§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
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 very much regret that the important Debate on unemployment has had to be interrupted for this Measure. The interruption, however, will allow Members of the party opposite a few minutes in order to get their chops and cool their heads before the Debate is resumed at half past eight o-clock. I wish to apologise to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is always so courteous and go willing to assist Members, for not having given him notice of the specific points which I intend to raise on this Bill. I was not able to do so because of the difficulty of knowing which Department is dealing with these telegraph and cable matters. Sometimes it is the Post Office, sometimes it is the Colonial Office and sometimes it is the Treasury. I understand that since we first put down this Amendment on the Paper, important conferences have taken place culminating in a conference held this morning at the Post Office. That conference, I gather, has gone a long way towards meeting some of the objections which we had in mind when we originally blocked this Bill.
The first question which I wish to ask is why has this Bill been smuggled in through a back door in another place as a Private Bill instead of being brought in as a Government Measure? It was introduced in another place and then it 2162 came along here and if some of us had not noticed it on the Order Paper it might have been passed through all its stages without any discussion at all. I do not press the point but in considering the nature of this Bill we have to remember exactly what the Pacific Cable Board is. It is not a private concern. It is an official body comprising representatives of this Government and of the Governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I see no reason why this should be a case for a Private Bill. The House will remember that the men who are dealt with in this Bill control a very important section of what is known as "the all-red route." The Pacific Cable Board covers the communications from the other end of the Imperial line, by-land line and submarine cable, via Vancouver to Sydney and New Zealand and by land line to other parts of Australia.
The Bill on the surface appears quite simple and innocent. It proposes to do two things. Clause 3 proposes to continue certain trusts which deal with the provident and pension funds of the Pacific Cable Board and the West Indian Cable undertaking. I raise no question on Clause 3, but when we come to Clause 4 we find that powers are given to merge this provident fund with a provident fund which may or may not be formed by an unknown body called the Communications Company. The Bill, in effect, presupposes the formation of a Communications Company provident fund or pension fund, in which will be included employés now employed in the Pacific Cable Board, the West Indian telegraph undertaking, the beam wireless stations and the cable office of the General Post Office in London. We are, therefore, within our rights in discussing the terms of the transfer of all these men who are going to be dealt with by the Communications Company's provident fund. Clause 4 provides for any difficulties which may arise, and I wish to make the point that it allows for any officials or men who may be transferred continuing to enjoy the same rights as they have now. Subsection (2, a) provides that it shall be certified by the Government actuary thatthe rights and benefits which are secured by the scheme to persons being beneficiaries under the trusts of the existing fund are at least as valuable as the rights and benefits secured by the said trusts.2163 That seems all right, but only if the new terms of service in the new company are as good as the present terms of service—as, for example, if the men transferred are to have as much security of tenure as they enjoy now under these Government and semi-Government undertakings. It does not matter what pension you promise a man if he is likely to lose his job before reaching the age at which the pension is likely to be given. It is of no avail to him to prophesy the pension which he is otherwise likely to get. I raise this point on this Bill in particular because the cable officers in the Pacific Cable Board are not as well organised as those in other undertakings. I am given to understand that they are not connected with any of the big organisations of operators, and it is just because they have no organised voice with which to put their views before the authorities that it is necessary to consider their case.
Up to the end of last year, there were wholesale reductions in the staff of the Pacific Cable Board as in many other cable undertakings. The chief reason was that up to a certain period these cables were operated by means of human relays. Instead of these relays certain mechanical devices are now used, and this led to a protest which is referred to in the report of the Pacific Cable Board published last year—which, I suppose, is the last trace of the workings of the Pacific Cable Board that the general public will ever see. This is what the report says:Some dissatisfaction which took the form of a petition to the Board was expressed as to the consequences of the economies which it was necessary to make to meet the altered circumstances of the Board's working. These petitions nave been very carefully considered but, apart from certain minor concessions, the Board feel unable to authorise complete staff reorganisation pending (1) the control of the system by the Chairman; (2) the result of the Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference.Therefore, nothing was done to meet the complaint of the men who had been dismissed. When the merger takes effect, as we are led to believe it is going to take effect, there will be many more dismissals. When the cable concerns are merged with the beam wireless organisation more work will be done by wireless and less by cable. I would remind the 2164 House that we are dealing here with a substantial sum of money. In the provident fund there is £166,826 and in the pensions fund £147,772. I have not been able to obtain the figures of the West Indian concern's provident fund, and perhaps the Financial Secretary will be able to give them when he replies. That concern publishes no reports. Then there is another fund which is included in the last report of the Pacific Cable Board but which does not appear to have been included in the Bill—a pensions guarantee fund of £36,860. Therefore, without taking into account the fund of the West Indian concern, there is a total of £351,458. An actuary could say at once whether this was an asset or a deficit. From my own examination of the report of the Pacific Cable Board it seems to me that this fund is a great asset indeed.
