Clause 3. — (Pensions granted by public authorities to be increased.)

Orders of the Day — Pensions (Increase) Bill. – in the House of Commons am ar 11 Gorffennaf 1924.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Mr. GRAHAM:

I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, after the word "authority," to insert the words "in Great Britain."

This is merely a drafting Amendment. This is the Clause which makes it obligatory on the local authorities to pay the increase as from 1st July, 1923. If hon. Members will turn to the first Clause they will see that we there refer to Great Britain. The words are absent from Clause 3, and in order to remove a doubt which might arise regarding Northern Ireland it is essential to insert the words, "Great Britain" in this Clause. Of course, the increases in regard to local authorities in Northern Ireland are a matter for the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It is true that in the last resort we have a kind of overriding jurisdiction in this Parliament, but that, of course, would never be normally exercised. The inclusion of the words of the Amendment clears the ground and brings Clause 3 into line with Clause 1.

Photo of Mr James Remnant Mr James Remnant , Holborn

I cannot see the necessity for putting in these words. They are not mentioned as such in the 1920 Act. Why, therefore, should we insert them here? I am afraid that any question such as those raised to-day, namely, our obligations and contracts entered into with the Dublin Metropolitan Police, would be put outside altogther. I am opposed to the Amendment.

Mr. GRAHAM:

If there is a Parliament in Northern Ireland whose duty it is to deal with local authorities, if they so choose in this matter, we can clearly have no power in this Parliament here, subject, of course, to the overriding authority to which I have already referred. I think that the words are necessary. I do not believe that difficulties will arise, but it is very important that the Bill should be clear.

Photo of Mr Bertram Falle Mr Bertram Falle , Portsmouth North

Surely the contract with these old pensioners is with the British Government and not with any other Government which we have chosen to put into power in Ireland.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

If the words are inserted they might do a great deal of harm, and they would not do much good. The Bill is perfectly clear without them, and if they are inserted we may find subsequently that someone has been left out who could have been brought in if words which seemed innocuous had not been inserted. I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.

Mr. GRAHAM:

I am afraid that I must ask the Committee to pass the Amendment. I do not think there will be any interference with any existing contract, but we must be specific in this Act because we have no jurisdiction in the matter as regards Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr John Remer Mr John Remer , Macclesfield

If these people were retired before the Northern Ireland Parliament was created, they would have a contract with the British Government, and the effect of inserting these words would surely be that the British Government would refuse to take charge of these old pensioners and they would lose this increase.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Smith Mr Benjamin Smith , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

I take it that we can get an assurance from the Financial Secretary that none of the things suggested will occur. The contract has been passed over to the Government of Northern Ireland with various other things. Obviously the contract will stand, although the Northern Ireland Parliament is administering it

Photo of Mr James Remnant Mr James Remnant , Holborn

What the hon. Gentleman says would be quite reasonable but for what has taken place to-day when he was not present. I asked a question about the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and the Financial Secretary does not know the answer. There is no mention of Great Britain in the other Act.

Mr. GRAHAM:

I must try again to make myself clear. Surely the point is perfectly plain. The power over the local authorities has been definitely transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland. I do not think that the Amendment will interfere in the least with any contract We have no jurisdiction here as regards these local authorities. It is obvious that we must make that plain in the Bill It is a simple question of fact which admits of no argument.

Photo of Mr Walter Baker Mr Walter Baker , Bristol East

The inclusion of these words, I hold, will have the effect that hon. Members fear. Quite clearly, if the Financial Secretary is correct in thinking that we have no jurisdiction with regard to Northern Ireland and the Government of Northern Ireland is not willing to make the thing operative so far as they are concerned, the Amendment would have the effect of depriving these pensioners of any benefit to which they may be entitled. This is a very bad Bill. Had I secured opportunity earlier I would have endeavoured to repeat the criticism I have made on previous occasions. I could have amplified my earlier statements with additional evidence. I have lost that opportunity, but I hope that in this small matter the House will see that no one is deliberately excluded by the insertion of these words.

Photo of Mr John Remer Mr John Remer , Macclesfield

There is a great deal of confusion and doubt on the point. Could not the Financial Secretary withdraw the Amendment and between now and Report consider whether it is possible to frame words that would meet the arguments raised to-day?

