§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Major BARNETT
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
I wish at the very outset to disclaim any hostility to the principle of the Bill. It is perfectly obvious that when the railways were grouped, as now, that the 148 standardisation of railway pensions was a necessary thing. It was necessary that the rates payable and the benefits obtainable in the different groups of railways should be standardised, and this particular Bill apparently standardises the rates and the pensions pretty well, or, at any rate, in a way acceptable to 90 per cent. of the present subscribing members. While, however, the standardisation of rates and pensions and benefits is a good thing, so also are adequate pensions for the old annuitants; and the case I shall endeavour to make is that "this ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone."
I would ask the House to carry back its mind four years. There was great distress amongst the old railway men owing to the increased cost of living. The Association of Superannuated Railway Staffs took part in the matter and had the support of 361 Members of the House of Commons. Members of all parties were agreed in supporting the claim of these old people. We had a meeting at the Caxton Hall We had meetings at Whitefield's; and, finally, I myself had the honour of moving the following Resolution in the House of Commons on 2nd March, 1920:That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that the statutory pensions of superannuated railway servants, retired before or during the Government control of the railways, should be increased to such an extent as will meet the increased cost of living."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1920; col. 356, Vol. 126.]In proposing that Resolution to the House I admitted that it was a question as to where the responsibility rested—with the railway companies or with the State. I said:I shall, I hope, he able to make out to the satisfaction of the House that this is a debt that has to be paid either by the State or by the railway companies, or by the two together, and the sooner the Minister of Transport and the railway companies put their heads together and decide exactly the proportion in which this necessary money shall be forthcoming, the better 149 it will be for the House of Commons and for the nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1920; col. 359, Vol. 126.]The House of Commons debated this question for nearly three hours and without a Division affirmed the Resolution. Then came letters of congratulation from all ranks of the old people all over the country. I received pathetic letters from those who supposed that what the House of Commons had passed was law, and inquiring how long it would be before the increased pensions were going to accrue? Alas, for the futility of human hopes! Subsequently in the House of Commons Mr. Neal, who was then Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, expressed the greatest sympathy with the old men, but also stated the view that the railway companies were responsible. The Chairman of the Clearing House Committee the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) took the line in this House that it was the State's affair. The Debate that started in the House of Commons continued outside. It was the railway companies versus the State. The railway companies said the State ought to pay, as the State had had control of the railways for years, and the State said the railway companies ought to pay; but all the while this controversy was going forward the old men were dying. There was plenty of sympathy, and indeed that sympathy has been shown in a practical way by the working staffs of the railways as well as by the directors.
Very considerable subscriptions have been given to the fund by the working staffs, and this money has been supplemented by the railway companies. In the case of the particular railway company with which we are now dealing the very considerable sum of £18,000 has been found by the working staffs and £18,000 by the railway company, while a further sum found by the railway company for necessitous cases brought the total amount up to £48,000. I admit all that; I am glad to admit it; but I say here, and I am prepared to maintain, that these voluntary grants are neither certain nor are they adequate. First of all, I say they are not certain because they may be stopped at any time. In this connection I have a letter sent out by the secretary with all London and North Western Railway Auxiliary Fund payments:The amount of the grant is governed by the funds at the disposal of the Committee, and the applications received, and 150 I am to remind you it is liable to variation or cessation at any time without notice.There is not very much certainty there. To the contributors to the Auxiliary Fund the London and North Western Committee reported in 1922 and 1923, RS follows:The scale upon which these allowances are made is not by any means adequate, and has to be limited according to the amount available. … The grants are still restricted in every case to those whose total income from all sources is less than £3 per week and who are without substantial capital resources, and the number of those recipients shows no decrease.There are plenty of hard cases which prove that this allowance of about 8s. 9d. a, week is not adequate. Here is the case of one unfortunate annuitant.I am sorry to inform you that Mr. H. died on 5th May, after a hard struggle to meet his difficulties with a pension of about £80 per annum. The poor fellow had to work up to a few weeks of his death, aged 72, and that is a sample of the plight of many of our railway annuitants; they do not retire from work, they do other work, and, perhaps, snore arduous work, and work until they collapse.I maintain that the voluntary system is uncertain and inadequate. What are we asking the Company for? There was an Instruction on the Paper that pre-War pensions should be increased by 50 per cent., but it was taken off the Paper, and I have not put it down again because I know the House of Commons does not like Instructions, and does not like to pass the Second Reading of a Bill, and then send it to a Committee with a hard and fast Instruction to do a certain thing. No Instruction is necessary, for a Petition has been lodged to give a locus standi before the Committee to the critics of the Measure, We are simply asking the company for an assurance from their representatives in this House—(1) That the statutory pension of all annuitants who retired on pre-War scales of pensions and any addition thereto now paid by way of a supplementary or compassionate allowance from the Company or a voluntary Fund will be continued as a charge on the new Fund; (2) That in any case where the addition does not amount to 50 per cent. of the statutory pension it will be made up to 50 per cent, out of the new Fund; and (3) That these additions shall be secured by amendment of the Bill.
I hope we shall get that assurance. If we do not, it will be asked for during 151 the Committee stage, and if we do not get it then we shall claim the right to raise the matter again on the Third Reading of the Bill. Objection has been made on behalf of the Company that the 50 per cent. increase is calculated to give the biggest increase to the higher pensions. That is not a very generous criticism of the men who have devoted their time and money fighting the battle of these old men, but I am authorised to put that entirely out of the category of possible criticism of these proposals, and to say that the Association of Superannuated Railway Staffs is willing to agree to limit the amount which any annuitant may receive by way of addition to his statutory pension, and the limit suggested is an addition of £100 per annum. Consequently the high pensioners will not get a farthing out of this proposal.
