§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Measure is designed to amend and to extend the law relating to the superannuation of local government employés. It also consolidates and codifies the law, and it is, therefore, longer than a purely amending Bill would be. I am glad that in the new provisions legislation by reference is avoided, and I think it will be in this form more convenient to Members of the Legislature and to those who may be called upon to administer them. I hope that hon. Members have had time to look at the White Paper which, besides explaining the main principles of the Bill, indicates those provisions which are mainly re-enactments of the existing law. The main and general object of the Bill is to secure such a measure of uniformity as may reasonably be required in regard to the provision to be made by local authorities for pensions for their staffs. It requires provision to be made for the superannuation of all whole-time local government officers, and facilitates similar provision by local authorities over and above that made by the general law relating to pensions for their other employés. I think I can claim that it embodies the principle now so widely recognised in business organisations and elsewhere throughout the country of the desirability of provision being made where possible for their staffs in their old age. This Bill brings the local government service in this respect into line with the long-established practice of the Civil Service, and thus adds another measure of protection in old age to a further section of the community.
It is important in considering the provisions of this Bill to refer to the history of the matter. Local government superannuation has been a gradual but a somewhat haphazard growth. Provision has been made in special enactments for particular classes of employés, such as firemen and Poor Law and mental hospital employés, but before the War only a few 2112 of the larger authorities had general superannuation schemes in force, and these had been authorised by local legislation. In 1919 the subject was considered by the Norman Committee, as it was called, who recall in their report that it was only the outbreak of the War which prevented its consideration five years earlier. This committee recommended the introduction of a uniform scheme, outlined certain principles as to the establishment and valuation of superannuation funds, suggested equal contributions by employers and employed, financial adjustment on transfer and matters of that kind, which have since been embodied in legislation. Parliament dealt with the matter in 1922 and decided on the principle of experimental development. In that year, it passed the Act which permitted the local authorities to adopt superannuation provisions and embodied the main principles which should govern superannuation schemes in future as propounded by the Norman Committee, which principles this Bill does not materially affect.
Another Committee sat in 1925 under the Chairmanship of Sir Amherst Selby-Bigge, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was an important Member of that Committeee. It reviewed the position with special reference to the question of compulsory superannuation, and with only one dissentient reaffirmed the principle of compulsory and uniform provision for the superannuation of local government officers. It was less unanimous in recommending compulsory superannuation for other classes of municipal employés, although a majority of the committee, seven Members dissenting,, favoured this, subject to the condition of holding a ballot of the people concerned. The committee reported in 1927, and by that time an increased number of local authorities had availed themselves of the Act of 1922. Since that date the number has still further considerably increased. At the present time the Act of 1922 has been adopted by the great bulk of the larger authorities, county councils and county boroughs, and a majority of all the local authorities numbering 944 out of 1,556, have availed themselves of the Act, and 25 have local Act schemes. On the other hand, 587 authorities have not any arrangements for superannuation.
I think that the House will agree with me when I say we have now had ample 2113 time to judge of the efficacy of present legislation and its limitations. We have had also the benefit of many consultations with associations of local authorities and organisations representing their employés. In the result a strong demand for new legislation has manifested itself from all sides, and it has, of course, been fortified by the adoption of superannuation by the great majority of local authorities and I would particularly emphasise the obvious desirability of a measure of uniformity in the interests of the service as a whole.
This Bill has been prepared with these considerations in mind, and is designed to secure that provision shall be made by all local authorities of further facilities for superannuation. It requires superannuation provision to be made by every authority for its whole-time administrative, professional and clerical staff. It leaves to local authorities the discretion which they already possess as to the superannuation of other employés, but greatly simplifies the machinery for bringing them into superannuation, and, as I shall show, confers material benefits on all classes of superannuable employés, servants as well as officers. This is done by amending and extending the law on a number of material matters as to which experience has shown that amendment is desirable in the interests of municipal employés, and in respect of which they have frequently made a number of representations.
I should like to say a word on the distinction made in the Bill between officers and servants as regards compulsion. It is evident that in the case of officers there is a stronger case for promoting conditions which will facilitate the transfer and promotion of officers from one authority to another. Officers normally enter the Local Government Service as a career, and they look for opportunities for advancement over the whole field of Local Government Service. It is also evident that the absence of a superannuation scheme for officers often results in a restriction of the number of suitable applicants for vacant posts. These considerations do not apply with the same force in the case of other grades in the service, and I should also observe in this connection that although the SelbyBigge Committee recommended by a majority compulsory superannuation for all employés they noted that, from the point of view of the employé, the position 2114 had been materially helped by the passing of the Contributory Pensions Act.
