HC Deb 08 September 1887 vol 320 cc1810-7

(Mr. Jackson, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


Order for Second Reading read.


On moving the second reading of this Bill, I wish to say a few words in explanation of the reason for its introduction. Many Members of this House will know that for some years past the question of the exercise by the Treasury of what are called extra powers, has been brought before the attention of the Committee of Public Accounts, and by them before the House. There are from time to time cases arising which do not come within the limits of the Superannuation Act of 1859, and I venture to say that these are cases which undoubtedly claim consideration at the hands of the State. The Public Accounts Committee have from time to time reported to the House irregularities in connection with these cases—I say irregularities because it is of no use disguising the fact that there is irregularity in the exercise of a power which is not statutory, and although the Treasury has held hitherto that the sanction of Parliament obtained by the Appropriation Act every year exonerated them, still they have always felt that these transactions were more or less irregular. In 1882 the Public Accounts Committee stated that in the grant of the extra statutory pensions the Treasury had acted according to precedent; but that such action should only be resorted to in special cases, and that unless caution is observed there would be some danger lest the strict compliance with the provisions of the Superannuation Act which it is important to maintain would be interfered with. In 1883 and 1884 the Committee while acquiescing in the Treasury practice showed nevertheless that they were watching it with some jealousy, and they recorded their opinion that several eases of extra statutory allowances were reported by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and in the opinion of the Committee very properly so. They said that when the number of allowances was very large, some cases of irregularity would be unavoidable; but they should be as few as possible, and any case the exer- cise of this power by the Treasury required to be carefully guarded. In 1886 the Committee reported that the Comptroller and Auditor General bad called the attention of the Public Accounts Committee to a number of cases in which pensions had been granted to the Treasury not in accordance with law; that the Treasury did not appear to admit the justice of the observations of the Comptroller and Auditor General, but considered that public convenience, or the urgency of some particular case, justified a departure from the strict letter of the law. Further, the Committee considered that it was Parliament and not the Treasury, which ought to decide whether the circumstances of any particular case are such as to require exceptional treatment, and that in straining the law for the purpose of meeting the exigencies of a particular case, the Treasury was usurping the functions of the Legislature. Again, in 1887, the Committee reported to the effect that last year they had commentated on the claim put forward by the Treasury to a discretionary power in dealing with superannuation and retired allowances, and reported that— It is Parliament, and not the Treasury, which ought to decide whether the circumstances of any particular case are such as to require exceptional treatment, and it appears to your Committee that in straining the law for the purpose of meeting the exigencies of any particular case, the Treasury is usurping the functions of the Legislature. The Committee reported that in a Minute dealing with the subject, the Treasury stated that their only desire was to administer the Superannuation Acts according to the strict letter of the law, with due regard to the interests of economy on the one hand, and the equitable claims of individuals on the other; and that a Bill had been prepared for the purpose of legalizing so much of the existing practice as is now extra-Statutory, and can be defined by Statute without danger to the public interests. It is in accordance with that pledge, and with the requirements of the Public Accounts Committee, that the Treasury have introduced this Bill. I venture to say that, if superannuation is justifiable at all, if the present Superannuation Acts are to remain in force, I think the very cases which are the most deserving will be excluded from the four corners of those Acts. The Treasury desires to get rid altogether of the discretionary power which is now exercised, so that in future with regard to every case they may be able to comply strictly with the law, and to do that they think it necessary to make some provision by which the very hard cases which come before them may be met.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I rise to Order. Is it in Order to proceed with this Bill, which is blocked?


This is a Money Bill, and the Notice of Amendment does not apply.


With regard to the clauses of the Bill, I am bound to say that I know of no objection which has been raised to any but Clauses 2 and 6. Clause 2 proposes to give power to the Treasury to grant a pension, in the event of retirement, to a Civil servant who may be not quite efficient and not 60 years of age, and who has a medical certificate, not exceeding in amount that for which his length of service would qualify him under the Superannuation Act of 1859. As I have said, some objection has been taken to this clause, and I am willing to admit that, as it stands in the Bill, it is open to misconception. I have had, however, the advantage of discussing the clause, not only with some civil servants who will be affected by it, but also with the hon. Member for the Brentford Division of Middlesex (Mr. Bigwood) and the hon. and learned Member for the Dulwich Division of Camberwell (Mr. Morgan Howard), who have taken a very great interest in the subject; and, in conjunction with them, I have framed an Amendment which I shall move in Committee, and which I believe meets the case entirely and removes any possible chance of injustice being done to existing civil servants. One portion of the Amendment provides that in case of any civil servant being reported by the Head of the Department as inefficient, the civil servant so reported shall have an opportunity of communicating with the Treasury, with whom the decision shall rest, and that the Treasury shall consider the representations so made. The other Proviso I propose to insert is that nothing in this Act shall interfere with the existing rights of any civil servant. I believe that these two alterations meet fairly the justice of the case, and I do not think there will be any difficulty with, regard to the matter. With regard to Clause B, I think I may say the same of it as I have said with regard to Clause 2. It may be open to misconception. I have framed another clause that I propose to put down as an Amendment and substitute for this. I think I may say, having had the advantage of consulting with very able military members of the Commission who have taken a great interest in the matter, and to whom I have had an opportunity of showing the rules that it is proposed to lay on the Table of the House, carrying out the power given under this Bill, that Clause B, as it stands, really does not injuriously affect the position of any officer in any way whatever, but it gives power to the Treasury to frame rules which will affect their position. These rules, I think I am justified in saying, have been carefully considered by some of the able military Members of this House, and have been approved of by them as preserving the rights of officers as they exist at present, and making some further concession to them. As regards the financial effect of the Bill I need hardly say that in my position it is my duty to consider carefully what that will be, to know whether it would involve the State in any very large addition to the more effective Vote, because I am alive to the fact that many Members of the House think that the non-effective Vote at present is a very heavy one, and one which should be carefully watched. I believe that the effect of the measure will be a slight increase in the non-effective Vote, but that increase will arise under Clause 4, which will give power to the Treasury to make certain allowances and gratuities to workmen who at present are debarred, being outside the Superannuation Acts. I hope the hon. Members who feel strongly against extending the Superannuation Acts or against giving increased facilities for superannuation, will agree in this, that if there is one class more than another which ought not to be left out of the advantages of this system it is the workmen who are paid the lowest class of wages, and who are not on the Establishment at present. The Treasury has no power to meet these cases. Several hard cases have come before the Treasury, and they must necessarily do so in connection with so large an employment of civil servants as we have. There have been eases of an extremely hard and urgent character, and it is to meet these cases and to meet them legally that the Bill has been drawn. I hope the House will be good enough to accept with favour the Bill as drawn. I think it will not largely increase the amount of superannuation, but it will enable the Treasury to meet legally and properly a great many hard cases which it is at present impossible to deal with. I beg to move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Jackson.)