The vast majority of those I am speaking for are men who have not got £100 pension, and three-fourths of them are receiving between £75 and £100 a year, and those are the old men I am pleading for to-night. The company say that they cannot pay this amount, and it will cost too much money, and their actuary informs them that our suggestion is going to cost them £70,000 a year for 15 years. I challenge those figures, and I think I can prove that they are absolute nonsense. I have in my hand the Midland Railway Superannuation Fund report for the year ended the 31st January last, which is very recent information, and although the old Midland Railway Company is only a part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, it is an important part.
What are the statistics? On the 31st January last there were 1,137 annuitants on the books of the Midland Railway Company, and 217 of them were below the age of 65 and they had been retired on account of ill health at an average age of 47. Between the ages of 65 and 69 there were 482 men, and above the age of 69, that is 70 and over, there were 438. The aggregate of these three figures is 1,137, and I ask the House to pay close attention to that total because we are faced with the statement made in black and white on the authority of the actuary of the company that it is going to cost £70,000 a year for fifteen years to give the 50 per cent. increase we have asked for. I have 152 told the House that there are 438 annuitants of 70 years of age or over, and what does experience show us in regard to these men?
I have carefully analysed this report. and I find that of the men who have lived to the age of 70 years there is only one man in 11 lives to be 80, one man in 40 lives to be 85, and one man in 440 lives to be 90, What expectation of life is the actuary suggesting when he says that he wants £70,000 a year for fifteen years to make the company safe. It is quite absurd. No doubt these railway servants are selected lives, the picked veterans of the railway service; they are men of the highest character and sobriety who have done 40 years of honourable service for the Company, and they are men any insurance company would be very glad to have.
§ Major BARNETT
I have explained that there are 438 men in the list of 70 years of age in the Midland Railway only. The men I am speaking for to-night are men who were 65 years of age before they had pensions at all and before August, 1919. Those are the only men with whom I am concerned. I do not look at those between 65 and 69, because they have retired since August, 1919, and their pensions are based on the higher standard of wages now paid. I am taking the men who are now 70 years of age and over. There are 438 of them My hon. Friend asks how I know how long these men are going to live. I do not know, but I have the very finest actuarial test here. I see what are the ages of the men who are now actually on the Fund, and it is on the basis of those figures, and of those figures alone, that I say that, in the case of the Midland Railway, out of 440 men who reach the age of 70, only one in eleven lives to be 80, only one in 40 lives to be 85, and only one in 440 lives to be 90. I want to know where the £70,000 for 15 years comes in. The fact of the matter is that, no matter how you select your men—and these, as I have said, are the picked veterans of industry—The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, 153 yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow, so soon passeth it away and we are gone.
§ Mr. HANNON
I apologise for again interrupting the hon. and gallant Member, but he makes a charge of nonsense against the actuarial report, which suggests that there must be a reserve of £70,000 for 15 years, and I respectfully suggest that he ought to produce some definite statement in support of that charge.
§ Major BARNETT
I am doing my best to provide my hon. Friend with the arguments. He will afterwards have an opportunity of replying to them. ft seems to me that, if I take the latest official report of this particular superannuation fund, which was issued only two months ago; if I take from that the number of annuitants who are 70 and over, and if I apply to them the experience of the previous annuitants, which shows the number of years that men under these conditions live, I am applying a very fair test. My hon. Friend remarks that that only relates to the Midland Railway. If he is in possession of figures relating to any other railway of the group, let him produce them at the proper time, and not now.
§ Major BARNETT
I submit that my argument is perfectly fair. I have taken the number of annuitants on the books of the fund in January last, as far as regards the Midland Railway Company, and I think that that is a fair test. I believe that on the Midland Railway the conditions are as good as, if not better than, on any other railway. That is what I am told, but I only ask the House to believe that they are a fair average, and, if that be so, my argument holds good. It is for my Friend to disprove it with the aid of his friend the actuary, if he can. I have received a great deal of correspondence on this subject, and, before I sit down, want to say a few words with regard to that. I think it is about time that Members of the House of Commons, from their places in this House, protested against the machine-made agitation which is now directed against us on every possible occasion. I have myself received, in reference to this Bill, 14,214 communications up to midnight last night. 154 [Laughter.] Hon. Members who have not been exposed to this bombardment may laugh—
§ Major BARNETT
No doubt it is helping the Postmaster-General, who is getting a windfall out of it, but, seriously, it is nothing less than persecution that Members of the House of Commons should be bombarded by railway companies or any other companies. There are 40,000 subscribing members of this fund, many of whom have wives, and they write as well. By an organised agitation on the part of this railway company, every unfortunate Member of this House has been thus bombarded for weeks past. I say that it is childish nonsense. A thing is either false or true. If it is false, it does not become any less false by being said 15,000 times, and if it is true it remains true for all that damnable iteration. I have been carried back during the past fortnight to the days of my childhood and the monumental statement by the Bellman in "The Hunting of the Snark":I have said it once; I have said it twice; what I say three times is true.These people think that when a thing has been said some 14,000 or 15,000 times it will produce an effect upon one's mind, but the only effect that it produces on my mind—perhaps an obstinate mind—is one of repugnance. It may be that I have inherited a little of the dour determination of my Ulster forbears, who, once they had made up their minds that a certain course was right, were deflected not a hairsbreadth by all the shouting and clamour in the world. It is not only the London Midland Railway that has resorted to these tactics. Everyone now who has a cause that he wants maintained on the Floor of the House gets the printing press and the Roneo machine to work to deluge hon. Members with correspondence. I see sympathetic faces on the other side of the House. If a great company like the Midland would devote its undoubted powers of organisation to reducing railway rates and making passenger fares something like what they were before the War, they would be making a much better use of those powers than in persecuting Members of Parliament, who, after all, are only trying to do their duty.