Last year, only a few thousands of pounds were paid out in benefits and pensions to the employés of the Pacific Cable Board while new securities purchased by the profits of the scheme amounted to between £20,000 and £30,000. I would recall to hon. Members that only £517,000 was paid for the whole Pacific Cable concern in this transaction, and, if we take this asset of £351,000, leaving out of account altogether the fund of the West Indian concern, we find that the Communications Company actually pay only £166,000 for the whole Pacific Cable undertaking. The Communications Company, when formed, will undoubtedly benefit by receiving this enormous sum of £351,300 and they will start off with a first-rate pension fund which looks, on the surface, capable of providing all the pensions required not only for those taken over from the Pacific Cable Board but for any other employés who may be transferred. It is all right to say that the employés of the Pacific Cable Board are going to get the same terms for pension as they get at present. Before we pass this Bill what concerns us is the question of the conditions of transfer apply-to these men. I have here a copy of a memorandum issued by the Post Office stating the proposed terms of transfer of the staff employed in these various undertakings. The first Clause is to the effect that the number of posts in the various grades to be transferred to the Communications Company is shown in 2165 an attached schedule and the schedule, with which I do not propose to trouble the House, is a list of a number of different grades of engineers and other officials.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel)
In respect of what service?
I understand, and I shall be glad of correction if I have been misled, that the Post Office have issued a suggested agreement covering the terms for all the employés who are to be roped in under the umbrella of the new Communications Company.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I would point out to the hon. Member that this Bill has nothing to do with the wireless service and if he is putting forward arguments based on assumptions of what wireless operators will or will not get, that question I submit has nothing to do with the Bill. This Bill simply deals with the employés of the Pacific Cable Board.
I did not mention the word "wireless." I am discussing the proposals as to the terms of service under the Communications Company when it is formed. Those proposals admittedly include beam wireless employés but they also include employés from the cable office at the General Post Office and employés of the Pacific Cable Board with whom we are specifically concerned in this discussion. If there is any other agreement I hope the Financial Secretary will bring it before us. The second Clause in the Post Office memorandum states that the staff engaged on certain work exceeds the number to be transferred, owing to rotation and part time employment. That means that the staff is in excess of the number of people likely to be transferred. Then there is a Clause which says:The Company will take over members of the existing staff up to a number not exceeding that shown in the Schedule for each grade.2166 That clearly presupposes a balance of men who will be left out of employment. This is more important. It says:The Company will make an offer of employment to members of the staff who are or who have been engaged on the service, this offer being extended to a sufficient number of officers of each grade to secure, if possible, a transfer of the numbers shown in the Schedule.I want to say that no offer has yet been made by the Communications Company, and I do not think we should discuss a section of their future conditions until we know the whole of those conditions. Clause 5 says:Where there are more eligible officers of a grade than there are posts to be transferred, the offer will be made to those officers in the order of their length of employment.That again clearly presupposes a balance of men who will not be employed. Then it says:The Company will specify in detail the terms of service offered to each transferee. These terms will comply with the following conditions:One of these conditions is very important. It is:(a) they shall be at least as favourable as the terms enjoyed by him immediately prior to the date of transfer, including hours of duty, remuneration, allowances, pension, gratuity, and other superannuation rights, free medical attendance, sick pay, and other benefits or privileges, whether enjoyed as a right or by customary practice.That sounds very well, but I believe that under some of these conditions of employment a man does not attain his full privileges unless he has been in the service for a period of five years. There is no condition whatever that this period of probation shall continue uninterrupted when a man transfers from one of these concerns into the service of this unknown Communications Company. Then we come to the last of the points, which is very important:The company shall guarantee at least five years' employment on the foregoing terms to each transferee, so long as he remains less than 60 years of age and subject to the maintenance of good health and conduct.I suggest that service on a guarantee of five years in a private company is not comparable with the permanent service which an officer under the Pacific Cable Board at present enjoys. I know that if the Postmaster-General were here, he 2167 would say there is no real continuity of service at present, but he is not here, and I suggest that anyone who knows anything about the Civil Service must realise that employment under these concerns cannot be compared with a Jive years' guarantee from a private company. There are some other Clauses with which I will not trouble the House, but those are the proposals that the Postmaster-General has presumably agreed with the Communications Company and which are about to be put to the employés concerned.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
On a point of Order. Should not the discussion be confined, not to terms of service, but to pensions?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am trying to make out what the Post Office has to do with this Bill. I thought it was the Pacific Cable Board that was concerned.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Nor does it deal with terms of service. It deals solely with the pension and provident funds.
