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BMA warns ‘Henry VIII clause’ in bill opens door to further GP pension changes

The BMA has warned Government plans to include a so-called ‘Henry VIII clause’ in the Public Sector Pensions Bill will hand the Treasury the right to amend the scheme at any time ‘at the stroke of a pen’.

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said the inclusion of the clause does not honour negotiations between unions and the Government and undermines the promise of a stable long-term public sector pensions deal.

Presenting evidence to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee earlier this week, Dr Porter also warned the clause could render ongoing reviews related to the Pensions Bill obsolete in future, including the outcomes of the Working Longer Review, which is looking at whether NHS workers should be working until 68, if they can move into back-office roles and how the DH can make it easier to purchase earlier retirement. Dr Porter is personally representing the BMA on the review, which launched this autumn and is not expected to conclude for another year.

Dr Porter warned the bill for cementing plans to link the NHS normal pension age to the state pension age, arguing that the Government should honour the previous agreement from 2008 which said doctors entering the scheme before that year should retire at 60 and thoseentering it after 2008 should retire at 65.

He said: ‘The Secretary of State can change [the bill] at the stroke of a pen.’

‘The agreement, and indeed Lord Hutton’s report, clearly referred to mechanisms to ensure changing pension age was actually an appropriate and right thing to do and one of the mechanisms for that is the Working Longer Review.’

‘The bill moves ahead to entrench the relationship between normal pension age and state pension age without allowing for the consideration of the Working Longer Review and indeed puts in place things that could countermand and overrule any of the conclusions that the Working Longer Review may come to….I think the bill very much fails to embed the negotiations from last December.’

One example of the Henry VIII powers in the bill is clause 3, paragraph 3, which states that scheme regulations may:

  • make different provision for different cases (including different provision for different descriptions of persons)
  • make provision by amending any legislation (whenever passed or made)
  • make retrospective provision
  • allow any person to exercise a discretion.

Dr Porter also reiterated the BMA’s concern over the proposed hike in contributions, and said it was not fair doctors should may a greater proportion than other NHS staff or other public sector members.

He said: ‘Principles of fairness are not embedded in the bill. One of those things is paying the same for something of the same value and I think there is an unfairness in moving to a care scheme where our contribution rates as doctors are going to be defined as higher compared to other people, whether it is because they are earning higher amounts of money [or not].’

Pulse understands from the Treasury that a minister will address the points made in Parliament today. He is expected to say that there are good reasons for the Henry VIII clause to be included in the bill, and that EU laws will protect pension scheme members from unfair future changes.