There are many new benefits in the Bill for employçs. It enables superannuable employés to reckon for pension purposes all their past local government service, and, so tar as it may have been nontributory service, to count it at the full rate as contributory service in return for payments which will be calculated on a prescribed actuarial basis. Again, provision is made for dealing with the aggregation of all periods of service and the rounding up of odd months, which will serve to meet a number of hard cases. The Bill will also mitigate the hardships, felt more particularly by manual workers, due to the automatic reduction of pensions consequent on a loss or diminution of wages in the last years of service. Periods of unemployment or absence on sick leave with suspension or reduction of pay—a not uncommon feature in the last years of service—will be ignored in future in calculating an employé's average remuneration during the last five years for which his pension is to be calculated. Sometimes, too, an employé, owing to age or ill health, is given light duties on lower pay, and in future he will be able to preserve his pension rights in full by continuing contributions on the former scale.
As regards a matter that has been mentioned constantly in this House, and has been the subject of questions, provision is made so that a married employé will be able, in return for a surrender of part of his pension, to secure an annuity for his widow for life; and in order that there may be no sex distinction in this matter, and that I may have a clear conscience so far as this Bill is concerned, a female employee may make similar provisions for a surviving husband. Provision is also made for transfer, with full preservation of rights, from the service of one local authority to another, including transfer to and from authorities operating local Acts—there has been difficulty about that—and transfer from service in which the employé is subject to the Asylum Officers Superannuation Act, 1909, to other local government service (with the same or another local authority) and vice versa. That, I think, meets a case which has been constantly presented by all interested in this matter. Finally, so far as bringing servants into pensions, all that will be necessary for this purpose 2115 in the future will be an ordinary resolution of the authority, not requiring a two-thirds majority, as at present, and that resolution will specify the classes which are to be superannuable. The general machinery of the Bill is that the larger authorities with sufficiently large staffs will, as "administering authorities", have superannuation funds of their own, and that they should be liable to accept as contributors to their funds the officers and other pensionable employés of the smaller authorities who would, of course, pay equivalent contributions to the same fund.
Then I must refer to some modification of the actuarial basis of local government superannuation so far as future entrants to superannuation schemes are concerned, which is necessary in view of the change in interest rates since 1922. Hon. Members will recollect that the present rate of contribution for both officers and servants is 5 per cent. of their remuneration, with an equivalent contribution from the authority. On actuarial grounds the Committee recommended different rates for officers and servants, because the latter tend to reach their maximum early. It is estimated that, in the present circumstances, the rate of contribution needed to secure the benefits is, in total, 12 per cent. for officers and 10 per cent., as at present, for servants, and the Bill accordingly proposes to increase the rate for new entrant officers by one per cent., with a similar increase in the authorities' contribution. The Bill contemplates the minimum of interference with the various superannuation schemes established under local Acts, but if the main purpose is to be achieved, it is essential that those schemes should be extended to cover, when they do not already do so, all whole-time officers. Under Clause 26, transfer values will be payable between those "Local Act Authorities" and the other authorities. In accordance with the Committee's recommendation, there is to be a right of appeal to the Minister from the decision of an authority on questions affecting the rights and the liabilities of employés, and the Minister may, and shall if required, state a case to the High Court on any point of law arising. Special provision is made to preserve the superannuation rights of transferred Poor Law and rating employés, and any privileges 2116 as regards rate of contribution enjoyed by them will be kept alive by this Measure. Clerks to Justices are brought within the ambit of the Bill, and registration officers are made superannuable, with special provision for reckoning past service.
A great deal of spade work will have to be done both by the Department and the local authorities, before the provisions of the Bill can be brought into operation. It is desirable that the date of operation should coincide with the beginning of the financial year, and in order to allow time for preparatory work to be completed, after consultation with the associations of local authorities, it is proposed that the appointed day under the Bill shall be 1st April, 1939. Anyone who approaches this subject today, especially introducing the Bill as I do, cannot help thinking of the services of one who was a member of this House, Sir Henry Jackson, and who introduced a Bill in 1934 dealing with these matters. He worked hard in the cause of superannuation for local government employés. I am sure that all of us recall his services, his fine character and his comradeship.
We shall have to consider in detail some of the matters which arise and I do not think we shall grudge the time and consideration which we are now giving to an important aspect of our great local government services. As I know so well, and as does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, many and weighty responsibilities rest upon those services to-day. If I might venture for once to be a prophet, I would say that those responsibilities are not likely to grow less, but are likely to be increased, because Parliament is more and more entrusting them with new duties and fresh work. It is a function of government which forms, in many ways, the vital connecting link between our people and the State. This great administrative machine not only grows in size but becomes unavoidably more complex and elaborate. Its efficiency and strength depend upon the devoted and unselfish labours of many thousands of men and women who are members of local authorities, and of whom we hear very little because they do not get much into the limelight, although they do a good deal of hard work. Secondly, but by no means least, they depend upon the 2117 ability, devotion and service of the officers and servants of the municipalities, great and small. I believe the Bill to be another step forward in strengthening local government, making its services still more efficient and, I hope, materially improving the conditions of those who serve it.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I should like to associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the service of the late Sir Henry Jackson, who, during the full term of his service in this House, showed a great interest in all matters affecting those who are employed by local authorities. I should like also to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the kind words he said about me in my unavoidable absence a few days ago.