Mr. GRAHAM:

Let me make it perfectly plain to hon. Members that this has nothing to do with Government pensions. It does not affect Royal Irish Constabulary or Dublin Metropolitan Police or any of the other Irish questions which have been raised. The position is simply confined to the local authorities. This is a Clause snaking it obligatory on local authorities to give the increases as from 1st July, 1923. This House has no power whatever over the local authorities in Northern Ireland. That power has been transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland, and accordingly it would be quite meaningless to try to interfere in any way. It would be unconstitutional and we could not do so if we tried. That is the position as plainly and as simply as I can put it. There is really no issue at stake; it is a plain matter of fact. Nobody will be prejudiced by the Amendment which only gives effect to what is the constitutional position as between the two Parliaments and leaves the Parliament of Northern Ireland to deal with the local authorities in that area.

Photo of Mr John Remer Mr John Remer , Macclesfield

May we have, an understanding that the people who retired before the Northern Parliament was constituted will receive the pension increases provided for in the Bill?

Mr. GRAHAM:

I cannot at this Box, say anything to bind the Parliament of Northern lredand in what it may do but no existing position is going to be prejudiced in the least. What the Parliament of Northern Ireland will do in regard to the local authorities in its area is a matter for the Parliament of Northern Ireland and would not in any circumstances be a consideration for this House.

Photo of Mr John Remer Mr John Remer , Macclesfield

If the Parliament of Northern Ireland do not agree to the provisions of this Bill, what is the position of the British Government which made contracts with these people for certain pensions?

Photo of Mr James Remnant Mr James Remnant , Holborn

May I make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman? I am genuinely in doubt as to the advisability of inserting these words, in case any of the people whom I have in mind should be excluded from the benefits of the Bill. I ask the hon. Gentleman to meet us to this extent. Do not let us divide upon the matter now; I do not want to do anything which would put the Government in a hole, but the hon. Gentleman has still the Report stage and the Third Reading of the Bill, and he can bring this proposal up again. If he will withdraw the Amendment now, we can go into the matter in the meantime and see whether we cannot agree upon it.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

Will any harm be done by leaving the words out?

Mr. GRAHAM:

Confusion might arise unless these words are inserted, because they reconcile Clause 3 with Clause 1. I can only assure the Committee that there is not the least doubt as to the effect of these words being as I have indicated. I have gone into the matter and I am quite satisfied, myself, but if the Committee will allow the words to be inserted now so as to save time at a later stage, I will undertake to consult with hon. Members who are interested between now and the Report stage, and I think I will be able to satisfy them that there is not the least ground for the fears which they entertain.

Photo of Mr James Remnant Mr James Remnant , Holborn

Why not leave out the words?

Photo of Sir Henry Craik Sir Henry Craik , Combined Scottish Universities

May I ask the hon. Gentleman if any representation has been made on behalf of the Government of Northern Ireland in this matter?

Photo of Sir Bolton Eyres-Monsell Sir Bolton Eyres-Monsell , Evesham

There seems to be genuine confusion in regard to this question, and it is not confined to one side of the House. Everybody wishes to do the right thing by these pensioners, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman will prejudice the Bill in the slightest degree by withdrawing these words for the present and bringing them up again on the Report stage. In the meantime, hon. Members on both sides of the House who are in doubt will have time to study the question, and as long as the words are put into the Bill before it becomes law, that is all that the Government requires. I think the hon. Gentleman will be deferring to the wish of the Committee by postponing the matter.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bonwick Mr Alfred Bonwick , Chippenham

I wish to emphasise the plea which has just been made by the right hon. and gallant Member. There is a great deal of doubt about the words which the Financial Secretary wishes to insert and many Members desire to know the exact legal effect of those words. We have not had the opportunity of hearing the advice of any of the Law Officers of the Crown and therefore I hope that the Financial Secretary will not press this Amendment now but will insert that words if necessary at a later stage.

Mr. GRAHAM:

I am willing to defer to the wishes of hon. Members if there is any real doubt on this matter although, for my own part, I have no doubt whatever. I will withdraw the Amend- merit now and propose the insertion of these words on the Report Stage. Between now and then I think I will convince hon. Members that their fears are groundless and I hope they will then agree to the insertion of the words.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. GRAHAM:

I beg to move in page 3, line 2, at the end to insert a new Sub-section— (2) Any order made by the Treasury under Section three of the principal Act may contain such consequential and supplemental provisions as appear necessary or expedient for securing the effective operation of the order, and any such order may be revoked, varied or amended by an order made in like manner. This Amendment is of a drafting character. As I have already indicated this Clause makes it obligatory on local authorities to grant these increases as from 1st July, 1923, but there is a very wide range of schemes of superannuation and it is considered necessary that the Treasury in making regulations should have this power.

