§ COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich) ,
in moving the following Resolution:—That a Select Committee of Seven Members, four to be nominated by the House and three by the Committee of Selection, be appointed to inquire into and report on the circumstances under which workmen entered in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and other Government establishments, between the 17th day of December 1861, and the 4th day of June 1870, have hitherto been refused the benefit of 'The Superannuation Act, 1859,' and 'The Superannuation Amendment Act, 1873,' and subsequent Amendment Acts, and particularly whether it was in the year 1870 or later that they were for the first time informed that a War Office Circular of the 17th day of December 1861, had assumed to suspend The Superannuation Act 1859,' so far as these men were concerned, and as to whether they are or ought to be within the benefits of the said Act of 1873:—That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:—That five be a quorum,said, that the question was one which affected the interests of 524 labourers 432 and artizans employed by the Government. It was not a general question of pension or superannuation, but a question of whether these men were entitled to superannuation in respect of having entered the Government service prior to the 4th of June, 1870. The claim had been considered by several Government Departments, and, up to the present time, in consequence, he believed, of the settled opinion held by the permanent officials, it had been refused. The claim had been investigated individually by several Members of the House, with the result that every Member who had looked into it had come to the conclusion that the men had a just claim to superannuation. The present hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Boord) investigated the case some years ago, and was firmly convinced of the justice of these men's demand. The hen. Member for the East Toxteth Division of Liverpool (Baron Henry de Worms), who was now a Member of the Government, also investigated the case and advocated the claim. The hon. Member gave the men reason to think that their demand was just, and would be attended to; and, no doubt, under the circumstances, he would be disposed to support the Motion. The same observations applied to the hon. Member for the Enfield Division of the County of Middlesex (Viscount Folkestone), who believed in the justice of the case. He (Colonel Hughes) had also investigated the claim, and the more he looked into the matter, the more he was satisfied that the War Department was wrong and that the men were perfectly right. He admitted, to the utmost, the courtesy with which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) had dealt with the case; but the right hon. Gentleman always gave the same unfortunate answer to the demand made upon him—namely, that the demand could not be entertained. It was really a very small matter. These men would not all live long enough to come into pensions, and, if they did, they would gradually die off. The procedure that would have to be followed before the men's claim could be granted was, that the claim should be recommended to the Treasury by the War Office, and the Treasury would then have power to accede to it. He did not now ask the House to go the length of affirming that 433 the men were entitled to what they asked. All he asked was that a Committee of seven hon. Members should be appointed to find out whether the men's statements were true or not. If the War Department settled the matter for themselves, it would be a case of employers deciding against the men in a matter in which they themselves were interested. As long, therefore, as the War Department said "No," the men would say "Yes;" and he knew of no other mode in which the matter could be disposed of than by a Committee of that House. If the men failed to prove their case before the Committee, there would be an end of the matter. If, on the other hand, they could prove it, the Report of the Committee would go before the War Office, which would have the opportunity of acting upon it if it thought fit. The question was not one of a Party character at all, because the men had put their claim before Secretaries of State under both Liberal and Conservative Governments. No doubt, he happened to sit on the Ministerial side of the House; but he wanted to divest the question of anything in the nature of a Party tinge. If the Government refused to assent to the Motion, the only way to settle the matter would be to divide the House upon it, and he would then be able to tell his constituents that he had submitted the question to the highest tribunal he could. The question was whether a Circular dated in 1861, which was supposed to be issued by the War Department, came to the knowledge of the men until nine years afterwards. If the men knew of the Circular in 1861, their ease failed; but if they did not know of it until 1870, then they had been engaged in the same way as those who had joined the Service a day before or a year before, and their case ought to succeed. The late General Dickson, who was Superintendent at Enfield, wrote a letter, stating that the Circular was not sent to Enfield until 1873, 12 years afterwards. Naturally, the men said that if the War Office wanted to alter the conditions of their Service and to deprive them of the benefits of the Superannuation Act, the least thing to have done was to have sent the Circular to Enfield and Woolwich and to have put it on the notice-board in the shops. The men at Woolwich said that in 1870 they were told, for the first time, about the Circu- 434 lar, and that it was then, for the first time, put in the book of regulations for the workmen. He had a list of opinions to the effect that this was the main point at issue. Mr. Brand, late Surveyor General of the Ordnance, had said—The question turned upon whether the men had notice.The present Secretary for War had said—If the men did not know before 1870, they ought to have their superannuation.Sir Ralph Thompson, the Permanent Under Secretary, had said—The only point is, when did the men know of the Circular.Colonel Mildward was asked, in 1870, whether the men knew of the Circular in 1861, and he said he believed they did. It turned out, however, on a strict investigation, that Colonel Mildward did not enter Woolwich Arsenal until 1870, and he (Colonel Hughes) could not find out on whose information his report was made. Mr. Edmonds, the Assistant Superintendent of the Gun Factories, in answer to inquiries, officially stated that the men did not