HC Deb 27 June 1911 vol 27 cc378-92

Order for Second Reading, read.

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


I desire to say a few words in opposition to the Bill, and at the outset I wish to dissociate myself in the remarks I am about to make from the party to which I have the honour to belong, as this is not one of those questions that come within the scope of the party lines. Neither do I wish to speak as the representative of Australia, for although I was born in that country, I have very frequently noticed in the course of the Debates that Gentlemen who have spoken on behalf of Australia have shown the profoundest ignorance of the state of feeling in that country, of the general trend of opinion there, of the evolution of government, and of that something which has grown up in connection with the spirit of nationalism, which is utterly opposed to the ideas very frequently put forward in this House on behalf of these great communities. The Bill itself is a very innocent one in some respects—in its purely financial aspect, bestowing as it does pensions on men who have served this country abroad for a certain time, and who may therefore be considered to be entitled to some recompense. But even from that point of view, I may say I am reminded of the story of a gentleman who on being appointed to a professorship inquired "Will there be a pension?" The reply was, "The professorship is a pension." That is somewhat true in regard to governorships. Governors are very well paid during their term of office, and if it so happens that they exceed the limit of their salary that is purely a matter of personal ostentation, not in the least degree in accordance with the spirit of the country in which they are for the time being acting in a representative character.

But that is not my motive in opposing this Bill. The mere question of finance in regard to these matters is too often brought forward and insisted upon as if it were a great cardinal matter, whereas, in my opinion, it occupies a very inferior place in the whole perspective in which a question of this sort should be regarded. My principal reason is that the whole institution of Governors, and therefore the whole basis of this Bill has outlived its time. If not in the opinion of this House, it has done so in the opinion of those countries to which this Bill applies, and particularly with regard to the growing amount of opinion represented by younger men, several removes, perhaps, in generations from this country who have grown up with new ideas, with a spirit of freedom, with a detestation of all kinds of show, and form, and symbolisms, who feel themselves simply free citizens in a free country, and who are inclined, in a way, to resent interference from any outside source. And what I express now, as being the opinion of the younger representatives of these great dominions, I could also enforce from the speeches of those who occupy, or have occupied, the most representative positions and who may be regarded as belonging to an older generation. Thus, for instance, I can quote Sir Wilfrid Laurier with regard to Canada, and Sir George Reid, the Commissioner-General of the Commonwealth, with regard to Australia. Sir George Reid, although I may say he is a representative of what may be called the extreme Conservative wing in Australia, quite recently used these words:— They would never be led away by any sort of craze for what used in old days to he called Imperialism. In the ears of Australians it had not a pleasant sound. It reminded them of a Tory policy. As enforcing that I would also like to quote the words of a distinguished journalist who was a Tory candidate in the last elections, and has travelled through the Dominions far and wide without having in any great measure changed his own Tory point of view. That is Mr. Foster Fraser who says:— The first thing yon will notice is a dislike to the word Colony. There is no necessity, I am glad to say, for dealing with that particular aspect of the Bill, as owing to the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it, he has so defined it as to remove entirely that cause of offence. He further says:— The miniature Courts of Governor-Generals and Governors are regarded with sarcastic tolerance. Then even in this House we have had speeches made by those who have studied the question from the English point of view, and who by dint of studying the question have got more into contact with what is called Colonial opinion than those who speak in a vague way of the great Imperial idea as though it was something which would embrace those great Dominions, and by embracing those Dominions serve to buttress up many of the institutions of this country which have served their day and which are perishing from sheer desuetude even in this country. Here is what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. W. Guinness) says:— This Empire of ours cannot get along on the basis of subordinating the Dominions to the United Kingdom, its Parliament, its Cabinet Ministers. We must have equality of status. That is an entirely new point of view in this House, because I have frequently heard it stated by distinguished Members on both sides, and those who are most versed in constitutional law, that the theory was that this Government or this country was supreme, and that the Governments of all the great Dominions are not in a co-ordinate position, but entirely in a subordinate position, and of that subordinate position the office of Governor was in a great degree the symbol. Another hon. Gentleman the representative of the Denbigh boroughs (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) quotes Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who said:— We should stand on our own policy of being masters in our own house, of having a policy for our own purposes and leaving the Canadian Government and the Canadian people to take part in those wars in which to-day they have no voice only if they think fit to do so. These quotations which I have given show unmistakably and entirely the trend of public opinion in these great Dominions up to the point of development to which it has reached. But it will be said the institution exists, and it is only fair to reward those who have shown good service abroad, and to limit the whole aspect of the Bill really to that scope, but I venture to say that the institution only exists on tolerance. I think that the institution is a bad thing even for those who desire the perpetuation—


