HC Deb 06 August 1890 vol 348 cc5-16

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

(12.27.) MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)

I am glad to say that the scale of pensions originally proposed has been very considerably reduced by the Committee upstairs, but, notwithstanding that fact, the liability of the rates still remains. The assurance as to the practical saving of the rates, which was given here and upstairs, is an assurance founded on actuarial calculations, and on the hypothesis that there would be no obligation. Therefore, the practical safety of the rates of which we have been assured is at the best a conjectural safety, and I think the ratepayers may take it that the Bill does impose considerable burdens upon them. My main objection to the Bill is that it should be passed without the people of Scotland having had any opportunity of considering its provisions. The First Lord of the Treasury informed us some time ago that if it was the desire of the majority of the Scotch Members to postpone the measure until next Session the Government would be prepared to meet their desire, but he added that an overwhelming majority of the Scotch Members had conveyed to the Government a desire that the Bill should be dealt with in the present Session, and that the Government had yielded to that desire. This statement appears to have been founded on an entire delusion and misapprehension, because the Scotch Members have never been consulted at all. There was only a small fraction of the Scotch Members present when they were consulted, not as to whether the Bill should pass or not, but whether it should be taken immediately after the English Bill. I trust that it will be fully brought to the mind of the Scotch people that the Bill is now being passed under the influence of this extraordinary misapprehension and delusion. I do not expect, at this stage, that the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to renew the promise he made, but I will again call attention to the fact that he had pledged himself to postpone the measure if the majority of the Scotch Members so desired, and that it has only been kept on the Paper because he has been erroneously induced to believe that the majority were in favour of its being passed. Then, again, the attitude of the Police Authorities in reference to the Bill must be described as one of caution aud reticence. The Town Council of Glasgow have passed no resolution at all upon the subject, and the Town Council of Edinburgh have referred it back to the Lord Provost's Committee, which is a polite way of shelving the whole question. I am, therefore, entitled to say that the Local Authorities have pronounced no opinion at all in favour of the Bill, although it gives them the handling of a large amount of money, for the finding of which they are not responsible. I do not know that any greater temptation could be held out to Local Authorities than this. A cannie bailie of Glasgow told the Committee upstairs that he did not want the Bill, but he should like to have the money. Notwithstanding the great temptation, the reticence of the Local Authorities of Scotland has been most remarkable. Another fact which must not be lost sight of is that the Bill was propounded at a time when the Municipal Authorities had dispersed for their holidays, and, consequently, there was no opportunity of taking their opinion at all. At the same time, as I have said all along, I should not be prepared to accept the opinion of the Local Authorities as conclusive, in consequence of the great temptation the Bill holds out. What is necessary to consider is the popular feeling, and to appreciate that we must go back to the election of 1885, when the question was really before the Scotch constituencies, and the right hon. Member for South Edinburgh will have no difficulty in remembering, seeing he was partially responsible for the Bill, that, if the result of that election was to be taken as an augury, the measure would not have passed. I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Motion now before the House, That it is not desirable to proceed further with the Bill until the people of Scotland have had an opportunity of considering its provisions. It was never demanded by public opinion in Scotland, or by the Local Authorities; it was introduced at a period of the Session when it could not be properly considered, either here or in Scotland; it has been carried helter-skelter in this House, and the Third Reading has been brought on within a few hours of the proceedings in Committee. Therefore, I protest, in the name of the working class portion of my constituency, against the Bill becoming law under such circumstances.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "It is not desirable to proceed further with this Bill until the people of Scotland have had an opportunity of considering its provisions."—(Mr. Edmund Robertson.)

