HC Deb 08 March 1897 vol 47 cc174-85

moved:— That any Petition of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants praying to be heard against Clauses 25 and 26 of the Bill, and so much of the Preamble as relates thereto, presented five clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; and that the Petitioners may be heard by themselves, their Counsel and Agents on their Petition against the Bill. The company alleged in their statement that the Pension Fund was not compulsory upon any servant of the company, and that was so stated in the Bill itself. He was personally intimately acquainted with the facts of one of these funds, where the same provision was supposed to exist that contribution was not compulsory; but members of the fund concerned—he was not speaking of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company, for he did not know how that might be—but members of the fund had assured him that though it was not supposed to be compulsory, in fact it was so. The company also stated that the railway servants had not claimed the right, to be represented by petition before the Committee; but the fact was, they had not the right, and to obtain the right was the object of the present Motion; and, should the Motion be carried, they would present their petition to-morrow, which was the last day for doing so. The company also said that the question of the right of such bodies to be heard on petition had been considered by the House, and a Standing Order had been passed upon it. This was the Standing Order to which allusion had been made by the Leader of the Opposition; that Standing Order was amended last Session to allow the Miners' Federation, and other bodies, to be heard on petition. He confessed he thought it was right that the House should take one step at a time. That Amendment was in the nature of an experiment; but surely the time had come for an extension of that experiment, and this was an occasion when that extension could very properly be made. In any case, this was an opposed Bill, and the granting of this Motion would not make the difference between an opposed and an unopposed Bill; the addition of one more petition would not add to the cost of the Bill to any great extent. It was the case with regard to some of these pension funds that, though a man left the service under circumstances that entitled him to a good character, he was not entitled to take out the money he had paid into the fund. This was a statement literally accurate as regards some of these funds; and there was at the time a railway man within the walls of the House who had been so treated, after contributing to the fund for many years. One of the points upon which a locus standi was urgently desired arose on the clause on page 27 of the Bill. It was provided that five officials of the company—the chairman, the general manager, the secretary, the chief engineer, and the chief mechanical engineer of the company—should prepare a scheme, and the clause was in words previously used in other Acts of this description. This committee of five would determine the circumstances under which any person who had been a contributor should cease to be entitled to participate in the benefit thereof, and what portion, if any, of his payments he should be entitled to receive. It was important that the representatives of the servants of the company should be heard on a clause of this kind. Such a clause in similar words in previous Acts had been interpreted to mean that a man leaving the society should not withdraw any part of the money invested. There was strong ground for allowing the men to be heard on the constitution of a committee to make such rules. On Section 26 there arose a question such as had not arisen in previous Bills. The Registrar General of Friendly Societies had made a Report in the strongest possible terms on this clause. His Report was not before the House, but it must come before the Committee. Such Report, however, coming before a Committee on an opposed Bill, where the opposition was upon other grounds, was not usually very fully dealt with, the Committee looking rather to other grounds of opposition than to these Departmental Reports. By the kindness of the promoters of the Bill he had been allowed to see this Report. In language unusually strong for such a document, the Chief Registrar condemned the clause; and it was only right that such a Report should be supported by evidence before the Committee. His main objection to the clause was, that it empowered the company to use money compulsorily contributed for purposes other than that for which it had been deducted from the men's wages. On page 31 would be found a repeal of Section 53 of a previous Act obtained by the Company. Upon this the Chief Registrar said that this section had been adopted by both Houses of Parliament, after very great care had been given to the matter. It was the action of the late Chairman of Committees that led to very careful consideration being given to the matter. The company had offered the omission words in the clause, but still the effect would be to virtually repeal the section in the other Act. These were the grounds upon which the society strongly urged that they might be allowed to be heard; and therefore he made the Motion.


seconded the Motion, which anyone who would look at the clauses of the Bill must admit was a most reasonable Motion. His right hon. Friend had drawn attention to the clause which constituted the committee to have control of the fund, and it would be seen that the men had no representation at all. Yet the Bill invested that committee with powers of a far-reaching character. This committee was to decide if contributions should be compulsory or not, who should be excluded from participation in the benefits of the fund, whether a man should recover any of his payments into the fund on leaving, or whether his representative should recover the balance on the death of a contributor. These were surely matters upon which the men should be heard.