I fail to see the relevancy of the observations of the hon. Gentleman to this Bill. It does not deal with the position of Governors, but only with the question of their pensions. Even if this Bill were rejected, it would not affect the point of view as to the position of Governors. The hon. Member must confine himself to what is in the Bill.


I bow, Mr. Speaker, to your ruling. I thought the whole question of the importance and advantage of the office itself would affect the whole question with regard to the Bill, but I bow to your ruling. I hope, however, it will be in order if I discuss it, but without any undue personal reference in regard to the character of the representatives who are sent out by this country in order to represent it in Governments abroad.


I really do not think that the character of the representatives has anything to do with the question. There is no question about the character of the representatives in this Bill. The question is the number of years of service.


Again, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling, although I feel that in so limiting the discussion the ground is being cut from under my feet, because, after all, my main objection to the Bill is not upon the mere question of the advantage, and not upon the value of those gentlemen in regard to whom the country propose to pay a pension, but with respect to the value of the institution and the whole system which they represent. I hope I may still make some remarks with regard to that which are germane to the purport of the Bill.


I think the hon. Member has overlooked the purpose of the Bill which is to consolidate and amend the law relating to the payment of pensions. If the House rejected this Bill it would not affect the fact that Governors would still be appointed. This Bill simply deals with their pensions when they cease to be Governors. That is the point before the House, and it is a very small one.


I was endeavouring to make the whole argument from my own point of view, and I am afraid I must bring my remarks to an end if I cannot do that. Of course, it is impossible that we should discuss on this Bill the mere question of the finance of the measure apart from all other considerations which affect the very purpose for which the Bill was introduced. I remember in a previous Debate in this House I brought forward a question of the credentials of the gentlemen who were sent to represent this country in Dominions abroad, and the right hon. Gentleman who represented the Colonial Office cited to me out of the number of Governors whom he could recollect one especially who fulfilled all terms of the credentials necessary. The name he quoted was that of Sir William Mac-Gregor, but when I went into the career of that gentleman I found that he, having the very highest qualifications, so far from having been sent to represent us in one of the most important Dominions of the Crown, was sent from one insalubrious locality to another in the smallest position in the gift of the Government. He was sent from New Guinea to the West Coast of Africa, from the West Coast of Africa to Newfoundland, and then, finally, after years of service which resembled less a. career of honour than that of some strange hero of Victor Hugo, like Jean Valjean, having survived the fevers of the tropics and the rigours of the Arctic Ocean, he finally, towards the end of his life, was appointed to one of the least of those positions of high honour.


This has really nothing whatever to do with the Bill. If the hon. Member will look at it he will see that this is a consolidating Bill. He seems to forget that there are at least three Acts dealing with Colonial Governors' pensions. This is for the purpose of consolidating these Acts and amending them in some respects, and therefore the ordinary rule must be followed in discussing consolidation Bills—that is, to keep strictly to the substance of the Bill. I have now called the hon. Member to order three times, and I must ask him to discontinue his speech.


