of issues involved and considered them fully in coming to their decision. To do what this Amendment provided would have increased the cost of the Bill significantly, even if the sums involved would not have been large in absolute terms. I would say to my noble friends that it has been agreed that all the points that were raised in this House, which I also put in the form of a letter to the Lord President, will be considered by the Boyle Committee. In the circumstances, I believe we should give it a fair run and we must ensure that it is discussed.

Moved, That this House doth not insist upon Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason set out on the Paper—(Lord Peart.)

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, having moved this Amendment in this House, I am, not unnaturally, disappointed at the result. One has heard since the debate in another place that the Amendment might have been accepted had the drafting been different. I am assured that this is not so because the drafting in fact is an Amendment to the 1972 Act and deletes all reference to present Members and substitutes for the words "ten years" the words "fifteen years". So it cannot have been rejected on the grounds of drafting.

We are told by the Leader of the House that real reason for rejecting it is because of its cost on public funds. That may be so, but we did in fact approve two Amendments when we discussed it here: one was to extend the provisions of the present Parliamentary Pensions Bill to widowers of lady Members of Parliament. That, too, involved public funds but was accepted. I am aware that at this late stage there is little else that we can do about it. All those who spoke in its favour were speaking not only for the few of us in this House, but the many outside and for 45 widows which I have mentioned on one or two occasions. Since moving the Amendment I have had letters expressing the hope and belief that something would result as a consequence.

However, I said one of my objectives was to persuade another House to debate it, which they now have done. They debated the Amendment for some 36 minutes, and we are extremely grateful for those honourable gentlemen in another place who spoke in its favour. I should like to ask my noble friend the Leader of the House, as the matter is now to go to the Boyle Committee which was responsible in the first place for deciding that it should not be extended to 15 years, that they again look at this point of reckonable service, but that they also take into consideration the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. That is the question of former Ministers—not necessarily Cabinet Ministers—who served in the House before the 1964 Act, who had served for a number of years and who were heads of Departments and who are in receipt of no other pension.

There was also a point made by my noble friend Lord Wigg: that all Members of Parliament before 1964 should be considered. I am aware that many of them in this context receive assistance through the Members' Fund. I was a trustee of that fund and I do not decry the work it does. If Boyle is looking at the three other points, he might extend his consideration and look as well at the work of the Members' Fund which was set up by Statute more than 40 years ago, and maybe consider the whole situation with a view to improving the lot of former Members of Parliament.

4.47 p.m.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, I do not want to raise any of the matters which I raised before but I should like to thank my noble friend for the way in which he has considered the matter, and also for the very long letter which he has sent me about the point which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Aylestone about the Member's Fund. The only reason that I rise now is to ask one or two questions about the reference to the Boyle Committee. I am not quite sure what is going to happen in detail about this.

I understand that I am in order in quoting from speeches in another House if those sepeches are made by Ministers, so perhaps my point could best he made by quoting from another place. On 26th July at column 179 of Commons Hansard the Minister, Mr. John Smith, talking about the reference to the Boyle Committee said: I have given a clear commitment, therefore, that the matter will be referred to the Boyle Committee the next time ". Then he goes on to say: Boyle must consider other matters, so that this is not an academic undertaking ". From that statement it appears to me that this is not going to be a special reference to the Boyle Committee on this particular matter only. According to this reference the Minister said, "the next time"; so I am wondering whether this is going to be thrown in with a lot of other things and will take two or three years to discuss.

I should also like to refer to the debate in another place last Friday, 28th July, which was wound up by the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Michael Foot. I must say that in his speech he went rather further than he has done before in this matter. This is probably due to the very good speeches which were made in another place by, among others, Mr. Bob Mellish, who was a Chief Whip and knows a good deal about these matters. At Column 2114 of the Commons Hansard, Mr. Michael Foot says: Pensions, in one sense, are the most important of all. The most disgraceful feature of what has happened in the treatment of Members of Parliament is the way in which honourable Members who spent as long as 30 or 40 years in this House were awarded no pensions at all ". That is a considerable advance on anything that Mr. Michael Foot has said before. Then he went on to say: We are seeking to overcome that position. We now have in operation a decent pension scheme. There are some anomalies and problems. Those matters are still to be referred to the Boyle Committee, and I hope that they will be overcome ". I have quoted that because I want to emphasise that I think a distinct change of emphasis is taking place among Ministers in another place as a result of our discussions here and discussions in another place. My main object in speaking is to ask my noble friend whether this pensions matter is going to be a special referral to the Boyle Committee, or whether it is going to he a part of some big referral on pay and other matters for which we shall have to wait some considerable time.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I have no charitable feelings whatever towards another place or the Ministers concerned in this matter. I do not believe that the Members of the House of Commons understood the significance of what they were doing when they passed this Bill on Second Reading. There was no debate in the Committee stage in another place on this question of applying the concession in the Bill, given exclusively to serving Members, to those who had left the House in the past. No consideration was given to that at that time. It was only when your Lordships' House passed the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Aylestone and we sent the matter back to another place that they gave serious attention to this question.


