Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC S 3R [Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [745/1080-88]
Editorial comments: 2300-2317. MT spoke at cc1084, 1085-86 and 1088.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2843
Themes: Foreign policy (Middle East), Social security & welfare
[column 1080]



As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause.—(Teachers Superannuation Accounts.)

(1)As respects any accounting period within the meaning of Schedule 1 to the Teachers' Superannuation Act 1967 or Schedule 6 to the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 beginning on or after 1st April 1961——
(a)paragraph 3(1)(d) of the said Schedule 1 and paragraph 2(3) of the said Schedule 6 (which relate to the sum representing interest which is to be treated as having been paid into the revenue of the teachers' superannuation account under the Act in question for each accounting period) shall each have effect with the substitution for the words from ‘at the rate’ onwards of the words ‘at such rate as may be determined in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State with the consent of the Treasury [column 1081]on the amount of any balance of revenue over expenditure remaining at the end of the last preceding accounting period, and a further sum representing interest at such rate as may be determined as aforesaid on any balance of revenue (other than that further sum) over expenditure during the accounting period in question, and any such regulations may make different provision for different balances and different accounting periods and may provide as respects any balance to which the regulations relate——
(i)for the determination of the rate of interest on that balance on the basis of a national investment of that balance, or of any part or parts thereof, made after consultation with the Government Actuary; and
(ii)for different rates of interest, or different methods of determining the rates of interest, for different parts of that balance;’
(b)paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1967 is hereby repealed.
(2)Section 144(2) and (3) of the said Act of 1962 shall not apply to any regulations made under that Act by virtue of the foregoing subsection, but before making any such regulations the Secretary of State shall consult with representatives of education authorities and of teachers appearing to him to be likely to be affected by them.—[Mrs. Shirley Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.00 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This Clause gives the Secretary of State power, by means of regulations, to alter the basis of establishing the interest rate applicable to the teachers' superannuation accounts for Scotland and for England and Wales, at present statutorily fixed at 3½ per cent. The point was raised in Committee and I promised to give it consideration on Report.

The object is to reflect more rapidly movements in interest rates. The immediate effect is expected to be a reduction in the additional burdens which might fall upon local education authorities by way of employers' superannuation contributions.

Contributions under the teachers' superannuation schemes are not funded; they are paid into the Exchequer, which meets the cost of all the benefits. An account of income and expenditure is, however, kept, and the schemes are valued by the Government Actuary under statutory arrangements which include the crediting of interest at the [column 1082]rate of 3½ per cent. on the balance standing to the credit of the accounts.

Ever since his first valuations in 1933, the Government Actuary has had to report that the assets in the schemes were insufficient to meet the prospective liabilities. An Act passed in 1956 laid down new arrangements for dealing with these matters. The Government put large credits into the accounts to bring them into balance as at 31st March, 1956; teachers' contributions were increased from 5 per cent. to 6 per cent., but an assurance was given that there would be no further increase; employers' contributions were similarly raised, and employers became liable to pay supplementary contributions to extinguish, in 40 years, any deficit revealed by a subsequent valuation. The great majority of teachers are employed by local education authorities, who of course receive assistance from Government grants. The Government Actuary's valuations, relating to the period 1956–61, showed large deficits, due mainly to increases in salaries, to which schemes of this type are highly vulnerable. As a result, employers' contributions were raised automatically, under the terms of the 1956 Act, from 6 per cent. to 8½ per cent. in England and Wales and from 6 per cent. to 8 per cent. in Scotland with effect from 1st April, 1966. Further valuation reports, dealing with the period 1961–66, ought to be available next year, and local authorities are wondering what they will bring forth. In the circumstances they have forth. In the circumstances they have drawn attention to the effect on the valuations of what now appears to be an unjustifiably low interest rate, and the Government have agreed that a change ought to be made.

The interest rate of 3½ per cent. was laid down in the Act of 1925. Of course, interest rates fluctuated in subsequent years, but up to 1956, or perhaps for a year or two later, 3½ per cent. could still be regarded as a justifiable long-term rate. In fact, the 3½ per cent. rate compared reasonably with the actual average yield on gilt-edged securities during the 30 years or so following 1925. During the last eight to 10 years, however, we have been in a period of nationally and internationally very high rates, often in practice associated with rapid growth in incomes. In the circumstances, the interest rate of 3½ per cent., whether [column 1083]or not it can be justified in the very long-term, undeniably threatens to impose undue burdens on local authorities in the next few years.