The right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill with his accustomed skill. I am going to follow him in not entering into the details of the Measure, I will deal with what I regard as our major criticism. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am not going to give him wholehearted support for his Measure—he would regard it as strange were I to do so. I have never yet known of a Bill of the right hon. Gentleman's which was not open to criticism of one kind or another. As he said, a very large field is now covered by superannuation for old age. A moral obligation rests upon local authorities, and upon all sorts of authorities, as model employers. If the system of private enterprise had fulfilled its responsibilities, it would have taken charge of its outworn workers. It did not do so. Public authorities are rightly required, by the moral opinion of the nation, to set a better example and they have done so in many respects.
The analogy is that of the Fair Wages Clause Resolution of the House of Commons, which recognised that a responsibility rests upon public authorities in the case of public contracts not to have the work done in conditions less favourable than those given by good employers. I emphasise that point of the moral responsibility, because I think it is very important. That moral responsibility for offering the best to our employés ought, in our view, to be recognised by all authorities. All their employés are entitled, 2118 by reason of their length of service to maintenance during their old age at the end of a long term of service.
I do not propose to discuss the details of the Bill. There are many technical points on which we shall require elucidation in Committee and other points upon which we shall put forward Amendments, but I want to deal with one question of principle. We can draw no distinction between different types of public servants. A lifetime of service in the highways or cleansing department of a local authority is as valuable a contribution, and as necessary to the public well-being as that of many more highly paid officers. The right hon. Gentleman defends the distinction between officers and servants with the only argument that can be adduced, which is that it is in the interests of the public service, because of the importance of mobility, to ensure that officers can go from one local authority to another without losing their superannuation rights.
I accept that principle. The very fact that the ordinary servant is debarred from promotion in the service of the local authority, the fact that he is a fixture there, and a fixture at a low standard of life, is an argument in favour of compulsory provision for him, for he needs it more. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, people go into local government service for a career; they do not leave one job for another except for pecuniary advantage; and as they go up in the scale of income, their need for superannuation becomes less. But the ordinary servant is static; his wage is fixed, probably by the time he is 24 years of age, and in some cases earlier, practically for life, subject, perhaps, to a decline as he gets older; and clearly, for these persons, there is an even greater need for provision than in the case of the more highly paid officers. If there were to be differentiation, I should say that it ought to be through exclusion of the officers rather than through exclusion of the servants. I am not asking for that; I am not suggesting that that would be right; but I am suggesting that, if there be any justification for differentiating between these two sets of public employés, the balance is in favour of keeping the servants in the scheme as against the officers.
The position at present is that many local authorities superannuate both their 2119 officers and their servants. The position under the present Bill is that they must in future superannuate their officers, and that they may, if they choose, superannuate their servants. In so far as servants come within the scope of the Bill, I am bound to say that there is an improvement in the Bill. That I accept. But I want to keep to the vital question of principle. The Minister of Health has told us that he has consulted the organisations of local authorities and the organisations representing employés. Those discussions, apparently, have gone on for a very considerable time, but all that he told us about them was that from all sides there was a strong demand for new legislation. He did not tell us whether those persons approve of this present Bill, and I should be very interested to know whether they do. I can speak for the organisations of employés when I say that they do not. They regard the Bill in this particular aspect with profound disappointment, and, indeed, with a measure of dismay. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman never undertook that they should be included compulsorily, but at least in their mind these lengthy discussions were carried on on the assumption that the Government were going to accept the compulsory principle.
So far as I have discussed this matter with representatives of local authorities, I find an almost unanimous view in favour of the principle of compulsion for all, because they find it difficult to resist the logic of the argument, although, as I shall point out later, it might result in financial difficulty. That is a further point. If the right hon. Gentleman could tell us that he speaks with the weight of all these people he has consulted behind him, my mind would be relieved, but I fear he can make no such statement, and he has more or less clung to the Majority Report of the Departmental Committee, of which I was a member, in the face of the advice which was tendered to him by the people whom he called into consultation. I know that at many points in the Bill he has accepted their suggestions, and I know that the organisations representing the servants have dropped a number of the proposals which they would have wished to bring forward, in order to concentrate on what they regard as the major issue. In view 2120 of the fact that so many local authorities have already made this provision for servants, why does the right hon. Gentleman wish now to protect the other local authorities from themselves, if the prevailing feeling in local government circles and in the local government world as a whole is in favour of the principle of making no distinction between the various classes of employés?
