HC Deb 03 August 1860 vol 160 cc654-60

said he rose to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, what course the Admiralty intend to pursue respecting the superannuation of the Dockyard Labourers on the Establishment, and to call the attention of the House to their case? Some four years ago, as the House would recollect, considerable agitation took place on the subject of superannuation, and much dissatisfaction existed and was expressed by the civil service. The ground of that dissatisfaction lay in the deductions from salaries, the scale of superannuation, and the class of persons who were to have the benefit of it. The first cause of complaint was removed by an Act of Parliament brought in by a noble Lord and carried, though opposed by the Government. The arrangement of the scale of superannuation was a matter of comparatively little difficulty. But there was some difficulty in ascertaining and fixing who were the parties who were to have the benefit of the operation of the Act. Under the old Act of Parliament there was no difficulty of that kind, because the deduction and the benefit went together, and if a party did not pay the deduction he had no claim to the benefit of the Act. The line drawn, therefore, was at any rate a distinct one. His present object was to show that it was the intention of the framers of the existing Act, and of Parliament itself, that the parties whose case he advocated should receive the benefit of the Act. To make the question understood, it was necessary to remember that there were different classes of workmen in the dockyards. There were the artisans, such as shipwrights, blockmakers, &c. These were the established labourers, and there were a class of labourers who were not on the establishment, although they often were employed for a long time. The late Government at first did not intend to introduce any dockyard parties whatever, but they found that it was not possible, admitting the principle, to deny that it ought to be applied to them. An interview took place between Mr. Wilson—who had put on the table of the House some Amendments, with a view to admit those parties—himself (Sir Francis Baring), the Secretary to the Treasury, who had charge of the Bill, and the Secretary to the Admiralty, with the view of settling where the line should be drawn. He had letters from Mr. Wilson, distinctly stating that the intention and understanding then was that the established labourers, the parties whose case he advocated, should be admitted to the benefit of the Act, and he had no hesitation in confirming that opinion himself. The then Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Admiralty were present, and would confirm his statement. But he might be told that that was a private arrangement on the part of the Treasury, and was not known to Parliament. The hon. Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote), however, on going into Committee on the Bill, clearly explained that the Government intended to bring in these poor men. Then he might be told that the Act did not embrace their case, and that there were words in it which might be relied on for the purpose of depriving them of the right which Parliament meant to give them. But he did not think that this was a fair argument for the Government to use towards its servants. The Ministry of the day had promised a certain concession; it was made known to Parliament; and it was not quite fair now to turn round and say that, though that might have been the intention of Parliament, it was not sufficiently expressed, and that therefore the arrangement could not be carried out. But, in point of fact, he did not think the words of the Act were opposed to the case of the labourers. The second clause of the Act was, he believed, sufficiently explicit, and was, indeed, framed by Mr. Wilson with a view of embracing their case. The first clause of the Act distinctly spoke of parties permanently employed, whether at weekly wages or on annual salary, and for whom provision should not otherwise have been made. Then came another clause, which at the first reading seemed rather complex. The purport of the clause to which he alluded was that no person should be regarded as belonging to the permanent Civil Service of the State, unless such person held his office directly from the Crown, or had received a certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners. Nor should any person be held to have served in the permanent Civil Service, unless he should have belonged to a class entitled to superannuation. Therefore, the alternative was, either that he should belong to a class already under superannuation, or to a class which was to receive a certificate from the Commissioners. Every human being who read the debates which took place upon the subject knew that new classes were intended to be brought in; for one of the great injustices under the old Act was, that there wore several classes of civil servants who had not the benefit of the Act. In the Post Office there were several officers sitting almost in the same rooms as other officers, who had not the benefit of the Superannuation Act, and those were brought in under the new Act. With regard to the certificate to be obtained from the Civil Service Commissioners, that was a point which gave rise to considerable discussion when the Act was passed, and they were told by the then Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Stafford Northcote) that that provision was introduced, not for the purpose of depriving persons who had the benefit of the old Act of what they possessed, but for the purpose of admitting new classes. They were also told that it was not proposed that those poor fellows should be sent up to London to be examined, but the local authorities were to report them as possessing the requisite qualifications, and upon that the Commissioners were to grant the certificate. He did not know whether the Commissioners could grant a certificate upon such conditions; but, if not, the greater was the grievance. He could quote the cases of several poor men, advanced in years, who had served twenty years and upwards, and had been obliged to retire from injuries which they had sustained in the performance of their duties. Having been one of those who had misled these men into believing that the Government intended to act up to their professions, he felt that ho was entitled to ask the Government what they intended to do. There was one answer, at all events, which he hoped he should not get, which was that it would cost a great deal. The question was, had the promise been made? At the time the Act was discussed, the expense was fully stated and considered, and it would not be right, when its benefits had been carried out in respect to all other classes, that the question of cost should be set up to deprive the poorest class of the advantages of the Act.