The Clause proposes that the method of determining the rate of interest should in future be laid down by the Secretary of State by means of regulations. Unfortunately, it is by no means a straightforward matter to adjust the 3½ per cent. to a more appropriate rate. In the first place, it is necessary to take account of the schemes' long history. Some of the money now standing to the schemes' credit derive from payments made before the second world war, going back, in fact, to 1922. In addition, there are the large balancing credits which the Government put into the account in 1956 which in fact more than doubled the then existing balances; the interest rate of 3½ per cent. was a significant factor in calculating the credits, and although this does not necessarily mean that they should be tied to this rate for all time, it is not a straightforward matter to adjust them.

When we look to the future, although an attempt will be made in the first set of regulations to introduce arrangements that will not need constant adjustment, it seems reasonably certain that they will need to be reviewed from time to time in the light of changing economic conditions. In the present period of rapid change and development, the flexibility of regulations seems to be the right answer. Notional investment of the kind envisaged by the Clause follows the practice now being applied to the other large public service pension scheme which is financed similarly, the one covering employees in the National Health Service, and of course smaller schemes covering the Atomic Energy Authority.

So far as England and Wales are concerned the regulations will be made under Section 15 of the Teachers' Superannuation Act, 1967, which provides that they shall be subject to negative Resolution and that the Secretary of State is required to consult representatives of local education authorities and teachers appearing to him to be likely to be affected. Naturally the main discussions in the first instance will be with the local authorities, because they will bear the financial impact. Similar arrangements will apply in respect of the Scottish regulation. [column 1084]

The immediate effect of the new proposals is likely to be to relieve local education authorities of some of the additional burdens which might otherwise fall on them as a result of another valuation under the existing arrangements. The next valuation reports should be available next year, and the Clause cannot under the terms of existing legislation affect the rate of employers' superannuation contributions until the beginning of the financial year after they are made. Although credited to the teachers' superannuation accounts, employers' superannuation contributions are, in fact, paid into the Exchequer, which may thus be surrendering a significant, though perhaps unwarranted, source of prospective income.

The amounts involved are, of course, substantially reduced by their effect on Government grants to local authorities, but even so the Clause might move an appreciable part of teachers' superannuation from the local education authorities to the Government. It is impossible at this stage to give any firm, figures, as the new interest rates remain to be determined in consultation with the other interested parties, and we can-not anticipate the results of the Government Actuary's valuations, for which all the necessary data are not yet available.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

I thank Shirley Williamsthe Minister of State for keeping me in touch the whole time with her intentions about tabling this new Clause. I noted that in her very detailed explanation she pointed out the results of the last quinquennial review would not be available until next year, but also that the purpose of the Clause is to reduce the burden on local authorities. Very clearly there will be some net cost to the Exchequer. I appreciate that she cannot tell me exactly what that will be, for the reasons she has given, but it would be helpful if we could have some idea of the order of the amount that this cost will be. Over the quinquennial period, will it be £1 million, £5 million or £10 million? It would be helpful if the hon. Lady could give some idea within those limited figures.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Once again I should say “subject to reservations” . The figures on which the valuation will be made are not available, and there is the further reservation that the whole matter [column 1085]is subject to discussion with local education authorities. Broadly speaking, if there was a reduction in supplementary contribution of about 1 per cent.—at the last valuation the increase was approximately 2 per cent.—this would cost a gross figure of about £6 million a year. In general terms, allowing for rate support grant, there would be an additional figure of about £2½ million per annum. If based on the 2 per cent. decrease in contributions the order could be about twice that figure, although it might be less.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill. Clause 5.—(Palestine and Pakistan pensions.)

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 6, line 27, at the end to insert:

‘not excluding pensions or other benefits which, under any agreement for the time being in force between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and some other government, are payable by that other government’.