I feel some sympathy with the hon. Member opposite in having to speak to a Bill of this sort without having heard any explanation whatever from the Treasury Bench. It is an important Bill, and we are at least entitled to have some statement as to what it is intended to do, how much it is going to cost, how much of the Bill is consolidation merely, and how much is amendment. For instance, I should like to know what Governors it is going to apply to—if it is going to apply to governors like Sir John Fuller, for instance. Is he to have a pension under the Bill? Is it going to be for all Colonies, or only Crown Colonies? Is it to be retrospective? What is the total extra cost to the taxpayers of this country? I am in much the same difficulty as the hon. Gentleman opposite was. I have never seen or heard of the Bill until I came into the House, and I have not had much opportunity of studying its provisions in the short time during which the hon. Gentleman has been speaking. But, at any rate, I shall be glad to have some little explanation from the Government before we are asked to pass an important measure of this description.


It seems to me that for persons who have done equally useful and distinguished service in foreign countries this is rather niggardly treatment. Indian Civil servants, I believe, can receive after twenty years a pension of £1,800 a year, and Ambassadors receive £1,700. Colonial Governors perform onerous duties, and on the salaries which they receive out there do not pay their way, and they cannot afford to take these posts without some private means. There is no opportunity of saving anything out of their official salaries. Naturally they are involved in very heavy expense in the way of hospitality. They are obliged to keep up some considerable estate, and cannot live within the means provided by the Government. When gentlemen who have served their country, sometimes in bad climates, in the tropics, for many years, come home after holding distinguished positions like that, it is very undesirable that they should be in such a position that they are obliged to work and increase their private means by going guinea-pigging, or such efforts as that. We ought to treat gentlemen who have done good service to the State fairly and well, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether he cannot see his way to increase the sum of £1,300 to £1,500. The greater part of the pensions will come upon Colonial funds, if I am correctly informed. Of course, there are cases where gentlemen have already earned pensions in other employments. They are not treated under this Bill any too handsomely.


I am very glad to respond to the invitation of my hon. Friend and give a short exposition of the contents of the Bill. It is as the hon. Member (Mr. Lynch) said, a very innocent Bill in itself, and merely consolidates and to a certain extent alters the existing law. The present system of pensioning Governors of Dominions and Crown Colonies is a very complicated one. The actual provisions of the law under which they are pensioned is unsatisfactory. It is to get rid both of the complication and difficulty of administration occasioned by that complexity that this Bill is before us. The pension system of Colonial Governors comes under the operation of three Acts, the Colonial Governors Act, which provides pensions after sixty-five, the Colonial Governors (Pensions) Act of 1872, and the Colonial Pensions Act of 1887. The effect of the three put together is to divide Governors for the purpose of pensions into four classes, which are based not upon the importance of the work done, but upon the amount of pay, including allowances and emoluments, of all sorts which are receivable. Governors of £5,000 are in the first class. Governors of from £2,500 up to £5,000 are in the second class. Governors of £l,200 are in the third class, and those who receive a salary below £l,200 are in the fourth class. That is supposed to represent, and no doubt when these Bills were passed did represent, the actual importance and responsibility of the work done. In order to obtain a full pension the Governor had, in the first place, to serve for eighteen years as a Governor, or else to put in twenty-five years total service—ten years as a Governor and the remainder in the Civil Service, or, if I recollect rightly, the Colonial service of the Crown. If he retired after fifteen years' service he still got his full pension, but in order to do that he must give the length of service which I have indicated; but he also had to spend at least four years in the class from which he was to draw his pension before he could claim the pension of that particular class. The result of that was that at the end of a man's service there was a great tendency, both on the side of the Colonial Office and on the side of the Governor and such friends as ho could get, to enable him to leave his class and to be put into a higher class in order that he might draw the maximum pension at his discharge to which the length of his service naturally entitled him; and if there was, as I understand there was, any difference between two men who were competitors for the same post, there was undoubtedly a tendency to give it to the man who was completing his time in a particular governorship in order that he might be entitled to the higher pension. That is not, I think, a, satisfactory state of things. The Colonial Office, and also the Treasury, recognise that, and this Bill puts an end to it.

