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Column 329appeal to the Government and they rejected it--it was a political decision. They said that they were unwilling to go along with the proposed pay increase. Then the negotiations began. The Government were not only against the pay increase, but they wanted our pension contribution to be increased by 50 per cent. They wanted it to increase from 6 per cent. of salary not to 8 per cent., as recommended by the TSRB, but to 9 per cent. The outcome of those negotiations was a settlement on which we lost on both scores. I am sorry to say that the then chairman of the 1922 Committee, Mr. Edward du Cann, did not play a particularly beneficial role on behalf of hon. Members in those negotiations. I am afraid that he sold out hon. Members, as we lost on both scores.
In exchange for the pay increase that had been recommended for that year by the TSRB, we were told that we could have that increase over four years. For three of the four years, we lost the pay increase that we were due to have and, in the meantime, we also did not receive the further annual increments that one would have expected on the basis of that pay increase if it had been awarded at the threshold level. Therefore, on pay, we lost out twice. So that the Government should make us the great concession of paying our pay rise over four years, Edward du Cann felt that we should pacify the Government by giving them something in return--the 9 per cent. pension contribution.
Together with Lord Dormand I went to a meeting with the then Minister of State at the Treasury and the then Leader of the House--I believe that that was the meeting at which the hon. Member for Horsham was also present. I remember well my incredulity when I demonstrated, mathematically, that the extra percentage increase from 8 per cent. to 9 per cent. was unnecessary. The Treasury Minister, of all Ministers, said to me that he did not think that we should be discussing such matters on an actuarial basis. Of course he did not, because the figures were against him. I prophesied that, if we pursued that course, the pension fund would, inevitably, make a surplus. We are now discussing the very surplus that the Treasury said would not arise. I am not suggesting that that percentage increase was the sole cause of that surplus, but it had an important effect.
Now the Treasury has said--this is where the rip-off comes--that it should have full benefit of the surplus and that its contribution to the fund should be reduced from 11 per cent. to 4.4 per cent. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in common with the rest of us, have already been taken for a ride by the Treasury. We should ignore the 18 per cent. that the Leader of the House quoted, as there are all manner of elements in that figure that have nothing to do with our on-going pension scheme. One need only consider what the Government Actuary said in paragraph 28 of his 1987 report :
"The Exchequer contributions are much lower than those recommended in my 1984 valuation report."
In other words, we were made to pay more for our pensions than the TSRB had recommended while the Treasury is already paying lower contributions than the Government Actuary suggested. Although the pension fund surplus has nothing to do with the Treasury fulfilling its commitments, it wants the full benefit from it. In the wake of such richness, the poetic unpleasantness of the du Cann settlement becomes apparent.
In paragraph 28 of his report the Government Actuary states that one reason why we have a surplus in the pension fund is we did not have a pay rise and, because of that, our
Column 330envisaged pension rates were lower. Therefore, when assessing the future liabilities of the fund, the Actuary noted that the liabilities were lower than they otherwise would have been. Part of the fund's surplus arises from the fact that we gave up part of our pay rise and accepted an increase in our contributions to the pension fund.
The Government will shelter behind the fact that the Actuary has made a recommendation to them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East and other right hon. and hon. Friends have already pointed out that that recommendation provides no such shelter because the Actuary, by statute, is required to express the Treasury contribution as a balancing sum against the going rate of contributions from Members.
The Government Actuary has said that the Treasury should contribute 4.4 per cent. to the fund, but he has not said that that contribution is necessarily or morally the correct proportion. He is just doing what the statute requires. The Actuary has said that, for the fund to meet its future liabilities--as long as we presume that Members go on paying at 9 per cent.--the Treasury needs to pay a 4.4 per cent. contribution only. That recommendation is arithmetically correct, but it has nothing to do with a value judgment as to how that surplus should be distributed. The Government are trying to shelter behind that recommendation when presenting their case.
