HC Deb 02 July 1877 vol 235 cc618-23

in rising to move— That it is unjust that Departmental Circulars should be issued in such a form, or so interpreted as practically to repeal or modify the operation of an Act of Parliament; and that it is expedient that those persons who have been debarred from participation in the benefits of 'The Superannuation Act Amendment Act, 1873,' by the War Office Circulars dated the 29th August and the 17th December 1861, and numbered 709 and 729 respectively, should be restored to the position they would have occupied had such circulars never been issued, said, he desired to call attention to the way in which certain persons had been treated in regard to Superannuation. His Motion consisted of two parts—the first dealt with the authority exercised by the War Department through the medium of Circulars; the second, with a specific grievance. In order to save the time of the House he would take the latter first, and he trusted the statement he was about to make would be found to justify the course he had thought it necessary to pursue. The Superannuation Act Amendment Act was passed on the 26th May, 1873, to remedy the inadvertence of the heads of certain Departments, in admitting persons into the Civil Service of the State (between the passing of the Superannuation Act, 1859, and the 4th June, 1870), without a certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners, as required by the Superannuation Act, 1859, such omission being without default on the part of the persons admitted. The Treasury was empowered to re-instate such persons in the position they would have occupied, with respect to superannuation, if such an inadvertence had not occurred. Numerous applications were made and dealt with under this Act; but it afterwards appeared that, "owing to mistakes" on the part of certain officers, there were some names omitted from the lists sent in, and it was necessary to pass another Act in 1876 to provide for them. His case was, that there were still others who were entitled to the benefit of the Act of 1873. There were some 600 men employed in the manufacturing departments—chiefly at Woolwich—whose position was identical with that of the persons mentioned in the Preamble to the Act of 1873. They entered the Service between the dates named, in the full expectation of being entitled to superannuation, but, through so default on their part, without a certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners. They had applied at the proper time to be dealt with under the Act of 1873, and subsequently, on several occasions, but had been refused on three grounds: first, that they were in receipt of the full market rate of wages; se- condly, that they had not passed the Civil Service examination; and thirdly, that they were excluded by the decision announced in two Circulars issued in August and December, 1861. Now, by an Act passed in 1834, provision was made for granting superannuation to those who submitted to a specific abatement from their wages; but in 1857, this system of abatements was abolished by Act of Parliament, and consequently rendered illegal, and in 1859 the Superannuation Act was passed to extend the system of superannuation to all classes of the Civil Service, and regulate it on a just and intelligible principle. Therefore, when it was proposed, as was the case in the Circulars he complained of, not to grant superannuation to those who were in receipt of the full market rate of wages, but only to those who submitted to an abatement, he contended that such a course was in direct violation of the Act of 1857, and contrary to the spirit of the Act of 1859. The second objection—that they had not passed the Civil Service examination—was untenable, for the Act of 1873 was specially passed to meet the case; and the third—the decision of the Circulars—was equally invalid, for they merely announced the intention of the Department to grant superannuation only to those who submitted to an abatement of wages—a point he had already dealt with. The second Circular defined the "full market rate of wages" to be that at which men were found to be willing to engage themselves; but that was absurd, because no alternative rate was ever offered to the men. He admitted that the case would be different, if the men on whose behalf he pleaded had entered the Service with a knowledge of the existence of these Circulars; but that was not the case, the first they heard of them was in 1870. They entered in the full expectation of being entitled to superannuation, as their predecessors were, and without the slightest knowledge that any question could arise on the point. He had no doubt his right hon. Friend would tell him that the Circulars had been published in the usual manner in the Department at the time of their issue; but he had made the most careful inquiries, and had failed to elicit from any one the slightest knowledge of such publication, and he maintained that the individual assurances of 600 men were entitled to respect as against the memory of a few officials as to what had occurred 17 years ago, especially as it had been already necessary to pass two Acts of Parliament to remedy their "inadvertence" and "mistakes." The publication of the Circulars was a matter of vital importance to the men, whilst it was of no moment to their officers. The expense could not be pleaded as a reason why justice should not be done; but, even if that were an element in the case, it would hardly deserve consideration, for he had been informed that only about 2½ per cent of the men would remain long enough in the Service—or live long enough—to become entitled to superannuation, so that, at the most, it was probably only a question of £700 or £800 per annum for a few years. With regard to the first part of the Motion, he contended that he had shown, first, that the Circulars had practically had the effect of repealing the Act of 1857, which abolished abatements of wages; and, secondly, that they had been employed to modify the operation of the Act of 1873, so as to exclude a number of men who were clearly entitled to the benefits it was intended to confer. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is unjust that Departmental Circulars should he issued in such a form, or so interpreted as practically to repeal or modify the operation of an Act of Parliament; and that it is expedient that those persons who have been debarred from participation in the benefits of 'The Superannuation Act Amendment Act, 1873,' by the War Office Circulars dated the 29th August and the 17th December 1861, and numbered 709 and 729 respectively, should be restored to the position they would have occupied had such circulars never been issued,"—(Mr. Boord,) —instead thereof.