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

(12.40.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I moved the rejection of the Bill in Committee, and, although the measure has since been modified and some of the objectionable clauses removed, and although it has since become purely a Superannuation Bill, I shall strongly object to it, and beg to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend. As we are to have an Autumn Session I think the Government might consider whether the best course would not be to defer the passing of the Bill until then. I oppose the principle of compulsory pensions for police constables who have served a certain period. I am strongly opposed to that principle altogether, and should be glad to see it abolished in the Civil Service, the Army, and Navy, instead of being extended. This year hereditary pensions will be practically got rid of, and I do not think that anybody will be mad enough to propose their re-imposition. I also object to the superannuation of the police. Allow these persons, as much as you like, to develop habits of thrift, forethought, and prudence, but if we are to go further, I do not see how we are to stop short of the German system of State Socialism, which gives to every person a pension of some kind or other. It is not the people themselves who are creating State Socialism, but those who are aiding and abetting the Ministers in Power. Then, again, the Bill introduces the mischievous principle of a grant in aid, which is really a system for debauching the Local Authorities by giving them bribes. I also oppose the measure because nearly the whole of our local rates in Scotland—at any rate so far as the counties are concerned—are payable half, and in some cases entirely, by the landlords. It is a burden upon the land, and if this Bill is passed those who got their land upon this condition will get rid of the condition, while in no sense will it relieve them of their privileges. I also object to the method and manner in which the Bill has been brought forward. I was a Member of the Committee which was ostensibly appointed for the purpose of getting information, but the Members of the Committee had no desire to obtain information. They were already convinced, and no time was allowed to the people of Scotland to express their opinion upon so important a matter. Therefore, I intend, as far as I can, to aid my hon. Friend in preventing this conspiracy—I do not use the word in an objectionable sense—on the part of the Government to rush through a most objectionable measure.

(12.46.) MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

I also beg to support the Amendment. I am strongly opposed to any system for the superannuation of the police of Scotland. The Bill has been introduced simply because it is regarded as an advisable addition to the measure which has been introduced for England. This is why these Bills are foisted upon the Scotch people, not because they desire them, but because they are essential for England, and it is deemed desirable to supply the same legislation for Scotland. But there is a great difference between England and Scotland in regard to the superannuation of the police. In England there is a system of police superannuation, but there is none in Scotland, and even when a Liberal Government attempted to introduce it the people of Scotland scouted the proposal. In the case of Glasgow every Ward Committee has been up in arms protesting against the Bill. In England you have a Poor Law which gives the able-bodied poor a right to local relief, but in Scotland there is no such law, showing the more independent spirit which animates the Scotch people. With regard to the present Bill, it has only been for a short time before Scotland, but even in that short time it has received the most determined opposition. In Glasgow it is unanimously opposed by the Trades Council, which represents all the great trades of the city, and which has given its reasons why the principle of superannuation ought not to have been allowed. Then, again, you have established County Councils in Scotland, but you have allowed no opportunity of considering this measure. They will not meet until the present month, and they will meet to find the Bill already passed, and a most important change introduced into the domestic economy of Scotland. For my part, I think it is a most serious step to impose legislation of this kind upon a country which possesses different laws from those of England, without giving to the constituted Local Authorities an opportunity, at all events, of being heard. There has been no really honest attempt to obtain the opinion of Scotland. There were only 20 Members of the Committee, and they could only represent the views of 20 constituencies. The rest were entirely misrepresented, and had no opportunity of expressing their opinion. Under these circumstances, I think the Amendment of my hon. Friend is quite reasonable The Bill makes a most important change in the domestic legislation of Scotland; it imports a new principle into the public offices of Scotland, and it ought, therefore, to be carefully considered by the Local Authorities before it is allowed to become law. To delay the measure until next Session would not involve much difficulty, seeing that arrangements have been made under the Local Taxation Bill to provide he money for the present year. Therefore, no possible disadvantage would arise from delaying the Bill until the Scotch people have had an opportunity of being consulted. The First Lord of the Treasury told the House that there was no desire to push on the measure unless the majority of the Scotch Members were in its favour. There is no such desire on the part of the Scotch Members, and if the measure is forced on during the present Session the responsibility must rest with the Government, and the Government alone. I have much pleasure in supporting the Amendment.

(12.58.) MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)