In the four classes which I have mentioned the pensions were: £l,000 for the first class, £750 for the second, £500 for the third, and £250 for the fourth. I have indicated the difficulties which existed with regard to the present system, but it also had the disadvantage that the division of time in which a pension could be earned was purely arbitrary. If a man had eighteen years' service he could get a full pension. If he had twelve years' service it was something up to a pension of £l,000. If he had twelve years' service in the same class he got a pension of £660, but if he had thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen years' service, all in the same class, he had no more pension than if he had only twelve years' service. It is obviously unfair to the Governor in question that in respect of six years he should gain no additional pension, while other members of the Civil Service can gain additional pension for length of service. Lastly, as regards the division of classes not one of them responded to the work and responsibilities of the posts held by the Governors. The proposals in this Bill are these: First of all, the pension shall be based entirely on length of service. No Governor is allowed to earn a pension until he has had at least ten years' service as a Governor. The classes into which the Governors are in future to be divided are not to be based entirely on salary, but on the responsibilities and the importance of their posts, so that the anomaly of the difficulty to which I have alluded will be swept away. Any Governor arriving at the age of sixty, and who has had ten years' service will be entitled to a pension, or to get it on the abolition of the office, or if he is retired on account of ill-health which has been caused by his tenure of service as Governor. The pensions will be calculated in the four classes to which I have alluded in this way: The first class will receive for every completed month of service £5; the second class £4; the third class £3; and the fourth class £2. We calculate on the basis of service for the whole time, because Governors are liable to change from place to place, and it would be obviously unfair to make a Governor complete his twelve months in one particular post. My hon. Friend (Mr. Soames) alluded to the maximum fixed for a Governor's pension, namely, £l,300. That sum is taken for, I think, a very good reason. It represents the maximum pension of other Ministers in the Diplomatic Service—not Ambassadors—and it approximates as closely as possible to the pension which is paid to the head of one of the great departments of the State when he retires and draws his maximum pension. We think that the work, duties, and responsibilities of a Colonial Governor approximate very closely to the work, duties, and responsibilities of a Minister who represents this country at one of the lesser courts either in Europe or elsewhere, or to the work, duties, and responsibilities of the permanent head of the Department. We, therefore, fix the maximum pension at £l,300, which is inclusive of pension gained in any other employment under the Crown. At the present moment the maximum is £1,000, but the occupant of a post can enjoy half pension earned in any other capacity. There is therefore very little difference in the maximum gained under this Bill from the maximum gained under former Acts. My hon. Friend has asked me what the total charge on the Exchequer will be. I do not think there will be any increase. The sum involved is very small indeed. I think the sum this year is £11,500, but whether the amount in future will be 5 per cent. more or less it is rather difficult to say. Practically there will be no increase at all. My hon. Friend has asked me whether the provisions of this Bill will apply to the present occupants of posts or whether they will be paid under the existing system. If he will look at paragraph (d) of Clause 12 he will find that it provides:—

"If a person who is serving or has served as a Governor within the meaning of this Act at the time of the passing of this Act subsequently becomes entitled to receive a pension in respect of that service under this Act, and would also have been entitled to receive a pension under the repealed enactments, a pension may be granted to him at his option either in. accordance with the provisions of this Act or in accordance with the provisions of the repealed enactments."

I hope the explanation of the Bill which I have given is satisfactory. Any point that can be raised upon the Bill does not involve a matter of principle, and I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading to-day.


I think we ought to have a word of explanation from the representative of the Colonial Office on this matter, because, after all, the Treasury is not the Department involved in this Bill. We have heard sufficient from the right hon. Gentleman representing the Treasury to understand that this is not a consolidating Bill. We understand that the maximum pension previously was £l,000. Under this Bill it is raised to £1,300. But that is not all. The average pension previously ran from between £600 and £700, so that practically speaking we have doubled the amount to be paid in pensions. As to the question whether Governors will come under this Bill or under the existing law, I would say that naturally they will choose the most favourable scale. The right hon. Gentleman said that after twelve years' service the pension for a Governor in Class 1 will be £600 per annum. Under this Bill it appears to me that they begin directly the twelve years' service is up at £720, and every year of service afterwards increases the pension.


