HC Deb 07 August 1925 vol 187 cc1841-7

I am afraid that the question I have to ask the House to consider is comparatively small considering the wide-reaching subject that we have just been discussing. The point is a simple and a short one, but it is one concerning at least 20,000 civil servants who were formerly either soldiers or sailors with His Majesty's Forces. The Short point is, to ask that the terms of service in the armed forces when these men subsequently enter into the Civil Service shall be allowed to count towards their pension. There are two sets of ex-service men in the Civil Service to-day, those who are known to be the ordinary professional soldier and sailor and the temporary Service man who served during the last War.

The point I am mainly concerned about is for those, who having completed their full length of service with the Colours, and then passed a Civil Service examination, or complied with certain regulations, have entered into the Civil Service. The point can best be gathered if I put it this way: Of two friends, say, A and B, both of 19, the one enters the Army while the other becomes a postman At the end of eight years the one who entered the Army as a volunteer has finished his military service. He then enters the postal service and, like his friend, becomes a postman. At the end of their careers, at 60 years of Age, when they become pensionable, the one who has been all the time with the Post Office receives forty-sixtieths of his pay by way of pension, and the other receives only thirty-two sixtieths, that portion of the time that he served with the Colours being entirely ignored. It seems only fair that if these men have given a continuous service to the Crown that they should be entitled to count it towards their pension.

In this connection I am not asking something which is not already admitted fairly widely in the public service. Civil servants who joined up during the last War were allowed to count the period of time which they served with the forces, either ashore or afloat, towards their pension as though there had been no break. Police constables who joined up are allowed to count the three years' police service for four years' Civil Service as though there had been no break. Similarly, telegraph messengers who joined up and received their appointment as postmen during the War are allowed to count the whole of that service towards their pension.

The point I am now submitting was confirmed by a Committee appointed under the chairmanship of Colonel Sir Edward Ward in 1906. It is worthy of note that on that committee were such distinguished soldiers as the late Lord Cheylesmore, and eminent business men like Sir George Livesey, the chairman of the South Metropolitan Gas Company, and, what is more significant from some points of view, the head of the recruiting staff of the British Army. They signed and brought in a unanimous report supporting the point of view that I am now putting to the effect that it was only fair that this term of service should be allowed. I do not want to labour this point, but I can give chapter and verse and quotations from authorities, of which I have copies here, who have accepted this principle and applied it. The point is a short and simple one. It has been accepted by a committee appointed by a former Government, as I have stated. In some parts of the public service even directly under the Government the principle is admitted. It concerns only 20,000 people, or whatever number there may he at any time, of professional soldiers or sailors, and has no regard to those who serve at any exceptional time, for whom special arrangements are made. This has been the subject of agitation for possibly 20 years past.


Thirty years.


The Financial Secretary corrects me, and says it is 30 years. I trust it will now be settled, and settled, I hope, by the acceptance by the Treasury that they are prepared to meet these men, and put them on an equal footing with those who started in other branches of the Service.


I desire to associate myself with the appeal that has been made by my hon. Friend. The figure of 20,000 which he gave was not quite accurate. It was prior to 1914, but not since that date. The number at the moment is probably now in the neighbourhood of 35,000. As my hon. Friend said, the simple claim is that continuous service under the Crown should count for pension. Whether that service is given to the Army, the Navy, or the Civil Service, it is service given really under one head and should be treated as a whole. I have heard very many discussions on this subject. I have been associated with many representations regarding it, but I would respectfully submit that the claim has never been fairly disposed of by argument. The ground on which this claim has been rejected is that the Government of the day have never found themselves in a position to meet the financial obligations of it. The question, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, was considered in 1906 by a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Ward. After that War Office Committee had carefully investigated the whole subject they reported in favour of the men. I would like to read a short extract from that report which will make my point clear. The Ward Committee said: Such an arrangement as this is, in our opinion, inequitable, and rests upon a purely arbitrary basis for army and navy service, with their attendant risks, should surely be regarded as at least equivalent in its pension-bearing value to civil service, and the existence of a rule which declines to recognise the former as such is, not unnaturally, viewed by those concerned as unjust. An amalgamation of civil and naval service for civil superannuation is admitted in the case of certain shipwright boys who engage to serve for 12 years from the age of 18 in the Fleet, and are then transferred to the civil establishment in His Majesty's dockyards, being held liable for sea service in emergency up to the age of 50, and for this purpose only in the Royal Fleet Reserve. Sea time is allowed in all such cases to reckon for civil superannuation. Similar provision has been made with regard to dockyard riggers and seamen in yard craft by Order in Council of 16th April, 1861; and the civil servant who joins the police carries with him his civil service towards pension under the Police Act, 1890. I could quote further paragraphs from that Report in support of my contention, but I think that will be held to be sufficient for the purpose.

Not only has this claim been considered by many Governments and reported on by the Ward Committee, but the Army Committee of the House of Commons has, on a number of occasions, had this matter before it. When the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) was secretary to the Army Committee in the Parliament before last, he and his Committee carefully considered this case, and made representations to the Treasury on behalf of the men. For the reason I gave before, that is, the ground of cost, the Government of that time were unable to make any concession. It may be as well to remind the House that, owing to the practice whereby a large proportion of the vacancies for postmen are reserved for ex-soldiers, 70 per cent. of the men affected by this claim are employed in the more poorly-paid positions in that Department. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the result is that when these men reach the point at which they have to be superannuated they find themselves in receipt of a pension which is insufficient to provide them with a reasonable standard of life in their old age, and their sense of grievance is aggravated by the fact that men with no longer service under the State are receiving considerably more in the way of superannuation.