§ Mr. BENN
On a point of Order. May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that the Assistant Postmaster-General said, when we were debating this question previously;All men serving on cable ships will be in exactly the same position as any other postal servant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1928; col. 1661, Vol. 223.]
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. Amery)
Surely that refers to people serving on cable ships under the Post Office, and has nothing to do with the Pacific Cable Board.
The reference I have just made to the Post Office was concerned with the Memorandum produced by the Postmaster-General, which has been the basis of discussion of a conference, presided over, I understand, by Sir Basil Blackett, Chairman-Designate of the Company, in which all these interests were concerned, and I think it will be in order to refer to the conditions of service of the men before we agree to the transfer of their pension fund to some unknown body. I want to compare the terms offered by that Memorandum to 2168 the statement made by the Postmaster-General in this House on 7th December, when we were discussing the employés of the Pacific Cable Board and other organisations. He then said:We promise that no unestablished man will be displaced, and that every established man will preserve his rights."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1928; col. 1662, Vol. 223.]If anybody reads the Memorandum which I have just quoted, which I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury can say is the wrong Memorandum in this connection—
§ Mr. SAMUEL
As the hon. Member appeals to me, I would ask him to look at the Title of the Bill, which is:An Act to make provision as to the pension fund and provident funds established by the Pacific Cable Board.I suggest, with great respect, Mr. Speaker, that our Debate must be kept within: the limits of those words.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) appears to be discussing all sorts of things except the Bill now before the House, which deals, so far as I can make out, merely with pensions for these employés.
Surely the pensionable rights of these employés depend on their length of service. If they are transferred to a company in which their security of tenure is very much worse than it is at present, their whole title to receive pensions at all will be seriously jeopardised, and that is the point I am trying to make. They are at present in the employment of semi-Government concerns, in which it might be: aid that they are in permanent employment until they reach the age of 60. I suggest that they will only be given a security of five years, and the other condition I have read out is a serious alteration of that security. I hope, however, that I have been misinformed, and that the Financial Secretary will be able to tell me that the Postmaster-General's pledge, given on 7th December last, is going to be carried out to the letter.
Another point that I want to make concerns an omission from this Bill. In future, no publication will be made of the amounts of these provident and pension funds. Up to the 31st March last year, in the annual Report of the Pacific 2169 Cable Board, a full balance-sheet was published, showing the pension fund, the pension guarantee fund, and the provident funds. If we had succeeded in passing the Amendment moved in this House last December, the annual balance-sheet of the Communications Company and these pension funds would have been published every year. After this year, we shall be handing over £351,000 of pension fund, largely built up by private money, to a new company, the Communications Company, and the public will never again see the balance-sheet or the accounts of that fund. That is a very important point, and it affects the terms of service and the security of officials who have served this country and the Empire with great loyalty and fidelity in maintaining the all-red route.
This Bill presupposes the formation of a body called the Communications Company. The House will remember the very strong opposition that was offered to the Imperial Telegraphs Bill, in which the Communications Company was not mentioned, but in which its formation was foreshadowed. There was such strong opposition that it occupied several days in this House. The way to carry out the recommendations of the Section of that Measure dealing with the very small part of the staff that is included in this Bill is not the way that the Government have chosen. The Government ought first to have come down to this House and told us all the conditions of transfer of all the men employed in the different constituent companies to be merged into the Communications Company, and at the same time we ought to have been allowed to vote either for or against the transfer of the very valuable property which is being handed over for a mere song.