155 This is not a vote-catching campaign. I do not think that one of these old men lives in my constituency. They could not live in St. Pancras on the miserable pittance they are getting. There are a certain number of subscribing members of the railway company's staff in St. Pancras, and from them I have had every sympathy and assistance. Many of them have written to me to ask for explanations, and I think that mostly they have been satisfied. I do, however, protest. most strongly at our having floods of correspondence from Nuneaton, Rugby, Inverness, or Glasgow hurled at our devoted heads by people who do not, know us, who do not knew our connection with this business, and who are simply doing what they are told to do by a voice at Derby or Euston, or somewhere else. I am not going to read the whole of the 14,000 letters I have received; I will only read three. One of these is from a gentleman at Cheltenham, who thinks that these old pensioners are doing very well. He says they are getting benefitsbeyond the dreams of avarice.Eight shillings and fourpence a week! I hope that, when that gentleman comes to the evening of his days, if he has a pension of £80 a year, and gets 8s. 4d. a week added to it, he will think he is rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Another, from Winslow, Bucks, says:We … have done all that is necessary for the old super-annuitants. The cost of living is a Government question, not ours or the railway companies,The only other one that I will read is from a gentleman at Crewe, who also shall be nameless, and who writes in red ink across the official communication:I entirely disagree with this inspired and broadcasted document, and congratulate you on the stand you are taking.
§ Mr. REMER
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Major Barnett) and I are the real villains of the piece. At one time it was in my thoughts to bring the letters I had received and show them to the House, but my secretary informed me that it would be necessary to hire two motor lorries. I have been very sorry for the postman who has had to deliver letters at my office every day this week. 156 One morning I saw him coming in heavily laden with three sacks, which it took my secretary three hours to open. But though I cannot bring them here I have had them counted and I find I can beat my hon. and gallant Friend. I have received 17,400 letters. I think the only person who can be delighted with this position is the Postmaster-General, and, as his revenue has been so largely increased, I hope he will be able to revise his Budget and introduce penny postage. The postage alone on the letters I have received amounts to over £100, and if every Member of the House has received a postbag to an equal extent the cost of this broadcasting will have reached £00,000. A curious fact about these letters is that most of them are in the same handwriting, or shall I say in the same Roneo typewriting. Most of them also came, strange to say, in the railway company's envelopes. Apparently it is the railway company's stationery. I have made some investigations on this subject and I have had placed in my hands a letter signed by Mr. Walkden, the general secretary of the Railway Clerks' Association. I should like to enter a protest against the contents of the letter. Not one word is stated in it as the reasons which operate in the minds of my hon. and gallant Friend and myself. All he says is that we are vindictive people who are trying to kill the Bill. He says:Then I must ask every branch secretary to call upon his chairman and fellow officers and committee men immediately to assist in getting the rank and file of the membership to send individual letters on private paper from their homes to the Members of Parliament who represent their respective residential districts. It does not matter whether the Member is employed by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway or not. He will write as one of the Member of Parliament's constituents. The letters should be brief and clear, and should not all be drafted in the same words, but in order to assist, I enclose two specimen drafts, which I trust will prove helpful. The first is intended to be used by the branch secretaries writing on behalf of the whole of their membership and the second to be used by the individual members. The latter communications are very necessary. It will have a very great effect if large numbers of them ire sent. I am sure you and your colleagues will do your utmost to assist to get this done without delay. If any questions are raised in the replies received from Members of Parliament, they should be referred to our Parliamentary representative, Mr. H. G. Romeril, M.P. for South-East St. Pancras, for the information desired. It is not necessary or desirable that any branches 157 or individual members should enter into controversy with any Members of Parliament who appear to be unfavourable to the Bill. They should merely be requested to withdraw their opposition and give wholehearted support to this Measure.9.0 P.M.
I do not know who paid for this postage and I do not very much care, but in any case if this vast sum which has been spent on postage, which must at least have amounted to £10,000, had been addressed to the object of giving the poor old men who are suffering so much, it would have been greatly to their advantage and would have secured the rapid passage of the Bill.
We are not on any vote-catching expedition. I do not suppose there are more than 20 of these old men in the whole of my constituency, and the sole object we have in mind is to have a debate on the subject and to secure that the point of view of these old men is put forward. There is not a single man in the House who is not pledged up to the hilt in their cause. If we look at the pledges given at the last General Election, every man in the House is pledged to see that the pre-War pensioners, whether soldiers, sailors, policemen or teachers, are given an increase, and in the action we are taking and the views we are stating we are only putting forward what we are all pledged to try to secure. It is not my intention to indulge either in sob-stuff or in harrowing details of the condition which has arisen, but I should like to give a few details of cases which have come to my notice where real hardship has been caused. It has often been said that no case of hardships is refused voluntary assistance, but if we come to examine the details we find that is not the case. Five cases have been brought to my notice. For the purpose of the Debate, I will give them index numbers. A is aged 74, has had 44 years of service as cashier and receives superannuation of £67 18s. He has been refused help from the voluntary fund because he has a £300 investment bringing in £12 per annum. The result is that his wife and daughter have to maintain him. The total income is £79 18s., or £1 11s, a week. The rent and fuel average 17s. 6d, a week, leaving 13s. 6d. for food, clothing, etc., for three people. B is aged 78, has been 43 years in the service, was a stationmaster and receives as superannuation £94. He gets no help whatever 158 from the voluntary fund, as he does a little selling on commission, and is refused quarter-fare tickets when travelling on this duty. He has a wife and invalid daughter to maintain. C has been 45 years in the service, a stationmaster, receiving £82 7s. superannuation. He is refused help, as he has investments bringing in a varying income of £30 to £40 per annum. That shows that it is very necessary that this House should do something for these poor old men.