I join in supporting the Amendment, and in condemning the principle of the Bill. I think that, at any rate, it ought to be deferred until the people of Scotland, and especially the working classes, have had a fuller opportunity of considering it. I believe that if it is forced through by the Government a bad and bitter feeling will be created in Scotland, whereas, if a little longer time were allowed for consideration it is not impossible that there might be a reconciliation of feeling, to a certain extent, among the great masses of the Scotch people, in regard to the essential proposals of the Bill. There are three facts of considerable importance which throw some light upon the real opinion of the people of Scotland. I hold in my hand the copy of a Resolution passed by the Edinburgh and District United Trades' Council—a most representative body. That resolution is to this effect—that the Council, while approving of any scheme of superannuation which would be self-supporting, disapprove most strongly of the present measure, as vicious in principle and calculated to promote the unlimited pension of public servants at the expense of the ratepayers. With regard to the attitude of the Edinburgh Town Council, the Lord Provost's Committee recommended to the Council a general approval of the principle of the Bill, though this recommendation was not accepted by the Council as a whole. A most vigorous opposition was offered to the Bill, with the result that 15 approved and 12 disapproved. A certain compromise has been arrived at by the majority of the Town Council, and the Bill has been re-committed for further consideration, so that the House of Commons is not in possession of the matured opinion of the people of Edinburgh regarding the principle of the Bill. I think it is clear, beyond contradiction, that there is a very strong feeling on the part of the working classes of Scotland against this measure at the present time, and a very dubious and uncertain feeling, even among those classes of the community which we cannot identify strictly with the artisan and working classes, as they are called. I ask whether with this state of feeling in Scotland it is wise to push on this measure? Even if the measure were a wise one, would it be wise, under such circumstances, to force it on? Would it not be better to exercise a little restraint of temper, rather than to give way to the impulses of a dictatorial instinct, simply for the purpose of defeating us, and letting us see that the Government are masters of the situation? Would it not be better for the Government to hold their hands for, say, six months or nine months longer?

(1.5.) MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c.)

I desire to enter a few words of protest against this manner of legislating for Scotland. This is another flagrant example of forcing upon Scotland a measure, which, in the opinion of the majority of her Representatives in this House, and in the opinion of the people of Scotland themselves, as far as we have been able to ascertain their views, in the short time at our disposal, is of an undesirable character. I am decidedly of opinion that this question should be left in the hands of the Local Authorities, as it has been up to the present time. In Glasgow there has been some pensioning done by the Local Authorities, and I say it should be left in their hands to give or withhold pensions, as they think proper. They are the best judges. I oppose the Bill chiefly on account of its inequitable character, and its extravagance. Policemen in Scotland, when you take into account their clothing and allowances, are paid at as high or at a higher rate than the average of skilled labour. Yet by this Bill it is proposed to add something like 4s. a week to their wages, because it would take about that sum spread over a period of 25 years to buy an annuity of the amount now proposed to be given as pension. That is my chief ground of objection to this Bill. No doubt some method of pensioning is expedient, but it should be left in the hands of Local Authorities. Why should there be any hurry to pass the Bill in these last days of the Session? We have to come back here in two and a half months, and between that time and the end of the financial year there will be four and a half months, which will afford ample time and opportunity for re-considering this question, and passing a Bill in such a form as to satisfy the people of Scotland within the financial year. Here, however, we have another example of the Government, in reference to Scotch questions, taking the bit between its teeth and passing a Bill by their smoke-room majority in opposition to a majority of the Scotch Members. A few nights ago, in reference to one of the Divisions on this Bill, it was pointed out how many Scotch Members supported the Government. They were, I think, supported by 12 Members, three of whom were official Members, and, therefore, bound to support any proposal of the Government, which left them with nine supporters, or nearly one-eighth, of the Representatives of Scotland. Then, again, numerous resolutions have been passed in Scotland against the measure, and I would ask the Government whether they can quote a single resolution in favour of it; I do not think they can quote one. No Town Council or Local Authority will support it in the form in which it is passing, and I shall, therefore, support the Amendment, in order, if possible, to give the people of Scotland an opportunity to re-consider the question. I hold that all the Members who refuse support to the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dundee deliberately declare that they will not give the people of Scotland an opportunity of considering this most important Bill, which will form a precedent for the display in a future Session of the remarkable energies of the present Government in the direction of pensioning all classes of public servants. I, therefore, hope to find every Scotch Member except, perhaps, the solitary one I see sitting opposite, supporting my hon. Friend.