I submit that it is within my province to suggest that we ought to have been told the conditions of all the men who were transferred before we were asked to pass a Bill dealing with only one section of the men. The Government have put the cart before the horse. They ought to have brought before us the general terms and the whole conditions, and then we could have decided on any section such as we 2170 are dealing with in this Bill to-night. I move the Amendment to reject this Bill because I believe its present form as a private Bill is out of order and deals unfairly with public servants who have served the country and the Empire with loyalty and fidelity, and because it makes no satisfactory terms for the future employment either of these men or of the men employed in any allied services; and in general I move it as a further protest against the action of the Government in handing over to private interests a great State asset which has been produced by public money, and in giving it to their friends for a mere song.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Amendment has been moved, if I may say so, with great ability and in a very interesting and well-documented speech. The House should examine this Bill very carefully indeed. Everything that has been connected with this transaction has deserved very close scrutiny, and the views that were expressed when the original Bill was before the House have been thoroughly justified. I want to put one or two questions to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. What is the meaning of Clause 4 of the Bill, which states:In the event of the Communications Company establishing either alone or jointly with any other company a pension fund or a provident fund.8.0 p.m.
The House will be aware that under the original proposal, of which this is a sequel, we handed over all the means of communication that the Government had at their disposal to the company which is mentioned here, but which was not then formed, and which was to make a vast trust or combine. Are they going to form a still further trust? Does the portion of the Bill that I have quoted mean another communications company, another cable company, another wireless company, or some other company, such as an industrial assurance company, or a railway company, or a banking company? What does it mean? The chairman of this new Communications Company is a Governor of the Bank of England. I should have thought that of itself was a whole-time job, without taking on this as well. Does it mean that this scheme will be amalgamated with 2171 the Bank of England pension scheme? Does it mean some fresh merger? The whole order of the day seems to be international combines. Hon. Members opposite with their friends, supporters, their allies and their paymasters are not content with national trusts. They must have international trusts. They must have an international monopoly. What is in the wind? What is foreshadowed? What is behind all this?
The other question I want to ask is this: What advantage is it to a man who is going to be dismissed to know that under this Bill the pension rights of his neighbour are to be kept on? What surrender value will there be to his own rights? Supposing when this Communications Company is formed certain employés are dismissed or thrown out after five years. What is their compensation for loss of superannuation or other pensions? My last point is this: I am glad to see what Clause 4, Subsection (2, a) says about the rights and benefits. That Sub-section reads:The rights and benefits which are secured by the scheme to persons being beneficiaries under the trusts of the existing fund are at least as valuable as the rights and benefits secured by the said trusts.That seems to be all right. But how is it that we are legislating to-night for a non-existent company—a company that has not been formed, and may never be formed? We were told when the original Bill went through that all the Dominions had asked for it. We now know that the South African Government has objected and has refused to come into line. Are we simply wasting our time in passing this Bill? For the reasons I have stated, I beg to second the Amendment.
§ Mr. GILLETT
The first point on which I should like information is in regard to the number of persons who will be affected by the proposed transfer of these undertakings, and who will be in a position to benefit under the large funds which have been mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend. The next point which, I think, has a distinct bearing on the matter is this. It is said that this has nothing to do with the Post Office service, but Clause 4 deals with, "Power to amalgamate Board's funds with corresponding 2172 funds established by Communications Company." In the pamphlet that was issued at the time when the report of the Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference, 1927–28, was published, we were told that the Communications Company was going to take over certain definite companies and that two are named here. On page 17 that pamphlet says:The Communications Company will also acquire the Government Cables and hold the lease of the Post Office Beam Stations.Are these concerns also going to bring a number of men into some fund, of which this money is to form a part? What amount of money is to come into the fund on behalf of the representatives of the Post Office Beam Service and Government Cables? Are the Government to make a contribution to this fund for any of their members transferred? It may be that the funds that are coming for the two trusts are too large in comparison with the funds coming from other quarters. It is quite true, as is stated on page 4, that there is enough money to supply all that has been promised to these employés, but what if there is a large margin on these funds? You may build up a fund of this kind, and if there is such a margin is it simply going to mean that these accumulations that have been saved by these two companies will go into the general pool and provide pensions for men who come in from other services? Incidentally, the money might be used to provide pensions for the men transferred from the Post Office service. It seems to me that the relationship between the Government employés and this fund is very much closer than the Bill indicates.