§ Mr. REMER
I think it is the London and North Western Railway. These people who retire on pension and find their means reduced, not through any fault of their own, but entirely through the high cost of living due to the War, are entitled to some consideration from the railway company. It has been said very often that this only applies to people who are well able to look after themselves. One man met me to-day and told me that a great many of these people who retire receive a pension of £2,000 a year and upwards. I am not pleading on behalf of those people. I am not pleading the cause of people who are able to look after themselves, but I am pleading for those who are not able to look after themselves. Here is a letter from one of my constituents:My attention has been drawn to your letter of the 13th inst. in the "Cheshire Daily Echo," and I take the opportunity of thanking you on behalf of the poor old railway pensioners. My father, who is now 74 years of age, is one of the many sufferers. He was one who helped to found the superannuation fund, and always took great interest in it, and worked long and faithfully for the railway company until his retirement in 1915. Since that time, of course, he has been pauperised by a paltry pension on which the family could not have lived in decency without receiving outside help.To show the difficulty in which these people are placed, I will quote a letter from a man who asks me not to mention his name or the meeting to which he refers. He says:I thank you for your letter of the 16th inst. It is very gratifying to hear of one who will not allow votes to interfere with the principles of common justice. Make any use of my letter you like, as long as my name is not mentioned. Also I must ask you not to mention the name of Mr. X., the speaker at last Saturday's meeting, because I tackled him publicly then, so if my name were 159 divulged or suspicion thrown on me it would mean the 'sack.' Late as it now is to obtain any justice for these old age pensioners, fast dwindling in numbers, scattered and lacking the aid of powerful trades unions to fight for them, it would indeed be a wonderful thing, and so I rather 'ha ma doots.' However, please allow me once again to thank you for the just and humane stand you have taken on their behalf.My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Major Barnett) informs me, in reply to the question put by the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras (Mr. Romeril), that these are old London and North Western Railway men.
I would like to refer to the railway company itself. It is a monstrous thing that the railway company should have made attempts to frighten their employés. They have been told that if this Bill does not get a Second Reading to-day the whole Bill may be dropped. They should abstain from giving veiled hints to these old men that if they proceed with their opposition to this Bill they will lose even the voluntary payments which have been made on their behalf. Here is a letter which has come from the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at Derby, which is nothing more or less than a threat to these old men:It can hardly be expected that the subscriptions towards the voluntary fund will be maintained if those, who are contributing to the support of this fund, have reason to think that the Bill is being opposed by the superannuitants already receiving assistance. This consequence would, obviously, result in the grant you are now receiving being reduced, or, even, discontinued altogether. You may, therefore, think it advisable immediately to write to the Member of Parliament for your Division, urging him to give every facility and support for the passing of this important Measure. In case you do not know his private address, post your request to him at the House of Commons without a moment's delay.
§ Mr. HANNON
What has the railway company to do with that? I must protest 160 against quotations from a letter written by a private individual, for which the railway company have no responsibility whatever.
§ Mr. RAYNES
Is the hon. Member aware that Mr. Brooker is secretary of the Railway Clerks' Association, and, as the trade union secretary, that letter was sent to his members?
§ Mr. REMER
I have another letter from the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, General Superintendent's Department, Derby:I think it only right to point out that if this Motion is carried it would seriously raise the question as to whether this Bill should be proceeded with.I join with my hon. and gallant Friend in disputing the figures and also the statement that this will cost something like £70,000. I do not see how it can cost anything like that amount. In the whole country there are only 1,500 of these old men. From an actuarial estimate which has been made by a friend of mine, I am assured that he cannot see how the cost will exceed £20,000. Whether the figure be £20,000 or £70,000, it will dwindle year by year, and in ten years it will have reached practically nothing. When we refer to the position which is put forward by the Railway Clerks' Association, I would point out that our proposal is in exact accordance with what the Railway Clerks' Association themselves advocated in the circular which they lasted to Members of Parliament. They say:In consequence of the rise in the cost of living due to the War, the allowances of the annuitants who have retired from the railway service, provided for by the rules of the superannuation funds, have decreased in real value, and representations were made to the company on the subject by my association.That circular shows that the association have been trying to do exactly the same thing that we are trying to do this evening.
§ Mr. REMER
I will read on:Although it has not been possible to induce the companies to accept any statutory 161 obligation to supplement these allowances, the railway staffs at the suggestion of my Association have contributed,and so on; I would refer also to a letter which has been sent to Members of Parliament and signed by the right hon. Gentleman the present Colonial Secretary and three other Members of Parliament:We fully sympathise with the pre-War pensioners in their demand and consider that the railway companies should do something to improve their present inadequate pension. To delay this Bill, however, would not help to forward their case as such action would benefit rather than injure the railway company.The point I am trying to make, is that here we have threats by the railway company that these pensions are going to he taken away from the old men. They have been told that they will disappear. Is that not all the more reason why the temporary thing should become permanent? Is it not all the more vital that these annuitants should secure better treatment than they have had in the past? I will point out that the letter itself shows clearly that when any payments are made to these old men they are to be regarded as being for the one year only and liable to be dropped or reduced at a moment's notice. I feel that it is of vital importance, not only to the railway company and the present railway clerks but to these old men, that this superannuation allowance should be made permanent.
