I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Insurance (Non-participation—Assurance of Equivalent Pension Benefits) Regulations, 1960 (S.I., 1960, No. 1103), dated 27th June, 1960, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled.
I am moving the Motion on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, an organisation of which I have the honour to be a vice-president. It will be within the recollection of the House that the superannuation schemes of local authorities are all statutory schemes and that by decision of Parliament taken from time to time the positions of employees in the superannuation schemes, as far as I understand, are adequately and satisfactorily protected.
The Association of Municipal Corporations is very regretful that in these Regulations so much duplication of work will be involved for the local authorities, which in the opinion of the Association are covered by the statutory schemes. Speaking on behalf of the Association, I feel that a great deal of administrative time will be wasted and a great deal of ratepayers' money will be unnecessarily spent. It is because of these factors that I move the Motion.
I want to be as conciliatory as I can, and I have a very modest request to make to my right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, who, I understand, will reply to the debate, I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to couch my request in the Association's terms. I therefore quote. The Association, of course, is referring to the Motion, and it says:
It is not anticipated, nor indeed is it the desire of the Association, that the Motion should be accepted and the regulations annulled. What they are anxious to secure, however, is an undertaking from the Minister that this matter will be re-examined with a view to the requirements imposed on local authorities being substantially relaxed. As at
present drawn, for example, the regulations will impose on local authorities requirements in regard to the sending of notices to the Ministry which will duplicate information already being supplied,"—
That, of course, is under the present statutory scheme—
or which for some other reason is unnecessary; they will, also, require information to be given to staffs on retirement which will be useless to anyone, but which will require detailed calculations. All this represents a waste of time and a waste of money.
I think that that puts the case in a nutshell.
I understand the Association put its case, with the support of the London County Council authorities, to the National Advisory Committee to the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. Unfortunately, that Committee did not see fit to accept any of the proposals or recommendations that were put to it. Therefore, when the Committee tendered its advice to my right hon. Friend, none of the proposals genuinely put forward by the Association of Municipal Corporations was embodied in that advice.
It is very regrettable that when a body with a reputation such as the Association has, and with wide support throughout the country, makes proposals for restricting administrative work and saving ratepayers' money, the proposals should be rather casually treated by the National Advisory Committee. Therefore, I think the proposal which I have outlined for, in the words of the Association, a re-examination of the whole problem should be welcomed and acceded to by my right hon. Friend.
I want to make one or two rather personal points on this matter. If, as I understand, my right hon. Friend's case rests on the fact that the Regulations will give protection to all employees in private and commercial firms who contract out of the graduated scheme as well as to the employees of local authorities—I understand that that will be the point of view expressed by my right hon. Friend—I should just like to say that I have been in the House of Commons a very long time, I think I can claim to be the sort of person to whom my constituents come when they feel they have a sense of grievance, whoever it may be against, and that during the time I have been in the House I have never had an employee of any local authority with whom I have been connected complain of treatment by the local authority in respect of its statutory superannuation schemes. Therefore, whatever my right hon. Friend may feel in this matter, I do not think she need be unduly alarmed that the employees of local authorities will not be properly safeguarded in the new scheme should they decide to contract out. I must ask the House to accept that.
I would say just one other thing to my right hon. Friend if she is proposing to use this argument. A long time ago when the present Secretary of State for the Colonies was the Minister of Health, the employees of the local authorities asked for some new regulations, which were to be of benefit to them, to be placed on the Statute Book. My right hon. Friend said that a place would be found for them on the Statute Book. A very long time has passed, and the local authority employees who sought certain support from this House have never been able to receive it because the Government have never found time for the necessary regulations to reach the Statute Book.
Consequently, I think I can claim that Her Majesty's Government are not always to be found in the position of being supporters of the employees of local authorities. I would say at once that this was not in connection with superannuation schemes, but I think it is a very useful illustration. I hope that in discussing the Association's application my right hon. Friend will not take the line that the Government are better able to protect or more desirous of protecting the in-tests of the employees of the constituent bodies of the Association than the Association itself is, because I should have to disagree with her on that point.
I do not intend to detain the House very long, because I know that many hon. Members would like to take part in this brief discussion. Over a long period, many people, both from the Opposition and from this side of the House, have argued for a reduction in administrative costs. We have asked for a reduction in administrative work. We have asked for a reduction in paper work. Many of my hon. Friends take a great interest in Government expendi- ture. It is true, of course, that it is ratepayers' money which is involved, but this is important to many people.
If I might put it in a not very forceful way, it is annoying, when the Association of Municipal Corporations is carrying out great schemes which are statutorily protected so far as its employees are concerned and it puts forward certain proposals, that they are not accepted. I will not go into the proposals in detail, because they are fairly complicated and I would have to read them out. Most people, like myself, would not understand them, but I hope that the House will accept the view that they were reasonable proposals designed to save work and money.
The Association of Municipal Corporations feels that the scheme may be brought into ridicule if no way is found of doing away with the duplication of work. Bearing in mind the general demand that we should reduce paper work and that we should not duplicate Government and local government forms, it is annoying to many of us that the National Advisory Committee paid no attention to the point of view expressed to it by the Association of Municipal Corporations.
When people argue about reducing Government expenditure and about reducing the necessity for filling in forms, I always find that one Government Department hopes that another Government Department will do it. When one Government Department is faced with a particular form which might be discarded, or is faced with a particular administrative action which might be destroyed, one always finds that the Government Department is reluctant to do it.
That is all I want to say because I am moving this Motion in a conciliatory tone. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the approach made by the Association of Municipal Corporations should find favour, and that at no far-distant date the Minister should seek to meet the Association of Municipal Corporations and get down to discussing the details of the proposals that were made.
It is all very well for a National Advisory Committee which, taken by and large, has no connections with local government perhaps to be as apprehensive as I am of the details that have been put forward by the Association of Municipal Corporations, but it is regrettable—though I understand that the Minister is always co-operative in this matter—that the Minister, knowing what a powerful body the Association of Municipal Corporations is, did not seek an opportunity of meeting it and discussing the detailed proposals which it made.
I hope that on this occasion I might act as a mediator. If the requirements and the requests from the Association of Municipal Corporations which I have read out find favour in the eyes and brain of my right hon. Friend, I hope that she will be able to say that the Minister will take time to meet those who deal with the statutory superannuation claims on behalf of local authorities, and I hope that some accommodation will be arrived at.