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Volume 979: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1980

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many retired civil servants and other public servants received, at the last increase in their public pension, a rise of more than £50 a week.

Figures for the public services as a whole are not available centrally. As to the Civil Service in particular, the number is 18, out of a total of 348,000 pensioners.

Is this not yet another example of one law for the poor and another for the rich under the present Government? Is the Minister aware that the Government are refusing to increase unemployment benefit in line with inflation—an insurance benefit paid for by contributions—and that that act will push millions into poverty? Is he aware that at the same time they are paying out huge, fully inflation-proofed increases to former top civil servants who receive pensions of over £15,000 a year? Does the Minister not agree that a limit must be imposed upon the rich before the poor are made to suffer more?

Whatever the merits or demerits of inflation-proofing it is ridiculous to launch a campaign against 18 people. The hon. Member is basing a campaign on about .005 per cent. of the 348,000 people involved.

What progress has my hon. Friend made in the search for a new and improved mechanism to check on the computations of the Government Actuary in arriving at the real value of index-linked pensions in the public service?

The Government are continuing to study this matter with urgency. I hope that we shall be able to come to conclusions and make announcements before long.

How many of the 18 former public servants have highly paid jobs such as bank managers and directors because of their Civil Service experience? How many of them are in the other place receiving £16.50 expenses which is worth another £100 a day if one takes tax into account?

I cannot answer questions about individuals. The hon. Member has been kind to me in the past, but I have to say that that is a typical question for him.

Has my hon. Friend any plans for obliging those who are in receipt of index-linked pensions to pay substantially more in the course of earning those pensions?

The Government are looking into the whole question of inflation-proofed public service pensions. The issues are extremely difficult. We hope to be able to ensure a stystem which is acceptable to the public servants and the taxpayers.

Is the Minister aware that his answer to the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) will be deeply disappointing to many retired public servants and to the Civil Service staff side because for about a month he has been unclear about how the investigation is to be carried out, and, indeed, why it is to be carried out? Did he not say a few months ago that he had the utmost confidence in the Government Actuary's figures? Why is the investigation necessary and who will carry it out?

It is interesting that the hon. Member should be so against an investigation into public service index-linked pensions when there is such disquiet about the issue. I have the greatest confidence in the Government Actuary but the question of index-linked pensions goes far wider than the Civil Service. It goes through the whole of the public services. That is why the question is not relevant to the issues at stake.