MR. THOMAS FIELDEN (Lancashire, Middleton)

said, in reference to the speech from the right hon. Baronet that he really could not see what injury it was proposed to inflict on railway servants by the Bill. They were to be allowed to invest money at 4 per cent., and he failed to see where the injury came in. Personally he should be pleased to invest at such a rate. He was afraid the right hon. Baronet had got his information from Mr. Harford, who did not represent more than one-tenth of the railway servants.


said that was not so. He had been asked by the Amalgamated Society to oppose these Bills, and he had carefully looked into the matter.


said he would not detain the House, but they had heard some extraordinary statements, which he certainly could not accept.


remarked that the Chairman of Committees on the last Bill said he could not see how the railway servants could be injuriously affected by it, and he made that his strong ground, for opposing the Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the previous Bill did not operate compulsorily upon the servants of the company. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Bill now before the House. First of all this scheme was to be framed by a committee of five persons—the chairman, the general manager, the secretary, the chief engineer, and the chief mechanical engineer of the company. Such committee by a majority could determine what class of servants of the company should be entitled to contribute: therefore the fund was not open to all, but only to such classes as the majority of this committee decided should have the benefit of it. ["Hear, hear!"] Besides determining who were to participate in the benefits of the fund, and what length of service was to entitle a participation, the committee were also to decide "to what extent such contributions shall be obligatory upon them."

MR. W. J. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

pointed out that the promoters of the Bill had agreed to withdraw this clause, together with a further section, which stated "it shall not be compulsory on any servants of the company 18 years of age and upwards to become a member of the fund," and which, it was thought, might have made it appear compulsory for those under 18 to do so.


observed that no intimation of such a withdrawal had reached those representing the men until that moment. ["Hear, hear!"] The committee had also the power of saying what, if anything, should disqualify any servant of the company from becoming a contributor to the fund for the purpose of participating in its benefits. That was a power given to the committee to act against any individual, and it was to prevent operations of such an invidious character that the Amalgamated Society existed. ["Hear, hear!"] Again they were to say "under what circumstances any person having been a contributor to the fund shall cease to be entitled to the benefits thereof." That was to say, a man might have gone on for years contributing to the fund and, contrary to the principles of any decent insurance office nowadays, there was no surrender value to be given to him; while, if he gave offence to his employers, this committee had power to declare that, though he had contributed for years, he might receive nothing. Was it fair the men should be left in this situation? [Cheers.] Another section gave the committee power to say "what proportion, if any, of the sums contributed by any person or by the company to the fund shall be payable to his representative in the event of his dying before he becomes entitled to a pension or retiring allowance or gratuity." That was to say they had absolute uncontrolled discretion if a man died, from any cause, before he became entitled to a pension to determine whether any or what amount should be given to his family or representatives. Surely this was eminently a scheme as to which the men were entitled to be heard. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he was not a director of the company, but he had taken great interest in the Bill. From the speech he had just delivered the Leader of the Opposition appeared to have misunderstood the whole purpose for which the railway company had promoted the Bill. He should like to put the exact facts before the House. This great railway company was debarred by statute from giving any allowance to its old servants who had served it well in the past but were unable to work any longer, and it asked the House to confer that power upon it. In his opinion that was a most generous proposal, yet hon. Members opposite said it was a scheme by which the company were going to tyrannise over their men, and do them endless harm. The right hon. Gentleman said the committee of five gentlemen appointed under the scheme would have power to do certain things which would be disadvantageous to the men. They would have no power to do anything of the kind. ["Hear, hear!"] All they would have power to do would be to draw up a scheme, which would then be submitted to the men, who could themselves decide whether they liked it or not. ["Hear, hear!"] The men were to be fully and adequately represented on the committee, a concession, he ventured to think, greater than any other railway company had ever given in connection with a Bill of this kind. ["Hear, hear!"] To assert that the committee could do anything unjust to the men was, therefore, to assert that which the Bill did not permit. As to the portions of the Bill which he had stated were withdrawn, he might say that the company had never desired from the beginning that the scheme should be compulsory, although it was offered to every class. If the right hon. Gentleman I bought the Bill did not carry out that intention, he submitted that the proper way to secure Amendment would be in Committee. ["Hear, hear!"]