The surplus should be distributed among the Members ; we should receive the benefit. The surplus is probably bigger than the Treasury has admitted. In paragraph 31 of his report, the Actuary says, in essence, that, because his valuations are not carried out in the way that they would be for normal private pension funds, our surplus is smaller than it would have been if he had valued it on a normal basis. Therefore, we have a surplus which the Treasury says is about £7.4 million. The Actuary agrees that it is, but says that it would be more if he applied the rules which apply to every other pension fund.
Therefore, we can afford to look seriously at some important changes which should be undertaken. First, we should look at the possibility of a lump sum on retirement, as applies under many pension schemes, instead of just a lump sum if a Member is unfortunate enough to lose his or her seat. We should consider the possibility of applying a one-fiftieth formula to serving Members in the pre-1983 period. At present, the one-fiftieth formula goes back only to 1983. Many of us have early payments which are evaluated on the one-sixtieth formula. We should look at the possibility of the accrual rate for those whose payments do not reach the ceiling by the time they are 65 continuing beyond their 65th birthday to the full statutory ceiling. That is not possible under the present system. I think, as do all hon. Members, that the 66 per cent. widows' benefit is long overdue.
I shall make one final, cynical point. The Leader of the House slipped in and glossed over an important procedural suggestion. He talked about it being for the convenience of hon. Members and the House to have just one Bill during the life of a Government, and then umbrella legislation--orders based on the Bill--for carrying out other changes during that Parliament's lifetime.
I urge hon. Members to bear in mind what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe said. He said that we are the people with the power eventually to decide the scheme's shape. However, if we allow the Government to switch to using subsidiary legislation, we cannot amend
Column 331it. Therefore, the occasions on which we as Members have the opportunity to table amendments to what the Government might propose will be limited.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about this. When I discharge my functions in such matters I regard myself pre-eminently as the Leader of the House rather than as a member of the Executive. As we exercise the responsibilities of the kind described by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), we are exercising the powers of the House over taxpayers' resources and therefore it is important that we carry them out fairly and honourably.
When I made my suggestion I wanted not to deploy a covert objective of an ex-Treasury Minister, but to say that if we proceed expeditiously with the matters before us which have been largely agreed--almost all of which are capable of implementation by secondary legislation--we must be sure that we do not lose the opportunity to deal with further matters of that kind because they cannot be dealt with by secondary legislation.
I seek to ensure that we have the ability to do what the House wants us to do. I think that the existing primary legislation gives us that ability, but because of the curiosity the timing of the Government Actuary's report and its impact on what is happening, I made the suggestion. I did so not as a gamekeeper lurking in a Treasury role but as the Leader of the House.
Mr. Williams : I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure that none of us would challenge what he has said. In view of his comments about protecting our interests, he probably will not press any further the proposal relating to a single Bill. While he quite rightly says that almost anything any of us wants could be achieved under secondary legislation, a Bill would mean that proposals for change could come from anywhere in the Chamber. However, only the Government can initiate secondary legislation and what they initiate cannot be amended. Therefore, it is vital not to allow this procedural change to slide through, because it will severely limit our ability as Back Benchers, of whatever party, to influence the shape of the future of our fund. 6.16 pm
Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey) : I wish to propose two improvements to our pension scheme. First, I echo what every speaker from the Back Benches and the Opposition Front Bench has said : we clearly should have two-thirds widows' pensions. That is the standard form in all good, new commercial pension fund arrangements and it is long overdue for this House. I hope that the Leader of the House has noted the unanimity on this issue and that the Top Salary Review Body will bear this in mind when it considers the proposal.
Secondly, the scheme should be improved by the qualifying length of parliamentary service to enable a Member to receive a full pension being substantially reduced. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said, at present Members have to serve in the House for between 33nd 40 years, according to whether they were elected before or after July 1983, to qualify for the full pension.