The whole matter is eminently unsatisfactory. In bringing up these piecemeal arrangements, there is very little information given to us. We only find out from my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken actually what the funds are The Financial Secretary to the Treasury was not anxious to give us information to start with, but perhaps he will now be willing to do it. It seems to me that the postal service is closely connected with this matter, but there is no representative of the Post Office present to tell us what the position is. As far as we can tell from the information before us at this moment, all that we may be doing is to transfer large sums of money which may make ample provision for the men concerned 2173 but incidentally may provide for others also. Why should not the money be kept solely for the benefit of the men engaged at present in these two services, so that on their discharge they may get some extra payment? I should like to know if that point has been considered; but, as I have said, the whole of this matter is extremely unsatisfactory, and I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
There is one point that has not been mentioned, and that has reference to the men who are now in these companies but may not be transferred, either on account of the companies not transferring them or because the men do not want to be transferred. We do not know what the terms of transference will be, and it may be that there are a considerable number of men who are not satisfied with the terms of the transfer and who are not willing to be transferred. In regard to these men, as far as I read this Bill we have no guarantee as to what will happen to the men who, will not be transferred. If we refer to the words of the Preamble—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Clearly this Bill has nothing to do with the transfer of these men. I understand that has already been arranged for, and that the agreement under which they are to be transferred will be laid on the Table of the House.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
On a point of Order. As far as we know, the terms of transfer have not been made yet, and we are dealing with a fund in which these men may be able to participate, but we do not know the conditions under which they will participate. I am referring to the last paragraph of the Preamble of this Bill, which says:And whereas it is expedient that in the event of the said intended sale being carried into effect and of the persons who are contributors to the said funds or any of them being transferred from the employment of the Board to the employment of the Communications Company….My point is that there will be a large number of men who will not be transferred, and who, when the terms of the transfer are made known, may not choose to be transferred. We have no guarantee under this Bill that those men will be able to make any claim whatever upon these huge funds that they have helped to accumulate, because the important 2174 part of Clause 4, that is, Subsection (2, a), says:The rights and benefits which are secured by the scheme to persons being beneficiaries under the trusts of the existing fund are at least as valuable as the rights and benefits secured by the said trusts.We are told who the beneficiaries are. Yet a person coming under this category may refuse to be transferred by virtue of ignorance of the whole situation. I think it is a profound mistake. We are asked to take a Bill like this, while the major questions upon which this Bill is based are entirely unknown to this House.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Perhaps I may deal with one or two subsidiary points before I explain the general position. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) asked me what the amount of the West Indian Provident Fund was. If he looks at the White Paper for the year ended 31st March, 1928, he will find that the amount is not a very large sum, it is £1,228. The contributions from employés amount to £534 17s. 6d. and, from transfers from the annual accounts, the amount also is £534 17s. 6d. That has since been slightly varied and the amount, to bring the matter up to date, is now £1,714. There was also a liability of£1,702 18s. 4d., therefore there was little or no surplus. As a matter of exact fact the surplus amounts to £11 5s. 6d. The hon. Gentleman also asked me what the Pacific Cable Board Provident Fund was. That amounts to £172,000 odd, and the Pensions Fund £140,000.
There are three funds in the White Paper; the Pensions Fund, the Provident Fund and the Pensions Guarantee Fund. The Pensions Guarantee Fund is not included in the Bill.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The Pacific Cable Funds amount to £312,000 odd. I think the White Paper explains the West Indian Cable position very fully. But I had better deal with the other questions asked me as I go along and the answers will then emerge. The House of Commons, as hon. Members know, passed the Imperial Telegraphs Bill a few months ago. The hon. Member for Northampton said that as this Bill is a Private Bill it is out of order. We are advised that it is not so. It has passed 2175 the Examiners of Private Bills in the House of Commons. The test of it being a Private Bill is, from what is it the result. If hon. Members will look at the remarks I made on 6th December last, they will find that I used these words:Similar funds attached to the Pacific Cable Board hare not been overlooked, and that has been dealt with. It is not possible to deal with those funds in a Public Bill, as the rights of individuals are affected, but the Pacific Cable Board at the instance of the Government, are promoting a Private Bill to protect the interests of the staff in respect of these funds, and the necessary notices of a Private Bill have already been published."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1928; col. 1551, Vol. 223.]