It was my intention to oppose this Bill, but since the Amendments which the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury has agreed to introduce I will not oppose it. At the same time, I should like to say that I think the whole question of withholding part of the pay of officers who retire and accept appointments which are not provided for out of the Imperial funds requires consideration. I do not consider that the country is justified in compulsorily retiring officers from the service and giving them inadequate pensions, and then afterwards taking from them, when they have succeeded in obtaining Colonial or other employment, in order to supplement their small pensions, which were granted for past services. As no opportunity can be found on this occasion to introduce a new clause in the Bill, or to introduce an Amendment to the 1st clause which will meet this case, I shall, with the permission of the House, call attention to the subject next Session.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I may, perhaps, be permitted to express my extreme regret that a Bill of such great importance not only to all the services of the State, but to the public, should be brought forward at this hour, and at this period of the Session. I am sorry the right hon Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) did not respond to my appeal to defer the Bill until the beginning of next Session. He based his refusal upon the ground that certain Statutory allowances were being made, which it was necessary to ratify, and he made a point of the fact that these allowances had been going on, and that the Committee of Public Accounts had been calling attention to them for the last five years. As the Committee of Public Accounts has been calling attention to the matter for the last five years, I think we might surely have got on with the existing condition of things for a few months longer. It is impossible to discuss this Bill, which seems to me to have been very badly drawn with reference to all the circumstances of the case. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury says that he has not heard any objection to the Bill except, I think, to the second and sixth sections. Well, with regard to the second section, I shall have something to say in a moment, but I want now to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fourth section in which I think the drafters of the Bill have certainly left out of account considerations that ought to have been present to their minds. The Treasury has been in the habit of granting compassionate gratuities on retirement which are not permitted by the law, and, roughly speaking, these gratuities have been given to two classes of persons, to workmen and also to what I may call professional men of whom draftsmen are perhaps the most representative class. And, Sir, the allowance granted to Class 2, professional men, has, of course, been upon a higher scale than that granted to Class 1—the workmen. Class 2, that is professional men, seems to have been left out of account by the drafters of the Bill. These draftsmen in some cases receive salaries of a maximum of £260 per annum, and by the Treasury Minute of February 1880, they are to receive one year's salary at the age of 60. Now, my point is that by the Treasury Minutes these draftsmen would be entitled to receive £100 more than they are entitled to get under this Bill. And as we are told that the object of this Bill is to prevent any allowances being made which are contrary to law, and of course contrary to this Satute, it seems to me that these draftsmen would not receive what they have been led to expect under the Treasury Minute of February 1880—that, in fact, they would receive under the Bill no less than£l00 less than they have been entitled to expect under the Treasury Minute. This Statute I am afraid would override the Treasury Minute of 1880. Then take another case—the case of the writers. There is another Minute affecting them—the Minute of December 1886. According to this Minute the writers are to receive a month's pay for each year of service, but this Bill would only give them two pays for each year. Now, I submit, as a matter of law, that the Statute would override each of these Minutes, and therefore the draftsmen on the one hand and the writers on the other would not receive what they are entitled to under those Minutes. I would just say one word with regards to Clause 2. The object of the clause is to enable the Department to get rid of a civil servant who is assumed to be inefficient. But, Sir, what is the test of inefficiency? It appears from the Memorandum to this Bill that the test of inefficiency is not to be the incapacity of these men to discharge their accustomed duties; but it is said that these persons are found inefficient to superintend or to carry out reforms, opportunities for effecting which arise in our Public Departments from time to time. So that the test of inefficiency is not to be proved inefficiency in the past work of those gentlemen, but speculative inefficiency with regard to their future work. The hon. Gentleman submits to us that sufficient safeguards have been introduced into the Bill by the Amendments of which he has just given notice. Well, Sir, of course these Amendments are sprung upon us, and it is difficult at a moment's notice to precisely gauge their real value and efficiency. The impression, in my mind, is that they do not, by any means, safeguard the rights of existing civil servants as fully as the hon. Gentleman would have us believe. He says that a Proviso is to be introduced saving the rights of existing civil servants. But, Sir, the rights of the existing civil servants it would perhaps be very difficult strictly to define, and I observe that by the 9th Clause of this Bill the Treasury is to be the final authority upon any question arising under the Bill. So that after all saving the rights of civil servants does not carry us very far, because the Treasury is to be the only authority for determining what the rights of civil servants are. While I do not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill, I shall certainly reserve my right very closely to scrutinize and carefully to consider between now and the Committee stage the Amendments of which, the hon. Member has given Notice.

Question put, and agreed to.