Column 332As the hon. Gentleman also said, the average term of service in the House is about 17 years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) said, some hon. Members stay here for a much shorter time. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and I have been here almost since the Flood and, like our beloved leader, we hope to go on and on and on. But everyone cannot hope to do that, and it is unsatisfactory that such a large proportion of hon. Members can never hope to receive anything like the full pension.
The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe also said that many other Parliaments have much better schemes, in terms of a variety of benefits, than ours. He was absolutely right to mention Australia, but it is not only the Australian Parliament which has a better scheme. In Australia, a Member of Parliament qualifies for a full pension of three quarters of his final salary after 18 years of service.
When I was preparing for this debate I asked the Library to find out the qualifying periods in the two leading Commonwealth Parliaments and the two leading EEC Parliaments. It is interesting to make a comparison with those other Parliaments, bearing in mind the fact that our qualifying period is between 33nd 40 years. Canadian Members of Parliament qualify for a full pension of three quarters of their average salary in the best six years, payable after 17 years service. French Members of Parliament receive the full pension after 22ears service at a minimum age of 55. West German Members of Parliament can receive a full pension after 16 years of parliamentary service and at the age of 55.
Those figures for the two leading Commonwealth and EEC Parliaments present an extraordinary contrast with those for our own. I suggest that the qualifying length of parliamentary service to obtain a full pension on retirement here should be reduced to 20 years. Even then, because of the average length of service of 17 years, most Members will not be able to attain it.
In the past, various arguments have been advanced against the suggestion that our pensions are insufficient. One was that it is possible for Members who are not members of the Government to hold other paid occupations at the same time and thus obtain other pension rights. I have been able to do that, but only because I have been excluded from Government service. Other Members who are active and punctilious in their attendance at morning Committees find it extremely difficult to have other paid employment.
From reading the newspapers, one sometimes gets the impression that some of the outside jobs that my colleagues take on might have been better avoided. I do not believe that the argument that other paid employment is available stands up to examination.
It has also been argued that, after Members leave this House, they can find very good jobs. One reads of special cases of particularly famous Members who find highly remunerated posts after leaving the House, but that is extremely rare and is becoming rarer. Having discussed this with former Cabinet Ministers, I can say with some insight that even they are finding it very much more difficult to obtain employment, partly because there are far more ex-Cabinet Ministers about now.
It is argued by the Treasury--its favourite and understandable argument, known as the "open-door" argument--that my proposal would open the door to similar demands in the public service for pensions after much shorter periods of service, but that is not valid.
Column 333Parliamentary service is unique. I speak as one whose majority in my first constituency was 164--after three recounts-- so I know that survival here depends not on how good a constituency Member one is but on the geographical area that a Member happens to represent and on the whims of the Boundary Commissioners, who may appear on the scene at any moment and take away 25,000 devoted constituents and replace them with 25,000 political opponents. These are terrors that civil servants do not have to face.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham rightly said, most Members enter the House in their forties so it would be appropriate for them after 20 years to reach the full pension of two-thirds of their final year's salary.
Finally, I echo what has been said so well by many hon. Members about the actuarial position of the fund. The fund is in surplus, as we have heard and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham explained clearly, it is funded, not pay-as-you-earn. As the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe pointed out, the usual practice is that the employer contributes twice as much as the employee. The new extraordinary proposal is that this should be reversed : we should continue to contribute at 9 per cent.--one of the highest contribution rates for employees in any funded pension fund--and the Treasury contribution should be reduced to 4.41 per cent. It has already notionally been reduced to that figure as of April 1989. So, far from the Treasury paying twice what we pay, we pay twice as much as our "employer", which is wholly unjustifiable.
It must also be borne in mind that, until recently, the Treasury contributed 18 per cent., so the suggestion of a 4.41 per cent. rate means that its contribution will drop to less than a quarter of what is has recently been.