While local authorities have recognised the claim both of officers and of servants to superannuation, they have, of course, their own difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman is becoming an expert in the art of being generous with other people's money. His new extension of the Pensions Act is going to cost him nothing. Now he introduces this Measure, and it is going to cost him nothing. It is very nice to be generous with other people's money, but it is a sign of sincerity if you pay you own proportion of the money into the fund. Nobody is going to deny the heavy burden which rests upon local authorities to-day. They have a very limited field of revenue; their resources have been clipped by Government action —for example, through derating. On the other hand, year by year local authorities have to face developing services, and, as time goes by, new burdens are placed upon them by the State, which they are anxious to fulfil for the most part, but which they find it very difficult to fulfil because of their limited finances.
My fear is that when this scheme comes into operation even for, officers—and, even in spite of the financial difficulties, I am not withdrawing a word of what I have said with regard to the entrance of servants—I fear that, when this Bill comes into operation, the effect in many areas must be a restriction on the other services of the local authorities. If they are to deal with this problem, they will not be able to deal with it by putting on increased rates, especially in certain areas of this country. There are areas where it is very difficult to collect the rates now, and in those areas the fundamental services which are the cement of the social life of those districts are going to be imperilled; the taking away of large sums of money for another scheme is bound to mean a restriction of the social services. There is, therefore, in this matter a need 2121 for increased Exchequer grants to the local authorities. They ought to be enabled to meet the responsibilities which they recognise they ought to incur. As I have said, we shall have criticisms to make of details of the Bill later, but I want to concentrate the attention of the House on these two points.
The right hon. Gentleman wound up his speech by paying a great tribute to the local government service, a tribute which we all know to be deserved. That eulogy is extended to employés of all classes, officers and servants. I hope even now, because he has adduced no reason beyond nobility—that may be a reason for bringing in officers, but it is no reason for keeping out servants—why the scheme should not make a clean and tidy job now that he has undertaken it. I hope it is not too late yet for him to do that, and to do justice to the very large body of people on whom the efficiency of our public service considerably depends.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Captain Elliston
As one who has been associated with municipal government for many years, I should like to thank the Minister for a Bill which must mean a great deal to the efficiency of local administration. It is true that the Act of 1922 has been adopted by a majority of local authorities, and its advantages are now being enjoyed by something like 350,000 designated officials, but there still remain 587 local authorities and 20,000 officers who are not enjoying the advantages of superannuation, and the result has been that elderly officials are retained when they are no longer really efficient for their duties, and, moreover, the best type of candidate is quite unlikely to apply for employment by a local authority when he is not to have the benefit of superannuation rights. The Bill corrects those defects, and in my opinion the result will be that you will have increased efficiency in all these public departments. I believe that local authorities as a whole will regard this as a good Bill and one which does great credit to the Minister, to the body representing local authorities who have assisted him in its preparation, and especially to the body representing local government officers, who have always done everything they can to advance the welfare of the municipal service, and to make it a 2122 career which will attract the best men to the service of the community.
The Minister expounded the Bill very fully, but I should like to put a few points which, I hope, will be dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary. Clause 6, dealing with contributions, shows a differentiation between the percentage of remuneration payable by different categories of employés. The provision of the Clause appears 'to make a distinction, first between officers and servants and, secondly, between existing officers and new entrants. The Bill embodies the principle of funding pension liabilities and the payment of equal contributions to the fund by employers and employed. No doubt, the differentiation indicated by the Clause is justified by actuarial considerations, but it would be useful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give the House some further information as to the considerations which guided the Minister in determining the rates of contribution adopted in the Bill.
The Minister has already told us something about the provisions designed to mitigate hardship caused by the reduction of pension due to periods of unemployment or absence on sick leave in the last few years of a man's service. I am sure the House will welcome this amendment of the law to meet cases of this kind. Again, it would be helpful if the Parliamentary Secretary would explain in a little more detail the present law and practice in this connection, and how the relevant provisions of the Bill will operate. Another provision which I am sure will commend itself to the House is that enabling a man to secure an annuity for his widow. It should mean the avoidance of hard cases, which have hitherto been too common in the case of salaried officials. I see that the details of such arrangements are to be governed by rules to be laid before the House, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some idea of the general principle to be followed in the formulation of those rules.
Finally, I am bound to express my disappointment that no provision is made for the optional grant of added years by local authorities in the case of their professional officers. I have been advocating that concession since 1922. I have some special experience of the conditions of service of medical officers. There you 2123 have men who spend five or six years in acquiring their professional qualifications. At the end of that period, if they are wise, or if they are fortunate, they take a period of service as house physician or surgeon in a hospital, and then they have to acquire the further professional qualifications which enable them to take a public health appointment. On the top of that, and in view of the tremendously varied character of public health work in these days, when a medical officer is practically the leader of the profession in the area, and has to supervise specialist work in a number of branches, that man, if he hopes to secure an appointment, has to acquire special experience in a number of directions. He has to spend a period of residence in hospital; he has in most cases to spend a period in a tuberculosis sanatorium. He has to acquire extra experience, perhaps, in diseases of women and children and in other directions which makes him competent to direct the activities of a public health department. That means that he is usually 30 years or age or more before he can obtain his first appointment.
