HC Deb 14 November 1955 vol 546 cc159-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

10.16 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I am very glad to have an opportunity of raising in the House the question of recognition of the long service of railwaymen. This is in no way intended as a partisan attack upon a nationalised industry as such, and I would like to make clear also that I do not in any way claim to have the expert knowledge based on long experience which is possessed by other hon. Members, in particular, for instance, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick).

The reason for my raising this matter tonight arises from two particular cases which came to my knowledge. The first concerns a ticket collector whose duty it was to do the route from London to Salisbury. He said to me one day, "I have been on the railways for fifty years. I am now being pushed out. The way in which I found that I was going was that I happened to be reading the notice board on Salisbury station and found that my job was advertised for replacement in two months' time." The second was a similar case, also of a man who had done over fifty years' service, and who told me the other day that he was due for retirement. It is true that he had received a formal letter of thanks from the district superintendent, but no real gesture had been made to him.

My purpose tonight is to express the firm conviction that it is idle and stupid to expect loyalty from men unless a greater measure of understanding is given to their deepest and most genuine instincts. Retirement after fifty years may mean something much more serious than simply a well-earned rest. Very often it comes as rather a shock and leaves a gap in a man's life.

The pensions received by many of these older men, who have given a lifetime of service to the industry, are very meagre. I do not believe that any industry can afford to treat men of proven loyalty in this hamfisted way. It would not cost very much to make a reasonable gesture to these men on the occasion of their retirement, but all that they get is, at most, a formal letter of thanks from the district superintendent. That is by no means sufficient; neither is it done at the right level.

I believe that when these men retire after such a period of service a very special gesture should be made to them to show that value is, indeed, placed upon their service. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate he will not seek to belittle this matter, and that he will not merely say, "On the whole, something is done about it," because I say to him categorically that not enough is done, and that what is done is not anything like adequate or of the right character.

It is to be hoped that in this age of technical advance and progress there will be some allied progress in this vital matter of human relations. There are twin dangers which confront us today, especially in industry, the dangers of size and complexity, and both of these, in my submission to the House, tend to blind us to the problems and to inhibit our effective action to meet those problems. One plea I would make here is that we do not put this vital problem into the hands of a so-called expert, the personnel manager or someone like that, the sort of man who has not the power to enforce his decisions or to make certain that what he believes is right to be done is implemented.

What we need is leadership, and here I would quote from an address made in 1937 by the late Lord Lloyd, who said: What monstrous misunderstanding of the tasks of leadership to congratulate yourself upon catching the bus which you are yourself supposed to be driving. Leadership is both understanding and action: understanding that when loyalty has been expressed in terms of fifty years' service and more something more is needed by way of its recognition than merely a formal letter from the district superintendent. I make it clear that I am in no way attacking that official, in no way criticising him. I am suggesting that these men who have given a lifetime of service have not had and do not now receive anything like the recognition, in either material or other terms, to which they are entitled.

This is a short but a strong protest against what has happened in the past. It is also a plea that those responsible all over the country, and not merely the British Transport Commission, should show by their actions in the future that a proper value is put upon the services rendered by these men. Loyalty is a virtue which we do not grab out of the air. It is not easily found. Men of proven loyalty and of long service can never be too numerous. I make no apology for raising this question in the House—

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

While I share some of the sentiments the hon. Gentleman has expressed, I do hope that he will proceed to put forward some definite, positive proposal.

Mr. Peyton

Nothing would give me greater pleasure, but the time at my disposal is very short, and I should like to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say. I should certainly be only too willing to put forward suggestions and to discuss them at another time here or elsewhere. My chief purpose tonight is to protest against the inadequacy of the recognition shown in the past to these men, and to plead for effective action in future.

There are in the railway service men who have a profound loyalty to and a great latent pride in the industry. Surely it is possible to enlist by effective means their co-operation in improving the service in which they have spent so great a part of their lives. I am sure that other hon. Members will wish to speak and I will not detain the House longer than it takes to reiterate most strongly this vigorous request that the British Transport Commission and all in authority on the railways should realise clearly that they cannot afford to serve so ill those who have given the railways a lifetime of service.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

The House will be pleased that this subject has been raised. I can assure the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that every hon. Member on this side of the House would not only agree with him but would go a great deal further. It is not just a matter of asking somebody vaguely to provide adequate retirement pensions for railwaymen. As the hon. Member has said, we cannot expect good service and loyalty from men in the railway service, or indeed in road haulage, unless they have not only reasonable retirement pensions at the end of long service but also adequate wages.