I hope that the Leader of the House will sympathetically consider these points and ask the Top Salaries Review Body to look at the suggestions of a two-thirds pension for widows and widowers and a 20-year qualifying period of service, and that my right hon. and learned Friend will ask the TSRB to treat these and our other recommendations with urgency so that its report can be submitted to the House in time for legislation this Session.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : I congratulate the Leader of the House on arranging this debate, belated and twice postponed though it is. I wonder whether the press, who are so anxious to suggest that Members of Parliament put their own benefits and salaries first, would care to consider that the top salaries review report that we are discussing dates from May 1988, while the more important Government Actuary report on the valuation of the pension fund was ordered to be printed on 1 April 1987. If we had waited another nine weeks the next report would have come out, with more up-to-date figures.
It has been amply demonstrated by hon. Members who have spoken that for the considerable contribution of 9 per cent., which takes some matching anywhere in the country, we do not get value for money. Now we find that in 1987, almost three years ago, the Actuary's valuation of the assets in our fund showed that it was £5.4 million in surplus. When suggesting a reduction in the Treasury's contribution, he extrapolated figures for 1989, by when he said that the fund would be £7.4 million in surplus--after,
Column 334by his own admission, having undervalued the assets. If the figure that the Actuary puts on the assets is correct, the true surplus three years ago was more than £13 million.
The considerable surplus must be distributed in one way or another--our contribution is certainly too high--and I strongly object to the Treasury taking the surplus for itself by reducing its contributions. There are several proposals about what could be done with that surplus.
Setting aside any improvement in our own conditions, what about hon. Members who retired or lost their seats early and whose pension is based on a salary which, it is now admitted, was very much less than it should have been? The pensions are tied to those lower salaries and some former hon. Members are drawing totally inadequate pensions. We should look at that. I know that it is difficult because there are all sorts of legalities and regulations in our pension fund, but after all it is our money. The 9 per cent. that we pay is clearly ours and any contribution from the Treasury could reasonably be considered as deferred wages. The report talks about the 6 per cent. in addition that the Treasury has paid. That was not paid to us and has nothing to do with us, but was paid because of the inadequacy or non-existence of a previous pension fund.
I shall be brief because other hon. Members want to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) mentioned the resettlement allowance. I understand that that allowance is paid to hon. Members for any reason-- voluntary retirement or perhaps the loss of a seat--up to the age of 64, provided that they retire at a general election. The timing of a general election is not a matter for Back-Benchers. The decision is made elsewhere. The position that I am outlining does not apply to me, but I know several hon. Members to whom it does apply. The timing of the general election could mean the difference between £26,701 and nothing, and one day could make that difference. The rule should be that the resettlement allowance will be paid to any hon. Member who retires or loses his seat, provided that he does so not later than the first general election after his 65th birthday. That would mean that every Member would have the opportunity to decide for himself whether to retire and receive the resettlement allowance.
Mr. Ashton : Does my hon. Friend agree that one problem is that the resettlement grant is paid out of the Consolidated Fund, not out of the pension fund, and that we have no say in it? Surely it would be better to pay that from the pension fund by using some of the surplus and to let the House decide? That would be much better.
The calculation of the resettlement allowance is complicated. It takes account of age and length of service and those matters can vary considerably. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw drew attention to the anomalies. The calculation should be much simpler. It should be one month's salary for every year of service in the House irrespective of age, perhaps with a minimum of three months' salary or some such set amount. That would make the calculation much simpler and fairer.
Column 335I want to see some fairness extended to people who were in this place before us and whose pensions are inadequate. I hope that the possibility of using the surplus, which is our money, will be considered.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : I declare an interest in paragraphs 30, 31 and 32 of the TSRB report. I shall be brief so that other Members who wish to take part in the debate will have a chance to do so.
