HC Deb 24 February 1927 vol 202 cc2040-4

Order for Second Reading read.

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


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."

The public generally will be more than satisfied with the result of to-night's debate. They will read with s'tisfaction that new time tables are to be provided, that the Southern Railway will be electrified, that the lighthouse men and captains are all to be included in conciliation—I am speaking generally. The Southern Railway will be able to vindicate themselves in resisting the combined attack of hon. Members for Cambridge University. This Bill is a non-controversial Bill. It deals exclusively with one particular subject, the superannuation of a certain section of the staff. The reason we are opposing this Bill in precisely the same sense that we opposed the last Bill, is not because the Bill is not a good Bill. As a matter of fact, I think it is due from me to congratulate first, the House of Commons. In its wisdom, when this matter was last discussed, the House by an overwhelming majority took the view that the fair thing was not being done. The Company then generously undertook that the matter would be reconsidered. They rightly pointed out that if a satisfactory scheme was likely to be instituted it would not be done by this House itself propounding a particular scheme but rather by both parties hammering out their difficulties and differences. I think that is a fair representation of the situation when the Bill was last before the House.

Since then, long and protracted negotiations have taken place. The result of these negotiations is an agreed Bill to-night so far as particular sections of the railway services is concerned. In saying "an agreed Bill," I want to congratulate all parties on the success of their negotiations. We are dealing with a Superannuation Bill. Whatever may be said about the difficulties, the advantages or disadvantages of railway amalgamations, I do not think it can be disputed that it has brought home to the railway men themselves, in a most uncomfortable way, the precarious position in which some of them find themselves. A superanuation scheme is a good thing, because it at least ensures some provision for old age. It is a security to the individual—something that is looked forward to. But I submit that, as it is a good thing for the principal officers of the company and for the clerical staff, so it is not only a good thing but it is essential to every member of the staff. Our experience is that the humble platelayers, after 30 or 40 years' service, the guards, or the shunters, or all those other grades who render service equally essential to that of the clerical staff, are not only entitled to be considered in this question of superannuation, but we feel that immediate provision ought to be made for them.

I never hesitate to say that I favour a contributory scheme. On certain railways certain grades do contribute, and good schemes are in existence, but in connection with this amalgamation we have already heard of the difficulties of the different lines and different routes, and that there were different systems practically in operation in connection with superannuation throughout the whole of the lines that now form the Southern group. Further, not only were there difficulties and differences, but one is told of all manner of promises that the men allege were made to them. For instance, there is a section of the Southern Railway men who say to me that a definite promise was made to them by Lord Bessborough. There are differences of opinion and different interpretations with regard to that promise, as far as their superannuation is concerned, but the broad general fact remains that this Bill is essentially a Bill for one section of the staff alone.

If the spokesman for the Southern Railway intends to remedy all the grievances which have been ventilated, if he is going to provide all the things that have been urged, it is going to be somewhat difficult for me to know exactly where the money is coming from for the superannuation that I am advocating. But I will put it on no higher ground than this, that the claim of these men for superannuation after 30 or 40 years' service is at least equal to the need of the flying squadron suggested by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Withers).

I do not propose to carry my opposition to this Bill to the Division Lobby, because, as I said previously, it would serve no useful purpose if one could defeat something that will benefit one section of the men. I hope, as a result of this Debate and the ventilation of this question, that the company will seriously consider the unfortunate position of a large number of faithful men, whose services must be appreciated by the railway company, and that with joint consultation and a contributory scheme all round, some effort will be made that will enable them shortly to come to this House with a Bill affecting not only one section, but all sections of the railway service.


I was very pleased to hear from the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) that he was not going to press his Amendment to a division, and I want to associate myself with him in the sentiments he expressed when he described this as a very good Bill. I also want to thank him for the congratulations he extended to those parties who have been responsible for bringing this Bill, a mutually agreed Bill, to the House of Commons as the result of what took place some 12 months ago, as has already been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Bassetlaw (Sir E. Hume-Williams), who had an experience which quite obviously he did not desire to see repeated as far as any further Railway Bills were concerned. At the same time, bearing in mind that this is a mutually agreed Bill as between the Association that I represent, namely, the salaried staff, the section to which the right hon. Gentleman for Derby referred as being concerned with this Bill, and seeing that that particular claim, put forward 12 months ago, has been so satisfactorily met, think one can to some extent—nay, completely —associate oneself with the wish expressed by the right hon. Member for Derby that at the earliest possible moment the Southern Railway Company will be able to extend pension benefits to those who are not, owing to their conditions, members of the superannuation fund.


I am glad that I can associate myself with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) and the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Townend) with regard to the proceedings and negotiations which have been antecedent to this Bill. Last year I expressed the hope that any negotiations which might follow should be carried on on both sides in a thoroughly friendly spirit. I am delighted on this occasion to acknowledge the friendly spirit in which they have been carried on, and to say that I feel that it is of good augury for the future. It is a spirit with which the Board of the Southern Railway are thoroughly imbued in these matters, and which I shall always do my utmost to foster and induce to continue in every possible negotiation that may be necessary. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of peace in industry. I have always felt with great keenness the need for encouraging on every occasion this peace in industry, and for my part—and I am sure I can speak for my colleagues—I may say that we are only too glad to talk over in a friendly way those difficulties or grievances which may arise, in order to arrive at a mutually satisfactory conclusion. At any rate, that has happened on this occasion. The officers of the company who have been engaged in the detailed negotiations have, I think, thoroughly carried out that spirit also, and so have the negotiators on the part of the Railway Union.

This Bill is, of course, for the salaried officers of the railway only, and I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that he wants superannuation extended in some other respects. I should like to point out that to bring in only a certain number of the railway staff would cause a great deal of discontent in one quarter or another. It is almost impossible to make two men work side by side, one on a superannuation system and another not on a superannuation system.


I recognise the difficulty, but if the principle were accepted, it would be a matter of adjustment, and I am sure no one enjoying superannuation would experience any difficulty in trying to adapt himself to the circumstances in trying to work with someone else who ought to get it.


Another difficulty is that the Southern Railway at the present time has got a voluntary pension scheme of the wages staff to which the men contribute nothing. I have had the figures taken out, and the sum paid in that respect in 1926 amounted to £165,000. Of course the right hon. Gentleman will see that that complicates the situation. A superannuation scheme for the wages staff would require a great deal of consideration. But these are merely observations on what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I want again to tell the House how cordially I welcome the friendly spirit in which these questions are approached, and I trust it will continue.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.