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The costs will be borne by His Majesty's Treasury. The Imperial Government have agreed to bear the cost of the Bill. The Imperial Telegraphs Act enables the Pacific Cable Board to sell the Pacific Cable to the Communications Company. The hon. Gentleman asked what the Cable Board was. It is composed of representatives of all the partner Governments and works under the 1901 Act. The Board owns property all over the world, and the transfer of the property to the Communications Company requires a considerable amount of work prior to getting the schedule in full detail. That schedule will appear in the agreement which will be laid in due course before Parliament. In the agreement will be embodied provisions to safeguard the position of the staff of the Pacific Cable on the transfer of the cable to the Communications Company. The staff of the Pacific Cable numbers about 400 and that of the West India Cable about 72.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
They are not at present. The Pacific Cable Board is a private undertaking as it now stands. It was stated in Debate that the Government had insisted upon definite provisions to safeguard the interest of the employés of the Pacific Cable Board. The Communications Company have accepted the terms which the Government have stipulated; these terms will form part of the agreement. I cannot give the terms for this reason. The partner Governments 2176 are parties to these terms, and we are awaiting their replies. Until we have received information that the partner Governments have agreed to them, I cannot give the terms. Over a series of years the Pacific Cable Board has, in partnership with the staff, made allocations towards the pension fund and provident fund, which for brevity I will call the trust fund; there is also an accumulation which has mounted up over those years. Two members of the Pacific Cable Company Board are trustees for this fund. When the Pacific cable is taken over by the Communications Company, the Board will disappear and the trustees could not continue to act; therefore, the funds must be transferred to new trustees. That is the very essence of the need for this Bill. It is essential that there should be maintained in future, as in the past, the existing rights and benefits to which the staff are now entitled and that is the reason for this Bill.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) asked me about the amalgamated fund. The Bill contains a provision which gives a further safeguard for the Pacific Cable employés. It may be to their advantage that the existing fund should be thrown into the Communications Company's similar trust fund, in which case there would be a unified fund for the transferred Pacific Cable employés and for the existing employés of the Communications Company. As all these rights are private rights they cannot be dealt with in a public Bill; moreover, as the transfer of trust money is involved, we seek by this private Bill to obtain the necessary sanction of Parliament. The provisions dealing with the interests of the staff cannot be included in the schedule of the agreement, and we are asking for power to transfer the trust fund to new trustees. With regard to the point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman made about Clause 4, that Clause is meant to give wide power to the Communications Company to meet eventualities. It will enable them, for example, to say to one of the great British insurance companies, "We will insure with you the benefits arising from the trust funds held for the staff, because we think that by doing so we can get better benefits for our men."
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Under the present powers of the Pacific Board and the West India Board, can they make that private arrangement?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
They might or they might not, but I do not think that in any case now bears upon the argument, because the Pacific Cable Company is to be dissolved. I need not say anything about Clauses 1 and 2 giving the title of the Bill and the definitions they are self-explanatory. Under Clause 3 the Bill preserves all rights of employés under the new conditions, and under Clause 4 these rights are preserved in the event of the amalgamated scheme to which I have referred. If there should be an amalgamated scheme, the whole spirit of the Bill is that the employés will not be a penny the worse off when the Pacific Cable is taken over. It is provided that the scheme for the amalgamation of the old trust fund with the Communications Company's fund must pass the Government actuary as sound and must have the sanction of the High Court. The Bill, therefore, does everything that human prudence and legal skill can do to see that the Pacific Cable men are not put in a position a penny worse than they were in before. The Bill is needed and designed to safeguard and protect the rights of the staff, and any postponement or alteration of the terms of the Bill will injure the staff.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. Gentleman has not said what happens to the rights of a man who is "sacked."
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The Communications Company will offer employment to every man now in the employ of the Pacific Cable Board. Every man will have the opportunity of going on as he was before, and this Bill will safeguard his provident and pension rights. If a man says that he does not wish to transfer, he will continue to have the same rights that he would possess if the Board remained in existence.
§ Mr. BENN
The hon. Gentleman is one of the most willing Ministers to answer questions, and no one suspects any deep and malicious design behind this Bill, but the questions that have been put to him have not been answered to the satisfaction of those who follow the proceedings. On the point about 2178 the cost of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman was specific in the Debate that the Government would pay, but Clause 6 says that the cost shall be paid by the Board, which, the hon. Gentleman told us, is a private undertaking. Is there any way of clearing up that difficulty?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member, but I am in the position to say that I am right and he is wrong. The Pacific Cable Board will pay the cost to start with but the Imperial Treasury will reimburse it.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The hon. Member must know the usual practice with a private Bill, and, if he will look at Clause 6, he will find that the Bill contains the usual formula. The cost is paid by the promoters—this is the common form of procedure, which the hon. Member seems to have forgotten—and the Imperial Government reimburses the cost.
