HL Deb 14 May 1987 vol 487 cc801-4

7.58 p.m.

Brought from the Commons, and read a first time.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 12th May):

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The last time your Lordships' House debated the Parliamentary pension scheme was in 1984. My noble friend the Leader of the House said then that the provisions of the Bill which was then being considered were of limited direct relevance to Members of your Lordships' House. The same is true of the Bill now before us.

Its main purpose is to enable the complex legislation containing the Parliamentary pension scheme to be set out in regulations instead of in primary legislation. This will have the double advantage of ensuring that the rules of the scheme are easier to follow, since the intention is that they will be made available in consolidated form, and that the procedure for future amendments will be simplified.

The most important point that I need to make this evening is that the Bill does not amend the scheme in any way. In debates in another place suggestions were made for improvements in the scheme but I should like to emphasise that the Government do not see this Bill as an opportunity to make such improvements. It has been the practice in the past for the scheme to be based on recommendations by an independent body, and the Government have agreed to refer the current parliamentary pension arrangements to the top salaries review body. Piecemeal changes to the scheme have in the past inevitably resulted in anomalies, and the TSRB will be asked to look especially at the effects of recent amendments.

Clause 1 of the Bill reproduces the main provisions of the existing legislation. Clause 2 is the central provision of the Bill. It gives a power to the Leader of the House of Commons to make regulations providing for pensions for Members, Ministers and certain other office-holders. The principal matters that may be covered by the regulations are listed in Schedule 1.

The second perhaps most important point about this Bill is that no regulations can be made that adversely affect the accrued pension rights of former Members of Parliament or office-holders no longer in service at the time of the making of the regulations, or their dependants, without their consent. The Leader of the House of Commons is obliged to consult the trustees of the fund and Members' representatives before making any regulations.

During Committee stage in another place, the Government gave an undertaking that there would be a debate on an amendable motion in the House of Commons before regulations under Clause 2 of the Bill are made. The Bill was amended to provide that the trustees may report to the House of Commons on any proposals put forward by the Leader of the House, and this report may be made available for a debate. When the amended regulations subsequently came to both Houses they would then require the negative resolution procedure.

Clause 3 provides for the continuation of the annual Exchequer contribution to the fund, which is based on the recommendation of the Government Actuary. He will continue to report on the fund every three years; but the Bill slightly amends present practice. In future the Government Actuary will be recommending a rate of contribution by the Exchequer for the years following publication of his report rather than the years following the valuation date, which may be some time before the report is published. This will avoid unexpected adjustments to the rate of contribution, which can upset the trustees' investment activities. My right honourable friend gave an undertaking in another place that the Government would always allow a debate in another place on the Government Actuary's report.

Clause 4 gives authority for the payment of a pension to the widow of the late Lord Maybray-King, the former Speaker who died last year. When Mr. Speaker King retired in 1971, his pension arrangements were set out in a special Act of Parliament, as was the practice then. This provided for a pension to be paid to his then wife, who was named in the Act, in the event of his death. She died, however, and he remarried, but the Act did not provide a pension for his surviving widow. Clause 4 ensures that Lord Maybray-King's widow is not placed in a worse position than if he had simply remained a Member of Parliament by following established practice in applying the rules of the parliamentary scheme in her case.

This short Bill is, as I hope your Lordships may agree, mainly a technical measure designed to make the present pension arrangements more transparent. Of course it is right that parliamentary pensions should be debated and scrutinised in public. This Bill preserves that principle, but simplifies the procedure for future amendments. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Belstead.)

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, perhaps I may thank the noble Lord for so concisely explaining the purport of this Bill. I can assure him that the 15 minutes shown on the face of the clock when he sat down was not the length of time for which he spoke. This is really a consolidation measure and, in so far as it is a consolidation measure, I have no comment on it. Inevitably at this time of political conflict the Bill is non-controversial and has not tried to tackle some of the anomalies in the present pension scheme. Obviously, if it had tried to tackle any of those anomalies, it would have become a contentious measure.

Indeed I understand that discussion has gone on for some months, if not longer, to try to resolve some of the issues which are contentious, such as the different treatment of Members retiring immediately before and after their 65th birthday and also the hoary question as to why a retirement age of 60 should not be set universally within the pension scheme. I am sure, however, that noble Lords who were former Members of Parliament will be relieved to know that the Bill in no way affects their accrued pension rights.

With regard to Clause 4, I am sure all noble Lords will agree that it is proper that a pension should be paid to the widow of the former Speaker, Lord Maybray-King, whose pension, if he had retired after the present arrangements had been made, would have been paid to his widow. It is only because the arrangements were made so long ago that it is necessary for these special arrangements to be made at this time. We support the Bill.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. The noble Lord has indeed interpreted absolutely accurately the effects of Clause 4, which is the clause which directly affects a distinguished former Member of this House. I think there is no more that I ought to say in reply on the Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time: Committee negatived; read a third time, and passed.