My Lords, may I say just one thing to the noble Lord the Leader of the House: I have fought this battle for quite a long time—


My Lords, is the noble Lord intervening in what I am saying?




My Lords, may I continue then, because I have quite a few scathing things still to say. I certainly associate myself with the expressions of gratitude of my noble friend Lady Bacon regarding the former Chief Whip, my right honourable friend the Member for Bermondsey, and other Members of another place, who did speak up when the time came for this matter to be considered.

I was interested to note in the remarks of my noble friend the Leader of the House that the reason given by another place for disagreeing with the Amendment was in accordance with precedents. I should be relieved if that were so, because I had thought it was a piece of impudence—and it is not true! Indeed, the Minister made it clear when he spoke on the 26th July in another place, when he said at columns 1748 and 1749: This brings me to the main reason why the Government do not feel able, despite our sympathy for those affected, to support the amendment. It is, in short, because it is a breach of the no-retrospection principle, which, as I explained a number of times during earlier stages of the Bill, is quite central in public service pension arrangements ". That is the main reason. The other one may be the conventional response of the House of Commons to a proposal from your Lordships' House that involves public expenditure but, as has already been pointed out, they accepted an Amendment which was moved here and which involved a degree of public expenditure.

I think it is time to nail the lie about the "no retrospection principle. There is no such principle at all. Principles, I always understood to have some element of moral support, but this so-called" no retrospection "principle has no moral support whatsoever. It comes out of exploitation; it has been built up in injustice; it became a kind of standard practice and now it is elevated to the role of principle. This, my Lords, is how morality is built up in public administration. You start with sin, you start with wickedness and you finish up with a principle—not having changed your attitude throughout the whole history of the matter.

This is really another example of how, to begin with, long service can be unrewarded by pension arrangements and then, when that becomes a scandal in the concept of modern treatment of public officials and others, some degree of pensionable status is conceded. Then there is a limitation placed upon the amount of reckonable service that may be brought into the calculation of the pension that is conceded. Having done that, they regard the limitation of previous service as a "no retrospection" principle. It is nothing of the kind.

It must have been obvious to Members of another place that the Bill they were asking this House to pass conferred benefits exclusively—I repeat, exclusively—upon serving Members of another place, or those who might re-enter it at some future time. The whole Bill is concerned with public expenditure exclusively for the benefit of existing Members or those who may enter or re-enter the House of Commons later on. No thought was given to the repercussions upon those who were affected by the concession they were giving to themselves.

This, I think, is where the sad part of the whole story occurs. We all know why the Lawrence Report was accepted in 1964 as being the fulfilment of a pledge given by the political Parties before they knew what Lawrence was going to report and before a General Election which would decide the future Government of the country. My noble friend Lord Aylestone and I were both on the Cabinet Committee that dealt with this matter and we had to consider whether we should recommend the Government to alter the recommendations of the Lawrence Report in this connection. That is history now, and the Boyle Committee has referred in its report to its review on several occasions of the earlier conditions, and has wondered whether some improvement might be recommended. It was in their Report No. 8, on page 15, that the Boyle Committee said—and here I am quoting: We consider that a limited improvement is justified and would be acceptable against the background of our conclusions on the pension arrangements as a whole. Therefore we propose that the maximum amount of reckonable service prior to October 1964 should be increased by five years ". But they went on to make it clear that in their view, following again this so-called "no retrospection" principle, this concession should apply to serving Members or to those who might re-enter the House of Commons in the future, and not to those who have already left it.

I do not know whether the Boyle Committee or another place realised that this concession given to Members serving at the present time affects a smaller number of Members than the number of those who have left. There are only 50 Members of the House of Commons who are waiting at this moment for the Bill to receive the Royal Assent, because they will he affected by it and will benefit from it. But those who left just before them will have been excluded from the provisions of the Bill.

