HC Deb 22 August 1889 vol 340 cc131-6

Order for Second Reading read.


I desire to say that the First Lord and myself have received so many communications from various parts of the House, to the effect that it would be undesirable to proceed with the Superanuation Bill during the short time which remains of the present Session, that I do not propose to go on with it. I will, however, ask the House to give me their attention for a few minutes while I explain the position in which the matter will remain after the withdrawal of the Bill and after the issue of the Treasury Minute, which I hope is in the hands of Members. ["No."] The Minute can be obtained in the Vote Office. The Treasury Minute and the Superanuation Bill constitute together one whole, and embody the reforms in the Civil Service which the Government propose in consequence of the valuable Report of the Royal Commission which inquired into Civil Service Establishments. In the two together we deal, one way or the other, with every recommendation which has been made by the Royal Commission, with one exception; that exception is the formation of a superannuation fund by the deduction of 5 per cent from salaries in the case of future entrants. The Government consider that this is so large a proposal that they ought not to commit themselves to it without further consideration. They will, however, be prepared to announce a decision on the subject early next Session. Now, with regard to the Superannuation Bill, there are in it many provisions to which the Government will be able to give effect within the next six months even without legislation. The first clause of the Bill repeals the power to add a certain number of years in the calculation of pension in the case of professional men who enter the service late in life. This is a subject in which the House has taken a great interest, and from both sides of the House there have been expressions of opinion that this mode of raising the non-effective charge is one which ought to be viewed with suspicion. The repeal of this power was recommended unanimously by the Royal Commission, and it would require a strong case to induce the Government during the next six months to add professional years on any appointment. The Government will exercise the greatest caution with regard to any proposal in that direction coming from any quarter. The next clause deals with special allowances on abolition of office. On that matter the Commission were again unanimous, and the House will remember that a Resolution was carried against the Government limiting their power with regard to special allowances. I have, indeed, received a great many protests from Members of the Civil Service on that point, suggesting that the cessation of what were known as abolition terms would be against their vested interests. But I demur to the theory that any Civil servant has a vested interest in an additional allowance on abolition of office. The Government, therefore, will not during the next six months, except in very special circumstances, grant any allowance, of that class. The third clause deals with the abolition of special pensions. That is not a recommendation of the Royal Commission, but the matter is one which has been very carefully considered by the Government; and looking at the special pensions which have been granted during the last 10 years, I come to the conclusion that the system is one which lends itself to considerable abuse. If in future there are special rewards to be given for special services, I hope they will be given only by means of a direct appeal to Parliament, so that the rewards proposed may be brought into immediate juxtaposition with the services rendered. The next clause relates to the production of medical certificates. The rule on that subject has already been tightened, and the tighter rule will be strictly adhered to. These are the main provisions of the Bill to which the Government can give effect even if the Bill is withdrawn. There is, however, one important reform contained in the Bill to which the Government cannot so well give effect without legislation, although they have certain powers with regard to the age of retirement in the Civil Service. I refer to the clause which provides that. Civil servants should, as a general rule, retire at the age of 65, with a certain elasticity in cases approved by the Heads of Departments and the Treasury. It is proposed that in certain cases two more terms of two years each should be added, thus bringing the age up to 69 years. The House will bear in mind that we are here acting on the Report, though not to the full extent, of the Commissioners' recommendation. The Commissioners say— We agree with the Commissioners of 1857 that it is absolutely essential to fix an age for compulsory retirement, and we suggest 66 as the age. There should be no exception to this rule, except in the case of certain scheduled offices, in which the officer, if asked by the Government to do so, might be allowed to extend his services for a further period never exceeding five years. It should be clearly understood that at the age of 60 a man may be required to retire by the Head of his Department upon such pension as by his length of service he is qualified to receive. He may, if he pleases, retire voluntarily at this age, and the State should have the corresponding power of retiring him if it be for the advantage of the Service. A limit of age has already been introduced in some Departments. In the Admiralty, and, I think, in the War Office, the age is 60; in the Inland Revenue 65. There have been protests against the general limit of age now proposed, and no doubt it is open to argument. There are doubtless many Civil servants whom at the age of 65 it is desirable to retain. On the other hand, it is certain that there are many of the age of 65 whom it is not to the public interest to keep quartered on the public purse. It will be for the House to decide whether the clause ought to be retained in its present form. It may give rise to considerable discontent in the Civil Service; but the Government have acted on the strong recommendation of the Royal Commission, and in the full belief that some such measure is necessary in the public interest, though it may be desirable to give it even more elasticity than has been given to it in the Bill. In addition to what I have said with regard to the Bill, I desire to point out that the Treasury Minute now laid on the Table does not absolutely and finally determine the questions with which it deals, because the proposals of the Treasury Minute have subsequently to be carried out by an Order in Council. The Treasury Minute embodies a great many, although not all, of the recommendations of the Royal Commission not dealt with in the Bill; and where those recommendations have not been embodied alternative proposals have been worked out which will carry out the general principles recommended by the Royal Commission. I wish, however, to warn the Members of the Civil Service that this Minute, which, in some respects, will increase their emoluments, must not be regarded as creating any vested rights from the date of the Minute. If the Royal Commission have, on the one hand, recommended some increase in the emoluments of some Civil servants, on the other hand they recommend certain changes with regard to their superannuation and other allowances. Civil servants cannot claim to have at once all the advantages offered to them without certain conditions being attached to them, which they may not regard with equal favour. I regret that this matter should have been dealt with so late; but the House will feel that, owing to the extreme complexity of the questions at issue, the Government have been bound to consider very carefully the interests of the vast body of Civil servants with which they are about to deal. I trust that the Civil servants will be convinced that the Government recognise the great and valuable services which they have rendered to the State, and that, in issuing the Treasury Minute, the Government are in no way desirous of interfering with any legitimate advantages which Civil servants now enjoy. I beg to move that this Order be discharged.


