HC Deb 20 March 1888 vol 323 cc1868-71

said, he rose to call attention to the case of workmen entered in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and at Enfield, between the 17th day of December, 1861, and the 4th day of June, 1870, and to move— That a Select Committee of Seven Members be appointed to inquire into and report on the circumstances under which workmen entered in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and Enfield, and other Government establishments, between the 17th day of December, 1861, and the 4th day of June, 1870, hare 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 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, 1850,' so far as those 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 Three be the quorum; that Colonel Duncan, Mr. O. V. Morgan, Viscount Folkestone, Mr. Howell, Mr. Boord, Mr. Bradlaugh, and Colonel Hughes be the Members of the said Committee, His Motion affected the working classes, and he had hoped that the Government would have consented to the inquiry he proposed. The six Members of the House, with himself, whom he proposed as a Committee of Inquiry, could have gathered information which the Government might have used or might have rejected at their pleasure. He understood that the Government would not consent to have a Committee of Inquiry at all; but he hoped that their opinion would be modified by the time he had concluded his observations. The artizans and labourers at Woolwich and Enfield, and other Government establishments, were entitled to pensions under the old Ordnance scale, after 15 years' service. Labourers of every description had £10 a-year after 15 years' service, and £15 a-year after 20 years' service. The Act of 1857 abolished the abatement which had previously taken place where men had pensions. To prove that these men were a class entitled to pension, it would be found on page 704 of volume 140 of Hansard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1857, stated in the House that the pensions granted to artificers of the Navy and Ordnance amounted at that time to £74,700 per annum. In 1859 the Superannuation Act of that year was discussed as a Bill, and the Member for Greenwich, which place then included Woolwich, said he hoped the Bill was so framed as to include within its scope artizans and labourers employed in the Government establishments. Lord Iddesleigh, then Sir Stafford Northcote, said the Act would extend to all persons in the Public Service. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), speaking on the 18th of March, 1859, said— They were enacting now that which would not take full effect for the next 40 or 50 years; and they were now entering into a new set of engagements, every one of which, oven if it reached over half-a-century or more, must he kept absolutory sacred, however onerous might be the consequences."—(3 Hansard, [153] 365.) "However onerous might be the consequences" were very weighty words. He (Colonel Hughes) alleged that in this particular case the engagement of the Government had not been kept, and he would presently explain why. He believed that successive Secretaries of State had investigated those cases in a very perfunctory manner, being guided almost entirely by the permanent officials. He made an exception, however, in the case of the present Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope), because he believed the right hon. Gentleman had given more attention to the case than all the other Secretaries of State who had preceded him, and he had many times been in hope that the right hon. Gentleman would have granted a Committee of Inquiry. But it appeared that the right hon. Gentleman, after further consultation with the permanent officials, had gone back to the old beaten track, and had said "No," when, in his (Colonel Hughes) opinion, the evidence was of such a nature that he ought to have said "Yes." There, were originally three contentions against the men. The first was that they were not included in the Superannuation Act of 1859. Sir Stafford Northcote said, in 1859, that the Act of 1834 gave superannuation allowances to those officers only who were within the Schedule of 1834, whereas the Bill of 1859 would extend superannuation allowances to all persons in the Public Service, the abatements having been abolished. Colonel Sykes, then a Member of the House, said that— Although an economist, and anxious to save the public money, he was bound at the same time to he just, and, therefore, he should support the Bill. The higher servants of the Crown were able to provide for their old age out of their salaries, but the lower class could not do so, and if they were permanent servants it was the duty of the State to do that for them which they could not do for themselves."—(Ibid. 369.) With respect to the same Bill, Mr. Wilson, then Member for Devonport, wrote, under date of 19th February, 1859, to Mr. R. B. Oram, of Devonport, informing him that those words had been inserted in the Bill— Whether their remuneration be computed by day pay, weekly wages, or annual salary, in order, as Mr. Wilson said, to show that all classes—labourers, artificers, and officers—wore alike included. He (Mr. Wilson) further said— The whole of the Public Service would be placed on precisely the same footing, and full effect would be given to the doctrine for which he had always contended since it was proposed to abolish the abatements, which was the only pretext for any distinction before; and he concluded— That he sent that explanation, thinking Mr. Oram might have many inquiries on the subject, and in order to enable him to answer them. He (Colonel Hughes) would leave that part of the subject, and hoped he had proved it up to the hilt that artificers and labourers were included in the Act of 1859. The second contention against the men was that after 1859 they must get the certificate mentioned in the Act of 1859. That certificate was described in the debate at the time as a certificate of age and medical fitness. No certificate, as they understood a certificate now, would make blacksmiths or carpenters better workmen. Sir Stafford Northcote said— In reference to the examination of the men by the Civil Service Commissioner, he had to state that it was absolutely necessary for the men to obtain certificates as to their age, the state of their health, and other such matters as were elements in the calculation of their superannuation."—(Ibid. 377.) But it was the duty of those who engaged the men to see that their entry was in every respect complete. Now, the men who entered after 1859 obtained the same wages as those who were employed before that; and there had been no distinction in wages between one class and another from that time down to the present. There were printed regulations in these Government establishments by which workmen were bound, and there was nothing stated in the regulations with regard to the superannuations being abolished. There was nothing posted up in the workshops with regard to any intention of abolishing superannuations. On the contrary, men were being superannuated every day as occasion arose. At length they came to the year 1870, when a workman, named Weaver, who was then retiring, claimed his superannuation allowance, although he had entered after 1859. The officials of the Department where he was employed drafted the letter of application which he sent in.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at Twenty minutes before Eleven o'clock.