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Superannuation Bill

Part of Freedom of Information (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 7th September 2010.

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Photo of Michael McCann Michael McCann Labour, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow 6:59 pm, 7th September 2010

May I declare an interest? In the Chamber tonight, I am representing thousands of civil servants who live and work in my constituency, home to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the Department for International Development and the Department for Work and Pensions. Many other constituents work in the Scottish Court Service, the Scottish Prison Service, the Forestry Commission and many other Departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies throughout Scotland.

I have another interest to declare: I was a civil servant between 1982 and 1992; I became a full-time official with the Civil and Public Services Association, a predecessor of the Public and Commercial Services Union; and then I became a senior full-time official for the PCS. I know all the protagonists in this debate very well indeed, including the aforementioned Mr Serwotka.

The motto of the new coalition Government is, "We are all in this together," and I should like to put that to the test by asking them to put their motto into actions rather than words, because, despite what was said amid the heady atmosphere of the Queen's Speech debate, every Member recognises that we have to tackle the fiscal deficit. The difference-well, there may be more than one-between Opposition and Government Members is how we do so. The Opposition believe that there are other options, that the Government are going far too far, far too quickly and that the damage that occurs will create more problems for the economy.

The proposal before us is the first real acid test of the Government's plans for deficit reduction, because we all know that the whole economy of the United Kingdom benefited from the economic bail-out. The private sector, the public sector and what people call the third sector all benefited, and in order to reduce the deficit every part of the economy must contribute. I shall argue strongly that that contribution must be proportionate and depend on how much people can afford. For example, the bankers, who perpetrated the biggest crime against our country's economy, must pay the most in order to rebalance our books.

We know from the Budget that people will be asked to pay a 20% VAT rate, and that there will be what Opposition Members regard as a puny levy on the banks. We must also consider the proposal before us, and taking matters in the round I have reached the judgment that we are not all in this together, because we are asking those who can least afford it, those who are vulnerable and public sector workers to pay the largest price. That is the collective impact of the proposal. Despite what the Minister said, that is the message that the Government are sending out. I appreciate his point about the negotiations, but, having taken part in many negotiations over the years, I now recognise when I had the upper hand and when the employer did, so I recognise that in the current negotiations the employer-the Government-has very much the upper hand.

Ministers still have an opportunity to reach a common-sense resolution for the civil service compensation scheme, however. A lot of inaccurate information has been put out in the press, and there is a great deal of confusion about the difference between severance and early retirement. For example, on the BBC's "Today" programme, I heard that some civil servants would receive six and two-thirds years' payments after they had been made redundant. That clearly confused severance with retirement, because severance is simply based on length of service and salary, and the maximum payout under the current CSCS scheme is three years. In respect of retirement, the terms are for the over-50s, involving an enhancement, through added years, to their pensions.

The Labour Government's comprehensive proposal to the civil service unions would have saved between £500 million and £650 million-not inconsiderable amounts of money, I hope Government Members will agree-and protected all the different bases in respect of early severance and early retirement.

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