We think the persons interested should be there when the Amendments are made.


observed that the right hon. Gentleman had objected to the committee having power to say under what circumstances any person having been a contributor to the fund should cease to participate in the benefits, end had said that they might by this clause punish a man who had displeased his employers. That was not the intention of the clause at all, and the whole scheme, as he had said, would be submitted to the men for approval. This particular clause had been inserted so that there might be some provision for dealing with the case of men who had been convicted of felony or any gross misconduct of that kind, and convicted, not by the company themselves, but by a Court of Law. As to the provision giving the committee the power to decide what proportion, if any, of the sums contributed by any person to the fund should be payable in the event of death before he became entitled to a pension, he urged that that was a most generous arrangement on the part of the company. They said that in the event of a man ceasing to be employed in their service, whether because he was dismissed for misconduct or because he wished to cease his contributions, or because he had removed, he should have returned to him the whole of his subscriptions, plus 4 per cent. on his money during the time he had subscribed. A more generous proposal could not be made.


That is not in the Bill.


said that the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to realise that this was a scheme which the committee was to draw up and submit to the men, who could take it or leave it as they liked. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean had stated that the Registrar of Friendly Societies had made a strong Report against this Bill. No doubt the Report referred to had been made, and the contention which the Registrar advanced deserved serious consideration. But it was obvious to anybody who had had experience of friendly societies and knew the difficulties of starting a lodge, that the benefits which this fund offered were infinitely superior to anything which a friendly society could offer. ["Hear, hear!" and "No!"] He had inquired the feeling of lodges—he was a member of many lodges—and he knew of no lodge which could afford, except by much higher contributions than were proposed in this Bill, to give the same benefits as would be given by the present proposal. He ventured to think the suggestion of the Chief Registrar that if the company only wanted to help their servants they could establish a friendly society, would inflict serious injury, because, in the first place, the men themselves had no desire to establish a friendly society, as it would entail considerable time, and be of doubtful result, and, in the second place, no friendly society could offer the same benefits as a society to which a company added largely by generous donations While the officials of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants might possibly be against this Bill, their opinion was not shared by the men, who took a very different view. The hon. Member here read the following extracts from a letter which he stated he had received from a man who had been employed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company for 20 years as a signalman:— On reading your speech in this morning's Manchester Courier, re the Druids, etc., I was pleased to see you were going to support the Bill re Old Age Pensions, which my Company, the L. anal Y. Railway Co., are promoting on behalf of their servants. I have been in their employ above 20 years, as a signalman, and of course, as you know, we are a class of servants that have not got any big wages, £1 6s. per week was the highest paid in this district till the last two years; now £1 8s. is the top price, so that it has not given us any opportunity to provide for old age. I hope add trust all Members of the Unionist Party will support the Bill, as I have not heard one word from any members of the staff of any department against it, but just the reverse. I am a member of the Amalgamate Society of Railway Servants, but this matter has not been brought before the members in any shape to ask their opinion. Therefore I say Mr. Harford has no right to oppose the Bill till it has been submitted to the members of the Society. ["Hear, hear!"] In view of the fact that the men had generally approved of the scheme, and that it wits not a compulsory proposal, he thought the House would be taking upon itself a very serious responsibility if it accepted the Instruction. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that many proposals might be made with the best possible intentions, but yet might contain elements prejudicial to those they were meant to serve. The first question for the House to consider was whether these particular conditions should be allowed to go unquestioned before the Committee. Was it right to deny the men the opportunity of putting their objections before the Committee? The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Instruction must have convinced the House that there was a fair ground for a case being stated before the Committee. The only other question to consider was who should have the right to state the case of the men. It might be said that the Amalgamated Society did not represent the majority of railway servants, but was there anyone else better qualified to do so? In the absence of any evidence of a locus standi being given to anyone else, he should vote in favour of its being given to that Society. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that his first objection to the course proposed was that this clause to which, objection was taken was entirely a voluntary clause. The scheme was to be prepared by a Committee and submitted for approval or rejection to the servants of the company. He did not see, therefore, how the men could be injuriously affected. It was obvious that if the company wished to make the scheme a success, as he presumed they did, they would offer the very best terms they could to the men. It was also indisputable that, the scheme could not be altered by the Committee when it was once submitted and approved. It could only be altered by the managing committee, on which there would be representatives of the men. His second objection was that in this matter it was sought to go behind the Standing Orders of the House. If it were the deliberate policy of the House—and he expressed no opinion upon that policy—that trade unions should be represented in Committees upstairs to oppose Bills by which they thought their members might be injuriously affected, that policy ought to be stated openly and fairly and frankly, either by a fresh Standing Order or by an Amendment of the present Standing Order. If the course now proposed were adopted, whilst a certain number of associations were compelled, under the Standing Orders, to go before the locus standi court and show that they represented the court and show that they represent the interest they claimed to represent, and that that interest was affected by the Bill, in this case this particular society would be singled out and given a locus without having to go through the mill like other societies.["Hear, hear!"] It was most important to note that it appeared from the letter just read that the officials of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants had never consulted their members on the subject. The House, by assenting to this Instruction, would be giving a locus standi to the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to oppose a Bill of which many members of the Society were in favour. In these circumstances he should vote against the Instruction.