The purpose of this Amendment will be clear to Niall Macdermotthe Financial Secretary to the Treasury from the discussions we had in Committee. It is to clarify a point which was raised then. As the Financial Secretary will be aware, most people who served the Palestine Administration have been receiving a pension either from our own Government or from the Israeli Government. But there appears to be a small group of people who at present are not actually getting any pension although a pension is being paid into a blocked account. They are those employees of the Palestine Administration who were resident in Palestine until comparatively recently. They therefore fall under provisions of the 1950 Agreement we had with the Government of Israel, and the Israeli Government agreed to pay the pensions of these former employees who were then resident in Palestine.

The group to whom I refer have since left Israel and are not at present receiving pensions either from our Government or from the Israeli Government, although the moneys are being paid into an account in Israel. I am concerned that Clause 5 should give our Government discretionary powers to make pay[column 1086]ments until such time as the position is sorted out with the Israeli Government. I am sure that the Israeli Government will be most helpful and co-operative. I have always found them so in any previous discussions or questions which have been raised with them.

It looks as if there may be powers in Clause 5(1,b), but that provision refers to “ex gratia payments” in respect of the former Palestine employees. I am not sure whether a pension, which is a continuing periodic payment, could be adjudged an ex gratia payment within paragraph (b), nor am I sure whether it would be enough to make payment of such pension on condition that the sums were recovered from the blocked account when the moneys in that account were released.

My main concern is that those who served the Palestine Administration and who are entitled to pensions now should get them. They should have some visible means of support, whether they live here, in Australia, or anywhere else. I shall be quite happy if the Financial Secretary tells me that he has power to make payment of these pensions pending the sorting out of arrangements with Israel.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has in mind in particular the case of one pensioner who is at present resident in Australia and who, I think, has taken out Australian citizenship. Although there may be a few other people in a similar position, it may be helpful if we discuss this problem in relation to the facts of the case.

The person in question was a local employee of the former Palestine Administration who continued to reside in Israel when that Administration came to an end. Under the Anglo-Israel Agreement of 1950, the Israel Government accepted responsibility for the payment of pensions to former Palestine Government officers who were then resident in Israel. This was one of a number of considerations which were taken into account in the financial settlement which was embodied in that Agreement.

The pension was paid by the Israel Government in accordance with the provisions of the Agreement and no difficulty arose until the pensioner left Israel in 1963 to go and live in Australia. The [column 1087]difficulties arose because of the tight exchange control restrictions operated by the Israel Government. They have not suspended his pension. It is still being paid, but it is being paid into a blocked account in Israel. Therefore, to that extent it cannot be said that the Israel Government are in default of their obligation under the 1950 Agreement.

Obviously, this is a very unsatisfactory position from the point of view of the pensioner, who took the matter up with the Conservative Government, who told him what the legal position was, as I have just outlined it, but they agreed to take up his case and to make representations on his behalf to the Israel authorities. Those representations were not successful at the time, but they have been continuing and the present Government have continued to urge upon the Israel Government that it would be right to release these pensions to the blocked accounts.

We understand that there is some indication that the Israel Government may be prepared to relax their attitude towards the payment of pensions outside Israel. Her Majesty's Government will continue to do whatever they can to move the Israel Government to make the necessary foreign exchange available, but we cannot agree that it would be right for us to seek to meet this situation by paying the pension ourselves; for to do so would merely be to invite the Israel Government to withdraw from a responsibility which they have never sought to repudiate. I hope that these representations will be successful before too long. 11.15 a.m.

I will now seek to answer directly the legal question which the hon. Lady put to me as to whether we would be able, if we were so minded, to make any ex gratia payment by way of advance—I think she suggested until the blocked accounts were released. The advice I have is that there would be power under subsection (1,b), which is sufficiently widely worded, to enable payments of that kind to be made ex gratia, because, for the reasons I have explained, there is no legal obligation on Her Majesty's Government to pay them.

It is only right that I should reiterate that it would not be our intention to use the power under subsection (1,b) for this [column 1088]purpose. We hope, instead, that we shall find a satisfactory solution to this problem as a result of the action which has been taken through diplomatic representations.

Mrs. Thatcher

If the Financial Secretary has the power, perhaps I can harry him on another occasion as to the way in which he uses that power. If he is satisfied that an advance would fall under the phraseology “ex gratia payments” , which it clearly does not, I am happy that he has the power. I should have thought that an advance is not an ex gratia payment by any reasoning. However, I accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's assurance. As extra statutory payments have been made before, and perhaps could be made again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read the Third time and passed.