HC Deb 16 December 1935 vol 307 cc1508-11

Considered in Committee, under Standing Order No. 69.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to amend the Pensions (Governors of Dominions, etc.) Acts, 1911 and 1920, by making provision—

  1. (1) with respect to the nature and period of service qualifying persons for the grant of pensions under section one of the Pensions (Governors of Dominions, etc.) Act, 1911;
  2. (2) with espect to the meaning of the expression 'service in the permanent Civil Service of the State'; and
  3. (3) for granting in certain circumstances to persons who, after serving as Governors within the meaning of the said Act, have served in the office of Governor-General of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, pensions in respect of their service as such Governors and in respect of their employment (if any) in service in the permanent Civil Service of the State within the meaning of the said Acts as amended in pursuance of this Resolution;
and to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of the sums required to defray such expenditure as may be occasioned by the said amendments." (King's Recommendation Signified)—[Mr. J. H. Thomas.]

8.30 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. J. H. Thomas)

I think there will be general agreement with the principle involved in the Financial Resolution which I am asking the Committee to accept. Briefly, it is to remove certain anomalies which now exist in Governors' pensions under existing Acts. There will be agreement that if any person at present employed in the Civil Service has proved by his great experience and knowledge that he is fitted to take the position of Governor in any of our Colonies it would be a profound mistake that any existing legislation should prevent the Secretary of State appointing him, or that he for any financial reasons should be prevented from accepting it. At the present time there are a number of distinguished civil servants who, if they were invited to take a responsible position of this kind or whom the Secretary of State felt he should appoint, would be able to say, "No, it would be unfair; I have served a long period in the Civil Service and now to take the responsible position of Governor will mean that I should be financially worse off when the time arrives for me to take my pension." It will be agreed that an anomaly of that kind ought not to continue, and it is with the view of remedying that state of affairs, to make it possible that any Secretary of State shall not have to pass over an individual of that kind or for the individual to plead that he would be worse off financially, that the Bill has been introduced. There is no controversy, I believe, on either side of the Committee as to the merits and, therefore, having briefly explained the circumstances set out in the White Paper, I beg to commend the Financial Resolution to the Committee.

8.33 p.m.


As I understand this Money Resolution it is to authorise the payment of increased pensions from the Exchequer to certain Governors, not all, of a Dominion or Colony or mandated territory. At the present time civil servants are entitled to pensions. Under the law if they become Governors they have to serve for 10 years as a, Governor before they are entitled to the increased pension, and this Money Resolution is to provide that all civil servants who have become Governors of any part of the British Empire, Egypt and the Sudan shall be entitled after three years' service to the pension to which they are now entitled after ten years' service. It is a remarkable change. The estimate, I understand, is only something like £2,000 though that figure is not stated in the Money Resolution.

I would only make this comment. There is nothing which seems so easy to get through the House of Commons as the provision of pensions or emoluments for people who ordinarily receive large sums. It is considered to be a, matter that should hardly be discussed at all. I am not opposed to this Money Resolution. I am only calling attention to the circumstances in which we deal with these matters, and I would, by way of comparison, point out that nothing seems to meet with so much opposition here as the provision of pensions or the increase of pensions for those who are below the £100 a year mark. This proposal relates to men who have reached the age of 60. What is the position with regard to the men who do the useful work, the hard work, the dangerous work of the nation, the men who have made the British Empire? The largest pension reached by them is 10s. a week at the age of 65. If it were possible to amend this Money Resolution so as to make it provide that every person on arriving at the age of 60 should receive a pension of £50 a year there would be a tremendous storm of opposition to it. That is something we ought to bear in mind when we are dealing so airily with a thing of this kind. I realise what the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out with regard to men of distinction in the Civil Service who may become suitable Governors. I have my opinion regarding some who are Governors and some who have been Governors.


And some who would be Governors.


Yes, and some who would be governors. But the point is that the best men should have the position. I do not know of any individual who has been prevented from becoming a governor by reason of the law as it previously existed and if there is any such case I agree that the law ought to be amended to provide for it. I do not think that many will come within the Resolution and I am inclined to think that the estimate of an extra £2,000 a year is generous. I am really concerned about the hundreds of thousands of men in the country who are not entitled to pensions and whose need for pensions we have not been able to make the House of Commons understand up to now. I draw attention to this aspect of the matter in the hope that it will be borne in mind and that when an opportunity arises of doing something for the workers of the country, while we cannot expect to get for them the amounts provided for the Governors of our Dominions and Colonies, we shall try to get them reasonable pensions on which they can live.


I wish to know what is the urgency of this proposal and who is concerned at the moment in the alteration which requires this Resolution. I recollect how a Bill was rushed through in 1929 in order to secure pensions for certain people. It was done without sufficient explanation but with a great desire on the part of the Conservative Government of that time to see that somebody's position was made secure.


Was it not a Labour Government in 1929?


No. There was a Conservative Government at one period in 1929. There was another Government with which the right hon. Gentleman was concerned in that year but I am not asking him just now to explain why he was connected with that particular Government at that particular time. As I say the Measure to which I refer was rushed through and it was not done during the period of the Labour Government because those of us who spoke against it were speaking from this side of the House. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will explain what is the urgency of this matter and whose pension is at stake. If this change is necessary for those who are appointed to governorships why not include the whole of the Civil Service in all its branches. As my hon. Friend has pointed out the Government show great anxiety about handing out pensions to people who receive fairly adequate salaries while they are in office. But when we suggest that adequate reasonable pensions should be paid to men and women throughout the country we are told that to do so would be ruinous to the country. I hope it will be noted outside that one of the first steps taken by this Government is that of providing pensions for people who have received adequate salaries in their official positions while they are refusing pensions to those who have not enough to live on even while they are at work.


Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to state that the main purpose of the Resolution was to remove certain anomalies? If so, is he prepared to apply the same principle to other pensions Acts?


I cannot allow that question to be answered. It would be out of order.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.