It has been accepted for a long time that we should encourage cross- fertilisation between the European Parliament and national Parliaments. That is why Members of this House draw exactly the same salary as Members of the European Parliament and pay exactly the same contributions towards their pensions. We also draw exactly the same pension as Members of the European Parliament. However, there is one anomaly--it is referred to in paragraphs 30, 31 and 32--and there is no good reason for it. It should be a perfectly natural career pattern for Members of the European Parliament to seek election to this House and for Members here to seek election to the European Parliament. One hon. Member did that at the last European election but was unsuccesful. In Northern Ireland a former Member of the House took a European seat at that election.
Cross-fertilisation, with Members of this House standing for the European Parliament and vice versa, should be the norm. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House should look again at paragraph 32 because it is a complete anomaly as the salary, pension and contributions are all the same. My right hon. and learned Friend is a reasonable man, and I am sure that he will come to the conclusion that, not for the first time, the TSRB has erred. 6.36 pm
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : I shall begin by outlining how we have got into such a position over the pension fund. It is important to explain to those who listen to the debate and who read about it that we are talking about money paid from the salaries of hon. Members. The Government Actuary made an assessment of the liability of the fund for the three years from the date on which the assessment was made, and that assessment was based on certain factors. If the Actuary recommends a reduction in the Treasury contribution, the 1972 legislation requires that recommendation to be acted upon without the need to come to the House. We should amend the 1972 Act so that, when the Actuary makes his recommendation about the Treasury contribution, it cannot be implemented until the House has given its approval. If we do not amend the 1972 Act, there is no doubt that Members in future Parliaments will find themselves in the position that we are in now.
To be fair to the Treasury and to the Leader of the House, I should say that they had no option but to implement the recommendation of the Actuary to reduce the Treasury contribution to 4.41 per cent. The decision is a fait accompli, and that is unsatisfactory. We are dealing with the question of what to do with the surplus. I share
Column 336the view of the hon. Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) that we should not reduce Members' contributions.
The Leader of the House said that, when there is a surplus in a pension fund, it is normal practice for the holiday to be enjoyed only by the employer. I shall give two contrasting examples of recent weeks from the Post Office and British Telecom. The public sector Post Office has a surplus in its fund, and its employees had their contributions reduced from 6.7 per cent. to 6 per cent. The private sector British Telecom has a massive surplus in its fund, but the employee's contribution has not been reduced and the British Telecom board has decided to take a holiday in relation to its contributions. We can all give similar examples to justify our arguments. What should be done with the surplus? I am not in favour of reducing the contribution from 9 per cent., high though that may be. I am prepared to make such a contribution from my salary, as I suspect are right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, provided that one eventually enjoys the benefits that such a contribution should provide. At present, that is not so. As there is a surplus, how should it be distributed?
At present, the pensions of Members of Parliament are made up of two accrual rates--one of 60 per cent. up to 1983 and another of 50 per cent. from 1983 to date. The Leader of the House should examine the feasibility of converting the sixtieths into fiftieths, or, more radically--though it would fall into line with Civil Service pension arrangements--of converting the whole lot to fortieths. If the pension fund is so much in surplus, then conversion to fortieths, or at least to fiftieths, should be possible.
Much has been said about the need to re-examine widows' pensions. I am strongly in favour of that being done, but any increase should be linked with an improvement in the pensions of right hon. and hon. Members. All that is before the House now is a proposal to increase widows' pensions from 50 per cent. to 66.66 per cent., which is unacceptable. It would be far better to improve both pensions together.
An examination of the ages of right hon. and hon. Members of the present Parliament reveals that this is the youngest House of Commons in the history of this country's parliamentary democracy. One way of keeping Parliament young is to provide adequate pensions to ensure that, when right hon. and hon. Members feel that the time to retire is right, they can do so. I am not the judge of when any other hon. Member should retire, only of when I should do so. Nevertheless, when right hon. and hon. Members wish to retire, they should be able to do so, free in the knowledge that they will be financially supported by an adequate parliamentary pension.