May I point out that it is very seldom a Governor comes into Class 1 at the beginning. If he begins in Class 4 he only gets £2 in respect of every completed month's service in that class. It is only when he gets into the first class that the pension is reckoned on the £5 basis. I can assure my hon. Friend that he can trust this Bill in the hands of the Treasury and the Colonial Office.


I can only compare like with like. My right hon. Friend only gave us examples in Class 1; I took the figures in Class 1 and showed that at the beginning and at the end of the time more was being given by this Bill, and that therefore in every case the pensions of the Colonial Governors were going to be raised. I want to know what was the reason for bringing forward this Bill ire the middle of the Session, when there is any amount of legislation requiring to be passed, in order to give some of our friends big pensions? These Colonial Governors are recruited very largely from hon. Members of this House. One after another they go out as Governors to the Colonies, but I do not think that we ought to spend the best part of our Parliamentary time in giving them larger pensions than they have got already. There is one certain way of measuring whether there is any real need for increased pay or pensions for any class of civil servants, and that is—is there a shortage of supply, is there a greater demand for these services than we can get people to do the work? We all know as to Colonial Governorships that everybody would like to be a Colonial Governor, and that there is no difficulty about getting people, good people, and the best people. You even find Members who have seats in this House giving them up to become Colonial Governors, even when on the Front Bench or enjoying the dignity of Privy Councillorship. As long as these Colonial Governorships are so popular, I do not think that we need go out of our way to double the pensions. I submit that the Government would be well advised to postpone this Bill, and to deal with some of the other Bills which are wanted by the people of the country, and for which they have got a mandate, and to leave the Colonial Governors to look after themselves. We must remember that we were returned to this Parliament to exercise economy, particularly in these high scales of pay, and I hope that the Treasury will keep a firm hand upon the Colonial Office and see that they do not go out of their way to grant increases so far as pensions for governors or high officials are concerned.

Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present: House counted and forty Members being found present—


The right hon. Gentleman in submitting the Bill, suggested towards the close of his remarks that any observations to be made on the Bill would be in the nature of Committee points, and that therefore it would be proper to let the Bill go through now and deal with details in Committee. That is not the light in which I see it, therefore I want to express agreement with the hon. Member (Mr. Wedgwood) who has just addressed the House. I do so because I have had some little experience of the difference between the treatment of persons occupying high posts and receiving considerable salaries, and those belonging to the working classes who have tried and failed to get their pensions. I have seen numerous cases brought before this House of stringent rules being applied and poor people being prevented from securing the benefit of the Act passed some years ago to secure their pensions. The stringency of these rules and the rigidity with which they have been applied justify us in objecting to any further favours being at present extended to classes that cannot at present claim to be badly provided for. The right hon. Gentleman states that this Bill will cost the Treasury very little, but taking the amount which he mentions, £11,000, as the annual additional charge—


The hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent me. The annual charge now on the Estimates is £11,500, and the total increase or decease on that amount might be about 5 per cent.

