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Local Government (Pensions Regulations)

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 21 July 1954

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Draft Local Government Superannuation (Benefits) Regulations, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st July, be approved.—[Mr. Marples.]

11.24 p.m.

The Opposition have had an opportunity of considering the draft Regulations which are promulgated in this Statutory Instrument. They are, as those of us who are interested know, based on the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1953, in which a number of hon. Members who are present at the moment were interested and in the Committee stage proceedings of which they took part.

Those who recollect our discussion will know all too well that the Regulations are not all that some of us would have wished them to be. Unfortunately, many thousands of manual workers whom we thought should have been included, as well as other workers, are outside the injuries allowance which is provided for in the Regulations. We can do nothing about them now because these Regulations are based on the Act in the shape in which it was passed, but we are sorry that the Act was not wider in scope so that these people might have been included.

These Regulations have been rather a long time coming, and I hope that that means—perhaps we may have a Government assurance on the point—that all those interested, the trade unions and other organisations who are affected by the Statutory Instrument, have been consulted and are in general, if not complete, agreement with the Regulations.

11.26 p.m.

As one who served on the Standing Committee during the Committee stage of this Act, and who has been a local government officer—and perhaps I may now declare, my interest—I want to say a few words about Part II, dealing with benefits, and paragraph 5 on page 5. The crucial point to which I want to draw attention is that

"a contributory employee of an employing authority shall be entitled … to receive an annual pension "
if he has attained the age of 60 years and has completed 40 years' service. I want to emphasise that—40 years' service. That is the number of years a young lad, entering local government service, must serve before he can expect a pension at the end of his career.

I suggest that that is a mistake. We are all aware of the increasing strain of modern life, and nowhere is that strain more severe than in the Civil Service and local government service. We had an unhappy inquest yesterday which followed failures in the higher ranks of the Civil Service—and not only the higher ranks, for one somewhat inexperienced young man came in for criticism because he had prepared a report which, had he been more experienced, he would have taken steps to check more carefully before he submitted it to his superior.

I say with emphasis that we are making a mistake in approving Regulations which demand 40 years' service. In the Civil Service a man can draw a pension at a certain age—60, I think—if he has 30 years' service. A teacher can draw his pension at 60 if he has 30 years' qualifying service. In the police force the period is even less. In the Armed Forces it is certainly less. I am not complaining that these periods of qualifying service are less but submitting that we are making a mistake in the Regulations in laying down 40 years. I blame the trade unions and the National Association of Local Government Officers for agreeing to terms of this kind without strenuous objection.

Around 50 years of age a man very often passes through a crisis in his life—a health crisis, a neurosis, or something of that kind. Provision should be made for him to draw a pension after 30 years' service. He need not draw it until he is 60, he need not draw a full pension at 60; he would draw an amount proportionate to his qualifying service.

Probably all local authorities within a limited period have to face a difficult situation when a local government officer breaks down in health at any time between the ages of 45 and 55. The officer will have given extraordinarily good service and the local authority is appreciative of it, but the authority knows that he will never again be able to render the good service which he has given in the past. But the local authority feels that it must keep him on, and it does so. I give all credit to local authorities for that.

The Minister may say, "But the man could draw a breakdown pension if he has more than 10 years' qualifying service"; but perhaps the man has not completely broken down in health. In all probability his breakdown is due to excess of zeal in the past. I faced a breakdown in health myself in my twenties. My health has improved since I became a Member of Parliament. We all know that a local government officer who has given good service has gained experience in human dealings, and so on, and an officer who moves out into another sphere of service would undoubtedly give further good service to the community.

After I had mentioned this same thing in the Second Reading debate when the Bill was before the House last year, a Member on the other side spoke to me about it. He told me that in a bank with which he was connected his directors had found it desirable to offer terms of early retirement to certain employees and were surprised at how many of them took advantage of the offer. I am not surprised, and I am sure that anyone who has been in local government service or the Civil Service and has felt the strain of that service would agree that it is a good thing to have the opportunity round about the age of 50 to change one's occupation.