The Leader of the House mentioned the TSRB's recommendation that Ministers leaving office should be paid the equivalent of three months' salary. He said that that measure had been agreed by both sides of the House. I have certain reservations about such an arrangement, which strikes me as an earnings-related benefit. This House abolished such benefits for outsiders, and if it reintroduces them only for Ministers of whatever party is in power--and I am not trying to get at the present Government, because such benefits would be passed on to a Labour Government in 18 months or two years--there would be a serious risk of bringing this House into
Column 337disrepute. I have not made up my mind on that aspect, and I shall want to consider the proposals that the Leader of the House is to bring before us.
Mr. Orme : I was asked specifically by Lord Plowden whether I would agree to that proposal, along with others affecting the Prime Minister and Mr. Speaker. As a good trade unionist, and in an attempt to negotiate across the board in the interests of all right hon. and hon. Members, I conceded such payments because I believed then that there would be a general improvement. Unfortunately, the TSRB proposed instead the arrangements that are now before the House. I make no apology for my earlier concession, which seemed to be in the best interests of all right hon. and hon. Members.
Mr. Ewing : I knew the position to be as my right hon. Friend has described it and that he feels somewhat let down by the TSRB. Deals and quid pro quos are arrived at in many different circles, and my right hon. Friend thought that he was making a concession in exchange for an additional benefit. As that has not proved to be the case, we want to re- examine the whole scheme.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) that severance pay or the resettlement grant--call it what one may- -should be dealt with tidily and cleanly. It would be simplest to accept the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton that one month's salary should be paid for each year of service, with a minimum of six months' salary. There is much to be said for the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), that the financial responsibility for meeting resettlement payments should be transferred from the contingency reserve fund to the pension fund, which would help to absorb some of the surplus.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for listening to my suggestions, and I look forward to seeing them manifest themselves in the various recommendations that will come before the House at a later date.
Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North) : Much of the debate has inevitably centred on the Government Actuary's recommendation that the employer's contribution should be reduced to 4.4 per cent. I would normally go along with the comment in the report of the Top Salaries Review Body that it is not common to pass on a funding rate reduction to the employees, which is the usual arrangement where there is a balance in the relationship between the contributions made by the employer and the employee--which could be of the order of an employee contribution of one third and an employer contribution of two thirds. At worse, both sides might contribute one half each. The Government Actuary's recommendation of a reduction to 4.4 per cent. in the employer's contribution deals with only one moment in time. The scheme's trustees should ascertain whether they have the power to commission an independent consultant actuary to examine the totality of contributions to the scheme in the long term and try to arrive at a proper balance.
I agree with much of what has been said about other improvements and about the present 9 per cent. contribution made by right hon. and hon. Members. I should very much like to see an improvement in the size of
Column 338widows' pensions, both pre-retirement and post-retirement. The current pension is only 50 per cent., but it is not uncommon for schemes covering comparable employees--if it is possible to find such a thing outside this House--to offer pre-retirement and
post-retirement widows' pensions of as much as 66 per cent. Bearing in mind all that the job of a right hon. and hon. Member entails--with its unsociable hours, the schizophrenic existence that it imposes, and the uncertain future that it presents--we owe it to our dependants to ensure that the scheme incorporates decent widows' pensions. There is a proposal to increase the value of the death benefit from one times salary to two times salary. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's proposal to backdate that improvement to cover former Members of Parliament who are no longer with us. Nevertheless, death benefit outside can be as large as four times salary. Less emphasis should be placed on its being a single lump sum payment, because after all the bills have been paid--perhaps including a mortgage commitment, albeit that it makes sense to arrange alternative protection in that respect--the lump sum should be viewed as additional income replacement, to provide adequate support for retired widows.
The TSRB report makes provision for early retirement. I welcome the spirit of the recommendations, but I am worried that the proposal might create fresh anomalies. Taking the calculations and abatements used in the report, I noticed that for two Members, both aged 60, leaving on a retirement basis, one with 20 years' service would receive a pension of 20 fiftieths or 40 per cent., while his colleague, leaving after only 15 years' service would receive 15 fiftieths or 30 per cent. There would be a further abatement based on years of service. Instead of receiving 30 per cent., the latter would receive only 20.7 per cent. I cannot see why such a difference between two Members of the same age is justified.