said, if any one was to blame for any ambiguity that there might be in the wording of the Superannuation Act, it was the late Government. The late Admiralty had addressed a letter to the Treasury, asking whether established labourers in the dockyards would be entitled to superannuation. That letter was not replied to by the late Treasury Board, but the present Board had requested the Admiralty to send a list of all such persons whom they considered to be entitled to superannuation, and to give their opinion as to the extension of superannuation allowances to ordinary labourers. The right hon. Baronet had elicited a cheer by deprecating the argument of expense being used against his views, but the question of expense was a serious one if all labourers were to be held entitled to superannuation; for it would be not merely the labourers upon the establishment, but others who formed a very numerous class. The present Admiralty had therefore hesitated to recommend this increased burden on the finances of the country. [Mr. W. WILLIAMS; Hear, hear.] The speech of the late hon. Secretary to the Treasury, when the Bill was under discussion, pointed out distinctly that the object of the Bill was to get men for the civil service at moderate salaries—the English of which was that the civil servants, upon condition that they Were in their old age to enjoy superannuation allowance, should serve at a lower rate of wages than the market rate. The dockyard artificers were, and had been, entitled to superannuation; but then they wee bound to serve the Government at lower wages than they could obtain in private establishments in consideration of the prospect of a pension. In ordinary times these men received 4s. 6d. a day in the Royal dockyards, which was lower than the market value of their services. Every class of labourers received superannuation under the Act except the lowest class—viz., the ordinary labourers, who receive the full market value of their labour. The Order in Council of 1839 stated that "all artificers and workmen, excluding ordinary labourers and hired men, should be allowed superannuation," and the ordinary labourers had consequently never received superannuation allowances. Clause 17, quoted by his right hon. Friend, was certainly ambigious, but it stipulates that all classes entitled to these allowances shall undergo examination before the Civil Service Commissioners. Could they ask an unskilled labourer to go before the Civil Service Commissioners and pass an examination? At all events, it was not fair that a large body of these men should be entitled now for the first time to superannuation allowances unless the House distinctly understood the amount of expenditure it was about to incur. If ordinary labourers were superannuated, how could they exclude dockyard hospital nurses, warders, and a variety of servants of the same class? He did not say whether it was right or wrong that the ordinary labourers in dockyards should receive superannuation, but only that the language of the clause was not sufficiently clear to entitle the Admiralty of itself to recommend them to superannuation allowances. The Admiralty had, in fact, no power to grant these pensions, and it was more a Treasury than an Admiralty question, and it would be submitted for their decision. He did not know the case which had been cited by the right hon. Baronet, but he had not unfrequently submitted to the Treasury claims for pensions and gratuities when persons who were not strictly entitled to them had suffered from ill-health or accidents incurred in the public service. Some Returns on this subject were now in preparation, and, as soon as they were completed, the attention of the Treasury would be called to the subject.


said, the matter had been so fully stated by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Francis Baring) that it would be necessary for him only to confine the statement he had made as to the interview which he, as Secretary to the Treasury, had with the right hon. Gentleman and Mr. Wilson. The matter had been brought forward several times, and the late Government had been found fault with for having introduced a provision which would admit a large class of labourers before excluded. They defended the proposal as well as they could, and the House accepted the decision. He was himself responsible for the 17th clause, which was said to be ambiguous, although he could not understand where the difficulty lay. It originated in this way. The right hon. Gentleman and Mr. Wilson represented to him that the Bill did not provide for the case of labourers in the dockyards. He replied that it was not intended to include all the labourers, Mr. Wilson thereupon observed that it was necessary to distinguish what was meant by ordinary labourers, since that term included established men, hired men, and those generally known as ordinary labourers. Mr. Wilson added; that of course the Bill would not include the two latter classes; but there were established labourers who were also ordinary labourers, but who were just as much permanent civil servants of the Crown as the clerks of the Treasury, and who ought therefore to be included by the Government in the Bill. Mr. Wilson proposed that the Act should apply to men who had served the Crown in a permanent capacity. There appeared some ambiguity about such a description, and he (Sir Stafford Northcote) thought it would be a proper test that the Act should apply to persons who might be admitted by certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners, since they not only gave certificates for reading and writing, but also as to health, age, and other matters. There was another class of civil servants whose case was provided for, namely, those who did not need certificates from the Commissioners, but who held their appointments directly from the Crown. There also arose a difficulty with respect to persons who were in the service long before the Civil Service Commission was established, and a provision had to be introduced into the clause to meet their case. This was done by applying to them in substance and spirit the same rule as extended to the other classes of civil servants, and thus bringing them within the language of the 17th section. There was really no mystery about the matter, although the section was necessarily a complicated one. The case of the letter-carriers in the Post Office stood on all-fours with that of the dockyard labourers. The letter-carriers were ordinary labourers, not requiring to possess any high intellectual attainments. It had been determined, however, that those who were admitted into the service in future should pass an examination as prescribed by the Civil Service Commissioners, and those who did pass such an examination should belong to the first class of letter-carriers. They would be expected to give their whole time to the service, without engaging in any other work, and they would be entitled to superannuation. But those letter-carriers who had been admitted without obtaining the certificate of examination from the Civil Service Commissioners belonging to the second class, who were not required to devote themselves exclusively to their occupation as letter-carriers and these would not be entitled to a pension. The object of such certificates was to ascertain that they were recognized by the Government as permanent and established servants of a prescribed age, health, or other qualifications. If, therefore, they were to treat these men in the same way as the letter-carriers, and to lay down a distinct rule as to those of them who received and those who did not receive certificates from the Commissioners, the matter would be perfectly clear. There would be one class of established men, regular dockyard labourers, admitted with a certificate, and entitled to superannuation; whilst there would be another class of ordinary labourers, and mere hired men, not permanently belonging to the establishment. The claim of these men was pressed upon the late Government, who acceded to it; and the House, with its eyes open, assented to the arrangement that was come to in their behalf. It would therefore be a breach of faith on the part of the Government if it now refused these persons the benefits which an Act of Parliament deliberately intended to give them.


expressed his conviction that the claims of these dockyard labourers had been completely established by the hon. Member for Stamford and the right hon. Member for Portsmouth. The second clause of the Act left no doubt as to their title to superannuation. Previous to 1833 the established labourers in the dockyards, with certain specified exceptions, received these pensions; and the same subsequent fit of economy which deprived them of that boon also took it away from the dockyard artificers. In point of fact, a labourer was only a less skilled species of artificer.