I do not rise for the purpose of prolonging this discussion, for I hope the House will come to a Division upon it immediately, but rather lest my silence should be misapprehended. Hon. Members have been well within their rights in uttering a protest against a Bill to the principle of which they have been throughout opposed—and I may here acknowledge the course taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dundee, last night, who refrained from prolonging the discussions in Committee, his rooted animosity being against the principle as distinguished from the details of the measure. I will not now recapitulate the arguments which have induced the great majority of the House to establish by this Bill a system of police superannuation for Scotland, but I cannot accede to the view that the subject is a novel one to the people of Scotland. For years this question has been a subject of consideration with the authorities and those interested in it, and Bills have come from the Government of which the right hon. Member for South Edinburgh was a Member, which directly affected Scotland in this matter. The subject, therefore, has been before the authorities and the public of Scotland in a definite form for a long time. As to the special points of the present Bill, it does not represent a Party triumph; it embodies the views of successive Governments; it embodies the mature conclusions of hon. Members from Scotland on both sides of the House; it is a Bill which contains material concessions, and is, to a large extent, a compromise; and it rests upon a liberal grant of Imperial funds to the Scottish Police Authorities—a grant which will enable the system to be worked without encroaching on the rates. Accordingly, whatever opinions may be held upon the theory of police superannuation, this Bill, at all events, is one which cannot be objected to on the ground of any burdens falling on the working classes. In these circumstances, I shall not feel surprised if, upon going to a Division, it is found that the prudent proposals which the Bill embodies in legislation is supported, not by a Party majority, but by a large preponderance of Scotch opinion on both sides of the House.

(1.18.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

After what has been said by my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I think it necessary to say a word to excuse myself for being obliged, through the attitude of my constituency, to connive at the passing of the Bill. My constituency did not shilly shally with the matter, but point blank refused on such short notice at this season of the year to give an opinion upon the Bill. In principle, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Dundee that, as a matter of right, the Bill ought to be postponed until the people of Scotland have had an opportunity of considering its provisions; but, from the point of view of expediency, I connive at the passing of the Bill, because I think we might go further and fare worse. The Government have had their Moscow, and in their retreat, a few of my hon. Friends and myself, devoted guerillas, have harassed them bag and baggage. Having abandoned nearly all their baggage, the Government are trying to force through a small remnant in the shape of this Superannuation Bill. We harassed them on the English Bill, so that when they came to the Scotch Bill they were most anxious not to see the same tactics renewed by the old enemy, with reinforcements from amongst the Scotch Members. The Scotch measure was, therefore, placed before us in an attenuated form. If it were not passed, the Government might have time to frame another, and with the bad precedent of the English Bill before them might make it stronger than the present measure. I, therefore, am inclined, as I say, to connive at the passing of this Bill. In spite of contrary opinions entertained in many quarters in Scotland, I am in favour of the superannuation of public servants. Under the present systems you find Chief Constables in active employment up to the age of 72, 75, and even 80 years. Well, if it had been the lot of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian to be a Chief Constable, he would, no doubt, have made an excellent one at that age, but there are very few men like him, and I think there are a large number of aged Chief Constables who are inefficient by reason of their advanced age, and should be got rid of. I sympathise with the Glasgow Bailie, who said he wanted the money but not the Bill; but we cannot get the one without the other, and as the Bill has been attenuated and cut down I do not think it will do much harm.

(1.22.) MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I wish to say only one word in explanation of the vote I am about to give. I have supported the Government throughout all the stages of the Bill, but on one condition, that the ratepayers should not be made liable. The Committee came very near cutting out the clause putting liability on the ratepayers. But, considering all the circumstances of the case, though the excessive sum of money given by the Exchequer is more than sufficient to satisfy all the requirements, if the Bill is prudently administered, I shall vote against the Third Reading.

(1.23.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

I think it only fair to contradict the allegation of one of my hon. Colleagues from Scotland that the opinion of Scotch Members has been pronounced against the Bill. I have consulted the Division List, and I have found that, except the few who have now spoken against the Third Reading, there are only five who voted against the principle of the measure. It may be admitted that Scotland has been rather hurried in the matter. It is unfortunate that if the Bill is to be passed this Session it was not proceeded with earlier, but it was read a second time six weeks ago, and it has been carefully revised by a Committee made up entirely of Scotch Members. The hon. Member for Aberdeen having supported the Second Reading now votes against the Bill because, as he says, it imposes a liability on the ratepayers; but he admits that with prudence that liability will come to nothing. I think it would have been better to have left out the words objected to, as the liability is to mean nothing; but the Government did not take that course, and, as a result, they have lost the support of the hon. Member for Aberdeen. However, they have the "connivance" of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, whatever that may mean. I think there has been ample time for Scottish opinion to be expressed on the measure. From my own constituency I have heard nothing against it. I believe it is the wish of the majority in Scotland, as well as of the majority of the Scotch Members, to accept the money and the Bill as amended. The principle has been affirmed by a majority of thirty-five to eight among Scotch Members, and the minority seems to be no larger against the Third Reading.

(1.28.) The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 26.—(Div. List, No. 237.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time.

Verbal Amendment made.