When the question was referred to the TSRB, I think that it was asked specifically whether an early retirement pension could be provided from age 55. On the same examples of Members with 20 and 15 years' service respectively, one would get a pension of 27.6 per cent. and the other would get only 15 per cent. That is caused by the perpetuation of a double penalty which is not justified. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider further the use of years of service as a double abatement.
That might also be the answer to the question raised about Members of the European Assembly who are Members of this House. I have great sympathy for the point that has been made about them. If every Member got an early retirement pension, determined solely by the exact early retirement, the years of service, whether in this place or in the European Assembly, could be dealt with fairly and properly. There is great scope for further progress on the parliamentary pension scheme. Other options deserve consideration. I hope that those options will be laid before all Members by the trustees, perhaps informally, before we have a longer and deeper debate. Mr. Ray Powell rose --
Column 3396.52 pm
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I apologise to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) for intervening now, but there are only eight minutes left for a reply. I shall listen with interest to what the hon. Member may have to say to me privately afterwards.
I have listened closely to what has been said by colleagues during the debate. I will not make a debating reply, responding to each point as though they had to be knocked down like ninepins in the customary fashion. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) reproached me a little unjustly because I was not speaking in the capacity that he normally imputes to me. I appreciate very much the contributions from hon. Members on both sides.
I should also have expressed my appreciation for the work of Mr. Dobson, Mr. Lewis and Miss Moreen McColl, as well as the work of Treasury staff on these matters.
It was unfair of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) to talk about a Treasury rip-off. To a large extent I think that a number of the things about which we are complaining were a result of a self-imposed big dipper. We agreed, rightly or wrongly, to the 9 per cent. contribution. The latest valuation by the Government Actuary, bringing it down to 4.4 per cent., is also an automatic consequence of legislation passed as long ago as 1972. Of course, it is in the power of the House to make the necessary changes. That is a power which we have to exercise responsibly. I was struck by the way in which my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) and East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) referred to the extent to which we are also in the power of the electorate, whether we be drones, bees or intermittent occupants of each role. I was struck particularly by the insight of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey into how swiftly we might be removed altogether from this place. I remember vividly coming back on polling day in 1987 from a Nato summit in Reykjavik ; I arrived in time for the count in my constituency. I remember saying to the officials who travelled in the plane with me, "At least you know what you will be doing tomorrow afternoon." That shows the hazardous nature of our occupation. We have a special responsibility. Although a large part of the money is contributed by hon. Members, a significant part is contributed by the taxpayer, and we have to consider it in that way. There are special factors, as my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham pointed out. None of us was covered by a scheme before 1964. We have, as I think we should, a rapid accrual scheme. That is why the rate of employees' contribution is so high. We are not the same as the fireman or the policeman where the hazard of the employment allows for early retirement ; in most cases, we do not retire early but we arrive late. Even antiques like my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, who has just celebrated his silver jubilee, have been here for only 25 years.
How am I to handle the matter from now on? I hope, after further proper consultations, to implement as expeditiously as possible the matters that have been under consideration by the TSRB, such as resettlement, early retirement, death in service and matters relating to ministerial severance pay and office holders, and also excess contributions, if we can get the right answer.
Column 340I note the support expressed by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) in the case that I offered, which was supported also by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), in relation to Members of the European Parliament. With respect to the insight of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) from my native land, it is a Parliament and not an Assembly. As for the best way forward procedurally, I shall examine the suggestions made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I cannot buy his procedural proposals on the nod. I think the right hon. Member for Swansea, West misunderstood me when I talked about trying to get as much as we could into the secondary legislation framework. It is not because I want to avoid the possibility of amendment ; I want to avoid being stuck unnecessarily, waiting for the much more difficult achievement of primary legislation, if we happen to need that to deal with some matters, such as the effect of the Government Actuary's report. There might be a blockage in getting another Bill because of the legislative programme.