I will conclude by reminding the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply that there are a large number of superannuation anomalies in the Government service. As we found during the last Parliament, and as we have found during the present Session, a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction exists with regard to these conditions, and I would earnestly appeal to the Government to consider whether it is not possible to appoint a comprehensive Inquiry to examine into the whole of these anomalies, in the hope that we may once and for all be able to lay down a standard which shall be acceptable to the persons who for so many years have suffered under what they regard as a real grievance. It may be that the Government may not be able to make a financial concession of the magnitude for which the men are asking, but I believe a settlement of these outstanding questions is possible, and I sincerely hope something on those lines may be done.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

May I say a word to the House on a different subject? The House may like to know—and there are no other means of bringing it before them—that I have received the Sheppard Inquiry Report from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson). I have not read it yet, I have only just received it, and it is impossible for me to lay it as a Parliamentary Paper before the House rises. If the House will forgive the irregularity, I propose to publish it in the Press as early next week as possible, so that Members of the House may get the fullest information. Strictly speaking, of course, I ought to lay it as a Parliamentary Paper, as directed by the House, but I am sure Members would prefer that I should not wait until next November, as the House and the public will want to know what the Report contains. Therefore, with the assent of the House, which I am sure will be granted, I propose to publish it as early as possible next week, and then it will be laid later.


Seeing that this raises a far-reaching question and one in which wide interest is being shown, will the Home Secretary or the Government consider giving us time when we reassemble to discuss the Report and any recommendations that the Home Secretary makes?


As the hon. Gentleman knows, that matter is one for the Prime Minister. All I can say is— and I repeat that I have not yet read the Report—that I do not think it right to leave it over till November. It may be that I shall take some action upon it when I have read it, and in that case, of course, my action could undoubtedly be challenged in November.


I think it will probably be convenient if I deal at once with the proposal brought forward by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) that military service should be reckoned towards civil pension. As he told the House, this is a very old question, and it is not merely a question of administration. The Superannuation Acts definitely forbid the aggregation of military or naval service with civil service for pensions, therefore it is not a matter which could possibly be dealt with without further legislation. But if the House will examine the matter a little more closely, and not leave it where it was left by the very attractive case put forward by hon. Members, they will see that we should be landed in endless difficulty and a great deal of injustice if we were to accept this principle. Normally speaking, the soldier's engagement is not pensionable, nor is the sailor's, they have to re-engage to qualify for a pension, and just because the original engagement is not pensionable, it carries gratuities of varying figures, which are largely in place of any pension rights. Men who re-engage get their pension at the end of 21 years in the Army, and, I think, 22 years in the Navy, and if they go into the Civil Service they can draw their pensions from the fighting Services side by side with the pay they draw from the Civil Service. If we are going to make military service count for civil pension we shall have to take away the right which these pensioners now have of drawing their pension for their re-engaged service when they go into civil service.

The hon. Member for North Camber-well mentioned the case of the police, but in such a case a man in the Civil Service carries his pension with him and the distinction is easy to justify. The soldier or the sailor is not quite in the same position, and the policeman is entitled to look forward to a pension on his original contract. If he goes into the Civil Service his pension is not borne by the Civil Service Vote, but the local authority under which he serves makes the payment to the Civil Vote and Appropriation-in-Aid for the commuted pension which has been transferred. The proposal of the hon. Member would mean that he would pick out a favoured few of the fighting Services and give them a pension which would not extend to their less fortunate neighbours, and that would be an impossible position to maintain. You could not link up such cases with the man who went into the Civil Service and afterwards into the fighting Services, because it would have to extend to everyone who served even on a short engagement. On the other hand you could not limit it to the professional soldier.

The hon. Member for North Camberwell referred to the recommendations of the Ward Committee, which reported in 1906. That was a War Office Committee inquiry into quite a different subject. They inquired into the civil employment of soldiers and sailors after they left the Service, and the present question does not seem to have been in the terms of reference. They never heard any evidence on the subject before making their Report. The hon. Member also mentioned the treatment of the civil servant who joined the forces during the War. I do not think that is really a true comparison, because the position in that case was simply that those civil servants who were transferred during the emergency period had their posts kept open and were given the balance as civil pay where it exceeded their military pay, so that they should not be penalised in the matter. Thus they were protected against unfair discrimination during the period of their service as they were all the time during their civil service, and they were also protected in their pension rights during their period of civil service.

The hon. Member for East Bristol (Mr. W. J. Baker) mentioned a case which was dealt with in the Ward Report of the shipwrights class who had served afloat and were transferred to civil employment in the dockyards and drew pensions as for continuous service. Those classes are all paid for by the Department in which they took their original service, and they get those pensions under a special Naval Act which entirely distinguishes their case from that of the civil servant. The overwhelming reason against opening this matter now is the question of expense. Civil Service pensions cost about £4,500,000 a. year and the Fighting Services pensions nearly £14,000,000 a year. At a time when national economy is so essential we could not really undertake to extend conditions which were not meditated in the original contract to the particular favoured section of the Fighting Services.