The Resolution does not cover the Bill.


Then I will ask leave to withdraw the Bill.

MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, East)

Perhaps, as the only Member of the Royal Commission, who is also a Member of the House of Commons, who is now in London, I may be allowed to say that, although I very much regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not in a position to legislate upon this question this Session, on the whole I quite concur, and I am sure my Colleagues will, in the course he had decided to take. It is clear that the Minute and the Superannuation Bill must be taken together, so to speak, as one Code. The course the Chancellor of the Exchequer has indicated is one which I am confident will commend itself alike to the House, the Civil servants, and the taxpayers. I have only to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance—although assurances at this period of the year are very unreliable—that the Government will at the earliest possible moment next Session propose legislation on this matter and set all these vexed questions at rest.


I understand that the Government pledge themselves not to give any extra pensions for compulsory to retirement on abolition of office pending the reintroduction of the Bill. But in fairness to their Civil servants, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government will also pledge themselves not to make any compulsory retirements of this kind, except under particularly exceptional circumstances, until the Bill is reintroduced, and the House has had an opportunity of discussing it?

MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he proposes to disagree with the Report of the Committee, which is the first Order of the Day; whether he proposes to abandon a great portion of the Superannuation Bill; and whether he proposes to bring in a Bill founded on the present Report with respect to the superannuation of workmen?


No, Sir; I thought the whole matter should stand over; that we could not well separate one part from another; but I will undertake that the workmen who are concerned shall not be damnified. We have committed ourselves to a principle, and we shall not retire from the principle next Session. I cannot give the absolute pledge my hon. Friend (Sir R. Lethbridge) asks. We cannot entirely fetter our action, and I would remind my hon. Friend that we shall only be in the position we have been in, I think, for more than a year. The House has pronounced strongly against granting abolition terms, and for some time past they have not been allowed. In this matter, therefore, there will be no change.


Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will move that Order 13 be discharged, and the Bill withdrawn.


I do so.


Perhaps I may he allowed to say, on behalf of the Government, that it is our deliberate intention to legislate on this question at the earliest possible period next year.

Order for Second Reading read, and discharged.

Bill withdrawn.