After further consideration, I shall seek to identify the matters which should be considered by the TSRB. Not necessarily all the matters that have been raised are appropriate for consideration by the TSRB, as has been pointed out. I should like that consideration to be undertaken as quickly as possible, as my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham and for East Lindsey suggested.
If I am to identify the principal matters for such consideration, I think that the most important is that which has been described as the balance of the fund, or the right relationship between employer and employee. I am struck by the widespread support for the retention of the figure of 9 per cent. I see the right hon. Member for Salford, East shaking his head. I do not say that that figure was endorsed universally, but it was supported widely. It gives resources for the improvement of benefits. Of course, it need not be as high, but it should be a generous figure.
On a contributions holiday, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North and by my hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark), it is right to point out that, although it can be dealt with either way, a document provided for the trustees, based on the National Association of Pension Funds' survey 1988, showed at that time that in three quarters of the cases the employee contributions were not altered but substantial reductions were made in the employers' contributions. That is not decisive. At any rate, balance is one question for consideration.
The second important matter, strongly supported on all sides of the House, is the benefit that should accrue to widows or widowers of hon. Members. I subscribe to everything that was said about the miserable existence that we impose upon our spouses, which justifies sympathetic consideration.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey also raised the rate of build-up of entitlement to full pension. While I mention these things, I am not prejudging them, but they are matters that have been widely supported.
Fourthly, the resettlement grant--however one des-cribes it--again may or may not be a matter entirely for consideration by the TSRB.
Column 341As we handle the matter in that way, I shall try to keep the House, and certainly the trustees, informed about the progress of my consideration, so that we can deal with these matters as expeditiously as the House would wish.
I hope that I have made a reasonable response to the points raised today.
It being Seven o'clock the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, pursuant to Order [12 January].
Lords amendents considered.
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, relating to the conduct of Government business and the business of the House. I hope that the Leader of the House will listen for a few seconds.
It may be unknown to most hon. Members that there has been a scandal surrounding the private life of a member of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, one of our most senior judges, which reflected upon his public persona to the point where he could not continue to sit on the judicial bench. That was followed by a resignation. I understand that today, senior figures in the legal and political establishment gave a briefing to newspaper editors of the Scottish press during which it emerged that allegations had been made about more than the individual who was required to resign on 1 January. What is most worrying is that Scotland is rife with the rumour that tomorrow the Government will evade the issue by the device of a planted written question on the Order Paper to which the Secretary of State can reply without Scottish Members having the opportunity to debate the matter or to question the Secretary of State--who, in the absence of the Lord Advocate, is the responsible Minister in the House.
I should like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on our behalf, to seek an assurance from the Leader of the House that there will be no such device as a planted written question on the Order Paper tomorrow but that, instead, there will be an oral statement to the elected Members of Parliament from Scotland of the same character and frankness that apparently was the case at the briefing of national newspaper editors today. This is a matter that concerns the highest judicial body in Scotland, and it must be dealt with in this House tomorrow afternoon through a statement.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot deal with that matter during private business. However, the Leader of the House is on the Treasury Bench, and I am sure that he will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.
Lords amendments Nos. 1 to 9 agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 1 to 8 agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 9, in page 5, line 5, at end insert For the protection of A.B. Ports the following provisions shall, unless otherwise agreed in writing between the Company and A.B. Ports, apply and have effect :--
(1) In this section--
"construction" includes execution and placing, extension, enlargement, alteration, replacement or relaying, and removal, and "constructed" shall be construed accordingly ;
"plans" includes description, drawings and specifications : (
(2)(a) Before commencing the construction of a tidal work the Company shall furnish to A.B.