I certainly welcome the opportunity given to the Boyle Committee to consider the matter again. But I wonder whether we should have had a reference to the Boyle Committee, if it had not been for the House of Commons desire to have their own salaries reviewed by the Boyle Committee. That is the urgency. That is the matter upon which the Boyle Committee is being asked to give a fairly speedy report. I do not scorn a reference to the Boyle Committee incidental to the major issue which the House of Commons has on its mind, but I wonder whether we should have had this consideration otherwise. So I do not have a feeling of gratitude, of welcome, for what has been done, because time is passing, people are passing out and they will not benefit anyway.

In matters of this kind, there is no principle except that of the feeling of the Government of the day as to what is just, what is fair, what can be given in the cirstances of the case and what can be defended. This is being done by Act of Parliament, and had the Amendment been accepted by another place it would have been part of an Act of Parliament, part of the decision of Parliament. Parliament did not hesitate to pass an Act enabling the calculation of the pension of Members of the House of Commons to be made on salaries which they had never recived. The pensions of Members of the House of Commons are calculated on notional salaries above the money which they are getting. They have never had the money, yet their pensions are calculated upon salaries which they have never received. If that can be done, if there is no principle there that stands in the way of Parliament's will, then I do not think there is any principle here either.

Parliament has to be treated not as a normal vocation. We always get this reference to vast areas of the public service where, if you do something for Parliament, it will have to be extended. Nobody knows more about this area of the public service than I do, nobody has spent longer in it, nobody has fought more battles in it and I can distinguish between public service generally and membership of the House of Commons, as clearly as anybody with a grain of intelligence.

It is a scandal that former Members of Parliament are on a benevolent fund. I was Treasurer, and my noble friend Lord Pannell was Chairman, of the Parliamentary Labour Party Benevolent Fund, which was created at the instigation of my noble friend Lord Wigg, because the Members' Fund could not take care of people who had not had the requisite minimum period of service. It really was disgraceful that Members of Parliament had to go to a benevolent fund to be baled out after many years in the House of Commons, and in many cases we could not adequately supplement the incomes of some former Members, because if we had done so it would have been taken into account by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Those were the depths to which the living standards and conditions of former Members of the House of Commons had sunk. What is lacking is the guts to do this thing, and if the Government had the will to do it it would have been done.

I conclude by saying this. I thought that we had a few Socialists at the other end of the corridor. I thought that there were Socialist Members of the House of Commons who would say "If this concession which has been given to us cannot be extended to those who have already retired, we will not have it. We would rather not take it than be the sole beneficiaries of a concession of this kind." But there has not been a word like that, not a word—simply tears. There were more tears shed the other night at midnight in the other place than in all my years of service in it. They could not contain themselves. They were so full of sympathy for the plight of those who had already gone, and this rescue operation of sending the matter to the Boyle Committee came at the end of a long debate in the middle of the night. I want to get rid of this no retrospection principle. There is no such thing. There may be the horrible Treasury twins, known as Reactions and Repercussions, but one has to face them and deal with them, and have regard to the differences between one form of public service and another.

I have already told my noble friend Lord Boyle that I shall be ready to give evidence to his Committee when he comes to deal with this matter, and I shall then I hope, lay before that Committee considerations which will lead them to different conclusions. I sincerely hope that the end of this story will come with a decision of Parliament to remedy a long-standing grievance, a disgraceful treatment of former Members of Parliament, and let us have a clearer conscience about the past than many of us can have at the present time.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I have the utmost difficulty in tearing my passion to tatters. This is not an issue of a constitutional nature. We expected what we are getting—no more, no less—because this affair began in 1964, when Members of another place accepted willingly the decision of the Boyle Committee. The Government of the day also accepted the decision. We could, of course, have kicked up a terriffic row at the time. Why did we fail to do so? It was for the reason that Members of another place were always embarrassed when the subject of payments to Members or pensions to Members emerged. There was always an embarrassment about it, and there still is. That has been exemplified in the course of the debates in another place, now that the subject has come before them.

I note that my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has suggested that if the matter is referred to the Boyle Committee, he would like to give evidence. I hope that he is not asked to give evidence, because he has been associated with several committees. I shall not impute blame to him, but I cannot think of any of those committees that have proved successful, and I do not want to take the chance of a reference to the Boyle Committee meeting with failure.