When we come to examine the superannuation fund of the railway companies; we find that, so far from being bankrupt, they have risen from £6,000,000 altogether in 1913 to £18,000,000 in 1923. Furthermore, one of the railway companies, which forms an important branch of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway—the North Staffordshire Railway—have already given this 50 per cent. The Northern Railway, which is a part of the London and North Eastern Railway combine, has also given the amount, and it is only these sections, the other sections of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway combine, which are standing out. The railway companies received £60,000,000 from the Government when Sir Eric Geddes was Minister of Transport. That was given to them to pay all claims due by them arising out of the War. I contend that this is a claim which has arisen out of the War, and that 162 the railway companies should meet it fairly. These old men have been buffeted about between the Ministry of Transport and the railway companies. They have not been given a square deal. Whatever the outcome of this be, common justice demands that these old men who have served the railway companies very well, and who are now in a position of great suffering, should receive from them what they regard as their due.
§ Mr. ROMERIL
I claim the indulgence which is always given generously by the House to Members who are unfortunate enough to be making maiden speeches. My task is perhaps easier than is normally the case on such occasions, inasmuch as this is not a party question, and I feel that I shall have the sympathy of Members in all parts of the House. I am not finding fault with the sympathy which has been expressed with the existing pensioners. I note with pleasure that my colleague the hon. Member for South West St. Pancras (Major Barnett) and his hon. Friends are so much in sympathy with the existing pensioners. I regret that that sympathy was not expressed in a Vote in this House last year when an attempt was made to provide assistance for all aged workers in connection with the removal of the thrift disqualification to the Old Age Pension. It is a matter of regret that these men who are now so sympathetic with the railway pensioners voted then against the removal of the thrift disqualification, but I am glad that they have repented, and I hope that their sympathy will be translated into votes on a larger issue when the occasion arises. It is suggested that their sympathy is to gild the pill, but I do not think that they will be able to gild the pill. I am here to protest against the suggestion which has been made in connection with a circular that was only partly read. The suggestion was made that there were insulting implications in this circular with reference to the opposition that has emerged in connection with this Rill, and the reading of the circular began lower down. With your permission, Sir, I will read the opening of the circular, and I defy anybody to discover any suggestion such as has been described.I regret to have to inform you that this Bill is meeting with a great deal of opposition in Parliament, and is blocked by several Members of Parliament every 163 time it is put down for Second Reading. It is likely to be the subject of debate before a vote can be taken on the question of whether it shall go forward for its Third Reading. You know that the Second Reading Debate and the subsequent vote will decide the fate of the Bill, and if it is defeated the consequences will be very serious, not only for the salaried staff of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway but for their colleagues employed on all other railways where arrangements similar to those set forth in the Bill are desired.That is the opening of the circular. The rest has been read. I fail to see that there is anything in that circular which can properly be described in the way in which it has been described this evening. Then it is argued that this opposition, this "machine-made agitation," has come from the railway companies. I have knowledge which spreads over a great many years of the folks who have been sending communications to Members of Parliament, and from my knowledge the suggestion that they are likely to do anything of the kind in response to pressure from the railway companies is entirely absurd. The fact is that this Bill is mainly in the interests of the working staff of the railway, and that, in spite of anything that has been said since this matter has been discussed between Members of Parliament and their constituents, in the early part of the process of hindering the passage of this Bill there has already appeared several times upon the Order Paper very definite indications of an intention to defeat this Bill, and in those circumstances it was only right that all these men throughout the country whose interests are vitally concerned in this Bill should be aware of what was going on, and should take reasonable steps to indicate their position. Suggestions have been made about coercion and one thing and another. I saw a Press report about one right hon. Gentleman whose back was to become steel against this attempt to intimidate. I submit there has been nothing in connection with the movement in support of this Bill that could properly he described as intimidation. On the contrary there has been a. desire merely to indicate a point of view in connection with this matter. Hon. Members who are genuine in their desire to serve the interests of these aged pensioners must surely admit the right of the staff to indicate their 164 point of view. The case is either false or true. That is not affected in any way by the number of communications. Those of us who are here know full well how many communications come, and the great variety and multitude of the subjects brought under our notice, and I think it will be admitted that where there is a widespread feeling in support of a Measure that it is advisable for the individuals concerned to make their feelings known to their own members.
I submit that the men were justified in feeling apprehensive. While it has been stated that all these letters were in die same writing, I do not think it has been the general experience that they were all in the same writing or that they have all come from people who were pressed to do this thing. As a matter of fact some Members have not merely received letters, but have been invited to meet their constituents. That has happened with the most excellent results. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer) met his constituents, and as a result of having thrashed the matter out with them he came to the conclusion that he could best help both parties by withdrawing his opposition to this Bill. I, for one, accept his position as being entirely proper and genuine, and I believe these old men themselves will realise that that is so. I do not wish to take up the time of the House. There has not been a great deal that needs to be met in the way of argument. The details of the case have been fairly well submitted to Members of the House, and all that we have to-night is some suggestion that the actuaries do not know their business and that certain hon. Members of this House are able to give much more favourable estimates. I ask the House to accept the statement that has been made by the company that they cannot do this thing. I regret that they have made it but, on the other hand, I ask the House not to jeopardise the carrying into law of this Bill, because the effect of that would be extremely serious and disadvantageous to many deserving men in the country. I wish to say, on behalf of the Railway Clerks' Association, that everything possible on our part to maintain these voluntary funds will be done, that we will continue to do what we have always done, that is, to press on the company their 165 duty towards those old men. We are prepared to do that all the time, and we ask the House to give us this Bill.
