HC Deb 12 March 1928 vol 214 cc1675-81

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [8th March], That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Resolution, 'That it is expedient to provide for the application to persons in the Diplomatic Service of the Superannuation Acts, 1834 to 1919, and to authorise in the case of such persons the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of allowances and gratuities under those Acts as so applied'.

Question again proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


There are several Members on these benches who want some explanation of this particular Resolution before they agree to this money being voted. What with the action of the Government and the loss of privileges in one way or another, it is all very difficult. There is a great deal being done to reduce in this or that direction social services that at present tend to make the lot of the working classes easier, and we are rather disturbed when the Government come forward at the same time that these reductions in working-class standards of life are in the air with a proposal still further to make easy the lot of what one may already rightly regard as a very favoured class of the community and even as a very favoured class of the Civil Service. As I understand it, they are not recruited as in the ordinary Civil Service by open competitive examination, but are recruited by nomination and by patronage.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel)

They have to pass examinations.


I am not denying that they have an examination to pass, but, unless my own recollection is very much at fault, the Diplomatic Service is not recruited by open competitive examination, but by limited examination after nomination. The matter is rather important, and I happen to be specially well-informed on it. It was part of the necessary knowledge of my trade to know what avenues of public service were open to boys leaving school, and my impression is very definite. I do not know of any amendment of the position. While the highest positions in the highest branches of the Civil Service were open to any young man in open examination, the Diplomatic Service was limited to a very small group, who, admittedly, passed an examination, and I think had some special training afterwards, but it was an examination limited to a small group nominated by someone with social or political influence who pushed them if they needed it. I gather that the hon. Gentleman has additional information on this matter, and, if I am still wrong in my assumption, I am willing to be corrected. But I believe my assumption is right, that the Diplomatic Service is recruited more by nomination than by open competition, and that the men who seek admission into the Service must have something like a private income. If that be the case, and if these positions be limited to men who have a special social grade, then presumably they have resources that are not available to the ordinary young man entering the Civil Service in the ordinary course, and I would be very loth to agree to the voting of a large sum of public money to a group of men who start off in a career which has been specially prepared for them and who throughout their period of public service are supported by additional private resources and are in enjoyment of very handsome increments, particularly in the higher branches of the Service.

I would be loth, indeed, to agree to vote a large sum of public money to make the lives of these people still better at a time when great economies are taking place both in the wages of the working classes and the small alleviations in their social life. Therefore, I would like a more adequate explanation as to the reasons that make the Government at this particular time—because presumably I shall be told that the whole purpose is to remove an anomaly—give this additional money. I shall be told that these men have been in an unfair position as compared with other branches of the Civil Service, but, if that be so, I want to know why at this very late date the hon. Gentleman comes forward, after alleging the need for national economy, to remove an anomaly which presumably has been in existence a very long time. I do not know any particular reason why this proposal should be brought forward this year any more than at any time during the last 20 or 30 years. I shall be glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's explanations, and I can assure him that I am not approaching the matter in a hostile frame of mind. I am always anxious to see our public servants treated with the utmost fairness, but I do not think that there should be favoured sections, and I have the feeling about the hon. Gentleman and his associates in the Government that, while they are very ready to economise at the expense of the lower-paid people, they can be almost profligate in the way that they are prepared to treat smaller groups. I should like to hear the hon. Gentleman's reasons in support of the Resolution.


The object of this Resolution, which is to be put into a Bill, is mainly to place pensionable Diplomatic Servants in the same position as civil servants. As a matter of fact, this step ought to have been taken when the two Services were amalgamated in 1919. Hardship is likely to be caused, and it is to remove that hardship that this Resolution has been moved. I should be out of order in replying to the questions about the original salaries and the changes in them which are being made. These are outside the scope of the Bill. We do not alter the original salaries. All we do is to put the pensions in the Diplomatic Service into the same position as those of the Civil Service. Very few people are concerned and very little money is at stake. At the end of 10 years, the change will add about 4 per cent., amounting to £2,000 a year.