I know that we can do nothing about it tonight—the Regulations are here; but I suggest that when we review this position again we should take into account this very human problem. I am sure that we should then give more consideration to it than we have done during our proceedings in connection with the Act and the Regulations. There is one further problem. We know nowadays that service can go on beyond the age of 65. There then arises the problem of blocking promotion for younger men. If men could opt to retire from the service after they had 30 years' qualifying service, it would open avenues of promotion for younger men.

11.34 p.m.

I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to give me just one assurance. The Regulations are very complicated. I find them extremely difficult to understand, and I have no doubt that many people who are covered by them will also say that they are extremely complicated. I should like to ask my hon. Friend how he proposes to ensure through the employing authorities that those who will benefit by Regulation 15 and the Second Schedule, which operate together, will be aware of these provisions. How are they going to discover what are their rights and what are their options which they can exercise?

It is most important when we are trying to make progress in this sphere that those who are going to benefit should have a very full and fair opportunity to become acquainted with all the provisions made for them. I seem to have heard that my hon. Friend intends to send out an explanatory memorandum to local authorities and, in that connection, I should like sufficient emphasis to be made in that memorandum to ensure that local authorities will, in fact, see that everyone knows what are their rights and privileges.

I would conclude by saying that I am very glad to have this opportunity for raising this matter in the House, because if anybody does get left out and is not in the new provisions put before them then, if I retain my seat at the next General Election, I shall at least be able to get up and ask for explanations. I wish every success to the Regulations when they come into operation.

11.37 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Mr. Ernest Marples)

Before answering the several questions which have been put from both sides of the House, I should like to seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I take it that we are discussing the four sets of Regulations together.

We are in your hands, Mr. Speaker, but it had occurred to my hon. Friends that it would certainly not lengthen the proceedings if the Instrument relating to Scotland was moved immediately after our present discussion. It may well be that certain points peculiar to Scotland may be raised briefly and then equally briefly answered by the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland, or whoever else would reply.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I take it, then, that we are discussing the three English Measures now and that the Scottish one will follow.

The hon. Gentleman said "the three Measures." Does that apply to the Motion on superannuation?

No, that superannuation Measure is on another page; it is not on the Order Paper for today. The second matter is the Scottish local government superannuation Regulations; I think he is referring to another superannuation Measure.

We are asking the House to approve this Motion for three sets of Regulations and I thank the right hon. Gentleman opposite for the moderate way in which he addressed himself to the House. These Regulations were laid on 1st July, and arise from the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1953, which became law in July of last year, and which laid down that the benefits would be embodied in Regulations. We have tonight to see if we approve the Regulations which have been made. There are three of them; the first is what I would call the "Benefits" Regulation; the second deals with justices' clerks and their assistants, and the third with probation officers and their clerks.

This is a matter on which the justices' clerks take a fairly strong line. May I say that I hope that either the learned Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General will be present to say a word on this subject?

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I would say that he was not present at the beginning of our discussion.

We have circulars from many different bodies, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman had been here earlier he might have been able to assist the House in the way in which we expect assistance from him. I am making three points on this question. The first is in answer to the right hon. Member for Colne Valley, to whom the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch did not have the advantage of listening. The right hon. Member asked if consultation had taken place. He also said the Regulations had been a long time coming before the House. The reason is that the consultations were very comprehensive and rather lengthy with the various representative bodies concerned. Directly concerned we have the local authority associations who sat on the working party, London County Council, the National Association of Local Government Officers and, regarding the justices' clerks and assistants, the National Association of Probation Officers and the Justices' Clerks Society.

Although they raised points of substance in the early stages when they disagreed, they have come to general agreement and accepted this compromise solution. We could not have 15 or 20 interested bodies all having their own way; there must be a certain amount of give and take. Broadly speaking, this has been accepted by these various bodies. Although they expressed their individual points of view, they gave way when other points of view were put forward.

Those associations are directly concerned, but there are other associations not so directly concerned whose interests are nevertheless important, including the T.U.C., with which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) disagreed. They were consulted and, broadly speaking, they accepted. There was the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing. I am sure I take the House with me when I say that with this multiplicity of bodies interested it is essential that whatever is arrived at as an agreed decision must be accomplished. Broadly they have accepted this agreement and the working party, which considered the 1953 Act, considered this matter. This is the end product of a number of people's minds.