§ Mr. HANNON
In the first place, may I offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman opposite on the admirable speech he has delivered? I think one of the most helpful features of debate in this House is that hon. Members contribute their share on the subjects which they know best, and nobody, indeed, is better qualified to speak on the subject before the House than the hon. Member who has just sat down. In asking the House to give this Bill a Second Reading, L would like to refer to some of the statements made by my hon. and gallant Friend for South West St. Pancras (Major Barnett). My hon. and gallant Friend is one of the most sincere and earnest Members of this House, and every subject he touches he touches with that earnestness of purpose which we, who are his colleagues, have always recognised in him. In the statements he made this evening he has allowed his zeal to carry him a little too far, and I think he will probably experience regret when he reads his speech in cold type in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning. My hon. and gallant Friend referred especially to the Resolution of this House passed in 1920, at a time when the whole railway administration of this country was under the control of an official body known as the Railway Committee. There was a Resolution passed at that time that these pensioners should receive the consideration of this House, and the House expressed its approval of that excellent intention. But when the House adopted that Resolution it did not determine who was to be responsible for the expenditure involved in giving these pre-War pensioners the increases which were contemplated. In point of fact at that time the railways, controlled as they wore, were perfectly willing to give effect at once to the Resolution of this House if the expenditure involved became part of the working expenses of the railways, but they were not prepared to make that bargain an additional charge on their shareholders, as my hon. and gallant. Friend won! d seem to think they should have done.
§ Mr. HANNON
I am referring to the substance of the Resolution passed by this House in 1920. That is an altogether different consideration from the substance of the Bill we are discussing this evening. If the Government at the time were prepared to take the responsibility for discharging this obligation, the railway companies would have been delighted to have accepted the Resolution in the letter and the spirit, but it was another proposition altogether to throw the burden of this charge on the unhappy shareholders, who, during the War, were placed in the most disadvantageous position in regard to their property, which was under the control of the State.
§ Mr. HANNON
What I said was that the Government of the day gave effect to the private Member's Resolution. Reference has been made to the £60,000,000 granted to the railways at the close of the War, and it has been suggested that it was in discharge of all obligations, including the improvement of the pensions of pre-War pensioners. But that £60,000,000 was voted for the railways so as to enable them to recondition their whole system, after the long war period during which all their machinery had been placed at the service of the State, and there was no stipulation that any part of this sum was to ho appropriated in such a way. I am exceedingly sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend suggested that the actuarial statement prepared is rot absolutely correct. I ventured apologetically to interrupt him, and to ask him if he could produce to the House any figures which would substantiate his contention, if I may respectfully say so. He spoke a little vaguely about certain poor old pensioners who would disappear in the process of time, and he put forward a certain sentimental suggestion that in the course of years the chargev would greatly diminish. But that is not the way to substantiate a charge agains the good faith of the actuary who prepared the statement.
It has been said during the course of the Debate that the Railway Clerks' Association has taken a very prominent part in the promotion of this Bill. Why should they not? It is their Bill. The 167 Railway Clerks' Association is a body which is intimately concerned in the operation of the Bill. There are nearly 40,000 clerks employed on the London, Midland and Scottish system, and they are perfectly entitled to use every honourable means at their disposal to convince hon. Members of this House of the righteousness of their desires. We in this House are well aware of the highways and byways of politics. We are accustomed to the methods by which letters are addressed to Members of Parliament, and it does not come very well from any hon. Member to find fault with such organised methods. Indeed, if I may make a confession, on one or two occasions when I was outside this House, I did not hesitate for a moment to suggest the use of the same gentlemanly and perfectly polite methods.
I come down to the Bill itself. According to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend, the Bill is really framed to give effect to the expressed intention of Parliament when the Railway Act of 1921 was passed in this House. At that time the House took notice of the fact that in this new group of railways there were a whole series of superannuation schemes, and it was naturally desired that these schemes should be co-ordinated with uniform administration, contribution and benefit. This Bill simply seeks to put into practical operation what Parliament intended when it passed the Railway Act, 1921. In Clause 3 of that Act, it was laid down that the management of the superannuation funds devised by the different railway systems for the benefit of their employés, should remain unaltered until further provision was made by Parliament. We are to-night nicking that further provision, the desirability of which was expressed in Clause 3 of the Act of 1921.
According to my hon. and gallant Friend, on his side of the House they do not desire this Bill without making such modifications in it as would confer a 50 per cent. benefit on the pre-War pensioners on the London, Midland and Scottish system. Has any other body or corporation in this country been asked by Parliament since the close of the War to confer a similar privilege upon its pre-War pensioners? Not one. Parliament gave mature and careful thought to the 168 Pensioners' Act., 1920, when it was going through this House, and it then provided that in the case of civil servants the pension of the married man should be brought up to £200 a year and of the single man to £150 a year, but in every case the private means of the pensioner were to be taken into account. Now they want to add 50 per cent. of the pre-War pension without any consideration of the provisions of the Pensioners' Act, 1920. Are these funds to be continued with their great variety of administration? We have the Lancashire and Yorkshire doing one thing, the London and North Western doing another, the Midland another, the North Staffordshire another, and the Glasgow, South Western and Caledonian still another. The continuance of this variety of administration will necessarily cause great discontent among the railway servants who will be receiving different terms under similar circumstances.