Owing to this late entry at a higher salary level, the contributions of these officers in relation to their pensions are much higher than those of nonprofessional officers, many of whom enter the local government service as soon as they leave school. I am hopeful that it is not too late for the Minister to consider whether he can make some concession in this matter and give local authorities the power, if they so desire, to add years, not exceeding ten, to the number which professional officers, in such circumstances as I have described, have actually served. Alternatively, I believe it is being suggested that years spent in professional training should be allowed to count as service years within the meaning of the Act.
I know the anxiety of the Minister to promote co-operation between the municipal hospitals and the great voluntary hospitals. I am told that there are Members in this House who would like to see it made possible by this Bill to provide for the interchangeability between the federated superannuation scheme of the voluntary hospitals and the superannuation scheme of local authorities. If this were practicable, it would undoubtedly facilitate the interchange of 2124 personnel, and would do a great deal to raise the standard of the hospital services in this country. I have concentrated upon the case of medical officers, but it applies equally to other professional officers, such as architects, surveyors, engineers, and so on, men who must have a long training in order to acquire their qualifications, and who come late into the municipal service and invigorate it by bringing in experience acquired outside. It applies also to such as health visitors and school nurses, and I hope that, when the Bill goes to Committee, it will be considered whether it is possible to accept an Amendment which will allow the added years of service of these officers.
I am not willing to delay the progress of this Bill even for a few minutes. I believe that it is an excellent Bill, and an act of justice to the excellent officers who serve our local authorities, and that it is definitely to the advantage of the public to attract people of first-class ability to that service. This Bill will help to do that. It is true, as I have said, that more than 500 local authorities have not yet adopted the Act of 1922, but I believe that that was not because they failed to recognise the advantages of superannuation, but because they were unwilling to impose further burdens upon the ratepayers at a very difficult time. They look to this House of Commons to accept responsibility in this matter, and I hope we shall lose no time in carrying this Bill and further enhancing the prospects of those who adopt the career of the municipal service.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Green
With so many of the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Health, addresses to this House, we must, in all quarters, find ourselves frequently in agreement. Some of the sentiments which he expressed this morning particularly appealed to many of us, as, for instance, his tribute to the work that local authorities are carrying on up and down the country. I sometimes feel that the value and unselfish nature of their work is not adequately recognised. It has been said that the British people have shown their genius for governing in the sphere of local government, and I am not sure but that they are right. Further, I am sure that few will disagree with the well-deserved tribute which the Minister paid to the late Sir Henry Jackson. It was my privilege 2125 to sit with him for many years on the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, and I know that among the things that were dearest to him were some of the provisions contained in this Bill. It is very regrettable that he has not lived to see the day when the Bill is introduced.
I often feel that the Minister of Health is the most fortunate Minister on the Front Bench. By the very nature of his office he has to introduce Measures, the great part of which must appeal to all of us. With equal truth it can be said that in nearly every case, not only are the Measures extremely belated which he introduces, but they are spoilt by the niggardly spirit that creeps into many of these provisions.
The Minister has said that this Measure is welcomed by the associations which speak for local government officers. I know that the general principles are welcomed by such bodies as the National Association of Local Government Officers, and that the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association in the main approve of the provisions of the Bill. I am pretty certain that a great welcome awaits the Bill in municipal circles. It is long overdue, and will be heartily welcomed, of that I am sure, but its welcome would be even greater and more widespread if certain provisions were included, and if certain other provisions that are included were modified. It has been an anomaly which has existed far too long that a large number of our local authorities have no superannuation scheme. The hardship which is being inflicted upon many local government officers is well known to many of us. They may have put in years with a local authority that had a pension scheme and have shifted to another authority that had no superannuation scheme, and all these years have been lost.
The first of the two new principles which this Bill embodies is that of compulsion. I am sure that we shall all agree that it ought to be obligatory on every local authority to have a superannuation scheme for its people. The second principle, about which some of us are rather doubtful, is that the Bill drops—and in this it differs from all previous Measures dealing with the subject—the designation of established officers. In my view that is a grievance, and I hope that the 2126 Minister will, between now and the later stages of the Bill, find some way of dealing with this question. The controversy in recent years, as we all know, has raged round the question of compulsion, and I think that we shall all be pleased that the Minister has dealt with this question, and that it is to be incorporated in the Bill.