§ Mr. BENN
The hon. Gentleman said that the Government would pay, and now he finds that under this private Bill procedure they cannot pay. In the last discussion on this Bill we heard a great deal about the partner Governments and one of the favourite shelters of the Government in defending this Measure was behind the partner Governments. It was said that the Government could not do this or that without consulting the partner Governments, but I should like to know why it is possible to promote a private Bill in this way. How did it come about that the Pacific Cable Company, after all the talk about the impossibility of not being able to do anything because of this partnership—that a private Bill was promoted on behalf of the Pacific Cable Board? I think all this business might have been revealed to the House of Commons. I do not blame the Government in face of all their recent difficulties, and it seems unkind to pursue the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the difficult position in which he now finds himself. The fact of the matter is that the Government have set to work to have the minimum of Parliamentary revelation and the 2179 maximum of private negotiation, and we have only had just a peep at what is going on.
Another point is that these other companies have not been explained to us. We have merely been told that this Measure is to enable the Communications Company to insure with a great British insurance company, but we have not been told in the Bill whether it is to be a British company or not. It may be that we shall get a German or an American company, or the Marconi Company may merge this company into some pension fund of their own. It may be that Mr. Kellaway will merge this company with some fund of his own. When we were debating this question on a previous occasion we were told that everything would be satisfactory because there was an advisory committee. Surely the conditions applying to the staff, their pensions and employment, are matters worthy of the attention of the Government. Has the scheme for merging the funds ever been submitted to the Advisory Committee? The Financial Secretary is not so ready now to reply, and he does not seem sure that he is right. The fact of the matter is that the Advisory Committee is a pure fiction put up to get the Bill through the House of Commons. Finally, there is the question whether the rights of the staff are really being secured under this Measure. Hon. Members have already pointed out that while it is possible to frame a sound scheme in terms of pensions and superannuation, you can easily destroy the rights of the staff by premature dismissal or failure to employ them. The Financial Secretary has not given us any effective answer on that point.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The question of the terms under which the staff will be transferred does not arise.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The Bill purports to protect the interests of the persons who will be transferred.
§ Mr. BENN
A reference to Clause 4, on page 4 of the Bill, will show that something must be certified, namely,(i) the rights and benefits which are secured by the scheme to persons being 2180 beneficiaries under the trusts of the existing fund are at least as valuable as the rights and benefits secured by the said trusts.If they are not transferred then they remain beneficieries under the trust. If that is so, I certainly will not dispute the Ruling of the Chair, but this only proves that the case is far worse than we anticipated. There was a Debate in which this point was discussed. It is now clear that there is nothing in the Bill to fulfil the promise that the servants employed by all these other companies would be engaged by the Communications Company, and would have their rights safeguarded. If that is so there is nothing more to be said, but it makes the Bill very unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. KELLY
I would like to ask another question as to whether or not those who are at present concerned with the existing fund have been consulted and have agreed to this arrangement. If they have not agreed, why is it being pressed forward, seeing that they are not subscribers to the existing fund which is going to be handed over to the new company? I suggest that those who have built up the fund have a right to a voice in this matter, and I would like to know whether they have been consulted.
§ Mr. AMERY
The position as regards the partner Governments is quite simple. This is a private Bill dealing with private trust funds, and it is promoted by the Pacific Cable Board. The terms of the transfer of the staff made between the Pacific Cable Board and the Communications Company are quite a separate matter from the provisions; of this Bill, and those terms have been agreed upon between the companies concerned. Those terms have been referred to the various Governments for their concurrence, and, as soon as their concurrence has been obtained, we shall be able to publish the terms upon which the transfer will take place.
§ Mr. AMERY
This Bill deals only with the pensions rights of the staff, and the object is to secure that none of the pension or provident rights are in any way diminished in the case of any man who is transferred, as I imagine the overwhelming majority will be. If any man does not wish to transfer, he has the same rights as to drawing out his equity in the pension and provident fund as he would have at this moment if, for ill-health or any other valid reason, he retired from the service of the Pacific Cable Board.