It is not obligatory on an employee of a local authority, and if he wishes to keep his previous rates he can elect to do so. A married person who retired after 30th September, 1950, or the widow of an employee who retired or died in service after that date, can elect for the new benefits, or to retain the old. It is a case of heads they win and tails they do not lose.

The Regulations apply to the great majority of local government pensionable employees. Those not covered are employees of local Act authorities, for example London County Council and Manchester, who have their own special Acts. Other local authorities have local Acts modifying the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1937. Those modifications substitute benefits similar to those now to be conferred by these Regulations.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne has had extensive experience of the working of Regulations and probably knows more about them than anyone else in the House. They have affected him intimately and personally. He has made his protest, as an individual, as he has every right to do. He has made it very cogently and lucidly now, as he did when the Bill was before the House. I am bound to say that various representative bodies, such as the trade unions, having agreed to these recommendations, it is very difficult to throw over a representative body like the Trades Union Congress because the hon Member makes a perfectly good point against agreement; it is swamped by the interests of the majority. While I am sorry to say that to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great affection, especially as he has been reasonable in this matter, because he has suffered, not under this Act, but under pensions arrangements generally, I am bound to say that, having reached agreement with this multiplicity of bodies, it would be difficult for the Government to throw them over.

I would only ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that I quite appreciate that point. The point I was trying to make is, whenever these conditions are reviewed, the very human difficulties which I have in mind should be taken into account.

I feel that we ought to put this right for the sake of the record. The hon. Gentleman is rather blaming the trades unions for the fact that certain things are not in the Act. We really have to blame the Government, because some of us tried upstairs to get these things into the Act, but the Government would not agree.

I certainly would not shield behind the T.U.C. I think efforts of hon. Gentlemen upstairs were complementary to the efforts of the T.U.C., but did not replace them.

The T.U.C. have agreed with this, and I am not sheltering behind the T.U.C. in any way. I am merely saying they were a representative body, with whom this was discussed, and it is very difficult if it has been discussed and agreed with them, to throw over that agreement, because one or two people might disagree. The Government will take responsibility for it.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward), said that it was difficult to follow the Regulations, and we sympathise with her. She said, with reference to Regulation 15 of the Second Schedule, and I agree with her, that the people who are entitled to benefit under these Regulations, are perfectly entitled to have a proper explanation and put as simply as possible. There will be a memorandum explaining the Regulations, and local authorities will be advised to inform employees of their rights and the time limits. If any particular person has difficulty, after the local authority has explained it, there are the usual organisations, such as the Citizens' Advice Bureau, or, even a Member of Parliament.

These complicated Regulations, which are difficult to follow, should be thoroughly and lucidly explained to the people entitled to benefit from them. With that, I hope the House will agree to the three English Motions to approve the Regulations now laid in accordance with the Act.

11.48 p.m.

I want to draw attention to a case of a highly respected man who was a magistrates' clerk who died very suddenly and left a widow in very difficult circumstances indeed. I have gone into this case with the treasurer of Dudley, and he has helped all he could.

As I understand the situation, this lady was driven back on the generosity of the magistrates' committee. I hope that in cases of this kind, where a man has given long service to the community and died at a fairly early age—or at least only in his forties—and obtained little benefit from the Regulations, the hon. Gentleman will do all he can to urge local authorities to be as generous as they can.

It is clear that, when a superannuation scheme is brought into being, what a person gets must have some relation to what he pays, or, to put it the other way round, what they pay must have a relation to what they get. This unfortunate lady suffers, because of the sudden death of her husband, which is a tragedy in itself. She was used to a comparatively high standard of life and, without a word of warning, she is left living on what small payments she gets. She has been waiting patiently for the promulgation of these Regulations, hoping, I think, for a great deal more than she is likely to get. I make no complaint about that, because there must be a starting point.

I make no complaint about the generosity or the kindness of the treasurer of the Dudley Corporation. He has done all that he can. He, too, has been waiting for the Regulations. I understand that, even when the Regulations are fully understood by the lady and her advisers, she will not get a lot out of it. It may well be that in the circumstances the Minister and his advisers can make it possible for the magistrates' committee and the corporation to do something over and above the provisions contained in the Regulations.