Let me put it to the House, with all respect, that very few corporations in this country have had such continual regard for a long period of time for the welfare of their servants, both employés and pensioners, as the old London and North Western, which is the principal component part of this group. I say that consideration given to pre-War pensioners ought to commend itself to every hon. Member of this House. May I quote a single example to show the variety of treatment which will result in the event of Parliament failing to pass this Bill, and continuing the present system of superannuation on the different sections? Take the case of a man who has had a salary of £240 a year with 41 years' service. Under the London and North Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire system he would receive £144 a year. Under the Midland, Caledonian and Glasgow and South Western he would receive £120. On the North Staffordshire he would get £153, and under this new scheme he would get £154. I think it impossible to administer any system of railway superannuation under one corporate organisation in that way without difficulties arising and without constant dissatisfaction and worry in maintaining anything like harmony among the great body of railway servants who have contributed to the pension funds on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.
169 Faced with that difficulty, the London, Midland and Scottish Company took the constitutional course of appealing to representatives of the various funds to consult with the company as to the best means of overcoming the difficulty, and they called together the 23 contributors' committeemen. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, like the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras (Mr. Romeril) will be familiar with what I mean when I speak of the contributors' committeemen meeting the company with three representatives of the Railway Clearing System Superannuation Fund. They had several meetings, extending over a period of 18 months, and they had schemes submitted to them and examined them in detail. They produced schemes of their own, and finally, after mature consultation, they produced a scheme which is substantially the scheme embodied in this Bill. Who is more competent to decide what is best in the interest of the contributors to this fund than the people themselves in their organised capacity, in consultation with the company which is contributing a very substantial part of the funds? Reference has been made to the pressure or intimidation which has been practised upon these poor, innocent, lonely, wandering railway clerks, who are obliged to sign papers and to declare themselves in favour of this Bill.
§ Mr. HANNON
It was said more than once that there was a good deal of pressure being exercised on individual clerks to show their approval of this pleasure in order to organise a. public movement in favour of the Bill. If anyone suggests to this House that the Railway Clerks' Association, which is one of the most vigorous and intelligent trade union organisations, is to be intimidated or pressed into any particular course of action by the railway companies, he is making a profound mistake. I would be sorry to try to influence them in any particular policy unless that policy was in the best interests of the association. There is the question of the old annuitants who asked for this increase. We have every sympathy with thrill. Five, six or seven times during the last couple of years, since this agitation began on their behalf, I have had interviews and correspondence with them with a view to obtaining for them the best concessions 170 possible. But what are they asking for? Not merely for a pension increase in accordance with the new scheme, but for pensions which would exceed the provisions of the new scheme for new people. Many of the pre-War pensioners are receiving pensions higher than those they would receive under the new scheme, and in particular the smaller people, whose cases have been so carefully considered by the railway company, are receiving substantially more than they would receive if contributing on the old basis on the principle of the new fund. To show that the railway constituent companies of the London, Midland and Scottish system have not been so indifferent to the welfare of these old people as has been suggested, I will quote a few examples. The Midland and Caledonian bring their old age pensioners' pensions up to £100 a year. They make additions to income over £100 and they give slight additions to incomes up to £150. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway guarantee incomes up to £78 a year. The London and North Western guarantee incomes up to £89, give assistance up to £120, and slight additions up to £125. The company and its salaried staff have made a special effort in order to meet the case of these old people. The salaried staff of the company contributes the substantial sum of £18,000 a year voluntarily in order to help necessitous cases. The company also provides £30,000 a year. That makes the total £48,000 a year. No case worth twopence-halfpenny has been made out against the Bill, and on the face of the facts I hope that the House will now give it a Second Reading.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Gosling)
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, because I cannot see what useful purpose, could be served by not doing so. Even those who are so anxious about the old men who are left out will not help their cause one bit by hindering the Bill. Moreover, this is an agreed Bill—agreed between those whom it is to affect, namely, the companies and those who work for them. They are satisfied with this Bill and they ask that it should be passed. I would go further and say that they would be very glad if it could apply as it is to the other railway undertakings, for it is the best of its kind, and they are hoping to have it passed as an example to others. There 171 can be no good result from delay, but there is the danger that if the Bill does not pass there will be chaos and unevenness continuing for another year. The old folks, with whom we are all in sympathy, we should like to help if we could, but the passing of the Second Reading of this Bill will not deprive them of the opportunity of putting their case forward in Committee.
