Orders of the Day — National Insurance (Non-Participating Employments)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th November 1960.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 8th November 1960

I wish to support the Prayer which the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has moved with characteristic ability and not so characteristic gentleness tonight. The hon. Lady has spoken on behalf of and representing the views of the Association of Municipal Corporations. Some of us who take part in the debate will be expressing the similar view of the County Councils Association, and those of us who know and like local government will agree that if the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association are unanimous on any matter, theirs must be the right view.

The names which are attached to the Prayer show that no party criticisms are involved in the criticisms which we are making of the Regulations under discussion. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary know the views of the Opposition on the parent Act itself, but they have nothing to do with tonight's debate, and I ask the House whether we can start the debate with what we agree about.

All of us want to give the maximum protection to the non-participant in the Government's new superannuation scheme. The Regulations are devised to give that protection to anyone who is not in the new graded pensions scheme when he leaves one job and goes to another, or when there is a gap between one job and another, or even when there is a break, through illness, in otherwise continuous service under one employer. We all want to ensure that unless a person is assured in other pays of pension benefits to which his service entitles him, the employer will make a payment in lieu of contributions to the Government's own National Insurance Fund.

For that purpose, it is of vital importance that the man's period of service should be determined without peradventure. None of us can dispute that, and none of us prays against the policy which is enshrined in these Regulations.

However, local authorities are in a position different from that of any other employer. Like many of my hon. Friends, I sit on the County Councils Association, and I know the very patient and detailed work which the Association, in consultation with N.A.L.G.O., put into the very complicated task of working out relations between all its employees, those in statutory pensions scheme already and those not, in their relations with the Government's new Act.

As the House knows, the bulk of local authority employees fall into four groups, all of whom have their own superannuation schemes. All those superannuation schemes are operated under statutory authority. Without any of these Regulations, the Government already exercise full and complete control of such statutory schemes. In this, local government workers differ from other employees who will have pensions schemes offered by private employers. The latter obviously need to be subject to all the safeguards which the parent Act and these Regulations might provide, but the statutory superannuation schemes are already fully safeguarded.

The local authorities believe that many of the new provisions in these Regulations are otiose as far as they are concerned and mean unnecessary work for local authorities, work which will cost the ratepayers money, work which will give nothing to the Government which they cannot already get, and work which can give no extra protection whatever to the employee who is already fully covered by statutory provisions.

Let us take a simple case of the sickness of a local government employee. I here take the opportunity of paying tribute to the generous treatment by local authorities of their employees who are sick. I only wish that all private employers had the same ethical standards of conduct in treating their employees. The records of local authorities of absences due to sickness are complete, accurate and permanent, yet every local authority, by the Regulations that we are discussing now, will be compelled to treat any sick employee who has been away for 13 weeks as though he has terminated his employment, at least for the purpose of the record, even though he is still employed by the local authority and even if he is covered by statutory pension provisions. "Surely", say the local authorities, "the Minister can rely on the local authorities for absences due to sickness".

Again, a person who transfers from one statutory pension scheme to another carries his pension rights with him, and yet, for the purposes of the record, even such a person has to be treated as having terminated his employment, and after 13 weeks has elapsed from the ending of his last payment under his first job the local authority has to set in motion a process to ensure what is already statutorily guaranteed, namely, that the local authority will honour its obligations—even though, as a simple fact, it cannot possibly get out of them. These are just two examples which illustrate the general case which the hon. Lady and those who will take part in this debate are putting, on behalf of the local authorities, to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

It is true that the Regulations give the Minister power to interpret them generously in certain aspects. We understand, for example, that he recognises the general position of local authorities in that they do not really terminate the employment of an employee who is absent through sickness for more than 13 weeks if that absence is due to a number of causes, such as absence for maternity. We also know that, when a man transfers, the 26 weeks period which elapses from the time when he ends his payment under the first job to the time when the Minister demands a full account of guaranteed payments due in respect of that pensionable period can be extended, in some cases, under Regulation 18 (2), to 65 weeks.

But we are asking for more than that tonight. The Minister has no more loyal co-operators in this country than the county and borough treasurers. Many of them believe in the Government's block grant system, and I should imagine that most of them—certainly most of my colleagues on the County Councils Association—are misguided enough to support the Minister politically, and even to support the parent Act. These public servants work hard. They are willing to do all the administrative work that is necessary. This is an opportunity that the House might take of paying tribute to those local government administrators who, all through the years since the war, have seen steadily increasing the burdens of administrative work which we are placing on local government as we build the Welfare State.

But such people object—rightly, as I believe—to work which has no meaning. They object to work for which they can see no purpose; to the filling in of forms for form-filling's sake. I should imagine that the House is with them in that view tonight, and that hon. Members should, therefore, ask the Minister to take back these Regulations and redraft them in a way which, while containing everything necessary to safeguard the position of non-participants, at the same time recognises the adequate protection which already exists for local government workers covered by statutory schemes, and that in so doing the Minister will refrain from putting an unnecessary burden and expense on local authorities.