There are three points which I would like to bring before the attention of the Minister, not in too critical a spirit, but in the hope that they may carry some weight with the Minister in his future conduct of this Measure. The Minister impressed upon the House the point that these local government associations are favourable to the Bill. I speak in the main at the moment for the largest municipal body in the country. I refer to the London County Council. I have had consultation with the officers of that body upon this particular Measure. I regret that there is practically no distinction in the Bill drawn between permanent and temporary employés of a council, and I believe that that is a positive weakness. There is a provision in Clause 39 which mentions the question of exemption of certain casual classes, but, in my view, that is not nearly wide enough and will require to be very carefully dealt with during the later stages.
Local authorities, perforce, engage a good many temporary people in respect of town planning, slum clearance and housing schemes, and I would ask whether it is the intention in the Bill that, where these people may be taken on for three or four months, they are to be included in the superannuation scheme. If so, I would ask the House to appreciate the difficulties that may arise. There is, first, the increased amount of labour which will be entailed on the local authority in arranging for the entrance into superannuation schemes of people who are going to be with them only two, three, four, five or even six months. The majority of these people are taken from the unemployed market, and it means that immediately they are taken on, possibly with no resources, 6 per cent. of their salary is stopped for superannuation. It may be said that when their employment terminates they can get hack their contribution, with 3 per cent. interest. Yes, but I understand that there is a period of 12 months which must elapse before they get back their contributions, which is a pretty considerable hardship upon people 2127 placed as are these whom I have indicated. I gather from the terms of the Bill that the local authority will hold these contributions in case the individual concerned obtains employment under another local authority within 12 months, in which case a transfer will take place. To withhold the contributions for that period will be an injustice to many who are placed as these people are.
The other point that I should like to emphasise has already been made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), and in the view of many local authorities it is exceedingly important. I refer to the question of increased expenditure. The local Government Act, 1929, Section 135, says:It is hereby declared that it is the intention of this Act that, in the event of material additional expenditure being imposed on any class of local authorities by reason of the institution of a new public health or other service after the commencement of this Act, provision should be made for increased contributions out of moneys provided by Parliament.The right hon. Gentleman will probably say that this is not a new or increased health service, but I maintain that it is a new or increased pension service, and it can without any great stretch of the imagination be held to come within the Section which I have quoted. If the Bill is to be passed in its present form, it will bring 6,000 temporary people into the superannuation scheme of the London County Council, which will cost £70,00 next year, the first year of the operation of the Bill, if it becomes an Act. That is a very considerable burden to inflict upon the ratepayers of London without any compensating grant towards it, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider whether there will not have to be a halt called in this general policy of the Ministry of continually and progressively imposing burdens on local authorities and leaving them in every case to carry the baby. The time will come when the local authorities will have to take serious note of these methods, which are gradually increasing their burdens.
My further point has already been made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield, and that is the unfair and arbitrary distinction which is drawn between officers and servants. I can speak feelingly in this respect, because the London 2128 County Council have brought a very large proportion of their servants into the superannuation scheme. There is no ground in equity and fairness for discriminating against a man on the ground of his occupation being of a different character or on the ground that his wage or salary is at a little different rate from that of another person. We suggest that the Bill would be immensely improved by making it equally compulsory that all servants, including manual labour, employed by a local authority who are doing just as valuable and just as necessary work as any of the technical staff, should be included under the scheme.
In connection with the temporary side, the Bill will affect servants or officials of local authorities who are on probationary service. The London County Council has 3,400 nurses on probationary service, and I gather that this Bill will mean that these probationary nurses will immediately be placed under the superannuation scheme of the County Council. It is well known to those who have experience of this sort of work that there are very considerable changes in the personnel of probationary nurses in our institutions. They come for a month or two, and then perhaps they do not like the work, or they find themselves unsuited for it, or the local authority find that they are not suitable, and they drift out. There is a great amount of coming and going in the ranks of probationers, particularly in the nursing profession, and a hardship will be imposed if the 3,500 probationary nurses to whom I have referred are compelled immedately to be placed under the superannuation scheme. The same argument will apply throughout the country with regard to probationary servants. It is necessary to find some better definition of "temporary" and "established" in order to avoid many difficulties.
Another point affects the health visitors engaged by local authorities. I am delighted to think that at long last the retiring age of health visitors is to be fixed at 60. Those of us who have had years of association with local authorities realise that it has been a tragedy for many years to note the position in which health visitors are placed in their advancing years. Their work is of a very strenuous character, if they carry 2129 it out faithfully as they generally do, and after the age of 60 they find it very difficult to perform their duties. Everyone, therefore, will welcome their compulsory retirement at the age of 60, but it carries with it a great grievance for the health visitors, because to qualify for the maximum pension they must have put in 4o years' service. That will be well nigh impossible under the conditions of the Bill. It is very seldom that a health visitor is appointed under the age of 25. Years of experience are required in order to qualify, and it is the exception rather than the rule that a nurse is appointed as a health visitor under 25. That means that at the most they can put in only 35 years service. I wonder whether some compensation might be provided with regard to the five years' service, which might be incorporated in the Bill. In the main, the Bill will be welcomed by all who are interested in local government.