I rise to oppose this Resolution. I am frankly disappointed with the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He told us that, if this Resolution was not passed, it would cause hardship, but he never told us where the hardship would be caused. He never told us of a single individual. He made a general statement, and, if we were making it on this side of the House on behalf of some poor person, we should have to produce the person and tell the House all about him. But because the hon. Gentleman comes and says it, we are asked to believe it is hardship when he says it in a general fashion. He does not tell us the income that these people possess, or how much they are losing. All he says is that they are in receipt of comparatively good incomes. He treats the House with contempt, and he treats the one or two Members who raise it with contempt, and he says nothing about any hardship. He simply says it is hardship, but he does not mention the facts that ought to be placed before this House, namely, what the persons are earning at this moment. Before he can prove hardship he ought to say what the salaries are at the moment or the salaries prior to retirement, what is the amount of pension they are getting before this Act starts to operate, and what age they get them. These three facts we ought to know, and in no case has the Financial Secretary to the Treasury treated this House to even a tenth part of what the Minister of Labour would be asked to do if we were bringing in a Bill to increase the unemployment benefit. I am surprised even at my own colleagues on the Front Bench. I have seen one colleague there who, some time ago, was associated with us, quite rightly, against Cabinet Ministers taking salaries of a similar kind.

Here are men getting £1,700 a year, not for salary but for retiring allowance, and we are asked to sit quietly and tamely by while this country is led to believe that we are poor. The hon. Member says it might have been done any time within the last nine years. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth) has said that this is the worst year of any of the nine years. He is one of the leaders of the economy group, and it is not long since he said that this year, from the point of view of financial stringency, was the worst. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury was chosen for his post because he was supposed to be keener on economy than any member of his party. He was the new broom, and yet this is the second occasion that he has come forward with a proposal of this sort. Not long ago it was the Irish Loyalists, and this time it is an increase for diplomatic servants. Yet this year is admitted to be one of the greatest stringency following the industrial upheaval and following the Chinese question. The hon. Gentleman says it will only cost in 10 years £2,000, but he does not give the figure it will cost between this and 10 years. We are always asked to believe it is only £2,000 if it is for well-to-do people. If you capitalise £2,000, it is enough to keep an unemployed family as long as they live in a state of comparative comfort. Take what he puts on an old age pension—an annuity value. He charges 5 per cent. on £300 and 10 per cent. on the remainder. Put it on that value, and it will keep a working-class family. You talk about corruption, but suppose this had been done at Mile End or Chester-le-Street or Bedwellty! The friends of the privileged class are here voting money for their own friends. This is one of the perquisites that the rich get; the sons who cannot get earldoms themselves get another job handed to them. This is one of the things that we are told West Ham is becoming shocked over, and the Opposition is being asked to sit tamely by and let it go. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where are they? They have gone home!"] The reason you do not go home is because you are the patient oxen.


Tethered goats.


And yet we are asked to vote this sum to give to the friends of the Government of the day. The thing is shocking. Not long ago the Government imposed tremendous restrictions on the unemployment and on the poor people in receipt of poor Law relief, and yet they have the cheek and impertinence to grant this sum to their political friends. It is jobbery of the worst kind.


There are one or two points that I should like to have explained. The present cost of Diplomatic pensions is about £50,000 per annum, and I should like to know how many persons that covers. There are to be increases of 23 per cent. in the first year, falling to 11 per cent. in the fifth year, and 6 per cent. in the tenth year, and, finally, about 4 per cent. Is that an average of £.2,000 per annum covering the whole of the 10 years? On the general proposition, I agree that this is a serious matter from our point of view. One class of the community is being very badly treated—those people who come under what is called the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Scheme. Many people cannot have the pension, and those who do get it have to be 65 years of age. There is no question of anyone getting it before that age, and yet in this proposal, if certain things happen, these people can have it at 60 years of age. If one class of the community are giving of their best and are prevented from being in employment at 65 years of age, how is it that they cannot get pensions if they are thrown out of employment before that time, while we are giving it under this scheme, although we know that these people are not in need of money like the working-class people I am speaking about? It is on these grounds that we raise our voice of protest. Although I am quite loyal to my people on the Front Bench, I think they have made a mistake in not challenging the Government and taking a Division on this point. We ought to lodge a protest on every occasion of this kind, and bring to notice the difference in conditions between one class of persons and another. On this occasion, if my hon. Friends will force a Division, I will certainly go with them into the Lobby to bring to notice a very bad state of affairs

Mr. MAXTON rose——

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

The hon. Gentleman has exhausted his right to speak.


Surely it is within my right to ask a question.


The hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.


On a point of Order. Is it not in order for a Member to ask your leave to speak again?


Certainly he can.


I intended, with your permission, to ask the hon. Gentleman if he will reply to the question that

Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolution by Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel and Mr. Godfrey Locker-Lampson.