said, his hon. Friend must feel some satisfaction in observing that on this interesting occasion, his right hon. Colleague (Mr. Gladstone) was not in his place, and that the working men of Greenwich and Woolwich committed their interests solely to his care. If justice demanded the payment of this sum, he (Mr. Hardy) would be the last man in the House to oppose it; but he disputed the principle on which his hon. Friend based this claim from beginning to end. The hon. Member laid it down that because of a certain Act passed in 1873, the Department was not able to employ men without giving them superannuation allowances.


said, that what he contended was, that it was not competent for the Department to make contracts contrary to the Act of 1857, by which abatements in wages, with a view to superannuation, were rendered illegal.


Just so; but the Act of Parliament did not prevent the Department from making contracts outside its provisions. The case was a short and clear one. In 1859 it was laid down that those workmen who had not Civil Service certificates should not have superannuation, and the Act of 1869 confirmed that. The first Army Circular said that no person should be entitled to superannuation who was receiving the full market value of his labour, and the second Circular defined that to be the ordinary rate of wages. In 1873 an Act was passed relating to the Post Office, where it was admitted that certain persons had been employed inadvertently without reference to this arrangement; but, in the War Office, there was no inadvertence at all. Some men were employed who, it was alleged, did not know of the Regulation; but they were paid the full market rate of wages, and, therefore, were not entitled to superannuation. He could not understand that they did not know what the Regulations were; at any rate, full notice was given, perfectly clear, and open to everybody, and, therefore, no injustice had been done to those men whose case had been brought before the House. That was, in a word, the answer to the Resolution, to which he was sure the House would not agree.


said, that the policy of the Office had been not to take workmen whom they were bound to superannuate after a certain term of service. It was thought better to employ men as necessity required. The Act which had been referred to was passed for the benefit of a particular class of men, and those only; that was fully known at the time, and the other men did not claim to be treated in the same way. The Army Circulars were issued giving full notice to all the men employed, and therefore he hoped that the House would not agree to undo what had been done.


said, that having, whilst serving in the War Office, carefully inquired into the remuneration given to the workmen employed in the manufactures of Woolwich Arsenal, he might be allowed to contend that the War Office had acted liberally in fixing the rates of wages of the workmen, and although he had been employed on a Committee in the several factories, yet he had not heard a complaint put forward on behalf of these men. The charge made in 1859, by which the workmen of these important factories were paid daily rates of wage equal to the market rates, without any claim to pension, might have been challenged at that date as an objectionable measure; but seeing that all men employed since 1859 had received the very wage of the market, it would not be fair to the country to restore to them the claim to pension which that very payment was intended to withdraw. No doubt some of the workmen, formerly receiving rates of wage fixed per hour, had by long service been advanced to positions which entitled them to fixed weekly or monthly rates of wage, and by good service and experience deserved such of the State, and he would suggest that some of the best of these men should be placed on the establishment for pensions; but it would be a dangerous thing to interfere with a system which had been in force for 17 years without complaint. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press the Amendment.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.