If there was anybody who had a right to complain, it was not some of my colleagues who have spoken, or many of my colleagues who have been living in impoverised conditions for many years. It was myself, because in 1964 I had the longest service of anybody at the time, and my reckonable service became the same as anybody with 10 years' service. But I never uttered a word of complaint. It was the decision of the Boyle Committee, it was the decision of the Government and there was hardly a word of opposition in another place at the time from those of us who were affected, for the simple reason that we were embarrassed by ventilating our own grievances and nothing further was achieved.

What are we to do now? I accept what my noble friend the Leader of the House has sad. I wonder whether Members of your Lordships' House realise that this is perhaps the first occasion for many years that the people on this side of the House have had all their own way here. I do not mean with the Government. There is no opposition for the simple reason that, when we were debating this matter the other day, your Lordships' House agreed unanimously that reckonable service should be increased by five years, as in the case of Members of Parliament in another place, and also that ex-Ministers might be considered if the so-called principle of retrospection was abandoned. There was no opposition at all, and now there is no opposition.

This is not a debate. We are merely placing on record our views about this matter, and I suggest that we have had enough of it. This does not mean that other Members of your Lordships' House should not express their views if they care to do so. However, I think the time has come when we should say to the Government, "For Heaven's sake! If you have got to find a reason why you are not prepared to take action on any particular issue, don't use your ingenuity to trump up a reason which is inconsistent and bears no relation at all to the issue ".

If it is said that it would mean a charge on public funds, when they increase their salaries in another place that is obviously a charge on public funds. Almost everything that is done in the way of public expenditure is a charge on public funds. Any increase in the salaries of chairmen of nationalised boards is a charge on public funds. It does not require much ingenuity to find a reason of that kind.

The fact is that the reason was simple. They simply did not want to do it. That is all. They could have done it. It is true that a few of them—the right honourable Bob Mellish and a few others—spoke up on behalf of some of our colleagues, but what did it really matter? The majority in another place were concerned with having pensions in the future based on 15 years' service. They were going to have it. What did it matter about the others?

In the course of a discussion this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that he was confused about a matter which arose. I must confess that this matter does not confuse me. It amuses me. I hope, therefore, that we shall dismiss any of these Reasons which are advanced. If it is to go to the Boyle Committee, for Heaven's sake! let it go expeditously. Perhaps there will be no reason why it should go to the Boyle Committee. Who can tell what is going to happen after the next Election?

It is not merely a question of a change of Government; it is a question of a change of attitude. What do I mean by that? Just this. The Labour Party may come back into office. Does this mean that the Boyle Committee will be immediately revived and asked to deal with the matter expeditiously? Nothing of the sort. They will find all kinds of reasons: they will not have time. They could not find time for the Merchant Shipping Bill, a piece of legislation of the utmost importance—perhaps even more important from the public point of view than this matter of reckonable service.

As I said at the outset, I have tried my best not to tear a passion to tatters. All I say is that I am just amused by what has happened. I never expected more. I am not disappointed by what has happened. I am sorry for those who remain impoverished. I wish that something could be done for them. Perhaps something can be done for them through the benevolent fund. They could be more liberal and more generous than hitherto they have been. So far as this is concerned and so far as I am concerned, it is a closed shop.


My Lords, I rise only to make a profound apology to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I thought that he had finished his speech. I am thankful that he had not, because subsequently he said far better than I can hope to do everything that I think and feel about this subject. I want to put only one question to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I have now been a Member of Parliament for 54 unbroken years—34 in another place and 20 in your Lordships' House—and what is my pension? Nil. I also know quite a number of people—colleagues of mine—who sat in another place with me for years before 1964 and who are now living in dire poverty, despite the fact that they made a modest contribution every year out of their very modest salaries to a Members' benevolent fund. All I want to ask the noble Lord is whether he thinks in his heart that this is right or that it could happen in any other democracy in the world.


My Lords, I should like to say a word, because for many years I was the chairman of the Labour Party Benevolent Fund. I cannot think of a Select Committee that was concerned with Members' welfare which sat during my 24 years in the other place of which I was not a member. This was well known. People came to me from our side of the House and from the other side of the House. When the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, speaks about the lack of success of the efforts made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I can only tell him that it was the resolution of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, which resulted in the setting up of the Boyle Committee. The 1964 committee about which we are speaking was the Lawrence Committee—another committee altogether. That was the committee which failed the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, at that time. I, too, was at that time a Minister of Cabinet rank.