The hon. Member for Yeovil has made no reference at all to the difficulties that we who have fought for these things have had in the past, and the progress, however small, at present being made now that the industry is nationalised. Hon. Members with long service in the House will remember the many times that railway Bills were blocked in protest against the failure of the main line companies to provide superannuation schemes.

Mr. Peyton

I particularly made it clear in the short time at my disposal that I was not making an attack on nationalised industry nor seeking to claim knowledge of the railway industry which I did not possess.

Mr. Hynd

I realise that, but railwaymen have fought not only for pensions but for superannuation schemes for their salaried staffs for many years, without success. It is only within recent years—indeed one could say within recent months—that any attempt has been made by the railway authority to face this question. An all-embracing pension scheme is under negotiation now.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

It is already 'in operation.

Mr. Peyton

It is inadequate.

Mr. Hynd

It is, of course, inadequate.

It is the result of negotiations between the trade unions and the railway authority. I have no doubt that had railway finances been allowed to remain in a better position than they are now, the scheme might have been a better one, and might have covered many more grades.

The hon. Member for Yeovil also referred to those who are already on retirement pension in those branches of the railway service in which there was some kind of railway pension. The hon. Member spoke of how those pensions have fallen in value. This is a burning question which affects not only railwaymen but large numbers of people who are on fixed pensions and many who are not on pension at all other than the State old-age retirement pension.

In considering this question, on which he will have all the support that we on this side of the House can give him, the Minister should look even further and consider whether it is not possible for the Government to devise ways and means of ensuring that other employees in other basic national industries can be provided for in the same way. The scheme which has now been introduced in the railway service is not adequate, the railwaymen's wages are not adequate, and the whole financial situation of the railways is unsatisfactory, for many wide reasons which we cannot discuss now.

I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us something tonight, as a result of this subject being raised, about what the Government propose to do to make it possible for the railway authorities to consider, with the railway unions, still further advances upon the very moderate scheme which has been introduced. If he can do that, all in the House and the railway service will be very grateful to the hon. Member for Yeovil for providing him with the opportunity.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

I should like to associate myself absolutely with the aim put forward by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). I share completely his view that it is really shocking that men with 40 or 50 years of honourable service to a vital industry like the railways should retire without an adequate pension, or, indeed, without any proper acknowledgment at all. It is a matter about which I have complained again and again. It is only fair to say that in the old days such men did not even receive a letter. It is only in relatively recent years that so much as a letter has been sent to them.

It has to be said—I imagine that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say it —that since the Transport Commission has become responsible, the wages staff from about now onwards will be receiving about 30s. per week. I agree with the hon. Member for Yeovil that that is all too inadequate, and much more certainly needs to be done. I had hoped that he would put forward a really practical proposal.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary ought to face up to the responsibility of doing something for old railwaymen who have finished their service but are receiving not a penny in superannuation or pension from the railway authorities. Such men are eking out a miserable existence today because they have nothing.

It is only in the last few months that the Commission's new superannuation scheme has come into operation. In the last 18 months men have retired who have been driving main line trains from London to Salisbury or Exeter and back for 20 or 30 years, and they have retired on as little pension as 3s. per week. That is a scandalous situation. Any Minister ought to do something about that situation, of which I have given the facts in the House previously.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) for proper recognition of long service on the railways. There are many examples—they have been given by hon. Members opposite—of the need for more human relations.

We talk a great deal about appointing public relations officers and whatnot, but we could pay far more attention to the human relations side, particularly in the railway industry, for there we have many employees with long service who are setting a very good example to the younger members of the transport industry. We should make certain that they are at least given full recognition for their years of service to the railways.

10.34 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has, I believe, been in correspondence with the British Transport Commission about cases in which railwaymen with long and honourable records of service were not apparently, at any rate in the first instance, given that farewell gesture at the end of their long period of service to which both he and they rightly felt that they were entitled. Towards the end of his speech, my hon. Friend specified in very vague terms what he meant by "a suitable gesture." He said that it might be material, or might take other forms. I was left, and still am left, in doubt of exactly what he had in mind should be given to these men at the end of their service.

Mr. Peyton

I am very disappointed with my hon. Friend. In this very short debate I attempted to keep my remarks brief. I was looking for imagination, not only from the British Transport Commission, but from my hon. Friend. I hope that he will not indulge in special pleading and say that what has been said is rather vague. That is not enough. I was trying to call attention to what I think is a scandalous state of affairs.