know of the Circular until 1870, and he was in the Arsenal during the whole time to which the dispute related. No doubt it had been said by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jackson) who represented the Treasury in that House, that the men were never intended to have superannuation under the Act of 1859. All he (Colonel Hughes) could say was that the Superannuation Act of 1859 took nothing away from them, and they had had superannuation under the old Ordnance Scale before 1859. In 1873 the House of Commons passed an Act respecting superannuation, excusing certificate on entry, and this Act was put in operation in all Departments of the Government except the Arsenal and at Enfield, the reason why the men in the arsenal and at Enfield were not served in the same way as the rest being on account of this hidden Circular. The officials at the Arsenal were instructed in the Circular to make certain Returns, and he was informed that such Returns were never made. That was another proof that the Circular did not reach the Arsenal. Taking it altogether, the evidence was of such a character that half-a-dozen Members of the House, including two Members of the Government, who had investigated the case, were satisfied that 435 the superannuation ought to be granted, and he thought he could point to 40 or 50 Members who had gone sufficiently into the case to say that there was a primâ facie case, and that there ought to be no objection to the granting of an inquiry in order to satisfy the men. He could promise the Government that, unless he was defeated he would never leave alone a question in which over 500 of his constituents were so deeply interested, and the Motion would become a "hardy annual." He would remind hon. Members that, since the extension of the franchise, the House of Commons had become essentially a working man's House, and none of them could afford to have it said that working men could not get justice in this country. All the working men could do on a question of this kind was to appeal to the House of Commons to grant an impartial inquiry, and that was the reason he moved his Resolution.
§ MR. O. V. MORGAN (Battersea) ,
in seconding the Motion, said, it was his firm belief that the men had no knowledge of the Circular of 1861 until 1870, and that, therefore, their claim was a just and reasonable one.
Motion made, and Question proposed,That a Select Committee of Seven Members, Four to be nominated by the House and Three by the Committee of Selection, be appointed to inquire into and report on the circumstances under which workmen entered in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and other Government Establishments, between the 17th day of December 1861, and the 4th day of June 1870, have hitherto been refused the benefit of 'The Superannuation Act, 1859,' and "The Superannuation Amendment Act, 1873,' and subsequent Amendment Acts. and particularly whether it was in the year 1870 or later that they were for the first time informed that a War Office Circular of the 17th day of December 1861, had assumed to suspend 'The Superannuation Act, 1859,' so far as these men were concerned, and as to whether they are or ought to be within the benefits of the said Act of 1873:—That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:—That five be a quorum."—(Colonel Hughes.)
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
in supporting the Motion, said, a great injustice would be done, if the object of the inquiry, which was most reasonable, were not conceded.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, that he might, in answer to the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend, take refuge in the fact 436 that this subject had been investigated by successive Surveyors General of Ordnance and Secretaries of State since 1870, and that they had all, he believed, without exception, decided that the claim was one which could not be acceded to. But he would not shelter himself behind that argument. He had himself investigated the question, and had received a deputation from the men themselves, who had stated their case with great ability, moderation, and common sense. He cordially agreed that it was very necessary that the Government should keep faith with those whom it employed, and if it could be proved that there was the slightest possibility of it being said that the Government were not doing so, then there would be the strongest ground for granting what was asked. This was, however, a very broad question. The Government were the employers of these men, and were bound to employ them in the best interests of the State, so that the work of the country might be carried on with efficiency and economy, and the Government had undertaken to conduct the Arsenal so far as possible on commercial principles. The hon. and gallant Member had asked the House to stand between employer and men—that was, he asked the House to put the Government in a position different from that of any other employer of labour. The Act of 1859 provided that any claim for superannuation should be referred to the Commissioners of the Treasury, whose decision should be final, and another clause provided that it should be necessary for any person thereafter appointed to obtain a Civil Service certificate. In August, 1861, a Circular had. been issued from the War Office, framed in accordance with those two provisions of the Act, to the effect that no persons were entitled to superannuation who were in receipt of the full market rate of wages; and persons who were not in receipt of the full rate were obliged to obtain a Civil Service certificate of competence. These men had been in receipt of the full market rate of wages, and, if anything, even over that rate, and they had no Civil Service certificate. The matter, however, was somewhat complicated by the fact that another Circular had been I issued on the 17th of December, 1861, as 437 the Department had neglected to lay down rules under which the men were to obtain the certificates, and it was thought that some of the men might have entered under the belief that they were entitled to superannuation, and that, therefore, some hardship might arise. This Circular of the 17th of December, 1861, after defining what the full market rate of wages meant, went on to say that if there were any men who had really entered the Department on the clear understanding or well-founded expectation that they would be entitled to superannuation, then the Secretary of State would consider each case on its merits.
It being Midnight, the Debate was adjourned.
Debate to be resumed upon Tuesday 1st May.