The hon. Member has referred to the case of a justices' clerk. Although the responsibility for these Regulations is that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the Home Secretary has the primary responsibility in this instance. I have asked whether we have any knowledge of the matter, and I am advised that at the moment we have not. We will have the matter looked into, and I will write to the hon. Member.

11.52 p.m.

I am in a difficulty, because I do not know which Minister can answer the question that I wish to put. I understand that the Local Government Regulations cover England and Scotland, but I cannot find on the Paper any reference to Regulations for probation officers and justices' clerks in Scotland. I ask the question because I have had a long correspondence with representatives of the Scottish probation officers.

On a point of order. Surely, we are discussing only the first set of Regulations in the name of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

It was agreed that we should discuss at the same time the three sets of Regulations in the name of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The Scottish Regulations are not being discussed at the moment.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State has got the point. The probation officers of Scotland have always been paid less than their colleagues in England. I wonder whether this is another example where they are left out in the cold.

11.54 p.m.

It might be convenient if I were to answer that direct question immediately. The reason why there are no Regulations about probation officers in Scotland is that they come under the ordinary local government superannuation scheme.

Question put, and agreed to.

11.55 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Draft Local Government Superannuation (Benefits) (Scotland) Regulations, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th July, be approved.
These Regulations correspond to the Draft English Regulations which the House has just approved. The Scottish Regulations are substantially the same in effect as those for England and Wales. As was the case with the English Regulations, they have been prepared in consultation with the local authority associations, the National Association of Local Government Officers, and other interested parties. All these bodies are generally agreeable to the Regulations.

As has been said by other speakers, these Regulations are complicated. I have tried to understand them and to find out what they will do for those affected by them. It is important for those concerned that the explanatory memorandum, which we have been told is to go to the English local authorities, should also go to the Scottish local authorities.

The English Minister, when giving an explanation, said that there were other bodies which would be able to help those concerned. I am sure that that is so. I am sure, too, that N.A.L.G.O., as we call it, will be ready at all times to help their people to understand the Regulations. The officers of that association will have given a great deal of thought and time to the matter, even before these Regulations were brought before the House. They will be able to give a great deal of assistance to members of the association. Members of other unions will be able to get help from those bodies.

Like another hon. Member, I am sorry that tonight we have not before us Regulations covering a much greater body of workers. I know we cannot plead for their inclusion in these Regulations, because they are not covered by the Act. I can only say that I hope that in the near future pressure will become so strong that manual workers will eventually be covered.

I must say how surprised I was that the Regulations had to be withdrawn shortly after they had appeared in this House; and that they had to be withdrawn because of omissions. Considering the galaxy of officers we have at the Scottish Office this mistake ought not to have taken place. The Regulations ought to have been correct when they first came before the House. The Scottish Office now has two more officers than it had under the late Administration. Therefore it was wrong that there should be muddle and mistakes, and that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments should find that pages 35 and 36 had been omitted, and that certain minor Amendments also had to be made. These Regulations are of great importance to thousands, and I would ask that greater care should be taken by Ministers in regard to draft Regulations.

If I may reply, with the permission of the House. The hon. Lady has raised the point about omissions from these Regulations. I am quite sure that when she occupied the position of Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary she went carefully through every page to make sure that nothing had been left out in transmission to the printers. That is what happened here. Two pages were left out, and I will admit that, unlike the hon. Lady, I did not go through every page to see that all the pages were in place.

I do not think that is an explanation at all. Had it been a matter of a minor printing error I should not have drawn attention to it. But it was not a minor error. It was a very important omission, the omission of Tables 3 and 4, which are very important. They give modifications in the additional contributory payments by a great number of workers. Table 3 also gives modifications of additional contributions under Regulation 12. That was not a slight mistake—

Question put, and agreed to.

Draft Justices' Clerks and Assistants (Superannuation) Regulations, 1954, copy presented on 2nd July, approved.—[ Mr. Marples.]

Draft Probation Officers and Clerks (Superannuation) Regulations, 1954, copy presented on 9th July, approved.—[ Mr. Marples.]