Mr. Molson

In the first place, every point that has been raised tonight is the responsibility of the British Transport Commission and I am replying on behalf of my right hon. Friend only as a matter of courtesy, because of my right hon. Friend's general responsibility for supervision of transport in this country. The legislation which nationalised the railways laid it down that day-to-day administration—and that is what is under discussion tonight—was the responsibility of the British Transport Commission, and certainly tonight I shall not indulge in any imaginative ventures in order to make suggestions which my hon. Friend himself has not been able to put forward.

My hon. Friend raised two particular cases, and I want to deal with the policy of the British Transport Commission towards men retiring after long periods of service. It is the Commission's normal practice—and I frankly admit that there have been one or two cases in which it has not been done—to send a letter of cordial thanks and appreciation to these men. I hold in my hand a typical letter which was addressed to one of the railwaymen to whom my hon. Friend has referred, in which the district superintendent says: I purpose seeing you prior to the date of your retirement, but in the meantime I would like to take this opportunity of recording our appreciation of the services you have rendered during your 50i years' railway service. I have with me a number of issues of the British Railways magazine in which there are two pages full of personal notes of this kind. It is the practice, when a railway man retires, for a party to be given by his colleagues, and for one of the responsible officials of the railways to attend on that occasion and to make a presentation.

Mr. Collick

Would the Parliamentary Secretary himself be satisfied with that sort of thing after fifty years' service?

Mr. Molson

My hon. Friend referred to the material rewards, and I shall deal with those later. I believe that his primary point was that when a man's long period of service comes to an end, there should be some personal touch, some expression of appreciation by his employers of what he has done during that time. I say that a letter of thanks and appreciation from the responsible officer who has been in touch with him during his period of service, a celebration of the kind to which I have referred and a presentation made to him, are just the kind of human touches which, I entirely agree, are extremely important when one is dealing with human nature.

On two or three occasions—one was raised by an hon. Member on 11th July when we were debating the Report of the British Transport Commission—owing to the absence of the responsible official, a letter has not been sent. I agree that it must be very painful to a man who has served loyally for a very long time to find that the first notice that he is at the end of his service is the advertisement that his post is vacant. Even then, he obviously knows at what time his service is coming to an end. It is a feature of one of the agreements between the trade unions and the British Transport Commission that, except in special circumstances, the trade unions expect a man's service to be brought to an end at 65 years of age.

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil referred to material gestures, and hon. Gentlemen opposite referred to pensions. I was very glad to be able to announce, when we debated the inadequate nature of the pensions paid to those who had already retired, that, on 1st October, 1954, a new pensions scheme for male wages grades had been introduced, that from then onwards it would be the right of every male employee on the railways to participate in the new and much more generous pensions scheme, and that every new recruit to the railways would be obliged to join the scheme. Despite the fact that the great majority will not be paying the full actuarial contribution upon which the finances of the scheme are founded, it will be the right of permanent adult employees in the wages grades to join the scheme after it comes into operation. Already 53.8 per cent. of the total eligible staff have become members of the new pensions scheme.

I am surprised at the tone of criticism, and even of disparagement, adopted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. This contributory scheme has been agreed upon by the British Transport Commission and the trade unions concerned. The latter regard with approval the provisions which enable those who are at present employed and have been employed for a long time upon the railways but have not made the proper contributions to the scheme, to be received into the scheme in the way that is being done. Whatever may have been the deficiencies in the past, for those who are obtaining the benefits of the new pensions scheme something very substantial and material is being done now.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

Is the hon. Gentleman trying to convey the idea that the railway unions were satisfied with the new pensions scheme?

Mr. Molson

I do not mean that the railway unions might not have asked for more, but that what has been done has been agreed upon between them and the British Transport Commission.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary takes that view. The trade unions merely accepted this pensions scheme because it was the best thing they could get. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a large number of railwaymen are paying 4s., 5s., or 6s. per week for a very small pension? Indeed, for the lower-rated people in the railway service there is only a very small pension, which is nothing like adequate for the service they have rendered.

What is wrong with the Minister giving a general direction to the British Transport Commission, as his predecessor did in relation to fares in London? What is wrong with his making a suggestion that the head of the department should invite the man, a day or two before he retires, to his office at headquarters and thank him personally for the service which he has rendered?

Adjourned accordingly at a quarter to Eleven o'clock.