maintained that the Chairman of Committees had no right to say that the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants had been given no authority to intervene in this matter. 44,000 men had been discussing this Bill and similar Bills in their branches and newspapers, and had specifically authorised their representatives to oppose the particular plan under consideration. The Chairman of Committees said that it would be invidious to give a single society a locus standi, and to deny it to others. The way out of that difficulty was to allow other societies who had a bonâfide interest in the Motion to be represented. He thought that the Standing Order, which conferred the right of being heard on Miners and Mining Associations and on Chambers of Agriculture and Commerce, ought to be generously interpreted to include the men who were interested in the subject matter of this Bill, directly and indirectly, and who numbered 100,000. What the men objected to was the proposal that five officials, representing the company, should be empowered to draft the scheme. The men were not to be consulted in the drafting of the scheme, and he ventured to say that the scheme was to be imposed upon the men because they were not free agents in the matter. Even if the scheme drawn up by the officials should be approved by the men and put into operation for 12 months, any scratch meeting of the shareholders, a certain number being present, would be able to turn the scheme upside down, and break up their Pension Fund. These were not the conditions under which the Odd-fellows, the Foresters, and Hearts of Oak did business. They were not subject to the capricious whims of directors. He traversed the statements of the hon. Member who had spoken for the railway company. To withdraw Sub-section A would not be consistent and compatible with other Sub-sections. He declined to accept the hon. Member's statement with regard to the generosity of this railway company. To the Insurance Fund of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway the members contributed £11,000 in the half-year, while the company contributed only £750. This lack of generosity in respect of accident insurance did not encourage a belief that the company would be very generous in assisting the Pension Fund. He would refer to the Return of the London and North Western Railway Company in these matters, and give a few figures—


said that the hon. Member appeared to him about to discuss details which it would be more appropriate for a Committee upstairs to consider.


said that the fact that these details could not be discussed in that House showed how necessary it was that the representatives of the railway servants should be heard before the Committee. Under the circumstances of the case, the railway company could not provide anything like the same pensions as were provided by the Oddfellows, the Foresters, and Hearts of Oak. If these societies were allowed, he believed that they would prove upstairs that this proposed Pension Fund was an insidious attempt to impair railway thrift and to damage good friendly societies.


believed that the railway company was acting with entirely good motives. He also believed that the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants were acting in the interests of the members. If a hearing were given to the representatives of the men, their only object would be to amend two clauses of the Bill, so that any scheme proposed by the railway company might be brought up to date, and rendered satisfactory to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. It had been said that the scheme would not be settled by Parliament or by a Committee, but would be settled entirely by the directors and responsible managers. In those circumstances he could not see that there would be anything wrong or unfair in allowing the men's representatives to appear before the Committee. There were cases in which it was absolutely necessary for that House to depart from usual custom, and, in his opinion, this was one of them.

MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

asserted that this question had been thrashed out in every branch of the Amalgamated Railway Servants Association, and that all the branches were absolutely opposed to this arrangement. The Bill would give the managers and officials of the railway company power to draft the scheme. If the company were itself providing the funds there would be very little objection to the plan. But they were asking the men to provide the money, whilst they claimed the right to pay it out as they might think proper. [Cries of "No!"] The company was afraid of hearing the opinion of the railway servants upon this question. If they were not afraid they would not object to the representatives of the men being heard before the Committee. Every section of the community that would be affected by proposed legislation had a right to be heard before such legislation was added to the Statute Book. He should, therefore, vote for the Instruction.

The House divided:—Ayes, 176; Noes, 212.—(Division List, No. 76.)

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