Photo of Mr Herbert Willison Mr Herbert Willison , Nuneaton

I do not propose to repeat what I had already said on this point when I was called to order at a previous stage of the discussion. When I was interrupted I was saying that, following an assurance that the word "may" meant "shall," the Bill was passed. Certain local authorities accepted that view and loyally abided by it, but certain authorities refused to accept it, and said that the word "may" gave them a discretion. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who seemed to be sympathetic with regard to the matter, assured hon. Members, as I understood him, that he would give the matter consideration, although he pointed out that there would be some difficulty in dealing with the matter before the date in July mentioned in the Bill. I understood, however, that the hon. Gentleman was going to see if anything could be done. Apparently he does not now propose that anything should be done before July. I do not know if he has determined that this date must stand, but it seems to me to be very hard upon numbers of men, because the result will be that while certain of their comrades—perhaps living in the same street but serving a different authority—will be paid as from a date in 1920, they will have to be content with payment as from July, 1923. Further, even as from July, 1923, they are not very certain of their position. I ask the Financial Secretary whether he is thoroughly satisfied, and whether his legal advisers are satisfied, that as the Bill stands now pensioners are assured that if they have to accept the date, July, 1923, there is sufficient power under the Bill to see that that date is made effective.

The Bill in draft evidently was not considered satisfactory, and I take that to be the reason for the Amendment. I wish to know if, even with the Amendment, it goes far enough. It would appear that if the authorities do not obey an Order made by the Treasury under Clause 3, the Amendment makes it possible for another Order to be made by the Treasury containing such consequential and supplementary provisions as appear necessary. If that be the reason of it, I, for one, welcome it, because I think it, strengthens Clause 3, but may I urge that it might be as well, so that there should be no doubt about it, to make the word "may" in the Schedule "shall," because that is where the difficulty with the local authorities arose in the Schedule of the 1920 Act. If the Government are thoroughly satisfied, and if the Financial Secretary can give an assurance to these old pensioners that there is no question whatever that the Government can enforce and will enforce the "shall," and if they will take steps to see that they receive the pensions from the date in July, I do not think we shall have any difficulty. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand our doubt about it, bearing in mind that in 1920 the Government assured them that the word "may" meant "shall," and when they went to the Law Officers of the Crown and said they were assured by the Government that "may" meant "shall," and when they went to the Law Officers of the Crown turned round and left the old men on the rocks, saying that the Act must be taken as it stood. I should like the hon. Member's assurance that there will be no question as to the position of these old people.

Photo of Mrs Mabel Philipson Mrs Mabel Philipson , Berwick-upon-Tweed

I wish to add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Willison). There is a great feeling among some of the retired police pensioners over the wording of the Clause, and if the Financial Secretary could give us an assurance that the word "may" means "shall," I think it would do away with a great deal of misunderstanding and I would satisfy these pensioners, and I must say I think they deserve this assurance.

Mr. GRAHAM:

I think this question can quite easily be put beyond the shadow of a doubt. The two hon. Members who have just spoken, and more particularly the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Willison), referred to the Amendment inserted in the Bill dealing with consequential or supplementary powers which the Treasury proposes to take in order to make this obligation effective as regards the local authorities. Let me clear up that point by saying that that is merely to deal with the variety of schemes under the local authorities and in order to make it quite certain that the pensioners get the benefit of what the Act proposes to give them. It may be that the Supplementary Clause included in this Bill will help us also, but whether that proves to be so or not, there can be no doubt or difference of opinion between us on the major issue. It is true that when the Act of 1920 was passed, hon. Members believed that it was to be obligatory, but later investigation proved that that was not so. We have put it beyond doubt in this Bill, and as from the 1st July, 1923, it will be obligatory on the local authorities to grant these increases, so that the local authorities are now bound, when this Bill passes, by an Act of Parliament. What the hon. Member asks is whether the retrospective compulsory power will go back beyond the 1st July, 1923, and I want to make it plain to the Committee that after full consideration we believe that that would be an impossible course. The Committee will see at once that we are, up to a point, coercing the local authorities, and we are, retrospectively if you like, binding them to the 1st July, 1923, but as the finances of the local authorities have been made up, I think hon. Members will feel that we could not go back to 1920, and, moreover, on the facts, I do not think there is a very strong case for doing so or that it is very important. I think the new arrangement will be entirely satisfactory.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

It is not of very much importance for the Treasury, perhaps, but it is of vital importance to the individual, who is the only person who really matters in this case. I would like to point out that this is not really retrospective legislation, because in 1920 it was prospective, and the local authorities which did not carry out the intended obligation of the Act were really morally in default, and to say that merely because they had closed their accounts they can get away from the obligation seems to me a very wrong principle to introduce into the law. It matters a great deal to these men. The legislation was intended to cover the local authorities, and it is not, from that point of view, really retrospective at all.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 (Construction and short title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next (14th July), and to be printed. [Bill 203.]