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Smedley Crooke
Any Bill which gives the workers security late in life will always receive the support of hon. Members of this House, and as the Bill we are discussing aims at giving that security, I for one, welcome it. But while welcoming the provisions of the Bill, there is one feature in it which concerns the ex-service community to, which I should like to refer. Many local government officials served in His Majesty's Forces during the Great War, and it is, I believe, a principle which has always been supported by members of this House, that service during the Great War should count for pension purposes in superannuation schemes, I have carefully perused the Bill, but can find no Clause applying this principle to local government officers.
The British Legion, whose chief work is looking after the interests of ex-service men, is naturally interested in this matter, and I am sure that their view will find support from members of all parties—that service in His Majesty's Forces during the Great War should count for pension purposes. I note that on page 36, line 21, "service", the length of which is one of the material factors in calculating a superannuation allowance, is defined asservice rendered to any local authorityI should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary, or whoever replies, would in- 2130 form the House whether this phrase is intended to include a period during which a local government employé served in His Majesty's Forces during the Great War, and subsequently returned to local government employment. I have little doubt that that is the intention, and it may be that I have overlooked some words in the Bill which give effect to it. I should be glad for some assurance on the point, which I am confident commands the sympathy of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I feel sure that the Minister intends that this general principle shall apply, but it would relieve the minds of many ex-service men if a definite and clear announcement was made on the matter by the Minister this afternoon.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
I do not want to delay the passage of a Bill which has met with such general and cordial assent from both sides of the House. Such criticisms as have been made can be elaborated in Committee. I would like to express my own feelings that this Measure is something bigger than many would realise, and that we are busy on a really great constructive effort; we are trying at this stage of civilisation to construct a big business in local government service. This is one brick or one bit of cement that we are adding to that edifice, and it is a big advance that we hope to see during the next 20 or 30 years. What I wish to emphasise is that the Civil Service has in Government Departments a position that is unequalled in any country of the world. It recruits its officers largely from the universities. At the University of Oxford to-day 50 per cent. of the undergraduates are in receipt of public funds, and many who have won very high academic distinctions have come from the elementary and secondary schools of the country. That is as it should be in a democracy. These young men work their way up by academic successes, and at Oxford and Cambridge there is no distinction of rank or origin in awarding academic honours.
Among Civil servants you have men of the very highest possible attainments. Those of us who are interested in local government or public service generally want to get the same type of men into local government service. There is every reason to look forward to it. There is a limited number of appointments under the Government now and a very large 2131 number of men who are well trained are unable to get into the Civil Service. We want to attract them into local government service, and we must use every opportunity for removing the small points that tend to prevent those who have Worked their way up by great academic distinction, from adopting local government service as a calling. One of the great obstacles hitherto has been the absence of superannuation in local government service, but this Bill helps to meet that difficulty.
There is another point which this Bill helps to meet, though the Bill does not do far enough. Many of these people, especially those in the trained services of which we have heard to-day, go into voluntary service. We know that under a democracy voluntary service by degrees works up to public service. If a young man or woman becomes a health visitor or a midwife or a medical man or an engineer, he or she may go first into voluntary service, but then comes an opportunity for going into public service, and perhaps he or she goes back again into voluntary service later. There are points in the Bill in which the transition from the one to the other might be made more easy. One difficulty in public offices is that they cannot depend always upon voluntary services. Voluntary associations are run with great public spirit, but for a continuation of service financial provisions and a superannuation fund are necessary.
Let us go all out with this Bill and try to get over the impediment to recruitment for local government service. We have heard the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Blackburn (Captain Elliston) as regards the technical officers, and the points regarding medical officers of health have been brought forward by the British Medical Association for the last 10 years. We have heard a well-informed speech from the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Green) regarding other points in the Bill. A point that I want to raise relates to the women-public health officers, who have asked me to deal with the case of health visitors and similar persons. Another point relates to the midwives. They are in a special and peculiar position because, owing to the Midwives Act, the voluntary associations and the public authorities have been brought into definite official 2132 relation in order to provide a permanent midwifery service. As the Minister of Health said when he introduced the Midwives Bill, we want to use every means of bringing those two activities together. The arrangements in this Bill are not satisfactory for bringing in the midwives who, while working under associations, in villages, where they are not employed for the whole of their time, are at the same time under a contract with the local authority, the County Council, under the Midwives Act, to provide a midwifery service. Yet they do not come fully into the superannuation scheme of the Bill.