§ Captain BOWYER
I would like to explain why it is that, after having been one of those who took a leading part in seeking to amend this Bill, I have now withdrawn all opposition to it, and, indeed, support it whole-heartedly. On the 9th May I had my name down on the Order Paper to a Motion for the rejection of the Bill in the ordinary formula, and also had my name down to move that it be an instruction to the Committee on the Bill to make provision in the Bill that all superannuation allowances and payments out of the existing funds, based upon pre-War scales, should, as from 1st January, 1923, be increased by an additional supplementary allowance of not less than 50 per cent., except in the case of persons superannuated in the service of the North Staffordshire Railway Company. In putting down those Motions I had one object alone. It was never my object to delay or jeopardise the passage of the Bill. I cannot imagine any Member in any part of the House trying to imperil a Bill which is the result of an agreement between those who are to benefit under the Bill and those who are to administer it. My object was to see if we could possibly help the 1,300 or 1,500 old railway annuitants for whom I, in common with hon. Members of all parties, have been striving for the last five years. I need not labour the point that many of these annuitants are to-day suffering badly from the low rate of their pensions. I know of the voluntary effort which is being made to help them, and I hope the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras will allow us all to help in trying to increase the voluntary efforts on their behalf. I do resent in this matter the attitude of the railway companies, because in spite of the fact that a fortnight ago I had removed my name from every Amendment, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway sent out a letter dated 20th May stating that the proposed instruction to 172 the Committee which I read out just now was still on the Order Paper in my name. I am glad to have this opportunity of stating on the Floor of the House that this was not so. I wish to make it clear that from the moment I learned that this instruction might imperil the Bill, I took my name off. I want to see the Bill benefit those who are going to benefit by it, and I want to see it become law as soon as possible.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am quite willing to accede to what is the evident desire of the House, namely, that the Bill should be given a Second Reading without further discussion. I feel that the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion for the rejection of the Bill will also accede to that desire. They are both courageous, but they are also wise and generous, and it would be a wise and generous action on their part if they now withdrew their objection to the Bill. I think they have found, in the course of the discussion, that the aged annuitants, for whom we are concerned, have every safeguard under this Bill. They have for the first time guaranteed to them every single penny to which they have become entitled by service. There is also this point—that they have still the opportunity of going before the Committee upstairs and stating their case. I appeal on behalf of a great many railway men in that historic section of the new combine, namely, the Highland Railway, to my two hon. Friends to withdraw their objection and allow the Bill to have a Second Reading.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I personally hope very much that the Bill will pass into law, and that my hon. Friends will withdraw their Motion for its rejection. Many of us who are now in this House took part in the discussions on the Railway Bill four years ago, and those of my hon. Friends who were present will recall that the question of superannuation was one of those questions which were so to speak reserved from the operation of that Measure for future consideration. Now negotiations have taken place between those who are interested and the railway company, with the result that an agreed Bill comes before the House, and I think it is the. general wish that it should be passed into law as early as possible. Having said so much, I should like to say something upon the position of this House itself. 173 Reference has been made to a Resolution which was passed unanimously by this House in March, 1920. The Resolution was in the following terms:That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that the statutory pension of superannuated railway servants retired before or during the Government control of the railways should be increased to such an extent as will meet the increased cost of living."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2 March, 1920; col. 356, Vol. 196.]That Resolution was supported by no one in more conclusive language than by an hon. Friend of mine who was then a Member of this House and a director of the Midland Railway Company, I refer to Major Hills. No one in this House stood higher in the esteem of all parties than Major Hills, and during the subsequent deliberations on the Railway Bill in Committee he was the leader of the Members who spoke for the railway interest. This is what he said:These annuitants were allowed to retire on the certainty of a certain income and on the figures prevailing in those days the income on which they could retire looked quite sufficient for the rest of their lives. … The War has changed all that, and the same income is not now sufficient. Therefore you have to bring them up to the post-War level.Major Hills no doubt was expressing the view of the Board of which he was a member, and that view was shared by other railway directors. Let the House consider what the Railway Act did. It decontrolled the railways and allowed them to pass back into the hands of the companies. It secured a standard revenue to the companies, it enabled the railway companies to increase their charges and, further, as a result of the negotiations consequent upon the Measure some £60,000,000 was paid by the State into the coffers of the railway companies. Some of us voted for that Bill and some of my hon. Friends voted against it, but I am perfectly certain there is hardly a Member who voted for the Bill at that time who would have done so, unless he thought the obligation imposed by the Resolution of the year previously was to be carried into effect in letter and in spirit by the railway companies. That, whatever may be said by the hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon), has not been done. I agree that something has been done. He has told us that £18,000 has been subscribed by the present staff per year. All 174 credit to them, and I think it is a very generous contribution. Then 230,000 has been subscribed by the railway company. That also is a generous contribution, but it is not what this Resolution said, which was, that the annuities of these people should be increased to an amount equal to the cost of living, and what we complain of is that the railway company have not done what this House said, in express terms, that they ought to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Moseley said the question arose as to whether this could be charged against the revenues of the railway company, and apparently his argument is that so long as somebody else, namely, the State, pays the bill, the railways will accept it, but if you ask the company themselves to pay, they will have nothing to do with it.
The point that I particularly want to make is that this House is perfectly helpless in this matter. This House has to accept—and it may just as well face it—the humiliation of realising that the Resolution which it passed in March, 1920, was a mere formula upon which it cannot insist. It cannot insist upon it, because the railway company have said, in terms, that if this House endeavours to insist upon its own Resolution, they will withdraw the Bill. The secretary of this great company told the representative of the super-annuitants, in terms, "If you insist on this, we will withdraw the Bill," and so this House is in the dilemma of having to face the humiliation of seeing its own Resolution flouted by the railway company or of inflicting a grave injustice on those who would benefit by this Bill.
§ Mr. HANNON
The House did not fix the financial responsibility for the result of its own Resolution when it passed it.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
That is so, and that means that the railway company, so long as somebody else foots the bill, agree to it, but when they have to pay the bill, they will have nothing to do with it. That is a perfectly fair answer to the argument of my hon. Friend, and I say again that this House has no alternative in the matter. It has to pass this Bill for two reasons, first, because it is a good Bill, and everybody wants it passed, and secondly, if it attempts, so we have been told, to insert any Amendment in this Bill which will carry out its own Resolution, the Bill will be withdrawn, and those who will suffer will be those 175 who would otherwise benefit under the Bill. In these circumstances, while regretting it, I have no hesitation whatever in asking this House to support the Second Reading of the Bill, because, in fact, there is no other alternative than to submit, as I say, to the humiliation of seeing its own Resolution flouted.
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. GOSLING rose in, his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."