4.0 P.M.


I regret that I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, but at the same time the figures in the Bill itself and the comparisons already supplied in the speech of the hon. Member who preceded me, show that there is some considerable individual increase in the case of these persons. I object to putting an old and industrial worker on a pension at seventy years of age and refusing to him any pension before that age, and supporting a Bill which places a Governor of Colonies on a pension at sixty years of age—a pension which is not a small matter of a few pounds, but varies from £1,300 a year down to £250 a year. These are pensions evidently given to persons in proportion to the size of their salaries. I would like to ask whether it is a fact that this Bill would mean that the higher the salary of a Colonial Governor, the higher his pension on retirement. If that be so, I object to that principle, and I point out that it is the very opposite of what is done in the case of the industrial workers of this country. If a poor man having attained the age of seventy has done something to provide for his old age by insurance, by contributing to a friendly society or trade union, if in this way he secures for himself a few shillings a week on attaining the age of seventy, that fact is taken into account not in his favour, but against him, and the more he provides for himself in that manner the less he receives from the State when his time for old age pension arrives. I think that these contrary rules cannot be defended, and that we are justified in offering some protest against a Bill of this kind. There is another point on which I would like to ask for information. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that if a Governor were compelled to retire through infirmity caused by his service, he would be entitled to a pension long before sixty. Indeed, the general terms of the Bill provide that. But I do not see in the Bill anything with regard to the actual cause of retirement. There is no provision as to whether his infirmity of health or anything else is traceable to the duties of his office. One need not go into any points of detail in connection with a Bill of this kind at this time, but, for myself, I protest against this course of improving, and extending, and increasing pensions at the very moment when we are rigidly excluding certain poor people from the benefit of the Old Age Pensions Act.


As far as I can gather from the Bill, it applies to the Governors-General of the Dominions generally—Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Newfoundland, commonly called Dominions. That, I assume, is a new provision. I think no one has ever heard of the Governors-General of these Dominions being entitled to pensions from this country. It seems to me that this is a very indefensible change in the law. Take the Governor-General of Canada for instance. He is not in any sense, as I gather from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, a subject for pension, having regard to the basis on which pensions are granted. The ordinary basis of pension is service to the Crown. The Governors-General are not paid by this country. The Governor-General of Canada is paid by Canada, and if he is to have a pension after serving ten years, then I would suggest that Canada should pay that pension, and not this country. We have had no explanation whatever from the Government as to the necessity of this change in the law. It seems to me that there are grave reasons why a pension should not be provided in cases of this kind. These Governors-General are not appointed in the capacity of servants of the Government in the ordinary sense of the Civil Service. The appointments as Governors-General now go to Peers, and it will probably be so in the future, because the position of Governor-General is regarded as a great prize. The salaries are paid to the Governors-General by the Colonies. The cost to Canada to maintain the Governor-General is very large indeed, for in addition to the salary there are the expenses of the household and other charges. Surely an appointment of that kind cannot be looked upon as one in which the occupant of it is making his living. Surely that is not the basis of the pension. A man who takes employment under the Government gives the best of his life to its service, and it is acknowledged that he ought, when he is no longer capable of service, to be provided for. That, I understand, is the principle on which pensions are granted. How can you apply that principle to such cases as I have mentioned, where certain Peers are picked out and particularly distinguished by conferring upon them the great honour of governing these Colonies?

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, in speaking on this question, spoke of it as a sort of employment of Governors, and his remarks were, I suppose, applied to the ordinary Governors of ordinary Crown Colonies, which are practically under the administration of the Government here. But it is not to these great Dominions that considerations of that kind can apply. The Governor-General is appointed for four or five years. If such a thing could be possible, it seems to me that to provide a pension for him, if ho stayed in office ten years, would be to bring about the very state of affairs which the right hon. Gentleman has complained about, of having here the friends of the person in question attacking the Government Department to see that the necessary arrangements are made in order that a pension may be granted. It appears to me that would be so derogatory that it cannot possibly ever take place. I think the Government should have told us whether this is indeed a change in, or an extension of, the principle of pensions, and whether it has always been the law to pay these pensions, and if so, how many Governors-General of Canada and other Dominions are at present on the pension-roll of this country. I think the House has a right to complain that it has not heard whether this is a Bill simply to consolidate the law applying to the Governors-General of the Dominions, or whether it is a change in the law, and a new law. We ought to have a full explanation from the Government on this point. I cannot myself imagine any Peer of the Realm who has been appointed in South Africa, we will say, coining to the Government after he has been ten years in office, and proving that he was over sixty years of age, that he had lost his brains, or something of that sort, as I understand—I see the Bill says "lost his ability"—to discharge the duties of his office, and that he begs to be allowed a pension which at the most would come to £1,300 a year. I think on that point we ought to have some explanation, for we have had none whatever from the Government.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.