Orders of the Day — Parliamentary and Other Pensions Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:12 pm on 27th April 1987.

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Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon 9:12 pm, 27th April 1987

I will not detain the House for long, but I join others in giving my thanks to those trustees who have worked so hard over the years to look after our interests. I do not think that their work is suitably appreciated or lauded in the House. I am grateful and I am sure that every hon. Member present is grateful also.

I should like to thank all the officers of the Fees Office—it would be invidious to name any particular one—for the help they give Members in administering an extremely complicated scheme, vested as it is in so many different pieces of legislation. That is why I welcome the intention behind the Bill.

There are some details with which I take issue and which I hope to have an opportunity to explore in Committee. I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) that pension debates might in future be limited to a one-and-a-half hour order some time after 1 o'clock in the morning because such debates are important.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has set out so clearly, there are anomalies. Our widows are not as well treated as widows in other schemes. Our people who retire after 65 are not as well treated, and our people who die in service or who are severely injured in service are not as well treated. I wish them to be treated to the extent allowable within the general Inland Revenue and DHSS regulations. That is certainly possible given the strength of the scheme as it exists.

There are some problems within the legislation. For instance, clause 2 states: The Leader of the House of Commons may, with the consent of the Treasury, by regulations make provision with respect to the Fund". We had a civil war about that once upon a time. We vote funds to the Treasury; it does not vote funds to us. Our trustees look after the scheme, not the Treasury. The Treasury has no responsibility for it. Therefore, the clause should refer to the trustees and not the Treasury. I am certain that that is not an oversight and I am equally certain that the Leader of the House did not exercise his mind sufficiently on the constitutional implications of the clause. It is important not only constitutionally but practically. If the trustees have no incentive to manage the scheme well, why should they bother? It seems that there is a major fault in the scheme.

Clause 3(2) talks about the contributions being made in accordance with the report of the Government Actuary. That seems as if we are legislating in the sense that each time one has a row with one's wife, the mother-in-law must be the judge and jury. That seems to be the effect of that provision, and it should be looked at.

The point was well made that the freedom to choose outside pensions which now exists will cause some problems for the scheme in the future. It will certainly cause me some heart-searching. I do not mind coming in at 38 years of age and bringing 20 years' reckonable service with me. I do not mind at all if that extra money—from which I can never benefit because even on my own contributions, by the time I reach 60 I shall be over the Inland Revenue limit — results in better benefits for widows of those who die in service or those who are injured in service. But I mind a great deal when the Government Actuary says, "I shall nick that and give it back to the Treasury." That, in effect, is what is proposed. I could have given that money to charity rather than to the Treasury, but that is what has been enacted.

As increasing numbers of people such as myself come into the House with a good pension scheme behind them which brings in substantial benefits, it seems to me that we should have some say in those benefits. I do not want to pay any less than anyone else, but it ought to go to a good cause, and these days it does not seem to me that the Treasury is the best cause in the world.

That brings me to the 9 per cent. actuarial contribution. I well remember those debates, because I led from the Opposition Front Bench. I remind hon. Members that the additional 1 per cent. contribution was not recommended by the Top Salaries Review Body but was part of the rakeback which the chairman of the 1922 Committee proposed — I suspect not with the permission of his Committee — in order to save the Government's face when they decided not to implement the Top Salary Review Body's report and to stage the salary increase over a number of years instead of granting it immediately as was suggested. They decided to rake back another 1 per cent. by inserting an additional pension contribution, and tonight it is proposed that the Treasury should rake it back. I do not mind having a clean argument about salaries and pensions, but that muddied the water, and I feel strongly about that I per cent. contribution, as clearly, from what I have said, I am paying far too much already.

I welcome the opportunity to get the Bill into Committee. I think that we can do something with it. The way in which we treat our widows and the way in which we treat those who die in service—particularly given the number who have died in the last six months—as well as those who are injured in the service of the House because of the way in which we choose to operate does not make the House a particularly civilised place for which to work.

I do not mind working such long hours, but if I keeled over tomorrow I would like to think that my family would at least be well taken care of. At present that is not the case. I therefore look forward to taking the Bill into Committee and I look forward to the opportunity sensibly to amend it once it is there.