HL Deb 11 May 1857 vol 145 cc99-102

presented a petition from the Customs Clerks at Dartmouth, in favour of an alteration and amendment of the existing system of Superannuation.


presented a petition to the same effect from the civil servants of the Crown in the Coast-guard Department, Lymington. The noble Earl said, that the history of the Superannuation Fund was this. In 1812 the officers of Customs and Excise had a Superannuation Fund to a considerable amount. The Government of that day quietly abstracted the fund from the civil servants, and gave them in exchange an Act of Parliament, stipulating that they should not be required to contribute towards a Superannuation Fund. Faith was kept till 1822, when, in direct violation of the Act, the Government procured a tax to be levied on the officers of Excise and Customs. In 1824 that tax was repealed, and Parliament reaffirmed the principle laid down in the Act of 1812. The cupidity of the Government was again attracted by the Superannuation Fund in 1828, and in that year a Bill was introduced to re-impose the tax; but Parliament would have nothing to say to it, the Bill was withdrawn, and the Goverment then attempted by a Treasury Minute to supersede law. In 1834 was passed the Act of which the civil servants now with so much justice complained. One of the chief objections to it was that it was partial and unequal in its operation. For example, some of the persons connected with the Treasury were compelled to pay the tax, while others were entirely exempt. The high political, diplomatic, and judicial functionaries did not contribute a single farthing to the fund. He hoped the grievance of the civil servants would be speedily redressed, otherwise both Government and Parliament would expose themselves to the same odious imputation which in old times was cast upon the nobility and clergy—viz. that of exempting themselves and taxing only their plebeian countrymen. The annual tax amounted to £66,000. The sum paid out was £11,000, no portion of the remainder going into the pockets of the civil servants. Since the tax had been levied the total contributions amounted to £900,000. Of that sum the Government had paid away £82,000, leaving a balance due to the civil servants of £818,000. Only one-sixth part of the civil servants derived any benefit from the fund, and many cases might be stated showing the injustice of the tax. For instance, some time ago a landing-waiter died at Southampton before he had attained the age of 60. His contributions to the fund amounted to £200, and yet neither his widow nor any other member of his family received one sixpence. According to the statement of an experienced actuary, if the deceased had laid out the same money on a policy he would have left £350 for his family. In February last year the Government introduced a Bill into the House of Commons which improved the superannuation system, but retained the tax. During the progress of their Bill the Government were met by a petition, and both petition and Bill were referred to a Committee which strongly condemned, in its report, the superannuation impost, A new Bill was brought in, but it was ten times worse than the first. The report laid before the other House abundantly proved that the superannuation pensions had been constantly subjected to revision—five or sixties within the last few years; but Sir Charles Trevelyan, Mr. Bromley, and Mr. Stevenson, the persons employed in the revisions, declared that they never contemplated the inequalities so much and so justly complained of in the tax. He trusted their Lordships would give the petition their most favourable consideration.


presented petitions from the Customs Clerks of Devonport Dockyard and Galway to the same purport, and asked whether the Government contemplated an early change of the system. The system upon which the allowances of those persons was regulated was the most unfair, unjust, and unwise that could be well imagined. It was a system which led to improvidence; indeed, he might say it was one which in some cases almost compelled improvidence. The State, he contended, had received a sum totally out of proportion to the money which the civil servants received as superannuation. He submitted that the intention of the Act of 1834 was, not to make money by taxing a certain class of the public officers, but to provide a fund, after the system of insurance offices, by which superannuation allowances should be paid to those who contributed to them. Notwithstanding, it was found on calculation that only one in six, or one in seven, of those who contributed the money really derived any advantage from it. That, he submitted, was of itself a sufficient reason for inquiry into the subject. Surely, if a man was to be taxed to provide a fund for his benefit, he or his family, after a certain length of service on his part, ought to have a certain amount of advantage from that service and that taxation. But it was known that there were men who had contributed to the fund in question and who had afterwards at death to be buried at the expense of their widows, and in some cases of the parish. He thought the more their Lordships had regard to the present system, which had arisen partly from imperfections in the existing legislation, and more from inattention to the subject, the more they would find it deserving of their attention.

Several other noble LORDS presented petitions on the same subject.


said, there could be no doubt that the subject in question was one of great importance, affecting as it did the interests of a most important body of men in Her Majesty's service; but their Lordships might recollect that it was taken into consideration last autumn by a Commission of their Lordships' House, and he believed the Report of that Commission would be presented within a week from the present time. Of course, it was not the intention of the Government to act on the subject until they had received that Report, and had had an opportunity of considering it.