I do not want to mull over old matters. I want to mention that yesterday there was a leading article by Mr. David Wood in The Times that referred to the responsibility for this. He said that it was due to the spinelessness of successive Governments. This sounds all right, but I want to tell your Lordships that when every Government—the Government under Churchill and the Government under Macmillan—wanted to do anything for Members they faced the open hostility of the Press. In its leaders The Times was always saying, "This is not the time. We shouldn't do it". They invented reasons, and now they weep crocodile tears and impute motives to Members of the House.

I am probably of pensionable age now. I have come to this place and now I know about the meaning of life after death. I look back on those colleagues of mine who were young when they came into the House. All that this House asked for was that Members who probably retired in 1970 and who were placed like that should have another five years of reckonable service.

I do not think that what has happened regarding Members' pensions is any credit to the House of Commons. It is no credit to a Labour Government. Socialist principles are Socialist principles. I remember the reason for which we set up the benevolent fund. It was when the young Wilfrid Feinburgh, a man of great promise, was killed in a motor accident at 38 years of age, leaving five children. Instead of having a whip round, we said, "We will insulate people against this ", and we set up a benevolent fund into which we paid £10 a year. I cannot think of many things with which I have been associated of which I have been prouder than my service on those sort of committees. This is what we talk about. When we talk about principles and thunder our wonderful perorations across the platform, we had better remember the individuals; we had better remember those comrades who have borne the heat and burden of the day and who have gone down not in honour but in poverty in the autumn time of their lives. It is a standing disgrace.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only because I feel that at least one voice should be uttered in this Chamber—the voice of someone who never had the privilege of sitting in the other place. I do so, too, possibly in order to do penance for a previous occasion when, on the occasion of my maiden speech, I addressed this House and your Lordships were much too indulgent in allowing me to go on for too long. I now want to make my points extremely brief and then sit down.

It is only too true that this country of ours has a great love for the aged—aged buildings, ancient history and ancient traditions. The one thing I feel we sometimes lack is a comparable respect for aged servants of this country who have done it so much credit by the years that they have put in. As I have said, I want my voice to be a brief one by merely saying that quite transparently an injustice has been done in regard to the matter of reckonable service by the sheer chance of when one ceased to be a Member of the other place, and a grave injustice too has been done to Ministers of the Crown who have served this country well. I believe they were referred to in a previous speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.

At least let the voice of this House, which has not yet been silenced—and, if I may say so as a newcomer, I hope it will not be silenced for many years to come—go out that this is a matter which should be considered, if that is the undertaking or the understanding that has been given or reached, by the Boyle Committee at an early date, and especially considered by Boyle with the knowledge that at least this House is unanimous in wishing a grave injustice to be righted in respect of people who have served this country well in the past.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, we have had partly a repetition of a previous debate, but nevertheless noble Lords have expressed their strong feelings and I understand them. After all, I have been a politician for a long time and, as I said in a previous debate, I felt that politicians were regarded too cheaply by the public and that if there was this sort of attitude then inevitably it reflects badly on democracy. I have always argued that Members should have facilities in another place and in this place. Being a new Member here I believe that your Lordships work under great difficulties and certainly many of my Front Bench colleagues are treated shabbily, but this has always been so. We must have a different attitude.

I will not repeat the arguments that I used on a previous occasion about the progress which has been made along certain lines. Here we are discussing a pensions issue and noble Lords feel very strongly about it. Despite what has been said about the Boyle Committee, I believe that in the circumstances we must see that Boyle works. We must see that the Boyle Committee acts quickly, and I believe it will. It will consider this as soon as possible among its first considerations and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, whom I respect because of his long service, not only to Parliament and to this House specifically but also to the Civil Service, is a great defender of security for people who serve us, so he need not apologise for what he has said.

I would only say this. Let us send from this House a message to the Boyle Committee, who will no doubt read this debate. I will make sure that it is sent as I made sure that the Lord President knew the views of noble Lords after our last debate. I sent him a special document pointing to the issues which were raised on all matters, not just the pension issue affecting a certain minority of Members but also the position of former Ministers—an issue which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. So I believe now we should say that we have achieved this, it is perhaps not perfect but let Boyle look at this quickly, and I think inevitably something will be done.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he could be a little more specific about the question I asked him as to whether or not the Boyle Committee will consider this issue separately from the other, wider issues, in order that we may get a quick report.


My Lords, I hope the Boyle Committee will meet soon and I do not think there will be any question of a "package" in the sense of its being considered with other matters affecting Members' salaries, and so on. As we have said, it should be considered specifically and I see no reason why we should doubt that. I hope we can get this through.

On Question, Motion agreed to.