Without elaborating the point I would ask the Minister to give the most earnest consideration to the requirements of the midwives' voluntary associations, to enable the midwives to secure the full advantages of superannuation. It is difficult to recruit the service of midwives. To many it is a most unpleasant and unattractive service, and the difficulty is in recruiting young girls into it as we wish to do. Yet it is on that service that we depend very largely for the improvement of the maternity services of the country. I wish to give my most cordial support to this Bill as a constructive measure for building up a great local government service.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernays)
I hope that every Bill of which it is my duty to answer questions will have as favourable a reception as this Bill. There have been some major criticisms from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and it is with those major criticisms, for instance those of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), on what he called questions of principle, that I would deal first. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Bill did not apply to all employés. He objected strongly that servants are exempted from the compulsory provisions of the Bill. The arguments which induced the Government to come to this decision have been fully stated by my right hon. Friend and, therefore, I will not go into them again. I suggest 'that the right hon. Member for Wakefield is arguing as if these servants are quite un-provided for in the matter of pensions, and, therefore, I would remind him of the Contributory Pensions Act by which these employes come under the ordinary 2133 pensions scheme of the country. I would further call his attention to the fact that there is nothing in the Bill which limits the right of a public authority, if it so desire, to bring in servants as well as officers. The right hon. Gentleman says that the majority of authorities are in favour of so doing. In that case there is nothing to prevent them. All that they are required to do is to pass an ordinary resolution. In the old days a two-thirds majority was necessary, but now it can be done by passing a simple resolution and the question of bringing servants into the superannuation scheme is really easier than it was before. The right hon. Member mildly taunted my right hon. Friend with the fact that no assistance is given from the Exchequer towards the cost of their superannuation schemes, but it is obvious that such expenditure will attract a proportion of the block grant. That is a question, however, which can be better discussed on the Committee stage.
We have had an impressive speech from the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Green) who speaks with particular experience on these problems. He raised the interesting point of the distinction between permanent and temporary officers. That is a matter which has received very careful examination. It has been very fully discussed with the representatives of local authorities and their employés, but no practical suggestion has emerged which embodies the necessary safeguards for the officers concerned. These safeguards are, first, that an officer should not be deprived of his pension rights because he is labelled "temporary" or "unestablished," although in fact he continues for many years in the local authority's service; secondly, that officers appointed bona fide on a temporary basis, and who subsequently continue in the same or some other authority's employ, should not be penalised; he should not be required when he becomes pensionable to pay contributions in respect of early years of service which the authorities decided not to collect during those years. My right hon. Friend will be willing to consider any practical suggestions which embody these important safeguards.
The hon. Member for Deptford also made a plea with regard to health visitors and nurses and their position under the 2134 Bill. I think his argument, and also the argument of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), was that the provision by which nurses and health visitors will retire at 60 instead of 65 ought not to be allowed to result in any proportionate reduction of their pension. Any appeal on behalf of nurses is sure of sympathy in every quarter of the House. Of few professions can it be said more truly that their inspiration is service, not self. I would only say this, that the Clause which deals with the position of nurses is based on the recommendation of the Selby-Bigge Committee, and the hon. Member will find on pages 40 and 41 the arguments which have led the Government to come to their decision in the Bill.
§ Mr. Bernays
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to continue my argument. I would point out that the right hon. Member for Wakefield was a member of this committee, and although he dissented from some of its recommendations, I am not aware that he made any reservations on this particular issue. Obviously, this is a matter which can very well be considered in Committee. My right hon. Friend has already had an intimation of a desire on the part of the interests concerned to come and see him, and, of course, he will be glad to see them and receive any representations between now and the Committee stage.
The hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Captain Elliston) raised the point as to why in Clause 6 there is a differentiation in the rates of contribution as between officers and servants. Under the Act of 1922 a uniform rate of 5 per cent. was fixed for all employés brought within its provisions. This question was considered by the Selby-Bigge Committee, and it was urged before them that the remuneration of an officer usually increases automatically or by promotion from the beginning to the end of his service, and he is pensioned on the average remuneration of the last five years of his service, when his remuneration is obviously at the highest. On the other hand, a workman receives wages which soon reach their maximum and 2135 remain at the same level for many years. Accordingly, a workman's contribution paid throughout on a flat basis of remuneration, brings into the superannuation fund a greater sum in relation to the pension he draws than does that of an officer. Since the same scale of pension is applicable to both classes of employés, a smaller percentage rate of contribution should be sufficient in the case of a workman than in the case of an officer.
The hon. Member for Deritend (Mr. Smedley Crooke) asked whether the word "service" in connection with a local authority would also include war service, and he said that he could find nothing in the Bill which satisfies him on that point. Parliament dealt with this matter in 1916 in the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act of that year, and I am advised that Section 3 of that Act only covers the case of persons who were under superannuation schemes at that time, and, of course, we are now amending an Act which was not then on the Statute Book. If there is any doubt on the question, I am authorised to say that my right hon. Friend will be prepared in the Committee stage to place the question beyond any doubt at all, that "service" does include war service. Many other questions have been raised, many complicated questions, and I think it will be appropriate to deal with them in Committee. I hope the House now feels that it approves sufficiently of the general principle of the Bill to be able without further discussion to give it a Second Reading.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.